Popular Science Monthly/Volume 75/July 1909/Darwinism in the Theory of Social Evolution
|DARWINISM IN THE THEORY OF SOCIAL EVOLUTION|
By FRANKLIN H. GIDDINGS, LL.D.
REVOLUTIONIZING as the life work of Charles Darwin was in the fields of biology and psychology, one may doubt if his writings disturbed the intellectual peace anywhere more profoundly than in the "Sweet Jerusalem" of pre-Darwinian social philosophy. Borrowing a shocking thought from the Rev. Thomas Robert Malthus, Mr. Darwin, in due course of time, gave it back to Malthusians and Godwinites, to Ricardians and Ruskinites, to Benthamites and Owenites, with a new and terrific voltage.
Nine years before "The Origin of Species" was published, Herbert Spencer, in the concluding chapters of "Social Statics," had offered an explanation of society in terms of a progressive human nature, adapting itself to changing conditions of life. These chapters are the germ of that inclusive conception and theory of evolution which were elaborated in the ten volumes of the "Synthetic Philosophy." Five years later, or four years before "The Origin of Species" saw the light, Mr. Spencer, in the first edition of his "Principles of Psychology," set forth an original interpretation of life, including mental and social life, as a correspondence of internal relations to external relations, initiated and directed by the external relations. Finally, in April, 1857, Mr. Spencer published, in The Westminster Review, his epoch-marking paper on "Progress: Its Law and Cause," in which his famous law of evolution was partially formulated, and evolution was declared to be the process of the universe and of all that it contains.
Mr. Spencer thus had seen evolution in its whole extent, as adaptation and differentiation. He had not yet mentally grasped the universal redistribution of energy and matter, wherein every finite aggregate of material units, radiating energy into surrounding space, or absorbing energy therefrom, draws itself together in order-making, coherence, or distributes itself abroad in riotous disintegration. That universal equilibration, which in fact is the beginning and the end of evolution, was the aspect of the world which in thought Mr. Spencer arrived at last of all.
It is not given to any one human intellect to discover all truth, and there is more in evolution than even Mr. Spencer perceived, either at the beginning of his great work, or in the fulness of his powers. Intent upon the broader aspects of cosmic transformation, his mind did not seize upon certain implications of universal rearrangement. In the concrete world of living organisms, equilibration becomes the relentless struggle for existence, in which the weakest go to the wall. Natural selection follows. It was this intensely concrete aspect that Mr. Darwin saw, and intellectually mastered.
The distinction here indicated between evolution as a universal process, comprehensively described by Spencer, and Darwinism, or Mr. Darwin's account of one vitally important and concrete phase of that process, has often been noted, and is usually observed by careful writers. It is of particular importance in any discussion of social evolution. To indicate how far our theories of social origins, our philosophies of history and of human institutions, have become not only evolutionist, in the Spencerian sense of the word, but also Darwinian, is the purpose of my lecture this afternoon.
It was not until the publication of "The Descent of Man," in 1871, when controversy over "The Origin of Species" had raged through twelve years of intellectual tempest, that the full significance of natural selection for the doctrine of human progress was apprehended by the scientific world. Mr. Spencer saw it when "The Origin of Species" appeared. Mr. Darwin himself had perceived that he must offer a credible explanation of the paradox that a ruthless struggle for existence yields the peaceable fruits of righteousness. But it was neither Mr. Spencer, nor Mr. Darwin, who first recognized the specific phase of the life struggle in which the clue to the mystery might be sought. The gifted thinker who made that discovery was Walter Bagehot, editor of the London Economist, whose little book on "Physics and Politics, or Thoughts on the Application of the Principles of Natural Selection and Inheritance to Political Society," was published, first as a series of articles in The Fortnightly Review, beginning in November, 1867. Mr. Darwin rightly calls these articles "remarkable." Revised and put together in book form they made a volume of only two hundred and twenty-three small pages in large type, but no more original, brilliant or, as far as it goes, satisfactory examination of the deeper problems of social causation has ever been offered from that day until now. It anticipated much that is most valuable in later exposition.
