Facts and Comments (1902)

by Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)

This online edition of Spencer’s Facts and Comments is a work in progress.
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FC-25.1 All societies, be they those savage tribes which have acquired some political structure or those nations which have grown vast by conquering adjacent nations, show that, as said above, the cardinal trait of fighting peoples is the subjection of man to man and of group to group. Graduated subordination, which is the method of army-organization, becomes more and more the method of civil organization where militancy is chronic; since where militancy is chronic, the civil part becomes little else than a commissariat supplying the wants of the militant part, and is more and more subject to the same discipline. Further, familiar facts prove that emergence from those barbaric types of society evolved by chronic militancy, brings with it a decrease of this graduated subordination, and there results, as recent centuries have shown, an increase of freedom. To which let it be added that where, as among ourselves, the militant activities have for ages been less marked and the militant organization less pronounced, the growth of free institutions begins earlier and advances further. An obvious corollary is that a cardinal trait in the process of re-barbarization is the re-growth of graduated subordination. Let us contemplate the facts.
FC-25.2 The United States furnishes a fit looking-glass. Since the days when there grew up local “bosses” to whom clusters of voters were obedient, there has been a development of “bosses” whose authorities extend over wider areas; until now men of the type of Platt, and Hanna, and Croker mainly determine the elections, municipal and central. Conventions formed of delegates supposed to represent the wills of their respective localities, have become bodies which merely register the decisions of certain heads who nominally advise but practically dictate. And so completely has this system submerged the traditions of individual freedom, that now the assertion of such freedom has become a discredit, and the independent citizen, here and there found, who will not surrender his right of private judgment, bears the contemptuous name of “mugwump.”
FC-25.3 In England the Caucus, not yet supreme over the individual, has still in large measure deprived him of what electoral freedom he had during the generation following the Reform Bill; when, as I know from personal experience, the initiative of each citizen (even a non-elector) was of some effect. Now, governing bodies in each constituency undertake to judge for all members of their respective parties, who are obliged to accept the candidates chosen for them. Practically these bodies have become electoral oligarchies. Similarly in the House of Commons itself, this retrogressive movement, shown in ways described some pages back, is shown in further ways. There is the change which a few years ago cut off “the privilege of ventilating grievances before going into Committee of Supply” – cut off that which was the primary privilege of burgesses sent up from their respective constituencies in early days; since, on the rectification or mitigation of grievances, partially depended the granting of supplies. And then, recently, a kindred resolution has negatived the right of moving amendments to the motion for going into Committee of Ways and Means. Retrogression is thus shown by increasingly subordinating the citizen, alike as elector and as representative.
FC-25.4 Ecclesiastical movements now going on, show us a kindred change. There is a return towards that subjection to a priesthood characteristic of barbaric types of Society. Rebellion of the Church against the civil power, is an indication of desire for that social régime which once made kings subject to the Pope. Throughout the hierarchy the strengthening of sacerdotalism is the aim, secret if not avowed; and the heads of the hierarchy when asked to put a check on those practices which assimilate the Church if England to the Church of Rome, evade and shuffle in such ways as to let them go on, while they are energetic in resisting efforts to prevent the assimilation. For a generation past there have been endeavours to mark off the priesthood as a body of intermediaries between God and man. Confession, the performance of a quasi-mass, and various ceremonies with incense accompaniment, have tended more and more to elevate the clerical class: the effects being re-inforced by gorgeous robes and jeweled symbols, such as were common in mediæval days and are akin to those of barbaric peoples at large.
FC-25.5 For the changes which have thus been spreading throughout or social organization, political and religious, there have been several causes. The initial one was the setting up of that modest defensive organization, well justified under the circumstances, known originally as the Volunteer movement. When, by his policy, Louis Napoleon made it doubtful whether he had not in view an invasion of England, there arose something like a cry “To arms!” embodied by the Poet Laureate [Online editor’s note: Alfred Tennyson. – RTL] in his verses “Form, riflemen, form.” There resulted, and thereafter continually grew, a body of civilians who were weekly subjected to drill and weekly exercised themselves in rife shooting: both processes awakening in them the slumbering militant ideas and sentiments which have come down to us from early ages of perpetual warfare. The formation into companies and regiments, the passing through regular evolutions, the subjection to officers, the marching through the streets after their bands, joined with ambitions to occupy posts of command, cultivated in the young men of our towns the thoughts and emotions appropriate to fighting. A revived interest in war necessarily resulted; and the partially dormant instincts of the savage, readily aroused, have been exercising themselves if not on actual foes then on foes conceived ton be invading us.
