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ART. VIII.-Social Evolution. By BENJAMIN KIDD. 8vo. London 1894.
THIS is a striking, in the sense at least of being a very surprising, book. It is full of surprises. Not one of its leading ideas is a new idea, but the combinations into which old ideas are cast are novel and peculiar. It takes thoughts equally from the most opposite and antagonistic schools, and uses them to support conclusions which are repugnant to each and to them all. In its phraseology it is not only Darwinian, but ultra-Darwinian. It bows down before the formula of natural selection' as to a fetish. Yet it also specially insists upon the agency of what is called 'the supernatural'-the very conception which natural selection was invented to deny or, at least, to supersede. It dwells emphatically on the familiar idea that human society is an organism. Yet another of its most favourite doctrines is that, unlike every other organism in the world, the interest of all its individual parts is in constant and permanent antagonism to the interests of the whole. It asserts, and reiterates the assertion over and over again, that the freedom of the individual is the mainspring of all progress. Yet it is constantly asserting in the next breath that the reason and intellect of the individual are always at hopeless variance with the collective welfare. In describing the facts and aspects of society, whether past or present, it adopts, without qualification or protest, the most misleading and exaggerated language of the extremest socialism. Yet it denounces all the remedies to which that socialism looks, and condemns them as not only useless, but as tending only to accelerated decay and to inevitable death. It asserts in one page the doctrine of the native equality of all men, as peculiar to the ethical system upon which our civilisation is founded, whilst in the next page it represents the whole population of tropical countries as so inherently inferior to the population of the temperate regions that these last must permanently rule and govern all the others from their own shores. It looks upon the most extreme and almost savage competition between individuals in the race of life as the one only cause and source of all improvement in human society, yet it pronounces not less strongly on the supreme value of that ethical agency which is now technically called 'Altruism,' this being the new and very affected name for the old familiar things which we used to call charity, benevolence,
and love. The whole language and phraseology of the book is moulded on that of Darwinian biology as a purely physical science, and on the assumption that this phraseology is as competent to account for the developement of the mind of man and of human society as it is assumed by the author to be competent to account for the developement of the physical frame of the lower animals. Yet it emphatically condemns Mr. Herbert Spencer and others for not seeing that the law of developement which has prevailed amongst them is totally different from the laws of developement which have prevailed in the developement of men. In short, it speaks habitually in the tones and in the voice of the non-religious schools of modern thought. Yet it rebukes them for their blindness to the supreme power of religious faith, and-though holding absolutely aloof from every kind of special dogma or of special churches-it indicates the author's meaning when he speaks of religion by specifying Christianity as the one historical source of the saving salt of humanity, and the personal life and teaching of Christ Himself as the one great fountain of all the transforming blessings it has conferred.*
It is, perhaps, just conceivable that a sound theory of political philosophy might be thus built up eclectically by some single mind of preternatural sagacity and grasp. Such a mind might eliminate with perfect discrimination all the erroneous elements in different schools of thought. It might keep every scrap of truth that each one of them contained; and it might reconstruct the bits into one system, with an exact appreciation of their relative value and importance. No doubt it is to work done in this direction that we must look for all advances in knowledge. But it is essentially the kind of work which requires time and the slow cooperation of many minds. Its pace cannot be forced. To adopt without careful analysis the hasty and partial generalisations of different schools of thought, and to patch them together in one forced and unnatural combination, is not likely to be a very successful method. And yet a philosophy constructed on this plan may-and, indeed, must-present at first sight many points of attraction to many minds. Some men belonging to the different schools so dealt with are sure to be conciliated by the full adoption of their favourite words and phrases. Others will see the irrevocable recognition and confirmation of particular truths to which they justly attach the highest importance. Others again will see
* Pp. 297-8.
incidental admissions which are to them invaluable. And all these groups may be at first so pleased as to be little inclined to look a gift horse in the mouth,' or to care for flaws even if they see them.
This is exactly, as it seems to us, what has happened to Mr. Kidd's book. It has been received with a chorus of approbation. Not, indeed, as yet by any skilled exponent of any of the different philosophies he handles, but by many of the average critics of the day who have, at least, a super ficial acquaintance with them. Nor is this surprising. The book has some solid merits. If we except the occasional use of a few new words of monstrous birth, it is well and vigorously written. Its author is evidently equipped with a wide range of knowledge. Its tone is dispassionate, and its very plan lends itself to produce a general impression of an almost judicial impartiality. Above all it enforces, as it could not possibly fail to do, many individual truths and many trains of reasoning, which are put in new and striking lights. Nevertheless, we do not expect the chorus of praise to remain long unbroken. One set of men will soon come to see that the language which they like is used in senses which it does not mean to them, and applied to support conclusions which they repudiate and condemn. Another set of men will find out that some of the great truths, for the recognition of which they value it, are not really held at all, or are at least placed upon an unsound and precarious foundation. Others, again, will come to entertain a more serious misgivingnamely this that the central ideas of the book are fundamentally antagonistic to all that they value most in the philosophy of human life, and that some of the most essential elements in a true understanding of humanity are forgotten and omitted altogether.
