Popular Science Monthly/Volume 37/May 1890/On Justice I
By HERBERT SPENCER.
[IN the January number of this Review  (page 126), I made the incidental statement that "should I be able to complete Part IV of the Principles of Ethics, treating of Justice, of which the first chapters only are at present written, I hope to deal adequately with these relations between the ethics of the progressive condition and the ethics of that condition which is the goal of progress—a goal ever to be recognized, though it can not be actually reached." These chapters were written nearly a year ago: the fourth, not quite finished, having been untouched since May last. In view of the possibility that the division of which they form part may never be completed, or otherwise that its completion may be long delayed, it has occurred to me that as the topic dealt with is now being discussed, these first chapters may, perhaps with advantage, be published forthwith. The editor having kindly assented to my proposal to issue them in this Review, I here append the first three: reserving two others, conveniently separable in subject-matter, for another article.]
I. Animal-Ethics.—Those who have not read the first division of this work will be surprised by the above title. But the chapters on Conduct in General and The Evolution of Conduct will have shown to those who have read them that something which may be regarded as animal-ethics is implied.
It was there shown that the conduct which Ethics treats of is not separable from conduct at large; that the highest conduct is that which conduces to the greatest length, breadth, and completeness of life; and that by implication there is a conduct proper to each species of animal, which is the relatively good conduct—a conduct which stands toward that species as the conduct we morally approve stands toward the human species.
Most people regard the subject-matter of Ethics as being conduct considered as calling forth approbation or reprobation. But the primary subject-matter of Ethics is conduct considered objectively as producing good or bad results to self or others or both.
Even those who think of Ethics as concerned only with conduct which deserves praise or blame, tacitly recognize an animal-ethics; for certain acts of animals excite in them antipathy or sympathy. A bird which feeds its mate while she is sitting is regarded with a sentiment of approval. For a hen which refuses to sit upon her eggs there is a feeling of aversion; while one which fights in defense of her chickens is admired.
Egoistic acts, as well as altruistic acts, in animals are classed as good or bad. A squirrel which lays up a store of food for the winter is thought of as doing that which a squirrel ought to do; and, contrariwise, one which idly makes no provision and dies of starvation, is thought of as properly paying the penalty of improvidence. A dog which surrenders its bone to another without a struggle, and runs away, we call a coward—a word of reprobation.
Thus then it is clear that acts which are conducive to preservation of offspring or of the individual we consider as good relatively to the species, and conversely.
The two classes of cases of altruistic and egoistic acts of animals just given, exemplify the two cardinal and opposed principles of animal-ethics.
During immaturity benefits received must be inversely proportionate to capacities possessed. Within the family-group most must be given where least is deserved, if desert is measured by worth. Contrariwise, after maturity is reached, benefits must vary directly as worth: worth being measured by fitness to the conditions of existence. The ill fitted must suffer the evils of unfitness, and the well fitted profit by their fitness.
These are the two laws which a species must conform to if it is to be preserved. Limiting the proposition to the higher types (for in the lower types, parents give to offspring no other aid than that of laying up a small amount of nutriment with the germ; the result being that an enormous mortality has to be balanced by an enormous fertility)—thus limiting the proposition, I say, it is clear that if, among the young, benefit were proportioned to efficiency, the species would disappear forthwith; and if, among adults, benefit were proportioned to inefficiency, the species would disappear by decay in a few generations (see Principles of Sociology, section 322).
What is the ethical aspect of these principles? In the first place, animal life of all but the lowest kinds has been maintained by virtue of them. Excluding the Protozoa, among which their operation is scarcely discernible, we see that without gratis benefits to offspring, and earned benefits to adults, life could not have continued.
In the second place, by virtue of them life has gradually evolved into higher forms. By care of offspring which has become greater with advancing organization, and by survival of the fittest in the competition among adults which has become keener with, advancing organization, superiority-has been perpetually fostered, and further advances caused.
