Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/320

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

that is, of the struggle for existence, heredity, and natural selection. A benevolence that takes no account of those laws may become malign, and the short-sighted fraternity that considers only the existing generation may be transformed, as we shall see, into a veritable injustice toward future generations. The great danger to which a blind charity, dissociated from science and stipulative justice, exposes itself is that of depressing the physical and moral level of the race. What are the conclusions of Darwinism on this point? We may, with Mr. Spencer, summarize them in the two propositions which every philanthropist, in his opinion, should have always present in his mind: "The quality of a society is physically lowered by the artificial preservation of its feeblest members; the quality of a society is lowered morally and intellectually by the artificial preservation of those who are least able to take care of themselves." Let us successively consider, and endeavor to restrict to their real bearing, these two capital propositions. The law of Malthus, from which Darwin has deduced the law of the struggle for existence, tends to produce in the existing state of society a numerical surplus of individuals who struggle for life itself. Excessive fecundity has good and bad results. All individuals finding themselves subjected by its operation to an increasing difficulty in gaining their living, there is produced in society a kind of pressure, the natural effect of which is, on the average, a progress. Those alone, in effect, can survive who are capable of resisting that pressure, and even of advancing under its influence; these, then, may be considered "the elect of their generation." When an individual succumbs, it is always for lack of power to triumph over some action of the environment—cold, heat, moisture, insalubrity of air, etc. He can not make way against one or many of the numerous forces that act upon him, and in the presence of which his vital activity is called upon to display itself. He may succumb to them more or less quickly, according to the vigor of his organization and the incidents of his career; but, in the natural course of events, those who are imperfectly organized pass away before having any offspring, and only the most vigorous organizations contribute to the production of the succeeding generation. Such is the natural selection, favorable to the improvement of the species, which is produced in mankind when Nature is allowed to act without contradiction. It is, says Mr. Spencer, a natural work of elimination by which society is continually purifying itself. Suppose now that a

    291,000 were condemned to prison and other penalties. It is impossible for a nation to endure such a policy without suffering a great deterioration of the race. The taking from the nation its most intelligent and most vigorous men had for its most noteworthy result the formation of the unintelligent and superstitious race of contemporary Spaniards." Attention has frequently been called to the disastrous effect of the military regime of our epoch, which deprives the family and labor of the soundest part of youth, and, leaving at home only the weak or sickly men, produces a selection backward in the nation. When war is added to universal armament, it harvests the best part of a people, and debases the generations which follow it.