Popular Science Monthly/Volume 18/November 1880/Criticisms Corrected II

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624992Popular Science Monthly Volume 18 November 1880 — Criticisms Corrected II1880Herbert Spencer



AN objection made to the formula of evolution by a sympathetic critic, Mr. T. E. Cliffe Leslie, calls for notice. It is urged in a spirit widely different from that displayed by Mr. Kirkman and his applauder. Professor Tait; and it has an apparent justification. Indeed, many readers, who before accepted the formula of evolution in full, will, after reading Mr. Cliffe Leslie's comments, agree with him in thinking that it is to be taken with the qualifications he points out. We shall find, however, that a clearer apprehension of the meanings of the words used and a clearer apprehension of the formula in its totality exclude the criticisms Mr. Leslie makes.

In the first place he dissociates from one another those traits of evolution which I have associated, and which I have alleged to be true only when associated. He quotes me as saying that a change from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous characterizes all evolution; and he puts this at the outset of his criticism as though I made this change the primary characteristic. But if he will refer to "First Principles," Part II, Chapter XIV (in the second and subsequent editions), he will find it shown that under its primary aspect evolution "is a change from a less coherent form to a more coherent form, consequent on the dissipation of motion and integration of matter." The next chapter contains proofs that the change from homogeneity to heterogeneity is a secondary change, which, when conditions allow, accompanies the change from the incoherent to the coherent. At the beginning of the chapter after that come the sentences—"But now, does this generalization express the whole truth? Does it include everything essentially characterizing evolution and exclude everything else? . . . A critical examination of the facts will show that it does neither." And the chapter then goes on to show that the change is from an indefinite incoherent homogeneity to a definite coherent heterogeneity. Further qualifications contained in a succeeding chapter bring the formula to this final form: "Evolution is an integration of matter and concomitant dissipation of motion; during which the matter passes from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity to a definite, coherent heterogeneity; and during which the retained motion undergoes a parallel transformation."

Now, if these various traits of the process of evolution are kept simultaneously in view, it will be seen that most of Mr. Cliffe Leslie's objections fail to apply. He says: "The movement of language, law, and political and civil union, is for the most part in an opposite direction. In a savage country like Africa, speech is in a perpetual flux, and new dialects spring up with every swarm from the parent hive. In the civilized world the unification of language is rapidly proceeding." Here two different ideas are involved—the evolution of a language considered singly, and the evolution of languages considered as an aggregate. Nothing which he says implies that any one language becomes, during its evolution, less heterogeneous. The disappearance of dialects is not a progress toward the homogeneity of a language, but is the final triumph of one variety of a language over the other varieties, and the extinction of them: the conquering variety meanwhile becoming within itself more heterogeneous. This, too, is the process which Mr. Leslie refers to as likely to end in an extinction of the Celtic languages. Advance toward homogeneity would be shown if the various languages in Europe, having been previously unlike, were, while still existing, to become gradually more like. But the supplanting of one by another, or of some by others, no more implies any tendency of languages to become alike than does the supplanting of species, genera, orders, and classes of animals, one by another, during the evolution of life, imply the tendency of organisms to assimilate in their natures. Even if the most heterogeneous creature, man, should overrun the earth and extirpate the greater part of its other inhabitants, it would not imply any tendency toward homogeneity in the proper sense. It would remain true that organisms tend perpetually toward heterogeneity, individually and as an assemblage. Of course, if all kinds but one were destroyed, they could no longer display this tendency. Display of it would be limited to the remaining kind, which would continue, as now, to show it in the formation of local varieties, becoming gradually more divergent; and the like is true of languages.

