Popular Science Monthly/Volume 22/February 1883/Scientific Philanthropy II
WE have examined, subjecting them to their just measure, the inconveniences which philanthropy produces when it takes as its rule the vague sentiment of love instead of the precise and scientific ideas of justice and general interest; it is proper for us to show the advantages which can, in a certain measure, compensate for these inconveniences. This is a point of view on which the Darwinians have not sufficiently insisted.
The first advantage of philanthropic institutions, when they are well conceived and subordinated to the rules of science, is, that they tend to diminish excessive inequality, whether economical, political, or intellectual, among men. The necessity of restoring some degree of equality in mankind arises from the laws of natural selection themselves. It is a remarkable fact that these laws, after having at first appeared favorable to aristocracies and aristocratic institutions, are now invoked in favor of social equality. According to Dr. Jacoby, political and economical inequality, even by virtue of the laws of natural selection, produce "ignorance and misery below, crime and sterility above. . . . From the mass of mankind emerge individuals, families, and races, who tend to rise above the common level; they toilsomely scale the rugged heights, attain the summit of power, of wealth, and of intelligence, and, when once they have got there, they are cast down and disappear in the depths of folly and degeneracy." Death is the great leveler; by destroying everything that rises, it democratizes mankind. "Men thus appear to have been organized," according to Dr. Jacoby, "with a view to equality." Every too abrupt distinction into classes, political, economical, or intellectual, and all selection, which is the logical and natural consequence of such distinctions, are equally disastrous to mankind, to the elect as well as to the rest of men; "they produce with the latter deficiency, with the former excess of the element which is the principle of the distinction of classes." Whenever any part of mankind has too much of anything, whether it be of material goods or intellectual qualities, the rest of the race immediately finds itself having too little, and both parties suffer equally from the excess and from the lack. But Nature seems to desire to avenge herself for such violations of her laws, and cruelly afflicts the elect and fortunate ones, chastising them "to the fourth and seventh generation."
The laws of Nature are immutable, and woe to the man who violates them! "Every privilege a man accords himself is a step toward degeneracy, mental decline, and the death of his race." By abasing whoever tries to raise himself above the common level of mankind, by chastising the haughty, by exacting satisfaction for excess of pleasure, Nature appoints the privileged ones themselves the scourges of their race. "Too much fortune offends and irritates the gods," the ancients thought, and the medical study of the consequences of all intellectual or moral distinction, and of all selection, leads us to the same conclusion. "Humana imprudentia impares esse voluit quos Deus æquaverat" ("Human folly desires to make unequal those whom God has made equal"), said Pope Clement IV, but, if this is the case, can the Darwinians complain that philanthropy is trying to diminish in some degree the inequalities that are born of the social régime? Does it not, in this case, act in the same direction with Nature, and according to its design?
We should, besides, be less pessimist than Mr. Jacoby in respect to distinctions and selections of every kind. The theory which Mr. Jacoby has deduced from Darwinism, if pushed to the extreme without making necessary distinctions and restrictions, would go to the extent of destroying even the principles from which it is drawn, and would overthrow the laws postulated by Darwin; in effect, all superiority, requiring an expenditure of force, might, by that fact itself, become in the struggle for existence a germ of degeneracy instead of a germ of improvement. There would be nothing really durable except what did not rise above the common level, and living beings would resemble those corals, the madrepores, which grow to form the basis of continents as long as they do not pass the level of the sea, and are not brought to die above the level of its surface. It is necessary to distinguish here between useful and injurious inequalities, between natural and acquired ones; among the last, also, must be distinguished those which are in accord with Nature, and those which are opposed to her. These distinctions, too much neglected by Mr. Jacoby, are the very ones, in our opinion, which scientific philanthropy ought always to have in view. Its aim should be to re-establish, so far as possible, a degree of equality at those points where social arrangements have created artificial inequalities, injurious and contrary to Nature. To spread and equalize general instruction, the moral sentimnents, labor, the first and essential instruments of labor, to raise what is down, to bring up to the common light what is in darkness, to restore to life and health what on account of want was threatened with sickness or death, is to do real reparative justice, and at the same time to re-establish some equality among men in the great competition of life; it is by this very fact to suppress factitious inequalities in order to give free play to natural superiorities, in essence beneficent and no longer malign. It is, we see, the theory of natural selection itself coming to the support of the philanthropic sentiments against which it had furnished objections.
