Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER III.: nature of the social science. - The Study of Sociology
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CHAPTER III.: nature of the social science. - Herbert Spencer, The Study of Sociology 
The Study of Sociology (London: Henry S. King, 1873).
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nature of the social science.
Out of bricks, well burnt, hard, and sharp-angled, lying in heaps by his side, the bricklayer builds, even without mortar, a wall of some height that has considerable stability. With bricks made of bad materials, irregularly burnt, warped, cracked, and many of them broken, he cannot build a dry wall of the same height and stability. The dockyard-labourer, piling cannon-shot, is totally unable to make these spherical masses stand at all as the bricks stand. There are, indeed, certain definite shapes into which they may be piled-that of a tetrahedron, or that of a pyramid having a square base, or that of an elongated wedge allied to the pyramid. In any of these forms they may be put together symmetrically and stably; but not in forms with vertical sides or highly-inclined sides. Once more, if, instead of equal spherical shot, the masses to be piled are boulders, partially but irregularly rounded, and of various sizes, no definite stable form is possible. A loose heap, indefinite in its surface and angles, is all the labourer can make of them. Putting which several facts together, and asking what is the most general truth they imply, we see it to be this—that the character of the aggregate is determined by the characters of the units.
If we pass from units of these visible, tangible kinds, to the units contemplated by chemists and physicists as making up masses of matter, the same truth meets us. Each so-called element, each combination of elements, each re-combination of the compounds, has a form of crystallization. Though its crystals differ in their sizes, and are liable to be modified by truncations of angles and apices, as well as by partial mergings into one another, yet the type of structure, as shown by cleavage, is constant: particular kinds of molecules severally have particular shapes into which they settle themselves as they aggregate. And though in some cases it happens that a substance, simple or compound, has two or even more forms of aggregation, yet the recognized interpretation is, that these different forms are the forms assumed by molecules made different in their structures by allotropic or isomeric changes. So constant is the relation between the nature of any molecules and their mode of crystallizing, that, given two kinds of molecules which are known, from their chemical actions, to be closely allied in their natures, and it is inferred with certainty that their crystals will be closely allied. In brief, it may be unhesitatingly affirmed, as an outcome of physics and chemistry, that throughout all phenomena presented by dead matter, the natures of the units necessitate certain traits in the aggregates.
This truth is again exemplified by aggregates of living matter. In the substance of each species of plant or animal, there is a proclivity towards the structure which that plant or animal presents—a proclivity conclusively proved in cases where the conditions to the maintenance of life are sufficiently simple, and where the tissue has not assumed a structure too finished to permit re-arrangement. The perpetually-cited case of the polype, each part of which, when it is cut into several, presently puts on the polype-shape, and gains structures and powers like those of the original whole, illustrates this truth among animals. Among plants it is well exemplified by the Begonias. Here a complete plant grows from a fragment of a leaf stuck in the ground; and, in Begonia phyllomaniaca, complete plants grow even out of scales that fall from the leaves and the stem—a fact showing, like the fact which the polype furnishes, that the units everywhere present, have for their type of aggregation the type of the organism they belong to; and reminding us of the universal fact that the units composing every germ, animal or vegetal, have a proclivity towards the parental type of aggregation.
Thus, given the natures of the units, and the nature of the aggregate they form is pre-determined. I say the nature, meaning, of course, the essential traits, and not including the incidental. By the characters of the units are necessitated certain limits within which the characters of the aggregate must fall. The circumstances attending aggregation greatly modify the results; but the truth here to be recognized is, that these circumstances, in some cases perhaps preventing aggregation altogether, in other cases impeding it, in other cases facilitating it more or less, can never give to the aggregate, characters that do not consist with the characters of the units. No favouring conditions will give the labourer power to pile cannon-shot into a vertical wall; no favouring conditions will make it possible for common salt, which crystallizes on the regular system, to crystallize, like sulphate of soda, on the oblique prismatic system; no favouring conditions will enable the fragment of a polype to take on the structure of a mollusk.
Among such social aggregates as inferior creatures fall into, more or less definitely, the same truth holds. Whether they live in a mere assemblage, or whether they live in something like an organized union with division of labour among its members, as happens in many cases, is unquestionably determined by the properties of the units. Given the structures and consequent instincts of the individuals as we find them, and the community they form will inevitably present certain traits; and no community having such traits can be formed out of individuals having other structures and instincts.
