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CHAPTER 19: Conflict as a Factor in Social Evolution - Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis 
Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, trans. J. Kahane, Foreword by F.A. Hayek (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
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Conflict as a Factor in Social Evolution
The Cause of Social Evolution
The simplest way to depict the evolution of society is to show the distinction between two evolutionary tendencies which are related to each other in the same way as intension and extension. Society develops subjectively and objectively; subjectively by enlarging its membership, objectively by enlarging the aims of its activities. Originally confined to the narrowest circles of people, to immediate neighbours, the division of labour gradually becomes more general until eventually it includes all mankind. This process, still far from complete and never at any point in history completed, is finite. When all men on earth form a unitary system of division of labour, it will have reached its goal. Side by side with this extension of the social bond goes a process of intensification. Social action embraces more and more aims; the area in which the individual provides for his own consumption becomes constantly narrower. We need not pause at this stage to ask whether this process will eventually result in the specialization of all productive activity.
Social development is always a collaboration for joint action; the social relationship always means peace, never war. Death-dealing actions and war are anti-social.43 All those theories which regard human progress as an outcome of conflicts between human groups have overlooked this truth.
The individual’s fate is determined unequivocally by his Being. Everything that is has necessarily proceeded from his Becoming, and everything that will be results necessarily from that which is. The situation at any given moment is the consummation of history.44 He who understood it completely would be able to foresee the whole future. For a long time it was thought necessary to exclude human volition and action from the determination of events, for the special significance of “imputation”—that thought-process peculiar to all rational action—had not been grasped. It was believed that causal explanation was incompatible with imputation. This is no longer so. Economics, the Philosophy of Law, and Ethics have cleared up the problem of imputation sufficiently to remove the old misunderstandings.
If, to simplify our study, we analyse the unity we call the individual into certain complexes it must be clearly understood that only the heuristic value of the division can justify our doing so. Attempts to separate, according to external characteristics, what is essentially similar can never survive ultimate examination. Only subject to this admission can we proceed to group the determinants of individual life.
That which man brings into the world at birth, the innate, we call racial inheritance or, for short, the race.45 The innate in man is the precipitate of the history of all his ancestors, their fate, and all their experiences. The life and fate of the individual do not start at birth, but stretch back into the infinite, unimaginable past. The descendant inherits from the ancestors; this fact is outside the sphere of the dispute over the inheritance of acquired characteristics.
After birth, direct experience begins. The individual begins to be influenced by his environment. Together with what is innate, this influence produces the individual’s Being in each moment of his life. The environment is natural in the form of soil, climate, nourishment, fauna, flora, in short, external natural surroundings. It is social in the shape of society. The social forces acting on the individual are language, his position in the process of work and exchange, ideology and the forces of compulsion: unrestrained and ordered coercion. The ordered organization of coercion we call the State.
Since Darwin we have been inclined to regard the dependence of human life on natural environment as a struggle against antagonistic forces. There was no objection to this as long as people did not transfer the figurative expression to a field where it was quite out of place and was bound to cause grave errors. When the formulas of Darwinism, which had sprung from ideas taken over by Biology from Social Science, reverted to Social Science, people forgot what the ideas had originally meant. Thus arose that monstrosity, sociological Darwinism, which, ending in a romantic glorification of war and murder, was peculiarly responsible for the overshadowing of liberal ideas and for creating the mental atmosphere which led to the World War and the social struggles of today.
It is well known that Darwin was under the influence of Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population. But Malthus was far from believing struggle to be a necessary social institution. Even Darwin, when he speaks of the struggle for existence, does not always mean the destructive combat of living creatures, the life or death struggle for feeding places and females. He often uses the expression figuratively to show the dependence of living beings on each other and on their surroundings.46 It is a misunderstanding to take the phrase quite literally, for it is a metaphor. The confusion is worse confounded when people equate the struggle for existence with the war of extermination between human beings, and proceed to construct a social theory based on the necessity of struggle.