May not this preservation of the weak, which the partisans of Darwin condemn, while it may sometimes become dangerous to the physical health of the race, also save from death useful or even superior minds who, without the cares given by the family or the aid rendered by strangers, might not have been able to live and develop themselves? Do we have to lament that a Pascal and a Spinoza were rescued from the death with which their feeble constitutions threatened them from their youth? How many poor children have there been who, by means of the aid they have received, have afterward become great men of science or great artists! Here, then, is a second advantage of philanthropy. After correcting injurious inequalities, it favors useful superiorities. Furthermore, the preservation of organisms which want would otherwise have destroyed, induces, by virtue of the competition of life, an increasing elevation of intelligence which becomes continually more necessary: all those who can not count on the vigor of their limbs are obliged in the struggle for existence to appeal to their mental faculties. Other men have had to employ considerable intelligence to save them from death, and they are themselves obliged to employ it in their turn to preserve themselves, to support themselves, to secure for themselves a place in the light of the sun. Hence arises a progressive elevation of the intellectual level in the whole mass of the nation. This movement is, in many points, nothing but that of civilization itself, to which philanthropy is correlative.
We meet here a new objection: it is represented that talent, and still more genius, are advantages of individuals which are paid for at the expense of the race. We hear it repeated, with Plato, that a soul which is mistress of itself will knock in vain at the doors of poetry; with Aristotle, that there is no great genius without a mixture of folly; and with Seneca, that nothing great or superior to what is vulgar can be manifested without some trouble of mind; more than this, the objectors would extend to the race of the great man the trouble and the morbid germ which, working itself out in some form or another, will make the children pay dearly for the fame of their fathers. "Every man of genius or talent," says M. Renan, "is a capital accumulated from several generations." "This capital, accumulated and personified in a man," says M. Jacoby, "does not return again to the commonwealth, but is lost from it, at least in a physical point of view; it is withdrawn from circulation, and the only trace it leaves is folly, wretchedness, and degeneracy in posterity." Nothing is made out of nothing, and all production supposes some consumption. Science, art, and ideas, to be born and develop themselves, consume generations and peoples. Individuals and nations exhaust themselves by production, like lands not manured, because the products are not returned to the common ground, and are materially lost to it. M. de Candolle also shows that civilized man, by the very fact of his mental superiority, is generally inferior to the savage in physical force and health. With the savage, in fact, the chief conditions of selection are a piercing sight, a fine hearing, muscular strength, and the faculty of resisting cold, heat, moisture, and hunger. The civilized man has not these qualities in the same degree; what he gains on one side he loses on the other, and the law of equivalence of forces is verified here as elsewhere. The brain grows only at the expense of the muscles; the man who thinks is in a sense a depraved animal. Such are the inconveniences of the intellectual development which modern philanthropy tends to favor at the expense of physical force. We are far from desiring to deny these inconveniences, but conclusions which go further than the premises need not be drawn from them. Social science is doubtless right in saying it is dangerous for individuals and peoples to break entirely the natural equilibrium of physical and mental functions: mens sana in corpore sano (a sound mind in a sound body); if a nation becomes physically enfeebled too rapidly, it will have neither time nor means to fortify itself mentally, for intelligence can not make real progress in decaying organisms; all will end in a simultaneous dwindling of mind and body. But it is necessary, on the other side, to look out that the natural movement of civilization be not trammeled. Now, this movement is characterized by the increasing predominance of thought and feeling among modern nations. This predominance favors the development of philanthropy, and is in its turn favored by that through an inevitable reaction. The question of philanthropy, then, when generalized, ultimately becomes confounded with that of civilization itself. Now, it would not do to repeat to-day Rousseau's dissertation against inequality and the arts; we could not take man back to the savage state under the pretext that civilization exhausts his physical forces and the best of his vigor in the intellectual blossoming. The whole of society, in profiting by the discoveries of science or art, profits by the sacrifice of individuals or of their immediate posterity, if there is a sacrifice, and the profit exceeds the loss.
