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Lecture 9. The Issues of Life.

§ 1. The Tactics of Animate Nature. § 2. The Twofold Business of Life. § 3. The Struggle for Existence. § 4. Correction of Some Misconceptions of the Struggle for Existence. § 5. The Welfare of the Species. § 6. As regards Warfare.

§ 1. The Tactics of Animate Nature.

IF we share Bacon's belief that the footprints of the Creator are imprinted on His creatures, we cannot but be interested in inquiring into the general trend of organic activities. What is all the bustle about? What are living creatures, as they are, immediately working towards? If they have an end in any sense in view, as some of them have, what is it and by what means do they accomplish it? Reality has been spoken of as “a totality of striving and willing existence”, we have in the realm of organisms a portion of this reality, and we are bound to inquire into the fundamental motives of the striving and crying that surround us.

Some students of the tactics of Animate Nature have discerned in them little to admire and less to imitate. To Huxley, for instance, it seemed that Nature's tactics are so disappointing that Man's best rule for his own conduct is to try to do the direct opposite of what Nature does. Others, such as Prof. Patrick Geddes, have discerned in Animate Nature a materialised ethical process worthy of our closest attention and imitation. Which is right in this case, master or pupil? Others, again, while making no pronouncement, have deprecated further inquiry, reminding one of people who are nervous as to the manners of their poor relations. The inquiry is interesting, for if we have made the great assumption that the system of lives which we call Animate Nature is an expression of something more spiritual and abiding than itself a difficulty will arise if the tactics are those of “a dismal cockpit”.

Those who believe that Nature is (as Prof. William James phrased it) “the external staging of a many-storied universe, in which spiritual forces have the last word”, will have to face a great difficulty if what is often reported about Nature be even approximately true,—that her only word to man is “Each for himself, arid extinction take the hindmost”. We turn again therefore to our task of justifying the ways of Nature to man by the method of accurate description.

In inquiring into the general tactics of Animate Nature, which we have seen to be pervaded with vitality, with mentality, and with beauty, we must avoid two extremes. The one focusses attention on ‘love’, the other on ‘hunger’; the one emphasises race-preserving, the other self-preserving activities. On the one hand, there is a wealth of illustrations of parental care, of conjugal devotion, of mutual aid, of loyalty to kin, of subordination of the individual to the life of the herd or hive,—in short, of ‘altruistic behaviour’, if we can use the term in inverted commas to indicate that it is below the level of strictly ethical conduct.

The other extreme is appalled by the dæmonic element in Nature, the non-moral callousness, the wastefulness, the ruthlessness, the egoism, the mere ‘weather’. It is well expressed in William James's famous essay Is Life Worth Living? “Visible nature,” he says, “is all plasticity and indifference, —a moral multiverse, as one might call it, and not a moral universe. To such a harlot we owe no allegiance; with her as a whole we can establish no moral communion” (1905, p. 43). “Beauty and hideousness, love and cruelty, life and death keep house together in indissoluble partnership; and there gradually steals over us, instead of the old warm notion of a man-loving Deity, that of an awful power that neither hates nor loves, but rolls all things together meaninglessly to a common doom” (1905, p. 41).

Now there is a via media between these two extreme views, and it is the path of accuracy. On the one hand, we must not pick and choose our facts, selecting those which suit our thesis and ignoring the discordant. On the other hand, we must not be gratuitously anthropomorphic, projecting upon Nature concepts drawn from human society which very imperfectly fit. We must also guard against allowing human sentiments, as to supposed cruelty and the like, to lead us astray in domains where they are irrelevant. We must be restrained and critical in the degree to which we read ethical content into animal behaviour,—especially when it is of the instinctive type.

§ 2. The Twofold Business of Life.

As we contemplate the drama of life among plants and animals, both as we can see it around us with our eyes, and as we can see it with the help of telephotic apparatus (such as the microscope and the palæontological museum!), we discern one perennial problem and endeavour, namely to adjust relations between the active, self-assertive, insistent, insurgent organism and the environment. The inorganic environment is callous, irresponsive, heavy-handed, yet remarkably amenable to life's purposes; the organic environment is capricious, unpredictable, combative. On the one hand, we see the Environment acting upon the organism, burning it and stoking it, heating it and cooling it, quickening it and slowing it, moistening it and drying it, provoking it and quieting it, nurturing it and killing it, cradling it and burying it. On the other hand, we see the Organism responding to the environment, operating on it, changing it; thrusting as well as parrying; defying it, mastering it, and using it; even selecting it. Now the business of life is the continual adjustment of this twofold relation. But when we look more closely into the effective, regulated, self-assertive, self-expressive, insurgent activity which we call ‘life’, we see that it takes two main directions—caring for self and caring for others. That is the twofold business of life which all pursue,—the half-awake plant, the dreamy coral, the instinctive ant, the intelligent beaver, and rational man. The imperious primal impulses are ‘Hunger’ and ‘Love’, the subject and counter-subject of the great fugue of life. “Why do the people strive and cry?” the poet asked, and gave the lasting answer: “They will have food and they will have children, and they will bring them up as best they can.” So is it through the realm of organisms. Of course the words ‘hunger’ and ‘love’ must not be used woodenly; they correspond to self-preservation and race-continuance, to self-regarding and other-regarding, to feeding and flowering, to nutrition and reproduction, to self-increase and self-multiplication. We may not be inclined to speak as Erasmus Darwin did of the “Loves of the Plants”, but it is sound science to emphasise the fact that, rich as plants are in adaptations which secure food, they are not less rich in adaptations which secure the nurture and dispersal and development of their offspring.

