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During the second half of the nineteenth century, two revolutionsthe scientific and the urban-industrialtransformed social and intellectual life. The prestige of science increased enormously as researchers announced a dazzling array of new discoveries. Remarkable new technological developmentsthe telegraph, railroad, and electric dynamos and lightsand spectacular achievements in industrial engineering such as the Brooklyn Bridge and majestic skyscrapers provided conspicuous physical evidence of the transforming effects of science.
Modern scientists opened up a gulf of doubt about many inherited truths and spiritual convictions. When the English biologist Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, the New York Times reported that the book contained "arguments and inferences so revolutionary" that they promised "a radical reconstruction of the fundamental doctrines of natural history." Darwin's provocative thesis argued that the "modification" of species occurred through ceaseless process of "natural selection." This challenged the biblical story of all animal species originating in an act of divine creation that forever fixed their forms. In Darwin's world, new species were not "special creations" of God; they emerged randomly from the struggle for existence. Natural selection, he implied, was arbitrary, capricious, and devoid of ultimate meaninga long, gradual process of intense competition and hereditary development without divine plan or purpose.
Darwin's concept of evolutionary change challenged established beliefs about nature and about providential design and life processes. "If this be truth," growled one college president, "let me live in ignorance." As time passed, however, more and more people accepted many aspects of evolutionary naturalism. "This scientific current," a writer in the North American Review concluded, "is moving more or less all schools of thought." Sociologists such as William Graham Sumner promoted what came to be called Social Darwinism, arguing that just as "survival of the fittest" was the balancing mechanism in the natural world, so, too, should unfettered competition and free enterprise determine the fate of human society.
While Darwinism and modern science were overturning intellectual life, an ever-accelerating urban-industrial revolution was transforming social life. In 1860 there were but sixteen cities with populations over 50,000; in 1910 there were well over eighty. Between 1870 and 1920 almost 11 million Americans left farms and rural villages for the cities, and even more urban newcomers arrived from abroad. Wave after wave of foreigners flowed into American cities, and the immigrants tended to come from eastern and southern Europe and Asia rather than Britain and western Europe. This so-called new immigration generated ethnic and religious tensions that prompted efforts to restrict the flow of "strange" newcomers.
By the end of the nineteenth century, American commentators were expressing concerns not only about the influx of "aliens," but also about the debilitating effects of rapid urban development and rising prosperity. The industrial revolution had brought spreading material comforts, yet it also fostered moral complacency and even "decadence." Many observers feared that city-dwelling men, who now worked in offices rather than on farms, were losing their virility. As "the rich become effeminate, weak, and immoral," a prominent doctor claimed, the "lower classes, taking advantage of this moral lassitude, and led by their savage inclinations, undertake strikes, boycotts and riots." Another concerned observer claimed that most middle-class businessmen "have bodies that disgrace them. Everywhere you see fat, clumsy, unsightly bodies; stooped, flabby, feeble bodies."
Theodore Roosevelt shared such anxieties and led a national movement promoting a "strenuous life" for Americans in an effort to revive masculine virtues. He and others touted vigorous exercise and combative sports as an especially powerful antidote to urban ills. "Physical exercise," declared the publisher of Physical Culture Magazine, "is destined to effect the regeneration of the Caucasian race." Through athletic participation, another sports advocate insisted, young men develop "all the 'manly' attributesglorious strength and skill and endurance."
Football became an especially popular instrument of revived manhood. The novelist Willa Cather observed that intercollegiate athletics were "the one resisting force that curbs the growing tendencies toward effeminacy" among young American men. Football, she added, was especially rejuvenating because it "is a game of blood and muscle and fresh air." By the end of the nineteenth century, virtually all high schools and colleges sponsored football teams.
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During the so-called Gilded Age, many social commentators worried about the effects of unchecked urban development. Josiah Strong, a prominent Congregationalist minister from Ohio, was among the most concerned. In 1885 he published Our Country, a comprehensive critique of modern developments. Strong viewed the large city as a menace to morals and to the social order. He also feared that the tenor of urban culture warred against the teachings of Christianity.
The city is the nerve center of our civilization. It is also the storm center. The fact, therefore, that it is growing much more rapidly than the whole population is full of significance. In 1790, one-thirtieth of the population of the United States lived in cities of 8,000 inhabitants and over; in 1800, one twenty-fifth; in 1810, and also in 1820, one-twentieth; in 1830, one sixteenth; in 1840, one-twelfth; in 1850, one-eighth; in 1860, one-sixth; in 1870, a little over one-fifth; and in 1880, 22.5 per cent, or nearly one-fourth. From 1790 to 1880 the whole population increased a little less than four fold, the urban population thirteen fold. . . . In 1790 there were only six cities in the United States which had a population of 8,000 or more. In 1880 there were 286.
