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PART VI.: THE ETHICS OF SOCIAL LIFE: POSITIVE BENEFICENCE - Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Ethics, vol. 2 
The Principles of Ethics, introduction by Tibor R. Machan (Indianapolis: LibertyClassics, 1978). Vol. 2.
Part of: The Principles of Ethics, 2 vols.
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THE ETHICS OF SOCIAL LIFE: POSITIVE BENEFICENCE
428. In the history of humanity as written, the saddest part concerns the treatment of women; and had we before us its unwritten history we should find this part still sadder. I say the saddest part because, though there have been many things more conspicuously dreadful–cannibalism, the torturings of prisoners, the sacrificings of victims to ghosts and gods–these have been but occasional; whereas the brutal treatment of women has been universal and constant. If, looking first at their state of subjection among the semi- civilized, we pass to the uncivilized, and observe the lives of hardship borne by nearly all of them–if we then think what must have gone on among those still ruder peoples who, for so many thousands of years, roamed over the uncultivated earth; we shall infer that the amount of suffering which has been, and is, borne by women, is utterly beyond imagination.
As I have before pointed out, this ill-treatment of women has been an unavoidable concomitant of the chronic struggle for life among tribes, which is still going on in some places and once went on universally (sec. 335). The brutality fostered in men by their dealings with enemies, necessarily operated throughout their daily lives. The weakest went to the wall inside the tribe as well as outside the tribe. Utter absence of sympathy made it inevitable that women should suffer from the egoism of men, without any limit save their ability to bear the entailed hardships. Passing this limit, the ill-treatment, by rendering the women incapable of rearing a due number of children, brought about disappearance of the tribe; and we may safely assume that multitudes of tribes disappeared from this cause: leaving behind those in which the ill-treatment was less extreme.
It must not be supposed, however, that the women who, throughout the past, had to bear all this misery, and in many places still have to bear it, were or are essentially better than the men. All along the brutality of nature has been common to the two; and, as we see in the love of torturing prisoners, is, among some of the North American tribes, even more pronounced in the women than in the men. The truth is simply that the unqualified and cruel egoism characterizing both, has worked out its evil results on those least able to resist. Hence the women have been compelled to carry all the burdens, do all the wearisome and monotonous work, remain unfed till their masters have satisfied themselves, and left to live on the remnants.
Only during these later periods of human history, in which the destructive passions have not been so constantly excited by the struggle for existence between societies, small and large, has the treatment of women slowly become less brutal; and only during this same period has there been growing up in men, a perception that women have certain special claims upon them, and a sentiment responding to the perception.
429. Perhaps, however, it is going too far to ascribe this softening of conduct to any consciousness of its propriety. Little by little character has changed; and the accompanying amelioration in the behavior of men to women, leading to gradual modifications of customs, has had no recognized sanction beyond the authority of these customs. Such and such privileges are now conceded to women, partly because immediate sympathy prompts, and partly because social conventions direct; but there is recognized in no definite way the true ethical basis for this better treatment.
In preceding chapters we have several times seen that beyond the equalization which justice imposes upon us, by putting to the liberties of each limits arising from the liberties of all, beneficence exhorts us to take steps towards a further equalization. Like spheres of action having been established, it requires us to do something towards diminishing the inequalities of benefits which superior and inferior severally obtain within their spheres. This requirement has first to be fulfilled in the relations between men and women. Leaving aside all questions concerning mental powers, it is undeniable that in respect of physical powers, women are not the equals of men; and in this respect are disadvantaged in the battle of life. It is also unquestionable that, as the bearers of children, they are placed at a further serious disadvantage–are from time to time in considerable measure incapacitated for using whatever powers they have. Nor can it be doubted that though on the man devolves the business of providing sustenance for the family, yet the onerous duties of the woman, in unceasing attention to children from morning to night day after day, tie her more closely to home, and generally limit individual development to a greater degree. The inequalities thus necessarily arising between the lives of the two sexes, men have to rectify as much as they can–are called upon to make compensations.
Thus the observances which characterize the conduct of men to women in civilized societies, are not, as they at first seem, arbitrary conventions. If not consciously, still unconsciously, men have in modern times conformed their behavior to certain well-authorized dictates of positive beneficence.
430. The ideas and sentiments which should regulate the relations between men and women at large, find their special sphere in the marital relation. Here, more than elsewhere, it is the duty of the man to diminish, so far as may be, the disadvantages under which the woman has to live.
During the early stages of married life this duty is usually well fulfilled. Save in the utterly brutal, the sentiment which unites the sexes ensures on the part of the man, at any rate for a time, a recognition of the woman's claim. Her relative weakness forms one element of attraction; and, by implication, there results the desire to shield off such evils as the relative weakness entails. But though the nature inherited from a ruder type of humanity has been rendered less exclusively egoistic, it eventually reasserts itself to some extent in a large proportion of cases. Frequently the solicitude at first shown, diminishes; and, occasionally, even the acts of consideration which custom dictates, come to be disregarded–sometimes with assignable excuse, and sometimes without excuse.
It is consequently needful that there should be kept in mind the true ethical basis for the sympathetic self-sacrifices required of men to women in general, and especially required of husbands in their behavior to wives. So long as the code of conduct which regulates the general relations of the sexes, and more especially the marital relation, is thought of as conventional in its origin, it is more apt to be disregarded than when it is seen to originate in that form of beneficence which seeks to make less unequal the lives of those to whom Nature has given unequal advantages.
The incidents of female life during the childbearing period, are such as from time to time demand special consideration. Perturbations of health, more or less marked, are ordinary concomitants; and with these there sometimes go mental perturbations. When recognized as accompaniments of the functions which bear so heavily on women, these are of course to be tenderly dealt with. There is a further more general effect liable to be produced, which, in some cases being misunderstood, undermines affection. As before indicated, the antagonism between reproduction and individuation not unfrequently causes in women a sensible diminution in mental activity. Intellectual interests which before marriage were marked, diminish or cease; and a highly cultured man, who had hoped for a wife's sympathy in his aims, finds himself disappointed. Hence, sometimes, an alienation leading to decrease of domesticity. But a beneficence of the enlightened kind, rightly construing this decline of brainpower, will not regard it with impatience but with regret: accompanied even with some extra sympathy, in consideration of the mental pleasures which are being lost.
431. Of course these self-sacrifices, small and large, which a husband is called on to make for a wife, are not without limit. While on the one hand the inherited moral nature, at present so imperfect, frequently causes on the part of husbands a neglect of those attentions which a due beneficence requires of them; on the other hand, this same inherited moral nature frequently causes insistence by women on undue claims. Something much beyond the normal compensation for feminine disadvantages is demanded and gained.
Not unfrequently a relation of this kind is established during a first pregnancy. At such a time exigeante behavior on the part of a wife cannot well be resisted. Any considerable mental agitation might have disastrous consequences; and the husband, fearful of such consequences, feels obliged to yield, however unreasonable the demand may be. Once initiated and continued for some months, the relative attitudes of the two tend to become permanent. This result is evidently most liable to occur where the wife is one for whom unusually large sacrifices ought not to be made–one whose inferiority of nature is shown by thus using her advantage.
What should be done in such cases it is difficult to say. The answer must vary with the circumstances. While pronounced supremacy of husband over wife is undesirable, still more undesirable is pronounced supremacy of wife over husband–more undesirable because woman is less judicially minded and more impulsive than man. Though the undue assertions of claims on the part of a wife cannot well be resisted under the circumstances in which they are probably first made, yet they may be resisted afterward, when possible mischiefs no longer threaten. And for the happiness of both they should be resisted. For since the masculine trait which above all others attracts women, and gives permanence to their attachments, is the manifestation of power, the lack of power shown by constant yielding to aggression, eventually becomes a cause of declining affection and diminished conjugal happiness. The truth that a woman often loves more a strong man who ill treats her than a weak man who treats her well, shows how great a mistake it is for a husband to accept a position of subordination.
But all questions of this kind which take their rise in a human nature not yet sufficiently civilized for harmonious domestic life, any more than for harmonious social life, must remain with very indefinite answers. Active sympathy, and the beneficence resulting from it, are requisite in both husband and wife; and lack of them in either must have evil results, not in any way to be remedied. All one may say is that the needful beneficence on the part of a husband should err by excess rather than by defect.
432. Of course marital beneficence should be reciprocal. Though it is owed in chief measure by husband to wife, it is owed in large measure by wife to husband. While there have to be made by her no compensations for relative weakness and vital disadvantages, yet a return for benefits and sacrifices received, has to be made in such smaller benefits and sacrifices as domestic life affords place for.
Indebtedness to the bread-winner has to be recognized, and in some measure discharged: the tacit contract implies this as a matter of justice. But beyond fulfillment of the tacit contract by due performance of necessary household duties, there is scope for beneficence in the multitudinous small acts which help to make a home happy. If, on the one hand, we often see among the least civilized of our people, husbands utterly regardless of their wives' claims, burdening them with labors such as are fit only for men, we often see on the other hand slatternly wives who, lounging at doors and spending their time in gossip, so neglect household work as to bring on continual altercations and domestic misery. Even among the well-to-do classes there are not a few married women who, now occupied in novel reading, now in visiting, now in fancy work, scarcely ever go into their kitchens, and delegate all their duties to servants. Beyond the efficient household administration demanded alike by justice and by beneficence, there needs on the part of a wife sympathy in a husband's interests and aims and anxieties. That this is spontaneously given to a large extent is true; but it is also true that there is frequently little or no attempt made to participate in his leisure occupations and tastes. The way in which girls who daily practice music before marriage, give up their music after marriage, exemplifies the failure in those small beneficences which due reciprocity demands.
433. Respecting all that part of good conduct in the marital relation which goes beyond the demands of justice–the tacit contract for fostering and protection on the one side and discharge of domestic and maternal duties on the other–it may be remarked that it should be spontaneous. As before said, beneficence when constrained ceases to be beneficence.
Unfortunately many of the observances prompted by kindness, become mechanical as fast as they become established; and in so doing lose much of that beauty they originally had. When what were concessions come to be claimed as rights, the pleasurable feelings on both sides which at first accompanied them, disappear, and are sometimes replaced by opposite feelings–the claiming of the assumed rights implies egoism, and the yielding of them is without sympathy.
Hence alike in the social relations of men and women and in the marital relation, it is desirable to maintain, as much as may be, the distinction between justice and beneficence; so that the last may continue to bear about it the aspect of a freshly prompted kindness which has not been counted upon.
Full beneficence in the marital relation is reached only when each is solicitous about the claims of the other. So long as there continues that common attitude in which each maintains rights and resists encroachments, there can never be entire harmony. Only when each is anxious rather to make a sacrifice than to receive a sacrifice, can the highest form of the relation be reached.
434. Already in the chapter “Parenthood,” forming part of “The Ethics of Individual Life,” much has been said which might equally well or better have been reserved for treatment under the above title. But the conduct of parents to children has still several aspects, not included in that chapter, which remain to be considered here.
Speaking generally, we may say that parental conduct exemplifies beneficence more than any other conduct. Though in the relation of parent to child egoism now and then becomes more pronounced than altruism, and though there is such a thing as the selfishness of affection which sacrifices the higher interests of a child to gain immediate pleasurable emotion, yet there is here less need for emphasizing beneficence than there is for emphasizing certain restrictions upon it.
Thoughtless beneficence has to be replaced by thoughtful beneficence. In cases where there is an ungrudging supply of everything needful for bodily development, and a furnishing by proxy of all the requisite aids to intellectual development, there is often but a niggardly expenditure of the reflection and attention required for good management.
435. To the mass of people nothing is so costly as thought. The fact that, taking the world over, ninety-nine people out of a hundred accept the creed to which they were born, exemplifies their mental attitude towards things at large. Nearly all of them pursue mechanically the routine to which they have been accustomed, and are not only blind to its defects but will not recognize them as defects when they are pointed out. And the reluctance to think which they show everywhere else, is shown in their dealings with children. The tacit assumption is that when they have provided well for their physical needs, and delivered them over to teachers paid by themselves or by the public, they have done their duty.
But parental beneficence truly conceived includes more than this. Some parts of mental culture may rightly be deputed; other parts cannot. Though the later stages of intellectual education may with advantage be consigned to teachers, the earlier stages of it, as well as the education of the emotions during all stages, devolve on parents. They may here be aided by others but cannot properly be replaced by others. Even while yet in arms, the child looks for intellectual sympathy: thrusting something given to it into your face that you too may look at it; and when it reaches a conversational age, constantly adding to its statements the question “Isn't it?”–so showing its desire for agreement and verification. From parents more than from others should come the response to this intellectual need; and by parents more than by others should the normal process of instruction be based on the child's habits of inquiry. For parental affection, where it is joined with an observing and reasoning intelligence, will give an interest to this process of unfolding–a greater interest than can be felt by others. The eagerness for knowledge which every child shows by perpetual questions, parental beneficence will aim to satisfy: from time to time opening the way to new classes of inquiries concerning facts which a child's mind can appreciate. It may be said that a father after his business fatigues, or a mother in the midst of her domestic cares, cannot do this. But a very small amount of attention given daily will suffice to aid and direct self-development; and rightly cultured parents will find interest in watching the progress.
Still more is home regulation required for the right molding of character, alike in the earlier and in the later stages of education. If parental conduct has been what it should be, the reciprocal affection produced gives to a parent a greater power of influencing the emotions than can be possessed by anyone else; and a good parent will regard it as a part of daily duty to use this influence to the best purpose. Not by coercive methods will he proceed; for if a right relation has been established these will rarely be needed, but he will proceed by influence–signs of approval and disapproval, of sympathy and repugnance, given to actions which are now above and now below the standard. Where from the beginning there has been pursued a proper course, and where there is a due amount of that inventive thought required for adjusting modes of control to peculiarities of nature, moral education will cease to be a trouble and may become a pleasure.
But whatever may be the difficulties in the way, parental beneficence includes ministration to the minds of children as well as ministration to their bodies. If the young are to be reared into fitness for life, it is absurd to suppose that parents are concerned with one factor in the fitness and not with the other.
436. While parental beneficence usually falls far short of the requirement in some ways, it greatly exceeds the requirement in other ways; or rather, let us say, in other ways it prompts the giving of immediate happiness without due regard for remote happiness. Of course I refer to the practice, everywhere recognized and condemned, of “spoiling” children.
If it is the business of education to produce fitness for adult life, then it should make the life of early days simulate the life to be led in later days, in so far as to maintain, if not the same proportion, yet some proportion, between its labors and its pleasures. Doubtless early life, as being the time for growth and development, should differ from later life in the respect that more should be given and less demanded, both physically and mentally. But, nevertheless, there should from the first be initiated that relation between efforts and benefits which is to become pronounced at maturity. There should not be a perpetual giving gratification out of all relation to industry. A thoughtful beneficence will avoid a profuse ministration to childish desires.
Besides the mischief caused by too great a dissociation of benefits from efforts, there is often in modern times an accompaning mischief–not among the poorer members of the community but among those who have means. Various social pleasures which should be reserved for adult life, are provided in large amounts for children; and a necessary consequence is that adult life has much less to give them than it should have. In a rationally conducted education, the surrounding world and the incidents of every day, may be made to yield pleasures quite sufficient to fill the leisure parts of a child's life, without having recourse to many artificial pleasures; and a wise beneficence, by taking care fully to utilize these, will avoid the evil now frequently inflicted by indulgent parents, who make a son blasé before life in its full form has been entered upon.
437. Often where parental beneficence is adequate in all other ways, there remains a way in which it falls short. There is a lack of proper self-control in the proportioning of kindnesses and attentions to different children. This causes much mischief, of which there seems but little consciousness.
It is in the nature of things that there cannot be equal amounts of affection felt by parents for all their children. The law of the instability of the homogeneous shows itself in this detail as everywhere else. There is inevitably a gravitation toward inequality, and more or less of favoritism. Even from birth some children commend themselves less to maternal affection than others do; and the differences in the feelings drawn out toward them, once established, are apt to be increased by the differences of treatment which result, and the different amounts of responsive affection.
Here we are shown the way in which blind instincts, even of the altruistic kind, require to be checked and guided by the higher sentiments. For beneficence and justice alike dictate as near an approach as may be to equal treatment of children–that is, to equal participation in parental care and kindness. No one will question that, as a matter of justice, each child has as good a claim as another to those aids to development which parents are called on to yield; and it can scarcely be denied that such parts of parental conduct as exceed justice and pass into beneficence, should also be distributed with approximate fairness.