It is obvious that such a book must present many difficulties to a reviewer who wishes to be accurate and fair. Looking, not merely to one passage, but to many passages, we may easily attribute to the author opinions which may seem to be inconsistent with some other passages of which no notice is taken. We may give exaggerated prominence to arguments which the author meant to be subordinate. We may see clearly and truly assumptions made by implication which the author did not intend. We may even fail to give any true impression of the general result from unduly dwelling on inconsistencies in detail. We can only endeavour to avoid these pitfalls as best we can.
One broad characteristic of the book is its loud and
repeated claim to speak in the name of science. The second characteristic is that by science it means chiefly and almost exclusively the science of biology. The third is that by the science of biology it means, primarily, that science as represented by the Darwinian school. The fourth is that by the Darwinian theory it means that theory as supplemented or developed' by Professor Weissmann. The fifth is that by this developed Darwinianism the whole philosophy of man and of human society may be explained, provided, however--and provided only it be remembered that man alone is a religious animal, and that this feature in his character must be taken into account as a main factor in that process of evolution to which Darwin gave the name of 'natural selection.' These appear to us to be the main conceptions which run through the whole treatise. So far as its language is concerned it is saturated with what we may call Darwinese.' The phrase natural selection' is perpetually recurring. There is no attempt to define its meaning. The author seems quite unconscious of the fact that its words may be applied with equal accuracy to express half a dozen different things in nature which are wholly distinct from each other in kind. It may mean a separation effected between things by purely mechanical forces. It may mean that very different kind of separation which is effected by chemical affinity. It may mean-what is still more widely different that other kind of separation and recombination which is effected by the agency which we know as life. It may mean, equally well, that still higher kind of separation which is effected, among things, by the agency of reason, by the conscious choice of the intellect, and the will. If we throw a shovelful of sand and gravel into a glass tank of water, and then watch the results, we shall see a perfect specimen of that lowest kind of natural selection which is due to the mere unguided action of the mechanical forces. The water will'select' with the greatest precision the particles consigned to it, and will arrange them in a definite order at the bottom. Is this the sense in which Mr. Kidd speaks of the phenomena of human society as being determined by natural selection? If, again, under known conditions, we put two or three chemical elements together which have certain affinities with each other, some new and valuable substance will be formed. Is this kind of natural selection-producing, say, illuminating gas-the same kind of agency as that to which he ascribes the growth of nations and the developements of law? Again, if
we put into our stomachs certain kinds of food, they will be transformed by the digestive chemistry of vital action into the substance of our own flesh and blood. Once more, if a variety of arguments are presented to our intellects, some bad and some good, our reason will at least endeavour, and with more or less success, to select the better and reject the All these are cases of natural phenomena which may with equal accuracy be covered under the general conception of natural selection. Clearly a phrase capable of such a range of widely diverse meanings can be of no value in philosophy unless the sense in which it is used be carefully and accurately defined. It must be confessed, indeed, that, although Mr. Kidd gives us no formal definition at all, the sense in which he understands the words is plain enough from the contexts in which they stand throughout his book. He understands natural selection in that only logical sense in which it means essentially natural rejection-that is to say, the separation of the strong for preservation, only as a necessary and purely mechanical consequence of the ceaseless killing of all the weak. The only active agency is that which destroys. There is no constructive agency whatever in the conception, and no constructive effect, except that which follows as an indirect consequence of continual destruction. Natural selection means with Mr. Kidd, simply and nakedly, the ruthless elimination by slaughter, and disease, and starvation, of all weaker organisms in such a way that the stronger can alone survive. In his language expressing this idea, and in the supreme power which he assigns to it, he out-Darwins Darwin. Both in describing what it is, and in depicting what it does, he is uncompromising and extreme. It is a fierce and endless 'struggle for the means of existence.' It is ceaseless 'stress and competition.'† It is incessant rivalry.' It is ' endless conflict.' It is a rule of brute force pure and 'simple.' § And all this is represented as the result of natural laws as rigid and mechanical as the law of gravitation. Nothing can evade it. We may beat our swords into ploughshares, but in our hands the implements of industry prove even more effective and deadly weapons than the swords.' These are but a few specimens of the phrases which are thickly strewn over the pages of Mr. Kidd's book wherever he has occasion to indicate what he means by natural selection.
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