The city has become a serious menace to our civilization. . . . It has a peculiar attraction for the immigrant. Our fifty principal cities contain 39.3 per cent of our entire German population, and 45.8 per cent of the Irish. Our ten larger cities only nine per cent of the entire population, but 23 per cent of the foreign. While a little less than one-third of the population of the United States is foreign by birth or parentage, sixty-two per cent of the population of Cincinnati are foreign, eighty-three per cent of Cleveland, sixty-three per cent of Boston, eighty- eight per cent of New York, and ninety-one per cent of Chicago.
Because our cities are so largely foreign, Romanism1 finds in them its chief strength. For the same reason the saloon, together with the intemperance and the liquor power which it represents, is multiplied in the city. East of the Mississippi there was, in 1880, one saloon to every 438 of the population; in Boston, one to every 329; in Cleveland, one to every 192; in Chicago, one to every 179; in New York, one to every 171; in Cincinnati, one to every 124. Of course the demoralizing and pauperizing power of the saloons and their debauching influence in politics increase with their numerical strength.
It is the city where wealth is massed; and here are the tangible evidences of it piled many stories high. Here the sway of Mammon2 is widest, and his worship the most constant and eager. Here are luxuries gatheredeverything that dazzles the eye, or tempts the appetite; here is the most extravagant expenditure. Here, also, is the congestion of wealth severest. Dives and Lazarus3 are brought face to face; here, in sharp contrast, are the ennui of surfeit and the desperation of starvation. The rich are richer, and the poor are poorer, in the city than elsewhere; and, as a rule, the greater are the riches of the rich and the poverty of the poor. Not only does the proportion of the poor increase with the growth of the city, but their condition becomes more wretched. The poor of a city with 8,000 inhabitants are well off compared with many in New York; and there are no such depths of woe, such utter and heart-wringing wretchedness in New York as in London. . . .
Socialism not only centers in the city, but is almost confined to it; and the materials of its growth are multiplied with the growth of the city. Here is heaped the social dynamite; here roughs, gamblers, thieves, robbers, lawless and desperate men of all sorts, congregate; men who are ready on any pretext to raise riots for the purpose of destruction and plunder; here gather foreigners and wage-workers; here skepticism and irreligion abound; here inequality is the greatest and most obvious, and the contrast between opulence and penury the most striking; here is suffering the sorest. As the greatest wickedness in the world is to be found not among the cannibals of some far off coast, but in Christian lands where the light of truth is diffused and rejected, so the utmost depth of wretchedness exists not among savages, who have few wants, but in great cities, where, in the presence of plenty and of every luxury men starve. . . .
"During the past three years, 220,976 persons in New York have asked for outside aid in one form or another." Said a New York Supreme judge, not long since: "There is a large classI was about to say a majorityof the population of New York area Brooklyn, who just live, and to whom the rearing of two or more children means inevitably a boy for the penitentiary, and a girl for the brothel." Under such conditions smolder the volcanic fires of a deep discontent.
As a rule, our largest cities are the worst governed. It is natural, therefore, to infer that, as our cities grow larger and more dangerous, the government will become more corrupt, and control will pass more completely into the hands of those who themselves most need to be controlled. If we would appreciate the significance of these facts and tendencies, we must bear in mind that the disproportionate growth of the city is undoubtedly to continue, and the number of great cities to be largely increased. . . .
But the supreme peril, which will certainly come, eventually, and must probably be faced by multitudes now living, will arise, when, the conditions having been fully prepared, some great industrial or other crisis precipitates an open struggle between the destructive and the conservative elements of society. As civilization advances, and society becomes more highly organized, commercial transactions will be more complex and immense. As a result, all business relations and industries will be more sensitive. Commercial distress in any great business center will the more surely create widespread disaster. Under such conditions, industrial paralysis is likely to occur from time to time, more general and more prostrating than any heretofore known. When such a commercial crisis has closed factories by the ten thousand, and wageworkers have been thrown out of employment by the million; when the public lands, which hitherto at such times have afforded relief, are all exhausted; when our urban population has been multiplied several fold; and our Cincinnatis have become Chicagos, our Chicagos and our New Yorks, Londons; when class antipathies are deepened; when socialistic organizations, armed and drilled, are in every city, and the ignorant and vicious power of crowded populations has fully found itself; when the corruption of city governments is grown apace; when crops fail, or some gigantic "corner" doubles the price of bread; with starvation in home; with idle workingmen gathered, sullen and desperate, in the saloons with unprotected wealth at hand; with the tremendous forces of chemistry within easy reach; then with the opportunity, the means, the fit agents; the motive, the temptation to destroy, all brought into evil conjunction, THEN will come the real test of our institutions, then will appear whether we are capable of self-government.
The modern city had its defenders during the nineteenth century. The following excerpt, from a pioneering study in urban sociology, applied Darwin's concept of natural selection to "document" the advantages of urban life over rural life.
