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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 50/February 1897/Editor's Table

Editor's Table.

 
POLITICS AND MORALS.

IN many States of the Union the school laws provide for compulsory education in what is called "temperance." How far the education supplied under this head sometimes is from being based on strict scientific principles was well shown some time ago by an able contributor to this magazine. It is a question, however, whether if even the instruction in "temperance" was all it ought to be from a scientific point of view, it is as much needed as other instruction for which no legal provision is made; we mean especially instruction in the everyday duties of citizenship.

According to prevalent ideas in this country, a people is free when it has adopted a popular form of government, and done away with everything having the appearance or savor of monarchy or aristocracy. Thus the Venezuelans are to be considered a free people because their government is, in form, republican; and the inhabitants of British Guiana not free, or at least not so free, because they are connected with the monarchy of Great Britain. In the early stages of the Venezuelan difficulty we heard not a little about the American system of government and American political ideas as opposed to the European system and European ideas. In the imagination of many, Venezuela stood for freedom and England for tyranny; and the interests of civilization were held to demand that the free power should be strengthened and the power representative of tyranny checked. To be sure, there was a country to the north of us, also connected with the British Empire, in which a reasonable degree of freedom seemed to exist. Still, that was not the right way of being free; the right way was to have your government republican in name as well as in essence, and above all to enjoy the vicissitudes of periodical elections for the chief magistracy. This Venezuela had done, and therefore Venezuela was a true home of orthodox freedom.

Happily, the Venezuelan difficulty is a difficulty no more as between the United States and England; but the underlying political ideas which tended to embitter feeling, and did so dangerously embitter it, on this side are deserving of study. Why has the overthrow of autocratic government provoked so much popular enthusiasm from the days of Harmodius and Aristogeiton down to our own times? Because the autocrat has been conceived of—and often rightly—as a man who used his power for his own selfish ends. The tyrant of popular imagination is a man who takes the taxes of the poor to spend upon his luxuries and vices; and the tyrant in history has not infrequently filled precisely this unworthy rôle. The advantage, then, to be gained from dethroning tyrants is that the power and resources of government then become available for the uses of the state. A virtuous tyrant would be one who used all his power in an unselfish manner for the benefit of his subjects; but when in the course of events even the virtuous tyrant becomes an impossibility, what is to be done with the power he formerly exercised? It passes over to the people; now what is going to be done with it? Here we come to the true crux and crisis of modern republican institutions. Strictly speaking, the power that has been wrested from the monarch ought to be applied, as a good monarch would apply it, to the benefit of the state as a whole; but how is it really applied?

Here it is, as we conceive, that there is room for a teaching, to speak plainly, of far greater value and importance than that which the law prescribes in the interest of "temperance"; the teaching, to wit, that political power can be as much abused, and in multitudes of cases is as much abused, by the individual citizen as by any autocrat that ever lived. What can the autocrat do worse than use the power which he has grasped, or which has descended to him, for personal purposes instead of for public purposes? It is true he uses a great deal of power, and thus is in the way of doing a great deal of harm; but in essence he does no worse than the citizen who sells his vote or makes any use of it other than that which consideration of the public good would prescribe. The individual citizen wields but a fractional part of the power of the autocrat; but the part he wields does not belong to him as his personal property; and, if he uses it as such, he is simply a tyrant on a small scale, or, say, a fractional tyrant instead of an integral one. He is doing with his little bit of power just what the other man did with his vast and concentrated power. In fact, he is doing worse, because if he abuses his vote and influence he abuses all he possesses, whereas no autocrat was ever yet so bad that part of his power was not exercised for the public good. Tiberius and Nero were execrable men, but many of their public acts were directed to the good of the state. The idea, therefore, which it is important to get into the mind of the young is that the irresponsible voter is a tyrant: he is diverting to private purposes a measure of political power which only belongs to him for public purposes.

