SOCIOLOGY AND MODERN SOCIAL PROBLEMS
CHARLES A. ELLWOOD, PH. D.
Professor of Sociology, University of Missouri
This book is intended as an elementary text in sociology as applied to modern social problems, for use in institutions where but a short time can be given to the subject, in courses in sociology where it is desired to combine it with a study of current social problems on the one hand, and to correlate it with a course in economics on the other. The book is also especially suited for use in University Extension Courses and in Teachers' Reading Circles.
This book aims to teach the simpler principles of sociology concretely and inductively. In Chapters I to VIII the elementary principles of sociology are stated and illustrated, chiefly through the study of the origin, development, structure, and functions of the family considered as a typical human institution; while in Chapters IX to XV certain special problems are considered in the light of these general principles.
Inasmuch as the book aims to illustrate the working of certain factors in social organization and evolution by the study of concrete problems, interpretation has been emphasized rather than the social facts themselves. However, the book is not intended to be a contribution to sociological theory, and no attempt is made to give a systematic presentation of theory. Rather, the student's attention is called to certain obvious and elementary forces in the social life, and he is left to work out his own system of social theory.
To guide the student in further reading, a brief list of select references in English has been appended to each chapter. Methodological discussions and much statistical and historical material have been omitted in order to make the text as simple as possible. These can be found in the references, or the teacher can supply them at his discretion.
The many authorities to whom I am indebted for both facts and interpretations of facts cannot be mentioned individually, except that I wish to express my special indebtedness to my former teachers, Professor Willcox of Cornell and Professors Small and Henderson of the University of Chicago, to whom I am under obligation either directly or indirectly for much of the substance of this book. The list of references will also indicate in the main the sources of whatever is not my own.
CHARLES A. ELLWOOD.
UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI.
CHAPTER I: THE STUDY OF SOCIETY
CHAPTER II: THE BEARING OF THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION UPON SOCIAL PROBLEMS
CHAPTER III: THE FUNCTION OF THE FAMILY IN SOCIAL ORGANIZATION
CHAPTER IV: THE ORIGIN OF THE FAMILY
CHAPTER V: THE FORMS OF THE FAMILY
CHAPTER VI: THE HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE FAMILY
CHAPTER VII: THE PROBLEM OF THE MODERN FAMILY
CHAPTER VIII: THE GROWTH OF POPULATION
CHAPTER IX: THE IMMIGRATION PROBLEM
CHAPTER X: THE NEGRO PROBLEM
CHAPTER XI: THE PROBLEM OF THE CITY
CHAPTER XII: POVERTY AND PAUPERISM
CHAPTER XIII: CRIME
CHAPTER XIV: SOCIALISM IN THE LIGHT OF SOCIOLOGY
CHAPTER XV: EDUCATION AND SOCIAL PROGRESS
SOCIOLOGY AND MODERN SOCIAL PROBLEMS
THE STUDY OF SOCIETY
What is Society?—Perhaps the great question which sociology seeks to answer is this question which we have put at the beginning. Just as biology seeks to answer the question "What is life?"; zology, "What is an animal?"; botany, "What is a plant?"; so sociology seeks to answer the question "What is society?" or perhaps better, "What is association?" Just as biology, zology, and botany cannot answer their questions until those sciences have reached their full and complete development, so also sociology cannot answer the question "What is society?" until it reaches its final development. Nevertheless, some conception or definition of society is necessary for the beginner, for in the scientific discussion of social problems we must know first of all what we are talking about. We must understand in a general way what society is, what sociology is, what the relations are between sociology and other sciences, before we can study the social problems of to-day from a sociological point of view.
The word "society" is used scientifically to designate the reciprocal relations between individuals. More exactly, and using the term in a concrete sense, a society is any group of individuals who have more or less conscious relations to each other. We say conscious relations because it is not necessary that these relations be specialized into industrial, political, or ecclesiastical relations. Society is constituted by the mental interaction of individuals and exists wherever two or three individuals have reciprocal conscious relations to each other. Dependence upon a common economic environment, or the mere contiguity in space is not sufficient to constitute a society. It is the interdependence in function on the mental side, the contact and overlapping of our inner selves, which makes possible that form of collective life which we call society. Plants and lowly types of organisms do not constitute true societies, unless it can be shown that they have some degree of mentality. On the other hand, there is no reason for withholding the term "society" from many animal groups. These animal societies, however, are very different in many respects from human society, and are of interest to us only as certain of their forms throw light upon human society.
We may dismiss with a word certain faulty conceptions of society. In some of the older sociological writings the word society is often used as nearly synonymous with the word nation. Now, a nation is a body of people politically organized into an independent government, and it is manifest that it is only one of many forms of human society. Another conception of society, which some have advocated, is that it is synonymous with the cultural group. That is, a society is any group of people that have a common civilization, or that are bearers of a certain type of culture. In this case Christendom, for example, would constitute a single society. Cultural groups no doubt are, again, one of the forms of human society, but only one among many. Both the cultural group and the nation are very imposing forms of society and hence have attracted the attention of social thinkers very often in the past to the neglect of the more humble forms. But it is evident that all forms of association are of equal interest to the sociologist, though, of course, this is not saying that all forms are of equal practical importance.
Any form of association, or social group, which may be studied, if studied from the point of view of origin and development, whether it be a family, a neighborhood group, a city, a state, a trade union, or a party, will serve to reveal many of the problems of sociology. The natural or genetic social groups, however, such as the family, the community, and the nation, serve best to exhibit sociological problems. In this text we shall make particular use of the family, as the simplest and, in many ways, the most typical of all the forms of human association, to illustrate concretely the laws and principles of social development. Through the study of the simple and primary forms of association the problems of sociology can be much better attacked than through the study of society at large, or association in general.
From what has been said it may be inferred that society as a scientific term means scarcely more than the abstract term association, and this is correct. Association, indeed, may be regarded as the more scientific term of the two; at any rate it indicates more exactly what the sociologist deals with. A word may be said also as to the meaning of the word social. The sense in which this word will generally be used in this text is that of a collective adjective, referring to all that pertains to or relates to society in any way. The word social, then, is much broader than the words industrial, political, moral, religious, and embraces them all; that is, social phenomena are all phenomena which involve the interaction of two or more individuals. The word social, then, includes the economic, political, moral, religious, etc., and must not be thought of as something set in opposition to, for instance, the industrial or the political.
Society and its Products.—Beneath all the forms and processes of human society lies the fact of association itself. Industry, government, and civilization itself must be regarded as expressions of collective human life rather than vice versa. Industry, for example, is one side or aspect of man's social life, and must not be mistaken for society itself. Industry, government, religion, education, art, and the like, are all products of the social life of man. Among these cordinate expressions of collective human life, industry, being concerned with the satisfying of the material needs of men, is perhaps fundamental to the rest. But this must not lead to the mistaken view that the social life of man can be interpreted completely through his industrial life; for, as has just been said, beneath industry and all other aspects of man's collective life lies the biological and psychological fact of association. This is equivalent to saying that industry itself must be interpreted in terms of the biology and psychology of human association. In other words, industrial problems, political problems, educational problems, and the like must be viewed from the collective or social standpoint rather than simply as detached problems by themselves. We must understand the biological and psychological aspects of man's social life before we can understand its special phases.
