Popular Science Monthly/Volume 52/January 1898/Editor's Table
THE warfare of science with theology has been amply and impressively related by such writers as Buckle, Draper, and President Andrew White; and many have supposed that science, having accomplished this warfare and come out victorious, had no other foe to fear. There are not wanting signs, however, that complete confidence on this point may be somewhat premature. Another enemy has appeared in the field, less severe in aspect than the old theology, but also less disinterestedness sincere, and, strange though it may seem to say so, less open to argument. That enemy is party politics, and the science it especially attacks is the highest science of all—the science of society in its various branches.
The very essence of scientific teaching lies in its freedom. Teaching that is not free can only usurp the name of science. If the word means anything, it means the movement of the human mind toward truth, toward a true comprehension of things. The world and life furnish facts; it is for science to observe, examine, tabulate, co ordinate those facts, and extract from them their widest and deepest meaning. Science does this in the interest of mankind, in order that we may all understand the conditions surrounding us in the world, and apply our energies in the most profitable manner for the promotion of our own and others' happiness.
Bearing this in mind, we may see an ominous sign of the times in an article which appears in the October number of the American Journal of Sociology describing how the Populist party in the State of. Kansas, having captured the State Legislature, proceeded to make a raid on the State Agricultural College, where, after some preliminary maneuvers, they dismissed a considerable portion of the faculty, including the president, in order to insure that the doctrines taught therein should be in a line with Populist politics. The previous government of the college had been all that could be desired; there was no pretense that it had allied itself with any political party as such, or that the teaching given within the college walls had been other than the best thought of competent men dealing disinterestedly and honorably with their several subjects. The idea simply was that here was an opportunity for converting the college into an instrument for promoting Populist views and the success of the Populist party, and that the opportunity was too good to be lost. The first step taken was to pass a resolution to the effect that "the principles maintained by the advocates of land nationalization, public control of public utilities, and the reform of the financial and monetary system shall be fairly stated and candidly examined, with a view of leading the student to grasp the principles involved in the science of production and distribution, without bias or prejudice." To secure more complete freedom from bias or prejudice in the teaching of economics the board next proceeded to take that subject out of the hands of the president, Prof. G. T. Fairchild, who had been in the habit of lecturing on it, and sent for a man after their own heart, whom they found in a certain Professor Will. The lectures of the latter are described as presenting socialistic views as though they were beyond criticism, and as affording much satisfaction to the Board of Regents.
The next step was to declare that the employment of all the professors and instructors should expire on June 30, 1897. This gave the opportunity for getting rid of those whose views were considered in any way objectionable, foremost among whom was the president, who did not, however, wait for the expiration of the period before sending in his resignation. Out of twenty-four teachers twelve were reappointed. Henceforth, therefore, or until the political complexion of the Board of Regents changes, the agriculture taught at the State College will be duly mingled with populism, and whatever benefit that can confer on the community at large will be duly reaped. That some benefit is expected may be inferred from a report made by the board after they had secured a new professor of political economy, in which they expressed themselves as follows: "It is not a lack of industry or unfavorable methods of farming, or the unfavorableness of the climate which have caused the widespread and ever-increasing poverty among the agricultural and laboring classes. The unremitting toil of the farmer, in which sons and daughters take part, even during childhood, has indeed yielded him large quantities of grain, great numbers of cattle, hogs, horses, and other domestic animals. He has produced enough of the useful and necessary things of life that, with fair, equitable exchange, would bring prosperity in place of poverty, comfort in place of humiliating drudgery, and content and patriotism in place of unrest and dissatisfaction." The trouble, then, is not that the farmer has not plenty of grain and animals, but that he can not exchange them on the terms he would wish for other things. Who are the people that are holding on to the other things, demanding such prices for them that trade is either impossible or very one-sided? Is it the cotton manufacturer, or the boot and shoe manufacturer, or the cabinetmaker, or the manufacturer of plows and other farm implements? We do not think any of these would acknowledge the impeachment, for if there is anything they are anxious to do it is to sell, and the prices they ask were never so low as they are to-day. We should like very much to know what remedy Professor Will would suggest in the premises. Is it not the fact that what to-day is considered poverty would a couple of generations ago have been considered comfort? Upon another page of the Journal of Sociology, in an article by the editor, Prof. Albion W. Small, we read that "the toiling millions can buy with their wages more comforts than they ever could before," but that "the individual laboring man is haunted by the thought that he may any day lose his job." Well, that is where the farmer has an advantage; he is not in danger of losing his job, and, according to Professor Small, he can get more for his money than he ever could before. He may get less for his grain than formerly; but, on the other hand, he has much less labor both in producing it and in bringing it to market.
