Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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SOCIAL SCIENCE. Society is ruled by natural laws, like the human body and every living organism. The laws of an organism determine the relations between its different parts, between its members and organs; social laws should establish, therefore, the nature of the relations which exist between men, as well as their causes and their effects; and social science should co-ordinate these laws in a systematic manner.


—Social science must not be confounded with political science. The latter has to do with the relations between states, between governments and subjects, and between citizens; while social science takes cognizance only of men, to the exclusion of the external bond which is called the state.


—Now, of what nature are the relations among men? They answer evidently to our needs, which are of two kinds, material and moral. Thus, on the one hand, they answer to the necessity of food, clothing , shelter and defense; and, on the other hand, to man's desire for instruction, and, in general, to a whole series of faculties and passions, which draw men together and put them in contact.


—Society is composed of individuals, and everything that contributes to their preservation helps the preservation of society. But although man is a "sociable animal" or a "political animal" we can, strictly speaking , conceive of the absence of all human society. Many savages live in an isolated manner, in couples or in very small families; they have only material wants to satisfy. But of society may it be said that it "does not live by bread alone," for it is principally the moral wants of men which create and maintain its bonds. In a word, material wants preserve the individual, and moral wants society; to the former correspond the egotistical sentiments, to the latter the affective sentiments, abnegation and self-control. The egotistical sentiments and the affective sentiments (or the faculty of self-sacrifice) are capable of attaining an equal degree of strength. Before the existence of society the affective sentiments acted in a scarcely perceptible manner; later, with the development of civilization, their strength gradually increased, and the more intense they became, the more the bonds of society were strengthened . It even happened at times that these sentiments, or some of them, degenerated into destructive passions, and produced evils great in extent and intensity.


—We have already suggested, that, in our opinion, the affective sentiments are the first cause of abnegation, self-control and sacrifice; paternal and maternal love, filial piety, patriotism, military honor, esprit de corps, furnish numerous examples of this. Abnegation, once disengaged or isolated from the sheaf of human sentiments, develops, and is not slow to offer a counter-weight to every act of egotism. This counter-weight is not always sufficient, far from it; but it is rarely entirely powerless. Its effect is often aided by numerous circumstances, which we can not enumerate here, but if becomes completely of no avail when it consists only of a word, that is to say, when the abnegation is not founded upon a want of our nature.


—Thence comes, also, the inanity of those new social systems, hatched in the brain of a man who pretends to foresee everything, to measure everything, and to assign to everything its relative importance ; in other words, in the brain of a man who wished to recognize society according to the ideas of his own idiosyncrasy. For if society is really governed by natural laws, and it would be absurd to doubt it, arbitrariness could have no power over it; to influence it, one would have to begin by submitting himself to those laws which he can control only by making use of their power.


—There is a science which concerns itself with the means of satisfying our material wants; there is another which has to do with our moral wants; the one is political economy, the other moral science; it is, therefore, the union of the two which constitutes social science. An endeavor has been made to establish the relations which exist between political economy and morality by seeking, among economic propositions, those which resemble certain precepts of morality. For example, political economy and morality show, each from its own point of view, the utility of labor and saving; by the aid of comparisons of this nature, it has been easy to show the morality of economic principles. It seems to us that here a wrong road has been followed. The sciences are not moral or immoral; they state laws. Has it ever been examined whether mathematics of chemistry has any relation with morality or with religion? Such preoccupations might lead some ardent believer to excommunicate the earth because it allows itself to revolve about the sun! The sciences have no relation with religion, nor with morality, and a science which studies what may be called the base side of nature or of man, is no less noble than any other. Must we despite the physician because he is occupied solely with disease? Or must we despite the judge because he has to do only with criminals? And supposing that the economist studies the selfish sentiments of man, it does not follow that he is selfish himself. Turgot, Adam Smith and J. Stuart Mill were generous men. The man who studies toxicology is not a poisoner. Man is more or less selfish, according to his temperament or his education. Moreover, we must not speak too ill of selfishness kept within the bounds of justice, of the love of self, since it is a universal sentiment, INDISPENSABLE to the preservation of our species. The economist proves that our wants make us work, and this, not because morality recommends it, but because the satisfaction of these wants is an imperative necessity of our nature. Man must eat or die. The economist, in investigating the laws of labor, permits us to render it more productive and less arduous. The economist establishes also the action of supply and demand. Has he created this action? Does he approve it? No more than the natural philosopher created or approves of the rain. Does one approve or disapprove of a natural law? would you disapprove of the horse, because he walks of four legs, or of the bird because it flies, or of the fish because it swims? Such is their law, and whether it pleases you or displeases you, you can do nothing to change it. Besides, we create nothing; we ascertain facts, and in our relations with these animals, we take into account the established facts, and act accordingly. In the same way, the economist has not created the law of supply and demand, a law which we consider as the most characteristic and strongest expression of selfishness. what is supply and demand, if not a sentiment which can be formulated thus. You need my superfluous goods, well, you shall pay for them, and the more dearly in proportion as your need is the more intense, so long as you are able to give me an equivalent for them? This sentiment is so general that we find it quite simple that the price of an article should rise in proportion to its relative rarity. We are convinced that this action of supply and demand, which is so cruel, renders, upon the whole, great services to society. Are not arsenic, belladonna and many other poisons of service? But were the action of supply and demand an evil without compensation, we ought to study it, and the economist will have deserved well of humanity for having thoroughly examined its mechanism.


—It would be then the task of the moralist to derive advantage from the truths discovered by the economist. He would inculcate on man his precepts protective of society; he would teach him abnegation and self-control. He would say to him: Without doubt your wheat is in great demand, and you can obtain such and such a price for it; but think also of the evil you will produce by using your right in its entire fullness. The moralist will be able to call to his aid every other honest sentiment, capable of counterbalancing selfishness, and in primitive times men did not fail to appeal to the religious sentiment. The conclusion must not be drawn from this division of labor, this partition of powers, that the moralist is above the economist; it suffices to recall the fable once related to the Roman people on the Aventine hill. Morality, even religion itself, may be pushed beyond the limits which healthy reason approves; they may become passionate and fanatical at the expense of very high material interests, and for the good of humanity, the two branches of social science should exercise a perfectly equal influence, and thus establish that equilibrium which is the sign of health.


—Many publicists cultivate both sciences together, and combine political economy and morality; we are glad to be able to state this, but all do not succeed equally well in this combination of studies.


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