The Struggle for Existence in Human Society (1888)

Collected Essays IX

[195] The vast and varied procession of events, which we call Nature, affords a sublime spectacle and an inexhaustible wealth of attractive problems to the speculative observer. If we confine our attention to that aspect which engages the attention of the intellect, nature appears a beautiful and harmonious whole, the incarnation of a faultless logical process, from certain premisses in the past to an inevitable conclusion in tile future. But if it be regarded from a less elevated, though more human, point of view; if our moral sympathies are allowed to influence our judgment, and we permit ourselves to criticise our great mother as we criticise one another; then our verdict, at least so far as sentient nature is concerned, can hardly be so favourable.

In sober truth, to those who have made a [196] study of the phenomena of life as they exhibited

by the higher forms of the animal world, the optimistic dogma, that this is the best of all possible worlds, will seem little better than a libel upon possibility. It is really only another instance to be added to the many extant, of the audacity of a priori speculators who, having created God in their own image, find no difficulty in assuming that the Almighty must have been actuated by the same motives as themselves. They are quite sure that, had any other course been practicable, He would no more have made infinite suffering a necessary ingredient of His handiwork than a respectable philosopher would have done the like.

But even the modified optimism of the time-honoured thesis of physico-theology, that the sentient world is, on the whole, regulated by principles of benevolence, does but ill stand the test of impartial confrontation with the facts of the case. No doubt it is quite true that sentient nature affords hosts of examples of subtle contrivances directed towards the production of pleasure or the avoidance of pain; and it may be proper to say that these are evidences of benevolence. But if so, why is it not equally proper to say of the equally numerous arrangements, the no less necessary result of which is the production of pain, that . they are evidences of malevolence?

If a vast amount of that which, in a piece of human workmanship, we should call skill, is [197] visible in those parts of the organization of a deer to which it owes its ability to escape from beasts of prey, there is at least equal skill displayed in that bodily mechanism of the wolf which enables him to track, and sooner or later to bring down, the deer. Viewed under the dry light of science, deer and wolf are alike admirable; and, if both were non-sentient automata, there would be nothing to qualify our admiration of the action of the one on the other. But the fact that the deer suffers, while the wolf inflicts suffering, engages our moral sympathies. We should call men like the deer innocent and good, men such as the wolf malignant and bad; we should call those who defended the deer and aided him to escape brave and compassionate, and those who helped the wolf in his bloody work base and cruel. Surely, if we transfer these judgments to nature outside the world of man at all, we must do so impartially. In that case, the goodness of the right hand which helps the deer, and the wickedness of the left hand which eggs on the wolf, will neutralize one another: and the course of nature will appear to be neither moral nor immoral, but non-moral.

This conclusion is thrust upon us by analogous facts in every part of the sentient world; yet, inasmuch as it not only jars upon prevalent prejudices, but arouses the natural dislike to that which is painful, much ingenuity has been exercised in devising an escape from it.

[198] From the theological side, we are told that this is a state of probation, and that the seeming injustices and immoralities of nature will be compensated by and by. But how this compensation is to be effected, in the case of the great majority of sentient things, is not clear. I apprehend that no one is seriously prepared to maintain that the ghosts of all the myriads of generations of herbivorous animals which lived during the millions of years of the earth's duration, before the appearance of man, and which have all that time been tormented and devoured by carnivores, are to be compensated by a perennial existence in clover; while the ghosts of carnivores are to go to some kennel where there is neither a pan of water nor a bone with any meat on it. Besides, from the point of view of morality, the last stage of things would be worse than the first. For the carnivores, however brutal and sanguinary, have only done that which, if there is any evidence of contrivance in the world, they were expressly constructed to do. Moreover, carnivores and herbivores alike have been subject to all the miseries incidental to old age, disease, and over-multiplication, and both might well put in a claim for "compensation" on this score.

On the evolutionist side, on the other hand, we are told to take comfort from the reflection that

the terrible struggle for existence tends to final good, and that the suffering of the ancestor is paid for by the increased perfection of the progeny. There would be something in this argument if, in [199] Chinese fashion, the present generation could pay its debts to its ancestors; otherwise it is not clear what compensation the Eohippus gets for his sorrows in the fact that, some millions of years afterwards, one of his descendants wins the Derby. And, again, it is an error to imagine that evolution signifies a constant tendency to increased perfection. That process undoubtedly involves a constant remodelling of the organism in adaptation to new conditions; but it depends on the nature of those conditions whether the direction of the modifications effected shall be upward or downward. Retrogressive is as practicable as progressive metamorphosis. If what the physical philosophers tell us, that our globe has been in a state of fusion, and, like the sun, is gradually cooling down, is true; then the time must come when evolution will mean adaptation to an universal winter, and all forms of life will die out, except such low and simple organisms as the Diatom of the arctic and antarctic ice and the Protococcus of the red snow. If our globe is proceeding from a condition in which it was too hot to support any but the lowest living thing to a condition in which it will be too cold to permit of the existence of any others, the course of life upon its surface must describe a trajectory like that of a ball fired from a mortar; and the sinking half of that course is as much a part of the general process of evolution as the rising.

