Popular Science Monthly/Volume 45/August 1894/Editor's Table
WHEN men and women come to saying ungracious things of one another in a kind of hostile rivalry, the situation is not pleasant, and bodes no good to the coming generation. The evil may be a limited one, yet it is, as far as it exists, a real one, and is already embittering and unsettling a good many lives. Well would it be, therefore, if some one could come forward with an eirenicon that would still the unnatural jarring which is a decided feature of today's civilization.
It is the women today who are in the main on the aggressive. In fiction and essay they are employing their newfound intellectual powers in demonstrating how poor a creature is man. According to some, it would appear as if man had been the great imposture of the ages, and that a certain instinct of preservation had led him to deny culture to woman, lest he should be found out, and the bubble of his reputation eternally collapse. One recent writer, who, however, assumes a man's name, has it that if Nature had not implanted a troublesome amount of affection in woman's composition, she could by her greater force of will and character drive man into a corner of the universe, just as the inferior races of the past have been driven before the superior ones—only more so, the disparity being greater.
This is not wholesome. If men have abused their power in the past, it is only what holders of power, who were also fallible mortals, might have been expected to do; and if women were wise, the lesson they would learn, now that they are more and more being placed in the way of acquiring power themselves, would be, if possible, not to abuse it so much as men in their day have done. There is little to be gained by turning the shafts of feminine wit against men, nor will the feminine character be improved by much indulgence in the practice. Better far will be a serious effort to rise to the level of their new opportunities and responsibilities. A man may be a great scholar and a great fool, and so, we venture to say. may a woman. It is a much easier thing to stimulate the intellect than to strengthen and enrich the moral nature; and it does not follow that, because women now have access to most colleges and universities, they are going at once to show a higher type of character. It is not impossible even that a reliance on those methods of culture which have been devised for men may tend to impair in a greater or less degree those finer intuitions which are claimed as the glory of the female sex, and in which we are quite prepared to declare our own firm belief. The intellectual differences between the sexes may be less than has hitherto been supposed; but there are differences nevertheless, and it is the manifest interest of the race that these should be developed and made prominent, rather than weakened and obscured. So greatly have the claims of women been advanced within the last half generation that it seems almost like offering an indignity to her present state to quote the lines of Tennyson so greatly admired in their day:
"For woman is not undeveloped man.
But diverse; could we make her as the man,
Sweet love were slain."
Still, perhaps, there is wisdom in the words, and, if so, it might be well to suggest a caution lest, in the eager assertion on her part of equality in all points with man not—to say of superiority to him—something of inestimable value be, if not lost, allowed to fall into comparative disuse, with more or less of resulting injury.
If the human race is to endure, and if civilization is to advance, the relations between the sexes must not permanently be relations of rivalry. Men and women were not made to struggle with one another for the advantages of life, but mutually to aid one another in reaping those advantages. That "sweet love" of which the poet speaks is given as the reward of right relations between man and woman; and, where other guidance is lacking, we may profitably ask whether any given line of conduct tends to the gaining or the sacrificing of that reward. If to the former, then it may safely be said to be, right conduct; if to the latter, wrong. What it is clear that man has to do in these later days is to frame to himself a higher and completer ideal of manhood than he has hitherto, on the whole, entertained, and try to live up to it. The awakened womanhood of the age—when allowance has been made for all that is hysterical and morbid and heart less in contemporary feminine utterances—summons him most clearly and distinctly to walk henceforth on higher levels in the strength of a nobler self-control. Then he has to recognize in the fullest sense, without a particle of reservation, that he has in woman not a weaker shadow of himself, not a reflection of his glory nor a minister to his pleasures, but a divinely bestowed help-meet, to whom special powers and faculties have been imparted for the interpretation of truth and the beautifying of life. The ancient Germans, Tacitus tells us, used to recognize a certain divine power of intuition in their women, and if they did it was probably not without cause. The phenomenon is not an extinct one in our own day, and we venture to say that its frequency will wax or wane according to the respect paid not by man only, but by woman herself, to all in her nature that is most distinctive of womanhood. It is far from certain that woman always recognizes what her own best gifts are; and there is, in our opinion, a specific danger lest, in her new-born zeal for a masculine equipment of knowledge, she relegate to an inferior place that native truth of perception which is of more importance, we may almost say, than all formal knowledge.
The new times call for new virtues; and not too soon has man been awakened—or rather is he being awakened, for the process is far from complete—from what, with acknowledgments to Kant, we may call his "dogmatic slumbers." The Sphinx is at our gate again with its everlasting riddles, and woe betide us if we do not solve them! For this will be needed the combined wit and wisdom of the best men and women of the time, and by the best we mean not those who pride themselves on the most encyclopedic knowledge, but those rather who with sufficient knowledge to understand the world around them can, by the exercise of the deepest human feeling, place themselves at the heart of the social situation, and so give us a clew to "the master knot of human fate." The great remedy for vain rivalry and stupid competition of wits is to join hands and hearts in useful work—in work for that universal humanity which, though not a fit object of worship, is at least an inspiring object of devotion.