It is important that in this sphere the rule of the sentiments over the instincts should be strong; for immense mischiefs arise from favoritism in families. Parents in many respects high-minded, often inflict great cruelties on some of their children, to whom they show habitual indifference while daily lavishing affection on their brothers and sisters. It is no small thing to cast a gloom over all the years of a child's life. But beyond the direct evil there are indirect evils. The mental depression produced tends toward discouragement; and often causes intellectual inefficiency. The character is unfavorably modified by the awakening of antagonistic and jealous feelings. And there is a loss of that controlling power which is gained by a parent who has fostered sympathetic relations with a child.
In few directions is parental beneficence more called for than in resisting the tendency which inevitably arises to distribute kindnesses to children unequally.
438. The most injurious kind of ill-regulated parental beneficence remains to be named–an excess in one direction often associated with deficiencies in other directions. A father who has discharged his duties to children quite mechanically, taking no trouble about their mental culture, and giving to them throughout their early lives but little parental sympathy, has nevertheless devoted many years of untiring labor to accumulating a large fortune, which he bequeaths to them. Not, indeed, that he has been prompted wholly, or even mainly, by the wish to leave them well provided for. Often the purely egoistic desire to obtain the honor which wealth brings, has been the chief motive. But joined with this there has been the desire that his children shall have bequests which will enable them to live without labor and anxiety. In so far as this shows beneficence, it shows a mistaken beneficence.
Our existing social regime, with its vast amounts of property in relatively few hands, though a regime appropriate to the existing type of humanity, and probably essential to it, is one which we may rightly regard as transitional. Just as modern times have seen a decrease in those great political inequalities, and accompanying inequalities of power, which characterized earlier times; so future times will most likely see a decrease in those great pecuniary inequalities which now prevail. Having emerged from the militant social type, we appear to be passing through a social type which may be distinguished as militant industrialism–an industrialism which, though carried on under the system of contract, instead of under the system of status, is in considerable measure carried on in the old militant spirit; as, indeed, it could not fail to be, seeing that men's characters and sentiments can be changed only in the course of long ages. Though pecuniary inequalities–some of them perhaps not inconsiderable–may be expected to characterize the future, reasserting themselves after socialisms and communisms have temporarily triumphed; yet we may infer that under higher social forms and a better type of humanity, they will be nothing like so marked as now. There will be neither the possibilities nor the desires for accumulating large fortunes: decrease in the desires being, in part, caused by recognition of the truth that parental beneficence, instead of enforcing them, interdicts them.
For a man's children are injuriously influenced both by the hope that they will be enabled to live without labor and by the fulfillment of that hope. As indicated in the chapter “Activity” and elsewhere, there can be no truly healthful life if benefits are dissociated from efforts. The principle on which human beings, in common with all other beings (save parasites) are organized, is that sustentation shall be effected by action; and detriment results if the sustentation comes without the action. There is initiated a relaxation of the organic adjustments which, if continued generation after generation, will cause decay. There is no need to emphasize this. The demoralization caused by “great expectations” is matter of common remark.
While parental beneficence when it exceeds the normal requirement–that of fully preparing children for complete living, and helping them to make a fair start in life–is disastrous in the way pointed out, it is disastrous in another way. It generates in children thoughts and feelings profoundly at variance with the filial relation. The scene between Henry V and his dying father, when to Prince Henry's excuse for taking away the crown, “I never thought to hear you speak again,” the king replies, “Thy wish was father, Henry, to that thought”; may be taken as typical of the state of mind which is apt to arise where a father's death brings to a son great power or property or both. The well-recognized fact that between the existing owner of an entailed estate and the expectant owner, there commonly arises a certain silent jealousy, sufficiently proves this. Inevitably, therefore, one who accumulates a large fortune which at his death will pass to his children, who will simultaneously escape from tutelage, runs an imminent risk of raising in their minds the dreadful wish that he may die. Thoughts about the benefits which will come after his decease frequently suggest themselves; and though filial affection may be strong enough to repress them, they cannot be long absent, and must produce a chronic emotional conflict of a demoralizing kind.
In all ways is this common habit of providing largely for children maleficent rather than beneficent. Besides tempting them to inactivity and carelessness while they are young, and besides confirming these traits when they come into possession, thus making their lives abnormal ones, it is injurious alike to parent and to society. Entire absorption in business–an utter materialization of aims, while it dwarfs the parental life mentally, undermines it physically: bringing on ill-health, and an end earlier than is natural. At the same time the greed of property frequently prompts that merciless competition which, as we saw in a preceding chapter, not only inflicts misery on competitors needlessly, but entails social mischief.
Hence it is inferable that due regard for his own claims, for the claims of fellow citizens, and for social claims, should conspire with a far-seeing beneficence in preventing a parent from making his children independent.
439. Many years of childhood have to pass before there can be entertained the thought of naturally derived obligations to parents–whether those which justice imposes or those which beneficence imposes. The obligation to obedience is indeed perpetually insisted upon; and while in some cases ignored, is, in other cases, duly recognized. But in any case it is conceived as established by arbitrary authority. There is little or no idea of its natural fitness.
Here and there, however, even before the teens have been reached, especially in families having narrow means, predominant sympathy produces a constant helpfulness–an endeavor to lighten the burdens which fall especially on the mother; and in such cases there perhaps arises the thought that such helpfulness is but a small return for the fostering care received in preceding years. But more generally this praiseworthy assistance is due to the direct promptings of affection, and resulting kind feeling, rather than to recognition of parental claims.
In many cases, however, and it is to be feared in the great majority, not even the approach to maturity brings any idea of filial gratitude, as sequent on the idea of filial indebtedness. Feeding, clothing, and education are accepted as matters of course for which no thanks are due; but rather there come half-uttered grumblings because many things desired are not supplied. When, occasionally during an expostulation, a father points out to a youth the sacrifices that have been made for his benefit, and indicates the propriety of recognizing them, and conforming to a reasonable parental wish if nothing more, silent admission on the youth's part of the undeniable fact, is often not accompanied by the feeling which should be produced. Parents are in most cases regarded as ordained fountains of benefits from whom everything is to be expected and to whom nothing is due.
And this is, indeed, the primitive relation. Throughout the animate creation in general, this is the connection between each generation and the next. With untiring energy and persistent care, parents rear offspring to maturity; and the offspring, incapable of conceiving what has been done for them, are also incapable of any responsive feeling. This brute form of the parental and filial relation, still, to a considerable degree, persists in the human race. Often at an age when they should be capable of complete self-maintenance, the young continually claim aid from the old; and express in no very respectful words their vexation if they do not get what they ask. Recognitions of the immense indebtedness of child to parent, and of the resulting duties, have indeed been occasionally expressed from the earliest ages; as witness the words of the Egyptian sage Ani:
“Thou wast put to school, and whilst thou wast being taught letters she came punctually to thy master, bringing thee the bread and the drink of her house. Thou art now come to man's estate; thou art married and hast a house; but never do thou forget the painful labor which thy mother endured, nor all the salutary care which she has taken of thee. Take heed lest she gave cause to complain of thee, for fear that she should raise her hands to God and he should listen to her prayer.”
[The Hibbert Lectures, 1879, by P Le Page Renouf, p. 102.]
But though theoretically admitted by all, the obligation of child to parent has been in fact but little felt, and is very inadequately felt still; and there is still a very inadequate consciousness of the duty of discharging it as far as possible.
440. Filial beneficence as currently conceived is not wide enough in its range. Except the utterly brutal, all feel that it is imperative to save parents from want or direct physical privations; but not many feel the imperativeness of those constant attentions, and small kindnesses, and manifestations of affection, which are really due. The reciprocity called for includes not material benefits only but moral benefits–such endeavors to make the old age of parents happy as shall correspond with the endeavors they made to render happy the early days of their children.
In few directions is existing human nature so deficient as in this. Though, among the civilized, the aged are not left, as among various rude savages, to die of bodily starvation, yet they are often left to pine away in a condition that may be figuratively called mental starvation. Left by one child after another as these marry they often come at length to lead lives which are almost or quite solitary. No longer energetic enough for the pleasures of activity and not furnished with the passive pleasures which the social circle yields, they suffer the weariness of monotonous days. From time to time there comes, now from one child and now from another, a visit which serves nominally to discharge filial obligation, and to still the qualms of conscience in natures which are sympathetic enough to feel any qualms; but there is rarely such an amount of affectionate attention as makes their latter days enjoyable, as they should be. For in a rightly constituted order, these latter days should bring the reward for a life well passed and duties well discharged.
Insistence on filial beneficence is a crying need; and there is no saying in what way it is to be met. It cannot properly come from the aged themselves, since they are to be the beneficiaries. From the young we cannot expect it in adequate measure, since the need for it implies their deficiency in the sentiment which makes it needful. And by the official ex pounders of rectitude the subject is but rarely dealt with, or is dealt with ineffectually.
If those who are appointed to instruct men in the conduct of life, fail properly to emphasize filial beneficence in the interests of parents, still more do they fail to emphasize it in the interests of the children themselves. Neglecting to enforce the claims of fathers and mothers on their offspring, they leave these offspring to suffer, in declining life, from the consciousness of duties unperformed, when there is no longer a possibility of performing them–leave them a prey to painful thoughts about the dreary latter days of those they should have tenderly cared for: dreary days which they begin to realize when their own latter days have become dreary.
Aiding the Sick and the Injured
441. Part of the subject matter of the preceding three chapters is included under the title of this chapter; for marital beneficence, parental beneficence, and filial beneficence, severally dictate solicitous care of any member of the family who is suffering from illness or from accident. In the natural order of things the house becomes at need a hospital and its inmates nurses.
Whether or not in respect of those outside the family group, beneficence requires that the sick and the hurt shall be succored, even at the risk of self-injury, it certainly requires that this shall be done inside the family group. If, as we see, the protecting of wife by husband is demanded as ancillary to continuance of species (since if the mother is unprotected the species must suffer), then, for the same reason, the care of wife when she is in any way prostrated is demanded. In like manner a reciprocal care of the breadwinner is called for as a condition to maintenance of the family. Still more obviously requisite is a diligent attendance on children who are ill: the obligation to nurse them being included in the general obligation to use all means of rearing them to maturity. Only in the case of afflicted parents having grown-up children, are we debarred from saying that the welfare of the species dictates the succoring of them. Here the fact that direct increase of happiness results from rendering the needful assistance, gives rise to the obligation.
As happens in the case of infectious diseases, obligations of this class have to be discharged, even at the risk of suffering and sometimes of death. Nature at large teaches us this lesson. Beyond the fact that among innumerable kinds of lower creatures, parental life is wholly sacrificed for the benefit of offspring, we see that among higher creatures the instincts are such as prompt, especially on the part of a mother, the facing of any danger for protection of the young: survival of the fittest has established this recklessness of evil. Hence it must be held that the risking of infection is ethically enjoined on a human mother: the only important check being the consideration that loss of life involves loss of ability to discharge obligations to the surviving members of the family. And there seems no reason why an equal obligation to meet the risk should not devolve on the father; unless it be that he has to provide the necessaries of life alike for the household at large and for its suffering member, and that his incapacity may bring starvation on all.
Are there any other checks to the self-sacrifices entailed on some of the family by the illness of another or others belonging to it? There are such other checks. A wise and duly proportioned beneficence does not countenance loss of the relatively worthy for preservation of the relatively worthless. Everyone can name persons wrecked in body and mind by cherishing invalid relatives–relatives who often thanklessly receive the sacrifices made for them. Here is a wife whose sole occupation for a decennium has been that of nursing a gouty husband; and who, as a result, dies of a worn-out physique before he does. Here is a daughter who, after many years' attendance on an invalid mother, is shortly after required to give similar attendance to an invalid aunt; and who, now that she has lived through these long periods of daily abnegations and wearisome duties, is becoming mentally unhinged. And here is a husband whose latter days are made miserable by the task of safeguarding, in his own house, an insane wife. Though in such cases (all of them occurring within my own small circle) beneficence demands great self-sacrifice, yet its dictates should be so far qualified as not to require that the lives of the healthy shall be lost in making the lives of the diseased more tolerable. Some compromise has to be made by which there may be achieved partial relief from the heavy burdens.
Especially is it proper that domestic invalids who make undue demands should receive a not unlimited attention. Often a whole household is subordinated to the exactions of a sickly member; and instead of gratitude there comes grumbling. This tyranny of the weak ought to be resisted. For the checking of their own egoism, as well as for the welfare of those around, the unreasonable sacrifices they continually ask should be refused. Such invalids are not only physically sick, but are morally sick also; and their moral sickness requires treatment as well as their physical sickness. Husbands in the decline of life who have married young wives, and presently make them little else than nurses–objecting even to have other nurses to share the labors with them–require awakening to a due sense not of others' duties to them but of their own duties to others. A man is not absolved from the obligations of beneficence because he is ill; and if he rightly feels these obligations he will insist that others shall not injure themselves for his benefit.
442. Concerning that wider beneficence which expends itself in care for sick persons not belonging to the family, it is difficult to say anything definite. Each case is rendered more or less special by the character of the patient and the circumstances; so that general propositions can scarcely find place. We may set down, however, the considerations by which judgment should be guided.
If, as all will admit, the care of one who is sick devolves primarily on members of the family group, and devolves secondarily on kindred, it devolves only in smaller measure on unrelated persons. These may rightly limit themselves to indirect aid, where this is needed and deserved. Only in cases where there are no relatives, or none capable of undertaking relatives' duties, does it seem that beneficence demands from unrelated persons the requisite attentions.
How far such attentions shall be carried must, again, be determined in part by thought of the claims arising from character and conduct. If, with Friendly Societies around him throughout life, the man who is at length taken ill, refused to make any provision against sickness, it cannot be held fit that his necessities as an invalid shall be ministered to as well as they might have been had he made such provision. If sympathy prompts an equal attention to the improvident as to the provident, the sentiment of justice puts a veto. Then, again, there is the question of character. If as much sacrifice is made for the sick good-for-nothing as is made for the sick good-for-something, there is abolished one of those distinctions between the results of good and bad conduct which all should strive to maintain. Further, there is the allied question of value. Much more may rightly be done for one whose abilities or energies promise public benefit, than for one who is useless to his fellow men, or is a burden on them.
Besides the beneficiaries, their characters and circumstances, there have to be considered the constitutions and circumstances of the benefactors. On those who have but little vitality and but small recuperative power after illness, a rational beneficence does not impose as heavy duties as it does on those in high vigor, who can bear disturbances of health without permanent mischief. Differences of claims hence arising, are seen to be greater on remembering that those with low blood pressure, are more liable to contract infectious diseases than those in whom the tide of life rises higher: especially when, as commonly happens, there is fear in the one case and not in the other. To the check which, for these reasons, a reasonable egoism puts upon altruism, must be joined a check of an altruistic kind; namely consideration for those on whom evils will be entailed by contracting an infectious disease, or an illness caused by exhaustion. These evils are of several kinds. One who, engaged in nursing a stranger, comes home to the family group with a fever, risks their health and life as well as her own. Moreover, she entails on them the troubles and anxieties attendant upon nursing her, as well as the moral pains which her sufferings and perhaps her death, produce. Even when a fatal issue is escaped, there is necessarily for some time an inability to discharge such obligations as she has ordinarily to discharge; and, occasionally, a permanent inability to discharge them. Evidently, then, while beneficence prompts such aid to sick persons who have no claims of relationship, as may be given without considerable risk, it does not dictate the giving of such aid by those who have family ties and important duties.
Nevertheless we must not ignore the fact that such aid may be, and often is, given without injury by those who, if the above reason is valid, ought to hesitate in giving it. In a way somewhat remarkable, medical men (taking, however, in most cases some precautions) daily visit patients suffering from fevers or kindred diseases, and but rarely take them. We must suppose that use, and perhaps an acquired mental indifference, unite to give them immunity; and yet, even if so, it is not easy to see how, during the earlier stages of their professional lives, they escape. Hospital nurses, too, apparently become impervious. So that the risks of evil run by those whose sympathies prompt them to adopt nursing as an occupation, are not so great as at first appears; and where the nursing is of those suffering from other than infectious diseases, it may be consistent with fairly good health.
That strange emotion, so difficult to analyze, the luxury of pity is an incentive to the sacrifices which nursing implies; and when with this there coexists a large share of the maternal instinct, which is in essence a love of the helpless, the care of the helpless sick becomes a source of subdued pleasure, which in large measure neutralizes the pain, and even makes the occupation a gratifying one. Without enjoining the beneficence which issues in these results, one may fitly look on and admire.