From the point of view of the moralist the [200] animal world is on about the same level as a gladiator’s show.. The creatures are fairly well treated, and set to fight–whereby the strongest, the swiftest, and the cunningest live to fight another day. The spectator has no need to turn his thumbs down, as no quarter is given. He must admit that the skill and training displayed are wonderful. But he must shut his eyes if he would not see that more or less enduring suffering is the meed of both vanquished and victor. And since the great game is going on in every corner of the world, thousands of times a minute; since, were our ears sharp enough, we need not descend to the gates of hell to hear–

sospiri, pianti, ed alti guai.
. . .
Voci alte e floche, e suon di man con elle

–it seems to follow that, if the world is governed by benevolence, it must be a different sort of benevolence from that of John Howard.

But the old Babylonians wisely symbolized Nature by their great goddess Istar, who combined the attributes of Aphrodite with those of Ares. Her terrible aspect is not to be ignored or covered up with shams; but it is not the only one. If the optimism of Leibnitz is a foolish though pleasant dream, the pessimism of Schopenhauer is a nightmare, the more foolish because of its hideousness. Error which is not pleasant is surely the worst form of wrong.

[201] This may not be the best of all possible worlds, but to say that it is the worst is mere petulant nonsense. A worn-out voluptuary may find nothing good under the sun, or a vain and inexperienced youth, who cannot get the moon he cries for, may vent his irritation in pessimistic moanings; but there can be no doubt in the mind of any reasonable person that mankind could, would, and in fact do, get on fairly well with vastly less happiness and far more misery than find their way into the lives of nine people out of ten. If each and all of us had been visited by an attack of neuralgia, or of extreme mental depression, for one hour in every twenty-four–a supposition which many tolerably vigorous people know, to their cost, is not extravagant–the burden of life would have been immensely increased without much practical hindrance to its general course. Men with any manhood in them find life quite worth living under worse conditions than these.

There is another sufficiently obvious fact, which renders the hypothesis that the course of sentient nature is dictated by malevolence quite untenable. A vast multitude of pleasures, and these among the purest and the best, are superfluities, bits of good which are to all appearances unnecessary as inducements to live, and are, so to speak, thrown into the bargain of life. To those who experience them, few delights can be more [202] entrancing than such as are afforded by natural beauty, or by the arts, and especially by music; but they are products of, rather than factors in, evolution, and it is probable that they are known, in any considerable degree, to but a very small proportion of mankind.

The conclusion of the whole matter seems to be that, if Ormuzd has not had his way in this world, neither has Ahriman. Pessimism is as little consonant with the facts of sentient existence as optimism. If we desire to represent the course of nature in terms of human thought, and assume that it was intended to be that which it is, we must say that its governing principle is intellectual and not moral; that it is a materialized logical process, accompanied by pleasures and pains, the incidence of which, in the majority of cases, has not the slightest reference to moral desert. That the rain falls alike upon the just and the unjust, and that those upon whom the Tower of Siloam fell were no worse than their neighbours, seem to be Oriental modes of expressing the same conclusion.

In the strict sense of the word "nature," it denotes the sum of the phenomenal world, of that

which has been, and is, and will be; and society, like art, is therefore a part of nature. But it is convenient to distinguish those parts of nature in which man plays the part of immediate cause, as [203] some thing apart; and, therefore, society, like art, is usefully to be considered as distinct from nature. It is the more desirable, and even necessary, to make this distinction, since society differs from nature in having a definite moral object; whence it comes about that the course shaped by the ethical man–the member of society or citizen–necessarily runs counter to that which the non-ethical man–the primitive savage, or man as a mere member of the animal kingdom–tends to adopt. The latter fights out the struggle for existence to the bitter end, like any other animal; the former devotes his best energies to the object of setting limits to the struggle.1

In the cycle of phenomena presented by the life of man, the animal, no more moral end is discernible than in that presented by the lives of the wolf and of the deer. However imperfect the relics of prehistoric men may be, the evidence which they afford clearly tends to the conclusion that, for thousands and thousands of years, before the origin of the oldest known civilizations, men were savages of a very low type. They strove with their enemies and their competitors; they preyed upon things weaker or less cunning than themselves; they were born, multiplied without stint, and died, for thousands of generations alongside the mammoth, the urus, the lion, and [204] the hyaena, whose lives were spent in the same way; and they were no more to be praised or blamed on moral grounds, than their less erect and more hairy compatriots.

As among these, so among primitive men, the weakest and stupidest went to the wall, while the toughest and shrewdest, those who were best fitted to cope with their circumstances, but not the best in any other sense, survived. Life was a continual free fight, and beyond the limited and temporary relations of the family, the Hobbesian war of each against all was the normal state of existence. The human species, like others, plashed and floundered amid the general stream of evolution, keeping its head above water as it best might, and thinking neither of whence nor whither.

The history of civilization–that is, of society–on the other hand, is the record of the attempts which the human race has made to escape from this position. The first men who substituted the state of mutual peace for that of mutual war, whatever the motive which impelled them to take that step, created society. But, in establishing peace, they obviously put a limit upon the struggle for existence. Between the members of that society, at any rate, it was not to be pursued a outrance. And of all the successive shapes which society has taken, that most nearly approaches perfection in which the war of individual against individual is most strictly limited.

[205] The primitive savage, tutored by Istar, appropriated whatever took his fancy, and killed whomsoever opposed him, if he could. On the contrary, the ideal of the ethical man is to limit his freedom of action to a sphere in which he does not interfere with the freedom of others; he seeks the common weal as much as his own; and, indeed, as an essential part of his own welfare. Peace is both end and means with him; and he founds his life on a more or less complete self-restraint, which is the negation of the unlimited struggle for existence. He tries to escape from his place in the animal kingdom, founded on the free development of the principle of non-moral evolution, and to establish a kingdom of Man, governed upon tile principle of moral evolution. For society not only has a moral end, but in its perfection, social life, is embodied morality.

