Popular Science Monthly/Volume 22/January 1883/Scientific Philanthropy I
THE questions relating to public relief, population, and natural selection are so inseparable that, in our age, thought has been logically conducted from one to another of them, and has been led to important discoveries. It was the problem of public relief, and the observation of the effects produced by the poor-rates, that inspired Malthus to compose his "Law of Population"; it was the law of population, in turn, that led Darwin to the discovery, first, of the law of the "struggle for existence," and afterward of that of "natural selection." We may say, then (and the fact is worthy of remark), that it was a social and economical problem that provoked one of the greatest revolutions in natural history. Even before Darwin, Mr. Spencer, by studying in his "Social Statics" the influence of philanthropy on the movement of population, upon the artificial multiplication of the feeble in body or mind, and upon the deterioration of the race, had shown how vital competition might produce, by means of selection and elimination, sometimes progress, sometimes decadence, of a species. He thus anticipated Darwin; but he did not perceive, as Darwin did, the capital fact of the divergence from the primitive type which results from natural selection among living beings, and produces the final variation of species. Nevertheless, natural science and social science have shown an intimate connection in this respect, which exists no less in all the other problems. Thus, we are not able from this point to separate these two sciences. To reduce sociology to the category of moral, economical, and political sciences is to condemn it to remain an abstraction, and to treat its problems incompletely by ignoring essential data; the legist, the economist, and the politician, who take no account of the laws of biology, are like a doctor who is not acquainted with the structure or the functions of the organs, or, to use Mr. Spencer's comparison, resemble a blacksmith who would work in iron without knowing anything of its properties. We must, therefore, approve of labors which, like those of Messrs. Spencer, De Candolle, Ribot, Galton, and Jacoby, include the study of the effects of natural selection and physiological or moral heredity in human society. Philanthropy ought not to content itself with reasons of sentiment; it should become scientific. Few questions are better adapted than that of public relief to demonstrate the necessity of this progress and the extreme complexity of social problems, in which the most various rights are involved and the laws of natural history add their force to those of political economy. What, in the Darwinian point of view, becomes of the public duty of relief? First, what is its moral foundation, misconceived by certain partisans of Malthus and Darwin, and what are its necessary limits? Secondly, are there not biological laws that intervene in a question at first sight entirely moral; and can the legislator neglect the social consequences of these natural laws? In short, has philanthropy regulated by science a salutary or an injurious influence on the movement of population, and does it produce in the race a useful or a harmful selection, progress or decay? These are the principal problems deserving a long study, to which we will at least call the attention of readers. If we only show clearly their difficulties, and vaguely forecast the solutions of them, we shall not have wasted time or trouble.
The partisans of Darwin generally adopt in social science the law of Malthus, from which Darwin himself has drawn most important consequences in natural history. Now, Malthus has conceived that by this law he could condemn absolutely that philanthropy which is practiced under the form of public benevolence. He not only denies all duty of relief on the part of the state, but also declares private charity dangerous and irreligious. Leave to Nature, he says, severely, the office of punishing the improvidence of the father who calls to life more children than he can support; Nature will not fail to perform her task, and it is a providential one. Since Nature is charged with governing and punishing, it would be a very foolish and misplaced ambition to pretend to put ourselves in her place, and take upon ourselves all the odium of execution. Then give up that guilty man to the penalty imposed by Nature. The aid and assistance of parishes should be closed against him, and, if private charity extends any help to him, the interest of humanity imperiously requires that that help shall not be too abundant. He must be made to learn that the laws of Nature, that is, the laws of God, have condemned him to a life of pain for having violated them, and that he has no kind of a right as against society to obtain from it the slightest portion of support. Can this summary condemnation of public charity, pronounced by the Malthusians and the radical Darwinians, be accepted from the point of view of morals and right, and must we inevitably maintain it from the point of view of natural history, or even of the laws laid down by Darwin?
Regarding the question of right, it seems to us that a capital distinction should be made between the present and the future, between the duty of the state toward those who are born and its duty in respect to those who may hereafter be born. There is at this moment upon the earth enough, and more than is needed, to support the men who are now living; but the time may come when there will not be enough to support all those who may have been called to life, and it is only at that time that the Malthusian law of population will become incontestable. The moralist should, then, place himself in succession at both these points of view—points between which neither the Malthusians nor the Darwinians have sufficiently distinguished.
