Popular Science Monthly/Volume 2/February 1873/The Study of Sociology VII
|THE STUDY OF SOCIOLOGY.|
THAT passion perverts judgment, is an observation sufficiently trite; but the more general observation of which it should form part, that emotion of every kind and degree disturbs the intellectual balance, is not trite, and, even where recognized, is not duly taken into account. Stated in full, the truth is that no propositions, save those which are absolutely indifferent to us, immediately and remotely, can be contemplated without likings and repugnances affecting the opinions we form about them. There are two modes in which our conclusions are thus falsified. Excited feelings make us wrongly estimate probability, and also make us wrongly estimate importance. Some cases will show this.
All, who are old enough, remember the murder committed by Müller on the North London Railway some years ago; for, even after reaching that stage at which accounts of crime lose their interest, and police-reports become unreadable, it is impossible to avoid gathering from gossip some knowledge of startling tragedies. Most persons, too, will remember that for some time afterward there was universally displayed a dislike to travelling by railway in company with a single other passenger—supposing him to be unknown. Though, up to the date of the murder in question, almost innumerable journeys had been made by two strangers together in the same compartment without evil being suffered by either—though, after the death of Mr. Briggs, the probabilities were immense against the occurrence of a similar fate to another person similarly placed—yet there was habitually roused a fear that would have been appropriate only had the danger been considerable. The amount of feeling excited was quite incommensurate with the risk. Though the chance was a million to one against evil, the anticipation of evil was as strong as though the chance had been a thousand to one or a hundred to one. The emotion of dread destroyed the balance of judgment, and a true estimate of likelihood became impossible; or, rather, any rational estimate of likelihood that might be formed was wholly inoperative on conduct.
Another instance was thrust on my attention during the small-pox epidemic, which a while since so unaccountably spread, after twenty years of compulsory vaccination. A lady living in London, sharing in the general trepidation, was expressing her fears to me. I asked her whether, if she lived in a town of 20,000 inhabitants, and heard of one person dying of small-pox in the course of a week, she would be much alarmed. Naturally she answered, "No;" and her fears were somewhat calmed when I pointed out that, taking the whole population of London, and the number of deaths per week from small-pox, this was about the rate of mortality at that time caused by it. Yet in other minds, as in her mind, panic had produced an entire incapacity for forming a rational estimate of the danger. Nay, indeed, so perturbing was the emotion that an unusual amount of danger to life was imagined at a time when the danger to life was smaller than usual. For the returns showed that the mortality from all causes was rather below the average than above it. While the evidence proved that the risk of death was unusually small, this wave of feeling which spread through society produced an irresistible conviction that it was unusually great.
These examples show in a clear way, what is less clearly shown in countless other examples, that the associated ideas constituting a judgment are much affected in their relations to one another by the coexisting emotion. Two ideas will cohere feebly or strongly according as the correlative nervous states involve a feeble or a strong discharge along the lines of nervous connection; and hence a large wave of feeling, implying as it does a voluminous discharge in all directions, renders such two ideas more coherent. This is so even when the feeling is irrelevant, as is shown by the vivid recollection of trivialities observed on occasions of great excitement; and it is still more so when the feeling is relevant—that is, when the proposition formed by these ideas is itself the cause of excitement. Much of the emotion tends in such case to discharge itself through the channels connecting the elements of the proposition; and predicate follows subject with a vividness and persistence out of all proportion to that which is justified by experience.
We see this with emotions of all orders. How greatly maternal affection falsifies a mother's estimate of her child, every one observes. How those in love fancy superiorities where none are visible to unconcerned spectators, and remain blind to defects that are conspicuous to every one else, is matter of common remark. Note, too, how in the holder of a lottery-ticket hope generates a belief utterly at variance with probability as numerically estimated, and how an excited inventor has a confidence in success which calm judges see to be impossible. That "the wish is father to the thought," here so obviously true, is true more or less in nearly all cases where there is a wish. And in other cases, again, as where horror is aroused by the fancy of something supernatural, we see that, in the absence of wish to believe, there may yet arise belief if violent emotion goes along with the ideas that are joined together.
Though there is some recognition of the fact that men's judgments on social questions are distorted by their emotions, the recognition is extremely inadequate. Political passion, class-hatred, and feelings of great intensity, are alone habitually admitted to be large factors in determining opinions. But, as above implied, we have to take account of emotions of many kinds and of all degrees, down to slight likes and dislikes. For, if we look closely into our own beliefs on public affairs, as well as into the beliefs of those around us, we find them to be caused much more by aggregates of feelings than by examinations of evidence. No one, even if he tries, succeeds in preventing the slow growth of sympathies with, or antipathies to, certain institutions, customs, ideas, etc.; and, if he watches himself, he will perceive that unavoidably each new question coming before him is considered in relation to the mass of convictions which have been gradually moulded into agreement with his sympathies and antipathies.
When the reader has admitted, as he must if he is candid with himself, that his opinion on any political act or proposal is commonly formed in advance of direct evidence, and that he rarely takes the trouble to inquire whether direct evidence justifies it, he will see how great are those difficulties in the way of sociological science, which arise from the various emotions excited by the matters it deals with. Let us note, first, the effects of some emotions of a general kind, which we are apt to overlook.
The state of mind we call impatience is one of these. If a man swears at some inanimate thing which he cannot adjust as he wishes, or if, in wintry weather, slipping down and hurting himself, he vents his anger by damning gravitation, his folly is manifest enough to spectators, and to himself also when his irritation has died away. But in the political sphere it is otherwise. A man may here, in fact if not in word, damn a law of Nature, without being himself aware, and without making others aware, of his absurdity.
The state of feeling often betrayed toward Political Economy exemplifies this. An impatience, accompanying the vague consciousness that certain cherished convictions or pet schemes are at variance with politico-economical truths, shows itself in contemptuous words applied to these truths. Knowing that his theory of government and plans for social reformation are discountenanced by it, Mr. Carlyle manifests his annoyance by calling Political Economy "the dismal science." And, among others than his adherents, there are many belonging to all parties, retrograde and progressive, who display repugnance to this body of doctrine with which their favorite theories do not agree. Yet a little thought might show them that their feeling is much of the same kind as would be scorn vented by a perpetual-motion schemer against the principles of mechanics.
