Social Diseases and Worse Remedies (1891)

Letters to the "Times" on Mr. Booth's Scheme with a Preface and Introductory Essay

Collected Essays IX

[1891] Preface

[188] The letters which are here collected together were published in the "Times" in the course of the months of December, 1890, and January, 1891.

The circumstances which led me to write the first letter are sufficiently set forth in its opening sentences; and the materials on which I based my criticisms of Mr. Booth's scheme, in this and in the second letter, were wholly derived from Mr. Booth's book. I had some reason to know, however, that when anybody allows his sense of duty so far to prevail over his sense of the blessedness of peace as to write a letter to the "Times," on [189] any subject of public interest, his reflections, before he has done with the business, will be very like those of Johnny Gilpin, "who little thought, when he set out, of running such a rig." Such undoubtedly are mine when I contemplate these twelve documents, and call to mind the distinct addition to the revenue of the Post Office which must have accrued from the mass of letters and pamphlets which have been delivered at my door; to say nothing of the unexpected light upon my character, motives, and doctrines, which has been thrown by some of the "Times'" correspondents, and by no end of comments elsewhere.

If self-knowledge is the highest aim of man, I ought by this time to have little to learn. And yet, if I am awake, some of my teachers–unable, perhaps, to control the divine fire of the poetic imagination which is so closely akin to, if not a part of, the mythopœic faculty–have surely dreamed dreams. So far as my humbler and essentially prosaic faculties of observation and comparison go, plain facts are against them. But, as I may be mistaken, I have thought it well to prefix to the letters (by way of "Prolegomena") an essay which appeared in the "Nineteenth Century" for January, 1888, in which the principles that, to my mind, lie at the bottom of the "social question" are stated. So far as Individualism and Regimental Socialism are concerned, this paper simply emphasizes and expands [190] the opinions expressed in an address to the members of the Midland Institute, delivered seventeen years earlier, and still more fully developed in several essays published in the "Nineteenth Century" in 1889, which I hope, before long, to republish.1

The fundamental proposition which runs through the writings, which thus extend over a period of twenty years, is, that the common a priori doctrines and methods of reasoning about political and social questions are essentially vicious; and that argumentation on this basis leads, with equal logical force, to two contradictory and extremely mischievous systems, the one that of Anarchic Individualism, the other that of despotic or Regimental Socialism. Whether I am right or wrong, I am at least consistent in opposing both to the best of my ability. Mr. Booth's system appears to me, and, as I have shown, is regarded by Socialists themselves, to be mere autocratic Socialism, masked by its theological exterior. That the "fantastic" religious skin will wear away, and the Socialistic reality it covers will show its real nature, is the expressed hope of one candid Socialist, and may be fairly conceived to be the unexpressed belief of the despotic leader of the new Trades Union, who has shown his zeal, if not his discretion, in championing Mr. Booth's projects. [See Letter VIII.]

[191] Yet another word to commentators upon my letters. There are some who rather chuckle, and some who sneer, at what they seem to consider the dexterity of an "old controversial hand," exhibited by the contrast which I have drawn between the methods of conversion depicted in the New Testament and those pursued by fanatics of the Salvationist type, whether they be such as are now exploited by Mr. Booth, or such as those who, from the time of the Anabaptists, to go no further back, have worked upon similar lines.

Whether such observations were intended to be flattering or sarcastic, I must respectfully decline to accept the compliment, or to apply the sarcasm to myself I object to obliquity of procedure and ambiguity of speech in all shapes. And I confess that I find it difficult to understand the state of mind which leads any one to suppose, that deep respect for single-minded devotion to high aims is incompatible with the unhesitating conviction that those aims include the propagation of doctrines which are devoid of foundation–perhaps even mischievous.

