The Moral Of This Examination
I have laid before
the reader enough to show what weight is due to Mr. Spencer's recantation
of his earlier declarations on the land question.
But even his high reputation and great influence
would not have led me to make so elaborate an examination, did it relate only
to him. My purpose has been more than this.
In abandoning his earlier opinions Mr. Spencer
has adopted those which have the stamp of the recognized authorities of our
time. In seeking for excuses to justify his change he has taken the best
he could find; and the confusions and fallacies and subterfuges to which
he resorts are such as pass for argument with the many men of reputation
and ability, who have undertaken to defend the existing system. Examination
will show that no better defence of that system has been made or can be made.
Taking Mr. Spencer as the foremost representative
of those who deny the justice and expediency of recognizing the equal right
to land—a pre-eminence given him by his great reputation, his accorded ability,
and the fact that he once avowed the opinions he now seeks to discredit—I
have set forth his utterances on the land question, from his first book to
his last, printing them in full in order to do him the amplest justice, and
subjecting them to an examination which any one of ordinary ability and information
is competent to test. I have thus given the best example to be found in the
writings of one man, of what may be said for and what may be said against
the equal right to land.
It is not the example of intellectual prostitution
thus disclosed that I would dwell upon. It is the lesson that prompts to intellectual
self-reliance. It is not merely the authority of Mr. Spencer as a teacher
on social subjects that I would discredit; but the blind reliance upon authority.
For on such subjects the masses of men cannot safely trust authority. Given
a wrong which affects the distribution of wealth and differentiates society
into the rich and the poor, and the recognized organs of opinion and education,
since they are dominated by the wealthy class, must necessarily represent
the views and wishes of those who profit or imagine they profit by the wrong.
That thought on social questions is so confused
and perplexed, that the aspirations of great bodies of men, deeply though
vaguely conscious of injustice, are in all civilized countries being diverted
to futile and dangerous remedies, is largely due to the fact that those who
assume and are credited with superior knowledge of social and economic laws
have devoted their powers, not to showing where the injustice lies but to
hiding it; not to clearing common thought but to confusing it.
It is idle to quarrel with this fact, for it is
of the nature of things, and is shown in the history of every great movement
against social wrong, from that which startled the House of Have in the Roman
world by its proclamation of the equal fatherhood of God and the equal brotherhood
of men, to that which in our own time broke the shackles of the chattel slave.
But it is well to recognize it, that those who would know the truth on social
and economic subjects may not blindly accept what at the time passes for authority,
but may think for themselves.
It is not, however, in regard to social problems
only that I trust this examination may do something to enforce the need of
intellectual self-reliance. It is in regard to those larger and deeper problems
of man's nature and destiny which are, it seems to me, closely related to
Stepping out of their proper sphere and arrogating
to themselves an authority to which they have no claim, professed teachers
of spiritual truths long presumed to deny the truths of the natural sciences.
But now professed teachers of the natural sciences, stepping in turn out of
their proper sphere and arrogating to themselves an authority to which they
have no claim, presume to deny spiritual truths. And there are many, who
having discarded an authority often perverted by the influence of dominant
wrong, have in its place accepted another authority which in its blank materialism
affords as efficient a means for stilling conscience and defending selfish
greed as any perversion of religious truth.
Mr. Spencer is the foremost representative of this
authority. Widely regarded as the scientific philosopher; eulogized by his
admirers as the greatest of all philosophers—as the man who has cleared and
illuminated the field of philosophy by bringing into it the exact methods
of science—he carries to the common mind the weight of the marvellous scientific
achievements of our time as applied to the most momentous of problems. The
effect is to impress it with a vague belief that modern science has proved
the idea of God to be an ignorant superstition and the hope of a future life
a vain delusion.
