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Lecture 11: Providential Methods: Solidarity

THE meaning of the term ‘Solidarity’ can be best understood by placing it in antithesis to the term ‘individuality.’ We are individuals, each one of us a moral personality, having his own responsibility and bearing his own burden. But we are not exclusively and absolutely individual, completely isolated from and independent of each other, each man wholly uninfluenced by, and exercising no influence upon, his fellow-men. We are connected with each other, dependent on each other, mutually influenced and influencing, receiving and communicating good and evil, forming together a social organism in which all parts act and react on each other, and are each to the other at once cause and effect. No man liveth by himself or to himself. No man's experience is confined to himself; no man's character is entirely of his own making. We are in both respects largely what others have made us, and others are in both respects to some extent what we have made them.

Solidarity is an all-pervasive fact. It is the universal law of the moral world, exercising sway at once over individuals, communities, and the whole human species. Its power is revealed in individual idiosyncrasy, in racial peculiarity, in broad, common features which combine all races in the unity of one human family. One generation goeth and another cometh, but the generation that cometh is dependent on the one that goeth for being, for a common nature, men from men; and for characteristic qualities—children like their fathers not merely in so far as they are men not beasts, but in features, temperament, talents, even to a certain extent in virtue and in vice.

With regard to the ethical significance of this great universal law of the moral world, our first observation must be that we have no reason to regret its existence. Broadly viewed it seems fitted to serve the ends of a beneficent providential order. On the face of it, it is a good law, such as we might expect to prevail in a universe under the dominion of a good God. It is good that we are not absolutely independent and alone. Whatever evils may arise out of solidarity as one of the methods on which Providence works, on the whole, humanity will fare better with these than it would in a world in which unqualified individualism, if such a thing were possible, was the supreme law. In such a world we should escape the ills, physical and moral, which in the actual world men have it in their power to inflict on others. But with the ill we should likewise lose the good, which solidarity enables men to receive from and to communicate to each other. And with the power to give and receive would pass away the will. Love would die out, brotherhood would cease, society would be dissolved, family life, with its sweet, wholesome play of affection, would be unknown; the human world would consist of a countless multitude of isolated egoists: brought into being otherwise than by birth; not less intellectual, possibly more, than the men of the actual world, but cold as icicles, loveless, caring only for themselves, with not so much as an occasional thought, wish, or effort for the benefit of other men. A just world that might be in the sense that no man would suffer from, or be responsible for, other men's misdeeds. But who cares for justice divorced from love? Who would not prefer a world in which love had free scope to work its beneficent will and do good to many, possibly at the cost of pain to itself, possibly also at the risk of conferring on bad men an equal power to do evil, to a world in which love had no place, but which afforded perfect protection from wrong?

But to our first observation we must add a second: that solidarity is not an unmixed good. It involves tremendous possibilities of evil. It is a two-edged sword cutting two ways, giving to the bad their opportunity of inflicting injury, as well as to the good of conferring blessing. How far the injury may go through the one channel of heredity is exemplified in the dark story of the ‘Jukes’ family in America, as related by Mr. Dugdale, which presents a melancholy record of vice, crime, pauperism, and disease, as the salient characteristics of the numerous descendants of one man born in the middle of the eighteenth century, described as a hunter and fisher, a hard drinker, jolly and companionable, and averse to steady toil. What a power of mischief lies in a single human being! In the course of a century the one becomes a thousand, embracing hundreds of worthless characters, each an active source of evil, and costing the state, collectively, a vast outlay in connection with maintenance, imprisonment, etc. ‘Over a million and a quarter dollars of loss in seventy-five years, caused by a single family, 1200 strong, without reckoning the cash paid for whisky, or taking into account the entailment of pauperism and crime of the survivors in succeeding generations, and the incurable disease, idiocy and insanity, growing out of this debauchery, and reaching further than we can calculate.’1

Such a dismal story readily creates the impression that heredity is a one-sided power which works for evil far more than for good. And this impression may appear to be abundantly justified by the theological doctrine of the ‘total depravity’ of man caused by the transgression of the original parent of the human race. That doctrine, worked into the blood of Christendom, may in part be responsible for a tendency, which certainly prevails, to emphasise the dark side of hereditary influence, and to think of it as a power which secures the transmission only of morbid corporeal conditions and of vicious propensities. Max Nordau suggests this as the explanation of the sinister part played by heredity in Ibsen's dramas. He represents the poet as the child of a religious race whose creed he has to a great extent discarded, but as retaining three theological ideas which dominate his imagination—original sin, confession, and self-sacrifice; and as applying heredity only in the sense of inheriting evil qualities, not a single instance of the opposite occurring in his writings.2 Whether this criticism of Ibsen be just, I am not in a position to say, but I feel certain that a pessimistic view of heredity is to be deprecated, and to be carefully guarded against by all who desire to retain earnest faith in a beneficent providential order. It is not necessary to that faith that heredity should be conceived of as a power working solely on the side of good. It is not reasonable to expect that we should reap all the beneficent effects of solidarity, under all its phases, without any of the incidental drawbacks, any more than it is reasonable to demand for man at once the gift of freedom and protection from its abuse. But it is necessary to faith that heredity should not be regarded as a malign power whose sole effect is to blight the promise of moral life, to blast hopes of progress, and to fill the world with sin and misery. If it were—it is not lightly to be affirmed that it is—the legitimate tendency of the dogma of original sin to foster such a view, it would be necessary in the interests of Theism to subject it to careful revision, to prevent one item in the developed creed of Christendom from being the destruction of a more radical and fundamental belief, this, viz., that God is good.3