The Malthusian Theory of Population is—what its critics, ignorant of sociology, always overlook—merely a part of the social theory of Liberalism. Only within such a framework can it be understood. The core of liberal social theory is the theory of the division of labour. Only side by side with this can one make use of the Law of Population to interpret social conditions. Society is the union of human beings for the better exploitation of the natural conditions of existence; in its very conception it abolishes the struggle between human beings and substitutes the mutual aid which provides the essential motive of all members united in an organism. Within the limits of society there is no struggle, only peace. Every struggle suspends in effect the social community. Society as a whole, as organism, does fight a struggle for existence against forces inimical to it. But inside, as far as society has absorbed individuals completely, there is only collaboration. For society is nothing but collaboration. Within modern society even war cannot break all social ties. Some remain, though loosened, in a war between states which acknowledge the binding force of International Law. Thus a fragment of peace survives even in wartime.
Private ownership in the means of production is the regulating principle which, within society, balances the limited means of subsistence at society’s disposal with the less limited ability of the consumers to increase. By making the share in the social product which falls to each member of society depend on the product economically imputed to him, that is, to his labour and his property, the elimination of surplus human beings by the struggle for existence, as it rages in the vegetable and animal kingdom, is replaced by a reduction in the birth-rate as a result of social forces. “Moral restraint,” the limitations of offspring imposed by social positions, replaces the struggle for existence.
In society there is no struggle for existence. It is a grave error to suppose that the logically developed social theory of liberalism could lead to any other conclusion. Certain isolated phrases in Malthus’s essay, which might be interpreted otherwise, are easily accounted for by the fact that Malthus composed the original incomplete draft of his famous first work before he had completely absorbed the spirit of Classical Political Economy. As proof that his doctrine permits of no other interpretation, it may be pointed out that, before Spencer and Darwin, no one thought of looking on the struggle for existence (in the modern sense of the expression) as a principle active within human society. Darwinism first suggested the theories which regard the struggle of individuals, races, nations, and classes as the basic social element; and it was in Darwinism, which had originated in the intellectual circle of liberal social theory, that people now found weapons to fight the Liberalism they abhorred. In Darwin’s hypothesis, long regarded as irrefutable scientific fact, Marxism,47 Racial Mysticism,48 and Nationalism found, as they believed, an unshakable foundation for their teachings. modern Imperialism especially relies on the catchwords coined by popular science out of Darwinism.
The Darwinian—or more correctly, pseudo-Darwinian-social theories have never realized the main difficulty involved in applying to social relations their catchwords about the struggle for existence. In Nature it is individuals who struggle for existence. It is exceptional to find in Nature phenomena which could be interpreted as struggles between animal groups. There are, of course, the fights between groups of ants—though here we may be one day obliged to adopt explanations very different from those hitherto accepted.49 A social theory that was founded on Darwinism would either come to the point of declaring that the war of all against all was the natural and necessary form of human intercourse, thus denying that any social bonds were possible; or it would have, on the one hand, to show why peace does and must reign within certain groups and yet, on the other, to prove that the principle of peaceful union which leads to the formation of these associations is ineffective beyond the circle of the group, so that the groups among themselves must struggle. This is precisely the rock on which all non-liberal social theories founder. If one recognizes a principle which results in the union of all Germans, all Dolichocephalics or all Proletarians and forms a special nation, race, or class out of individuals, then this principle cannot be proved to be effective only within the collective groups. The anti-liberal social theories skim over the problem by confining themselves to the assumption that the solidarity of interests within the groups is so self-evident as to be accepted without further discussion, and by taking pains only to prove the existence of the conflict of interests between groups and the necessity of conflict as the sole dynamic force of historical development. But if war is to be the father of all things, the fruitful source of historical progress, it is difficult to see why its fruitful activity should be restricted within states, nations, races, and classes. If Nature needs war, why not the war of all against all, why merely the war of all groups against all groups? The only theory which explains how peace is possible between individuals and how society grows out of individuals is the liberal social theory of the division of labour. But the acceptance of this theory makes it impossible to believe the enmity of collective groups to be necessary. If Brandenburgers and Hanoverians live in society peacefully side by side, why cannot Germans and Frenchmen do so too?