Those who have been brought up in the belief that there is one law for the rest of the Universe and another law for mankind, will doubtless be astonished by the proposal to include aggregates of men in this generalization. And yet that the properties of the units determine the properties of the whole they make up, evidently holds of societies as of other things. A general survey of tribes and nations, past and present, shows clearly enough that it is so; and a brief consideration of the conditions shows, with no less clearness, that it must be so.
Ignoring for the moment the special traits of races and individuals, observe the traits common to members of the species at large; and consider how these must affect their relations when associated.
They have all needs for food, and have corresponding desires. To all of them exertion is a physiological expense; must bring a certain return in nutriment, if it is not to be detrimental; and is accompanied by repugnance when pushed to excess, or even before reaching it. They are all of them liable to bodily injury, with accompanying pain, from various extreme physical actions; and they are liable to emotional pains, of positive and negative kinds, from one another’s actions. As says Shylock, insisting on that human nature which Jews have in common with Christians—
“Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.”
Conspicuous, however, as is this possession of certain fundamental qualities by all individuals, there is no adequate recognition of the truth that from these individual qualities must result certain qualities in an assemblage of individuals; that in proportion as the individuals forming one assemblage are like in their qualities to the individuals forming another assemblage, the two assemblages will have likenesses; and that the assemblages will differ in their characters in proportion as the component individuals of the one differ from those of the other. Yet when this, which is almost a truism, has been admitted, it cannot be denied that in every community there is a group of phenomena growing naturally out of the phenomena presented by its members—a set of properties in the aggregate determined by the sets of properties in the units; and that the relations of the two sets form the subject-matter of a science. It needs but to ask what would happen if men avoided one another, as various inferior creatures do, to see that the very possibility of a society depends on a certain emotional property in the individual. It needs but to ask what would happen if each man liked best the men who gave him most pain, to perceive that social relations, supposing them to be possible, would be utterly unlike the social relations resulting from the greater liking which men individually have for others who give them pleasure. It needs but to ask what would happen if, instead of ordinarily preferring the easiest ways of achieving their ends, men preferred to achieve their ends in the most troublesome ways, to infer that then, a society, if one could exist, would be a widely-different society from any we know. And if, as these extreme cases show us, cardinal traits in societies are determined by cardinal traits in men, it cannot be questioned that less-marked traits in societies are determined by less-marked traits in men; and that there must everywhere be a consensus between the special structures and actions of the one and the special structures and actions of the other.
Setting out, then, with this general principle, that the properties of the units determine the properties of the aggregate, we conclude that there must be a Social Science expressing the relations between the two, with as much definiteness as the natures of the phenomena permit. Beginning with types of men who form but small and incoherent social aggregates, such a science has to show in what ways the individual qualities, intellectual and emotional, negative further aggregation. It has to explain how slight modifications of individual nature, arising under modified conditions of life, make somewhat larger aggregates possible. It has to trace out, in aggregates of some size, the genesis of the social relations, regulative and operative, into which the members fall. It has to exhibit the stronger and more prolonged social influences which, by further modifying the characters of the units, facilitate further aggregation with consequent further complexity of social structure. Among societies of all orders and sizes, from the smallest and rudest up to the largest and most civilized, it has to ascertain what traits there are in common, determined by the common traits of human beings; what less-general traits, distinguishing certain groups of societies, result from traits distinguishing certain races of men; and what peculiarities in each society are traceable to the peculiarities of its members. In every case it has for its subject-matter the growth, development, structure, and functions of the social aggregate, as brought about by the mutual actions of individuals whose natures are partly like those of all men, partly like those of kindred races, partly distinctive.
These phenomena of social evolution have, of course, to be explained with due reference to the conditions each society is exposed to—the conditions furnished by its locality and by its relations to neighbouring societies. Noting this merely to prevent possible misapprehensions, the fact which here concerns us, is, not that the Social Science exhibits these or those special truths, but that, given men having certain properties, and an aggregate of such men must have certain derivative properties which form the subject-matter of a science.
“But were we not told some pages back, that in societies, causes and effects are related in ways so involved that prevision is often impossible? Were we not warned against rashly taking measures for achieving this or that desideratum, regardless of the proofs, so abundantly supplied by the past, that agencies set in action habitually work out results never foreseen? And were not instances given of all-important changes that were due to influences from which no one would have anticipated them? If so, how can there be a Social Science? If Louis Napoleon could not have expected that the war he began to prevent the consolidation of Germany, would be the very means of consolidating it; if to M. Thiers, five-and-twenty years ago, it would have seemed a dream exceeding all ordinary dreams in absurdity, that he would be fired at from his own fortifications; how in the name of wonder is it possible to formulate social phenomena in anything approaching scientific order?”
