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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 1/September 1872/Editor's Table



THE eight-hour epidemic has at length subsided, and the workingmen, having failed to accomplish their object, have generally returned to their labors under the old arrangements. The infection spread through all the leading industrial crafts: carpenters, bricklayers, cabinet-makers, upholsterers, carriage-makers, iron and metal workers, piano-makers, plumbers, sugar-refiners, gas-makers, car-drivers—one after another—were drawn into the movement. Laborers have had a trial of strength with capitalists, turning out some 80,000 strong, with much agitation and the best organization that could be rallied; yet the movement collapsed in less than three months from its outbreak. The details of the struggle it is unnecessary here to specify, as they have been extensively published by the newspaper press, but its leading results may be summed up as follows: 1. The loss of a couple of million of dollars to the mechanics concerned; 2, The consequent privation and suffering of many families; 3. The demoralization of the unemployed through idleness and exposure to vicious influences; 4. Extensive loss to capitalists and the public through the closure of manufactories, non-production, and business derangement; 5. An aggravation of hostile feeling between the employed and employers; 6. An organization of employers to resist future efforts of the same kind; 7 and lastly; the disclosure of the alarming prevalence of dangerous and destructive ideas among certain portions of the laboring classes.

Of this last count it may be remarked that in the inflammatory harangues at public meetings it was constantly proclaimed that capitalists are the deadly enemies of the working-classes; that capital, of right, belongs to the producers who have created it; and the doctrine was avowed by some that, if the strikers could not get their own, the torch should prevent their robbers from enjoying it. Much of this intemperate talk should, no doubt, be credited to the excitement of the time, but it shows both the danger of such excitements and the sort of ideas that are simmering in the minds of many working-people.

As a partial compensation for all these mischiefs, it is hoped that something valuable has been learned from this experience. If it teaches laboring-men that this is not the way to promote their real interests, much will have been gained. The pathway to success is ever through failure, and to have tried a policy and proved its insufficiency is often the necessary preliminary to another and a better policy. That the relations of labor to capital are unsatisfactory, need not be denied; that the laboring-classes are often scantily and unjustly paid, and do not receive an equitable share of the profits resulting from the cooperation of operative and capitalist, is undoubtedly true. And the inequitable working of the present system is, in many cases, very hard to bear. There are evils to be overcome, and wrongs to be righted, but the great problem to be solved, in securing the remedy, is far from easy, and its solution is to be sought in quite another direction from that which has been lately taken. Laborers have a right to demand an advance of wages, to refuse to work if they do not get it, and to combine for the attainment of their end, but they have no right to resort to violence or measures of intimidation to carry their points. So long as strikes are peaceable, they are legitimate means of advancing the interests of labor; to what extent they are wise, means, time, and experience, will demonstrate. Yet we do not believe that it is by assuming and fostering enmities and widening the gulf between these two great classes, that the interests of the more numerous party are to be permanently subserved. It is not by measures of coercion or by the fiat of law that there is to be brought about a more equitable distribution of the products of capital and labor than now exists. Only as the laboring-classes become better informed in regard to the conditions of the question they have undertaken to settle—the principles it involves and the laws which govern a healthy social advancement—will they be enabled to cope with capitalists and secure a fairer division of the profits of industry. They must, first of all, accept the spirit of civilization, which is pacific, constructive, controlled by reason, and slowly ameliorating and progressive. Coercive and violent measures, which aim at great and sudden advantages, are sure to prove illusory.

The industrial classes must learn to organize more perfectly, to rely upon moral considerations, to demand only justice, and to wait patiently until by these means their ends can be accomplished. For these ends the resources of education must be invoked. There is a stir throughout all civilization for increased technical education, by which labor shall be made more intelligent and efficient. This is certainly important, but it is not enough. The elements of political economy and of social science ought to be introduced into general education, and until this is effectually done we cannot hope to be exempt from the consequences of the present ignorance upon these subjects.


We return to this subject because of its extreme importance, and because it is an essential part of our legitimate work. It is not only inevitable that a periodical devoted to the popular interests of science must treat the question of its place in education and the causes which hinder its admission to that place, but this duty is made the more imperative by the fact that the newspaper press is predominantly in the interest of existing usages, and gives wide dissemination to crude and erroneous views upon the question.

The Christian Union takes ground upon this subject which we cannot think well considered, and which is certainly out of harmony with its character as an able expositor of the principles of sound reform. It says:

By a singular confusion of ideas, the popular demand for "practical" education in colleges often specifies scientific studies as having peculiarly that character. In reality, while the natural sciences supply to certain classes of workers their main intellectual capital, to professional and business men they have no more of a "practical" value than Latin and Greek. We do not impugn their usefulness as part of a general education, but it does not lie in this direction. On the other hand, there is a class of studies of the highest practical utility to every American citizen, which have been greatly neglected in our higher education those, namely, which relate to political and social science. We notice with great satisfaction the steps just taken in this direction at Yale. That university has appointed to lectureships on these branches Mr. E. L. Godkin of the Nation, and Mr. David A. Wells—both of them eminent examples of the application of thorough intellectual training to practical politics. A new professorship of political and social science has been filled by the appointment of the Rev. W. G. Sumner, one of the ablest among the younger graduates of the college. We trust that these gentlemen will have a space in the curriculum assigned to their departments proportionate to the importance of the subject.