The Origin of Society.—From the definition of society that we have given it is evident that society is something which springs from the very processes of life itself. It is not something which has been invented or planned by individuals. Life, in its higher forms at least, could not exist without association. From the very beginning the association of the sexes has been necessary for reproduction and for the care and rearing of offspring, and it has been not less necessary for the procuring of an adequate food supply and for protection against enemies. From the association necessary for reproduction has sprung family life and all the altruistic institutions of human society, while from the association for providing food supply have sprung society's industrial institutions. Neither society nor industry, therefore, has had a premeditated, reflective origin, but both have sprung up spontaneously from the needs of life and both have developed down to the present time at least with but little premeditated guidance. It is necessary that the student should understand at the outset that social organization is not a fabrication of the human intellect to any great degree, and the old idea that individuals who existed independently of society came together and deliberately planned a certain type of social organization is utterly without scientific validity. The individual and society are correlatives. We have no knowledge of individuals apart from society or society apart from individuals. What we do know is that human life everywhere is a collective or associated life, the individual being on the one hand largely an expression of the social life surrounding him and on the other hand society being largely an expression of individual character. The reasons for these assertions will appear later as we develop our subject.
What is Sociology?—The science which deals with human association, its origin, development, forms, and functions, is sociology. Briefly, sociology is a science which deals with society as a whole and not with its separate aspects or phases. It attempts to formulate the laws or principles which govern social organization and social evolution. This means that the main problems of sociology are those of the organization of society on the one hand and the evolution of society on the other. These words, organization and evolution, however, are used in a broader sense in sociology than they are generally used. By organization we mean any relation of the parts of society to each other. By evolution we mean, not necessarily change for the better, but orderly change of any sort. Sociology is, therefore, a science which deals with the laws or principles of social organization and of social change. Put in more exact terms this makes sociology, as we said at the beginning, the science of the origin, development, structure, and function of the forms of association. We may pass over very rapidly certain faulty conceptions of sociology. The first of these is that it is the study of social evils and their remedies. This conception is faulty because it makes sociology deal primarily with the abnormal rather than the normal conditions in society, and secondly, it is to be criticized because it makes sociology synonymous with scientific philanthropy. It is rather the science of philanthropy, which is an applied science resting upon sociology, that studies social evils and their remedies. This is not saying, of course, that sociology does not consider social evils, but that it considers them as incidents in the normal processes of social evolution rather than as its special matter. A second conception of sociology which is to be dismissed as inadequate is the conception that it is the science of social phenomena. This conception is not incorrect, but is somewhat vague, as there are manifestly other sciences of social phenomena, such as economics and political science. Such a conception of sociology would make it include everything in human society. A third faulty conception is that it is the science of human institutions. This is faulty because it again is too narrow. An institution is a sanctioned form of human association, while sociology deals with the ephemeral and unsanctioned forms, such as we see in the phenomena of mobs, crazes, fads, fashions, and crimes, as well as with the sanctioned forms. A fourth conception which might be criticized is that sociology is the science of social organization. This makes sociology deal with the laws or principles of the relations of individuals to one another, and of institutions to one another. It is to be criticized as faulty because it fails to emphasize the evolution of those relations. All science is now evolutionary in spirit and in method and believes that things cannot be understood except as they are understood in their genesis and development. It would, therefore, perhaps be more correct to define sociology as the science of the evolution of human interrelations than to define it simply as the science of social organization.
The Problems of Sociology.—The problems of sociology fall into two great classes; first, problems of the organization of society, and second, problems of the evolution of society. The problems of the organization of society are problems of the relations of individuals to one another and to institutions. Such problems are, for example, the influence of various elements in the physical environment upon the social organization; or, again, the influence of various elements in human nature upon the social order. These problems are, then, problems of society in a hypothetically stationary condition or at rest. For this reason Comte, the founder of modern sociology, called the division of sociology which deals with such problems Social Statics. But the problems which are of most interest and importance in sociology are those of social evolution. Under this head we have the problem of the origin of society in general and also of various forms of association. More important still are the problems of social progress and social retrogression; that is, the causes of the advancement of society to higher and more complex types of social organization and the causes of social decline. The former problem, social progress, is in a peculiar sense the central problem of sociology. The effort of theoretical sociology is to develop a scientific theory of social progress. The study of social evolution, then, that is, social changes of all sorts, as we have emphasized above, is the vital part of sociology; and it is manifest that only a general science of society like sociology is competent to deal with such a problem. Inasmuch as the problems of social evolution are problems of change, development, or movement in society, Comte proposed that this division of sociology be called Social Dynamics.
The Relations of Sociology to Other Sciences. [Footnote: For a fuller discussion of the relations of sociology to other sciences and to philosophy see my article on "Sociology: Its Problems and Its Relations" in the American Journal of Sociology for November, 1907.]—(A) Relations to Biology and Psychology. In attempting to give a scientific view of social organization and social evolution, sociology has to depend upon the other natural sciences, particularly upon biology and psychology. It is manifest that sociology must depend upon biology, since biology is the general science of life, and human society is but part of the world of life in general. It is manifest also that sociology must depend upon psychology to explain the interactions between individuals because these interactions are for the most part interactions between their minds. Thus on the one hand all social phenomena are vital phenomena and on the other hand nearly all social phenomena are mental phenomena. Every social problem has, in other words, its psychological and its biological sides, and sociology is distinguished from biology and psychology only as a matter of convenience. The scientific division of labor necessitates that certain scientific workers concern themselves with certain problems. Now, the problems with which the biologist and the psychologist deal are not the problems of the organization and evolution of society. Hence, while the sociologist borrows his principles of interpretation from biology and psychology, he has his own distinctive problems, and it is this fact which makes sociology a distinct science.
Sociology is not so easily distinguished from the special social sciences like politics, economics, and others, as it is from the other general sciences. These sciences occupy the same field as sociology, that is, they have to do with social phenomena. But in general, as has already been pointed out, they are concerned chiefly with certain very special aspects or phases of the social life and not with its most general problems. If sociology, then, is dependent upon the other general sciences, particularly upon biology and psychology, it is obvious that its relation to the special sciences is the reverse, namely, these sciences are dependent upon sociology. This is only saying practically the same thing as was said above when we pointed out that industry, government, and religion are but expressions of human social life. In other words, sociology deals with the more general biological and psychological aspects of human association, while the special sciences of economics, politics, and the like, generally deal with certain products or highly specialized phases of society.
(B) Relations to History. [Footnote: For a discussion of the practical relations between the teaching of history and of sociology, see my paper on "How History can be taught from a Sociological Point of View," in Education for January, 1910.] A word may be said about the relation of sociology to another science which also deals with human society in a general way, and that is history. History is a concrete, descriptive science of society which attempts to construct a picture of the social past. Sociology, however, is an abstract, theoretical science of society concerned with the laws and principles which govern social organization and social change. In a sense, sociology is narrower than history inasmuch as it is an abstract science, and in another sense it is wider than history because it concerns itself not only with the social past but also with the social present. The facts of contemporary social life are indeed even more important to the sociologist than the facts of history, although it is impossible to construct a theory of social evolution without taking into full account all the facts available in human history, and in this sense history becomes one of the very important methods of sociology. Upon its evolutionary or dynamic side sociology may be considered a sort of philosophy of history; at least it attempts to give a scientific theory which will explain the social changes which history describes concretely.
