Story type: Essay
In accordance with the advice of Diogenes of Apollonia in the beginning of his treatise on Natural Philosophy–“It appears to me to be well for every one who commences any sort of philosophical treatise to lay down some undeniable principle to start with”–we offer this:
All men are created unequal.
It would be a most interesting study to trace the growth in the world of the doctrine of “equality.” That is not the purpose of this essay, any further than is necessary for definition. We use the term in its popular sense, in the meaning, somewhat vague, it is true, which it has had since the middle of the eighteenth century. In the popular apprehension it is apt to be confounded with uniformity; and this not without reason, since in many applications of the theory the tendency is to produce likeness or uniformity. Nature, with equal laws, tends always to diversity; and doubtless the just notion of equality in human affairs consists with unlikeness. Our purpose is to note some of the tendencies of the dogma as it is at present understood by a considerable portion of mankind.
We regard the formulated doctrine as modern. It would be too much to say that some notion of the “equality of men” did not underlie the socialistic and communistic ideas which prevailed from time to time in the ancient world, and broke out with volcanic violence in the Grecian and Roman communities. But those popular movements seem to us rather blind struggles against physical evils, and to be distinguished from those more intelligent actions based upon the theory which began to stir Europe prior to the Reformation.
It is sufficient for our purpose to take the well-defined theory of modern times. Whether the ideal republic of Plato was merely a convenient form for philosophical speculation, or whether, as the greatest authority on political economy in Germany, Dr. William Roscher, thinks, it “was no mere fancy”; whether Plato’s notion of the identity of man and the State is compatible with the theory of equality, or whether it is, as many communists say, indispensable to it, we need not here discuss. It is true that in his Republic almost all the social theories which have been deduced from the modern proclamation of equality are elaborated. There was to be a community of property, and also a community of wives and children. The equality of the sexes was insisted on to the extent of living in common, identical education and pursuits, equal share in all labors, in occupations, and in government. Between the sexes there was allowed only one ultimate difference. The Greeks, as Professor Jowett says, had noble conceptions of womanhood; but Plato’s ideal for the sexes had no counterpart in their actual life, nor could they have understood the sort of equality upon which he insisted. The same is true of the Romans throughout their history.
More than any other Oriental peoples the Egyptians of the Ancient Empire entertained the idea of the equality of the sexes; but the equality of man was not conceived by them. Still less did any notion of it exist in the Jewish state. It was the fashion with the socialists of 1793, as it has been with the international assemblages at Geneva in our own day, to trace the genesis of their notions back to the first Christian age. The far-reaching influence of the new gospel in the liberation of the human mind and in promoting just and divinely-ordered relations among men is admitted; its origination of the social and political dogma we are considering is denied. We do not find that Christ himself anywhere expressed it or acted on it. He associated with the lowly, the vile, the outcast; he taught that all men, irrespective of rank or possessions, are sinners, and in equal need of help. But he attempted no change in the conditions of society. The “communism” of the early Christians was the temporary relation of a persecuted and isolated sect, drawn together by common necessities and dangers, and by the new enthusiasm of self-surrender. [“The community of goods of the first Christians at Jerusalem, so frequently cited and extolled, was only a community of use, not of ownership (Acts iv. 32), and throughout a voluntary act of love, not a duty (v. 4); least of all, a right which the poorer might assert. Spite of all this, that community of goods produced a chronic state of poverty in the church of Jerusalem.” (Principles of Political Economy. By William Roscher. Note to Section LXXXI. English translation. New York: Henry Holt & Co. 1878.)]–Paul announced the universal brotherhood of man, but he as clearly recognized the subordination of society, in the duties of ruler and subject, master and slave, and in all the domestic relations; and although his gospel may be interpreted to contain the elements of revolution, it is not probable that he undertook to inculcate, by the proclamation of “universal brotherhood,” anything more than the duty of universal sympathy between all peoples and classes as society then existed.
If Christianity has been and is the force in promoting and shaping civilization that we regard it, we may be sure that it is not as a political agent, or an annuller of the inequalities of life, that we are to expect aid from it. Its office, or rather one of its chief offices on earth, is to diffuse through the world, regardless of condition or possessions or talent or opportunity, sympathy and a recognition of the value of manhood underlying every lot and every diversity–a value not measured by earthly accidents, but by heavenly standards. This we understand to be “Christian equality.” Of course it consists with inequalities of condition, with subordination, discipline, obedience; to obey and serve is as honorable as to command and to be served.