The difficulty thus put in as strong a form as I can find for it, is that which, clearly or vaguely, rises in the minds of most to whom Sociology is proposed as a subject to be studied after scientific methods, with the expectation of reaching results having scientific certainty. Before giving to the question its special answer, let me give it a general answer.
The science of Mechanics has reached a development higher than has been reached by any but the purely-abstract sciences. Though we may not call it perfect, yet the great accuracy of the predictions which its ascertained principles enable astronomers to make, shows how near to perfection it has come; and the achievements of the skilful artillery-officer prove that in their applications to terrestrial motions these principles yield previsions of considerable exactness. But now, taking Mechanics as the type of a highly-developed science, let us note what it enables us to predict, and what it does not enable us to predict, respecting some concrete phenomenon. Say that there is a mine to be exploded. Ask what will happen to the fragments of matter sent into the air. Then observe how much we can infer from established dynamical laws. By that common observation which precedes the more exact observations of science, we are taught that all the fragments, having risen to heights more or less various, will fall; that they will reach the ground at scattered places within a circumscribed area, and at somewhat different times. Science enables us to say more than this. From those same principles whence are inferable the path of a planet or projectile, it deduces the truth that each fragment will describe a curve; that all the curves, though individually different, will be specifically alike; that (ignoring deviations caused by atmospheric resistance) they will severally be portions of ellipses so eccentric as to be indistinguishable from parabolas—such parts of them, at least, as are described after the rush of gases ceases further to accelerate the fragments. But while the principles of Mechanics help us to these certainties, we cannot learn from them anything more definite respecting the courses that will be taken by particular fragments. Whether, of the mass overlying the powder to be exploded, the part on the left will be propelled upwards in one fragment or several? whether this piece will be shot higher than that? whether any, and if so, which, of the projected masses will be stopped in their courses by adjacent objects they strike?—are questions it cannot answer. Not that there will be any want of conformity to law in these results; but that the data on which predictions of them are to be based, cannot be obtained.
Observe, then, that respecting a concrete phenomenon of some complexity, the most exact science enables us to make predictions that are mainly general, or only partially special. Seeing that this is so, even where the causes and effects are not greatly involved, and where the science of them is well developed, much more may we expect it to be so among the most involved causes and effects, the science of which is but rudimentary. This contrast between the generalities that admit of prevision and the specialities that do not admit of prevision, will be still more clearly seen on passing from this preliminary illustration to an illustration in which the analogy is closer.
What can we say about the future of this newly-born child? Will it die of some disorder during infancy? Will it survive awhile, and be carried off by scarlet fever or whooping-cough? Will it have measles or small-pox, and succumb to one or the other? None of these questions can be answered. Will it some day fall down-stairs, or be run over, or set fire to its clothes; and be killed or maimed by one or other of these accidents? These questions also have no answers. None can tell whether in boyhood there may come epilepsy, or St. Vitus’s dance, or other formidable affection. Looking at the child now in the nurse’s arms, none can foresee with certainty that it will be stupid or intelligent, tractable or perverse. Equally beyond possibility of prediction are those events which, if it survives, will occur to it in maturity—partly caused by its own nature, and partly by surrounding conditions. Whether there will come the success due to skill and perseverance; whether the circumstances will be such as to give these scope or not; whether accidents will thwart or favour efforts; are wholly-unanswerable inquiries. That is to say, the facts we ordinarily class as biographical, do not admit of prevision.
If from quite special facts we turn to facts somewhat less special which the life of this infant will present, we find, among those that are quasi-biographical, a certain degree of prevision possible. Though the unfolding of the faculties is variable within limits, going on here precociously and there with unusual slowness, yet there is such order in the unfolding as enables us to say that the child will not be a mathematician or a dramatist at three years old, will not be a psychologist by the time he is ten, will not reach extended political conceptions while his voice is still unbroken. Moreover, of the emotional nature we may make certain predictions of a kindred order. Whether he will marry or not, no one can say; but it is possible to say, if not with certainty still with much probability, that after a certain age an inclination to marry will arise; and though none can tell whether he will have children, yet that, if he has, some amount of the paternal feeling will be manifested, may be concluded as very likely.
