Imperialism and social reform english Social-Imperial Thought 1895-1914

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Benjamin Kidd was a minor civil servant in the Inland Revenue department when the publication of his Social Evolution, in 1894, made him famous. The book was a financial success and Kidd was able to resign his position and to devote himself exclusively to writing. His published writings, during the follow-



See John Stuart Mill, Autobiography ( London: 1908), pp. 169-71; J. A. Froude, Thomas Carlyle; A History of His Life in London, 1834-81 ( London, 1902), II, pp. 351-354, 390; E. T. Cook and A. Wedderburn, editors, The Works of John Ruskin ( London: Allen & Unwin, 1905), XVIII, pp. 550-554; Leonard Huxley, Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley ( New York, 1901), I, pp. 300-305.

ing twenty years, were few in number and largely repeated his views of 1894; thus he remained a man of one book. The success of this book, however, was enough to make him one of the leading figures in British sociology and to place him, for a time, in the forefront of political life.

In Social Evolution, Kidd had attempted to provide a central conception which would unify the various social laws and which would even predict the future. Spencer had attempted to create such a unifying conception on behalf of 'evolutionary science' but, Kidd insisted, he had failed signally. The Marxists, on the other hand, whom Kidd regarded as his principal enemy, had just such a unifying synthesis and a most dangerous one. The new socialist religion was spreading and 'the worker is beginning to discover that what he has lost as an individual, he has gained as a class; and that by organization he may obtain the power of meeting his masters on more equal terms.' 'Even national lines of demarcation are disappearing,' Kidd declared. 'Society is being organized by classes into huge battalions, the avowed object of which is the making of war on each other. 7 How had this happened? Kidd placed the blame upon the internal Social-Darwinism of the Spencer school:

'The evolutionist may be convinced that what is called the exploitation of the masses, is but the present-day form of the rivalry of life which he has watched from the beginning, and that the sacriflee of some in the cause of the future interests of the whole social organism is a necessary feature of our progress. But this is no real argument addressed to those who most naturally object to be exploited and sacrificed, and who in our modern societies are entrusted with power to give political effect to their objections.'

What then was the remedy? Certainly something had to be done, given not only the sorry plight of the working classes ( Kidd cited the conclusions of a recently completed survey of London's poor by Charles Booth) but the explosive fact that these impoverished groups were in possession of political power. Kidd's conclusion was that it had now become vitally necessary to subordinate individual interests to those of the group. 8



Benjamin Kidd, Social Evolution ( London, 1894), pp. 2-3, 11.


Ibid., pp. 67, 69-70, 74.

Kidd did not repudiate internal Social-Darwinism entirely, however. He saw the internal struggle for existence in a special light. The whole direction of social development in the nineteenth century, he explained, had been 'to raise the rivalry of existence to the highest degree of efficiency as a cause of progress.' How had this happened? The granting of the vote to virtually everyone had brought a 'great body of the people' into the 'rivalry of life' on virtually 'equal terms', on 'a footing of equality of opportunity.' The future had to 'complete the process of evolution in progress, by eventually bringing all the people into the rivalry of life, not only on a footing of political equality, but on conditions of equal social opportunities.' Kidd saw this process as already under way. Legislation, whose characteristic feature was 'to raise the position of the lower classes at the expense of the wealthier classes,' had already been passed. Spencerian individualists had fought against such state interference but in vain. In the future, the state would continue to intervene into the affairs of the nation. Such future moves as the establishment of the eight-hour day, the graduated income tax, and the provision of education for all would tend 'ultimately to place the workers more on a footing of equality in the rivalry of life with those above them.' 9

Was the struggle for existence, upon which the improvement of the race depended, doomed to disappear? No, there was a 'rivalry of nationalities,' a struggle between different races. External Social-Darwinism would replace the internal competition of laissez-faire England. In this struggle, Kidd believed, the Anglo-Saxon race had a good chance to triumph. Kidd vaunted the Anglo-Saxons: 'In the North American Continent, in the plains of Australia, in New Zealand, and South Africa,' he wrote, 'the representatives of this vigorous and virile race are at last in full possession.' With all its faults, the Anglo-Saxon race had 'honestly endeavoured to carry humanitarian principles into its dealings with inferior peoples.' This was, indeed, a characteristic of the race. The races of Europe had different qualities. For example, the Celts, the stock to which the French belong, had high intellectual powers: the French had a 'light, yet agile and athletic grasp of



Ibid., pp. 165, 227, 233-234.

principles and ideas.' The leading mental characteristic of the Teutons, on the other hand, the stock to which both the Germans and the English belonged, was 'painstaking, conscientious endeavour.' The English and the Germans consequently had a higher 'social-efficiency' than the French, a greater sense of social discipline. Hence the string of defeats suffered by France at the hands of England during the eighteenth century and her resounding defeat by Germany in 1870.

What were the qualities which led a nation to greatness? Kidd was convinced that they were not of an intellectual order. Such qualities as 'reverence,' 'great mental energy, resolution, enterprise, powers of prolonged and concentrated application, and a sense of simple-minded and single-minded devotion to conception of duty' were decisive in the struggle for existence. Without these, 'high intellectual development may even lower social efficiency to a dangerous degree, and so contribute to the decided worsting, in the evolution which is proceeding, of the people possessing it.' Reason and intellect were Kidd bêtes noires. One of his major objections to socialism was its 'rational' foundation. Reason-and socialismwere entirely self-seeking, concerned with self-gratification and paying no heed to the future interests of the race. Kidd explained the stability of the French birth-rate to a 'selfassertive rationalism' which had resulted in voluntary birth control in complete disregard of the race and he condemned this 'racial self-effacement.' 10

Only a super-rational sanction could justify the subordination of the immediate interests of the present to the larger interests of the future. Kidd was convinced that only religion provided that sanction. Religious impulses had set altruistic, humanitarian sentiments into being. Socialism aimed 'at exploiting' those sentiments 'in the interests of the existing generation of individuals,' rather than at harnessing them as 'a developmental force operating largely in the interests of future generations.' Marxism was really as 'anti-social' as individualism, since both represented 'the extreme logical expression of rationalistic protest by the individual against the subordination of his interests to the process of progressive development society is undergoing from generation to generation.' Religion



Ibid., pp. 45-46, 277-287.

was opposed to 'the materialistic socialism of Marx' as well as to individualism. 11

Kidd had selected as his chief enemies both individualism and socialism, recognizing both as inherently subversive of the foundations of the edifice of external Social-Darwinism which he had erected. Much of his book was in the form of a running debate with the individualism of Herbert Spencer and Kidd's final un-Spencerian conclusion was that 'it is this quality of social efficiency that nations and peoples are being continually, and for the most part unconsciously, pitted against each other in the complex rivalry of life.' 12 Kidd's socialimperialism was still tentative and hesitating. His successors were to venture far beyond. But in his charting of the future course of social reform and the conflict between the 'races' of Europe, in his raising of the banner of social efficiency, he anticipated much which the next twenty years would bring to England. 13

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