But the effort of ethical man to work towards a moral end by no means abolished, perhaps has hardly modified, the deep-seated organic impulses which impel the natural man to follow his non-moral course. One of the most essential conditions, if not the chief cause, of the struggle for existence, is the tendency to multiply without limit, which man shares with all living things. It is notable that "increase and multiply" is a commandment traditionally much older than the ten; and that it is, perhaps, the only one which [206] has been spontaneously and ex animo obeyed by the great majority of the human race. But, in civilized society, the inevitable result of such obedience is the re-establishment, in all its intensity, of that struggle for existence–the war of each against all–the mitigation or abolition of which was the chief end of social organization.

It is conceivable that, at some period in the history of the fabled Atlantis, the production of food should have been exactly sufficient to meet the wants of the population, that the makers of the commodities of the artificer should have amounted to just the number supportable by the surplus food of the agriculturists. And, as there is no harm in adding another monstrous supposition to the foregoing, let it be imagined that every man, woman, and child was perfectly virtuous, and aimed at the good of all as the highest personal good. In that happy land, the natural man would have been finally put down by the ethical man. There would have been no competition, but the industry of each would have been serviceable to all; nobody being vain and nobody avaricious, there would have been no rivalries; the struggle for existence would have been abolished, and the millennium would have finally set in. But it is obvious that this state of things could have been permanent only with a stationary population. Add ten fresh mouths; and as, by the supposition, there was [207] only exactly enough before, somebody must go on short rations. The Atlantis society might have been a heaven upon earth, the whole nation might have consisted of just men, needing no repentance, and yet somebody must starve. Reckless Istar, non-moral Nature, would have riven the ethical fabric. I was once talking with a very eminent physician2 about the vis medicatrix naturoe. "Stuff!" said he; "nine times out of ten nature does not want to cure the man: she wants to put him in his coffin." And Istar-Nature appears to have equally little sympathy with the ends of society. "Stuff! she wants nothing but a fair field and free play for her darling the strongest."

Our Atlantis may be an impossible figment, but the antagonistic tendencies which the fable adumbrates have existed in every society which was ever established, and, to all appearance, must strive for the victory in all that will be. Historians point to the greed and ambition of rulers, to the reckless turbulence of the ruled, to the debasing effects of wealth and luxury, and to the devastating wars which have formed a great part of the occupation of mankind, as the causes of the decay of states and the foundering of old civilizations, and thereby point their story with a moral. No doubt immoral motives of all sorts have figured largely among the minor [208] causes of these events. But beneath all this superficial turmoil lay the deep-seated impulse given by unlimited multiplication. In the swarms of colonies thrown out by Phoenicia and by old Greece; in the ver sacrum of the Latin races; in the floods of Gauls and of Teutons which burst over the frontiers of tile old civilization of Europe; in the swaying to and fro of the vast Mongolian hordes in late times, the population problem comes to the front in a very visible shape. Nor is it less plainly manifest in the everlasting agrarian questions of ancient Rome than in the Arreoi societies of the Polynesian Islands.

In the ancient world, and in a large part of that in which we live, the practice of infanticide was, or is, a regular and legal custom; famine, pestilence, and war were and are normal factors in the struggle for existence, and they have served, in a gross and brutal fashion, to mitigate the intensity of the effects of its chief cause.

But, in the more advanced civilizations, the progress of private and public morality has steadily tended to remove all these checks. We declare infanticide murder, and punish it as such; we decree, not quite so successfully, that no one shall die of hunger; we regard death from preventible causes of other kinds as a sort of constructive murder, and eliminate pestilence to the best [209] of our ability; we declaim against the curse of war, and the wickedness of the military spirit, and we are never weary of dilating on the blessedness of peace and the innocent beneficence of Industry. In their moments of expansion, even statesmen and men of business go thus far. The finer spirits look to an ideal civitas Dei; a state when, every man having reached the point of absolute self-negation, and having nothing but moral perfection to strive after, peace will truly reign, not merely among nations, but among nien, and the struggle for existence will be at an end.

Whether human nature is competent, under any circumstances, to reach, or even seriously advance towards, this ideal condition, is a question which need not be discussed. It will be admitted that mankind has not yet reached this stage by a very long way, and my business is with the present. And that which I wish to point out is that, so long as the natural man increases and multiplies without restraint, so long will peace and industry not only permit, but they will necessitate, a struggle for existence as sharp as any that ever went on under the regime of war. If Istar is to reign on the one hand, she will demand her human sacrifices on the other.

Let us look at home. For seventy years peace and industry have had their way among us with less interruption and under more favourable conditions than in any other country on the [210] face of the earth. The wealth of Croesus was nothing to that which we have accumulated, and our prosperity has filled the world with envy. But Nemesis did not forget Croesus: has she forgotten us?

I think not. There are now 36,000,000 of people in our islands, and every year considerably more than 300,000 are added to our numbers.3 That is to say, about every hundred seconds, or so, a new claimant to a share in the common stock or maintenance presents him or herself among us. At the present time, the produce of the soil does not suffice to feed half its population. The other moiety has to be supplied with food which must be bought from the people of food-producing countries. That is to say, we have to offer them the things which they want in exchange for the things we want. And the things they want and which we can produce better than they can are mainly manufactures–industrial products.