443. Though due regard for all circumstances puts some restraint on ministration to the sick who have no family claims, it puts no restraint on ministration to sufferers of another class–those who have met with accidents. Everyone is from time to time witness to injuries caused by falls, or by runaway horses, or by carriage collisions; and everyone is, in such cases, bound to render all possible assistance. None save those in whom the brutality of the barbarian still predominates, fail to feel contempt for the Pharisee in the parable and approval of the Samaritan.
But while the duty of caring for the injured is commonly recognized, as demanded even by the most ordinary beneficence, there is an ancillary duty which has only of late gained partial recognition–the duty of acquiring such knowledge and skill as shall make efficient the efforts to aid. Up to our own days, and even still in ninety-nine people out of a hundred, the wish to help the wounded or maimed is unaccompanied by instructed ability–nay, worse, is accompanied by an ignorance which leads to mischievous interferences. The anxiety to do something ends in doing harm; for there is commonly no adequate consciousness of the truth that there are many ways of going wrong to one way of going right.
Hence a provident beneficence suggests the acquirement of such surgical and medical knowledge as may be of avail to sufferers before professional aid can be obtained. Unqualified applause, then, must be given to those Ambulance Societies and kindred bodies, which seek to diffuse the requisite information and give by discipline the requisite skill. Unfortunately when there come the demands for the acquired knowledge and aptitude, the hoped for benefits are not always forthcoming: nervousness or indecision, or perhaps perplexity amid the various lessons which have been learned, leads to failure. Still, the inference to be drawn is not that such preparations for aiding the injured should be abandoned, but rather that they should be more thorough, and should in fact form a part of the education given to all.
Succor to the Ill-Used and the Endangered
444. In everyone who is capable of ethical ideas and sentiments, more than one kind of motive prompts the defense of those who are aggressed upon: especially when they are weaker than the aggressors. There cooperate an immediate sympathy with the pains, mentally or bodily, inflicted; a feeling of indignation against the person who inflicts them; a sense of justice which is irritated by the invasion of personal rights; and (where there is a quick consciousness of remote results) an anger that the established principles of social order should be broken. Whoever is civilized, not in the superficial sense but in the profound sense, will feel himself impelled to aid one who is suffering violence, either physical or moral; and will be ready to risk injury in yielding the aid.
The courage shown by one of those hired men who unite in conquering small semicivilized nations and weak, uncivilized tribes, is to be admired about as much as is the courage of a brute which runs down and masters its relatively feeble prey. The courage of one who fights in self-defense, or who as a soldier fights to defend his country when it is invaded, is respectable–is a proper manifestation of direct egoism in the one case, and in the other case a manifestation of that indirect egoism which makes it the interest of every citizen to prevent national subjugation. But the courage which prompts the succoring of one who is ill used, and which, against odds of superior strength, risks the bearing of injury that the weaker may not be injured, is courage of the first order–a courage backed, not as in many cases by base emotions, but backed by emotions of the highest kind.
One might have thought that even in a pagan society the ill-treatment of the weak by the strong would be universally reprobated. Still more might one have thought that in a professedly Christian society, general indignation would fall upon a bully who used his greater bodily powers to oppress a victim having smaller bodily powers. And most of all one might have felt certain that in educational institutions, governed and officered by professed teachers of Christianity, ever enjoining beneficence, ill-treatment of the younger and weaker by the elder and stronger would be sternly forbidden and severely repressed. But in our clerically administered public schools, the beneficence just described as of the highest order, finds no place; but, contrariwise, there finds place an established maleficence. Bullying and fagging, in past times carried to cruel extremes, still survive; and, as happened not long since, a resulting death is apologized for and condoned by one of our bishops. There is maintained and approved a moral discipline not inappropriate for those who, as legislators and military officers, direct and carry out, all over the world, expeditions which have as their result to deplete pagans and fatten Christians.
But though public-school ethics and, by transmission, the ethics of patriotism so-called, do not in practice (whatever they may do in theory) include that form of beneficence which risks injury to self in defending the weak against the strong, the ethics of evolution, as here interpreted, emphasize this form of beneficence; since the highest individual nature and the highest social type, cannot exist without a strength of sympathy which prompts such self-sacrificing beneficence.
445. And here, before considering the demands for self-sacrifice arising, not in the cases of injuries threatened by maleficent human beings, but in the cases of injuries threatened by the forces of nature, something should be said concerning the courage required for the last as for the first; and, indeed, frequently more required, since the forces of nature are merciless.
Very generally the virtue of courage is spoken of as though it were under all circumstances worthy of the same kind of applause, and its absence worthy of the same kind of contempt. These indiscriminating judgments are indefensible. In large measure, though not wholly, the development of courage depends on personal experience of ability to cope with dangers. It is in the order of nature that one who perpetually fails, and suffers from his failures, becomes increasingly reluctant to enter into conflict with either organic or inorganic agencies; while, conversely, success in everything undertaken fosters a readiness to run risks–sometimes an undue readiness: each fresh success being an occasion of extreme satisfaction, the expectation of which becomes a temptation. Hence, to a considerable extent, timidity and courage are their own justifications: the one being appropriate to a nature which is physically, or morally, or intellectually defective in a greater or less degree; and the other being appropriate to a nature which is superior either in bodily power, or strength of emotion, or intellectual aptitude and quickness. Errors of estimation in this matter may be best excluded by taking a case in respect of which men's preconceptions are not strongly established–say the case of Alpine explorations. Here is one who has constitutionally so little strength that he is prostrated by climbing two or three thousand feet; or whose hands are not capable of a powerful and long-sustained grip; or whose vision is not keen enough to make him quite sure of his footing; or who cannot look down a precipice without feeling dizzy; or who so lacks presence of mind that he is practically paralyzed by an emergency. All will admit that any one of these physical or mental deficiencies rightly interdicts the attempt to scale a mountain peak, and that to make the attempt would be a mark not of courage but of folly. Contrariwise, one who to strength of limb adds power of lungs, and with these joins acute senses, a clear and steady head, and resources mental and bodily which rise to the occasion when danger demands, may be held warranted in a risky undertaking; as, for instance, descending into a crevasse to rescue one who has fallen into it. His courage is the natural accompaniment of his ability.
Such contrasts of natures should ordinarily determine such contrasts of actions; and estimates of conduct should recognize them–should, in large measure, take the form of pity for the incapacities of one or other kind which fear implies, and respect for the superiorities implied by courage. “In large measure,” I say, because there are degrees of timidity beyond those which defects justify, and degrees of courage beyond those appropriate to the endowments; and while the first of these rightly deserves reprobation, the last may be duly admired, supposing it is not pushed to the extent of irrational imprudence.
Speaking generally, then, the sanction for courage must take into account the relation between the thing to be done and the probable capacity for doing it. The judgment formed must obviously vary according to the age–cannot be the same for the young or the old as for one in the prime of life; must vary with the state of health, which often partially incapacitates; must vary with what is called the “personal equation,” since, when in danger, slowness of perception or of action is often fatal. The single fact that heart disease produces timidity–a timidity appropriate to that inability which failure of circulation involves–suffices alone to show that, both in self and in others, the estimated obligation to run a risk must always be qualified by recognition of personal traits.
Even without taking account of such special reasons, there is, indeed, a prevailing consciousness that some proportion should be maintained between the degree of danger and the ability to meet the danger. It is usual to condemn as “rash,” conduct which disregards this proportion. The saying that “discretion is the better part of valor,” though by implication referring only to the risks of battle, is applicable to other risks; and implies that there should be not approval but disapproval if the danger is too great. Similarly the epithet “foolhardy,” applied to one who needlessly chances death or great injury, is an epithet of reprobation; and implies, too, the perception that not unfrequently a large part of that which passes for courage is simply stupidity–an inability to perceive what is likely to happen. There is in fact generally felt a certain kind of obligation not to risk life too recklessly, even with a good motive.
While the injunction uttered by positive beneficence to succor those who are endangered by the merciless powers of nature, must be thus qualified, it must, as we shall presently see, be further qualified by recognition of the collateral results, should the effort to yield the succor prove fatal.
446. From the general we may turn now to the special. Let us ask what is the obligation imposed by beneficence to rescue one who is drowning. In what cases is the duty positive, and in what cases must it be doubtful or be negatived?
Clearly a man who, being a good swimmer, has the requisite ability, and yet makes no effort to save the life of one who, at no great distance, is in danger of sinking, is not only to be condemned as heartless but as worse. If at small risk to himself he can prevent another's death and does not, he must be held guilty of something like passive manslaughter. The only supposable excuse for him is his consciousness that one who is drowning is apt to grapple his rescuer in such way as to incapacitate him, and cause the deaths of both–a liability, however, which he might know is easily excluded by approaching the drowning person from behind.
But what are we to say when there is less fitness in strength, or skill, or both, to meet the requirements? What if weakness makes long-continued exertion impracticable? Or suppose that though he has general strength enough, the bystander has not acquired an ability to swim more than fifty yards, while the person to be rescued is considerably further off. Or suppose that, the scene of the threatened disaster being the sea, the power of the breakers is such that once in their grasp there is small chance of getting out again: even alone, much less when helping one who is drowning. Here it seems manifest that however much an unthinking beneficence may prompt running the risk, a judicial beneficence will forbid. An irrational altruism has in such cases to be checked by a rational egoism; since it is absurd to lose two lives in a hopeless effort to save one.
Other restraints have usually to be taken into account. A man who is without a wife or near relatives, so that his death will inflict no great amount of mental suffering–a man who is not responsible for the welfare of children or perhaps aged parents, may fitly yield to the immediate promptings of sympathy, and dare to do that which should not be done by one whose life is needful to other lives. In such cases beneficence urges and beneficence restrains. Quite apart from the instinct of self-preservation, the sense of duty to dependents may forbid the attempt to give that succor which fellow feeling instigates.
So that nothing definite can be said. Save in the instances first indicated, where the obligation is manifest, the obligation must be judged by the circumstances of each case: account being taken, not only of the qualifications named, but the value of the person for whom the effort is made; for the same risks should not be run on behalf of a criminal as on behalf of one who is noble in character, or one who is highly serviceable to his society.
447. Difficult as are the questions sometimes raised in presence of probable death from drowning, they are exceeded in difficulty by questions raised in presence of probable death from fire. In the one case the ability of the rescuer, resulting from his strength, skill, and quickness, counts for much; and the actions of the element, now quiet now boisterous, with which he has to contend, may be fairly well gauged by him; but, in the other case, he has to contend with an agent the destructive actions of which are much more terrible, much less calculable, and not to be overcome by strength.
From time to time we read of those who, at the peril of their lives, have rescued relatives and even strangers from burning houses; and again we read of others whose efforts of like kind have proved fatal. Are we then, under parallel circumstances, to say–Go thou and do likewise? Does beneficence demand disregard of self, carried to the extreme that it may very likely end in the sacrifice of a second life without the saving of a first? No general answer can be given. The incidents of the case and the special emotions–parental, filial, fraternal, or other–must decide. Often the question is one which cannot be answered even if there is absolute self-abnegation; as when, having brought out a child from one room which is in flames, a parent has to decide whether to rush into an upper room and rescue another child, at the same time that fire on the staircase threatens death to all. Evidently in such a chaos of conditions and feelings and obligations and risks, nothing can be said. And what is true in this extreme case is true in a large proportion of the cases. Ethics is dumb in presence of the conflicting requirements.
When not the life of the rescuer only is concerned, but when loss of his life must make other lives miserable, and leave grave obligations undischarged, interdict rather than injunction may be the ethical verdict.
448. Doubtless it is well for humanity at large to maintain the tradition of heroism. One whose altruistic promptings are so strong that he loses his own life in an almost hopeless effort to save another's life, affords an example of nobility which, in a measure, redeems the innumerable cruelties, brutalities, and meannesses, prevailing among men, and serves to keep alive hope of a higher humanity hereafter. The good done in occasionally putting egoism to the blush, may be counted as a setoff against the loss of one whose altruistic nature should have been transmitted.
But in all questions of the kind dealt with in this chapter, we may fitly fall back on the ancient doctrine of the mean. When throwing dice with death, the question whether death's dice are loaded may fitly be asked. Even the extreme maxim “Love thy neighbor as thyself” does not imply that each should value his own life at a less rate than that of another. Hence it seems inferable that though positive beneficence enjoins succoring the endangered where there seems an overbalancing probability that life will be saved, it does not enjoin more than this.
Pecuniary Aid to Relatives and Friends
449. A curious change of sentiments has accompanied a curious change of obligations, during the transition from that ancient type of social structure in which the family is the unit of composition to that modern type in which the individual is the unit of composition. The state of things still existing among the native Australians, under which the guilt of a murderer is shared in by all his kindred, who severally hold themselves subject to vengeance–the state of things which, throughout Europe in early days, made the family or clan responsible for any crime committed by one of its members, seems strange to us now that we have ceased to bear the burdens, criminal or other, not only of our remote relatives but even of our near relatives.
From one point of view the ancient system seems ethically superior–seems more altruistic. From another point of view, however, it is the reverse; for it goes along with utter disregard of, and very often enmity to, those not belonging to the family group. The modern system, while it does not recognize such imperative claims derived from community of blood, recognizes more than the old, claims derived from community of citizenship, and also claims derived from community of human nature. If we bear in mind that the primary ethical principle is that each individual shall experience the effects of his own nature and consequent conduct, and that under the ancient system sundry effects of his conduct were visited as readily on his relatives as on himself, whereas, under the modern system, they are visited on himself only; we shall infer that the modern system is the higher of the two. And we shall infer this the more readily on remembering that it is accompanied by a more equitable political regime, and consequent social ameliorations.
Acceptance of this inference will guide our judgments respecting obligations to assist relatives. The claims of immature children on parents, are directly deducible from the postulate that continuance of the species is a desideratum–a postulate from which, as we have seen, ethical principles in general originate. The reciprocal claims of parents on children are directly deducible from the position of indebtedness in which parental care has placed the children. But no other claims of relationship have anything like a fundamental authority. Community of blood arising from community of parentage, has not in itself any ethical significance. The only ethical significance of fraternity is that which arises from community of early life, and reciprocal affections presumably established by it. Brethren and sisters usually love one another more than they love those who are outside the family circle; and the accepted implication is that the stronger attachments which have arisen among them, originate stronger dictates to yield mutual aid. If, as is rightly said, relatives are ready-made friends, then children of the same parents must be regarded as standing in the first rank of such friends. But their obligations to one another must be held as consequent not on their common origin but on their bonds of sympathetic feeling–bonds made to vary in their strengths by differences of behavior, and which therefore generate different degrees of obligation.
This view, which will probably be dissented from by many, I enunciate before asking how far positive beneficence requires brothers and sisters to yield one another pecuniary aid. And I enunciate it the more emphatically because of the extreme mischiefs and miseries apt to result from the making and conceding of claims having no other warrant than community of parentage. Within these three years I have become personally cognizant of two cases in which, here impoverishment and there ruin, have been brought on sisters who have lent money to brothers. Ignorant of business, incapable of criticizing plausible representations, prompted by sisterly regard and confidence, they have yielded to pressure: being further led to yield by belief in a moral obligation consequent on the relationship. A rational beneficence countenances no such concessions. A brother who, in pursuit of his own advantage, wishes thus to hypothecate the property of sisters, who will grievously suffer should he not succeed, is a brother who proves himself devoid of proper fraternal feeling. The excuse that he feels sure of success is an utterly inadequate excuse. It is the excuse made by men who, to tide over emergencies, appropriate the funds they hold in trust, or by men who forge bills which they hope to be able to meet before they are due. And if in such cases it is recognized as criminal thus to risk the property of others on the strength of a hoped-for success, we cannot absolve from something like criminality a brother who, on the strength of a similar hope, obtains loans from trustful sisters. One who does such a thing should no longer be considered a brother.
But what is to be done when a loan is asked not from a sister but from a brother–a brother who has considerable means and is a competent judge? The answer here is of course indeterminate. The prospective creditor may in this case be capable of estimating the probable results–capable of estimating, too, his brother's business ability; and he may also rightly have such confidence in his own power of making money that he can reasonably risk a considerable loss. Especially if it is a case of difficulty to be met, sympathy may join fraternal affection in prompting assent. Even here, however, there may fitly be hesitation on both sides. Where there is in the matter an element of speculation, the one who needs money, if a conscientious man, will scarcely like to receive, much less to ask–will feel that it is bad enough to play with anyone the game “Heads I win, tails you lose”; and worse still with a brother.