In the "Social Statics," Mr. Spencer had shown that primitive man, subsisting upon inferior species and contending with them for standing room and safety, necessarily developed a human nature adapted to the task of slaughter, cruel, therefore, and unscrupulous; but that triumphant posterity, inheriting a subjugated world, and no longer bound to kill, might become sympathetic enough to cooperate successfully in peaceful activities. The exact relation, however, of this process to group formation or to the collective activity of a cooperating group when formed, Mr. Spencer at this time certainly did not see. For, incredible though it may seem, Mr. Spencer did not at this time so much as make note of the terrific struggles for control of food-getting opportunities that occur among individuals or between groups of the same species, variety or race. Conflict among men of the same cultural attainments Mr. Spencer thought of only as prompted by surviving savage instincts, engendered by predatory habits, in the lawless youth of the race.
It was specifically the phenomena of group solidarity and of collective conflict, in distinction from a merely individual struggle for existence, which Mr. Bagehot selected for examination, and his mind penetrated directly to the essential conditions of the problem. He said:
The progress of man requires the cooperation of men for its development. . . . The first principle of the subject is that man can only make progress in "cooperative groups"; I might say tribes and nations, but I use the less common word because few people would at once see that tribes and nations are cooperative groups, and that it is their being so which makes their value; that unless you can make a strong cooperative bond, your society will be conquered and killed out by some other society which has such a bond; and the second principle is that the members of such a group should be similar enough to one another to cooperate easily and readily together. The cooperation in all such cases depends on a felt union of heart and spirit; and this is only felt when there is a great degree of real likeness in mind and feeling, however that likeness may have been attained.
Addressing himself to the question how the necessary likeness in mind and feeling are produced, Mr. Bagehot answers: By one of the most terrible tyrannies ever known among men, namely, the authority of customary law; and in accounting for the origin and force of custom, he develops a theory of the function of imitation which anticipates much, but by no means all, of the sociological theory of Gabriel Tarde. Custom, however, tends to create a degree of similarity among social units, and an unchanging way of life, fatal to further progress. To reintroduce and to maintain certain possibilities and tendencies toward variation is, as Bagehot sees the process, one of the chief uses of conflict. Social evolution thus proceeds through the conflict of antagonistic tendencies, on the one hand toward uniformity and solidarity; on the other hand toward variation and individuality. In some groups, one of these tendencies predominates. Contending together, group with group, in the struggle for existence, those groups survive in which the balancing of these tendencies secures the greatest group efficiency. It is not too much to say that in this interpretation, Mr. Bagehot arrived at conclusions which to-day we recognize as belonging to the theoretical core of a scientific sociology.
Mr. Darwin, in those chapters of "The Descent of Man" in which he treats of the origin of social instincts and the moral faculties, adopt? in substance the conclusions of Mr. Bagehot, and with his keen sense for what is essential, lays emphasis upon four facts, namely: (1) the importance of group or tribal cohesion as a factor of success in intertribal struggle, (2) the importance of sympathy as a factor in group cohesion, (3) the importance of mutual fidelity and unselfish courage, and (4) the great part played by sensitiveness to praise and blame in developing both unselfish courage and fidelity. In terms of these four facts, Mr. Darwin finds an answer to the question, how, within the conditions fixed by a struggle for existence, social and moral qualities could tend slowly to advance and to be diffused throughout the world.
That the studies of both Mr. Bagehot and Mr. Darwin left much still to be said on the subject of group feeling and cooperative solidarity was shown when, in 1890, Prince Peter Alekseevich Kropotkin published in The Nineteenth Century his fascinating articles on "Mutual Aid among Animals," afterwards supplemented by studies of mutual aid among savages and among barbarians. These articles contained nothing essentially new in theory, but they contributed to our knowledge an immense mass of facts demonstrating how great has been the part played by sympathy and helpfulness in the struggle for existence, and how inadequate would be any interpretation of natural selection which accounted for it wholly in terms of superior strength, cruelty and cunning. Mr. Darwin never claimed to offer an adequate explanation of the variations which natural selection preserves or rejects. He sometimes took them for granted, he sometimes spoke of them as accidental or fortuitous. He would have been the last to pretend that he had told us all that we should like to know about the beginnings of sympathy or of sensitiveness to praise or blame. But, starting from sympathy and the desire for approval as traits that may actually be observed among gregarious creatures, and that presumably have somehow had a natural origin, Darwin and Kropotkin convincingly demonstrate that groups possessing these qualities have a certain advantage in the struggle for life.