The insolent reproach of the first Napoleon had a very solid foundation. We not only are, but, under penalty of starvation, we are bound to be, a nation of shopkeepers. But other

Judged by an ethical standard, nothing can be less satisfactory than the position in which we find ourselves. In a real, though incomplete, degree we have attained the condition of peace which is the main object of social organization; and, for argument's sake, it may be assumed that we desire nothing but that which is in itself innocent and praiseworthy–namely, the enjoyment of the fruits of honest industry. And lo! in spite of ourselves, we are in reality engaged in an internecine struggle for existence with our presumably no less peaceful and well-meaning neighbours. We seek peace and we do not ensue it. The moral nature in us asks for no more than is compatible with the general good; the non-moral nature proclaims and acts upon that fine old Scottish family motto, "Thou shalt starve ere I want." Let us be under no illusions, then. So long as unlimited multiplication goes on, no social organization which has ever been devised, or is [212] likely to be devised, no fiddle-faddling with the distribution of wealth, will deliver society from the tendency to be destroyed by the reproduction within itself, in its intensest form, of that struggle for existence the limitation of which is the object of society. And however shocking to the moral sense this eternal competition of man against man and of nation against nation may be; however revolting may be the accumulation of misery at the negative pole of society, in contrast with that of monstrous wealth at the positive pole;4 this state of things must abide, and grow continually worse, so long as Istar holds her way unchecked. It is the true riddle of the Sphinx; and every nation which does not solve it will sooner or later be devoured by the monster itself has generated.

The practical and pressing question for us, just now, seems to me to be how to gain time. "Time brings counsel," as the Teutonic proverb has it; and wiser folk among our posterity may see their way out of that which at present looks like an impasse.

It would be folly to entertain any ill-feeling towards those neighbours and rivals who, like

ourselves, are slaves of Istar; but, if somebody is to be starved, the modern world has no Oracle of Delphi to which the nations can appeal for an indication of the victim. It is open to us to try [213] our fortune; and, if we avoid impending fate, there will be a certain ground for believing that we are the right people to escape. Securus judicat orbis.

To this end, it is well to look into the necessary condition of our salvation by works. They are two, one plain to all the world and hardly needing insistence; the other seemingly not so plain, since too often it has been theoretically and practically left out of sight. The obvious condition is that our produce shall be better than that of others. There is only one reason why our goods should be preferred to those of our rivals–our customers must find them better at the price. That means that we must use more knowledge, skill, and industry in producing them, without a proportionate increase in the cost of production; and, as the price of labour constitutes a large element in that cost, the rate of wages must be restricted within certain limits. It is perfectly true that cheap production and cheap labour are by no means synonymous; but it is also true that wages cannot increase beyond a certain proportion without destroying cheapness. Cheapness, then, with, as part and parcel of cheapness, a moderate price of labour, is essential to our success as competitors in the markets of the world.

The second condition is really quite as plainly indispensable as the first, if one thinks seriously about the matter. It is social stability. Society [214] is stable, when the wants of its members obtain as much satisfaction as, life being what it is, common sense and experience show may be reasonably expected. Mankind, in general, care very little for forms of government or ideal considerations of any sort; and nothing really stirs the great multitude to break with custom and incur the manifest perils of revolt except the belief that misery in this world, or damnation in the next, or both, are threatened by the continuance of the state of things in which they have been brought up. But when they do attain that conviction, society becomes as unstable as a package of dynamite, and a very small matter will produce the explosion which sends it back to the chaos of savagery.

It needs no argument to prove that when the price of labour sinks below a certain point, the worker infallibly falls into that condition which the French emphatically call la misere–a word for which I do not think there is any exact English equivalent. It is a condition in which the food, warmth, and clothing which are necessary for the mere maintenance of the functions of the body in their normal state cannot be obtained; in which men, women, and children are forced to crowd into dens wherein decency is abolished and the most ordinary conditions of healthful existence are impossible of attainment; in which the pleasures within reach are reduced to bestiality [215] and drunkenness; in which the pains accumulate at compound interest, in the shape of starvation, disease, stunted development, and moral degradation; in which the prospect of even steady and honest industry is a life of unsuccessful battling with hunger, rounded by a pauper's grave.

That a certain proportion of the members of every great aggregation of mankind should constantly tend to establish and populate such a Slough of Despond as this is inevitable, so long as some people are by nature idle and vicious, while others are disabled by sickness or accident, or thrown upon the world by the death of their bread-winners. So long as that proportion is restricted within tolerable limits, it can be dealt with; and, so far as it arises only from such causes, its existence may and must be patiently borne. But, when the organization of society, instead of mitigating this tendency, tends to continue and intensify it; when a given social order plainly makes for evil and not for good, men naturally enough begin to think it high time to try a fresh experiment. The animal man, finding that the ethical man has landed him in such a slough, resumes his ancient sovereignty, and preaches anarchy; which is, substantially, a proposal to reduce the social cosmos to chaos, and begin the brute struggle for existence once again.

