Thomas Henry Huxley.

Critiques and Addresses online

. (page 3 of 25)
Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyCritiques and Addresses → online text (page 3 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

attraction, the molecule is broken up, and all the peculiar properties
which depended upon its constitution vanish.

Every society, great or small, resembles such a complex molecule,
in which the atoms are represented by men, possessed of all those
multifarious attractions and repulsions which are manifested in their
desires and volitions, the unlimited power of satisfying which, we
call freedom. The social molecule exists in virtue of the renunciation
of more or less of this freedom by every individual. It is decomposed,
when the attraction of desire leads to the resumption of that freedom,
the suppression of which is essential to the existence of the social
molecule. And the great problem of that social chemistry we call
politics, is to discover what desires of mankind may be gratified, and
what must be suppressed, if the highly complex compound, society,
is to avoid decomposition. That the gratification of some of
men's desires shall be renounced is essential to order; that the
satisfaction of others shall be permitted is no less essential to
progress; and the business of the sovereign authority - which is, or
ought-to be, simply a delegation of the people appointed to act for
its good - appears to me to be, not only to enforce the renunciation of
the anti-social desires, but, wherever it may be necessary, to promote
the satisfaction of those which are conducive to progress.

The great metaphysician, Immanuel Kant, who is at his greatest when
he discusses questions which are not metaphysical, wrote, nearly a
century ago, a wonderfully instructive essay entitled "A Conception of
Universal History in relation to Universal Citizenship,"[1] from which
I will borrow a few pregnant sentences: -

[Footnote 1: "Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltbürgerlichen
Absicht," 1784. This paper has been translated by De Quincey, and
attention has been recently drawn to its "signal merits" by the Editor
of the _Fortnightly Review_ in his Essay on Condorcet. (_Fortnightly
Review_, No. xxxviii. N.S. pp. 136, 137.)]

"The means of which Nature has availed herself, in order to
bring about the development of all the capacities of man, is
the antagonism of those capacities to social organization,
so far as the latter does in the long run necessitate their
definite correlation. By antagonism, I here mean the unsocial
sociability of mankind - that is, the combination in them of
an impulse to enter into society, with a thorough spirit
of opposition which constantly threatens to break up this
society. The ground of this lies in human nature. Man has an
inclination to enter into society, because in that state he
feels that he becomes more a man, or, in other words, that his
natural faculties develop. But he has also a great tendency to
isolate himself, because he is, at the same time, aware of the
unsocial peculiarity of desiring to have everything his own
way; and thus, being conscious of an inclination to oppose
others, he is naturally led to expect opposition from them.

"Now it is this opposition which awakens all the dormant
powers of men, stimulates them to overcome their inclination
to be idle, and, spurred by the love of honour, or power, or
wealth, to make themselves a place among their fellows, whom
they can neither do with, nor do without.

"Thus they make the first steps from brutishness towards
culture, of which the social value of man is the measure. Thus
all talents become gradually developed, taste is formed,
and by continual enlightenment the foundations of a way of
thinking are laid, which gradually changes the mere rude
capacity of moral perception into determinate practical
principles; and thus society, which is originated by a sort
of pathological compulsion, becomes metamorphosed into a moral
unity." (_Loc. cit_. p. 147.)

"All the culture and art which adorn humanity, the most
refined social order, are produced by that unsociability which
is compelled by its own existence to discipline itself, and
so by enforced art to bring the seeds implanted by nature into
full flower." (_Loc. cit_. p. 148.)

In these passages, as in others of this remarkable tract, Kant
anticipates the application of the "struggle for existence" to
politics, and indicates the manner in which the evolution of society
has resulted from the constant attempt of individuals to strain its
bonds. If individuality has no play, society does not advance; if
individuality breaks out of all bounds, society perishes.

