Popular Science Monthly/Volume 44/December 1893/Ethics and the Struggle for Existence
|ETHICS AND THE STRUGGLE FOR EXISTENCE.|
IN his deeply interesting Romanes lecture. Prof. Huxley has stated the opinion that the ethical progress of society depends upon our combating the "cosmic process" which we call the struggle for existence. Since, as he adds, we inherit the "cosmic nature" which is the outcome of millions of years of severe training, it follows that the "ethical nature" may count upon having to reckon with a tenacious and powerful enemy as long as the world lasts. This is not a cheerful prospect. It is, as he admits, an audacious proposal to pit the microcosm against the macrocosm. We can not help fearing that the microcosm may get the worst of it. Prof. Huxley has not fully expanded his meaning, and says much to which I could cordially subscribe. But I think that the facts upon which he relies admit or require an interpretation which avoids the awkward conclusion.
Pain and suffering, as Prof. Huxley tells us, are always with us, and even increase in quantity and intensity as evolution advances. The fact has been recognized in remote ages long before theories of evolution had taken their modern form. Pessimism, from the time of the ancient Hindu philosophers to the time of their disciple, Schopenhauer, has been in no want of evidence to support its melancholy conclusions. It would be idle to waste rhetoric in the attempt to recapitulate so familiar a position. Though I am not a pessimist, I can not doubt that there is more plausibility in the doctrine than I could wish. Moreover, it may be granted that any attempt to explain or to justify the existence of evil is undeniably futile. It is not so much that the problem can not be answered as that it can not even be asked in any intelligible sense. To "explain" a fact is to assign its causes—that is, to give the preceding set of facts out of which it arose. However far we might go backward, we should get no nearer to perceiving any reason for the original fact. If we explain the fall of man by Adam's eating the apple we are quite unable to say why the apple should have been created. If we could discover a general theory of pain, showing, say, that it implied certain physiological conditions, we should be no nearer to knowing why those physiological conditions should have been what they are. The existence of pain, in short, is one of the primary data of our problem, not one of the accidents for which we can hope in any intelligible sense to account. To give any "justification" is equally impossible. The book of Job really suggests an impossible, one may almost say a meaningless, problem. We can give an intelligible meaning to a demand for justice when we can suppose that a man has certain antecedent rights which another man may respect or neglect. But this has no meaning as between the abstraction "Nature" and the concrete facts which are themselves Nature. It is unjust to treat equal claims differently. But it is not "unjust" in any intelligible sense that one being should be a monkey and another a man, any more than that one part of me should be a hand and another a head. The question would only arise if we supposed that the man and the monkey had existed before they were created, and had then possessed claims to equal treatment. The most logical theologians indeed admit that as between creature and creator there can be properly no question of justice. The pot and the potter can not complain of each other. If the writer of Job had been able to show that the virtuous were rewarded and the vicious punished, he would only have transferred the problem to another issue. The judge might be justified but the creator would be condemned. How can it be just to place a being where he is certain to sin and then to damn him for sinning? That is the problem to which no answer can be given; and which already implies a confusion of ideas. We apply the conception of justice in a sphere where it is not applicable, and naturally fail to get any intelligible answer.
The question therefore resolves itself into a different one. We can neither explain nor justify the existence of pain; but of course we can ask whether, as a matter of fact, pain predominates over pleasure, and we can ask whether, as a matter of fact, the "cosmic processes" tend to promote or discourage virtuous conduct. Does the theory of the "struggle for existence" throw any new light upon the general problem? I am quite unable to see, for my own part, that it really makes any difference: evil exists; and the question whether evil predominates over good can only, I should say, be decided by an appeal to experience. One source of evil is the conflict of interests. Every beast preys upon others, and man, according to the old saying, is a wolf to man. All that the Darwinian theory can do is to enable us to trace the consequences of this fact in certain directions, but it neither reveals the fact nor makes it more or less an essential part of the process. It "explains" certain phenomena, in the sense of showing their connection with previous phenomena, but does not show why the phenomena should present themselves at all. If we indulge our minds in purely fanciful constructions, we may regard the actual system as good or bad, just as we choose to imagine for its alternative a better or a worse system. If everybody had been put into a world where there was no pain, or where each man could get all he wanted without interfering with his neighbors, we may fancy that things would have been pleasanter. If the struggle, which we all know to exist, had no effect in promoting the " survival of the fittest," things—so at least some of us may think—would have been worse. But such fancies have nothing to do with scientific inquiries. We have to take things as they are, and make the best of them.