If the religion of Christ should ever be acclimated on earth, the result would not be the removal of hardships and suffering, or of the necessity of self-sacrifice; but the bitterness and discontent at unequal conditions would measurably disappear. At the bar of Christianity the poor man is the equal of the rich, and the learned of the unlearned, since intellectual acquisition is no guarantee of moral worth. The content that Christianity would bring to our perturbed society would come from the practical recognition of the truth that all conditions may be equally honorable. The assertion of the dignity of man and of labor is, we imagine, the sum and substance of the equality and communism of the New Testament. But we are to remember that this is not merely a “gospel for the poor.”
Whatever the theories of the ancient world were, the development of democratic ideas is sufficiently marked in the fifteenth century, and even in the fourteenth, to rob the eighteenth of the credit of originating the doctrine of equality. To mention only one of the early writers,–[For copious references to authorities on the spread of communistic and socialistic ideas and libertine community of goods and women in four periods of the world’s history–namely, at the time of the decline of Greece, in the degeneration of the Roman republic, among the moderns in the age of the Reformation, and again in our own day–see Roscher’s Political Economy, notes to Section LXXIX., et seq.] –Marsilio, a physician of Padua, in 1324, said that the laws ought to be made by all the citizens; and he based this sovereignty of the people upon the greater likelihood of laws being better obeyed, and also being good laws, when they were made by the whole body of the persons affected.
In 1750 and 1753, J. J. Rousseau published his two discourses on questions proposed by the Academy of Dijon: “Has the Restoration of Sciences Contributed to Purify or to Corrupt Manners?” and “What is the Origin of Inequality among Men, and is it Authorized by Natural Law?” These questions show the direction and the advance of thinking on social topics in the middle of the eighteenth century. Rousseau’s Contrat-Social and the novel Emile were published in 1761.
But almost three-quarters of a century before, in 1690, John Locke published his two treatises on government. Rousseau was familiar with them. Mr. John Morley, in his admirable study of Rousseau, [Rousseau. By John Morley. London: Chapman & Hall. 1873–I have used it freely in the glance at this period.]–fully discusses the latter’s obligation to Locke; and the exposition leaves Rousseau little credit for originality, but considerable for illogical misconception. He was, in fact, the most illogical of great men, and the most inconsistent even of geniuses. The Contrat-Social is a reaction in many things from the discourses, and Emile is almost an entire reaction, especially in the theory of education, from both.
His central doctrine of popular sovereignty was taken from Locke. The English philosopher said, in his second treatise, “To understand political power aright and derive it from its original, we must consider what state all men are naturally in; and that is a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their persons and possessions as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man–a state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the advantages of nature and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another, without subordination or subjection, unless the Lord and Master of them all should by any manifest declaration of His will set one above another, and confer on him by an evident and clear appointment an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.” But a state of liberty is not a state of license. We cannot exceed our own rights without assailing the rights of others. There is no such subordination as authorizes us to destroy one another. As every one is bound to preserve himself, so he is bound to preserve the rest of mankind, and except to do justice upon an offender we may not impair the life, liberty, health, or goods of another. Here Locke deduces the power that one man may have over another; community could not exist if transgressors were not punished. Every wrongdoer places himself in “a state of war.” Here is the difference between the state of nature and the state of war, which men, says Locke, have confounded–alluding probably to Hobbes’s notion of the lawlessness of human society in the original condition.
The portion of Locke’s treatise which was not accepted by the French theorists was that relating to property. Property in lands or goods is due wholly and only to the labor man has put into it. By labor he has removed it from the common state in which nature has placed it, and annexed something to it that excludes the common rights of other men.
Rousseau borrowed from Hobbes as well as from Locke in his conception of popular sovereignty; but this was not his only lack of originality. His discourse on primitive society, his unscientific and unhistoric notions about the original condition of man, were those common in the middle of the eighteenth century. All the thinkers and philosophers and fine ladies and gentlemen assumed a certain state of nature, and built upon it, out of words and phrases, an airy and easy reconstruction of society, without a thought of investigating the past, or inquiring into the development of mankind. Every one talked of “the state of nature” as if he knew all about it. “The conditions of primitive man,” says Mr. Morley, “were discussed by very incompetent ladies and gentlemen at convivial supper-parties, and settled with complete assurance.” That was the age when solitary Frenchmen plunged into the wilderness of North America, confidently expecting to recover the golden age under the shelter of a wigwam and in the society of a squaw.
