Are Men Born Free and Equal?

by Robert Buchanan
with letters by T. H. H.
The Daily Telegraph (January 1890)

Sir–No more crowing illustration of the incapacity of the scientific mind to grasp philosophical propositions could possibly be found than the criticism of the Socialistic theories of Rousseau, just published by Professor Huxley in the "Nineteenth Century." Admirably as he is equipped for the light skirmishing of popular knowledge, Professor Huxley fails altogether to understand the great French idealist, just as surely as he fails, in his perversion of Herbert Spencer, to grasp the meaning of our greatest English philosopher; and, both in the matter of his argument and in the manner of its expression, he exhibits the logical insecurity of the specialist transformed into the dilettante. Great wisdom and insight, attaining to almost prophetic vision, cannot be combated by the random shots of mere intelligence, and all the professor's cleverness, all his liberal culture, does not save him from the fate of those who criticise great propaganda unsympathetically, and from the outside. So serious a social issue, however, hangs on the advocacy by a distinguished man of retrograde and anti-human political theories, that it may be worth while to point out the fallacy, nay the absurdity, of Professor Huxley's main contention.

Nothing is easier, as we all know, than to ridicule the extravagances into which Rousseau was carried by his discovery, viâ Hobbes and Locke, of the natural equality of men by showing how his splendid imagination ran riot among extraordinarily fanciful pictures of primitive perfection. He was careful, nevertheless, to warn us that these pictures were possibly imaginary and illusory–as science has, indeed, proved them to be–and were rather premonitions of what would be than visions of what had been. When, however, he asserted that men were born free and equal, and that civilisation had destroyed to a perilous extent their natural freedom and equality, he never meant to say–as Professor Huxley makes him say–that the physical and intellectual faculties of individuals were uniform in quality. His thesis was a sane and a sublime one, already recognised in our jurisprudence, that so far as moral rights were concerned, all human beings, by the Law of Nature, stand in the same practical category. Gifts of genius and of insight, although the birthright of individuals, confer no prescriptive rights of moral exemption; they distinguish certain men, as colour and odour distinguish certain flowers, as fleetness and beauty distinguish certain animals, but they do not free the possessors from the ordinary conditions of physical and moral being, to which condition all men alike are born. Shakespeare the seer resembles Hodge the boor in all the characteristics of an eating, drinking, and sleeping animal, and, further, as a unit in the body political and social. The two are equal by nature in all the limitations of human vitality; but Rousseau went a great deal further than this. He contended that intellectual culture, or civilisation, so far from necessarily improving the individual man, not unfrequently led to moral deterioration–a monstrous assumption from the point of view of specialists like Professor Huxley, but a perfectly tenable one from the standpoint of those who set instinct and insight above special acquirement. The history of mankind, more particularly the biographies of great men, is full of incidents which establish the paradox that a wise man is frequently a fool, and that a man of strong reasoning power is often a moral weakling. It is questionable, in fact, whether the advance of the race in sociology, in art, in literature, in science has been accompanied with any real advance of the individual–whether, to put the issue into other words, any amount of personal culture renders a man superior to his fellows in those primary sympathies and affections which condition the lives of the lordliest and the least intelligent. Humanity has doubtless developed in power and knowledge but individual men remain very much what they have been from the beginning of society. To grasp this point thoroughly and to understand whither the mighty insight of Rousseau was directed, we must understand that in the eyes of the philosopher of Geneva, as in those of the founder of Christian ethics, moral qualities were absolute, while intellectual gifts were merely relative and subsidiary. Let us take, by way of analogy, one day of a great and wise man's life, and contrast it for a moment with another of a life which is neither great nor wise.

William Wordsworth, Poet and Recluse, gets up in the morning, washes and dresses, and after a walk in his garden, goes in to breakfast. Reads the news from London, and à propos of some new production of Keats or Shelley, avers that it "contains no more poetry than a pint-pot." Goes for a long walk over the mountains with his sister Dorothy, and being full of matter for a new poem, scarcely perceives that his companion is wearied out and waning in health. Towards afternoon, feels again the pangs of a hungry animal, and returns to feed. Possibly, like his pet terrier, has a little nap after dinner. Wakens, and listens to a little music. In the evening, does his correspondence, and adds a few touches to a manuscript poem. A starry night: he stands at his door and surveys the constellations. Certain fine thoughts flow through his mechanism, as the wind agitating an Æolian harp. Feels convinced that there is a benevolent Personal God, and that, on the whole, it is a very beautiful and excellently regulated world. Prays to the Giver of all Good, and, being tired and sleepy, goes to bed early and sleeps the sleep of the just.

