Thursday, 8 August 2013


"Principles of Western Civilisation," by Benjamin Kidd, author of "Social Evolution."
   Students of social phenomena will welcome the present work as an attempt to elucidate the underlying principles of social life, and as a statement, however imperfect, of the conditions which must determine its future development. Its main ideas were undoubtedly foreshadowed in "Social Evolution," but without the definiteness and elaboration of the present work. Mr. Kidd writes with clearness and facility, and his arguments are supported at times with such an array of facts that the main argument itself tends to be forgotten. Hitherto, Mr. Kidd contends, all theories of social life, all systems of political and social philosophy have revolved in effect "round a fixed and central principle, namely, the interest of the existing individual, considered either separately as individuals or collectively as members of political society." Now, however, under the influence of the theory of natural selection, we are forced to recognise that in any type of social order destined to hold its place in the future the interests of existing members possess no meaning, "except so far as they are included in and are subordinate to the interests of a developing system of social order, the overwhelming proportion of whose members are still in the future." This principle is startling by its apparent denial of the paramount importance of the interests of present members of society. No social reformer has hitherto concerned himself with the interests of the future. It has been sufficient for him if in some way he could improve the existing state of society, and allow the future to appropriate to itself the benefits thus acquired. Yet according to Mr. Kidd, this has been the fundamental error of all previous writers on social phenomena. Bentham, J. S. Mill, Herbert Spencer, socialistic writers like Karl Marx all alike have erred. They assumed that the facts they had to deal with were limited to the present, and it was sufficient for them, if they could so organise society as to enable every man to obtain his fair share of the collective will. They were wrong to assume "that the interest of society is always the same thing as the interests of the individual comprised within the limits of its political consciousness." This leads Mr. Kidd to enunciate under the law of projected efficiency, the central teaching of his book. Stripped of its biological setting, it may be simply stated as follows:—
 In any form of society destined successfully to maintain its place in the rivalry of existence, the conditions at any time prevailing must of necessity be weighted and controlled at every point, not by the interests of existing individuals, but by those of generations yet in the future. Therefore, "a fundamental fact of human evolution must be that the welfare of society . . . is not coincident with, and can never be made coincident with, that of any of the classes or parties,or majorities with which we see Governments to be concerned." The great problem, then, of social life is to so organise society that the existing individuals may not only attain the utmost developments of their own powers, but conserve to the utmost the interests of the future. Neither individualism nor socialism has hitherto given an adequate answer, owing to their neglect of the law of projected efficiency, and the social reformer of the present day must not only make some definite proposals, but show that the principles upon which he acts have their basis both in fact and history. Mr. Kidd divides history into two epochs. In the first, the ruling principle is the supremacy of the causes which are contributing to social efficiency by subordinating the individual merely to the existing political organisation; in the second, "we begin to be concerned with the rise to ascendency of the ruling causes, which contribute to a higher type of social efficiency by subordinating society itself, with all its own interests in the present, to its own future." As a corrollary to this, we have the principle that that type of society in which the interests of the individual have been most completely subordinated to the interests of society is alone the type which can most completely realise the principle of the second epoch. Probably it will be doubted by some whether Mr. Kidd, in his historical surveys, has adequately grasped the principles underlying the phenomena he describes. They will feel that the facts are capable of other interpretations, and that in some way Mr. Kidd, in his anxiety to prove the importance of the idea of the future in human life, has overlooked the deep influence exercised upon the present by the past. As might have been expected from the author of "Social Evolution," religion has played a deep and abiding part in the development of the race, and we are ultimately told that the ideas of toleration of universal equality, are but the outcome of the religious consciousness. It would be interesting to consider how far this statement is consistent with the root idea of "Social Evolution." "How," asks Mr. Kidd. "are we to witness the controlling principles of human consciousness projected out of the present; and yet see opened within the present that untrammelled play of all human powers and activities which alone can emancipate the future?" His answer is by the organisation of society under State control, in which the State shall recognise that only in so far as it proves itself a fitting expression of the "Cosmic" influence, only in so far as builds upon the doctrine of projected efficiency, can it hope to secure for the type of society it represents an existence in the struggle for existence. By this means alone can it secure a reasonable happiness for its members. "Sooner or later the general will must by its own determination act, and in obedience to that sense of responsibility inherent in our civilisation project, the meaning of the economic process beyond the content of that mere free fight in the present to which we see it now confined." Space does not allow an adequate criticism of Mr. Kidd's fascinating book, a work, which by its fresh thought, clever phrasing, intrinsic sympathy, patient accummulation of data, able marshalling of fact and argument, and comprehensive grasp, will irresistibly appeal to all interested in social science.

 The West Australian 29 March 1902,

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