(C) Relations to Economics. Economics is that special social science which deals with the wealth-getting and wealth-using activities of man. In other words, it is concerned with the commercial and industrial activities of man. As has already been implied, economics must be considered one of the most important of the special social sciences, if not the most important. Yet it is evident that the wealth-getting and wealth-using activities of man are strictly an outgrowth of his social life, and that economics as a science of human industry must rest upon sociology. Sometimes in the past the mistake has been made of supposing that economics dealt with the most fundamental social phenomena, and even at times economists have spoken of their science as alone sufficient to explain all social phenomena. It cannot be admitted, however, that we can explain social organization in general or social progress in terms of economic development. A theory of progress, for example, in which the sole causes of human progress were found in economic conditions would neglect political, religious, educational, and many other conditions. Only a very one-sided theory of society can be built upon such a basis. Economics should keep to its own sphere of explaining the commercial and industrial activities of man and not attempt to become a general science dealing with social evolution. This is now recognized by practically all economists of standing, and the only question which remains is whether economics is independent of sociology or whether it rests upon sociology.
The view which has been presented thus far and which will be adhered to is that economics should rest upon sociology. That economics does rest upon sociology is shown by many considerations. The chief problem of theoretical economics is the problem of economic value. But economic value is but one sort of value which is recognized in society, moral and aesthetic values being other examples of the valuing process, and all values must express the collective judgment of some human group or other. The problem of economic value, in other words, reduces itself to a problem in social psychology, and when this is said it is equivalent to making economics dependent upon sociology, for social psychology is simply the psychological aspect of sociology. Again, industrial organization and industrial evolution are but parts or phases of social evolution in general, and it is safe to say that industry, both in its organization and evolution, cannot be understood apart from the general conditions, psychological and biological, which surround society. Again, many non-economic forces continually obtrude themselves upon the student of industrial conditions, such as custom, invention, imitation, standards, ideals, and the like. These are general social forces which play throughout all phases of human social life and so show the dependence of industry upon society in general, and, therefore, of economics upon sociology. Much more might be said in the way of concretely illustrating these statements, but the purpose of this text precludes anything but the briefest and most elementary statement of these theoretical facts.
(D) Relations to Politics. We have already said that the state is one of the chief forms of human association. The science which treats of the state or of government is known as political science or politics. It is one of the oldest of the social sciences, having been more or less systematized by Aristotle. The problems of politics are those of the origin, nature, function, and development of government. It is manifest that politics, both on its practical and theoretical sides, has many close relations to sociology. While the state or nation must not be confused with society in general, yet because the state is the most imposing, if not the most important, form of human association, the relations of politics and sociology must be very intimate. On the one hand, political scientists can scarcely understand the origin, nature, and proper functions of government without understanding more or less about the social life generally; and, on the other hand, the sociologist finds that one of the most important facts of human society is that of social control, or of authority. While political science deals only with the organized authority manifested in the state, which we call government, yet inasmuch as this is the most important form of social control, and inasmuch as political organization is one of the chief manifestations of social organization, the sociologist can scarcely deal adequately with the great problems of social organization and evolution without constant reference to political science.
An important branch of political science is jurisprudence, or the science of law. This, again, is closely related with sociology, on both its theoretical and practical sides. Law is, perhaps, the most important means of social control made use of by society, and the sociologist needs to understand something of the principles of law in order to understand the nature of the existing social order. On the other hand, the jurist needs to know the principles of social organization and evolution in general before he can understand the nature and purpose of law.
(E) Relations to Ethics. [Footnote: For a full statement of my views regarding the relations of sociology and ethics, see my article on "The Sociological Basis of Ethics," in the International Journal of Ethics for April, 1910.] Ethics is the science which deals with the right or wrong of human conduct. Its problems are the nature of morality and of moral obligation, the validity of moral ideals, the norms by which conduct is to be judged, and the like. While ethics was once considered to be a science of individual conduct it is now generally conceived as being essentially a social science. The moral and the social are indeed not clearly separable, but we may consider the moral to be the ideal aspect of the social.
This view of morality, which, for the most part, is indorsed by modern thought, makes ethics dependent upon sociology for its criteria of rightness or wrongness. Indeed, we cannot argue any moral question nowadays unless we argue it in social terms. If we discuss the rightness or wrongness of the drink habit we try to show its social consequences. So, too, if we discuss the rightness or wrongness of such an institution as polygamy we find ourselves forced to do so mainly in social terms. This is not denying, of course, that there are religious and metaphysical aspects to morality,—these are not necessarily in conflict with the social aspects,—but it is saying that modern ethical theory is coming more and more to base itself upon the study of the remote social consequences of conduct, and that we cannot judge what is right or wrong in our complex society unless we know something of the social consequences.
Ethics must be regarded, therefore, as a normative science to which sociology and the other social sciences lead up. It is, indeed, very difficult to separate ethics from sociology. It is the business of sociology to furnish norms and standards to ethics, and it is the business of ethics as a science to take the norms and standards furnished by the social sciences, to develop them, and to criticize them. This text therefore, will not attempt to exclude ethical implications and judgments from sociological discussions, because that would be futile and childish.
(F) Relations to Education. Among the applied sciences, sociology is especially closely related to education, for education is not simply the art of developing the powers and capacities of the individual; it is rather the fitting of individuals for efficient membership, for proper functioning, in social life. On its individual side, education should initiate the individual into the social life and fit him for social service. It should create the good citizen. On the social or public side, education should be the chief means of social progress. It should regenerate society, by fitting the individual for a higher type of social life than at present achieved. We must have a socialized education if our present complex civilization is to endure. Social problems touch education on every side, and, on the other hand, education must bear upon every social problem. It is evident, therefore, that sociology has a very great bearing upon the problems of education; and the teacher who comes to his task equipped with a knowledge of social conditions and of the laws and principles of social organization and evolution will find a significance and meaning in his work which he could hardly otherwise find.
(G) Relations to Philanthropy.[Footnote: This topic is more fully discussed in my article on "Philanthropy and Sociology" in The Survey for June 4, 1910.] The great science which deals directly with the depressed classes in society and with their uplift may be called the science of philanthropy. It may be regarded as an applied department of sociology. The science of philanthropy is especially concerned with the prevention, as well as with the curative treatment, of dependency, defectiveness, and delinquency. That part which deals with the social treatment of the criminal class is generally called penology, while the subdivision which treats of dependents and defectives is generally known as "charities" or "charitology."
It is evident that there are very close relations between the science of philanthropy and sociology. The elimination of hereditary defects, the overcoming of the social maladjustment of individuals, and the correction of defective social conditions, the three great tasks of scientific philanthropy, all require great knowledge of human society. The social or philanthropic worker, therefore, requires thorough equipment in sociology that he may approach his tasks aright.
The Relation of Sociology to Socialism.—Curiously enough sociology is often confused with socialism by those who pay but little attention to scientific matters. This comes from the fact that some of the adherents of socialism claim that socialism is a science. As a matter of fact, socialism is primarily a party program. It is the platform of a social and political party that has as the main tenet of its creed the abolition of private property in the means of production. Socialism, in other words, is a scheme to revolutionize the present order of society. It cannot claim to be a science in any sense, though it may rest upon theories which its adherents believe to be scientific. Sociology, on the other hand, is a science, and is concerned not with revolutionizing the social order, but with studying and understanding social conditions, especially the more fundamental conditions upon which social organization and social changes depend. As a science it aims simply at understanding society, at getting at the truth. It is no more related logically to socialism than to the platform of the Republican or the Democratic party.