The common feeling, no doubt, is different. The incessant struggle between different races suggests a painful view of the universe, as Hobbes's natural state of war suggested painful theories as to human nature. War is evidently immoral, we think; and a doctrine which makes the whole process of evolution a process of war must be radically immoral too. The struggle, it is said, demands "ruthless self-assertion," and the hunting down of all competitors; and such phrases certainly have an unpleasant sound. But, in the first place, the use of the epithets implies an anthropomorphism to which we have no right so long as we are dealing with the inferior species. We are then in a region to which moral ideas have no direct application, and where the moral sentiments exist only in germ, if they can properly be said to exist at all. Is it fair to call a wolf "ruthless" because it eats a sheep and fails to consider the transaction from the sheep's point of view? We must surely admit that if the wolf is without mercy he is also without malice. We call an animal ferocious because a man who acted in the same way would be ferocious. But the man is really ferocious because he is really aware of the pain which he inflicts. The wolf, I suppose, has no more recognition of the sheep's feelings than a man has of feelings in the oyster or the potato. For him, they are simply non-existent; and it is just as inappropriate to think of the wolf as cruel as it would be to call the sheep cruel for eating grass. Are we, then, to say that "Nature" is cruel because the arrangement increases the sum of general suffering? That is a problem which I do not feel able to answer; but it is at least obvious that it can not be answered offhand in the affirmative. To the individual sheep it matters nothing whether he is eaten by the wolf or dies of disease or starvation. He has to die anyway, and the particular way is unimportant. The wolf is simply one of the limiting forces upon sheep, and, if he were removed, others would come into play. The sheep, left to himself, would still have a practical illustration of the doctrine of Malthus. If, as evolutionists tell us, the hostility of the wolf tends to improve the breed of sheep, to encourage him to climb better and to sharpen his wits, the sheep may be, on the whole, the better for the wolf: in this sense, at least, thus the sheep of a wolfless region might lead a more wretched existence, and be less capable animals and more subject to disease and starvation than the sheep in a wolf-haunted region. The wolf may, so far, be a blessing in disguise.
This suggests another obvious remark. When we speak of the struggle for existence, the popular view seems to construe this into the theory that the world is a mere cockpit, in which one race carries on an internecine struggle with the other. If the wolves are turned in with the sheep, the first result will be that all the sheep will become mutton, and the last that there will be one big wolf with all the others inside him. But this is contrary to the essence of the doctrine. Every race depends, we all hold, upon its environment, and the environment includes all the other races. If some, therefore, are in conflict, others are mutually necessary. If the wolf ate all the sheep, and the sheep ate all the grass, the result would be the extirpation of all the sheep and all the wolves, as well as all the grass. The struggle necessarily implies reciprocal dependence in a countless variety of ways. There is not only a conflict, but a system of tacit alliances. One species is necessary to the existence of others, though the multiplication of some implies also the dying out of particular rivals. The conflict implies no cruelty, as I have said, and the alliance no good will. The wolf neither loves the sheep (except as mutton) nor hates him; but he depends upon him as absolutely as if he were aware of the fact. The sheep is one of the wolf's necessaries of life. When we speak of the struggle for existence, we mean, of course, that there is at any given period a certain equilibrium between all the existing species; it changes, though it changes so slowly that the process is imperceptible and difficult to realize even to the scientific imagination. The survival of any species involves the disappearance of rivals no more than the preservation of allies. The struggle, therefore, is so far from internecine that it necessarily involves co-operation. It can not even be said that it necessarily implies suffering. People, indeed, speak as though the extinction of a race involved suffering in the same way as the slaughter of an individual. It is plain that this is not a necessary though it may sometimes be the actual result. A corporation may be suppressed without injury to its members. Every individual will die before long, struggle or no struggle. If the rate of reproduction fails to keep up with the rate of extinction, the species must diminish. But this might happen without any increase of suffering. If the boys in a district discover how to take birds' eggs, they might soon extirpate a species; but it does not follow that the birds would individually suffer. Perhaps they would feel themselves relieved from a disagreeable responsibility. The process by which a species is improved, the dying out of the least fit, implies no more suffering than we know to exist independently of any doctrine as to a struggle. When we use anthropomorphic language, we may speak of "self-assertion." But "self-assertion," minus the anthropomorphism, means self-preservation; and that is merely a way of describing the fact that an animal or plant which is well adapted to its conditions of life is more likely to live than an animal which is ill adapted. I have some difficulty in imagining how any other arrangement can even be supposed possible. It seems to be almost an identical proposition that the healthiest and strongest will generally live longest; and the conception of a "struggle for existence" only enables us to understand how this results in certain progressive modifications of the species. If we could even for a moment have fancied that there was no pain and disease, and that some beings were not more liable than others to those evils, I might admit that the new doctrine has made the world darker. As it is, it seems to me that it leaves the data just what they were before, and only shows us that they have certain previously unsuspected bearings upon the history of the world.