But when men living in society once become aware that their welfare
depends upon, two opposing tendencies of equal importance - the one
restraining, the other encouraging, individual freedom - the
question "What are the functions of Government?" is translated into
another - namely, What ought we men, in our corporate capacity, to do,
not only in the way of restraining that free individuality which is
inconsistent with the existence of society, but in encouraging that
free individuality which is essential to the evolution of the
social organization? The formula which truly defines the function of
Government must contain the solution of both the problems involved,
and not merely of one of them.

Locke has furnished us with such a formula, in the noblest, and at the
same time briefest, statement of the purpose of Government known to
me: -


[Footnote 1: "Of Civil Government," § 229.]

But the good of mankind is not a something which is absolute and
fixed for all men, whatever their capacities or state of civilization.
Doubtless it is possible to imagine a true "Civitas Dei," in which
every man's moral faculty shall be such as leads him to control all
those desires which run counter to the good of mankind, and to cherish
only those which conduce to the welfare of society; and in which every
man's native intellect shall be sufficiently strong, and his culture
sufficiently extensive, to enable him to know what he ought to do and
to seek after. And, in that blessed State, police will be as much a
superfluity as every other kind of government.

But the eye of man has not beheld that State, and is not likely to
behold it for some time to come. What we do see, in fact, is that
States are made up of a considerable number of the ignorant and
foolish, a small proportion of genuine knaves, and a sprinkling of
capable and honest men, by whose efforts the former are kept in a
reasonable state of guidance, and the latter of repression. And, such
being the case, I do not see how any limit whatever can be laid down
as to the extent to which, under some circumstances, the action of
Government may be rightfully carried.

Was our own Government wrong in suppressing Thuggee in India? If not,
would it be wrong in putting down any enthusiast who attempted to set
up the worship of Astarte in the Haymarket? Has the State no right to
put a stop to gross and open violations of common decency? And if
the State has, as I believe it has, a perfect right to do all these
things, are we not bound to admit, with Locke, that it may have a
right to interfere with "Popery" and "Atheism," if it be really true
that the practical consequences of such beliefs con be proved to
be injurious to civil society? The question where to draw the line
between those things with which the State ought, and those with which
it ought not, to interfere, then, is one which must be left to be
decided separately for each individual case. The difficulty which
meets the statesman is the same as that which meets us all in
individual life, in which our abstract rights are generally clear
enough, though it is frequently extremely hard to say at what point it
is wise to cease our attempts to enforce them.

The notion that the social body should be organized in such a manner
as to advance the welfare of its members, is as old as political
thought; and the schemes of Plato, More, Robert Owen, St. Simon,
Comte, and the modern socialists, bear witness that, in every age, men
whose capacity is of no mean order, and whose desire to benefit
their fellows has rarely been excelled, have been strongly, nay,
enthusiastically, convinced that Government may attain its end - the
good of the people - by some more effectual process than the very
simple and easy one of putting its hands in its pockets, and letting
them alone.

It may be, that all the schemes of social organization which have
hitherto been propounded are impracticable follies. But if this be so,
the fact proves, not that the idea which underlies them is worthless,
but only that the science of politics is in a very rudimentary and
imperfect state. Politics, as a science, is not older than astronomy;
but though the subject-matter of the latter is vastly less complex
than that of the former, the theory of the moon's motions is not quite
settled yet.

Perhaps it may help us a little way towards getting clearer notions of
what the State may and what it may not do, if, assuming the truth of
Locke's maxim that "the end of Government is the good of mankind," we
consider a little what the good, of mankind is.