These preliminary observations have for their aim to obviate a prejudice which may exist in some minds against regarding solidarity in any form as one of the methods employed by Providence for the accomplishment of its benignant purposes. In proceeding now to deal with the topic in a more formal way, I remark that solidarity presents itself for consideration under two main forms—family solidarity, for which the alternative name is heredity, and social solidarity manifesting itself very specially, though not exclusively, in the dominion of custom. To these two forms has been added a third—personal solidarity, by which is meant an identity with our past selves which is due to habit, and revealing itself in the permanence of character. This type, though in its own place important, may here be disregarded.4

1. Heredity.—We are not here directly concerned with the disputes among scientists as to the physical causes of heredity, or as to the question whether acquired characteristics are transmissible from parent to child. At first sight, indeed, this might appear to be a very vital question for our purpose, as on the answer given to it, it might seem to depend whether through a change for the better in the moral condition of one generation it would be possible to effect improvement in the following. But Weismann's theory, which makes heredity depend on germ-cells continuous in being, and to a great extent in quality, from generation to generation, and that supported by Herbert Spencer, which regards acquired characteristics as freely transmissible, though far apart in their initial formulation, approach each other in their ultimate adjustment. Weismann admits that germ-cells are not so fixed in their nature as to be inaccessible to influence from their environment. Ultimately the difference seems to reduce itself to a question of the directness or indirectness of the influence of environment through parentage on off-spring.5

Our interest in heredity is not scientific but ethical. We wish to know, not the natural laws or conditions of its working, but to what effect it works within the moral sphere, whether for good as well as for evil, for good not less than for evil. Students of the subject on scientific principles have been able to trace the influence of heredity in all other spheres physiological and psychological: in bodily features, in instincts, in peculiarities of the senses, in memory, in artistic talents, in intellectual endowments, in morbid corporeal and moral tendencies. Does its action stop there, or does it pass over into the region of the good, and become a propagandist of virtue?

Now, in the first place, a priori presumptions are in favour of an affirmative answer to this question. The mere fact that the law obtains in all the spheres of human life above enumerated, renders it probable that it obtains also in the remaining sphere to which our question refers. Why should there be in the Bach family, through many generations, a well-ascertained hereditary tendency to eminence in musical talent, and no hereditary tendency anywhere discoverable to moral excellence? Why should vicious propensities to gambling, avarice, theft, homicide, be inheritable, while for opposite virtues each man must entirely rely upon himself? Look again at the matter from the point of view of evolution. Heredity and variation, acting together, brought the universe of being from the lowest form of life up to man. Why should the same forces, acting in the human sphere, not have a tendency at least to carry men onwards in a course of moral development? There may be good reason why the course of that development should not be so smooth and regular as we might desire, but there ought to be some indications that the drift and strain of things is in the direction of moral improvement.

Such being the a priori presumptions, how stands the fact? Are the traces we desiderate forthcoming? Now it must be acknowledged that even those who bring to the inquiry the utmost good-will to arrive at an affirmative conclusion have some difficulty in doing so. It is much easier to find striking examples of heredity in the line of evil than in the line of good. Why? That is a question to which it is not easy to give a completely satisfactory answer, but a partial solution may be found in a study of the connection between physiological and moral conditions, in Pauline language, between flesh and spirit. This is a subject which deserves more careful consideration than it has received from theologians in connection with the Christian doctrine of sanctification, and it has also very important bearings on the matter now in hand. How does it come to pass that a saintly father may have a profligate, worthless son? Shall we say that the saintliness is a make-believe, and that the father is a hypocrite? By no means. But the saint may once have been a great sinner himself, like Augustine, or his goodness may be a moral conquest in a fierce fight with innate evil proclivities which have never been allowed to break forth into actual transgression. In that case his holy habit is an acquired characteristic which does not pass over from sire to son. It may, like all other acquired characteristics, have a tendency to transmit itself, but it is not able to prevail against the stronger force of evil bias still inherent in the flesh. The law of the flesh wars against the law of the mind, and by its superior power determines the channel along which heredity runs. Of course it is always possible that bad proclivity in a son may not be an inheritance from his father, but from a remote ancestor, a case of reversional heredity, or atavism.

