Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/558

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of retrogression which history and natural history alike present. "It admits of no doubt" he says in one place, "that a law of degeneration is manifest in human events; that each individual, each family, each nation, may take an upward course of evolution or a downward course of degeneracy. Noteworthy" (he adds) "is the fact that, when the organism—individual, social, or national—has reached a certain state of complex evolution, it inevitably breeds changes in itself which disintegrate and in the end destroy it."[1] Turn now to Mr. Leslie Stephen, a writer as free from all theological prepossessions as either Mr. Spencer or Dr. Maudsley. Far from making the assumptions which Mr. Mallock attributes to the whole liberal school, he criticises some of those assumptions in terms that resemble very closely those used by Mr. Mallock himself. For example, he tells us that, while speculations in regard to a future Utopia for human society "may be useful in defining an end toward which all well-wishers to their fellows may desire to act," such speculations are nevertheless rash, and do not solve the difficulty for us, inasmuch as "the knowledge—if we could attain the knowledge—that our descendants would be better off than ourselves would not disprove the existence of the present evil," Pushing the objection further, he says: "We can not tell that progress will be indefinite. It seems rather that science points to a time at which all life upon the planet must become extinct, and the social organism may, according to the familiar analogy, have its natural old age and death."[2]

There is no use in taking up space with further citations. The fact is, we would not, at this moment, know to what writer of the several schools of thought referred to by Mr. Mallock we could turn, to find that dogmatic assumption of progress which he says is characteristic of them all. What characterizes them all is a manly determination not to despair of the fortunes of humanity because the former monopolizers of spiritual authority have suffered an abatement of their prerogatives and now expend a large portion of their energy in anathematizing the tendencies of the age. What further characterizes them all is a conviction that morality and happiness must have sources independent of human institutions and abstract philosophies, and that, certainly, neither demonstrable falsehoods nor unverified theories of any kind can be their absolutely necessary conditions. Mr, Leslie Stephen expresses this well when he says: "It may be said that the whole history of the world and its inhabitants represents a problem of stupendous magnitude. . . . We work out the problem by living, or rather we work out our own little bit of the problem. We are utterly incompetent to grasp the whole or to rise above it, and say why such and such data must have been

  1. "Body and Will," p. 238.
  2. "Science of Ethics," p. 444.