Any one who is acquainted with the state of the population of all great industrial centres, [216] whether in this or other countries, is aware that, amidst a large and increasing body of that population, La misere reigns supreme. I have no pretensions to the character of a philanthropist, and I have a special horror of all sorts of sentimental rhetoric; I am merely trying to deal with facts, to some extent within my own knowledge, and further evidenced by abundant testimony, as a naturalist; and I take it to be a mere plain truth that, throughout industrial Europe, there is not a single large manufacturing city which is free from a vast mass of people whose condition is exactly that described; and from a still greater mass who, living just on the edge of the social swamp, are liable to be precipitated into it by any lack of demand for their produce. And, with every addition to the population, the multitude already sunk in the pit and the number of the host sliding towards it continually increase.

Argumentation can hardly be needful to make it clear that no society in which the elements of decomposition are thus swiftly and surely accumulating can hope to win in the race of industries.

Intelligence, knowledge, and skill are undoubtedly conditions of success; but of what avail are they likely to be unless they are backed up by honesty, energy, goodwill, and all the physical and moral faculties that go to the making of manhood, and unless they are stimulated by hope of such reward as men may fairly look to? And what [217] dweller in the slough of want, dwarfed in body and soul, demoralized, hopeless, can reasonably be expected to possess these qualities?

Any full and permanent development of the productive powers of an industrial population, then, must be compatible with and, indeed, based upon a social organization which will secure a fair amount of physical and moral welfare to that population; which will make for good and not for evil. Natural science and religious enthusiasm rarely go hand in hand, but on this matter their concord is complete; and the least sympathetic of naturalists can but admire the insight and the devotion of such social reformers as the late Lord Shaftesbury, whose recently published "Life and Letters" gives a vivid picture of the condition of the working classes fifty years ago, and of the pit which our industry, ignoring these plain truths, was then digging under its own feet.

There is, perhaps, no more hopeful sign of progress among us, in the last half-century, than the steadily increasing devotion which has been and is directed to measures for promoting physical and moral welfare among the poorer classes. Sanitary reformers, like most other reformers whom I have had the advantage of knowing, seem to need a good dose of fanaticism, as a sort of moral coca, to keep them up to the mark, and, doubtless, they have made many mistakes; but that the endeavour to improve the condition under [218] our industrial population live, to amend the drainage of densely peopled streets, to provide baths, washhouses, and gymnasia, to facilitate habits of thrift, to furnish some provision for instruction and amusement in public libraries and the like, is not only desirable from a philanthropic point of view, but an essential condition of safe industrial development, appears to me to be indisputable. It is by such means alone, so far as I can see, that we can hope to check the constant gravitation of industrial society towards la misere, until the general progress of intelligence and morality leads men to grapple with the sources of that tendency. If it is said that the carrying out of such arrangements as those indicated must enhance the cost of production, and thus handicap the producer in the race of competition, I venture, in the first place, to doubt the fact; but if it be so, it results that industrial society has to face a dilemma, either alternative of which threatens destruction.

On the one hand, a population the labour of which is sufficiently remunerated may be physi-

cally and morally healthy and socially stable, but may fail in industrial competition by reason of the dearness of its produce. On the other hand, a population the labour of which is insufficiently remunerated must become physically and morally unhealthy, and socially unstable; and though it may succeed for a while in industrial competition, by reason of the [219] cheapness of its produce, it must in the end fall, through hideous misery and degradation, to utter ruin.

Well, if these are the only possible alternatives, let us for ourselves and our children choose the former, and, if need be, starve like men. But I do not believe that the stable society made up of healthy, vigorous, instructed, and self-ruling people would ever incur serious risk of that fate. They are not likely to be troubled with many competitors of the same character, just yet; and they may be safely trusted to find ways of holding their own.

Assuming that the physical and moral well-being and the stable social order, which are the indispensable conditions of permanent industrial development, are secured, there remains for consideration the means of attaining that knowledge and skill without which, even then, the battle of competition cannot be successfully fought. Let us consider how we stand. A vast system of elementary education has now been in operation among us for sixteen years, and has reached all but a very small fraction of the population. I do not think that there is any room for doubt that, on the whole, it has worked well, and that its indirect no less than its direct benefits have been immense. But, as might be expected, it exhibits the defects of all our educational systems–fashioned as they were to [220] meet the wants of a bygone condition of society. There is a widespread and, I think, well-justified complaint that it has too much to do with books and too little to do with things. I am as little disposed as any one can well be to narrow early education and to make the primary school a mere annexe of the shop. And it is not so much in the interests of industry, as in that of breadth of culture, that I echo the common complaint against the bookish and theoretical character of our primary instruction.

If there were no such things as industrial pursuits, a system of education which does nothing for the faculties of observation, which trains neither the eye nor the hand, and is compatible with utter ignorance of the commonest natural truths, might still be reasonably regarded as strangely imperfect. And when we consider that the instruction and training which are lacking are exactly; those which are of most importance for the great mass of our population, the fault becomes almost a crime, the more that there is no practical difficulty in making good these defects. There really is no reason why drawing should not be universally taught, and it is an admirable training for both eye and hand. Artists are born, not made; but everybody may be taught to draw elevations, plans, and sections; and pots and pans are as good, indeed better, models for this purpose than the Apollo Belvedere. [221] The plant is not expensive; and there is this excellent quality about drawing of the kind indicated, that it can be tested almost as easily and severely as arithmetic. Such drawings are either right or wrong, and if they are wrong the pupil can be made to see that they are wrong. From the industrial point of view, drawing has the further merit that there is hardly any trade in which the power of drawing is not of daily and hourly utility. In the next place, no good reason, except the want of capable teachers, can be assigned why elementary notions of science should not be an element in general instruction. In this case, again, no expensive or elaborate apparatus is necessary. The commonest thing–a candle, a boy's squirt, a piece of chalk–in the hands of a teacher who knows his business, may be made the starting-point whence children may be led into the regions of science as far as their capacity permits, with efficient exercise of their observational and reasoning faculties on the road. If object lessons often prove trivial failures, it is not the fault of object lessons, but that of the teacher, who has not found out how much the power of teaching a little depends on knowing a great deal, and that thoroughly; and that he has not made that discovery is not the fault of the teachers, but of the detestable system of training them which is widely prevalent.5