. . .SOCIAL CAUSESTo enumerate the social advantages that the cities possess as compared with the country would demand too much space, but most of them will be found to be embraced in the following classification:
Such are some of the advantages of city life; some of them are modern, and some are as old as civilization. Not the least important factor in city growth is gregariousness or the social instinct itself, which appears to be stronger than ever before in these days of restlessness. . . . Another thing to be reckoned with is the passion for "the crowd, the hum, the shock of men," among those who have once lived in the city. One of the trying difficulties of social workers in their efforts to improve the housing conditions of the tenement population is the strong desire of these poor people to be among their associates, and their absolute refusal to settle in more comfortable homes in the country or in the suburbs.
Finally, we have to take into consideration the forces which in recent times have spread a knowledge of the advantages of city life among all classes of the community. Education has a great deal to do with it, especially the half-education which prevails in the rural districts and gives the farmers' boys a glimpse of a more attractive life, without teaching them how to attain such a life at home. Then the newspaper comes in to complete the enchantment, with its gibes against the "hayseed" and "country bumpkin." Thus the spread of information, made possible by nineteenth-century improvements in communication, creates a distaste for country life, and more especially for rural life; while easier travel enables young men lightly to abandon the distasteful life. . . .
Socially, the influence of the cities is similarly exerted in favor of liberal and progressive thought. The variety of occupation, interests and opinions in the city produces an intellectual friction, which leads to a broader and freer judgment and a great inclination to and appreciation of new thought, manners, and ideals. City life may not have produced genius, but it has brought thinkers into touch with one another, and has stimulated the divine impulse to originate by sympathy or antagonism. As the seat of political power, as the nursery of the arts and sciences, as the center of industry and commerce, the city represents the highest achievements of political, intellectual and industrial life.
The rural population is not merely conservative; it is full of error and prejudice; it receives what enlightenment it possesses from the city. Nor is the small city free from the same reproach; while it performs the useful function of an intermediary between the progressivism, liberalism, radicalism of the great city, and the conservatism, bigotry, of the country, it is the chief seat of the pseudo-bourgeois Philistine. . . . Americans of the present generation are destined to see this provincialism vanish before the powerful influences of large cities, which the introduction of manufactures and commerce on a large scale will in a short time produce. The South will be brought into contact with the current of world-thought. To the negro, race justice will at length be accorded, and a stronger feeling of fraternity toward the North will grow up, strengthening the bonds of patriotism.
The city is the spectroscope of society; it analyzes and sifts the population, separating and classifying the diverse elements. The entire progress of civilization is a process of differentiation, and the city is the greatest differentiator. The mediocrity of the country is transformed by the city into the highest talent or the lowest criminal. Genius is often born in the country, but it is brought to light and developed by the city. On the other hand, the opportunities of the city work just as powerfully in the opposite direction upon the countrymen of an ignoble cast; the boy thief of the village becomes the daring bank robber of the metropolis. . . .
. . . Even if the "fittest" members of society did perish earlier in the struggle for existence in the city than in the country, it would be open to doubt if society would not gain more by their residence in the city where they can find scope for their abilities than in the country without opportunities for performing the highest social service of which they are capable. But with the modern combination of city business life and rural residence, or at least open air holidays and recreation periods, and the opportunities that cities alone offer for the carrying on of athletic sports and games, the best blood of the race is not liable to extinction.
The foremost critic of Darwinism among American scientists was Louis Agassiz, a prestigious Harvard professor who steadfastly insisted that species were created by God and were unchanging"immutable." In 1860 he issued his challenge to Darwin's new thesis.
It seems to me that there is much confusion of ideas in the general statement of the variability of species so often repeated lately. If species do not exist at all, as the supporters of the transmutation theory maintain, how can they vary, and if individuals alone exist, how can the differences which may be observed among them prove the variability of species? The fact seems to me to be that while species are based upon definite relations among individuals which differ in various ways among themselves, each individual, as a distinct being, has a definite course to run from the time of its first formation to the end of its existence, during which it never loses its identity nor changes its individuality, nor its relations to other individuals belonging to the same species, but preserves the categories of relationship which constitute specific or generic or family affinity, or any other kind or degree of affinity. To prove that species vary it should be proved that individuals born from common ancestors change the different categories of relationship which they bore primitively to one another. While all that has thus far been shown is, that there exists a considerable difference among individuals of one and the same species. This may be new to those who have looked upon every individual picked up at random, as affording the means of describing satisfactorily any species; but no naturalist who has studied carefully any of the species now best known, can have failed to perceive that it requires extensive series of specimens accurately to describe a species, and that the more complete such series are, the more precise appear the limits which separate species. Surely the aim of science cannot be to furnish amateur zoologists or collectors, a recipe for a ready identification of any chance specimen that may fall into their hands. And the difficulties with which we may meet in attempting to characterize species do not afford the first indication that species do not exist at all, as long as most of them can be distinguished, as such, almost at first sight. I foresee that some convert to the transmutation creed will at once object that the facility with which species may be distinguished is no evidence that they were not derived from other species. It may be so. But as long as no fact is adduced to show that any one well-known species among the many thousands that are buried in the whole series of fossiliferous rocks, is actually the parent of any one of the species now living, such arguments can have no weight; and thus far the supporters of the transmutation theory have failed to produce any such facts. Instead of facts we are treated with marvelous bear, cuckoo, and other stories. . . .