Mr. Auberon Herbert, in the May number of the Contemporary Review, discusses in a very philosophical spirit the dynamite outrages that have been occurring of late in Europe, and particularly in France. The dynamiter, he says in effect, is simply a man who, finding that governments are founded on force, and that in many cases they have no higher warrant than their irresistible power for the actions they perform, determines to get even with them by the only means within his reach. He has not learned "the trick of the majority," and so can not proceed openly to impose his will upon others. He can not uniform a policeman and arm him with club and pistol, so he arms himself with a dangerous and easily secreted explosive, and places it with lighted fuse where, from his point of view, it will do most good. At first sight it might seem that Mr. Herbert is maintaining an outrageous paradox; but it is not so: he is entirely serious, and, in our opinion, he fully establishes his thesis that over-government leads to dynamite. He cites France as a conspicuous example of an over-governed country, and cites a multitude of facts which show how little respect, in spite of the republican form of its institutions, is paid to individual liberty, how horribly the omnipresent power of government intrudes into the daily life of the citizens. Mr. Herbert goes on to say:
"What I have said of France might be said, with the necessary difference, of other European countries—each country being vexed and harassed by its bureaucrats, and each being affected in its own way according to the genius of the people. But in each country the general effect is the same. Almost every European government is a legalized manufactory of dynamiters. Vexation piled upon vexation, restriction upon restriction, burden upon burden—the dynamiter is slowly hammered out everywhere upon the official anvil. The more patient submit, but the stronger and more rebellious characters are maddened, and any weapon is considered right as the weapon of the weaker against the stronger."
England, the writer admits, is in a different position. "We have inherited," he says, "splendid traditions of voluntaryism, which hardly any other nation has inherited; and it is to voluntraryism, the inspiring genius of the English character, that we must look in the future, as we did in the past, for escape from all difficulties. If we can not by reason, by influence, by example, by strenuous effort, and by personal sacrifice, mend the bad places of civilization, we certainly can not do it by force." At the same time England has entered, he considers, on the dangerous path of paternal and protective legislation. As jet she has only soiled her ankles—so he expresses it—where other nations have waded deep, and it is not yet too late "to step back from the mire and slough which lie in front of her." The question is, Will she? Under the guise of socialism and humanitarianism, the spirit of compulsion is in the air. The well-meaning everywhere are longing to see whether they are not, or can not command, a majority in order that they may begin to wield that compulsive power which it is one of the strange delusions of the modern world that majorities have a right to exercise in everything. Yet if one were to propose to put any one of these well-meaning persons under the absolute control of another well-meaning person, who should prescribe for him his comings and goings, decide for him what causes he should support, how much money he should give in charity and for what particular objects, how much wealth he should accumulate and at what point the fruits of his industry should pass over to the state, we greatly fear that well-meaning person number one would make strong objections. True, he wants, with the aid of those who agree with him in opinion, to settle these points for others; but he has never seriously considered what it would be like to part with his own liberty. Ordinary human beings require something more than an assurance of another person's good intentions before they are willing to make a surrender to him of any large measure of their freedom of action; and we imagine that many of those who to-day advocate an indefinite increase in the power of the state do so under a fond impression that their particular views and schemes, humanitarian or other, will always prevail. They, with the help of others like-minded, want to govern the world for its good. Well, what tyranny ever professed less? Good intentions are excellent things to have, but when they make alliance with the policeman's truncheon they become committed to many devious lines of policy, and quickly assume all the odious characteristics of tyranny.
But does not the present unchecked action of laissez-faire, it may be asked, threaten danger to society? Society as an organism, we answer, will always be subject more or less to disturbances; but the important thing is to see that we do not interfere with the compensating actions which, like organisms in general when thrown out of equilibrium, it has the power to set up. Action and reaction in the social world, as elsewhere, are equal and opposite; and given the fact that man's instinct is to pursue happiness, and the further fact that the happiness of each individual is largely dependent on the dispositions of others, the actions and reactions taking place in a society not strangled by government control would steadily tend toward an increase of the general welfare. Public opinion is, in all free communities, a powerful agent of reform; but it would be still more powerful if it did not so often seek to embody itself in law. We have yet to be convinced that the world has suffered injury by any application of laissez-faire. Uuder that régime things will not always be done rightly, but neither would they always be done rightly under any system of tyranny, socialistic or other, that could be invented. Laissez-faire was probably never carried further in the history of the world than in the early history of the several colonial communities which afterward combined to form these United States; and the principles of paternalism and protection in government were probably never carried further than in the management during the same period of the French colonies to the north and east of us. And what was the result in either case? The neglected colonies of England, with their very loose system of local government, grew strong and vigorous and wealthy, while the overprotected colonies of France seemed smitten with industrial and commercial paralysis. In war the latter were for the most part efficient and formidable, because then they acted in complete submission to leaders accustomed to command; but in peace they languished and withered. The English colonies, the New England ones in particular, might be compared to vigorous youngsters full of animal spirits, and meeting with many a disaster through their recklessness and impatience of control. The French ones, on the other hand, resembled puny and exacting nurslings always crying out for maternal help and succor. Laissez-faire has its drawbacks, but it means, on the whole, wealth, vigor, resource, and capacity for recuperation. It does not mean dynamite; the latter, as Mr. Auberon Herbert has well shown, being the natural concomitant of over-government.