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Title: Social Rights and Duties, Volume I (of 2) - Addresses to Ethical Societies
Author: Stephen, Leslie, 1832-1904
Language: English
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(OF 2)***

The Ethical Library


Addresses to Ethical Societies



In Two Volumes


Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Limited
New York: MacMillan & Co.


The following chapters are chiefly a republication of addresses
delivered to the Ethical Societies of London. Some have previously
appeared in the _International Journal of Ethics_, the _National
Review_, and the _Contemporary Review_. The author has to thank the
proprietors of these periodicals for their consent to the republication.

L. S.



THE AIMS OF ETHICAL SOCIETIES,                          1

SCIENCE AND POLITICS,                                  45

THE SPHERE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY,                       91

THE MORALITY OF COMPETITION,                          133

SOCIAL EQUALITY,                                      175



I am about to say a few words upon the aims of this society: and I
should be sorry either to exaggerate or to depreciate our legitimate
pretensions. It would be altogether impossible to speak too strongly of
the importance of the great questions in which our membership of the
society shows us to be interested. It would, I fear, be easy enough to
make an over-estimate of the part which we can expect to play in their
solution. I hold indeed, or I should not be here, that we may be of
some service at any rate to each other. I think that anything which
stimulates an active interest in the vital problems of the day deserves
the support of all thinking men; and I propose to consider briefly some
of the principles by which we should be guided in doing whatever we can
to promote such an interest.

      [1] Address to West London Ethical Society, 4th December, 1892.

We are told often enough that we are living in a period of important
intellectual and social revolutions. In one way we are perhaps inclined
even to state the fact a little too strongly. We suffer at times from
the common illusion that the problems of to-day are entirely new: we
fancy that nobody ever thought of them before, and that when we have
solved them, nobody will ever need to look for another solution. To
ardent reformers in all ages it seems as if the millennium must begin
with their triumph, and that their triumph will be established by a
single victory. And while some of us are thus sanguine, there are many
who see in the struggles of to-day the approach of a deluge which is to
sweep away all that once ennobled life. The believer in the old creeds,
who fears that faith is decaying, and the supernatural life fading from
the world, denounces the modern spirit as materialising and degrading.
The conscience of mankind, he thinks, has become drugged and lethargic;
our minds are fixed upon sensual pleasures, and our conduct regulated
by a blind struggle for the maximum of luxurious enjoyment. The period
in his eyes is a period of growing corruption; modern society suffers
under a complication of mortal diseases, so widely spread and deeply
seated that at present there is no hope of regeneration. The best hope
is that its decay may provide the soil in which seed may be sown of a
far-distant growth of happier augury. Such dismal forebodings are no
novelty. Every age produces its prophecies of coming woes. Nothing
would be easier than to make out a catena of testimonies from great men
at every stage of the world's history, declaring each in turn that the
cup of iniquity was now at last overflowing, and that corruption had
reached so unprecedented a step that some great catastrophe must be
approaching. A man of unusually lofty morality is, for that reason,
more keenly sensitive to the lowness of the average standard, and too
easily accepts the belief that the evils before his eyes must be in
fact greater, and not, as may perhaps be the case, only more vividly
perceived, than those of the bygone ages. A call to repentance easily
takes the form of an assertion that the devil is getting the upper
hand; and we may hope that the pessimist view is only a form of the
discontent which is a necessary condition of improvement. Anyhow, the
diametrical conflict of prophecies suggests one remark which often
impresses me. We are bound to call each other by terribly hard names. A
gentleman assures me in print that I am playing the devil's game;
depriving my victims, if I have any, of all the beliefs that can make
life noble or happy, and doing my best to destroy the very first
principles of morality. Yet I meet my adversary in the flesh, and find
that he treats me not only with courtesy, but with no inconsiderable
amount of sympathy. He admits--by his actions and his argument--that
I--the miserable sophist and seducer--have not only some good impulses,
but have really something to say which deserves a careful and
respectful answer. An infidel, a century or two ago, was supposed to
have forfeited all claim to the ordinary decencies of life. Now I can
say, and can say with real satisfaction, that I do not find any
difference of creed, however vast in words, to be an obstacle to decent
and even friendly treatment. I am at times tempted to ask whether my
opponent can be quite logical in being so courteous; whether, if he is
as sure as he says that I am in the devil's service, I ought not, as a
matter of duty, to be encountered with the old dogmatism and arrogance.
I shall, however, leave my friends of a different way of thinking to
settle that point for themselves. I cannot doubt the sincerity of their
courtesy, and I will hope that it is somehow consistent with their
logic. Rather I will try to meet them in a corresponding spirit by a
brief confession. I have often enough spoken too harshly and vehemently
of my antagonists. I have tried to fix upon them too unreservedly what
seemed to me the logical consequences of their dogmas. I have condemned
their attempts at a milder interpretation of their creed as proofs of
insincerity, when I ought to have done more justice to the legitimate
and lofty motives which prompted them. And I at least am bound by my
own views to admit that even the antagonist from whose utterances I
differ most widely may be an unconscious ally, supplementing rather
than contradicting my theories, and in great part moved by aspirations
which I ought to recognise even when allied with what I take to be
defective reasoning. We are all amenable to one great influence. The
vast shuttle of modern life is weaving together all races and creeds
and classes. We are no longer shut up in separate compartments, where
the mental horizon is limited by the area visible from the parish
steeple; each little section can no longer fancy, in the old childish
fashion, that its own arbitrary prejudices and dogmas are parts of the
eternal order of things; or infer that in the indefinite region beyond,
there live nothing but monsters and anthropophagi, and men whose heads
grow beneath their shoulders. The annihilation of space has made us
fellows as by a kind of mechanical compulsion; and every advance of
knowledge has increased the impossibility of taking our little
church--little in comparison with mankind, be it even as great as the
Catholic Church--for the one pattern of right belief. The first effect
of bringing remote nations and classes into closer contact is often an
explosion of antipathy; but in the long run it means a development of
human sympathy. Wide, therefore, as is the opposition of opinions as to
what is the true theory of the world--as to which is the divine and
which the diabolical element--I fully believe that beneath the war of
words and dogmas there is a growth of genuine toleration, and, we must
hope, of ultimate conciliation.

This is manifest in another direction. The churches are rapidly making
at least one discovery. They are beginning to find out that their
vitality depends not upon success in theological controversy, but upon
their success in meeting certain social needs and aspirations common to
all classes. It is simply impossible for any thinking man at the
present day to take any living interest, for example, in the ancient
controversies. The "drum ecclesiastic" of the seventeenth century would
sound a mere lullaby to us. Here and there a priest or a belated
dissenting minister may amuse himself by threshing out once more the
old chaff of dead and buried dogmas. There are people who can argue
gravely about baptismal regeneration or apostolical succession. Such
doctrines were once alive, no doubt, because they represented the form
in which certain still living problems had then to present themselves.
They now require to be stated in a totally different shape, before we
can even guess why they were once so exciting, or how men could have
supposed their modes of attacking the question to be adequate. The Pope
and General Booth still condemn each other's tenets; and in case of
need would, I suppose, take down the old rusty weapons from the
armoury. But each sees with equal clearness that the real stress of
battle lies elsewhere. Each tries, after his own fashion, to give a
better answer than the Socialists to the critical problems of to-day.
We ought so far to congratulate both them and ourselves on the
direction of their energies. Nay, can we not even co-operate, and put
these hopeless controversies aside? Why not agree to differ about the
questions which no one denies to be all but insoluble, and become
allies in promoting morality? Enormous social forces find their natural
channel through the churches; and if the beliefs inculcated by the
church were not, as believers assert, the ultimate cause of progress,
it is at least clear that they were not incompatible with progress. The
church, we all now admit, whether by reason of or in spite of its
dogmatic creed, was for ages one great organ of civilisation, and still
exercises an incalculable influence. Why, then, should we, who cannot
believe in the dogmas, yet fall into line with believers for practical
purposes? Churches insist verbally upon the importance of their dogma:
they are bound to do so by their logical position; but, in reality, for
them, as for us, the dogma has become in many ways a mere
excrescence--a survival of barren formulæ which do little harm to
anybody. Carlyle, in his quaint phrase, talked about the exodus from
Houndsditch, but doubted whether it were yet time to cast aside the
Hebrew old clothes. They have become threadbare and antiquated. That
gives a reason to the intelligent for abandoning them; but, also,
perhaps a reason for not quarrelling with those who still care to
masquerade in them. Orthodox people have made a demand that the Board
Schools should teach certain ancient doctrines about the nature of
Christ; and the demand strikes some of us as preposterous if not
hypocritical. But putting aside the audacity of asking unbelievers to
pay for such teaching, one might be tempted to ask, what harm could it
really do? Do you fancy for a moment that you can really teach a child
of ten the true meaning of the Incarnation? Can you give him more than
a string of words as meaningless as magical formulæ? I was brought up
at the most orthodox of Anglican seminaries. I learned the Catechism,
and heard lectures upon the Thirty-nine Articles. I never found that
the teaching had ever any particular effect upon my mind. As I grew up,
the obsolete exuviæ of doctrine dropped off my mind like dead leaves
from a tree. They could not get any vital hold in an atmosphere of
tolerable enlightenment. Why should we fear the attempt to instil these
fragments of decayed formulæ into the minds of children of tender age?
Might we not be certain that they would vanish of themselves? They are
superfluous, no doubt, but too futile to be of any lasting importance.
I remember that, when the first Education Act was being discussed,
mention was made of a certain Jew who not only sent his son to a
Christian school, but insisted upon his attending all the lessons. He
had paid his fees, he said, for education in the Gospels among other
things, and he meant to have his money's worth. "But your son," it was
urged, "will become a Christian." "I," he replied, "will take good care
of that at home." Was not the Jew a man of sense? Can we suppose that
the mechanical repetition of a few barren phrases will do either harm
or good? As the child develops he will, we may hope, remember his
multiplication table, and forget his fragments of the Athanasian Creed.
Let the wheat and tares be planted together, and trust to the superior
vitality of the more valuable plant. The sentiment might be expressed
sentimentally as easily as cynically. We may urge, like many sceptics
of the last century, that Christianity should be kept "for the use of
the poor," and renounced in the esoteric creed of the educated. Or we
may urge the literary and æsthetic beauty of the old training, and wish
it to be preserved to discipline the imagination, though we may reject
its value as a historical statement of fact.

The audience which I am addressing has, I presume, made up its mind
upon such views. They come too late. It might have been a good thing,
had it been possible, to effect the transition from old to new without
a violent convulsion: good, if Christian conceptions had been slowly
developed into more simple forms; if the beautiful symbols had been
retained till they could be impregnated with a new meaning; and if the
new teaching of science and philosophy had gradually percolated into
the ancient formulæ without causing a disruption. Possibly the
Protestant Reformation was a misfortune, and Erasmus saw the truth more
clearly than Luther. I cannot go into might-have-beens. We have to deal
with facts. A conspiracy of silence is impossible about matters which
have been vehemently discussed for centuries. We have to take sides;
and we at least have agreed to take the side of the downright thinker,
who will say nothing that he does not believe, and hide nothing that he
does believe, and speak out his mind without reservation or economy and
accommodation. Indeed, as things are, any other course seems to me to
be impossible. I have spoken, for example, of General Booth. Many
people heartily admire his schemes of social reform, and have been
willing to subscribe for its support, without troubling themselves
about his theology. I will make no objection; but I confess that I
could not therefore treat that theology as either morally or
intellectually respectable. It has happened to me once or twice to
listen to expositions from orators of the Salvation Army. Some of them
struck me as sincere though limited, and others as the victims of an
overweening vanity. The oratory, so far as I could hear, consisted in
stringing together an endless set of phrases about the blood of Christ,
which, if they really meant anything, meant a doctrine as low in the
intellectual scale as that of any of the objects of missionary
enterprise. The conception of the transactions between God and man was
apparently modelled upon the dealings of a petty tradesman. The "blood
of Christ" was regarded like the panacea of a quack doctor, which will
cure the sins of anybody who accepts the prescription. For anything I
can say, such a creed may be elevating--relatively: elevating as
slavery is said to have been elevating when it was a substitute for
extermination. The hymns of the Army may be better than public-house
melodies, and the excitement produced less mischievous than that due to
gin. But the best that I can wish for its adherents is, that they
should speedily reach a point at which they could perceive their
doctrines to be debasing. I hope, indeed, that they do not realise
their own meaning: but I could almost as soon join in some old pagan
ceremonies, gash my body with knives, or swing myself from a hook, as
indulge in this variety of spiritual intoxication.

There are, it is true, plenty of more refined and intellectual
preachers, whose sentiments deserve at least the respect due to tender
and humane feeling. They have found a solution, satisfactory to
themselves, of the great dilemma which presses on so many minds. A
religion really to affect the vulgar must be a superstition; to satisfy
the thoughtful, it must be a philosophy. Is it possible to contrive so
to fuse the crude with the refined as to make at least a working
compromise? To me personally, and to most of us living at the present
day, the enterprise appears to be impracticable. My own experience is,
I imagine, a very common one. When I ceased to accept the teaching of
my youth, it was not so much a process of giving up beliefs, as of
discovering that I had never really believed. The contrast between the
genuine convictions which guide and govern our conduct, and the
professions which we were taught to repeat in church, when once
realised, was too glaring. One belonged to the world of realities, and
the other to the world of dreams. The orthodox formulæ represent, no
doubt, a sentiment, an attempt to symbolise emotions which might be
beautiful, or to indicate vague impressions about the tendency of
things in general; but to put them side by side with real beliefs about
facts was to reveal their flimsiness. The "I believe" of the creed
seemed to mean something quite different from the "I believe" of
politics and history and science. Later experience has only deepened
and strengthened that feeling. Kind and loving and noble-minded people
have sought to press upon me the consolations of their religion. I
thank them in all sincerity; and I feel,--why should I not admit
it?--that it may be a genuine comfort to set your melancholy to the old
strain in which so many generations have embodied their sorrows and
their aspirations. And yet to me, its consolation is an invitation to
reject plain facts; to seek for refuge in a shadowy world of dreams and
conjectures, which dissolve as you try to grasp them. The doctrine
offered for my acceptance cannot be stated without qualifications and
reserves and modifications, which make it as useless as it is vague and
conjectural. I may learn in time to submit to the inevitable; I cannot
drug myself with phrases which evaporate as soon as they are exposed to
a serious test. You profess to give me the only motives of conduct; and
I know that at the first demand to define them honestly--to say
precisely what you believe and why you believe it--you will be forced
to withdraw, and explain and evade, and at last retire to the safe
refuge of a mystery, which might as well be admitted at starting. As I
have read and thought, I have been more and more impressed with the
obvious explanation of these observations. How should the beliefs be
otherwise than shadowy and illusory, when their very substance is made
of doubts laboriously and ingeniously twisted into the semblance of
convictions? In one way or other that is the characteristic mark of the
theological systems of the present day. Proof is abandoned for
persuasion. The orthodox believer professed once to prove the facts
which he asserted and to show that his dogmas expressed the truth. He
now only tries to show that the alleged facts don't matter, and that
the dogmas are meaningless. Nearly two centuries ago, for example, a
deist pointed out that the writer of the Book of Daniel, like other
people, must have written after the events which he mentioned. All the
learned, down to Dr. Pusey, denounced his theory, and declared his
argument to be utterly destructive of the faith. Now an orthodox
professor will admit that the deist was perfectly right, and only tries
to persuade himself that arguments from facts are superfluous. The
supposed foundation is gone: the superstructure is not to be affected.
What the keenest disputant now seeks to show is, not that the truth of
the records can be established beyond reasonable doubt; but that no
absolute contradiction in terms is involved in supposing that they
correspond more or less roughly to something which may possibly have
happened. So long as a thing is not proved false by mathematical
demonstration, I may still continue to take it for a divine revelation,
and to listen respectfully when experienced statesmen and learned
professors assure me with perfect gravity that they can believe in
Noah's flood or in the swine of Gadara. They have an unquestionable
right to believe if they please: and they expect me to accept the facts
for the sake of the doctrine. There, unluckily, I have a similar
difficulty. It is the orthodox who are the systematic sceptics. The
most famous philosophers of my youth endeavoured to upset the deist by
laying the foundation of Agnosticism, arbitrarily tagged to an orthodox
conclusion. They told me to believe a doctrine because it was totally
impossible that I should know whether it was true or not, or indeed
attach any real meaning to it whatever. The highest altar, as Sir W.
Hamilton said, was the altar to the unknown and unknowable God. Others,
seeing the inevitable tendency of such methods, have done their best to
find in that the Christian doctrine, rightly understood, the embodiment
of the highest philosophy. It is the divine voice which speaks in our
hearts, though it has caught some accretion of human passion and
superstition. The popular versions are false and debased; the old
versions of the Atonement, for example, monstrous; and the belief in
the everlasting torture of sinners, a hideous and groundless
caricature. With much that such men have said I could, of course, agree
heartily; for, indeed, it expresses the strongest feelings which have
caused religious revolt. But would it not be simpler to say, "the
doctrine is not true," than to say, "it is true, but means just the
reverse of what it was also taken to mean"? I prefer plain terms; and
"without doubt he shall perish everlastingly" seems to be an awkward
way of denying the endlessness of punishment. You cannot denounce the
immorality of the old dogmas with the infidel, and then proclaim their
infinite value with the believer. You defend the doctrine by showing
that in its plain downright sense,--the sense in which it embodied
popular imaginations,--it was false and shocking. The proposal to hold
by the words evacuated of the old meaning is a concession of the whole
case to the unbeliever, and a substitution of sentiment and aspiration
for a genuine intellectual belief. Explaining away, however dexterously
and delicately, is not defending, but at once confessing error, and
encumbering yourself with all the trammels of misleading associations.
The more popular method, therefore, at the present day is not to
rationalise, but to try to outsceptic the sceptic. We are told that we
have no solid ground from reason at all, and that even physical science
is as full of contradictions as theology. Such enterprises, conducted
with whatever ingenuity, are, as I believe, hopeless; but at least they
are fundamentally and radically sceptical. That, under whatever
disguises, is the true meaning of the Catholic argument, which is so
persuasive to many. To prove the truth of Christianity by abstract
reasoning may be hopeless; but nothing is easier than to persuade
yourself to believe it, if once you will trust instinct in place of
reason, and forget that instinct proves anything and everything. The
success of such arguments with thoughtful men is simply a measure of
the spread of scepticism. The conviction that truth is unattainable is
the master argument for submitting to "authority". The "authority," in
the scientific sense of any set of men who agree upon a doctrine,
varies directly as their independence of each other. Their "authority"
in the legal sense varies as the closeness of their mutual dependence.
As the consent loses its value logically, it gains in power of
coercion. And therefore it is easy to substitute drilling for arguing,
and to take up a belief as you accept admission to a society, as a
matter of taste and feeling, with which abstract logic has nothing to
do. The common dilemma--you must be a Catholic or an atheist--means,
that theology is only tenable if you drill people into belief by a vast
organisation appealing to other than logical motives.

I do not argue these points: I only indicate what I take to be your own
conviction as well as mine. It seems to me, in fact, that the present
state of mind--if we look to men's real thoughts and actions, not to
their conventional phrases--is easily definable. It is simply a tacit
recognition that the old orthodoxy cannot be maintained either by the
evidence of facts or by philosophical argument. It has puzzled me
sometimes to understand why the churches should insist upon nailing
themselves down to the truth of their dogmas and their legendary
history. Why cannot they say frankly, what they seem to be constantly
on the verge of saying--Our dogmas and our history are not true, or not
"true" in the historical or scientific sense of the word? To ask for
such truth in the sphere of theology is as pedantic as to ask for it in
the sphere of poetry. Poetical truth means, not that certain events
actually happened, or that the poetical "machinery" is to be taken as
an existing fact; but that the poem is, so to speak, the projection of
truths upon the cloudland of imagination. It reflects and gives
sensuous images of truth; but it is only the Philistine or the
blockhead who can seriously ask, is it true? Some such position seems
to be really conceivable as an ultimate compromise. Put aside the
prosaic insistence upon literal matter-of-fact truth, and we may all
agree to use the same symbolism, and interpret it as we please. This
seems to me to be actually the view of many thoughtful people, though
for obvious reasons it is not often explicitly stated. One reason is,
of course, the consciousness that the great mass of mankind requires
plain, tangible motives for governing its life; and if it once be
admitted that so much of the orthodox doctrine is mere symbolism or
adumbration of truths, the admission would involve the loss of the
truths so indicated. Moral conduct, again, and moral beliefs are
supposed to depend upon some affirmation of these truths; and excellent
people are naturally shy of any open admission which may appear to
throw doubt upon the ultimate grounds of morality.

Indeed, if it could be really proved that men have to choose between
renouncing moral truths and accepting unproved theories, it might be
right--I will not argue the point--to commit intellectual suicide. If
the truth is that we are mere animals or mere automata, shall we
sacrifice the truth, or sacrifice what we have at least agreed to call
our higher nature? For us the dilemma has no force: for we do not admit
the discrepancy. We believe that morality depends upon something deeper
and more permanent than any of the dogmas that have hitherto been
current in the churches. It is a product of human nature, not of any of
these transcendental speculations or faint survivals of traditional
superstitions. Morality has grown up independently of, and often in
spite of, theology. The creeds have been good so far as they have
accepted or reflected the moral convictions; but it is an illusion to
suppose that they have generated it. They represent the dialect and the
imagery by which moral truths have been conveyed to minds at certain
stages of thought; but it is a complete inversion of the truth to
suppose that the morality sprang out of them. From this point of view
we must of necessity treat the great ethical questions independently.
We cannot form a real alliance with thinkers radically opposed to us.
Divines tell us that we reject the one possible basis of morality. To
us it appears that we are strengthening it, by severing it from a
connection with doctrines arbitrary, incapable of proof, and incapable
of retaining any consistent meaning. Theologians once believed that
hell-fire was the ultimate sentence, and persecution the absolute duty
of every Christian ruler. The churches which once burnt and
exterminated are now only anxious to proclaim freedom of belief, and to
cast the blame of persecution upon their rivals. Divines have
discovered that the doctrine of hell-fire deserves all that infidels
have said of it; and a member of Dante's church was arguing the other
day that hell might on the whole be a rather pleasant place of
residence. Doctrines which can thus be turned inside out are hardly
desirable bases for morality. So the early Christians, again, were the
Socialists of their age, and took a view of Dives and Lazarus which
would commend itself to the Nihilists of to-day. The church is now
often held up to us as the great barrier against Socialism, and the one
refuge against subversive doctrines. In a well-known essay on "People
whom one would have wished to have seen," Lamb and his friends are
represented as agreeing that if Christ were to enter they would all
fall down and worship Him. It may have been so; but if the man who best
represents the ideas of early Christians were to enter a respectable
society of to-day, would it not be more likely to send for the police?
When we consider such changes, and mark in another direction how the
dogmas which once set half the world to cut the throats of the other
half, have sunk into mere combinations of hard words, can we seriously
look to the maintenance of dogmas, even in the teeth of reason, as a
guarantee for ethical convictions? What you call retaining the only
base of morality, appears to us to be trying to associate morality with
dogmas essentially arbitrary and unreasonable.

From this point of view it is naturally our opinion that we should
promote all thorough discussion of great ethical problems in a spirit
and by methods which are independent of the orthodox dogmas. There are
many such problems undoubtedly of the highest importance. The root of
all the great social questions of which I have spoken lies in the
region of Ethics; and upon that point, at least, we can go along with
much that is said upon the orthodox side. We cannot, indeed, agree that
Ethics can be adequately treated by men pledged to ancient traditions,
employing antiquated methods, and always tempted to have an eye to the
interest of their own creeds and churches. But we can fully agree that
ethical principles underlie all the most important problems. Every
great religious reform has been stimulated by the conviction that the
one essential thing is a change of spirit, not a mere modification of
the external law, which has ceased to correspond to genuine beliefs and
powerful motives. The commonest criticism, indeed, of all projectors of
new Utopias is that they propose a change of human nature. The
criticism really suggests a sound criterion. Unless the change proposed
be practicable, the Utopia will doubtless be impossible. And unless
some practicable change be proposed, the Utopia, even were it embodied
in practice, would be useless. If the sole result of raising wages were
an increase in the consumption of gin, wages might as well stay at a
minimum. But the tacit assumption that all changes of human nature are
impracticable is simply a cynical and unproved assertion. All of us
here hold, I imagine, that human nature has in a sense been changed. We
hold that, with all its drawbacks, progress is not an illusion; that
men have become at least more tolerant and more humane; that ancient
brutalities have become impossible; and that the suffering of the
weaker excites a keener sympathy. To say that, in that sense, human
nature must be changed, is to say only that the one sound criterion of
all schemes for social improvement lies in their ethical tendency. The
standard of life cannot be permanently raised unless you can raise the
standard of motive. Old-fashioned political theorists thought that a
simple change of the constitutional machinery would of itself remedy
all evils, and failed to recognise that behind the institutions lie all
the instincts and capabilities of the men who are to work them. A
similar fallacy is prevalent, I fancy, in regard to what we call social
reforms. Some scheme for a new mode of distributing the products of
industry would, it is often assumed, remedy all social evils. To my
thinking, no such change would do more than touch the superficial
evils, unless it had also some tendency to call out the higher and
repress the lower impulses. Unless we can to some extent change "human
nature," we shall be weaving ropes of sand, or devising schemes for
perpetual motion, for driving our machinery more effectively without
applying fresh energy. We shall be falling into the old blunders;
approving Jack Cade's proposal--as recorded by Shakespeare--that the
three-hooped pot should have seven hoops; or attempting to get rid of
poverty by converting the whole nation into paupers. No one, perhaps,
will deny this in terms; and to admit it frankly is to admit that every
scheme must be judged by its tendency to "raise the manhood of the
poor," and to make every man, rich and poor, feel that he is
discharging a useful function in society. Old Robert Owen, when he
began his reforms, rested his doctrine and his hopes of perfectibility
upon the scientific application of a scheme for "the formation of
character". His plans were crude enough, and fell short of success. But
he had seen the real conditions of success; and when, in after years,
he imagined that a new society might be made by simply collecting men
of any character in a crowd, and inviting them to share alike, he fell
into the inevitable failure. Modern Socialists might do well to
remember his history.

Now it is, as I understand, primarily the aim of an Ethical Society to
promote the rational discussion of these underlying ethical principles.
We wish to contribute to the clearest understanding we can of the right
ends to which human energy should be devoted, and of the conditions
under which such devotion is most likely to be rewarded with success.
We desire to see the great controversy carried on in the nearest
possible approach to a scientific spirit. That phrase implies, as I
have said, that we must abandon much of the old guidance. The lights by
which our ancestors professed to direct their course are not for us
supernatural signs, shining in a transcendental region, but at most the
beacons which they had themselves erected, and valuable as indications,
though certainly not as infallible guides, to the right path. We must
question everything, and be prepared to modify or abandon whatever is
untenable. We must be scientific in spirit, in so far as we must trust
nothing but a thorough and systematic investigation of facts, however
the facts may be interpreted. Undoubtedly, the course marked out is
long and arduous. It is perfectly true, moreover, as our antagonists
will hasten to observe, that professedly scientific reasoners are
hardly better agreed than their opponents. If they join upon some
negative conclusions, and upon some general principles of method, they
certainly do not reach the same results. They have at present no
definite creed to lay down. I need only refer, for example, to one very
obvious illustration. The men who were most conspicuous for their
attempt to solve social problems by scientific methods, and most
confident that they had succeeded, were, probably, those who founded
the so-called "classical" political economy, and represented what is
now called the individualist point of view. Government, they were apt
to think, should do nothing but stand aside, see fair-play, and keep
our knives from each other's throats and our hands out of each other's
pockets. Much as their doctrines were denounced, this view is still
represented by the most popular philosopher of the day. And undoubtedly
we shall do well to take to heart the obvious moral. If we still
believe in the old-fashioned doctrines, we must infer that to work out
a scientific doctrine is by no means to secure its acceptance. If we
reject them we must argue that the mere claim to be scientific may
inspire men with a premature self-confidence, which tends only to make
their errors more systematic. When, however, I look at the actual
course of controversy, I am more impressed by another fact.
"Individualism" is sometimes met by genuine argument. More frequently,
I think, it is met by simple appeal to sentiment. This kind of thing,
we are told, is exploded; it is not up to date; it is as obsolete as
the plesiosaurus; and therefore, without bothering ourselves about your
reasoning, we shall simply neglect it. Talk as much as you please, we
can get a majority on the other side. We shall disregard your
arguments, and, therefore--it is a common piece of logic at the present
day--your arguments must be all wrong. I must be content here with
simply indicating my own view. I think, in fact, that, in this as in
other cases, the true answer to extreme theorists would be very
different. I hold that we would begin by admitting the immense value of
the lesson taught by the old individualists, if that be their right
name. If they were precipitate in laying down "iron laws" and
proclaiming inexorable necessity, they were perfectly right in pointing
out that there are certain "laws of human nature," and conditions of
social welfare, which will not be altered by simply declaring them to
be unpleasant. They did an inestimable service in emphatically
protesting against the system of forcibly suppressing, or trying to
suppress, deep-seated evils, without an accurate preliminary diagnosis
of the causes. And--not to go into remote questions--the
"individualist" creed had this merit, which is related to our especial
aims. The ethical doctrine which they preached may have had--I think
that it had--many grave defects; but at least it involved a recognition
of the truth which their opponents are too apt to shun or reject. They,
at least, asserted strenuously the cardinal doctrine of the importance
of individual responsibility. They might draw some erroneous
inferences, but they could not put too emphatically the doctrine that
men must not be taught to shift the blame of all their sufferings upon
some mysterious entity called society, or expect improvement unless,
among other virtues, they will cultivate the virtue of strenuous,
unremitting, masculine self-help.