In their endeavours to secure self-preservation and race-continuance, organisms exhibit an effectiveness, a persistence, a resourcefulness, and a finesse that is worthy of all admiration. But the shadow on the picture is the supposed Ishmaelitish character of the struggle for existence,—the shadow of what Huxley called “the huge gladiatorial show”. Sometimes, too, there is an occurrence of what looks like sheer devilry.

§ 3. The Struggle for Existence.

One of the great facts of life, beyond all doubt, is that summed up by Darwin as “the struggle for existence”. Nothing is more familiar, and yet the concept lacks precise definition and is the subject of lamentable misunderstanding. The phrase, as Darwin said, was to be used “in a large and metaphorical sense, including dependence of one being on another, and including (which is more important) not only the life of the individual, but success in leaving progeny” (Origin of Species, p. 50). This does not coincide with the view of some naturalists that the struggle for existence means nothing more nor less than, life-and-death competition between individuals of the same kith and kin. If that had been Darwin's meaning, he would not have spoken of using the term “in a large and metaphorical sense”, nor would he have spoken of the difficulty he felt in constantly bearing the conclusion in mind. We have to be especially careful since the idea of the struggle for existence was confessedly taken over from human life. It was consciously suggested to Darwin by reading Malthus; it was subconsciously suggested by the keen industrial competition, more striking, because more novel and less regulated, in Darwin's day than ours.

It is clearest to start with the familiar fact of observation that the life of organisms is seldom an easy affair. The living creature is by its very nature insurgent and it finds itself encompassed by limitations and difficulties. As Spinoza maintained, every individual thing, so far as in it lies, endeavours to persist in its own being. How much more a living agent, that eats into its environment, that grows and stores and multiplies its kind! The vigorous creature is ever hustling and jostling in its will to live. Now, as every one knows, this insurgence of life meets three main difficulties, and the struggle for existence in the strict sense is the reacting clash.

The first difficulty is in the tendency to over-population. One weed could cover the earth in three years, one codfish could soon fill up the vastness of the sea, and one fly could soon shut out the sun. This tendency to overwhelming abundance limits the foothold and food-supply of the prolific organisms and of others in the same area; there are individual reactions against the limitations, and these constitute the struggle for existence which soon counteracts one of its own causes. A second difficulty follows from the pattern of the web of life, that is to say, from the nutritive inter-relations that have in the course of time been established. Plants have banked for animals, which draw on them. The higher animals devour the lower, and Nature is run on a plan of successive reincarnations. This conjugation of the verb to eat involves difficulties, and leads to the struggle for existence. A third limitation is the irregular changefulness of the physical environment.

None of the reasons which we have just recalled can be said to necessitate the struggle for existence. (1) There might have been a flood-bed for the teeming river of life, and we know in point of fact that incalculable myriads of minute creatures flourish in the open sea without over-crowding. Moreover, the length of an organism's life is adjustable, and can be regulated in relation to the rate of increase. (2) It is conceivable that all animals might have been vegetarian and débris-caters. To a much greater degree than was previously supposed the animals of the sea-floor depend upon detritus, the crumbs of the littoral table. Or much more might have been made of symbiotic partnerships between animals and plants,—so extraordinarily successful in cases like Radiolarians, of which some authorities say that there are five thousand species. (3) There is no necessity that life should be continually vexed by environmental vicissitudes, for there are monotonous conditions in which it flourishes bravely. We know, for instance, of the rich fauna of the great oceanic abysses—that strange, dark, cold, calm, silent, plantless world where there is neither day nor night, neither summer nor winter, but eternal monotony. We see, then, that the struggle for existence is not an inevitable consequence of the conditions of life. In fact, it is often evaded. Reduction of the number of offspring is an evasion of the difficulty of finding foothold in crowded areas; change of diet, e.g., to vegetarianism, evades the necessity for cannibalism; and migration often evades the thrusts and arrows of an unfriendly environment. The true inwardness of the struggle for existence is discerned when we fix our attention not only on the limitations and difficulties, but on the self-assertiveness and insurgence of the creature, which insists on having its own way.

