The Natural History of Politics

It was long ago noticed—first, I believe, by Louis Agassiz—that the life on the different continents exhibited different rates of advance in gradation of structure. He called attention to the fact that the existing forests of North America were essentially like the fossil forests of Switzerland, which flourished during the middle tertiaries; that the mammalian life of South America found many representatives among the earlier tertiaries of Europe; and that the. existing flora and fauna of Australia can best be compared with the Jurassic life of the European seas and shores. This last-named feature has been frequently dwelt upon, and is one of the most striking facts in the distribution of organic life. Carrying farther the observations made by Agassiz, I have endeavored to attain a more precise result by taking the organic life of Europe as a standard, and then seeking in each continent the forms which had been represented in the past life of Europe, but which had been over-ridden in the rapid on-going of the organic life of that continent. Placing against the name of each continent the forms still existing there which could be regarded as obsolete European forms, I found that the series so obtained showed North America to be next to Europe in the advance of its organic life, Asia and Africa next, South America below these, and Australia the lowest in the series. That is to say, Europe has fewest ancient types; North America has a rather fuller share of antique forms; Asia and Africa more than the North Atlantic continents; South America is still more archaic in its life; and Australia is thicker peopled with archaic organic forms than any of the other before-mentioned areas. If now we could find that there was a corresponding series in the variety of physical conditions in these several continents, we should have an important confirmation of the hypothesis. Here again we must have recourse to indirect methods. It is not possible to measure with accuracy the variations of environment on the surface of the several continents. Generations, possibly centuries, will pass away before these conditions are known well enough for detailed comparison. An observation of Ritter, however, makes it possible for us to attain our end: he noticed that the extent of shore line compared with the square-mile area of the several continents varied greatly, — Europe having far more shore line than any other continent. If we desire to institute this comparison between shore line and internal area of the continents complete, we must reduce them to the same area, preserving their form, and then compare their shore lines with their internal areas. This I have approximately done, and find that the succession of continents in this series is essentially the same as in the series given us by the number of ancient forms retained on the several areas, — Europe coming first, North America next, Asia and Africa next, and near each other, then South America, and last Australia. It will be evident to the reader that the ratio between the length of shore line and the internal surface will be a fair measure of the variety of that surface. Nearly every mountain chain in Europe contributes to the diversity of its outline; the sea serving to give one plane of comparison by which we may measure the variety of configuration of the several continents. We may reasonably suppose that the various mountain chains in the other continents are as fairly indicated by the accidents of the shore line. It would be better if we could have all the contour lines of all the continents, but there is every reason to believe that the one given by the sea in its present position fairly represents the average diversity of surface conditions. The general fact may therefore be accepted that the continents have their rate of advance in the organic progress reasonably well measured by the variety of their surface conditions.

This brings us to consider another element in the conditions of the continent, namely, new changes of climate. Out of the many alterations which the climate of the world has undergone, it is that set of changes alone which affect the general aspect that writes a record which is as yet intelligible to us. The effect of these variations on the organic life of the land is demonstrably great, and the regions subjected to them must be expected to exhibit many traces of their results in the condition of the life they bear. Only Europe and North America have taken the full brunt of the last glacial periods, and it is here that we find the most important modifications in organic life. It is far from our purpose to do more than touch upon these great questions; still it is not without value that we see that all these forces, which we know to be effective in producing great diversities of the conditions of organic life, have operated with the most power upon those continents which are the farthest in their advance towards the highest level of life, and that the continent which has had the least of these diversifying accidents remains singularly backward in all its types of life.

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It is impossible to do more than suggest the reasons why we are driven to the conclusion that variety of conditions is most intimately connected with the progress of organic life from its lower to its higher stages. It may, however, be assumed that the following propositions have a firm basis of support: —

(1.) That other things being equal the rate of advance of organic life in any region will be proportionate to the number of variations of the species produced therein.

