The Biological Function of Government (Undated)
All the social sciences must base themselves ultimately on biology. They all have to do with life in its organized aspects. They are all branches of human ecology which has to do with the adaptation of human life to its environment. Organization is an important form of adaptation, having abundantly proven its survival value for many species, conspicuously for human beings. Besides, some of the leading contributions to social science have been made by biologists, among whom may be named, Charles Darwin , Lester F. Ward , William Morton Wheeler, Walter B. Cannon , William E. Castle , and the whole school of geneticists. Accordingly, we may well consider the biological function of government as a basis for the consideration of its purely social functions.
Briefly stated, the biological function of government is to set up and maintain a rational standard of fitness for individual survival in the struggle for existence.
A rational standard of fitness for individual survival is, from the standpoint of the nation, a standard that enables it to survive in the struggle among nations. From that point of view, the most fit individual is the one that contributes most to the strength and prosperity of the nation, and the least fit is the one that contributes least, or subtracts most, from national strength and prosperity. Setting and maintaining such a standard is quite as rational as the protection of boundaries, the development of natural resources, or the doing of anything else that contributes to the nation’s power to survive.
We must recognize at the beginning of this discussion that there are two very different kinds of struggle going on in the human world . First, there is the struggle among individuals and private organizations within the sovereign group, called nation (or state). Second, there is the struggle among sovereign groups. A sovereign group is one that is under the control of no larger group and is not protected by any superior power. Its survival depends wholly on its own internal strength.
The difference between these two kinds of struggle is not merely the difference in the size of the struggling units. The important difference is in the methods by which the struggle is carried on. The struggle among individuals and private organizations is carried on under certain rules that are laid down and enforced by the nation through its government. Where these rules are rational, they are such as will safeguard the nation itself. This does not mean that the nation is an end in itself, nor deny that the nation exists for the benefit of the individuals who compose it. It merely recognizes that individuals cannot survive outside the protection of nations and that more individuals can survive under a well-governed than a poorly governed nation. In order that the largest number of individuals may live and live well, many individuals may have to be sacrificed, even worthy ones in national defense, and unworthy ones as punishment for misdeeds that weaken the nation as a whole.
But the struggle among nations has been only slightly softened or mitigated by what is euphoniously called international law. In the main, it is a primordial struggle, in which survival may depend upon the power to kill, destroy, deceive, and inspire fear. In this struggle, there is no standard of fitness for survival. The fit are those who survive, no matter how or by what means. The law of the jungle prevails with only slight modifications. Adeptness in the arts of destruction has quite as much value as skill in the art of production. Both are equally necessary and, as yet, equally permissible. The nation that is too squeamish to use either power to the fullest extent will stand a poor chance of surviving.
However, in order that the nation may be strong in the arts of both production and destruction, in other words, in order that it may survive, it must suppress the arts of destruction and deception when they are exercised against its own citizens. Its citizens must not be permitted to survive by means of their power to destroy or defraud one another. Their struggle for existence must be directed into the fields of production or persuasion. In short, the struggle among individuals within the nation must be standardized. It is no longer the law of the jungle, it becomes rivalry in production, service, or persuasion. This rivalry may be very intense and must result in both success and failure. There will be many jealousies and heartburnings, but rivalry in production results in vastly more national strength than rivalry in destruction.
When, for example, farmers try to grow bigger and better crops and manufactures to turn out better and cheaper products than their competitors, bigger and better crops are grown and better and cheaper products are put on the market. All this adds to the strength of the nation and enables it to support more people and equip them better. But when farmers fight over line fences, destroy one another’s crops, or manufacturers pursue destructive methods of beating their competitors, fewer people can supported and they cannot be so well equipped.
This difference is essentially the difference between economic competition as it is carried on among individuals under an enlightened government (and studied by the economist), and the unstandardized struggle for existence as it is carried on among brutes (and studied by the sociologist). In this unstandardized struggle among brutes, the fit are merely those who manage to survive, no matter how or by what methods: organs of destruction have survival value. Under a government that we have learned to call civilized, an individual is not permitted to survive by any method which he may choose. The government itself is an important part of the individual’s environment and he must adapt himself to it. If, for example, there are well-enforced laws against violence and fraud, an individual has a poor chance of survival by these methods. Adeptness in such activities has, under such a government, no survival values for the individual. Without a government, or without standards of fitness, such adeptness would have as great survival value as skill in the arts of production.