The state of nature of Rousseau was a state in which inequality did not exist, and with a fervid rhetoric he tried to persuade his readers that it was the happier state. He recognized inequality, it is true, as a word of two different meanings: first, physical inequality, difference of age, strength, health, and of intelligence and character; second, moral and political inequality, difference of privileges which some enjoy to the detriment of others-such as riches, honor, power. The first difference is established by nature, the second by man. So long, however, as the state of nature endures, no disadvantages flow from the natural inequalities.
In Rousseau’s account of the means by which equality was lost, the incoming of the ideas of property is prominent. From property arose civil society. With property came in inequality. His exposition of inequality is confused, and it is not possible always to tell whether he means inequality of possessions or of political rights. His contemporary, Morelly, who published the Basileade in 1753, was troubled by no such ambiguity. He accepts the doctrine that men are formed by laws, but holds that they are by nature good, and that laws, by establishing a division of the products of nature, broke up the sociability of men, and that all political and moral evils are the result of private property. Political inequality is an accident of inequality of possessions, and the renovation of the latter lies in the abolition of the former.
The opening sentence of the Contrat-Social is, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is a slave,” a statement which it is difficult to reconcile with the fact that every human being is born helpless, dependent, and into conditions of subjection, conditions that we have no reason to suppose were ever absent from the race. But Rousseau never said, “All men are born equal.” He recognized, as we have seen, natural inequality. What he held was that the artificial differences springing from the social union were disproportionate to the capacities springing from the original constitution; and that society, as now organized, tends to make the gulf wider between those who have privileges and those who have none.
The well-known theory upon which Rousseau’s superstructure rests is that society is the result of a compact, a partnership between men. They have not made an agreement to submit their individual sovereignty to some superior power, but they have made a covenant of brotherhood. It is a contract of association. Men were, and ought to be, equal cooperators, not only in politics, but in industries and all the affairs of life. All the citizens are participants in the sovereign authority. Their sovereignty is inalienable; power may be transmitted, but not will; if the people promise to obey, it dissolves itself by the very act–if there is a master, there is no longer a people. Sovereignty is also indivisible; it cannot be split up into legislative, judiciary, and executive power.
Society being the result of a compact made by men, it followed that the partners could at any time remake it, their sovereignty being inalienable. And this the French socialists, misled by a priori notions, attempted to do, on the theory of the Contrat-Social, as if they had a tabula rasa, without regarding the existing constituents of society, or traditions, or historical growths.
Equality, as a phrase, having done duty as a dissolvent, was pressed into service as a constructor. As this is not so much an essay on the nature of equality is an attempt to indicate some of the modern tendencies to carry out what is illusory in the dogma, perhaps enough has been said of this period. Mr. Morley very well remarks that the doctrine of equality as a demand for a fair chance in the world is unanswerable; but that it is false when it puts him who uses his chance well on the same level with him who uses it ill. There is no doubt that when Condorcet said, “Not only equality of right, but equality of fact, is the goal of the social art,” he uttered the sentiments of the socialists of the Revolution.
The next authoritative announcement of equality, to which it is necessary to refer, is in the American Declaration of Independence, in these words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed.” And the Declaration goes on, in temperate and guarded language, to assert the right of a people to change their form of government when it becomes destructive of the ends named.
Although the genesis of these sentiments seems to be French rather than English, and equality is not defined, and critics have differed as to whether the equality clause is independent or qualified by what follows, it is not necessary to suppose that Thomas Jefferson meant anything inconsistent with the admitted facts of nature and of history. It is important to bear in mind that the statesmen of our Revolution were inaugurating a political and not a social revolution, and that the gravamen of their protest was against the authority of a distant crown. Nevertheless, these dogmas, independent of the circumstances in which they were uttered, have exercised and do exercise a very powerful influence upon the thinking of mankind on social and political topics, and are being applied without limitations, and without recognition of the fact that if they are true, in the sense meant by their originators, they are not the whole truth. It is to be noticed that rights are mentioned, but not duties, and that if political rights only are meant, political duties are not inculcated as of equal moment. It is not announced that political power is a function to be discharged for the good of the whole body, and not a mere right to be enjoyed for the advantage of the possessor; and it is to be noted also that this idea did not enter into the conception of Rousseau.
The dogma that “government derives its just power from the consent of the governed” is entirely consonant with the book theories of the eighteenth century, and needs to be confronted, and practically is confronted, with the equally good dogma that “governments derive their just power from conformity with the principles of justice.” We are not to imagine, for instance, that the framers of the Declaration really contemplated the exclusion from political organization of all higher law than that in the “consent of the governed,” or the application of the theory, let us say, to a colony composed for the most part of outcasts, murderers, thieves, and prostitutes, or to such states as today exist in the Orient. The Declaration was framed for a highly intelligent and virtuous society.