(2) That the number of these organic variations on which selection works will be proportionate to the variety of conditions afforded by the several areas.

(3.) That a diversified surface, geological accidents, such as elevation and depression, and changes of temperature, forcing migration and change of habits, all tend to multiply variations and to accelerate the change of species. Through this, directly or indirectly, comes the evolution of life.

When the student has satisfied himself that the diversity of local conditions is a most important element in the advance of the organization of animals, the important question at once arises, How far is this law common to man and to the lower animals; how far does human progress depend upon this capacity of a region to develop local peculiarities connected with intellectual and social development? Is there, in a word, any reason for concluding that the march of development among men is closely related to this production of variations arising from local peculiarities? in the first place, we may notice that the organic life of Europe has been recognized as having what has been termed a prepotency over other life. The forms are not only higher, but they have, what is a necessary consequence, a stronger nervous System, and greater vigor in every way, as is proven by the fact that they extirpate the native species on continents of less advanced life where they may become naturalized. It is beyond question that the European species of animals have something of the same superiority over the animals of other districts that the European man has shown over the man of other continents. What part of this superiority is mental and what part physical, supposing we can make any such distinction, is not determinable. It is more reasonable to conclude that it is in a general advantage shared by brain as well as limbs. It is reasonable to conclude that the superiority of European life, including plants as well as animals, is in some way connected with the more vigorous struggle that has gone on there, and this greater activity of the contest that brings advance is doubtless in large part due to the greater variety of conditions afforded by that continent.

There can be no doubt that the view suggested by Mr. Wallace, that man has by his civilization in a great measure emancipated himself from the action of natural selection, is essentially true. As I shall hereafter try to show, it is almost equally clear that his greatest present or future dangers arise from his liberation from the old selective forces which have lifted him to his lofty estate, and that the first duty of the statesman is to fight against the dangers which have arisen from this emancipation of man from the ancient law; to see to it that the destruction of the old beneficent slavery of the selective forces shall not leave him a prey to accumulating ills. It is not yet time for us to weigh these questions. We ought first to consider the extent to which localization of conditions has affected the history of man in the earliest stages of society.

Sir John Lubbock, Mr. E. B. Tylor, and others have already devoted attention to the fact that the action of natural selection must have remained strong among the disconnected tribes out of which our states have been built. Small tribes sufficiently localized to take an impress from their surroundings, and sufficiently coherent to permit the development of individualities which can strengthen or weaken the incipient states, give us a basis on which natural selection can operate. The tribe having mental or physical peculiarities which are decidedly advantageous will hold its ground, or gain in power; the tribes weakened by any cause will be destroyed. There is every reason to believe that natural selection goes on in this condition of society with something of the vigor that it has among contending species in lower groups of animals. Within the tribe it breaks down and removes the weak members; among the tribes it selects the strongest for dominion and increase. In the early history of Europe we can see at every step the effect of those geographical insulations which characterize that continent. The great tides of people poured out from Asia, possibly under the impulse of climatic changes which have been going on since the close of the glacial period, found in the conditions of Europe forces which rapidly divided and subdivided them, giving to each isolated fragment its individual character. After a few centuries these localized peoples, though derived from a common stock, are so separated from each other that the most delicate tests of language are required to prove their original unity. These separated nationalities, more or less developed, contend together as the tribes in an earlier state, and from their interaction has come much of the advance of human life on that continent. Had South America or Australia received the stream, there is little reason to believe that they would have given us the faintest approach to the peculiar differentiation of nationalities which we find in Europe. Although every step in the progress from the tribe to the state has served to limit the struggle for existence in certain ways, it must not be assumed that it at once checked this action. Starvation, or the endless combats of peoples in the lowest stage, would in a measure cease, but intellectual selection would begin with the beginnings of organization, and strengthen with every advance towards its complication. Moreover, the selection as between social organizations brought about by war would remain strong, and did remain strong in Europe until defeat ceased to mean utter destruction to a race. At present this selection as between states has been reduced in efficiency with every improvement of the art of war. War had a natural justification as long as overthrow meant destruction. Perhaps unhappily, the progress of civilization, while fostering war, has limited its selective action by preserving the vanquished.