Now, the great respect which in our day has attached
to professed scientific teachers, and which has in large degree given to them
the same influence that once attached to the teachers of religion, arises
from the belief in the truthfulness of science—from the belief that in the
pure, clear atmosphere in which its votaries are supposed to dwell they are
exempt from temptations to pervert and distort. And this has been largely
attributed to them where they have passed the boundaries of what is properly
the domain of the natural sciences and assumed the teaching of politics and
religion. It is his reputation as an honest, fearless thinker, bent only on
discovering and proclaiming the truth, a reputation which he derives from
his reputation as a scientific philosopher, that gives to Mr. Spencer the
powerful influence which, having been exerted to deny all hope of a world
to come, is now exerted to deny the right of the masses to the essentials
of life in this world—to maintain the wrong, wider than that of chattel slavery,
which condemns so many not merely to physical, but to mental and moral privation
and want, to undeveloped and distorted lives and to untimely death.
While the examination we have made has only incidentally
touched the larger phases of Mr. Spencer's philosophy, it has afforded an
opportunity to judge of the very things on which his popular reputation is
based—his intellectual honesty and his capacity for careful, logical reasoning.
It has, so to speak, brought the alleged philosopher out of what to the ordinary
man is a jungle of sounding phrases and big words, and placed him on open
ground where he may be easily understood and measured. In his first book,
written when he believed in God, in a divine order, in a moral sense, and
which he has now emasculated, he does appear as an honest and fearless, though
somewhat too careless a thinker. But that part of our examination which crosses
what is now his distinctive philosophy shows him to be, as a philosopher ridiculous,
as a man contemptible—a fawning Vicar of Bray, clothing in pompous phraseology
and arrogant assumption logical confusions so absurd as to be comical.
If the result be to shatter an idol, I trust it
may also be to promote freedom of thought.
As there are many to whom the beauty and harmony
of economic laws are hidden, and to whom the inspiring thought of a social
order in which there should be work for all, leisure for all, and abundance
for all—in which all might be at least as true, as generous and as manful
as they wish to be—is shut out by the deference paid to economic authorities
who have as it were given bonds not to find that for which they profess to
seek, so there are many to-day to whom any belief in the spiritual element,
in the existence of God and in a future life, is darkened or destroyed, not
so much by difficulties they themselves find, but by what they take to be
the teachings of science. Conscious of their own ignorance, distrustful of
their own powers, stumbling over scientific technicalities and awed by metaphysical
terminology, they are disposed to accept on faith the teachings of such a
man as Mr. Spencer, as those of one who on all things knows more and sees
further than they can, and to accord to what they take to be intellectual
pre-eminence the moral pre-eminence that they feel ought to accompany it.
I know the feeling of such men, for I remember the years when it was my own.
To these it is my hope that this examination may
be useful, by putting them on inquiry. In its course we have tested, in matters
where ordinary intelligence and knowledge are competent to judge, the logical
methods and intellectual honesty of the foremost of those who in the name
of science eliminate God and degrade man, taking from human life its highest
dignity and deepest hope. Now, if in simple matters we find such confusion,
such credulity, such violation of every canon of sound reasoning as we have
found here, shall we blindly trust in deeper matters—in those matters which
always have and always must perplex the intellect of man?
Let us rather, as I said in the beginning, not
too much under-rate our own powers in what is concerned with common facts
and general relations. While we may not be scientists or philosophers we
too are men. And as to things which the telescope cannot resolve, nor the
microscope reveal, nor the spectrum analysis throw light on, nor the tests
of the chemist discover, it is as irrational to accept blindly the dictum
of those who say, "Thus saith science!" as it is in things that are the proper
field of the natural sciences to bow before the dictum of those who say,
"Thus saith religion!"
I care nothing for creeds. I am not concerned with
any one's religious belief. But I would have men think for themselves. If
we do not, we can only abandon one superstition to take up another, and it
may be a worse one. It is as bad for a man to think that he can know nothing
as to think he knows all. There are things which it is given to all possessing
reason to know, if they will but use that reason. And some things it may be
there are, that—as was said by one whom the learning of the time sneered at,
and the high priests persecuted, and polite society, speaking through the
voice of those who knew not what they did, crucified—are hidden from the
wise and prudent and revealed unto babes.
New York, October 12, 1892.