A second point is that the struggle for existence is not synonymous with great mortality. That may be a problem in itself, but it is not the problem of the struggle for existence. When an avalanche or a landslip, on any scale we please, or a sudden fall of temperature, or a great drought, or any catastrophe wipes out whole regiments of living creatures, the struggle for existence is not illustrated, for the essential idea in the concept of struggle is that the living individual answers back. When on the summer evening the mayflies rise like a living mist from the quiet reaches of the river, and in some cases end their ephemeral aërial life before the twilight is past, there is assuredly great mortality, but there is not in the dying any struggle for existence. They die off in the crisis of giving origin to the next generation, and as they may have spent two or three years of larval sub-aquatic life they may be at their death quite old as insects count age. Similarly, when the baleen whale rushing through the waves engulfs myriads of sea-butterflies in the huge cavern of its mouth, there is great mortality, but no struggle for existence. Nor is there when the squirrel has a meal of beech-nuts, each of them a young life.

The essential idea, often missed, is that the struggle for existence is the clash between life and its limitations, when life insists on its rights and answers back. When organisms react to their limitations and difficulties, when they do not meet these passively, but thrust and parry, experiment and actively evade, and in a hundred ways say “We will live”,—there is the struggle for existence. The essence of the struggle is the endeavour after well-being.

Another point, somewhat difficult at first sight, is that inter-specific struggle for existence is not illustrated when all the members of a species meet a difficulty by the same adaptive response, the capacity for which is now ingrained in their constitution. Thus many species offer interesting solutions of the problem of meeting the winter; the brown stoats, for instance, by becoming white ermine. But nowadays the stoats cannot help changing their robe; in the same locality they all do it equally well; the ingrained capacity is the indirect outcome of the struggle for existence in. the distant past; the stoat's present-day struggle for existence is to be found elsewhere. Inter-specific struggle for existence implies individual and novel reactions and responses to environing difficulties and limitations. As we understand it, inter-specific struggle for existence cannot be illustrated in regard to adaptations shared equally by all the members, but it may be illustrated if there are inequalities in these adaptations, or in the way they are used, or in individual adjustments.

It should also be noted that it is a confusion of thought to identify the struggle for existence with Natural Selection. The concept of struggle is wider than that of selection. The struggle for existence is to be found in the reactions between organisms and their environing limitations, which may include, of course, the presence or antagonism of other organisms. When inequalities or idiosyncrasies in the reactions or responses are of life-saving importance the result is discriminate elimination and the survival of the relatively fitter to the given conditions. But in many cases the result of the struggle for existence is not discriminate elimination. There may be nothing more than a lessening of population-pressure by a large reduction of numbers. And even when discriminate elimination does occur, it may work as slowly as the mills of God. Some writers speak as if a decision was always given there and then. But that is a misunderstanding. The elimination may take the form of gently handicapping those who lack what others have,—handicapping them so that they have a rather shorter life or a rather less numerous or less successful family. This is precisely what eugenists of the gentler persuasion wish to see in operation in mankind—the replacement rather than the destruction of the baser sort.

As is well known, the struggle for existence takes three main forms:—(a) between fellow-organisms of the same kith and kin, (b) between foes of entirely different kinds, and (c) between living creatures and the physical fates.

In regard to the first, Darwin headed a paragraph “Struggle for Life Most Severe Between Individuals and Varieties of the Same Species”, and that paragraph, along with a subconscious desire to get a theoretical backing for individualistic human practices, has given rise to the widespread idea that what is most characteristic of Nature is an internecine competition of near kin for food and foothold.

But it is very profitable to examine Darwin's evidence for his momentous conclusion. Not that we doubt that keen competition between fellows is one mode of the struggle for existence; the point is to what extent it obtains. The gladiatorial show conception of Animate Nature is illustrated by the supposed internecine competition between brown rat and black rat, and might almost be called the rat theory of life. The story of this internecine competition, for which Darwin is largely responsible, is well known, but it suffers from the demerit of not being quite true. Long ago Britain had only the Black Rat (Mus rattus) which probably came from Asia through Mediterranean ports. It seems to have been introduced into Western Europe by the ships of the Crusaders. The Brown Rat (Mus decumanus), also of Eastern origin, was a later arrival, becoming common in the early part of the eighteenth century.

Now the story which had till recently all the expert authority behind it, is that the larger, stronger, fiercer Brown Rat killed off the Black Rat everywhere; and by competition to the death took its place. But the account of the matter given by Dr. Chalmers Mitchell is very different. The Black Rat is far from being extinct in Britain; it is wild and shy, much more active than the Brown Rat; it is the typical barn and granary rat. The Brown Rat is more of an outdoor creature, though the haunter of sewers and drains, to the great extension of which it probably owes a considerable part of its success.