On the other hand, it is true that to this self-sacrificing care for the young and this struggle for existence among adults, has been due the carnage and the death by starvation which have characterized the evolution of life from the beginning. It is also true that the processes consequent on conformity to these principles are responsible for the production of torturing parasites, which outnumber in their kinds all other creatures.
To those who take a pessimist view of animal-life in general, contemplation of these principles can of course yield only dissatisfaction. But to those who take an optimist view, or a meliorist view, of life in general, and who accept the postulate of hedonism, contemplation of these principles must yield greater or less satisfaction, and fulfillment of them must be ethically approved.
Otherwise considered, these principles are either, according to the current belief, expressions of the Divine will, or, according to the agnostic belief, indicate the mode in which works the Unknowable Power throughout the Universe; and in either case they have the warrant hence derived.
But here, leaving aside the ultimate controversy of pessimism versus optimism, it will suffice for present purposes to set out with a hypothetical postulate, and to limit it to a single species. If the preservation and prosperity of such species are to be desired, there inevitably emerge one most general conclusion and from it three less general conclusions.
The most general conclusion is that, in order of obligation, the preservation of the species takes precedence of the preservation of the individual. It is true that the species has no existence save as an aggregate of individuals; and it is true that, therefore, the welfare of the species is an end to be subserved only as subserving the welfares of individuals. But since disappearance of the species, implying disappearance of all individuals, involves absolute failure in achieving the end, whereas disappearance of individuals, though carried to a great extent, may leave outstanding such number as can, by continuance of the species, make subsequent fulfillment of the end possible; the preservation of the individual must, in a variable degree according to circumstances, be subordinated to the preservation of the species, where the two conflict. The resulting corollaries are these:
First, that among adults there must be conformity to the law that benefits received shall be directly proportionate to merits possessed: merits being measured by power of self-sustentation. For, otherwise, the species must suffer in two ways. It must suffer immediately by sacrifice of superior to inferior, which entails a general diminution of welfare; and it must suffer remotely by furthering increase of the inferior and, by implication, hindering increase of the superior, and by a consequent general deterioration which, if continued, must end in extinction.
Second, that during early life, before self-sustentation has become possible, and also while it can be but partial, the aid given must be the greatest where the worth shown is the smallest—benefits received must be inversely proportionate to merits possessed: merits being measured by power of self-sustentation. Unless there are gratis benefits to offspring, unqualified at first and afterward qualified by decrease as maturity is approached, the species must disappear by extinction of its young. There is, of course, necessitated a proportionate self-subordination of adults.
Third, to this self-subordination entailed by parenthood has, in certain cases, to be added a further self-subordination. If the constitution of the species and its conditions of existence are such that sacrifices, partial or complete, of some of its individuals, so subserve the welfare of the species that its numbers are better maintained than they would otherwise be, then there results a justification for such sacrifices.
Such are the laws by conformity to which a species is maintained; and if we assume that the preservation of a particular species is a desideratum, there arises in it an obligation to conform to these laws, which we may call, according to the case in question, quasi-ethical or ethical.
II. Sub-Human Justice.—Of the two essential but opposed principles of action by pursuance of which each species is preserved, we are here concerned only with the second. Passing over the law of the family as composed of adults and young, we have now to consider exclusively the law of the species as composed of adults only.
This law we have seen to be that individuals of most worth, as measured by their fitness to the conditions of existence, shall have the greatest benefits, and that inferior individuals shall receive smaller benefits, or suffer greater evils, or both results—a law which, under its biological aspect, has for its implication the survival of the fittest. Interpreted in ethical terms it is that each individual ought to be subject to the effects of its own nature and resulting conduct. Throughout sub-human life this law holds without qualification; for there exists no agency by which, among adults, the relations between conduct and consequence can be interfered with.
Fully to appreciate the import of this law we may with advantage pause a moment to contemplate an analogous law; or, rather, the same law as exhibited in another sphere. Besides being displayed in the relations among members of the species, as respectively well or ill sustained according to their well-adapted activities or ill-adapted activities, it is displayed in the relations of parts of each organism to one another.