FC-25.6 For these twenty years there has been at work another widespread cause, which few will at first recognize as a cause, but the effects of which analysis will make clear. The quality of a passion is in great measure the same whatever the object exciting it. Fear aroused by a mad dog is at the core like the fear produced by the raised weapon of an assassin; and the hate felt for a disgusting animal is of the same nature as the hate felt for a man very much disliked. Especially when the objects which excite the passions are imaginary, is there likely to be little difference between the state of mind produced. The cultivation of animosity towards one imaginary object, strengthening the sentiment of animosity at large, makes it easier to arouse animosity towards another imaginary object.
FC-25.7 I make these remarks à propos of the Salvation Army. The word is significant – Army; as are the names for the ranks, from the so-called “General,” descending through brigadiers, colonels, majors, down to local sub-officers, all wearing uniforms. This system is like in idea and in sentiment to that of an actual army. Then what are the feelings appealed to? The “Official gazette of the Salvation Army” is entitled The War Cry; and the motto conspicuous on the title-page is “Blood and Fire.” Doubtless it will be said that it is towards the principle of evil, personal or impersonal – towards “the devil and all his works” – that the destructive sentiments are invoked by this title and this motto. So it will be said that in a hymn, conspicuous in the number of the paper I have in hand, the like animus is displayed by the expressions which I cull from the first thirty lines: – “Made us warriors for ever, Sent us in the field to fight ... We shall win with fire and blood … Stand to your arms, the foe is nigh, The powers of hell surround ... The day of battle is at hand! Go forth to glorious war.” [Online editor’s note: Spencer here quotes from two different hymns, “Jesus, Give Thy Blood-Washed Army” by William James Pearson, and “Hark, How the Watchmen Cry” attributed to Charles Wesley. – RTL] These and others like them are stimuli to the fighting propensities, and the excitements of song joined with the martial processions and instrumental music cannot fail to raise high those slumbering passions which are ready to burst out even in the intercourse of ordinary life. Such appeals as there may be to the gentler sentiments which the creed inculcates, are practically lost amid these loud-voiced invocations. Out of mixed and contradictory exhortations the people who listen respond to those which are most congruous with their own natures and are little affected by the rest; so that under the nominal forms of the religion of amity there are daily exercised the feelings appropriate to the religion of enmity. And then, as before suggested, these destructive passions directed towards “the enemy,” as the principle of evil is called, are easily directed towards an enemy otherwise conceived. If for wicked spirits are substituted wicked men, these are regarded with the same feelings; and when calumnies sown broadcast make it appear that certain people are wicked men, the anger and hate which have been perpetually fostered are vented upon them.
FC-25.8 Verifying facts are pointed out to me even while I dictate, showing that not in the Salvation Army alone but in the Church-services held on the occasion of the departure of troops for South Africa, certain hymns are used in a manner which substitutes for the spiritual enemy the human enemy. Thus for a generation past, under cover of the forms of a religion which preaches peace, love, and forgiveness, there has been a perpetual shouting of the words “war” and “blood,” “fire” and “battle,” and a continual exercise of the antagonistic feelings.
FC-25.9 This diffusion of military ideas, military sentiments, military organization, military discipline, has been going on everywhere. There is the competing body, the Church Army, which, not particularly obtrusive, we may presume from its name follows similar lines; and there is, showing more clearly the ecclesiastical bias in the same direction, the Church Lads’ Brigade, with its uniforms, arms, and drill. In these as in other things the clerical and the military are in full sympathy. The Rev. Dr. Warre, head master of Eton, reads a paper at the United Service Institution, arguing that in the public secondary schools there should be diffusion of the elements of military science, as well as exercise in military drill, manœuvre, use of fire-arms, &c. So, too, another head master, the Rev. Mr. Gull, in a lecture to the College of Preceptors under chairmanship of the Rev. Mr. Bevan, tells us that there are 79 cadet-corps in various public schools; that efforts are being made to “organize drill in elementary schools and for the boys in the lower ranks of life”; that a committee of the Head Masters’ Conference resolved unanimously that in public secondary schools boys over 15 should receive military drill and instruction; and that, by the suggestion of these “reverend” head masters, a Military Instruction Bill, embodying their views and favoured by the War Office, has been brought before both Houses of Parliament.*. Similarly during the Guthrie Commemoration at Clifton College, the head master, the Rev. Canon Glazebrook, in presence of two bishops, glorified the part which those educated at Clifton had taken in the South African War: enlarging with pride on “so noble a contribution in such a patriotic cause” as the nineteen old Cliftonians who had fallen; dilating, too, o the increasing zeal of the school in military matters. And now at Cambridge the senate urges that the University should take steps towards the organization of instruction in military sciences.