This loss even might be avoided by a better understanding of hygiene and a better system of education; and precisely these ought to be the principal aims of philanthropy. Hitherto the economy of nature, in order to repair the loss incurred by intellectual culture, has been obliged to proceed by a kind of fallowings, by suffering a vegetation too luxuriant and too concentrated at one point to be succeeded by a provisory rest and sterility; but a superior system, which has prevailed in the cultivation of the land, will without doubt be applied some day to the cultivation of the mind: it is the system of allotments and improvements, and it should be made the basis of general education. We can, furthermore, avoid at this point, also, the excessive evils of repartition, the antinomies of intellectual luxury and intellectual want, by the diffusion of knowledge through the mass of the nation; and this is one of the essential objects and one of the beneficent results of scientific philanthropy. Without that, mankind, divided into a class of intelligent men and a class of ignorant ones, would resemble the twins of Presburg, who were united by the after part of the thorax. One of them was bright and gentle, while the other was stupid and ill-natured, and constantly struggling against her sister, notwithstanding both their bodies were united into one; and her violent conduct did harm to both.
In addition to the material and intellectual advantages we have just demonstrated, philanthropy brings precious moral advantage to the whole race. It develops, in the individuals and the people who exercise it, the qualities of heart most important for social life. Darwin and his partisans early recognized how essential to society is the development of altruistic inclinations; even justice is impossible without those inclinations, for they alone can restrain egoism. A society without pity is always careless of the right. Natural selection, which is exercised now to the advantage of the most intelligent peoples, will also in the future, we hope, be exercised to the advantage of the best and most just, when the understanding of the truth shall be complete enough to win over the will of the best. Selection always gives the day to those who adapt themselves most perfectly to the new medium; and the human medium of the future will without doubt be the reign of fraternity and justice. Those nations only will survive then which shall be best adapted to the altruistic type; that is, which shall be able to live best and to propagate themselves in a medium chiefly intellectual and moral, in which knowledge and sympathy shall have the first rank.
This adaptation of actual societies to the ideal society by the simultaneous advance of science and sympathy, will probably bring about a transformation of the type of the species, a greater development of the brain than of the other organs, a substitution of mental and moral strength for physical force. The actual brain is already an immensely enlarged vertebra; the brain of future races will perhaps be not only in volume but in organization, also and especially, as different from the brain of existing races as that is from simple vertebra?. The nervous system of civilized man is already thirty per cent greater than that of the savage. Now, cerebral development seems to have a restrictive influence on fecundity; it should tend, then, to re-establish that equilibrium between the increase of population and the increase of subsistence which scientific philanthropy seeks to realize, and which it reproaches sentimental charity with destroying. The point is worthy of examination.
What are the laws of the multiplication of species, neglect of which, according to Malthus, Darwin, and Mr. Spencer, is as prejudicial to the philanthropist as to the naturalist, in the connected problems of population, selection, civilization, and benevolence? The first of these laws, as formulated by Messrs. Howorth, Doubleday, and Spencer, is that a greater development of individuality brings on a diminished fecundity for the species: if animals of one species, the human species, for instance, have a more intense individual life than those of another species, the progress in the volume of the brain, in physical or moral development, and in the complexity and activity of the functions, is compensated for as to that species by a lessened generative aptitude. Man is the living species in which individuality and its functions are carried to the highest point; and it is also the least prolific of the species. The reason of this law, according to Mr. Spencer and M. de Candolle, is that the intensity of the individual life implies a taking possession of materials which can no longer serve for other organisms; generation, on the contrary, is a disintegration which subtracts from the organism a part of its substance. In short, individuality is an acquisition; generation is a loss. Now, that which completes individuality, which is what we might call its highest expansion, is the life of the intellect and affections. Consequently, the animal species, or the human races that live most by thought and feeling, are those which have the least generative power. To the objection that, in fact, civilized races are more numerous than others, Mr. Spencer answers that civilization, by diminishing a host of destructive forces, augments the means of subsistence, and thus maintains population at a superior figure; but the height of this figure is dependent on individuals having a greater faculty of conserving themselves, not on the species having a greater generative power.