Every muscle, every viscus, every gland, receives blood in proportion to function. If it does little it is ill-fed and dwindles; if it does much it is well-fed and grows. By this balancing of expenditure in action and payment in nutriment, there is, at the same time, a balancing of the relative powers of the parts of the organism; so that the organism as a whole is fitted to its existence by having the proportions of its parts continuously adjusted to the requirements. And clearly this principle of self-adjustment within each individual is parallel to that principle of self-adjustment by which the species as a whole keeps itself fitted to its environment. For by the better nutrition and greater power of propagation which come to members of the species that have faculties and consequent activities best adapted to the needs, joined with the lower sustentation of self and offspring which accompany less adapted faculties and activities, there is caused such special growth of the species as most conduces to its survival in face of surrounding conditions.
This, then, is the law of sub-human justice, that each individual shall receive the benefits and the evils of its own nature and its consequent conduct.
But sub-human justice is extremely imperfect, alike in general and in detail.
In general, it is imperfect in the sense that there exist multitudinous species the sustentation of which depends on the wholesale destruction of other species; and this wholesale destruction implies that the species serving as prey have the relations between conduct and consequence so habitually broken that in but very few individuals are they long maintained. It is true that in such cases the premature loss of life suffered from enemies by nearly all members of the species, must be considered as resulting from their natures—their inability to contend with the destructive agencies they are exposed to. But we may fitly recognize the truth that this violent ending of the immense majority of its lives, implies that the species is one in which justice, as above conceived, is displayed in but small measure.
Sub-human justice is extremely imperfect in detail, in the sense that the relation between conduct and consequence is in such an immense proportion of cases broken by accidents—accidents of kinds which fall indiscriminately upon inferior and superior individuals. There are the multitudinous deaths caused by inclemencies of weather, which, in the great majority of cases, the best members of the species are liable to like the worst. There are other multitudinous deaths caused by scarcity of food, which, if not wholly, still in large measure, carries off good and bad alike. Among low types, too, enemies are causes of death which so operate that superior as well as inferior are sacrificed. And the like holds with invasions by parasites, often widely fatal. These attack, and frequently destroy, the most perfect individuals as readily as the least perfect.
The high rate of multiplication required to balance the immense mortality among low animals, at once shows us that among them long survival is not insured by superiority; and that thus the subhuman justice, which consists in continued receipt of the results of conduct, holds individually in but few cases.
And here we come upon a truth of great significance—the truth that sub-human justice becomes more decided as organization becomes higher.
Whether this or that fly is taken by a swallow, whether among a brood of caterpillars an ichneumon settles on this or that, whether out of a shoal of herrings this or that is swallowed by a cetacean, is an event quite independent of individual peculiarity: good and bad samples fare alike. With high types of creatures it is otherwise. Keen senses, sagacity, agility, give a particular carnivore special power to secure prey. In a herd of herbivorous creatures, the one with quickest hearing, clearest vision, most sensitive nostril, or greatest speed, is the one most likely to save itself.
Evidently, in proportion as the endowments, mental and bodily, of a species are high, and as, consequently, its ability to deal with the incidents of the environment is great, the continued life of each individual is less dependent on accidents against which it can not guard. And, evidently, in proportion as this result of general superiority becomes marked, the results of special superiorities are felt. Individual differences of faculty play larger parts in determining individual fates. Now deficiency of a power shortens life, and now a large endowment prolongs it. That is to say, individuals experience more fully the results of their own natures—the justice is more decided.
With creatures which lead solitary lives, the nature of subhuman justice is thus sufficiently expressed; but on passing to gregarious creatures, there enters into it a new element.