In the next case Mr. Leslie identifies progressing unification with advance toward homogeneity. His words are: "Already Europe has nearly consolidated itself into a heptarchy, the number of states into which England itself was once divided; and the result of the American war exemplifies the prevalence of the forces tending to homogeneity over those tending to heterogeneity." To this the reply is that these cases exemplify, rather, the prevalence of the forces which change the incoherent into the coherent—which effect integration; that is, they exemplify evolution under its primary aspect. In the "Principles of Sociology," Part II, Chapter III, Mr. Leslie will find numerous kindred cases brought in illustration of this law of evolution. To which add that such integrations bring after them greater heterogeneity, not greater homogeneity. The divisions of the heptarchy were societies substantially like one another in their structures and activities; but the parts of the nation which correspond to them have been differentiated into parts carrying on varieties of occupations with entailed unlikenesses of structures—here purely agricultural, there manufacturing; here predominantly given to coal-mining and iron-smelting, there to weaving; here distinguished by scattered villages, there by clusters of large towns.

Again, it is alleged that an increasing homogeneity is shown in fashion. "Once every rank, profession, and district had a distinctive garb; now all such distinctions, save with the priest and the soldier, have almost disappeared among men." But while for a reason, to be presently pointed out, there has occurred a change which has abolished one order of differences, differences of another order, far more multitudinous, have arisen. Nothing is more striking than the extreme heterogeneity of dress at the present day. As Mr. Leslie alleges, the dresses of those forming each class were once all alike; now no two dresses are alike. Within the vague limits of the current fashion, the degree of variety in women's costumes is infinite; and even men's costumes, though having average resemblances, diverge from one another in colors, materials, and detailed forms in innumerable ways.

Other instances given by Mr. Leslie concern the organizations for carrying on production and distribution. He argues that "in the industrial world a generation ago a constant movement toward a differentiation of employments and functions appeared; now some marked tendencies to their amalgamation have begun to disclose themselves. Joint-stock companies have almost effaced all real division of labor in the wide region of trade within their operation." Here, as before, Mr. Leslie represents amalgamation as equivalent to increase of homogeneity; whereas amalgamation is but another name for integration, which is the primary process in evolution, and which may, and does, go along with increasing heterogeneity in the amalgamated things. It can not be said that a joint-stock banking company, with its proprietory and directors in addition to its officers, contains fewer unlike parts than does a private banking establishment: the contrary must be said. A railway company has far more numerous functionaries with different duties than had the one, or the many coaching establishments it replaced. And then, apart from the fact that the larger aggregate of coöperators who, as a company, carry on, say, a process of manufacture, is more complex as well as more extensive, there is the fact, here chiefly to be noted, that the entire assemblage of industrial structures is, by the addition of these new structures, made more heterogeneous than before. Had all the smaller manufacturing establishments carried on by individuals or firms been destroyed, the contrary might have been alleged; but, as it is, we see that in addition to all the old forms there have come these new forms, making the totality of them more multiform than before. Mr. Leslie further illustrates his interpretation by saying: "Many of the things for sale in a village huckster's shop were formerly the subjects of distinct branches of business in a large town; now the wares in which scores of different retailers dealt are all to be had in great establishments in New York, Paris, and London, which sometimes buy direct from the producers, thus also eliminating the wholesale dealer." Replies akin to the preceding ones are readily made. The first is that wholesale dealers have not been at present eliminated; and can not be so long as the ordinary shopkeepers survive, as they will certainly do. In the smaller places, forming the great majority of places, these vast establishments can not exist; and in them, shopkeepers carrying on business as at present, will continue to necessitate wholesale dealers. Even in large places the same thing will hold. It is only people of a certain class, able to pay ready money and willing to go great distances to purchase, who frequent these large establishments. Those who live from hand to mouth, and those who prefer to buy at adjacent places, will maintain a certain proportion of shops, and the wholesale distributing organization needed for them. Again, we have to note that one of these great stores, such as Whiteley's or Shoolbred's, does not within itself display any advance toward homogeneity or despecialization; for it is made up of many separate departments, with their separate heads, carrying on business substantially separate—all superintended by one owner. It is nothing but an aggregate of shops under one roof instead of under the many roofs covering the side of a street; and exhibits just as much heterogeneity as the shops do when arranged in line instead of massed together. That which it really illustrates is a new form of integration, which is the primary evolutionary process. And then, lastly, comes the fact that the distributing organization of the country, considered as a whole, is by the addition of these establishments made more heterogeneous than before. All the old types of trading concerns continue to exist; and here are new types added, making the entire assemblage of them more varied.