Let us allow that the ranks of the Black Rat have been increased by fresh imports; let us allow that it once was the ‘common rat’ and is so no longer; let us even allow that if representatives of the two species are shut up in a cage together (a condition of which there are few counterparts in nature!) the brown rats will kill the blacks; yet the edge has been taken off Darwin's famous illustration,—the best piece of evidence he adduced in support of his thesis. As Dr. Chalmers Mitchell says, “In this story of the rats, which has been very carefully investigated, there is no trace of a process comparable with the German theory of war as an instance of the struggle for existence.…Each species has its different aptitudes, capacities, and preferences, and each insinuates itself into the most suitable environment” (1915, p. 30). The internecine competition has not taken place. A compromise was effected.

The second form of the struggle for existence is between animate foes of entirely different kinds, between herbivore and carnivore, between birds of prey and small mammals, between the grass and the other plants of the meadow, between the thorns and the seedlings in the stony ground. Here the competition is sometimes keen, but sometimes a very one-sided affair.

The third form of the struggle for existence is between living creatures and the callous and changeful physical environment. Thus Darwin spoke of the struggle of the plant at the edge of the desert, and one thinks of reactions of animals against the winter's cold, and so on. This is obviously non-competitive; it is crossing swords with Fate.

So we see that in the struggle for existence between organisms and the inorganic environment, the element of direct competition is always absent; in that between organisms of entirely different kinds whose interests conflict it is often absent; and even in the struggle between members of the same kith and kin the supposed state of internecine warfare is often conspicuous by its absence. The furious battles between different kinds of ants, and between disorganised hives of bees, and between true ants and white ants, are among the few phenomena in the animal world that suggest human warfare.

It may be said that this is surely cutting at the roots of Darwinism (Natural Selectionism) to deny that fellows of the same kith and kin are sifted inter se, but we make no such denial. Our doubt is as to whether the sifting is often effected by internecine intra-specific competition. Individuals possessing an advantageous variation which enables them to meet difficulties successfully are favoured by Natural Selection, as the phrase has it; our point is that their success does not necessarily depend on any warfare or competition with their fellows. When a plague enters a household and only one member survives, he does so because his constitution successfully parried the microbe, not by any competition with his brothers and sisters. When the last rabbit in the scamper towards the warren is caught by the fox, his elimination is not the result of there being others of his kind who are more alert and agile. The barbarous proverb Lupus lupo lupus was invented by Man as an excuse for his own unnatural behaviour, and there is much better biology in Kipling's Jungle Books.

§ 4. Correction of Some Misconceptions of the Struggle for Existence.

A number of attempts have been made to correct the idea which has taken such firm hold of men's minds that Nature is in a state of ceaseless warfare and that there is especially frightful competition for food and foothold among the members of the same species. Thus Herbert Spencer was clearly of opinion that the purely self-seeking animal is a fiction. “Self-sacrifice is no less primordial than self-preservation.” “From the dawn of life, altruism has been no less essential than egoism.”

Darwin himself in The Descent of Man showed that in many animal societies the struggle between individuals disappears, being replaced by co-operation. Survival is not restricted to the strongest, but may reward those that give the best send-off to their offspring or excel in self-subordination and mutual support. “Those communities,” he wrote (Descent of Man, 2nd Ed., p. 163), “which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.” It should be remembered, too, that one of the tasks which Darwin proposed for himself, but did not accomplish, was an inquiry into the natural checks to over-multiplication.

Kessler, a Russian zoologist, brought forward evidence in support of the thesis that “in the evolution of the organic world—in the progressive modification of organic beings—mutual support among individuals plays a much more important part than their mutual struggle”. Prof. Patrick Geddes also argued that the popular version of the Darwinian picture had become distorted into falseness, and advanced illustrations of the evolutionary rôle of other-regarding as opposed to self-gratifying activities, and of the survival-value of subordinating the self to the species. Prof. Henry Drummond in his Lowell Lectures gave an eloquent exposition of the importance of the struggle for others as contrasted with the struggle for self. Best of all, because most concrete, were Prince Kropotkin's essays on Mutual Aid. With a wealth of illustration he showed the pervasiveness of mutual aid and mutual support in the Animal Kingdom. To him it seemed as much a law of life as mutual struggle, and “of the greatest importance for the maintenance of life, the preservation of each species, and its further evolution”.