I take it that the good of mankind means the attainment, by every
man, of all the happiness which he can enjoy without diminishing the
happiness of his fellow-men.[1]

[Footnote 1: "Hie est itaque finis ad quem tendo, talem scilicet
Naturam acquirere, et ut multi mecum eam acquirant, conari hoc est
de mea felicitate etiam operam dare, ut alii multi idem atque ego
intelligant, ut eorum intellectus et cupiditas prorsus cum meo
intellectu et cupiditate convenient: atque hoc fiat, necesse est
tantum de Natura intelligere, quantum sufficit ad talem naturam
acquirendam; deinde formare talem societatem qualis est desideranda,
ut quam plurimi quam facillime et secure eo perveniant." - B. SPINOZA,
_De Intellectus Emendatione Tractatus._]

If we inquire what kinds of happiness come under this definition, we
find those derived from the sense of security or peace; from
wealth, or commodity, obtained by commerce; from Art - whether it
be architecture, sculpture, painting, music, or literature; from
knowledge, or science; and, finally, from sympathy or friendship. No
man is injured, but the contrary, by peace. No man is any the worse
off because another acquires wealth by trade, or by the exercise of
a profession; on the contrary, he cannot have acquired his wealth,
except by benefiting others to the full extent of what they considered
to be its value; and his wealth is no more than fairy gold if he does
not go on benefiting others in the same way. A thousand men may enjoy
the pleasure derived from a picture, a symphony, or a poem, without
lessening the happiness of the most devoted connoisseur. The
investigation of nature is an infinite pasture-ground, where all
may graze, and where the more bite, the longer the grass grows, the
sweeter is its flavour, and the more it nourishes. If I love a friend,
it is no damage to me, but rather a pleasure, if all the world also
love him and think of him as highly as I do.

It appears to be universally agreed, for the reasons already
mentioned, that it is unnecessary and undesirable for the State
to attempt to promote the acquisition of wealth by any direct
interference with commerce. But there is no such agreement as to the
further question whether the State may not promote the acquisition of
wealth by indirect means. For example, may the State make a road, or
build a harbour, when it is quite clear that by so doing it will open
up a productive district, and thereby add enormously to the total
wealth of the community? And if so, may the State, acting for the
general good, take charge of the means of communication between its
members, or of the postal and telegraph services? I have not yet met
with any valid, argument against the propriety of the State doing
what our Government does in this matter; except the assumption, which
remains to be proved, that Government will manage these things worse
than private enterprise would do. Nor is there any agreement upon the
still more important question whether the State ought, or ought not,
to regulate the distribution of wealth. If it ought not, then all
legislation which regulates inheritance - the statute of Mortmain, and
the like - is wrong in principle; and, when a rich man dies, we
ought to return to the state of nature, and have a scramble for
his property. If, on the other hand, the authority of the State is
legitimately employed in regulating these matters, then it is an open
question, to be decided entirely by evidence as to what tends to
the highest good of the people, whether we keep our present laws,
or whether we modify them. At present the State protects men in the
possession and enjoyment of their property, and defines what that
property is. The justification for its so doing is that its action
promotes the good of the people. If it can be clearly proved that the
abolition of property would tend still, more to promote the good of
the people, the State will have the same justification for abolishing
property that it now has for maintaining it.

Again, I suppose it is universally agreed that it would be useless
and absurd for the State to attempt to promote friendship and sympathy
between man and man directly. But I see no reason why, if it be
otherwise expedient, the State may not do something towards that
end indirectly. For example, I can conceive the existence of an
Established Church which should be a blessing to the community. A
Church in which, week by week, services should be devoted, not to the
iteration of abstract propositions in theology, but to the setting
before men's minds of an ideal of true, just, and pure living; a place
in which those who are weary of the burden of daily cares, should
find a moment's rest in the contemplation of the higher life which is
possible for all, though attained by so few; a place in which the man
of strife and of business should have time to think how small, after
all, are the rewards he covets compared with peace and charity. Depend
upon it, if such a Church existed, no one would seek to disestablish

Whatever the State may not do, however, it is universally agreed that
it may take charge of the maintenance of internal and external peace.
Even the strongest advocate of administrative nihilism admits that
Government may prevent aggression of one man on another. But this
implies the maintenance of an army and navy, as much as of a body of
police; it implies a diplomatic as well as a detective force; and it
implies, further, that the State, as a corporate whole, shall have
distinct and definite views as to its wants, powers, and obligations.