Many writers, and some of them English, have expressed curiosity, if not wonder, at the different fortunes which attended the doctrine of equality in America and in France. The explanation is on the surface, and need not be sought in the fact of a difference of social and political level in the two countries at the start, nor even in the further fact that the colonies were already accustomed to self-government.
The simple truth is that the dogmas of the Declaration were not put into the fundamental law. The Constitution is the most practical state document ever made. It announces no dogmas, proclaims no theories. It accepted society as it was, with its habits and traditions; raising no abstract questions whether men are born free or equal, or how society ought to be organized. It is simply a working compact, made by “the people,” to promote union, establish justice, and secure the blessings of liberty; and the equality is in the assumption of the right of “the people of the United States” to do this. And yet, in a recent number of Blackwood’s Magazine, a writer makes the amusing statement, “I have never met an American who could deny that, while firmly maintaining that the theory was sound which, in the beautiful language of the Constitution, proclaims that all men were born equal, he was,” etc.
An enlightening commentary on the meaning of the Declaration, in the minds of the American statesmen of the period, is furnished by the opinions which some of them expressed upon the French Revolution while it was in progress. Gouverneur Morris, minister to France in 1789, was a conservative republican; Thomas Jefferson was a radical democrat. Both of them had a warm sympathy with the French “people” in the Revolution; both hoped for a republic; both recognized, we may reasonably infer, the sufficient cause of the Revolution in the long-continued corruption of court and nobility, and the intolerable sufferings of the lower orders; and both, we have equal reason to believe, thought that a fair accommodation, short of a dissolution of society, was defeated by the imbecility of the king and the treachery and malignity of a considerable portion of the nobility. The Revolution was not caused by theories, however much it may have been excited or guided by them. But both Morris and Jefferson saw the futility of the application of the abstract dogma of equality and the theories of the Social Contract to the reconstruction of government and the reorganization of society in France.
If the aristocracy were malignant–though numbers of them were far from being so–there was also a malignant prejudice aroused against them, and M. Taine is not far wrong when he says of this prejudice, “Its hard, dry kernel consists of the abstract idea of equality.”–[The French Revolution. By H. A. Taine. Vol. i., bk. ii., chap. ii., sec. iii. Translation. New York: Henry Holt & Co.]–Taine’s French Revolution is cynical, and, with all its accumulation of material, omits some facts necessary to a philosophical history; but a passage following that quoted is worth reproducing in this connection: “The treatment of the nobles of the Assembly is the same as the treatment of the Protestants by Louis XIV. . . . One hundred thousand Frenchmen driven out at the end of the seventeenth century, and one hundred thousand driven out at the end of the eighteenth! Mark how an intolerant democracy completes the work of an intolerant monarchy! The moral aristocracy was mowed down in the name of uniformity; the social aristocracy is mowed down in the name of equality. For the second time an abstract principle, and with the same effect, buries its blade in the heart of a living society.”
Notwithstanding the world-wide advertisement of the French experiment, it has taken almost a century for the dogma of equality, at least outside of France, to filter down from the speculative thinkers into a general popular acceptance, as an active principle to be used in the shaping of affairs, and to become more potent in the popular mind than tradition or habit. The attempt is made to apply it to society with a brutal logic; and we might despair as to the result, if we did not know that the world is not ruled by logic. Nothing is so fascinating in the hands of the half-informed as a neat dogma; it seems the perfect key to all difficulties. The formula is applied in contempt and ignorance of the past, as if building up were as easy as pulling down, and as if society were a machine to be moved by mechanical appliances, and not a living organism composed of distinct and sensitive beings. Along with the spread of a belief in the uniformity of natural law has unfortunately gone a suggestion of parallelism of the moral law to it, and a notion that if we can discover the right formula, human society and government can be organized with a mathematical justice to all the parts. By many the dogma of equality is held to be that formula, and relief from the greater evils of the social state is expected from its logical extension.
Let us now consider some of the present movements and tendencies that are related, more or less, to this belief:
I. Absolute equality is seen to depend upon absolute supremacy of the state. Professor Henry Fawcett says, “Excessive dependence on the state is the most prominent characteristic of modern socialism.” “These proposals to prohibit inheritance, to abolish private property, and to make the state the owner of all the capital and the administrator of the entire industry of the country are put forward as representing socialism in its ultimate and highest development.”–[“Socialism in Germany and the United States,” Fortnightly Review, November, 1878.]