Simple association, as of sheep or deer, profits the individual and the species only by that more efficient safeguarding which results from the superiority of a multitude of eyes, ears, and noses over the eyes, ears, and nose of a single individual. Through the alarms more quickly given, all benefit by the senses of the most acute. Where this, which we may call passive co-operation, rises into active co-operation, as among rooks where one of the flock keeps watch while the rest feed, or as among beavers where a number work together in making dams, or as among wolves where, by a plan of attack in which the individuals play different parts, prey is caught which would otherwise not be caught; there is still greater advantage to the individuals and to the species. And, speaking generally, we may say that gregariousness, and cooperation more or less active establish themselves in a species only because they are profitable to it; since, otherwise, survival of the fittest must prevent establishment of them.
But now mark that this profitable association is made possible only by observance of certain conditions. The acts directed to self-sustentation which each performs, are performed more or less in presence of others performing like acts; and there tends to result more or less interference. If the interference is great, it may render the association unprofitable. For the association to be profitable the acts must be restrained to such an extent as to leave a balance of advantage. Survival of the fittest will else exterminate that variety of the species in which association begins.
Here, then, we find a further factor in sub-human justice. Each individual, receiving the benefits and the injuries due to its own nature and consequent conduct, has to carry on that conduct subject to the restriction that it shall not in any large measure impede the conduct by which each other individual achieves benefits or brings on itself injuries. The average conduct must not involve aggressions of such amounts as to cause evils which outbalance the good obtained by co-operation. Thus, to the positive element in sub-human justice has to be added, among gregarious creatures, a negative element.
The necessity for observance of the condition that each member of the group while carrying on the pursuit of self-sustentation and sustentation of offspring, shall not seriously impede the like pursuits of others, makes itself so felt, where association is established, as to mold the species to it. The mischiefs from time to time experienced when the limits are transgressed, continually discipline all in such ways as to produce regard for the limits; so that such regard becomes, in course of time, a natural trait of the species. For, manifestly, regardlessness of the limits, if great and general, causes dissolution of the group. Those varieties only can survive as gregarious varieties in which there is an inherited tendency to maintain the limits.
Yet, further, there arises such general consciousness of the need for maintaining the limits, that punishments are inflicted on transgressors—not only by aggrieved members of the group, but by the group as a whole. A "rogue" elephant (always distinguished as unusually malicious) is one which, has "been expelled from the herd: doubtless because of conduct obnoxious to the rest—probably aggressive. It is said that from a colony of beavers an idler is banished, and thus prevented from profiting by labors in which he does not join: a statement made more credible by the fact that drones, when no longer needed, are killed by worker-bees. The testimonies of observers in different countries show that a flock of crows, after prolonged noise of consultation, will summarily execute an offending member. And an eye-witness affirms that among rooks, a pair which steals the sticks from neighboring nests has its own nest pulled to pieces by the rest.
Here, then, we see that the a priori condition to harmonious co-operation comes to be tacitly recognized as something like a law; and there is a penalty consequent upon breach of it.
That the individual shall experience all the consequences, good and evil, of its own nature and consequent conduct, which is that primary principle of sub-human justice whence results survival of the fittest, is, in creatures that lead solitary lives, a principle complicated only by the responsibilities of parenthood. Among them the purely egoistic actions of self-sustentation have, during the reproductive period, to be qualified by that self-subordination which the rearing of offspring necessitates, but by no other self-subordination. Among gregarious creatures of considerable intelligence, however, the welfare of the species occasionally demands a further self-subordination.
We read of bisons that, during the calving season, the bulls form an encircling guard around the herd of cows and calves, to protect them against wolves and other predatory animals: a proceeding which entails on each bull some danger, but which conduces to the preservation of the species. Out of a herd of elephants about to emerge from a forest to reach a drinking place, one will first appear and look round in search of dangers, and, not discerning any, will then post some others of the herd to act as watchers; after which the main body comes forth and enters the water. Here a certain extra risk is run by the few that the many may be the safer. In a still greater degree we are shown this kind of action by a troop of monkeys, the members of which will combine to defend or rescue one of their number; for though in any particular case the species may not profit, since more mortality may result than would have resulted, yet it profits in the long run by the display of a character which makes attack on its groups dangerous.
