Popular Science Monthly/Volume 18/November 1880/Editor's Table

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WE commence this month the publication of an important series of articles on "The Development of Political Institutions" from the highest living authority on the subject of the science of society. By the science of society is meant such a systematic exposition of the facts and relations of social phenomena as shall bring out the natural laws of social change and transformation. The doctrine of evolution compels the study of society from a scientific point of view. Based upon the dynamical view of nature, the principle of continuity, and the immutable operation of cause and effect, it brings out the natural laws by which the course of society is governed in all its stages of progress and decline. The political element in society is but a part—though an important part—of a great complex organism, but it has had its laws of growth like all other parts of the organization. But, if such determinable laws of political change exist, it is desirable that they should be traced out and formulated. The discussion, therefore, now entered upon, we need hardly say, is of great theoretical and practical moment, because a knowledge of the principles by which political institutions originated and have grown up and are still advancing must become in future the basis of all intelligent political action. Social science thus elucidated will yet constitute the true foundation of the art of politics, or the practical carrying on of governmental operations; though there is as yet in the public mind but little preparation for this mode of regarding social questions. Familiar as we are with the highly developed results of long social unfolding, it is not easy to go back into the dim obscurities of social embryology. This, however, is indispensable if we are to gain any adequate understanding of the method of social development. Mr, Spencer has elsewhere dealt very fully with the impediments to the study of social evolution, and in the preliminary paper herewith printed he calls attention to some of the difficulties to be met in the political study of evolution. It is always very hard work for the loose and careless thinker to subject himself to the rigorous requirements of thorough scientific study; but the task becomes still more serious when to lax habits of thinking there are added those prejudices and gross errors to which men so passionately cling in the sphere of political thought. Yet these obstacles will be overcome as people are slowly educated to a better appreciation of the scientific spirit and the scientific method.

It is desirable to explain that the articles on "The Development of Political Institutions" that are to appear in the "Monthly" when collected will constitute that portion of Spencer's "Principles of Sociology" which is to be devoted to the evolution of political government. The preceding division on the development of "Ceremonial Institutions" is already published; and the part now appearing on political institutions will be followed by the corresponding treatment of ecclesiastical and industrial organizations. These together will form the second volume of the "Principles of Sociology," the seventh volume of Spencer's philosophical system. We refer to this because there is much misunderstanding of the bearings of Spencer's various books on the subject of sociology. Dr. Porter, for example, has lately taken him up in the "Princeton Review," and we think, if he had been a little more particular in his reference to Spencer's sociological works, he would have given increased help to readers unacquainted with them. He says: "Spencer's contributions to this science are professedly only introductory to its study. They are to consist of 'The Principles of Sociology,' in two volumes, 'Social Statics' and 'The Study of Sociology,' as also several volumes of 'Descriptive Sociology.'" More precisely "The Principles of Sociology" will comprise three volumes instead of two. "Social Statics" is an old book, that forms no part of his sociological system, and only "The Study of Sociology," an incidental contribution to the subject, should be especially characterized as introductory to it. It is hardly fair to an author to mix up his works in this careless way, and it is especially unfair to Spencer, because he has been long engaged in developing his ideas in various lines of work, and publishing them in fragmentary parts, so that readers are easily liable to become confused in regard to them. President Porter's critical essay is entitled "Spencer's Theory of Sociology," and he says, "The only practicable method of discovering the author's theory is to subject the volume to a minute criticism." We think the still more "practicable" method would be an examination of the works in which the theory is professedly expounded rather than in a volume which disavows all attempt to formulate the principles of the science. He has explained in the preface to the work that "The Study of Sociology" was a side discussion, forming no part of the systematic treatment of social science. It was written with main reference to those prepossessions of the public mind which tend to hinder a scientific study of social subjects. Instead of explaining the science of society, the book was designed to remove objections to its possibility and to arouse interest in its legitimate questions. Yet Dr. Porter undertakes to judge Spencer's "Theory of Sociology" by an analysis of this book which does not contain it. Spencer's works are tempting game for sensational criticism, because of their extent, incompleteness, and comprehensive method, which make misconception easy and misrepresentation easier, and for this reason we are called upon to correct false impressions more frequently than would be otherwise necessary.


