The biological law of the supremacy of the strong over the weak, of the fit over the less fit, which prevails throughout the world of living things, gives us pause when it is applied to human history and to the relations of man with man. Yet it is true that the price of development is the struggle for life. The road of evolution is an uphill road. When struggle ceases, progress ceases, and evolution becomes devolution. Our strength is the strength of the obstacles we overcome. The living machine, contrary to the non-living, gains power from the friction it begets.
When we open the book of the biological history of the globe, we find, to begin with, no force but that which we call brute force, no justice but power, no crime but weakness, no law but the law of battle. The victory is to the strong and the race to the swift. And it is well. It is on this plan, as I have so often said, that the life of the globe has come to what we behold it. Man has come to his present estate, the trees in the forest, the grasses and flowers of the field, the birds in the air, the fishes in the sea, have each and all attained their present stage of development through the operation of this law of natural competition, and the survival of the fittest. Though marked by what we call cruelty and in-justice, in the totality of its operations it is a beneficent law. If it were not so, how could the world of living things have attained its present develop-ment? If it were a malevolent law, would not life have suffered shipwreck long ago? The world of living things and of non-living still merits the primal approval--"Behold, it is very good!" Not your good, nor my good, but a general good, the good of all. Nature's scheme, if we may say she has a scheme, embraces the totality of things, and that the totality of things is good who but a born pessi-mist, a radically negative nature, can deny? Mixed good undoubtedly it is, but is there, or can there be, any other good in the universe? Good forever freeing itself from the non-good, or from the fetters of evil--good to eat, to drink, to behold, to live by, to die by--good for the body, good for the mind, good for the soul, good in time, and good in eternity?
From solar systems to atoms and molecules, the greater bodies, the greater forces, prevail over the lesser, and yet flowers bloom, and life is sweet, sweet for the minor forms as well as for the major.
Inert matter knows only the laws of force. In the world of living matter, up to a certain point, the same rule prevails. In the fields and woods the more vigorous plants and trees run out the less vigorous.
In the dryer meadows in my section of the Catskills the orange hawkweed completely crowds out the meadow grasses; it plants itself on every square inch of the surface, and every four or five years the farmer has to intervene with his plow to turn the battle in favor of the grass again. In the gardens, unless the gardener take a hand in the game, the weeds choke down or smother all his vegetables. The weeds are rank with original sin and they easily supplant our pampered and cultivated cereals and legumes.
In the animal world there are few exceptions to the rule of the supremacy of power. There is no question of right or wrong, of mercy or cruelty. It is not cruel or unjust for the bird to catch the insect, or for the cat to catch the bird, or for the lion to devour the lamb, or for the big fishes to eat up the little fishes. It is the rule of nature, and never a question of right or wrong.
Biological laws are as remorseless as physical laws. The course of animal evolution through the geologic ages is everywhere marked by the triumph of new and superior forms over the old and inferior forms. Among the lower races of man, our remote savage ancestors, might ruled. The strong and prolific tribes supplanted those that were less so, and, among the nations, up to our own day, the rule of natural competition, or survival of the fittest, has held full sway. Those nations which are dominant are so by virtue of their superior qualities, physical, moral, or intellectual. It is not a question of might except in so far as this question is linked with the question of moral and intellectual superiority.
Is there, then, no such thing as equity, justice, fair play in the world? Shall I seize my neighbor's farm and despoil him of his goods and chattels because I am stronger than he? Shall one state in-vade and despoil another, or seize its territory, because it is stronger and considers itself more fit to survive?
The rule of might, as I have said, prevails throughout the world of matter and of life below man, and long prevailed in pre-human and human history. But the old law of nature has been limited and qualified by a new law which has come into the world and which is just as truly a biological law in its application to man as was the old law of might. I refer to the law of man's moral nature, the source of right, justice, mercy. The progress of the race and of the nations is coming more and more to depend upon the observance of this law. Without it there is no organization, no coöperation, no commerce, no government. Without it anarchy would rule, and our civilization would crumble and society disintegrate.