From these objections made by Mr. Leslie, which I have endeavored to show result from misapprehensions, I pass to two others which are to be met by taking account of certain complicating facts liable to be overlooked, Mr. Leslie remarks that "in the early stages of social progress, again, a differentiation takes place, as Mr. Spencer has observed, between political and industrial functions, which fall to distinct classes: now a man is a merchant in the morning and a legislator at night; in mercantile business one year, and the next, perhaps, head of the navy, like Mr. Goschen or Mr. W. H. Smith." Nothing contained in this volume explains the seeming anomaly here exemplified; but any one who turns to a chapter in the second part of the "Principles of Sociology," entitled "Social Types and Metamorphoses," will there find a clew to the explanation of it, and will see that it is a phenomenon consequent on the progressing dissolution of one type and evolution of another. The doctrine of evolution, currently-regarded as referring only to the development of species, is erroneously supposed to imply some intrinsic proclivity in every species toward a higher form; and, similarly, a majority of readers make the erroneous assumption that the transformation which constitutes evolution, in its wider sense, implies an intrinsic tendency to go through those changes which the formula of evolution expresses. But all who have fully grasped the argument of this work will see that the process of evolution is not necessary, but depends on conditions; and that the prevalence of it in the universe around is consequent on the prevalence of these conditions: the frequent occurrence of dissolution showing us that, where the conditions are not maintained, the reverse process is quite as readily gone through. Bearing in mind this truth, we shall be prepared to find that the progress of a social organism toward more heterogeneous and more definite structures of a certain type continues only as long as the actions which produce these effects continue in play. We shall expect that, if these actions cease, the progressing transformation will cease. We shall infer that the particular structures which have been formed by the activities carried on will not grow more heterogeneous and more definite; and that if other orders of activities, implying other sets of forces, commence, answering structures of another kind will begin to make their appearance, to grow more heterogeneous and definite, and to replace the first. And it will be manifest that while the transition is going on—while the first structures are dissolving and the second evolving—there must be a mixture of structures causing apparent confusion of traits. Just as during the metamorphoses of an animal which, having during its earlier existence led one kind of life, has to develop structures fitting it for another kind of life, there must occur a blurring of the old organization while the new organization is becoming distinct, leading to transitory anomalies of structure, so, during the metamorphoses undergone by a society in which the militant activities and structures are dwindling while the industrial are growing, the old and new arrangements must be mingled in a perplexing way. On reading the chapter in the "Principles of Sociology" which I have named, Mr. Leslie will see that the above facts referred to by him are interpretable as consequent on the transition from that type of regulative organization proper to militant life to that type of regulative organization proper to industrial life; and that, so long as these two modes of life, utterly alien in their natures, have to be jointly carried on, there will continue this jumbling of the regulative systems they respectively require.