Had Mr. Darwin or his followers furnished a single fact to show that individuals change, in the course of time, in such a manner as to produce at last species different from those known before, the state of the case might be different. But it stands recorded now as before, that the animals known to the ancients are still in existence, exhibiting to this day the characters they exhibited of old. The geological record, even with all its imperfections, exaggerated to distortion, tells now, what it has told from the beginning, that the supposed intermediate forms between the species of different geological periods are imaginary beings, called up merely in support of a fanciful theory. The origin of all the diversity among living beings remains a mystery as totally unexplained as if the book of Mr. Darwin had never been written, for no theory unsupported by fact, however plausible it may appear, can be admitted in science.
It seems generally admitted that the work of Darwin is particularly remarkable for the fairness with which he presents the facts adverse to his views. It may be so; but I confess that it has made a very different impression upon me. I have been more forcibly struck by his inability to perceive when the facts are fatal to his argument, than by anything else in the whole work. His chapter on the Geological Record, in particular, appears to me, from beginning to end, as a series of illogical deductions and misrepresentations of the modern results of Geology and Paleontology. I do not intend to argue here, one by one, the questions he has discussed. Such arguments end too often in special pleading, and any one familiar with the subject may readily perceive where the truth lies by confronting his assertions with the geological record itself.
But since the question at issue is chiefly to be settled by paleontological evidence, and I have devoted the greater part of my life to the special study of the fossils, I wish to record my protest against his mode of treating this part of the subject. Not only does Darwin never perceive when the facts are fatal to his views, but when he has succeeded by an ingenious circumlocution in overleaping the facts, he would have us believe that he has lessened their importance or changed their meaning. He would thus have us believe that there have been periods during which all that had taken place during other periods was destroyed, and this solely to explain the absence of intermediate forms between the fossils found in successive deposits, for the origin of which he looks to those missing links; whilst every recent progress in Geology shows more and more fully how gradual and successive all the deposits have been which form the crust of our earth. . . .
He would have us believe that animals disappear gradually; when they are as common in the uppermost bed in which they occur as in the lowest, or any intermediate bed. Species appear suddenly and disappear suddenly in successive strata. That is the fact proclaimed by Paleontology; they neither increase successively in number, nor do they gradually dwindle down; none of the fossil remains thus far observed show signs of a gradual improvement or of a slow decay. . . He would also have us believe that the most perfect organs of the body of animals are the product of gradual improvement, when eyes as perfect as those of the Trilobites are preserved with the remains of these oldest animals. He would have us believe that it required millions of years to effect any one of these changes; when far more extraordinary transformations are daily going on, under our eyes, in the shortest periods of time, during the growth of animals. He would have us believe that animals acquire their instincts gradually; when even those that never see their parents, perform at birth the same acts, in the same way, as their progenitors.. . . And all these, and many other calls upon our credulity, are coolly made in the face of an amount of precise information, readily accessible, which would overwhelm any one who does not place his opinions above the records of an age eminently characterized for its industry, and during which, that information was laboriously accumulated by crowds of faithful laborers.
It would be superfluous to discuss in detail the arguments by which Mr. Darwin attempts to explain the diversity among animals. Suffice it to say, that he has lost sight of the most striking of the features, and the one which pervades the whole, namely, that there runs throughout Nature unmistakable evidence of thought, corresponding to the mental operations of our own mind, and therefore intelligible to us as thinking beings, and unaccountable on any other basis than that they owe their existence to the working of intelligence; and no theory that overlooks this element can be true to nature.