To get a better comprehension of the question, let us begin by examining the simplest cases, after which we will consider the more complex reality. To revive an ancient and classical example, from which we may draw new consequences, let us suppose a man settled by himself on an island, on which there is not only all that he needs, but a superfluity, and that a shipwrecked man is afterward cast upon the island. Undoubtedly the first occupant is not obliged to give up that which is indispensable for his own life, but he owes the new-comer a part of his superfluity. If the island affords sufficient to support two men, the first one has no right to monopolize the whole of it. He ought, then, to surrender to the companion, whom chance has sent him, a part of the soil. By doing this he will perform not only one of the acts of benevolence discredited by the Malthusians and Darwinians, but the act will be one of strict justice. Now, let other men come upon the island; let the soil be wholly occupied, appropriated, covered with houses, and inclosed in fences; and then suppose a new shipwrecked man lands upon it. The island either can or can not support and maintain another man. In the first case, the inhabitants, unless they desire to regard the new-comer as in a state of natural war as to them and their property, must allot him a portion of ground; or, if the ground is already entirely appropriated and divided out among the inhabitants, they owe him such employment as will furnish him the means of subsistence. The obligation is incumbent not upon a particular individual among the inhabitants of the island, but upon all the individuals collectively, and it is the duty of each one to contribute according to his resources to the common obligation. Assistance is thus a guarantee and defense of property, a treaty of peace succeeding the state of war. It ceases to be an act of justice, and begins to be an act of pure charity only when the portion of the new-comers can no longer be afforded them except by depriving the first occupants of something they need. In this case it becomes necessary, in effect, to sacrifice one man to save another.
Suppose now that, instead of being brought to the island by the casualty of a storm, the new-comers have been introduced upon it by the voluntary action of particular persons; the right of these newcomers to assistance will subsist for the present, but it is clear that the mass of the inhabitants will have a right to watch over such introductions in the future and regulate the conditions under which they may be made. If the question, for example, is one of bringing children into the world in greater numbers than the island can support, the little state we are considering will not be able to assume the duty of future assistance unless the individuals on their part renounce, as John Stuart Mill has it, their right of indefinite multiplication.
It is through failure to make the preceding distinction that Malthus rejects the whole obligation of assistance, and leaves it to Nature to do justice. The penalty attached to improvidence by the laws of Nature, he asserts, falls immediately upon the guilty one, and that penalty is itself severe. But, we may ask, are not those who suffer from the improvidence of the father, contrary to this assertion, the innocent wife and children? Let them alone, Malthus persists; let God's justice take its course. These pretended laws of God, of which Malthus tries to show us the justice, are injustice itself. The English pastor had no other resource for escaping the objections of the moralists than to invoke original sin. "It appears indispensable," he says, "in the moral government of this universe, that the sins of the fathers shall be punished in the children. And if our presumptuous vanity natters itself that it could govern better by systematically contradicting this law, I am led to believe that it will engage in a vain enterprise." Where Malthus sees an effort of human vanity, social science sees an effort of human justice, superior to the pretended justice of Nature or of Providence. To trust to natural and providential laws for the prevention or reparation of wrong is to act like beings without intelligence or will—is to accept for man the fatality that controls animals, "which," however, have not eaten of the forbidden fruit."
The argument of Malthus, adopted by many English economists, as well as by the naturalists of the Darwinian school, is contrary, not only to pure fraternity, but also to strict justice. Malthus reasons as if there were at this very time not enough food on the earth for all the men; as if in the existing state of society there were to be found no men enjoying superfluity, while there are, however, men who have nothing to live upon. Instead of limiting his assertions to the future, and to a future still far off, he speaks as if those harsh words which have been so many times cast in reproach by the socialists against the strict economists, as containing the most authentic formula of their theories, were applicable even to the present time: "A man born into a world already occupied, whose family has no means of supporting him or of whose labor society has no need, has not any right to demand any portion whatever of food. He is really one too many on the land. No cover is laid for him at the great banquet of Nature. Nature tells him to go away, and does not delay herself to put the order into execution." All is involved in that doctrine; it is in effect the right even of living that Malthus denies