However numerous may be the instances in which heredity acts as a sinister influence, blasting fair hopes of a godly seed, there is no reason to doubt that in many cases it has also acted as a power predisposing to goodness. But it is still more important to remark that even when it is adverse to goodness heredity is not to be regarded as an irresistible force or an inescapable doom. Two positions here must be strenuously maintained: ‘Original sin’ by itself, apart from personal transgression, cannot carry eternal consequences, and evil bias in our nature is a foe to be fought with, not a fate to be succumbed to. The former of these two positions can speak for itself; on the latter a few explanatory remarks may be useful. I repeat, then, that a bad ‘natural inheritance,’ though a serious thing, does not necessarily settle beforehand a man's moral career. There are elements of good as well as of evil in many men who seem predestined to vice and crime; and the former may ultimately prevail, springing up like an artesian well from depths beneath unto everlasting life. There is a latent will-power in man which, duly roused, may fight successfully against heredity, preventing it from being a source of moral mischief in our own life, or through us in the lives of others. A man is not doomed to be a drunkard because he has alcoholism in his blood; he can abstain though he cannot safely touch. If he dreads the malign influence of the virus on offspring, he can remain a celibate. Dr. Bradford reports the case of a lady, beautiful and much sought after, who to a female friend gave this as her reason for shunning marriage: ‘My grandfather was intemperate; my father died intemperate; I have a brother who is a drunkard; the love of liquor is in the blood, and I will never be a party to perpetuating this terrible tendency.’6 There is nothing more to be deprecated in the interest of morality than a fatalistic resignation to heredity as a tyrant whose will it is futile to oppose. Much to be desired is the diffusion throughout society of the hopeful creed of Jesus that the last may become first, the greatest sinner the greatest saint, heredity, evil desire, and bad habit notwithstanding. How this comes about, whether by the reserve power for good latent in the human soul being brought into play, or by the almighty grace of God, as theologians would prefer to say, is a secondary question; the main point is that the thing is possible, and not so rare an occurrence as some may imagine. Cherish this humane creed, and let it inspire you to fight manfully against an evil natural inheritance and all the woes it may entail.

Environment, not less than the energy of resolute will, may be successfully brought to bear on heredity to counteract and even to modify its evil tendency. The power of environment for good and for evil is admittedly great. Take, for instance, the effect of climate. ‘Certain virtues,’ remarks Marion, ‘are easy in certain regions, very difficult in others…For example, temperance is almost a matter of course for the inhabitants of hot countries, next to impossible for Northern peoples; while, on the other hand, the energy of the latter stands in marked contrast to the languor of the former. Laziness is far from being a dominant vice on a poor soil, and under an ungenial sky.’7 The statement, if strongly worded, has substantial truth. Now climate is not in our power. We must take our climate as it is, or leave our native land and go where temperance, health, and possibly other blessings can be had on easier terms. But in many cases environment, with due determination, can be altered so as to give the culture of virtue even for inheritors of evil bias a better chance. This is the direction in which effort is counselled by those who have made the moral amelioration of criminals, paupers, etc., the subject of careful, prolonged study. Mr. Dugdale, author of ‘The Jukes’ already referred to, offers the following ‘tentative generalisations on heredity and environment’—

1. Where the organisation is structurally modified, as in idiocy and insanity, or organically weak, as in many diseases, the heredity is the preponderating factor in determining the career; but it is, even then, capable of marked modification for better or worse by the character of the environment.

2. Where the conduct depends on the knowledge of moral obligation (excluding insanity and idiocy), the environment has more influence than the heredity, because the development of the moral attributes is mainly a post-natal, and not an antenatal, formation of cerebral cells.

3. The tendency of heredity is to produce an environment which perpetuates that heredity: thus the licentious parent makes an example which greatly aids in fixing habits of debauchery in the child. The correction is change of environment.

4. Environment tends to produce habits which may become hereditary, especially so in pauperism and licentiousness, if it should be sufficiently constant to produce modification of cerebral tissue.8

These conclusions of an experienced investigator may be accepted as proof that environment is certainly one of the forces to be taken into account in all schemes of social amelioration. It is one of three forces on which the character of human life depends. These are heredity, environment, and personal effort. A distinguished scientist, who is a philanthropist as well, has likened them to three Fates or Norns, and speaks of them as sisters, thoroughly intelligible only as a Trinity. ‘There would,’ remarks the author to whom I refer, ‘there would be more progress and less invidious comparison of ameliorative schemes, if we realised more vividly that the Fates are three. Though it is not easy to appreciate the three sides of a prism at once, of what value is liberty on an ash-heap, or equality in a hell, or fraternity among an overpopulated community of weaklings? Organism, function, and environment must evolve together.’9