Society and government should be recast till they conform to the theory, or, let us say, to its exaggerations. Men can unmake what they have made. There is no higher authority anywhere than the will of the majority, no matter what the majority is in intellect and morals. Fifty-one ignorant men have a natural right to legislate for the one hundred, as against forty-nine intelligent men.
All men being equal, one man is as fit to legislate and execute as another. A recently elected Congressman from Maine vehemently repudiated in a public address, as a slander, the accusation that he was educated. The theory was that, uneducated, he was the proper representative of the average ignorance of his district, and that ignorance ought to be represented in the legislature in kind. The ignorant know better what they want than the educated know for them. “Their education [that of college men] destroys natural perception and judgment; so that cultivated people are one-sided, and their judgment is often inferior to that of the working people.” “Cultured people have made up their minds, and are hard to move.” “No lawyer should be elected to a place in any legislative body.”–[Opinions of working-men, reported in “The Nationals, their Origin and their Aims,” The Atlantic Monthly, November, 1878.]
Experience is of no account, neither is history, nor tradition, nor the accumulated wisdom of ages. On all questions of political economy, finance, morals, the ignorant man stands on a par with the best informed as a legislator. We might cite any number of the results of these illusions. A member of a recent House of Representatives declared that we “can repair the losses of the war by the issue of a sufficient amount of paper money.” An intelligent mechanic of our acquaintance, a leader among the Nationals, urging the theory of his party, that banks should be destroyed, and that the government should issue to the people as much “paper money” as they need, denied the right of banks or of any individuals to charge interest on money. Yet he would take rent for the house he owns.
Laws must be the direct expression of the will of the majority, and be altered solely on its will. It would be well, therefore, to have a continuous election, so that, any day, the electors can change their representative for a new man. “If my caprice be the source of law, then my enjoyment may be the source of the division of the nation’s resources.”–[Stahl’s Rechtsphilosophie, quoted by Roscher.]
Property is the creator of inequality, and this factor in our artificial state can be eliminated only by absorption. It is the duty of the government to provide for all the people, and the sovereign people will see to it that it does. The election franchise is a natural right–a man’s weapon to protect himself. It may be asked, If it is just this, and not a sacred trust accorded to be exercised for the benefit of society, why may not a man sell it, if it is for his interest to do so?
What is there illogical in these positions from the premise given? “Communism,” says Roscher, [Political Economy, bk. i., ch. v., 78.]–“is the logically not inconsistent exaggeration of the principle of equality. Men who hear themselves designated as the sovereign people, and their welfare as the supreme law of the state, are more apt than others to feel more keenly the distance which separates their own misery from the superabundance of others. And, indeed, to what an extent our physical wants are determined by our intellectual mold!”
The tendency of the exaggeration of man’s will as the foundation of government is distinctly materialistic; it is a self-sufficiency that shuts out God and the higher law.–[“And, indeed, if the will of man is all-powerful, if states are to be distinguished from one another only by their boundaries, if everything may be changed like the scenery in a play by a flourish of the magic wand of a system, if man may arbitrarily make the right, if nations can be put through evolutions like regiments of troops, what a field would the world present for attempts at the realizations of the wildest dreams, and what a temptation would be offered to take possession, by main force, of the government of human affairs, to destroy the rights of property and the rights of capital, to gratify ardent longings without trouble, and to provide the much-coveted means of enjoyment! The Titans have tried to scale the heavens, and have fallen into the most degrading materialism. Purely speculative dogmatism sinks into materialism.” (M. Wolowski’s Essay on the Historical Method, prefixed to his translation of Roscher’s Political Economy.)]–We need to remember that the Creator of man, and not man himself, formed society and instituted government; that God is always behind human society and sustains it; that marriage and the family and all social relations are divinely established; that man’s duty, coinciding with his right, is, by the light of history, by experience, by observation of men, and by the aid of revelation, to find out and make operative, as well as he can, the divine law in human affairs. And it may be added that the sovereignty of the people, as a divine trust, may be as logically deduced from the divine institution of government as the old divine right of kings. Government, by whatever name it is called, is a matter of experience and expediency. If we submit to the will of the majority, it is because it is more convenient to do so; and if the republic or the democracy vindicate itself, it is because it works best, on the whole, for a particular people. But it needs no prophet to say that it will not work long if God is shut out from it, and man, in a full-blown socialism, is considered the ultimate authority.