to a host of men. To solve the question he has recourse to Nature, which knows neither pity nor justice; he should, on the contrary, have appealed to the reason and freedom of man. In fact, it is not only at the "banquet of Nature," as Malthus asserts, that the new-comers demand a place, it is more, and above all at the banquet of humanity; they are men, and men have called them into existence: did any one consult them before giving them the light? And if their parents have brought them to life without their consent, is it not on the implied condition that they will furnish them a share of subsistence in exchange for a share of work? When a child is born into a family, it is rightly said, none of his brothers has the right to prevent his sharing in the property of their father; likewise, there are no "cadets" in a nation. If the family fails, there is still above it the great national family; a solidarity exists between all the citizens of the same country. It is by reason of this that you, legislators, unable to establish a law to regulate the multiplication of the species, have implicitly accepted certain charges in regard to the children who are born, in the event of the failure of their natural fathers and mothers. Such children are neither "usurpers" nor "intruders," for they are not themselves responsible for their birth, and you have no right to say whether you will accept or reject them, for there is actually enough of subsistence for all. The Darwinians will presently show us the necessity of society taking precautions for the future, but the present charge, nevertheless, exists, and we must execute it. In the existing society the capital is not lacking, but all the men have not their share; this state of affairs, the inevitable effect of economical laws, creates in the laborers a condition of inferiority and servitude. Here, then, is a place for the intervention of reparative justice in the form of public assistance. Is the man who, in the midst of a dearth, refuses to sell his corn, or who buys a large quantity of corn to take it out of the market, exercising his right? He might, perhaps, claim that he was the legitimate proprietor of the product of his fields or of his purchases. But the identical principle on which property is founded—that is, the right to work for a living—limits it by the equal right of another. Society has not hesitated to impose restrictions and obligations as to many points on proprietors who assume to be "absolute"; it prevents them from blocking the course of circulation; it expropriates for causes of public use; it punishes the man who burns his goods; it can exact an indemnity from the one who lets his property go to waste. As a rule, no right relative to exterior objects can be absolute; there is always a place for reciprocal limitations, and consequently for conventions and compromises. Respect for already existing properties, and for the established order, can not, in strict right, be exacted from the new-comer unless some means of existence are reserved for him. Here is a relation of contract, a tacit convention: I agree to respect your means of living, on condition that you respect mine; I consent to respect your right to live, on condition that I do not see mine destroyed. There is then a stipulative relation which establishes at the same time the foundation and the limit of the right of property, on the one side, and of the right to live on the other. The first is not more absolute than the second, but we can not ignore the one without injuring the other.
We can not, however, from the fact that the philanthropic duty of assistance may not be unlimited and unconditional, conclude with Malthus and the naturalists of his school that the duty does not exist. If such a conclusion were logical, we should have to apply it to all real rights, for there is not one of them that is absolute and without limits; not the right of property any more than the others. The only legitimate conclusion is, that it is necessary to confine assistance within certain boundaries, to restrict it by the consideration of other rights, to submit it to conditions, and consequently to make it the object of a contract, and thus to realize on this point as on all the others the ideal of stipulative justice. The practical limitation of a right is always by another right: the right of property, for example, is limited by the right of circulation, by that of condemning it for public uses, etc., and vice versa and the means of fixing the limit is free parleying between the parties, resulting in a contract. All legislation which neglects to give a form of contract to the laws it promulgates, prepares conflicts of every kind for society, and leaves a germ of war in the law itself.
But, while true philanthropy, which has to do only with social justice, ought to consider the present and the past, it has also to deal with the future. It is in this point of view that the theories of Malthus and Darwin gain the advantage; here moral and juridical considerations are complemented by considerations borrowed from natural history. We have already recognized, with Malthus and Stuart Mill, that we can not put this point aside unless we would produce artificially, in a more or less distant future, an excessive multiplication of the species. It now remains to examine, with Mr. Spencer and Mr. Darwin, another rock in the way of the philanthropist—the danger of producing a physical and intellectual deterioration of the species by overlooking the laws of natural selection and heredity.