The theories upon which revolutionary socialism rest may be proved or disproved by scientific sociology. It is perhaps too early to say finally whether sociology will pronounce the theoretical assumptions of socialism correct or incorrect; but so far as we can see it seems probable that the theories of social evolution advocated by the Marxian socialists at least will be pronounced erroneous. In any case, there is no logical connection between sociology as a science and socialism as a program for social reconstruction.
Nevertheless, there has been a close connection between sociology and socialism historically. It has been largely the agitations of the socialists and other radical social reformers which have called attention to the need of a scientific understanding of human society. The socialists and other radical reformers, in other words, have very largely set the problem which sociology attempts to solve. Practically, moreover, the indictments and charges of the socialists and anarchists against the present social order have made necessary some study of that order to see whether these charges were well founded or not. In this sense sociology may be said to be a scientific answer to socialism, not in the sense that sociology is devoted to refuting socialism, but in the sense that sociology has been devoted very largely to inquiring into many of the theoretical assumptions which revolutionary socialism makes.
The further relations of sociology to socialism will be taken up later. Here we are only concerned to have the reader see that there is a sharp distinction between the sociological movement on the one hand, that is, the movement to obtain fuller and more accurate knowledge concerning human social life, and the socialist movement, the movement to revolutionize the present social and economic order. Moreover, it may be remarked that while socialism seems to be mainly an economic program, it involves such total and radical reconstruction of social organization that in the long run the claims of socialism to a scientific validity must be passed upon by sociology rather than by economics.
The Relation of Sociology to Social Reform.—From what has been said it is also evident that sociology must not be confused with any particular social reform movement or with the movement for social reform in general. Sociology, as a science, cannot afford to be developed in the interest of any social reform. Certain social reforms, sociology may give its approval to; others it may designate as unwise; but this approval or disapproval will be simply incidental to its discovery of the full truth about human social relations. This is not saying, of course, that social theory should be divorced from social practice, or that the knowledge which sociology and the other social sciences offer concerning human society has no practical bearing upon present social conditions. On the contrary, while all science aims abstractly at the truth, all science is practical also in a deeper sense. No science would ever have been developed if it were not conceived that the knowledge which it discovers will ultimately be of benefit to man. All science exists, therefore, to benefit man, to enable him to master his environment, and the social sciences not less than the other sciences. The physical sciences have already enabled man to attain to a considerable mastery over his physical environment. When the social sciences have been developed it is safe to say that they will enable man not less to master his social environment. Therefore, while sociology and the special social sciences present as yet no program for action, aiming simply at the discovery of the abstract truth, they will undoubtedly in time bring about vast changes for the betterment of social conditions.
For Brief Reading:
WARD, Outlines of Sociology, Chaps. I-VIII. ROSS, The foundations of Sociology, Chaps. I and II. DEALEY, Sociology, Its simpler Teachings and Applications, Chap. I.
For More Extended Reading:
GIDDINGS, The Principles of Sociology, 3d edition. SMALL, General Sociology. SPENCER, The Study of Sociology. STUCKENBERG, Sociology: The Science of Human Society. WARD, Pure Sociology. American Journal of Sociology, many articles. For a fairly extensive bibliography on sociology, consult Howard's General Sociology: An Analytical Reference Syllabus.
THE BEARING OF THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION UPON SOCIAL PROBLEMS
Since Darwin wrote his Origin of Species all the sciences in any way connected with biology have been profoundly influenced by his theory of evolution. It is important that the student of sociology, therefore, should understand at the outset something of the bearing of Darwin's theory upon social problems.
We may note at the beginning, however, that the word evolution has two distinct, though related, meanings. First, it usually means Darwin's doctrine of descent; secondly, it is used to designate Spencer's theory of universal evolution. Let us note somewhat in detail what evolution means in the first of these senses.
The Darwinian Theory of Descent.—Darwin's theory of descent is the doctrine that all forms of life now existing or that have existed upon the earth have sprung from a few simple primitive types. According to this theory all forms of animals and plants have sprung from a few primitive stocks, though not necessarily one, because even in the beginning there may have existed a distinction at least between the plant and the animal types. So far as the animal world is concerned, then, this theory amounts to the assertion of the kinship of all life. From one or more simple primitive unicellular forms have arisen the great multitude of multicellular forms that now exist. Popularly, Darwin's theory is supposed to be that man sprang from the apes, but this, strictly speaking, is a misconception. Darwin's theory necessitates the belief, not that man sprang from any existing species of ape, but rather that the apes and man have sprung from some common stock. It is equally true, however, that man and many other of the lower animals, according to this theory, have come from a common stock. As was said above, the theory is not a theory of the descent of man from any particular animal type, but rather the theory of the kinship, the genetic relationship, of all animal species.
It is evident that if we assume Darwin's theory of descent in sociology we must look for the beginnings of many peculiarly human things in the animal world below man. Human institutions, according to this theory, could not be supposed to have an independent origin, or human society in any of its forms to be a fact by itself, but rather all human things are connected with the whole world of animal life below man. Thus if we are, according to this theory, to look for the origin of the family, we should have to turn first of all to the habits of animals nearest man. This is only one of the many bearings which Darwin's theory has upon the study of social problems; but it is evident even from this that it revolutionizes sociology. So long as it was possible to look upon human society as a distinct creation, as something isolated, by itself in nature, it was possible to hold to intellectualistic views of the origin of human institutions.
But some one may ask: Why should the sociologist accept Darwin's theory? What proofs does it rest upon? What warrant has a student of sociology for accepting a doctrine of such far-reaching consequences? The reply is, that biologists, generally, during the last fifty years, after a careful study of Darwin's arguments and after a careful examination of all other evidence, have come substantially to agree with him. There is no great biologist now living who does not accept the essentials of the doctrine of descent. Five lines of proof may be offered in support of Darwin's theories, and it may be well for us, as students of sociology, briefly to review these.
(1) The homologies or similarities of structure of different animals. There are very striking similarities of structure between all the higher animals. Between the ape and man, for example, there are over one hundred and fifty such anatomical homologies; that is, in the ape we find bone for bone, and muscle for muscle, corresponding to the structure of the human body. Even an animal so remotely related to man as the cat has many more resemblances to man in anatomical structure than dissimilarities. Now, the meaning of these anatomical homologies, biologists say, is that these animals are genetically related, that is, they had a common ancestry at some remote period in the past.
(2) The presence of vestigial organs in the higher animals supplies another argument for the belief in common descent. In man, for example, there exist over one hundred of these vestigial or rudimentary organs, as the vermiform appendix, the pineal gland, and the like. Many of these vestigal organs, which are now functionless in man, perform functions in lower animals, and this is held to show that at some remote period in the past they also functioned in man's ancestors.