But now if, looking at the entire assemblage of facts that will be presented during the life of this infant as it becomes mature, decays, and dies we pass over the biographical and quasi-biographical, as admitting of either no prevision or but imperfect prevision; we find remaining classes of facts that may be asserted beforehand: some with a high degree of probability, and some with certainty—some with great definiteness and some within moderate limits of variation. I refer to the facts of growth, development, structure, and function.
Along with that love of personalities which exalts everything inconstant in human life into a matter of interest, there goes the habit of regarding whatever is constant in human life as a matter of no interest; and so, when contemplating the future of the infant, there is a tacit ignoring of all the vital phenomena it will exhibit—phenomena that are alike knowable and important to be known. The anatomy and physiology of Man, comprehending under these names not only the structures and functions of the adult, but the progressive establishment of these structures and functions during individual evolution, form the subjectmatter of what every one recognizes as a science. Though there is imperfect exactness in the generalized coexistences and sequences making up this science; though general truths respecting structures are met by occasional exceptions in the way of malformations; though anomalies of function also occur to negative absolute prediction; though there are considerable variations of the limits within which growth and structure may range, and considerable differences between the rates of functions and between the times at which functions are established; yet no one doubts that the biological phenomena presented by the human body, may be organized into a knowledge having the definiteness which constitutes it scientific, in the understood sense of that word.
If, now, any one, insisting on the incalculableness of a child’s future, biographically considered, asserted that the child, therefore, presented no subject-matter for science, ignoring altogether what we will for the moment call its anthropology (though the meaning now given to the word scarcely permits this use of it), he would fall into a conspicuous error—an error in this case made conspicuous because we are able daily to observe the difference between an account of the living body, and an account of its conduct and the events that occur to it.
The reader doubtless anticipates the analogy. What Biography is to Anthropology, History is to Sociology—History, I mean, as commonly conceived. The kind of relation which the sayings and doings that make up the ordinary account of a man’s life, bear to an account of his bodily and mental evolution, structural and functional, is like the kind of relation borne by that narrative of a nation’s actions and fortunes its historian gives us, to a description of its institutions, regulative and operative, and the ways in which their structures and functions have gradually established themselves. And if it is an error to say that there is no Science of Man, because the events of a man’s life cannot be foreseen, it is equally an error to say that there is no Science of Society, because there can be no prevision of the occurrences which make up ordinary history.
Of course, I do not say that the parallel between an individual organism and a social organism is so close, that the distinction to be clearly drawn in the one case may be drawn with like clearness in the other. The structures and functions of the social organism are obviously far less specific, far more modifiable, far more dependent on conditions that are variable and never twice alike. All I mean is that, as in the one case so in the other, there lie underneath the phenomena of conduct, not forming subject-matter for science, certain vital phenomena, which do form subject-matter for science. Just as in the man there are structures and functions which make possible the doings his biographer tells of, so in the nation there are structures and functions which make possible the doings its historian tells of; and in both cases it is with these structures and functions, in their origin, development, and decline, that science is concerned.
To make better the parallel, and further to explain the nature of the Social Science, we must say that the morphology and physiology of Society, instead of corresponding to the morphology and physiology of Man, correspond rather to morphology and physiology in general. Social organisms, like individual organisms, are to be arranged into classes and sub-classes—not, indeed, into classes and sub-classes having anything like the same definiteness or the same constancy, but nevertheless having likenesses and differences which justify the putting of them into major groups most-markedly contrasted, and, within these, arranging them in minor groups less-markedly contrasted. And just as Biology discovers certain general traits of development, structure, and function, holding throughout all organisms, others holding throughout certain great groups, others throughout certain sub-groups these contain; so Sociology has to recognize truths of social development, structure, and function, that are some of them universal, some of them general, some of them special.
For, recalling the conclusion previously reached, it is manifest that in so far as human beings, considered as social units, have properties in common, the social aggregates they form will have properties in common; that likenesses of nature holding throughout certain of the human races, will originate likenesses of nature in the nations arising out of them; and that such peculiar traits as are possessed by the highest varieties of men, must result in distinctive characters possessed in common by the communities into which they organize themselves.
So that whether we look at the matter in the abstract or in the concrete, we reach the same conclusion. We need but to glance, on the one hand, at the varieties of uncivilized men and the structures of their tribes, and, on the other hand, at the varieties of civilized men and the structures of their nations, to see inference verified by fact. And thus recognizing, both à priori and à posteriori, these relations between the phenomena of individual human nature and the phenomena of incorporated human nature, we cannot fail to see that the phenomena of incorporated human nature form the subject-matter of a science.