The purpose of a rational government is to give the highest possible survival value to usefulness or productivity. Under such a government, usefulness to the nation, or to other individuals who constitute the nation, becomes the standard of fitness for individual survival and it is a rational standard. The nation which desires to survive must, in its own interest, set up such a standard. The more useful the individual is to the nation, the better his chance of survival and the more likely the nation is to survive. Where that is not the case, government is not performing its function, and, itself, stands a poor chance of survival.
Crime is as natural as virtue, and where there is no government to maintain a rational standard of fitness for survival, individuals may survive by virtue of their power to kill, injure, and inspire fear. Rivals may be destroyed or driven out by destructive methods. Individuals and groups will still try to get what they want by making others afraid to refuse their demands. Even where most of the people try to get what they want either by producing it or by offering others something desirable in exchange for it, there will always be a few who, in spite of the government, will try to succeed by methods of terrorism. Under a weak or corrupt government, the method of terrorism may succeed. Crime may pay. But a nation in which crime against one’s fellow citizen pays can never reach its maximum strength of prosperity.
The test of a ‘good’ government is the smallness of the number of those who try to succeed by destructive or deceptive methods. Under a ‘good’ government—one which meets our test—the average citizen will have to stake his success on his ability to contribute to the success of others. In proportion as individuals strive for success in these useful ways, in that proportion will the nation grow strong. Unless overwhelmed by military power before it has had the time to grow strong, it will insure its own survival.
The struggle for survival goes on relentlessly not only among individuals but among nations. As already stated, government’s first business is to transform the unstandardized struggle among individuals, where survival may be won by destructivity or deceptiveness, into a struggle where individual survival is won only by productivity or usefulness to the national group, or by peaceful persuasion. The nation whose government does not try effectively to accomplish this transformation must always be a weak nation. Every individual who is permitted to survive by destructive or deceptive methods—that is, by violence or fraud—weakens the nation. Every one who wins success or survival by productive methods strengthens the nation. Thus, a nation’s own survival in intense struggle among nations depends upon how successfully its government suppresses destructivity and encourages productivity among its own people. Only by turning these energies of the people into productive channels and away from destructive channels can a nation grow great and strong enough to survive in the intense rivalry where the law of the jungle still rules.
Many activities that, to the outward eye, seem destructive are really productive. The killing of weeds and other pests is an important part of the productive work of farmers. Similarly the suppression of human pests who try to succeed by destructive methods is an essential part of the productive work of courts and policemen. The soldier who protects a peaceful and industrious nation against destructive invaders is as productive as an industrial worker.
When the struggle for existence among individuals has few elements of destructivity and many elements of productivity, it ceases to be a brutal struggle for existence as studied by the biologist and begins to be economic competition as studied by the economist. In both cases, it is a real struggle, and failure is real tragedy; but it makes a vast difference to the nation whether success is won by destructive or by productive powers and activities. Obviously, no nation could long survive whose individuals all tried to live by robbing one another. Only few could live if a considerable fraction tried to live by robbery. If all tried to live by productivity or usefulness, the only limit to the number who could live, or to the height of their prosperity, would be that fixed by the physical resources of the nation.
Parallel with the struggle for the material means of subsistence or survival is the struggle for mates. This struggle is as real and as deadly as that for wealth or political power. Failure in this struggle is as tragic, for the germ plasm, as failure to gain the means of subsistence. Under monogamy, success in this struggle is strictly limited by law. Only under polygamy or polyandry could success reach such proportions as is sometimes achieved in the struggle for wealth or political power.
In the absence of government, this struggle for mates may take on destructive forms, as under wife capture or rape, or deceptive forms as under seduction. Under a government of law and order, both the destructive and deceptive forms of struggle are prohibited in the competition for mates as well as in the competition for wealth or political power. With violence and fraud, suppressed mates must be won, if at all, by persuasive or productive methods.