How far this joint evolution may be carried, and with what beneficent result, is a question to which no lover of man can be indifferent, but to which conflicting answers may be expected. Some forecasts are very optimistic. Herbert Spencer anticipates that the social evolution of the future will be chiefly in the direction of morality, increased power of self-regulation, acquisition of sentiments responding to the requirements of the social state before which the crimes, excesses, diseases, improvidences, dishonesties, and cruelties that now so greatly diminish the duration of life will disappear. He also expects pressure of population with its accompanying evils to disappear, leaving a state of things requiring from each individual no more than a normal and pleasurable activity.10 This looks like a heaven on earth, sin abolished and misery at an end. Another writer, contemplating the subject from the view-point of the Christian faith, hopes for a time when salvation shall mean not merely pardon, or the sanctification of the soul, but the sanctification also of the flesh down to its lowest roots, ‘such a clarification of the fountains of being as will make us the parents of those whose tendencies shall be upward.’11 This is a large demand. To say that it is utterly unreasonable and groundless might be to betray too much sympathy with the Greek or Manichæan idea of the flesh as something inherently and incurably evil. Mitigation of evil bias in man's corporeal nature must on general grounds be admitted to be possible, and higher or lower estimates of the extent to which it can be carried involve no question of principle. But when the writer in question hints that ‘the transmissibility of the spiritual life which is in Jesus Christ’12 is among the possibilities of the future, he allows his enthusiasm of humanity, perhaps inadvertently, to run into a wrong channel. Spiritual life, moral life in general, cannot be transmitted, as a mere natural inheritance, like a sound physical constitution. It must be each man's own achievement. All that can be transmitted is a set of corporeal and mental conditions predisposing to, facilitating, the culture of morality and Christian piety.

2. Social solidarity is a wide theme, with many aspects, and covering a great variety of phenomena in human history. Solidarity in this form exerts its power over the individual in many ways: through family life and early education, through laws and customs, through the spirit of an age, through religious rites and beliefs. Its power is so great, that on a broad view it might appear as if the individual could have no thought, mind, will, conscience, or faith of his own, but must be entirely the creature of his social environment; just what the corporate life of his time and country have made him. Men become amenable to the sway of this dominating influence through various psychological channels, very specially through the instinct of imitation. As naturally as our ear catches the accent of the province in which we are born, our mind catches the tone of thought and sentiment of the social circle to which we belong. Our spirit not less than our speech bewrayeth us. Social solidarity dominates the soul as heredity dominates the body. We are born into society, bearing the image of our parents, there to be born again out of the womb of corporate humanity, as it exists under certain conditions in a given time and place, with the features of our social parentage almost as well defined as those of our natural face. The two forms of solidarity play into each other's hands. This is especially the case where, as in India, the social divisions known as castes prevail. The origin of caste may be traced to various causes, such as conquest, or diversity of race or of religion, but its main root seems to be birth. Birth determines a man's caste, and nothing that can happen in after-life can avail to change it. In India, birth has from of old been conceived as determining not only caste but character. In the Laws of Manu it is laid down that a woman, even when of a lower caste, always bears a son possessing the same qualities as his father; that a man of a low caste will always reveal himself by his occupations even when he tries to hide himself; and that a base-born man resembles in character his father or his mother, or both, and cannot possibly conceal his real nature.13

The institution of caste, as it has prevailed from time immemorial in India, exhibits solidarity, in its two interrelated forms, as a curse rather than as a blessing; a malign power destroying brotherhood, arresting the progress of humanity, and defying rather than serving the ends of a beneficent providential order. It puts individual men in a social prison from which there is no escape till death, if even then. It withers up personality and reduces the social unit to a nullity. It predestines not only to lot but to character, proclaiming nobility of soul an impossibility for the base-born, and doing its best to fulfil its own malign prophecy. Nothing can be more utterly cruel and inhuman, nothing more thoroughly deserves to be overthrown, and every lover of his kind must wish well to efforts directed towards this end in the name of a religion whose mottoes are: God the common Father in heaven, and every man, be he Brahman or Pariah, prince or peasant, a potential son of God. It will, let us hope, eventually pass away, though it may take centuries, as other forms of overdone solidarity characteristic of barbaric stages of society have disappeared, e.g., corporate responsibility for offences committed by individual members of a family or tribe. That the many, connected by ties of blood, should perish for the sin of one, once seemed just and right, and the indiscriminate manner in which innocent and guilty are often involved in a common calamity, such as a visitation of plague or famine, might well appear, to those so minded, a Divine sanction of their ruthless way of thinking. As against this rude, primitive type of justice, what a great emancipating word was that of the Hebrew prophet, ‘The soul that sinneth, it (not other souls) shall die.’14