Now, in all this, as possibly in most of the days of other poets and philosophers, there is nothing, except the power of writing fine poetry, to distinguish Wordsworth from the uneducated mountain Shepherd who lives in the neighbourhood, and knows only one book–the Bible of his fathers. The Shepherd gets up, washes, dresses, and after driving his flock from the fold to their pasture, either returns to eat or feeds on bread and cheese on the mountain side. He reads no news, but meeting some neighbour, hears the latest gossip from the market town. Spends the day loafing on the mountain, and when he is hungry and thirsty, eats and drinks again. If the weather is fine, has a nap among the heather. Drives home his flock in the evening, and sits down for a smoke among his family. Glances out at the shiny night, and feels–or possibly, does not feel–a certain series of awe and loneliness. Remembers what his father has taught him, that there is a God up yonder. Prays to that God, and throwing himself down on his humble bed, sleeps the same sleep as his neighbour the poet at Rydal Mount.

These two men have all day fulfilled the same primary functions, and in every process of their day there is more resemblance than divergence; in other words, the preponderance both of action and feeling is in favour of natural equality. "Ah, but," cries the hero-worshipper, "you have left out the one sign distinguishing one from the other–that of superior intelligence, that of the poetic gift." I think Wordsworth himself would have been the first to admit that, apart from the accomplishment of written speech, the Shepherd's insight, sympathy, and affections might have been fully equal to his own; for if the poet of Rydal has taught us anything, it is that the poor and uninstructed, the ignorant of men and books, are among the most beautiful souls of humanity. The gift of song is glorious in a man, as it is in a nightingale, but it does not necessarily make him better as a human being, and certainly does not free him from the weaknesses and necessities of his human inheritance. Being a gift, it belongs rather to God than to himself. It certainly gives him no privilege of moral superiority.

Be that as it may, my illustration may help the reader to understand what Rousseau really meant when he proclaimed the natural equality of human beings. He meant that men are born equal, inasmuch as they are subject to the same laws and entitled to the same advantages. He meant that no man, however powerful, had a right to accept any pleasure which any other man might not receive on the same terms. He meant that worldly knowledge, including book knowledge, is at the best a limited thing, seeing that all man knows is "that nothing can be known." He meant that class distinctions, class prejudices, class pride, class privileges, are the merest appropriation of unlimited selfishness, infringing the rights of humanity at large. He meant that men would be happier without physical luxury, and purer without intellectual pride. True, in picturing his ideal state he went too far, but, going as far as he did, he reached and he defined the limits of the area of social and political freedom. He attained the apogee of his prophetic life when he wrote his Savoyard Vicar's Prayer, which embodies the noblest of his teaching, and answers still the innermost yearning of the heart of man.

How far Professor Huxley is from understanding the Religion of Equality may be gathered from several of his own expressions. We already know that, speaking as a scientific specialist, he rejects Mr. Spencer's masterly definition of absolute political ethics; but he goes farther and finds nothing absolute in any ethics whatever. No man of philosophic perception could have affirmed that "the equality of men before God is an equality either of insignificance or of imperfection"; no man of political insight could have suggested that universal suffrage is synonymous with laissez faire. Professor Huxley describes himself as among those "who do not care for sentiment and do care for truth," forgetting that there is no real sentiment which is not a truth's adumbration, and assuming, in the true spirit of the age, that what is sentimental must necessarily be false. The series of questions with which he cross-examines modern democrats on the thesis that "all men are born free and equal" is surely a reductio ad absurdum of the quasi-scientific manner. No one ever talked, as he makes his witnesses talk, of "the political status of a new-born child," no one ever contended that, because freedom is born within the human flesh, it becomes an actual factor before that flesh is conditioned into moral intelligence; but it is when we reach the Professor's own conclusions that we discover what his derision of equality and freedom really means. His defence of the status quo, of the topsy-turvydom of modern society, of the condition of affairs which gives Jacob all the fruits of the earth and leaves Esau to starve in the wilderness, is founded on the plea of "practical expediency"–a plea on which even Nero might have justified himself to what he termed his conscience in planning the conflagration of Rome. "There is much to be said," Professor Huxley thinks, echoing poor Carlyle, "for the opinion that force, effectually and thoroughly used, so as to render further opposition hopeless, establishes an ownership which should be recognised as soon as possible." "For the welfare of society, as for that of individual men," he continues, "it is surely essential that there should be a statute of limitations in respect of the consequence of wrong-doing." Surely here we have teaching worthier of Mr. Jonathan Wild than of a popular Professor in a State whose very religion is founded on the à priori assumptions he despises. Science itself should have instructed Professor Huxley, just as surely as Religion does its votaries, that the penalties of wrongdoing are exacted even to the uttermost generation. Is there a statute of limitations to the law of heredity, to the law by which the sins and follies of the fathers are visited upon their children? If no such statute prevails in the physical, why should it do so in the social and political worlds? Only one thing can cure evil, and that is the destruction of it, at any cost, at any sacrifice. So long as it exists, it is a canker and a curse. Assume that our social system is founded on wrongdoing–and Professor Huxley has admitted it–by what possible standard of ethics would he keep it permanent? Because it "exists," and because, since it exists, it is "expedient." Talk of the "sham sentiment" of Rousseau; it becomes sublime doctrine by the side of the sham reason of his critic, who, while scorning and despising the gospel of laissez faire, in the same breath preachs [sic.] the essence of that gospel.