450. Respecting those who are more remotely related or who are not related at all, much the same incentives and restraints may be alleged. If affection and fellow feeling, rather than common parentage or common ancestry, are the true prompters to needful monetary aids, then a friend with whom a long and kindly intercourse has established much sympathy, has a stronger claim than a little known relative, whose conduct has led now to disapproval now to dislike. Recognition of personal worth, or recognition of value as a citizen, may also rightly guide beneficent feeling to yield assistance where a difficulty, and especially an unforeseen difficulty, threatens evil. When it comes to the question of advancing means, not for preventing a probable disaster, but for entering upon some new undertaking, a longer pause for reflection is demanded. The worth and honesty of the borrower being taken for granted, there have still to be considered the amount of his energy, his appropriate knowledge, his proved capacity; and there have still to be considered the effects which will be felt should he fail. For the act must be considered from the egoistic side as well as from the altruistic side; and the degree of possible self-sacrifice may be greater than ought to be asked. Balanced judgments are in such cases hard to reach.
Much the same things may be said concerning that indirect hypothecation which consists in giving security. Here the difficulty of deciding is often greater; since there is no reply but either yes or no, and since the amount risked is usually large. Between a proper altruism and a reasonable egoism there is much strain in such cases. On the one hand, to negative the obtainment of some desirable post, which may be the first step towards a prosperous life, seems cruel. On the other hand, to risk the possible ruin which may come from yielding, seems something more than imprudent. A much greater power of judging character than is common must be possessed by one who can safely furnish a warrant for another's behavior. The incongruity between appearance and reality is often extreme; and there are but few adequately on their guard against it. Agreeableness and plausible professions usually attract a confidence which is repelled by a brusque sincerity that makes little effort to please; and trustworthiness is wrongly identified with the one rather than with the other.
But manifestly in such cases, as in preceding ones, the strongest restraint on a too easy beneficence is that which comes from due regard for the claims of dependents. One who, with exalted generosity, is ready to risk the wreck of his own life, is not warranted in risking the wreck of lives for which he is responsible. A judicial beneficence, weighing the possible future mischiefs to others against the present benefit to one, will usually see reason to resist the pressure.
In these days, however, such considerations scarcely need setting down; for now that the principle of insurance has been extended to the giving of security for good behavior on payment of an annual sum, no right-minded man will think of asking a friend to become security for him. Anyone who now asks another thus to endanger himself, is thereby proved to be unworthy of confidence.
451. To these counsels of kindness qualified by prudence, which are such as ordinary experience will suggest to most, there has to be added one other, which does not lie quite so much upon the surface. While desire for a friend's or relative's welfare may in some cases prompt the yielding of a large loan, a wise forethought for his welfare will often join other motives in refusing such aid.
For the beneficiary himself often needs saving from the disasters which his too sanguine nature threatens to bring on him. A large proportion of those who want loans may rightly be refused in their own interests. Anxiety to borrow so often goes along with incapacity to acquire, that we may almost say that money should be lent only to those who have proved their ability to make money. Hence, in many cases, the withholding of a desired accommodation is the warding off unhappiness from one who asks it.
I say this partly on the strength of a remark made in my hearing by a highly conscientious man who had carried on a business–a manufacture, I think–with borrowed capital. He said that the anxiety nearly killed him. The thought of the extent to which the welfare of others was staked, and the strain to fulfil his obligations, made his life a misery. Clearly, therefore, a far-seeing beneficence will in many cases decline, for the sake of the borrower, to furnish money, where a shortsighted beneficence would assent.
Relief of the Poor
452. We enter now upon the subject with which the conception of beneficence is almost wholly identified in some minds, and chiefly identified in many minds. With the word beneficence (or rather with the word benevolence, which commonly usurps its place) there usually springs up the idea of openhanded generosity to those in want. The giving of money or money's worth is so much the easiest and the most familiar mode of showing kindness, that by the unthinking, and especially by recipients, kindness is conceived as little else.
This species of beneficence, which, as we have seen, is one out of many, is daily presented to us in three different shapes. We have the law-established relief for the poor by distribution of money compulsorily exacted; with which may fitly be joined the alms derived from endowments. We have relief of the poor carried on by spontaneously organized societies, to which funds are voluntarily contributed. And then, lastly, we have the help privately given–now to those who stand in some relation of dependence, now to those concerning whose claims partial knowledge has been obtained, and now haphazard to beggars. We will consider these three kinds in the order here presented.
453. After all that has been said in preceding parts of this work, it is needless to argue at length that relief of the poor from public funds raised by rates, is, if considered apart from certain antecedents to be presently named, inconsistent with that limitation of state functions which ethics insists upon. If, as repeatedly pointed out, the true function of the state is that of guarding the aggregate of citizens and the individual citizen against aggressions, external and internal, so that each may be able to carry on his life with no greater hindrance than that which proximity of other citizens involves–if the state's only other function is that of so controlling the uses made of the inhabited territory, as to prevent sacrifice of the interests of the joint owner, the community; then it follows that if it taxes one class for the benefit of another, it exceeds its functions, and, in a measure contravenes the first of them.
This conclusion, however, holds as I have said “if considered apart from certain antecedents to be presently named.” The antecedents referred to are those which become visible on going back to prefeudal and feudal times, when serfs, though bound to the soil, had certain established rights to some produce of the soil; and those further antecedents which, at a later period, after cessation of serfdom and accompanying divorce of the serf from the soil, eventually reinstituted his connection and his lien by a Poor Law. While, in a measure, again tying him to his locality, this, in a measure, again recognized his claim upon its produce.
So regarded, a Poor Law may be said to have an equitable basis, and the poor relief administered under it to be something more than a charitable dole. Entire usurpation of the land by the landlord, and entire expropriation of the laborer, were unjust; and the reestablishment of the old relation in a freer form, may be interpreted as a roundabout mode of admitting afresh a just claim. Not improbably the relative stability of English institutions during later times, has been indirectly due to absence of that disaffection which results where the classes having no property are wholly at the mercy of the classes who have property.
The beneficence which takes the form of relief administered by public agencies, is difficult to deal with not only because it is thus complicated by considerations of justice, but because it is further complicated by considerations of accompanying injustices. Though, in early days, the legally enforced aid to the poor was contributed almost wholly by those who, as landowners, were rightly called on to contribute it; yet, in later days, it has come to be in large measure contributed by others than landowners–others on whom there is no just claim. Hence nothing beyond empirical judgments concerning compulsory beneficence seem possible.
When, however, we remember that beneficence, properly so-called, loses its quality when it is made compulsory, and that both benefactor and beneficiary then cease to have those feelings which normally accompany it, we shall be inclined to think that could the just claims of each member of the community as a part owner of the land be otherwise recognized, and beneficence wholly dissociated from governmental force, it would be far better. Let us contemplate the evils of the present system.
454. While, as admitted above, the community as a whole is the ultimate owner of the territory inhabited, considered as unreclaimed (though not of that value which clearing and cultivation have given to it); and while each member of the community has a resulting lien upon it; yet no such “right to a maintenance out of the soil,” irrespective of energy expended, as is often alleged, can be sustained. The land produces only in return for labor; and one who does not give the labor has no claim on its produce; or, at any rate, has a claim only to a share of the small amount it would yield if wild, which, with the existing population, would constitute nothing like a maintenance.
It is argued that the poor work for society while young and hale, and should be supported by society when sick and old. Under a socialist regime, which artificially apportioned payments for services, this would be a valid position; but, as it is, society gives to the laborer when young and hale as much as competition proves his work to be worth: so discharging its debt. Further, there is the reply that if, during his period of activity he has been underpaid, the underpayment has been in large part due to the fact that he has been burdened by having to help indirectly, if not directly, to support the idle and incapable. Giving necessaries of life to those who do not labor, inevitably takes away necessaries of life from those who do labor. The well-to-do are not pinched by this abstraction from the total supply of commodities. Those who are pinched are those who have but small margins. If they had not been thus depleted, they would have been able to provide for a period of unproductive life.
Apologists contend that rapid multiplication is ever producing a surplus of people for whom there is no work, but who must be supported. The first reply is that in proportion as provision is made for such a surplus, the surplus will go on continually increasing. The second reply is that only if the work to be done by the community is a fixed quantity, can the argument be sustained; since, otherwise, there must always be some further work which the surplus may be profitably employed on, in return for their maintenance. To say that some ought to do extra work that others may remain idle is absurd.
Occasionally it is urged that since there must always be a certain proportion of necessitous people–the diseased, the incapable, the unfortunate, the old–it is best that these should be relieved from funds administered by men appointed for the purpose, who will look carefully in each case and adjust the aid to the needs. This implies a faith in officialism at large which experience, repeated generation after generation, fails to dissipate. The assumption is that the agents employed, who in most cases aim to get their salaries with the least trouble, will be the best critics of the character, conduct, and wants of the recipients; and that guardians will administer public funds more wisely than private persons would administer their own funds. It ignores the enormous mass of evidence collected in Parliamentary Blue Books, as well as in special works on the subject, proving that under this system in past days corruptions and abuses of every kind were created and fostered, resulting in a universal demoralization.
Let us not forget that cruel injustice to individuals and mischief to the community, are caused by a heavy taxation of those who are but just able to maintain themselves and families, and are striving to do it. Numerous cases occur in which worthy and diligent men–sometimes thrown out of work by lack of demand and sometimes incapacitated for work by prolonged sickness–are compelled to pay rates; and even have their goods seized that money may be obtained for the maintenance of good-for-nothings. More than this; it not unfrequently happens that men who are employed in parishes at distances from their own, and could there maintain themselves but for the persecution of the poor-rate collector, have to abandon their places, return to their own parishes, get from it money to bring back their wives and children, and then apply for relief. So that there is a breaking up of healthy industrial relations to maintain a system which substitutes doles for wages.
Nor must we omit the fact that public administration of relief is doubly extravagant. It is extravagant in the sense that the distribution inevitably becomes lax, and, in the absence of personal interests, aid is given where aid is not required: often most lavishly to the least deserving. And it is extravagant in the sense that a large part of the total fund raised goes to maintain the machinery–goes in salaries of rate collectors, relieving officers, masters of workhouses and their subordinates, parish surgeons, &c.: a part amounting in extreme cases in Ireland to more than two-thirds, and in some cases in England at the present time to more than one-third– proportions which, if not paralleled generally, go along with high average proportions.
When we remember that law-enforced charity is, as already shown, inconsistent with justice, we are taught that in this as in all other cases, what is not just is in the long run not beneficent.1
455. Less objectionable than administration of poor relief by a law-established and coercive organization, is its administration by privately established and voluntary organizations–benevolent societies, mendicity societies, &c. “Less objectionable” I say but still, objectionable: in some ways even more objectionable. For though the vitiating influences of coercion are now avoided the vitiating influences of proxy distribution remain. If we have not a machinery so rigid as that set up by the Poor Law, yet we have a machinery. The beneficiary is not brought in direct relation with the benefactor, but in relation with an agent appointed by a number of benefactors. The transaction, instead of being one which advantageously cultivates the moral nature on both sides, excludes culture of the moral nature as much as is practicable, and introduces a number of bad motives. Note the ill-workings of the system.
As with the Poor Law (especially the old Poor Law), those who were distressed but thrifty and well conducted got no help, while help came to the improvident and ill conducted; so with philanthropic societies in general. The worthy suffer rather than ask assistance; while the worthless press for assistance and get it. The Mansion House Fund of 188586, for instance, was proved to have gone largely for the support of “idlers, spendthrifts, and drunkards.” “They did not see why they should not have some of the money going as well as their neighbors.” In some cases applicants “demanded their share.” Where, as in another case, employment was offered, less than one-fifth proved to be good for anything; showing that the unemployed, so generally pitied as ill used by society, are unemployed because they either cannot or will not work; and showing, by implication, that charitable agencies enable them to evade the harsh but salutary discipline of nature.
The encouragement of hypocrisy, which goes along with this neglect of the good poor who do not complain and attention to the bad poor who do, becomes conspicuous when religious professions are found instrumental to obtainment of alms. Clergy and pious women, easily deluded by sanctimonious talk, favor those who are most skilled in utterance of spiritual experiences, and in benedictions after receiving gifts. Hence a penalty on sincerity and a premium on lying; with resulting demoralization.
This evil is intensified by sectarian competition. There are competing missions which collect and distribute money to push their respective creeds, and bribe by farthing breakfasts and penny dinners. Nearly half the revenue of one mission is distributed in credit tickets, and “if the recipient wishes to cash his ticket, he cannot do so until after the evening service”: this vicious system being carried even to the extent that the visitors try “to force its tickets on the most respectable and independent people”–pauperizing them to make hypocritical converts of them. Said one woman, poor but clean and tidy who saw how the emissaries of the church favored the good-for-nothings: “I didn't want any of the good lady's tickets. . . but it's very ‘urtful to the feelings to see that careless drinking people living like ‘ogs gets all, and them as struggles and strives may go without.” And not only does there result a discouragement of virtue and an encouragement of vice, but there results a subsidizing of superstitions. Unless all the conflicting beliefs thus aided are right, which is impossible, there must be a propagation of untruth as well as a rewarding of insincerity.
Another evil is that easygoing people are exploité by cunning fellows who want to make places for themselves and get salaries. A crying need is found; prospectuses are widely distributed; canvassers press those on whom they call; and all because A, B, C &c., who have failed in their careers, have discovered that they can get money by playing the parts of manager, secretary, and collector. Then, if the institution vehemently urged is established, it is worked in their interest. But it is not always established. As there are bubble mercantile companies, so there are bubble philanthropic societies–societies kept up for a time merely for the purpose of getting subscriptions. Nay, on good authority I learn that there are gangs of men who make it their business to float bogus charities solely to serve their private ends.
Not even now have we reached the end of the evils. There is the insincerity of those who furnish the funds distributed: flunkeyism and the desire to display being often larger motives than beneficent feeling. These swindling promoters when writing to wealthy men for contributions, take care to request the honor of their names as vice presidents. Even where the institutions are genuine, the giving of handsome subscriptions or donations, is largely prompted by the wish to figure before the world as generous, and as filling posts of distinction and authority. A still meaner motive cooperates. One of the nouveaux riches, or even one whose business is tolerably prosperous, takes an active part in getting up, or in carrying on, one of these societies supposed to be originated purely by benevolence, because he likes the prospect of sitting on a committee presided over by a peer, and perhaps side by side with the son of one. He and his wife and his daughters enjoy the thought of seeing his name annually thus associated in the list of officers; and they contemplate this result more than the benefits to be given.
There are kindred vitiations of other organizations having beneficent aims–orphanages, provisions for unfortunate and aged tradesmen, &c. Here again, the least necessitous, who have many friends, are usually those to benefit, and the most necessitous, who have no friends, are neglected. Then there is the costliness and corruption of the selecting process–expensive and laborious canvassing, exchange of votes, philanthropic logrolling. Evidently the outlay for working the system, in money and effort, is such as would be equivalent to a maintenance for many more beneficianes, were it not thus wasted in machinery.
Nor is it otherwise with institutions thought by most people to be indisputably beneficial–hospitals and dispensaries. The first significant fact is that thirty percent of the people of London are frequenters of them; and the largeness of this proportion makes it clear that most of them, not to be ranked as indigent, are able to pay their doctors. Gratis medical relief tends to pauperize in more definite ways. The outpatients begin by getting physic and presently get food; and the system “leads them afterwards openly to solicit pecuniary aid.” This vitiating effect is proved by the fact that during the forty years from 1830 to 1869, the increase in the number of hospital patients has been five times greater than the increase of population; and as there has not been more disease, the implication is obvious. Moreover the promise of advice for nothing, attracts the mean-spirited to the extent that “the poor are now being gradually ousted out of the consulting room by well-to-do persons.” People of several hundreds a year, even up to a thousand, apply as outpatients, going in disguise: twenty percent of the outpatients in one large hospital having “given false addresses” for the purpose of concealing their identity. Swarming as patients thus do, it results that each gets but little attention: a minute being the average for each, sometimes diminished to forty-five seconds. Thus those for whom the gratis advice is intended get but little. Often “the assistance given is merely nominal”; and “is both a deception on the public and a fraud upon the poor.” These gratuitous medical benefits, such as they are, “are conferred chiefly by the members of the unpaid professional staffs” of these charities. Some of them prescribe at the rate of 318 patients in three hours and twenty minutes–a process sufficiently exhausting for men already hard worked in their private practice, and sufficiently disheartening to men with little private practice, who thus give without payment aid which otherwise they would get payment for, very much needed by them. So that the £600,000 a year of the metropolitan hospitals, which, if the annual value of the lands and buildings occupied were added would reach very nearly a million, has largely the effect of demoralizing the patients, taking medical care from those it was intended for and giving it to those for whom it was not, and obliging many impecunious doctors and surgeons to work hard for nothing.2
These various experiences, then, furnished by societies and institutions supported by voluntary gifts and subscriptions, unite to show that whatever benefits flow from them are accompanied by grave evils–evils sometimes greater than the benefits. They force on us the truth that, be it compulsory or noncoinpulsory, social machinery wastes power, and works other effects than those intended. In proportion as beneficence operates indirectly instead of directly, it fails in its end.