The second law that regulates the multiplication of beings is, that richness of nutrition augments fecundity, while the expenditure produced by the exercise of the functions of relation, and chiefly the intellectual expenditure, diminishes it. Poor and badly-fed races are naturally the least prolific. The Irish seem to form an exception; but the increase in number among them is dependent on their marrying early (whence is derived a faster succession of generations), and on their improvidence in imposing no restraint upon themselves; in short, upon quite other causes than the generative force proper. Reciprocally, the increase of the vital expenditure, especially of the intellectual expenditure, tends to lower the degree of fecundity. This law still proceeds from the same principle: that what the individual acquires or expends on his own account and for the exercise of his own personal functions he can not transmit again by generation to other individuals.
It is certainly not proper to push the preceding biological inductions, the truth of which is only general, to extremes. Mr. Spencer himself has not always kept the measure or avoided inexact intepretations of the laws in question. Practically, and in the actual condition of affairs, the superior races and the individuals belonging to those races, do not lose their generative power except when they give themselves up to what we might call intellectual debauchery. But sterility rarely comes from this cause. Man can nearly always, even when he abandons himself to mental labors, maintain a procreative power fully equivalent to that of the woman with whom he is mated, and it is unreasonable to demand more of him. It is, then, the woman that must be considered, looking at the question from this point. Mr. Spencer remarks, in support of his thesis, that the women among the higher classes, in whom mental labor is carried to excess, are relatively infertile; but there are also several elements to be distinguished here. The women of Paris have, for instance, a weight of brain which, according to the anthropologists, raises them but little above negresses: they should, then, by the theory we are considering, be very fertile, like the negresses; but the contrary is the case. The real reason of this is, that while the brain of a Parisian woman is definitively but little overstocked with ideas, her whole body is still less developed than her brain; but it is not so with the strong-limbed negresses. Why has the body of the Parisian woman been arrested in its development? Do not lay it to her intelligence, but to her want of intelligence, to costumes and fashion, to bad hygienic conditions, to parties, vigils, balls, and theatres; to the activity, at the same time feverish and frivolous, of a wholly worldly life in an air more or less vitiated. In the same way, if the daughters of aristocratic families are relatively infertile, there is nothing to prove that their infertility arises from mental labor. In short, whenever mental labor is really a cause of diminished fertility, it is so by being excessive, and not by its Well-regulated exercise. The same is the case with every excess of labor, even physical; the common workman or laborer may exhaust himself as much as the thinker. Mr. Spencer has not sufficiently distinguished here between the normal and the exaggerated exercise of the brain. A normal exercise, in which the functional expenditure is not above the nutrition of the organs, but below it, does not appear to us to diminish fecundity, or, at least, does not diminish it enough to trammel the development of the species. In the normal individual, intellectual productivity and sexual productivity march in line; they are, as it were, the two poles at which the excess of nutrition is expended after a right fashion; but, in case one of the poles draws all to itself, it is evident that the other pole will lose correspondingly. The almost exclusive direction of an energetic nutrition toward a particular function results in the exaltation of that function and the depreciation of all the others; it might even create a kind of physiological monstrosity.