One other point must be mentioned. Not only are species interdependent as well as partly in competition, but there is an absolute dependence in all the higher species between its different members which may be said to imply a de facto altruism, as the dependence upon other species implies a de facto co-operation. Every animal, to say nothing else, is absolutely dependent for a considerable part of its existence upon its parents. The young bird or beast could not grow up unless its mother took care of it for a certain period. There is, therefore, no struggle as between mother and progeny, but, on the contrary, the closest possible alliance. Otherwise life would be impossible. The young being defenseless, their parents could exterminate them if they pleased, and by so doing would exterminate the race. This, of course, constantly involves a mutual sacrifice of the mother to her young. She has to go through a whole series of operations, which strain her own strength and endanger her own existence, but which are absolutely essential to the continuance of the race. It may be anthropomorphic to attribute any maternal emotions of the human kind to the animal. The bird, perhaps, sits upon her eggs because they give her an agreeable sensation, or, if you please, from a blind instinct which somehow determines her to the practice. She does not look forward, we may suppose, to bringing up a family, or speculate upon the delights of domestic affection. I only say that as a fact she behaves in a way which is at once injurious to her own chances of survival and absolutely necessary to the survival of the species. The abnormal bird who deserts her nest escapes many dangers; but if all birds were devoid of the instinct, the birds would not survive a generation.
Now, I ask, what is the difference which takes place when the monkey gradually loses his tail and sets up a superior brain? Is it properly to be described as a development or improvement of the "cosmic process" or as the beginning of a prolonged contest against it?
In the first place, so far as man becomes a reasonable being, capable of foresight and of the adoption of means to ends, he recognizes the necessity of these tacit alliances. He believes it to be his interest not to exterminate everything, but to exterminate those species alone whose existence is incompatible with his own. The wolf eats every sheep that he comes across as long as his appetite lasts. If there are too many wolves, the process is checked by the starvation of the supernumerary eaters. Man can preserve as many sheep as he wants, and may also proportion the numbers of his own species to the possibilities of future supply. Many of the lower species thus become subordinate parts of the social organism—that is to say, of the new equilibrium which has been established. There is so far a reciprocal advantage. The sheep who is preserved with a view to mutton gets the advantage, though he is not kept with a view to his own advantage. Of all arguments for vegetarianism, none is so weak as the argument from humanity. The pig has a stronger interest than any one in the demand for bacon. If all the world were Jewish, there would be no pigs at all. He has to pay for his privileges by an early death; but he makes a good bargain of it. He dies young, and though we can hardly infer the "love of the gods," we must admit that he gets a superior race of beings to attend to his comforts, moved by the strongest possible interest in his health and vigor, and induced by its own needs, perhaps, to make him a little too fat for comfort, but certainly also to see that he has a good sty, and plenty to eat every day of his life. Other races, again, are extirpated as "ruthlessly" as in the merely instinctive struggle for existence. We get rid of wolves and snakes as well as we can, and more systematically than can be done by their animal competitors. The process does not necessarily involve cruelty, and certainly does not involve a diminution of the total of happiness. The struggle for existence means the substitution of a new system of equilibrium, in which one of the old discords has been removed, and the survivors live in greater harmony. If the wolf is extirpated as an internecine enemy, it is that there may be more sheep when sheep have become our allies and the objects of our earthly providence. The result may be, perhaps I might say must be, a state in which, on the whole, there is a greater amount of life supported on the planet: and therefore, as those will think who are not pessimists, a decided gain on the balance. At any rate, the difference so far is that the condition which was in all cases necessary, is now consciously recognized as necessary; and that we deliberately aim at a result which always had to be achieved on penalty of destruction. So far, again, as morality can be established on purely prudential grounds, the same holds good of relations between human beings themselves. Men begin to perceive that, even from a purely personal point of view, peace is preferable to war. If war is unhappily still prevalent, it is at least not war in which every clan is fighting with its neighbors, and where conquest