To see that these generalizations which they think of as cold and hard, and acceptable only by the unsympathetic, are nothing but statements of certain modes of action arising out of human nature, that are no less beneficent than necessary, they need only suppose a moment that human nature had opposite tendencies. Imagine that, instead of preferring to buy things at low prices, men habitually preferred to give high prices for them; and imagine that, conversely, sellers rejoiced in getting low prices instead of high ones. Is it not obvious that production and distribution and exchange, supposing them possible under such conditions, would go on in ways utterly different from their present ways? If men went for each commodity to a place where it was difficult of production, instead of to a place where it could be produced easily, and if, instead of transferring articles of consumption from one part of a kingdom to another along the shortest routes, they habitually chose roundabout routes, so that the cost in labor and time might be the greatest, is it not clear that, could industrial and commercial arrangements of any kinds exist, they would be of natures so unlike the present ones as to be inconceivable by us? And, if this is undeniable, is it not equally undeniable that the processes of production, distribution, and exchange, as they now go on, are processes determined by certain fundamental traits in human nature, and that Political Economy is nothing more than a statement of the laws of these processes, as inevitably resulting from such traits?
That the generalizations of political economists are not all true, and that some, which are true in the main, need qualification, is very likely. But, to admit this, is not in the least to admit that there are no true generalizations of this order to be made. Those who see, or fancy they see, flaws in politico-economical conclusions, and there-upon sneer at Political Economy, remind one of the theologians who lately rejoiced so much over the discovery of an error in the estimation of the sun's distance, and thought the occasion so admirable a one for ridiculing men of science. It is characteristic of theologians to find cause for extreme satisfaction in whatever shows human imperfection; and in this case they were much elated because astronomers discovered that, while their delineation of the Solar System remains exactly right in all its proportions, the absolute dimensions assigned were too great by about one-thirtieth. In one respect, however, the comparison fails: for, though the theologians taunted the astronomers, they did not venture to include astronomy within the scope of their contempt—did not do as those to whom they are here compared, who show contempt, not for political economists only, but for Political Economy itself.
Were they calm, these opponents of the political economists would see that as, out of certain physical properties of things there inevitably arise certain modes of action, which, as generalized, constitute physical science; so out of the properties of men, intellectual and emotional, there inevitably arise certain laws of social processes, including, among others, those through which mutual aid in satisfying wants is made possible. They would see that, but for these processes, the laws of which Political Economy seeks to generalize, men would have continued in the lowest stage of barbarism to the present hour; they would see that, instead of jeering at the science and those who pursue it, their course should be to show in what respects the generalizations thus far made are untrue, and how they may be so expressed as to correspond to the truth more nearly.
I need not further exemplify the perturbing influence of impatience in sociological inquiry. Along with the irrational hope so conspicuously shown by every party having a new project for the furtherance of human welfare, there habitually goes this irrational irritation in presence of stern truths which negative sanguine anticipations. Be it some way of remedying the evils of competition, some scheme for rendering the pressure of population less severe, some method of organizing a government so as to secure complete equity, some plan for reforming men by teaching, by restriction, by punishment; any thing like calm consideration of probabilities, as estimated from experience, is excluded by this eagerness for an immediate result; and, instead of submission to the necessities of things, there comes vexation, felt if not expressed, against them, or against those who point them out, or against both.
That feelings of love and hate make rational judgments impossible in public affairs, as in private affairs, we can clearly enough see in others, though not so clearly in ourselves. Especially can we see it when these others belong to an alien society. France, during and since the late war, has furnished us almost daily with illustrations. The fact that, while the struggle was going on, any foreigner in Paris was liable to be seized as a Prussian, and that, if charged with being a Prussian, he was forthwith treated as one, sufficiently proves that hate makes rational estimation of evidence impossible. The marvellous distortions which this passion produces were abundantly exemplified during the reign of the Commune; and yet again after the Commune was subdued. The "preternatural suspicion," as Mr. Carlyle called it, which characterized conduct during the first revolution, characterized conduct during the late catastrophe. And it is displayed still. The sayings and doings of French political parties, alike in the Assembly, in the press, and in private societies, show that mutual hate causes mutual misinterpretations, fosters false conclusions, and utterly vitiates sociological generalizations.
While, however, it is manifest to us that, among our neighbors, strong sympathies and antipathies stand in the way of reasonable views and well-balanced policy, we do not perceive that among ourselves sympathies and antipathies distort judgments in degrees, not perhaps so extreme, but still in very great degrees. Instead of French opinion on French affairs, let us take English opinion on French affairs—not affairs of recent date, but affairs of the past; and, instead of a case showing the false estimation of evidence which sympathies and antipathies produce, let us take a case showing how perverted may be the estimates of the relative gravities of evils, and the relative degrees of blameworthiness of actions.