If this be at all true, it may indicate what I take to be the aim of
our society, or rather of us as members of an ethical society. We hold,
that is, that the great problems of to-day have their root, so to
speak, in an ethical soil. They will be decided one way or other by the
view which we take of ethical questions. The questions, for example, of
what is meant by social justice, what is the justification of private
property, or the limits of personal liberty, all lead us ultimately to
ethical foundations. The same is, of course, true of many other
problems. The demand for political rights of women is discussed,
rightly no doubt, upon grounds of justice, and takes us to some knotty
points. Does justice imply the equality of the sexes; and, if so, in
what sense of "equality"? And, beyond this, we come to the question,
What would be the bearing of our principles upon the institution of
marriage, and upon the family bond? No question can be more important,
or more vitally connected with Ethics. We, at any rate, can no longer
answer such problems by any traditional dogmatism. They--and many other
questions which I need not specify--have been asked, and have yet to be
answered. They will probably not be answered by a simple yes or no, nor
by any isolated solution of a metaphysical puzzle. Undoubtedly, a vast
mass of people will insist upon being consulted, and will adopt methods
which cannot be regarded as philosophical. Therefore, it is a matter of
pressing importance that all people who can think at all should use
their own minds, and should do their best to widen and strengthen the
influence of the ablest thinkers. The chaotic condition of the average
mind is our reason for trying to strengthen the influence, always too
feeble, of the genuine thinkers. Much that passes itself off for
thought is simply old prejudice in a new dress. Tradition has always
this, indeed, to say for itself: that it represents the product of much
unconscious reasoning from experience, and that it is at least
compatible with such progress as has been hitherto achieved. Progress
has in future to take place in the daylight, and under the stress of
keen discussion from every possible point of view. It would be rash
indeed to assume that we can hope to see the substitution of purely
rational and scientific methods for the old haphazard and tentative
blundering into slightly better things. It is possible enough that the
creed of the future may, after all, be a compromise, admitting some
elements of higher truth, but attracting the popular mind by
concessions to superstition and ignorance. We can hardly hope to get
rid of the rooted errors which have so astonishing a vitality. But we
should desire, and, so far as in us lies, endeavour to secure the
presence of the largest possible element of genuine and reasoned
conviction in the faith of our own and the rising generation.

I have not sought to say anything new. I have only endeavoured to
define the general position which we, as I imagine, have agreed to
accept. We hold in common that the old dogmas are no longer tenable,
though we are very far from being agreed as to what should replace
them. We have each, I dare say, our own theory; we agree that our
theories, whatever they may be, are in need of strict examination, of
verification, it may be, but it may be also of modification or
rejection. We hope that such societies as this may in the first place
serve as centres for encouraging and popularising the full and free
discussion of the great questions. We wish that people who have reached
a certain stage of cultivation should be made aware of the course which
is being taken by those who may rightly claim to be in the van. We
often wish to know, as well as we can, what is the direction of the
deeper currents of thought; what genuine results, for example, have
been obtained by historical criticism, especially as applied to the
religious history of the world; we want to know what are the real
points now at issue in the world of science; the true bearing of the
theories of evolution, and so forth, which are known by name far beyond
the circle in which their logical reasoning is really appreciated; we
want to know, again, what are the problems which really interest modern
metaphysicians or psychologists; in what directions there seems to be a
real promise of future achievement, and in what directions it seems to
be proved by experience that any further expansion of intellectual
energy is certain to result only in the discovery of mares' nests.

Matthew Arnold would have expressed this by saying that we are required
to be made accessible to the influence of the Zeitgeist. There is a
difficulty, no doubt, in discovering by what signs we may recognise the
utterances of the Zeitgeist; and distinguish between loyalty to the
real intellectual leaders and a simple desire to be arrayed in the last
new fashion in philosophy. There is no infallible sign; and, yet, a
genuine desire to discover the true lines in which thought is
developing, is not of the less importance. Arnold, like others, pointed
the moral by a contrast between England and Germany. The best that has
been done in England, it is said, has generally been done by amateurs
and outsiders. They have, perhaps, certain advantages, as being less
afraid to strike into original paths, and even the originality of
ignorance is not always, though it may be in nine cases out of ten, a
name for fresh blundering. But if sporadic English writers have now and
then hit off valuable thoughts, there can be no doubt that we have had
a heavy price to pay. The comparative absence of any class, devoted,
like German professors, to a systematic and combined attempt to spread
the borders of knowledge and speculation, has been an evil which is the
more felt in proportion as specialisation of science and familiarity
with previous achievements become more important. It would be very easy
to give particular instances of our backwardness. How different would
have been the course of English church history, said somebody, if
Newman had only known German! He would have breathed a larger air, and
might have desisted--I suppose that was the meaning--from the attempt
to put life into certain dead bones. And with equal truth, it may be
urged, how much better work might have been done by J. S. Mill if he
had really read Kant! He might not have been converted, but he would
have been saved from maintaining in their crude form, doctrines which
undoubtedly require modification. Under his reign, English thought was
constantly busied with false issues, simply from ignorance of the most
effective criticism. It is needless to point out how much time is
wasted in the defence of positions that have long been turned by the
enemy from sheer want of acquaintance with the relevant evidence, or
with the logic that has been revealed by the slow thrashing out of
thorough controversy. It would be invidious perhaps to insist too much
upon another obvious result: the ease with which a man endowed with a
gift of popular rhetoric, and a facility for catching at the current
phrases, can set up as a teacher, however palpable to the initiated may
be his ignorance. Scientific thought has perhaps as much to fear from
the false prophets who take its name as from the open enemies who try
to stifle its voice. I would rather emphasise another point, perhaps
less generally remarked. The study has its idols as well as its
market-place. Certain weaknesses are developed in the academical
atmosphere as well as in the arenas of public discussion. Freeman used
to say that English historians had avoided certain errors into which
German writers of far greater knowledge and more thorough scholarship
had fallen, simply because points were missed by a professor in a
German university which were plain to those who, like many Englishmen,
had to take a part in actual political work. I think that this is not
without a meaning for us. We have learnt, very properly, to respect
German research and industry; and we are trying in various directions
to imitate their example. Perhaps it would be as well to keep an eye
upon some German weaknesses. A philosophy made for professors is apt to
be a philosophy for pedants. A professor is bound to be omniscient; he
has to have an answer to everything; he is tempted to construct systems
which will pass muster in the lecture-room, and to despise the rest of
their applicability to daily life. I confess myself to be old-fashioned
enough to share some of the old English prejudices against those
gigantic structures which have been thrown out by imposing
philosophers, who evolved complete systems of metaphysics and logic and
religion and politics and æsthetics out of their own consciousness. We
have multiplied professors of late, and professors are bound to write
books, and to magnify the value of their own studies. They must make a
show of possessing an encyclopædic theory which will explain everything
and take into account all previous theories. Sometimes, perhaps, they
will lose themselves in endless subtleties and logomachies and
construct cobwebs of the brain, predestined to the rubbish-heap of
extinct philosophies. It is enough, however, to urge that a mere
student may be the better for keeping in mind the necessity of keeping
in mind real immediate human interests; as the sentimentalist has to be
reminded of the importance of strictly logical considerations. And I
think too that a very brief study of the most famous systems of old
days will convince us that philosophers should be content with a more
modest attitude than they have sometimes adopted; give up the
pretensions to framing off-hand theories of things in general, and be
content to puzzle out a few imperfect truths which may slowly work
their way into the general structure of thought. I wish to speak humbly
as befits one who cannot claim any particular authority for his
opinion. But, in all humility, I suggest that if we can persuade men of
reputation in the regions where subtle thought and accurate research
are duly valued, we shall be doing good, not only to ourselves, but, if
I may whisper it, to them. We value their attainments so highly that we
desire their influence to spread beyond the narrow precinct of
university lecture-rooms; and their thoughts be, at the same time,
stimulated and vitalised by bringing them into closer contact with the
problems which are daily forced upon us in the business of daily life.
A divorce between the men of thought and the men of action is really
bad for both. Whatever tends to break up the intellectual stupor of
large classes, to rouse their minds, to increase their knowledge of the
genuine work that is being done, to provide them even with more of such
recreations as refine and invigorate, must have our sympathy, and will
be useful both to those who confer and to those who receive
instruction. So, after all, a philosopher can learn few things of more
importance than the art of translating his doctrines into language
intelligible and really instructive to the outside world. There was a
period when real thinkers, as Locke and Berkeley and Butler and Hume,
tried to express themselves as pithily and pointedly as possible. They
were, say some of their critics, very shallow: they were over-anxious
to suit the taste of wits and the town: and in too much fear of the
charge of pedantry. Well, if some of our profounder thinkers would try
for once to pack all that they really have to say as closely as they
can, instead of trying to play every conceivable change upon every
thought that occurs to them, I fancy that they would be surprised both
at the narrowness of the space which they would occupy and the
comparative greatness of the effect they would produce.

An ethical society should aim at supplying a meeting-place between the
expert and specialist on one side, and, on the other, with the men who
have to apply ideas to the complex concretes of political and social
activity. How far we can succeed in furthering that aim I need not
attempt to say. But I will conclude by reverting to some thoughts at
which I hinted at starting. You may think that I have hardly spoken in
a very sanguine or optimistic tone. I have certainly admitted the
existence of enormous difficulties and the probabilities of very
imperfect success. I cannot think that the promised land of which we
are taking a Pisgah sight is so near or the view so satisfactory as
might be wished. A mirage like that which attended our predecessors may
still be exercising illusions for us; and I anticipate less an
immediate fruition, than a beginning of another long cycle of
wanderings through a desert, let us hope rather more fertile than that
which we have passed. If this be something of a confession you may
easily explain it by personal considerations. In an old controversy
which I was reading the other day, one of the disputants observed that
his adversary held that the world was going from bad to worse. "I do
not wonder at the opinion," he remarks; "for I am every day more
tempted to embrace it myself, since every day I am leaving youth
further behind." I am old enough to feel the force of that remark.
Without admitting senility, I have lived long enough, that is, to know
well that for me the brighter happiness is a thing of the past; that I
have to look back even to realise what it means; and to feel that a
sadder colouring is conferred upon the internal world by the eye "which
hath kept watch o'er man's mortality." I have watched the brilliant
promise of many contemporaries eclipsed by premature death; and have
too often had to apply Newton's remark, "If that man had lived, we
might have known something". Lights which once cheered me have gone
out, and are going out all too rapidly; and, to say nothing of
individuals, I have also lived long enough to watch the decay of once
flourishing beliefs. I can remember, only too vividly, the confident
hope with which many young men, whom I regarded as the destined leaders
of progress, affirmed that the doctrines which they advocated were
going forth conquering and to conquer; and though I may still think
that those doctrines had a permanent value, and were far from deserving
the reproaches now often levelled at them, I must admit that we greatly
exaggerated our omniscience. I am often tempted, I confess, to draw the
rather melancholy moral that some of my younger friends may be destined
to disillusionment, and may be driven some thirty years hence to admit
that their present confidence was a little in excess.

I admit all this: but I do not admit that my view could sanction
despondency. I can see perhaps ground for foreboding which I should
once have rejected. I can realise more distinctly, not only the amount
of misery in the world, but the amount of misdirected energy, the
dulness of the average intellect, and the vast deadweight of
superstition and dread of the light with which all improvement must
have to reckon. And yet I also feel that, if a complacent optimism be
impossible, the world was never so full of interest. When we complain
of the stress and strain and over-excitement of modern society we
indicate, I think, a real evil; but we also tacitly admit that no one
has any excuse for being dull. In every direction there is abundant
opportunity for brave and thoughtful men to find the fullest occupation
for whatever energy they may possess. There is work to be found
everywhere in this sense, and none but the most torpid can find an
excuse for joining the spiritually unemployed. The fields, surely, are
white for the harvest, though there are weeds enough to be extirpated,
and hard enough furrows to be ploughed. We know what has been done in
the field of physical science. It has made the world infinite. The days
of the old pagan, "suckled in some creed outworn," are regretted in
Wordsworth's sonnet; for the old pagan held to the poetical view that a
star was the chariot of a deity. The poor deity, however, had, in fact,
a duty as monotonous as that of a driver in the Underground Railway. To
us a star is a signal of a new world; it suggests universe beyond
universe; sinking into the infinite abysses of space; we see worlds
forming or decaying and raising at every moment problems of a strange
fascination. The prosaic truth is really more poetical than the old
figment of the childish imagination. The first great discovery of the
real nature of the stars did, in fact, logically or not, break up more
effectually than perhaps any other cause, the old narrow and stifling
conception of the universe represented by Dante's superlative power;
and made incredible the systems based on the conception that man can be
the centre of all things and the universe created for the sake of this
place. It is enough to point to the similar change due to modern
theories of evolution. The impassable barriers of thought are broken
down. Instead of the verbal explanation, which made every plant and
animal an ultimate and inexplicable fact, we now see in each a movement
in an indefinite series of complex processes, stretching back further
than the eye can reach into the indefinite past. If we are sometimes
stunned by the sense of inconceivable vastness, we feel, at least, that
no intellectual conqueror need ever be affected by the old fear. For
him there will always be fresh regions to conquer. Every discovery
suggests new problems; and though knowledge may be simplified and
codified, it will always supply a base for fresh explanations of the
indefinite regions beyond. Can that which is true of the physical
sciences be applied in any degree to the so-called moral sciences? To
Bentham, I believe, is ascribed the wish that he could fall asleep and
be waked at the end of successive centuries, to take note of the
victories achieved in the intervals by his utilitarianism. Tennyson, in
one of his youthful poems, played with the same thought. It would be
pleasant, as the story of the sleeping beauty suggested, to rise every
hundred years to mark the progress made in science and politics; and to
see the "Titanic forces" that would come to the birth in divers climes
and seasons; for we, he says--

    For we are Ancients of the earth,
      And in the morning of the times.

Tennyson, if this expressed his serious belief, seems to have lost his
illusions; and it is probable enough that Bentham's would have had some
unpleasant surprises could his wish have been granted. It is more than
a century since his doctrine was first revealed, and yet the world has
not become converted; and some people doubt whether it ever will be.
If, indeed, Bentham's speculations had been adopted; if we had all
become convinced that morality means aiming at the greatest happiness
of the greatest number; if we were agreed as to what is happiness, and
what is the best way of promoting it,--there would still have been a
vast step to take, no less than to persuade people to desire to follow
the lines of conduct which tend to minimise unhappiness. The mere
intellectual conviction that this or that will be useful is quite a
different thing from the desire. You no more teach men to be moral by
giving them a sound ethical theory, than you teach them to be good
shots by explaining the theory of projectiles. A religion implies a
philosophy, but a philosophy is not by itself a religion. The demand
that it should be is, I hold, founded upon a wrong view as to the
relation between the abstract theory and the art of conduct. To convert
the world you have not merely to prove your theories, but to stimulate
the imagination, to discipline the passions, to provide modes of
utterance for the emotions and symbols which may represent the
fundamental beliefs--briefly, to do what is done by the founders of the
great religions. To transmute speculation into action is a problem of
tremendous difficulty, and I only glance in the briefest way at its
nature. We, I take it, as members of Ethical Societies, have no claim
to be, even in the humblest way, missionaries of a new religion: but
are simply interested in doing what we can to discuss in a profitable
way the truths which it ought to embody or reflect. But that is itself
a work of no trifling importance; and we may imagine that a Bentham,
refreshed by his century's slumber, and having dropped some of his
little personal vanities, would on the whole be satisfied with what he
saw. If Bacon could again come to life, he too would find that the
methods which he contemplated and the doctrines which he preached were
narrow and refutive; yet his prophecies of scientific growth have been
more than realised by his successors, modifying, in some ways,
rejecting his principles. And so Bentham might hold to-day that,
although his sacred formula was not so exhaustive or precise as he
fancied, yet the conscious and deliberate pursuit of the happiness of
mankind had taken a much more important place in the aspirations of the
time. He would see that the vast changes which have taken place in
society, vast beyond all previous conception, were bringing up ever new
problems, requiring more elaborate methods, and more systematic
reasoning. He would observe that many of the abuses which he denounced
have disappeared, and that though progress does not take place along
the precise lines which he laid down, there is both a clearer
recognition of the great ends of conduct, and a general advance in the
direction which he desired. That this can be carried on by promoting a
free and full discussion of first principles; that the great social
evils which still exist can be diminished, and the creed of the future,
however dim its outlines may be to our perception, may be purified as
much as possible from ancient prejudice and superstition, is our faith;
and however little we can do to help in carrying out that process, we
desire to do that little.


It is with great pleasure that I address you as president of this
Society. Your main purpose, as I understand, is to promote the serious
study of political and social problems in a spirit purged from the
prejudice and narrowness of mere party conflict. You desire, that is,
to promote a scientific investigation of some of the most important
topics to which the human mind can devote itself. There is no purpose
of which I approve more cordially: yet the very statement suggests a
doubt. To speak of science and politics together is almost to suggest
irony. And if politics be taken in the ordinary sense; if we think of
the discussions by which the immediate fate of measures and of
ministries is decided, I should be inclined to think that they belong
to a sphere of thought to which scientific thought is hardly
applicable, and in which I should be personally an unwarrantable
intruder. My friends have sometimes accused me, indeed, of indifference
to politics. I confess that I have never been able to follow the
details of party warfare with the interest which they excite in some
minds: and reasons, needless to indicate, have caused me to stray
further and further away from intercourse with the society in which
such details excite a predominant--I do not mean to insinuate an
excessive--interest. I feel that if I were to suggest any arguments
bearing directly upon home rule or disestablishment, I should at once
come under that damnatory epithet "academical," which so neatly cuts
the ground from under the feet of the political amateur. Moreover, I
recognise a good deal of justice in the implied criticism. An active
politician who wishes to impress his doctrines upon his countrymen,
should have a kind of knowledge to which I can make no pretension. I
share the ordinary feelings of awful reverence with which the human
bookworm looks up to the man of business. He has faculties which in me
are rudimentary, but which I can appreciate by their contrast to my own
feebleness. The "knowledge of the world" ascribed to lawyers, to
politicians, financiers, and such persons, like the "knowledge of the
human heart" so often ascribed to dramatists and novelists, represents,
I take it, a very real kind of knowledge; but it is rather an instinct
than a set of definite principles; a power of somehow estimating the
tendencies and motives of their fellow-creatures in a mass by rule of
thumb, rather than by any distinctly assignable logical process; only
to be gained by long experience and shrewd observation of men and
cities. Such a faculty, as it reaches sound results without employing
explicit definitions and syllogisms and inductive processes, sometimes
inclines its possessors to look down too contemptuously upon the closet

      [2] Address to the Social and Political Education League, 29th
      March, 1892.

While, however, I frankly confess my hopeless incapacity for taking any
part in the process by which party platforms are constructed, I should
be ashamed to admit that I was not very keenly interested in political
discussions which seem to me to touch vitally important matters. And
fully recognising the vast superiority of the practical man in his own
world, I also hold that he should not treat me and my like as if we,
according to the famous comparison, were black beetles, and he at the
opposite pole of the universe. There exists, in books at least, such a
thing as political theory, apart from that claiming to underlie the
immediate special applications. Your practical man is given to
appealing to such theories now and then; though I confess that he too
often leaves the impression of having taken them up on the spur of the
moment to round a peroration and to give dignity to a popular cry; and
that, in his lips, they are apt to sound so crude and artificial that
one can only wonder at his condescending to notice them. He ridicules
them as the poorest of platitudes whenever they are used by an
antagonist, and one can only hope that his occasional homage implies
that he too has a certain belief that there ought to be, and perhaps may
somewhere be, a sound theory, though he has not paid it much attention.
Well, we, I take it, differ from him simply in this respect, that we
believe more decidedly that such theory has at least a potential
existence; and that if hitherto it is a very uncertain and ambiguous
guide, the mere attempt to work it out seriously may do something to
strengthen and deepen our practical political convictions. A man of real
ability, who is actively engaged in politics without being submerged by
merely political intrigues, can hardly fail to wish at least to
institute some kind of research into the principles which guide his
practice. To such a desire we may attribute some very stimulating books,
such, for example, as Bagehot's _Physics and Politics_ or Mr. Bryce's
philosophical study of the United States. What I propose to do is to
suggest a few considerations as to the real value and proper direction
of these arguments, which lie, as it were, on the borderland between the
immediate "platform" and the abstract theory.

Philosophers have given us the name "Sociology"--a barbarous name, say
some--for the science which deals with the subject matter of our
inquiries. Is it more than a name for a science which may or may not
some day come into existence? What is science? It is simply organised
knowledge; that part of our knowledge which is definite, established
beyond reasonable doubt, and which achieves its task by formulating
what are called "scientific laws". Laws in this sense are general
formulæ, which, when the necessary data are supplied, will enable us to
extend our knowledge beyond the immediate facts of perception. Given a
planet, moving at a given speed in a given direction, and controlled by
given attractive forces, we can determine its place at a future moment.
Or given a vegetable organism in a given environment, we can predict
within certain limits the way in which it will grow, although the laws
are too obscure and too vague to enable us to speak of it with any
approach to the precision of astronomy. And we should have reached a
similar stage in sociology if from a given social or political
constitution adopted by a given population, we could prophesy what
would be the results. I need not say that any approximation to such
achievements is almost indefinitely distant. Personal claims to such
powers of prediction rather tend to bring discredit upon the embryo
science. Coleridge gives in the _Biographia Literaria_ a quaint
statement of his own method. On every great occurrence, he says, he
tried to discover in past history the event that most nearly resembled
it. He examined the original authorities. "Then fairly subtracting the
points of difference from the points of likeness," as the balance
favoured the former or the latter, he conjectured that the result would
be the same, or different. So, for example, he was able to prophesy the
end of the Spanish rising against Napoleon from the event of the war
between Philip II. and the Dutch provinces. That is, he cried, "Heads!"
and on this occasion the coin did not come down tails. But I need
hardly point out how impossible is the process of political arithmetic.
What is meant by adding or subtracting in this connection? Such a rule
of three would certainly puzzle me, and, I fancy, most other observers.
We may say that the insurrection of a patriotic people, when they are
helped from without, and their oppressors have to operate from a
distant base and to fight all Europe at the same time, will often
succeed; and we may often be right; but we should not give ourselves
the airs of prophets on that account. There are many superficial
analogies of the same character. My predecessor, Professor Dicey,
pointed out some of them, to confirm his rather depressing theory that
history is nothing but an old almanac. Let me take a common one, which,
I think, may illustrate our problem. There is a certain analogy between
the cases of Cæsar, Cromwell, and Napoleon. In each case we have a
military dictatorship as the final outcome of a civil war. Some people
imagined that this analogy would apply to the United States, and that
Washington or Grant would be what was called the man on horseback. The
reasoning really involved was, in fact, a very simple one. The
destruction of an old system of government makes some form of
dictatorship the only alternative to chaos. It therefore gives a chance
to the one indisputable holder of power in its most unmistakable shape,
namely, to the general of a disciplined army. A soldier accordingly
assumed power in each of the three first cases, although the
differences between the societies ruled by the Roman, the English and
the French dictators are so vast that further comparison soon becomes
idle. Neither Washington nor Grant had the least chance of making
themselves dictators had they wished, because the civil wars had left
governments perfectly uninjured and capable of discharging all their
functions, and had not produced a regular army with interests of its
own. In this and other cases, I should say that such an analogy may be
to some extent instructive, but I should certainly deny that there was
anything like a scientific induction. We, happily, can reason to some
extent upon political matters by the help of simple common sense before
it has undergone that process of organisation, of reduction to precise
measurable statements, which entitles it to be called a scientific
procedure. The resemblance of Washington to Cromwell was of the
external and superficial order. It may be compared to those analogies
which exist between members of different natural orders without
implying any deeper resemblance. A whale, we know, is like a fish in so
far as he swims about in the sea, and he has whatever fishlike
qualities are implied in the ability to swim. He will die on land,
though not from the same causes. But, physiologically, he belongs to a
different race, and we should make blunders if we argued from the
external likeness to a closer resemblance. Or, to drop what may be too
fanciful a comparison, it may be observed that all assemblies of human
beings may be contrasted in respect of being numerous or select, and
have certain properties in consequence. We may therefore make some true
and general propositions about the contrasts between the action of
small and large consultative bodies which will apply to many widely
different cases. A good many, and, I think, some really valuable
observations of this kind have been made, and form the substance of
many generalisations laid down as to the relative advantages of
democracy and aristocracy. Now I should be disposed to say that such
remarks belong rather to the morphology than the physiology of the
social organism. They indicate external resemblances between bodies of
which the intimate constitution and the whole mode of growth and
conditions of vitality, may be entirely different. Such analogies,
then, though not without their value, are far from being properly

What remains? There is, shall we say, no science of sociology--merely a
heap of vague, empirical observations, too flimsy to be useful in
strict logical inference? I should, I confess, be apt to say so myself.
Then, you may proceed, is it not idle to attempt to introduce a
scientific method? And to that I should emphatically reply, No! it is
of the highest importance. The question, then, will follow, how I can
maintain these two positions at once. And to that I make, in the first
place, this general answer: Sociology is still of necessity a very
vague body of approximate truths. We have not the data necessary for
obtaining anything like precise laws. A mathematician can tell you
precisely what he means when he speaks of bodies moving under the
influence of an attraction which varies inversely as the square of the
distance. But what are the attractive forces which hold together the
body politic? They are a number of human passions, which even the
acutest psychologists are as yet quite unable to analyse or to
classify: they act according to laws of which we have hardly the
vaguest inkling; and, even if we possessed any definite laws, the facts
to which they have to be applied are so amazingly complex as to defy
any attempt at assigning results. There is, so far as I can see, no
ground for supposing that there is or ever can be a body of precise
truths at all capable of comparison with the exact sciences. But this
obvious truth, though it implies very narrow limits to our hopes of
scientific results, does not force us to renounce the application of
scientific method. The difficulty applies in some degree even to
physiology as compared with physics, as the vital phenomena are
incomparably more complex than those with which we have to deal in the
simpler sciences; and yet nobody doubts that a scientific physiology is
a possibility, and, to some extent, a reality. Now, in sociology,
however imperfect it may be, we may still apply the same methods which
have been so fruitful in other departments of thought. We may undertake
it in the scientific spirit which depends upon patient appeal to
observation, and be guided by the constant recollection that we are
dealing with an organism, the various relations of whose constituent
parts are determined by certain laws to which we may, perhaps, make
some approximation. We may do so, although their mutual actions and
reactions are so complex and subtle that we can never hope to
disentangle them with any approach to completeness. And one test of the
legitimacy of our methods will be, that although we do not hope to
reach any precise and definitely assignable law, we yet reach, or aim
at reaching, results which, while wanting in precision, want precision
alone to be capable of incorporation in an ideal science such as might
actually exist for a supernatural observer of incomparably superior
powers. A man who knows, though he knows nothing more, that the moon is
kept in its orbit by forces similar to or identical with those which
cause the fall of an apple, knows something which only requires more
definite treatment to be made into a genuine theory of gravitation. If,
on the contrary, he merely pays himself with words, with vague guesses
about occult properties, or a supposed angel who directs the moon's
course, he is still in the unscientific stage. His theory is not
science still in the vague, but something which stops the way to
science. Now, if we can never hope to get further than the step which
in the problem of gravitation represents the first step towards
science, yet that step may be a highly important one. It represents a
diversion of the current of thought from such channels as end in mere
shifting sands of speculation, into the channel which leads towards
some definite conclusion, verifiable by experience, and leading to
conclusions, not very precise, but yet often pointing to important
practical results. It may, perhaps, be said that, as the change which I
am supposing represents only a change of method and spirit, it can
achieve no great results in actual assignable truth. Well! a change of
method and spirit is, in my opinion, of considerable importance, and
very vague results would still imply an improvement in the chaos of
what now passes for political philosophy. I will try to indicate very
briefly the kind of improvement of which we need not despair.

