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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/769

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THE STRUGGLE FOR EXISTENCE: A PROGRAMME.

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 sociology with the practical corollary which is frequently drawn from it; that the state—that is, the people in its corporate capacity—has no business to meddle with anything but the administration of justice and external defense.

It appears to me that the 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 neighbor, 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 neighbor'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 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 defense.

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