To account more fully for the origins, in distinction from the natural selection of the social qualities, was the problem that Mr. John Fiske attacked in his theory of the effects of prolonged infancy, first published in the North American Review of October, 1873, and a year later in the "Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy." Fiske discriminates between "gregariousness" and "sociality," without, however, sufficiently analyzing the one or the other, or quite defining the difference. By sociality he seems to mean a relatively high development of sympathy, affection and loyalty to kindred or comrades. He argues that sociality has its origin in small and permanent family groups. These are not necessarily monogamous at first. They may be polygamous or polyandrian, and may broaden out into clans. But they must be more enduring than matings observed in the merely gregarious herd. The cause of both definiteness and permanence he finds in the prolongation of infancy, necessitating a relatively long-continued parental care of offspring. The relations so established among near kindred have conserved and strengthened the feelings of affection and the sense of solidarity. Mr. Darwin recognized Mr. Fiske's theory as an important contribution to the subject. It must be said in criticism, however, that Mr. Fiske did not see all the implications of prolonged infancy, or develop his theory into all its possibilities. Admitting that the prolongation of infancy was probably a factor in the evolution of stable family relationships, and therefore played a part in strengthening the social sentiments, we must remember that the actual social life and solidarity of the gregarious group was probably a chief cause of the prolongation of infancy itself. Demanding, as it did, a relatively keen exercise of brain and nervous system in communication, imitation and cooperation, it operated to select for survival those individuals that varied in the direction of high brain power and its correlated long infancy. But this is to say that society was a factor in the evolution of man before man became a factor in the evolution of society, and the difference is important.
Moreover, Mr. Fiske's theory no more explained the actual origins of sympathy and cooperation than Bagehot's and Darwin's theories had done. Neither, for that matter, did Sutherland's account of "The Origin and Growth of the Moral Instinct," although Sutherland got somewhat farther back when he called attention to the reaction of parental care of offspring upon the evolution of ganglia making up the sympathetic nervous system.
At this stage the Darwinian interpretation of social origins had arrived when, in 1894, there was published a work which had an almost sensational reception. Hailed as a new gospel by minds desiring above all things to find some solid ground for religious convictions that had seemingly suffered violence in the course of evolutionist warfare, this book by scientific critics was treated with scant respect. These critics, I venture to think, were in error. For, in fact, the "Social Evolution" of Benjamin Kidd raised a profoundly important question, and gave an answer to it which, while half wrong, was probably half right, and the half that was right was a real and important contribution to knowledge. Stated in the fewest possible words, Mr. Kidd's query was this: Since natural selection saves the few and kills the many, why does not the great majority of mankind try to curb competition and put an end to progress? Thus presented, Mr. Kidd's question is the radical and fearless form of a question which socialism asks in a form that, by comparison, is conservative and half-hearted. And Mr. Kidd's answer, not so much as tainted with socialism, is as fearless as his question. Progress has no rational sanction. It is irrational and, from the standpoint of reason, absurd. Man goes on multiplying, competing, fighting and making progress because he is not rational and has no desire to be. He lives not by reason, but by faith. He crucifies and kills himself to improve the race, not because he is scientific, but because he is religious.
Perhaps it was because Mr. Kidd's thesis was paradoxical, that theologians found in it something tangible and scientific men did not. It should be possible now to look back upon it without prejudice. On the face of it, it is an obvious fallacy, but back of fallacy lies a truth.