means slavery or extirpation. Millions of men are at peace within the limits of a modern state, and can go about their business without cutting each other's throats. When they fight with other nations they do not enslave nor massacre their prisoners. Taking the purely selfish ground, a Hobbes can prove conclusively that everybody has benefited by the social compact which substituted peace and order for the original state of war. Is this, then, a reversal of the old state of things—a combating of a "cosmic process"? I should rather say that it is a development of the tacit alliances, and a modification so far of the direct or internecine conflict. Both were equally implied in the older conditions and both still exist. Some races form alliances, while others are crowded out of existence. Of course, I cease to do some things which I should have done before. I don't attack the first man I meet in the street and take his scalp. The reason is that I don't expect that he will take mine; for, if I did, I fear that even as a civilized being, I should try to anticipate his intentions. This merely means that we have both come to see that we have a common interest in keeping the peace. And this, again, merely means that the alliance which was always an absolutely necessary condition of the survival of the species has now been extended through a wider area. The species could not have got on at all if there had not been so much alliance as is necessary for its reproduction and for the preservation of its young for some years of helplessness. The change is simply that the small circle which included only the primitive family or class has extended, so that we can meet members of the same race on terms which were previously confined to the minuter group. We have still to exterminate and still to preserve. The mode of employing our energies has changed, but not the essential nature.
Morality proper, however, has so far not emerged. It begins when sympathy begins; when we really desire the happiness of others; or, as Kant says, when we treat other men as an end and not simply as a means. Undoubtedly this involves a new principle no less than the essential principle of all true morality. Still I have to ask whether it implies a combating or a continuation of a cosmic process. Now, as I have observed, even the animal mother shows what I have called a de facto altruism. She has instincts which, though dangerous to the individual, are essential for the race. The human mother sacrifices herself with a consciousness of the results to herself, and her personal fears are overcome by the strength of her affections. She will endure a painful death to save her children from suffering. The animal sacrifices herself, but without consciousness and therefore without moral worth. This is merely the most striking exemplification of the general process of the development of morality. Conduct is first regarded purely with a view to the effects upon the agent, and is therefore enforced by extrinsic penalties, by consequences, that is, supposed to be attached to it by the will of some ruler, natural or supernatural. The instinct which comes to regard such conduct as bad in itself, which implies a dislike of giving pain to others, not merely a dislike to the gallows, grows up under such protection, and in the really moralized being acquires a strength which makes the external penalty superfluous. This, indubitably, is the greatest of all changes, the critical fact which decides whether we are to regard conduct simply as useful or also to regard it as moral in the strictest sense. But I should still call it a development and not a reversal of the previous process. The conduct which we call virtuous is the same conduct externally which we before regarded as useful. The difference is that the simple fact of its utility—that is, of its utility to others and to the race in general—has now become the sufficient motive for the action as well as the implicit cause of the action. In the earlier stages, when no true sympathy existed, men and animals were still forced to act in a certain way because it was beneficial to others. They now act in that way because they perceive it to be beneficial to others. The whole history of moral evolution seems to imply this. We may go back to a period at which the moral law is identified with the general customs of the race; at which there is no perception of any clear distinction between that which is moral and that which is simply customary; between that which is imposed by a law in the strict sense and that which is dictated by general moral principles. In such a state of things, the motives for obedience partake of the nature of "blind instincts." No definite reason for them is present to the mind of the agent, and it does not occur to him even to demand a reason. "Our father did so and we do so" is the sole and sufficient explanation of their conduct. Thus instinct again may be traced back by evolutionists to the earliest period at which the instincts implied in the relations between the sexes, or between parents and offspring, existed. They were the germ from which has sprung all morality such as we now recognize.