Then, just as in "temperance" education the evils of intemperance are vividly set forth—with many a lively excursus on the evils of even the most moderate use of stimulants—so it would be perfectly proper to exhibit in detail the baseness of a system of politics in which private interest takes the place of public duty. The case is more urgent by far, in our opinion, than the case for "temperance" instruction for this reason, that there is already a vast body of sentiment in the country favorable to temperance and even to total abstinence; whereas there can not be said to be any vast body of sentiment favorable to pure, honest, and disinterested politics. Every man occupying an important political position knows the kind of solicitations he receives for all sorts of things possible and impossible. He knows how often he is assured that unless certain offices, contracts, etc., are disposed of in a certain way there is no earthly chance of his party succeeding in the next contest in congressional district so-and-so. Every such man knows also that it is not only from the ignorant and socially inferior that such communications proceed—that, on the contrary, men of substance and reputation are their authors in perhaps the majority of cases. The assumption may be said to be almost universal that a man's vote is his own, and that in casting it he has nothing to consider but his own interest. That it is disgraceful to withdraw support from a party in which a man professes to have confidence and give it to one in which he professes to have no confidence, simply because some petty contract job or office is not disposed of to his liking, does not seem, broadly speaking, to be in anybody's thoughts. The politicians ignore it entirely in all their calculations. Side by side, therefore, with the pictures drawn in the "temperance" lesson of the reeling, brawling inebriate, it would be well, we think, to place a picture of the citizen who, boasting that he belongs to a free State, yet holds his vote in fee for some trumpery office, and openly threatens to betray causes on which at times he grows eloquent if his private demands are not met. It is not always for himself personally that the free and enlightened elector wants an office. It may be for his brother, his father-in-law, his nephew, or his business partner; but whatever it is that he wants, or for whomsoever he wants it, he makes no scruple about using his franchise and such political influence as he possesses in order to compass his ends. Often the demands that are made are flagrantly unjust; sometimes they involve wasteful expenditure of public money; but none the less are they pressed by men who exult, as we have said, in the freedom of our institutions, and look with mingled pity and contempt upon communities that are content to dwell under the baneful shadow of some monarchical form of government. A splendid text-book could be made for the instruction of American youth if some prominent statesman would make a selection from his correspondence with office-seekers and wire-pullers, with tariff-mongers and contract jobbers. We say this matter is more pressing—far more pressing—than instruction in temperance, for the reason that if the youth leaves school unwarned and unfortified against the abuses of politics, he will almost at once find himself in an atmosphere in which conscience in regard to such matters is wholly ignored; he will be caught in the wheel work of the political machine and will become, while yet a youth, a political machinist himself.

The question as to how a low tone of political morality acts upon the general morals of the community is one on which we can not enter to-day. What we wish to insist on is that there is a crying need for explaining to the youth of the country not so much the technical details of our system of government though every boy and girl leaving school should have correct general ideas on that subject as the true principles which should govern political action here and everywhere, and the particular abuses, dangers, and diseases to which our own political system is exposed. Above all, the simple principle should be inculcated that political power can never be properly regarded as a private possession.

 

 
THE RACIAL GEOGRAPHY OF EUROPE.

It may savor of undue presumption to assert that the English language is the proper medium through which the anthropological history of Europe should first find expression. At first it would seem that the continental nations were most competent to unravel their own past history. This is indeed true, so far as each by itself is concerned. But when the task of combining them into a continental whole arises, the tables are turned. In no other department of science has political jealousy and hatred worked to greater harm than in anthropology; for Europe is divided into two armed camps—one led by the French, the other dominated by German influence. Their methods of work, their terminology, their conclusions, are all conflicting. Each claims priority, and each has a racial history of Europe which is suited to its own purpose. Hence the necessity that the delicate and judicial work of combining the truth which is revealed to each and of rejecting that which is false, should fall to those who lie beyond the reach of national prejudice. Writers in England—Beddoe and Isaac Taylor—have so far been most successful in this comprehensive work. It is now essayed for a third time in the series of papers upon the Racial Geography of Europe, which begins in this number. The Monroe doctrine forbids that we should intermeddle in European politics. The effect of this political neutrality should be to keep our hands free and our minds clear in science. In itself it furnishes a justification for our foreign intrusion into the European field.

During the civil war, while the first great investigation upon living men was being prosecuted upon nearly a million recruits in our armies, the United States held a proud place of leadership in that branch of the science of anthropology which deals with our own race in the life. This tremendous task exhausted all our energies at the outset; attention was directed to the American aborigines, and the white man was forgotten. This is one of several reasons competent to explain the popular ignorance and scientific neglect among us of a very live subject. To the average American reader, the word anthropology, if it conveys any meaning at all, conjures up visions of Indians, Hottentots. Fijians, and other savages, or perhaps of museums and curiosities, of Peruvian and Egyptian mummies, cave-dwellers, and the like so—far have primitive ethnology and archæology dominated the science.

Another reason why we in America have passed by this line of inquiry is because the conditions here have not invited research. Our own population is so recent, so artificial, such a hodge podge of all civilized peoples, that science stands aghast at the problem of finding order in such chaos. In Europe all is, or was until recently, quite different; so that even now, after the railroad and the factory have disturbed the racial peace of the continent, the remnants of law and order still remain.