Sociological Darwinism is unable to explain the phenomenon of the rise of society. It is not a social theory, but “a theory of unsociability.”50
A fact which clearly exposes the decay of sociological thought in recent decades, is that people now begin to combat sociological Darwinism by pointing to examples of mutual aid (symbiosis) which, Biology has only lately discovered in the vegetable and animal kingdoms. Kropotkin, a defiant antagonist of liberal social theory, who never understood what he rejected and combated, found among animals the rudiments of social ties and set these up in opposition to conflict, contrasting the beneficial principle of mutual aid with the harmful principle of war-to-the-knife.51 Kammerer, a biologist enslaved by the ideas of Marxist Socialism, demonstrated that in addition to conflict the principle of aid dominates life in Nature.52 At this point Biology returns to its starting-point, Sociology. It hands back the principle of divided labour given it by Sociology. It teaches Sociology nothing new, nothing essential that had not been included in the theory of the division of labour as defined by the despised Classical Political Economy.
Conflict and Competition
The social theories which are based on natural law start from the dogma that human beings are equal. Since all men are equal, they are supposed to have a natural claim to be treated as members of society with full rights, and, because everybody has a natural right to live, it would be a violation of right to try to take his life. Thus are formulated the postulates of the all-inclusiveness of society, of equality within society, and of peace. Liberal theory, on the other hand, deduces these principles from utility. To Liberalism the concepts man and social man are the same. Society welcomes as members all who can see the benefit of peace and social collaboration in work. It is to the personal advantage of every individual that he should be treated as a citizen with equal rights. But the man who, ignoring the advantages of peaceful collaboration, prefers to fight and refuses to fit himself into the social order, must be fought like a dangerous animal. It is necessary to take up this attitude against the anti-social criminal and savage tribes. Liberalism can approve of war only as a defence. For the rest it sees in war the anti-social principle by which social co-operation is annihilated.
By confusing the fundamental difference between fighting and competition, the anti-liberal social theories sought to discredit the liberal principle of peace. In the original sense of the word, “fight” means the conflict of men and animals in order to destroy each other. Man’s social life begins with the overcoming of instincts and considerations which impel him to fight to the death. History shows us a constant retreat from conflict as a form of human relations. Fights become less intense and less frequent. The defeated opponent is no longer destroyed; if society can find a way of absorbing him, his life is spared. Fighting itself is bound by rules and is thus somewhat mitigated. Nevertheless war and revolution remain the instruments of destruction and annihilation. For this reason Liberalism never ceases to stress the fact that they are anti-social.
It is merely a metaphor to call competition competitive war, or simply, war. The function of battle is destruction; of competition, construction. Economic competition provides that production shall be carried on in the most rational manner. Here, as everywhere else, its task is the selection of the best. It is a fundamental principle of social collaboration which cannot be thought out of the picture. Even a socialist community could not exist without it in some form, though it might be necessary to introduce it in the guise, say, of examinations. The efficiency of a socialist order of life would depend on its ability to make the competition sufficiently ruthless and keen to be properly selective.
There are three points of comparison which serve to explain the metaphorical use of the word “fight” for competition. In the first place it is clear that enmity and conflict of interests exist between the opponents in a fight as they do between competitors. The hate which a small shopkeeper feels for his immediate competitor may be no less in degree than the hate which a Moslem inspired in a Montenegrin. But the feelings responsible for men’s actions have no bearing on the social function of these actions. What the individual feels does not matter as long as the limits set by the social order inhibit his actions.
The second point of comparison is found in the selective function of both fighting and competition. To what extent fighting is capable of making the best selection is open to question; later we shall show that many people ascribe anti-selective effects to wars and revolutions.53 But because they both fulfil a selective function one must not forget that there is an essential difference between fighting and competition.
The third point of comparison is sought in the consequences which defeat lays on the vanquished. People say that the vanquished are destroyed, not reflecting that they use the word destruction in the one case only figuratively. Whoever is defeated in fight is killed; in modern war, even where the surviving vanquished are spared, blood flows. People say that in the competitive struggle, economic lives are destroyed. This, however, merely means that those who succumb are forced to seek in the structure of the social division of labour a position other than the one they would like to occupy. It does not by any means signify that they are to starve. In the capitalist society there is a place and bread for all. Its ability to expand provides sustenance for every worker. Permanent unemployment is not a feature of free capitalism.
Fighting in the actual original sense of the word is anti-social. It renders co-operation, which is the basic element of the social relation, impossible among the fighters, and where the co-operation already exists, destroys it. Competition is an element of social collaboration, the ruling principle within the social body. Viewed sociologically, fighting and competition are extreme contrasts.