The second of the objections above noted, as needing to be otherwise dealt with than by further explanation of the formula of evolution, concerns the increase of likeness among developing systems of civil law; in proof of which increase of likeness Mr. Leslie quotes Sir Henry Maine to the effect that "all laws, however dissimilar in their infancy, tend to resemble each other in their maturity": the implication to which Mr. Leslie draws attention being, that in respect of their laws societies become not more heterogeneous but more homogeneous. Now, though in their details systems of law will, I think, be found to acquire, as they evolve, an increasing number of differences from one another, yet in their cardinal traits it is probably true that they usually approximate. How far this militates against the formula of evolution we shall best see by first considering the analogy furnished by animal organisms. Low down in the animal kingdom there are simple mollusks with but rudimentary nervous systems—a ganglion or two and a few fibers. Diverging from this low type we have the great sub-kingdom constituted by the higher mollusca and the still greater sub-kingdom constituted by the vertebrata. As these two types evolve, their nervous systems develop; and though in the highest members of the two they remain otherwise unlike, yet they approximate in so far that each acquires great nervous centers: the large cephalopods have clustered ganglia which simulate brains. Compare, again, the mollusca and the articulata in respect of their vascular systems. Fundamentally unlike as these are originally, and remaining unlike as they do throughout many successive stages of ascent in these two sub-kingdoms, they nevertheless are made similar in the highest forms of both by each having a central propelling organ—a heart. Now, in these and in some cases which the external organs furnish, such as the remarkable resemblance evolution has produced between the eyes of the highest mollusca and those of the vertebrata, it may be said that there is implied a change toward homogeneity. No zoologist, however, would admit that these facts really conflict with the general law of organic evolution. As already explained, the tendency to progress from homogeneity to heterogeneity is not intrinsic but extrinsic. Structures become unlike in consequence of unlike exposures to incident forces. This is so with organisms as wholes, which, as they multiply and spread, are ever falling into new sets of conditions; and it is so with the parts of each organism. These pass from primitive likeness into unlikeness as fast as the mode of life places them in different relations to actions—primarily external and secondarily internal; and with each successive change in mode of life new unlikenesses are superposed. One of the implications is that, if in organisms otherwise different there arise like sets of conditions to which certain parts are subject, such parts will tend toward likeness; and this is what happens with their nervous and vascular systems. Duly to coördinate the actions of all parts of an active organism, there requires a controlling apparatus; and the conditions to be fulfilled for perfect coordination are conditions common to all active organisms. Hence, in proportion as fulfillment approaches completeness in the highest organisms, however otherwise unlike their types are, this apparatus acquires in all of them certain common characters—especially extreme centralization. Similarly with the apparatus for distributing nutriment. The relatively high activity accompanying superior organization implies great waste; great waste implies active circulation of blood; active circulation of blood implies efficient propulsion; so that a heart becomes a common need for highly evolved creatures, however otherwise unlike their structures may be. Thus is it, too, with societies. As they evolve, there arise certain conditions to be fulfilled for the maintenance of social life; and, in proportion as the social life becomes high, these conditions need to be more effectually fulfilled. A legal code expresses one set of these conditions. It formulates certain regulative principles to which the conduct of citizens must conform that social activities may be harmoniously carried on. And, these regulative principles being in essentials the same everywhere, it results that systems of law acquire certain general similarities as the most developed social life is approached.

These special replies to Mr. Leslie's objections are, however, but introductory to the general reply; which would be, I think, adequate even in their absence. Mr. Leslie's method is that of taking detached groups of social phenomena, as those of language, of fashion, of trade, and arguing (though, as I have sought to show, not effectually) that their later transformations do not harmonize with the alleged general law of evolution. But the real question is, not whether we find advance to a more definite coherent heterogeneity in these taken separately, but whether we find this advance in the structures and actions of the entire society. Even were it true that the law does not hold in certain orders of social processes and products, it would not follow that it does not hold of social processes and products in their totality. The law is a law of the transformation of aggregates; and must be tested by the entire assemblages of phenomena which the aggregates present. Omitting societies in states of decay and dissolution, which exhibit the converse change, and contemplating only societies which are growing, Mr. Leslie will, I think, scarcely allege of any one of them that its structures and functions do not, taken altogether, exhibit increasing heterogeneity. And, if, instead of taking each society as an aggregate, he takes the entire aggregate of societies which the earth supports, from primitive hordes up to highly civilized nations, he will scarcely deny that this entire aggregate has been becoming more various in the forms of societies it includes, and is still becoming more various.