Evidently, then, if by such conduct one variety of a gregarious species keeps up, or increases, its numbers, while other varieties, in which self-subordination thus directed does not exist, fail to do this, a certain sanction is acquired for-such conduct. The preservation of the species being the ultimate end, it results that where an occasional mortality of individuals in defense of the species furthers this preservation in a greater degree than would pursuit of exclusive benefit by each individual, that which we recognize as sub-human justice may rightly have this second limitation.
It remains only to point out the order of priority, and the respective ranges, of these principles. The law of relation between conduct and consequence, which, throughout the animal kingdom at large, brings prosperity to those individuals which are structurally best adapted to their conditions of existence, and which, under its ethical aspect, is expressed in the principle that each individual ought to receive the good and the evil which arises from its own nature, is the primary law holding of all creatures; and is applicable without qualification to creatures which lead solitary lives, save in that self-subordination needed among the higher of them for the rearing of offspring.
Among gregarious creatures, and in an increasing degree as they co-operate more, there comes into play a law, second in order of time and authority, that those actions through which, in fulfillment of its nature, the individual achieves benefits and avoids evils, shall be restrained by the need for non-interference with the like actions of associated individuals. A substantial respect for this law in the average of cases being the condition under which alone gregariousness can continue, it becomes an imperative law for creatures to which gregariousness is a benefit. But, obviously, this secondary law is simply a specification of that form which the primary law takes under the conditions of gregarious life; since, by asserting that in each individual the interactions of conduct and consequence must be restricted in the specified way, it tacitly reasserts that these interactions must be maintained in all other individuals.
Later in origin, and narrower in range, is the third law, that under conditions such that, by the occasional sacrifices of some members of a species, the species as a whole prospers, there arises a sanction for such sacrifices, and a consequent qualification of the law that each individual shall receive the benefits and evils of its own nature.
Finally, it should be observed that whereas the first law is absolute for animals in general, and whereas the second law is absolute for gregarious animals, the third law is relative to the existence of enemies of such kinds that, in contending with them, the species gains more than it loses by the sacrifice of a few members; and in the absence of such enemies this qualification imposed by the third law disappears.
III. Human Justice.—The contents of the last chapter foreshadow the contents of this. As, from the evolution point of view, human life must be regarded as a further development of sub-human life, it follows that from this same point of view, human justice must be a further development of sub-human justice. For convenience the two are here separately treated, but they are essentially of the same nature, and form parts of a continuous whole.
Of man, as of all inferior creatures, the law by conformity to which the species is preserved is that among adults the individuals best adapted to the conditions of their existence shall prosper most, and that individuals least adapted to the conditions of their existence shall prosper least—a law which, if uninterfered with, entails survival of the fittest, and spread of the most adapted varieties. And as before so here, we see that, ethically considered, this law implies that each individual ought to receive the benefits and the evils of his own nature and consequent conduct: neither being prevented from having whatever good his actions normally bring to him, nor allowed to shoulder off on to other persons whatever ill is brought to him by his actions.
To what extent such ill, naturally following from his actions, may be voluntarily borne by other persons, it does not concern us now to inquire. The qualifying effects of pity, mercy, and generosity, will be considered hereafter in the parts dealing with Negative Beneficence and Positive Beneficence. Here we are concerned only with pure justice.
The law thus originating, and thus ethically expressed, is obviously that which commends itself to the common apprehension as just. Sayings and criticisms daily heard imply a perception that conduct and consequence ought not to be dissociated. When, of some one who suffers a disaster, it is said—"He has no one to blame but himself" there is implied the belief that he has not any ground for complaint. The comment on one whose misjudgment or misbehavior has entailed evil upon him, that "he has made his own bed, and now he must lie in it," has behind it the conviction that this connection of cause and effect is proper. Similarly with the remark—"He got no more than he deserved." A kindred conviction is implied when, conversely, there results good instead of evil. "He has fairly earned his reward"; "He has not received due recompense"; are remarks indicating the consciousness that there should be a proportion between effort put forth and advantage achieved.