The fallacy consists in an unwarranted assumption that individuals and families marked for extermination in the struggle for existence are, in their own lifetime, aware of their impending doom. Let us suppose that, of one hundred families now flourishing, ninety will become extinct in the tenth generation, their places being filled by a corresponding number of new families branching from the one successful line. This would be natural selection at a rapid rate. Yet to maintain this rate, only ten families have to drop out in any one generation, and ten new ones to appear. This means that, at any given time, a ninety per cent, majority of all persons at the moment living have an expectation of further life, the termination of which can not be foreseen. The large majority, therefore, at any given time existing think of themselves not as the unfit that must perish, but rather as the fit selected to survive.
This way of stating the problem, however, brings us face to face with a peculiarly interesting truth, for the apprehension of which we rightly may give generous credit to Mr. Kidd. Obviously, while no family stock or race at any time existing can certainly know, or, while it remains still vigorous, find sufficient ground to believe that it is doomed to perish, neither can it certainly know that it is indefinitely to survive. It does live, struggle, plan and achieve not altogether by knowledge or by reason, but also in part by faith. It hopes, it expects to endure. It believes in its future.
This faith by which a race, a family, or an individual lives, is not anti-rational, nor yet super-rational. It is rather sub-rational or protorational. It is deeper, more elemental than reason—a fact of instinct and feeling. It is faith in the possibilities of life, born of actual survival in the struggle for existence. The question, therefore, which Mr. Kidd should have asked, and which we, reviewing his work, must ask in his stead, is this: May we identify our elemental faith in the possibilities of life with the tremendous social phenomenon of religion, which, in all the ages of man's progress, has been one of his supreme interests? Shall we perhaps find that, when reduced to its lowest terms, to its essential principle, religion is not, as has been supposed, a belief in gods, or in a supernatural, in any way conceived, but is rather hat primordial faith in the possibilities of life which was born, and generation after generation is re-born, of success in the struggle for existence; which may gather about itself all manner of supplementary beliefs, including a belief in spirits and in gods, but which will persist as the deepest and strongest motive of life after science has stripped away from it all its mystical and theological accretions? I hope to show that such is the fact. So believing, I accept as a positive contribution to the theory of human evolution Mr. Kidd's proposition that religion, a thing deeper and more elemental than reason, has been a chief factor in social evolution.
The mention of socialism, when referring to the theories of Benjamin Kidd, may serve to remind us of two further contributions to the Darwinian theory of society still to be mentioned. The Marxian socialist who has taken trouble to read Mr. William Hurrell Matlock's American lectures on socialism, will not be disposed to admit that Mr. Mallock is a competent student of social phenomena. Before passing judgment, however, he should examine Mr. Mallock's "Aristocracy and Evolution," a suggestive and really important work, published in 1898. In this book Mr. Mallock rises above his habit of literary trifling, and digs somewhat below his prejudices, to examine not only fairly, but also cogently, and with illumination, the phenomenon of personal ability as a factor of social achievement. Distinguishing between a struggle for existence merely, and a struggle for domination, he contends that progress in any legitimate sense of the word is attributable to the struggle for domination. No one, I think, can go far in sociological study without seeing that this is a significant distinction for purposes of historical interpretation.
One need not, however, draw the conclusion that democracy is necessarily antagonistic to progress, as Mr. Mallock does. He says:
The human race progresses because and when the strongest human powers and the highest human faculties lead it; such powers and faculties are embodied in and monopolized by a minority of exceptional men; these men enable the majority to progress, only on condition that the majority submit themselves to their control.
No student of social evolution would be less likely to dispute these propositions than Mr. Francis Galton, who, in fact, in his studies of natural inheritance and hereditary genius, has done more than any other investigator to establish them on a broad inductive basis. And after Mr. Galton, no investigator has made more valuable studies in this field than Mr. Karl Pearson, and no one more unreservedly than he accepts the conclusion that superiority is necessary to social advance and that personal superiority is a fact of heredity. Yet Mr. Pearson contends that to add artificial advantage to natural superiority is fatal, because superiority can not be maintained unless the herd, as well as the superior individual, is carefully looked after and improved. The superiority that achieves leadership and domination is usually the power to do some particular thing exceptionally well. It is extreme individuation, and it often is purchased at the cost of race vitality. It is as necessary to maintain the one as to develop the other. Mr. Pearson therefore finds the socialistic program not incompatible with continuing progress by selection and inheritance.