Now while it is useful to hold over against aggressive competition the fact of mutual aid, there is a more radical way of stating the case. The idea of two struggles, one for self, and one for others, is artificial, and it must be borne in mind that there is much self-expression and much self-subordination which has no direct connection with struggle in the technical sense; witness, for instance, the expression of a well-adapted parental nature that is not meeting with any particular difficulties or limitations. How is the case to be stated? By going back to Darwin's position. Self-assertive organisms, whose inmost nature is endeavour, find themselves faced with baffling difficulties, hemmed in by thwarting limitations. Whenever the creature answers back in an individual way, girding up its loins against these difficulties and hurling itself against these limitations, there is the struggle for existence. But there are many different ways of answering back; there are many different cards that the organism can play. One creature uses its weapons with increased skill, another finds discretion the better part of valour; both are reacting in the struggle for existence. One creature intensifies its competitive efforts, another seeks to ensure the safety and success of its offspring; both are reacting in the struggle for existence. In the egg-capsules of the whelk some of the larvæ devour the rest—a grim cannibalism in the cradle—this is the one extreme, of which there are few illustrations. As nestling birds are only in process of becoming warm-blooded, it is of great importance in many cases that they should be surrounded by non-conducting materials. When we see an individual bird taking particular care to add feather to feather till there are over two thousand, we know that it is unmistakably strengthening its own and its family's foothold in the struggle for existence, but its reaction to environing difficulties does not hurt any other bird. This is at the opposite pole, and similar illustrations abound.

The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong. The concept of struggle includes self-assertive competition, but it also includes a gentle endeavour after well-being. One creature asserts itself by sharpening its claws and whetting its teeth, another finds a place where it is invisible. One intensifies competition with its kin around the platter of subsistence—though this is much less frequent than is supposed; another expresses itself in more elaborate parental care. Nor can we forget that evasive change of habit and habitat known as parasitism—the door to which is always open. The organism has many a thrust and parry,—all of which are logically included in the conception of reactions and responses to environing difficulties and limitations.

Thus the nightmare picture of the Struggle for Existence as “a dismal cockpit” gives place to a more accurate one. It is often an Endeavour after Well-being on a non-competitive basis. We see reason to regard as inaccurate the conception of Animate Nature as “all weather”.

We must not allow interests other than those of accuracy and consistency to Intrude in scientific inquiry, but the fact must be pointed out that vague views of what obtains in Nature have had a deplorable influence in human affairs. What was at first said almost in jest, “The struggle for existence—laissez faire—the survival of the fittest”, has become to some a philosophy of life. There has been a sinister effect of careless Darwinism. As has been well said, “It has given the seeming sanction of science at one time to a soulless commercialism, at another to an overweening pride of race and the lust of dominion. By one of the paradoxes to which the history of thought is prone, the theory of progress has been in the main a weapon in the hands of intellectual and moral reaction. But every new theory has to go through its infantile diseases. The worst of these arises from that distemper of the mind, peculiarly prevalent in the half-educated world of modern thought, which prompts men to pick up ideas which specialists have elaborated for their own purposes in their own departments and apply them indiscriminately as catchwords to settle questions arising in another sphere.”

What is fallacious in the careless Darwinism alluded to? There is: (1) a narrow and wooden conception of the Struggle for Existence which includes many endeavours that are not directly competitive at all; (2) a failure to perceive that the survival of the fittest means only the survival of those relatively best adapted to particular conditions, which may be parasitism or (in some ants) slave-keeping; (3) a forgetfulness of the apartness of human society from the animal world with which it is nevertheless solidary—an apartness which forbids any uncriticised transference of a purely biological induction to social affairs; and (4) an ignoring of the historical fact, which we dare mention even after years of carnage, that the trend of civilisation has been away from the harsher forms of Nature's régime.

§ 5. The Welfare of the Species.

When we pass from the struggle for existence in its many forms to consider old-established activities which secure the welfare of the species, we arrive at a result which colours our whole view of Animate Nature, and is of great interest to philosophy,—to that philosophy at least which has one hand on Human History and the other on Natural History, and is as a daysman between them. Postponing the difficult question as to where we should draw the line which delimits set purpose, we find that a very large part of the time and energy of living creatures is given over to activities which do not make for self-increase or self-stability or self-preservation, but make for the welfare of the family, the kin, and the species.

To a degree which has not been adequately realised by naturalists, organisms are adapted to, and give themselves up to securing the welfare of their race. In their multiplication, in their reproductive processes, in their parental care, individuals spend themselves in activities which are often not to their own advantage. Their personal interests have been subordinated to those of the species. They are borne on by impulses and instincts which are as compelling as hunger and thirst, but the satisfaction of these rarely makes for individual advantage. Indeed it is often fatal. Reproduction is often not merely the distant beginning of the individual's death, but has death as its immediate nemesis. In some higher animals love is its own reward and the parental life is enriched by the family, but this is true only of a minority. Even sexual gratification is as often absent as present. According to Goethe, Nature holds that for the pains of a lifetime it is fair payment to get a couple of draughts from the tankard of love. But many animals have only one draught and many none at all. How many insects there are, with a parental solicitude and an elaborateness of care that strikes one dumb, who have not even the psychic reward of seeing the offspring for the good of which they more or less unwittingly spend themselves.

