Popular Science Monthly/Volume 30/April 1887/Editor's Table



IN the January number of the "Contemporary Review," Madame Adam has an article entitled "Science in Politics," the main contention of which appears to be that science and politics make a very bad mixture. The proof of this position she finds in the evil influence exerted, as she believes, by the late M. Paul Bert on contemporary French politics. M. Bert, she avers, was the ruin of Gambetta by turning him aside from a broad, sympathetic way of treating public questions into a narrow and abstract way of treating them. The savant applied himself to political questions in the same spirit in which he applied himself to questions of physiology; and was prepared to act upon the results obtained with as little hesitation as if it were a mere matter of carrying through some laboratory experiment. In fact, he was just as ready to vivisect the nation with a new school law as to vivisect a cat in the ordinary fashion. So runs the indictment against M. Bert; and because M. Bert, the scientist, was so rash an innovator in politics, we are asked to learn the lesson that the more science is kept out of politics the better. Well, Madame Adam is a very clever woman, and what she says about M. Bert may be all true; but we do not quite see our way to an acceptance of the conclusions she offers us. Science is something more than physiology: a man may be a good physiologist, and yet outside of his special study may have anything but a scientific mind. What is wanted for political action is science in its most comprehensive sense; and, other things being equal, the more of true science a statesman possesses, the better fitted, we fully believe, he will be for his position. The statesman, of course, needs to know men, and to know them, not as subjects for the operating-table, but as living, moving units of the social organism. But this knowledge properly coordinated is scientific knowledge. The scientific statesman is not swayed by every impulse of the hour; he knows something of human history; and he knows how short-lived many movements are, and how infallibly communities will in the long run obey the general laws of their evolution. At the same time he makes allowance for the strength of many feelings that perhaps he does not himself share. He may be very free from prejudice himself; but he knows how large and how necessary a part prejudice plays in human affairs, and makes allowances for it accordingly. To a man who had got beyond physiology and physiological methods the knowledge he had acquired of that science would often he of special value for the understanding of political problems. The problem of problems in politics is indeed to establish a sociological balance of functions analogous to that physiological balance which is measurably attained in the healthy human body. We want to avoid congestion on the one hand and depletion on the other. We want neither over-nutrition nor innutrition. We want brain-direction, but we want spontaneous activity in local centers. We want a proper division of labor, a proper specialization of function. We want a stable equilibrium of society such as results from free contact with natural influences and conditions. To say that a knowledge of the normal and pathological conditions of the human body would be of no advantage—would be even a drawback—for the understanding of social phenomena and the guidance of social action, seems to us a most unreasonable position. We should say that it would be a great and signal advantage provided only—as we have already hinted—that the physiologist knew enough to recognize that social facts call for somewhat wider canons of interpretation than physiological ones.

But there is positively no science that will not bring its own quota of aid to statesmanship. Chemistry, with its definite laws of combination, its resemblances concealed under differences and differences concealed under resemblances, throws many a gleam of light on the phenomena of human action. So with physics, so even with mathematics. But when we speak of science aiding statesmanship, be it understood that we mean statesmanship, and not merely the art of the political manager. The statesman can afford to have a mind widened and enriched by every variety of knowledge. Why? Because it is his concern to know the truth about everything, in order that he may consult for the general good to the best possible advantage; because he wishes to mark out such lines for political activity as run parallel with those that Nature has traced in bringing man up to the political stage; because he wishes to build on Nature's foundations, and so help to establish a natural and durable order of things in the political world. The party manager, on the other hand, has nothing to do with these things: he wants to organize victory for his party, and for that purpose he only requires the aid of a very special science—the science of catching votes. At present there is not much science in our politics. Madame Adam need not tremble lest accomplished physiologists should disturb the American system with methods borrowed from the laboratory. We keep all such people at a safe distance, and pay honor only to the manipulator of the caucus and the primaries. But when politics comes to be recognized as the science of good government instead of as the science of getting hold of the governments the need for statesmanship will begin to be felt; and with the demand for statesmanship will come a recognition of the fact that the highest and widest knowledge can nowhere be more profitably or honorably employed than in the service of the community.


Threatenings of war continue to reach us from abroad, and appear to grow more serious with each succeeding repetition. They are often accompanied, it is true, by expressions of a desire for peace, emanating in some cases from those highest in authority; but these seem to be little more than the shallowest pretense, for they are belied by the systematic and unremitting preparations for conflict so generally apparent. Yet these very preparations are in turn impudently justified as tending to the preservation of peace and good-will. Taking advantage of the excitement and solicitude that the prospect of a great European war is calculated to arouse, the spendthrift politicians of our own country are vigorously urging their schemes for the multiplication and improvement of our coast defenses and the increase of our naval armament. These measures are also claimed to be in the interest of peace, when, in reality, if carried into effect, their immediate result will be an enormous expenditure of public money, and afterward their presence will be more likely to provoke than to avert a collision. The nation equipped for war is like the bully with his revolver—always ready for a row, and not likely to miss the chance when an opportunity occurs.