In another letter I will, with your permission, endeavour to explain more fully than is at present possible the ethical standpoint of those propagandists who, in suggesting crucial reforms of our present social and political systems, base their arguments on the absolute principle of the natural freedom and equality of men.

January 27, 1890, by T. H. Huxley

Sir–I have read Mr. Robert Buchanan's letter, which has been kindly sent to me. I would not, on any account, interfere with so characteristic a development of latter-day Rousseauism–so many people fancy that it is dead and buried, and that I have wasted my time in slaying the slain.

January 27, 1890, by Robert Buchanan

Sir–I had hoped, in the present discussion, to avoid current politics altogether; for it is impossible to touch on political issues–especially in the columns of a daily newspaper–without awaking a storm of prejudice and misunderstanding. I shall still endeavour to steer clear of contemporary broils, although your own comments on my first letter do certainly invite polemical treatment. Will you permit me to say, however, that I am more astonished at your indirect championship of the doctrines of expediency than at your quite irrelevant attack on the personal character and conduct of Rousseau? Perhaps, however, you do not quite realise that your attack is less upon the religion of modern Socialism than upon the creed of Christianity itself. The strangest, or, at any rate, the most accepted, argument against that creed has been that, although theoretically excellent, it is practically impossible. Society has refused from time immemorial to be ruled in the conduct of life by either its principles or its precepts. Men hoard up riches in this world, and when one cheek is smitten they do not offer the other. They pray in the temple, but they curse and cheat in the market-place. Interrogated on this inconsistency, they explain that adherence to the absolute tenets of their religion would be suicidal. Even some of our most Christian teachers have protested that the Christ was too superhuman, too transcendently impolitic, to be followed quite all the way along the thorny path of self-abnegation. So that when you say that Rousseau's doctrine is refuted at every point by the facts of life, you should add that Christianity also is so refuted; and you would be, from the political and historical point of view, perfectly right. The founder of Christianity, however, carefully distinguished between the adherence we may find it expedient to give to Cæsar, and that higher adherence we must give to God. He paused at first principles and went no further, hoping against hope that those first principles were seeds which would grow surely in the conscience of Humanity. "Love one another" was his highest and holiest admonition–one which we, in this Christian country, carry out by allowing wealth to accumulate and men to decay; by permitting, as in the case of the deer forest of Scotland, the accumulated capital of one or two men to mean the destruction and expatriation of thousands; by suffering, as in Ireland, a landlordism without even the excuse of capital to drive a whole nation into despair and into crime.

You ask me, naturally enough, if somewhat flippantly, to name those absolute ethical principles on which I and far more able propagandists would base the reconstruction of Society, while at the same time you seek to stultify my advocacy by suggesting that it is doubtless purely sentimental, and must conflict on every side with the result of daily experience. Sir, it would be idle as well as impertinent for me, at the very time when the sanest and clearest intellect known to us at present on this planet has occupied itself with the exposition of absolute principles (to the great mental confusion of scientific Philistia and Professor Huxley), to accept in my perfunctory way to define those principles. For their definition I must refer you to Mr. Herbert Spencer's more recent writings–luminous as all that comes from that crystal pen, unanswerable as most of the arguments that come from that master mind. Mr. Spencer himself has told us, in words of dignified remonstrance, that his exposition has been misunderstood and perverted at every point by Professor Huxley; and so, if we examine the matter closely, we shall find the case to be. Mine is a far humbler task, to explain as far as possible to the hasty readers of a great newspaper, in as clear and popular language as is at my command, a few simple points of that propagandism which proposes to redress centuries of wrongdoing, and, possibly, to reconstruct Society.