It is, then, the excessive and abnormal application of the brain that diminishes by compensation the generative vigor; and, still more, the bad hygienic conditions under which thinkers live, and, perhaps, the pressure of necessity, causing them to overwork themselves. Among the people who lead the march of civilization, the minorities who work excessively for the advancement of that civilization quickly exhaust themselves, and have to be replaced by new generations. This is the cause of the relative sterility of cities as compared with the fecundity of country places. The centers of intellectual life, the great cities, are, to M. Jacoby, the Minotaurs of civilization; but this is not only, as M. Jacoby seems to believe, because they think too much in the great cities, but because they think badly and live contrary to all the rules of hygiene. The biological law accepted by Mr. Spencer is true only in its most general principles, not in the extreme consequences which he has drawn from them, while special circumstances may intrude many a perturbation among the effects of the law.
In every case a time must come when equilibrium will at last be established. The nervous system will finally become capable of meeting, without being overcome, the difficulties of existence, and of supplying all usual demands. It will then cease to develop at the expense of the organism. By this very fact, fecundity will be normal, neither too great nor too little; and there will be harmony between the population and the conditions of existence. There is, then, truth in this final conclusion at which Mr. Spencer arrives: that the excess of fecundity has rendered the march of civilization inevitable (let us add the march of philanthropy), and the march of civilization should inevitably restore fecundity to its normal conditions. In this manner, perhaps, will be resolved the problem which troubled Malthus so much. In this way, also, we see that scientific philanthropy, by diffusing instruction along with well-being, and by raising the intellectual level of the needy classes, tends to establish among them the equilibrium of fecundity and of the intellectual functions, and consequently to diminish that blind and sometimes excessive proliferation which gives economists anxiety concerning the future, if not about the present. At this point, again, the advantages of philanthropy compensate, and more, for evils which involve nothing essential.
If it is important to establish in principle, as we have tried to do, the legitimacy and utility of philanthropy, it is not less necessary to fix the rules and limits of its application. An enlightened philanthropy should not bestow its benevolence at hazard and without conditions; it should be reparative and preventive justice together, instead of remaining that ancient "Christian charity" which, like love, too often has a bandage over its eyes. Now, reparative justice should endeavor to re-establish the normal conditions of human association, of the "social contract." These normal conditions require that the contracting parties or associates be really free and major. Society, then, ought to see that all minority, all servitude, all excess of inequality that may be produced by the fatal effect of the laws of nature or of the social laws, is suppressed or alleviated as much as possible. That is the general rule which should first be laid down. We pass now to its principal applications.
In the first place, what are the best means which philanthropy, or rather justice, has at its disposal in regard to the disinherited of life? In our view, they are education and work, not the traditional alms. Education can not be anything but useful; it tends to the development of intelligence, and is an aid that raises up, not an aid that depresses. By education, instead of favoring the propagation of imbeciles, we prepare more and more intelligent and capable generations. The bearing of education extends to all kinds of servitude and want, but principally to intellectual servitude and want, which are the origin of all the other kinds. Ignorance of the things most essential to social life, and even to private life, is the worst state of minority. It exists by nature in all children; it is kept up by the lack of instruction among poor children, and persists in the grown-up man. The effort of the state should be brought to bear especially upon this point, for it is the point at which all kinds of justice, defensive, preservative, and reparative, as well as real fraternity or philanthropy, converge and agree. Instruction is a matter of duty and right as of all toward all, and from all points of view; but, to speak only of the duty of reparation, in what way can it be exercised to better advantage, more pacifically, more conformably to the true interests and real rights of all classes, than by distributing knowledge widely among all? Instruction is the universal instrument of labor, useful for all professions, adapting itself flexibly to the most varied employments, an instrument which in virtue of this very fact helps us to find new resources when the usual ones fail. This general instrument of labor ought to be gratuitous; it ought to constitute a kind of moral capital distributed by all to every one. Furthermore, instruction is the only public assistance, or, if that is better, the only indemnity, the only public reparation, in applying which we do not risk sacrificing the interest and health of future generations to those of existing ones. The second means at the service of an enlightened philanthropy is work, which of itself can not be anything but useful: labor elevates the character as instruction elevates the mind; by compelling those to work who are capable, by giving to the less well-endowed tasks proportioned to their capacity, we may be doing something to raise the moral level.