The realization of this provides a criterion for judging all those theories which regard social evolution as a fight between conflicting groups. Class struggle, race conflicts, and national wars cannot be the constructive principle. No edifice will ever rise from a foundation of destruction and annihilation.
The most important medium for social co-operation is language. Language bridges the chasm between individuals and only with its help can one man communicate to another something at least of what he is feeling. We need not discuss at this point the wider significance of language in relation to thought and will: how it conditions thought and will and how, without it, there could be no thought but only instinct, no will but only impulse.54 Thought also is a social phenomenon; it is not the product of an isolated mind but of the mutual stimulus of men who strive towards the same aims. The work of the solitary thinker, brooding in retirement over problems which few people trouble to consider, is talk too, is conversation with the residue of thought which generations of mental labour have deposited in language in everyday concepts, and in written tradition. Thought is bound up with speech. The thinker’s conceptual edifice is built on the elements of language.
The human mind works only in language; it is by the Word that it first breaks through from the obscurity of uncertainty and the vagueness of instinct to such clarity as it can ever hope to attain. Thinking and that which is thought cannot be detached from the language to which they owe their origin. Some day we may get a universal language, but certainly not by means of the method employed by the inventors of Volapuk, Esperanto, and other similar devices. The difficulties of a universal language and of the mutual understanding of peoples are not to be solved by hatching out identical combinations of syllables for the terms of every day life and for use by those who speak without overmuch thinking. The untranslatable element in ideas, which vibrates in the words expressing them, is what separates languages quite as much as the variety of sounds in words, which can be transposed intact. If everyone, all the world over, used the same words for “waiter” and “doorstep” we should still not have bridged the gap between languages and nations. But suppose everything expressed in one language could be translated into other languages without losing anything in the process, we should then have achieved unity of language, even though we had not found identical sounds for the syllables. Different languages would then be only different tongues, and our inability to translate a word would no longer impede the passage of thought from nation to nation.
Until that day comes—and it is possible that it never will come—political friction is bound to arise among members of different nations living together with mixed languages, friction that may lead to serious political antagonism.55 Directly or indirectly, these disputes are responsible for the modern “hate” between nations, on which Imperialism is based.
Imperialist theory simplifies its task when it limits itself to proving that conflicts between nations exist. To clinch its arguments it would have to show also that there is a solidarity of interests within the nations. The nationalist-imperialist doctrine made its appearance as a reaction against the ecumenical-solidarism of the Free Trade doctrine. At its advent the cosmopolitan idea of world-citizenship and the fraternity of the nations dominated men’s minds. All that seemed necessary, therefore, was to prove that there were conflicting interests between the various nations. The fact, that all the arguments it used to prove the incompatibility of national interests could with equal justification be used to prove the incompatibility of regional interests and finally even of the individual’s personal interests, was quite overlooked. If the Germans suffer from consuming English cloth and Russian corn, the inhabitants of Berlin must, presumably, suffer from consuming Bavarian beer and Rhine wine. If it is not well to let the division of labour pass the frontiers of the state, it would no doubt be best in the end to return to the self-sufficiency of the closed domestic economy. The slogan “Away with foreign goods!” would lead us, if we accepted all its implications, to abolish the division of labour altogether. For the principle that makes the international division of labour seem advantageous is precisely the principle which recommends division of labour in any circumstances.
It is no accident, that of all nations the German people has least sense of national cohesion, and that among all European nations it was the last to understand the idea of a political union in which one state comprises all members of the nation. The idea of national union is a child of Liberalism, of free trade, and of laissez-faire. The German nation, of which important parts are living as minorities in areas settled by people of different tongues, was among the first to learn the disadvantages of nationalistic oppression. This experience led to a negative attitude to Liberalism. But without Liberalism, it lacked the intellectual equipment necessary to overcome the regional particularism of separate groups. It is no accident that the sentiment of national cohesion is in no other people so strongly developed as among the Anglo-Saxons, the traditional home of Liberalism.
Imperialists delude themselves fatally when they suppose it possible to strengthen the cohesion of members of a nation by rejecting cosmopolitanism. They overlook the fact that the basic anti-social element of their doctrine must, if logically applied, split up every community.