One word, before I proceed, concerning your own estimate of the teachings of Rousseau, which estimate varies little, if at all, from that of Professor Huxley. Forgetful altogether that I began by agreeing with Rousseau on the subject of first principles, and not by approving the hastily designed political and social structure he based upon them, you resort to the stereotyped mode of polemics, that of attacking the great doctrinaire's personal character. Here, however, you unconsciously support my main thesis–that great intellect has little or nothing to do with moral goodness, and that Rousseau, in much of his conduct, was a sort of philosophical Jack Shepherd. It should be remembered, however, that Rousseau made no concealment whatever of his moral distemperature and social larcenies; that standing, as he expressed it, before the Judgment Seat, he made clean breast of his sins and weaknesses, whereas most other men have chosen to hide, rather than to discover, their moral littleness. While I doubt the expediency of such revelations, I believe them to have been made in all sincerity, and I am also quite sure that the record of most men, if so made public, would shock propriety as much as the record of Rousseau. [...]

The true political problem, placed before themselves by those propagandists who, like Mr. Spencer, are Socialists only in the good and philosophical sense, and who are not, like mere Communists, enemies of all vested interests whatsoever, is to regenerate society without destroying that part of its structure which experience proves to be sound. The principle that men are born free and equal does not imply, as its opponents frequently suggest, that absolute intellectual equality is possible, or that men, being free, are free to do exactly what they please; it merely means, as I have said, that each unit of society has equal rights of membership, and complete liberty of action within the scope of the common organisation. Absolute individual freedom is, of course, impossible, as citizenship, i.e., equality and fraternity, implies due recognition of the rights of others. [...]

I have named three principles, on the triumph or failure of which depends the future of society: equal freedom to share the necessaries of life, equal freedom of opportunity to advance, equal freedom to shape individual thought and action within the necessary limitations of political organisation. If the status quo admits these principles, and if they are allowed free scope of activity, then nothing more is to be said. The higher Socialism contends that they may be recognised generally, even as "truisms," but that, in most of the affairs of life, in nearly all its practical conduct, they are entirely disregarded. Large bodies of the community have practically no food to eat, no freedom to earn even common sustenance; still larger classes, though they may gain the common necessaries of life, are, by the cruelty of their labour for bare bread and from the pressure of the organisation around them, forbidden the opportunity to advance a single step; and classes even yet larger are, by the spirit of temporising and compromising (approved as we have seen by even scientists like Professor Huxley), denied the natural freedom of human beings, on the plea that, under a political "statute of limitations," the force originally founded on wrongdoing ought to be respected!

Well, Rousseau's sublime paradox still holds: "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains." It is useless, or it seems to be useless, to argue against those who, like Professor Huxley and your wandering-witted "Hereditary Bondsman," contend that the freedom and equality of Nature means (what it was never supposed even by Rousseau to mean) that all men are alike, that there is no such thing as differentiation of power or character, and that one man, however degraded and uninstructed, is as good as any other. [...]

January 29, 1890, by T. H. Huxley

Sir–I have already offered a cordial welcome to Mr. Robert Buchanan, on the occasion of his debut in the theatre of political speculation; and the sincerity of my wish that he may continue to exhibit the results of the poetic method, in its application to the dry facts of natural and civil history, is nowise affected by the circumstance that he considers me to be an advocate of "retrograde and anti-human political theories," a defender "of the topsy-turveydom of modern society," and, altogether, a scientific Philistine of the worst description.

I do not address you for the purpose of combating these opinions; or even to set forth some pleas for mercy which might weigh in my favour with any judge less confident of his competency. I would not even be so indecent as to linger too long on this side of annihilation; but unless I be worse than other criminals, I trust you will permit me to send a few words to the scattered remnant of the people, in whose minds the anathema just fulminated has not extinguished any little credit I may have hitherto possessed. It appears that there are "three principles, on the triumph or failure of which depends the future of society; equal freedom to share the necessaries of life; equal freedom of opportunity to advance; equal freedom to shape individual thought and action within the necessary limitations of political organisation. If the status quo admits these principles, and if they are allowed free scope of activity, then nothing more is to be said."