And now to make more definite the conception of a Social Science thus shadowed forth in a general way, let me set down a few truths of the kind indicated. Some that I propose to name are very familiar; and others I add, not because of their interest or importance, but because they are easy of exposition. The aim is simply to convey a clear idea of the nature of sociological truths.
Take, first, the general fact that along with social aggregation there always goes some kind of organization. In the very lowest stages, where the assemblages are very small and very incoherent, there is no established subordination—no centre of control. Chieftainships of settled kinds come only along with larger and more coherent aggregates. The evolution of a governmental structure having some strength and permanence, is the condition under which alone any considerable growth of a society can take place. A differentiation of the originally-homogeneous mass of units into a co-ordinating part and a co-ordinated part, is the indispensable initial step.
Along with evolution of societies in size there goes evolution of their co-ordinating centres; which, having become permanent, presently become more or less complex. In small tribes, chieftainship, generally wanting in stability, is quite simple; but as tribes become larger by growth, or by reduction of other tribes to subjection, the co-ordinating apparatus begins to develop by the addition of subordinate governing agencies.
Simple and familiar as are these facts, we are not, therefore, to overlook their significance. That men rise into the state of social aggregation only on condition that they lapse into relations of inequality in respect of power, and are made to co-operate as a whole only by the agency of a structure securing obedience, is none the less a fact in science because it is a trite fact. This is a primary common trait in social aggregates derived from a common trait in their units. It is a truth in Sociology, comparable to the biological truth that the first step in the production of any living organism, high or low, is a certain differentiation whereby a peripheral portion becomes distinguished from a central portion. And such exceptions to this biological truth as we find in those minute non-nucleated portions of protoplasm that are the very lowest living things, are paralleled by those exceptions to the sociological truth, seen in the small incoherent assemblages formed by the very lowest types of men.
The differentiation of the regulating part and the regulated part, is, in small primitive societies, not only imperfectly established but vague. The chief does not at first become unlike his fellow-savages in his functions, otherwise than by exercising greater sway. He hunts, makes his weapons, works, and manages his private affairs, in just the same ways as the rest; while in war he differs from other warriors only by his predominant influence, not by ceasing to be a private soldier. And along with this slight separation from the rest of the tribe in military functions and industrial functions, there is only a slight separation politically: judicial action is but very feebly represented by exercise of his personal authority in keeping order.
At a higher stage, the power of the chief being well established, he no longer supports himself. Still he remains undistinguished industrially from other members of the dominant class, which has grown up while chieftainship has been getting settled; for he simply gets productive work done by deputy, as they do. Nor is a further extension of his power accompanied by complete separation of the political from the industrial functions; for he habitually remains a regulator of production, and in many cases a regulator of trade, presiding over acts of exchange. Of his several controlling activities, this last is, however, the one which he first ceases personally to carry on. Industry early shows a tendency towards self-control, apart from the control which the chief exercises more and more as political and military head. The primary social differentiation which we have noted between the regulative part and the operative part, is presently followed by a distinction, which eventually becomes very marked, between the internal arrangements of the two parts: the operative part slowly developing within itself agencies by which processes of production, distribution, and exchange are co-ordinated, while co-ordination of the non-operative part continnues on its original footing.
Along with a development which renders conspicuous the separation of the operative and regulative structures, there goes a development within the regulative structures themselves. The chief, at first uniting the characters of king, judge, captain, and often priest, has his functions more and more specialized as the evolution of the society in size and complexity advances. Though remaining supreme judge, he does most of his judging by deputy; though remaining nominally head of his army, the actual leading of it falls more and more into the hands of subordinate officers; though still retaining ecclesiastical supremacy, his priestly functions practically almost cease; though in e actual making and administration lapse more and more into other hands. So that, stating the facts broadly, out of the original co-ordinating agent having undivided functions, there eventually develop several co-ordinating agencies which divide these functions among them.
Each of these agencies, too, follows the same law. Originally simple, it step by step subdivides into many parts, and becomes an organization, administrative, judicial, ecclesiastical, or military, having graduated classes within itself, and a more or less distinct form of government within itself.