[Darwin's]1 mistake lies in a similar assumption that the most complicated system of combined thoughts can be the result of accidental causes; for he ought to know, as every physicist will concede, that all the influences to which he would ascribe the origin of species are accidental in their very nature, and he must know, as every naturalist familiar with the modern progress of science does know, that the organized beings which live now, and have lived in former geological periods, constitute an organic whole, intelligibly and methodically combined in all its parts. As a zoologist he must know in particular, that the animal kingdom is built upon four different plans of structure, and that the reproduction and growth of animals takes place according to four different modes of development, and that unless it is shown that these four plans of structure, and these four modes of development, are transmutable one into the other, no transmutation theory can account for the origin of species. The fallacy of Mr. Darwin's theory of the origin of species by means of natural selection, may be traced in the first few pages of his book, where he overlooks the difference between the voluntary and deliberate acts of selection applied methodically by man to the breeding of domesticated animals and the growing of cultivated plants, and the chance influences which may effect animals and plants in the state of nature. To call these influences "natural selection," is a misnomer which will not alter the conditions under which they may produce the desired results. Selection implies design; the powers to which Darwin refers the order of species, can design nothing. Selection is no doubt the essential principle on which the raising of breeds is founded, and the subject of breeds is presented in its true light by Mr. Darwin; but this process of raising breeds by the selection of favorable subjects, is in no way similar to that which regulates specific differences. Nothing is more remote from the truth than the attempted parallelism between the breeds of domesticated animals and the species of wild ones. . . .
All attempts to explain the origin of species may be brought under two categories: viz., 1st, some naturalists admitting that all organized beings are created, that is to say, endowed from the beginning of their existence with all their characteristics, while 2d, others assume that they arise spontaneously. This classification of the different theories of the origin of species, may appear objectionable to the supporters of the transmutation theory; but I can perceive no essential difference between their views and the old idea that animals may have arisen spontaneously. . . .
Until the facts of Nature are shown to have been mistaken by those who have collected them, and that they have a different meaning from that now generally assigned to them, I shall therefore consider the transmutation theory as a scientific mistake, untrue in its facts, unscientific in its method, and mischievous in its tendency.
While religious leaders assaulted Darwin's theory for calling into question the literal accuracy of the Bible, several prominent American scientists defended the English researcher. Asa Gray (1810-1888) was a professor of natural science at Harvard University who corresponded with Darwin for four years. In numerous speeches and articles, Gray applauded Darwin's scientific method and his startling conclusions. He also insisted that Darwinian evolution did not conflict with Judeo-Christian beliefs; instead, he contended that God was responsible for evolutionary development.
Whatever Mr. Darwin's philosophy may be, or whether he has any, is a matter of no consequence at all, compared with the important questions, whether a theory to account for the origination and diversification of animal and vegetable forms through the operation of secondary causes does or does not exclude design;1 and whether the establishment by adequate evidence of Darwin's particular theory of diversification through variation and natural selection would essentially alter the present scientific and philosophical grounds for theistic views of Nature. . . .
After full and serious consideration, we are constrained to say that, in our opinion, the adoption of a derivative hypothesis, and of Darwin's particular hypotheses, if we understand it, would leave the doctrines of final causes, utility, and special design, just where they were before. We do not pretend that the subject is not environed with difficulties. Every view is so environed; and every shifting of the view is likely, if it removes some difficulties, to bring others into prominence. But we cannot perceive that Darwin's theory brings in any new kind of scientific difficulty, that is, any with which philosophical naturalists were not already familiar.
Wherefore, Darwin's reticence about efficient cause does not disturb us. He considers only the scientific questions. As already stated, we think that a theistic view of Nature is implied in his book, and we must charitably refrain from suggesting the contrary until the contrary is logically deduced from his premises.
. . . To our minds the argument from design always appeared conclusive of the being and continuous operation of an intelligent First Cause, The Ordainer of Nature; and we do not see that the grounds of such belief would be disturbed or shifted by the adoption of Darwin's hypothesis. We are not blind to the philosophical difficulties which the thoroughgoing implication of design in Nature has to encounter, nor is it our vocation to obviate them. It suffices us to know that they are not new nor peculiar difficultiesthat, as Darwin's theory and our reasonings upon it did not raise these perturbing spirits, they are not bound to lay them. Meanwhile, that the doctrine of design encounters the very same difficulties in the material that it does in the moral world is just what ought to be expected.
So the issue between the skeptic and the theist is only the old one, long ago argued outnamely, whether organic Nature is a result of design;2 or of chance. Variation and natural selection open no third alternative; they concern only the question how the results, whether fortuitous or designed, may have been brought about. Organic Nature abounds with unmistakable and irresistible indications of design, and, being a connected and consistent system, this evidence carries the implication of design throughout the whole. On the other hand, chance carries no probabilities with it, can never be developed into a consistent system, but, when applied to the explanation of orderly or beneficial results, heaps up improbabilities at every step beyond all computation. To us, a fortuitous Cosmos is simply inconceivable. The alternative is a designed Cosmos.
It is very easy to assume that, because events in Nature are in one sense accidental, and the operative forces which bring them to pass are themselves blind and unintelligent (physically considered, all forces are), therefore they are undirected, or that he who describes these events as the results of such forces thereby assumes that they are undirected.
As to all this, nothing is easier than to bring out in the conclusion what you introduce in the premises. If you import atheism into your conception of variation and natural selection, you can readily exhibit it in the result. If you do not put it in, perhaps there need be none to come out. . . .