II. Equality of education. In our American system there is, not only theoretically but practically, an equality of opportunity in the public schools, which are free to all children, and rise by gradations from the primaries to the high-schools, in which the curriculum in most respects equals, and in variety exceeds, that of many third-class “colleges.” In these schools nearly the whole round of learning, in languages, science, and art, is touched. The system has seemed to be the best that could be devised for a free society, where all take part in the government, and where so much depends upon the intelligence of the electors. Certain objections, however, have been made to it. As this essay is intended only to be tentative, we shall state some of them, without indulging in lengthy comments.
( 1. ) The first charge is superficiality–a necessary consequence of attempting too much–and a want of adequate preparation for special pursuits in life.
( 2. ) A uniformity in mediocrity is alleged from the use of the same text-books and methods in all schools, for all grades and capacities. This is one of the most common criticisms on our social state by a certain class of writers in England, who take an unflagging interest in our development. One answer to it is this: There is more reason to expect variety of development and character in a generally educated than in an ignorant community; there is no such uniformity as the dull level of ignorance.
( 3. ) It is said that secular education–and the general schools open to all in a community of mixed religions must be secular–is training the rising generation to be materialists and socialists.
( 4. ) Perhaps a better-founded charge is that a system of equal education, with its superficiality, creates discontent with the condition in which a majority of men must be–that of labor–a distaste for trades and for hand-work, an idea that what is called intellectual labor (let us say, casting up accounts in a shop, or writing trashy stories for a sensational newspaper) is more honorable than physical labor; and encourages the false notion that “the elevation of the working classes” implies the removal of men and women from those classes.
We should hesitate to draw adverse conclusions in regard to a system yet so young that its results cannot be fairly estimated. Only after two or three generations can its effects upon the character of a great people be measured: Observations differ, and testimony is difficult to obtain. We think it safe to say that those states are most prosperous which have the best free schools. But if the philosopher inquires as to the general effect upon the national character in respect to the objections named, he must wait for a reply.
III. The pursuit of the chimera of social equality, from the belief that it should logically follow political equality; resulting in extravagance, misapplication of natural capacities, a notion that physical labor is dishonorable, or that the state should compel all to labor alike, and in efforts to remove inequalities of condition by legislation.
IV. The equality of the sexes. The stir in the middle of the eighteenth century gave a great impetus to the emancipation of woman; though, curiously enough, Rousseau, in unfolding his plan of education for Sophie, in Emile, inculcates an almost Oriental subjection of woman–her education simply that she may please man. The true enfranchisement of woman–that is, the recognition (by herself as well as by man) of her real place in the economy of the world, in the full development of her capacities–is the greatest gain to civilization since the Christian era. The movement has its excesses, and the gain has not been without loss. “When we turn to modern literature,” writes Mr. Money, “from the pages in which Fenelon speaks of the education of girls, who does not feel that the world has lost a sacred accent–that some ineffable essence has passed out from our hearts?”
How far the expectation has been realized that women, in fiction, for instance, would be more accurately described, better understood, and appear as nobler and lovelier beings when women wrote the novels, this is not the place to inquire. The movement has results which are unavoidable in a period of transition, and probably only temporary. The education of woman and the development of her powers hold the greatest promise for the regeneration of society. But this development, yet in its infancy, and pursued with much crudeness and misconception of the end, is not enough. Woman would not only be equal with man, but would be like him; that is, perform in society the functions he now performs. Here, again, the notion of equality is pushed towards uniformity. The reformers admit structural differences in the sexes, though these, they say, are greatly exaggerated by subjection; but the functional differences are mainly to be eliminated. Women ought to mingle in all the occupations of men, as if the physical differences did not exist. The movement goes to obliterate, as far as possible, the distinction between sexes. Nature is, no doubt, amused at this attempt. A recent writer–[“Biology and Woman’s Rights,” Quarterly Journal of Science, November, 1878.]–, says: “The ‘femme libre’ [free woman] of the new social order may, indeed, escape the charge of neglecting her family and her household by contending that it is not her vocation to become a wife and a mother! Why, then, we ask, is she constituted a woman at all? Merely that she may become a sort of second-rate man?”