I will not complicate this statement by doing more than recognizing the variations that occur in cases where supreme power does not lapse into the hands of one man (which, however, in early stages of social evolution is an unstable modification). And I must explain that the above general statements are to be taken with the qualification that differences of detail are passed over to gain brevity and clearness. Add to which that it is beside the purpose of the argument to carry the description beyond these first stages. But duly bearing in mind that without here elaborating a Science of Sociology, nothing more than a rude outline of cardinal facts can be given, enough has been said to show that in the development of social structures, there may be recognized certain most-general facts, certain less-general facts, and certain facts successively more special; just as there may be recognized general and special facts of evolution in individual organisms.
To extend, as well as to make clearer, this conception of the Social Science, let me here set down a question which comes within its sphere. What is the relation in a society between structure and growth? Up to what point is structure necessary to growth? after what point does it retard growth? at what point does it arrest growth?
There exists in the individual organism a duplex relation between growth and structure which it is difficult adequately to express. Excluding the cases of a few low organisms living under special conditions, we may properly say that great growth is not possible without high structure. The whole animal kingdom, throughout its invertebrate and vertebrate types, may be cited in evidence. On the other hand, among the superior organisms, and especially among those leading active lives, there is a marked tendency for completion of structure to go along with arrest of growth. While an animal of elevated type is growing rapidly, its organs continue imperfectly developed—the bones remain partially cartilaginous, the muscles are soft, the brain lacks definiteness; and the details of structure throughout all parts are finished only after growth has ceased. Why these relations are as we find them, it is not difficult to see. That a young animal may grow, it must digest, circulate blood, breathe, excrete waste products, and so forth; to do which it must have tolerably-complete viscera, vascular system, &c. That it may eventually become able to get its own food, it has to develop gradually the needful appliances and aptitudes; to which end it must begin with limbs, and senses, and nervous system, that have considerable degrees of efficiency. But along with every increment of growth achieved by the help of these partially-developed structures, there has to go an alteration of the structures themselves. If they were rightly adjusted to the preceding smaller size, they are wrongly adjusted to the succeeding greater size. Hence they must be re-moulded—un-built and re-built. Manifestly, therefore, in proportion as the previous building has been complete, there arises a great obstacle in the shape of un-building and re-building. The bones show us how this difficulty is met. In the thigh-bone of a boy, for instance, there exists between the head and the cylindrical part of the bone, a place where the original cartilaginous state continues; and where, by the addition of new cartilage in which new osseous matter is deposited, the shaft of the bone is lengthened: the like going on in an answering place at the other end of the shaft. Complete ossification at these two places occurs only when the bone has ceased to increase in length; and, on considering what would have happened had the bone been ossified from end to end before its lengthening was complete, it will be seen how great an obstacle to growth is thus escaped. What holds here, holds throughout the organism: though structure up to a certain point is requisite for growth, structure beyond that point impedes growth. How necessary is this relation we shall equally perceive in a more complex case—say, the growth of an entire limb. There is a certain size and proportion of parts, which a limb ordinarily has in relation to the rest of the body. Throw upon that limb extra function, and within moderate limits it will increase in strength and bulk. If the extra function begins early in life, the limb may be raised considerably above its usual size; but if the extra function begins after maturity, the deviation is less: in neither case, however, being great. If we consider how increase of the limb is effected, we shall see why this is so. More active function brings a greater local supply of blood; and, for a time new tissue is formed in excess of waste. But the local supply of blood is limited by the sizes of the arteries which bring it; and though, up to a certain point, increase of flow is gained by temporary dilatation of them, yet beyond that point increase can be gained only by un-building and re-building the arteries. Such alterations of arteries slowly take place—less slowly with the smaller peripheral ones, more slowly with the larger ones out of which these branch; since these have to be altered all the way back to their points of divergence from the great central blood vessels. In like manner, the channels for carrying off waste products must be re-modelled, both locally and centrally. The nerve-trunks, too, and also the centres from which they come, must be adjusted to the greater demands upon them. Nay, more; with a given visceral system, a large extra quantity of blood cannot be permanently given to one part of the body, without decreasing the quantities given to other parts; and, therefore, structural changes have to be made by which the drafting-off of blood to these other parts is diminished. Hence the great resistance to increase in the size of a limb beyond a certain moderate limit. Such increase cannot be effected without un-building and re-building not only the parts that directly minister to the limb, but, eventually, all the remoter parts. So that the bringing of structures into perfect fitness for certain requirements, immensely hinders the adaptation of them to other requirements—re-adjustments become difficult in proportion as adjustments are made complete.
