Kidd's Western Civilization

WHEN an actor on the literary stage has scored a decided hit upon his first appearance, and that, too, in a philosophic rôle, it is natural that his reappearance after long study of another part should excite very general interest. Eight years ago Mr. Kidd gave the world his Social Evolution, and the popular favor it found was instant and widespread. He again invites the suffrages of serious readers upon a second work,1 entitled Western Civilization.

The sources of the two books are in part the same. Mr. Kidd’s earlier conception of religion as devoid of any rational sanction and yet as a necessary qualification for survival in the interracial struggle for existence figures largely in the present work. So, too, the fuller analysis he now offers of recent social movements in the Occident was in a measure prefigured in the earlier book, two of whose chapters, by the way, bear the same title as the present volume. In the interval between the two productions, Mr. Kidd, as his abundant footnotes indicate, has been reading widely, particularly in the domains of history, philosophy, and economics. His new speculations bear evidence of the new tracts of thought he has traversed, but are nevertheless an expansion of the conceptions latent in Social Evolution.

The overture to the present work might be styled the Bankruptcy of the Social Science of the Present. This is the upshot of three of the four opening chapters. In chapter two we catch an anticipation of the theme which recurs in every subsequent chapter,—Social Altruism (or what Mr. Kidd delights to call “ Projected Efficiency ”), the guarantee of social survival. The chapters succeeding are mainly historical studies which explain how the progress of the Western world from the period of classical antiquity to the present time must be interpreted in the light of the doctrine of Projected Efficiency. The two closing chapters depict the Modern World-Conflict where unrighteous Mammon under the shelter of laissez faire has the world by the throat, and the future of humanity transformed by the magic of Projected Efficiency.

While criticism is not Mr. Kidd’s forte, the earlier part of the book which is devoted to the failure of social philosophy, both in various theoretic presentations and in its practical embodiment in Western Liberalism, is interesting, though not always convincing. But his very audacity extorts one’s admiration when he bunches together Condorcet, Diderot, Helvétius, Bentham, Mill, Karl Marx, Nietzsche, Loria, and Herbert Spencer, as typifying substantially the same fundamental social philosophy. It is much like seeing a novice at pool pocket a brace of balls by a massé shot that an adept at the game would never think of attempting. Still Mr. Kidd is probably not very far wrong when he insists that all the philosophers he names have conceived of the ideal state as merely a paradise of outward comfortableness for the living generation, and have not realized that the Present in some measure is always held in fee of both the Future and the Past. What Mr. Kidd overlooks is that Burke is not the only protestant against the theory of the Utilitarian state. J. H. Green and W. S. Lilly are but two among many modern philosophers who have held a higher conception of its meaning and end. Mr. Kidd in his position is not nearly as lonely as he imagines himself. Even “ at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.”

The constructive portion of Western Civilization is keyed to the pitch of Projected Efficiency, and practically the entire value of the work as a real contribution to social philosophy will hinge upon the estimate that is set upon this doctrine. The elements which went to its making seem to be three. Darwin’s notion of “ fitness ” is the first. Any one of the myriad organisms that is to survive the competitive struggle must surmount the difficulty of “ not enough to eat and liability to be eaten.” Bagehot’s application of the notion of fitness to nations or civilizations is the second. The past of history may thus be conceived as the survival of those social or institutional types which have best withstood the assaults of weaker and more perishable types. The third and the distinctive element which colors the whole conception of Projected Efficiency is Mr. Kidd’s insistence upon potential fertility or the power to perpetuate one’s kind, as essential to the ultimate survival either of a species or a civilization. No organism or nation or institution or civilization can survive unless, besides successfully battling with the obstacles of the present, it leaves behind it a progeny endowed like its progenitors with the power

“ To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

It cannot be said that this phase of fitness was overlooked by Darwin, who explicitly included “ success in having progeny ” as part and parcel of the fitness that made for survival. But Mr. Kidd maintains that Darwin habitually forgot or underestimated this element, and placed the centre of significance of the struggle always in the present time. Accordingly, Mr. Kidd proceeds to make the stone the Builder rejected the head of the corner of the new temple of social evolution. When once the winning peoples have survived the untold ages of military selection, Mr. Kidd thinks that the kind of fitness that thereafter makes for survival is the absolute subordination of “every interest of the existing social order ... to interests which are not only not included within the present time . . . but which must remain projected beyond the content of even political consciousness.” Apparently Mr. Kidd thinks that the ages of military selection are past, and that Projected Efficiency is to-day the only guarantee of racial survival. Under the guidance of this conception the course of modern history is canvassed, often very entertainingly it must be granted; and, as we should expect, history is made to confirm the principle by “ many infallible proofs,” particularly in the realization of religious toleration and universal suffrage. Mr. Kidd assures us also that this beneficent law is soon to terminate the economic exploitation of the weak by the strong, whether amongst nations or individuals, and ultimately is to effect “ the enfranchisement of the future.”

It doubtless argues one a sordid terrœ filius to point out that Mr. Kidd has offered no proof that the ages of military selection have finished their work of winnowing the winning peoples from the moribund peoples. But some proof thereof would seem not altogether superfluous. It is also well to remind Mr. Kidd that in the sharp competitive struggle of to-day any undue subordination of present efficiency to the interests of the future makes commonly not for the survival, but for the extinction of the race that attempts such subordination. Natural Selection keeps a cash shop, and the customer who expects on the credit of generous entails provided for his posterity to get goods on trust is likely to be outbid by the man who planks down hard cash on the counter.

In the manner of presentation, Mr. Kidd has fallen far below the level he reached in Social Evolution. His thinking in that book was far from exact, but there was life and movement in the style which carried it along with a rush. In his latest book he is often obscure, prolix, self-contradictory, and repetitious. In one way, however, he still bids for the same popularity which his earlier venture attracted. The smatterers in evolution, and in religious and industrial philosophy, will all seemingly find their own views reflected in Western Civilization. To the pseudo-evolutionist the book will seem permeated with the rigorous doctrine of Natural Selection. The religious philistine when he reads that “ the present is passing out under the control of the infinite ” — a typically ambiguous phrase — understands Mr. Kidd to refer to the coming of the kingdom of Grace. And finally, when the sentimental sociologist is assured by Mr. Kidd that the benefits of Collectivism are bound to be realized without expropriation or regimentation, and that the bills of Socialism will pay themselves, he is convinced that an epochmaking work has appeared. Mr. Kidd’s second appearance may possibly delight the occupants of the philosophic gallery, but the judicious critic will register a different verdict.

W. M. D.

  1. Principles of Western Civilization, Being the frst Volume of a System of Evolutionary Philosophy, pp. 481, with Appendix. By BENJAMIN KIDD. New York and London : The Macmillan Company. 1902.