Philanthropy, apart from science, sees only the immediate influence of the measures it proposes; it entirely neglects their influence, infinitely more important, on the physical status and the morals of future generations. It forgets that every new measure in legislation or policy tends to produce modifications, for better or worse, in human nature. These modifications are the inevitable effect of biological laws, that is, of the struggle for existence, heredity, and natural selection. A benevolence that takes no account of those laws may become malign, and the short-sighted fraternity that considers only the existing generation may be transformed, as we shall see, into a veritable injustice toward future generations. The great danger to which a blind charity, dissociated from science and stipulative justice, exposes itself is that of depressing the physical and moral level of the race. What are the conclusions of Darwinism on this point? We may, with Mr. Spencer, summarize them in the two propositions which every philanthropist, in his opinion, should have always present in his mind: "The quality of a society is physically lowered by the artificial preservation of its feeblest members; the quality of a society is lowered morally and intellectually by the artificial preservation of those who are least able to take care of themselves." Let us successively consider, and endeavor to restrict to their real bearing, these two capital propositions. The law of Malthus, from which Darwin has deduced the law of the struggle for existence, tends to produce in the existing state of society a numerical surplus of individuals who struggle for life itself. Excessive fecundity has good and bad results. All individuals finding themselves subjected by its operation to an increasing difficulty in gaining their living, there is produced in society a kind of pressure, the natural effect of which is, on the average, a progress. Those alone, in effect, can survive who are capable of resisting that pressure, and even of advancing under its influence; these, then, may be considered "the elect of their generation." When an individual succumbs, it is always for lack of power to triumph over some action of the environment—cold, heat, moisture, insalubrity of air, etc. He can not make way against one or many of the numerous forces that act upon him, and in the presence of which his vital activity is called upon to display itself. He may succumb to them more or less quickly, according to the vigor of his organization and the incidents of his career; but, in the natural course of events, those who are imperfectly organized pass away before having any offspring, and only the most vigorous organizations contribute to the production of the succeeding generation. Such is the natural selection, favorable to the improvement of the species, which is produced in mankind when Nature is allowed to act without contradiction. It is, says Mr. Spencer, a natural work of elimination by which society is continually purifying itself. Suppose now that a
philanthropy ignorant of social science and of the natural sciences undertakes to correct Nature, to diminish at any price the chances of mortality of the weak, to cause them by means of its care and its assistance to survive artificially, what will be the results for future generations? At first, population will increase more than it would have done; every one will then find himself subjected to a greater difficulty in living, and exposed to destructive actions of the most intense character. This increase of population might still produce good results if it were not due to an increase in the number of the weak. But the survival of the weak spoils all; they marry with the strong, who under other conditions would alone have survived; such marriages change the general constitution of the race, and cause it to come down to a lesser degree of force, and what we might call tonicity, corresponding with the conditions of existence that have been artificially created. Such an instrument, whose cords are relaxed, no longer gives to strong or harmonious sounds as of old. An effeminacy of the species is produced, and it has become at the same time a little more numerous and a little weaker. In preserving the less vitalized part of the present generation, we have prepared for the decadence of coming generations.
This decadence is brought about also by other causes. Your philanthropy, say the Darwinians, suppresses or attenuates some noxious influences, and this gives delicate constitutions more chances of surviving and propagating themselves; but you do not perceive that, in place of the unfavorable influences suppressed by you, you cause new destructive ones to arise. "Let the average vitality," says Mr. Spencer, "be diminished by more effectively guarding the weak against adverse conditions, and inevitably there come fresh diseases," for the increase of diseases is the correlative of diminished vitality. Look at the numerous diseases unknown among barbarians from which civilized races suffer. Diseases of the brain, especially, seem to increase with civilization; the proportion of them to the whole population appears to have doubled in France since 1836. The activity which is stamped upon industry, the arts and the sciences, political and social agitation, the fever of money-making, and the consuming life of cities are engendering in civilized nations a condition of cerebral agitation resembling intoxication, which must predispose to intellectual troubles. We may add that the necessity of supporting the weak and non-producers, as Mr. Spencer says, imposes an additional excess of burden on the producers; the weariness of the latter increases till it becomes a cause of sickness and premature death, and the mortality which has been evaded in one shape must come round in another; and, finally, it is the inferiorly endowed who survive and the best endowed who perish. If this misguided fraternity is perpetuated, it will end, according to the Darwinians, by changing a vigorous and youthful society into a prematurely aged society. Suppose a whole nation composed of old men: old age differs from youth and the age of maturity in being less active in production and less capable of resistance to destructive influences; men feeble in constitution, while they are still young, are in an analogous position. A society of enfeebled persons would, then, lead the kind of life that a society composed of old men, with no one to wait upon them, would lead. The resemblance becomes complete in the fact that in both groups life lacks the energy that renders labor easy and pleasure keen. The old man sees the causes that give him suffering increase and those that give him pleasure diminish, for physical exercise is the condition and the accompaniment of most pleasures. Thus is produced a languishing, monotonous, and dreary life. Finally, says Mr. Spencer, when the average type of the constitutions among any people has fallen to a certain level of vigor inferior to that which can without difficulty resist the ordinary strains, and perturbations, and dangers, mortality is still not diminished, and, on the other hand, life, ceasing to be an enjoyment, becomes a burden.