Professor Cresson (1913) has done a notable service in illustrating with accuracy and learning the extent to which there is subordination of the individual to the species. There is the physiological cost of producing germ-cells, so obvious in some fishes; of nourishing the young before birth—familiarly great in most mammals; of feeding the offspring after they are hatched or born—as in many insects and almost all birds and mammals. There is the danger and exhaustion of reproduction, for many female organisms die of it, and the drone-bees are far from being the only males that are sacrificed on the altar of sex.

Taking birds, for instance, we are all more or less familiar with the work of nest-making (MacGillivray counted over two thousand feathers in the nest of the Long-tailed Tit), with the patience of brooding (sometimes involving fatal exposure), with the prodigious industry exhibited in feeding the family (the parent bird wearing itself to a skeleton), with the self-forgetfulness shown in guarding, cleaning, and educating the young. But have we sufficiently weighed the general fact that although it is the birds' meat and drink to do all this, it is not self-preservation at any rate that results? Many adult insects spend by far the greater part of their time and energy in securing the safety of their eggs and the nourishment of the young. It is hardly an exaggeration to say with Cresson: “Everything for the species; everything by the individual; nothing for the individual.”

What difficulties often lie in the way of the fertilisation of the egg-cell! How many tens of thousands of years, how many variations, how much vital energy, how much searching elimination have gone to the establishment of the adaptations which secure this end,—the fragrance, the flags of colour, and the strategically placed nectaries in flowering plants, the imperious desires, the intricate attractions, and the subtle psychical embroidery in the case of animals. There are parallel adaptations of structure and habit, which secure the welfare of the young.

The fact which must be included in our conception of organic life is the amount of energy that is expended towards the maintenance of the species rather than towards self-preservation and self-gratification. Animals have become organically interested in working for the species, and even though they know it not, their individuality completes itself in the larger life of their race. What it seems to mean, according to current evolution-theory, is that variations (probably altogether germinal to begin with) in directions which made for the welfare of offspring, family, society, or species, have been established in the course of selection no less securely than those which made for self-preservation. Metaphorically speaking, we may say that this has been Nature's way of setting the seal of her approval on altruistic behaviour, even when the animal's left hand does not know what its right hand doeth.

§ 6. As regards Warfare.

The position here defended has an obvious practical interest,—in reference to war, for some have seriously maintained that human warfare has what is called ‘Nature's sanction’, that it is consonant with what goes on throughout Animate Nature, which is believed to be in a state of universal Hobbesian warfare, each against all, and no discharge for any. Moreover, human warfare is declared to be a continuation of a natural process which necessarily leads to the survival of the relatively more fit. In the words of von Bernhardi: “Wherever we look in nature, we find that war is a fundamental law of evolution. This great verity, which has been recognised in past ages, has been convincingly demonstrated in modern times by Charles Darwin.”

Prof. Karl Pearson has given strong expression to the view that a nation should be “kept up to a high pitch of internal efficiency by insuring that its numbers are substantially recruited from the better stocks, and kept up to a high pitch of external efficiency by contest, chiefly by way of war with inferior races, and with equal races by the struggle for trade-routes and for the sources of food supply”…(1901, p. 44). “When the struggle for existence between races is suspended, the solution of great problems may be unnaturally postponed; instead of the slow stern processes of evolution, cataclysmal solutions are prepared for the future.”…(1901, p. 20). “There will be nothing to check the fertility of inferior stock; the relentless law of heredity will not be controlled and guided by natural selection. Man will stagnate”…(1901, p. 24). Thus imperialism and militarism find theoretical justification,—even from one who is quite clear that “the safety of a gregarious animal—and man is essentially such—depends upon the intensity with which the social instinct has been developed”. “The stability of a race depends entirely on the extent to which the social feelings have got a real hold on it” (1901, p. 47).

We need not raise the question of the wisdom of appealing to Nature for ethical guidance, nor dwell on the danger involved in the fact that the Darwinian concept of struggle arose historically from a consideration of human problems; there are more important things to say. First, as we have seen, internecine competition among near kin is only one mode of the straggle for existence. Especially among the finer forms of life do we find that the answer-back which is given to the environing limitations is less and less frequently an intensification of competition, is more and more frequently something subtler, some modification of parental sacrifice, some co-operative device, some experiment in sociality. Dr. Chalmers Mitchell goes the length of saying (too strongly, we think) that “the struggle for existence as propounded by Charles Darwin, and as it can be followed in Nature, has no resemblance with human warfare” (1915, p. 108). And again, as entirely independent confirmation of what we have maintained in Darwinism and Human Life (1909) and elsewhere, we may quote this interesting passage: “Looking through the Animal Kingdom as a whole, and remembering that the Vegetable Kingdom is as much subject and responsive to whatsoever may be the law of organic evolution, I find no grounds for interpreting Darwin's ‘metaphorical phrase’, the struggle for existence, in any sense that would make it a justification of war between nations. It is my business just now to refute a misconception of the struggle rather than to explain what it is. But, if the latter were my task, I could adduce from the writings of Darwin himself, and from those of later naturalists, a thousand instances taken from the Animal Kingdom in which success has come about by means analogous with the cultivation of all the peaceful arts, the raising of the intelligence, and the heightening of the emotions of love and pity” (1915, p. 41).