How far does this law hold in the social organism? To what extent does it happen here, too, that the multiplying and elaborating of institutions, and the perfecting of arrangements for gaining immediate ends, raise impediments to the development of better institutions and to the future gaining of higher ends? Socially, as well as individually, organization is indispensable to growth: beyond a certain point there cannot be further growth without further organization. Yet there is not a little reason for suspecting that beyond this point organization is indirectly repressive—increases the obstacles to those re-adjustments required for larger growth and more perfect structure. Doubtless the aggregate we call a society is much more plastic than an individual living aggregate to which it is here compared—its type is far less fixed. Nevertheless, there is evidence that its type tends continually to become fixed, and that each addition to its structures is a step towards the fixation. A few instances will show how this is true alike of the material structures a society develops and of its institutions, political or other.
Cases, insignificant, perhaps, but quite to the point, are furnished by our appliances for locomotion. Not to dwell on the minor ones within cities, which, however, show us that existing arrangements are impediments to better arrangements, let us pass to railways. Observe how the inconveniently-narrow gauge (which, taken from that of stage-coach wheels, was itself inherited from an antecedent system of locomotion), has become an insuperable obstacle to a better gauge. Observe, also, how the type of carriage, which was derived from the body of a stage-coach (some of the early first-class carriages bearing the words “tria juncta in uno“), having become established, it is immensely difficult now to introduce the more convenient type later established in America; where they profited by our experience, but were not hampered by our adopted plans. The enormous capital invested in our stock of carriages cannot be sacrificed. Gradually to introduce carriages of the American type, by running them along with those of our own type, would be very difficult, because of our many partings and joinings of trains. And thus we are obliged to go on with a type that is inferior.
Take, again, our system of drainage. Urged on as it was some thirty years ago as a panacea for sundry sanitary evils, and spread as it has been by force of law through all our great towns, this system cannot now be replaced by a better system without extreme difficulty. Though, by necessitating decomposition where oxygen cannot get, and so generating chemical compounds that are unstable and poisonous, it has in many cases produced the very diseases it was to have prevented; though, by delivering the morbid products from fever-patients, &c., into a branching tube which, communicating with all houses, effectually conveys to them infecting gases that are kept out only so long as stink-traps are in good order; yet it has become almost out of the question now to adopt those methods by which the excreta of towns may be got rid of at once innocuously and usefully. Nay, worse—one part of our sanitary administration having insisted on a sewage-system by which Oxford, Reading, Maidenhead, Windsor, &c., pollute the water London has to drink, another part of our sanitary administration makes loud protests against the impurity of the water, which it charges with causing disease (not remarking, however, that law-enforced arrangements have produced the impurity). And now there must be a re-organization that will be immensely impeded by the existing premature organization, before we can have either pure air or pure water.
Our mercantile arrangements, again, furnish abundant illustrations teaching the same lesson. In each trade there is an established course of business; and however obvious may be some better course, the difficulties of altering the settled routine are, if not insurmountable, still very considerable. Take, for instance, the commerce of literature. In days when a letter cost a shilling and no book-post existed, there grew up an organization of wholesalers and retailers to convey books from publishers to readers: a profit being reaped by each distributing agent, primary and secondary. Now that a book may be ordered for a half-penny and sent for a few pence, the old system of distribution might be replaced by one that would diminish the cost of transfer, and lower the prices of books. But the interests of distributors practically negative the change. An advertised proposal to supply a book direct by post at a reduced rate, offends the trade; and by ignoring the book they check its sale more than its sale is otherwise furthered. And so an old organization, once very serviceable, now stands in the way of a better organization. The commerce of literature furnishes another illustration. At a time when the reading public was small and books were dear, there grew up circulating libraries, enabling people to read books without buying them. At first few, local, and unorganized, these circulating libraries have greatly multiplied, and have become organized throughout the kingdom: the result being that the demand for library-circulation is in many cases the chief demand. This arrangement being one which makes few copies supply many readers, the price per copy must be high, to obtain an adequate return on the edition. And now reading people in general, having been brought up to the habit of getting books through libraries, usually do not think of buying the books themselves—would still get most of them through libraries even were they considerably cheapened. We are, therefore, except with works of very popular authors, prevented by the existing system of book-distribution in England from adopting the American system—a system which, not adjusting itself to few libraries but to many private purchasers, issues large editions at low prices.