The development of the tribe into the state, and especially the modern advance of the state and of civilization, has limited the action of natural selection in two ways: in the first place, by the intermingling of the people it has tended to average the results of local peculiarities, and so diminish their value in furnishing variations; in the second place, it has caused the survival of many lives which would have been sacrificed in the ruder struggle of the scattered tribes. It is the first of these influences which we should now consider. It may be asked by many persons whether it is necessary to believe that the capacity to develop variations is an essential or even valuable feature in a state; whether it is necessary for nations far emancipated from the domination of natural selection to consider the maintenance of the conditions which gave effect to that force. A little consideration will, however, bring one to the conclusion that, on any reasonable theory of the office of the state and its true greatness, we must hold as of the first value its capacity to produce a varied and contrasted people. Consisting as it does of all possible forms of human activity, requiring the utmost variety of capacities for the accomplishment of its work, the modern state is founded on diversity of character, and is strong in proportion to its power to diversify its people. It is hardly too much to say that no centralization was ever made from a homogeneous people, and much could be said in favor of the theory that states are great in proportion to the variety of character and capacity they may contain within their population. Surely, it is like other mechanisms, as strong and no stronger than its weakest part; and the infinite variety of parts requires an infinite variety of peculiar adaptations to make it all strong alike. Conditions producing the uniform population that continually offers men cast in one mold to the infinite needs of the state are not the ideal conditions of the state as the naturalist conceives it. So then these peculiarities of place, which have served so great a need in offering a choice to the selective forces that have elevated man, are still of invaluable use in giving the variety of characteristics that are required in the endless adaptations necessary in the making and keeping of a nation.

Even a glance at the world’s history will show that at every turn we have illustrations of the truth of this view. The two perfect though widely different flowers of all the culture of the world, Greece and Scotland, have both had diversity of composition so eminently connected with their development that it is difficult to resist the conclusion that they are essentially the results of that concentration of variations which their geographical conditions brought together. No likeness of climate or other conditions can be discovered between these twins of the worlds life. It may be said that nothing can be more dangerous than the effort to explain a civilization by a reference to a single force; such results are necessarily of infinite complication. This view of the origin of these two remote and exceptional successes in the worlds history, which is here suggested, is only seemingly liable to this objection, for it puts the complication of conditions itself as an explanation of the result. While it is these two most diversified states that have given us two remarkable successes in development, it is, on the other hand, in massive, uniform populations, where unity of race and equality of physical conditions have brought men to one level, that we find the eminent failures among states. Wherever we find these uniform surroundings life moves slowly: the living and the dead may be heaped into the earth in countless millions; the soil may be worn out and washed into the sea; and no real advance in the race be effected. He who has gained the proper sense of economy—the sense that nature teaches, despite all her seemingly wasteful ways—will be compelled to the belief that it is after all of little moment how many get the doubtful boon of life as it is, but of infinite importance that human life be carried on towards that end where it will receive the precious heritage of the life to come; where all these possibilities of man will be fruitful realities. He will begrudge the waste of every human life that does not count something for this on-going. These accumulations of human beings, where generation after generation follows the same hopeless round that does not lead anywhere, will be even less tolerable than the swift descent that takes states downward into oblivion. And when he sees that it is the absence of variety among the constituents of these states that is the principal cause of their motionlessness, he will come to look upon the diversifying influences as the infinitely precious things of our state.