Scientific knowledge of the innate qualities of man is still in its infancy. We cannot really say any more about the inherited characteristics of the individual than that some men are more gifted from birth than others. Where the difference between good and bad is to be sought we cannot say. We know that men differ in their physical and psychic qualities. We know that certain families, breeds, and groups of breeds reveal similar traits. We know that we are justified in differentiating between races and in speaking of the different racial qualities of individuals. But so far, attempts to find somatic characteristics of racial relationships have had no result. At one time it was thought that a racial characteristic had been discovered in the cranial index, but now it is clear that those relations between the cranial index and the psychic and mental qualities of the individual on which Lapouge’s anthroposociological school based its system do not exist. More recent measurements have shown that long-headed men are not always blond, good, noble, and cultured, and that the short-headed are not always black, evil, common and uncultured. Amongst the most long-headed races are the Australian aborigines, the Eskimos, and the Kaffirs. Many of the greatest geniuses were round-heads. Kant’s cranial index was 88.56 We have learnt that changes in the cranial index very probably can take place without racial mixture—as the result of the mode of life and geographical environment.57
It is impossible to condemn too emphatically the procedure of the “race experts.” They set up criteria of race in an entirely uncritical spirit. More anxious to coin catchwords than to advance knowledge, they scoff at all the standards demanded by scientific thought. But the critics of such dilettantism take their job too lightly in directing their attention solely to the concrete form which individual writers give their theories and to the content of their statements about particular races, their physical characteristics and psychic qualities. Though Gobineau and Chamberlain’s arbitrary and contradictory hypotheses are utterly without foundation and have been pooh-poohed as empty chimeras, there still remains a germ of the race theory which is independent of the specific differentiation between noble and ignoble races.
In Gobineau’s theory the race is a beginning; originating in a special act of creation, it is fitted out with special qualities.58 The influence of environment is estimated to be low: mixture of races creates bastards, in whom the good hereditary qualities of the nobler races deteriorate or are lost. To contest the sociological importance of the race theories, however, it will not suffice to prove that this view is untenable, or to show that race is the outcome of an evolution that has proceeded under the most varied influences. This objection might be overruled by asserting that certain influences, operating over a long period, have bred one race or several, with specially favourable qualities, and that the members of these races had by means of these advantages obtained so long a lead that members of other races could not overtake them within a limited time. In its most modern variations the race theory does, in fact, put forward arguments of this kind. It is necessary to study this form of the race theory and to ask how it stands in relation to the theory of social co-operation which has here been developed.
We see at once that it contains nothing directly inimical to the doctrine of the division of labour. The two are quite compatible. It may be assumed that races do differ in intelligence and will power, and that, this being so, they are very unequal in their ability to form society, and further that the better races distinguish themselves precisely by their special aptitude for strengthening social co-operation. This hypothesis throws light on various aspects of social evolution not otherwise easily comprehensible. It enables us to explain the development and regression of the social division of labour and the flowering and decline of civilizations. We leave it open whether the hypothesis itself and the hypothesis erected on it are tenable. At the moment this does not concern us. We are solely concerned to show that the race theory is easily compatible with our theory of social co-operation.
When the race theory combats the natural law postulate of the equality and equal rights of all men, it does not affect the free trade argument of the liberal school. For Liberalism does not advocate the liberty of the workers for reasons of natural law but because it regards unfree labour—the failure to reward the labourer with the whole produce economically imputed to his labour, and the divorce of his income from the productivity of his labour—as being less productive than free labour. In the race theory there are no arguments to refute free trade theory as to the effects of the expanding social division of labour. It may be admitted that the races differ in talent and character and that there is no hope of ever seeing those differences resolved. Still, free trade theory shows that even the more capable races derive an advantage from associating with the less capable and that social co-operation brings them the advantage of higher productivity in the total labour process.59
The race theory begins to conflict with the liberal social theory at the point where it begins to preach the struggle between races. But it has no better arguments to advance in this connection than those of other militaristic social theories. The saying of Heraclitus “that war is the father of all things” remains unproven dogma. It, too, fails to demonstrate how the social structure could have grown out of destruction and annihilation. Nay, the race theorists too—in so far as they try to judge unbiased and not simply to follow their sympathy for the ideology of militarism and conflict—have to admit that war has to be condemned precisely from the point of view of selection. Lapouge has pointed out that only in the case of primitive peoples does war lead to the selection of the stronger and more gifted, and that among civilized peoples it leads to a deterioration of the race by unfavourable selection.60 The fit are more likely to be killed than the unfit, who are kept longer, if not altogether, away from the front. Those who survive the war find their power to produce healthy children impaired by the various injuries they have received in the fight.
