Popular Science Monthly/Volume 39/July 1891/Editor's Table
THE General of the Salvation Army has, without intending it, rendered a very considerable service to society by provoking just the kind of discussion that was most wanted at the present time in regard to the best means of combating the poverty which seems ever to dog the steps of civilization. The "General" was perfectly confident that, if the public would only supply him with sufficient money, he could grapple with the problem as far as the city of London was concerned. His confidence in himself begot confidence in him on the part of others, and sufficient money has been placed in his hands to enable him to set about working out his experiment. But, while a portion of the public has thus proved responsive, another portion has sought to know something more about the "General's" schemes and methods before deciding on giving him support. Every one is probably aware of the position taken up by Prof. Huxley in reference to this matter. Having been consulted by a friend as to whether he would advise the giving of a large sum of money to the "General's" fund, he frankly stated, in a letter to the London Times, that the methods of the Salvation Army did not inspire him with confidence. What he saw was a vast organization centering round Mr. Booth, and obeying his commands with a submission almost as absolute as that rendered by a monk to the head of his order. In Prof. Huxley's opinion the world has seen enough of this kind of thing, and has had sufficient experience of the corruption that such personally-governed corporations naturally undergo. His conclusion, therefore, is that it would not be wise on the part of any one who does not fully believe in Mr. Booth as a spiritual leader and teacher to devote money to a scheme the main result of which would certainly be to increase that individual's personal influence. The objections thus taken on general grounds were found to be fully justified by the special facts which further inquiry revealed. The methods of the "army" were found to be such as an absolute autocracy might be expected to develop. Under such a system policy becomes paramount, and moral principles, if they conflict with policy, must fare as best they may. As Prof. Huxley's letters to the Times have lately been republished in this country, we should recommend those who are interested in the question as to the expediency of trusting to Mr. Booth's army to undertake social work, and of furnishing it with funds for the purpose, to study that question for themselves in the light of the facts which Prof. Huxley brings forward.
Meantime, we protest on broad scientific grounds against the idea of intrusting social work to any organization the methods and principles of which are not open to the fullest criticism, or to one the operations of which are under the absolute control of a single will. Mr. Booth professes that his main object is to save souls. The saving of souls is, in his opinion, bound up with the adoption of a certain theological creed. He really aims, while satisfying material wants, at extending the sway of his own ideas and beliefs. He wants to transform society into a salvation army, and he asks for money to enable him to carry on the work directly and indirectly. Let those assist who believe that it is well for the world that Mr. Booth's ideas should be more widely spread among mankind; but we do not see with what consistency men who hold that what society lacks is the bread of knowledge and the discipline of firm governmental administration can lend their aid to a scheme which totally subordinates knowledge to dogma, and seeks to solve social difficulties by a kind of deus ex machina intervention of a somewhat fanatical and not over-scrupulous individual. We do not grudge Mr. Booth the utmost support he can get from persons on the same plane of thought as himself, and who believe that it is a good thing that he should wield an autocratic power over so many thousands of his fellow-men; but we can not believe that those who regard his way of thinking as narrow and unintelligent, and who disapprove of the concentration of unlimited power, however acquired, in the hands of one man, are justified in directly helping to strengthen his organization. It is right, however, that those who fight under the banner of science should note what is going on and be admonished thereby. If the forces of reaction are in motion, the forces of progress should not be inactive. It is time that the whole problem of social reform should be considered in the light of the best knowledge now obtainable. Medical and sanitary science have much to say to it, and so has political economy. History, psychology, and ethics should all be able to throw light upon it, and anthropology might render more or less assistance. One unfortunate result of the undue specialization of scientific study now prevalent is that scientific men are, or feel themselves to be, cut off to a great extent from large questions of every-day life; but here certainly is one of pressing importance which should not be left to ignoramuses and fanatics to solve in their own crude way. We do not hesitate to say that the scientific men of this generation will gravely fail in their duty if they do not collectively strive to bring the improved knowledge of the time to bear on social problems. If we can not be helped to discern all we ought to do, it would be something if we could be led to see what we ought not to do. The prominence which a man like "General" Booth is able to achieve is largely due to the abstention from social concerns of men who ought to be able to take a wider and more sober view of the situation than he. There are social problems to be dealt with in this country just as there are in England, though they may not have reached so acute a stage; and we trust it may not be left to the Salvation Army to take up on this side of the Atlantic work which might so much better be coped with by scientifically directed effort.
A fetich is commonly understood to be some inanimate object ignorantly and blindly worshiped as possessing supernatural powers. In the March number of the Westminster Review Mrs. Emily Glade Ellis discusses The Fetich of Charity. The expression is happily chosen. It is hardly too much to say that, with the Christian world in general, charity is little better than a fetich. It is blindly believed in as something that must do good, that must bless both the giver and the receiver. True, this fetich, like other fetiches, often does not do the things that are expected of it, but, on the contrary, seems to take a spiteful pleasure in doing the opposite of what was expected; still, the faith of its worshipers is not shaken. The African savage will sometimes treat his uncomplying fetich to a sound drubbing; but the Christian savage (shall we say?) has a casuistry at his command that enables him at all times to make apologies both for his fetich and for himself. How richly the fetich deserves to be drubbed, or rather, to use a more rational phrase, how strong the case is for discarding it as a fetich, any one may learn from a perusal of Mrs. Ellis's article. Her arraignment of the fetich falls under five heads: "(1) It invites and creates gross errors of administration. (2) It shifts the duties of the whole community on to the shoulders of a generous minority. (3) It demoralizes those who give. (4) It demoralizes those who receive. (5) It intensifies the very evils it was designed to cure." The facts adduced in support of this indictment are very striking, and, we do not hesitate to say, conclusive. We are glad to notice that this article only purports to be a first installment of a longer discussion. No subject could be more timely, and we trust that the writer and those who with her appreciate the full evil wrought by a misguided sentimentality will persevere in their efforts to enlighten the public, with a view to the overthrow of methods that are so obviously hurtful, and the substitution therefor of a rational dependence on law in the widest sense.