FC-25.10 More conspicuous growths of like nature have taken place. We have the reviews, manœuvres, and training-camps of the Volunteers, and the annual rifle-competitions now at Wimbledon now at Bisley; we have the permanent camps at Shorncliffe and Aldershot, and are about to have a much larger one on Salisbury Plain. Fifty years ago we had no such incidents as the “passages of arms” or tournaments now held periodically, nor had we any military and naval exhibitions. Lastly, showing the utter change of social sentiment, it was resolved at a Mansion House meeting that the Great Exhibition of 1851, which was expected to inaugurate universal peace, should be commemorated in 1901 by a Naval and Military Exhibition: an anti-militant display having for its jubilee a militant display!
FC-25.11 The temper generated by these causes has resulted in the outbursts if violence occurring all over England in thirty towns large or small, where those who entertain opinions disliked by the majority respecting our treatment of the Boers, have been made the victims of mobs – mobs which not only suppressed even private meetings and ill-treated those who proposed to take part in them, kicking and even tarring them in the public streets, but attacked the premises of those who were known to be against the war, smashing shop-windows, breaking into houses, and even firing into them. And now after these breaches of the law, continued for two years, have been habitually condoned by the authorities, we find leading newspapers applauding the police for having “judiciously refrained” from interfering with a mob in its ill-treatment of Stop-the-War speakers! Surely a society thus characterized and thus governed is a fit habitat for Hooligans.
FC-25.12 Naturally along with this exaltation of brute force in its armed form, as seen in military organizations, secular and sacred, as well as in the devotion of teaching institutions to fostering it, and along with these manifestations of popular passion, showing how widely the trait of coerciveness, which is the essential element in militancy, has pervaded the nation, there has gone a cultivation of skilled physical force under the form of athleticism. The word is quite modern, for the reason that a generation ago the facts to be embraced under it were not sufficiently numerous and conspicuous to call for it. In my early days “sports,” so called, were almost exclusively represented by one weekly paper, Bell’s Life in London, found I am told in the haunts of rowdies and in taverns of a low class. Since then, the growth has been such that the acquirement of skill in leading games has become an absorbing occupation. The cricket-matches of local clubs are topics of interest not only in their localities but elsewhere, and the names of celebrated players are in the mouths of multitudes. There are professionals and there are courses of training; so that what was originally a game has become a business. Similarly with rowing, which has its competitions on all rivers large enough, and its set matches, of which those between the Universities and those at Henley have become national events, drawing enormous crowds, as does also the Universities’ cricket-match. And then football, in my boyhood occupying no public attention, has now provision made for it in every locality, and its leading contests between paid players, draw their tens of thousands of spectators – nay even, as at Sydenham lately, a hundred thousand spectators – whose natures are such that police are often required for the protection of umpires. It may, indeed, be remarked that this game, which has now become the most popular, is also the most brutalizing; for the merciless struggles among the players, and the intensity of their antagonisms, prove, even without the frequent inflictions of injuries and occasional deaths, that the game approaches as nearly to a fight as lack of weapons allows.
FC-25.13 “Sports” of past times, which law had forbidden because of their brutality, are re-appearing. Occasionally one reads of secret cock-fights discovered by the police and stopped; and now, in the resuscitated periodical of Johnson, The Rambler, there is a deliberate advocacy of cock-fighting as an amusement. Of like meaning is the revival of pugilism: the illegal prize-fights having been replaced by so-called “glove-fights,” differing but nominally. Though within these few years four deaths have resulted, yet such is the sympathy of the authorities with the “sport,” so called, that the manslaughters have on one or other plea been in every case condoned. Along with this development of human athletes has gone a development of animal athletics, or racing, under the form of increase in the number of race-meetings; and both kinds have been accompanied by an immense extension of betting an gambling – vices pervading all classes and all places, from fashionable drawing-rooms down to slums – vices furthering re-barbarization, since pleasures obtained at the cost of pains to others, necessarily entail a searing of the sympathies.
FC-25.14 Meanwhile, to satisfy the demand journalism has been developing, so that besides sundry daily and weekly papers devoted wholly to sports, the ordinary daily and weekly papers give reports of “events” in all localities, and not unfrequently a daily paper has a whole page occupied with them. A grave concomitant is to be noted. While bodily superiority is coming to the front, mental superiority is retreating into the background. It has long been remarked that a noted athlete is more honoured than a student who has come out highest from the examinations; and if there needs ocular proof we have it in the illustrated papers, which continually reproduce photographs of competing crews and competing teams, while nowhere do we see a photograph of, say, all the wranglers of the year. How extreme is this predominance of athleticism is shown by the fact that Sir Michael Foster, when a candidate for the representation of the University of London, was described as specially fitted because he was a good cricketer! “All cricketers will, of course, vote for him,” wrote in The Times a B.A. who had “played in the same eleven with him.” Thus various changes point back to those mediæval days when courage and bodily power were the sole qualifications of the ruling classes, while such culture as existed was confined to priests and the inmates of monasteries.
