Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/557

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

If, therefore, Mr. Mallock would really make the position of an independent, non-theological thinker of the present day untenable, he must show, not that the theory of progress in general is without logical support, but that, taking the world as it is known to us, there is no support outside of theology for intellectual or moral effort. Let Mr. Mallock show that, because we can not share his views in regard to the government of the world, we can not desire the good of our neighbor or draw the distinction which the poet draws between "a higher and a lower," and we shall at once acknowledge our situation to be a very serious one. It is simply because he can not show anything of the kind that he adopts his present tactics, which are to saddle on the liberal schools doctrines which they do not hold, and then to attack those doctrines with his heaviest logical ordnance. In regard to the doctrine of progress, Mr. Spencer is perhaps the most authorized exponent of modern ideas, and how far he is from maintaining it in anything like an absolute form may be gathered from his works at large and very conclusively from the eighth chapter of the first volume of his "Principles of Sociology." A quotation or two may be permitted: "If, on the one hand, the notion that savagery is caused by lapse from civilization is irreconcilable with the evidence, there is, on the other hand, inadequate warrant for the notion that the lowest savagery has always been as low as it is now. It is quite possible, and, I believe, highly probable, that retrogression has been as frequent as progression. . . . Of all existing species of animals, if we include parasites, the greater number have retrograded from a structure to which their remote ancestors had once advanced. . . . So with super-organic evolution. Though, taking the entire assemblage of societies, evolution may be held to be inevitable as an ultimate effect of the co-operating factors, intrinsic and extrinsic, acting on them all through indefinite periods of time; yet it can not be held inevitable in each particular society or even probable. . . . Direct evidence forces this conclusion on us. Lapse from higher civilization to lower civilization, made familiar during school days, is further exemplified as our knowledge widens."

Any candid person can judge from these passages how far Mr. Spencer must be from basing any theory of human conduct upon the abstract notion of the progress of the human race. His moral system, as is well known, has nothing to do either with a general theory of progress or with the sympathetic interest which individual men may take now or hereafter in the fortunes of humanity at large. If we turn to another writer of very "advanced" opinions, but whose standpoint differs materially from Mr. Spencer's—Dr. Maudsley—we find that he too lays no great stress upon the idea of progress, and very fully recognizes the many evidences