We do not propose, however, to discuss questions of political economy in these columns. The question which seems to us full of grave interest is, how far the party control of college teaching is destined to proceed. The trouble, of course, is not entirely new. In protectionist states there is but little "liberty of prophesying" for free-trade professors; but the case is more serious where parties, in the interest of their own supremacy, begin to impose the teaching of doctrines that touch the deepest foundations of society. All political control, however, in such matters is bad. The only way to have great teachers is to seek out men who have profoundly studied their several subjects, and whose disinterestedness in expounding them is beyond question. Such men may commit errors, but they will give inspiration and will so educate the judgment of their pupils as to make them incline to sound and reasonable views. He who is teaching by prescription will never each with conviction. Truth does not need to be prescribed; it prescribes itself if it gets the chance. The greatest enemy of truth is organized self-interest, and it is precisely this enemy with which our system of higher education—in so far as it depends on State support—is beginning to he threatened. If the evil spreads, the result will be the disorganization of all State universities and colleges, because the youth of the country will not long consent to listen to lectures that express, not the thinking of an independent mind enriched by the thoughts of other independent minds, but a system of doctrine carefully adapted to help this or that party in its political struggles. Theology was a tyrant in its day, but it was a respectable, high-minded, and benevolent tyrant compared with the political party that would attempt to capture and pervert education for its own ends. Theology did not object to cramp men's minds if it could only save their souls; but the politician would do it in order to get their votes. Good will come out of evil, however, if the lesson is brought home to the popular mind that education and politics are two things that should have as little as possible to do with one another.
We have seldom seen the difference between the science of the ancient and that of the modern world so well drawn out as it was in the Harveian oration delivered a few weeks ago by Sir William Roberts before the Royal College of Physicians in London, England. The ancients, the speaker acknowledged, "had a large acquaintance with the phenomena of Nature, and were the masters of many inventions. They knew," he continued, "how to extract the common metals from their ores; they made glass; they were skilled agriculturists; they could bake, brew, and make wine; manufacture butter and cheese; spin, weave, and dye cloth; they had marked the motions of the heavenly bodies, and kept accurate record of times and seasons; they used the wheel, pulley, and lever; and knew a good deal of the natural history of plants and animals, and of anatomy and practical medicine." Here was a body of knowledge "of inestimable value for the necessities, conveniences, and embellishments of life." But, the lecturer went on to say, "it was not science in the modern sense of the word." Why? Because it was not "systematized and interpreted by co-ordinating principles, nor illuminated by generalizations which might serve as incentives and guides to further acquisitions." It had been acquired "mostly through haphazard discovery and chance observation," and, having no innate spring of growth, "could only increase, if at all, by casual additions—as a loose heap of stones might increase—and much of it was liable to be swept away at any time by the flood of barbaric conquest."
With the scientific possessions of the modern world the case is entirely different. They are the product of the direct and purposive efforts of the human mind, which some three centuries ago conceived the fruitful idea that the way to obtain knowledge was to go in search of it by means of observation and experiment, and not to wait for chance revelations. That idea is so familiar to us now that it is difficult to believe that it should not have been fully present to the minds of the civilized ancients. But the facts of history make it plain that it was not present to their minds. They thought acutely on many subjects, and produced an admirable literature and wonderful works of art; but they never learned the secret of interrogating Nature. Aristotle dwelt not a little on the importance of experiment and observation; but he himself made comparatively little use of either, and his successors for many centuries, notwithstanding the extravagant authority which they assigned to his opinions, seem to have been quite uninfluenced by his suggestions on this point. They neither asked what he meant nor made any attempt worth mentioning to move forward in the direction he indicated.
Evidently the true "psychological moment," as the expression is to day, had not arrived. When it came there was, as Bacon, in words quoted by the lecturer, expressed it, "a new birth of time." Men seemed to have awaked from sleep to find themselves in possession of a new and wondrous power. They had a sense, which the ancients never had, that the discoveries they were able to make were but an earnest of greater and far more numerous discoveries yet to follow. They conceived of all the phenomena of Nature as interrelated, and foresaw that it was the destiny of human knowledge to grow into one vast, coherent, and harmonious whole. And that conception is in the world to-day, fortified by innumerable proofs derived from the victorious progress of science. The knowledge of the ancient world was unorganized, therefore it was not science: the knowledge of the modern world is organized, and therefore it is science. The knowledge of the ancient world was not a fructifying seed; the knowledge of the modern world is at once seed and harvest. The knowledge of the ancient world was not interpretative; the knowledge of the modern world symbolizes for us the powers of the universe, and the great Power in which all scattered forces find their unity. The knowledge of the ancient world was not an effectual safeguard of civilization. It is perhaps too soon to say whether modern science will safeguard the civilization we possess; but we incline to the opinion expressed by Sir William Roberts that the intellectual activity of our age and the varied excitements which act upon modern society exert, and will continue to exert, an "antiseptic" influence sufficient to prevent internal decay; while the advantage which scientific habits of thought confer upon the higher races of mankind will always suffice to secure them against such a fate as befell the civilization the Roman Empire.