To whom ought the benefactions of philanthropy to be addressed, and within what limits ought they to be restricted? In the first place, the child abandoned by its parents finds itself in one of those situations of major force and fatal servitude in which a member of society is incapable, unless he is assisted, of participating in the social life. In lifting up the orphan, society does not perform a work of mere charity, as those believe who speak of children brought up by charity; it simply performs a work of justice, not reparative only, but contractual justice. Shall we maintain that society has a right to let the foundling die, under the pretext that the support of children is the duty of the parents, and the parents are unknown? The most that can be said of such a conception is that it would be worthy of China and Japan. A society in the midst of which abandoned children may still be found is engaged toward such children by what the legists call a "quasi-contract"; it owes them food, with general and professional instruction, and in giving these to them it does nothing more than pay a general debt of reparative justice. The same observation is applicable to the case of infirm old men, and, in general, of all persons who, being reduced to an absolute incapacity to work, have no parents who can support them; they also find themselves in a condition of minority and servitude which renders them incapable of taking care of themselves. A real moral right to assistance exists in these cases; in default of relatives, the duty of assistance falls upon the city; in default of the city, it falls upon the state; here is a point which legists, economists, and naturalists misconceive who see in public measures of relief an attempt on the liberty of individuals committed under the pretext of a charity that should be left free. Absolute liberty of charity is a religious and moral prejudice born of a defective analysis of rights.
Does society owe assistance only to those who are incapable of working, or does it owe it also to those who are capable but are exceptionally out of work, and thereby reduced to a condition of extreme misery—to a kind of temporary servitude and minority? The question is big with difficulties; it is one which has engendered too strong prepossessions to receive a scientific solution at the first view; and, between the contradictory exaggerations of the socialists and economists and the Darwinians, it still remains theoretically pending. We remark, in the beginning, that all countries, England, Germany, Sweden, etc., have recognized, whether right or wrong, a public duty to assist working-men. But they have not always taken the pains to limit the duty and give it a rational interpretation. The existence of the public duty of assistance can not confer upon the individual the right to demand work, either by force or by legal process. The state can not engage itself, in a general and vague way, to give places or work to all who demand them, neither to the physician without patients, the advocate without causes, nor the poet without readers. It can no more make itself an ironmonger, a dealer in dress-goods, a furniture manufacturer, or a house-decorator. In short, it can not substitute itself for the individual, artificially create work for him, nor artificially continue the production of any article, whenever a suspension reveals the fact that production has been excessive, and ought to be arrested. The merely moral right of the indigent engenders, in respect to this matter, only a moral duty on the part of society, a combined duty of reparative justice and fraternity. Since, moreover, the demands of every duty should be fulfilled, so far as is possible, society ought progressively to secure the satisfaction of them by the means which it shall judge best. But it can not grant its assistance to healthy individuals except under determined conditions and by a reciprocal convention. It is a case of a contract imposing mutual obligations, all the clauses of which ought to be settled with care. Here, more than anywhere else, the right to assistance is limited in a thousand ways, not only by the rights of personal property, but also by the real resources of the states, by practical impossibilities, and finally by the consequences that would follow if we should erect it into an absolute and positive right. It would in that case not stop short of self-destruction. We should recollect that, in the question of reciprocal rights and duties, we have to consider the future as well as the present. In this point of view, we can say in truth with the Malthusians and the Darwinians that the increase of sustenance would not follow the increase of population. As Malthus shows, an absurd consequence is implied in acknowledging an indefinite and unlimited right to assistance and to work; it is, that the funds destined to support labor can be made to grow at will, and that an order of government or a tax, like Elizabeth's tax, is all that is needed to bring this about. It would not be more unreasonable to order that two ears of corn shall grow where the earth has heretofore produced but one. Canute did not arrogate a greater power over the laws of nature when he prohibited the waves from touching his royal feet. To say that we ought to furnish work to all who only ask to work, is really to say, in other words, that the forces dedicated to labor, in any country, are infinite, that they are not subject to any variation, and that the ability to give work and good wages to the working classes ought to remain absolutely the same, without regard to whether the resources of the country are rapidly or slowly progressive, stationary, or retrograde.