Now, it seems to me that the political principles of which I have been a tolerably active advocate all my life, and of which I hope to remain an advocate so long as I have the power to speak or write–may be expressed, though somewhat clumsily, by just these words. Perhaps I deceive myself, but it really is my impression that I am hardly open to the charge of having failed to assert freedom of thought and action any time these five-and-thirty years. Unless I am dreaming, I have done what lay in my power to promote those measures of public education which afford the best of opportunities for advancement to the poorer members of society; and that in the teeth of bitter opposition on the part of fanatical adherents of the political philosophy which Mr. Buchanan idolises, the consistent application of which reasoned savagery to practice would have left the working classes to fight out the struggle for existence among themselves, and bid the State to content itself with keeping the ring.

As to equal freedom to share the necessaries of life, I really was not aware that anybody is, or can be, refused that freedom. If a man has anything to offer in exchange for a loaf which the baker thinks worth it, that loaf will certainly be given to him; but if he has nothing, then it is not I, but the extreme Individualists, who will say that he may starve. If the State relieves his necessities, it is not I but they who say it is exceeding its powers; if private charity succours the poor fellow, it is not I but they who reprove the giver for interfering with the survival of the fittest. Logically enough, they ask: why preserve Nature's failures? That a philosophy of which these are the unvarnished results should rouse a humanitarian enthusiast, whose sincerity is beyond question, to be its champion is singular; though not more singular than the villipending of St. Just for over-legislation, or by a worshipper of Rousseau. An ingrained habit of scientific grovelling among facts has led me to the conclusion that Jacobin over-legislation was a direct consequence of Rousseauism. These gentlemen guillotined the people who did not care to be free and equal and brotherly in their fashion. If anyone doubt the fact, I would advise him to read M. Taine's volume on the "Jacobin Conquest of France," which is all the more interesting just now, as it affords the best of commentaries on the Parnellite conquest of Southern Ireland.

The source of a great deal of the wrath which seems to have been raised by my essay appears to me to lie in the circumstance that my critics are too angry to see that the point of difference between us consists, not in the appreciation of the merits of freedom in the three directions indicated, but in regard to the extent of those "necessary limitations" of freedom to which all agree. My position is that those limitations are not determinable by a priori speculation, but only by the results of experience; that they cannot be produced from principles of absolute ethics, once and for all, but that they vary with the state of development of the polity to which they are applied. And I may be permitted to observe that the settlement of this question lies neither with the celestial courts of poesy nor with the tribunals of speculative cloudland, but with men who are accustomed to live and work amongst facts, instead of dreaming amidst impracticable formulas.

January 30, 1890, by T. H. Huxley

Sir–Unwilling to occupy your space, or to try the patience of your readers needlessly, I abstained, in my letter of the 27th, from dealing with a topic of some importance suggested by a sentence in Mr. Robert Buchanan's second communication. On reflection, however, I am convinced that, in the interest of the public, the omission was an error, and I ask for an opportunity of making reparation. This is the sentence:

"The true political problem, placed before themselves by those propagandists who, like Mr. Spencer, are Socialists only in the good and philosophical sense, and who are not, like mere Communists, enemies of all vested interests whatsoever, is to regenerate society without destroying that part of its structure which experience proves to be sound."

Mr. Spencer, therefore, is declared by Mr. Buchanan to be a "Socialist" "in the good and philosophical sense." The other day the Newcastle Socialists declared that their doctrine concerning land-ownership was founded upon Mr. Spencer's early teachings, and that these had never been really disowned by him. If they are right in this contention, and if, in Mr. Buchanan's eyes, their socialism is of the "good and philosophical" sort, then, of course, it may be proper to call Mr. Spencer a Socialist. I offer no opinion on this delicate subject; but I may be permitted to say that, hitherto, I have laboured under the impression that, whether he is always consistent or not, Mr. Spencer belongs to a school of political philosophy which is diametrically opposed to everything which has hitherto been known as Socialism.