"To 'wage war against natural inequality' is clearly a reductio ad absurdum of the socialistic doctrine. So far as I understand the views of the more active socialists of to-day, they fully recognize that the better posts, the more lucrative and comfortable berths, must always go to the more efficient and more productive workers, and that it is for the welfare of society that it should be so. Socialists, however, propose to limit within healthy bounds the rewards of natural superiority and the advantages of artificial inequality. The victory of the more capable, or the more fortunate, must not involve such a defeat of the less capable, or the less fortunate, that social stability is endangered by the misery produced. At the present time a failure of the harvest in Russia and America simultaneously, or a war with a first-class European power, would probably break up our social system altogether. We should be crushed in the extra-group struggle for existence, because we have given too much play to intra-group competition, because we have proceeded on the assumption that it is better to have a few prize cattle among innumerable lean kine than a decently-bred and properly-fed herd with no expectations at Smithfield."
From this too brief account of the applications thus far made of Darwinian theory to the problems presented by social relationships, including human institutions, we may turn to the question of further scientific possibilities in this direction. It will have been noted that the theories reviewed are not as they now stand entirely consistent with one another, and that none of them carries explanation back to the actual beginnings and causes of group formation. Perhaps if we could more adequately account, in terms of the struggle for existence, for actual social origins, and for successive stages of social evolution, the various fragments of theory which we now possess would fall into orderly correlation.
Possibly also the most promising starting point for any new attempt to achieve these ends may be found in a careful scrutiny of what is involved in the struggle for existence itself. Close readers of "The Origin of Species" know that although Mr. Darwin, when employing the phrase "a struggle for existence," usually meant by it a struggle for subsistence, he uses it also to mean a struggle with the physical conditions of life, to which an organism that would survive must be or must become adapted. "Two canine animals in a time of dearth," he remarks, "may truly be said to struggle with each other which shall get food and live. But a plant on the edge of a desert is said to struggle for life against the drought, though more properly it should be said to be dependent on the moisture." Also, "climate plays an important part in determining the average numbers of a species, and periodical seasons of extreme cold or drought seem to be the most effective of all checks." Yet further, "when we reach the Arctic regions, or snow capped summits, or absolute deserts, the struggle for life is almost exclusively with the elements." Again, Mr. Darwin often means, not a struggle for food or against the elements, but a struggle to avoid being converted into food. "Very frequently," he writes, "it is not the obtaining of food, but the serving as prey to other animals, which determines the average numbers of a species." And some of his most fascinating pages deal with the variations, such as protective markings, colorings and habits, which are helpful in the mere struggle for safety. Once more, in those paragraphs in "The Descent of Man" already referred to, in which Mr. Darwin recognizes the utility of group solidarity, he, by implication, takes account of a struggle on the part of associating individuals to adjust their interests and their activities to one another in such wise that group life may be maintained.
If, then, it is legitimate to use the term, "struggle for existence," "in a large and metaphorical sense," as Mr. Darwin says his practise is, the struggle itself obviously consists of four distinct and specific struggles, namely: (1) the struggle for safety; (2) the struggle for subsistence; (3) the struggle for adaptation by every organism to the objective conditions of its life, and, (4) the struggle for adjustment, by group-living individuals to one another.
And this large use of the term is legitimate in fact. Mr. Darwin's only mistake was in calling it "metaphorical." For, as Karl Pearson has pointed out, "the true measure of natural selection is a selective death rate," and any circumstance, whether it be danger, or scarcity of food, or non-adaptation to physical conditions, or mal-adjustment of associating individuals to one another, which affects the selective death rate, is a factor in the struggle for existence.
If so much be granted, a number of difficult questions get a real illumination. What are the true relations of esthetic and economic, of ethical and social phenomena to one another, and to life in its wide inclusiveness? What, especially, is the precise point of departure of social evolution from all that precedes it and prepares for it? And what is the precise discrimination needful of things social from things merely organic or psychological? The modes and the phases of the struggle for existence suggest intelligible answers.
