« VorigeDoorgaan »
and chemical changes without, exhibits life in a very simple form. We habitually regard it as less alive than a polyp, because the polyp, by displaying contractility and nascent sensitiveness, responds to a greater variety of external stimuli. Yet the zoophyte, possessing no specialized organs of sense, can oppose but one sort of action to many diverse kinds of impression. Phenomena so different as those of light and heat, sound and mechanical vibration, can affect it in but one or two ways, — by causing it to move, or by slightly altering its chemical condition. Here let it be noticed that the modes of response to outer relations are far less heterogeneous than those relations themselves. Passing now to civilized man, at the other end of the animal scale, we find a state of things exactly the reverse. To each kind of external stimulus there are many possible modes of response. Not only, for example, does the human organism sharply distinguish between variations which affect the eye and those which affect the ear; not only do eye and ear, which are themselves organs of amazing complexity, discern an endless number of differing tones and hues, as well as a great variety of intensities and qualities ; but each particular manifestation of sound or of light is capable of awakening .in the organism very different actions according to circumstances. Tennyson's traveller, who, walking at nightfall in a strange land, hears the moaning of a distant sea,
“ And knows not if it be thunder, or a sound
Of rocks thrown down, or one deep cry
Of great wild beasts," will adopt a course of action more or less in conformity with his environing relations, according to the degree of his sagacity and the extent of his experience. Streaks of light and strata of cloud in the horizon will lead the practised mariner and the unskilled passenger to different conclusions. A cartoon of Raphael or a symphony of Beethoven will excite different emotions in an artist and in a person of little sensibility. And from the swinging of a cathedral lamp a philosopher will draw inferences which have escaped the attention or baffled the penetration of thousands of uncultivated beholders. Thus, with civilized man, present external stimuli are surpassed in heterogeneity by their internal effects.
Note also that as the organism advances the environment itself increases in extent and diversity. The environment of an oyster covers but a few yards of beach or of water, and comprises but few favorable or hostile influences. The physical environment of a modern European extends over a great part of the earth's surface, and his mental environment is scarcely, limited in time or space. His welfare is not unfrequently affected by accidents occurring at the antipodes, while his plans for the coming year are often shaped with conscious or unconscious reference to events which happened centuries ago.
Thus we are led almost imperceptibly to look upon Mr. Spencer's definition of life as furnishing the key to the phe nomena of history. Scarcely is it possible, in illustrating that definition, to avoid a continual reference to the facts of collective as well as to those of individual life. Indeed, since the history of a community is made up of the acts of its individual members, a formula sufficiently abstract might be expected to be capable of including both in one expression. History resembles biology, not because in each a progress is traced from infancy to old age, but because both record the advance from incompleteness to completeness of correspondence achieved alikę by organisms as a whole and by societies. The progress of society, like that of organisms, is, throughout, a process of adaptation. If we contemplate material civilization under its widest aspect, we discover its legitimate aim to be the attainment and maintenance of an equilibrium between the wants of men and the outward means of satisfying them. And while approaching this goal, society is ever acquiring in its economic structure both greater heterogeneity and greater specialization. Agriculture, manufactures, commerce, legislation, the acts of the ruler, the judge, and the physician, have since ancient times grown immeasurably multiform, both in their processes and appliances. And here it is to be carefully noted that this specialization has resulted in the greatly increased ability of society to adapt itself to the emergencies by which it is ever beset. The history of scientific progress is in like manner the history of an advance toward complete correspondence between our mental conceptions and outward realities. Truth, which is the end of all honest and successful research, is attained when subjective relations are perfectly adjusted to objective relations. And what can be the consummation of moral progress but the thorough adaptation of the desires of each individual to the requirements arising from the desires of all neighboring individuals ? Thus the phenomena of social and of organic progress are seen to correspond to a degree not contemplated by those thinkers who first instituted the comparison between them. The resemblances here brought to light are far more deep-seated than those which Dr. Draper and others have endeavored to deduce from a mere collation of epochs. The dominant characteristics of all life are those in which social and individual life agree.