Morality, then, implies the development of certain instincts which are essential to the race, but which may in an indefinite number of cases be injurious to the individual. The particular mother is killed because she obeys her natural instincts; but if it were not for mothers and their instincts, the race would come to an end. Prof. Huxley speaks of the "fanatical individualism" of our time as failing to construct morality from the analogy of the cosmic process. An individualism which regards the cosmic process as equivalent simply to an internecine struggle of each against all must certainly fail to construct a satisfactory morality, and I will add that any individualism which fails to recognize fully the social factor, which regards society as an aggregate instead of an organism, will, in my opinion, find itself in difficulties. But I also submit that the development of the instincts which directly correspond to the needs of the race, is merely another case in which we aim consciously at an end which was before an unintentional result of our actions. Every race, above the lowest, has instincts which are only intelligible by the requirements of the race; and has both to compete with some and to form alliances with others of its fellow-occupants of the planet. Both in the unmoralized condition and in that in which morality has become most developed, these instincts have the common characteristics that they may be regarded as conditions of the power of the race to maintain its position in the world, and so, speaking roughly, to preserve or increase its own vitality.
I will not pause to insist upon this so far as regards many qualities which are certainly moral, though they may be said to refer primarily to the individual. That chastity and temperance, truthfulness and energy, are, on the whole, advantages both to the individual and to the race, does not, I fancy, require elaborate proof; nor need I argue at length that the races in which they are common will therefore have inevitable advantages in the struggle for existence. Of all qualities which enable a race to hold its own, none is more important than the power of organizing ecclesiastically, politically, and socially, and that power implies the prevalence of justice, and the existence of mutual confidence, and therefore of all the social virtues. The difficulty seems to be felt in regard to those purely altruistic impulses which, at first glance at any rate, make it apparently our duty to preserve those who would otherwise be unfit to live. Virtue, says Prof. Huxley, is directed "not so much to the survival of the fittest," as to the "fitting of as many as possible to survive." I do not dispute the statement, I think it true in a sense; but I have a difficulty as to its application.
Morality, it is obvious, must be limited by the conditions in which we are placed. What is impossible is not a duty. One condition plainly is that the planet is limited. There is only room for a certain number of living beings. It is one consequence that we do in fact go on suppressing the unfit, and can not help going on suppressing them. Is it desirable that it should be otherwise? Should we wish, for example, that America could still be a hunting ground for savages? Is it better that a country should contain a million red men or twenty millions of civilized whites? Undoubtedly the moralist will say with truth that the methods of extirpation adopted by Spaniards and Englishmen were detestable. I need not say that I agree with him and hope that such methods may be abolished wherever any remnant of them exists. But I say so partly just because I believe in the struggle for existence. This process underlies morality, and operates whether we are moral or not. The most civilized race that which has the greatest knowledge, skill, power of organization—will, I hold, have an inevitable advantage in the struggle, even if it does not use the brutal means which are superfluous as well as cruel. All the natives who lived in America a hundred years ago would be dead now in any case, even if they had invariably been treated with the greatest humanity, fairness, and consideration. Had they been unable to suit themselves to new conditions of life, they would have suffered a euthanasia instead of a partial extirpation; and had they suited themselves they would either have been absorbed or become a useful part of the population. To abolish the old brutal method is not to abolish the struggle for existence, but to make the result depend upon a higher order of qualities than those of the mere piratical viking.
Mr. Pearson has been telling us in his most interesting book that the negro may not improbably hold his own in Africa. I can not say that I regard this as an unmixed evil. Why should there not be parts of the world in which races of inferior intelligence or energy should hold their own? I am not so anxious to see the whole earth covered by an indefinite multiplication of the cockney type. But I only quote the suggestion for another reason. Till recent years the struggle for existence was carried on as between Europeans and negroes by simple violence and brutality. The slave trade and its consequences have condemned the whole continent to barbarism. That undoubtedly was part of the struggle for existence. But if Mr. Pearson's guess should be verified, the results have been so far futile as well as disastrous. The negro has been degraded, and yet, after all our brutality, we can not take his place. Therefore, besides the enormous evils to slave-trading countries themselves, the lowering of their moral tone, the substitution of piracy for legitimate commerce, and the degradation of the countries which bought the slaves, the superior race has not even been able to suppress the inferior. But the abolition of this monstrous evil does not involve the abolition but the humanization of the struggle. The white man, however merciful he becomes, may gradually extend over such parts of the country as are suitable to him, and the black man will hold the rest, and acquire such arts and civilization as he is capable of appropriating. The absence of cruelty would not alter the fact that the fittest race would extend; but it may insure that whatever is good in the negro may have a chance of development in his own sphere, and that success in the struggle will be decided by more valuable qualities.