Along the lower animals, mates are won, and the germ plasm perpetuated either by organs of prehension or by organs of fascination. By means of organs of prehension, the female is caught and held by the male; but among civilized men, this is the most contemned and most severely punished of all crimes. Besides, while these organs of prehension may have survival value for the individual, they do not seem to have any for the race or for the flock or herd. Organs of fascination, such as feathers, beards, musical voices, various forms of spectacular prowess, are used by most of the higher animals and birds and of the less civilized races of man, to win the females. Among the more civilized races of men, winning the female without responsibility for full economic support is called seduction and is, for very logical reasons, strongly condemned.
Darwin and many other naturalists have commented on the fact that among all animals as well as among the lower races of men, the male is the more highly adorned with secondary sexual characters. It is agreed that this is the result of the fact that competition for mates is more fierce among males than among females. Organs of fascination have survival value for the individual male, that is, for his germ plasm, but little if any for the race, the group, or the flock.
Naturalists also notice among the more civilized races of men, the order is reversed. It is the female who adorns herself, while the male generally divests himself of such secondary sexual characteristic as beard. The reason seems to be that, in the struggle for mates, the male is able to offer economic support as a substitute for personal charm. So long as he can provide ample means for the support of a family, he does not need to be handsome. To be sure, poets and others who are in revolt against the economic order still exercise their organs of fascination. They do not sit on a branch and warble but use soulful language, and they do not discard long hair and beards.
There is, however, a somewhat better biological reason for the exercise of earning power as a means of winning a mate than for the exercise of either the power of prehension or the power of fascination. Earning power, the power to produce wealth, and to win mates by means of it, not only has survival value for the individual and his germ plasm but also for the group, tribe, or nation. Where mates are secured by organs of prehension, the evolutionary process tends to produce a species with powerful organs of prehension in the males, but, as suggested above, these seem to have no survival value for the race or the group. Similarly, the winning of mates by fascination tends to breed a species in which the males possess powerful organs with which to fascinate the female; but these organs seem to have little or no survival value for the species or the group. But when mates are won by means of earning power or productive power, the evolutionary process tends to produce a race of superior producers. Productive power has survival value not only for the individual male but for the nation to which he belongs.
In addition, where the male offers economic support as a means of winning a mate, we have the best plan yet invented for the endowment of motherhood. The mother is billeted on the father of her children. The formula ‘With all my worldly goods I thee endow’ has a biological as well as a ‘spiritual’ significance. Unfortunately, there is a present tendency to subsidize multiplication by those who are incapable of supporting their own offspring.
Of course, it will be argued, the power to provide economic support is not always identical with earning power or productive power. With the rank and file of the population—farmers, laborers, artisans, clerks, managers—a good provider is generally a good worker, one who actually earns the means of providing a good living. Among this great mass of our population, the custom of offering economic support as a means of winning mates works eugenically. It is a means of breeding up a race of strong producers, and these build a strong nation.
This must therefore be regarded as one of the biological functions of the government. The suppression of violence and fraud in the mating process is identical with the suppression of rape and seduction. This makes economic support an important if not a dominating factor in the winning of mates. This tends to breed a race of good providers. Among the masses, the good providers are the efficient producers. A race of efficient producers builds a strong and prosperous nation. In its own interest, the rational thing for the nation to do is to set and maintain a productive standard for success in the winning of mates.
The economic functions of government are quite consistent with the biological function. As the biological function is to establish and maintain a rational standard of fitness for individual survival, so the first economic function is to establish and maintain a rational standard of fitness for individual success in earning a living or acquiring wealth. Biological success may be said to consist in simple survival and reproduction, economic success in the acquisition of economic goods.
Correspondingly, a just and efficient government—a government which maintains a rational standard of fitness for economic success—is one under which every individual who wins success must win it by usefulness, that is, by contributing to the success of the nation. Where everyone strives for success in that way, a great and successful nation is assured insofar as national success depends upon its own internal economy. The only limit to the prosperity of such a nation is that fixed by its physical or geographical resources.