For independent States stand in the same relation to one another as
men in a state of nature, or unlimited freedom. Each endeavours to
get all it can, until the inconvenience of the state of war suggests
either the formation of those express contracts we call treaties,
or mutual consent to those implied contracts which are expressed by
international law. The moral rights of a State rest upon the same
basis as those of an individual. If any number of States agree to
observe a common set of international laws, they have, in fact, set up
a sovereign authority or supra-national government, the end of
which, like that of all governments, is the good of mankind; and the
possession of as much freedom by each State, as is consistent with
the attainment of that end. But there is this difference: that the
government thus set up over nations is ideal, and has no concrete
representative of the sovereign power; whence the only way of settling
any dispute finally is to fight it out. Thus the supra-national
society is continually in danger of returning to the state of nature,
in which contracts are void; and the possibility of this contingency
justifies a government in restricting the liberty of its subjects in
many ways that would otherwise be unjustifiable.

Finally, with respect to the advancement of science and art. I have
never yet had the good fortune to hear any valid reason alleged why
that corporation of individuals we call the State may not do what
voluntary effort fails in doing, either from want of intelligence or
lack of will. And here it cannot be alleged that the action of the
State is always hurtful. On the contrary, in every country in Europe,
universities, public libraries, picture galleries, museums, and
laboratories, have been established by the State, and have done
infinite service to the intellectual and moral progress and the
refinement of mankind.

A few days ago I received from one of the most eminent members of the
Institut of France a pamphlet entitled "Pourquoi la France n'a
pas trouvé d'hommes supérieurs au moment du péril." The writer, M.
Pasteur, has no doubt that the cause of the astounding collapse of
his countrymen is to be sought in the miserable neglect of the higher
branches of culture, which has been one of the many disgraces of the
Second Empire, if not of its predecessors.

"Au point où nous sommes arrivés de ce qu'on appelle la
_civilisation moderne_, la culture des sciences dans leur
expression la plus élevée est peut-être plus nécessaire encore
à l'état moral d'une nation qu'à sa prospérité materielle.

"Les grandes découvertes, les méditations de la pensée dans
les arts, dans les sciences et dans les lettres, en un mot les
travaux désintéresses de l'esprit dans tous les genres,
les centres d'enseignement propres à les faire connaître,
introduisent dans le corps social tout entier l'esprit
philosophique ou scientifique, cet esprit de discernement qui
soumet tout à une raison sévère, condamne l'ignorance,
dissipe les préjugés et les erreurs. Ils élèvent le niveau
intellectuel, le sentiment moral; par eux, l'idée divine
elle-même se répand et s'exalte.... Si, au moment du péril
suprême, la France n'a pas trouvé des hommes supérieurs pour
mettre en oeuvre ses ressources et le courage de ses enfants,
il faut l'attribuer, j'en ai la conviction, à ce que la France
EST désintéressée, depuis un demi-siècle, des grands travaux
de la pensée, particuliérement dans les sciences exactes."

Individually, I have no love for academies on the continental model,
and still less for the system of decorating men of distinction in
science, letters, or art, with orders and titles, or enriching them
with sinecures. What men of science want is only a fair day's wages
for more than a fair day's work; and most of us, I suspect, would be
well content if, for our days and nights of unremitting toil, we could
secure the pay which a first-class Treasury clerk earns without any
obviously trying strain upon his faculties. The sole order of nobility
which, in my judgment, becomes a philosopher, is that rank which
he holds in the estimation of his fellow-workers, who are the only
competent judges in such matters. Newton and Cuvier lowered themselves
when the one accepted an idle knighthood, and the other became a
baron of the empire. The great men who went to their graves as Michael
Faraday and George Grote seem to me to have understood the dignity of
knowledge better when they declined all such meretricious trappings.