Such are the views of the Darwinians upon the physical deterioration of races by the operation of a mistaken philanthropy. These considerations show well that moralists, economists, legislators, and statesmen ought to come out from the traditional routine to study, in the light of the laws of contemporary biology and sociology, what will be the effects in the future of the measures they recommend or adopt. Nevertheless, we should beware of exaggerating the bearing and consequences of the theorem we have just postulated. There are distinctions to be made, and those who share the views of Darwin do not always make them. Let us first leave out of the account the really sick, who are taken care of at home, or in the hospitals. Diseases are, as a rule, generally accidental, except when they result from an original constitutional defect or from some willful excess. Evidently we are not rendering a bad service to society when we take care of workmen who have been afflicted with sickness or are the victims of some accident. Suppose the wife of a vigorous and efficient workman falls sick; if the workman is very poor and no one comes to his assistance, he will be obliged to overtax and exhaust himself to take care of her; and that would be a loss to the whole community. His children, of good constitutions, who would have lived if the mother had been assisted, will become ill or die if the family is reduced to want. Is it necessary to let those whom disease attacks die without pity, as armies are sometimes forced to abandon those who fall on the road? No Darwinian will in good faith maintain that. The theorem of Darwin can apply, then, only to the infirm properly so called, to whom philanthropy is accustomed to give assistance, as well as to men attacked with accidental diseases. We may, however, here first call attention to the fact that the infirm inmates of hospitals and those who are succored at home are a small part of the nation; and it is no great inconvenience to the sound to take care of them. Moreover, the infirm in the hospitals hardly ever contract marriage; so that we need not fear much from their posterity. Furthermore, we might, if it should become necessary, impose conditions and even legal restraints upon their marriage. The same is the case with the infirm who are assisted at home; if they have any important physical infirmity, they seldom think of marrying, and are hardly ever able to marry. The Darwinian theorem, moreover, proves too much, for it is applicable not only to the weak in body, whom philanthropy takes under its protection; to be logically carried out, it should be taken home to each family, and insist that no deformed or weakly child deserves to live. We should say no more, "Woe to the conquered!" but "Woe to the weak!" In effect, when a father and mother preserve the life of their child only by the exercise of the greatest care, when a doctor employs all his skill upon it, that fatherly and motherly care, that medical skill, will only have succeeded in preparing "artificially for society a member without vigor"; and the latter, in his turn, by marrying, will put into the world children still less vigorous. The Spartan method of disposing of feeble children will then become that of the perfected sociology. We shall test men as we now test our guns, throwing away those which can not support a certain pressure. The struggle of art against the natural elimination of the least vigorous is carried on in the bosom of the family rather than in the hospitals. Public philanthropy does not, therefore, appear to be responsible for the principal inconveniences it brings; it is parental love that we have to deal with, and, since that love is infinitely more advantageous than inconvenient to society, it is our duty to brighten, not to obscure it.
It is rather before marriage than after the birth of children that the real problem presents itself, and philanthropy should be exercised in the interest of humanity itself. There is a moral question here, and it is for the moralist to instruct the weak, delicate, or sickly person, concerning the grave responsibility he assumes in contracting marriage and running the danger of entailing upon his children the evils from which he is suffering. Man, says Darwin, scans with scrupulous care the character and pedigree of his horses, his cattle, and his dogs before matching them, but never takes such a precaution when the question is one of his own marriage. It is certain that the person who calls another being into life is not the only one concerned in the matter, and that, if he has a good supply of physical evils in himself, he ought to hesitate before condemning his posterity to them. But must we go further, and make a social and judicial question of the moral one? Ought the state, the natural protector of the rights of third parties, to intervene here in the physical interest of the children and of the nation, as it interferes for their moral interests and even in questions of mere future? Darwin and his partisans, M. Ribot, for instance, are inclined to have the state intervene now, or as soon as custom shall have prepared the way for its intervention. When, says Darwin, we shall have come to a better comprehension of biological principles, of the laws of reproduction and heredity, for example, we shall no longer hear ignorant legislators repelling with scorn a plan for ascertaining whether or not consanguineous marriages are injurious to the species. According to Darwin, persons of both sexes should be prohibited from marrying when they are found to be in too marked a degree inferior in body or mind. The same rule would apply to those who will not be able to save their children from abject poverty; for poverty is not only a great evil in itself, it also tends to grow by promoting indifference in marriage. M. Ribot expresses the just hope that custom will eventually take account of the data of science in this grave question, but he also contemplates the ultimate intervention of the law. This is, in our view, a dangerous means. In aspiring to favor well-assorted marriages in a physical respect, the law would, in the first place, favor licentiousness and the birth of illegitimate children. Now, licentiousness and the temporary union of the sexes unaccompanied by forethought and determined responsibilities, would encumber society with good-for-nothings to a much greater extent than the marriage of weakly beings. In the second place, the intervention of the law might impose hindrances, to a much greater extent than that of parents, to morally and intellectually well-assorted marriages as well as to congenial ones. Finally, governments