First of all, I conceive that, as I have indicated, a really scientific
habit of thought would dispel many hopeless logomachies. When Burke,
incomparably the greatest of our philosophical politicians, was arguing
against the American policy of the Government, he expressed his hatred
of metaphysics--the "Serbonian bog," as he called it, in which whole
armies had been lost. The point at which he aimed was the fruitless
discussion of abstract rights, which prevented people from applying
their minds to the actual facts, and from seeing that metaphysical
entities of that kind were utterly worthless when they ceased to
correspond to the wants and aspirations of the peoples concerned. He
could not, as he said, draw up an indictment against a nation, because
he could not see how such troubles as had arisen between England and
the Colonies were to be decided by technical distinctions such as
passed current at _nisi prius_. I am afraid that the mode of reasoning
condemned by Burke has not yet gone out of fashion. I do not wish to
draw down upon myself the wrath of metaphysicians. I am perfectly
willing that they should go on amusing themselves by attempting to
deduce the first principles of morality from abstract considerations of
logical affirmation and denial. But I will say this, that, in any case,
and whatever the ultimate meaning of right and wrong, all political and
social questions must be discussed with a continual reference to
experience, to the contents as well as to the form of their metaphysical
concepts. It is, to my mind, quite as idle to attempt to determine the
value, say, of a political theory by reasoning independent of the
character and circumstances of the nation and its constituent members,
as to solve a medical question by abstract formulæ, instead of by
careful, prolonged, and searching investigation into the constitution of
the human body. I think that this requires to be asserted so long as
popular orators continue to declaim, for example, about the "rights of
man," or the doctrines of political equality. I by no means deny, or
rather I should on due occasion emphatically assert, that the demands
covered by such formulæ are perfectly right, and that they rest upon a
base of justice. But I am forced to think that, as they are generally
stated, they can lead to nothing but logomachy. When a man lays down
some such sweeping principle, his real object is to save himself the
trouble of thinking. So long as the first principles from which he
starts are equally applicable,--and it is of the very nature of these
principles that they should be equally applicable to men in all times
and ages, to Englishmen and Americans, Hindoos and Chinese, Negroes and
Australians,--they are worthless for any particular case, although, of
course, they may be accidentally true in particular cases. In short,
leaving to the metaphysicians--that is, postponing till the Greek
Kalends--any decision as to the ultimate principles, I say that every
political theory should be prepared to justify itself by an accurate
observation of the history and all the various characteristics of the
social organisation to which it is to be applied.

This points to the contrast to which I have referred: the contrast
between the keen vigorous good sense upon immediate questions of the
day, to which I often listen with the unfeigned admiration due to the
shrewd man of business, and the paltry little outworn platitudes which
he introduces when he wants to tag his arguments with sounding
principles. I think, to take an example out of harm's way, that an
excellent instance is found in the famous American treatise, the
_Federalist_. It deserves all the credit it has won so long as the
authors are discussing the right way to form a constitution which may
satisfy the wants and appease the prejudices then actually existing. In
spite of such miscalculations as beset all forecasts of the future,
they show admirable good sense and clear appreciation. But when they
think it necessary to appeal to Montesquieu, to tag their arguments
from common sense with little ornamental formulæ learnt from
philosophical writings, they show a very amiable simplicity; but they
also seem to me to sink at once to the level of a clever prize essay in
a university competition. The mischief may be slight when we are merely
considering literary effect. But it points to a graver evil. In
political discussions, the half-trained mind has strong convictions
about some particular case, and then finds it easiest to justify its
conviction by some sweeping general principle. It really starts,
speaking in terms of logic, by assuming the truth of its minor and
takes for granted that any major which will cover the minor is
therefore established. Nothing saves so much trouble in thinking as the
acceptance of a good sounding generality or a self-evident truth. Where
your poor scientific worker plods along, testing the truth of his
argument at every point, making qualifications and reservations, and
admitting that every general principle may require to be modified in
concrete cases, you can thus both jump to your conclusion and assume
the airs of a philosopher. It is, I fancy, for this reason that people
have such a tendency to lay down absolute rules about really difficult
points. It is so much easier to say at once that all drinking ought to
be suppressed, than to consider how, in actual circumstances, sobriety
can be judiciously encouraged; and by assuming a good self-evident law
and denouncing your opponents as immoral worshippers of expediency, you
place yourself in an enviable position of moral dignity and
inaccessibility. No argument can touch you. These abstract rules, too,
have the convenience of being strangely ambiguous. I have been almost
pathetically affected when I have observed how some thoroughly
commonplace person plumes himself on preserving his consistency because
he sticks resolutely to his party dogmas, even when their whole meaning
has evaporated. Some English radicals boasted of consistency because
they refused to be convinced by experience that republicans under a
military dictator could become tyrannous and oppressive. At the present
day, I see many worthy gentlemen, who from being thorough-going
individualists, have come to swallow unconsciously the first principles
of socialism without the least perception that they have changed,
simply because a new meaning has been gradually insinuated into the
sacred formulæ. Scientific habits of thought, I venture to suggest,
would tend to free a man from the dominion of these abstract phrases,
which sometimes make men push absolute dogmas to extravagant results,
and sometimes blind them to the complete transformation which has taken
place in their true meaning. The great test of statesmanship, it is
said, is the knowledge how and when to make a compromise, and when to
hold fast to a principle. The tendency of the thoughtless is to
denounce all compromise as wicked, and to stick to a form of words
without bothering about the real meaning. Belief in "fads"--I cannot
avoid the bit of slang--and singular malleability of real convictions
are sometimes generated just by want of serious thought; and, at any
rate, both phenomena are very common at present.

This suggests another aspect of reasoning in a scientific spirit,
namely, the importance which it attaches to a right comprehension of
the practicable. The scientific view is sometimes described as
fatalistic. A genuine scientific theory implies a true estimate of the
great forces which mould institutions, and therefore a true
apprehension of the limits within which they can be modified by any
proposed change. We all remember Sydney Smith's famous illustration, in
regard to the opposition to the Reform Bill, of Mrs. Partington's
attempt to stop the Atlantic with her mop. Such an appeal is sometimes
described as immoral. Many politicians, no doubt, find in it an excuse
for immoral conduct. They assume that such and such a measure is
inevitable, and therefore they think themselves justified for
advocating it, even though they hold it to be wrong. Indeed, I observe
that many excellent journalists are apparently unable to perceive any
distinction between the assertion that a measure will be passed, and
that it ought to be passed. Undoubtedly, if I think a measure unjust, I
ought to say that it is unjust, even if I am sure that it will
nevertheless be carried, and, in some cases, even though I may be a
martyr to my opposition. If it is inevitable, it can be carried without
my help, and my protest may at least sow a seed for future reaction.
But this is no answer to the argument of Sydney Smith when taken in a
reasonable sense. The opposition to the Reform Bill was a particular
case of the opposition to the advance of democracy. The statement that
democracy has advanced and will advance, is sometimes taken to be
fatalistic. People who make the assertion may answer for themselves. I
should answer, as I think we should all answer now, that the advance of
democracy, desirable or undesirable, depended upon causes far too deep
and general to be permanently affected by any Reform Bill. It was only
one aspect of vast social changes which had been going on for
centuries; and to propose to stop it by throwing out the Reform Bill
was like proposing to stop a child's growth by forcing him to go on
wearing his long clothes. Sydney Smith's answer might be immoral if it
simply meant, don't fight because you will be beaten. It may often be a
duty to take a beating. But it was, perhaps, rather a way of saying
that if you want to stop the growth of democracy, you must begin by
altering the course of the social, intellectual and moral changes which
have been operating through many generations, and that unless you can
do that, it is idle to oppose one particular corollary, and so to make
a revolution inevitable, instead of a peaceful development. To say
that any change is impossible in the absolute sense, may be fatalism;
but it is simple good sense, and therefore good science, to say that to
produce any change whatever you must bring to bear a force adequate to
the change. When a man's leg is broken, you can't expect to heal it by
a bit of sticking-plaster; a pill is not supposed, now, to be a cure
for an earthquake; and to insist upon such facts is not to be
fatalistic, but simply to say that a remedy must bear some proportion
to an evil. It is a commonplace to observe upon the advantage which
would have been gained if our grandfathers would have looked at the
French Revolution scientifically. A terrible catastrophe had occurred
abroad. The true moral, as we all see now, was that England should make
such reforms as would obviate the danger of a similar catastrophe at
home. The moral which too many people drew was too often, that all
reforms should be stopped; with the result that the evils grew worse
and social strata more profoundly alienated. It is a first principle of
scientific reasoning, that a break-down of social order implies some
antecedent defect, demanding an adequate remedy. It is a primary
assumption of party argument, that the opposite party is wholly wrong,
that its action is perfectly gratuitous, and either causeless or
produced by the direct inspiration of the devil. The struggle, upon the
scientific theory, represents two elements in an evolution which can be
accomplished peacefully by such a reconstruction as will reconcile the
conflicting aims and substitute harmony for discord. On the other
doctrine, it is a conflict of hopelessly antagonistic principles, one
of which is to be forcibly crushed.

I hope that I am not too sanguine, but I cannot help believing that in
this respect we have improved, and improved by imbibing some of the
scientific doctrine. I think that in recent discussions of the most
important topics, however bitter and however much distorted by the old
party spirit, there is yet a clearer recognition than of old, that
widely-spread discontent is not a reason for arbitrary suppression, but
for seeking to understand and remove its causes. We should act in the
spirit of Spinoza's great saying; and it should be our aim, as it was
his care, "neither to mock, to bewail, nor to denounce men's actions,
but to understand them". That is equally true of men's opinions. If
they are violent, passionate, subversive of all order, our duty is not
bare denunciations, but a clear comprehension of the causes, not of the
ostensible reasons, of their opinions, and a resolution to remove those
causes. I think this view has made some way: I am sure that it will
make more way if we become more scientific in spirit; and it is one of
the main reasons for encouraging such a spirit. The most obvious
difficulty just now is one upon which I must touch, though with some
fear and trembling. A terrible weapon has lately been coming into
perfection, to which its inventors have given the elegant name of a
"boom". The principle is--so far as I can understand--that the right
frame of mind for dealing with the gravest problems is to generate a
state of violent excitement, to adopt any remedy, real or supposed,
which suggests itself at the moment, and to denounce everybody who
suggests difficulties as a cynic or a cold-blooded egoist; and
therefore to treat grave chronic and organic diseases of society by
spasmodic impulses, to make stringent laws without condescending to ask
whether they will work, and try the boldest experiments without
considering whether they are likely to increase or diminish the evil.
This, as some people think, is one of the inevitable consequences of
democracy. I hope that it is not; but if it is, it is one of the
inevitable consequences against which we, as cultivators of science,
should most seriously protest, in the hope that we may some day find
Philip sober enough to consider the consequences of his actions under
the influence of spiritual intoxication. Professor Huxley, in one of
those smart passages of arms which so forcibly illustrated his
intellectual vigour, gave an apologue, which I wish that I could steal
without acknowledgment. He spoke of an Irish carman who, on being told
that he was not going in the right direction, replied that he was at
any rate going at a great pace. The scientific doctrine is simply that
we should look at the map before we set out for Utopia; and I think
that a doctrine which requires to be enforced by every means in our

This tendency, of course, comes out prominently in the important
discussions of social and economic problems. That is a matter upon
which I cannot now dwell, and which has been sufficiently emphasised by
many eminent writers. If modern orators confined themselves to urging
that the old economists exaggerated their claims to scientific
accuracy, and were, in point of fact, guilty of many logical errors and
hasty generalisations, I, at least, could fully agree with them. But
the general impression seems to be, that because the old arguments were
faulty, all argument is irrelevant: that because the alleged laws of
nature were wrongly stated, there are no laws of nature at all; and
that we may proceed to rearrange society, to fix the rate of wages or
the rent of land or the incomes of capitalists without any reference at
all to the conditions under which social arrangements have been worked
out and actually carried on. This is, in short, to sanction the most
obvious weakness of popular movements, and to assure the ignorant and
thoughtless that they are above reason, and their crude guesses
infallible guides to truth.

One view which tries to give some plausibility to these assumptions is
summed up in the now current phrase about the "masses" and the
"classes". We all know the regular process of logical fence of the
journalist, _i.e._, thrust and parry, which is repeated whenever such
questions turn up. The Radical calls his opponent Tory and reactionary.
The wicked Tory, it is said, thinks only of the class interest; believes
that the nation exists for the sake of the House of Lords; lives in a
little citadel provided with all the good things, which he is ready to
defend against every attempt at a juster distribution; selfishness is
his one motive; repression by brute force his only theory of government;
and his views of life in general are those of the wicked cynics who gaze
from their windows in Pall Mall. Then we have the roll of all the abuses
which have been defended by this miscreant and his like since the days
of George III.--slavery and capital punishment, and pensions and
sinecures, and protection and the church establishment. The popular
instinct, it is urged, has been in the right in so many cases that there
is an enormous presumption in favour of the infallibility of all its
instincts. The reply, of course, is equally obvious. Your boast, says
the Conservative, that you please the masses, is in effect a confession
that you truckle to the mob. You mean that your doctrines spread in
proportion to the ignorance of your constituents. You prove the merits
of your theories by showing that they disgust people the more they
think. The Liberalism of a district, it has been argued, varies with the
number of convictions for drunkenness. If it be easy to denounce our
ancestors, it is also easy to show how they built up the great empire
which now shelters us; and how, if they had truckled, as you would have
us truckle, to popular whims, we should have been deprived of our
commerce, our manufactures, and our position in the civilised world. And
then it is easy to produce a list of all the base demagogues who have
misled popular impatience and ignorance from the days of Cleon to those
of the French Convention, or of the last disreputable "boss" bloated
with corruption and the plunder of some great American city. This is the
result, it is suggested, of pandering to the mob, and generally
ostracising the intelligent citizen.

I merely sketch the familiar arguments which any journalist has ready
at hand, and, by a sufficient spice of references to actual affairs,
can work up into any number of pointed leading articles. I will only
observe that such arguments seem to me to illustrate that curious
unreality of political theories of which I have spoken. It seems to be
tacitly assumed on both sides, that votes are determined by a process
of genuine reasoning. One side may be ignorant and the other
prejudiced; but the arguments I have recapitulated seem to imply the
assumption that the constituents really reflect upon the reasons for
and against the measures proposed, and make up their minds accordingly.
They are spoken of as though they were a body of experts, investigating
a scientific doctrine, or at least a jury guided by the evidence laid
before them. Upon that assumption, as it seems to me, the moral would
be that the whole system is a palpable absurdity. The vast majority of
voters scarcely think at all, and would be incapable of judging if they
did. Hundreds of thousands care more for Dr. Grace's last score or the
winner of the Derby than for any political question whatever. If they
have opinions, they have neither the training nor the knowledge
necessary to form any conclusion whatever. Consider the state of mind
of the average voter--of nine men out of ten, say, whom you meet in the
Strand. Ask yourselves honestly what value you would attach to his
opinion upon any great question--say, of foreign politics or political
economy. Has he ever really thought about them? Is he superficially
acquainted with any of the relevant facts? Is he even capable of the
imaginative effort necessary to set before him the vast interests often
affected? And would the simple fact that he said "Yes" to a given
question establish in your mind the smallest presumption against the
probability that the right answer would be "No"? What are the chances
that a majority of people, of whom not one in a hundred has any
qualifications for judging, will give a right judgment? Yet that is the
test suggested by most of the conventional arguments on both sides; for
I do not say this as intending to accept the anti-democratic
application. It is just as applicable, I believe, to the educated and
the well-off. I need not labour the point, which is sufficiently
obvious. I am quite convinced that, for example, the voters for a
university will be guided by unreasonable prejudices as the voters for
a metropolitan constituency. In some ways they will be worse. To find
people who believe honestly in antiquated prejudices, you must go to
the people who have been trained to believe them. An ecclesiastical
seminary can manage to drill the pupils into professing absurdities
from which average common sense would shrink, and only supply logical
machinery for warring against reason. The reference to enlightened
aristocracies is common enough; but I cannot discover that, "taken in a
lump," any particular aristocracy cannot be as narrow-minded,
short-sighted, and selfish, as the most rampant democracy. In point of
fact, we all know that political action is determined by instinct
rather than by reason. I do not mean that instinct is opposed to
reason: it is simply a crude, undeveloped, inarticulate form of reason;
it is blended with prejudices for which no reason is assigned, or even
regarded as requisite. Such blind instincts, implying at most a kind of
groping after error, necessarily govern the majority of men of all
classes, in political as in other movements. The old apologists used to
argue on the hypothesis that men must have accepted Christianity on the
strength of a serious inquiry into the evidences. The fallacy of the
doctrine is sufficiently plain: they accepted it because it suited them
on the whole, and was fitted, no doubt, to their intellectual needs,
but was also fitted to their emotional and moral needs as developed
under certain social conditions. The inference from the general
acceptance of any theory is not that it is true, but that it is true
enough to satisfy the very feeble demand for logic--that it is not
palpably absurd or self-contradictory; and that, for some reason or
other, it satisfies also the imagination, the affections, and the
aspirations of the believers. Not to go into other questions, this
single remark indicates, I think, the attitude which the scientific
observer would adopt in regard to this ancient controversy. He would
study the causes as well as the alleged reasons assignable for any
general instinct, and admit that its existence is one of the primary
data which have to be taken into account. To denounce democracy or
aristocracy is easy enough; and it saves trouble to assume that God is
on one side and the devil on the other. The true method, I take it, is
that which was indicated by Tocqueville's great book upon democracy in
America; a book which, if I may trust my own impressions, though
necessarily imperfect as regards America, is a perfectly admirable
example of the fruitful method of studying such problems. Though an
aristocrat by birth and breeding, Tocqueville had the wisdom to examine
democratic beliefs and institutions in a thoroughly impartial spirit;
and, instead of simply denouncing or admiring, to trace the genesis of
the prevalent ideas and their close connection with the general state
of social development. An inquiry conducted in that spirit would not
lead to the absolute dogmatic conclusions in which the superficial
controversialist delights. It would show, perhaps, that there was at
least this much truth in the democratic contention, that the masses
are, by their position, exempt from some of the prejudices which are
ingrained in the members of a smaller caste; that they are therefore
more accessible to certain moral considerations, and more anxious to
promote the greatest happiness of the greater number. But it might also
show how the weakness of the ignorant and untrained mind produces the
characteristic evils of sentimentalism and impatience, of a belief in
the omnipotence of legislation, and an excessive jealousy of all
superiorities; and might possibly, too, exhibit certain merits which
are impressed upon the aristocrat by his sense of the obligations of
nobility. I do not in the least mean to express any opinion about such
questions; I desire only to indicate the temper in which I conceive
that they should be approached.

I have lived long enough to be utterly unable to believe--though some
older politicians than I seem still to believe, especially on the eve
of a dissolution--that any of our party lines coincide with the lines
between good and bad, wise and foolish. Every one, of course, will
repudiate the abstract theory. Yet we may notice how constantly it is
assumed; and can see to what fallacies it leads when we look for a
moment at the historical questions which no longer unite party feeling.
Few, indeed, even of our historians, can write without taking party
views of such questions. Even the candid and impartial seem to deserve
these epithets chiefly because they want imagination, and can cast
blame or applaud alternately, because they do not enter into the real
spirit of either party. Their views are sometimes a medley of
inconsistent theories, rather than a deeper view which might reconcile
apparent inconsistencies. I will only mention one point which often
strikes me, and may lead to a relevant remark. Every royalist
historian, we all know, labours to prove that Charles I. was a saint,
and Cromwell a hypocrite. The view was natural at the time of the civil
wars; but it now should suggest an obvious logical dilemma. If the
monarchical theory which Charles represented was sound, and Charles was
also a wise and good man, what caused the rebellion? A perfect man
driving a perfect engine should surely not have run it off the rails.
The royalist ought to seek to prove that Charles was a fool and a
knave, to account for the collapse of royalty; and the case against
royalty is all the stronger, if you could show that Charles, in spite
of impeccable virtue, was forced by his position to end on the
scaffold. Choose between him and the system which he applied. So
Catholics and conservatives are never tired of denouncing Henry VIII.
and the French revolutionists. So far as I can guess (I know very
little about it), their case is a very strong one. I somehow believe,
in spite of Froude, that Henry VIII. was a tyrant; and eulogies upon
the reign of terror generally convince me that a greater set of
scoundrels seldom came to the surface, than the perpetrators of those
enormities. But then the real inference is, to my mind, very different.
Henry VIII. was the product of the previous time; the ultimate outcome
of that ideal state of things in which the church had its own way
during the ages of truth. Must not the system have been wrong, when it
had so lost all moral weight as to be at the mercy of a ruffianly
plunderer? And so, as we all admit now, the strongest condemnation of
the old French _régime_ is the fact that it had not only produced
such a set of miscreants as those who have cast permanent odium even
upon sound principles; but that its king and rulers went down before
them without even an attempt at manly resistance. A revolution does
not, perhaps, justify itself; it does not prove that its leaders judged
rightly and acted virtuously: but, beyond a doubt, it condemns the
previous order which brought it about. What a horrid thing is the
explosion! Why, is the obvious answer, did you allow the explosive
materials to accumulate, till the first match must fire the train? The
greatest blot upon Burke, I need hardly say, is that his passions
blinded him in his age, to this, as we now see, inevitable conclusion.

The old-fashioned view, I fancy, is a relic of that view of history in
which all the great events and changes were personified in some
individual hero. The old "legislators," Lycurgus and Solon and the
like, were supposed to have created the institutions which were really
the products of a slow growth. When a favourable change due to
economical causes took place in the position of the French peasantry,
the peasants, says Michelet somewhere, called it "good king Henry".
Carlyle's theory of hero worship is partly an application of the same
mode of thought. You embody your principle in some concrete person;
canonise him or damn him, as he represents truth or error; and take
credit to yourself for insight and for a lofty morality. It becomes a
kind of blasphemy to suggest that your great man, who thus stands for
an inspired leader dropped straight out of heaven, was probably at best
very imperfect, one-sided, and at least as much of a product as a
producer. The crudity of the method is even regarded as a proof of its
morality. Your common-place moralist likes to call everything black or
white; he despises all qualifications as casuistical refinements, and
plumes himself on the decisive verdict, saint or sinner, with which he
labels the adherents and opponents of his party. And yet we know as a
fact, how absurd are such judgments. We know how men are betrayed into
bad causes from good motives, or put on the right side because it
happens to harmonise with their lower interests. Saints--so we are
told--have been the cruellest persecutors; and kings, acting from
purely selfish ambition, have consolidated nations or crushed effete
and mischievous institutions. If we can make up our minds as to which
was, on the whole, the best cause,--and, generally speaking, both sides
represented some sound principle,--it does not follow that it was also
the cause of all the best men. Before we can judge of the individual,
we must answer a hundred difficult questions: If he took the right
side, did he take it from the right motives? Was it from personal
ambition or pure patriotism? Did he see what was the real question at
issue? Did he foresee the inevitable effect of the measures which he
advocated? If he did not see, was it because he was human, and
therefore short-sighted; or because he was brutal, and therefore
wanting in sympathy; or because he had intellectual defects, which made
it impossible for him to escape from the common illusions of the time?
These, and any number of similar difficulties, arise when we try to
judge of the great men who form landmarks in our history, from the time
of Boadicea to that of Queen Victoria. They are always amusing, and
sometimes important; but there is always a danger that they may warp
our views of the vital facts. The beauty of Mary Queen of Scots still
disqualifies many people from judging calmly the great issues of a most
important historical epoch. I will leave it to you to apply this to our
views of modern politics, and judge the value of the ordinary
assumption which assumes that all good men must be on one side.

Now we may say that the remedy for such illusions points to the
importance of a doctrine which is by no means new, but which has, I
think, bearings not always recognised. We have been told, again and
again, since Plato wrote his _Republic_, that society is an organism. It
is replied that this is at best an analogy upon which too great stress
must not be laid; and we are warned against the fanciful comparisons
which some writers have drawn between the body corporate and the actual
physical body, with its cells, tissues, nervous system, and so forth.
Now, whatever may be the danger of that mode of reasoning, I think that
the statement, properly understood, corresponds to a simple logical
canon too often neglected in historical and political reasonings. It
means, I take it, in the first place, that every man is a product as
well as a producer; that there is no such thing as the imaginary
individual with fixed properties, whom theorists are apt to take for
granted as the base of their reasoning; that no man or group of men is
intelligible without taking into account the mass of instincts
transmitted through their predecessors, and therefore without referring
to their position in the general history of human development. And,
secondly, it is essential to remember in speaking of any great man, or
of any institution, their position as parts of a complicated system of
actions and emotions. The word "if," I may say, changes its meaning.
"If" Harold had won the battle of Hastings, what would have been the
result? The answer would be comparatively simple, if we could, in the
old fashion, attribute to William the Conqueror all the results in which
he played a conspicuous part: if, therefore, we could make out a
definite list of effects of which he was the cause, and, by simply
"deducting" them, after Coleridge's fashion, from the effects which
actually followed, determine what was the precise balance. But when we
consider how many causes were actually in operation, how impossible it
is to disentangle and separate them, and say this followed from that,
and that other from something else, we have to admit that the might have
been is simply indiscoverable. The great man may have hastened what was
otherwise inevitable; he may simply have supplied the particular point,
round which a crystallisation took place of forces which would have
otherwise discovered some other centre; and the fact that he succeeded
in establishing certain institutions or laws may be simply a proof that
he saw a little more clearly than others the direction towards which
more general causes were inevitably propelling the nation. Briefly, we
cannot isolate the particular "cause" in this case, and have to remember
at every moment that it was only one factor in a vast and complex series
of changes, which would no doubt have taken a different turn without it,
but of which it may be indefinitely difficult to say what was the
precise deflection due to its action.