Feudalism had decayed: its benefits had died out, and only its evils had survived. While the dominant classes no longer performed their functions, they continued their exactions and maintained their privileges. Seignorial power was exercised solely for private benefit, and at every step met the unprivileged with vexatious claims and restrictions. The peasant was called from his heavily-burdened bit of land to work gratis for a neighboring noble, who gave him no protection in return. He had to bear uncomplainingly the devouring of his crops by this man's game; to hand him a toll before he could cross the river; to buy from him the liberty to sell at market—nay, such portion of grain as he reserved for his own use he could eat only after paying for the grinding of it at his seigneur's mill, and for having it baked at his bakehouse. And then, added to the seignorial exactions, came the exactions of the Church, still more mercilessly enforced. Along with all these local abuses and exasperating obstacles to living, there had gone on at the governing centre maladministration, corruption, extravagance: treasures were spent in building vast palaces, and enormous armies were sacrificed in inexcusable wars. Profuse expenditure, demanding more than could be got from crippled industry, had caused a chronic deficit. New taxes on the poor workers brought in no money, but only clamor and discontent; and to tax the rich idlers proved to be impracticable: the proposal, that the clergy and noblesse should no longer be exempt from burdens such as were borne by the people, brought from these classes "a shriek of indignation and astonishment." And then, to make more conspicuous the worthlessness of the governing agencies of all orders, there was the corrupt life led by the court, from the king downward—France lying "with a harlot's foot on its neck." Passing over the various phases of the break-up which ended this intolerable state—phases throughout which the dominant classes, good for nothing and unrepentant, strove to recover their power, and, enlisting foreign rulers, brought upon France invading armies—we come presently to a time when, in a storm of anger and fear, the people revenged themselves on such of their past tormentors as remained among them. Leagued, as many of these were, with those of their order who were levying war against liberated France—leagued, as many others were supposed to be, with these enemies to the Republic at home and abroad—incorrigible as they proved themselves by their plottings and treacheries; there at length came down upon them the September massacres and the Reign of Terror, during which nearly 10,000 of those implicated, or supposed to be implicated, were killed or formally executed. The Nemesis was sufficiently fearful. Lamentable sufferings and death fell on innocent as well as guilty. Hate and despair combined to arouse an undistinguishing cruelty, and, in some of the leading actors, a cold-blooded ferocity. Nevertheless, recognizing all this—recognizing also the truth that those who wreaked this vengeance were intrinsically no better than those on whom it was wreaked—we must admit that the bloodshed had its excuse. The panic of a people threatened with reimposition of dreadful shackles was not to be wondered at. That the expected return of a time like that, in which gaunt figures and haggard faces about the towns and the country indicated the social disorganization, should excite men to a blind fury, was not unnatural. If they became frantic at the thought that there was coming back a state under which there might again be a slaying of hundreds of thousands of men in battles fought to gratify the spite of a king's concubine, we need not be greatly astonished. And some of the horror expressed at the fate of the ten thousand victims might fitly be reserved for the abominations which caused it.
From this partially-excusable bloodshed, over which men shudder excessively, let us turn now to the immeasurably greater bloodshed, having no excuse, over which they do not shudder at all. Out of the sanguinary chaos of the Revolution, there presently rose a soldier whose immense ability, joined with his absolute unscrupulousness, made him now general, now consul, now autocrat. He was untruthful in an extreme degree, lying in his dispatches day by day, never writing a page without bad faith, nay, even giving to others lessons in telling falsehoods. He professed friendship while plotting to betray, and quite early in his career made the wolf-and-lamb fable his guide. He got antagonists into his power by promises of clemency, and then executed them. To strike terror, he descended to barbarities like those of the blood-thirsty conquerors of old, of whom his career reminds us: as in Egypt, when, to avenge fifty of his soldiers, he beheaded 2,000 fellahs, throwing their headless corpses into the Nile; or as at Jaffa, when 2,500 of the garrison, who finally surrendered, were at his order deliberately massacred. Even his own officers, not over-scrupulous, as we may suppose, were shocked by his brutality—sometimes refusing to execute his sanguinary decrees. Indeed, the instincts of the savage were scarcely at all qualified in him by what we call moral sentiments; as we see in his proposal to burn "two or three of the larger communes" in La Vendée; as we see in his wish to introduce bull-fights into France, and to revive the combats of the Roman arena; as we see in the cold-blooded sacrifice of his own soldiers, when he ordered a useless outpost attack merely that his mistress might witness an engagement! That such a man should have prompted the individual killing of leading antagonists, and set prices on their heads, as in the cases of Mourad-Bey and Count Frotté, and that to remove the Duc d'Enghien he should have committed a crime like in its character to that of one who hires a bravo, but unlike by entailing no danger, was quite natural. It was natural, too, that, in addition to countless treacheries and breaches of faith in his dealings with foreign powers, such a man should play the traitor to his own nation, by stamping out its newly-gained free institutions, and substituting his own military despotism. Such being the nature of the man, and such being a few illustrations of his cruelty and unscrupulousness, contemplate now his greater crimes and their motives. Year after year he went on sacrificing by tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands the French people and the people of Europe at large, to gratify his lust of power and his hatred of opponents. To feed his insatiable ambition, and to crush those who resisted his efforts after universal dominion, he went on seizing the young men of France, forming army after army that were destroyed in destroying like armies raised by neighboring nations. In the Russian campaign alone, out of 552,000 French left dead or prisoners, but a small portion returned to France; while the Russian force of more than 200,000 was reduced to 30,000 or 40,000: implying a total sacrifice of considerably more than half a million lives. And when the mortality on both sides by death in battle, by wounds and by disease, throughout all the Napoleonic campaigns is summed up, it exceeds, at the lowest computation, two millions. And all this slaughter, all this suffering, all this devastation, was gone through because one man had a restless desire to be despot over all men.
And now what has been thought and felt in England about the two sets of events above contrasted, and about the actors in them? For the bloodshed of the Revolution there has been utter detestation, and for those who wrought it unqualified hate. For the immeasurably greater bloodshed which these wars of the Consulate and the Empire entailed, little or no horror is expressed; while the feeling toward the modern Attila who was guilty of this bloodshed is shown by decorating rooms with portraits and busts of him. See the beliefs which these respective feelings imply:
Over ten thousand deaths we may fitly shudder and lament.
Two million deaths may be contemplated without much shuddering and lamentation.
As the ten thousand were slain because of the tyrannies, and cruelties, and treacheries, committed by them or by their class, their deaths are especially pitiable.
As the two millions, innocent of offence, were taken against their wills from classes already oppressed and impoverished, the slaughter of them need not excite our pity.
The sufferings of the ten thousand and of their relatives, who expiated their own misdeeds and the misdeeds of their class, may fitly form subjects for heart-rending stories and pathetic pictures.
There is nothing heart-rending in the sufferings of the two millions who died for no crimes of their own or their class; nor need we see pathos in the fates of the poor families throughout France and all neighboring countries from which the two million victims were taken.
That despair and the indignation of a betrayed people brought about this slaughter of ten thousand, makes the atrocity without palliation.
That one man's lust of power was gratified through the deaths of the two millions, greatly palliates the sacrifice of them.
These are the antithetical propositions tacitly implied in the opinions that have been current in England about the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. Only by acceptance of such propositions can these opinions be defended. Such have been the emotions of men that, until quite recently, it has been the habit to speak with detestation of the one set of events, and to speak of the other set of events in words betraying admiration. Nay, even now these feelings are but partially qualified. While the names of the leading actors in the Reign of Terror are names of execration, we speak of Napoleon as "the Great," and Englishmen worship him by visiting his tomb and taking off their hats!