It is evident that the strongest point against the compatibility of Darwin's hypothesis with design in Nature is made when natural selection is referred to as picking out those variations which are improvements from a vast number which are not improvements, but perhaps the contrary, and therefore useless or purposeless, and born to perish.
But even here the difficulty is not peculiar; for Nature abounds with analogous instances. Some of our race are useless, or worse, as regards the improvement of mankind; yet the race may be designed to improve, and be actually improving. Or, to avoid the complication with free agencythe whole animate life of a country depends absolutely upon the vegetation, the vegetation upon the rain. The moisture is furnished by the ocean, is raised by the sun's heat from the ocean's surface, and is wafted inland by the winds. But what multitudes of raindrops fall back into the oceanare as much without a final cause as the incipient varieties which come to nothing! Does it therefore follow that the rains which are bestowed upon the soil with such rule and average regularity were not designed to support vegetable and animal life? Consider, like-wise, the vast proportion of seeds and pollen, or ova and younga thousand or more to onewhich come to nothing, and are therefore purposeless in the same sense, and only in the same sense, as are Darwin's unimproved and unused slight variations. The world is full of such cases; and these must answer the argumentfor we cannot, except by thus showing that it proves too much.
Finally it is worth noticing that, though natural selection is scientifically explicable, variation is not. Thus far the cause of variation, or the reason why the offspring is sometimes unlike the parents, is just as mysterious as the reason why it is generally like the parents. It is now as inexplicable as any other origination; and, if ever explained, the explanation will only carry up the sequence of secondary causes one step farther, and bring us in face of a somewhat different problem, but which will have the same element of mystery that the problem of variation has now. Circumstances may preserve or may destroy the variations; man may use or direct them; but selection, whether artificial or natural, no more originates them than man originates the power which turns a wheel, when he dams a stream and lets the water fall upon it. The origination of this power is a question about efficient cause. The tendency of science in respect to this obviously is not toward the omnipotence of matter, as some suppose, but toward the omnipotence of spirit.
So the real question we come to is as to the way in which we are to conceive intelligent and efficient cause to be exerted, and upon what exerted. Are we bound to suppose efficient cause in all cases exerted upon nothing to evoke something into existenceand this thousands of times repeated, when a slight change in the details would make all the difference between successive species? Why may not the new species, or some of them be designed diversifications of the old?
There are, perhaps, only three views of efficient cause which may claim to be both philosophical and theistic:
It must be allowed that, while the third is preeminently the Christian view, all three are philosophically compatible with design in Nature. The second is probably the popular conception. Perhaps most thoughtful people oscillate from the middle view toward the first or the thirdadopting the first on some occasions, the third on others.
The concept of the survival of the fittest as embodied in Darwinism captured the imagination of a new generation of social scientists after the Civil War. Led by Yale sociologist William Graham Sumner (1840-1910), these "Social Darwinists" applied evolutionary theory to the operations of human society. In the following selection, Sumner invoked Darwin's ideas in order to criticize efforts by reformers to intervene in the social process. To Sumner, modern industrial development represented the "natural" evolution of society, and any effort to intervene in this process was therefore misguided.
The burden of proof is on those who affirm that our social condition is utterly diseased and in need of radical regeneration! My task at present, therefore, is entirely negative and critical: to examine the allegations of fact and the doctrines which are put forward to prove the correctness of the diagnosis and to warrant the use of the remedies proposed.
The propositions put forward by social reformers nowadays are chiefly of two kinds. There are assertions in historical form, chiefly in regard to the comparison of existing with earlier social states, which are plainly based on defective historical knowledge, or at most on current stock historical dicta which are uncritical and incorrect. Writers very often assert that something never existed before because they do not know that it ever existed before, or that something is worse than ever before because they are not possessed of detailed information about what has existed before.
The other class of propositions consists of dogmatic statements which, whether true or not, are unverifiable. This class of propositions is the pest and bane of current economic and social discussion. Upon a more or less superficial view of some phenomenon a suggestion arises which is embodied in a philosophical proposition and promulgated as a truth. From the form and nature of such propositions they can always be brought under the head of "ethics." This word at least gives them an air of elevated sentiment and purpose, which is the only warrant they possess. It is impossible to test or verify them by any investigation or logical process whatsoever. It is therefore very difficult for anyone who feels a high responsibility for historical statements, and who absolutely rejects any statement which is unverifiable, to find a common platform for discussion or to join issue satisfactorily in taking the negative.
When anyone asserts that the class of skilled and unskilled manual laborers of the United States is worse off now in respect to diet, clothing, lodgings, furniture, fuel, and lights; in respect to the age at which they can marry; the number of children they can provide for; the start in life which they can give to their children, and their chances accumulating capital, than they ever have been at any former time, he makes a reckless assertion for which no facts have been offered in proof. Upon an appeal to facts, the contrary of this assertion would be clearly established. It suffices, therefore, to challenge those who are responsible for the assertion to make it good.