Second, in spite of the one hundred and fifty definitions of war, we may venture to regard the essence of it as an organised flesh and blood struggle between communities or nationalities, and if this be so its analogue is to be looked for in the quite exceptional group-competition which sometimes occurs among some social insects, notably among ants, and not in the competitive forms of the struggle which may occur between individual animals of the same species.

Third, as Dr. Chalmers Mitchell points out, the fallacious comparison between human warfare and the struggle for existence breaks down because “modern nations are not units of the same order as the units of the animal and vegetable kingdom” (p. 108). Nationalities “differ from the units of zoology and botany in that the individuals composing them are not united by blood-relationship. Even if the struggle for existence were the sole law that had shaped and trimmed the tree of life, it does not necessarily apply to the political communities of men, for these cohere not because of common descent but because of bonds that are peculiar to the human race” (p. 64).

The appeal to human history, which the militarists make confidently, has seemed to many to show that civilisation was born out of war. Even Maine spoke of the “Universal belligerency of primitive mankind”. But scientific inquiry does not confirm this conclusion. In a valuable article Mr. Havelock Ellis (1919) makes the following points: (1) Chellean man, who first used permanent and indubitably human tools, may have lived about 27,000 years ago, so that our ‘historical’ period does not cover a large part of our history. But what Palæolithic weapons and art suggest is in the main hunting not fighting. (2) If the culture of the primitive Mousterians survives among the Australians, that of the Aurignacians among the Bushmen, and that of the Magdalenians among the Eskimo, what the study of these contemporary ancestors of ours seems to show is that war, apart from regulated punishment and blood-vengeance, is almost unknown. ‘Savages’ are on the whole not warlike. (3) “War probably began late in the history of mankind, it developed slowly out of animal hunting by way of a regulated attempt to secure justice as well as the gratification of revenge, it was immensely stimulated by the discoveries of the metals, and especially iron; above all, it owed its expansion to two great forces, the attractive force of booty and commercial gain in front, and the propulsive force of a confined population with a high birth-rate behind.…” “War was a result, and not a cause, of social organisation.”

We think that there is a risk of exaggerating the importance of a high birth-rate as a, factor in the evolution of warfare, for primitive peoples had their own rough ways of keeping a population balance. Perhaps, again, Mr. Ellis underrates the importance of variation—especially social variation—as a cause of war. Therefore while it is with conviction that he looks forward to the control of the birthrate and to the regularisation of industrialism as likely to bring wars to an end, we should add as a more positive pacific factor an increase of inter-relations which will promote tolerance for, and intelligent appreciation of those who are very different from ourselves.

But the immediate point is that the militarists' appeal to history is not any more convincing than their appeal to biology. The facts are against them in both fields.

The third appeal of the militarists is to ethics, and may be illustrated by Moltke's famous letter of 1880—“Eternal peace is a dream, and not even a beautiful dream, and war is a part of God's world-order. In war are developed the noblest virtues of mankind; courage and sacrifice, fidelity and the willingness to sacrifice life itself. Without war the world would be swallowed up in materialism.” There are two half-truths here. The first is that war does evoke noble virtues; the missing half is that there are other endeavours outside of war that may evoke these virtues not less well, and much less wastefully. Moreover, no one can forget that war evokes other qualities than virtues. The second half-truth is that struggle and sifting seem to be needed for the welfare of humanity; the missing half is that war is only one of the many forms of struggle. As Havelock Ellis tersely puts it, “Conflict is a genus with many species, of which war is only one”—and one of violence, from which at every level it is the effort of civilisation to deliver us. Struggle we can never do without, but of war the world has had more than enough.

Let us state the case more generally. Endeavour and sifting are surely conditions of progress, but war between races is only one mode and it seems very doubtful that it makes for real superiority. If the energy misdirected by the facile acceptance of bad biology were turned to practicable eugenics, to hygienic reform, to inter-national adventure, if men looked out for the “moral equivalents of war”, there might be a way out of the impasse which Prof. Karl Pearson pictures as inevitable if there is cessation in the struggle of race against race. Are we not beginning (to use Prof. Lovejoy's words) “to recognise that the effort to cram the moral ideas of civilised man into the rigid mould of the natural selection hypothesis is an artificial and not very promising enterprise” (1909, p. 99)?