In the modern society, the success of its social structure must be acknowledged to be dependent upon this element of individuality; the differences of opinion must be concerning the methods of securing and guarding this precious element. To make the most out of the qualities born in a man, for himself, his contemporaries, and his successors, will be freely acknowledged to be the noblest end of our social system. We have to go but one step farther, and to claim that there is yet one higher aim: namely, to secure the birth of those qualities which can give a varied character to a state, and afford in each generation that supply of diverse powers which is necessary to fill the existing and ever-growing demands of its social system. We shall need its statesmen, its soldiers, its men of science, its artisans of every different line of work, its varied range of productions, each calling for particular capacities. It needs different sorts of training, that cannot coexist in the same period; different kinds of natural capacity, which can be produced only under peculiar conditions of environment, each on its own particular soil. In many states, as at present in Great Britain, some of these abundant diversities are brought about by a mixture of diverse races developed in various regions, and long ago intermingled, but never completely blended. This was probably also the case in Greece, though there the peculiarities were largely indigenous, and due to conditions of environment. But the tendency of modern, social changes is to make an end of these race individualities, and to bring all the elements of a society to a thorough confusion of blood. This renders it even more necessary to guard the existing power of the great natural diversiflers of organic life, soil, climate, food, and habits related to environment against the uniforming tendencies of our modern life. (FOOTNOTE HERE: There is a little danger that this suggestion may be taken in other than the intended sense; of course it is not desired to preserve the old simply because of its age, nor to keep up local differences simply because they are local.) If the render is prepared to grant that local peculiarities, as determined by natural diversifying agents, have a great value in the development of life, we may fairly proceed to the consideration of the second branch of our inquiry, namely, How can the organization of society effect this desirable end without endangering any of those elements of structure which are essential to its safety?

This is a great question, — one which in time will demand the consideration of the ablest minds. At present we can do little more than repeat the question itself, and show the direction whence the response will come. At the outset, however, we see that the main point is so to order our governmental system as to leave this natural individualizing power of the earth free to perform its work. We must have that feature of local government, long claimed as a convenience, understood as a sacred right, founded in the supreme equities of nature, as are the rights to the exercise of the faculties of the body or the natural affections. But these governmental protections to the force of locality should be exerted in complete relation with that principle of combination out of which has grown the organized state. In other words, each government, looked at from this ideal point of view, should represent two elements: the local areas which each for itself evolves special characteristics, and the coöperation or integration of these elements into the consolidated state. At present the consolidating force is that which is most efficiently working. The military need of the strength arising from unification, pride, commercial interests, all incline to give a great prominence to this tendency. The faults of weakness in this age of strength worship are the least tolerable faults; its blessings have not been sufficiently understood. The advantages of complete unification are in their nature conspicuous, and appeal to the strongest prejudices of men, while the advantages of localized institutions are not so readily or immediately appreciable. Numbers are felt by the vulgar to be good in themselves. There is to most people a satisfaction in being a unit in fifty millions that would not he felt were the total but fifty thousand. This greed of numbers is a thing of our day. Among the Greeks, a people who had a keen sense of the interests of government, and had gone well past the tribal stage, there was a longing for that local individuality, that autonomy of cities, which was the most prominent factor in their organization, and though it may have brought about the death of the state in the end, yet it gave them their conditions of vigorous, interactive life. We are on the other track in the social advance: every city hungers to absorb its neighboring villages, and they generally hunger for the consolidation; the scattered units of Germany fly into each other’s arms at the first sign of danger, and all the slow grown states of Italy fall down before a vague tradition of an ancient unity and the longing for national power. Fortunately, there is still, at least among that branch of the Teutonic race to which we ourselves belong, a natural appetite for local government, a prejudice of place, that will, under proper management, secure to the English people for centuries to come the best effects of localization. This instinct—for such we may fairly call it, since it is the inheritance of our time from the old conditions of human organization—was never stronger or better manifested than in the early settlement of our country. The original colonies, after they had been a century in their development, acquired a thorough individuality in character and purpose, — an individuality held to with such pride that the gravest dangers of external assault or internal conflict did not in the least overcome it. The result of this great contention among obstinate diversities was to build a government which, though in part, as time has shown, defective in its plan, was still as a whole more satisfactory to the theory of the relations of localization and consolidation in the state than any other governmental experiment. At the time of the origin of the federal government, the several colonies had already acquired a singular individuality, considering the great deficiency in geographical limitations which characterize our continent, or at least the habitable part of it. These States were admirably individualized by their conditions. A considerable variety of surface, a great range of climates, an equally great range of productions, differences of traditions, all combined to make that variety so necessary to the greatness of a state. Although never formulated by them as a fact in the science of statesmanship, those vigorous statesmen, trained in the many local schools of statecraft, the state assemblies, distinctly propounded to themselves the doctrine to which the naturalist gives his fullest assent: that these local peculiarities were the supremely precious thing, and that the federal government found its first duty in securing their perpetuity. They foresaw for that general government these functions: namely, first, to secure the identity of the sphere of action of the separate centres of development, by providing for the commerce between the States; then, to guard these localized commonwealths against the dangers of external violence. All their machinery was devised to secure these ends, and to prevent an assumption of other duties.