We fail to see the confusion alleged by the writer. There is a definite proposition which he explicitly denies. Educational reformers complain that the higher institutions in which the classical languages predominate give to our professional and business men an education that is not "practical," and they accordingly insist upon the retrenchment of these studies and the substitution of the sciences, that the higher education may become more truly "practical." This is certainly clear enough, and the antagonistic proposition of the writer is equally clear—that for the education of professional and business men the natural sciences are no more "practical" than Greek and Latin. The issue is thus sharply presented. Yet the ground taken by the writer has been long ago, and even ostentatiously, given up by the staunchest defenders of the classics. To the popular indictment that classical studies are not "practical" they have pleaded guilty, but have claimed that this alleged vice is in reality a virtue. The whole literature of that side of the question has been pervaded by a scorn of utility, and a contempt for the "practical." The dead languages have been advocated, not for their ulterior uses, but as mental gymnastics in which discipline of the faculties is the object to be obtained. It has not been denied that the sciences were "practical," but practical ends have themselves been repudiated as low, sordid, and unworthy.

Perhaps, however, the writer in the Union may not care what ground has been formerly taken. Is it true, then, that for the higher education of professional and business men the natural sciences are no more practical than Greek and Latin? By "practical" in this connection we understand that which bears upon practice, which fits for action. All are agreed that education is a calling out of human powers in preparation for something; and the term "practical," as employed by the friends of reform, is used to designate what the general character of this preparation should be. They maintain that it should have reference to the circumstances, duties, and work of life. Will it be claimed that the knowledge of two languages spoken by nations that have been extinct for many centuries, which were dead long before modern knowledge came into existence, and which have been emptied of their valuable thought over and over again by translation, confers an equal preparation for the responsibilities of practical life with that living knowledge of present things—that acquaintance with the forces and laws of the surrounding world which it is the office of science to impart? Even if the writer gives to the term "practical" as applied to education its narrowest meaning, that of a bare and specific preparation for professional and business pursuits (which is not the meaning given to it by educational reformers), his proposition is baseless, for there is not a profession or a business which does not involve scientific principles that must be known if they are to be "practised" intelligently. Merchant, manufacturer, agriculturist, and engineer; physician, lawyer, and clergyman—all deal with phenomena that are regulated by natural laws, and are intimately dependent upon them; and are we still to be told that a knowledge of these laws is of no more practical benefit than to be able to read a couple of antiquated languages?

With such an estimate of the educational value of scientific knowledge, it is not surprising that the writer in the Union throws no light upon its proper claim and place in the higher education. He admits that there are studies of the highest practical utility which have been greatly neglected—those, namely, which relate to political and social science—and is pleased that Yale has taken steps to repair this deficiency. He says, that university has appointed two gentlemen to lectureships upon these subjects, with the following qualifications: they are "both of them eminent examples of the application of thorough intellectual training to practical politics;" and the hope is expressed that a space will be allowed in the curriculum proportionate to the importance of the subjects. We cordially concur with him in this desire, and cannot doubt that advantage will arise from the teachings of the able men selected to take the professorships; but we hold that merely to make a "place" for these studies or to engraft them on the classical stock, or to intrust their exposition to gentlemen whose qualifications are only the application of "thorough intellectual training to practical politics," is a quite inadequate preparation for the work to be done.

Social and political sciences are confessedly the most complex, obscure, and difficult of all the sciences; so much so that it is hardly yet understood what is meant by the terms, even by those who use them most freely. We have looked through the reports of the Social-Science Associations—English and American—for something like a clear definition of what social science is. This question was formally attacked, not long ago, at a convention in Boston, by men whose names are eminent in connection with the subject, but there was the most extraordinary disagreement, and a tacit confession of the impossibility of the task. The proceedings of these bodies abundantly attest this vagueness and conflict of opinion. They mainly consist of philanthropic projects and reformatory schemes for public improvement plans—for repairing the defects of society—which would be better described as social art than social science. With such loose and erroneous notions in regard to the subject itself, we are hardly to expect any clear views of its proper place in education. We have had centuries of that "thorough intellectual training," which it has been the boast of universities to give, applied to "practical politics" without so much as even discovering the existence of a social science. A higher education, which prides itself on the perfection of its mental discipline, and which sacrifices every thing else to this idea, has thrown its graduates by thousands, age after age, into political and public life to very little purpose, so far as the increase of our scientific knowledge of society is concerned; and for the obvious reason that the vaunted mental discipline has not been of a scientific character, and is therefore valueless for great scientific ends. This inquiry is, however, being worked out in a series of articles now appearing in the Popular Science Monthly. And it is well here to note that this difficult and important work is being first thoroughly done by a thinker whose intellectual training was not obtained at the university, who knows nothing of Greek and Latin, and has had very little to do with practical politics. His preparation, indeed, is such as the universities would not have afforded, and the chances are high that, if he had submitted himself to their guidance, and had his mind drilled in youth by their methods, and filled with their ideas, the great work that he is now doing would have been impossible for him. His preparation has consisted in the life-long study of science. He has mastered its various departments, and attested this mastery by original discoveries in its physical and biological branches; and, having given his whole life to these studies and obtained a knowledge of them which Mr. Mill has pronounced "encyclopædic," he has the indispensable preparation for the work of extending science in its higher and unexplored applications to social phenomena.

If there be a social science, it is because there are natural laws of society, laws of social condition, social action, and social change, and because human societies are parts of the general order of Nature; and that science must simply consist in the elucidation and exposition of these laws. So far from being of an isolated nature, which can be considered alone, social science is intimately and vitally dependent upon other sciences, and the proper preparation for it must consist in a knowledge of these, and a thorough discipline in scientific methods of thinking. The student must be steeped in science, as he is now steeped in classics. To thrust social science into the old traditional curriculum—to charge the minds of students with Latin and Greek literature, as a preparation for it—is, therefore, to say the least, irrational. Agreeing with the writer in the Christian Union as to the extreme importance of these studies, and the need of giving them a larger place in the collegiate scheme, we go yet further, and demand a reconstruction of the curriculum itself, and an adequate preliminary course of scientific study which shall be tributary to the end proposed.