(3) The facts of embryology seem to point to the descent of the higher types of animals from the lower types. The embryo or fetus in its development seems to recapitulate the various stages through which the species has passed. Thus the human embryo at one stage of its development resembles the fish; at another stage, the embryo of a dog; and for a long time it is impossible to distinguish between the human embryo and that of one of the larger apes. These embryological facts, biologists say, indicate genetic relation between the various animal forms which the embryo in its different stages simulates.
(4) The fossil remains of extinct species of animals are found in the earth's crust which are evidently ancestors of existing species. Until the doctrine of descent was accepted there was no way of explaining the presence of these fossil remains of extinct animals in the earth's crust. It was supposed by some that the earth had passed through a series of cataclysms in which all forms of life upon the earth had been many times destroyed and many times re-created. It is now demonstrated, however, that these fossils are related to existing species, and sometimes it is possible to trace back the evolution of existing forms to very primitive forms in this way. For example, it is possible to trace the horse, which is now an animal with a single hoof, walking on a single toe, back to an animal that walked upon four toes and had four hoofs and was not much larger than a fox. It is not so generally known that it is also possible to trace man back through fossil human remains that have been discovered in the earth's crust to the time when he is apparently just emerging from some apelike form. The latest discovery of the fossil remains of man made by Dr. Dubois in Java in 1894 shows a creature with about half the brain capacity of the existing civilized man and with many apelike characteristics. Thus we cannot except even man from the theory of evolution and suppose that he was especially created, as Alfred Russel Wallace, Darwin's contemporary and colaborer, and others, have supposed.
(5) The last line of argument in favor of the belief that all existing species have descended from a few simple primitive forms is found in the fact of the variation of animals through artificial selection under domestication. For generations breeders have known that by carefully selecting the type of animal or plant which they have desired, it is possible to produce approximately that type. Thus have originated all the breeds or varieties of domestic plants and animals. Now, Darwin conceived that nature also exercises a selection by weeding out those individuals that are not adapted to their environment. In other words, nature, though unconscious, selects in a negative way the stronger and the better adapted. Animals vary in nature as well as under domestication from causes not yet well understood. The variations that were favorable to survival, Darwin argued, would secure the survival, through the passing on of these variations by heredity of the better adapted types of plants and animals. The natural process of weeding out the inferior or least adapted through early death, or through failure to reproduce, Darwin called "natural selection", and likened it in its effect upon organisms to the artificial selection which breeders consciously use to secure types of plants or animals that they desire. The only great addition to Darwin's theories which has been made since he wrote is that of the Dutch botanist, Hugo de Vries, who has shown that the variations which are fruitful for the production of new species are probably great or discontinuous variations, which he terms "mutations," instead of the small fluctuating variations which Darwin thought were probably most important in the production of new species. De Vries' theory in no way affects the doctrine of descent, nor does it take away from the importance of natural selection in fixing the variations. Darwin's theory, therefore, stands in all of its essentials to-day unquestioned by men of science, and it must be assumed by the student of sociology in any attempt to explain social evolution.
Spencer's Theory of Universal Evolution.—A second meaning given to the word evolution is that which Spencer popularized in his First Principles. This is a philosophical theory of the universe which asserts that not only have species of animals come to be what they are through a process of development, but everything whatsoever that exists, from molecules of matter to stars and planets. It is the view that the universe is in a process of development. Evolution in this wider sense includes all existing things whatsoever, while evolution in the sense of Darwin's theory is confined to the organic world. While the theory that all things existing have through a process of orderly change come to be what they are, is a very old one, yet it was undoubtedly Spencer's writings which popularized the theory, and to Spencer we also owe the attempt in his Synthetic Philosophy to trace the working of evolution in all the different realms of phenomena. The belief in universal evolution which Spencer popularized has also come to be generally accepted by scientific and philosophical thinkers. While Spencer's particular theories of evolution may not be accepted, some form of universal evolution is very generally believed in. The thought of evolution now dominates all the sciences,—physical, biological, psychological, and sociological. It is evident that the student of society, if he accepts fully the modern scientific spirit, must also assume evolution in this second or universal sense.
The Different Phases of Universal Evolution.—It may be well, in order to correlate our knowledge of social evolution with knowledge in general, to note the different well-marked phases of universal evolution.
(1) Cosmic Evolution. This is the phase the astronomer and the geologist are particularly interested in. It deals with the evolution of worlds. In this phase we are dealing merely with physical matter, and it is supposed that the active principle which works in this phase of evolution is the attraction of particles of matter for one another. This leads to the condensation of matter into suns and their planets, and the geological evolution of the earth, for example. Laplace's nebular hypothesis is an attempt to give an adequate statement of the cosmic phase of evolution. While this hypothesis has been much criticized of late, in its essentials it seems to stand. We are not, however, as students of society, concerned with this phase of evolution.
(2) Organic Evolution. This is the phase of evolution with which Darwin dealt and which biology, as a science of evolution of living forms, deals with. The great merit of Darwin's work was that he showed that the active principle in this phase of evolution is natural selection; that is, the extermination of the unadapted through death or through failure to reproduce. Types unsuited to their environment thus die before reproduction. The stronger and better fitted survive, and thus the type is raised. Natural selection may be regarded, then, as essentially the creative force in this phase of evolution.
(3) The Evolution of Mind. This might be included in organic evolution, but all organisms do not apparently have minds. It is evident that among animals those that would stand the best chance of surviving would not be simply those that have the strongest brute strength, but rather those that have the keenest intelligence and that could adapt themselves quickly to their environment, that could see approaching danger and escape it. Natural selection has, therefore, favored in the animal world the survival of those animals with the highest type of intelligence. It cannot be said, however, that natural selection is the only force which has created the mind in all its various expressions.
(4) Social Evolution. By social evolution we mean the evolution of groups, or, in strict accordance with our definition of society, groups of psychically interconnected individuals. Groups are to be found throughout the animal world, and it is in the human species, as we have already seen, that the highest types of association are found. This is not an accident. Association, or living together in groups, has been one of the devices by which animal species have been enabled to survive. It is evident that not only would intelligence help an animal to survive more than brute strength, but that ability to cooperate with one's fellows would also help in the same way. Consequently we find a degree of combination or coperation almost at the very beginning of life, and it is without doubt through coperation that man has become the dominant and supreme species upon the planet. Man's social instincts, in other words, have been perhaps even more important for his survival than his intelligence. The man who lies, cheats, and steals, or who indulges in other unsocial conduct sets himself against his group and places his group at a disadvantage as compared with other groups. Now, natural selection is continually operating upon groups as well as upon individuals, and the group which can command the most loyal, most efficient membership, and has the best organization, is, other things being equal, the group which survives. Natural selection is, then, active in social evolution as well as in general organic evolution. But the distinctive principle of social evolution is coperation. In other words, it is sympathetic feeling, altruism, which has made the higher types of social evolution possible.
While the same factors are at work in the higher phases of evolution which are at work in the lower phases, yet it is evident that the higher phases have new and distinct factors. Sociology, being especially concerned with social evolution, has a new and distinct factor at work which we may call association, coperation, or combination, and this it is which gives sociology its distinct place in the list of general sciences.
Factors In Organic Evolution.—As has already been said, the factors which are at work in organic evolution generally are also at work in social evolution. We need, therefore, to note these factors carefully and to see how they are at work in human society as well as in the animal world below man. While these factors are not all of the factors which are at work in social evolution, still they are the primitive factors, and are, therefore, of fundamental importance. Let us see what these factors are.