FC-25.15 Literature, journalism, and art, have all been aiding in this process of re-barbarization. For a long time there have flourished novel-writers who have rung the changes on narratives of crime and stories of sanguinary deeds. Others have been supplying boys and youths with tales full of plotting and fighting and bloodshed: millions of such having of late years been circulated;** and there have been numerous volumes of travel in which encounters with natives and the killing of big game have been the advertised attractions. Various war-books have followed in the wake of Prof. Creasy’s Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World with its thirty-odd editions; and now, in the current number of the Athenæum, I see noted as forthcoming two works of this genus – the one, Great Battles of the World, and the other All the World’s Fighting Ships for 1901, an annual publication. [Online editor’s note: first cited work by Edward Shepherd Creasy, 1851; second by Stephen Crane, 1901; third a periodical by Frederick Thomas Jane, published serially beginning in 1898. – RTL] As indicating most clearly the state of national feeling, we have the immense popularity of Mr. Rudyard Kipling, in whose writings one-tenth of nominal Christianity is joined with nine-tenths of real paganism; who idealizes the soldier and glories in the triumphs of brute force; and who, in depicting school-life, brings to the front the barbarizing activities and feelings and shows little respect for a civilizing culture.
FC-25.16 So, too, the literature of the periodicals reeks with violence. In the American magazines having wide English circulations, there went on, even before the recent conquests, rechauffé narratives of the Civil War – accounts of this or that part of the campaign and biographies of this or the other leader. Not content with battles and great captains of recent times, editors have, to satisfy the appetites of readers, gone back to the remote past as well as to the near past. The life and conquests of Alexander the Great have been set forth afresh with illustrations; and in serial articles, as also in book form, Napoleon has again served as a subject for biography: Wellington and Nelson too, have been resuscitated. Nay, even memoirs of celebrated pirates and privateers have been exhumed to meet the demand. At the same time the fiction filling our monthly magazines, has been mainly sanguinary. Tales of crimes and deeds of violence, drawings of men fighting, men overpowered, men escaping, of daggers raised, pistols leveled – these, in all varieties of combination, have appealed to our latent savagery. Among other stories of this class there were recently two in each of which the attraction was a prize-fight, made piquant by wood-cuts. So it has been with our pictorial newspapers. Even before the recent wars there were ever found occasions for representing bloody combats, or else the appliances of destruction naval and military, or else the leading men using them. I suppose that of late such scenes and portraits have been more numerous still – I say I suppose, because for years past, disgusted with these stimuli to brutality, I have deliberately avoided looking at the illustrated weekly journals.
FC-25.17 Thus on every side we see the ideas and feelings and institutions appropriate to peaceful life, replaced by those appropriate to fighting life. The continual increases of the army, the formation of permanent camps, the institution of public military contests and military exhibitions, have conduced to this result. The drills, and displays, and competitions, of civilian soldiers (not uncalled for when they began) have gone on exercising the combative feelings. Perpetual excitements of the destructive passions which, in the War Cry and in the hymns of General Booth’s followers, have made battle and blood and fire familiar, and under the guise of fighting against evil have thrust into the background the gentler emotions, have done the like. Similarly in schools, military organization and discipline have been cultivating the instinct of antagonism in each rising generation. More and more the spirit of conflict has been exercised by athletic games, interest in which has been actively fostered first by the weekly Press and now by the daily Press; and with increase of the honours given to physical prowess there has been decrease of the honours given to mental prowess. Meanwhile literature and art have been aiding. Books treating of battles, conquests, and the men who conducted them, have been widely diffused and greedily read. Periodicals full of stories made interesting by killing, with accompanying illustrations, have every month ministered to the love of destruction; as have, too, the weekly illustrated journals. In all places and in all ways there has been going on during the past fifty years a recrudescence of barbaric ambitions, ideas and sentiments and an unceasing culture of blood-thirst.
FC-25.18 If there needs a striking illustration of the result, we have it in the dictum of the people’s Laureate [Online editor’s note: Rudyard Kipling, The Islanders, 1902. – RTL], that the “lordliest life on earth” is one spent in seeking to “bag” certain of our fellow-men!

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FC-25.n1.1 * See Educational Times, June 1, 1901.
FC-25.n2.1 ** See Academy, June 5, 1897.

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