This assertion, therefore, Malthus concludes, with reason, contradicts the most simple and most evident principles of the tender and the demand, and includes by implication the absurd proposition that a limited territory can feed an unlimited population. The question of assistance is inseparable from that of subsistence and population; it is what we might call a bilateral question. The right to place children in the world is not a right merely individual and personal; there is in it an act that concerns not the parents alone, hut all society as well. When the idle and careless call new beings into life, the task of feeding them falls back unjustly upon industrious and thrifty men. One does not have to take his children to the dispensary to put them in charge of society; the man who fills his house with children he can not support changes his house itself into a hospital, and that by his own authority, without consulting the convenience or considering the resources of any other one. The act involves an evident violation of stipulative justice. The state might, in such a case, say to the laborer: "You demand a promise of me, but are you disposed to give another one in exchange for it '? My duty is correlative with your duty, and your right is not unconditional, but is subordinate to indispensable conditions. Will you give up the right of propagation? If you will, assistance is possible; if not, it is not, for you can not require those who have labored, produced, and saved, before you, to abstain from the enjoyment of the fruits of their labor till they have assured the support of all the beings whom it may be convenient for you or your descendants to call into existence." The procreation of children is not an act of individual whim, it is of the nature of a social act and of a contract. It is proper to have paternal and maternal duties determined by law. The false principle that every one has the right to procreate according to his fancy, without showing any more foresight than a brute, will eventually be rejected, says Stuart Mill, the same as the right of a merchant to buy and sell without keeping accounts is already rejected. To place children in the world without being able to support them will be regarded as a new kind of failure; it is, in fact, frequently more than a failure; it is a homicide by imprudence, because the children are destined to a certain misery and an almost certain death. All liberty involves responsibility.
Stuart Mill undoubtedly attaches too much importance to the legal regulation of population for the present time. In some countries, as in France, the population is now tending to diminish, rather than to increase too much. Furthermore, the bringing of American and Australian lands under cultivation assures subsistence to mankind for a long time, even if the population should increase rapidly. It nevertheless remains true that the relief given by the state can not be unlimited, and that assistance can not be erected into a right on which the individual can found a claim. Experience has shown us what kind of work we may look for out of the shops opened by public philanthropy. "When we do not give wages for work that we need," says Stuart Mill, "but give out work so as to furnish wages to those who need them, we may be sure that the work will not be worth what it costs." When we shall have no longer the power of dismissing the workmen, we shall not be able to get work except by the lash. Assistance to working-men is, then, still only a moral and general duty of the state.
We can not enter here into the detail of the economical or political reforms which would render the giving of assistance more sure and more effective by removing the inconveniences (moral and physical) of what is properly called charity; we have only desired to show forth an ideal, and to give an apprehension of the difficulty no less than of the necessity of progressively attaining realization of it. The particular means by which the ideal is to be realized lie within the domain of applied sociology and politics. We merely indicate as among them the most perfect laws respecting property, the more equitable repartition of imposts, which should not be allowed to aggravate the proletariat by falling most heavily on the proletaries themselves; a better application of the imposts; the encouragement of institutions of credit, and of other means of credit less onerous than the mons-de-piété; the establishment of intelligence-offices for workmen seeking work; the extension of the system of mutual assurance on the initiative of the state and the communes, to a vast scale, in order to avert the most frequent and most grave material disasters; colonies, removal to which should be the natural destination of every healthy citizen who has no trade or profession, and who, by begging, or a vagabond life, puts himself under suspicion; and, lastly, the encouragement and increase of particular associations within the grand association of the state. Real benevolence is that which encourages, not idleness, improvidence, and the degeneration of the race, but labor, economy, and the moral and physical progress of generations.