(1) The Multiplication of Organisms in Some Geometric Ratio through Reproduction. It is a law of life that every species must increase so that the number of offspring exceeds the number of parents if the species is to survive. If the offspring only equal in number the parents, some of them will die before maturity is reached or will fail to reproduce, and so the species will gradually become extinct. Every species normally increases, therefore, in some geometric ratio. Now, this tendency to reproduce in some geometric ratio, which characterizes all living organisms, means that any species, if left to itself, would soon reach such numbers as to occupy the whole earth. Darwin showed, for example, that though the elephant is the slowest breeding of all animals, if every elephant lived its normal length of life (one hundred years) and to every pair were born six offspring, then, at the end of seven hundred years there would be nineteen million living elephants descended from a single pair. This illustration shows the enormous possibilities of any species reproducing in geometric ratio, as all species in order to survive must do.
That this tendency to increase in some geometric ratio applies also to man is evident from all of the facts which we know concerning human populations. It is not infrequent for a people to double its numbers every twenty-five years. If this were continued for any length of time, it is evident that a single nation could soon populate the whole earth.
(2) Heredity. Heredity in organic evolution secures a continuity of the species or racial type. By heredity is meant the resemblance between parent and offspring. It is the law that like begets like. Offspring born of a species belong to that species, and usually resemble their parents more closely even than other members of the species.
It is evident that heredity is at work also in human society as well as in the animal world. We do not expect that the children born of parents of one race, for example, will belong to another race. Racial heredity is one of the most significant facts of human society, and even family heredity counts in its influence far more than some have supposed.
(3) Variation. This factor in organic evolution means that no two individuals, even though born of the same parents, are exactly like each other. Neither are they of a type exactly between their two parents, as theoretically they should be, since inheritance is equal from both parents. Every new individual born in the organic world, while it resembles its parents and belongs to its species or race, varies within certain limits. This variation so runs through organic nature that we are told that there are no two leaves on a single tree exactly alike. The result of this variation, the causes of which are not yet well understood, is that some individuals vary in favorable directions, others in unfavorable directions. Some are born strong, some weak; some inferior, some superior.
It is evident that variation characterizes the human species quite as much as other species, and indeed the limits of variation are wider, probably, in the human species than in any other species. Man is the most variable of all animals, and human individuality and personality owe not a little of their distinctiveness to this fact.
(4) The Struggle for Existence. Individuals in all species, as we have seen, are born in larger numbers than is necessary. The result is that a competition is entered into between species and individuals within the species for place and for existence. This competition or struggle results in the dying out of the inferior, that is, of those who are not adapted to their environment. The gradual dying out of the inferior or unadapted through competition results in the survival of the superior or better adapted, and ultimately in the survival of the fittest or those most adapted. Thus the type is raised, and we have evolution through natural selection, that is, through the elimination of the unfit.
Some have thought that this struggle for existence which is so evident in the animal world does not take place in human society. This, however, is a mistake. The struggle for existence in human society is not an unmitigated one, as it seems to be very often in the animal world, but it is nevertheless a struggle which has the same consequences. In the human world the competition, except in the lower classes, is not so much for food, as it is for position and for supremacy. But this struggle for place and power results in human society in the weak and inferior going to the wall, and therefore ultimately in their elimination. In all essential respects, then, the struggle for existence goes on in human society as it does in the animal world. This means that in society, as in the animal world, progress comes primarily through the elimination of unfit individuals. The unfit in human society, as we shall see, are especially those who cannot adapt themselves to their social environment. Progress in society, in a certain sense, waits upon death, as it does in all the rest of the animal world. Death is the means by which the stream of life is purged from its inferior and unfit elements.
(5) Another Factor in Organic Evolution is Coperation, or altruism, as we have already called it. As Henry Drummond has said, this is the struggle not for one's own life but for the lives of others. Really, however, it is a device which enables a group of individuals to struggle more successfully with the adverse factors in their environment. Something of coperation,—that is, a group of individuals carrying on a common life,—is found almost at the beginning of life, and, as we rise in the scale of animal creation, the amount of coperation and of altruistic feelings which accompany it very greatly increases. Perhaps the chief source of this coperation is to be found in the rearing of offspring. The family group, even in the lower animals, seems to be the chief source of altruism. At any rate, sympathetic or altruistic instincts grow up in all animals, probably chiefly through the necessities of reproduction.
It is only in human social life that coperation, or altruism, attains its full development. Human society is characterized by the protection it affords to its weaker members, and in human society the natural process of eliminating the inferior often seems reversed. As Huxley has pointed out, human society tries to fit as many as possible to survive, and we may add, not only to survive, but to live well. Altruism and its resulting coperation have come especially to characterize human social evolution. To some extent this is due, no doubt, to the necessities of group survival; for only that nation, for example, can survive that can maintain the most loyal citizenship, the best institutions, and the largest spirit of self-sacrifice in its members. Human social groups, therefore, try to fit as many individuals as possible for the most efficient membership, and this necessitates caring for the temporarily weak, and also for the permanently incapacitated, in order that the sentiments of social solidarity may be strengthened to their utmost.
It is evident, then, that all the factors at work in organic evolution are at work also in social evolution, though in some part modified and varying in degree. The struggle for existence in human society, for example, has been greatly modified from the condition in the early animal world, while coperation, or altruism, is much more highly developed. Nevertheless, these factors of organic evolution are at work in social evolution and must be taken into full account by the student of social problems. Social evolution rests upon organic evolution.
Some Effects upon Industry.—These factors in organic evolution express themselves more or less in the industrial phase of human society. Thus, the first factor, the multiplication of organisms through reproduction in some geometric ratio, was first studied by Malthus, an economist in the beginning of the nineteenth century, and exclusively with reference to its effect upon economic conditions. Malthus perceived the tendency for human beings to multiply in some geometric ratio where food supply was sufficiently abundant, and argued from this that if better wages, and so a larger food supply, were given the lower classes, they would multiply so much more rapidly that worse poverty would result than before. There is no doubt that in certain classes of human society there is a tendency for population to press against food supply, and it is in these classes that the struggle for existence takes on its most animal-like forms.
Again, the struggle for existence is continually illustrated in the world of human industry. Not only do individuals lose place and power because they are unadapted to their environment, but also economic groups, such as corporations, show the natural competition or struggle for existence sometimes in its most intense form. The result in all cases is the dying out of the least adapted and the survival of the better adapted. Thus, through competition and the survival of the better adapted we secure in industry the evolution of higher types of industrial organization, industrial methods, and the like, just as higher types are secured in the same way in the animal world. Again, in economic matters, as in other social affairs, coperation continually comes in to modify competition and to lift it to a higher plane. Just as the higher type of societies has been characterized by higher types of coperation, so it is safe to say that the higher types of industry are characterized by higher types of coperation. And while, as we shall see later, coperation can never displace competition in industry any more than elsewhere in life, yet increasing coperation characterizes the higher types of industry as well as the higher types of society.
A word of caution is perhaps necessary against confusing the economic struggle as it exists in modern society with the natural struggle under primitive conditions. It is evident that in present society the economic struggle has been greatly changed in character from the primitive struggle, and therefore can no longer have the same results. Laws of inheritance, of taxation, and many other artificial economic conditions, have greatly interfered with the natural struggle. The rich and economically successful are therefore by no means to be confused with the biologically fit. On the contrary, many of the economically successful are such simply through artificial advantageous circumstances, and from the standpoint of biology and sociology they are often among the less fit, rather than the more fit, elements of society.