How, then, with such perverting emotions, is it possible to take rational views of sociological facts? Forming, as men do, such astoundingly false conceptions of the relative amounts of evils and the relative characters of motives, how can they judge truly among institutions and actions, past or present? Clearly, minds thus swayed by disproportionate hates and admirations cannot frame those balanced conclusions, respecting social phenomena, which alone constitute Social Science.
The sentiment which thus shudders with horror at bad deeds for which there was much excuse, while to deeds immeasurably more dreadful and without excuse it gives applause very slightly qualified with blame, is a sentiment which, among other effects, marvellously perverts men's political conceptions. This awe of power, by the help of which social subordination has been, and still is, chiefly maintained—this feeling which delights to contemplate the imposing, be it in military successes, or be it in the grand pageantries, the sounding titles, and the sumptuous modes of living that imply supreme authority—this feeling which is offended by outbreaks of insubordination, and acts or words of a disloyal kind; is a feeling that inevitably generates delusions respecting governments, their capacities, their achievements. It transfigures them and all their belongings, as does every strong emotion the objects toward which it is drawn out. Just as maternal love, idealizing offspring, sees perfections but not defects, and believes in the future good behavior of a worthless son, notwithstanding countless broken promises of amendment; so this power-worship idealizes the State, as embodied either in a despot, or in king, lords, and commons, or in a republican assembly, and continually hopes in spite of continual disappointments.
How awe of power sways men's political beliefs will be perceived, on observing how it sways their religious beliefs. We shall best see this by taking an instance supplied by people whose religious ideas are extremely crude. Here is an abstract of a description given by Captain Burton:
To us it seems scarcely imaginable that men should thus behave to their gods and demi-gods—should pray to them, should insult and sometimes castigate them for not answering their prayers, and then should presently pray to them again. Let us pause a moment before we laugh. Though in the sphere of religion our conduct does not present such a contradiction, yet a contradiction essentially similar is betrayed by our conduct in the political sphere. Perpetual disappointment does not here cure us of perpetual expectation. Conceiving the state-agency as though it were something more than a cluster of men (a few clever, many ordinary, and some decidedly stupid), we ascribe to it marvellous powers of doing multitudinous things which men otherwise clustered are unable to do. We petition it to procure for us, in some way which we do not doubt it can find, benefits of all orders; and pray it with unfaltering faith to secure us from every fresh evil. Time after time our hopes are balked. The good is not obtained, or something bad comes along with it; the evil is not cured, or some other evil as great or greater is produced. Our journals, daily and weekly, general and local, perpetually find failures to dilate upon; now blaming, and now ridiculing, first this department and then that. And yet, though the rectification of blunders, administrative and legislative, is a main part of public business—though the time of the Legislature is chiefly occupied in amending and again amending, until, after the many mischiefs implied by these needs for amendments, there often comes at last repeal; yet from day to day increasing numbers of wishes are expressed for legal repressions and state-management. This emotion which is excited by the forms of governmental power, and makes governmental power possible, is the root of a faith that springs up afresh however often cut down. To see how little the perennial confidence it generates is diminished by perennial disappointment, it needs but to remind ourselves of a few state-performances in the chief state departments.
On the second page of the first chapter, by way of illustrating Admiralty mismanagement, brief reference was made to three avoidable catastrophes which had happened to vessels-of-war within the twelve-month. Their frequency is further shown by the fact that, before the next chapter was published, two others had occurred: the Lord Clyde ran aground in the Mediterranean, and the Royal Alfred was seven hours on the Bahama reef. And then, more recently, we have had the sinking of a vessel at Woolwich by letting a 35-ton gun fall through her bottom. That the authorities of the navy commit errors which the merchant service avoids, has been repeatedly shown of late, as in times past. It was shown by the disclosure respecting the corrosion of the Glatton's plates, which proved that the Admiralty had not adopted the efficient protective methods long used by private ship-owners. It was shown when the loss of the Ariadne's sailors brought out the facts that a 26-gun frigate had not as many boats for saving life as are prescribed for a passenger-ship of less than 400 tons; and that for lowering her boats there was on board neither Kynaston's apparatus nor the much better apparatus of Clifford, which experience in the merchant service has thoroughly tested. It was shown by the non-adoption of Silver's governor for marine steam-engines; long used in private steamships to save machinery from breakage, but not used in the navy until much machinery had been broken. On going back a little, this relative inefficiency of administration is still more strikingly shown: instance the fact that, during the Chinese Expedition of 1841, a mortality, at the rate of three or four per day in a crew of 300, arose from drinking muddy water from the paddy-fields, though, either by boiling it or by filtering it through charcoal, much of this mortality might have been prevented; instance the fact that, within the memory of living officers (I have it from the mouth of one who had the experience), vessels-of-war, leaving Deptford, filled their casks with Thames-water taken at ebb-tide, which water during its subsequent period of putrefaction had to be filtered through handkerchiefs before drinking and then swallowed while holding the nose; or instance the accumulation of abominable abuses and malversations and tyrannies which produced the mutiny at Spithead. But, perhaps, of all such illustrations, the most striking is that which the treatment of scurvy shows us. It was in 1593 that sour juices were first recommended by Albertus; and in the same year Sir R. Hawkins cured his crew of scurvy by lemon-juice. In 1600 Commodore Lancaster, who took out the first squadron of the East India Company's ships, kept the crew of his own ship in perfect health by lemon-juice, while the crews of the three accompanying ships were so disabled that he had to send his men on board to set their sails. In 1636 this remedy was again recommended in medical works on scurvy. Admiral Wagner, commanding our fleet in the Baltic in 1726, again proved it to be a specific. In 1757, Dr. Lind, the physician to the naval hospital at Haslar, collected and published, in an elaborate work, these and many other proofs of its efficacy. Nevertheless, scurvy continued to carry off thousands of our sailors. In 1780, 2,400 in the Channel Fleet were affected by it; and in 1795 the safety of the Channel Fleet was endangered by it. At length, in that year, the Admiralty ordered a regular supply of lemon-juice to the navy. Thus two centuries after the remedy was known, and forty years after a chief medical officer of the Government had given conclusive evidence of its worth, the Admiralty, forced thereto by an exacerbation of the evil, first moved in the matter. And what had been the effect of this almost incredible perversity of officialism? The mortality from scurvy during this long period had exceeded the mortality by battles, wrecks, and all casualties of sea-life put together!