456. Alike in the foregoing sections and in the foregoing parts of this work, there has been implied the conclusion that the beneficence which takes the form of giving material aid to those in distress, has the best effects when individually exercised. If, like mercy it “blesses him that gives and him that takes,” it can do this in full measure only when the benefactor and beneficiary stand in direct relation. It is true, however, that individual beneficence often falls far short of the requirements, often runs into excesses, and is often wrongly directed. Let us look at its imperfections and corruptions.
The most familiar of these is the careless squandering of pence to beggars, and the consequent fostering of idleness and vice. Sometimes because their sympathies are so quick that they cannot tolerate the sight of real or apparent misery; sometimes because they quiet their consciences and think they compound for misdeeds by occasional largesse; sometimes because they are moved by that other-worldliness which hopes to obtain large gifts hereafter by small gifts here; sometimes because, though conscious of mischief likely to be done, they have not the patience needed to make inquiries, and are tempted to end the matter with a sixpence or something less; men help the bad to become worse. Doubtless the evil is great, and weighs much against the individual exercise of beneficence–practically if not theoretically.
The same causes initiate and maintain the begging-letter impostures. Occasional exposures of these in daily papers might serve as warnings; but always there is a new crop of credulous people who believe what they are told by cunning dissemblers, and yield rather than take the trouble of verification: thinking, many of them, that they are virtuous in thus doing the thing which seems kind, instead of being, as they are, vicious in taking no care to prevent evil. That the doings of such keep alive numbers of scamps and swindlers, every one knows; and doubtless a considerable setoff to the advantages of individual beneficence hence arises.
Then, again, there meets us the objection that if there is no compulsory raising of funds to relieve distress, and everything is left to the promptings of sympathy, people who have little or no sympathy, forming a large part of the community, will contribute nothing; and will leave undue burdens to be borne by the more sympathetic. Either the requirements will be inadequately met or the kindhearted will have to make excessive sacrifices. Much force though there is in this objection, it is not so forcible as at first appears. In this case, as in many cases, wrong inferences are drawn respecting the effects of a new cause, because it is supposed that while one thing is changed all other things remain the same. It is forgotten that in the absence of a coercive law there often exists a coercive public opinion. There is no legal penalty on a lie, if not uttered after taking an oath; and yet the social disgrace which follows a convicted liar has a strong effect in maintaining a general truthfulness. There is no prescribed punishment for breaking social observances; and yet these are by many conformed to more carefully than are moral precepts or legal enactments. Most people dread far more the social frown which follows the doing of something conventionally wrong, than they do the qualms of conscience which follow the doing of something intrinsically wrong.3 Hence it may reasonably be concluded that if private voluntary relief of the poor replaced public compulsory relief, the diffused sentiment which enforces the one would go a long way toward maintaining the other. The general feeling would become such that few, even of the unsympathetic, would dare to face the scorn which would result did they shirk all share of the common responsibility; and while there would probably be thus insured something like contributions from the indifferent or the callous, there would, in some of them, be initiated, by the formal practice of beneficence, a feeling which in course of time would render the beneficence genuine and pleasurable.
A further difficulty presents itself. “I am too much occupied,” says the man of business when exhorted to exercise private beneficence. “I have a family to bring up; and my whole time is absorbed in discharging my responsibilities, parental and other. It is impossible for me, therefore, to make such inquiries as are needful to avoid giving misdirected assistance. I must make my contribution and leave others to distribute.” That there is force in the reply cannot be denied. But when we call to mind the common remark that if you want anything done you must apply to the busy man rather than to the man of leisure, we may reasonably question whether the busy man may not occasionally find time enough to investigate cases of distress which are forced on his attention. Sometimes there may even result, from a due amount of altruistic action, a mental gain conducive to efficiency in the conduct of affairs.
At any rate it must be admitted that individual ministration to the poor is the normal form of ministration; and that, made more thoughtful and careful, as it would be if the entire responsibility of caring for the poor devolved upon it, it would go a long way towards meeting the needs: especially as the needs would be greatly diminished when there had been excluded the artificially generated poverty with which we are surrounded.
457. But now, from this general advocacy of individual giving versus giving by public and quasi-public agencies, I pass to the special advocacy of the natural form of individual giving–a form which exists and which simply needs development.
Within the intricate plexus of social relations surrounding each citizen, there is a special plexus more familiar to him than any other, and which has established greater claims on him than any other. Everyone who can afford to give assistance, is brought by his daily activities into immediate contact with a cluster of those who by illness, by loss of work, by a death, or by other calamity, are severally liable to fall into a state calling for aid; and there should be recognized a claim possessed by each member of this particular cluster.
In early societies, organized on the system of status, there went, along with the dependence of inferiors, a certain kind of responsibility for their welfare. The simple or compound family group, formed of relatives standing in degrees of subordination, and usually possessing slaves, was a group so regulated that while the inferiors were obliged to do what they were told, and receive what was given to them, they usually had a sufficiency given to them. They were much in the position of domestic animals in respect of their subjection, and they were in a kindred position in respect of due ministration to their needs. Alike in the primitive patriarchal system and in the developed feudal system, we see that the system of status presented the general trait, that while dependents were in large measure denied their liberty, they were in large measure supplied with the means of living. Either they were directly fed and housed, or they were allowed such fixed proportion of produce as enabled them to feed and house themselves. Possession of them unavoidably brought with it care for them.
Along with gradual substitution of the system of contract for the system of status, this relation has been changed in such manner that while the benefits of independence have been gained the benefits of dependence have been lost. The poorer citizen has no longer any one to control him; but he has no longer any one to provide for him. So much service for so much money, has become the universal principle of cooperation; and the money having been paid for the service rendered, no further claim is recognized. The requirements of justice having been fulfilled, it is supposed that all requirements have been fulfilled. The ancient regime of protection and fealty has ceased, while the modern regime of beneficence and gratitude has but partially replaced it.
May we not infer, with tolerable certainty, that there has to be reinstituted something akin to the old order in a new form? May we not expect that without reestablishment of the ancient power of superiors over inferiors, there may be resumed something like the ancient care for them? May we not hope that without the formation of any legal ties between individuals of the regulating class, and those groups whose work they severally regulate in one or other way, there may come to be formed stronger moral ties? Already such moral ties are in some measure recognized. Already all householders moderately endowed with sympathy, feel bound to care for their servants during illness; already they help those living out of the house who in less direct ways labor for them; already from time to time small traders, porters, errand boys, and the like, benefit by their kind offices on occasions of misfortune. The sole requisite seems to be that the usage which thus shows itself here and there irregularly, should be called into general activity by the gradual disappearance of artificial agencies for distributing aid. As before implied, the sympathetic feelings which have originated and support these artificial agencies, would, in their absence, vitalize and develop the natural agencies. And if with each citizen there remained the amount now taken from him in rates and subscriptions, he would be enabled to meet these private demands: if not by as large a disbursement, yet by a disbursement probably as large as is desirable.
Besides reestablishing these closer relationships between superior and inferior, which during our transition from ancient slavery to modern freedom have lapsed; and besides bringing beneficence back to its normal form of direct relation between benefactor and beneficiary; thus personal administration of relief would be guided by immediate knowledge of the recipients, and the relief would be adjusted in kind and amount to their needs and their deserts. When, instead of the responsibility indirectly discharged through Poor Law officers and mendicity societies, the responsibility fell directly on each of those having some spare means, each would see the necessity for inquiry and criticism and supervision: so increasing the aid given to the worthy and restricting that given to the unworthy.
458. And here we are brought face to face with the greatest of the difficulties attendant on all methods of mitigating distress. May we not by frequent aid to the worthy render them unworthy; and are we not almost certain by helping those who are already unworthy to make them more unworthy still? How shall we so regulate our pecuniary beneficence as to avoid assisting the incapables and the degraded to multiply?
I have in so many places commented on the impolicy. and indeed the cruelty, of bequeathing to posterity an increasing population of criminals and incapables, that I need not here insist that true beneficence will be so restrained as to avoid fostering the inferior at the expense of the superior–or, at any rate, so restrained as to minimize the mischief which fostering the inferior entails.
Under present circumstances the difficulty seems almost insurmountable. By the law-established and privately established agencies, coercive and voluntary, which save the bad from the extreme results of their badness, there have been produced unmanageable multitudes of them, and to prevent further multiplication appears next to impossible. The yearly accumulating appliances for keeping alive those who will not do enough work to keep themselves alive, continually increase the evil. Each new effort to mitigate the penalties on improvidence, has the inevitable effect of adding to the number of the improvident. Whether assistance is given through state machinery, or by charitable societies, or privately, it is difficult to see how it can be restricted in such manner as to prevent the inferior from begetting more of the inferior.
If left to operate in all its sternest, the principle of the survival of the fittest, which, as ethically considered, we have seen to imply that each individual shall be left to experience the effects of his own nature and consequent conduct, would quickly clear away the degraded. But it is impracticable with our present sentiments to let it operate in all its sternest. No serious evil would result from relaxing its operation, if the degraded were to leave no progeny. A shortsighted benefi cence might be allowed to save them from suffering, were a longsighted beneficence assured that there would be born no more such. But how can it be thus assured? If, either by public action or by private action, aid were given to the feeble, the unhealthy, the deformed, the stupid, on condition that they did not marry. the result would manifestly be a great increase of illegitimacy; which, implying a still more unfavorable nurture of children, would result in still worse men and women. If instead of a “submerged tenth” there existed only a submerged fiftieth, it might be possible to deal with it effectually by private industrial institutions, or some kindred appliances. But the mass of effete humanity to be dealt with is so large as to make one despair: the problem seems insoluble.
Certainly, if solvable, it is to be solved only through suffering. Having, by unwise institutions, brought into existence large numbers who are unadapted to the requirements of social life, and are consequently sources of misery to themselves and others, we cannot repress and gradually diminish this body of relatively worthless people without inflicting much pain. Evil has been done and the penalty must be paid. Cure can come only through affliction. The artificial assuaging of distress by state appliances, is a kind of social opium eating, yielding temporary mitigation at the eventual cost of intenser misery. Increase of the anodyne dose inevitably leads by and by to increase of the evil; and the only rational course is that of bearing the misery which must be entailed for a time by desistance. The transition from state beneficence to a healthy condition of self-help and private beneficence, must be like the transition from an opium-eating life to a normal life–painful but remedial.
459. Is each person under obligation to carry on social intercourse? May he, without any disregard of claims upon him, lead a solitary life, or a life limited to the family circle? Or does positive beneficence dictate the cultivating of friendships and acquaintanceships to the extent of giving and receiving hospitalities? And if there is such a requirement, what constitutes proper discharge of it?
Only vague replies to these questions seem possible. We may indeed say that, peremptory claims permitting, some amount of social intercourse is obligatory; since, without it, general happiness would fall short. If a community of solitaries, or of families leading recluse lives, would be relatively dull–if gatherings for the interchange of ideas and mutual excitation of emotions add, in considerable measure, to the gratifications of each and all; then there seems to be imposed on each the duty of furthering such gatherings.
Of course this duty is less peremptory than most other duties; and when it can be fulfilled must be fulfilled in subordination to them. Receptions entailing appreciable cost have no ethical sanction where there is difficulty in meeting family claims, the claims of justice, and the claims arising from the misfortunes of the worthy. Here that kind of social intercourse which may be carried on without expense (often the best social intercourse) is alone ethically enjoined.
Moreover, such obligation to cultivate the society of our fellows as beneficence imposes, it imposes only on condition that more pleasure than pain is caused. No countenance is given by it to the mechanical process of gathering and dispersing, carried on by those who are “in society,” or in the wider circles which adopt the habits of society. Beneficence tells no one to help in keeping up the movement of “the social treadmill.” Only supposing that the persons brought together, derive from one another's company amounts of enjoyment well purchased by the entailed trouble and cost, can beneficence be said to dictate the bringing of them together.
And here, indeed, it may be said that instead of enjoining mechanical social intercourse, beneficence dictates efforts to restrict and abolish it. Everyone finds that most of the entertainments people give and attend, fail to yield the gratifications sought, while they involve troubles and vexations to hosts and guests: all because display and conformity to conventional requirements are far more thought of than the pleasures of friendship. Many have found, too, that most endeavors to reestablish the reality, at present supplanted by the sham, are futile. Some who, early in the century, desiring to have occasional visits from people they cared about, notified that they would be “at home” on specified evenings, hoped by this abandonment of formalities to get what they wanted. But as fast as the practice spread, the “at-homes” became conventionalized, like all other gatherings; and now are not distinguishable from the “routs” of earlier days. The like has happened even with a more recently attempted remedy–the “at-homes” which are distinguished as “small and early”; for a small and early party has now come to mean one which consists of a room full of people who arrive between ten and eleven.
Social beneficence, then, does not include participation in these kinds of social intercourse which lose the aim in the preparation, and the actuality in the show. Contrariwise, it enjoins unceasing resistance to a system which achieves pain while seeking pleasure.
460. Though the furthering of ordinary social intercourse of the genuine kind, will by many scarcely be classed under beneficence, there is another kind of social intercourse the furthering of which they will not hesitate so to class. I refer to the intercourse between those whose social positions are superior and those who hold inferior social positions.
At all times there has been more or less of this-in old days occasional feasts provided by feudal nobles for their retainers; and in later times entertainments given by squires to villagers at recurring periods, or on special occasions. After an interval during which such usages seem to have become less general, they have revived in new forms–garden parties at country residences to the neighboring poor people: gratis excursions of children and others from London into the country; village school treats, and so forth. Penny Readings, too, and concerts given by amateurs to listeners who are asked to pay little or nothing, are other forms taken by this species of social beneficence. They are in the main to be applauded; both for the immediate pleasures they give, and for their effects in cultivating good feeling between classes, with consequent increase of social cohesion. Usually they are genuine promptings of sympathy; and, in the better among those who are entertained, evoke some gratitude: both results being beneficial. Only in cases where the usage becomes mechanical–is given by routine on the one side and expected as a matter of course on the other, may we recognize a drawback. And only. in other cases, where such entertainments are got up in the interests of religious sects to gather adherents, may we recognize a further drawback. But the drawbacks are not greater, nor so great, as those attendant on the intercourse of the wealthier with one another; and we may safely say that social beneficence enjoins these various modes of bringing rich and poor together.
Not less to be approved, if not indeed more to be approved, are the efforts made by some to give instruction, as well as pleasure, to fellow citizens who are not so well off as themselves. Those who, a century ago, strove to dissipate the ignorance of artisans and laborers by Sunday Schools, deserve far more to be remembered than many whose names are familiar; and the tens of thousands of the middle classes who, for generations after, devoted large parts of their Sundays to teaching–bearing for many years the reprobation of those who considered themselves their “betters”–ought to be remembered with gratitude: with much more gratitude than those who have busied themselves to coerce people into giving and receiving Board-School lessons. Though this Sunday School system, spreading first among the Dissenters and then adopted by the church to prevent loss of its members, has been in part subordinated to sectarian purposes; yet the original aim was good, and the self-sacrificing fulfillment of the aim has been in the main good. Social beneficence has been in this way well exemplified.
Voluntary teaching of another kind has in recent days taken a serviceable development. I refer to lectures given in towns and villages by nonprofessional lecturers. Sometimes employer and employed are thus associated in a way other than by business contracts. A late friend of mine, the number of whose work people exceeded a thousand, besides occasional entertainments and excursions into the country. gave them from time to time explanatory accounts of various classes of physical phenomena, with illustrative experiments. But whether by a master to his hands, or by some local man, who has cultivated a specialty, to an assemblage of his neighbors, this gratis yielding of information is a beneficence to be commended. Especially does there need volunteered teaching in respect of topics touching the conduct of life and social affairs. The state of society might now have been far better had men capable of doing it, enlightened those living around them on political and moral questions. Many wild ideas now prevailing would probably never have arisen.
But in all cases customs tend to become laws–concessions to become rights; and these extensions of social intercourse giving instruction, as well as those giving pleasure, are apt to lose the quality of beneficence and fall into settled observances accompanied by little kindness on the one side or thanks on the other. How to prevent this usual decadence it is difficult to see.
461. Thus far the requirements of social beneficence specified, if not practically fulfilled by readers, will be theoretically admitted by them. But we come now to less obvious requirements–requirements which, indeed, will by most be denied, and by many will even be considered at variance with social obligations. I refer to actions which have for their ends to change habits and usages that are opposed to general well-being.