In trying to indicate the importance, I have had to dwell upon the
difficulty, of applying anything like scientific methods to political
problems. I shall conclude by trying once more to indicate why, in
spite of this, I hold that the attempt is desirable, and may be

People sometimes say that scientific methods are inapplicable because
we cannot try experiments in social matters. I remember being long ago
struck by a remark of Dr. Arnold, which has some bearing upon this
assertion. He observed upon the great advantage possessed by Aristotle
in the vast number of little republics in his time, each of which was
virtually an experiment in politics. I always thought that this was
fallacious somehow, and I fancy that it is not hard to indicate the
general nature of the fallacy. Freeman, upon whose services to thorough
and accurate study of history I am unworthy to pronounce an eulogy,
fell into the same fallacy, I fancy, when he undertook to write a
history of Federal Governments. He fancied that because the Achæan
League and the Swiss Cantons and the United States of America all had
this point in common, and that they represented the combinations of
partially independent States, their history would be in a sense
continuous. The obvious consideration that the federations differed in
every possible way, in their religions and state of civilisation and
whole social structure, might be neglected. Freeman's tendency to be
indifferent to everything which was not in the narrowest sense
political led him to this--as it seems to me--pedantic conception. If
the prosperity of a nation depended exclusively upon the form of its
government, Aristotle, as Arnold remarks, would have had before him a
greater number of experiments than the modern observer. But the
assumption is obviously wrong. Every one of these ancient States
depended for its prosperity upon a vast number of conditions--its race,
its geographical position, its stage of development, and so forth,
quite impossible to tabulate or analyse; and the form of government
which suited one would be entirely inapplicable to another. To
extricate from all these conflicting elements the precise influence due
to any institutions would be a task beyond the powers of any number of
philosophers; and indeed the perplexity would probably be increased by
the very number of experiments. To make an experiment fruitful, it is
necessary to eliminate all the irrelevant elements which intrude into
the concrete cases spontaneously offered by nature, and, for example,
to obtain two cases differing only in one element, to which we may
therefore plausibly attribute other contrasts. Now, the history of a
hundred or a thousand small States would probably only present the
introduction of new and perplexing elements for every new case. The
influence, again, of individuals, or accident of war, or natural
catastrophes, is greater in proportion as the State is smaller, and
therefore makes it more difficult to observe the permanent and
underlying influences. It seems to me, therefore, that the study, say
of English history, where we have a continuous growth over many
centuries, where the disturbing influences of individuals or chance are
in a greater degree cancelled by the general tendencies working beneath
them, we have really a far more instructive field for political
observation. This may help us to see what are the kinds of results
which may be anticipated from sociological study undertaken in a
serious spirit. The growth, for example, of the industrial system of
England is a profoundly interesting subject of inquiry, to which we are
even now only beginning to do justice. Historians have admitted, even
from the time of Hume, that the ideal history should give less of mere
battles and intrigues, and more account of those deeper and more
continuous processes which lie, so to speak, beneath the surface. They
have hardly, I think, even yet realised the full bearing and importance
of this observation. Yet, of late, much has been done, though much
still remains to do, in the way of a truly scientific study of the
development of institutions, political, ecclesiastical, industrial, and
so forth, of this and other countries. As this tendency grows, we may
hope gradually to have a genuine history of the English people; an
account--not of the virtues and vices of Mary Queen of Scots, or
arguments as to the propriety of cutting off Charles I.'s head--but a
trustworthy account of the way in which the actual structure of modern
society has been developed out of its simpler germs. The biographies of
great kings and generals, and so forth, will always be interesting; but
to the genuine historian of the future they will be interesting not so
much as giving room for psychological analyses or for dramatic
portraits, but as indications of the great social forces which produced
them, and the direction of which at the moment may be illustrated by
their cases. I have spoken of the history of our industrial system. To
know what was the position of the English labourer at various times,
how it was affected by the political changes or by the great mechanical
discoveries, to observe what grievances arose, what remedies were
applied or sought to be applied, and with what result,--to treat all
this with due reference to the whole social and intellectual evolution
of which it formed a part, may well call forth the powers of our
acutest and most thoroughgoing inquirers, and will, when it is done,
give essential data for some of the most vitally important problems of
the day. This is what I understand by an application of the scientific
spirit to social and political problems. We cannot try experiments, it
is said, in historical questions. We cannot help always trying
experiments, and experiments of vast importance. Every man has to try
an experiment upon himself when he chooses his career; and the results
are frequently very unpleasant, though very instructive. We have to be
our own experiments. Every man who sets up in business tries an
experiment, ending in fortune or in bankruptcy. Every strike is an
experiment, and generally a costly one. Every attempt at starting a new
charitable organisation, or a new system of socialism or co-operation,
is an experiment. Every new law is an experiment, rash or otherwise.
And from all these experiments we do at least collect a certain number
of general observations, which, though generally consigned to
copybooks, are not without value. What is true, however, is that we
cannot try such experiments as a man of science can sometimes try in
his laboratory, where he can select and isolate the necessary elements
in any given process, and decide, by subjecting them to proper
conditions, how a definite question is to be answered. Our first
experiments are all in the rough, so to speak, tried at haphazard, and
each involving an indefinite number of irrelevant conditions. But there
is a partial compensation. We cannot tabulate the countless experiments
which have been tried with all their distracting varieties. Yet in a
certain sense the answer is given for us. For the social structure at
any period is in fact the net product of all the experiments that have
been made by the individuals of which it is and has been composed.
Therefore, so far as we can obtain some general views of the successive
changes in social order which have been gradually and steadily
developing themselves throughout the more noisy and conspicuous but
comparatively superficial political disturbances, we can detect the
true meaning of some general phenomena in which the actors themselves
were unconscious of the determining causes. We can see more or less
what were the general causes which have led to various forms of
associations, to the old guilds, or the modern factory system, to the
trades unions or the co-operative societies; and correcting and
verifying our general results by a careful examination of the
particular instances, approximate, vaguely it may be and distantly, to
some such conception of the laws of development of different social
tissues as, if not properly scientific, may yet belong to the
scientific order of thought. Thus, when distracted by this or that
particular demand, by promises of the millennium to be inaugurated
to-morrow by an Act of Parliament, or threats of some social cataclysm
to overwhelm us if we concede an inch to wicked agitators, we may
succeed in placing ourselves at a higher point of view, from which it
is possible to look over wider horizons, to regard what is happening
to-day in its relations to slow processes of elaboration, and to form
judgments based upon wide and systematic inquiry, which, if they do not
entitle us to predict particular events, as an astronomer predicts an
eclipse, will at least be a guide to sane and sober minds, and suggest
at once a humbler appreciation of what is within our power, and--I
think also--a more really hopeful anticipation of genuine progress in
the future.

All scientific inquiry is an interrogation of nature. We have, in
Bacon's grand sententious phrase, to command nature by obeying. We
learn what are the laws of social growth by living them. The great
difficulty of the interrogation is to know what questions we are to
put. Under the guidance of metaphysicians, we have too often asked
questions to which no answer is conceivable, like children, who in
first trying to think, ask, why are we living in the nineteenth
century, why is England an island, or why does pain hurt, or why do two
and two make four? The only answer is by giving the same facts in a
different set of words, and that is a kind of answer to which
metaphysical dexterity sometimes gives an air of plausibility. More
frequently our ingenuity takes the form of sanctioning preconceived
prejudices, by wrapping up our conclusion in our premisses, and then
bringing it out triumphantly with the air of a rigorous deduction. The
progress of social science implies, in the first place, the abandonment
of the weary system of hunting for fruitful truths in the region of
chimeras, and trying to make empty logical concepts do the work of
observation of facts. It involves, again, a clear perception of the
kind of questions which can be profitably asked, and the limits within
which an answer, not of the illusory kind, can really be expected. And
then we may come to see that, without knowing it, we have really been
trying a vast and continuous experiment, since the race first began to
be human. We have, blindly and unconsciously, constructed a huge
organism which does, somehow or other, provide a great many millions of
people with a tolerable amount of food and comfort. We have
accomplished this, I say, unconsciously; for each man, limited to his
own little sphere, and limited to his own interests, and guided by his
own prejudices and passions, has been as ignorant of more general
tendencies as the coral insect of the reef which it has helped to
build. To become distinctly conscious of what it is that we have all
been doing all this time, is one step in advance. We have obeyed in
ignorance; and as obedience becomes conscious, we may hope, within
certain narrow limits, to command, or, at least, to direct. An enlarged
perception of what have been the previous results may enable us to see
what results are possible, and among them to select what may be worthy
ends. It is not to be supposed that we shall ever get beyond the need
of constant and careful experiment. But, in proportion as we can
cultivate the right frame of mind, as each member of society requires
wider sympathies and a larger horizon, it is permissible to hope that
the experiments may become more intelligent; that we shall not, as has
so often been done, increase poverty by the very remedies which are
intended to remove it, or diverge from the path of steady progressive
development, into the chase of some wild chimera, which requires for
its achievement only the radical alteration of all the data of
experience. "Annihilate space and time, and make two lovers happy," was
the modest petition of an enthusiast; and he would probably have been
ready to join in the prayer, "make all men angels, and then we shall
have a model society". Although in saying this my immediate moral is to
preach sobriety, I do not intend to denounce enthusiasm, but to urge a
necessity of organising enthusiasm. I only recommend people not to
venture upon flying machines before they have studied the laws of
mechanics; but I earnestly hope that some day we may be able to call a
balloon as we now call a cab. To point out the method, and to admit
that it is not laborious, is not to discourage aspiration, but to look
facts in the face: not to preach abandonment of enthusiasm, but to urge
that enthusiasm should be systematic, should lead men to study the
conditions of success, and to make a bridge before they leap the gulf.


There seem to be at present many conflicting views as to the nature of
Political Economy. There is a popular impression that Political
Economy, or, at any rate, the so-called "classical" doctrine, the
doctrine which was made most definite by Ricardo, and accepted with
modifications by J. S. Mill, is altogether exploded. Their main
doctrines, it is suggested, were little better than mares' nests, and
we may set aside their pretensions to have founded an exact science.
What, then, is to come in its place? Are we simply to admit that there
is no certainty about economical problems, and to fall back upon mere
empiricism? Everything,--shall we say?--is to be regarded as an open
question. That is, perhaps, a common impression in the popular mind.
Yet, on the other hand, we may find some very able thinkers applying
mathematical formulæ to economics; and that seems to suppose, that
within a certain region they obtain results comparable in precision and
accuracy to those of the great physical sciences. The topic is a very
wide one; and it would be presumptuous in me to speak dogmatically. I
wish, however, to suggest certain considerations which may, perhaps, be
worth taking into account; and, as I must speak briefly, I must not
attempt to supply all the necessary qualifications. I can only attempt
to indicate what seems to me to be the correct point of view, and
apologise if I appear to speak too dogmatically, simply because I
cannot waste time by expressions of diffidence, by reference to
probable criticisms, or even by a full statement of my own reasons.

A full exposition would have to define the sphere of Political Economy
by describing its data and its methods. What do we assume, and how do
we reason? A complete answer to these questions would indicate the
limits within which we can hope for valid conclusions. I will first
refer, briefly, to a common statement of one theory advocated by the
old-fashioned or classical school. Economic doctrine, they have said,
supposes a certain process of abstraction. We have to do with what has
been called the "economic man". He is not, happily, the real man. He is
an imaginary being, whose sole principle of action is to buy in the
cheapest and sell in the dearest market: a man, more briefly, who
always prefers a guinea--even a dirty guinea--to a pound of the
cleanest. Economists reply to the remonstrances of those who deny the
existence of such a monster, by adding that they do not for a moment
suppose that men in general, or even tradesmen or stockbrokers, are in
reality such beings,--mere money-making machines, stripped bare of all
generous or altruistic sentiment--but simply that, as a matter of fact,
most people do, _ceteris paribus_, prefer a guinea to a pound; and
that so large a part of our industrial activity is carried on from
motives of this kind, that we may obtain a fair approximation to the
actual course of affairs by considering them as the sole motives. We
shall not go wrong, for example, in financial questions, by assuming
that the sole motive of speculators in the Stock Exchange is the desire
to make money. Now, it is possible, perhaps, to justify this way of
putting the case, by certain qualifications. I think, however, that, if
strictly interpreted, it is apt to cover a serious fallacy. The
"economic man" theory, we may say, assumes too much in one direction,
and too little in another. It assumes too much if it is understood as
implying that the desire for wealth is a purely selfish desire. A man
may desire to make money in order simply to gratify his own sensual
appetites. But he may also desire to be independent; and that may
include a desire to do his part in the work of society, and probably
does include some desire to relieve others of a burden. The wish to be
self-supporting is not necessarily or purely "selfish". And obviously,
too, one great motive in all such occupations is the desire to support
a family, and one main inducement to saving is the desire to support it
after your own death. Remove such motives, and half the impulses to
regular industrial energy of all kinds would be destroyed. We must,
therefore, give our "economic man" credit for motives referring to many
interests besides those which he buttons into his own waistcoat. And
therefore, too, as I have said, the assumption is insufficient. The
very conception of economic science supposes all that is supposed, in
the growth of a settled order of society. The purest type of the
"economic man," as he is sometimes described, would be realised in the
lowest savage, as sometimes described, who is absolutely selfish, who
knocks his child on the head because it cries, and eats his aged parent
if he cannot find a supply of roots. But such a being could only form
herds, not societies. Political Economy only becomes conceivable when
we suppose certain institutions to have been developed. It assumes,
obviously, and in the first place, the institution of property; it
becomes applicable, with less qualification, in proportion to the
growth of the corresponding sentiments; it takes for granted all that
highly elaborate set of instincts which induce me, when I want
something, to produce an equivalent in exchange for it, instead of
going out to take it by force. The more thorough the respect for
property, the more applicable are rules of economics; and that respect
implies a long training in that sense of other people's rights, which,
unfortunately, is by no means so perfect as might be desired.

It follows, then, that the economist really assumes more--and rightly
assumes more--than he sometimes claims. He assumes what Adam Smith
assumed at the opening of his great treatise: that is, the division of
labour. But the division of labour implies the organisation of society.
It implies that one man is growing corn while another is digging gold,
because each is confident that he will be able to exchange the products
of his own labour for the products of the other man's labour. This, of
course, implies settled order, respect for contracts, the preservation
of peace, and the abolition of force throughout the area occupied by
the society. And this, again, is only possible in so far as certain
political and ecclesiastical and military institutions have been
definitely constructed. The economic assumption is really an
assumption--not of a certain psychological condition of the average
man, but--of the existence of a certain social mechanism. A complete
science would clear up fully a problem which must occur often to all of
us: How do you account for London? How is it that four or five millions
of people manage to subsist on an area of a few square miles, which
itself produces nothing? that other millions all over the world are
engaged in providing for their wants? that food and clothes and fuel,
in sufficient quantities to preserve life, are being distributed with
tolerable regularity to each unit in this vast and apparently chaotic
crowd? and that, somehow or other, we struggle on, well or ill, by the
help of a gigantic commissariat, performing functions incomparably more
complex than were ever needed for military purposes? The answer
supposes that there is, as a matter of fact, a great industrial
organisation which discharges the various functions of producing,
exchanging, distributing, and so forth; and that its mutual relations
are just as capable of being investigated and stated as the relations
between different parts of an army. The men and officers do not wear
uniforms; they are not explicitly drilled or subject to a definite code
of discipline; and their rates of pay are not settled by any central
authority. But there are capitalists, "undertakers" and labourers,
merchants and retail dealers and contractors, and so forth, just as
certainly as there are generals and privates, horse, foot, and
artillery; and their mutual relations are equally definable. The
economist has to explain the working of this industrial mechanism; and
the thought may sometimes occur to us, that it is strange that he
should find the task so difficult. Since we ourselves have made, or at
any rate constitute, the mechanism, why should it be so puzzling to
find out what it is? We are cooperating in a systematic production and
distribution of wealth, and we surely ought not to find any
impenetrable mystery in discovering what it is that we are doing every
day of our lives. Certain economists writing within this century have
often been credited with the discovery of the true theory of rent, or,
which is equally good for my purpose, of starting a false theory. Yet
landowners and agents had been letting farms and houses for
generations; and surely they ought to have known what it was that they
were themselves doing. One explanation of the difficulty is, that
whereas an army is constituted by certain regulations of a central
authority, the industrial army has grown up unconsciously and
spontaneously. Its multitudinous members have only looked each at his
own little circle; the labourer only thinks of his wages, and the
capitalist of his profits, without considering his relations to the
whole system of which he forms a part. The peasant drives his plough
for wages, and buys his tea as if the tea fell like manna from the
skies, without thinking of the curious relation into which he is thus
brought with the natives of another hemisphere. The order which results
from all these independent activities appeared to the older economists
as an illustration of the doctrine of Final Causes. Providence had so
ordered things that each man, by pursuing his own interests, pursued
the interests of all. To a later school it appears rather as an
illustration of the doctrine by which organisms are constructed through
the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest. In either
case, it seems as though the mechanism were made rather for us than by
us; that it is the product of conditions which we cannot control,
instead of being an arrangement put together by conscious volitions.
And, therefore, when the economist shows us what in fact are the
existing arrangements and their mutual relations, he appears to be
making a discovery of a scientific fact as much as if he were
describing the anatomy of some newly-discovered animal or plant.

The real assumption of the economist therefore is, as I think, simply
the existence of a certain industrial organisation, which has a real
existence as much as an army or a church; and there is no reason why
his description should not be as accurate as the complexity of the
facts allows. He is giving us the anatomy of society considered as a
huge mechanism for producing and distributing wealth, and he makes an
abstraction only in the sense that he is considering one set of facts
at a time. The military writer would describe the constitution of an
army without going into the psychological or political conditions which
are of course implied, and without considering the soldiers in any
other relations than those implied in their military services. In the
same way, the economist describes the army of industry, and classifies
its constituent parts. In order to explain their mutual relations, he
has to make certain further assumptions, of which it would be rash to
attempt a precise summary. He assumes as a fact, what has of course
always been known, that scarcity implies dearness and plenty cheapness;
that commodities flow to the markets where they will fetch the highest
prices; that there is a certain gravitation towards equalisation of
profits among capitalists, and of wages among labourers; so that
capital or labour will flow towards the employments in which they will
secure the highest reward. He endeavours to give the greatest accuracy
to such formulæ, of which nobody, so far as I know, denies a certain
approximate truth. So long as they hold good, his inferences, if
logically drawn, will also hold good. They take for granted certain
psychological facts, such as are implied in all statements about human
nature. But the economist, as an economist, is content to take them for
granted without investigating the ultimate psychological laws upon
which they depend. Those laws, or rather their results, are a part of
his primary data, although he may go so far into psychological problems
as to try to state them more accurately. The selfishness or
unselfishness of the economic man has to be considered by the
psychologist or by the moralist; but the economist has only to consider
their conclusions so far as they affect the facts. So long as it is
true, for example, that scarcity causes dearness, that profits attract
capital, that demand and supply tend to equalise each other, and so
forth, his reasonings are justified; and the further questions of the
ethical and psychological implications of these facts must be treated
by a different science. The question of the play of economic forces
thus generally reduces itself to a problem which may be thus stated:
What are the conditions of industrial equilibrium? How must prices,
rates of wages, and profit be related in order that the various classes
concerned may receive such proportions of produce as are compatible
with the maintenance of the existing system of organisation? If any
specified change occurs, if production becomes easier or more
difficult, if a tax be imposed, or a regulation of any kind affects
previous conditions, what changes will be necessary to restore the
equilibrium? These are the main problems of Political Economy. To
solve, or attempt to solve them, we have to describe accurately the
existing mechanism, and to suppose that it will regulate itself on the
assumption which I have indicated as to demand and supply, the flow of
capital and labour, and so forth. To go beyond these assumptions, and
to justify them by psychological and other considerations, may be and
is a most interesting task, but it takes us beyond the sphere of
Economics proper.

I must here diverge for a little, to notice the view of the school of
economists which seems to regard scientific accuracy as attainable by a
different path. Jevons, its most distinguished leader in England, says
roundly, that political science must be a "mathematical science,"
because "it deals throughout with quantities"; and we have been since
provided with a number of formulæ, corresponding to this doctrine. The
obvious general reply would be, that Political Economy cannot be an
exact science because it also deals throughout with human desires. The
objection is not simply that our data are too vague. That objection, as
Jevons says, would, perhaps, apply to meteorology, of which nobody
doubts that it is capable of being made an exact science. But why does
nobody doubt that meteorology might become an exact science? Because we
are convinced that all the data which would be needed are expressible
in precise terms of time and space; we have to do with volumes, and
masses, and weights, and forces which can be exactly measured by lines;
and, in short, with things which could be exactly measured and counted.
The data are, at present, insufficiently known, and possibly the
problems which would result might be too complex for our powers of
calculation. Still, if we could once get the data, we could express all
relevant considerations by precise figures and numbers.

Now, is this true of economic science? Within certain limits, it is
apparently true: Ricardo used mathematical formulæ, though he kept to
arithmetic, instead of algebra. When Malthus spoke of arithmetical and
geometrical ratios, the statement, true or false, was, of course,
capable of precise numerical expression, so soon as the ratios were
assigned. So there was the famous formula proving a relation between
the number of quarters of corn produced by a given harvest, and the
number of shillings that would be given for a quarter of corn. If,
again, we took the number of marriages corresponding to a given price
of corn, we should obtain a formula connecting the number of marriages
with the number of quarters of corn produced. The utility of
statistics, of course, depends upon the fact that we do empirically
discover some tolerably constant and simple numerical formulæ. Such
statistical statements are useful, indeed, not only in economical, but
in other inquiries, which are clearly beyond the reach of mathematics.
The proportion of criminals in a given population, the number of
suicides, or of illegitimate births, may throw some light upon judicial
and political, and even religious or ethical problems. Nor are such
formulæ useless simply because empirical. The law of gravitation, for
example, is empirical. Nobody knows the cause of the observed tendency
of bodies to gravitate to each other, and therefore no one can say how
far the law which represents the tendency must be universal. Still, the
fact that, so far as we have observed, it is invariably verified, and
that calculations founded upon it enable us to bring a vast variety of
phenomena under a single rule, is quite enough to justify astronomical

If, therefore, we could find a mathematical formula which was, as a
matter of fact, verifiable in economical problems about prices, and so
forth, we should rightly apply to mathematicians to help us with their
methods. But, not only do we not find any such simple relations, but we
can see conclusive reasons for being sure that we can never find them.
Take, for example, the case of the number of marriages under given
conditions. I need hardly say that it is impossible for the ablest
mathematician to calculate whether the individual A will marry the
individual B. But, by taking averages, and so eliminating individual
eccentricities, he might discover that, in a given country and at a
given time, a rise of prices will diminish marriages in certain
proportion. Our knowledge of human nature is sufficient to make that
highly probable. But our knowledge also shows that such a change will
act differently in different cases: there will be one formula for
France, and another for England; one for Lancashire, and another for
Cornwall; one for the rich, and another for the poor; and both the
total wealth of a country and its distribution will affect the rule.
Differences of national temperament, of political and social
constitution, of religion and ecclesiastical organisation, will all
have an effect; and, therefore, a formula true here and now must, in
all probability, fail altogether elsewhere. The formula is, in the
mathematical phrase, a function of so many independent variables, that
it must be complex beyond all conception, if it takes them all into
account; while it must yet be necessarily inaccurate if it does not take
them into account. But, besides this, the conditions upon which the law
obviously depends are not themselves capable of being accurately
defined, and still less of being numerically stated. Ingenious thinkers
have, indeed, tried to apply mathematical formulæ to psychology; but
they have not got very far; and it may, I think, be assumed, without
further argument, that while you have to deal both with psychological
and sociological elements, with human desires, and with those desires
modified by social relations, it is impossible to find any data which
can be mathematically stated. There is no arithmetical measure of the
forces of love, or hunger, or avarice, by which (among others) the whole
problem is worked out.

It seems to me, therefore, that we must accept the alternative which is
only mentioned to be repudiated by Jevons, namely, that Political
Economy, if not a "mathematical science," must be part of sociology. I
should say that it clearly is so; for if we wish to investigate the
cause of any of the phenomena concerned, and not simply to tabulate from
observations, we are at once concerned with the social structure and
with the underlying psychology. The mathematical methods are quite in
their place when dealing with statistics. The rise and fall of prices,
and so forth, can be stated precisely in figures; and, whenever we can
discover some approximation to a mathematical law (as in the cases I
have noticed) we may work out the results. If, for example, the price of
a commodity under certain conditions bears a certain relation to its
scarcity, we can discover the one fact when the other fact is given,
remembering only that our conclusions are not more certain than our
premisses, and that the observed law depends upon unknown and most
imperfectly knowable conditions. Such results, again, may be very useful
in various ways, as illustrative of the way in which certain laws will
work if they hold good; and, again, as testing many of our general
theories. If you have argued that the price of gold or silver cannot be
fixed, the fact that it has been fixed under certain conditions will of
course lead to a revision of your arguments. But I cannot help thinking
that it is an illusion to suppose that such methods can justify the
assertion that the science as a whole is "mathematical". Nothing,
indeed, is easier than to speak as if you had got a mathematical theory.
Let _x_ mean the desire for marriage and _y_ the fear of want, then
the number of marriages is a function of _x_ and _y_, and I can
express this by symbols as well as by ordinary words. But there is no
magic about the use of symbols. Mathematical inquiries are not fruitful
because symbols are used, but because the symbols represent something
absolutely precise and assignable. The highest mathematical inquiries
are simply ingenious methods of counting; and till you have got
something precise to count, they can take you no further. I cannot help
thinking that this fallacy imposes upon some modern reasoners; that they
assume that they have got the data because they have put together the
formulæ which would be useful if they had the data; and, in short, that
you can get more out of a mill than you put into it; or, in other words,
that more conclusions than really follow can be got out of premisses,
simply because you show what would follow if you had the required
knowledge. When the attempt is made, as it seems to me to be made
sometimes, to deduce economical laws from some law of human desire--as
from the simple theorem that equal increments of a commodity imply
diminishing amounts of utility--I should reply not only that the
numerical data are vaguely defined and incapable of being accurately
stated, but that the attempt must be illusory because the conclusions
are not determinable from the premisses. The economic laws do not follow
from any simple rule about human desires, because they vary according to
the varying constitution of human society; and any conclusion which you
could obtain would be necessarily confined to the abstract man of whom
the law is supposed to hold good. Every such method, therefore, if it
could be successful, could only lead to conclusions about human desire
in general, and could throw no light upon the special problems of
political economy, which essentially depend upon varying industrial

I will not, however, go further. You must either, I hold, limit
Political Economy to the field of statistical inquiry, or admit that,
as a part of sociology, it deals with questions altogether beyond the
reach of mathematics. Like physiology, it is concerned with results
capable of numerical statement. The number of beats of the pulse, or
the number of degrees of temperature of the body, are important data in
physiological problems. They may be counted, and may give rise to
mathematically expressible formulæ. But the fact does not excuse us
from considering the physical conditions of the organs which are in
some way correlated with these observed phenomena; and, in the case of
Political Economy, we have to do with the social structure, which is
dependent upon forces altogether incapable of precise numerical
estimates. That, at least, is my view; and I shall apply it to
illustrate one remark, which must, I think, have often occurred to us.
Political Economy, that is, often appears to have a negative rather
than a positive value. It is exceedingly potent--so, at least, I
think--in dispersing certain popular fallacies; but it fails when we
regard it as a science which can give us positive concrete "laws". The
general reason is, I should say, that although its first principles may
be true descriptions of facts, and any denial of them, or any
inconsistent applications of them, may lead us into error, they are yet
far from sufficient descriptions. They omit some considerations which
are relevant in any concrete case; and the facts which they describe
are so complex that, even when we look at them consistently and follow
the right clue, we cannot solve the complicated problems which occur.
It may be worth while to insist a little upon this, and to apply it to
one or two peculiar problems.

Let me start from the ordinary analogy. Economic inquiry, I have
suggested, describes a certain existing mechanism, which exists as
really as the physical structure described by an anatomist. The
industrial organism has, of course, many properties of which the
economist, as such, does not take account. The labourer has affections,
and imaginations, and opinions outside of his occupation as labourer;
he belongs to a state, a church, a family, and so forth, which affect
his whole life, including his industrial life. Is it therefore
impossible to consider the industrial organisation separately? Not more
impossible, I should reply, than to apply the same method in regard to
the individual body. Were I to regard my stomach simply as a bag into
which I put my food, I should learn very little about the process of
digestion. Still, it is such a bag, and it is important to know where
it is, and what are its purely mechanical relations to other parts of
the body. My arms and legs are levers, and I can calculate the pressure
necessary to support a weight on the hand, as though my bones and
muscles were made of iron and whipcord. I am a piece of mechanism,
though I am more, and all the principles of simple mechanics apply to
my actions, though they do not, by themselves, suffice to explain the
actions. The discovery of the circulation of the blood explained, as I
understand, my structure as a hydraulic apparatus; and it was of vast
importance, even though it told us nothing directly of the other
processes necessarily involved. In this case, therefore, we have an
instance of the way in which a set of perfectly true propositions may,
so to speak, be imbedded in a larger theory, and may be of the highest
importance, though they are not by themselves sufficient to solve any
concrete problem. We cannot, that is, deduce the physiological
principles from the mechanical principles, although they are throughout
implied. But those principles are not the less true and useful in the
detection of fallacies. They may enable us to show that an argument
supposes facts which do not exist; or, perhaps, that it is, at any
rate, inconsistent because it assumes one structure in its premisses,
and another in its conclusions.

I state this by way of illustration: but the value of the remark may be
best tested by applying it to some economical doctrines. Let us take,
for example, the famous argument of Adam Smith against what he called
the mercantile theory. That theory, according to him, supposed that the
wealth of nations, like the wealth of an individual, was in proportion
to the amount of money in their possession. He insisted upon the theory
that money, as it is useful solely for exchange, cannot be, in itself,
wealth; that its absolute amount is a matter of indifference, because
if every coin in existence were halved or doubled, it would discharge
precisely the same function; and he inferred that the doctrine which
tested the advantages of foreign commerce by the balance of trade or
the net return of money, was altogether illusory. His theory is
expounded in every elementary treatise on the subject. It may be urged
that it was a mere truism, and therefore useless; or, again, that it
does not enable us to deduce a complete theory of the functions of
money. In regard to the first statement, I should reply that, although
Smith probably misrepresented some of his antagonists, the fallacy
which he exposed was not only current at the time, but is still
constantly cropping up in modern controversies. So long as arguments
are put forward which implicitly involve an erroneous, because
self-contradictory, conception of the true functions of money, it is
essential to keep in mind these first principles, however obvious they
may be in an abstract statement. Euclid's axioms are useful because
they are self-evident; and so long as people make mistakes in geometry,
it will be necessary to expose their blundering by bringing out the
contradictions involved. As Hobbes observed, people would dispute even
geometrical axioms if they had an interest in doing so; and, certainly,
they are ready to dispute the plainest doctrines about money. The other
remark, that we cannot deduce a complete theory from the axiom is, of
course, true. Thus, for example, although the doctrine may be
unimpeachable, there is a difficulty in applying it to the facts. As
gold has other uses besides its use as money, its value is not
regulated exclusively by the principle assigned; as other things,
again, such as bank-notes and cheques, discharge some of the functions
of money, we have all manner of difficult problems as to what money
precisely is, and how the most elementary principles will apply to the
concrete facts. A very shrewd economist once remarked, listening to a
metaphysical argument, "If there had been any money to be made out of
it, we should have solved that question in the city long ago". Yet,
there is surely money to be made out of a correct theory of the
currency; and people in the city do not seem to have arrived at a
complete agreement. In fact, such controversies illustrate the extreme
difficulty which arises out of the complexity of the phenomena, even
where the economic assumption of the action of purely money-loving
activity is most nearly verified. The moral is, I fancy, that while
inaccurate conclusions are extremely difficult, we can only hope to
approach them by a firm grasp of the first principles revealed in the
simplest cases.