The most degrading feature of the narrower forms of Christianity (of which that professed by Mr. Booth is a notable example) is their insistence that the noblest virtues, if displayed by those who reject their pitiable formulæ, are, as their pet phrase goes, "splendid sins." But there is, [192] perhaps, one step lower; and that is that men, who profess freedom of thought, should fail to see and appreciate that large soul of goodness which often animates even the fanatical adherents of such tenets. I am sorry for any man who can read the epistles to the Galatians and the Corinthians without yielding a large meed of admiration to the fervent humanity of Paul of Tarsus; who can study the lives of Francis of Assisi, or of Catherine of Siena, without wishing that, for the furtherance of his own ideals, he might be even as they; or who can contemplate unmoved the steadfast veracity and true heroism which loom through the fogs of mystical utterance in George Fox. In all these great men and women there lay the root of the matter; a burning desire to amend the condition of their fellow-men, and to put aside all other things for that end. If, in spite of all the dogmatic helps or hindrances in which they were entangled, these people are not to be held in high honour, who are?

I have never expressed a doubt–for I have none–that, when Mr. Booth left the Methodist connection, and started that organisation of the Salvation Army upon which, comparatively recently, such ambitious schemes of social reform have been grafted, he may have deserved some share of such honour. I do not say that, so far as his personal desires and intentions go, he may not still deserve it.

[193] But the correlate of despotic authority is unlimited responsibility. If Mr. Booth is to take credit for any good that the Army system has effected, he must be prepared to bear blame for its inherent evils. As it seems to me, that has happened to him which sooner or later happens to all despots: he has become the slave of his own creation–the prosperity and glory of the soul-saving machine have become the end, instead of a means, of soul-saving; and to maintain these at the proper pitch, the "General" is led to do things which the Mr. Booth of twenty years ago would probably have scorned.

And those who desire, as I most emphatically desire, to be just to Mr. Booth, however badly they may think of the working of the organization he has founded, will bear in mind that some astute backers of his probably care little enough for Salvationist religion; and, perhaps, are not very keen about many of Mr. Booth's projects. I have referred to the rubbing of the hands of the Socialists over Mr. Booth's success;2 but, unless I err greatly, there are politicians of a certain school to whom it affords still greater satisfaction. Consider what electioneering agents the captains of the Salvation Army, scattered through all our towns, and directed from a political "bureau" in London, would make! Think how political adversaries could be harassed by our local [194] attorney–"tribune of the people," I mean; and how a troublesome man, on the other side, could be "hunted down" upon any convenient charge, whether true or false, brought by our Vigilance-familiar!3

I entirely acquit Mr. Booth of any complicity in far-reaching schemes of this kind; but I did not write idly when, in my first letter, I gave no vague warning of what might grow out of the organised force, drilled in the habit of unhesitating obedience, which he has created.

1 See Collected Essays, vol. i. p. 290 to end; and this volume, p. 147.

2 See Letter VIII.

3 See Letter II.

"Who Upset the Booth?"

Huxley Archives

Preface and Table of Contents to Volume IX, Evolution & Ethics and Other Essays, of Huxley's Collected Essays.

Next part of this article, Social Diseases and Worse Remidies:the introductory essay, The Struggle for Existence in Human Society, pages 195-236.

Previous article: Capital–The Mother of Labour [1890], pages 147-187.



1.   THH Publications
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3.   20th Century Commentary

1.   Letter Index
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Gratitude and Permissions

C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University

§ 1. THH: His Mark
§ 2. Voyage of the Rattlesnake
§ 3. A Sort of Firm
§ 4. Darwin's Bulldog
§ 5. Hidden Bond: Evolution
§ 6. Frankensteinosaurus
§ 7. Bobbing Angels: Human Evolution
§ 8. Matter of Life: Protoplasm
§ 9. Medusa
§ 10. Liberal Education
§ 11. Scientific Education
§ 12. Unity in Diversity
§ 13. Agnosticism
§ 14. New Reformation
§ 15. Verbal Delusions: The Bible
§ 16. Miltonic Hypothesis: Genesis
§ 17. Extremely Wonderful Events: Resurrection and Demons
§ 18. Emancipation: Gender and Race
§ 19. Aryans et al.: Ethnology
§ 20. The Good of Mankind
§ 21.  Jungle Versus Garden