A special feature of this series of papers will consist of the maps and portraits with which the articles will be amply provided. Every portrait will be accompanied by precise data, obtained from measurements on the living subject. The leading experts all over Europe, among them Drs. Ammon in Baden, Beddoe in England, Collignon in France, Livi in Italy, Janko in Hungary, Kollmann in Switzerland, Ranke in Bavaria, and others, have kindly aided in this work; so that a large collection of racial portraits of permanent value will be presented. With these will be combined all the anthropological maps of value already published, as well as many entirely new ones. Each of these has been especially prepared for this purpose, indicating the exact distribution of each type of man or physical race trait, shown in portrait and described in text. By this means it is hoped that the interests of true science may be subserved; and that at the same time a necessarily technical subject may be rendered comprehensible and interesting to the general reader.

In the first paper of the series, printed in this number, the relation of language to race and nationality, with the changes it undergoes through the distribution of population and the influence of environment, are considered. The next paper will deal with the shape of the head as an ethnic characteristic; the third with the color of the hair and eyes—that is to say, with the distribution of blondes and brunettes; and the fourth the stature. Then the association of these into three race types—the Teutonic, the Alpine, and the Mediterranean—will follow. France, Germany, the British Isles may then be taken up, each by itself, with consideration of special topics, such as the Basques, the Etruscans, living representatives of the Cro-Magnon race, and the like. Thus the way will be prepared for the still broader questions concerning the ultimate origin of the three races above named, with their relation to the negro and the people of Asia. The intention of the whole series will be to give a living picture of the people of Europe, and to analyze it for the benefit of the student of history and sociology.

 

 
SCIENCE AND HUMANITY.

We noticed last month the anxiety of a high ecclesiastical dignitary lest the world under the guidance of the modern scientific thought should be given over completely to cruelty and selfishness; and our attention has since been drawn to an article in a Toronto educational journal which seems to be in some measure inspired by a similar apprehension. We say "in some measure" only, for the writer is in evident sympathy with the work of science as a whole, and is chiefly concerned with the moral evils which he thinks will ensue from the scientific practice of vivisection.

The question as to the value of vivisection for the advancement of scientific theory is a large one, upon which we are not prepared to enter. Suffice it to say for the present that, while some diversity of opinion exists on the subject, the great majority of teachers and experimenters in biology and physiology believe that it affords most important aid in the prosecution and illustration of their studies. That the practice is liable to abuse in careless or indifferent hands may be readily admitted, but it must be said at the same time that the feeling of the scientific world in general is as strongly opposed to any needless infliction of suffering on the lower animals as that of the unscientific world can be. It is recognized that the practice should only be resorted to in a guarded manner, for definite ends, and should be accompanied by whatever alleviations of pain it is possible to introduce. No condemnation could be too strong for any purpose-less cruelty at the expense of sentient creatures, or any profession of indifference to the pains which they are necessarily compelled to undergo. The great safeguard of the scientific world against such misuse of the power we possess over the dumb creation lies in the fact that the one professed and never-forgotten purpose of the practice now in question is the mitigation and prevention of human suffering. If the question were asked whether, on the whole, the animal creation had gained or lost by the advance of scientific thought, there could be little doubt about the answer. It is since science became a prominent occupation of men's minds that qualms of conscience have begun to be felt about some forms of sport in which animal life is sacrificed, and that measures have been taken to secure merciful treatment for animals in course of transportation, and for the prevention of various forms of cruelty and neglect through which animals suffered at the hands of man. That much remains to be done in these directions is undoubted, but we may be sure of this, that the more animals become the subject of scientific study and treatment, the better on the whole will be their lot. It may be that the need for vivisection will in time wholly pass away, the truths which it is adapted to teach having in the main been acquired. There will then remain as the result of temporary suffering a body of knowledge available for the prevention of suffering, not only in the human race, but among the lower animals as well. What may be called the metaphysics of the subject is difficult to deal with, and we can not follow our Toronto contemporary on that ground. In a practical matter like this we feel that it is safer and better to trust the instincts of humane men; and among those who have approved of a limited and careful use of vivisection are to be found many whose humanity and sensibility no one would doubt. Science and humanity go hand in hand for the simple reason that science is human. In matters of this kind we are therefore disposed to trust the scientific spirit as being essentially a spirit of mercy and benevolence, a minister of good to mankind, and not to mankind only, but to the lower tribes of life as well.