Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/325

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have we, then, to prejudge the solution, and that in favor of the crudest sentiments? We shall shortly see that the inconveniences, when they exist, are compensated by the advantages. The logical conclusion is that, if the moralist ought not to be too much occupied with these complex problems, so the legislator can not be too prudent when he is thinking about intervening, for his intervention will be much more artificial, and may be more dangerous, than the intervention of philanthropy.[1]

Let us now pass from the influence which philanthropy can exercise directly upon individuals to that which it can exercise upon the environment, by making it more favorable to the weak and wretched. There is here an important distinction which the Darwinians too often neglect to make. Among the conditions of the environment, of hygiene and of health, which can be managed for the whole of a population, we should designate first the normal conditions which tend to assure the normal development or performance of the organs, such as pure air, nutritious and sufficient food, proper clothing, healthy houses, the adjustment of the work to the strength, etc. A philanthropy which endeavors to realize these conditions for the largest possible number of men is evidently acting in the same direction with nature; far from enfeebling the generations, it is fortifying them. It would be a sophism to assume that we could fortify the generations any better by habituating them to do without these favorable conditions, for we can not do without necessaries; the budget of nature and life is fixed, and can not be varied except within narrow limits. What would we say of a father who, to exercise the nutritive functions of his children, should try to habituate them to living without eating, who to exercise their lungs should place them in a vitiated atmosphere, who to exercise their sense of sight should make them work and read in an unlighted room? That would be to propose a problem as insoluble as that of making a fish live without water. In fact, populations subjected to unhealthy influences become wretched and sickly; their children fail to grow; they are thin-blooded, feeble, small, thin, and tainted with such diseases as goitre, pellagra, ophthalmia, and cretinism. We can not add to the strength of men by making them live in unhealthy districts instead of healthy ones. Excessive labor likewise exhausts the minds and bodies of generations as it does of individuals. Doubtless the strongest will survive, but they will survive enfeebled, and, although relatively strong, they will have really

  1. The fact is furthermore established by statistics that, notwithstanding the increased propagation of the weak in civilized societies under the influence of philanthropic feelings, and notwithstanding the increase of population, the length of life is now greater than formerly. This proves that the decrease of some causes of mortality has been greater down to the present time than the increase of other causes. Furthermore, the debility of the existing generations may be a result of the stimulus which has been given to industry under conditions which are still very defective, and which will be improved in the future.