[222] As I have said, I do not regard the proposal to add these to the present subjects of universal instruction as made merely in the interests of industry. Elementary science and drawing are just as needful at Eton (where I am happy to say both are now parts of the regular course) as in the lowest primary school. But their importance in the education of the artisan is enhanced, not merely by the fact that the knowledge and skill thus gained–little as they may amount to–will still be of practical utility to him; but, further, because they constitute an introduction to that special training which is commonly called "technical education."

I conceive that our wants in this last direction may be grouped under three heads: (1) Instruction in the principles of those branches of science and of art which are peculiarly applicable to industrial pursuits, which may be called preliminary scientific education. (2) Instruction in the special branches of such applied science and art, as technical education proper. (3) Instruction of teachers in both these branches. (I) Capacity-catching machinery.

A great deal has already been done in each of these directions, but much remains to be done.[223] If elementary education is amended in the way that has been suggested, I think that the schoolboards will have quite as much on their hands as they are capable of doing well. The influences under which the members of these bodies are elected do not tend to secure fitness for dealing with scientific or technical education; and it is the less necessary to burden them with an uncongenial task as there are other organizations, not only much better fitted to do the work, but already actually doing it.

In the matter of preliminary scientific education, the chief of these is the Science and Art Department, which has done more during the last quarter of a century for the teaching of elementary science among the masses of the people than any organization which exists either in this or in any other country. It has become veritably a people's university, so far as physical science is concerned. At the foundation of our old universities they were freely open to the poorest, but the poorest must come to them. In the last quarter of a century, the Science and Art Department, by means of its classes spread all over the country and open to all, has conveyed instruction to the poorest. The University Extension movement shows that our older learned corporations have discovered the propriety of following suit.

Technical education, in the strict sense, has become a necessity for two reasons. The old [224] apprenticeship system has broken down, partly by reason of the changed conditions of industrial life, and partly because trades have ceased to be "crafts," the traditional secrets whereof the master handed down to his apprentices. Invention is constantly changing the face of our industries, so that "use and wont," "rule of thumb," and the like, are gradually losing their importance, while that knowledge of principles which alone can deal successfully with changed conditions is becoming more and more valuable. Socially, the "master" of four or five apprentices is disappearing in favour of the "employer" of forty, or four hundred, or four thousand, "hands," and the odds and ends of technical knowledge, formerly picked up in a shop, are not, and cannot be, supplied in the factory. The instruction formerly given by the master must therefore be more than replaced by the systematic teaching of the technical school.

Institutions of this kind on varying scales of magnitude and completeness, from tile splendid edifice set up by the City and Guilds Institute to the smallest local technical school, to say nothing of classes, such as those in technology instituted by the Society of Arts (subsequently taken over by the City Guilds), have been established in various parts of the country, and the movement in favour of their increase and multiplication is rapidly growing in breadth and intensity. But [225] there is much difference of opinion as to the best way in which the technical instruction, so generally desired, should be given. Two courses appear to be practicable: the one is the establishment of special technical schools with a systematic and lengthened course of instruction demanding the employment of the whole time of the pupils. The other is the setting afoot of technical classes, especially evening classes, comprising a short series of lessons on some special topic, which may be attended by persons already earning wages in some branch of trade or commerce.

There is no doubt that technical schools, on the plan indicated under the first head, are extremely costly; and, so far as the teaching of artisans is concerned, it is very commonly objected to them that, as the learners do not work under trade conditions, they are apt to fall into amateurish habits, which prove of more hindrance than service in the actual business of life. When such schools are attached to factories under the direction of an employer who desires to train up a supply of intelligent workmen, of course this objection does not apply; nor can the usefulness of such schools for the training of future employers and for the higher grade of the employed be doubtful; but they are clearly out of the reach of the great mass of the people, who have to earn their bread as soon as possible. We must therefore look to the classes, and especially to [226] evening classes, as the great instrument for the technical education of the artisan. The utility of such classes has now been placed beyond all doubt; the only question which remains is to find the ways and means of extending them.