Quite obviously the struggle for safety is the shaping cause of our esthetic life, the life of sensitiveness and of appreciation. On this point Mr. Darwin's data and conclusions are exhaustive. Instant reaction, if the organism is unconscious, discrimination if it is conscious, and due estimate of light and shade, of color and form, of sound and of pressure, in all their objective degrees and proportions, dissonances and harmonies—these are the readiness and the responsiveness requisite for safety from each instant of life to the next. Obviously, moreover, the esthetic life, so understood, is elemental and precedent. For an organism must in fact survive from moment to moment before it can have further need or power, even to eat.
The struggle for subsistence initiates and broadens into the economic life. The struggle for adaptation becomes the ethical life. For adaptation, in its beginnings a mere taking on or perfecting of useful characters, develops, in time, into self-control, self-direction and self-shaping.
Between adaptation and adjustment, no distinction whatever has been made by a majority of evolutionist writers. Spencer uses the word "adjustment" to include all that biologists and psychologists commonly mean by adaptation. Yet the two things are not at all the same. The struggles which they involve are not identical struggles, and, for the purposes of sociological theory, the distinction is of fundamental importance.
Adaptation—which, as it goes on, widens into and includes the ethical life, at first is a mere conforming of the organism through variation, selection and inheritance, to the physical conditions under which it happens to live; that is to say, to altitude, temperature, light or darkness, dryness or moisture, enemies, food supply, and so on. Through adaptation, and because non-adaptation means extinction, the individuals of any given species congregated and dwelling in any given region where adequate food supplies are found become increasingly alike, and the first two conditions of social life, as Mr. Bagehot rightly explained it, namely, grouping and substantial resemblance, are provided. But, since they are alike, individuals of the same variety or race, so brought together in one habitat, necessarily want the same things, and in like ways try to get them. They may compete in obtaining those things which each is able to get by his own efforts, or they may combine their efforts to obtain those things that no one could get unaided. In either case their interests and activities sooner or later must fall into adjustment. And, since any failure of adjustment may be as fatal as non-adaptation or starvation, there will be a struggle, at first perhaps unconscious, but in course of time becoming conscious, to maintain adjustment and to perfect it. This struggle for adjustment is the beginning of social life and is the differentiating mark of all true social phenomena.
Or, to put the matter in slightly different words, while the struggle for safety develops the esthetic life, and the struggle for subsistence becomes the economic life, and the struggle for adaptation broadens into the ethical life, the struggle of resembling creatures to adjust their similar adaptations to one another, is the beginning and the continuing process of the social life.
Through success in all these struggles, and not in any one alone, there results a survival of the fit, that is, of those organisms that are so equipped with proper parts and habits that they on the whole fit into and conform to all the essential conditions of life provided by the environment in which they are forced or elect to dwell. Holding their own in such unremitting and remorseless contests, those among them in whom consciousness has awakened, inevitably come to feel a certain sense of vital adequacy, a will and power to live, and an assurance of unexhausted opportunity. There is born in them a faith, inarticulate at first but effective, in the possibilities of life. Impelled by this faith and equipped with social instinct, man, outstripping all other creatures, presses forward into the wider conflicts of a collective struggle for existence.
Here a word must be said about the subjective aspect of society, which, in its objective aspect, as we have seen, is merely the struggle and process of adjustment. What is the relation of adjustment to sympathy and to understanding, to communication and to concerted purpose, to the evolution of a social constraint through which the community controls and shapes the individual, to cooperation and to social organization?
These questions are not really so difficult as some others. We have seen that adjustment arises because like creatures want the same things and in like ways try to get them. Now, wanting the same things, and trying in like ways to get them, are essentially psychological phenomena, and under analysis they resolve into one elementary phenomenon in particular, namely, like response to the same, or to similar, or to common stimulation. Responding in like ways to the same, or to common stimulation, associating individuals, acting upon one another also by suggestion and example, and imitating one another in a thousand ways, have identical feelings and develop identical or closely resembling ideas. Sympathy and understanding, as the psychologist explains, are byproducts of all these things. Sympathy and understanding, supplemented by communication, and backed up by the enormous mass of common feelings and ideas, find expression in those common and usual ways of doing things, those norms and elements of custom which Professor Sumner has so admirably named "the folkways."