Some emancipating word or act, some ‘law-breaker’ or custom-changer, some counteracting power that can lift the crushing weight of a too dense solidarity off its victim is always needed that oppressed humanity may rise to its feet and move on. Social solidarity unqualified, like absolutely perfect heredity, tends to perpetual stagnation, and a complementary influence analogous to that of variation in animal life, is necessary to prevent it from acting as a fatal obstructive to progress. The counterbalancing force need not assume a personal form, in the shape of the energetic will of an epoch-making man brought to bear on the situation. It may arise out of an inevitable change in the circumstances of society for which no individual man is responsible. Thus, e.g., has been explained the gradual disappearance of one of the most characteristic institutions of ancient civilisation, slavery, to our modern, Christian, way of thinking as irreconcilable as caste with the true interests of humanity. We have been accustomed to trace the decline of this state of compulsory inferiority, so far as Europe is concerned, to the leavening influence of the humane teaching of Jesus. That this is true, as a partial explanation, no one disputes, but we are reminded that other less elevated causes co-operated to bring about the result. Slavery, it is pointed out, stands and falls with a warlike condition of society. ‘While all the native males in each society were devoted to war, there was great need for the labour of prisoners to supplement that of women. The institution became, under such conditions, a necessity.’ On the other hand, as wars decrease, captives become fewer and free labour is required, and when slave labour and free labour come into competition, slave labour, as less economical through lack of energy, interest, and intelligence, must steadily decrease.15 So be it; even on this view we see the truth of the statement that the conservative principle of solidarity requires to be balanced by the progressive principle of variation in order to serve the ends of a beneficent Providence.

Care must be taken to put just the necessary amount of emphasis on this statement. It must on no account be taken as implying that solidarity is a thing of questionable value, and that all the virtue lies in the power that tends to break it up. The real truth is that both together are as necessary to the well-being of society as are the centripetal and centrifugal forces to the stability of the planetary system. Without social coherence a community of men could not maintain its existence in this world of which struggle is so prominent a feature. It was a necessity of life in early times when tribal wars were incessant. ‘Shoulder to shoulder’ was the motto then for every people that meant to live and thrive. Everything that tended to cement union—law, custom, rite, was on that account valuable. Every people that gained for itself a place in the page of history possessed well-defined solidarity in these respects, for the simple reason that incoherent social aggregates had perished in the prehistoric stage. The solidly coherent races alone survived. And one can understand why the survivors should attach vital importance to the minutest symbol of the coherence to which they owed their persistence, were it only an apparently meaningless, absurd, or revolting religious ceremony. Woe to him who attempted to innovate!

And yet the time comes to every people when the alternatives are: change or political death, or stagnation which is death in another form. It has been said that the difficulty for a community is not that of ‘getting a fixed law, but getting out of a fixed law.’16 It may be so, but getting out of a fixed law becomes as necessary at a certain stage as it was at an earlier period to have the fixed law. Law-breakers are as much needed as lawgivers. Happy is the people which has among its political or religious institutions some provision for abrogating or modifying at the proper time existing law and custom. Nations that do not know how to adapt themselves somehow to an altered environment are doomed to slow decline. Religions that have finality for their watchword become fossilised. The Germanic races have had a great career because, from the time they first appeared on the stage of history, they had a provision in their political system for change and progress in the practice of submitting all great matters for free discussion to the assembled nation.17 The Hebrew religion was saved from being strangled through priestly routine and Rabbinical tradition by the noble succession of prophets who always spoke the true word of God for the time, and kept men's minds in contact with reality. The crowning service was rendered by Christ the great Law-breaker, who indeed came not to destroy but to fulfil, but who nevertheless destroyed by fulfilling.18

It lies in the nature of the case that where solidarity exists in a high degree progress must be slow. In all closely coherent communities there is apt to be an intense dislike and dread of change, tending to secure for existing customs age-long endurance; and, when the community is large, the momentum of the body to be moved renders it all the more difficult to set it and keep it in motion. Even in the industrial sphere of life peoples which have not emerged out of the lower stages of civilisation are extremely conservative, clinging to rude implements and methods of work from generation to generation, even when they know that better are in use elsewhere. In Western parts of the world this aversion to change in connection with industry has been completely overcome, with the result that greater progress has been made within the present century than that achieved within the whole previous history of mankind.19 But in the higher spheres of life, above all in that of religion, the conservative spirit still rules with almost undiminished authority. In this region imagination and conscience come into play, giving to the fear of change fanatical intensity, and enforcing strict submission to established beliefs and rites by the awful sanctions of the eternal world. Nowhere, therefore, is advance in thought or conduct so difficult and so tardy. It is well when a single important step can be taken in a century; the replacement of a crude theological theory by a better may even require a millennium.