We are here, as in all other questions of social organization, met by two diametrically opposed views. On the one hand, the methods pursued in foreign countries are held up as our example. The State is exhorted to take the matter in hand. and establish a great system of technical education. On the other hand, many economists of the individualist school exhaust the resources of language in condemning and repudiating, not merely the interference of the general government in such matters, but the application of a farthing of the funds raised by local taxation to these purposes. I entertain a strong conviction that, in this country, at any rate, the State had much better leave purely technical and trade instruction alone. But, although my personal leanings are decidedly towards the individualists, I have arrived at that conclusion on merely practical grounds. In fact, my individualism is rather of a sentimental sort, and I sometimes think I should be stronger in the faith if it were less vehemently advocated.6 I am unable to see that civil society [227] is anything but a corporation established for a moral object only–namely, the good of its members–and therefore that it may take such measures as seem fitting for the attainment of that which the general voice decides to be the general good. That the suffrage of the majority is by no means a scientific test of social good and evil is unfortunately too true; but, in practice, it is the only test we can apply, and the refusal to abide by it means anarchy. The purest despotism that ever existed is as much based upon that will of the majority (which is usually submission to the will of a small minority) as the freest republic. Law is the expression of the opinion of the majority; and it is law, and not mere opinion, because the many are strong enough to enforce it.

I am as strongly convinced as the most pronounced individualist can be, that it is desirable that every man should be free to act in every way which does not limit the corresponding freedom of his fellow-man. But I fail to connect that great induction of political science with the practical corollary which is frequently drawn from it: that the State–that is, the people in their corporate capacity–has no business to meddle with anything but the administration of justice and external defence. It appears to me that the [228] amount of freedom which incorporate society may fitly leave to its members is not a fixed quantity, to be determined a priori by deduction from the fiction called "natural rights"; but that it must be determined by, and vary with, circumstances. I conceive it to be demonstrable that the higher and the more complex the organization of the social body, the more closely is the life of each member bound up with that of the whole; and the larger becomes the category of acts which cease to be merely self-regarding, and which interfere with the freedom of others more or less seriously.

If a squatter, living ten miles away from any neighbour, chooses to burn his house down to get rid of vermin, there may be no necessity (in the absence of insurance offices) that the law should interfere with his freedom of action; his act can hurt nobody but himself. But, if the dweller in a street chooses to do the same thing, the State very properly makes such a proceeding a crime, and punishes it as such. He does meddle with his neighbour's freedom, and that seriously. So it might, perhaps, be a tenable doctrine, that it would be needless, and even tyrannous, to make education compulsory in a sparse agricultural population, living in abundance on the produce of its own soil; but, in a densely populated manufacturing country, struggling for existence with competitors, every ignorant person tends to [229] become a burden upon, and, so far, an infringer of the liberty of, his fellows, and an obstacle to their success. Under such circumstances an education rate is, in fact, a war tax, levied for purposes of defence.

That State action always has been more or less misdirected, and always will be so, is, I believe, perfectly true. But I am not aware that it is more true of the action of men in their corporate capacity than it is of the doings of individuals. The wisest and most dispassionate man in existence, merely wishing to go from one stile in a field to the opposite, will not walk quite straight–he is always going a little wrong, and always correcting himself; and I can only congratulate the individualist who is able to say that his general course of life has been of a less undulatory character. To abolish State action, because its direction is never more than approximately correct, appears to me to be much the same thing as abolishing the man at the wheel altogether, because, do what he will, the ship yaws more or less. "Why should I be robbed of my property to pay for teaching another man's children?" is an individualist question, which is not unfrequently put as if it settled the whole business. Perhaps it does, but I find difficulties in seeing why it should. The parish in which I live makes me pay my share for the paving and lighting of a great many streets that I never pass through; [230] and I might plead that I am robbed to smooth the way and lighten the darkness of other people. But I am afraid the parochial authorities would not let me off on this plea; and I must confess I do not see why they should.

I cannot speak of my own knowledge, but I have every reason to believe that I came into this world a small reddish person, certainly without a gold spoon in my mouth, and in fact with no discernible abstract or concrete "rights" or property of any description. If a foot was not set upon me, at once, as a squalling nuisance, it was either the natural affection of those about me, which I certainly had done nothing to deserve, or the fear of the law which, ages before my birth, was painfully built up by the society into which I intruded, that prevented that catastrophe. If I was nourished, cared for, taught, saved from the vagabondage of a wastrel, I certainly am not aware that I did anything to deserve those advantages. And, if I possess anything now, it strikes me that, though I may have fairly earned my day's wages for my day's work, and may justly call them my property–yet, without that organization of society, created out of the toil and blood of long generations before my time, I should probably have had nothing but a flint axe and an indifferent hut to call my own; and even those would be mine only so long as no stronger savage came my way.

So that if society, having, quite gratuitously, [231] done all these things for me, asks me in turn to do something towards its preservation–even if that something is to contribute to the teaching of other men's children–I really in spite of all my individualist leanings, feel rather ashamed to say no. And if I were not ashamed, I cannot say that I think that society would be dealing unjustly with me in converting the moral obligation into a legal one. There is a manifest unfairness in letting all the burden be borne by the willing horse.

It does not appear to me, then, that there is any valid objection to taxation for purposes of education; but, in the case of technical schools and classes, I think it is practically expedient that such a taxation should be local. Our industrial population accumulates in particular towns and districts; these districts are those which immediately profit by technical education; and it is only in them that we can find the men practically engaged in industries, among whom some may reasonably be expected to be competent judges of that which is wanted, and of the best means of meeting the want.

In my belief, all methods of technical training are at present tentative, and, to be successful, each must be adapted to the special peculiarities of its locality. This is a case in which we want twenty years, not of strong government," but of cheerful and hopeful blundering; and we may be [232] thankful if we act things straight in that time.

The principle of the Bill introduced, but dropped, by the Government last session, appears to me to be wise, and some of the objections to it I think are due to a misunderstanding. The bill proposed in substance to allow localities to tax themselves for purposes of technical education–on the condition that any scheme for such purpose should be submitted to the Science and Art Department, and declared by that department to be in accordance with the intention of the Legislature.