Even in such a case, we have also to notice how we have to make
allowance for the intrusion of other than purely economic cases. The
doctrine just noticed is, of course, closely connected with the theory
of free trade. The free trade argument is, I should mention, perfectly
conclusive in a negative sense. It demonstrates, that is, the fallacy
which lurks in the popular argument for protection. That argument
belongs to the commonest class of economic fallacies, which consists in
looking at one particular result without considering the necessary
implications. The great advantage of any rational theory is, that it
forces us to look upon the industrial mechanism as a whole, and to
trace out the correlative changes involved in any particular operation.
It disposes of the theories which virtually propose to improve our
supply of water by pouring a cup out of one vessel into another; and
such theories have had considerable success in economy. So far, in
short, as a protectionist really maintains that the advantage consists
in accumulating money, without asking what will be the effect upon the
value of money, or that it consists in telling people to make for
themselves what they could get on better terms by producing something
to exchange for it, his arguments may be conclusively shown to be
contradictory. Such arguments, at least, cannot be worth considering.
But, to say nothing of cases which may be put by an ingenious disputant
in which this may not quite apply, we have to consider reasons which
may be extra-economical. When it is suggested, for example, that the
economic disadvantage is a fair price for political independence; or,
on the other hand, that the stimulus of competition is actually good
for the trade affected; or, again, that protection tends naturally to
corruption; we have arguments which, good or bad, are outside the
sphere of economics proper. To answer them we have to enter the field
of political or ethical inquiry, where we have to take leave of
tangible facts and precise measures.

This is a more prominent element as we approach the more human side (if
I may so call it) of Political Economy. Consider, for example, the
doctrine which made so profound an impression upon the old
school--Malthus's theory of population. It was summed up in the
famous--though admittedly inaccurate--phrase, that population had a
tendency to increase in a geometrical ratio, while the means of
subsistence increased only in an arithmetical ratio. The food available
for each unit would therefore diminish as the population increased. The
so-called law obviously states only a possibility. It describes a
"tendency," or, in other words, only describes what would happen under
certain, admittedly variable, conditions. It showed how, in a limited
area and with the efficiency of industry remaining unaltered, the
necessary limits upon the numbers of the population would come into
play. If, then, the law were taken, or in so far as it was taken, to
assert that, in point of fact, the population must always be increasing
in civilised countries to the stage at which the lowest class would be
at starvation level, it was certainly erroneous. There are cases in
which statesmen are alarmed by the failure of population to show its
old elasticity, and beginning to revert to the view that an increased
rate is desirable. It cannot be said to be even necessarily true that
in all cases an increased population implies, of necessity, increased
difficulty of support. There are countries which are inadequately
peopled, and where greater numbers would be able to support themselves
more efficiently because they could adopt a more elaborate
organisation. Nor can it be said with certainty that some pressure may
not, within limits, be favourable to ultimate progress by stimulating
the energies of the people. In a purely stationary state people might
be too content with a certain stage of comfort to develop their
resources and attain a permanently higher stage. Whatever the
importance of such qualifications of the principle, there is a most
important conclusion to be drawn. Malthus or his more rigid followers
summed up their teaching by one practical moral. The essential
condition of progress was, according to them, the discouragement of
early marriages. If, they held, people could only be persuaded not to
produce families until they had an adequate prospect of supporting
their families, everything would go right. We shall not, I imagine, be
inclined to dispute the proposition, that a certain degree of prudence
and foresight is a quality of enormous value; and that such a quality
will manifest itself by greater caution in taking the most important
step in life. What such reasoners do not appear to have appreciated
was, the immense complexity and difficulty of the demand which they
were making. They seem to have fancied that it was possible simply to
add another clause--the clause "Thou shalt not marry"--to the accepted
code of morals; and that, as soon as the evil consequences of the
condemned behaviour were understood,--properly expounded, for example,
in little manuals for the use of school children,--obedience to the new
regulation would spontaneously follow. What they did not see, or did
not fully appreciate, was the enormous series of other things--religious,
moral, and intellectual--which are necessarily implied in altering the
relation of the strongest human passion to the general constitution, and
the impossibility of bringing home such an alteration, either by an act
of legislation or by pointing out the bearing of a particular set of
prudential considerations. Political Economy might be a very good thing;
but its expositors were certainly too apt to think that it could by
itself at once become a new gospel for mankind. Should we then infer
from such criticisms that the doctrine of Malthus was false, or was of
no importance? Nothing would be further from my opinion. I hold, on the
contrary, that it was of the highest importance, because it drew
attention to a fact, the recognition of which was essential to all sound
reasoning on social questions. The fact is, that population is not to be
treated as a fixed quantity, but as capable of rapid expansion; and that
this elasticity may at any moment require consideration, and does in
fact give the explanation of many important phenomena. The main fact
which gave importance to Malthus's writings was the rapid and enormous
increase of pauperism during the first quarter of this century. The
charitable and sentimental writers of the day were alarmed, but proposed
to meet the evil by a reckless increase of charity, either of the
official or the private variety. Pitt, we know, declared (though he
qualified the statement) that to be the father of a large family should
be a source of honour, not of obloquy; and the measures adopted under
the influence of such notions did in fact tend to diminish all sense of
responsibility, encouraged people to rely upon the parish for the
support of their children, and brought about a state of things which
alarmed all intelligent observers. The greatest check to the evil was
given by the new Poor-law, adopted under the influence of the principles
advocated by Malthus and his friends. His achievement, then, was not
that he laid down any absolutely correct scientific truth, or even said
anything which had not been more or less said by many judicious people
before his time; but that he encouraged the application of a more
systematic method of reasoning upon the great problem of the time.
Instead of simply giving way to the first kindly impulse, abolishing a
hardship here and distributing alms elsewhere, he substantially argued
that society formed a complex organism, whose diseases should be
considered physiologically, their causes explained, and the appropriate
remedies considered in all their bearings. We must not ask simply
whether we were giving a loaf to this or that starving man, or indulge
in _à priori_ reasoning as to the right of every human being to be
supported by others; but treat the question as a physician should treat
a disease, and consider whether, on the whole, the new regulations would
increase or diminish the causes of the existing evils. He did not,
therefore, so much proclaim a new truth, as induce reformers to place
themselves at a new and a more rational point of view. The so-called law
of population which he announced might be in various ways inaccurate,
but the announcement made it necessary for rational thinkers to take
constantly into account considerations which are essential in any
satisfactory treatment of the great problems. If it were right to
consider pauperism as a gulf of fixed dimensions, we might hope to fill
it by simply taking a sufficient quantity of wealth from the richer
classes. If, as Malthus urged, this process had a tendency to enlarge
the dimensions of the gulf itself, it was obvious that the whole problem
required a more elaborate treatment. By impressing people with this
truth, and by showing how, in a great variety of cases, the elasticity
of the population was a most important factor in determining the
condition of the people, Malthus did a great service, and introduced a
more systematic and scientific method of discussing the immensely
important questions involved.

I will very briefly try to indicate one further application of economic
principles. A critical point in the modern development of the study was
marked by Mill's abandonment of the so-called "wage fund theory". That
doctrine is now generally mentioned with contempt, as the most
conspicuous instance of an entirely exploded theory. It is often said
that it is either a falsity, or a barren truism. I am not about to
argue the point, observing only that some very eminent Economists
consider that it was rather inadequate than fallacious; and that to me
it has always seemed that the theory which has really been confuted is
not so much a theory which was ever actually held by Economists, as a
formula into which they blundered when they tried to give a
quasi-scientific definition of their meaning. It is common enough for
people to argue sensibly, when the explicit statements of their
argument may be altogether erroneous. At any rate, I think it has been
a misfortune that a good phrase has been discredited; and that Mill's
assailants, in exposing the errors of that particular theory of a "wage
fund," seemed to imply that the whole conception of a "wage fund" was a
mistake. For the result has been, that the popular mind seems to regard
the amount spent in wages as an arbitrary quantity; as something which,
as Malthus put it, might be fixed at pleasure by her Majesty's justices
of the peace. Because the law was inaccurately stated, it is assumed
that there is no law at all, and that the share of the labourers in the
total product of industry might be fixed without reference to the
effect of a change upon the general organisation. Now, if the wage fund
means the share which, under existing circumstances, actually goes to
the class dependent upon wages, it is of the highest importance to
discover how that share is actually determined; and it does not even
follow that a doctrine which is in some sense a truism may not be a
highly important doctrine. One of the ablest of the old Economists,
Nassan Senior, after laying down his version of the theory, observes
that it is "so nearly self-evident" that if Political Economy were a
new science, it might be taken for granted. But he proceeds to
enumerate seven different opinions, some of them held by many people,
and others by writers of authority, with which it is inconsistent. And,
without following his arguments, this statement suggests what I take to
be a really relevant defence of his reasons. At the time when the
theory was first formulated, there were many current doctrines which
were self-contradictory, and which could, therefore, best be met by the
assertion of a truism. When the peace of 1815 brought distress instead
of plenty, some people, such as Southey, thought it a sufficient
explanation to say that the manufacturer had lost his best customer,
because the Government wanted fewer guns and less powder. They chose to
overlook the obvious fact that a customer who pays for his goods by
taking money out of the pockets of the seller, is not an unmixed
blessing. Then, there was the theory of general "gluts," and of what is
still denounced as over-production. The best cure for commercial
distress would be, as one disputant asserted, to burn all the goods in
our warehouses. It was necessary to point out that this theory (when
stated in superficial terms) regarded superabundance of wealth as the
cause of universal poverty. Another common theory was the evil effect
of manufacturers in displacing work. The excellent Robert Owen stated
it as an appalling fact, that the cotton manufacture supplanted the
labour of a hundred (perhaps it was two hundred) millions of men. He
seems to assume that, if the machinery had not been there, there would
still have been wages for the hundred millions. The curious confusion,
indeed, which leads us to speak of men wanting work, when what we
really mean is that they want wages, shows the tenacity of an old
fallacy. Mandeville argued long ago that the fire of London was a
blessing, because it set at work so many carpenters, plumbers, and
glaziers. The Protestant Reformation had done less good than the
invention of hooped petticoats, which had provided employment for so
many milliners. I shall not insult you by exposing fallacies; and yet,
so long as they survive, they have to be met by truisms. While people
are proposing to lengthen their blankets by cutting off one end to sew
upon the other, one has to point out that the total length remains
constant. Now, I fancy that, in point of fact, these fallacies are
often to be found in modern times. I read, the other day, in the
papers, an argument, adduced by some advocate, on behalf of the Eight
Hours Bill. He wished, he said, to make labour dear, and would
therefore make it scarce. This apparently leads to the conclusion that
the less people work the more they will get, which I take to be a
fallacy. So, to mention nothing else, it is still apparently a common
argument in favour of protection in America, that the native labourer
requires to be supported against the pauperised labour of Europe.
Americans in general are to be made richer by paying higher prices, and
by being forced to produce commodities which they could get with less
labour employed on the production of other things in exchange. I will
not go further; for I think that no one who reads the common arguments
can be in want of sufficient illustrations of popular fallacies. This,
I say, is some justification for dwelling upon the contrary truisms. I
admit, indeed, that even these fallacies may apply to particular cases
in which they may represent partial truths; and I also agree that, as
sometimes stated, the wage fund theory was not only a truism, but a
fruitless truism. It was, however, as I believe, an attempt to
generalise a very pertinent and important doctrine, as to the way in
which the actual competition in which labourers and employers are
involved, actually operates. If so, it requires rather modification
than indiscriminate denunciation; and it is, I believe, so treated by
the best modern Economists.

I consider, then, that the Economists were virtually attempting to
describe systematically the main relations of the industrial mechanism.
They showed what were the main functions which it, in fact, discharges.
Their theory was sufficient to expose many errors, especially those
which arise from looking solely at one part of a complex process, and
neglecting the implied reactions. It enabled them to point out the
inconsistencies and actual contradictions involved in many popular
arguments, which are still very far from being destroyed. Their main
error--apart from any particular logical slips--was, namely, that when
they had laid down certain principles which belong properly to the
prolegomena of the science, and which are very useful when regarded as
providing logical tests of valid reasoning, they imagined that they had
done a great deal more, and that the desired science was actually
constituted. They laid down three or four primary axioms, such as the
doctrine that men desire wealth, and fancied that the whole theory
could be deduced from them. This, if what I have said be true, was
really to misunderstand what they were really doing. It was to suppose
that you could obtain a description of social phenomena without
examining the actual structure of society; and was as erroneous as to
suppose that you could deduce physiological truths from a few general
propositions about the mechanical relations of the skeleton. Such
criticisms have been made by the historical school of Economists; and
I, at least, can fully accept their general view. I quite agree that
the old assumptions of the older school were frequently unjustifiable;
nor can I deny that they laid them down with a tone of superlative
dogmatism, which was apt to be very offensive, and which was not
justified by their position. Moreover, I entirely agree that the
progress of economic science, and of all other moral sciences, requires
a historical basis; and that we should make a very great blunder if we
thought that the creation of an economic man would justify us in
dispensing with an investigation of concrete facts, both of the present
day and of earlier stages of industrial evolution. But to this there is
an obvious qualification. What do we mean by investigating facts? It
seems to be a very simple rule, but it leads us at once to great
difficulties. So, as Mill and later writers have very rightly asked,
how are we to settle even the most obvious questions in inquiries
where, for obvious reasons, we cannot make experiments, and where we
have not such a set of facts as would spontaneously give us the truths
which we might seek by experiment? Take, as Mill suggested, such a
question as free trade. We cannot get two countries alike in all else,
and differing only in respect to their adoption or rejection of a
protective tariff. Anything like a thoroughgoing system of free trade
has been tried in England alone; and the commercial prosperity of the
country since its adoption has been affected by innumerable conditions,
so that it is altogether impossible to isolate the results which are to
be attributed to the negative condition of the absence of protection.
Briefly, the result is that the phenomena with which we have to deal
are so complex, and our power of arranging them so as to unravel the
complexity is so limited, that the direct method of observation breaks
down altogether. Mill confessed the necessity of applying a different
method, which he described with great ability, and which substantially
amounts to the method of the older Economists. If, with some writers of
the historical school, we admit the objections which apply to this
method, we seem to be reduced to a hopeless state of uncertainty. A
treatise on Political Economy becomes nothing but a miscellaneous
collection of facts, with no definite clue or uniform method of
reasoning. I must beg, in conclusion, to indicate what, so far as I can
guess, seems to be the view suggested in presence of this difficulty.

If I am asked whether Political Economy, understood, for example, as
Mill understood it, is to be regarded as a science, I should have to
admit that I could not simply reply, Yes. To say nothing of any errors
in his logic, I should say that I do not believe that it gives us
sufficient guidance even in regard to economic phenomena. We could not,
that is, deduce from the laws accepted by Economists the necessary
working of any given measure--say, the effect of protection or free
trade, or, still more, the making of a poor-law system. Such problems
involve elements of which the Economist, purely as an Economist, is an
incompetent judge; and the further we get from those questions in which
purely economical considerations are dominant, towards those in which
other factors become relevant,--from questions as to currency, for
example, to questions as to the relations of capitalists and
labourers,--the greater the inadequacy of our methods. But I also hold
that Political Economists may rightly claim a certain scientific
character for their speculations. If their ultimate aim is to frame a
science of economics which shall be part of the science--not yet
constituted--of sociology, then I should say that what they have really
done--so far as they have reasoned accurately--has been to frame an
essential part of the prolegomena to such a science. The "laws" which
they have tried to formulate are not laws which, even if established,
would enable us to predict the results of any given action; but they
are laws which would have to be taken into account in attempting any
such prediction. And this is so, I think, because the laws are
descriptions--within limits accurate descriptions--of actually existing
facts as to the social mechanism. They are not mere abstract
hypotheses, in the sense sometimes attached to that phrase; but
accounts of the plan upon which the industrial arrangements of
civilised countries are, as a matter of fact, constructed. Such a
classification and systematic account of facts is, as I should suggest,
absolutely necessary for any sound historical method. Facts are not
simply things lying about, which anybody can pick up and describe for
the mere pains of collecting them. We cannot even see a fact without
reflection and observation and judgment; and to arrange them in an
order which shall be both systematic and fruitful, to look at them from
that point of view in which we can detect the general underlying
principles, is, in all cases, an essential process before we can begin
to apply a truly historical method. Anything, it is said, may be proved
by facts; and that is painfully true until we have the right method of
what has been called "colligating" facts. The Catholic and the
Protestant, the Conservative and the Radical, the Individualist and the
Socialist, have equal facility in proving their own doctrines with
arguments, which habitually begin, "All history shows". Printers should
be instructed always to strike out that phrase as an erratum; and to
substitute, "I choose to take for granted". In order to judge between
them we have to come to some conclusion as to what is the right method
of conceiving of history, and probably to try many methods before
reaching that which arranges the shifting and complicated chaos of
phenomena in something like an intelligible order. A first step and a
necessary basis, as I believe, for all the more complex inquiries will
have to be found by disentangling the various orders of laws (if I may
so speak), and considering by themselves those laws of industrial
growth which are nearest to the physical sciences in certain respects,
and which, within certain limits, can be considered apart, inasmuch as
they represent the working of forces which are comparatively
independent of forces of a higher order. What I should say for
Political Economists is that they have done a good deal in this
direction; that they have explained, and, I suppose, with considerable
accuracy, what is the actual nature of the industrial mechanism; that
they have explained fairly its working in certain cases where the
economic are practically also the sole or dominant motives; and that
they have thus laid down certain truths which require attention even
when we take into account the play of other more complex and, as we
generally say, higher motives. We may indeed hope and believe that
society will ultimately be constituted upon a different system; and
that for the organisation which has spontaneously and unconsciously
developed itself, another will be substituted which will correspond
more closely to some principles of justice, and give freer scope for
the full development of the human faculties. That is a very large
question: I only say that, in any case, all genuine progress consists
in a development of institutions already existing, and therefore that a
full understanding of the working of the present system is essential to
a rational consideration of possible improvements. The Socialist may
look forward to a time--let us hope that it may come soon!--when nobody
will have any grievances. But his schemes will be the better adapted
for the realisation of his hopes in proportion as he has fully
understood what is the part played by each factor of the existing
system; what is its function, and how that function may be more
efficiently discharged by any substitute. Only upon that condition can
he avoid the common error of inventing some scheme which is in
sociology what schemes for perpetual motion are in mechanics; plans for
making everything go right by condemning some existing portion of the
system without fully understanding how it has come into existence, and
what is the part which it plays in the whole. I think myself that a
study of the good old orthodox system of Political Economy is useful in
this sense, even where it is wrong; because at least it does give a
system, and therefore forces its opponents to present an alternative
system, instead of simply cutting a hole in the shoe when it pinches,
or striking out the driving wheel because it happens to creak
unpleasantly. And I think so the more because I cannot but observe that
whenever a real economic question presents itself, it has to be argued
on pretty much the old principles, unless we take the heroic method of
discarding argument altogether. I should be the last to deny that the
old Political Economy requires careful revision and modification, and
equally slow to deny that the limits of its applicability require to be
carefully defined. But, with these qualifications, I say, with equal
conviction, that it does lay down principles which require study and
consideration, for the simple reason that they assert the existence of
facts which are relevant and important in all the most vitally
interesting problems of to-day.


When it has occurred to me to say--as I have occasionally said--that,
to my mind, the whole truth lies neither with the individualist nor
with his antagonist, my friends have often assured me that I was
illogical. Of two contradictory principles, they say, you must take
one. There are cases, I admit, in which this remark applies. It is
true, or it is not true, that two and two make four. We cannot, in
arithmetic, adopt Sir Roger de Coverley's conciliatory view, that there
is much to be said on both sides. But this logical rule supposes that,
in point of fact, the two principles apply to the same case, and are
mutually exclusive. I also think that the habit of taking for granted
that social problems are reducible to such an alternative, is the
source of innumerable fallacies. I hold that, as a rule, any absolute
solution of such problems is impossible; and that a man who boasts of
being logical, is generally announcing his deliberate intention to be
one-sided. He is confusing the undeniable canon that of two
contradictory propositions one must be true, with the assumption that
two propositions are really contradictory. The apparent contradiction
may be illusory. Society, says the individualist, is made up of all its
members. Certainly: if all Englishmen died, there would be no English
race. But it does not follow that every individual Englishman is not
also the product of the race. Society, says the Socialist, is an
organic whole. I quite admit the fact; but it does not follow that, as
a whole, it has any qualities or aims independent of the qualities and
aims of the constituent parts. Metaphysicians have amused themselves,
in all ages, with the puzzle about the many and the one. Perhaps they
may find contradictions in the statement that a human society is both
one and many; a unit and yet complex; but I am content to assume that
unless we admit the fact, we shall get a very little way in sociology.

Society, we say, is an organism. That implies that every part of a
society is dependent upon the other parts, and that although, for
purposes of argument, we may find it convenient to assume that certain
elements remain fixed while others vary, we must always remember that
this is an assumption which, in the long run, never precisely
corresponds to the facts. We may, for example, in economical questions,
attend simply to the play of the ordinary industrial machinery, without
taking into account the fact that the industrial machinery is
conditioned by the political and ecclesiastical constitution, by the
whole social order, and, therefore, by the acceptance of corresponding
ethical, or philosophical or scientific creeds. The method is
justifiable so long as we remember that we are using a logical
artifice; but we blunder if we take our hypothesis for a full statement
of the actual facts. We are then tempted, and it is, perhaps, the
commonest of all sources of error in such inquiries, to assume that
conditions are absolute which are really contingent; or, to attend only
to the action, without noticing the inevitable reactions of the whole
system of institutions. And I would suggest, that from this follows a
very important lesson in such inquiries. To say that this or that part
of a system is bad, is to say, by implication, that some better
arrangement is possible consistently with our primary assumptions. In
other words, we cannot rationally propose simply to cut out one part of
a machine, dead or living, without considering the effect of the
omission upon all the other dependent parts. The whole system is
necessarily altered. What, we must therefore ask, is the tacit
implication as well as what is the immediate purpose of a change? May
not the bad effect be a necessary part of the system to which we also
owe the good; or necessary under some conditions? It is always,
therefore, a relevant question, what is the suggested alternative? We
can then judge whether the removal of a particular evil is or is not to
be produced at a greater cost than it is worth; whether it would be a
process, say, of really curing a smoky chimney or of stopping the
chimney altogether, and so abolishing not only the smoke but the fire.

I propose to apply this to the question of "competition". Competition
is frequently denounced as the source of social evils. The complaint is
far from a new one. I might take for my text a passage from J. S.
Mill's famous chapter on the probable future of the labouring classes.
Mill, after saying that he agrees with the Socialists in their
practical aims, declares his utter dissent from their declamations
against competition. "They forget," he says, "that where competition is
not, monopoly is; and that monopoly, in all its forms, is the taxation
of the industrious for the support of indolence, if not of plunder."
That suggests my question: If competition is bad, what is good? What is
the alternative to competition? Is it, as Mill says, monopoly, or is
any third choice possible? If it is monopoly, do you defend monopoly,
or only monopoly in some special cases? I opened, not long ago, an old
book of caricatures, in which the revolutionary leader is carrying a
banner with the double inscription, "No monopoly! No competition!" The
implied challenge--how can you abolish both?--seemed to me to require a
plain answer. Directly afterwards I then took up the newspaper, and
read the report of an address upon the prize-day of a school. The
speaker dwelt in the usual terms upon the remorseless and crushing
competition of the present day, which he mentioned as an incitement to
every boy to get a good training for the struggle. The moral was
excellent; but it seemed to me curious that the speaker should be
denouncing competition in the very same breath with proofs of its
influence in encouraging education. When I was a lad, a clever boy and
a stupid boy had an equal chance of getting an appointment to a public
office. The merit which won a place might be relationship to a public
official, or perhaps to a gentleman who had an influence in the
constituency of the official. The system was a partial survival of the
good old days in which, according to Sam Weller, the young nobleman got
a position because his mother's uncle's wife's grandfather had once
lighted the King's pipe. The nobleman, I need hardly add, considered
this as an illustration of the pleasant belief, "Whatever is, is
right". As we had ceased to accept that opinion in politics, offices
were soon afterwards thrown open to competition, with the general
impression that we were doing justice and opening a career to merit.
That the resulting system has grave defects is, I think, quite
undeniable; but so far as it has succeeded in determining that the men
should be selected for public duty, for their fitness, and for nothing
else, it is surely a step in advance which no one would now propose to
retrace. And yet it was simply a substitution of competition for
monopoly. As it comes into wider operation, some of us begin to cry out
against competition. The respectable citizen asks, What are we to do
with our boys? The obvious reply is, that he really means, What are we
to do with our fools? A clever lad can now get on by his cleverness;
and of course those who are not clever are thrust aside. That is a
misfortune, perhaps, for them; but we can hardly regard it as a
misfortune for the country. And clearly, too, pressure of this kind is
likely to increase. We have come to believe that it is a main duty of
the nation to provide general education. When the excellent Miss Hannah
More began to spread village schools, she protested warmly that she
would not teach children anything which would tend to make the poor
discontented with their station. They must learn to read the Bible, but
she hoped that they would stop short of such knowledge as would enable
them to read Tom Paine. Now, Hannah More deserves our gratitude for her
share in setting the ball rolling; but it has rolled far beyond the
limits she would have prescribed. We now desire not only that every
child in the country should be able to acquire the elements of learning
at least; but, further, we hope that ladders may be provided by which
every promising child may be able to climb beyond the elements, and to
acquire the fullest culture of which his faculties are capable. There
is not only no credit at the present day in wishing so much, but it is
discreditable not to do what lies in one's power to further its
accomplishment. But, then, is not that to increase enormously the field
of competition? I, for example, am a literary person, after a fashion;
I have, that is, done something to earn a living by my pen. I had the
advantage at starting of belonging to the small class which was well
enough off to send its children to the best schools and universities.
That is to say, I was one of the minority which had virtually a
monopoly of education, and but for that circumstance I should in all
probability have taken to some possibly more honest, but perhaps even
worse paid, occupation. Every extension of the margin of education,
everything which diffuses knowledge and intellectual training through a
wider circle, must increase the competition among authors. If every man
with brains, whether born in a palace or a cottage is to have a chance
of making the best of them, the capacity for authorship, and therefore
the number of competitors, will be enormously spread. It may also, we
will hope, increase the demand for their work. The same remark applies
to every profession for which intellectual culture is a qualification.
Do we regret the fact? Would we sentence three-quarters of the nation
to remain stupid, in order that the fools in the remaining quarter may
have a better chance? That would be contrary to every democratic
instinct, to the highest as well as the lowest. But if I say, every
office and every profession shall be open to every man; success in it
shall depend upon his abilities and merits; and, further, every child
in the country shall have the opportunity of acquiring the necessary
qualifications, what is that but to accept and to stimulate the spirit
of competition? What, I ask, is the alternative? Should people be
appointed by interest? Or is nobody to be anxious for official or
professional or literary or commercial success, but only to develop his
powers from a sense of duty, and wait till some infallible observer
comes round and says, "Friend, take this position, which you deserve"?
Somehow I do not think that last scheme practicable at present. But,
even in that case, I do not see how the merits of any man are to be
tested without enabling him to prove by experiment that he is the most
meritorious person; and, if that be admitted, is not every step in
promoting education, in equalising, therefore, the position from which
men start for the race, a direct encouragement to competition?