are still less infallible than parents in the matter of making a decision concerning the future of children. All that could be done would be to exact from those wishing to marry some assurance that they have the means of living, and will be able to take care of their children. It would still be necessary, we repeat, to prevent such a policy operating, as it does in Germany, as a promoter of illegitimate births. This question is not, however, in reality, within the province of philanthropy properly so called, with which we are particularly occupied. Philanthropy can be charged here only with the assistance which it gives the feeble-bodied for the prolongation of their existence, and for the means it affords them for bringing into the world still feebler children. The Darwinians exaggerate the harm caused by philanthropy in this respect; for they forget that it can not wholly transform nature. Its power is limited to prolonging the life of an individual (which is no great harm), or to prolonging his race for a time that is more or less brief. One of two things must be the case: either the evil relieved by philanthropy is a fatal germ of decay and death for the posterity of the assisted man, in which event the benevolence will only delay without preventing the inevitable extinction of that posterity; or, on the contrary, the evil is reparable and posterity may recruit, strengthen, and perfect itself—that is, may cross over the mountain instead of falling back upon it. Must we in the latter case reproach Philanthropy for having held out the hand of relief to those who were about to fall for ever? This dilemma can be resolved only in each particular instance as it occurs; what right have we, then, to prejudge the solution, and that in favor of the crudest sentiments? We shall shortly see that the inconveniences, when they exist, are compensated by the advantages. The logical conclusion is that, if the moralist ought not to be too much occupied with these complex problems, so the legislator can not be too prudent when he is thinking about intervening, for his intervention will be much more artificial, and may be more dangerous, than the intervention of philanthropy.
Let us now pass from the influence which philanthropy can exercise directly upon individuals to that which it can exercise upon the environment, by making it more favorable to the weak and wretched. There is here an important distinction which the Darwinians too often neglect to make. Among the conditions of the environment, of hygiene and of health, which can be managed for the whole of a population, we should designate first the normal conditions which tend to assure the normal development or performance of the organs, such as pure air, nutritious and sufficient food, proper clothing, healthy houses, the adjustment of the work to the strength, etc. A philanthropy which endeavors to realize these conditions for the largest possible number of men is evidently acting in the same direction with nature; far from enfeebling the generations, it is fortifying them. It would be a sophism to assume that we could fortify the generations any better by habituating them to do without these favorable conditions, for we can not do without necessaries; the budget of nature and life is fixed, and can not be varied except within narrow limits. What would we say of a father who, to exercise the nutritive functions of his children, should try to habituate them to living without eating, who to exercise their lungs should place them in a vitiated atmosphere, who to exercise their sense of sight should make them work and read in an unlighted room? That would be to propose a problem as insoluble as that of making a fish live without water. In fact, populations subjected to unhealthy influences become wretched and sickly; their children fail to grow; they are thin-blooded, feeble, small, thin, and tainted with such diseases as goitre, pellagra, ophthalmia, and cretinism. We can not add to the strength of men by making them live in unhealthy districts instead of healthy ones. Excessive labor likewise exhausts the minds and bodies of generations as it does of individuals. Doubtless the strongest will survive, but they will survive enfeebled, and, although relatively strong, they will have really become weak; they are the one-eyed among the blind. We shall thus have obtained a survival of the weak, who will beget weak offspring. The argument of the Darwinians may then be turned back upon them, and we may propose on our side the following theorem: To realize the normal conditions most favorable to mankind is to assume the development and selection of a majority of the strong while saving only a minority of the weak; for to be sick is the exception when the conditions as to hygiene and food are at the best.
The reasoning of Mr. Spencer, repeated by M. de Candolle, is, in our view, valid only under abnormal conditions. If we bring up children effeminately, in mental and physical idleness, if we feed them on candies instead of bread and meat, if we keep them in a greenhouse and out of the open air, if we do not let them take any exercise for fear they will be tired, we shall evidently debase them, and prepare, through them, for the debasement of the race itself. In short, the causes for the deterioration of a generation are luxury, effeminacy, and idleness. There is nothing strange from this point of view in Dr. Jacoby's demonstration, that extinction is the ultimate fate awaiting every royal and aristocratic family, that it has come or will come upon the Cæsars, the Medicis, the Valois, the Bourbons, our French nobility, the Venetian aristocracy, and the English lords; for it is in such families that the causes of decay, inseparable from power and riches, produce their fatal results. Sterility, mental disorders, premature death, and the ultimate extinction of the race, do not constitute a future reserved particularly and exclusively for sovereign dynasties; all the privileged classes, all families occupying exclusively elevated positions, share the lot of reigning families, although to a lesser degree, which degree is always in proportion to the grandeur of their privileges and the altitude of their social state. But if we grant this principle for once, we may still ask the pessimist disciples of Darwin if philanthropy is in the habit of assuring to the needy the luxury and the soft life of aristocracies. It at least, one may say, permits idleness; but that is the fault of those who come to the assistance of the suffering workingmen, for it is their right and duty to require an equivalent in labor for the assistance they give.