We call attention to the correspondence from Princeton and Ann Arbor correcting alleged errors in our September article on "Sewage in College Education." Dr. McCosh thinks it palpably illogical to argue that they have had typhoid fever because they do not teach physiology to the students. Our strictures were based on an assumed state of facts which is not contradicted, viz., that the fatal fever resulted from causes that were clearly preventable. We simply charged that the knowledge that would have averted the catastrophe, and which, as tending to self-preservation, is the most important of all knowledge, is culpably neglected in the college, is subordinated to more worthless studies, and not so taught as to yield the beneficent results which it is capable of producing. And what are the facts? Dr. McCosh says that the chemical professor reports as follows: "All students of the college have a full course of instruction in the outlines of human anatomy and physiology, with so much of hygiene as there is time for; and this has been done in the college for nearly half a century." That is, they teach as much about the laws of life as the old crowded classical curriculum will allow "time" for, and hygiene is treated just as it has been these fifty years. We only say, let the knowledge that conduces to self-preservation be taught first and thoroughly, and, if the text-books are inadequate or the teachers incompetent, turn them all out together and procure those that are better.

Professor Adams, we are happy to say, makes an excellent showing of the extent of scientific study in Michigan University. But it seems we were at fault in trusting the statements of Bishop Harris, who misrepresented some things and was ignorant of others, while the plaudits which he evolved were intended rather for his rhetoric than his ideas. Professor Adams intimates that it was unfair to assume that the Bishop spoke as the representative of the university. But when a State Bishop is brought out before a State institution on an important occasion, and the customary exercises are suspended in his behalf, and he takes up the work of the institution as his theme, certainly it would not have been admissible in outsiders to question his representation of facts. Professor Adams gives an interesting and most encouraging account of the progress of scientific study in the university, and we all owe thanks to the Bishop for starting a discussion that has brought out these excellent results, and in which his inaccuracies have been overruled for good. But we will try to be more discriminating in future as to whose statements are to be trusted.


Industrial exhibitions now seem to have become a recognized part of the machinery of trade. Those of a merely local character are held in great numbers and at many different points, while those of international range are of such frequent occurrence as to be fast losing their novelty. Most of the considerable cities of this country now have permanent organizations devoted to the giving of periodic fairs, while States and counties vie with one another in the same sort of work. The holding of fairs is a very old practice in all civilized countries; and it has always been made tributary to social gratification as well as to commercial utility. Such exhibitions are primarily a means of giving publicity to the wares of manufacturers and traders, but they are not without a further value to the general public. There must of necessity be a good deal of repetition at the successive collections, but the rapid advances now made in the arts insure the bringing forward of a sufficient number of new and interesting objects to give novelty and pleasure to the recurring displays. Great fairs are, moreover, always instructive. They not only offer favorable opportunities for observing and comparing many articles with which people desire to supply themselves, but, by bringing together the best products of useful and artistic workmanship, they familiarize the public with the highest standards of excellence, and become the centers of impulse, and incite to still further improvement. International exhibitions have undoubtedly had great effect in stimulating whole communities to apply greater intelligence to the processes of the arts and to attain a higher perfection in industrial products; and this wholesome education has been also promoted, though in a lesser degree, by the large local exhibitions.