A Brief Survey of Social Evolution from the Biological Standpoint.—In order to sum up and make clear some of the principal applications to social evolution of the biological principles just stated we shall endeavor to state in a brief way some of the salient features of social evolution from the biological standpoint.
From the very beginning there has been no such thing as unmitigated individual struggle among animals. Nowhere in nature does pure individualism exist in the sense that the individual animal struggles alone, except perhaps in a few solitary species which are apparently on the way to extinction. The assumption of such a primitive individual struggle has been at the bottom of many erroneous views of human society. The primary conflict is between species. A secondary conflict, however, is always found between the members of the same species. Usually this conflict within the species is a competition between groups. The human species exactly illustrates these statements. Primitively its great conflict was with other species of animals. The supremacy of man over the rest of the animal world was won only after an age-long conflict between man and his animal rivals. While this conflict went on there was apparently but little struggle within the species itself. The lowest groups of which we have knowledge, while continually struggling against nature, are rarely at war with one another. But after man had won his supremacy and the population of groups came to increase so as to encroach seriously upon food supply, and even on territorial limits of space, then a conflict between human groups, which we call war, broke out and became almost second nature to man. It needs to be emphasized, however, that the most primitive groups are not warlike, but only those that have achieved their supremacy over nature and attained considerable size. In other words, the struggle between groups which we call war was occasioned very largely by numbers and food supply. To this extent at least war primitively arose from economic conditions, and it is remarkable how economic conditions have been instrumental in bringing about all the great wars of recorded human history.
The conflict among human groups, which we call war, has had an immense effect upon human social evolution. Five chief effects must be noted.
(1) Intergroup struggle gave rise to higher forms of social organization, because only those groups could succeed in competition with other groups that were well organized, and especially only those that had competent leadership.
(2) Government, as we understand the word, was very largely an outcome of the necessities of this intergroup struggle, or war. As we have already seen, the groups that were best organized, that had the most competent leadership, would stand the best chance of surviving. Consequently the war leader or chief soon came, through habit, to be looked upon as the head of the group in all matters. Moreover, the exigencies and stresses of war frequently necessitated giving the war chief supreme authority in times of danger, and from this, without doubt, arose despotism in all of its forms. The most primitive tribes are republican or democratic in their form of government, but it has been found that despotic forms of government rapidly take the place of the primitive democratic type, where a people are continually at war with other peoples.
(3) A third result of war in primitive times was the creation of social classes. After a certain stage was reached groups tried not so much to exterminate one another as to conquer and absorb one another. This was, of course, after agriculture had been developed and slave labor had reached a considerable value. Under such circumstances a conquered group would be incorporated by the conquerors as a slave or subject class. Later, this enslaved class may have become partially free as compared with some more recently subjugated or enslaved classes, and several classes in this way could emerge in a group through war or conquest. Moreover, the presence of these alien and subject elements in a group necessitated a stronger and more centralized government to keep them in control, and this was again one way in which war favored a development of despotic governments. Later, of course, economic conditions gave rise to classes, and to certain struggles between the classes composing a people.
(4) Not only was social and political organization and the evolution of classes favored by intergroup struggle, but also the evolution of morality. The group that could be most efficiently organized would be, other things being equal, the group which had the most loyal and most self-sacrificing membership. The group that lacked a group spirit, that is, strong sentiments of solidarity and harmonious relations between its members, would be the group that would be apt to lose in conflict with other groups, and so its type would tend to be eliminated. Consequently in all human groups we find recognition of certain standards of conduct which are binding as between members of the same group. For example, while a savage might incur no odium through killing a member of another group, he was almost always certain to incur either death or exile through killing a member of his own group. Hence arose a group code of ethics founded very largely upon the conceptions of kinship or blood relationship, which bound all members of a primitive group to one another.
(5) A final consequence of war among human groups has been the absorption of weaker groups and the growth of larger and larger political groups, until in modern times a few great nations dominate the population of the whole world. That this was not the primitive condition, we know from human history and from other facts which indicate the disappearance of a vast number of human groups in the past. The earth is a burial ground of tribes and natrons as well as of individuals. In the competition between human groups, only a few that have had efficient organization and government, loyal membership and high standards of conduct within the group, have survived. The number of peoples that have perished in the past is impossible to estimate. But we can get some inkling of the number by the fact that philologists estimate that for every living language there are twenty dead languages. When we remember that a language not infrequently stands for several groups with related cultures, we can guess the immense number of human societies that have perished in the past in this intergroup competition.
Even though war passes away entirely, nations can never escape this competition with one another. While the competition may not be upon the low and brutal plane of war, it will certainly go on upon the higher plane of commerce and industry, and will probably be on this higher plane quite as decisive in the life of peoples in future as war was in the past.
While the primary struggle within the human species has been in the historic period between nations and races, this is not saying, of course, that struggle and competition have not gone on within these larger groups. On the contrary, as has already been implied, a continual struggle has gone on between classes, first perhaps of racial origin, and later of economic origin. Also there is within the nation a struggle between parties and sects, and sometimes between "sections" and communities. Usually, however, the struggle within the nation is a peaceful one and does not come to bloodshed.
Again, within each of these minor groups that we have mentioned struggle and competition in some modified form goes on between its members. Thus within a party or class there is apt to be a struggle or competition between factions. There is, indeed, no human group that is free from struggle or competition between its members, unless it be the family. The family seems to be so constituted that normally there is no competition between its members,—at least, there is good ground tor believing that competition between the members of a family is to be considered exceptional, or even abnormal.
From what has been said it is evident that competition and coperation are twin principles in the evolution of social groups. While competition characterizes in the main the relation between groups, especially independent political groups, and while coperation characterizes in the main the relation of the members of a given group to one another, still competition and coperation are correlatives in practically every phase of the social life. Some degree of competition, for example, has to be maintained by every group between its members if it is going to maintain high standards of efficiency or of loyalty. If there were no competition with respect to the matters that concern the inner life of groups, it is evident that the groups would soon lose efficiency in leadership and in membership and would sooner or later be eliminated. Consequently society, from certain points of view, presents itself to the student at the present time as a vast competition, while from other standpoints it presents itself as a vast coperation.
It follows from this that competition and coperation are both equally important in the life of society. It has been a favorite idea that competition among human beings should be done away with, and that coperation should be substituted to take its place entirely. It is evident, however, that this idea is impossible of realization. If a social group were to check all competition between its members, it would stop thereby the process of natural selection or of the elimination of the unfit, and, as a consequence, would soon cease to progress. If some scheme of artificial selection were substituted to take the place of natural selection, it is evident that competition would still have to be retained to determine who were the fittest. A society that would give positions of trust and responsibility to individuals without imposing some competitive test upon them would be like a ship built partially of good and partially of rotten wood,—it would soon go to pieces.