The truth is that this movement, based always upon a misconception of equality, so far as it would change the duties of the sexes, is a retrograde.–[“It has been frequently observed that among declining nations the social differences between the two sexes are first obliterated, and afterwards even the intellectual differences. The more masculine the women become, the more effeminate become the men. It is no good symptom when there are almost as many female writers and female rulers as there are male. Such was the case, for instance, in the Hellenistic kingdoms, and in the age of the Caesars. What today is called by many the emancipation of woman would ultimately end in the dissolution of the family, and, if carried out, render poor service to the majority of women. If man and woman were placed entirely on the same level, and if in the competition between the two sexes nothing but an actual superiority should decide, it is to be feared that woman would soon be relegated to a condition as hard as that in which she is found among all barbarous nations. It is precisely family life and higher civilization that have emancipated woman. Those theorizers who, led astray by the dark side of higher civilization, preach a community of goods, generally contemplate in their simultaneous recommendation of the emancipation of woman a more or less developed form of a community of wives. The grounds of the two institutions are very similar.” (Roscher’s Political Economy, p. 250.) Note also that difference in costumes of the sexes is least apparent among lowly civilized peoples.]–One of the most striking features in our progress from barbarism to civilization is the proper adjustment of the work for men and women. One test of a civilization is the difference of this work. This is a question not merely of division of labor, but of differentiation with regard to sex. It not only takes into account structural differences and physiological disadvantages, but it recognizes the finer and higher use of woman in society.
The attainable, not to say the ideal, society requires an increase rather than a decrease of the differences between the sexes. The differences may be due to physical organization, but the structural divergence is but a faint type of deeper separation in mental and spiritual constitution. That which makes the charm and power of woman, that for which she is created, is as distinctly feminine as that which makes the charm and power of men is masculine. Progress requires constant differentiation, and the line of this is the development of each sex in its special functions, each being true to the highest ideal for itself, which is not that the woman should be a man, or the man a woman. The enjoyment of social life rests very largely upon the encounter and play of the subtle peculiarities which mark the two sexes; and society, in the limited sense of the word, not less than the whole structure of our civilization, requires the development of these peculiarities. It is in diversity, and not in an equality tending to uniformity, that we are to expect the best results from the race.
V. Equality of races; or rather a removal of the inequalities, social and political, arising in the contact of different races by intermarriage.
Perhaps equality is hardly the word to use here, since uniformity is the thing aimed at; but the root of the proposal is in the dogma we are considering. The tendency of the age is to uniformity. The facilities of travel and communication, the new inventions and the use of machinery in manufacturing, bring men into close and uniform relations, and induce the disappearance of national characteristics and of race peculiarities. Men, the world over, are getting to dress alike, eat alike, and disbelieve in the same things: It is the sentimental complaint of the traveler that his search for the picturesque is ever more difficult, that race distinctions and habits are in a way to be improved off the face of the earth, and that a most uninteresting monotony is supervening. The complaint is not wholly sentimental, and has a deeper philosophical reason than the mere pleasure in variety on this planet.
We find a striking illustration of the equalizing, not to say leveling, tendency of the age in an able paper by Canon George Rawlinson, of the University of Oxford, contributed recently to an American periodical of a high class and conservative character.–[“Duties of Higher towards Lower Races.” By George Rawlinson. Princeton Re-view. November, 1878. New York.]–This paper proposes, as a remedy for the social and political evils caused by the negro element in our population, the miscegenation of the white and black races, to the end that the black race may be wholly absorbed in the white–an absorption of four millions by thirty-six millions, which he thinks might reasonably be expected in about a century, when the lower type would disappear altogether.
Perhaps the pleasure of being absorbed is not equal to the pleasure of absorbing, and we cannot say how this proposal will commend itself to the victims of the euthanasia. The results of miscegenation on this continent–black with red, and white with black–the results morally, intellectually, and physically, are not such as to make it attractive to the American people.
It is not, however, upon sentimental grounds that we oppose this extension of the exaggerated dogma of equality. Our objection is deeper. Race distinctions ought to be maintained for the sake of the best development of the race, and for the continuance of that mutual reaction and play of peculiar forces between races which promise the highest development for the whole. It is not for nothing, we may suppose, that differentiation has gone on in the world; and we doubt that either benevolence or self-interest requires this age to attempt to restore an assumed lost uniformity, and fuse the race traits in a tiresome homogeneity.
Life consists in an exchange of relations, and the more varied the relations interchanged the higher the life. We want not only different races, but different civilizations in different parts of the globe.