Among the fairs annually held, those of the American Institute have long had a leading place. The position of the Institute, at the chief distributing point of the country and the center of population, has doubtless contributed largely to give its fairs such a character; but the judicious conduct of the concerns of the society and the discretion with which awards have in the main been bestowed have been no less important factors. The American Institute, was the pioneer in the work to which it is devoted—the promotion and encouragement of the industrial arts in this country. Founded in 1828, it has for half a century had a successful career. Its growth has been coincident with a most remarkable industrial development, and its exhibitions during this period have been among the most available means of bringing to the early notice of the public the most important and valuable inventions and improvements of which this country has been, perhaps, more prolific than any other.

The forty-ninth exhibition is now being held, and in point of variety and interest of exhibits compares favorably with those of preceding years. No remarkable machines or processes are shown, but in several departments there are appliances which are decided advances upon previous constructions. As a whole, the exhibition is well worth a visit, and there is much to be seen there that will repay careful examination.


President Hayes has been discussing the subject of public education; and, in his speech at Canton, Ohio, he called attention to the extent, and pointed out the main sources, of illiteracy among our heterogeneous populations. Ten years ago, he says, there were three quarters of a million of negro voters who could not read their ballots, and in this respect things have not improved much since. The Indian tribes which we must soon absorb are equally ignorant. Half the population of New Mexico can not read and write, and, of the enormous immigration from Europe, from twenty to twenty-five per cent, are to the same degree illiterate. Mr. Hayes maintains that it is the duty of the national Government to enter upon the great work of public education with the view of qualifying all these incompetent citizens, present and prospective, for the proper exercise of the right of suffrage.

In referring to these various classes of persons, Mr. Hayes uses the terms "illiteracy," "ignorance," and "unable to read and write" interchangeably or as equivalents; that is, the "ignorance" of which he speaks seems to be that grade of incapacity or illiterateness which is indicated by inability to read and write. We are left to infer that this is the ignorance which he considers dangerous to the state, and which it is therefore the duty of the national Government to remove. We assume that this is the sort of ignorance which Mr. Hayes means when he says, "In our own country, as everywhere else, it will be found that in the long run ignorant voters are powder and ball for demagogues."

Are we to conclude, then, that in the belief of President Hayes, if the negroes, Indians, immigrants, and illiterate people generally are taught to read and write, American demagogues will be deprived of their ammunition, and republican government placed upon an enduring foundation? Does Mr. Hayes think that the real danger to popular institutions in this country comes from the presence of those who are unable to read their ballots? Certainly the most dangerous class in the community is the demagogues themselves, and these can not only read and write, but they are commonly educated men. Nor is this all; they are the dangerous enemies of republican institutions by virtue of that education which gives them command of the means of mischief. And as it is by education that they are qualified for the skillful practice of their vicious arts, so it will be found that a certain amount of education on the part of their victims is necessary to bring them within the full range of demagogical influence. It is not the illiterate classes by any means that are most misled and cheated by the demagogues. It is those who can read the newspapers and campaign documents that are most openly accessible to the flatteries, deceptions, and cunning artifices of wily political managers. The illiterate classes are indeed, to no small degree, protected by their very ignorance from the most insidious forms of political imposture. They are manipulated by coarse methods, while the class of citizens who are called intelligent, morally require sharper practice to circumvent them. It is a great mistake to suppose that our demagogues are mere petty operators, animated by low cunning, and who find their chief prey among those who can not read their ballots. They are trained and accomplished men, subtle of intellect, inventive in resources, and well equipped with knowledge. The great mass of the people have a smattering of education, and the whole system of demagogical art assumes it and is adapted to it. The common schools teach just enough to turn out "powder and ball for demagogues." Our "machine politics" is the bright consummate flower of American demagogism, but it never could have had so vigorous a growth if the ignorance of American voters had not been duly cultivated. The more ignorant and stupid men are, the greater is their fealty to party, and the more easily they can be counted on; but, as they begin to think, the demagogue is thrown upon his resources, so that the effect of the schools is to cause him to perfect his methods. Of course, ignorant voters are everywhere "powder and ball for demagogues"; we only insist that there shall be no demagogical narrowness in defining the class of ignorant voters.