Carlyle was fond of saying that Napoleon's great message to mankind was
the declaration that careers should be open to talent, or the tools
given to him who could use them. Surely that was a sound principle; and
one which, so far as I can see, cannot be applied without stimulating
competition. The doctrine, indeed, is unpalatable to many Socialists.
To me, it seems to be one to which only the cowardly and the indolent
can object in principle. Will not a society be the better off, in which
every man is set to work upon the tasks for which he is most fitted? If
we allowed our teaching and our thinking to be done by blockheads; our
hard labour to be done by men whose muscles were less developed than
their brains; made our soldiers out of our cowards, and our sailors out
of the sea-sick,--should we be better off? It seems, certainly, to me,
that whatever may be the best constitution of society, one mark of it
will be the tendency to distribute all social functions according to
the fitness of the agents; to place trust where trust is justifiable,
and to give the fullest scope for every proved ability, intellectual,
moral, and physical. Of course, such approximation to this result, as
we can observe in the present order of things, is very imperfect. Many
of the most obvious evils in the particular system of competition now
adopted, may be summed up in the statement, that the tests according to
which success is awarded, are not so contrived as to secure the success
of the best competitors. Some of them, for example, are calculated to
give an advantage to the superficial and the showy. But that is to say
that they are incompatible with the true principle which they were
intended to embody; and that we should reform our method, not in the
direction of limiting competition, but in the direction of so framing
our system that it may be a genuine application of Carlyle's doctrine.
In other words, in all the professions for which intellectual
excellence is required, the conditions should be such as to give the
best man the best chance, as far as human arrangements can secure that
object. What other rule can be suggested? Competition, in this sense,
means the preservation of the very atmosphere which is necessary to
health; and to denounce it is either to confirm the most selfish and
retrograde principles, or to denounce something which is only called
competition by a confusion of ideas. How easy such a confusion may be,
is obvious when we look at the ordinary language about industrial
competition. We are told that wages are kept down by competition. To
this Mill replied in the passage I have quoted, and, upon his own
theory, at any rate, replied with perfect justice, that they were also
kept up by competition. The common language upon the subject is merely
one instance of the fallacies into which men fall when they personify
an abstraction. Competition becomes a kind of malevolent and
supernatural being, to whose powers no conceivable limits are assigned.
It is supposed to account for any amount of degradation. Yet if, by
multiplying their numbers, workmen increase supply, and so lower the
price of labour, it follows, conversely, by the very same reasoning,
that if they refused to multiply, they would diminish the supply and
raise the price. The force, by its very nature, operates as certainly
in one direction as in the other. If, again, there is competition among
workmen, there is competition among capitalists. In every strike, of
course, workmen apply the principle, and sometimes apply it very
effectually, in the attempt to raise their wages. It was often argued,
indeed, that in this struggle, the employer possessed advantages partly
due to his power of forming tacit combinations. The farmers in a
parish, or the manufacturers in a business, were pledged to each other
not to raise the rate of wages. If that be so, you again complain, not
of competition, but of the want of competition; and you agree that the
labourer will benefit, as in fact, I take it, he has undoubtedly
benefited, by freer competition among capitalists, or by the greater
power of removing his own labour to better markets. In such cases, the
very meaning of the complaint is not that there is competition, but
that the competition is so arranged as to give an unfair advantage to
one side. And a similar misunderstanding is obviously implied in other
cases. The Australian or American workman fears that his wages will be
lowered by the competition of the Chinese; and the Englishman protests
against the competition of pauper aliens. Let us assume that he is
right in believing that such competition will tend to lower his wages,
whatever the moral to be drawn from the fact. Briefly, denunciations of
"competition" in this sense are really complaints that we do not
exclude the Chinese immigrant and therefore give a monopoly to the
native labourer. That may be a good thing for him, and if it be not a
good thing for the Chinaman who is excluded from the field, we perhaps
do not care very much about the results to China. We are so much better
than the heathen that we need not bother about their interests. But, of
course, the English workman, when he complains of the intensity of
competition, does not propose to adopt the analogous remedy of giving a
monopoly to one section of our own population. The English pauper is
here; we do not want to suppress him, but only to suppress his
pauperism; and he certainly cannot be excluded from any share in the
fund devoted to the support of labour. The evil, therefore, of which we
complain is primarily the inadequacy of the support provided,
not,--though that may also be complained of,--the undesirable method by
which those funds are distributed. In other words, the complaint may so
far be taken to mean that there are too many competitors, not that,
given the competitors, their shares are determined by competition,
instead of being determined by monopoly or by some other principle.

We have therefore to inquire whether any principle can be suggested
which will effect the desired end, and which will yet really exclude
competition. The popular suggestion is that the remedy lies in
suppressing competition by equalising the prizes. If no prizes are to
be won, there will so far be less reason for competing. Enough may be
provided for all by simply taking something from those who have too
much. Now, I may probably assume that we all agree in approving the
contemplated end--a greater equality of wealth, and especially an
elevation of the lower classes to a higher position in the scale of
comfort. Every social reformer, whatever his particular creed, would
probably agree that some of us are too rich, and that a great many are
too poor. But we still have to ask, in what sense it is conceivable
that a real suppression of competition can contribute to the desired
end. It is obvious that when we denounce competition we often mean not
that it is to be abolished, but that it is to be regulated and limited
in its application. So, for example, people sometimes speak as if
competition were the antithesis to co-operation. But I need hardly say
that individualists, as well as their opponents, may legitimately sing
the praises of co-operation. Nobody was more forward than Mill, for
example, and Mill's followers, in advocating the principles of the
early co-operative societies. He and they rejoiced to believe that the
co-operative societies had revealed unsuspected virtues and capacities
in the class from which they sprang; that they had done much to raise
the standard of life and to extend sympathy and human relations among
previously disconnected units of society. But it is, of course, equally
obvious that they have grown up in a society which supposes free
competition in every part of its industrial system; that co-operative
societies, so far as the outside world is concerned, have to buy in the
cheapest and sell in the dearest market; that the rate of wages of
their members is still fixed by competition; and that they encourage
habits of saving and forethought which presuppose that each man is to
have private ends of his own. In what sense, then, can co-operation
ever be regarded as really opposed to competition? Competition may
exist among groups of men just as much as among individuals: a state of
war is not less a state of war if it is carried on by regiments and
armies, instead of by mere chaotic struggles in which each man fights
for his own hand. Competition does not mean that there should be no
combination, but that there should be no monopoly. So long as a trade
or a profession is open to every one who chooses to take it up, its
conduct will be equally regulated by competition, whether it be
competition as between societies or individuals, or whether its profits
be divided upon one system or another between the various classes
concerned. Co-operators, of course, may look forward to a day in which
society at large will be members of a single co-operative society; or,
again, to a time in which every industrial enterprise may be conducted
by the State. Supposing any such aspiration to be realised, the
question still remains, whether they would amount to the abolition or
still only to the shifting of the incidence of competition. Socialists
tell us that hitherto the labourer has not had his fair share of the
produce of industry. The existing system has sanctioned a complicated
chicanery, by which one class has been enabled to live as mere
bloodsuckers and parasites upon the rest of society. Property is the
result of theft, instead of being, as Economists used to assure us, the
reward of thrift. It is hoped that these evils may be remedied by a
reconstruction of society, in which the means of production shall all
be public property, and every man's income be simply a salary in
proportion to the quantity of his labour. If we, then, ask how far
competition would be abolished, we may first make one remark. Such a
system, like every other system, requires, for its successful working,
that the instincts and moral impulses should correspond to the demands
of the society. Absolute equality of property is just as compatible
with universal misery as with universal prosperity. A population made
up of thoroughly lazy, sensual, stupid individuals could, if it chose,
work such a machinery so as to suppress all who were industrious,
refined and intelligent. However great may be the revenue of a nation,
it is a very simple problem of arithmetic to discover how many people
could be supported just above the starvation level. The nation at large
would, on the supposed system, have to decide how its numbers and wants
are to be proportioned to its means. If individuals do not compete, the
whole society has, presumably, to compete with other societies; and, in
every case whatever, with the general forces of nature. An indolent and
inefficient majority might decide, if it pleased, that the amount of
work to be exacted should be that which would be just enough to provide
the simplest material necessities. If, again, the indolent and
inefficient are to exist at all,--and we can scarcely count upon their
disappearance,--and if further, they are to share equally with the
industrious and the efficient, we must, in some way, coerce them into
the required activity. If every industrial organisation is to be worked
by the State, the State, it would seem, must appeal to the only means
at its disposal,--namely, the prison and the scourge. If, moreover, the
idle and sensual choose to multiply, the State must force them to
refrain, or the standard of existence will be lowered. And, therefore,
as is often argued, Socialism logically carried out would, under such
conditions, lead to slavery; to a state in which labour would be
enforced, and the whole system of life absolutely regulated by the will
of the majority; and, in the last resort, by physical force. That
seems, I confess, to be a necessary result, unless you can assume a
moral change, which is entirely different from the mere change of
machinery, and not necessarily implied, nor even made probable, by the
change. The intellectual leaders of Socialism, no doubt, assume that
the removal of "injustice" will lead to the development of a public
spirit which will cause the total efficiency to be as great as it is at
present, or perhaps greater. But the mass who call themselves
Socialists take, one suspects, a much simpler view. They are moved by
the very natural, but not especially lofty, desire to have more wages
and less work. They take for granted that if their share of the total
product is increased, they will get a larger dividend; and do not stop
to inquire whether the advantage may be not more than counterbalanced
by the diminution of the whole product, when the present incitements to
industry are removed. They argue,--that is, so far as they argue at
all,--as though the quantity to be distributed were a fixed quantity,
and regard capitalists as pernicious persons, somehow intercepting a
lion's share of the stream of wealth which, it is assumed, would flow
equally if they were abolished. That is, of course, to beg the whole

I, however, shall venture to assume that the industrial machinery
requires a corresponding moral force to work it; and I, therefore,
proceed to ask how such a force can be supposed to act without some
form of competition. Nothing, as a recent writer suggests,--ironically,
perhaps,--could be easier than to secure an abolition of competition.
You have only to do two things: to draw a "ring-fence" round your
society, and then to proportion the members within the fence to the
supplies. The remark suggests the difficulty. A ring-fence, for
example, round London or Manchester would mean the starvation of
millions in a month; or, if round England, the ruin of English
commerce, the enormous rise in the cost of the poor man's food, and the
abolition of all his little luxuries. But, if you include even a
population as large as London, what you have next to do is to drill
some millions of people--vast numbers of them poor, reckless, ignorant,
sensual, and selfish--to regulate their whole mode of life by a given
code, and refrain from all the pleasures which they most appreciate.
The task is a big one, and not the less if you have also to undertake
that everybody, whatever his personal qualities, shall have enough to
lead a comfortable life. I do not suppose, however, that any rational
Socialist would accept that programme of isolation. He would hold that,
in his Utopia, we can do more efficiently all that is done under a
system which he regards as wasteful and unjust. The existing machinery,
whatever else may be said of it, does, in fact, tend to weld the whole
world more and more into a single industrial organism. English workmen
are labouring to satisfy the wants of other human beings in every
quarter of the world; while Chinese, and Africans, and Europeans, and
Americans are also labouring to satisfy theirs. This vast and almost
inconceivably complex machinery has grown up in the main unconsciously,
or, at least, with a very imperfect anticipation of the ultimate
results, by the independent efforts of innumerable inventors, and
speculators, and merchants, and manufacturers, each of them intent, as
a rule, only upon his own immediate profits and the interests of the
little circle with which he is in immediate contact. The theory is not,
I suppose, that this gigantic system of mutual interdependence should
be abolished or restricted, but that it should be carried on
consciously, with definite and intelligible purpose, and in such a way
as to promote the interests of every fraction of society. The whole
organism should resemble one worked by a single brain, instead of
representing the resultant of a multitude of distracted and conflicting
forces. The difficulties are obvious enough, nor need I dwell upon them
here. I will not inquire whether it does not suppose something like
omniscience in the new industrial leaders; and whether the restless and
multifarious energy now displayed in discovering new means of
satisfying human wants could be supplied by a central body, or a number
of central bodies, made up of human beings, and, moreover, official
human beings, reluctant to try experiments and strike into new courses,
and without the present motives for enterprise, "Individualists" have
enlarged sufficiently upon such topics. What I have to note is that, in
any case, the change supposes the necessity of a corresponding morality
in the growth of the instincts, the public spirit, the hatred of
indolence, the temperance and self-command which would be requisite to
work it efficiently. The organisation into which we are born
presupposes certain moral instincts, and, moreover, necessarily implies
a vast system of moral discipline. Our hopes and aspirations, our
judgments of our neighbours and of ourselves, are at every moment
guided and moulded by the great structure of which we form a part.
Whenever we ask how our lives are to be directed, what are to be the
terms on which we form our most intimate ties, whom we are to support
or suppress, how we are to win respect or incur contempt, we are
profoundly affected by the social relations in which we are placed at
our birth, and the corresponding beliefs or prejudices which we have
unconsciously imbibed. Such influences, it may perhaps be said, are of
incomparably greater importance than the direct exhortations to which
we listen, or than the abstract doctrines which we accept in words, but
which receive their whole colouring from the concrete facts to which
they conform. Now, I ask how such discipline can be conceived without
some kind of competition; or, rather, what would be the discipline
which would remain if, in some sense, competition could be suppressed?
If in the ideal society there are still prizes to be won, positions
which may be the object of legitimate desire, and if those positions
are to be open to every one, whatever his circumstances, we might still
have the keenest competition, though carried on by different methods.
If, on the other hand, no man's position were to be better than
another's, we might suppress competition at the price of suppressing
every motive for social as well as individual improvement. In any
conceivable state of things, the welfare of every society, the total
means of enjoyment at its disposal, must depend upon the energy,
intelligence, and trustworthiness of its constituent members. Such
qualities, I need hardly say, are qualities of individuals. Unless John
and Peter and Thomas are steady, industrious, sober, and honest, the
society as a whole will be neither honest nor sober nor prosperous. The
problem, then, becomes, how can you ensure the existence of such
qualities unless John and Peter and the rest have some advantage in
virtue of possessing them? Somehow or other, a man must be the better
off for doing his work well and treating his neighbour fairly. He ought
surely to hold the positions in which such qualities are most required,
and to have, if possible, the best chance of being a progenitor of the
rising generation. A social condition in which it made no difference to
a man, except so far as his own conscience was concerned, whether he
were or were not honest, would imply a society favourable to people
without a conscience, because giving full play to the forces which make
for corruption and disintegration. If you remove the rewards accessible
to the virtuous and peaceful, how are you to keep the penalties which
restrain the vicious and improvident? A bare repeal of the law, "If a
man will not work, neither shall he eat," would not of itself promote
industry. You would at most remove the compulsion which arises from
competition, to introduce the compulsion which uses physical force. You
would get rid of what seems to some people the "natural" penalty of
want following waste, and be forced to introduce the "artificial" or
legislative penalty of compulsory labour. But, otherwise, you must
construct your society so that, by the spontaneous play of society, the
purer elements may rise to the surface, and the scum sink to the
bottom. So long as human nature varies indefinitely, so long as we have
knaves and honest men, sinners and saints, cowards and heroes, some
process of energetic and active sifting is surely essential to the
preservation of social health; and it is difficult to see how that is
conceivable without some process of active and keen competition.

The Socialist will, of course, say, and say with too much truth, that
the present form of competition is favourable to anti-social qualities.
If, indeed, a capitalist is not a person who increases the productive
powers of industry, but a person who manages simply to intercept a
share produced by the industry of others, there is, of course, much to
be said for this view. I cannot now consider that point, for my subject
to-day is the moral aspect of competition considered generally. And
what I have just said suggests what is, I think, the more purely moral
aspect of the question. A reasonable Socialist desires to maintain what
is good in the existing system, while suppressing its abuses. The
question, What is good? is partly economical; but it is partly also
ethical: and it is with that part that I am at present concerned.

Any system of competition, any system which supposes a reward for
virtue other than virtue itself, may be accused of promoting
selfishness and other ugly qualities. The doctrine that virtue is its
own reward is very charming in the mouth of the virtuous man; but when
his neighbours use it as an excuse for not rewarding him, it becomes
rather less attractive. It saves a great deal of trouble, no doubt, and
relieves us from an awkward responsibility. I must, however, point out,
in the first place, that a fallacy is often introduced into these
discussions which Mr. Herbert Spencer has done a great deal to expose.
He has dwelt very forcibly, for example, on the fact that it is a duty
to be happy and healthy; and that selfishness, if used in a bad sense,
should not mean simply regard for ourselves, but only disregard for our
neighbours. We ought not, in other words, to be unjust because we
ourselves happen to be the objects of injustice. The parable of the
good Samaritan is generally regarded as a perfect embodiment of a great
moral truth. Translated from poetry into an abstract logical form, it
amounts to saying that we should do good to the man who most needs our
services, whatever be the accidents which alienate ordinary sympathies.
Now, suppose that the good Samaritan had himself fallen among thieves,
what would have been his duty? His first duty, I should say, would have
been, if possible, to knock down the thief; his second, to tie up his
own wounds; and his third, to call in the police. We should not,
perhaps, call him virtuous for such conduct; but we should clearly
think him wrong for omitting it. Not to resist a thief is cowardly; not
to attend to your own health is to incapacitate yourself for duty; not
to apply to the police is to be wanting in public spirit. Assuming
robbery to be wrong, I am not the less bound to suppress it because I
happen to be the person robbed; I am only bound not to be
vindictive--that is, not to allow my personal feelings to make me act
otherwise than I should act if I had no special interest in the
particular case. Adam Smith's favourite rule of the "indifferent
spectator" is the proper one in the case. I should be impartial, and
incline no more to severity than to lenity, because I am forced by
circumstances to act both as judge and as plaintiff. So, in questions
of self-support, it is obviously a fallacy to assume that an action,
directed in the first instance to a man's own benefit, is therefore to
be stigmatised as selfish. On the good Samaritan's principle, a person
should be supported, _ceteris paribus_, by the person who can do
it most efficiently, and in nine cases out of ten that person is
himself. If self-support is selfish in the sense that the service is
directly rendered to self, it is not the less unselfish in so far as it
is necessarily also a service to others. If I keep myself by my labour,
I am preventing a burden from falling upon my fellows. And, of course,
the case is stronger when I include my family. We were all impressed
the other day by the story of the poor boy who got some wretchedly
small pittance by his work, spent a small portion of it upon his own
needs, and devoted the chief part of it to trying to save his mother
and her other children from starvation. Was he selfish? Was he selfish
even in taking something for himself, as the only prop of his family?
What may be the immediate motive of a man when he is working for his
own bread and the bread of his family may often be a difficult
question; but as, in point of fact, he is helping not only himself and
those who depend on him, but also in some degree relieving others from
a burden, his conduct must clearly not be set down as selfish in any
sense which involves moral disapproval.

Let us apply this to the case of competition. The word is generally
used to convey a suggestion of selfishness in a bad sense. We think of
the hardship upon the man who is ousted, as much as of the benefit to
the man who gets in; or perhaps we think of it more. It suggests to us
that one man has been shut out for the benefit of his neighbour; and
that, of course, suggests envy, malice, and all uncharitableness. We
hold that such competition must generate ill-will. I used--when I was
intimately connected with a competitive system at the university--to
hear occasionally of the evil influences of competition, as tending to
promote jealousy between competitors. I always replied that, so far as
my experience went, the evil was altogether imaginary. So far from
competition generating ill-will, the keenest competitors were, as a
rule, the closest friends. There was no stronger bond than the bond of
rivalry in our intellectual contests. One main reason was, of course,
that we had absolute faith in the fairness of the competition. We felt
that it would be unworthy to complain of being beaten by a better man;
and we had no doubt that, in point of fact, the winners were the better
men; or, at any rate, were honestly believed to be the better men by
those who distributed honours. The case, though on a small scale, may
suggest one principle. So far as the end of such competitions is good,
the normal motives cannot be bad. The end of a fair competition is the
discovery of the ablest men, with a view to placing them in the
position where their talents may be turned to most account. It can only
be achieved so far as each man does his best to train his own powers,
and is prepared to test them fairly against the powers of others. To
work for that end is, then, not only permissible, but a duty. The
spirit in which the end is pursued may be bad, in so far as a man
pursues it by unfair means; in so far as he tries to make sham
performance pass off for genuine; or, again, in so far as he sets an
undue value upon the reward, as apart from the qualities by which it is
gained. But if he works simply with the desire of making the best of
himself, and if the reward is simply such a position as may enable him
to be most useful to society, the competition which results will be
bracing and invigorating, and will appeal to no such motives as can be
called, in the bad sense, selfish. He is discharging a function which
is useful, it is true, to himself; but which is also intrinsically
useful to the whole society. The same principle applies, again, to
intellectual activity in general. All genuine thought is essentially
useful to mankind. In the struggle to discover truth, even our
antagonists are, necessarily, our co-operators. A philosopher, as a man
of science, owes, at least, as much to those who differ from him, as to
those who agree with him. The conflict of many minds, from many sides,
is the essential condition of intellectual progress. Now, if a man
plays his part manfully and honourably in such a struggle, he deserves
our gratitude, even if he takes the wrong side. If he looks forward to
the recognition by the best judges as one motive for his activity, I
think that he is asking for a worthy reward. He deserves blame, only so
far as his motives have a mixture of unworthy personal sentiment.
Obviously, if he aims at cheap fame, at making a temporary sensation
instead of a permanent impression, at flattering prejudices instead of
spreading truth; or, if he shows greediness of notoriety, by trying to
get unjust credit, as we sometimes see scientific people squabbling
over claims to the first promulgation of some trifling discovery, he is
showing paltriness of spirit. The men whom we revere are those who,
like Faraday or Darwin, devoted themselves exclusively to the
advancement of knowledge, and would have scorned a reputation won by
anything but genuine work. The fact that there is a competition in such
matters implies, no doubt, a temptation,--the temptation to set a
higher value upon praise than upon praiseworthiness; but I think it not
only possible that the competitors in such rivalries may keep to the
honourable path, but probable that, as a matter of fact, they
frequently,--I hope that I may say generally,--do so. If the fame at
which a man aims be not that which "in broad rumour lies," but that
which "lives and spreads aloft in those pure eyes and perfect witness
of all-judging Jove," then I think that the desire for it is scarcely
to be called a last infirmity--rather, it is an inseparable quality of
noble minds. We wish to honour men who have been good soldiers in that
warfare, and we can hardly wish them to be indifferent to our homage.

We may add, then, that a competition need not be demoralising when the
competitors have lofty aims and use only honourable means. When,
passing from purely intellectual aims, we consider the case, say, of
the race for wealth, we may safely make an analogous remark. If a man's
aim in becoming rich is of the vulgar kind; if he wishes to make an
ostentatious display of wealth, and to spend his money upon
demoralising amusement; or if, again, he tries to succeed by quackery
instead of by the production of honest work, he is, of course, so far
mischievous and immoral. But a man whose aims are public-spirited, nay,
even if they be such as simply tend to improve the general comfort; who
develops, for example, the resources of the country, and introduces new
industries or more effective modes of manufacture, is, undoubtedly, in
fact conferring a benefit upon his fellows, and may, so far, be doing
his duty in the most effectual way open to him. If he succeeds by being
really a more efficient man of business than his neighbours, he is only
doing what, in the interests of all, it is desirable that he should do.
He is discharging an essential social function; and what is to be
desired is, that he should feel the responsibility involved, that he
should regard his work as on one side the discharge of a social
function, and not simply as a means of personal aggrandisement. It is
not the fact that he is competing that is against him; but the fact,
when it is a fact, that there is something discreditable about the
means which he adopts, or the reward that he contemplates.

This, indeed, suggests another and a highly important question--the
question, namely, whether, in our present social state, his reward may
not be excessive, and won at too great a cost to his rivals. And,
without going into other questions involved, I will try to say a
little, in conclusion, upon this, which is certainly a pressing
problem. Competition, I have suggested, is not immoral if it is a
competition in doing honest work by honourable means, and if it is also
a fair competition. But it must, of course, be added, that fairness
includes more than the simple equality of chances. It supposes, also,
that there should be some proportion between the rewards and the
merits. If it is simply a question between two men, which shall be
captain of a ship, and which shall be mate, then the best plan is to
decide by their merits as sailors; and, if their merits be fairly
tried, the loser need bear no grudge against the winner. But when we
have such cases as sometimes occur, when, for example, the ship is cast
away, and it becomes a question whether I shall eat you or you shall
eat me, or, let us say, which of us is to have the last biscuit, we get
one of those terrible cases of temptation in which the strongest social
bonds sometimes give way under the strain. The competition, then,
becomes, in the highest degree, demoralising, and the struggle for
existence resolves itself into a mere unscrupulous scramble for life,
at any sacrifice of others. That, it is sometimes said, is a parallel
to our social state at present. If I gave an excessive prize to the
first boy in a school and flogged the second, I should not be doing
justice. If one man is rewarded for a moderate amount of forethought by
becoming a millionaire, and his unsuccessful rivals punished by
starvation or the workhouse, the lottery of life is not arranged on
principles of justice. A man must be a very determined optimist if he
denied the painful truth to be found in such statements. He must be
blind to many evils if he does not perceive the danger of dulling his
sympathies by indifference to the fate of the unsuccessful. The rich
man in Clough's poem observes that, whether there be a God matters very

    For I and mine, thank somebody,
    Manage to get our victual.

But, even if we are not very rich, we must often, I think, doubt
whether we are not wrapping ourselves in a spirit of selfish
complacency when we are returning to a comfortable home and passing
outcasts of the street. We must sometimes reflect that our comfort is
not simply a reward for virtue or intelligence, even if it be not
sometimes the prize of actual dishonesty. To shut our eyes to the mass
of wretchedness around us is to harden our hearts, although to open our
hands is too often to do more harm than good. It is no wonder that we
should be tempted to declaim against competition, when the competition
means that so many unfortunates are to be crowded off their narrow
standing-ground into the gulf of pauperism.

This may suggest the moral which I have been endeavouring to bring out.
Looking at society at large, we may surely say that it will be better
in proportion as every man is strenuously endeavouring to play his
part, and in which the parts are distributed to those best fitted to
play them. We must admit, too, that for any period to which we can look
forward, the great mass of mankind will find enough to occupy their
energies in labouring primarily for their own support, and so bearing
the burden of their own needs and the needs of their families. We may
infer, too, that a society will be the better so far as it gives the
most open careers to all talents, wherever displayed, and as it shows
respect for the homely virtues of industry, integrity, and forethought,
which are essential to the whole body as to its constituent members.
And we may further say that the corresponding motives in the individual
cannot be immoral. A desire of independence, the self-respect which
makes a man shrink from accepting as a gift what he can win as a fair
reward, the love of fairplay, which makes him use only honest means in
the struggle, are qualities which can never lose their value, and which
are not the less valuable because in the first instance they are most
profitable to their possessors. Nothing which tends to weaken such
motives can be good; but while they preserve their intensity, they
necessarily imply the existence of competition in some form or other.

It is equally clear that competition by itself is not a sufficient
panacea. Whenever we take an abstract quality, personify it by the help
of capital letters, and lay it down as the one principle of a complex
system, we generally blunder. Competition is as far as possible from
being the solitary condition of a healthy society. It must be not only
a competition for worthy ends by honourable means, but should be a
competition so regulated that the reward may bear some proportion to
the merit. Monopoly is an evil in so far as it means an exclusive
possession of some advantages or privileges, especially when they are
given by the accidents of birth or position. It is something if they
are given to the best and the ablest; but the evil still remains if
even the best and ablest are rewarded by a position which cramps the
energies and lowers the necessity of others. Competition is only
desirable in so far as it is a process by which the useful qualities
are encouraged by an adequate, and not more than an adequate, stimulus;
and in which, therefore, there is not involved the degradation and the
misery on the one side, the excessive reward on the other, of the
unsuccessful and the successful in the struggle. Competition,
therefore, we might say, could be unequivocally beneficial only in an
ideal society; in a state in which we might unreservedly devote
ourselves to making the best of our abilities and accepting the
consequent results, without the painful sense in the background that
others were being sacrificed and debased; crushed because they had less
luck in the struggle, and were, perhaps, only less deserving in some
degree than ourselves. So long as we are still far enough from having
realised any such state; so long as we feel, and cannot but feel, that
the distribution of rewards is so much at the mercy of chance, and so
often goes to qualities which, in an ideal state, would deserve rather
reprobation than applause, we can only aim at better things. We can do
what in us lies to level some inequalities, to work, so far as our
opportunities enable us, in the causes which are mostly beneficial for
the race, to spread enlightenment and good feeling, and to help the
unfortunate. But it is also incumbent upon us to remember carefully,
what is so often overlooked in the denunciations of competition, that
the end for which we must hope, and the approach to which we must
further, is one in which the equivocal virtue of charity shall be
suppressed; that is, in which no man shall be dependent upon his
neighbour in such a sense as to be able to neglect his own duties; in
which there may be normally a reciprocity of good services, and the
reciprocity not be (as has been said) all on one side. There is a very
explicable tendency at present to ask for such one-sided reciprocity.
It is natural enough, for reasons too obvious to be mentioned, that
reformers should dwell exclusively upon the right of every one to
support, and neglect to point out the correlative duty of every one to
do his best to support himself. The popular arguments about "old-age
pensions" may illustrate the general state of mind. It is disgraceful,
people say, that so large a proportion of the aged poor should come to
depend upon the rates. Undoubtedly it is disgraceful. Then upon whom
does the disgrace fall? It sounds harsh to say that it falls upon the
sufferers. We shrink from saying to a pauper, "It serves you right".
That sounds brutal, and is only in part true. Still, we should not
shrink from stating whatever is true, painful though it may be. It
sounds better to lay all the blame upon the oppressor than to lay it
upon the oppressed; and yet, as a rule, the cowardice or folly of the
oppressed has generally been one cause of their misfortunes, and cannot
be overlooked in a true estimate of the case. That drunkenness,
improvidence, love of gambling, and so forth, do in fact lead to
pauperism is undeniable; and that they are bad, and so far disgraceful,
is a necessary consequence. In such cases, then, pauperism is a proof
of bad qualities; and the fact, like all other facts, must be
recognised. The stress of argument, therefore, is laid upon the
hardships suffered by the honest and industrious poor. The logical
consequence should be, that the deserving poor should become
pensioners, and the undeserving paupers. This at once opens the
amazingly difficult question of moral merit, and the power of poor-law
officials to solve problems which would certainly puzzle the keenest
psychologists. Suppose, for example, that a man, without being
definitely vicious, has counted upon the promised pension, and
therefore neglected any attempts to save. If you give him a pension,
you virtually tell everybody that saving is a folly; if you don't, you
inflict upon him the stigma which is deserved by the drunkard and the
thief. So difficult is it to arrange for this proposed valuation of a
man's moral qualities that it has been proposed to get rid of all
stigma by making it the right and duty of every one to take a pension.
That might conceivably alter the praise, but it would surely not alter
the praiseworthiness. It must be wrong in me to take money from my
neighbours when I don't want it; and, if wrong, it surely ought to be
disgraceful. And this seems to indicate the real point. We may aim at
altering the facts, at making them more conducive to good qualities;
but we cannot alter or attempt to decide by laws the degree of praise
or blame to be attached to individuals. It would be very desirable to
bring about a state of things in which no honest and provident man need
ever fall into want; and, in that state, pauperism would be rightly
discreditable as an indication of bad qualities. But to say that nobody
shall be ashamed of taking support would be to ruin the essential
economic virtues, and to pauperise the nation; and to try to lay down
precise rules as to the distribution of honour and discredit, seems, to
me, to be a problem beyond the power of a legislature. I express no
opinion upon the question itself, because I am quite incompetent to do
so. I only refer to it as illustrating the difficulties which beset us
when we try to remove the evils of the present system, and yet to
preserve the stimulus to industry, which is implied in competition. The
shortest plan is to shut one's eyes to the difficulty, and roundly deny
its existence. I hope that our legislators may hit upon some more
promising methods. The ordinary mode of cutting the knot too often
suggests that the actually contemplated ideal is the land in which the
chickens run about ready roasted, and the curse of labour is finally
removed from mankind. The true ideal, surely, is the state in which
labour shall be generally a blessing; in which we shall recognise the
fact--disagreeable or otherwise--that the race can only be elevated by
the universal diffusion of public spirit, and a general conviction that
it is every man's first duty to cultivate his own capacities, to turn
them to the best possible account, and to work strenuously and heartily
in whatever position he has been placed. It is because I cannot help
thinking that when we attack competition in general terms, we are, too
often, blinding ourselves to those homely and often-repeated, and, as I
believe, indisputable truths, that I have ventured to speak to-day,
namely, on the side of competition--so far, at least, on the side of
competition as to suggest that our true ideal should be, not a state,
if such a state be conceivable, in which there is no competition, but a
state in which competition should be so regulated that it should be
really equivalent to a process of bringing about the best possible
distribution of the whole social forces; and should be held to be,
because it would really be, not a struggle of each man to seize upon a
larger share of insufficient means, but the honest effort of each man
to do the very utmost he can to make himself a thoroughly efficient
member of society.