As before noticed, the continent of North America is far less fitted than Europe for the localization of life, — a feature, we may remark in passing, that makes the preservation of its individualizing powers of greater moment; so that when new States came to be made out of the waste to the west of the Alleghenies, there was little basis of a geographical kind to determine their boundaries, and naturally little in the way of local peculiarities of soil surface or natural industries to differentiate these new-made States; but such is the natural capacity of organizations of men to take on a local character that something of individuality is already discernible in these States, and in some of them there is a considerable prospect of important local characteristics being developed. In other cases, the localization has been hindered rather than helped by the ungeographical method of division which was followed in the making of our new States, and endless jarrings result therefrom. Several States have half a dozen distinct interests, each trying to drag the commonwealth their own way. Scarce one has the integrity of interest of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and other original elements of the government. This diversity is, however, productive of no very powerful result, except in so far as it may hinder the growth of a local life. It is likely to be mended by further division of the existing States when the attaining of local life comes to be well accepted as one of the first objects of government.

The relation between local government and the development and retention of local life does not require much discussion, because it is a matter that is tolerably clear in a general way, and is furthermore a matter of such complication that it would require a treatise for its complete discussion. The fact that local government is the fosterer of local life is a truism in the mind of every student of such matters. Government, at least ideal government, is the expression of the average opinion and action of each generation, and the strongest means of transmitting that precious heritage to each successive generation. In no other way can local peculiarities be secured save by some such frame-work as government. Religion can do it, but religion as an institution is rapidly losing the hold upon men that will enable it to unify the work of one generation with another. Practically, we find but one means of securing the full effect of the influence of local conditions upon men: that is, by giving each naturally individualized district its own local government, and allowing that government to regulate all matters of strictly local concern. With this system of control in their hands, there can be no doubt that each district will be in the best possible condition for the development of those peculiarities which their environment may serve to put upon them. Nothing so keeps in mind the great question of the means whereby we may hand down to those who take life from our bodies all the gains we leave behind us as this power to control the law. With its machinery always in their hands, a people must become considerate of the consequences of their action. They must feel that they do not act for a day, but for the time to come. This sense is the first fruit of civilization, and it is of the first importance to keep it alive; nothing will do this so well as localized governments, which accustom the mass to the great underlying possibilities of human control, forethought, and hope.

Constituted as our government is, with a common scheme for all the States, with a population more homogeneous to its education, its occupations, and its theory of life than any other, we have more reason to fear a loss of the individualizing process than any other people of our race. If the African race retains its foot-hold on our soil, which is very doubtful, it will possibly make a large compensation for the difficulties it has brought upon the land by giving in time the basis of special industries, and peculiarities; for it is an eminently tractable, and within certain limits an eminently teachable race.