The variations of Socialism are as multitudinous as those of Protestantism; but as even a Bossuet must be compelled to admit that the Protestant sects agree in one thing, namely, the refusal to acknowledge the authority of the Pope; so, I do not think it will be denied that all the Socialist sects agree in one thing, namely, the right of the State to impose regulations and restrictions upon its members, over and beyond those which may be needful to prevent any one man from encroaching upon the equal rights of another. Every Socialistic theory I know of demands from the Government that it shall do something more than attend to the administration of justice between man and man, and to the protection of the State from external enemies. Contrariwise, every form of what is called "Individualism" restricts the functions of government, in some or all directions, to the discharge of internal and external police duties, or, in the case of Anarchist Individualism, still further. Scientifically founded by Locke, applied to economics by the laissez-faire philosophers of the eighteenth century, exhaustively stated by Wilhelm von Humboldt, and developed, in this country, with admirable consistency and irrefutable reasoning (the premisses being granted) by Mr. Auberon Herbert, I had always imagined Individualism to have one of its most passionate advocates in Mr. Spencer. I had fondly supposed, until Mr. Robert Buchanan taught me better, that if there was any charge Mr. Spencer would find offensive, it would be that of being declared to be, in any shape or way, a Socialist. Can it be possible that a little work of Mr. Spencer's, "The Man versus the State," published only six years ago, is not included by Mr. Buchanan among the "more recent writings" of which he speaks, as, perhaps, too popular for his notice?

However this may be, I desire to make clear to your readers what the "good and philosophical" sort of "Socialism" which finds expression in the following passages is like:

"There is a notion, always more or less prevalent, and just now vociferously expressed, that all social suffering is removable, and that it is the duty of somebody or other to remove it. Both these beliefs are false." (p. 19.)

"A creature not energetic enough to maintain itself must die," is said to be "a dictum on which the current creed and the creed of science are at one." (p. 19.)

"Little as politicians recognise the fact, it is nevertheless demonstrable that these various public appliances for working-class comfort, which they are supplying at the cost of the ratepayers, are intrinsically of the same nature as those which, in past times, treated the farmer's man as half-labourer and half-pauper." (p. 21)

On p. 22, legislative measures for the better housing of artisans and for the schooling of their children; on p. 24, for the regulation of the labour of women and children; on p.27, for sanitary purposes; meet with the like condemnation. And the whole position is neatly summed up in the answer to the question, "What is essential to the idea of a slave?" put at page 34. It is too long to cite in its entirety, but here is the pith of it:

"The essential question is, How much is he compelled to labour for other benefit than his own, and how much can he labour for his own benefit? The degree of his slavery varies according to the ratio between that which he is forced to yield up and that which he is allowed to retain; and it matters not whether his master is a single person or a society. If, without option, he has to labour for the society and receives from the general stock such portion as the society awards him, he becomes a slave to the society. Socialistic arrangements necessitate an enslavement of this kind ; and towards such an enslavement many recent measures and, still more, the measures advocated, are carrying us." (p. 35)

The words which I have italicised, as it seems to me, condemn Socialism of all kinds pretty forcibly; and I further suggest that they appear to be somewhat inconsistent with the acceptance of even a "good and philosophical" form of that creed. But Mr. Robert Buchanan's profound study of Mr. Spencer's works may enable him to produce contradictory passages. I invite him to do so.

February 3, 1890, by Robert Buchanan

Sir–I have certainly expressed myself very ill if I appear to be accusing Professor Huxley of wholesale Philistinism, using the word "Philistinism" to imply a class of intelligence outside of all sympathy with advanced ideals. No one can recognise more fully than myself the service which Science has of late years done for Free Thought and for Humanity, and it was precisely because Professor Huxley was classed, and classed deservedly, among the most distinguished of those Scientists who have sacrificed leisure and comfort for the sake of their fellows, that I was aghast to find him ranging himself once, but I hope not for ever, with the opponents of human progress.

On what plea, may I ask, does Professor Huxley, in classing not only the uncrowned and unhonoured poet, but also the crowned and honoured philosopher, as equally impracticable, arrogate to himself the exclusive mastery of current and historical "facts"? Seemingly upon the plea that both philosophers and poets dwell in mere cloudland; while he alone, with mailed feet like those of Perseus, walks dragon-slaying on the common ground. [...] As to Mr. Spencer, a philosopher pur et simple , he has marshalled in his "Principles of Sociology" and in the compilations published as practical addenda to that work, an array of social and historical evidence unequalled certainly in this generation. Professor Huxley on the other hand, burrows so deep among what he considers "facts" that he becomes a sort of moral troglodyte, and loses knowledge of the upper sunshine and fresh air.