Though they do not contend that conformity to conventions is a moral duty, yet the majority of people think it a duty; and they speak in reprobation of those who break any of the rules which society has tacitly enacted for the regulation of life and behavior. They may be unable to give good reasons for these rules; they may admit that many of them entail trouble and annoyance for no beneficial purpose; they may even condemn some as absurd. Yet they hold that these rules, even down to the color of an evening necktie, should be respected. While they regard disobedience as a transgression to be frowned upon, they do not ask whether the observance does not entail grave evils, and whether they ought not to try and abolish those evils.
One who does not pick up his opinions ready made, but elaborates them himself, will see clearly enough that along with other duties to his fellow men, there goes the duty of seeking to increase their happiness by rationalizing their modes of life. He will see that beneficence, rightly understood, is not limited to the giving of money, the yielding of assistance, the manifestation of sympathy, the uttering of kind words; but that it includes also the doing of various things which, though proximately painful to others, are remotely beneficial to them; and which, instead of bringing him smiles, bring him frowns. In a degree far beyond what the mass of people conceive, their lives are vitiated by observance of the regulations–many needless and others injurious–imposed by an unseen social power. Let us contemplate some of the mischievous mandates which should be disobeyed.
462. Naturally there may be taken first in order those which concern dress. To denounce here the follies of fashion is superfluous: everyone recognizes them. No one however, or scarcely anyone, refuses to join in them. Not only do nearly all conform, but they defend their conformity. They laugh at the modes exhibited in old books of costume, and admit that were it not for habit they might think the current modes equally absurd. The needless expenditure entailed by discarding dresses which are still good, because they are no longer as is required, they recognize and even lament. They also complain occasionally of the amount of time and trouble and worry entailed by keeping their clothing up to date. Nevertheless the assertion that, alike on their own behalf and on behalf of others, they ought to resist a dictation which brings these mischievous results, they combat and even ridicule. Social beneficence, as conceived by them, includes submission rather than resistance.
Doubtless they may plead lack of courage. They dare not risk the deprecations of friends and the jeers of strangers. But, in the first place, the bearing of disagreeable consequences of right actions, is one of the forms which beneficence takes; and, in the second place, when a nonconformity which is intrinsically rational, obviously results neither from ignorance nor poverty but from independence, the world generally accepts the situation, and not only tolerates it but even secretly respects it.
Concerning dress, social beneficence has something more to say than to enjoin resistance to these perpetual changes from one absurd pattern to another. Beyond an improper obedience to an illegitimate control of dress, there is an undue regard for dress itself, considered apart from fashion. Here, again, protest is superfluous; since large expenditure of money and time in providing externals which shall evoke applause, is a stock subject for reprobation. What needs, perhaps, to be emphasized is the truth that undue devotion of life and thought to the gaining of admiration by personal adornment, often brings loss of admiration. The feeling with which an overdressed woman is regarded, shows this in a pronounced way; and this feeling is excited, if less strongly. by many who are not condemned as overdressed. For any such elaborate toilette as shows the beholder that desire for approbation has been dominant, causes in him a reactive emotion: disapproval of the moral trait being set against approval of the appearance achieved. Nobody thinks love of praise a fine characteristic.
To be beautiful without manifest cost, elegant without manifest thought, is that which dress should achieve. Such attention to appearance as implies a certain respect for those around is proper; and yet not an attention which implies great anxiety about their opinions. A dash of aesthetic genius, possessed by but few is requisite for success in this compromise. But it may be approached by others; and the approach to it should be aided and approved by that social beneficence which aims at rationalizing social usages.
463. Allied to the undue regard for appearance in clothing is the undue regard for appearances in general. Time, among the women of the upper and middle ranks, is largely, and often mainly, spent in pursuit of the ornamental. To make things look pretty seems to have become with them the chief end of life; and they never ask whether there is any proper limit to aesthetic gratifications.
As was pointed out in the closing chapter of Part III, very much in the right conduct of life turns on a due proportioning of the various activities. Recognizing in a measure an ancient doctrine, we saw that concerning each kind of activity. judgment has to decide whereabouts between the two extremes lies the mean. And we also saw that, beyond this, judgment is called for to decide what is the proper ratio between each kind of activity and other kinds of activity. In contemplating the doings of people around, we see that this due proportioning is very little attended to; and, indeed, by many there seems to be no perception that it is needed. Here in respect of work, there in respect of amusement, now in respect of culture, and again in respect of a hobby, there is undue absorption of energy; and no one seems to pause and ask whether the pursuit of their particular aim does not unduly sacrifice the pursuit of other aims. It is especially thus with the pursuit of beauty, or that which is thought to be beauty. Into many minds, and especially feminine minds, there seems never to have entered the question whether the spending of time over ornamental surroundings may not be carried to excess. The tacit assumption is that achievement of the elegant and the decorative everywhere and always, is meritorious; and the consequent neglect of important ends is not recognized. In a degree which examination provides to be extreme, the mind is perverted and the body injured by this insane subordination of reality to show. While many things needful of satisfactory living are left undone, the mistress of the house spends much of her time in fancy work, in keeping ornamental things in order, in arranging flowers, &c.: much more time than she gives to procuring food of good quality and well cooked, and to superintending the education of her children.4
Not only is all this to be ethically disapproved as putting the less important ends of life before the more important ends, but it is even to be aesthetically disapproved. The pursuit of beauty carried to excess defeats itself. In the first place many domestic objects are not fit for decoration. Between an elaborately ornamented coal scuttle and its black, dirty contents, there is an absurd incongruity; and the time spent in making imitation leaves and flowers to cover a pie crust, stands in ridiculous contrast with the trivial result: the crust being destroyed nearly as soon as seen. A large proportion of things in a house should be simply unobtrusive or inoffensive. In the second place, if beauty is aimed at only in objects which exist exclusively for it as their end, and in other permanent objects which may be made beautiful without diminishing their usefulness, there results an increased totality of aesthetic pleasure; for, to be fully appreciated, beautiful things must have as their foils things which make no pretensions to beauty. A graceful statuette, or a fine watercolor landscape, looks far better amid surroundings that are relatively plain and inconspicuous, than in a room crowded with multitudinous pretty things or things supposed to be pretty. Moreover while the room, if filled with pictures and sculptures and vases and numerous curiosities, loses its individuality, it may, when containing only a small number of beautiful objects artistically arranged, become itself a work of art.
Similarly rooted in an undue desire for display, goes the practice of accumulating needless appliances. As a typical instance may be named a silver butter knife. It is an implement utterly superfluous. There can be no pretense that there is any chemical action of the butter on steel; for a steel knife is used by each person to spread it. There can be no pretense that a steel knife is not equally effective as a tool: indeed the butter knife is mechanically ill adapted for its purpose. It has no raison d'être whatever, save to show the possession of money enough to purchase an appliance which society prescribes. With various other domestic superfluities it is the same. Needless original outlay and daily cost in cleaning, are entailed by useless articles which people buy lest silent criticisms should be passed in their absence.
Social beneficence, then, enjoins efforts to diminish the sacrifice of use to appearance, and the accompanying expenditure of time, energy, and money for secondary ends to the neglect of primary ends.
464. Endeavors to benefit fellow citizens by improvements in modes of life, have yet another sphere of action. There are various prescribed habits, and various social observances, which should be resisted, and modified or abolished, in the interests of men at large. Already philanthropy in some cases recognizes this duty.
We have, for example, the efforts made to check extravagant outlays for funerals. It is seen that the demands of custom weigh heavily on necessitous families: perhaps seriously diminishing the small sum left to meet the immediate wants of a widow and her children. Lack of a certain display is thought to imply lack of respect for the dead; and hence the peremptory need for disbursements which cannot be borne without suffering. The evil is far more intense among some slightly-civilized peoples, as those of the Gold Coast, where, according to Beecham, “a funeral is usually absolute ruin to a poor family.” For discouraging lavish expenditure, even though among us it is far less, there are the further reasons that, as the costly burial rites are equally accorded to the bad and to the good, they fail to be signs of respect; and that were they generally abandoned, no slight would be implied by the absence of them.
Kindred reasons may be given for trying to moderate sun-dry wedding customs. These have in some places gone to extremes beyond any known in this part of the world; and have entailed astonishing mischiefs. In one case among the partially civilized, if not in more, the marriage feast has become so ruinously costly to the bride's family, that female infanticide is practiced as a remedy: daughters being put out of the way while infants, because of the expense they would one day entail if reared. Here, though parental expenditures entailed by weddings are less serious, there are concomitant evils which cry aloud for remedy. In old times the making of presents to a newly married couple, had for its purpose to start them in housekeeping; and now, as of old, presents given with this end are justified. But out of this once rational custom has grown an irrational one. Presents are showered in upon brides who, as well as the bridegrooms, are wealthy enough to provide for themselves amply in all ways, by friends prompted less by feelings of friendship than by fears of criticism: a heavy tax on those who have many friends, being the consequence. And now among the upper classes, the system has grown to the extent that, in an utterly shameless way. lists of the presents with the names of their donors are published in newspapers. So that we have a public boast of social position on the one side and generosity on the other.
A further group of observances may be named among those to be discouraged by everyone who has a far-seeing regard for social well-being. I refer to the various complimentary actions brought round by the seasons. It is said that in Paris the making of Easter presents has become so burdensome a usage, that not a few escape from it by going on a journey, for one or other alleged reason. People have created for themselves a system of mutual taxation. A feels bound to give to B, C, D, and the rest; B, to A, C, D, and the rest; and so on throughout the alphabet. Among ourselves have arisen in recent times, the less serious mischiefs accompanying distribution of Christmas cards and Easter cards. Beyond the expenditure of money and trouble and time, these entail both negative and positive evils–negative, because such customs, as fast as they grow general, lose their meaning and cease to give pleasure; and positive, because neglect of them produces ill-feeling. So long as these kindnesses are shown spontaneously to one or a few, specially liked or loved, they have their value; but as fast as they become matters of routine they become valueless or worse.
Let every one insist on reality and sincerity, and refrain as much as he can from complimentary usages which involve untruths. If each resolves to tell as few tacit lies as possible, social intercourse will be much healthier.
465. Doubtless most readers have been surprised to find the three foregoing sections included in a work on ethics: having been unaccustomed to contemplate acts of social conformity under their ethical aspects. But, as has been contended from the beginning, all conduct which issues in increase or decrease of happiness, has its ethical aspect; and it cannot be questioned that the observances imposed by society either conduce to happiness or the contrary.
But the social beneficence which enjoins resistance to in- jurious customs, is by some disapproved because resistance is followed by a reputation for eccentricity, and this diminishes the ability to forward more important reforms: political and religious, for example. The conclusion might be granted, were the premise rightly admitted. It is not true that the reform of social usages is less important than other reforms. Consider the evil results of partially turning night into day, while breathing the bad air generated by artificial lights. Consider, too, the mischiefs entailed by ill-arranged meal hours–taking the chief meal at a time when digestive power is flagging, instead of at a time when it is greatest. Note, again, how this irrational arrangement abridges social intercourse, and increases the formality of what remains. Remember to what an extent, as shown in preceding sections, life, or at least the life of the well-to-do classes, is absorbed in fulfilling usages–now in needless changes of dress, in consulting dressmakers, in discussing fashions with friends; now in buying, or producing, pretty things so named, which are mostly in the way; now in making calls, often in the hope that those called on will not be at home.5 When there is added the unceasing trouble and large cost entailed by parties yielding little satisfaction and much annoyance, it will be seen that the evils to be combated are anything but trivial. Those who diligently conform to the requirements, instead of being happy are simply playing at being happy.
Two illustrations occur to me as showing how, in social life as carried on according to rule, the reality is lost in the show. One of them was furnished by a lady pursuing the ordinary upper-class routine, to whom I was expressing my aversion to the weariness of railway traveling; and who said that, contrariwise, she always found it a great satisfaction to enter a train at Paris on the way to Algiers (where they had a residence), and to feel that for many hours she would be free from her wearisome occupations–no parties, no calls, no letters. The other was furnished by the testimony of some who have contrasted the trammeled life in England with an untrammeled colonial life. The early emigrants to New Zealand belonged to a more cultivated class than colonists generally do, and carried with them those observances of civilized life which originate in good feeling, while leaving behind those which are merely conventional. After experiencing for years the resulting pleasures, some who came back to England were so disgusted by the artificiality of its ways, that they returned to New Zealand. Two only of these colonists have I known, and both decided to end their days there.
Far from being true, then, is the belief that the rationalization of social observances is relatively unimportant. It may be doubted whether, as measured by the effects on happiness, it is not an end more important than any other. The simplification of appliances and usages, with resulting decrease of the friction of life, a well-wisher to his species will unceasingly strive for. Social beneficence here finds an object to be kept ever in view.
466. The injunction ascribed to Charles I, “Touch no state matters,” was one appropriately enough promulgated by a king; for a king naturally likes to have his own way. Ready conformity to the injunction, however, on the part of subjects, does not appear so natural; and yet throughout the past it has been general, and is not uncommon even now. There are many who, though they probably never heard of this rule of King Charles, unconsciously subordinate themselves to it, and seem to take a pride in their subordination. “I never meddle in politics,” you may hear a tradesman say; and he says it in a way implying that he thinks the abstention creditable.
There have, indeed, been times–bad times–to which this mental attitude was fit. In days of exclusive militancy, when slavish submission was conducive to efficiency in war, individuality of thought and action was out of place. But under a political regime like that into which we have grown, taking a share in political life is the duty of every citizen; and not to do so is at once shortsighted, ungrateful, and mean: shortsighted, because abstention, if general, must bring decay of any good institutions which exist; ungrateful, because to leave uncared for these good institutions which patriotic an cestors established, is to ignore our indebtedness to them; mean, because to benefit by such institutions and devolve the maintenance and improvement of them entirely upon others, implies readiness to receive an advantage and give nothing in return.
For a free political organization to remain alive and healthy. all its units must play their parts. If numbers of them remain passive, the organization, in so far as they are concerned, is dead; and, in proportion as such numbers increase, must corrupt. Political beneficence includes the duty of preventing this. Let us glance at some of the evils arising from disregard of this duty, and the benefits which greater regard of it would bring, alike to self and to others.
467. When the system of status has passed into the system of contract, it becomes requisite that the system of contract shall be properly carried out. Protection of life and liberty being presupposed, the one requisite to a social life carried on by voluntary cooperation, is that agreements shall be fulfilled–that for a given amount of work the specified wages shall be paid; that for a definite portion of a commodity there shall be handed over its price in money or an equivalent; that when certain actions are undertaken on certain conditions, the actions shall be performed and the conditions observed. While criminal law has to yield protection against direct aggression, civil law has to yield protection against indirect aggression. And each citizen is, to the extent of his ability, responsible for the efficient performance of these functions.
Unfortunately at present each citizen has little or no consciousness of any such responsibility. If he feels called on to take any share in political life, it is a share in electioneering, or a share in some agitation for shortening hours, or diminishing the number of licenses, or empowering municipal bodies to buy up waterworks, make tramways, &c. As to maintenance of the primary condition to a healthy social life–that each citizen shall have the entire benefit his actions bring while he shall not be allowed to impose on others any evils his actions bring, and that to achieve these ends each shall be compelled to do all he has undertaken to do, and be entitled to receive all he bargained to receive–as to these essential things, the ordinary citizen thinks little or nothing about them. He thinks only of superficial questions and overlooks the fundamental question. He forgets the folly of a legislature which, generation after generation, does nothing to make it possible for citizens to know what the laws are. He looks on vacantly at the absurd actions every year committed by Lords and Commons in heaping a number of new acts on to the vast heap of old acts: making the confusion worse confounded. And just as though it were an unchangeable course of nature, he stands idly by while, in law courts, equity is defeated by technical error; sums gained are eaten up by sums lost in gaining them; poor suitors ruin themselves in fighting rich suitors who defy them by appeals; and the great mass of people aggressed upon, submit to injustice rather than run the risk of greater injustice.
Political beneficence of the rational kind will seek removal of these enormous evils more energetically than it will seek constitutional changes or extensions of state management. For, in countless ways, the lives of all are vitiated by non-fulfillment of this primary condition to social cooperation. They eat adulterated food and wear clothes made of fabrics only partially genuine; all because there is no easy remedy for breach of contract in selling as one thing what is in part another thing. They pay more for every commodity than need be because, in each business, a certain average sum goes in law expenses which have to be met by extra rates of profit. And everyone is in danger of that grave loss which results when one with whom he has transactions suffers, perhaps to the extent of bankruptcy, from large dishonesties for which there is practically no redress. Were it not that in most cases the proximate hides from view the remote, men would see that in seeking a pure and efficient administration of justice, they are conducing to human happiness far more than in seeking the ends ordinarily classed as philanthropic.