This leads us to emphasize the continued necessity of selection in society. No doubt natural selection is often a brutal and wasteful means of eliminating the weak in human societies, and no doubt human reason might devise superior means of bringing about the selection of individuals which society must maintain. To some extent it has done this through systems of education and the like, which are, in the main, selective processes for picking out the most competent individuals to perform certain social functions. But the natural competition, or struggle between individuals, has not been done away with, especially in economic matters, and it is evidently impossible to do away with it until some vast scheme of artificial selection can take its place. Such a scheme is so far in the future that it is hardly worth talking about. The best that society can apparently do at the present time is to regulate the natural competition between individuals, and this it is doing increasingly.
What people rightfully object to is, not competition, but unregulated or unfair competition. In the interest of solidarity, that is, in the interest of the life of the group as a whole, all forms of competition in human society should be so regulated that the rules governing the competition may be known and the competition itself public. It is evident that in politics and in business we are very far from this ideal as yet, although society is unquestionably moving toward it.
A word in conclusion about the nature of moral codes and standards from the social point of view. It is evident that moral codes from the social point of view are simply formulations of standards of conduct which groups find it convenient or necessary to impose upon their members. Even morality, in an idealistic sense, seems from a sociological standpoint to be those forms of conduct which conduce to social harmony, to social efficiency, and so to the survival of the group. Groups, however, as we have already pointed out, cannot do as they please. They are always hard-pressed in competition by other groups and have to meet the standards of efficiency which nature imposes. Morality, therefore, is not anything arbitrarily designed by the group, but is a standard of conduct which necessities of social survival require. In other words, the right, from the point of view of natural science, is that which ultimately conduces to survival, not of the individual, but of the group or of the species. This is looking at morality, of course, from the sociological point of view, and in no way denies the religious and metaphysical view of morality, which may be equally valid from a different standpoint.
Finally, we need to note that natural selection does not necessitate in any mechanical sense certain conduct on the part of individuals or groups. Rather, natural selection marks the limits of variation which nature permits, and within those limits of variation there is a large amount of freedom of choice, both to individuals and to groups. Human societies, therefore, may be conceivably free to take one of several paths of development at any particular point. But in the long run they must conform to the ultimate conditions of survival; and this probably means that the goal of their evolution is largely fixed for them. Human groups are free only in the sense that they may go either backward or forward on the path which the conditions of survival mark out for them. They are free to progress or to perish. But social evolution in any case, in the sense of social change either toward higher or toward lower social adaptation, is a necessity that cannot be escaped. Sociology and all social science is, therefore, a study not of what human groups would like to do, but of what they must do in order to survive, that is, how they can control their environment by utilizing the laws which govern universal evolution.
From this brief and most elementary consideration of the bearings of evolutionary theory upon social problems it is evident that evolution, in the sense of what we know about the development of life and society in the past, must be the guidepost of the sociologist. Human social evolution, we repeat, rests upon and is conditioned by biological evolution at every point. There is, therefore, scarcely any sanity in sociology without the biological point of view.
For brief reading:
FAIRBANKS, Introduction to Sociology, Chaps. XIV.-XV. JORDAN, Foot-Notes to Evolution, Chaps. I.-III. ELY, Evolution of Industrial Society. Part II, Chaps. I.-III.
For more extended reading:
DARWIN, Descent of Man. FISKE, Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy. WALLACE, Darwinism.
On the religious aspects of evolution:
DRUMMOND, Ascent of Man. FISKE, The Destiny of Man. FISKE, Through Nature to God.
THE FUNCTION OF THE FAMILY IN SOCIAL ORGANIZATION
Instead of continuing the study of social evolution in general it will be best now, before we take up some of the problems of modern society, to study the evolution of some important social institution, because in so doing we can see more clearly the working of the biological and psychological forces which have brought about the evolution of human institutions. An institution, as has already been said, is a sanctioned grouping or relation in society. Now, there can be scarcely any doubt that the two most important institutions of human society are the family and property. In Western civilization these take the form of the monogamic family and of private property. It is upon these two institutions that our civilization rests. The state is a third very important institution in society, but it exists largely for the sake of protecting the family and property.
Of the two institutions, the family and property, the family is without doubt prior in time and more fundamental,—more important in human association. We shall, therefore, study very briefly the origin and development of the family as a human institution in order to illustrate some of the principles of social evolution in general. But before we can take up the question of the origin of the family it will be well for us to see just what the function of this institution is in the human society of the present, in order to justify the assertion just made that it is the most important and fundamental institution of humanity.
The Family the Primary Social Institution.—Let us note first of all that in society, as it exists at present, the family is the simplest group capable of maintaining itself. It is, therefore, we may say, the primary social structure. Because it contains both sexes and all ages it is capable of reproducing itself, and so of reproducing society. For the same reason it contains practically all social relations in miniature. It has therefore often been called, and rightly, "the social microcosm". The relations of superiority, subordination, and equality, which enter so largely into the structure of all social institutions, are especially clearly illustrated in the family in the relations of parents to children, of children to parents, of parents to each other, and of children to one another. Comte, for this reason, claimed that the family was the unit of social organization, not the individual. However this may be, it is evident that families do enter, as units, very largely into our social and industrial life. While the tendency may be to make the individual the unit of modern society, it is nevertheless true that the family remains the simplest social structure in society, and from it, in some sense, all other social relations whatsoever are evolved.
The Family Differs from All Other Social Institutions, however, in two respects: First, its members have their places fixed in the family group by their organic natures, that is, the relations of husband and wife, parent and child, rest upon biological differences and relations, so that one may say that the family is almost as much a biological structure as it is a social structure. This is not, to any extent, true of other institutions. Secondly, the family is not a product, so far as we can see, of other forms of association, but rather it itself produces these other forms of association. The family, in other words, is not a result of social organization in general, but seems rather to antedate both historically and logically the forms of social life. It is not a product of society, but it itself produces society.
THE PRIMARY FUNCTION OF THE FAMILY is continuing the life of the species; that is, the primary function of the family is reproduction in the sense of the birth and rearing of children. While other functions of the family have been delegated in a large measure to other social institutions, it is manifest that this function cannot be so delegated. At least we know of no human society in which the birth and rearing of children has not been the essential function of the family. From a sociological point of view the childless family is a failure. While the childless family may be of social utility to the individuals that form it, nevertheless from the point of view of society such a family has failed to perform its most important function and must be considered, therefore, socially a failure.
The Function of the Family in Conserving the Social Order.—The family is still the chief institution in society for transmitting from one generation to another social possessions of all sorts. Property in the form of land or houses or personal property, society permits the family to pass along from generation to generation. Thus, also, the material equipment for industry, that is capital, is so transmitted. While it is obvious that the material goods of society are thus transmitted by the family from one generation to another, it is perhaps not quite so obvious, but equally true, that the spiritual possessions of the race are also thus transmitted. For example, language is very largely transmitted in the family, and students tell us that each family has its own peculiar dialect. Literature, ideas, beliefs on government, law, religion, moral standards, artistic tastes and appreciation—all of these are still largely transmitted in society from one generation to another through the family. While public institutions, such as libraries, art galleries, universities, scientific museums, and the like, are often adopted to conserve and transmit these spiritual possessions of the race, yet it is safe to say that if it were possible for society to depend upon these institutions to transmit knowledge, artistic standards, and moral ideals, there would be great discontinuity in social life. The family has been in the past, and is still, the great conserving agency in human society, preserving and transmitting from generation to generation both the material and spiritual possessions of the race.