Unfortunately, there seems to be enough of this belligerent and barbarous spirit left, especially in the Old World, to keep up a constant turmoil, or at least to maintain a state of perpetual apprehension, which tends to exert a paralyzing effect upon all forms of industrial effort. But, bad as the outlook at present appears, there is much cause for satisfaction on the part of the friends of industrialism in the growth and extension, under the favoring influence of science, of the arts which make for peace and right living; and it is not a little encouraging that there is already apparent a decided tendency to abandon the strifes of war, and adopt in their stead the more generous rivalries incident to a process of industrial development.

During the last quarter of a century a great impulse has been given in many states to manufacturing interests, the improvement and perfection of working methods, and the competition for excellence in industrial products; and, even in some of the nations whose war-like attitude has given alarm, the earnestness of the people in this direction is already comparable with and promises ultimately to suppress the belligerent disposition of their rulers. Thus it happens that the merchants of Germany are crowding the English out of the markets which they thought their permanent possession, by being able to offer to buyers more desirable bargains. The reason of this is that, while those who supposed they held a monopoly of these markets have been content to rest at a certain point of excellence in manufacture, or have even been careless about the matter, their rivals have persistently sought to improve the quality and the methods of production, and to adapt their goods to the exact taste of their customers; and, apace with this, have developed systems of thorough training, in general and special schools, of their artisan classes in all branches of manufacture, and in the numerous applications of science to the arts.

It is thus becoming recognized that excellence in technical industries and the special training of artisan youth are quite as important for the prosperity and security of the nation as a firm military position; and earnest efforts are making in this country and in England to put in operation means by which these may be attained. It has been proposed in England to honor the jubilee of the Queen's reign by founding an Imperial Institute, the purpose of which shall be to advance the knowledge and practical skill of the productive classes of the empire. The exact shape which the scheme shall assume has not yet been determined, and has hardly been conceived. Professor Huxley, who warmly commended it at a public meeting, would have in the Institute, as he has said in a note subsequently written, "something which should play the same part in regard to the advancement of industrial knowledge as has been played in regard to science and learning in general, in these realms, by the Royal Society and the universities." In his conception of the scheme as he commended it, he pictured the Imperial Institute to himself, he says—

As a house of call for all those who are concerned in the advancement of industry; as a place in which the home-keeping industrial could find out all he wants to know about colonial industry and the colonist about home industry; as a sort of neutral ground in which the capitalist and the artisan would be equally welcome; as a center of intercommunication in which they might enter into friendly discussion of the problems at issue between them, and, perchance, arrive at a friendly solution of them.

I imagined it a place in which the fullest stores of industrial knowledge would be made accessible to the public; in which the higher questions of commerce and industry would be systematically studied and elucidated; and where, as in an industrial university, the whole technical education of the country might find its center and crown.

If I earnestly desire to see such an institution created, it is not because I think that or anything else will put an end to pauperism and want—as somebody has absurdly suggested—but because I believe it will supply a foundation for that scientific organization of our industries which the changed conditions of the times render indispensable to their prosperity.

I do not think I am far wrong in assuming that we are entering, indeed have already entered, upon the most serious struggle for existence to which this country has ever been committed. The latter years of the century promise to see us embarked in an industrial war of far more serious import than the military wars of its opening years. On the East, the most systematically instructed and best-informed people in Europe are our competitors; on the West, an energetic offshoot of our own stock, grown bigger than its parent, enters upon the struggle possessed of natural resources to which we can make no pretension and with every prospect of soon possessing that cheap labor by which they may be effectually utilized.

Many circumstances tend to justify the hope that we may hold our own if we arc careful to "organize victory." But, to those who reflect seriously on the prospects of the population of Lancashire and Yorkshire—should the time ever arrive when the goods which are produced by their labor and their skill are to be had cheaper elsewhere—to those who remember the cotton famine, and reflect how much worse a customer famine would be, the situation appears very grave.

Such an institution as Professor Huxley here outlines, founded under the auspices which surround this enterprise, would undoubtedly give an immense impetus to efforts for the elevation of industrial art; and its establishment, if effected, will mark an epoch in the history of the practical applications of science.