468. Probably all will admit that political life is healthy only in proportion as it is conscientious; but few will admit that, as a corollary, political life carried on by party warfare is unhealthy; and that political beneficence may fitly seek to mitigate, and as far as possible abolish, such warfare. It is manifest to us here that in the United States, where the advent of Democrats or Republicans to power is followed by the turning out of officeholders of the one kind and putting in those of the other, and where both ins and outs are heavily taxed to provide funds for those electioneering campaigns which give them or take from them places and incomes, the governmental machinery is made to work ill by the substitution of private ends for public ends. But it is not generally perceived that in England party government, with its struggles for office, has vices which if less are still very great.
One of these vices, always manifest, is daily becoming more conspicuous–the dishonesty of candidates who profess what they do not believe, and promise to do that which they know ought not to be done: all to get support and to help their political leaders. In simple language they try to gain power by force of falsehood. And when, in the House of Commons, many of them say by their votes that they think one thing, while in fact they think the opposite thing, what, in plain words, shall we call them? Actually it has come to this, that a vote, which, on the face of it, is an expression of belief, perhaps on a matter affecting the happiness of millions of people, ceases to be an expression of such belief; and, instead, merely implies the desire that such and such men should fill such and such posts!
“But party loyalty necessitates this sacrifice of private convictions,” is the excuse put in. Yes, party loyalty has come to be a fancied virtue to which the real virtue of veracity is sacrificed. Whence comes the alleged virtue of party loyalty? In what system of ethics does it find a place? It is simply a dishonest mode of conduct disguised by a euphemistic phrase. It is simply demerit assuming the garb of merit.
So utter is the vitiation of sentiments and ideas produced by the system, that the few who will not conform to it are vilified, and represented as hindering political action. In America, where party organization is more developed than here, whoever declines to surrender his convictions, and follow in the mob which is led by a “boss” to the polls, is labeled with the contemptuous name of “Mugwump”; and is condemned as pharisaic and as of an unsocial disposition. In “the land of liberty” it has become a political crime to act on your own judgment. Representative government, rightly so called, has become a sham; under the disguise of which there exists an oligarchy of officeholders, office seekers, and men who exercise irresponsible power.
So far is party government from being an appliance for carrying out the national will, it continually becomes an appliance for overriding the national will. A ministry raised to power by electors many of whom have been misled by promises never to be fulfilled, represents perhaps, the predominant opinion of the nation on some leading question. Once in office, the chiefs of the party backed by a compact majority, can for years do with a free hand many things they were never commissioned to do. By the aid of submissive supporters prompted by “party loyalty,” a small knot of men, headed by one of great influence, enacts this or that law, which, were it put to a plebiscite, would be decisively rejected. Thus, in a second way too, party government defeats representative government. A single man with his troop of obedient servants can for some time impose his will on the nation, just as he might do were he a despotic king.
“But how can public life be carried on in any other way?” This question is thought to embody an unanswerable defense of party government. Says an American, whose advocacy of the system I have just been reading–“Every public measure must have one party in its favor and another against it. There never can be more than two parties on living, practical issues.” Here the fallacy is transparent. The argument implies that a party has never more than one question to decide. It assumes that those who agree with its leaders on some issue which brought them into office, will agree with its leaders on all other issues which may arise during their term of office–an absurd assumption. But a further question is put–“How is a ministry to retain office unless its opinion subordinates the individual opinions of its supporters? and what must happen if ministries are perpetually thrown out by the votes of recalcitrant members of their parties?” Here we have one among countless illustrations of the errors caused by assuming one thing changed while other things remain unchanged. If politicians were conscientious; if, as a result, no one would vote for a thing which he did not believe good; and if, consequently, the body of representatives fell, as it must do, not into two large parties but into a number of small parties and independent members, no ministry could count upon anything like a constant majority. What would happen? A ministry would no longer be required to resign when in a minority; but would simply accept the lesson which a division gave it. It would not, as now, be for a time the master of the House, but would be always the servant of the House: not dictating a policy to it, but accepting that which was found to be its policy. Hence no measure could be carried unless it obtained the sincere support of the average of its many parties, and was thereby proved to be most likely in accordance with the national will. If, as may be contended, this would lead to great delay in the passing of measures, the reply is–So much the better. Political changes should never be made save after overcoming great resistances.
But apart from these considerations, the ethical dictum is clear. There are lies told by actions as well as lies told by words, and ethics gives no more countenance to the one than to the other. As originating from ultimate laws of right conduct, beneficence and veracity must go together; and political beneficence will be shown by insisting on political veracity.
469. Among the tasks enjoined by political beneficence are not only such general ones as enforcement of equitable laws made known to all, and sincerity of political conduct, but there is also the maintenance of pure and efficient administration.
Manifestly included in this task is the choice of good representatives, general and local. Though there is some perception of the need for deliberate effort in this direction, the perception is an unenlightened one. There is no adequate consciousness of the share of duty which each elector has, not simply in giving his vote, but also in seeing that a good choice shall be made possible by a preceding good naming of candidates. At present, while there is a carefully devised machinery for choosing among nominated men, there is only a hole-and-corner machinery for deciding what men shall be nominated: this last function being really more important than the first. For it is of little use to have the overt power of deciding between A and B, when secret powers have picked out for choice an A and a B who are both undesirable. At present the local caucus of each party, more or less under direction of a central caucus in London, overrides the wills of electors by forcing them to say which of two or more they will have; often leaving them practically to say which they dislike least. Under this system there is very little regard for true fitness in a representative. Has he been a large local benefactor? Does he bind himself to support the head of the party? Is he in favor of this or that pet scheme? Can he bring to bear family influence or command votes by popularity of manner? These, and such as these, are the questions which determine his selection by the caucus, and therefore his selection by the constituency. Whether he has wide political knowledge; whether he has much administrative experience; whether he is far-seeing; whether he is conscientious and independent; whether he will promise nothing that he does not approve, or does not feel himself able to perform–these are questions scarcely asked. Of course the general result is a House of Commons made up of political incapables, popularity hunters, and time servers, who, believing in common with their constituents that a society is not a growth but a manufacture, carry on their legislative work under the profound delusion that things can be effectually arranged this way or that way at will; and in pursuit of their party and personal ends, do not inquire what may be the ultimate effects of their temporary expedients. Of course, political beneficence dictates strenuous exertions against this system; and enjoins the duty of seeking some way in which constituents may acquire a real instead of a nominal choice, and be led to choose men who will be fit lawmakers instead of fit tools of party.
Those on whom devolves the choice of men for county councils, municipal bodies, vestries, and the like, are spurred into activity by their leaders when members of such bodies are to be elected; but, forthwith lapsing into their usual quiescence, most of them give small attention to the doings of these bodies, or if they are made aware of inefficiency and corruption, are not prompted by a sense of public duty to seek remedies. A shopkeeper does not like to move because some of his customers, directly or indirectly interested in the misdoings he perceives, may be offended. Among a doctor's patients there are probably a few who, if not implicated with those whose carelessness or incapacity needs exposing, are on friendly terms with them; and he does not feel called upon to risk alienation of such. Even a man of means, whose pecuniary interests will not be endangered by any course he may take, hesitates lest he should make himself unpopular. He knows that enmities will be generated and no compensating friendships formed. And then there are many who, if not deterred by motives above indicated, do not see why they should give themselves trouble for no personal benefit. Abuses are consequently allowed to rise and grow.
Thus is it very generally with administrations. There is no conception that political beneficence requires of each man that he shall take his share in seeing that political machinery, general and local, does its work properly.6
470. “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance,” said one of the early American statesmen; and eternal vigilance is also the price of well-working institutions. In proportion as human nature is defective, the organizations formed out of human beings must be defective too. And they will become far more defective than they would else be, if there are not constant detections of their defects and constant efforts to prevent increase of them.
Hence a proper sense of public duty will prompt endeavors to stop abuses the moment they become visible, without waiting for them to become serious. The misdoings which, in course of time, make useless or mischievous this or that administration, begin with trivial derelictions of duty, which no one thinks it worth while to protest against. Each increment of mischief, similarly small, is passed over as unimportant; until at length the evil is found to have grown great and perhaps incurable. A good illustration of the way in which ultimate disasters result from the disregard of trifling imperfections, has often struck me when watching the emptying of a canal lock. Here and there in the wall, as the water descends, may be observed a small jet issuing from a crevice–a crevice through which the water enters again when the lock is refilled, and from which there again issues a jet when the water again falls. In an old and neglected lock, not only are these jets numerous but some have become very large. At every use of the lock, a cavity which has been gradually formed behind each of these, is charged and discharges itself; and the larger it becomes the more rapidly does the powerful ingoing and outgoing stream increase it and its channel. Eventually, if nothing is done, the joints of the stonework are so much eaten away, and the back of the wall so much hollowed, that one or other part collapses. In an analogous way the insignificant abuses in an institution, which are initiated by carelessness or self-interest, and tolerated by indifference, or what seems good nature, increases little by little until the whole structure becomes worthless or injurious.
The “eternal vigilance” required to maintain not only liberty but purity, should have for its guide a principle just opposite to the principle commonly followed. Most men, alike in public affairs and private business affairs, assume that things are going right until it is proved they are going wrong; whereas their assumption should be that things are going wrong until it is proved they are going right. Though in churches they continually hear asserted the ingrained wickedness of men, and though in every day's newspaper they find exposed various dishonesties and deceptions, not of simple kinds only but of those complex kinds which bubble companies and swindling syndicates practice; yet they seem to think that in the transactions of any political or social organization they are concerned with, there are, and will be, no corruptions. Though every receipt they take is a precaution against dishonesty. though every law deed makes many provisions to prevent breaches of understanding, and though every act of Parliament is full of clauses implying the belief that some will do wrong if there are any openings left for them to do wrong, people argue that unless evidence has raised it, there should be no suspicion respecting the doings of incorporated bodies or official organizations; and this notwithstanding the daily proofs that bank failures and company disasters arise from ill-grounded beliefs in the conscientiousness of all concerned, and the lack of checks against possible roguery.7
Beneficence at Large
471. Most readers have been surprised by much which has, in the foregoing chapters, and especially the later ones, been included under the head of beneficence. Only special parts of social and political conduct are usually thought of as having ethical aspects; whereas here most parts of them have been dealt with as having such aspects. But the reader who bears in mind the doctrine laid down at the outset and recently reenunciated, that all conduct which in an indirect, if not in a direct way, conduces to happiness or misery, is therefore to be judged as right or wrong, will see that the various topics touched upon could not rightly be omitted. After the conduct which is of individual concern only, and affects others in but remote ways, if at all; and after the conduct comprehended under the head of justice, which sets forth restraints on individual life imposed by social life; nearly all the remainder of conduct becomes the subject matter of beneficence, negative or positive. For nearly all this remainder of conduct pleasurably or painfully affects others from hour to hour.
After thus conceiving the sphere of beneficence, it becomes obvious that even more has to be included than has yet been included. Large space would be required to treat in detail the incentives and restraints which should guide behavior to those around. There are words and tones and facial expressions which throughout daily intercourse continually excite disagreeable emotions, and others which excite agreeable emotions; and the amounts of happiness or of misery created by them, often far exceed the amounts created by maleficent or beneficent actions of conspicuous kinds. Not, indeed, that agreeableness or disagreeableness of behavior is to be wholly ascribed to the presence or absence of beneficent promptings. The presence or absence of a desire for approbation is commonly a chief cause. But the sweetness of manner which springs from sympathy. is in most cases easily distinguishable. Acted goodness of feeling rarely produces the same effect as real goodness of feeling.
Though beneficence of other kinds may be produced by general sense of duty, by desire to establish right human relations, by a high ideal of conduct, this kind of beneficence can be produced only by active fellow feeling. In a few finely constituted natures, this fellow feeling is dominant, and spontaneously shows itself: beneficence has in so far become with them organic. Everyone feels the better for their presence. They are natural centers of happiness. Those of inferior natures, forming the immense majority, can here fulfill the dictates of beneficence only in so far as they can subordinate themselves to an ideal of behavior; and even then in but a partial way. Occasionally, it may be possible for them to recognize in time some nascent manifestation of unamiable feeling and check it, or to perceive with sufficient quickness an opportunity of showing sympathy, and even of arousing it by a quick imagination of the circumstances. By keeping in mind the requirements of beneficence, some small amount of self-discipline may thus be achieved.
Beyond the beneficent regulation of conduct toward members of the family and towards friends, there is the beneficent regulation of conduct towards those who occupy positions of subordination, or of lower social status. A large sphere for the anodyne influence of sympathy is here opened. From the militant regime, with its graduated ranks and obedience coercively maintained, there have descended those modes of behavior which continually recall the relations of superior and inferior. Pervading social life they influence all in ways difficult to resist. Though, among the better natured on the one side, there is a dislike to usages which make others feel their inferiority, and though the more independent on the other side, vaguely resent such usages; yet it seems impossible to change forthwith the established manners, and to get rid of the unbeneficent emotions accompanying them. Doubtless, along with the substitution of the system of contract for the system of status, there has been a relaxation of those customs which remind men of their respective grades. This has gone so far that in modern days a true gentleman is described as aiming to make those who rank below him in the social scale, at ease in his presence: seeking, not to emphasize any distinction between himself and them, but rather to obliterate the consciousness of the distinction.
As regulating such intercourse, beneficence has the function of increasing the happiness of the less fortunate by raising them for the time being to the level of the more fortunate, and making them as much as possible forget the difference in position or in means.
472. The foregoing paragraphs will probably raise in many minds a silent protest, several times before raised, against the tacit acceptance of a social system which they reprobate. Impatient with the multitudinous evils which humanity at present suffers, and ascribing these to the existing organization of society, they reject indignantly all conclusions which take for granted that this organization is to continue. Let us hear what they say.
“Your conception of beneficence is a radically unbeneficent one. Your remarks about restraints on free competition, and on free contract, imply the belief that all men are hereafter, as now, to fight for individual gain. Services rendered by the ill-off to the well-off are taken for granted in your remarks about restraints on blame. The various modes of administering charity, condemned or approved by you, assume that in the future there must be rich and poor as at present. And some of the immediately foregoing exhortations concerning behavior, presuppose the continued existence of superior and inferior classes. But those who have emancipated themselves from beliefs imposed by the past, see that all such relations of men to one another are bad and must be changed. A true ethics–a true beneficence–cannot recognize any such inequalities as those you take for granted. If ethical injunctions are to be carried out, then all social arrangements of the kinds we now know must be abolished, and replaced by social arrangements in which there are neither caste differences nor differences of means. And, under the implied system, large parts of the actions you have classed as beneficent will have no place. They will be excluded as needless or impossible.”
Unquestionably there is an a priori warrant for this protest. A society in which there are marked class distinctions cannot fulfill the conditions under which only the fullest happiness can be achieved. Though it is not within the range of possibility that all the units shall be equal in respect of their endowments (a dreadful state, could it be reached), yet it is possible that there may be reached such kind of equality as results from an approximately even distribution of different kinds of powers–those who are inferior in some respects being superior in others: so producing infinite variety with a general uniformity, and so excluding gradations of social position. Some such type of human nature, and consequent social type, are contemplated by absolute ethics.
But it is forgotten that during the stages through which men and society are slowly passing, we are chiefly concerned with relative ethics and not with absolute ethics. The dictates of absolute ethics being kept before us as the ideal, we have little by little to mold the real into conformity with them, as fast as the nature of things permits. Sudden transformation being impossible, sudden fulfillment of the highest ethical requirements is impossible.
473. Those who, not content with that progress through small modifications which is alone permanent, hope to reach by immediate reorganization a high social state, practically assume that the human mind can forthwith have its qualities so changed that its bad products will be replaced by good products. Old beliefs in the wonders to be worked by a beneficent fairy, were not more baseless than are these new beliefs in the wonders to be worked by a revolutionized social system.