The limestone district of the Ohio Valley, the mountain district of North Carolina, and the adjoining States, the peninsula of New England, the borders of the Great Lakes, Southern Florida, the lowlands of the Gulf, the elevated valley of Virginia, all have considerable definitions of climate and production, and already exhibit corresponding specialization for their men. The Cordilleras of North America and the highly individualized climates of the Pacific border lands abound in regional peculiarities, from which we may expect invaluable contributions to the complicated needs of our civilization of the future. Unfortunately, the population-sustaining capacity of this district is not great, it being doubtful whether the agricultural value of the district west of Denver and within the boundaries of the United States is as great as that of Illinois. North of our northern boundary we have some admirable geographical limitations, each characterized by its special features. Nova Scotia, for instance, is already making a noble gift of vigorous manhood to the life of North America. Prince Edward’s Island, Newfoundland, the old Canadian provinces, are all highly specialized regions, full of promise for the future. South of the United States, in the Antilles and in Mexico, there is the most diversified region of the continent, — one from which we could hope great things, were it not that the land is preoccupied by a race that promises little in the way of the world’s work. In the modern relations of states we have no means whereby one population can completely replace another, and the future of man south of the Rio Grande cannot be looked on with much hope without a wide-spread replacement of the populations now in possession of those lands. The future of North America is largely the future of the valley of the Mississippi. There will be the centre of population and of power; beside the far-reaching waters of that wonderful river system will dwell, in the century to come, at least two thirds of the people of this continent. Into its cities will pour the tributary streams of population from the outlying districts. The greatest danger this future life has to fear is the evil of our uniformity. A consolidated government will bring there a uniformity far greater than that which now weighs upon France. It is only by the most complete localization of government, and the resulting utilization of the limited diversifying influences of that region, that this untoward result can be avoided.

We may advantageously conclude our glance at the outlines of this far-reaching question by a brief consideration of one or two conspicuous cases, where the localization and consequent diversification of populations has produced the most important results. I have cursorily alluded to the uniformity of France. No one is better aware than the writer of the essential diversities of that country in all important regards. Peculiarities of race, occupation, climate, etc., have done much to vary its admirable population, but a consolidated government, having uniformity as its first object, or at least its prime result, has crushed out everything like local life, and thrown the active spirits of its population back on the narrower ends of life, the greeds of gain or of personal pleasure; the devotion to others which makes public spirit and develops statesmen or soldiers is as nearly dead as it can be among a people in whom this spirit is deeply implanted. On the other hand, the localization of interests and of action, and the consequent activity of the spirit of emulation and devotedness, may have contributed much to the immeasurable superiority of the armies that crushed them in the campaign of 1870.

During our own civil war the principle of localization in the strengthening of a government was very clearly shown. If the North had been one government, rather than a society of States, it never could have displayed the elasticity of life it showed in that great trial. It was the local governments that saved the nation in the time of its peculiar tribulation, and their strength came from their nearness to the people and the variety of their modes of action. In the South the effects of the individualization were even more striking. Localized conditions which cannot be discussed here, and which are in good part beyond the reach, of inquiry, made Virginia, as indeed she has been for a century, a marvelous source of good soldiers. That State, from the forty thousand square miles east of the Alleghenies, with not over eight hundred thousand people on its soil, has given more great soldiers than any other equal population in an equal time. Out of two millions and a half of that population in Virginia, Kentucky, and neighboring States came far more than half of the military capacity shown during the war. Scott, Robert E. Lee, Longstreet, Jackson, the Johnstons, George H. Thomas, Farragut, and a host of other names could be cited in support of this assertion. Massachusetts, however, with an equally able population, derived from the same stock, as like in blood as any two counties in England, did not give a soldier to be named with a score of those from the sister commonwealth in the South. On the other hand, if we look at the victories of peace, Virginia has but a name or two to set against the score that have attained eminence in literature, science, or the inventive arts in Massachusetts.

In the combats of the future, perhaps less sanguinary, but surely none the less fateful, this North American civilization will need the soldier and the statesman of Virginia, as well as the man of science, letters, and economics of New England. its greatness depends on just such associations of diverse capacities in one great national field.