A cry was raised that the Bill proposed to throw technical education into the hands of the Science and Art Department. But, in reality, no power of initiation, nor even of meddling with details, was given to that Department–the sole function of which was to decide whether any plan proposed did or did not come within the limits of "technical education." The necessity for such control, somewhere, is obvious.:No legislature, certainly not ours, is likely to grant the power of self-taxation without setting limits to that power in some way; and it would neither have been practicable to devise a legal definition of technical education, nor commendable to leave the question to the Auditor-General, to be fought out in the law-courts. The only alternative was to leave the decision to an appropriate State authority. If it is asked what is the need of such control if the people of [233] the localities are the best judges, the obvious reply is that there are localities and localities, and that while Manchester, or Liverpool, or Birmingham, or Glasgow might, perhaps, be safely left to do as they thought fit, smaller towns, in which there is less certainty of full discussion by competent people of different ways of thinking, might easily fall a prey to crocheteers.

Supposing our intermediate science teaching and our technical schools and classes are established, there is yet a third need to be supplied, and that is the want of good teachers. And it is necessary not only to get them, but to keep them when you have got them.

It is impossible to insist too strongly upon the fact that the efficient teachers of science and of technology are not to be made by the processes in vogue at ordinary training colleges. The memory loaded with mere bookwork is not the thing wanted–is, in fact, rather worse than useless–in the teacher of scientific subjects. It is absolutely essential that his mind should be full of knowledge and not of mere learning, and that what he knows should have been learned in the laboratory rather than in the library. There are happily already, both in London and in the provinces, various places in which such training is to be had, and the main thing at present is to make it in the first place accessible, and in the next indispensable, to those who undertake the business of teaching. [234] But when the well-trained men are supplied, it must be recollected that the profession of teacher is not a very lucrative or otherwise tempting one, and that it may be advisable to offer special inducements to good men to remain in it. These, however, are questions of detail into which it is unnecessary to enter further.

Last, but not least, comes the question of providing the machinery for enabling those who are by nature specially qualified to undertake the higher branches of industrial work, to reach the position in which they may render that service to the community. If all our educational expenditure did nothing but pick one man of scientific or inventive genius, each year, from amidst the hewers of wood and drawers of water, and give him the chance of making the best of his inborn faculties, it would be a very good investment. If there is one such child among the hundreds of thousands of our annual increase, it would be worth any money to drag him either from the slough of misery, or from the hotbed of wealth, and teach him to devote himself to the service of his people. Here, again, we have made a beginning with our scholarships and the like, and need only follow in the tracks already worn.

The programme of industrial development briefly set forth in the preceding pages is not what Kant calls a "Hirngespinnst," a cobweb spun in the brain of a Utopian philosopher. More [235] or less of it has taken bodily shape in many parts of the country, and there are towns of no great size or wealth in the manufacturing districts (Keighley, for example) in which almost the whole of it has, for some time, been carried out, so far as the means at the disposal of the energetic and public-spirited men who have taken the matter in hand permitted. The thing can be done; I have endeavoured to show good grounds for the belief that it must be done, and that speedily, if we wish to hold our own in the war of industry. I doubt not that it will be done, whenever its absolute necessity becomes as apparent to all those who are absorbed in the actual business of industrial life as it is to some of the lookers on.

Perhaps it is necessary for me to add that technical education is not here proposed as a panacea for social diseases, but simply as a medicament which will help the patient to pass through an imminent crisis.

An ophthalmic surgeon may recommend an operation for cataract in a man who is going blind, without being supposed to undertake that it will cure him of gout. And I may pursue the metaphor so far as to remark, that the surgeon is justified in pointing out that a diet of pork-chops and burgundy will probably kill his patient, though he may be quite able to suggest a mode [236] of living which will free him from his constitutional disorder.

Mr. Booth asks me, Why do you not propose some plan of your own? Really, that is no answer to my argument that his treatment will make the patient very much worse. [Note added in Social Diseases and Worse Remedies, January, 1891.]

1 [The reader will observe that this is the argument of the Romanes Lecture, in brief–1894.]

2 The late Sir W. Gull.

3 These numbers are only approximately accurate. In 1881, our population amounted to 35,241,482, exceeding the number in 1871 by 3,396,103. The average annual increase in the decennial period 1871-1881 is therefore 339,610. The number of minutes in a calendar year is 525,600.

4 [It is hard to say whether the increase of the unemployed poor, or that of the unemployed rich, is the greater social evil.–1894.]

5 Training in the use of simple tools is no doubt very desirable, on all grounds. From the point of view of "culture," the man whose "fingers are all thumbs" is but a stunted creature. But the practical difficulties in the way of introducing handiwork of this kind into elementary schools appear to me to be considerable.

6 In what follows I am only repeating and emphasizing opinions which I expressed seventeen years ago, in an Address to the members of the Midland Institute (republished in Critiques and Addresses in 1873, and in Vol. I. of these Essays). I have seen no reason to modify them, notwithstanding high authority on the other side.

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: Letters to the Times, pages 237-311.

Previous part of this article: Preface, pages 188-194.



1.   THH Publications
2.   Victorian Commentary
3.   20th Century Commentary

1.   Letter Index
2.   Illustration Index

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