Instances of another class are supplied by our educational institutions. Richly endowed, strengthened by their prestige, and by the bias given to those they have brought up, our colleges, public schools, and other kindred schools early founded, useful as they once were, have long been enormous impediments to a higher education. By subsidizing the old, they have starved the new. Even now they are retarding a culture better in matter and manner; both by occupying the field, and by partially incapacitating those who pass through them for seeing what a better culture is. Evidence of a kindred kind is offered by the educational organization developed for dealing with the masses. The struggle going on between Secularism and Denominationalism in teaching, might alone show to any one who looks for the wider meanings of facts, that a structure which has ramified throughout a society, acquired an army of salaried officials looking for personal welfare and promotion, backed by classes, ecclesiastical and political, whose ideas and interests they further, is a structure which, if not unalterable, is difficult to alter in proportion as it is highly developed.
These few examples, which might be supported by others from the military organization, the ecclesiastical organization, the legal organization, will make comprehensible the analogy I have indicated; while they make clearer the nature of the Social Science, by bringing into view one of its questions. That with social organisms, as with individual organisms, structure up to a certain point is needful for growth is obvious. That in the one case, as in the other, continued growth implies un-building and re-building of structure, which therefore becomes in so far an impediment, seems also obvious. Whether it is true in the one case, as in the other, that completion of structure involves arrest of growth, and fixes the society to the type it has then reached, is a question to be considered. Without saying anything more by way of answer, it is, I think, manifest enough that this is one belonging to an order of questions entirely overlooked by those who contemplate societies from the ordinary historical point of view; and one pertaining to that Social Science which they say does not exist.
Are there any who utter the cui bono criticism? Probably not a few. I think I hear from some whose mental attitude is familiar to me, the doubt whether it is worth while to ask what happens among savage tribes; in what way chiefs and medicinemen arise; how the industrial functions become separated from the political; what are the original relations of the regulative classes to one another; how far the social structure is determined by the emotional natures of individuals, how far by their ideas, how far by their environment. Busied as men of this stamp are with what they call “practical legislation” (by which they seemingly mean legislation that recognises proximate causes and effects while ignoring remote ones), they doubt whether conclusions of the kind Social Science proposes to draw, are good for much when drawn.
Something may, however, be said in defence of this study which they thus estimate. Of course, it is not to be put on the same level with those historical studies so deeply interesting to them. The supreme value of knowledge respecting the genealogies of kings, and the fates of dynasties, and the quarrels of courts, is beyond question. Whether or not the plot for the murder of Amy Robsart was contrived by Leicester himself, with Queen Elizabeth as an accomplice; and whether or not the account of the Gowrie Conspiracy, as given by King James, was true; are obviously doubts to be decided before there can be formed any rational conclusions respecting the development of our political institutions. That Friedrich I. of Prussia quarrelled with his stepmother, suspected her of trying to poison him, fled to his aunt, and when he succeeded to the Electorate, intrigued and bribed to obtain his kingship; that half-an-hour after his death his son Friedrich Wilhelm gave his courtiers notice to quit, commenced forthwith to economize his revenues, made it his great object to recruit and drill his army, and presently began to hate and bully his son—these, and facts like these about all royal families in all ages, are facts without which civilization would obviously be incomprehensible. Nor can one dispense with full knowledge of events like those of Napoleon’s wars—his Italian conquests and exactions, and perfidious treatment of Venice; his expedition to Egypt, successes and massacres there, failure at Acre, and eventual retreat; his various campaigns in Germany, Spain, Russia, &c., including accounts of his strategy, tactics, victories, defeats, slaughters; for how, in the absence of such information, is it possible to judge what institutions should be advocated, and what legislative changes should be opposed?
Still, after due attention has been paid to these indispensable matters, a little time might, perhaps, with advantage be devoted to the natural history of societies. Some guidance for political conduct would possibly be reached by asking—What is the normal course of social evolution, and how will it be affected by this or that policy? It may turn out that legislative action of no kind can be taken that is not either in agreement with, or at variance with, the processes of national growth and development as naturally going on; and that its desirableness is to be judged by this ultimate standard rather than by proximate standards. Without claiming too much, we may at any rate expect that, if there does exist an order among those structural and functional changes which societies pass through, knowledge of that order can scarcely fail to affect our judgments as to what is progressive and what retrograde—what is desirable, what is practicable, what is Utopian.
To those who think such an inquiry worthy to be pursued, will be addressed the chapters that are to follow. There are sundry considerations important to be dwelt upon, before commencing Sociology. To a clear idea of the nature of the science have to be added clear ideas of the conditions to successful study of it. These will henceforth occupy us.