How, through military administration, there has all along run, and still runs, a kindred stupidity and obstructiveness, pages of examples might be accumulated to show. The debates pending the abolition of the purchase-system furnish many; the accounts of life at Aldershot and of autumn manoeuvres furnish many; and many might be added in the shape of protests like those made against martinet riding-regulations, which entail ruptures on the soldiers, and against "our ridiculous drill-book," as independent officers are now agreeing to call it. Even limiting ourselves to sanitary administration in the army, the files of our journals and the reports of our commissions would yield multitudinous instances of scarcely credible bungling—as in bad barrack arrangements, of which we heard so much a few years ago; as in an absurd style of dress, such as that which led to the wholesale cutting-down of the Twelfth Cameronians when they arrived in China in 1841; as in the carelessness which lately caused the immense mortality by cholera among the Eighteenth Hussars at Secunderabad. Or, not further to multiply instances, take the long-continued ignoring of ipecacuanha as a specific for dysentery, which causes so much mortality in our Indian service:
So that, notwithstanding the gravity of the evil, and the pressing need for this remedy from time to time thrust on the attention of the Indian authorities, nearly sixty years passed before the requisite steps were taken.
That the State, which fails to secure the health of men, even in its own employ, should fail to secure the health of beasts, might perhaps be taken as self-evident; though possibly some, comparing the money laid out on stables with the money laid out on cottages, might doubt the corollary. Be this as it may, however, the recent history of cattle-diseases and of legislation to prevent cattle-diseases yields the same lessons as are yielded above. Since 1848 there have been seven Acts of Parliament bearing the general titles of Contagious Diseases (Animals) Acts. Measures to "stamp out," as the phrase goes, this or that disease, have been called for as imperative. Measures have been passed, and then, expectation not having been fulfilled, amended measures have been passed, and then reamended measures; so that of late no session has gone by without a bill to cure evils which previous bills tried to cure, but did not. Notwithstanding the keen interest felt by the ruling classes in the success of these measures, they have succeeded so ill, that the "foot-and-mouth disease" has not been "stamped out," has not even been kept in check, but during the past year has spread alarmingly in various parts of the kingdom. Continually the Times has had blaming letters and reports of local meetings called to condemn the existing laws, and to insist on better. From all quarters there have come accounts of ineffective regulations and incapable officials—of policemen who do the work of veterinary surgeons—of machinery described by Mr. Fleming, veterinary surgeon of the Royal Engineers, as "clumsy, disjointed, and inefficient."
Is it alleged that the goodness of State-agency cannot be judged by measures so recent, the administration of which is at present imperfect. If so, let us look at that form of State-agency which is of most ancient date, and has had the longest time for perfecting its adjustments—let us take the law in general, and its administration in general. Needs there do more than name these to remind the reader of the amazing inefficiency, confusion, doubtfulness, delay, which, proverbial from early times, continue still? Of penal statutes alone, which are assumed to be known by every citizen, 14,408 had been enacted from the time of Edward III. down to 1844. As was said by Lord Cranworth in the House of Peers, 16th February, 1853, the judges were supposed to he acquainted with all these laws, but, in fact, no human mind could master them, and ignorance had ceased to be a disgrace. To this has to be added the accumulation of civil laws, similarly multitudinous, involved, unclassified, and to this, again, the enormous mass of "case law," filling over 1,200 volumes, and rapidly increasing, before there can be formed an idea of the chaos. And then consider how there has come this chaos, out of which not even the highest legal functionaries, much less the lower functionaries, much less the ordinary citizens, can educe definite conclusions. Session after session the confusion has been worse confounded by the passing of separate Acts, and successive amendments of Acts, which are left unconnected with the multitudinous kindred Acts and amendments that lie scattered through the accumulated records of centuries. Suppose a trader should make, day by day, separate memoranda of his transactions with A, B, C, and the rest of his debtors and creditors. Suppose he should stick these on a file one after the other as they were made, never even putting them in order, much less entering them in his ledger. Suppose he should thus go on throughout his life, and that, to learn the state of his account with A, B, or C, his clerks had to search through this enormous confused file of memoranda, being helped only by their memories and by certain private note-books which preceding clerks had made for their own guidance, and left behind them. What would be the state of the business? What chance would A, B, and C, have of being rightly dealt with? Yet this, which, as a method of conducting private business, is almost too ludicrous for fiction, is in public business nothing more than grave fact. And the result of the method is exactly the one to be anticipated. At the present time we have two ex-Chancellors giving conflicting judgments in assurance-arbitrations. The conflict may be taken as typical of the system from top to bottom. Every day's law-reports remind us that each decision given is so uncertain that the probability of appeal depends chiefly on the courage or pecuniary ability of the beaten litigant—not on the nature of the verdict; and, if the appeal is made, a reversal of the verdict is looked for as by no means unlikely. And then, on contemplating the ultimate result, we find it to be—the multiplication of aggressions. Were the law clear, were the verdicts certain to be in conformity with it, and did asking for its protection entail no chance of great loss or of ruin, very many of the causes that come before our courts would never be heard of, for the reason that the wrongs they disclose would not be committed; and there would not be committed those yet more numerous wrongs to which the bad are prompted by the belief that the persons wronged will not dare to seek redress. Here, where State-agency has had centuries upon centuries in which to develop its appliances and show its efficiency, it is so inefficient that citizens dread employing it, lest, instead of getting succor in their distress, they should bring on themselves new sufferings. And then—startling comment on the system, if we could but see it—there spring up private voluntary combinations for doing the business which the State should do, but fails to do. Here in London there is now proposed a Tribunal of Commerce, for administering justice among traders, on the pattern of that which in Paris settles many thousands of cases a year.