Let us now glance at one or two subordinate truths, which will greatly facilitate the comprehension of the general theory. First, from the twofold circumstance that life is high according as the organism is heterogeneous, and also according as it is adjusted to surrounding conditions, may be derived the corollary that heterogeneity in the environment is one of the chief determining causes of social progress. The environment of a society comprises all the circumstances, adjacent or remote, to which the society may be in any way obliged to conform its actions. It comprises not only the climate of the country, its soil, its flora and fauna, its perpendicular elevation, its relation to mountain-chains, the length of its coast-line, the character of its scenery, and its geographical position with respect to other countries; but it includes also the ideas, feelings, customs, and observances of past times, so far as they are preserved by literature, tradition, or monuments; as well as foreign contemporary manners and opinions, so far as they are known and regarded by the community in question. Premising this, it will be seen that, owing to the political isolation of ancient communities, the heterogeneity of their environments must have been trifling. Holding but little intercourse with each other, and accommodating their deeds and opinions mostly to the conditions existing at home, their progress was usually feeble and balting. And for the same reason, their modes of life and their mental development were far more deeply impressed with the characteristics of surrounding nature
than is the case in modern times. Herein is contained whaterer of truth is conveyed in Mr. Buckle's statement, that in Europe man has been more powerful than nature, while out of Europe nature has been more powerful than man. The contrast is not between Europe and the rest of the world, but between the isolated civilizations of antiquity and the integrated civilization of modern times. Owing to the enormous heterogeneity of the environment to which modern nations are forced to adjust themselves, progress in later ages has been far more rapid and far more stable than of old. The physical wellbeing of an ancient Greek was not enhanced by an invention made in China, nor could his philosophy derive useful hints from theories propounded in India. But in these days scarcely anything can happen in one part of our planet which does not speedily affect every other part. That the rapid and permanent character of modern progress is in great measure due to this circumstance will be denied by no one. And thus is explained the wonderful civilizing effect of various events which have from time to time brought together distant sections of mankind; of which it will be sufficient merely to name the campaigns of Alexander, the spread of Roman dominion, the Arabian conquests, the Crusades, and the voyages of Columbus, Magellan, and De Gama.
Now “the law which governs the changes in organic beings is such that the lower their place in a graduated scale, or the simpler their structure, the more persistent are they in form and organization. ....
. . In whatever manner the changes have been brought about, .... the rate of change has been greater where the grade of organization is higher.”* And this fact Mr. Darwin interprets as resulting from “ the more complex relations of the higher beings to their organic and inorganic conditions of life.” Comparing the fact and its explanation with the historical generalization above given, it will be seen that we have here a new point of community between social life and organic life in general.
Secondly, observe that the living beings lowest in the scale are nothing but simple cells, as witness the Protococcus and the Rhizopoda. In the second volume of his “ Principles of Biology,” Mr. Spencer has shown that progress in morphological composition, both in the animal and vegetable kingdoms, consists to a certain extent of the union of these primeval cells into aggregates of higher and higher orders. Note also that the coalescence of adjacent parts performing like functions, such as we see in the crab when contrasted with the milliped, is a leading feature in organic development; for this process, increasing the specialization of the organism, thus steadily facilitates its adaptation to the environment. In the study of social evolution, we are met by quite similar phenomena. Let us consider what is implied by the conclusions to which Mr. Maine has arrived in his admirable treatise on Ancient Law by an elaborate inquiry into the early ideas of property, contract, and testamentary succession, and into primitive criminal legislation : “ Society in ancient times was not what it is assumed to be at present, a collection of individuals. In fact, and in the view of the men who composed it, it was an aggregation of families. The contrast may be most forcibly expressed by saying that the unit of an ancient society was the family, of a modern society the individual. We must be prepared to find in ancient law all the consequences of this difference.' Evidences of this state of things are to be detected in the internal structure of all the Aryan communities.t Recently, Mr. M'Lennan has revealed a still more archaic condition of humanity, in which not even the family, properly speaking, existed. But passing over this state, — in which the social units might be aptly compared to those lowest Rhizopods which have scarcely any individuality whatever, — attention is called to the fact that primitive families, like unicellular organisms, are aggregates of the first order. The family gove ernment excluded not only individual independence, but also state supremacy. Vestiges of a time when there were no aggregations of men more extensive than the family, and when there was no sovereign authority except that exercised by the
* Lyell, Antiquity of Man, pp. 441, 442.