If it is said that the employed class are under much more stringent discipline than they were thirty years ago or earlier, it is true. It is not true that there has been any qualitative change in this respect within thirty years, but it is true that a movement which began at the first settlement of the country has been advancing with constant acceleration and has become a noticeable feature within our time.
This movement is the advance in the industrial organization. The first settlement was made by agriculturists, and for a long time there was scarcely any organization. There were scattered farmers, each working for himself, and some small towns with only rudimentary commerce and handicrafts. As the country has filled up, the arts and professions have been differentiated and the industrial organization has been advancing.
This fact and its significance has hardly been noticed at all; but the stage of the industrial organization existing at any time, and the rate of advance in its development, are the absolutely controlling social facts. Nine-tenths of the socialistic and semi-socialistic, and sentimental or ethical, suggestions by which we are overwhelmed come from failure to understand the phenomena of the industrial organization and its expansion. It controls us all because we are all in it. It creates the conditions of our existence, sets the limits of our social activity, regulates the bonds of our social relations, determines our conceptions of good and evil, suggests our life-philosophy, molds our inherited political institutions, and reforms the oldest and toughest customs, like marriage and property.
I repeat that the turmoil of heterogeneous and antagonistic social whims and speculations in which we live is due to the failure to understand what the industrial organization is and its all-pervading control over human life, while the traditions of our school of philosophy lead us always to approach the industrial organization, not from the side of objective study, but from that of philosophical doctrine. Hence it is that we find that the method of measuring what we see happening by what are called ethical standards, and of proposing to attack the phenomena by methods thence deduced, is so popular.
All organization implies restriction of liberty. The gain of power is won by narrowing individual range. The methods of business in colonial days were loose and slack to an inconceivable degree. The movement of industry has been all the time toward promptitude, punctuality, and reliability. It has been attended all the way by lamentations about the good old times; about the decline of small industries; about the lost spirit of comradeship between employer and employee; about the narrowing of the interests of the workman; about his conversion into a machine or into a "ware," and about industrial war.
These lamentations have all had reference to unquestionable phenomena attendant on advancing organization. In all occupations the same movement is discerniblein the learned professions, in schools, in trade, commerce, and transportation. It is to go on faster than ever, now that the continent is filled up by the first superficial layer of population over its whole extent and the intensification of industry has begun. The great inventions both make the intention of the organization possible and make it inevitable, with all its consequences, whatever they may be.
I must expect to be told here, according to the current fashions of thinking, that we ought to control the development of the organization. The first instinct of the modern man is to get a law passed to forbid or prevent what, in his wisdom, he disapproves. A thing which is inevitable, however, is one which we cannot control. We have to make up our minds to it, adjust ourselves to it, and sit down to live with it. Its inevitableness may be disputed, in which case we must re-examine it; but if our analysis is correct, when we reach what is inevitable we reach the end, and our regulations must apply to ourselves, not to the social facts.
Now the intensification of the social organization is what gives us greater social power. It is to it that we owe our increased comfort and abundance. We are none of us ready to sacrifice this. On the contrary, we want more of it. We would not return to the colonial simplicity and the colonial exiguity if we could. If not, then we must pay the price. Our life is bounded on every side by conditions. We can have this if we will agree to submit to that. In the case of industrial power and product the great condition is combination of force under discipline and strict coordination. Hence the wild language about wage-slavery and capitalistic tyranny.
In any state of society no great achievements can be produced without great force. Formerly great force was attainable only by slavery aggregating the power of great numbers of men. Roman civilization was built on this. Ours has been built on steam. It is to be built on electricity. Then we are all forced into an organization around these natural forces and adapted to the methods or their application; and although we indulge in rhetoric about political liberty, nevertheless we find ourselves bound tight in a new set of conditions, which control the modes of our existence and determine the directions in which alone economic and social liberty can go.
If it is said that there are some persons in our time who have become rapidly and in a great degree rich, it is true; it if is said that large aggregations of wealth in the control of individuals is a social danger, it is not true. . . .
If this poor old world is as bad as they say, one more reflection may check the zeal of the headlong reformer. It is at any rate a tough old world. It has taken its trend and curvature and all its twists and tangles from a long course of formation. All its wry and crooked gnarls and knobs are therefore stiff and stubborn. If we puny men by our arts can do anything at all to straighten them, it will only be by modifying the tendencies of some of the forces at work, so that, after a sufficient time, their action may be changed a little and slowly the lines of movement may be modified. This effort, however, can at most be only slight, and it will take a long time. In the meantime spontaneous forces will be at work, compared with which our efforts are like those of a man trying to deflect a river, and these forces will have changed the whole problem before our interferences have time to make themselves felt.
