Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/695

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By J. W. SLATER, F. E. S.
"Positive morality under some form or other has existed in every society of which the world has had experience."—(Grote's Fragments on Ethical Subjects, vol. iii, p. 497.)

WHETHER the author just quoted knowingly or intentionally referred to the societies of the lower animals, as well as to those of mankind, I am not aware. Perhaps, if he had no such intentions, his testimony may be regarded as all the more valuable. Assuredly the ant-hill, the wasp's nest, the rookery, or even the roaming herd of elephants, antelopes, peccaries, or the like, could not cohere, and therefore could not continue to exist as such, without some kind of law and government. Such law, too, must have its foundations laid not exclusively in the physical force of the individual, but in part upon notions of right or wrong, however vague and crude. Absolute personal equality is probably non-existent in any case. Bodily strength plays a part the more prominent the less complex and perfect is the organization of the society. In a herd of bisons, of wild horses, of elephants, or in a troop of baboons, the strongest, generally a male in the prime of life, possesses and exerts a certain supremacy. He holds exactly the same position as does the chief of a savage human tribe; holds it by the same tenure and exercises it in a very similar manner, and subject to the same limitations. That his authority is not absolutely uncontrolled we may learn from a fact to which I shall have to return—the existence of adult males, generally large and powerful, who live in exile.

Among birds the moral life is more highly developed than among mammalia, as we may learn from their being more generally monogamous. Hence, with them, individual superiority sinks very much into the background. The rookery or the heronry seems to form a republic where all are subject to a code of laws which the majority is always ready to put in force against any offender.

The queen bee holds her position by the right of the strongest as against all rivals, and, on the birth or the introduction of another female, she is always bound to do battle to the death for her position. But her sway over her subjects—if such we may consider them—unlike that of the strongest tusker in a herd of elephants, rests nowise upon physical force.

Before speaking of the laws of brutes, we must necessarily first show that they have a perception of duties and of rights. Many facts prove that the lower animals recognize property, and distin-