A much more philosophical view of the African problem and the proper destiny of the negro race than that of Canon Rawlinson is given by a recent colored writer,–[“Africa and the Africans.” By Edmund W. Blyden. Eraser’s Magazine, August, 1878.]–an official in the government of Liberia. We are mistaken, says this excellent observer, in regarding Africa as a land of a homogeneous population, and in confounding the tribes in a promiscuous manner. There are negroes and negroes. “The numerous tribes inhabiting the vast continent of Africa can no more be regarded as in every respect equal than the numerous peoples of Asia or Europe can be so regarded;” and we are not to expect the civilization of Africa to be under one government, but in a great variety of States, developed according to tribal and race affinities. A still greater mistake is this:
“The mistake which Europeans often make in considering questions of negro improvement and the future of Africa is in supposing that the negro is the European in embryo, in the undeveloped stage, and that when, by-and-by, he shall enjoy the advantages of civilization and culture, he will become like the European; in other words, that the negro is on the same line of progress, in the same groove, with the European, but infinitely in the rear . . . . This view proceeds upon the assumption that the two races are called to the same work, and are alike in potentiality and ultimate development, the negro only needing the element of time, under certain circumstances, to become European. But to our mind it is not a question between the two races of inferiority or superiority. There is no absolute or essential superiority on the one side, or absolute or essential inferiority on the other side. It is a question of difference of endowment and difference of destiny. No amount of training or culture will make the negro a European. On the other hand, no lack of training or deficiency of culture will make the European a negro. The two races are not moving in the same groove, with an immeasurable distance between them, but on parallel lines. They will never meet in the plane of their activities so as to coincide in capacity or performance. They are not identical, as some think, but unequal; they are distinct, but equal–an idea that is in no way incompatible with the Scripture truth that God hath made of one blood all nations of men.”
The writer goes on, in a strain that is not mere fancy, but that involves one of the truths of inequality, to say that each race is endowed with peculiar talents; that the negro has aptitudes and capacities which the world needs, and will lack until he is normally trained. In the grand symphony of the universe, “there are several sounds not yet brought out, and the feeblest of all is that hitherto produced by the negro; but he alone can furnish it.”–“When the African shall come forward with his peculiar gifts, they will fill a place never before occupied.” In short, the African must be civilized in the line of his capacities. “The present practice of the friends of Africa is to frame laws according to their own notions for the government and improvement of this people, whereas God has already enacted the laws for the government of their affairs, which laws should be carefully ascertained, interpreted, and applied; for until they are found out and conformed to, all labor will be ineffective and resultless.”
We have thus passed in review some of the tendencies of the age. We have only touched the edges of a vast subject, and shall be quite satisfied if we have suggested thought in the direction indicated. But in this limited view of our complex human problem it is time to ask if we have not pushed the dogma of equality far enough. Is it not time to look the facts squarely in the face, and conform to them in our efforts for social and political amelioration?
Inequality appears to be the divine order; it always has existed; undoubtedly it will continue; all our theories and ‘a priori’ speculations will not change the nature of things. Even inequality of condition is the basis of progress, the incentive to exertion. Fortunately, if today we could make every man white, every woman as like man as nature permits, give to every human being the same opportunity of education, and divide equally among all the accumulated wealth of the world, tomorrow differences, unequal possession, and differentiation would begin again. We are attempting the regeneration of society with a misleading phrase; we are wasting our time with a theory that does not fit the facts.
There is an equality, but it is not of outward show; it is independent of condition; it does not destroy property, nor ignore the difference of sex, nor obliterate race traits. It is the equality of men before God, of men before the law; it is the equal honor of all honorable labor. No more pernicious notion ever obtained lodgment in society than the common one that to “rise in the world” is necessarily to change the “condition.” Let there be content with condition; discontent with individual ignorance and imperfection. “We want,” says Emerson, “not a farmer, but a man on a farm.” What a mischievous idea is that which has grown, even in the United States, that manual labor is discreditable! There is surely some defect in the theory of equality in our society which makes domestic service to be shunned as if it were a disgrace.
It must be observed, further, that the dogma of equality is not satisfied by the usual admission that one is in favor of an equality of rights and opportunities, but is against the sweeping application of the theory made by the socialists and communists. The obvious reply is that equal rights and a fair chance are not possible without equality of condition, and that property and the whole artificial constitution of society necessitate inequality of condition. The damage from the current exaggeration of equality is that the attempt to realize the dogma in fact–and the attempt is everywhere on foot–can lead only to mischief and disappointment.
It would be considered a humorous suggestion to advocate inequality as a theory or as a working dogma. Let us recognize it, however, as a fact, and shape the efforts for the improvement of the race in accordance with it, encouraging it in some directions, restraining it from injustice in others. Working by this recognition, we shall save the race from many failures and bitter disappointments, and spare the world the spectacle of republics ending in despotism and experiments in government ending in anarchy.