Even after finding the State perform so ill this vital function, one might have expected that it would perform well such a simple function as the keeping of documents. Yet, in the custody of the national records, there has been a carelessness such as "no merchant of ordinary prudence" would show in respect to his account-books. One portion of these records was for a long time kept in the White Tower, close to some tons of gunpowder, and another portion was kept close to a steam-engine in daily use. Some records were deposited in a temporary shed at the end of "Westminster Hall, and thence, in 1830, they were removed to other sheds in the King's Mews, Charing Cross, where, in 1836, their state is thus described by the Report of a Select Committee:
Thus, if we array in order the facts daily brought to light, but which, unhappily, drop out of men's memories as fast as others are added, we find a like history throughout. Now the complaint is of the crumbling walls of the Houses of Parliament, which, built of stone chosen by a commission, nevertheless begin to decay in parts first built before other parts are completed. Now the disclosure is about a new fort at Seaford, based on the shingle so close to the sea that a storm washes a great part of it away. And now there comes the account of a million and a half spent in building the Alderney harbor, which, being found worse than useless, threatens to entail further cost for its destruction. Scarcely a journal can be taken up that has not some blunder referred to in a debate, or brought to light by a Report, or pointed out in a letter, or commented on in a leader. Do I need an illustration? I take up the Times of this morning (November 13th), and read that the new bankruptcy law, substituted for the bankruptcy laws which failed so miserably, is administered in rooms so crowded and noisy that due care and thought on the part of officials are scarcely possible; and, further, that, as one part of the court sits in the City and another part in Lincoln's Inn, solicitors have often to he in both places at the same time. Do I need more illustrations? They come in abundance between the day on which the foregoing sentence was written and the day (November 20th) on which I revise it. Within this short time mismanagement has been shown in a treatment of the police that has created a mutiny among them; in a treatment of government copying-clerks that causes them publicly to complain of broken promises; in a treatment of postmen that calls from them disrespectful behavior toward their superiors: all at the same time that there is going on the controversy about Park-rules, which have been so issued as to evade constitutional principles, and so administered as to bring the law into contempt. Yet, as fast as there come proofs of mal-administration, there come demands that administration shall be extended. Just as, in societies made restive by despotism, we see that, for the evils and dangers brought about, the remedy is more despotism; just as we see that, along with the failing power of a decaying Papacy, there goes, as the only fit cure, a reassertion of Papal infallibility with emphatic obligato from a Council; so, to set right the misdoings of State-agency, the proposal is always more State-agency. When, after long continuance of coal-mine inspection, coal-mine explosions keep recurring, the cry is for more coal-mine inspection. When railway accidents multiply, notwithstanding the oversight of officials appointed by law to see that railways are safe, the unhesitating demand is for more such officials. Though, as Lord Salisbury lately remarked of governing bodies deputed by the State, "they begin by being enthusiastic and extravagant, and they are very apt to end in being wooden"—though, through the press and by private conversation, men are perpetually reminded that, when it has ceased to wield the new broom, each deputy governing power tends to become either a king-stork that does mischief, or a king-log that does nothing—yet more deputy governing powers are asked for with unwavering faith. While the unwisdom of officialism is daily illustrated, the argument for each proposed new department sets out with the postulate that officials will act wisely. After endless comments on the confusion and apathy and delay of Government offices, other Government offices are advocated. After ceaseless ridicule of red-tape, the petition is for more red-tape. Daily we castigate the political idol with a hundred pens, and daily pray to it with a thousand tongues.
The emotion which thus destroys the balance of judgment lies deep in the natures of men as they have been and still are. This root, out of which there grow hopes that are no sooner blighted than kindred hopes grow up in their places, is a root reaching down to the earliest stages of civilization. The conquering chief, feared, marvelled at, for his strength or sagacity, distinguished from others by a quality thought of as supernatural (when the antithesis of this with natural becomes thinkable), ever excites a disproportionate faith and expectation. Having done or seen things beyond the power or insight of inferiors, there is no knowing what other such things he may not do or see. After death, his deeds become magnified by tradition; and his successor, inheriting his authority, executing his commands, and keeping up secret communication with him, acquires either thus, or by his own superiority, or by both, a like credit for powers that transcend the ordinary human powers. So there accumulates an awe of the ruler, with its correlative faith. As we trace the genealogy of the governing power, thus beginning as god, and descendant of the gods, and having titles and a worship in common with the gods, we see there clings to it, through all its successive metamorphoses, more or less of this same ascribed character, exciting this same sentiment. "Divinely descended" becomes presently "divinely appointed," "the Lord's anointed," "ruler by divine right," "king by the grace of God," etc. And then as fast as declining monarchical power brings with it decreasing belief in the supernaturalness of the monarch (which, however, long lingers in faint forms, as instance the supposed cure of kind's evil), the growing powers of the bodies that assume his functions bring to them a share of the still-surviving sentiment. The "divinity that doth hedge a king" becomes, in considerable measure, the divinity that doth hedge a Parliament. The superstitious reverence once felt toward the one is transferred, in a modified form, to the other, taking with it a tacit belief in an ability to achieve any end that may be wished, and a tacit belief in an authority to which no limits may be set.
This sentiment, inherited and cultivated in men from childhood upward, sways their convictions in spite of them. It generates an irrational confidence in all the paraphernalia and appliances and forms of State-action. In the very aspect of a law-deed, written in an archaic hand on dingy parchment, there is something which raises a conception of validity not raised by ordinary writing on paper. Around a Government-stamp there is a certain glamour which makes us feel as though the piece of paper bearing it was more than a mere mass of dry pulp with some indented marks. To any legal form of words there seems to attach an authority far greater than that which would be felt were the language free from legal involutions and legal technicalities. And so is it with all the symbols of authority, from royal pageants downward. That the judge's wig gives to his decisions a weight and sacredness they would not have were he bareheaded, is a fact familiar to every one. And, when we descend to the lowest agents of the executive organization, we find the same thing. A man in blue coat and white-metal buttons, which carry with them the thought of State-authority, is habitually regarded by citizens as having a trust-worthiness beyond that of a man who wears no such uniform; and this confidence survives all disproofs. Obviously, then, if men's judgments are thus ridiculously swayed, in spite of better knowledge, by the mere symbols of State-power, still more must they be so swayed by State-power itself, as exercised in ways that leave greater scope for the imagination. If awe and faith are irresistibly called out toward things which perception and reason tell us positively should not call them out, still more will awe and faith be called out toward those State-actions and influences on which perception and reason can less easily be brought to bear. If the beliefs prompted by this feeling of reverence survive even where they are flatly contradicted by common-sense, still more will they survive where common-sense cannot so flatly contradict them.
