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Another Book on Social Evolution (S515: 1895)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A review of Henry Dyer's The Evolution of Industry, published in the 22 August 1895 issue of Nature. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S515.htm

     [[p. 386]] This work contains much valuable suggestion, many admirable sentiments, and a selection of choice extracts from the best writers on social philosophy; but it is hardly what one would expect from its title. The idea of evolution is, no doubt, more or less present to the author throughout his work, and some of its main characteristics are referred to and illustrated by the phenomena of industrial progress; but there is a want of system and of logical connection in the treatment of the subject, and an entire absence of the unity of design, forcible reasoning, and original theory which were such prominent features in Mr. Kidd's work.

     Dr. Dyer's book is an eclectic one, inasmuch as it adopts from previous writers such ideas and principles as commend themselves to the author. His frequent quotations are often followed by the remark--"there is much truth in this"--and it is sometimes rather difficult to determine what are his own conclusions. It would not be difficult for both individualists and socialists to find support here to their own views; but the general impression made by the volume is, that the author is profoundly dissatisfied with the present state of society, and is inclined to some form of socialism as the only effective remedy.

     In the introductory chapter we find many of the objections to socialism very strongly put, though most of these are objections to particular details rather than to essential principles; yet in the same chapter we find statements of fact which answer many of these objections. Thus we are told (p. 21): "Among the co-operators, for instance, we find men managing, with the highest efficiency, concerns of great extent and importance for salaries smaller than those of bank clerks. They find their real salaries in the success of their work, and in the knowledge that it will lead, not simply to individual riches, but to the welfare of the community, and especially of the workers."

     After quoting from the late Prof. Cairnes to the effect that no public benefit of any kind arises from the existence of an idle rich class, he adds: "From a scientific point of view, and therefore from a moral point of view, no man or woman, unless physically or mentally disabled, has any right to remain a member of a community unless he or she is labouring in some way or other for the common good. In every organised society, therefore, there can be no rights apart from duties" (p. 37). This principle is thoroughly socialistic, and would lead us very far indeed; but here, as elsewhere, the author seems afraid to carry out his own principles to their logical conclusions. Further on, he tells us that--"In some parts of the country as much as between 40 and 50 per cent. of all the deaths that occur are those of children under five years of age, a state of matters which is a disgrace to our civilisation"; and, after quoting some forcible words of Lady Dilke as to much of England's industrial greatness being due to her practically unlimited supply of the cheap labour of her women and girls, he concludes: "It is therefore evident, both from an economic and a moral point of view, that the individualist system of industry, by itself is not sufficient to bring about a stable social [[p. 387]] structure." He describes hospitals as institutions "which are founded for the purpose of taking in some of the waste products of our industrial and social system, and for repairing, as far as possible, the injuries which they have suffered"; and he adds: "Such institutions are sometimes pointed out as the glories of our civilisation. They should, on the contrary, be looked upon chiefly as monuments of neglected duties, and the object of all social reformers should not be to extend them, but so to improve social and industrial conditions as to render them almost entirely unnecessary." This will be a new idea to many good people, but it shows that the author is far ahead of the average social reformer.

     Again, he points out that the armies and navies of the world afford most instructive lessons in collective action, and that it would be equally possible to have armies of men organised for industrial work, and navies for carrying on such commerce as was essential for supplying the wants of the community; and in his chapter on "Industrial Training," he shows how necessary it has become to supplement the very imperfect means now afforded to apprentices to learn their business by some systematic and well-organised system under local or other authorities.

     In the last chapter, on "Industrial Integration," suggestions are made as to the course of future legislation. The author thinks that it will be made increasingly difficult for people to live upon unearned incomes, while the equalisation of opportunities will reduce the rewards of extra ability. How this is to be effected is not made clear; but the author is decidedly of opinion that "the resumption of the ownership of the land by the community is a first essential to equality of opportunity"; concluding with the rather weak remark, that "the methods to be adopted to bring this about will require very careful consideration, and must be comparatively slow in their operation."

     After quoting the opinion of the late Mr. Werner Siemens, that the progress of science will lead not to the increase of great factories, but to the return to individual labour, Mr. Dyer adds:--

     "The factory system will continue, and no doubt be extended, for the supply of the common necessaries of life, but the applications of electricity and other methods of obtaining motive power will enable large numbers of small industries to be carried on in country districts. This movement will ultimately bring about a society of integrated labour, which will alternate the work of the field with that of the workshop and manufactory. In order that the evils arising from unlimited competition may be avoided, these departments of work will all be so coordinated that a considerable region will, to a large extent, be self-contained as regards its requirements, and will produce and consume its own agricultural and manufactured necessaries of life."

     This conclusion has been reached by the present writer and some others, mainly from broad considerations of economy. But when it is set forth in a work which professes to trace and discuss "the evolution of industry," we expect to be shown that it is a logical and inevitable result of the evolution that has occurred and is now going on. This is nowhere done, and in this respect the book must be pronounced a failure, although there is much in it with which every friend of progress and every student of social science must heartily agree.

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