The truth that justice becomes more pronounced as organization becomes higher, which we contemplated in the last chapter, is further exemplified on passing from sub-human justice to human justice. The degree of justice and the degree of organization simultaneously make advances. These are shown alike by the entire human race, and by its superior varieties as contrasted with its inferior.
We saw that a high species of animals is distinguished from a low species in the respect that since its aggregate suffers less mortality from destructive agencies, each of its members continues on the average for a longer time subject to the normal relation between conduct and consequence; and here we see that the human race as a whole, far lower in its rate of mortality than nearly all races of inferior kinds, usually subjects its members for much longer periods to the good and evil results of well-adapted and ill-adapted conduct. We also saw that as, among the higher animals, a greater average longevity makes it possible for individual differences to show their effects for longer periods, it results that the unlike fates of different individuals are to a greater extent determined by that normal relation between conduct and consequence which constitutes justice; and we here see that in mankind unlikenesses of faculty in still greater degrees, and for still longer periods, work out their effects in advantaging the superior and disadvantaging the inferior in the continuous play of conduct and consequence.
Similarly is it with the civilized varieties of mankind as compared with the savage varieties. A still further diminished rate of mortality implies that there is a relatively still larger proportion, the members of which, during long lives, gain good from well-adapted acts, and suffer evil from ill-adapted ones. While also it is manifest that both the greater differences of longevity among individuals, and the greater differences of social position, imply that in civilized societies more than in savage societies, differences of endowment and consequent differences of conduct are enabled to cause their appropriate differences of results, good or evil: the justice is greater.
More clearly in the human race than in lower races are we shown that gregariousness establishes itself because it profits the variety in which it arises, partly by furthering general safety and partly by facilitating sustentation. And we are shown that the degree of gregariousness is determined by the degree in which it thus subserves the interests of the variety. For where the variety is one of which the members live on wild food, they associate only in small groups: game and fruits widely distributed can support these only. But greater gregariousness arises where agriculture makes possible the support of a large number on a small area; and where the accompanying development of industries introduces many and various co-operations.
But that which, was faintly indicated among lower beings is conspicuously displayed among human beings—that the advantages of co-operation can be had only by conformity to certain requirements which association imposes. The mutual hindrances liable to arise during the pursuit of their ends by individuals living in proximity, must be kept within such limits as to leave a surplus of advantage obtained by associated life. Some types of men, as the Abors, lead solitary lives, because their aggressiveness is such that they can not live together. And in view of this extreme case it is clear that though, in many primitive groups, individual antagonisms often cause quarrels, yet the groups are maintained because their members derive a balance of benefit—chiefly in greater safety. It is also clear that in proportion as communities become developed and their division of labor complex, the advantages of co-operation can be gained only by a still better maintenance of those limits to each man's activities necessitated by the simultaneous activities of others. This truth is illustrated by the unprosperous or decaying state of communities in which the aggressions of individuals on one another are so numerous and great as to prevent them from severally receiving the normal results of their actions.
The requirement that individual activities must be mutually restrained, which we saw is so felt among certain inferior gregarious creatures that they inflict punishments on those who do not duly restrain them, is a requirement which, more imperative among men, and more distinctly felt by them to be a requirement, causes a still more marked habit of inflicting punishments on offenders. Though in primitive groups it is commonly left to any one who is injured to revenge himself on the injurer, and though even in the societies of feudal Europe, the defending and enforcing of his claims was in many cases held to be each man's personal concern; yet there has ever tended to grow up such perception of the need for internal order, and such sentiment accompanying the perception, that infliction of punishments by the community as a whole, or by its established agents, has become habitual. And that a system of laws enacting restrictions on conduct, and punishments for breaking them, is a natural product of human life carried on under social conditions, is shown by the fact that among multitudinous nations composed of various types of mankind, similar actions, similarly regarded as trespasses, have been similarly forbidden.
