Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

 
 
Darwinism in Sociology:
Dr. Alfred Russell Wallace Replies
to Mr. Thomas Common (S549: 1898)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Printed in The Eagle and the Serpent on September 1, 1898, as a reply to comments by Thomas Common. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S549.htm


    [[p. 57]] Mr. Common's reply to his critics, while containing much with which most of us will agree, is yet full of obscurities, unfounded assumptions, or positive errors, some of which need to be pointed out, since they are fundamental to the question at issue.

    There is little to object to in the first four principles he lays down, except that they imply, as clearly shown in (4) [[i.e., the fourth principle --Ed.]], an exclusive application to "physically and mentally superior individuals" instead of to all. This would lead, logically and practically, to a restricted and perhaps hereditary oligarchy of the stronger and less moral individuals, with the slavery or destruction of all who opposed them. This is more plainly indicated in (5) where "greater advantages" are claimed for the "better class of individuals," which really means the stronger, more cunning and more self-seeking, who, believing themselves to be the best, will enforce that belief, as to a considerable extent they always have done and do now. Mr. Common nowhere suggests that these "superior individuals" are likely to be restrained by any moral considerations in their efforts to obtain those "greater advantages" which he declares are their due.

    Under such an oligarchy, once established, what chance would there be for the inventors, the thinkers, the artists, the moralists--the real aristocracy of the human race--except so far as they helped to increase the wealth and luxury and power of the "superior individuals." The slavery and tyranny, the assassinations and poisonings, of Greece and Venice, would inevitably be reproduced in any society whose fundamental principle was, that social and economic inequality was right, and that the stronger--physically or mentally--were justified in using their alleged inferiors for their own ends. Such a system would bring back the old bad days of--"Truth for ever on the scaffold, Wrong for ever on the throne"--and I challenge Mr. Common to prove that it could lead to anything else.

    One would think that the evils of class-privilege and every other form of aristocracy had been sufficiently demonstrated in the past, to render it certain that this is not the road by which the future welfare of humanity is to be attained. True social excellence, to use Mr. Common's own term, can only be reached by utilising all the powers and capacities of the whole community, under the conditions best adapted to develope them; and no other means of doing this has been suggested but that "equality of opportunity" and of economic status which Mr. Common declares to be absurd. But his statement on this point, in his principle (5), shows that he entirely misunderstands the grounds upon which it is advocated. His argument as to agriculturists not giving the same chance to inferior plants and to weeds as to the crops they are raising, is a false analogy, and is entirely beside the question. The true analogy of men wishing to improve men, or rather of communities seeking their own highest well-being, is not that of the farmer and his crops, but of the plant-world seeking to improve itself, and having some power, though limited, of doing so. In that case it is quite certain that many of the best, in our opinion, that is the most beautiful and highly developed in flower and foliage would be exterminated, while the quickest growing trees and the coarsest and most vigorous weeds and climbers would alone survive. They would claim to possess the highest plant-excellence; they would therefore claim greater advantages of situation, soil, etc., and would only permit the existence of what they would term inferior types so far as not to interfere with their own well-being.

    Again, when he says that semi-idiots should not have a university education, he equally misunderstands the principle of equality of opportunity. This does not mean the same education for all--that is the present absurd plan--but equal facilities for developing all that is best in their natures, so as to enable them to spend happy and useful lives; for there is probably no human being that could not attain to this condition by proper nurture and training. The greatest scientific worker and thinker of the century, Faraday, and the greatest artistic genius, Tinworth, were both rescued by a mere chance from a life of mean drudgery, to which hundreds and perhaps thousands [[p. 58]] of similar bright spirits are condemned. We claim, that complete equality of opportunity, including economic independence, is essential for the development and utilization of all the good and useful qualities of every human being and therefore for the true advancement of the race.

    But perhaps the most erroneous and most vicious of Nietzsche's principles, according to Mr. Common, is that enunciated in the last sentence of (5)--"And it is still more absurd to advocate, . . . that the inferior class should be allowed to breed like vermin, and that their spawn should be supported at the cost of the better classes." In order to understand what this really means we want a tolerably accurate definition of the terms "inferior" and "better." We may take either of two extreme definitions--that the inferior are the criminal classes only, or that they are the working as opposed to the professional and propertied classes. If we take the latter and more popular definition we have to remark first that the facts as to who supports who, are the exact opposite of Mr. Common's statement, since the workers undoubtedly support the non-workers, and the children of the non-workers as well as their own. Secondly, it is generally admitted that the "better classes," as above defined, would either remain stationary in numbers or would even decrease if they were not recruited from the "inferior" class. The more rapid increase of these latter is therefore a benefit to the nation.