An tenebras Orci visat vastasque lacunas.

And when he emerges into common daylight what has he to tell us? Not the grand truths which he and others have won honour by advocating, but trivial ipse dixit statements, not to be verified in any daylight whatever. His one ruling idea concerning men is that they must be "governed"–washed, cleaned, assorted, parcelled out and labelled, educated up to the theory that there is a political "statute of limitations," and that the force of a special governmental Providence is a thing not to be resisted.

Just look a little closer at his statements that "there is much to be said for the opinion that force effectually and thoroughly used, so as to render further opposition hopeless, establishes an ownership that should be recognised as soon as possible," and that "for the welfare of society, as well as for that of individual men, there should be a statute of limitations in respect of the consequences of wrongdoing."[...] "As to freedom to share the necessaries of life," says our new Daniel come to Judgment, "I really was not aware that anybody is, or can be, refused that freedom," and he illustrates his contention by saying that "if a man has anything to offer which the baker thinks worth a loaf, that loaf will certainly be given to him." What a mockery of, not to say "grovelling in," facts, have we here! What a putting of the cart before the horse! Society begins by paralysing a man, by denying to him ordinary light, leisure, instruction, the power of "having anything to offer"; it converts him into a mere pauper by refusing him the common vocabulary of civilisation, and then, when he asks for bread, Society replies, "Certainly; what have you to give me in exchange?" What Freedom and Equality mean is that every man should be invested with the knowledge enabling him, by fair labour, to produce something which is a loaf's value. Is this the case? If it is so then I am stultified, and the Professor's "facts" are victorious.

So much for the Professor's general statements. In the postscriptal letter published this morning in your columns, Professor Huxley suggests that I am possibly much mistaken in calling Mr. Herbert Spencer "a Socialist," and, after quoting certain passages from the philosopher's writings, invites me to quote from the same writings passages which are contradictory. So far as the Land Question itself is concerned, and the attitude of the Newcastle reformers thereupon, I presume I need not go further than cite the following passage from "Social Statics": "Equity does not permit property in land. For, if one portion of the earth's surface may justly become the property of an individual, held for his sole use and benefit, as a thing to which he has an exclusive right, then other portions of the earth's surface may be so held, and our planet may thus lapse into private hands. It follows that if the land-owners have a valid right to its surface, all those who are not landowners have no right at all to its surface." Mr. Spencer has not been in the habit of disclaiming his own dicta, and the Socialists of Newcastle need have no fear, I fancy, that he will disclaim this one. But, Professor Huxley insists, Mr. Spencer's later utterances are those, not of Socialism, but of Individualism, entirely overlooking the fact that the terms Socialism and Individualism are not contrary terms, but two faces [ sic]of the same proposition. [...]

Let me put the matter plainly. Professor Huxley misunderstands the higher Socialism as thoroughly as he misunderstands Mr. Spencer. He is "trimming," while Mr. Spencer is reconstructing. The triumph of Socialism, historically and morally, is the triumph of Individualism. [...]

Unhappily, the leaning of most new creeds, as of all the old, is in the direction of social tyranny. And why? Simply because poor human nature finds it hard to understand, and far harder to carry out, absolute ethical principles. Socialism, like all other human efforts to secure the greatest happiness of the greatest number–like Christianity, like the Religion of Humanity–has failed again and again. But if Professor Huxley's dicta of quasi-providential or Governmental interference with the conduct of life were to be universally accepted, Humanity might well despair for ever; for with the destruction of Individualism would end the last hope of the higher Socialism. Over-legislation would restore slavery to mankind, and preserve the semi-disintegrated feudality which is still so large a portion of our political system. The philosophers, not the quidnunc, holds the secret of wise legislation. The creed of the higher Socialism, not the creed of those who believe that Socialism conflicts with Individualism, is that which follows the Law of Nature, by basing individual chance on the natural freedom and equality of men.

To find Professor Huxley fighting for the status quo in Politics is to me a far sadder sight than to find him (for such a miracle may some day happen) fighting for the status quo in Religion. Religion, after all, can take care of itself. But the man who argues in favour of Force as a proof of ownership, and of a statute of limitations in matter of secular wrongdoing, will one day have to cast his lot with Ecclesiasticism and the Bishops. There is no way out of the dilemma, for Church and State stand or fall together. I shall watch with curiosity the process which may lead to the conversion of another Saul.


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University