Furthermore, when Man has recourse to internecine competition among fellows,—to what is, let us say, remotely analogous to a primitive and crude form of the struggle for existence—exhibited by amœrbæ, if not by rats—he cannot console himself with the belief that this must result in the survival of the fittest in any desirable human sense. For the struggle for existence need not result in the survival of the strongest, cleverest, or best. It never results in more than the survival of those relatively more fit to the given conditions, and these may be on the downgrade, not on the upgrade. As a matter of fact, there is considerable reason to believe that, as regards the members of either side, war acts on the whole dysgenically, by sifting out those whom the race can least afford to lose.


It is not maintained that there are no shadows in Nature—‘wildness’, wastefulness, parasitism, and even, at times, positive disharmony—but, postponing a discussion of some of these difficulties, we are concerned here to point out that although there is in the routine of Animate Nature much hunting and being hunted, much devouring and being devoured, that is only one side of the picture.

Outside the struggle for existence in the strict sense there is undeniably a large amount of established self-preservative routine, but there is at least an equally large amount of established race-preservative routine. Our total impression must do justice to both sets of facts. And within the bounds of the struggle for existence in the strict sense there are many modes, some not strictly competitive at all. The struggle which Nietzsche saw in Nature and condescended to approve of, was not a scramble of starvelings around the platter of subsistence, but the elbowing and jostling of masterful individualities; and we maintain that much of this quality of insurgence is familiar to the field naturalist. But apart from elbowing and jostling, and apart from internecine competition and sanguinary combats, there is much of the struggle for existence which might often be quite accurately called the endeavour after well-being, and much, as Darwin emphasised, which may be described as self-subordinating experiment and effort to secure the success of the offspring.


Some students of the tactics of Animate Nature have discerned in them little to admire and less to imitate. Huxley and James are here in agreement. Others, such as Geddes and Kropotkin, have discerned a materialised ethical process. The discrepancy is partly due to focussing attention now on ‘hunger’ and again on ‘love’, now on ‘egoistic’ and again on ‘altruistic’ activities, now on self-preservation and self-increase and again on race-continuance and eugenic success. Both sets of facts must be kept in view.

The twofold business of living creatures is caring for self and caring for others. Hunger and love, in the widest sense, form the subject and the counter-subject of the great fugue of life. In satisfying these imperious primal impulses the organism encounters obstacles, and the inmost secret of life, from first to last, is endeavour. The perennial problem is to adjust relations between the self-expression of the organism and the indifference, or hostility, or conflicting interests in its environment.

All the fresh reactions and responses which living creatures make to environing difficulties and limitations are summed up in the Darwinian concept of the Struggle for Existence which has suffered from widespread misunderstanding. As is well known, the three main difficulties are those involved in the tendency to over-population, in the nutritive dependence of one creature upon another, and in the changefulness of the environment. As is also well known, the struggle takes three main forms,—between fellows of the same kith and kin, between foes of entirely different kinds, and between organisms and their inorganic surroundings. But what is less clearly recognised is that the struggle need not be directly competitive, need not be sanguinary, need not lead to elimination there and then, and that it is often more accurately described as an endeavour after well-being. The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, for, as Darwin clearly recognised, survival may be the reward of those who give the best send-off to their offspring, or to those who vary most in the direction of self-subordination.

Corrections of the idea that the struggle for existence is necessarily an internecine competition between kin around the margin of subsistence (of which there are remarkably few good illustrations) have been offered by Spencer, Kessler, Geddes, Drummond, Kropotkin, and others. And Darwin safeguarded himself carefully. Instead of opposing “Struggle for Self” and “Struggle for Others”, or “Mutual Struggle” and “Mutual Aid”, it is scientifically clearer to recognise that the concept of Struggle includes all the reactions and responses which individual organisms make in face of difficulties. Intensifying competition is one mode, an elaboration of parental care is another, an experiment in parasitism is another, a new departure in sociality another, and there are many more—all of which pay. Thus the nightmare picture of the Struggle for Existence as “a dismal cockpit” gives place to a more accurate one, which is more conformable with the assumption that Nature is not “all weather” or “a moral multiverse”.

The competitive form of the struggle for existence is not illustrated when all the members of a species meet a familiar difficulty with equal effectiveness, the capacity for the response being ingrained in the constitution. But it is interesting to turn to these securely established ways, to see how large a proportion of the energy and time at the disposal of living creatures is spent in activities which make not for self-increase, self-stability, or self-preservation, but for the welfare of the family, the kin, and the species. Neither naturalists nor philosophers have adequately realised the extent to which there is throughout Animate Nature a subordination of the individual to the species. Survival is often the reward of the individualistic competitor, but not less frequently of those with a capacity for self-forgetfulness.

There is little in common between the Darwinian struggle for existence and human warfare. Modern nationalities are not comparable to individual organisms. Even if the analogy were closer it would afford no biological justification for war, for natural selection in the struggle for existence results only in the survival of the relatively more fit to given conditions.