A world which, from the far east of Russia to the far west of California and from Dunedin in the North to Dunedin at the Antipodes, daily witnesses deeds of violence, from the conquests of one people by another to the aggressions of man on man, will not easily find place for a social order implying fraternal regard of each for each. A nature which generates international hatreds and intense desires for revenge–which breeds duelists and a contempt for those who do not seek to wipe out a slight by a death, is not a nature out of which harmonious communities can be molded. Men who rush in crowds to witness the brutalities of football matches, who roar out ferocious suggestions to the players, and mob the umpires who do not please them, so that police protection is required, are not men who will show careful consideration of one another's claims when they have agreed to work together for the common good. Not by any ingenuity can there be framed well-working institutions for people who shoot those who will not enter the political combinations they form, who mutilate and torture the cattle of dissentients, who employ emissaries to blow up unconcerned persons and cause a panic, and who then, when the wretches have been convicted, are indignant that they are not released. Only to a wild imagination will it seem possible that a social regime higher than the present, can be maintained by men who, as railway employees, wreck and burn the rolling stock of companies which will not yield to their demands–men who, as ironworkers, salute with bullets those who come to take the wages they refuse, try by dynamite to destroy them along with the houses they inhabit and seek to poison them wholesale–men who, as miners, carry on a local civil war to prevent a competition they do not like. Strange, indeed, is the expectation that those who, unscrupulous as to means, selfishly strive to get as much as possible for their labor and to give as little labor as possible, will suddenly become so unselfish that the superior among them will refrain from using their superiority lest they should disadvantage the inferior!
Without having recourse to such extreme illustrations, we may see, on contemplating a widely diffused habit, how absurd is the belief that egoistic conduct may forthwith be changed into altruistic conduct. Here, throughout the whole community, from the halls of nobles and the clubs frequented by the upper ten thousand, down through the trading classes, their sons and daughters, and even to the denizens of kitchens and the boys in the street, we find gambling and betting; the universal trait of which is that each wishes to gain by his neighbor's loss. And now we are told that under a new social system, all those who have greater ability will submit to loss that those who have less ability may gain! Without any transformation of men's characters, but merely by transforming social arrangements, it is hoped to get the effects of goodness without the goodness!
474. While the majority believe that human nature is unchangeable, there are some who believe that it may rapidly be changed. Both beliefs are wrong. Great alterations may be wrought, but only in course of multitudinous generations: the small alterations, such as those which distinguish nation from nation, taking centuries, and the great alterations, molding an egoistic nature into an altruistic one, taking eras. Nothing but a prolonged discipline of social life–obtainment of good by submission to social requirements, and suffering of evil from disregard of them–can effect the change.
This would scarcely need saying were it not that the education received by the upper classes, and now diligently forced by them on the lower, leaves all with nature's open secrets unlearned. One of these is that there can be no social or political actions but what are determined by the minds, separate or aggregated, of human beings; that these human beings can have no mental processes and consequent activities which are not parts of their lives, subject to the laws of their lives; and that the laws of their lives are included within those most general laws to which life at large must conform. Could statesmen and politicians and philanthropists and schemers recognize this truth, which profoundly concerns them, they would see that all social phenomena, from the beginning down to the present, and onward through the future, must be concomitants of the readaptation of mankind to its new circumstances–the change from a nature which fitted men for the wandering and predatory habits of the savage, to a nature which fits them for the settled and industrial habits of the civilized. They would see that this long process, during which old aptitudes and desires have to dwindle, while new aptitudes and desires have to be developed, is necessarily a process of continued suffering. It would become manifest to them that this suffering, caused by the constant overtaxing of some powers and denying to others the activities they crave, cannot by any possibility be escaped. And they would infer, lastly, that to suspend the process by shielding individuals and classes from those stern requirements imposed by the social state, must not only fail to prevent suffering but must increase it; since the loss of adaptation consequent upon relaxation of the conditions, has eventually to be made good. The readaptation has to be gone through afresh, and the suffering borne over again.
Thus, along with those permanent functions of beneficence which will become more dominant in an ultimate social state, there must, for thousands of years, continue those temporary functions of it proper to our transitional state. After men's attempts to realize their ideals, and reform society without reforming themselves, have ended in disaster, and, sobered by sufferings, they submit themselves afresh to the hard discipline which has brought us thus far, further progress may be made. But there must be great changes before this progress can go on unimpeded. Over the greater part of the earth, men have ceased to devour one another, and to receive honor in proportion to their achievements in that way; and when societies shall have ceased to devour one another, and cease to count as glory their success in doing this, the humanization of the brute may become comparatively rapid. It is impossible that there can be much advance towards a reign of political justice internally, while there is maintained a reign of political burglary externally. But when the antagonism between the ethics of amity and the ethics of enmity has come to an end, there may go on without much check, the rise toward that high state vaguely foreshadowed by the distorted visions of our social schemes.
Meanwhile, the chief temporary function of beneficence is to mitigate the sufferings accompanying the transition; or rather, let us say, to ward off the superfluous sufferings. The miseries of readaptation are necessary; but there are accompanying unnecessary miseries which may, with universal advantage, be excluded. The beneficence which simply removes a pain must, considered apart from other effects, be held intrinsically good. The beneficence which yields present relief so far as consists with the individual's welfare, is better. But the beneficence which takes into account not only the immediate and remote results to the individual, but also the results to posterity and to society at large, is best. For this is the beneficence which is so dominated by the sense of responsibility, that it consents to bear immediate sympathetic pain, rather than be subject to the consciousness of having helped to entail greater and more widespread pains. The highest beneficence is that which is not only prepared, if need be, to sacrifice egoistic pleasures, but is also prepared, if need be, to sacrifice altruistic pleasures.
475. And here we come again to the conclusion once before reached, that these self-sacrifices imposed by the transitional state, gradually diminishing, must eventually occupy but small spaces in life; while the emotions which prompted them, ceasing to be the mitigators of misery, will become the multipliers of happiness. For sympathy, which is the root of all altruism, causes participation in pleasurable feelings as well as in painful feelings; and in proportion as painful feelings become less prevalent, participation in pleasurable feelings must be its almost exclusive effect.
As was pointed out in section 93, quick and wide sympathies would intensify and multiply miseries, did they exist during stages in which the pains of average lives exceeded the pleasures. If the better constituted and the more fortunately circumstanced, were fully conscious of all which their fellow creatures have to bear, the result would be to make them as unhappy as the rest, and so increase the total unhappiness. Life would be intolerable to the highly sympathetic, could they vividly represent to themselves the tortures inflicted on Negroes by Arab slave catchers, the dreadful years passed by kidnapped Kanakas, who are slaves under another name, the daily sufferings of Hindu ryots, half-starved and heavily taxed, the dreary existence of Russian peasants, conscripted, or even in the midst of famine, bled to support conscripts. Acute fellow feeling would be a curse to its possessors, did it bring vividly before them the states of body and mind experienced even by the masses around–the long persistence in work under protesting sensations, the poor food often insufficient in quantity, the thin clothing, the insufficient fire, the scanty bedding, the crying children, the wife soured by privation and the husband occasionally brutalized by drink: all joined with hopelessness–with the consciousness that most of this has to be borne throughout the rest of life, and much of it to be intensified as old age comes on. Evidently the altruistic sentiments, while they serve in a measure to mitigate the sufferings accompanying the readaptation of the race, are continually repressed or seared by the presence of this irremediable misery, and can develop only in proportion as it diminishes. Slightly decreased suffering may be followed by slightly increased sympathy; and this, rightly directed, may further decrease the suffering; which, again, may make more sympathy possible; and so on pari passu. But only when the amount of suffering has become insignificant, can fellow feeling reach its full development.
When the pressure of population has been rendered small–proximately by prudential restraints and ultimately by decrease of fertility–and when long-range rifles, big guns, dynamite shells, and other implements for wholesale slaughter which Christian peoples have improved so greatly of late, are to be found only in museums; sympathy will probably increase to a degree which we can now scarcely conceive. For the process of evolution must inevitably favor all changes of nature which increase life and augment happiness: especially such as do this at small cost. Natures which, by the help of a more developed language of emotion, vocal and facial, are enabled to enter so fully into others' pleasurable feelings that they can add these to their own, must be natures capable of a beatitude far greater than is now possible. In such natures a large part of the mental life must result from participation in the mental lives of others.
Thus, along with increasing readaptation, altruism will become less and less the assuager of suffering and more and more the exalter of happiness.
476. To most this conclusion will not commend itself: dissent being in some intellectually prompted and in others emotionally prompted. The first constitute the class of men who, while believing in organic evolution, and knowing that many of the multitudinous transformations effected by it are so marvellous as to seem scarcely credible, nevertheless tacitly assume that no further transformations will take place–not even such relatively small ones as would raise the higher types of men to a type fitted for harmonious social cooperation. The second constitute the much larger class, to whom the future of humanity is not a matter of much interest; and who regard with indifference a conclusion which holds out no promise of benefit to themselves, either here or hereafter.
But there exist a few who differ intellectually from the one of these classes and morally from the other. To them it seems not only rational to believe in some further evolution, but irrational to doubt it–irrational to suppose that the causes which have in the past worked such wonderful effects, will in the future work no effects. Not expecting that any existing society will reach a high organization, nor that any of the varieties of men now living will become fully adapted to social life, they yet look forward through unceasing changes, now progressive now retrogressive, to the evolution of a humanity adjusted to the requirements of its life. And along with this belief there arises, in an increasing number, the desire to further the development. The anxieties which in many now go beyond the welfares of personal descendants, and include the welfare of the nation and its institutions, as well as, in some cases, the welfares of other nations and other races, will more and more become an anxiety for human progress at large.
Hereafter, the highest ambition of the beneficent will be to have a share–even though an utterly inappreciable and unknown share–in “the making of man.” Experience occasionally shows that there may arise extreme interest in pursuing entirely unselfish ends; and, as time goes on, there will be more and more of those whose unselfish end will be the further evolution of humanity. While contemplating from the heights of thought, that far-off life of the race never to be enjoyed by them, but only by a remote posterity, they will feel a calm pleasure in the consciousness of having aided the advance towards it.
Endnotes to Part VI
[]In treating of Poor Laws as above, I have been aided by the writings of one specially qualified judge– a late uncle of mine, the Rev. Thomas Spencer, of Hinton Charterhouse, near Bath. His antecedents and his experience gave his opinion a value which the opinion of scarcely one man in a hundred thousand could have. His special sympathy with his parishioners was proved by his having established in Hinton a parish school, a village library, a clothing club, and land allotments; by having also built model cottages; and by having at one time gone to the extent of giving every Sunday a meat dinner to a group of laborers. His general sympathy with the working classes was proved by the fact that he devoted a large part of his spare time to the diffusion of temperance by lectures and writings; by the fact that he joined in the Complete Suffrage Movement, which aimed to diffuse political power; and above all by the fact that he was the only clergyman who took an active part in the agitation for the repeal of the Corn Laws, and said grace at the first anti—Corn Law banquet as well as at the last. His philanthropic feeling, then, cannot be questioned. As to his experience, it was no less wide and complete. Though originally a pauper's friend–always on the side of the pauper against the overseer–he afterwards became convinced of the immense mischief wrought under the old Poor Law; and when the new Poor Law was enacted, he forthwith applied it to his parish (having, I believe, gained the assent of the Poor Law commissioners to do this before the Bath Union was formed), and very shortly reduced the rates from £700 a year to £200 a year; with the result of making the parish far more contented and prosperous. Then, on the formation of the Bath Union, he was appointed chairman of the Board of Guardians and held that office for several years: thereby being made familiar with a wide range of facts. The outcome was that he wrote four pamphlets under the title “Reasons for a Poor Law Considered”; of which the net result is a verdict against Poor Laws in general.
[]The evidence here summarized will be found in Medical Charity: Its Abuses, and How to Remedy Them, by John Chapman, M.D. some of the sums and numbers given should be greatly increased; for since 1874, when the work was published, much hospital extension has taken place.
[]A most instructive and remarkable fact, which illustrates this general truth at the same time that it illustrates a more special truth, is that already cited in section 183, respecting the rudest of the Musheras of India, who have no form of marriage, but among whom “unchastity, or a change of lovers on either side, when once mutual appropriation has been made, is a thing of rare occurrence”; and, when it does occur, causes excommunication. So that among these simple people, public opinion in respect of the marital relation is more potent than law is among ourselves. (For account of the Musheras, see Calcutta Review, April 1888.)
[]For these many years I have wished to write an essay on aesthetic vices, and have accumulated illustrations of the way in which life is vitiated by making attractiveness of appearance a primary end, instead of a secondary end to be thought of only in subordination to usefulness. Here are a few out of multitudinous illustrations of the ways in which comfort and health are alike perpetually trenched on to achieve some real or fancied beauty in a thing which should make no pretensions to beauty. You take up a poker to break a lump of coal, and find that the ornamented brass handle, screwed on the steel shaft, is loose, making the poker rickety; and you further find that the filigree work of this brass handle hurts your hand if you give the lump a blow. Observing that the fire is low you turn to the coal scuttle, and, perceiving it to be empty, ring for more coal; and then, because the elegant coal scuttle, decorated perhaps with a photograph surrounded by elaborate gilding, may not be damaged in the cellar, you are obliged to hear the noise of pouring in coal from a black scuttle outside the door, accompanied by the making of dust and probably the scattering of bits: all which you are expected to be content with for the sake of the photograph and the gilding. Then, when you sit down, after having put the fire in order, some discomfort at the back of your head draws your attention to a modern antimacassar, made of string which is hardened by starch: the beauty of its pattern being supposed to serve you as compensation for the irritation of your scalp. So is it with a meal. At breakfast you are served with toast made from bread of an undesirable quality, but which has the advantage that its slices can be cut into triangles, much admired for their neatness. If you take a poached egg you discover that, for the sake of looking pretty, it has been cooked in shallow water; with the effect that while the displayed yolk in the center is only half done, the surrounding white is overdone and reduced to a leathery consistence. should the meal be a more elaborate one you meet with more numerous illustrations. To name the sweets only, you observe that here is a tart of which the crust is bad, because the time that should have been devoted to making it has been devoted to making the filigree work decorating its outside; and here is another of which the paste, covered with a sugared glaze, has been made close and indigestible by the consequent keeping in of the steam. At one end of the table is a jelly which, that it may keep the shape of the elegant mould it was cast in (which the proper material often fails to do) is artificially stiffened; so that if you are unwise enough to take a mouthful, it suggests the idea of soluble India rubber. And then at the other end, you see the passion for appearance carried to the extent that to make a shaped cream attractive, it is colored with the crimson juice of a creature which, when alive, looks like a corpulent bug. such is the experience all through the day, from the first thing in the morning, when while standing dripping wet, you have to separate the pretty fringes of the bath towel which are entangled with one another, to the last thing at night, when the bootjack, which, not being an ornamental object is put out of sight, has to be sought for.
[]An amusing satire on this system appeared some dozen years or so ago in The Owl. The proposal was that there should be established a Ladies' Exchange (Clearinghouse it should have been named) to which their men-servants should every day severally take the cards that were due from them to various friends, and receive the cards owned them by other friends: so performing the mechanical process of distribution more economically.
[]Let me here emphasize my meaning by giving an instance of maladministration which daily comes under the eyes of millions of people inhabiting London. I refer to the persistently bad state of the macadamized roads. What is the cause? After rain anyone who looks may see. Generally, if not always, each elevated portion of the surface has at its highest point a piece of broken stone larger than the average of the pieces forming the road–twice or thrice as large. Each of these large pieces, supported by several pieces below, has more power of resisting the impacts of carriage wheels than the smaller pieces around, and becomes relatively prominent. Every carriage wheel, when passing with speed over a prominent point, is jolted upwards, and instantly afterward comes down with a blow upon the succeeding part of the surface. By repetition of these blows a hollow is formed. More than this happens. In rainy weather each hollow becomes filled with water, which makes it softer than the prominent parts and more apt to yield. Hence a surface full of small hills and holes. The evils caused are various. Continuous shakings, uncomfortable to the strong and to the weak very injurious, have to be borne by hundreds of thousands of people in omnibuses, cabs, and carriages; vehicles wear out faster than they should do; horses are overtaxed, and have to be replaced by others sooner than would else be needful. And then the roads themselves wear out rapidly. How does all this happen? simply because the road contractor profits by evading the regulation respecting the size of broken stones. And as the steamroller, of late years introduced, flattens down large and small to an even surface, the surveyor passes the work as all right. Why does he do this? Well, contractors are frequently rich men; and the salaries of surveyors are not very high.
[]At the moment these pages are passing through the press, abundant warnings are furnished to those who can recognize the lesson they teach. Besides minor cases, there are now simultaneously reported in the papers, proceedings concerning the Liberator Building Society, the London and General Bank, Limited, the Hansard Union, Limited, Hobbs & Co., Limited, Barker & Co.'s Bank; in Italy the Banca Romana; and in France the gigantic Panama scandals, implicating directors, legislators, and even ministers. Nevertheless, we shall have tomorrow new schemes, which people will suppose are going right till some catastrophe proves they have been going wrong.