We have as yet examined only the first of the Darwinian theorems relative to the effects of misapplied philanthropy: a society may deteriorate in a physical respect by the artificial preservation of the weakest, if it does not conform to the real course of nature. The Darwinians add to this that it will also deteriorate in a moral respect, by the artificial preservation of the individuals "least capable of taking care of themselves." The principle on which this new theorem is based is that the laws of heredity and selection are applicable to the moral as well as to the physical side. We admit that Messrs. Galton, Ribot, and Jacoby have undoubtedly established this principle. Moral vices, like physical vices, end, after they have been for a long time implanted in families or races, by transmitting themselves from generation to generation. Darwin insists much on the transmission of that moral quality which he calls character, strength of will, courage, self-reliance; on the other hand, there are also, according to him, people trifling, idle, and careless by right of birth, like the Irish. Transport to the same country an equal number of Scotch and Irish, says Darwin: at the end of a certain time the Irish will have become ten times as numerous as the Scotch, but the latter, by virtue of their hereditary qualities, will be at the head and occupying the highest places. "If any one denies," says Mr. Spencer, "that children bear likenesses to their progenitors in character and capacity, if he holds that men whose parents and grandparents were habitual criminals, have tendencies as good as those of men whose parents and grandparents were industrious and upright, he may consistently hold that it matters not from what families in a society the successive generations descend. He may think it just as well if the most active, and capable, and prudent, and conscientious people die without issue; while many children are left by the reckless and dishonest. But whoever does not espouse so insane a proposition, must admit that social arrangements which retard the multiplication of the mentally-best, and facilitate the multiplication of the mentally-worst, must be extremely injurious." Help the least meritorious to propagate themselves by enfranchising them from the mortality to which their absence of merit devotes them, and merit itself will become more and more rare from generation to generation. Furthermore, besides seeing to their own preservation and that of their families, the good will be obliged also to look to the preservation of the bad and their families, and will be thus in danger of being overtaxed. This is what Stuart Mill also complains of. In consequence of the unintelligent use of the income-tax, and the obligation of every parish to support its poor, the workers are compelled to take care of the idle. Is this justice? In some cases, this situation prevents the industrious from marrying; in others, it limits the number of their children, or prevents their giving them a sufficient support; in others, it takes industrious men from their families; in every way it tends to arrest the propagation of the capable, to injure their constitution, and to bring them down to the level of the incapable. During this time the latter will increase and multiply, conformably to the misinterpreted wisdom of the Bible; they will swarm at the expense of others. This, says Mr. Spencer, is a deliberate storing-up of miseries for future generations. We can not make a worse present to posterity than to encumber it with a continually increasing number of imbeciles and criminals. To aid the bad in multiplying is, in effect, the same as maliciously providing for our descendants a multitude of enemies. We have a right to ask if the maudlin philanthropy which thinks only of ameliorating the evils of the moment and persists in overlooking indirect mischiefs does not produce a greater total of misery than extreme selfishness?
Such are the objections of Mr. Spencer and Mr. Darwin in all their force. In our opinion, they still bear against the blind and irrational exercise of philanthropy, rather than against philanthropy itself. Pushed too far, the theorem relative to the moral and intellectual debasement of societies would have consequences still more inadmissible than that relative to their physical debasement. In fact, the law of mental and moral heredity, which is their principle, is much more vague and loose than the law of physical heredity. What is the meaning of the unprecise expression, "a society lowered by the artificial preservation of the individuals least capable of taking care of themselves"? Does Mr. Spencer mean that parents in the habit, for example, of soliciting at the charitable institutions will beget children endowed with the innate disposition to go to the same institutions? England certainly offers a spectacle of this kind of poor, who are assisted from father to son by the parishes; they are, we might say, the lords of beggardom; in them hereditary indigence is raised to the dignity of an institution. Poor mothers surround themselves with their numerous children as so many titles to assistance—they are Cornelias of a new race. But whose fault is it? Is it not that of the distributors of the poor-taxes, which are, moreover, increasing every day under this system? Is it not, furthermore, the fault of the bad education received by the children, rather than of heredity of temperament? If these children were brought up with the children of a lord, would they exhibit an innate propensity to beg or to be assisted by others? We believe, generally, that Messrs. Spencer and Darwin, as well as Messrs. Jacoby and Ribot, attribute too great a part to heredity, too little a one to education and circumstances.
