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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

CAIRNES ON SOCIAL EVOLUTION:

IN an elaborate article contributed to the January Fortnightly Review, Prof. Cairnes has attacked the social philosophy of Herbert Spencer. The paper is too long to be wholly transferred to our pages, and so we reprint the first half; but that, it happens, is the most important part, and a little examination of its quality will show that not much has been lost by omitting the remainder. Coming from the source it does, we read the article with not a little surprise, for its writer either has no clear understanding of his subject, or he is trifling with it in a very inexcusable way. The subject is undoubtedly an important one, and is entitled to be considered with the utmost intelligence and candor. The Saturday Review tells us that "Englishmen hate men who offer them new ideas." This may be extravagant, but if it had said they hate men who offer them new ideas upon social topics it would probably have been nearer the truth. Social science implies that there are great natural agencies by which society in the past has been developed, and by which it is still largely regulated; but, of all people in the world, the English should be the least sympathetic with such a view, for nowhere else has Nature been more overlaid and buried out of sight by human arts, arrangements, and conventions, than in that country. But, whether under a patriotic bias or not, Prof. Cairnes is at no pains to conceal his dislike of Spencer's social doctrines. As a politician and a philanthropist enlisted in the service of humanity, he takes ground against their general influence. From this point of view he opposes Mr. Spencer to Mr. Mill as follows:

"On the one hand there is the philosophy of Mr. Spencer contemplating the career of humanity as fixed with regard to its main direction, as predetermined to move along certain defined or at least definable lines of progress, constantly shaping itself under the influence of causes which produce their effects spontaneously. ... Can we have any doubt as to the tendency of such teaching? As to its paralyzing effect on laborers in the field of human improvement? ... Contrast with this the teaching of that other philosophy with which Mr. Spencer's has been confronted in this discussion—the philosophy of Mr. Mill, every line of whose writings is instinct with the belief that there is nothing fixed in human fortunes—that it rests with the individual men and women of each generation as they pass, each within the range of his or her influence, to make or to mar them—whose creed it is that social progress is largely dependent on political institutions, which do not 'grow' while men sleep, but 'are the work of men—owe their origin and their whole existence to human will.'" Now, all that Prof. Cairnes can make by this contrast, he makes, not against any special system of sociological doctrine, but against the conception of natural law in social affairs; and yet he admits that the very creation of the social state is the work of spontaneous natural forces, such as have produced the diversities of life. He says: "In that primitive stage (as Mr. Darwin has taught us) while man remained still a savage, and even perhaps for some time after he is emerged from the savage condition, the influences which mould his social development are substantially the same with those that govern the develop-