The problem of which I propose to speak is the old dispute between
Dives and Lazarus. Lazarus, presumably, was a better man than Dives.
How could Dives justify himself for living in purple and fine linen,
while Lazarus was lying at the gates, with the dogs licking his sores?
The problem is one of all ages, and takes many forms. When the old
Puritan saw a man going to the gallows, "There," he said, "but for the
grace of God, goes John Bradford". When the rich man, entering his
club, sees some wretched tatterdemalion, slouching on the pavement,
there, he may say, goes Sir Gorgius Midas, but for--what? I am here and
he there, he may say, because I was the son of a successful
stock-jobber, and he the son of some deserted mother at the workhouse.
That is the cause, but is it a reason? Suppose, as is likely enough,
that Lazarus is as good a man as Midas, ought they not to change
places, or to share their property equally? A question, certainly, to
be asked, and, if possible, to be answered.

It is often answered, and is most simply answered, by saying that all
men ought to be equal. Dives should be cut up and distributed in equal
shares between Lazarus and his brethren. The dogma which embodies this
claim is one which is easily refuted in some of the senses which it may
bear, though in spite of such refutations it has become an essential
part of the most genuine creed of mankind. The man of science says,
with perfect truth, that so far from men being born equal, some are
born with the capacity of becoming Shakespeares and Newtons, and others
with scarcely the power of rising above Sally the chimpanzee. The
answer would be conclusive, if anybody demanded that we should all be
just six feet high, with brains weighing sixty ounces, neither more nor
less. It is also true, and, I conceive, more relevant, that, as the man
of science will again say, all improvement has come through little
groups of men superior to their neighbours, through races or through
classes, which, by elevating themselves on the shoulders of others,
have gained leisure and means for superior cultivation. But equality
may be demanded as facilitating this process, by removing the
artificial advantages of wealth. It may be taken as a demand for a fair
start, not as a demand that the prizes shall be distributed
irrespectively of individual worth. And, whether the demand is rightly
or wrongly expressed, we must, I think, admit that the real force with
which we have to reckon is the demand for justice and for equality as
somehow implied by justice. It is easy to browbeat a poor man who wants
bread and cheese for himself and his family, by calling his demands
materialistic, and advising him to turn his mind to the future state,
where he will have the best of Dives. It is equally easy to ascribe the
demands to mere envy and selfishness, or to those evil-minded agitators
who, for their own wicked purposes, induce men to prefer a guinea to a
pound of wages. But, after all, there is something in the demand for
fair play and for the means of leading decent lives, which requires a
better answer. It is easy, again, to say that all Socialists are
Utopian. Make every man equal to-day, and the old inequalities will
reappear to-morrow. Pitch such a one over London Bridge, it was said,
with nothing on but his breeches, and he will turn up at Woolwich with
his pockets full of gold. It is as idle to try for a dead level, when
you work with such heterogeneous materials, as to persuade a
homogeneous fluid to stand at anything but a dead level. But surely it
may be urged that this is as much a reason for declining to believe
that equal conditions of life will produce mere monotony, as for
insisting that equality in any state is impossible. The present system
includes a plan for keeping the scum at the surface. One of the few
lessons which I have learnt from life, and not found already in
copy-books, is the enormous difficulty which a man of the respectable
classes finds in completely ruining himself, even by vice,
extravagance, and folly; whereas, there are plenty of honest people
who, in spite of economy and prudence, can scarcely keep outside of the
workhouse. Admitting the appeal to justice, it is, again, often urged
that justice is opposed to the demand for equality. Property is sacred,
it is said, because a man has (or ought to have) a right to what he has
made either by labour or by a course of fair dealings with other men. I
am not about to discuss the ultimate ground on which the claim to
private property is justified, and, as I think, satisfactorily
established. A man has a right, we say, to all that he has fairly
earned. Has he, then, a right to inherit what his father has earned? A
man has had the advantage of all that a rich father can do for him in
education, and so forth. Why should he also have the father's fortune,
without earning it? Are the merits of making money so great that they
are transmissible to posterity? Should a man who has been so good as to
become rich, be blessed even to the third and fourth generation? Why,
as a matter of pure justice, should not all fortunes be applied to
public uses, on the death of the man who made them? Such a law, however
impolitic, would not be incompatible with the moral principle to which
an appeal is made. There are, of course, innumerable other ways in
which laws may favour an equality of property, without breaking any of
the fundamental principles. What, for example, is the just method of
distributing taxation? A rich man can not only pay more money than a
poor man, in proportion to his income, but he can, with equal ease, pay
a greater proportion. To double the income of a labourer may be to
raise him from starvation to comfort. To double the income of a
millionaire may simply be to encumber him with wealth by which he is
unable to increase his own pleasure. There is a limit beyond which it
is exceedingly difficult to find ways of spending money on one's own
enjoyment--though I have never been able to fix it precisely. On this
ground, such plans as a graduated income-tax are, it would seem,
compatible with the plea of justice; and, within certain limits, we do,
in fact, approve of various taxes, on the ground, real or supposed,
that they tend to shift burdens from the poor to the rich, and, so far,
to equalise wealth. In fact, this appeal to justice is a tacit
concession of the principle. If we justify property on the ground that
it is fair that a man should keep what he has earned by his own labour,
it seems to follow that it is unjust that he should have anything not
earned by his labour. In other words, the answer admits the ordinary
first principle from which Socialism starts, and which, in some
Socialist theories, it definitely tries to embody.

All that I have tried to do, so far, is to show that the bare doctrine
of equality, which is in some way connected with the demand for
justice, is not, of necessity, either unjust or impracticable. It
may be used to cover claims which are unjust, to sanction bare
confiscation, to take away motives for industry, and, briefly, may be a
demand of the drones to have an equal share of the honey. From the bare
abstract principle of equality between men, we can, in my own opinion,
deduce nothing; and, I do not think that the principle can itself be
established. That is why it is made a first principle, or, in other
words, one which is not to be discussed. The French revolutionists
treated it in this way as _à priori_ and self-evident. No school was in
more deadly opposition to such _à priori_ truths than the school of
Bentham and the utilitarians. Yet, Bentham's famous doctrine, that in
calculating happiness each man is to count for one, and nobody for more
than one, seems to be simply the old principle in a new disguise. James
Mill applied the doctrine to politics. J. S. Mill again applied it,
with still more thoroughness, especially in his doctrine of
representation and of the equality of the sexes. Accordingly, various
moralists have urged that this was an inconsistency in utilitarian
doctrine, implying that they, too, could make _à priori_ first
principles when they wanted them. It has become a sort of orthodox
dogma with radicals, who do not always trouble themselves about a
philosophical basis, and is applied with undoubting confidence to many
practical political problems. "One man, one vote" is not simply the
formulation of a demand, but seems to intimate a logical ground for the
demand. If, in politics, one man is rightfully entitled to one vote, is
it not also true that, in economics, one man should have a right to one
income, or, that money, like political power, should be distributed
into precisely equal shares? Yet, why are we to take for granted the
equality of men in the sense required for such deductions? Since men
are not equally qualified for political power, it would seem better
_primâ facie_ that each man should have the share of power and
wealth which corresponds to his powers of using, or, perhaps, to his
powers of enjoying. Why should we not say, "To each man according to
his deserts"? One practical reason, of course, is the extreme
difficulty of saying what are the deserts, and how they are to be
ascertained. Undoubtedly, equality is the shortest and simplest way
but, if we take it merely as the most convenient assumption, it loses
its attractive appearance of abstract justice or _à priori_
self-certainty. Do a common labourer and Mr. Gladstone deserve the same
share of voting power? If not, how many votes should Mr. Gladstone
possess to give him his just influence? To ask such questions is to
show that answering is impossible, though political theorists have, now
and then, tried to put together some ostensible pretext for an answer.

What, let us ask, is the true relation between justice and equality? A
judge, to take the typical case, is perfectly just when he ascertains
the facts by logical inferences from the evidence, and then applies the
law in the spirit of a scientific reasoner. Given the facts, what is
the rule under which they come? To answer that question, generally
speaking, is his whole duty. In other words, he has to exclude all
irrelevant considerations, such as his own private interests or
affections. The parties are to be to him merely A and B, and he has to
work out the result as an arithmetician works out a sum. Among the
irrelevant considerations are frequently some moral aspects of the
case. A judge, for example, decides a will to be valid or invalid
without asking whether the testator acted justly or unjustly in a moral
sense, but simply whether his action was legal or illegal. He cannot go
behind the law, even from motives of benevolence or general maxims of
justice, without being an unjust judge. Cases may arise, indeed, as I
must say in passing, in which this is hardly true. A law may be so
flagrantly unjust that a virtuous judge would refuse to administer it.
One striking case was that of the fugitive slave law in the United
States, where a man had to choose between acting legally and outraging
humanity. So we consider a parent unjust who does not leave his fortune
equally among his children. Unless there should be some special reason
to the contrary, we shall hold him to be unfair for making distinctions
out of mere preference of one child to another. Yet in the case of
primogeniture our opinion would have to be modified. Supposing, for
example, a state of society in which primogeniture was generally
recognised as desirable for public interests, we could hardly call a
man unjust for leaving his estates to his eldest son. If, in such a
state, a man breaks the general rule, our judgment of his conduct would
be determined perhaps by considering whether he was before or behind
his age, whether he was acting from a keener perception of the evils of
inequality or actuated by spite or regardless of the public interests
which he believed to be concerned. A parent treats his children equally
in his will in regard to money; but he does not, unless he is a fool,
give the same training or the same opening to all his children, whether
they are stupid or clever, industrious or idle. But what I wish to
insist upon is, that justice implies essentially indifference to
irrelevant considerations, and therefore, in many cases, equality in
the treatment of the persons concerned. A judge has to decide without
reference to bribes, and not be biassed by the position of an accused
person. In that sense he treats the men equally, but of course he does
not give equal treatment to the criminal and innocent, to the rightful
and wrongful claimant.

The equality implied in justice is therefore to be understood as an
exclusion of the irrelevant, and thus supposes an understanding as to
what is irrelevant. It is not a mere abstract assertion of equality;
but the assertion that, in a given concrete case, a certain rule is to
be applied without considering anything outside of the rule. An ideally
perfect rule would contain within itself a sufficient indication of
what is to be relevant. All men of full age, sound mind, and so forth,
are to be treated in such and such a way. Then all cases falling within
the rule are to be decided on the same principles, and in that sense
equally. But the problem remains, what considerations should be taken
into account by the rule itself? Let us put the canon of equality in a
different shape, namely, that there should always be a sufficient
reason for any difference in the treatment of our fellows. This rule
does not imply that I should act in all cases as though all men were
equal in character or mind, but that my action should in all cases be
justified by some appropriate consideration. It does not prove that
every man should have a vote, but that if one man has a vote and
another has not, there should be some adequate reason for the
difference. It does not prove that every man should work eight hours a
day and have a shilling an hour; but that differences of hours or of
pay and, equally, uniformity of hours and pay, should have some
sufficient justification. This is a deeper principle, which in some
cases justifies and in others does not justify the rule of equality.
The rule of equality follows from it under certain conditions, and has
gained credit because, in point of fact, those conditions have often
been satisfied.

The revolutionary demand for equality was, historically speaking, a
protest against arbitrary inequality. It was a protest against the
existence of privileges accompanied by no duties. When the rich man
could only answer the question, "What have you done to justify your
position?" by the famous phrase of Beaumarchais, "I took the trouble to
be born," he was obviously in a false position. The demand for a
society founded upon reason, in this sense that a sufficient reason
should be given for all differences, was, it seems to me, perfectly
right; and, moreover, was enough to condemn the then established
system. But when this demand has been so constructed as to twist a
logical rule, applicable to all scientific reasoning, into a dogmatic
assertion that certain concrete beings were in fact equal, and to infer
that they should have equal rights, it ceased to be logical at all, and
has been a fruitful parent of many fallacies. Reasonable beings require
a sufficient reason for all differences of conduct, for the difference
between their treatment of a man and a monkey or a white man and a
black, as well as for differences between treatment of rich and poor or
wise men and fools; and there must, as the same principle implies, be
also a sufficient reason for treating all members of a given class
equally. We have to consider whether, for any given purpose, the
differences between human beings and animals, Englishmen and negroes,
men and women, are or are not of importance for our purpose. When the
differences are irrelevant we neglect them or admit the claim to
equality of treatment. But the question as to relevance is not to be
taken for granted either way. It would be a very convenient but a very
unjustifiable assumption in many cases, as it might save an astronomer
trouble if he assumed that every star was equal to every other star.

The application of this is, I think, obvious. The _â priori_
assumption of the equality of men is, in some sense, easily refuted.
But the refutation does not entitle us to assume that arbitrary
inequality, inequality for which no adequate ground can be assigned, is
therefore justifiable. It merely shows that the problem is more complex
than has been assumed at first sight. "All men ought to be equal." If
you mean equal in natural capacity or character, it is enough to say
that what is impossible cannot be. If you propose that the industrious
and idle, the good and bad, the wise and foolish, should share equally
in social advantages, the reply is equally obvious, that such a scheme,
if possible, would be injurious to the qualities on which human welfare
depends. If you say that men should be rewarded solely according to
their intrinsic merits, we must ask, do you mean to abstract from the
adventitious advantages of education, social surroundings, and so
forth, or to take men as they actually are, whatever the circumstances
to which their development is owing? To ask what a man would have been
had he been in a different position from his youth, is to ask for an
impossible solution, and one, moreover, of no practical bearing. I
shall not employ a drunkard if I am in want of a butler, whether he has
become a drunkard under overpowering temptation or become a drunkard
from inherited dipsomania. But if, on the other hand, I take the man
for what he is, without asking how he has come to be what he is, I
leave the source at least of all the vast inequalities of which we
complain. The difficulty, which I will not try to develop further,
underlies, as I think, the really vital difference of method by which
different schools attempt to answer the appeal for social justice.

The school of so-called individualists finds, in fact, that equality in
their sense is incompatible with the varied differences due to the
complete growth of the social structure. They look upon men simply as
so many independent units of varying qualities, no doubt, but still
capable of being considered for political and social purposes as equal.
They ask virtually what justice would demand if we had before us a
crowd of independent applicants for the good things of the world, and
the simplest answer is to distribute the good things equally. If it is
replied that the idle and the industrious should not be upon the same
footing, they are ready to agree, perhaps, that men should be rewarded
according to their services to society, however difficult it may be to
arrange the proportions. But it soon appears that the various classes
into which society is actually divided imply differences not due to the
individual and his intrinsic merits, but to the varying surroundings in
which he is placed. To do justice, then, it becomes necessary to get
rid of these differences. The extreme case is that of the family. Every
one probably owes more to his mother and to his early domestic
environment than to any other of the circumstances which have
influenced his development. If you and I started as perfectly equal
babies, and you have become a saint and I a sinner, the divergence
probably began when our mothers watched our cradles, and was made
inevitable before we had left their knees. Consequently, the more
thorough-going designers of Utopia have proposed to abolish this
awkward difference. Men must be different at their birth; but we might
conceivably arrange public nurseries which should place them all under
approximately equal conditions. Then any differences would result from
a man's intrinsic qualities, and he might be said to be rewarded simply
according to his own merits.

The plan may be tempting, but has its disadvantages. There are
injustices, if we call all inequality injustice, which we can only
attribute to nature or to the unknown power which makes men and
monkeys, Shakespeares and Stephens. And one result is that the
character and conduct of human beings depend to a great extent upon
circumstances, which are accidental in the sense that they are
circumstances other than the original endowment of the individual. In
this sense, maternal love, for example, is unjust. The mother loves her
child because it is her own, not because it is better (though of course
it is better) than other children. So, as Adam Smith, I think,
observed, we are more moved by our neighbour's suffering from a corn on
his great toe than by the starvation of millions in China. In other
words, the affections, which are the great moving forces of society,
are unjust in so far as they cause us to be infinitely more interested
in our own little circle than in the remoter members of humanity known
to us only by report. Without discussing the "justice" of this
arrangement, we shall have, I think, to admit that it is inevitable.
For I, at least, hold that the vague and vast organism of humanity
depends for its cohesion upon the affinities and attractions, and not
_vice versâ_. My interests are strongest where my power of action
is greatest. The love of mothers for children is a force of essential
value, and therefore to be cultivated rather than repressed, for no
force known to us could replace it. And what is pre-eminently true in
this case is, of course, true to a degree in others. Burke stated this
with admirable force in his attack upon the revolutionists who
expounded the opposite principle of abstract equality. "To be attached
to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society,
is the first principle," he says, "the germ, as it were, of public
affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed
towards a love to our country and mankind." The assertion that they
desired to invert this order, to destroy every social link in so far as
it tended to produce inequalities, was the pith of his great indictment
against the French "metaphysical" revolutionists. They had perverted
the general logical precept of the sufficient reason for all
inequalities by converting it into an assuming of the equality of
concrete units. They fell into the fallacy of which I have spoken; and
many radicals, utilitarians, and others have followed them. They
assumed that all the varieties of human character, or all those due to
the influence of the social environment, through whose structure and
inherited instincts every full-grown man has been moulded, might be
safely disregarded for the purpose of political and social
construction. They have spoken, in brief, as if men were the equal and
homogeneous atoms of physical inquiry and social problems capable of
solution by a simple rearrangement of the atoms in different orders,
instead of remembering that they are dealing with a complex organism,
in which not only the whole order but every constituent atom is also a
complex structure of indefinitely varying qualities. In the recognition
of this truth lies, as I believe, the true secret of any satisfactory
method of treatment.

Does this fact justify inequality in general? Or does not the principle
of equality still remain as essentially implied in the Utopia which we
all desire to construct? We have to take it for granted that to each
man the first and primary moving instinct is and must be the love of
the little "platoon" of which he is a member; that the problem is, not
to destroy all these minor attractions, to obliterate the structure and
replace society by a vast multitude of independent atoms, each supposed
to aim directly at the good of the whole, but so to harmonise and
develop or restrain the smaller interests of families, of groups and
associations, that they may spontaneously co-operate towards the
general welfare. It is a long and difficult task to which we have to
apply ourselves; a task not to be effected by the demonstration or
application of a single abstract dogma, but to be worked out gradually
by the co-operation of many classes and of many generations. If it is
fairly solved in the course of a thousand years or so, I for one shall
be very fairly satisfied. But distant as the realisation may be, we may
or rather ought to consider seriously the end to which we should be
working. The conception implies a distinction of primary importance
towards any clear treatment of the problem. We have, that is, two
different, though not altogether distinct, provinces of what I may,
perhaps, call organic and functional morality. We may take the existing
order for granted, and ask what is then our duty; or we may ask how far
the structure itself requires modification, and, if so, what kind of
modification. A man who assumes the existence of the present structure
may act justly or unjustly within the limits so prescribed. He must
generally be guided in a number of cases by some principle of equality.
The judge should endeavour to give the same law to rich and poor; the
parent should not make arbitrary distinctions between his children; the
statesman should try to distribute his burdens without favouring one
particular class, and so forth. A man who, in such a sense, acts justly
may be described as up to the level of his age and its accepted
established moral ideas, and is, therefore, entitled at least to the
negative praise of not being corrupt or dishonest. He fulfils
accurately the functions imposed upon him, and is not governed by what
Bentham called the sinister interests which would prevent them from
being effectually discharged for the welfare of the community. But the
problem which we have to consider is the deeper and more difficult one
of organic justice; and our question is what justice means in this
case, or what are the irrelevant considerations to be excluded from our
motives of conduct.

Between these two classes of justice there are distinctions which it is
necessary to state briefly. Justice, as we generally use the word,
implies that the unjust man deserves to be hanged, or, at least, is
responsible for his actions. What "responsibility" precisely implies
is, of course, a debatable question. I only need assume that, in any
case, it implies that somebody is guilty of wrong-doing, for which he
should receive an appropriate penalty. But in organic questions it is
not the individual, but the race which is responsible; and we require a
reform, not a penalty. An impatient temper leads us to generalise too
hastily from the case of the individual to that of the country. We
bestow the blame for all the wrongs of an oppressed nation, for
example, upon the nation which oppresses. But in simple point of fact,
the oppressed nation generally deserves (if the word can be fairly
used) to share the blame. The trodden worm would not have been trodden
upon if it had been a bit of a viper. Whatever the duty of turning the
second cheek, it is clearly not a national duty. If we admire a Tell or
Robert Bruce for resisting oppressors, we implicitly condemn those who
submitted to oppressors. If a nation is divided or wanting in courage,
public spirit, and independence, it will be trampled down; and though
we may most rightfully blame the tramplers, it is idle to exonerate the
trampled. It is easy, in the same way, to make the rich solely
responsible for all the misery of the poor. The man who has got the
booty is naturally regarded as the robber. But, speaking
scientifically, that is, with the desire to state the plain facts, we
must admit that if the poor are those who have gone to the wall in the
struggle for wealth; then, whatever unjust weapons have been used in
that struggle, the improvidence and vice and idleness have certainly
been among the main causes of defeat. Here, as before, the question is
not, who is to be punished? We can only settle that when dealing with
individual cases. It is the question, what is the cause of certain
evils? and here we must resist the temptation of supposing that the
class which in some sense appears to profit by them, or, at least, to
be exempt from them, has, therefore, any more to do with bringing them
about than the class which suffers from them.

The reflection may put us in mind of what seems to be a general law.
The ultimate cause of the adoption of institutions and rules of conduct
is often the fact of their utility to the race; but it is only at a
later period that their utility becomes the conscious or avowed reason
for maintaining them. The political fabric has been clearly built up,
in great part, by purely selfish ambition. Nations have been formed by
energetic rulers, who had no eye for anything beyond the gratification
of their own ambition, although they were clear-headed enough to see
that their own ambition could best secure its objects by taking the
side of the stronger social forces, and by giving substantial benefit
to others. The same holds good pre-eminently of industrial relations.
We all know how Adam Smith, sharing the philosophical optimism of his
time, showed how the pursuit of his own welfare by each man tended, by
a kind of pre-ordained harmony, to contribute to the welfare of all.
Since his time we have ceased to be so optimistic, and have recognised
the fact that the building up of modern industrial systems has involved
much injury to large classes. And yet we may, I think, in great measure
adopt his view. The fact that each man was rogue enough to think first
of himself and of his own wife and family is not a proof or a
presumption that he did not flourish because, in point of fact, he was
contributing (quite unintentionally perhaps) to the comforts of mankind
in general. What we have to reflect is that, while the bare existence
of certain institutions gives a strong presumption of their utility,
there is also a probability that when the utility becomes a conscious
aim or a consciously adopted criterion of their advantage, they will
require a corresponding modification intended to secure the advantages
at a minimum cost of evil.

Premising these remarks as to the meaning of organic justice, we can
now come to the question of equality. Justice in its ordinary sense may
be regarded from one point of view as the first condition of the
efficiency of the social organ. In saying that a judge is just, we
imply that he is so far efficiently discharging his part in
society--the due application of the law--without reference to
irrelevant considerations. He is a machine which rightly parts the
sheep and goats--taking the legal definition of goats and
sheep--instead of putting some goats into the sheepfold, and _vice
versâ_. That is, he secures the accurate application of the purely
legal rule. Organic justice involves an application of the same
principle because it equally depends upon the exclusion of irrelevant
considerations. It implies such a distribution of functions and of
maintenance as may secure the greatest possible efficiency of society
towards some end in itself good. Society of course may be organised
with great efficiency for bad or doubtful ends. A purely military
organisation, however admirable for its purpose, may imply a sacrifice
of the highest welfare of the nation. Assuming, however, the goodness
of the end, the greatest efficiency is of course desirable. We may, for
our purposes, assume that the efficiency of a nation regarded as a
society for the production of wealth is a desirable end. There are, of
course, many other purposes which must not be sacrificed to the
production of wealth. But power of producing wealth, meaning roughly
whatever contributes to the physical support and comfort of the nation,
is undoubtedly a necessary condition of all other happiness. If we all
starve we can have neither art nor science nor morality. What I mean,
therefore, is that a nation is so far better as it is able to raise all
necessary supplies with the least expenditure of labour, leaving aside
the question how far the superfluous forces should be devoted to
raising comparative luxuries or to some purely religious or moral or
intellectual purposes. The perfect industrial organisation is, I shall
assume, compatible with or rather a condition of a perfect organisation
of other kinds. In the most general terms we have to consider what are
the principles of social organisation, which of course implies a
certain balance between the various organs and a thorough nutrition of
all, while yet we may for a moment confine our attention to the purely
industrial or economic part of the question. How, if at all, does the
principle of equality or of social justice enter the problem?

We may assume, in the first place, from this point of view, that one
most obvious condition is the absence of all purely useless structures,
whether of the kind which we call "survivals" or such as may be called
parasitic growths. The organ which has ceased to discharge
corresponding functions is simply a drag upon the vital forces. When a
class, such as the old French aristocracy, ceases to perform duties
while retaining privileges, it will be removed,--too probably, as in
that case, it will be removed by violent and mischievous methods,--if
the society is to grow in vigour. The individuals, as I have said, may
or may not deserve punishment, for they are not personally responsible
for the general order of things; but they are not unlikely to incur
severe penalties, and what we should really hope is that they may be in
some way absorbed by judicious medical treatment, instead of extirpated
by the knife. At the other end of the scale, we have the parasitic
class of the beggars or thieves. They, too, are not personally
responsible for the conditions into which they are born. But they are
not only to be pitied individually, but to be regarded, in the mass, as
involving social disease and danger. More words upon that topic are
quite superfluous, but I may just recall the truth that the two evils
are directly connected. We hear it often said, and often denied, that
the rich are growing richer and the poor poorer. So far, however, as it
is true, it is one version of the very obvious fact that where there
are many careless rich people, there will be the best chance for the
beggars. The thoughtless expenditure of the rich without due
responsibilities, provides the steady stream of so-called charity,--the
charity which, as Shakespeare (or somebody else) observes, is twice
cursed, which curses him that gives and him that receives; which is to
the rich man as a mere drug to still his conscience and offer a
spurious receipt in full for his neglect of social duties, and to the
poor man an encouragement to live without self-respect, without
providence, a mere hanger-on and dead-weight upon society, and a
standing injury and source of temptation to his honest neighbours.