To men of original minds and reforming temper this snail's pace may well appear dismal and depressing. Yet it should help them in the exercise of patience to reflect that slow secular movement is the law of the universe. How infinitely leisurely the movement of life from protozoa up to man under the combined influence of the complementary laws of heredity and variation! What wonder if, under the continued action of these same laws, the advance of man from lower to higher degrees of civilisation be even at the best a matter of wearisome, insensible progression, varied only at rare and distant intervals by accelerated, catastrophic movement! Instead of complaining of the slowness, a wise man will rather be thankful that there is movement at all, in the part of the world in which his lot is cast, and that we are not all doomed to the deathlike immobility of Asiatic peoples. Another aid to patience is the consideration that the rate of movement must be slow when what is aimed at is the advance of the whole. Rapid progress is conceivable when only the individual is concerned. There are occasional large variations in animal life; ‘sports’ they are called. ‘Sports’ are possible in the moral world. A man may arise now and then who passes at a bound from a lower to a greatly higher ideal of life, to loftier thoughts of God, and man, and duty, and destiny. If by prophetic utterance of his new conceptions he succeed in gaining currency for them, in even an imperfect measure, in the thought of any considerable portion of mankind, he has not lived in vain. But if the fact turn out to be that he alone has advanced far before his time and left all other men just where they were, what has been gained? In vain does a railway engine start off at lightning speed, and reach its destination in an incredibly short time, if it leave the train behind it. What boots it that the propeller rising out of the water revolves furiously if the ship make no headway? The supposed original man has simply seen a vision which no other man has seen, and at last left the world as dark as it was before. It were better not to see quite so clearly and to be able to communicate the little light one has to others. The distinction might be less but the charity would be more. The law of love dictates a slackened pace. Take the train along with you.

The world's best men have been content to move slowly, when by so doing they were able to carry their fellow-men along with them. They have respected the great law of solidarity and accommodated their pace to its requirements. The Hebrew legislator did not attempt to abolish blood feuds and private vengeance. He appointed cities of refuge, as a mitigation of the existing evil, which there was some chance of getting generally recognised. He did not question the husband's unlimited right of divorce; he simply prescribed that a bill of divorce be given in proof that the husband had voluntarily renounced all future claims upon the love and service of her whom he had put away. Far short of the ideal, doubtless, both these pieces of legislation, but they were at least improvements, and they had some chance of being effective. The whole community might in this way move on, one little step at a time, from primitive barbarism towards Christian humanity. And when the great Idealist came, He recognised the wisdom of Moses. He did not say that Moses did wrong in legislating for the hard heart. He simply claimed for Himself the right to set forth the perfect ideal, and He did so, not as an ordinary legislator, but as a religious teacher. And by setting forth the ideal, in that capacity, He rendered a supreme service to mankind, in full accord with the principle of solidarity. He did not turn the ideal into a statute law enforcible by penalties. He simply held it up in view of the world that it might work through inspiration and admiration, and gradually change the hard heart of the old barbarous time into the soft, tender, humane heart of a new, better era. He was content that the ideal should work as a leaven, taking plenty of time to the process of leavening the whole lump. It has not leavened the whole lump yet. There is plenty of the hard heart still. Christ's ideal is still an ideal hovering above reality. But it is well that it is there, above us but in view; much better than if we did not know what the best is. That ideal is the light of the moral world. And if ever Christ's ideal of life become the actual law of society, and the hard heart on the great scale make way for the soft one, though the process should take ten thousand years, it will be found to have been worth waiting for. In a christianised humanity, coming after no matter how many future ages, the delay of Providence would find ample justification.

But what, meantime, are we to think of the moral condition of the individual hindered in his spiritual development, and kept in a state of minority, by a too masterful social environment that refuses to move as fast as single members of the social organism might desire? This doubtless is the dark side of the great providential law now under consideration. Yet even here consolatory reflections suggest themselves. First, as a matter of course, limitations of power imply corresponding limitations of responsibility. Between heredity and environment the individual will is closely hemmed in—resembling a little island surrounded by a great ocean. How can this tiny, apparently insignificant, force assert itself against the predestining almighty powers of natural inheritance and corporate social influence? Well, however the case may stand as to the possibility of asserting personal freedom, this general principle always holds good, Unto whomsoever little is given, of him shall little be required.

