Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/130

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

lowed to exercise arbitrary and irresponsible power in the effort to advance their claims. Power, in the last resort, belongs to the community as a whole, and no man or group of men should be encouraged for one moment to think that he or they can he allowed to usurp the authority of society. There is no "higgling" if one of the parties to the bargain takes a club and forces the other to accept his price. Society should be the sole club-wielder, and, while slow to wield it in general, should be quick to wield it upon those who would take the club out of its hands. It is bad for the individual not to insist upon his rights; but for society not to insist on its rights is absolutely fatal.

In the popular mind the theory of natural selection is largely identified with the doctrine of evolution, and many are impressed by the work of Darwin who have but a scant knowledge or appreciation of that of Spencer. Darwin was buried in Westminster Abbey, but whether an equal honor awaits the author of the Synthetic Philosophy is perhaps doubtful. The theory of natural selection, however, far from being the whole of evolution, is only a subordinate aspect of it. At the same time, if we would gather the practical lessons of the evolution philosophy, the views elaborated by Darwin claim our serious attention. We have learned from him how Nature is continually selecting those who are to carry on the great chain of life. Not every one who is called is chosen, which, interpreted by Darwin, means that not every one who is called into life is chosen to carry on life. Far from this, the vast multitude of living things meet untimely death, and go to aid, either actively or passively—actively if they minister to their sustentation, passively if by their absence they lessen the demand on food supplies—the lives of the survivors. There is perhaps no greater or more serious problem confronting society today than this: how to pay just heed to the above law without injury to our own moral sensibilities and particularly to our sense of the sacredness of life. It is impossible to doubt that the law on which the well-being of every other animal species depends must be vindicated in the case of the human species also; and yet the very fact that we are sensible of the problem before us shows that we are called to solve it in a manner suitable to our higher intellectual and moral development. As every one is aware, there is at present an important controversy in progress between Mr. Spencer on the one hand and Prof. Weismann on the other, upon the question as to whether modifications acquired by an organism during the course of its individual existence are transmissible by inheritance. The discussion is not one into which we can enter; and we only refer to it for the purpose of remarking that, though it seems to touch a vital point in the doctrine of evolution, the great fact of evolution remains unassailable. The practical difference between one view and the other is that, if Mr. Spencer is right, a larger scope seems to be opened for educative effort, and more encouragement for such effort is afforded; whereas, if Prof. Weismann is right, the one all-important principle to keep in view, if we would preserve society from degeneration, is that of selection of stocks, seeing that an inferior individual, however much we may improve him personally by education, must, if he have progeny, transmit, not the qualities imparted by education, but those bestowed upon him by Nature at birth.

The doctrine of evolution thus shows us the necessity for struggle in the settlement of the bases of society, and it indicates, in a general way, how that struggle should be carried on, namely, by a firm and decent assertion of individual rights, and the acceptance by each and all from time to time of such compromises as circumstances prescribe. Should there be, in any given society,