Without venturing further into a rather speculative region, I need only indicate the bearing of such considerations upon problems nearer home. It is often complained that the tendency of modern civilization is to preserve the weakly, and therefore to lower the vitality of the race. This seems to involve inadmissible assumptions. In the first place, the process by which the weaker are preserved consists in suppressing various conditions unfavorable to human life in general. Sanitary legislation, for example, aims at destroying, the causes of many of the diseases from which our forefathers suffered. If we can suppress the smallpox, we of course save many weakly children, who would have died had they been attacked. But we also remove one of the causes which weakened the constitutions of many of the survivors. I do not know by what right we can say that such legislation, or again the legislation which prevents the excessive labor of children, does more harm by preserving the weak than it does good by preventing the weakening of the strong. But one thing is at any rate clear. To preserve life is to increase the population, and therefore to increase the competition, and, in other words, to intensify the struggle for existence. The process is as broad as it is long. If we could insure that every child born should grow up to maturity, the result would be to double the severity of the competition for support. What we should have to show, therefore, in order tothe inference of a deterioration due to this process, would be, not that it simply increased the number of the candidates for living, but that it gave to feebler candidates a differential advantage; that they are now more fitted than they were before for ousting their superior neighbors from the chances of support. But I can see no reason for supposing such a consequence to be probable or even possible. The struggle for existence, as I have suggested, rests upon the unalterable facts that the world is limited and the population elastic, and under all conceivable circumstances we shall still have in some way or other to proportion our numbers to our supplies, and under all circumstances those who are fittest by reason of intellectual or moral or physical qualities will have the best chance of occupying good places, and leaving descendants to supply the next generation. It is surely not less true that in the civilized as much as in the most barbarous race, the healthiest are the most likely to live, and the most likely to be ancestors. If so, the struggle will still be carried on upon the same principles, though certainly in a different shape.
It is true that this suggests one of the most difficult questions of the time. It is suggested, for example, that in some respects the "highest" specimens of the race are not the healthiest or the fittest. Genius, according to some people, is a variety of disease, and intellectual power is won by a diminution of reproductive power. A lower race, again, if we measure "high" and "low" by intellectual capacity, may oust a higher race, because it can support itself more cheaply, or, in other words, because it is more efficient for industrial purposes. Without presuming to pronounce upon such questions, I will simply ask whether this does not interpret Prof. Huxley's remark about that "cosmic nature" which, he says, is still so strong, and which is likely to be strong so long as men require stomachs. The fact is simply that we have not to suppress it, but to adapt it to new circumstances. We are engaged in working out a gigantic problem: What is the best, in the sense of the most efficient, type of human being? What is the best combination of brains and stomach? We turn out saints who are "too good to live," and philosophers who have run too rapidly to brains. They do not answer in practice, because they are instruments too delicate for the rough work of daily life. They may give a foretaste of qualities which will be some day possible for the average man; of intellectual and moral qualities which, though now exceptional, may become commonplace. But the best stock for the race are those in whom we have been lucky enough to strike out the happy combination in which greater intellectual power is gained without the loss of physical vigor. Such men, it is probable, will not deviate so widely from the average type. The reconciliation of the two conditions can only be effected by a very gradual process of slowly edging onward in the right direction. Meanwhile the theory of a struggle for existence justifies us, instead of condemning us, for preserving the delicate child, who may turn out to be a Newton or a Keats, because he will leave to us the advantage of his discoveries or his poems, while his physical feebleness assures us that he will not propagate his race.
This may lead to a final question: Does the morality of a race strengthen or weaken it; fit it to hold its own in the general equilibrium, or make its extirpation by lower races more probable? I do not suppose that anybody would deny what I have already suggested, that the more moral the race, the more harmonious and the better organized, the better it is fitted for holding its own. But if this be admitted, we must also admit that the change is not that it has ceased to struggle, but that it struggles by different means. It holds its own, not merely by brute force, but by justice, humanity, and intelligence, while, it may be added, the possession of such qualities does not weaken the brute force. where such a quality is still required. The most civilized races are, of course, also the most formidable in war. But, if we take the opposite alternative, I must ask how any quality which really weakens the vitality of the race can properly be called moral? I should entirely repudiate any rule of conduct which could be shown to have such a tendency. This, indeed, indicates what seems to me to be the chief difficulty with most people. Charity, you say, is a virtue; charity increases beggary, and so far tends to produce a feebler population; therefore, a moral quality clearly tends to diminish the vigor of a nation. The answer is, of course, obvious, and I am confident that Prof. Huxley would so far agree with me. It is that all charity which fosters a degraded class is therefore immoral. The "fanatical individualism" of today has its weaknesses; but in this matter it seems to me that we see the weakness of the not less fanatical "collectivism."