Briefly, a wholesome social condition implies that every social organ
discharges a useful function; it renders some service to the community
which is equivalent to the support which it derives; brain and stomach
each get their due share of supply; and there is a thorough reciprocity
between all the different members of the body. But what kind of
equality should be desired in order to secure this desirable organic
balance? We have to do, I may remark, with the case of a homogeneous
race. By this I mean not only that there is no reason to suppose that
there is any difference between the innate qualities of rich and poor,
but that there is the strongest reason for believing in an equality;
that is to say, more definitely, that if you took a thousand poor
babies and a thousand rich babies, and subjected them to the same
conditions, they would show great individual differences, but no
difference traceable to the mere difference of class origin. I
therefore may leave aside such problems as might arise in the Southern
States of America, or even in British India, where two different races
are in presence; or, again, the case of the sexes, where we cannot
assume as self-evident, that the organic differences are irrelevant to
political or social ends. So far as we are concerned, we may take it
for granted that the differences which emerge are not due to any causes
antecedent to and overriding the differences due to different social
positions. If we can say justly (as has been said) that a poor man is
generally more charitable in proportion to his means, or, again, that
he is, as a rule, a greater liar or a greater drunkard than the rich
man, the difference is not due to a difference of breed, but to the
education (in the widest sense) which each has received. So long as
that difference remains, we must take account of it for purposes of
obtaining the maximum efficiency. We must not make the poor man a
professor of mathematics, or even manager of a railway, because he has
talents which, if trained, would have qualified him for the post; but
we may and must assume that an equal training would do as much for the
poor man as for the rich; and the question is, how far it is desirable
or possible to secure such equality.

Now, from the point of view of securing a maximum efficiency, it seems
to be a clearly desirable end that the only qualities which should
indisputably help to determine a man's position in life, should also be
those which determine his fitness for working in it efficiently. In
Utopia, it should be the rule that each man shall do what he can do
best. If one man is a gamekeeper and another a prime minister, it
should be because one has the gifts of a gamekeeper and the other the
gifts of a prime minister: whereas, in the actual state, as we all
know, the gamekeeper often becomes the prime minister, while the
potential prime minister is limited to looking after poachers. But I
also urge that we must take into account the actual and not the
potential qualities at any given moment. The inequality may be obviated
by raising the grade of culture in all classes; but we must not assume
that there is an actual equality where, in fact, there is the widest
possible difference. In short, I assert that it is our duty to try to
make men equal; though I deny that we are clearly justified in assuming
an equality. By making them equal, I do not, of course, mean that we
should try to make them all alike. I recognise, with Mill and every
sensible writer on the subject, that such a consummation represents
rather a danger than an advantage. I wish to see individuality
strengthened, not crushed, to encourage men to develop the widest
possible diversity of tastes, talents, and pursuits, and to attain
unity of opinion, not by a calm assumption that this or that creed is
true, but by encouraging the sharpest and freest collision of opinions.
The equality of which I speak is that which would result, if the
distinction into organs were not of such a nature as to make one class
more favourable than another to the full development of whatever
character and talents a man may possess. In other words, the
distribution into classes would correspond purely and simply to the
telling off of each man to the duties which he is best fitted to
discharge. The position into which he is born, the class surroundings
which determine his development, must not carry with them any
disqualification for his acquiring the necessary aptitude for any other
position. It was, I think, Fourier who argued that a man ought to be
paid more highly for being a chimney-sweep than for being a prime
minister, because the duties of a sweep are the more disagreeable,--a
position which some prime ministers may, perhaps, see reason to doubt.
My suggestion is, that in Utopia every human being would be so placed
as to be capable of preparing himself for any other position, and
should then go to the work for which he is best fitted. The equality as
thus defined would, I submit, leave no room for a sense of injustice,
because the qualities which determine a man's position would be the
qualities for which he deserves the position, desert in this sense
being measurable by fitness. Discontent with class distinctions must
arise so long as a man feels that his position in a class limits and
cramps his capacities below the level of happier fortunes. Discontent
is not altogether a bad thing, for it is often an _alias_ for
hope; remove all discontent and you remove all guarantee for
improvement. But discontent is of the malignant variety when it is
allied with a sense of injustice; that is, of restrictions imposed upon
one class for no assignable reason. The only sufficient reason for
classes is the efficient discharge of social functions. The differences
between the positions of men in social strata, supply some of the most
effective motives for the struggle of life; and the effort of men to
rise into the wealthy or the powerful class is not likely to cease so
long as men are men; but they take an unworthy form so long as the
ambition is simply to attain privileges unconnected with or
disproportioned to the duties involved, and which therefore generate
hatred to the social structure. If a class could be simply an organ for
the discharge of certain functions, and each man in the whole body
politic able to fit himself for that class, the injustice, and
therefore the malignant variety of discontent, would disappear. Of
course, I am speaking only of justice. I do not attempt to define the
proper ends of society, or regard justice in itself as a sufficient
guarantee for all desirable results. Such justice may exist even in a
savage tribe or a low social type. There may be a just distribution of
food among a shipwrecked crew, but the attainment of such justice would
not satisfy all their wants. The abolition of misery, the elevation of
a degraded class to a higher stage is a good thing in itself, unless it
can be shown to involve some counterbalancing evil. I only argue that
the ideal society would have this, among other attributes, and,
therefore, that to secure such equality is a legitimate object of

I am speaking of "Utopia". The time is indefinitely distant when a man
will choose to be a sweep or a prime minister according to his
aptitudes, and be equally able to learn his trade whether he is the son
of a prime minister or a sweep. I only try to indicate the goal to
which our efforts should be directed. But the goal thus defined implies
methods different from that of some advocates of equality. They propose
at once to assume the non-existence of a disagreeable difficulty, and
to take men as equal in a sense in which they are not, in fact, equal.
To me the problem appears to be, not the instant introduction of a new
system, but a necessarily long and very gradual process of education
directed towards the distant goal of making men equal in the desirable
sense; and that problem, I add, is in the main a moral problem. It is
idle to make institutions without making the qualities by which they
must be worked. I do not say--far from it--that we are not to propose
what may roughly be called external changes: new regulations and new
forms of association, and so forth. On the contrary, I believe, as I
have intimated, that this method corresponds to the normal order of
development. The new institution protects and stimulates the germs of
the moral instincts by which it must be worked. But I also hold that no
mere rearrangement does any permanent good unless it calls forth a
corresponding moral change, and, moreover, that the moral change,
however slow and imperceptible, does incomparably more than any
external change.

If we assume our present institutions to be permanent, a slight
improvement in moral qualities, a growth of sobriety, of chastity, of
prudence and intellectual culture, would make an almost indefinite
improvement in the condition of the masses. If, for example, Englishmen
ceased to drink, every English home might be made reasonably
comfortable. The two kinds of change imply each other; but it is the
most characteristic error of the designers of Utopias to suppose a mere
change of regulations without sufficiently attending to the moral
implication. To attain equality, as I have tried to define the word,
would imply vast moral changes, and therefore a long and difficult
elaboration. We have not simply to make men happy, as they now count
happiness, but to alter their views of happiness. The good old
copy-books tell us that happiness is as common in poor men's huts as in
rich men's palaces. We are apt to reply that the statement is a mockery
and a lie. But it points to the consummation which in some simple
social states has been partly realised, and which in some distant
future may come to be an expression of facts. It is conceivable surely
that rich men may some day find that there are modes of occupation
which are more interesting as well as more useful than accumulation of
luxuries or the keeping of horses for the turf; that, in place of
propitiating fate by supporting the institution of beggary, there is an
indefinite field for public-spirited energy in the way not of throwing
crumbs to Lazarus, but of promoting national culture of mind, of
spirit, and of body; that benevolence does not mean simple
self-sacrifice, except to the selfish, but the pursuit of a noble and
most interesting career; that men's duty to their children is not to
enable them to lead idle lives, but to fit them for playing a manly
part in the great game of life; and that their relation to those whom
they employ is not that of persons exploiting the energies of inferior
animals, but of leaders of industry with a common interest in the
prosperity of their occupation. People, no doubt, will hardly pursue
business from motives of pure benevolence to others, and I do not think
it desirable that they should. But the recognition that the pursuit of
an honourable business is useful to others may, nevertheless, guide
their energies, make the mere scramble for wealth disreputable, and
induce them to labour for solid and permanent advantages. Such moral
changes are, I conceive, necessary conditions of the equality of which
I have spoken; they must be brought about to some extent if the
industrial organism is to free itself from the injustice necessarily
implied in a mere blind struggle for personal comfort.

Moreover, however distant the final consummation may be, there are, I
think, many indications of an approximation. Nothing is more
characteristic of modern society than the enormous development of the
power of association for particular purposes. In former days a society
had to form an independent organ, a corporation, a college, and so
forth, to discharge any particular function, and the resulting organ
was so distinct as to absorb the whole life of its members. The work of
the fellow was absorbed in the corporate life of his corporation, and
he had no distinct personal interests. Now we are all members of
societies by the dozen, and society is constantly acquiring the art of
forming associations for any purpose, temporary or permanent, which
imply no deep structural division, and unite people of all classes and
positions. As the profounder lines are obliterated, the tendency to
form separate castes, defended by personal privileges, and holding
themselves apart from other classes, rapidly diminishes; and the
corresponding prejudices are in process of diminution. But I can only
hint at this principle.

A correlative moral change in the poor is, of course, equally
essential. America is described by Mr. Lowell in the noblest panegyric
ever made upon his own country, as "She that lifts up the manhood of
the poor". She has taken some rather queer methods of securing that
object lately; yet, however imperfect the result, every American
traveller will, I believe, sympathise with what Mr. Bryce has recently
said in his great book. America is still the land of hope--the land
where the poor man's horizon is not bounded by a vista of inevitable
dependence on charity; where--in spite of some superficially grotesque
results--every man can speak to every other without the oppressive
sense of condescension; where a civil word from a poor man is not
always a covert request for a gratuity and a tacit confession of
dependence. "Alas," says Wordsworth, in one of his pregnant phrases,
"the gratitude of men has oftener left me mourning" than their
cold-heartedness; because, I presume, it is a painful proof of the
rarity of kindness. When one man can only receive a gift and another
can only bestow it as a payment on account of a long accumulation of
the arrears of class injustice, the relations hardly admit of genuine
gratitude on either side. What grates most painfully upon me, and, I
suppose, upon most of us, is the "servility" of man; the acceptance of
a beggar's code of morals as natural and proper for any one in a shabby
coat. The more prominent evil just now, according to conservatives and
pessimists, is the correlative one of the beggar on horseback; of the
man who has found out that he can squeeze more out of his masters, and
uses his power even without considering whether it is wise to drain
your milch cow too exhaustively.

A hope of better things is encouraged by schemes for arbitration and
conciliation between employers and employed. But we require a moral
change if arbitration is to imply something more than a truce between
natural enemies, and conciliation to be something different from that
employed by Hood's butcher when, after hauling a sheep by main force
into the slaughter-house, he exclaimed, "There, I've conciliated
_him_!" The only principle on which arbitration can proceed is
that the profits should be divided in such a way as to be a sufficient
inducement to all persons concerned to give their money or their
labour, mental or physical, to promote the prosperity of the business
at large. But the reconciliation can only be complete when the
capitalist is capable of employing his riches with enough public spirit
and generosity to disarm mere envy by his obvious utility, and the poor
man justifies his increased wages by his desire to secure permanent
benefits and a better standard of life. In Utopia, the question will
still be, what plan shall be a sufficient inducement to the men who
co-operate as employers or labourers, but the inducement will appeal to
better motives, and the positions be so far equalised that each will be
most tolerable to the man best fitted for it.

Here a vast series of problems opens about which I can only suggest the
briefest hint. The principle I now urge is the old one, namely, that
the usual mark of a quack remedy is the neglect of the moral aspect of
a question. We want a state of opinion in which the poor are not
objects to be slobbered over, but men to help in a manly struggle for
moral as well as material elevation. A great deal is said, for example,
about the evils of competition. It is remarkable indeed that few
proposals for improvement even, so far as I can discover, tend to get
rid of competition. Co-operation, as tradesmen will tell us, is not an
abolition of competition, but a competition of groups instead of units.
"Profit-sharing" is simply a plan by which workmen may take a direct
share in the competition carried on by their masters. I do not mention
this as any objection to such schemes, for I do not think that
competition is an evil. I do not doubt the vast utility of schemes
which tend to increase the intelligence and prudence of workmen, and
give them an insight into the conditions of successful business.
Competition is no doubt bad so far as it means cheating or gambling.
But competition is, it seems to me, inevitable so long as we are forced
to apply the experimental method in practical life, and I fail to see
what other method is available. Competition means that thousands of
people all over the world are trying to find out how they can supply
more economically and efficiently the wants of other people, and that
is a state of things to which I do not altogether object. Equality in
my sense implies that every one should be allowed to compete for every
place that he can fill. The cry is merely, as it seems to me, an
evasion of the fundamental difficulty. That difficulty is not that
people compete, but that there are too many competitors; not that a
man's seat at the table has to be decided by fair trial of his
abilities, but that there is not room enough to seat everybody. Malthus
brought to the front the great stumbling-block in the way of Utopian
optimism. His theory was stated too absolutely, and his view of the
remedy was undoubtedly crude. But he hit the real difficulty; and every
sensible observer of social evils admits that the great obstacle to
social improvement is that social residuum, the parasitic class, which
multiplies so as to keep down the standard of living, and turns to bad
purposes the increased power of man over nature. We have abolished
pestilence and famine in their grimmest shape; if we have not abolished
war, it no longer involves usurpation or slavery or the permanent
desolation of the conquered; but one result is just this, that great
masses can be regularly kept alive at the lowest stage of existence
without being periodically swept away by a "black death" or a horde of
brutal invaders. If we choose to turn our advantages to account in this
way, no nostrums will put an end to poverty; and the evil can only be
met--as I venture to assume--by an elevation of the moral level,
involving all that is implied in spreading civilisation downward.

The difficulty shows itself in discussions of the proper sphere of
government. Upon that vast and most puzzling topic I will only permit
myself one remark. In former times the great aim of reformers was the
limitation of the powers of government. They came to regard it as a
kind of bogy or extra-natural force, which acted to oppress the poor in
order to maintain certain personal privileges. Some, like Godwin of the
"Political Justice," held that the millennium implied the abolition of
government and the institution of anarchy. The early utilitarians held
that government might be reformed by placing power in the hands of the
subjects, who would use it only for their own interests, but still
retained the prejudices engendered in their long struggle against
authority, and held that its functions should still be gradually
restricted on pain of developing a worse tyranny than the old. The
government has been handed over to the people as they desired, but with
the natural result that the new authorities not only use it to support
their interests, but retain the conviction of its extra-natural, or
perhaps supernatural, efficacy. It is regarded as an omnipotent body
which can not only say (as it can) that whatever it pleases shall be
legal, but that whatever is made a law in the juridical sense shall at
once become a law of nature. Even their individualist opponents, who
profess to follow Mr. Herbert Spencer, seem often to regard the power
of government, not as one result of evolution, but as something
external which can constrain and limit evolution. It corresponds to a
kind of outside pressure which interferes arbitrarily with the
so-called natural course of development, and should therefore be
abolished. To me, on the contrary, it seems that government is simply
one of the social organs, with powers strictly limited by its relation
to others and by the nature of the sentiment upon which it rests. There
are obvious reasons, in the centralisation of vast industrial
interests, the "integration," as Mr. Spencer calls it, which is the
correlative of differentiation, in the growing solidarity of different
classes and countries, in the consequent growth of natural monopolies,
which give a solid reason for believing that the functions of the
central government may require expansion. To decide by any _à
priori_ principle what should be the limits of this expansion is, to
my mind, hopeless. The problem is one to be worked out by
experiment,--that is, by many generations and by repeated blundering. A
fool, said Erasmus Darwin, is a man who never makes an experiment; an
experiment is a new mode of action which fails in its object
ninety-nine times out of a hundred; therefore, wise men make more
blunders, though they also make more discoveries than fools. Now,
experiments in government and social organisation are as necessary to
improvement as any other kind of experiment, and probably still more
liable to failure. One thing, however, is again obvious. The simple
remedy of throwing everything upon government, of allowing it to settle
the rate of wages, the hours of labour, the prices of commodities, and
so forth, requires for success a moral and intellectual change which it
is impossible to over-estimate. I will not repeat the familiar
arguments which, to my mind, justify this statement. It is enough to
say that there is no ground in the bare proposal for putting all manner
of industrial regulations into the hands of government, for supposing
that it would not drag down every one into pauperism instead of raising
everybody to comfort. I often read essays of which the weakness seems
to be that while they purpose to establish equality, they give no real
reason for holding that it would not be an equality of beggary. If
every one is to be supported, idle or not, the natural conclusion is
universal pauperism. If people are to be forced to work by government,
or their numbers to be somehow restricted by government, you throw a
stress upon the powers of government which, I will not say, it is
impossible that it should bear, but which, to speak in the most
moderate terms, implies a complete reconstruction of the intelligence,
morality, and conceptions of happiness of human beings. Your government
would have to be omniscient and purely benevolent as well as
omnipotent, and I confess that I cannot see in the experience of those
countries where the people have the most direct influence upon the
government, any promise that this state of things will be realised just

Thus, I return to my conclusion,--to my platitude, if you will.
Professor Fawcett used to say that he could lay down no rules for the
sphere of government influence, except this rule, that no interference
would do good unless it helped people to help themselves. I think that
the doctrine was characteristic of his good sense, and I fully
subscribe to it. I heartily agree that equality in the sense I have
given, is a most desirable ideal; I agree that we should do all that in
us lies to promote it; I only say that our aims should be always in
consistence with the principle that such equality is only possible and
desirable in so far as the lowest classes are lifted to a higher
standard, morally as well as physically. Of course, that implies
approval of every variety of new institutions and laws, of
co-operation, of profit sharing, of boards of conciliation, of
educational and other bodies for carrying light into darkness and
elevating popular standards of life: but always with the express
condition that no such institution is really useful except as it tends
to foster a genuine spirit of independence, and to supply the moral
improvement without which no outward change is worth a button. This is
a truism, you may say. Yet, when I read the proposals to get rid of
poverty by summarily ordering people to be equal, or to extirpate
pauperism by spending a million upon certain institutions for out-door
relief, I cannot help thinking that it is a truism which requires to be
enforced. The old Political Economy, you say, is obsolete; meaning,
perhaps, that you do not mean to be bothered with its assertions; but
the old Economists had their merits. They were among the first who
realised the vast importance of deeper social questions; they were the
first who tried to treat them scientifically; they were not (I hope)
the last who dared to speak unpleasant truths, simply because they
believed them and believed in their importance. Perhaps, indeed, they
rather enjoyed the practice a little too much, and indulged in it a
little too ostentatiously. Yet, I am sure that, on the whole, it was a
very useful practice, and one which is now scarcely as common as it
should be. People are more anxious to pick holes in their statement of
economic laws than to insist upon the essential fact that, after all,
there are laws, not "laws" made by Parliament, but laws of nature,
which do, and will, determine the production and distribution of
wealth, and the recognition of which is as important to human welfare
as the recognition of physiological laws to the bodily health. Holding
this faith, the old Economists were never tired of asserting what is
the fundamental truth of so-called "individualism," that, after all we
may say about the social development, the essential condition of all
social improvement is not that we should have this or that system of
regulations, but that the individual should be manly, self-respecting,
doing his duty as well as getting his pay, and deeply convinced that
nothing will do any permanent good which does not imply the elevation
of the individual in his standards of honesty, independence, and good
conduct. We can only say to Lazarus: "You are probably past praying
for, and all we can do is to save you from starving, by any means which
do not encourage other people to fall into your weaknesses; but we
recognise the right of your class for any and every possible help that
can be given towards making men of them, and putting them on their legs
by teaching them to stand upright".


In his deeply-interesting Romanes lecture, Professor 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 cannot help fearing that the
microcosm may get the worst of it. Professor 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 Professor Huxley tells us, are always with us,
and even increase in quantity and intensity as evolution advances. The
fact had been recognised in remote ages long before theories of
evolution had taken their modern form. Pessimism, from the time of the
ancient Hindoo 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
cannot 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 cannot be answered, as that it cannot 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 backwards, 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 shall 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 meet 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 part of me should be a hand and
another 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 cannot 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

It is impossible to combine the conceptions of God as the creator and
God as the judge; and the logical straits into which the attempt leads
are represented by the endless free-will controversy. I will not now
enter that field of controversy: and I will only indicate what seems to
me to be the position which we must accept in any scientific discussion
of our problem. Hume, as I think, laid down the true principle when he
said that there could be no _à priori_ proof of a matter of fact.
An _à priori_ truth is a truth which cannot be denied without
self-contradiction, but there can never be a logical consideration in
supposing the non-existence of any fact whatever. The ordinary appeal
to the truths of pure mathematics is, therefore, beside the question.
All such truths are statements of the precise equivalence of two
propositions. To say that there are four things is also to say that
there are two pairs of things: to say that there is a plane triangle is
also to say that there is a plane trilateral. One statement involves
the other, because the difference is not in the thing described, but in
our mode of contemplating it. We, therefore, cannot make one assertion
and deny the other without implicit contradiction. From such results,
again, is evolved (in the logical sense of evolution) the whole vast
system of mathematical truths. The complexity of that system gives the
erroneous idea that we can, somehow, attain a knowledge of facts,
independently of experience. We fail to observe that even the most
complex mathematical formula is simply a statement of an exact
equivalence of two assertions; and that, till we know by experience the
truth of one statement, we can never infer the truth, in fact, of the
other. However elaborate may be the evolutions of mathematical truth,
they can never get beyond the germs out of which they are evolved. They
are valid precisely because the most complex statement is always the
exact equivalent of the simpler, out of which it is constructed. They
remain to the end truths of number or truths of geometry. They cannot,
by themselves, tell us that things exist which can be counted or which
can be measured. The whole claim, however elaborate, still requires its
point of suspension. We may put their claims to absolute or necessary
truth as high as we please; but they cannot give us by themselves a
single fact. I can show, for example, that a circle has an infinite
number of properties, all of which are virtually implied in the very
existence of a circle. But that the circle or that space itself exists,
is not a necessary truth, but a datum of experience. It is quite true
that such truths are not, in one sense, empirical; they can be
discovered without any change of experience; for, by their very nature,
they refer to the constant element of experience, and are true on the
supposition of the absolute changelessness of the objects contemplated.
But it is a fallacy to suppose that, because independent of particular
experiences, they are, therefore, independent of experience in general.

Now, if we agree, as Huxley would have agreed, that Hume's doctrine is
true, if we cannot know a single fact except from experience, we are
limited in moral questions, as in all others, to elaborating and
analysing our experience, and can never properly transcend it. A
scientific treatment of an ethical question, at any rate, must take for
granted all the facts of human nature. It can show what morality
actually is; what are, in fact, the motives which make men moral, and
what are the consequences of moral conduct. But it cannot get outside
of the universe and lay down moral principles independent of all
influences. I am well aware that in speaking of ethical questions upon
this ground, I am exposed to many expressions of metaphysical contempt.
I may hope to throw light upon the usual working of morality; but my
theory of the facts cannot make men moral of itself. I cannot hope, for
example, to show that immorality involves a contradiction, for I know
that immorality exists. I cannot even hope to show that it is
necessarily productive of misery to the individual, for I know that
some people take pleasure in vicious conduct. I cannot deduce facts
from morals, for I must consistently regard morals as part of the
observed consequences of human nature under given conditions.
Metaphysicians may, if they can, show me a more excellent method. I
admit that their language sometimes enables them to take what, in words
at least, is a sublimer position than mine. Kant's famous phrase, "Thou
must, therefore thou canst," is impressive. And yet, it seems to me to
involve an obvious piece of logical juggling. It is quite true that
whenever it is my duty to act in a certain way, it must be a
possibility; but that is only because an impossibility cannot be a
duty. It is not my duty to fly, because I have not wings; and
conversely, no doubt, it would follow that _if_ it were my duty I
must possess the organs required. Thus understood, however, the phrase
loses its sublimity, and yet, it is only because we have so to
understand it, that it has any plausibility. Admitting, however, that
people who differ from me can use grander language, and confessing my
readiness to admit error whenever they can point to a single fact
attainable by the pure reason, I must keep to the humbler path. I speak
of the moral instincts as of others, simply from the point of view of
experience: I cannot myself discover a single truth from the abstract
principle of non-contradiction; and am content to take for granted that
the world exists as we know it to exist, without seeking to deduce its
peculiarities by any high _à priori_ road.

Upon this assumption, the question really 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
or any other theory can do is, to enable us to trace the consequences
of this fact in certain directions; but it neither creates 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
neighbours, we may fancy that things would have been pleasanter. If the
struggle, which we all know to exist, had no effect in preventing 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' 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 such 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 he 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
to say that "nature" is cruel because the arrangement increases the sum
of undeserved suffering? That is a problem which I do not feel able to
examine; but it is, at least, obvious that it cannot be answered
off-hand 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 any way, 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
give 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 think more and to sharpen his wits,
the sheep may be, on the whole, the better for the wolf, in this sense
at least: that 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
interminable 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 goodwill. 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 realise 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 cannot 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 discovered
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 ever 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

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 defenceless, their parents could
exterminate them if they pleased, and by so doing would exterminate the
race. The parental relation, of course, constantly involves a partial
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
individual 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 recognises the
nature 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 maintain just 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
that 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
vigour, 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 recognised 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 neighbours, 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. Starting from the purely selfish ground Hobbes could prove
conclusively that everybody 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. One reason is that I don't expect he will take mine; for, if
I did, I fear that, even as a civilised 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 tacit 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 nation, or, it may be, of the same race, on terms
which were previously confined to the minor 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 intentionally endures a painful death
to save them from suffering. The animal sacrifices herself, but without
foresight of the result, 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 us 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, and not merely a dislike to the gallows,
grows up under such probation until the really moralised being acquires
feelings which make 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 also 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 are conscious that it is 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 fathers 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 recognise.

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. Professor 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 upon such terms, and I will add that any
individualism which fails to recognise fully the social character,
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 unmoralised condition and in that in which morality has become most
developed, these instincts have common characteristics, and may be
regarded as conditions of the power of the race to which they belong to
maintain its position in the world, and, 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 organising individually, politically, and socially, and that
power implies the existence of justice and the instinct of mutual
confidence-in short, 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 Professor 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; and though we may determine what shall be the number, we
cannot arbitrarily say that it shall be indefinitely great. It is one
consequence that we do, in fact, go on suppressing the unfit, and
cannot 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 it should contain a
million red men or sixty millions of civilised whites? Undoubtedly the
moralist will say with absolute 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 because I
believe in the struggle for existence. This process underlies morality,
and operates whether we are moral or not. The most civilised race, that
which has the greatest knowledge, skill, power of organisation, 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 an
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 cannot say 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 cannot 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 humanisation 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 civilisation as he is capable
of appropriating. The absence of cruelty would not alter the fact that
the fittest race would extend; but it may ensure 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

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 civilisation 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 unfavourable 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 labour of children, does more harm by
preserving the weak than it does good by preventing the weakening of
the strong. One thing is at any rate clear: to preserve life is to
increase the population, and therefore to increase the competition; or,
in other words, to intensify the struggle for existence. The process is
as broad as it is long. If we could be sure 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 to justify the 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 the feebler candidates a
differential advantage; that they are now more fitted than they were
before for ousting their superior neighbours 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 population elastic. 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 civilised 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 Professor
Huxley's remark about that "cosmic nature" which is still so strong,
and which is likely to be strong so long as men require stomachs. We
have not, I think, 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 us 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 produced without
the loss of physical vigour. 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 onwards 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 low moral 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
organised, 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 civilised 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 moral 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 tends
doubly to diminish the vigour of a nation. The answer is, of course,
obvious, and I am confident that Professor Huxley would have so far
agreed with me. It is that all charity which fosters a degraded class
is therefore immoral. The "fanatical individualism" of to-day 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 ethical
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 is so much in
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 cannot 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," cannot 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 tendency of morality is to
humanise the struggle, to minimise 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 increase and 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
up to immediate impulse of present events. It implies still more the
development of the sympathy which makes every man feel for the hurts of
all, and which, as social organisation is closer, and the dependence of
each constituent atom upon the whole organisation is more vividly
realised, 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
Professor Huxley puts it, would forbid us to restrain the member of a
community from doing his best to destroy it. To restrain such conduct
is surely to carry on the conflict against all anti-social agents or
tendencies. For 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
enable the idle and the good-for-nothing to survive. The progress of
civilisation depends, I should say, on the extension of the sense of
duty which each man owes to society at large. That involves such a
constitution of society that, 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 equalise the advantages of the
energetic and the helpless would begin by demoralising, 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 killing out, as gently as might be, those who were unfit.

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