Through all which sets of facts is manifested the truth, recognized practically if not theoretically, that each individual carrying on the actions which subserve his life, and not prevented from receiving their normal results good and bad, shall carry on these actions under such restraints as are imposed by the carrying on of kindred actions by other individuals, who have similarly to receive such normal results good and bad. And vaguely, if not definitely, this is seen to constitute what is called justice.
We saw that among inferior gregarious creatures, justice in its universal simple form, besides being qualified by the self-subordination which parenthood implies, and in some measure by the self-restraint necessitated by association, is in a few cases further qualified in a small degree by the partial or complete sacrifice of individuals made in defense of the species. And now in the highest gregarious creature we see that this further qualification of primitive justice assumes large proportions.
No longer as among inferior beings demanded only by the need for defense against enemies of other kinds, this further self-subordination is, among human beings, also demanded by the need for defense against enemies of the same kind. Having become the predominant inhabitants of the Earth, and having spread wherever there is food, men have come to be everywhere in one another's way; and the mutual enmities hence resulting, have made the sacrifices entailed by wars between groups, far greater than the sacrifices made in defense of the groups against inferior animals. It is doubtless true with the human race, as with lower races, that destruction of the group or the variety does not imply destruction of the species; and it therefore follows that such obligation as exists for self-subordination in the interests of the group or the variety, is an obligation of lower degree than is that of sustentation of offspring, without fulfillment of which the species must disappear, and of lower degree than the obligation to restrain actions within the limits imposed by social conditions, without fulfillment of which the group will dissolve. Still, it must be regarded as an obligation to the extent to which the maintenance of the species is subserved by the maintenance of each of its groups.
But the self-subordination thus justified, and in a sense rendered obligatory, is limited to that which is required for defensive war. Only because the preservation of the group as a whole conduces to preservation of its members' lives and their ability to pursue the objects of life, is there a reason for the sacrifice of some of its members; and this reason no longer exists when war is offensive instead of defensive.
It may, indeed, be contended that since offensive wars initiate those struggles between groups which end in the destruction of the weaker, offensive wars, furthering the peopling of the Earth by the stronger, subserve the interests of the race. But even supposing that the conquered groups always consisted of men having smaller mental or bodily fitness for war (which they do not; for it is in part a question of numbers, and the smaller groups may consist of the more capable warriors), there would still be an adequate answer. It is only during the earlier stages of human progress that the development of strength, courage, and cunning, are of chief importance. After societies of considerable size have been formed and the subordination needed for organizing them produced, other and higher faculties become those of chief importance; and the struggle for existence carried on by force, does not always further the survival of the fittest. The fact that but for a mere accident Persia would have conquered Greece, and the fact that the Tartar hordes very nearly overwhelmed European civilization, show that offensive war can be trusted to subserve the interests of the race only when the capacity for a high social life does not exist, and that in proportion as this capacity develops, offensive war tends more and more to hinder, rather than to further, human welfare. In brief we may say that the arrival at a stage in which ethical considerations come to be entertained, is the arrival at a stage in which offensive war, by no means certain to further predominance of races fitted for a high social life, and certain to cause injurious moral reactions on the conquering as well as on the conquered, ceases to be justifiable; and only defensive war retains a quasi-ethical justification.
And here it is to be remarked that the self-subordination which defensive war involves, and the need for such qualification of the abstract principle of justice as it implies, belong to that transitional state necessitated by the physical-force-conflict of races; and that they must disappear when there is reached a peaceful state. That is to say, all questions concerning the extent of such qualifications pertain to what we distinguished as relative ethics; and are not recognized by that absolute ethics which is concerned with the principles of right conduct in a society formed of human beings fully adapted to social life.
This distinction I emphasize here because throughout succeeding chapters we shall find that recognition of it helps us to disentangle the involved problems of political ethics.—Nineteenth Century.
- Nineteenth Century; also Popular Science Monthly for March, page 616.
- Reference is here made to the Data of Ethics.