The part played by the social and political organization in England must, moreover, not be forgotten. In France, by the operation of the rule of equality, there are between four and five million proprietors, and the increase of population is so slow as to give uneasiness to those who regard the material and military power of a nation before everything else. In England, the soil is owned by thirty thousand persons, and half of it is in the hands of a hundred and fifty large proprietors. In consequence of this feudal monopoly and this rule of inequality (for which many of our contemporary writers utter Platonic regrets), neither the workmen nor the villagers can live without the aid of the poor-taxes. The lords having arrogated to themselves the monopoly of wealth, a part of the nation would be reduced to the most extreme wretchedness if they did not deign to compensate for their injustice with their charity. We must admit that they come within a certain distance of reaching this point, for the number of assisted has diminished one half during the last thirty years. In the greater part of England the wages of the agricultural laborer vary between six and twelve shillings a week; his lodging costs him one shilling a week; it is impossible for him to live on the remainder of his wages with a wife and only two children. Now, by the zeal of biblical preachers, and the traditional improvidence of the fathers, they have on the average eight children, sometimes fourteen or sixteen. The result is that they can not dispense with assistance, either public or private. Not a day-laborer in the field, says Mrs. Grote, lives or supports his family with his wages alone; he subsists partly upon his savings and partly on alms. Having no hope of becoming a proprietor, like the French peasant, the English rustic is prodigal and exacting in the matter of the comfortable; and, as his fecundity realizes the ideal of the Old Testament, his improvidence realizes that of the New. The fecundity and improvidence of the workmen in the factories are still greater.
Gold may be thrown out by the handful in vain; it is impossible to fill this sort of a cask of the Danaïdes; pure charity, while it may relieve the suffering, is incompetent to suppress the causes of misery and supply justice. Neither can religion replace science. There is one thing, says Mr. Spencer, which calls for especially severe reprobation; it is the waste of money inspired by a false interpretation of the well-known maxim, "Charity covers a multitude of sins." "For in the many whom this interpretation leads to believe that by large donations they can compound for evil deeds, we may trace an element of positive baseness—an effort to get a good place in another world, no matter at what injury to fellow-creatures."
But, we ask, does Mr. Spencer see where the evil and the remedy really are when he attributes the carelessness and the idleness of the poor to heredity, and is especially concerned to prevent the transmission of these vices by the blood to future generations? The best processes of Darwinian selection would be without important results in the absence of good education, and education would itself have little power in the absence of just laws. These two essential elements which the Darwinians have overlooked—education and laws—must, then, be reinstated in the problem.
[To be continued.]
- Translated for "The Popular Science Monthly," from the "Revue des Deux Mondes."
- Religious fanaticism, for instance, by its measures of persecution, has produced effects which its partisans were far from foreseeing, and a kind of cross-action. "By a course of penalties and poisonings," says Galton, in his "Hereditary Genius," "the Spanish nation has been deprived of free-thinkers and drained, as it were, of a thousand persons a year, during the three centuries between 1474 and 1784; for an average of one hundred persons were executed and an average of nine hundred persons imprisoned every year during that period. During the three centuries, 32,000 persons were burned, 17,000 burned in effigy (the most of the persons themselves died in prison, or left Spain), and 291,000 were condemned to prison and other penalties. It is impossible for a nation to endure such a policy without suffering a great deterioration of the race. The taking from the nation its most intelligent and most vigorous men had for its most noteworthy result the formation of the unintelligent and superstitious race of contemporary Spaniards." Attention has frequently been called to the disastrous effect of the military regime of our epoch, which deprives the family and labor of the soundest part of youth, and, leaving at home only the weak or sickly men, produces a selection backward in the nation. When war is added to universal armament, it harvests the best part of a people, and debases the generations which follow it.
- The fact is furthermore established by statistics that, notwithstanding the increased propagation of the weak in civilized societies under the influence of philanthropic feelings, and notwithstanding the increase of population, the length of life is now greater than formerly. This proves that the decrease of some causes of mortality has been greater down to the present time than the increase of other causes. Furthermore, the debility of the existing generations may be a result of the stimulus which has been given to industry under conditions which are still very defective, and which will be improved in the future.