Folkways, customs, mores, enforced by collective instinct and feeling, constrain the individual. They become that "most terrible of all tyrannies known to man," of which Mr. Bagehot wrote. But that tyranny, as Bagehot demonstrated, perfects the group in the unity of essential likeness, and in the consciousness of likeness, and holds it together in the bonds of solidarity. Conscious of the usefulness of solidarity, the group, as it becomes self-conscious, endeavors by definite policies so far to prescribe individual conduct as to control and limit variation from type. Society thus becomes a type-conforming group of associates, endeavoring, by self-instituted discipline, to maintain, as a type, its distinctive characteristics.
To observe the successive stages, and the complications of man's collective struggle for existence, is to examine the evolution of tribal society and to follow the history of civilization—a large undertaking. The few words that I have to offer upon these subjects at the present time will refer only to some of the relations that seem to hold between very general influences, on the one hand, and some of the larger results, on the other.
Group safety is the first consideration. It is attained through unity of action, a prerequisite of which is the sense of solidarity. To the making of solidarity, everything that we are in the habit of calling conventionality contributes. Not only the fundamentally important conventions of language, but also those of manners, of costume and of ceremonial have here an essential function.
Doubtless it is at this initial stage of the collective struggle, when life is a day by day hazard, and man's overmastering emotion is dread, that religion acquires its first intellectual coefficient. Since Edward B. Tylor developed his theory of a primitive animism, much new light has been thrown upon the earliest religious notions of the race. The new discoveries have not convinced us that animism was, indeed, the actual beginning of religion, much less have they proven that the ghost theory of Spencer's exposition was. On the contrary, research apparently has demonstrated that religion, before it was spiritistic or even animistic, was quite impersonal. It was a recognition and an ever-present dread of external power, conceived merely as strength or might. Mana, or Manitou, was not the Great Spirit of the missionary's imagination; it was merely The Great Big, The Great Mighty, The Great Dreadful, and the earlier way of establishing working relations with external might lay not through sacrifice or prayer, but through the ingenious trickery of the black art, that is to say, of magic.
But was even magic the very first mode of worship? Speaking for myself only, I doubt it. In the folkways and folklore of every people we find, deep down in the stratum, the arts of augery, of divination, of fortune telling. In these, I suspect, we discover the earliest religious ideas and practises, as distinguished from religious feeling or faith. Before man thought of fooling, or tricking, or bribing, or importuning the powers that control his fate, he tried simply to find out what they were likely to do to him. He tried to learn whether and how far he was safe, to foresee his fate.
It has been in view of such considerations as these, and especially because of the strong probability that religion was impersonal before it became animistic, that I have thought it legitimate to identify religion in its ultimate essence or principle, with that elementary and primordial faith in the possibilities of life which springs from success in the struggle for existence.
Collective economic effort takes at first the form of a group exploitation of various natural sources of subsistence. Each horde becomes identified with a particular region or hunting-ground, and sometimes with a particular kind of food. The notion arises that the human group and its food, plant or animal, had a common origin and are now kindred. Magic is developed as the means relied on to preserve and to increase the food supply. This idea and resulting practise constitute totemism, which differentiates primitive communities into economic groups and into kinship divisions.
Within each group, the adaptation of individuals to prevailing life conditions is furthered by the folkways, imposing upon every person a common morality, and, through initiation ceremonies, or other formidable disciplines, developing in him some power of self-control. Prom experiences of discipline received and imparted, and of self-mastery, springs a crude theory of personal power or agency. Here, probably, is the true origin of animism as a theory of causation, and from this point religion tends to become animistic.
The ever-recurring conflicts between group and group call forth leadership, establish the simpler forms of personal government and mark out the elementary social distinctions. It is now that ideas of spirits separable from material bodies, and, as ghosts surviving bodily death, begin to take shape. Religion becomes spiritistic. The habit of making obeisance to the powerful or the clever, and of propitiating them, which has grown up step by step with leadership and personal government, is transferred to the realm of shades. Ghosts must be looked after and prayed to, or they might do mischief. Remembered, fed and honored, the kindred ghosts of a community are friendly, protecting powers. Religion becomes the bond of the living with the dead.