The question, in fact, how far any of the socialistic or religious schemes of to-day are right or wrong, depends upon our answer to the question how far they tend to produce a vigorous or an enervated population. If I am asked to subscribe to General Booth's scheme, I inquire first whether the scheme is likely to increase or diminish the number of helpless hangers-on upon the efficient part of society. Will the whole nation consist in larger proportions of active and responsible workers, or of people who are simply burdens upon the real workers? The answer decides not only the question whether it is expedient, but also the question whether it is right or wrong, to support the proposed scheme. Every charitable action is so far a good action that it implies sympathy for suffering; but if it implies such want of prudence that it increases the evil which it means to remedy, it becomes for that reason a bad action. To develop sympathy without developing foresight is just one of the one-sided developments which fail to constitute a real advance in morality, though I will not deny that it may incidentally lead to an advance.
I hold, then, that the "struggle for existence" belongs to an underlying order of facts to which moral epithets can not be properly applied. It denotes a condition of which the moralist has to take account, and to which morality has to be adapted, but which, just because it is a "cosmic process," can not be altered, however much we may alter the conduct which it dictates. Under all conceivable circumstances, the race has to adapt itself to the environment, and that necessarily implies a conflict as well as an alliance. The preservation of the fittest, which is surely a good thing, is merely another aspect of the dying out of the unfit, which is hardly a bad thing. The feast which Nature spreads before us, according to Malthus's metaphor, is only sufficient for a limited number of guests, and the one question is how to select them. The use of morality is to humanize the struggle; to minimize the suffering of those who lose the game; and to offer the prizes to the qualities which are advantageous to all rather than to those which serve to intensify the bitterness of the conflict. This implies the growth of foresight, which is an extension of the earlier instinct, and enables men to adapt themselves to the future, and to learn from the past, as well as to act upon the immediate impulse of present events. It implies still more the development of the sympathy which makes every man feel for the sufferings of all, and which, as social organization becomes closer, and the dependence of each constituent atom upon the whole organization is more vividly realized, extends the range of a man's interests beyond his own private needs. In that sense, again, it must stimulate "collectivism" at the expense of a crude individualism, and condemns the doctrine which, as Prof. Huxley puts it, would forbid us to restrain the member of a community from doing his best to destroy it. If it be right to restrain such conduct, it is right to carry on the conflict against all anti-social agents or tendencies. I should certainly hold any form of collectivism to be immoral which denied the essential doctrine of the abused individualist, the necessity, that is, for individual responsibility. We have surely to suppress the murderer as our ancestors suppressed the wolf. We have to suppress both the external enemies, the noxious animals whose existence is incompatible with our own, and the internal enemies which are injurious elements in the society itself. That is, we have to work for the same end of eliminating the least fit. Our methods are changed; we desire to suppress poverty, not to extirpate the poor man. We give inferior races a chance of taking whatever place they are fit for, and try to supplant them with the least possible severity if they are unfit for any place. But the suppression of poverty supposes not the confiscation of wealth, which would hardly suppress poverty in the long run, nor even the adoption of a system of living which would make it easier for the idle and the good-for-nothing to survive. The progress of civilization depends, I should say, on the extension of the sense of duty which each man owes to society at large. That involves a constitution of society which, although we abandon the old methods of hanging, and flogging, and shooting down—methods which corrupted the inflicters of punishment by diminishing their own sense of responsibility—may give an advantage to the prudent and industrious and make it more probable that they will be the ancestors of the next generation. A system which should equalize the advantages of the energetic and the helpless would begin by demoralizing, and would very soon lead to an unprecedented intensification of the struggle for existence. The probable result of a ruthless socialism would be the adoption of very severe means for suppressing those who did not contribute their share of work. But in any case, as it seems, we never get away or break away from the inevitable fact. If individual ends could be suppressed, if every man worked for the good of society as energetically as for his own, we should still feel the absolute necessity of proportioning the whole body to the whole supplies obtainable from the planet, and to preserve the equilibrium of mankind relatively to the rest of Nature. That day is probably distant, but even upon that hypothesis the struggle for existence would still be with us, and there would be the same necessity for preserving the fittest and suppressing, as gently as might be, those who were unfit.—Contemporary Review.