This axiom, however, goes but a short way towards allaying our solicitude. For we naturally ask, Why should not more be given to every man? Why should it be true of any man that he has practically no power to hold his own against forces which tend to give a malign bias to his life-course, or at least to dwarf his moral growth? Now it is necessary here to be on our guard against exaggeration. It is possible to form too sombre an estimate of the enslaving influence of social solidarity. It does seem to threaten us with the extinction of our moral personality, but, in many more cases than we imagine, the threat probably remains unexecuted. The ocean in a storm seems bent on annihilating the little sea-girt isle it assails with its tremendous waves. But strange to say it does not succeed. The storm passes, and when the mist and the blinding spray have cleared away, the island is seen to be still in its place, unharmed by the war of the elements. So fares it often with personal moral life in the midst of an untoward environment. It may be, frequently it is, better than its surroundings. Brahmanical caste tends to foster inhuman pride, but the individual Brahman may be humble. Low caste tends to low life, but the individual Sudra may be noble. Slavery tends to debase, but one of the freest, purest, most lofty-minded men that ever lived, Epictetus, was a slave. Instances can easily be multiplied. Abraham, living in a neighbourhood where human sacrifice was practised, was tempted to slay his son; but he found out, how it matters not, that the will was better than the deed. A Hebrew husband might treat his wife as property, and put her away when he was tired of her. But a rude law, while giving him opportunity, did not compel him to be unjust or unkind, and doubtless those who used their legal rights to the full extent were the exceptions. Rabbinism was a thing of evil omen in the later religious life of Israel. But even during its malign sway the ‘still in the land’ might lead a life of simple faith in a gracious God, who desires not sacrifice but only a thankful lowly heart—witness the Psalter, regarded by Biblical scholars as a literary product of the ‘night of legalism.’20 Christian asceticism was a fatal misinterpretation of the teaching of Jesus, and it bore much evil fruit; yet how many a saintly, sweet-hearted soul has tenanted a monk's cell! In a word, barbaric laws and customs are doubtless a prison to the spirit, but a good life is possible even in a prison. John Bunyan wrote one of the heavenliest books ever penned, in a literal prison. In like manner elevated thoughts, humane affections, virtuous habits, have been cultivated by countless unknown men and women who have spent their lives in spiritual prisons built up by rude social moralities and ruder religions. Progress is not essential to the being, but only to the well-being, the robust health, of morality and religion.

There is one thing more to be said. Individual wills may contribute in some small degree towards changing evil custom, and so preparing for the coming of a better time. For this purpose it is not necessary to be men of great intellectual originality or commanding force of character, like the few out standing historic personages who have been the decisive promoters of progress. The upward movement of the evolutionary process does not depend exclusively on the great variations called sports. Smaller variations may serve the purpose. Even so, in the social world a very moderate amount of moral individuality may originate a movement which, though itself insensible, may silently, slowly, yet surely, prepare for a great eventual crisis. There were reformers before the Reformation—Poor Men of Lyons and the like, who wrought no great immediate deliverance, yet without whose prelusive efforts even Luther's mighty energy might have been exerted in vain. It needs only that a few be a little in advance of their time, dissatisfied with things as they are, sighing for a springtide of new life, communicating their aspirations and propagating their discontent here and there, as social relations and duties give them opportunity. Such is the obscure, though not ignoble part assigned to the many: to keep themselves as far as may be unspotted from an evil world, and to pray that existing evil may one day be mended.

Two sets of phenomena alone seem to defy attempts at apologetic interpretation, those, viz., connected with the savage state, and those exhibited in a class to be found in all civilised societies, consisting of persons who come into the world with innate proclivities to crime. The savage and the criminal are the opprobrium of Providence and the despair of the optimistic Theist. The most charitable view to take of them is that they are the all but irresponsible victims of an evil heredity and an unkindly social environment. They have not had strength of intellect or will to hold their own against these forces, and have remained in the position of primitive man, or have lapsed to something even lower. How this should be possible under a benignant Providence it may not be easy to say. It may have been one of the risks involved in the evolutionary method of working, not to be eliminated with certainty except by supernatural interposition. There are various risks of miscarriage within the human sphere. One is that of never rising out of the rudimentary stage into the measure of intellectual and moral capacity which qualifies for civilisation. Another is that of lapsing from a high degree of intellectual and moral development to a much lower state: reversion to the barbarism of a ruder early time. Savage tribes and criminals exemplify the former; the inglorious career of peoples that have sunk into obscurity, after having played a distinguished part in history, may serve as an illustration of the latter. Both types of social miscarriage try, but neither ought to shake or destroy, faith in the providential order; not even that exhibited in the accounts of savage life, or in the revolting records of crime. These degenerate forms of humanity are, after all, the exception. They show by contrast how great is the advance in rationality and morality made by mankind as a whole, and strengthen rather than weaken our conviction that the great mass of our race is marching on under Divine guidance. And may this comforting assurance not justify hope even for such as are left behind? Those who have been baptized into the Christian spirit will not readily resign themselves to despair. They will work for the improvement of the savage races, not for their extermination, after the bad example of men called Christians, but in reality further away from the kingdom of heaven Jesus preached than the savages themselves. It may be that after all has been tried, these races will remain intractable, and that those who come after us may have to reconcile themselves to their ultimate effacement. But the efforts hitherto made towards the civilisation of these children of nature have not been sufficiently earnest and persistent to justify pessimistic conclusions.