Through all these struggles, adaptations and adjustments, the fit that survive become in a degree socialized, and in the degree that they become social they become better assured of further survival. By the integration of small hordes of kindred into tribes, and the combination of tribes into federations, ethnic society is evolved. The ghosts of tribal chieftains are supposed to be more powerful and important than ordinary ghosts; they enjoy, therefore, extraordinary honor and attention. They become gods. Religion becomes theistic.
The struggle for existence has now been won. The collective struggle for advantage begins. From every side confederated tribes of barbarian men press toward those regions that offer exceptional opportunities; such regions in early days were the shores and back country of the Caspian Sea, the valleys of the Euphrates and the Nile. This is the struggle for situation. Bringing together in one habitat a motley multitude of tribes, and fragments of shattered tribes, it grinds the tribal system to destruction. It assembles and mingles the human elements for an evolution of civil society.
When the struggle for place and opportunity has been won, and command of territory has been achieved, every energy is enlisted in the economic struggle for abundance. The new social order is not yet established. Miscellaneous men jostle each other, as in a mining camp. Each lives among his fellows on sufferance, or toleration. Society is merely approbational, and its interests are purely materialistic. The deities are gods of crops and generation.
This state of things, of course, can not last. The struggle for abundance begets the struggle for efficiency. Ideas and standards of efficiency appear. The efficient find each other out. They like each other and each other's ways. They dislike the inefficient, and begin in all possible ways to make life unpleasant for them. Efficiency and the habits that make therefor are identified with righteousness. The gods are credited with righteous impulses, and a desire to have men do right. Society has become congenial, and religion ethical.
The supreme struggle remains—the struggle for supremacy. To conquer, to dominate, to exploit—this alone can satisfy the state that has become strong enough to impose its yoke upon environing peoples. Armies are mustered and drilled, coercive rule and regimentation transform the domestic order. Society becomes despotic, and, since the gods of the conquerors must be worshipped by the conquered, religion becomes authoritative.
To show how despotic society breaks down, how in such frontier outposts as were the islands and shores of the Ægean Sea, intellect at last becomes dynamic, and political habit revolutionary, and how, under the hammering of these forces, society becomes contractual or constitutional, and religion rationalistic, would be to tell an enthralling story, for which no time remains. In one favored place, the Athenian city state, society became for a brief time idealistic, that is to say, its bonds were those of a common purpose, or ideal, and religion became non-theological. After two thousand years of arrest and slow recovery, the cosmopolitan society of the western world is, possibly, once more approximating the Athenian model.
And the goal is what? If it be true, indeed, that through the ages an increasing purpose runs, is it made manifest in something that we may legitimately call progress? For progress, rightly defined, is more than evolution. It is race survival with individuation, or it is increasing individual power, capacity and happiness not entailing race extermination. Have we made sure of this? We hate to think ill of ourselves. Yet the question recurs: Has the survival of the fit become, at length, a survival of the best?
- A lecture in the course on "Charles Darwin and his Influence on Science," delivered at Columbia University, April 16, 1909.
- "Physics and Politics," pp. 212, 213.
- Under the title: "The Progress from Brute to Man."
- Published in 1898, a worthy product of Australian scholarship, which its author described as largely a detailed expansion of the fourth and fifth chapters of "The Descent of Man."
- Delivered in 1906; published 1907 as "A Critical Examination of Socialism."
- "Aristocracy and Evolution," p. 379.
- "The Chances of Death," Vol. I., pp. 112, 113. In view of the apprehensions just now so freely expressed in England, it is, I think, worth while to quote the exact words in which Mr. Pearson more than ten years ago summarized his argument:
- "The Origin of Species," p. 78.
- Ibid., p. 84.
- Ibid., p. 85.
- Ibid., p. 84.
- Ibid., p. 78.
- Essay on "Reproductive Selection" in "The Chances of Death and Other Studies in Evolution," Vol. I., p. 63.