The recent political struggle through which the municipalities of the Empire State have passed has much more than a local significance. At a time when a very considerable part of the intelligence of the whole country has gone daft on the subject of municipal ownership and management of commercial enterprises, it seems needful to seize upon every pertinent and impressive occasion to point out the amazing folly of such social philosophy. Unless a halt be called, the tendency everywhere apparent, a tendency thought to be as wise as it is thought to be inevitable, the American people will have to pass through an experience much more ruinous and disappointing than any that they have ever yet had.
At the present time the duties intrusted to municipalities have become rather considerable. They include, first, the preservation of order and the protection of life and property; second, the paving and cleaning of streets and the construction and maintenance of sewers; third, provision for the extinguishment of fires; fourth, the support of public schools and certain charities; fifth, a department of public health; and, sixth, in some cases, a water-works system. Yet it is proposed to add materially to these duties. The "new" social reformer has become convinced by his study of social science that municipalities should in every case have their own waterworks system; that they should have their own gas and electric lighting plant; that they should own and run the street cars; that they should, in a word, take from the hands of private enterprise every industry that comes under that vague and inexact designation of "natural monopolies."
If the duties already intrusted to municipalities were performed with a skill and economy that evoked universal commendation, there might perhaps be something said in favor of their extension beyond the limit that Mr. Spencer has laid down, namely, the preservation of order and the protection of life and property. But what is the case? We venture to say that if any unprejudiced observer from another planet where the philosophy of Mr. Spencer is observed, had studied the municipal contests mentioned and were to express an opinion, he would say without the slightest qualification that it would be beyond human ingenuity to discover a more absurd, wasteful, and demoralizing method of doing business than the one through politics. Why it is that a truth so obvious does not thrust itself upon every thoughtful mind with an irresistible force is a mystery that must take high rank with the devotion of many intelligent people to Kneippism and other forms of quackery.
What was the problem that the elections were expected to solve? The assertion was made repeatedly that it was a very simple one, namely, whether public affairs were to be managed in a businesslike manner or in accordance with the interests of the politicians. As thus stated it was simple; but correctly stated it was complex in the highest degree. It was to select a large number of competent men for a large number of important duties, each requiring high character and special fitness. In the case of one city having a population of one hundred and sixty thousand, which may serve as a type, there were sixty seven such men to be chosen, not to mention the twenty constables, the two members of the Assembly, county clerk, county superintendent of the poor, and judge of the Court of Appeals. We all know how difficult it is to select one competent man for an important duty. We know, too, how often we fail. Think how much more difficult it is to select sixty-seven! Think, too, how great the chances are of failure!
But what were the steps taken to solve this problem? Were they such as would commend themselves to the proprietors of a great New England cotton mill or a great Pennsylvania steel foundry? Before each alderman, school commissioner, member of the board of public works, etc., was presented to the voters for their suffrages, were his moral character and his capacity for the duty to be intrusted to him carefully investigated and pronounced to be up to the standard required to conduct public affairs in accordance with business principles? Let the shameless intriguing at the caucuses and conventions, the despotic dictation of some party boss that placed them upon the party ticket in disregard of their moral and intellectual fitness answer this question.
It should be remembered that with certain exceptions there were two sets of candidates of this character presented to the voter for choice. What were the steps taken to enable him to select the better of the two lots? Did he listen to speakers familiar with the personal and business record of each candidate and intent upon making to him a candid statement of the qualifications of that candidate? Did the newspapers in the city pursue the same rational plan for the enlightenment of his puzzled mind? For answers to these questions look into the speeches delivered and the articles written. There was first the claim that the candidates of the party of virtue and ability were models of integrity and capacity; and next, that the candidates of the party of vice and incapacity were monsters of iniquity and inability. If, as sometimes happened, nothing could be urged against a candidate personally, he was charged with being either a goldite or a silverite, and therefore unfit to be mayor, or an alderman, or a school commissioner. At the same time this discussion of the merits and demerits of the several candidates was carried on with a heat and often with an absurdity of argument that made the discovery of the truth about any subject or any man absolutely impossible. Is it any wonder that the voters elected some men notoriously unfit, and defeated others of the highest character and ability?
If these statements of the problem of municipal government and the method adopted to solve it were open to question, then an enlargement of the amount of business to be done through politics might not be so absurd. But nobody impeaches their accuracy. The advocates of municipal ownership are not less vigorous in their denunciation of the evils that we have tried to describe than the opponents. When their attention is especially directed to these evils their speech becomes a prolonged jeremiad. It is only when they come to advocate what they are pleased to call in clumsy phrase the "municipalization" of gas works or streetcar lines that they become optimistic and insist that cities can undertake these new duties without an aggravation of the very evils they deplore. They seem to believe that by some hocus-pocus an enlargement of the sphere of politics will transmute its inherent and unavoidable vices into virtues.