The two forms of solidarity we have been considering, exemplify two antithetic types of dependence. In heredity we see the dependence of the many on the one, in social solidarity the dependence of the one on the many. Both may be conceived as attaining the widest possible universality. We may think of the whole human race as to a certain extent affected, for good or for evil, through heredity, by the first man; and we may, on the other hand, regard the whole human race as an environment exercising a real, if not always an appreciable, influence on the individual. Something resembling the former of these generalisations may be found in the Adam-Christ section of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, wherein the whole religious history of mankind is epitomised in the influence of two representative persons, the one viewed as the source of all the evil, the other of all the good, in the lot of our race.21 It is not certain that the writer had heredity in view as the medium through which the first man wrought with sinister effect on the destinies of his descendants, but heredity readily suggests itself as a means of throwing some light on a theorem otherwise obscure. That a brief, pregnant paragraph on a vast theme should have created difficulties for interpreters is not surprising; and it is matter of course that perplexities have been increased by the assumption that the apostle's rapid impassioned statement is to be viewed as in all respects a final, complete deliverance on the subject. It is really fitted to stimulate rather than to silence thought. It shows us what a fascination central problems of humanity had for the apostle's mind, and encourages similar intellectual adventures. It shows us further in what interest such speculations should be carried on—even the strengthening of hopeful views as to the fortunes of humanity under the dominion of Christ; for such was the dominant motive in the mind of St. Paul. Beyond this it does not bind us, but rather invites us to attempts at fresh solutions in our modern scientific surroundings, always in the same religious spirit.

The Church, in the Pauline idea of it, exemplifies the other form of dependence. It is a new humanity created by Christ, conceivably co-extensive with the world; a social organism resembling the human body, in which each member performs its function for the benefit of the whole, and the life of the whole permeates all parts. The Church in a normal condition would exhibit social solidarity as a beneficent power, influencing each individual for his good, but not restraining or repressing his individuality. Had the Church approximately realised the ideal, she would have conferred a signal benefit on the world. How far she has failed can be learned from the records of ecclesiastical history. That history for our purpose may be divided into two great periods, in one of which the members of the Church were regarded as in a state of nonage, spiritual minors for whose eternal interests it was the business of Mother Church to care; while in the other the rights of the individual at length obtained recognition, and it was acknowledged that private persons might have, and ought to have, a moral judgment of their own. Neither in the one period nor in the other has the desirable ideal been realised. Catholicism has given us a dead mechanical compulsory unity. Protestantism is to a large extent the history of private judgment run wild, and of sectarian division ad infinitum. The healthy balance between the moral sway of the corporate body and the free, fearless play of the individual mind and conscience is among the pia desideria we cherish for the future. The religious community which shall realise that ideal will give to the world for the first time a unity which does not mean uniformity, a corporate influence which does not mean tyranny, a prophetic freedom which does not run to waste in separatism. The problem of harmonising solidarity with individualism is a difficult one, and there is no cause for complaint though we have to wait long for the solution. But it has been to an appreciable extent solved already in some countries in the political sphere; and the hope that it may one day be equally well solved in the ecclesiastical sphere is not Utopian.

  • 1.

    The jukes, pp. 14, 15, 70.

  • 2.

    Degeneracy, p. 358.

  • 3.

    In the Westminster Catechisms, the sinfulness of the state into which man fell includes, inter alia, ‘the guilt of Adam's first sin,’ and ‘the corruption of his whole nature, commonly called original sin.’ The former is a theological conception, but the latter falls within the scope of the natural law of heredity. The question thus arises, Could total depravity be the effect by way of heredity of one sin or of all the sins of the first man?

  • 4.

    On this vide Marion, De la Solidarité Morale.

  • 5.

    On this vide Bradford, Heredity and Christian Problems, chapter ii.

  • 6.

    Heredity and Christian Problems, p. 110.

  • 7.

    De la Solidarité Morale, p. 81.

  • 8.

    ‘The Jukes,’ p. 65.

  • 9.

    J. Arthur Thomson, The Study of Animal Life, p. 306.

  • 10.

    Vide Principles of Biology, vol. ii. ch. xiii.

  • 11.

    Bradford, Heredity and Christian Problems, p. 221.

  • 12.

    Bradford, Heredity and Christian Problems, p. 222.

  • 13.

    The Laws of Manu (The Sacred Books of the East), ch. x. §§ 6, 40, 59.

  • 14.

    Ezekiel xviii. 4.

  • 15.

    Herbert Spencer, Principles of Sociology, vol. iii. p. 470.

  • 16.

    Bagehot, Physics and Politics, p. 53.

  • 17.

    Bagehot, Physics and Politics, p. 66. The whole chapter on the use of conflict is instructive.

  • 18.

    Matthew v. 17. Vide Hinton's The Law-breaker, for suggestive thoughts on Christ's function as an innovator in morality and religion.

  • 19.

    Vide Spencer, Principles of Sociology, vol. iii. p. 333.

  • 20.

    Vide on this my Apologetics, pp. 272-3, 279-80.

  • 21.

    Romans v. 12-21.