How deeply rooted is this sentiment excited in men by embodied power will be seen, on noting how it sways in common all orders of politicians, from the old-world Tory to the Red Republican. Contrasted as the extreme parties are in the types of Government they approve, and the theories they hold respecting the source of Government authority, they are alike in their unquestioning belief in governmental authority, and in showing almost unlimited faith in the ability of a Government to achieve any desired end. Though the form of the agency toward which the sentiment of loyalty is directed is much changed, yet there is little change in sentiment itself, or in the general conceptions it creates. The notion of the divine right of a person has given place to the notion of the divine right of a representative assembly. While it is held to be a self-evident falsity that the single will of a despot can justly override the wills of a people, it is held to be a self-evident truth that the wills of one-half of a people, plus some small fraction, may with perfect justice override the wills of the other half, minus this small fraction—may override them in respect of any matter whatever. Unlimited authority of a majority has been substituted for unlimited authority of an individual. So unquestioning is the belief in this unlimited authority of a majority, that even the tacit suggestion of a doubt produces astonishment. True, if, of one who holds that power deputed by the people is subject to no restrictions, you ask whether, if the majority decided that no person should be allowed to live beyond sixty, the decision might be legitimately executed, he would possibly hesitate. Or, if you asked him whether the majority, being Catholic, might rightly require of the Protestant minority that they should either embrace Catholicism or leave the country, he would, influenced by the ideas of religious liberty in which he has been brought up, probably say no. But, though his answers to sundry such questions disclose the fact that State-authority, when an embodiment of the national will, is not believed by him to be absolutely supreme, his latent conviction, that there are limits to it, lies so remote in the obscure background of his consciousness as to be practically non-existent. In all he says about what a legislature should do, or forbid, or require, he tacitly assumes that any regulation may be enacted, and when enacted must be obeyed. And then, along with this authority not to be gainsaid, he believes in a capacity not to be doubted. Whatever the governing body decides to do can be done, is the postulate which lies hidden in the schemes of the most revolutionary reformers. Analyze the programmes of the Communalists, observe what is hoped for by the adherents of the Social and Democratic Republic, or study the ideas of legislative action which our own Trades-Unionists entertain, and you find the implied belief to be that a Government, organized after an approved pattern, will be able to remedy all the evils complained of, and to secure each proposed benefit.
Thus, the emotion excited by embodied power is one which sways, and indeed mainly determines, the beliefs, not only of those classed as the most subordinate, but even those classed as the most insubordinate. It has a deeper origin than any political creed, and more or less distorts the conceptions of all parties respecting governmental action.
This sentiment of loyalty, making it almost impossible to study the natures and actions of governing agencies with perfect calmness, greatly hinders sociological science, and must long continue to hinder it. For the sentiment is all-essential. Throughout the past, societies have been mainly held together by it. It is still an indispensable aid to social cohesion and the maintenance of order. And it will be long before social discipline has so far modified human character that reverence for law, as rooted in the moral order of things, will serve in place of reverence for the power which enforces law.
Accounts of existing uncivilized races, as well as histories of the civilized races, show us a posteriori what we might infer with certainty a priori, that, in proportion as the members of a society are aggressive in their natures, they can be held together only by a proportionately strong feeling of unreasoning reverence for a leader or a ruler. Some of the lowest types of men, who show but little of this feeling, show scarcely any social cohesion, and make no progress—instance the Australians. Where appreciable social development has taken place, we find subordination to chiefs; and, as the society enlarges, to a king. If we need an illustration that, where there is great savageness, social union can be maintained only by great loyalty, we have it among those ferocious cannibals the Fijians. Here, where the barbarism is so extreme that a late king registered by a row of many hundred stones the number of human victims he had devoured, the loyalty is so extreme that a man stands unbound to be knocked on the head if the king wills it: himself saying that the king's will must be done. And if, with this case in mind, we glance back over the past, and note the fealty that went along with brutality in feudal ages; or if, at the present time, we observe how the least advanced European nations show a superstitious awe of the ruler, which, in the more advanced, has become conventional respect; we shall perceive that decrease of the feeling goes on, and can normally go on, only as fast as the fitness of men for social coöperation increases. Manifestly, throughout all past time, assemblages of men in whom the aggressive selfishness of the predatory nature existed without this feeling, which induces obedience to a controlling power, dissolved and disappeared, leaving the world to be peopled by those who had the required emotional balance. And it is manifest that, even in civilized society, if the sentiment of subordination becomes enfeebled without self-control gaining in strength proportionately, there arises a danger of social dissolution — a truth of which France supplies an illustration.
Hence, as above said, the conceptions of sociological phenomena, or, at least, of those all-important ones relating to governmental structures and actions, must now, and for a long time to come, be rendered more or less untrue by this perturbing emotion. Here, in the concrete, may be recognized the truth before stated in the abstract, that the individual citizen, embedded, as it were, in the social organism as one of its units, mainly moulded by its influences, and aiding reciprocally to remould it, furthering its life while enabled by it to live, cannot so emancipate himself as to see things around him in their real relations. Unless the mass of citizens have sentiments and beliefs in something like harmony with the social organization in which they are incorporated, this organization cannot continue. These sentiments proper to each type of society will inevitably sway the sociological conclusions of its units. And, among other sentiments, this awe of embodied power will take a large share in doing this.