The great stream of time and earthly things will sweep on just the same in spite of us. It bears with it now all the errors and follies of the past, the wreckage of all the philosophies, the fragments of all the civilizations, the wisdom of all the abandoned ethical systems, the debris of all the institutions, and the penalties of all the mistakes. It is only in imagination that we stand by and look at and criticize it and plan to change it. Everyone of us is a child of his age and cannot get out of it. He is in the stream and is swept along with it. All his sciences and philosophy come to him out of it.
Therefore the tide will not be changed by us. It will swallow up both us and our experiments. It will absorb the efforts at change and take them into itself as new but trivial components, and the great movement of tradition and work will go on unchanged by our fads and schemes. The things which will change it are the great discoveries and inventions, the new reactions inside the social organism, and then changes in the earth itself on account of changes in the cosmical forces.
These causes will make of it just what, in fidelity to them, it ought to be. The men will be carried along with it and be made by it. The utmost they can do by their cleverness will be to note and record their course as they are carried along, which is what we do now, and is that which leads us to the vain fancy that we can make or guide the movement. That is why it is the greatest folly of which a man can be capable, to sit down with a slate and pencil to plan out a new social world.
During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Americans began pursuing a variety of new leisure and recreational activities. In cities, industrial wage-earners frequented novel diversions such as playgrounds, dance halls, and amusement parks. In more rural areas, "base-ball," bicycle riding, and "foot-ball" matches became favorite pastimes. While civic, religious, and business interests often sanctioned and regulated these activities, some commentators nevertheless worried that these recreations fostered inappropriate behavior and attitudes. In the excerpt below, the editors of The Nation magazine expressed their concerns about the growing influence of team sports, especially football, on college campuses.
We are glad that the Harvard Overseers have appointed a committee to investigate the game of football in its various aspects. We are also glad to learn that there is to be this winter a convention of the deities of the football world, to revise the rules, and probably abolish the "flying wedge" and other dangerous features of the present game. So far so good. But we would respectfully ask the college faculties whether they propose this winter to take any action looking to the reform of the game, and indeed all college games, on the moral side.
We refer them to some paragraphs in Harper's Weekly on Phillips Exeter Academy, which show the effect that the inordinate attention given to athletics in college is having on young boys in the preparatory schools. How many of them who have the size and weight qualifying to row or play football now think of the college to which they are going as a seat of learning? The practice, on the part of the athletic element in the colleges, of seeking them out, and bribing them by offers of a free education to come to one college rather than another, has become unhappily common, and has ceased to seem discreditable; that is, very young boys are invited to become professionals, and to take what is in reality a salary for acting as football players in the guise of students.
That the faculties play into the hands of these debauchers of youth by being easy with these young professionals in examinations and recitations is at least generally believed. Can nothing be done to suppress or make disgraceful this abuse of allowing professional athletes to haunt the college buildings as sham students? Is not the presence of such men at all in colleges highly demoralizing, and likely to confuse the minds of freshmen as to the ends for which colleges exist?
We are informed on good authority that Yale spent last year about $47,000 on athletics, and the team went to Springfield the other day with three drawing-room cars and fifty men as substitutes, doctors, trainers, rubbers, and cooks. The receipts from the gate-money in New York cannot have fallen far short of $50,000. It was earned by exhibiting feats of strength and agility by scholars and gentlemen before an enormous city crowd, in which the gambling fraternity and the prostitutes were very prominent.
We are not inveighing against athletic games. If the colleges were to-morrow to make football compulsory for every man in them, we should not say a word in objection. We are simply asking for moderation and decency. It seems to be the weakness of the American people to take nearly everything in "crazes." There was the greenback craze, and the silver craze, and the granger craze, and the cholera craze, and now there is the athletic craze, and the leading colleges are becoming huge training-grounds for young gladiators, around whom nearly as many spectators roar as roared in the Flavian amphitheater.
One of its worst results is, however, that it frightens "the plain people" away from the colleges. The modest father who is willing to pinch himself and wife and daughters in order to give a son a college education, is appalled by what he hears and sees of the results of a football match. Debt, drink, debauchery rise up before his mind's eye as a probable concomitant of "college training," and he decides to keep his pet lamb at home. The colleges are not drawing as they ought for this class. The wealthy men are going to them in greater and greater numbers, but it is not they who keep alive the traditions of American scholarship, or show the world what a college education can do by way of preparation for life. Of the effect on the members of the various teams of the conspicuousness in which they pass some months of every year, of the interviews, the newspaper gossip, and portraits, we will not speak, as nothing definite can be known about it. But if much remains of "the modest stillness and humility"1 which is, the poet says, so becoming in time of peace, after training for two or three matches, they must be almost more than human.
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