    Now considering the alternative view, that the criminals are to be considered as the inferior class (compared by Mr. Common with vermin), who are not to be allowed to breed, we shall at once see that this is not only impracticable, but would be probably hurtful to society. It is a mistake to assume that those whom we now punish as criminals are essentially bad in nature, or are even, on the average, at all inferior to the majority of those who lead ordinarily respectable lives. Many highwaymen of the last century and some burglars of to-day, are men of exceptional ability who, under favourable conditions of education and nurture would become esteemed and useful members of society. A considerable proportion of the population of New South Wales, before the gold discoveries, consisted of released convicts and their descendants, and these were in no way inferior to the average of honest emigrants. So, the waifs and strays from the gutters of the East End of London, when rescued and trained by Dr. Barnardo, are found to be quite up to the average of respectable citizens. These examples support the view so strongly urged by Herbert Spencer, that what are termed the lower, the middle, and the upper classes are fundamentally alike, morally and intellectually. Their differences depend wholly on their environment and early education, and there is no reason to believe that the average of inherent vice or passion is greater in one class than in the other. But owing to the great differences in the environment and economic condition of the three classes their vices are exhibited in widely different ways, and those of the upper and middle classes, though equally great, do not so often bring them within the meshes of the law. The aristocratic bankrupts or gamblers, and the middle-class promoters or directors of bubble companies, are often worse morally than the bulk of our criminals, but they are not so often found out.

    The idea that society can be improved by forcible interference with the increase of the various classes is one of the most wildly impracticable as well as one of the most dangerous and unnecessary of all the panaceas for remedying some of the evils of our social system while leaving the real causes of those evils absolutely untouched. The dread of too rapid increase of the population, always brought forward by the opponents of real social reform, is a mere figment of the imagination, which will altogether vanish under a rational organisation of society. The actual facts at the present day all point to such a result. Those who marry earliest and breed fastest, are those who are economically worst off--the casual and unskilled labourers; the higher class, of skilled labourers, marry later; the mercantile and professional middle classes later still; while the landed and capitalist aristocracy marry latest, and increase slowest or not at all. Yet, in face of these palpable facts, the objection is continually made, that if all are well-off and free from anxiety as to a comfortable living, population will increase so rapidly that all will soon sink to starvation-point. No reason whatever, founded on actual facts, is given for this statement, and some of the most important of the factors that would come into play and which would lead to an opposite result, are left wholly unnoticed. These factors I have set forth in an article on "Human Selection" in the Fortnightly Review (Sept. 1890). I can here only enumerate them. The first is the great principle established by Herbert Spencer from a survey of the whole animal kingdom, that individuation and reproduction are antagonistic, the fuller development of the brain and nervous system leading inevitably to a diminished rate of increase. Hence, when all are well educated and the mental and moral side of their nature fully satisfied, the animal passions and appetites will be less predominant than they are now. The surest way, therefore, to check the too rapid increase of population is, the full development and training of the intellectual and moral faculties, along with a corresponding training and useful exercise of the bodily organs.

    [[p. 59]] The next important point is the fact pointed out by Galton, that every year's delay of the marriage period acts in a threefold manner in diminishing the rate of increase--by reducing the number of offspring, by lengthening the time between successive generations, and by reducing the number of generations alive at the same time.

    The third and most important of all the factors is, that if women were better educated, more fully occupied, and absolutely secure of an independent life, a happy home, and congenial society, the forces which impel many of them to early marriages would be withdrawn, and the period of marriage would, on the average, be considerably delayed. Taking all these factors into consideration we see that the supposed difficulty of the population question vanishes altogether.

    But another and still more important effect would result from the action of the same causes. There would arise a form of selection by which the best would tend to increase and the worst to be weeded out--a true "natural selection" by which the race would be continuously improved. This would result from the free action of woman's choice in marriage, so soon as she was economically independent. It is certain that the majority of women admire the healthy in body and mind, and the good rather than the bad. Failing to secure their ideal husband many women of independent means even now do not marry. When all were independent these would no doubt increase. Hence, there would be a greater range of choice for the women who wished to marry, and the result would be that those men who were deformed or diseased in body or in mind would not find wives and would leave no offspring. Hence would arise a continuous improvement of the race, far more certain and more beneficial than could be brought about by the compulsory or inhuman means so often advocated by neo-malthusians, and apparently suggested by Mr. Common as one of Nietzsche's principles.

    Many other points call for notice, but I need here only mention that Mr. Common is in error when he refers to myself as having shown that "falsehood, imposture, and hypocrisy" play a large part in nature. He quite misunderstands the facts of mimicry and protective resemblances, which are wholly involuntary, and cannot therefore imply falsehood, etc. But this, and all other arguments drawn from the animal or vegetable kingdoms are valueless, because in social and civilised man the mental and moral nature rules over the physical; and as I have just shown, a new and higher kind of selection will come into action as soon as he learns how to subordinate the latter to the former, and how to so organise his social state as to satisfy the economic requirements of all. His power over the forces and products of nature is now so great, that, not only necessaries and comforts, but all beneficial luxuries could be enjoyed by every human being, with an amount of labour less than half of that now expended in giving hurtful luxury and idleness to some, while millions remain subject to a degree of want and misery greater probably than has ever been seen at any previous era in the world's history. The method of bringing about social excellence here suggested, works with nature, not against her. It depends upon the natural play of the higher qualities of human nature, and will therefore be both self-acting and efficient; while any forcible intervention of authority will be as certain to produce evil as it must be powerless for good.


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