But it is one thing for the State to appeal to the vanity and ambition
which are to be found in philosophical as in other breasts, and
another to offer men who desire to do the hardest of work for the most
modest of tangible rewards, the means of making themselves useful to
their age and generation. And this is just what the State does when it
founds a public library or museum, or provides the means of scientific
research by such grants of money as that administered by the Royal

It is one thing, again, for the State to take all the higher education
of the nation into its own hands; it is another to stimulate and to
aid, while they are yet young and weak, local efforts to the same
end. The Midland Institute, Owens College in Manchester, the newly
instituted Science College in Newcastle, are all noble products of
local energy and munificence. But the good they are doing is not
local - the commonwealth, to its uttermost limits, shares in the
benefits they confer; and I am at a loss to understand upon what
principle of equity the State, which admits the principle of payment
on results, refuses to give a fair equivalent for these benefits; or
on what principle of justice the State, which admits the obligation
of sharing the duty of primary education with a locality, denies the
existence of that obligation when the higher education is in question.

To sum up: If the positive advancement of the peace, wealth, and the
intellectual and moral development of its members, are objects which
the Government, as the representative of the corporate authority of
society, may justly strive after, in fulfilment of its end - the good
of mankind; then it is clear that the Government may undertake to
educate the people. For education promotes peace by teaching men the
realities of life and the obligations which are involved in the very
existence of society; it promotes intellectual development, not only
by training the individual intellect, but by sifting out from the
masses of ordinary or inferior capacities, those who are competent
to increase the general welfare by occupying higher positions; and,
lastly, it promotes morality and refinement, by teaching men to
discipline themselves, and by leading them to see that the highest, as
it is the only permanent, content is to be attained, not by grovelling
in the rank and steaming valleys of sense, but by continual striving
towards those high peaks, where, resting in eternal calm, reason
discerns the undefined but bright ideal of the highest Good - "a cloud
by day, a pillar of fire by night."



An electioneering manifesto would be out of place in the pages of this
Review; but any suspicion that may arise in the mind of the reader
that the following pages partake of that nature, will be dispelled,
if he reflect that they cannot be published[1] until after the day
on which the ratepayers of the metropolis will have decided which
candidates for seats upon the Metropolitan School Board they will
take, and which they will leave.

[Footnote 1: Notwithstanding Mr. Huxley's intentions, the Editor took
upon himself, in what seemed to him to be the public interest, to send
an extract from this article to the newspapers - before the day of the
election of the School Board. - EDITOR of the _Contemporary Review_.]

As one of those candidates, I may be permitted to say, that I feel
much in the frame of mind of the Irish bricklayer's labourer, who bet
another that he could not carry him to the top of the ladder in his
hod. The challenged hodman won his wager, but as the stakes were
handed over, the challenger wistfully remarked, "I'd great hopes of
falling at the third round from the top." And, in view of the work
and the worry which awaits the members of the School Boards, I must
confess to an occasional ungrateful hope that the friends who are
toiling upwards with me in their hod, may, when they reach "the third
round from the top," let me fall back into peace and quietness.

But whether fortune befriend me in this rough method, or not, I should
like to submit to those of whom I am a potential, but of whom I may
not be an actual, colleague, and to others who may be interested in
this most important problem - how to get the Education Act to work
efficiently - some considerations as to what are the duties of the
members of the School Boards, and what are the limits of their power.

I suppose no one will be disposed to dispute the proposition, that
the prime duty of every member of such a Board is to endeavour to
administer the Act honestly; or in accordance, not only with its
letter, but with its spirit. And if so, it would seem that the first
step towards this very desirable end is, to obtain a clear notion of
what that letter signifies, and what that spirit implies; or, in
other words, what the clauses of the Act are intended to enjoin and to
forbid. So that it is really not admissible, except for factious and
abusive purposes, to assume that any one who endeavours to get at
this clear meaning is desirous only of raising quibbles and making

Reading the Act with this desire to understand it, I find that its

Online LibraryThomas Henry HuxleyCritiques and Addresses → online text (page 3 of 25)