"The state," says a writer who will be little suspected of socialism, M. Thiers, "ought to undertake to contrive means of preparation for panics. It may not be able to do all that could be asked of it, but with foresight it might do something, and even much, for the state has forts, machines, vessels, cordage, guns, cannons, wagons, harness, shoes, dresses, hats, cloth, linen, palaces, and churches to be made; and a competent administration, which would reserve these works, so varied, for the times of panic, which should have for some articles, such as machines, arms, wagons, and cloths, establishments capable of being extended or contracted at will; which should have designs for the strong places or the palaces it has to build prepared and kept ready for the seasons when the labors of private industry are suffering from interruption; which should thus gather up upon the general market the unemployed arms as speculators buy depreciated public securities, which should add financial foresight to an administrative foresight of this kind, and should keep its floating debt free and disengaged, so that it could find money when no one had any an—administration which should take upon itself all of these difficult but not impossible cases, would succeed in greatly reducing distress without, however, suppressing it entirely. . . . Do not assert, then, that we must let the man without work die of hunger, for I contend that we can support him without giving him either wages equal to those of prosperous times, or wages that will allow him to become a mischief-maker or a soldier of the civil war."
The state concerns itself with the general interests of agriculture and commerce; with public works, the fine arts, posts, telegraphs, etc.; different ministries have been constituted for these ends; we believe there ought also to be a ministry of philanthropic institutions, charged with the duty of taking the initiative and creating foundations of this kind, with encouraging and aiding those that already exist, and with centralizing the efforts, gifts, and loans of individuals for philanthropic establishments. New organs should be provided, in the great body of the state, to answer to new needs. We now witness in this matter, especially in France, an absolute dispersion of forces, an anarchy, and faults in initiative and organization that impede all reform; if a special ministry existed for such questions, which seem not less important than those of the posts, commerce, and agriculture, the impulse would be quickly given. Loans, gifts, and legacies would permit the state to institute experiments under scientific methods or to aid those which might be made. Individuals do not, as a rule, care to bequeath their property to the state in general, for a general and neutral use; but how many persons would be glad to make gifts or legacies to philanthropic institutions! Religious congregations have a wonderful art of finding money for their works of benevolence; the state ought not to fold its arms and be indifferent as if it had no precise obligation in the matter. Foresight, public benevolence, and "fraternity," in our modern societies regulated by laws of increasing complexity, ought not to remain a kind of moral luxury wholly abandoned to the chances of individual inspiration. Charity is a general duty of justice, a work of science and not of mere sentiment, in which social economy and natural history ought to co-operate. In reality, the idea inspired by the labors of the Darwinian school on heredity and selection is, upon a final analysis, that of solidarity; and that is the very foundation of moral fraternity. Solidarity, doubtless, causes the miseries of one to fall upon the other members of the society, but it also extends the good fortune of each one to all and that of the mass to each one. By this very fact, it obliges society to find a remedy for every evil that afflicts the individual, because every such evil tends to become social. Solidarity limits our modern societies to the alternative of progress or dissolution. In the perfected machines which modern industry uses to weave linen, cotton, or wool, when a single thread breaks, the loom stops of itself, as if the whole had been informed of the accident that had befallen one of its parts, and could not continue its work till the breach is repaired. This is a type of the solidarity which is destined to reign more and more extensively in human society. In that social web in which all individual destinies intercross, it must come to pass that not a thread can be broken, not an individual can suffer, without the general mechanism being informed of the accident, affected by it, and forced to repair the damage as much as possible. This is the ideal which philanthropy is pursuing, and which it will approach more closely as it becomes more scientific in its method, without ceasing to be also generous in its inspirations.—Translated from the Revue des Deux Mondes.
- As much may be said of children "morally abandoned" and reduced to vagabondage. The public relief of the Seine, instead of shutting them up in a house of correction, from which they will come out corrupted, has, since 1881, placed them as apprentices in the departments. This measure needs to be completed by the passage of the bill for the protection of infancy, which was presented to the Senate on December 8, 1881.