The results of the scientific study of races cannot in any way refute the liberal theory of social development. Rather they confirm it. The race theories of Gobineau and many others originated in the resentment of a defeated military and noble caste against bourgeois democracy and capitalist economy. For use in the daily politics of modern Imperialism they have taken a form which re-embodies old theories of violence and war. But their critical strictures are applicable only to the catchwords of the old natural law philosophy. They are irrelevant so far as Liberalism is concerned. Even the race theory cannot shake the assertion that civilization is a work of peaceful co-operation.
[43. ]“La guerre est une dissociation.” (“War is a breakdown of social cooperation.”) See Novicow, La Critique du Darwinisme Social (Paris, 1910), p. 124. See also the refutation of the struggle theories of Gumplowicz, Ratzenhofer, and Oppenheimer by Holsti, The Relation of War to the Origin of the State (Helsingfors, 1913), pp. 276 ff.
[44. ]Taine, Histoire de la littérature anglaise (Paris, 1863), Vol. I, p. xxv.
[45. ]Ibid., p. xxiii: “Ce qu’on appelle la race, ce sont ces dispositions innées et héréditaires que l’homme apporte avec lui à la lumière.” (“Race is the innate and hereditary characteristics and tendencies with which man is born.”)
[46. ]Hertwig, Zur Abwehr des ethischen, des sozialen und des politischen Darwinismus, pp. 10 ff.
[47. ]Ferri, Sozialismus und moderne Wissenschaft, trans. Kurella (Leipzig, 1895), pp. 65 ff.
[48. ]Gumplowicz, Der Rassenkampf (Innsbruck, 1883), p. 176. On Gumplowicz’s dependence on Darwinism see Barth, Die Philosophie der Geschichte als Soziologie, p. 253. The “liberal” Darwinism is a badly thought out product of an epoch which could no longer grasp the meaning of the liberal social philosophy.
[49. ]Novicow, La Critique du Darwinisme Social, p. 45.
[50. ]Barth, Die Philosophie der Geschichte als Soziologie, p. 243.
[51. ]Kropotkin, Gegenseitige Hilfe in der Tier und Menschenwelt, German edition by Landauer (Leipzig, 1908), pp. 69 ff.
[52. ]Kammerer, Genossenschaften von Lebewesen auf Grund gegenseitiger Vorteile (Stuttgart, 1913); Kammerer, Allgemeine Biologie (Stuttgart, 1915), p. 306; Kammerer, Einzeltod, Völkertod, biologische Unsterblichkeit (Vienna, 1918), pp. 29 ff.
[53. ]See p. 290 of this work.
[54. ]Cohen, Ethik des reinen Willens (Berlin, 1904), pp. 183 ff.
[55. ]See my Nation, Staat und Wirtschaft, pp. 31 ff.
[56. ]Oppenheimer, “Die rassentheoretische Geschichtsphilosophie” in Verhandlungen des Zweiten deutschen Soziologentages (Tübingen, 1913), p. 106; also Hertz, Rasse und Kultur, 3rd ed. (Leipzig, 1925), p. 37; Weidenreich, Rasse und Körperbau (Berlin, 1927), pp. 133 ff.
[57. ]Nystrom, “Über die Formenveränderungen des menschlichen Schädels und deren Ursachen” (Archiv für Anthropologie, Vol. XXVII, pp. 321 ff., 630 ff., 642).
[58. ]Oppenheimer, “Die rassentheoretische Geschichtsphilosophie,” pp. 110 ff.
[59. ]See p. 260.
[60. ]“Chez les peuples modernes, la guerre et le militarisme sont de véritables fléaux dont le résultat définitif est de déprimer la race.” (“For modern people, war and militarism are true calamities, of which the ultimate result is to debase the human race.”) Lapouge, Les sélections sociales (Paris, 1896), p. 230.