How large a share it takes, we shall see on contemplating the astonishingly perverted estimates of rulers it has produced, and the resulting perversions of history. Recall the titles of adoration given to emperors and kings; the ascription to them of capacities, beauties, powers, virtues, transcending those of mankind in general; the fulsome flatteries used when commending them to God in prayers professing to utter the truth. Now, side by side with these, put records of their deeds throughout all past times in all nations; notice how thickly these records are sprinkled with crimes of all orders; and then dwell a while on the contrast. Is it not manifest that the conceptions of State-actions that went along with these profoundly untrue conceptions of rulers must also have been profoundly untrue? Take, as a single example, King James, who, as described by Mr. Bisset in agreement with other historians, was "in every relation of life in which he is viewed .... equally an object of aversion or contempt;" but to whom, nevertheless, the English translation of the Bible is dedicated in sentences beginning, "Great and manifold were the blessings, most dread sovereign, which Almighty God, the Father of all mercies, bestowed upon us the people of England, when first He sent Your Majesty's Royal Person to rule and reign over us," etc., etc. Think of such a dedication of such a book to such a man; and then ask if, along with a sentiment thus expressing itself, there could go any thing like balanced judgments of political transactions.
Does there need an illustration of the extent to which balanced judgments of political transactions are made impossible by this sentiment during times when it is strong? We have one in the warped conceptions formed respecting Charles I. and Cromwell; and respecting the changes with which their names are identified. Now that many generations have gone by, and it begins to be seen that the one was not worthy to be prayed for as a martyr, while the other deserved treatment quite unlike that of exhuming his body and insulting it, it begins to be seen, also, how utterly wrong have been the interpretations of the events they took part in, and how entirely men's sentiments of loyalty have incapacitated them for understanding those events under their sociological aspects.
Naming this as an instance of a more special perverting effect of this sentiment, we have here chiefly to note its more general perverting effect. From the beginning it has tended ever to keep in the foreground of consciousness the governing agent as causing social phenomena; and so has kept in the background of consciousness all other causes of social phenomena—or, rather, the one has so completely occupied consciousness as to exclude the other. If we remember that history has been full of the doings of kings, but that only in quite recent times have the phenomena of industrial organization, conspicuous as they are, attracted any attention—if we remember that, while all eyes and all thoughts have been turned to the actions of rulers, no eyes and no thoughts have, until modern days, been turned to those vital processes of spontaneous coöperation by which natural life, and growth, and progress, have been carried on—we shall not fail to see how profound have been the resulting errors in men's conclusions about social affairs. And, seeing this, we shall infer that the emotion excited in men by embodied political power must now, and for a long-time to come, be a great obstacle to the formation of rational sociological conceptions—tending, as it must ever do, to exaggerate the importance of the political factor in comparison with other factors.
Under the title of "Subjective Difficulties—Emotional," I have here entered upon an extensive field, the greater part of which remains to be explored. The effects of impatience, the effects of that all-glorifying admiration felt for military success, the effects of that sentiment which makes men submit to authority by keeping up a superstitious awe of the agent exercising it, are but a few among the effects which, the emotions produce on sociological beliefs. Various other effects have now to be described and illustrated. We will deal with them in chapters on "the Educational Bias," "the Bias of Patriotism," "the Class-Bias," "the Political Bias," and "the Theological Bias."
- Translation of Lanfrey, vol. ii., p. 25.
- Ibid., vol. ii., p. 442.
- M. Lanfrey sets down the loss of the French alone, from 1802 onward, at nearly two millions. This may be an overestimate; though, judging from the immense armies raised in France, such a total seems quite possible. The above computation of the losses to European nations in general has been made for me by adding the numbers of killed and wounded in the successive battles, as furnished by such statements as are accessible. The total is 1,500,000. This number has to be greatly increased by including losses not specified—the number of killed and wounded on one side only, being given in some cases. It has to be further increased by including losses in numerous minor engagements, the particulars of which are unknown. And it has to be further increased by allowance for understatement of his losses, which was habitual with Napoleon. Though the total, raised by these various additions probably to something over two millions, includes killed and wounded, from which last class a large deduction has to be made for the number who recovered, yet it takes no account of the loss by disease. This may be set down as greater in amount than that which battles caused. (Thus, according to Kolb, the British lost in Spain three times as many by diseases as by the enemy; and in the expedition to Walcheren seventeen times as many.) So that the loss by killed and wounded and by disease, for all the European nations during the Napoleonic campaigns, is probably much understated at two millions.
- Burton's "Goa," etc., p. 167.
- See Tweedie's "System of Practical Medicine," vol. v., pp. 62-69.
- "Report on the Progress and Condition of the Royal Gardens at Kew, 1870," p. 5.
- My attention was drawn to this case by one who has had experience in various government services; and he ascribed this obstructiveness in the medical service to the putting of young surgeons under old. The remark is significant, and has far-reaching implications. Putting young officials under old is a rule of all services—civil, military, naval, or other; and, in all services, necessarily has the effect of placing the advanced ideas and wider knowledge of a new generation under control by the ignorance and bigotry of a generation to which change has become repugnant. This, which is a seemingly ineradicable vice of public organizations, is a vice to which private organizations are far less liable; since, in the life-and-death struggle of competition, merit, even if young, takes the place of demerit, even if old.
- Let me here add what seems to be a not impossible cause, or at any rate part-cause, of the failure. The clew is given by a letter in the Times, signed "Land-owner," dating Tollesbury, Essex, August 2, 1872. He bought "ten fine young steers, perfectly free from any symptom of disease," and "passed sound by the inspector of foreign stock." They were attacked by foot-and-mouth disease after five days passed in fresh paddocks with the best food. On inquiry he found that foreign stock, however healthy, "'mostly all go down with it' after the passage." And then, in proposing a remedy, he gives us a fact of which he does not seem to recognize the meaning. He suggests, "that, instead of the present quarantine at Harwich, which consists in driving the stock from the steamer into pens for a limited number of hours," etc., etc. If this description of the quarantine is correct, the spread of the disease is accounted for. Every new drove of cattle is kept for hours in an infected pen. Unless the successive droves have been all healthy (which the very institution of the quarantine implies that they have not been), some of them have left in the pen diseased matter from their mouths and feet. Even if disinfectants are used after each occupation, the risk is great—the disinfection is almost certain to be inadequate. Nay, even if the pen is adequately disinfected every time, yet if there is not also a complete disinfection of the landing appliances, the landing-stage, and the track to the pen, the disease will be communicated. No wonder healthy cattle "' mostly go down with it' after the passage." The quarantine regulations, if they are such as here implied, might with perfect truth be called "regulations for the better diffusion of cattle-diseases."
- Fischel's "English Constitution," translated by Shee. p. 487.