Discussion of W.I. Thomas, "The Significance of the Orient for the Occident"


The short paper which I am to read has no direct connection with the chief paper of the afternoon, but is rather a contribution to the general subject of race-struggles and their results. It is to represent the views held on this point by Dr. Ludwig Gumplowicz, for many years professor of sociology and political science at the university of Graz, Austria. Living in a country where race-conflicts have always been especially predominant and severe and have shaped its politics to a great extent, he was no doubt led to give more thought to this subject than to any other and arrive at a theory quite his own. Some authorities have claimed for him the honor of being the actual founder of a true science of sociology in so far as he was the first to attempt to explain the origin and evolution of the state on strictly scientific principles, through the action of natural laws. According to him the race-struggle lies at the very foundation of society, is the condition of the origin and development of the state and without it no state, no civilization al all would have been possible. In discussing social conflicts, antagonisms, and struggles between races and nations as well as between social classes, too little attention has perhaps been paid to the constructive value of these conflicts. And yet this is no doubt one of the most important aspects of the subject. Are struggles, conflicts, antagonisms of any kind destructive, degenerative, to be discouraged, or are they constructive, progressive, to be encouraged? There lies the crux of the whole matter. Gumplowicz, as I said before, holds the latter view. Everywhere in nature we have conflict or at least contact of heterogeneous elements endowed with inherent forces, and out of this contact arise new elements, new formations, new states or conditions of things.. The formation of a people, a nation, a state, or the social process differs in no fundamental way from the other great processes of nature, which were active in the formation of things, the cosmical or sidereal, the chemical, the vegetal, and the animal processes. In all these we have the same constituent features or distinctive characteristics, namely: (1) original heterogeneous elements; (2) a contact, interaction, or conflict between these, due to inherent antagonistic forces, and (3) the production or creation of something new which did not exist before. In other words every nature-process is creative; creation is not limited to one creative act at the beginning of things, by one supernatural power, it is going on continually all around us; the world is not eternally the same, but forever changing and evolving. And this is as true of society or the social process as of any other phenomenon and process. And one of the means of this evolution, this creative activity, is conflict.

(747) Let us see how this is to be explained more in detail.

Going back in imagination to the very beginning of our geological epoch, we find oar globe peopled by innumerable hordes, tribes, or ethnological groups, each one held together by certain syngenetic feelings: blood relationship. customs, language. and religion (as far as these are at at, developed). but looking on all the outside groups as something entirely foreign and unrelated, different in all the above-named things, even, perhaps, in appearance; therefore to be feared and shunned, or, if contact cannot be avoided, exterminated and destroyed. These groups are the sociological units. Roaming through an ever-widening territory in their search for food, they must finally clash and, having not as yet risen very high above their animal ancestor:, the result is the same as when animals of different species or those of the same species that want the same hunting- ground, clash: a fierce battle ensues, a war of extermination in which the stronger or more cunning or better-equipped group must conquer and the other is destroyed. Probably all races have passed the primitive phase, called cannibalism. We know that some such races survive even today.

Finally, however, we may assume that these clashes became too frequent, the conquered tribes too numerous to be devoured; besides, growing intelligence, sharpened, no doubt, by these struggles and the necessity of superior cunning and strategy, suggests a better use to be made of the bodies and energies of the conquered foe: he can be enslaved and made to work. And it is now that the real process of the evolution of the state begins. As long as the conquerors merely turn their victims into food, the procedure is but a continuance of the animal process, but as soon as they are kept alive and turned into slaves with all their fierce energies and primeval passions still burning within them, the process takes on a different face The energies of the conquered foe must be put to work, and, in order that in some unguarded moment they may not turn against and destroy the conqueror, this work must be continuous and ardent.

Up to this time the activity of the savage had been but temporary and intermittent, just sufficient to produce for him the means of subsistence and rudest shelter, but it had not produced anything of permanent value; but now the necessity arose of finding continuous employment for these new energies, chafing in sullen hatred under the bondage of the conqueror. How the savage was taught to labor is a chapter in the history of humanity which would probably not be very pleasant reading. We may look with admiration and wonder at the relics of ancient history which are left us as proofs of such work, the pyramids of Egypt, the immense temples and palaces of Assyria, Persia, and ancient India, but we seldom realize the amount of suffering, misery, and patient toil, embodied therein, the agony, fear, and horror, under which the habit of steady work, without which no civilization could ever have become possible, were ingrained. But not only was man thus trained

(748) and shaped on the grindstone of terror and toil, but the foundation was also laid of the organization of society, of the whole complex and far-reaching machinery of the future state. To keep the conquered race in subjection and prevent rebellious uprisings, something akin to the later military class had to be created. To make the work of the slaves most effective their labor had to be somewhat specialized; great numbers of overseers, inspectors, and minor officials had to be trained, and thus a hierarchy was gradually developed The strict military supervision could not be kept up forever; the enforced propinquity, moreover, toned down to some extent the original hatred, and resulted gradually in toleration on both sides; the subject race, after generations of servitude, finally accepts its position as inevitable or even willed by higher powers or deities; an ecclesiastical class, eagerly welcomed and protected by the conquerors, arises to confirm them in this view; the military class, no longer necessary to keep down rebellions to such an extent, but chiefly used to fight outside enemies and conquer new territory, is gradually recruited from the ranks of the subjected while the conquering race still furnishes the officers; thus distinct classes and ranks are formed; the conquering race constitutes the nobility and all the higher posts of honor and responsibility are given to its representatives. In the struggle for supremacy among themselves members of the ruling class begin to value the support of the subject race and to reward their faithful adherents with positions of trust and honor. The long slavery and enforced labor has gradually accustomed the subject races to work and ingrained in them the habit of continuous labor, they are much less apt to be rebellious, and are in time given much greater freedom. The middle classes, industrial and professional, arise. The strict system of caste which prevailed for a time and still prevails in many countries, kept up by innumerable laws, which gave rise to the whole complicated system of jurisprudence, is gradually mitigated, and the barriers between the classes are more and more removed. Thus a people, a nation, a state is evolved. But the progress of conquest and amalgamation goes m'; the once dominant race, made more efficient by its organization anti trained militia, spreads its domain farther and farther and grows ever stronger by assimilation. Yet luck is not always with the most progressive. The flush of continuous victory has made them careless and loosened their organization; moreover, the enforced idleness of the leisure classes has made them effeminate; vice and luxury spread; and we have the spectacle of a Roman empire being overthrown by barbarians. However, the organization, the institutions, and laws of the ancient culture are taken over by the conquerors and quickly a new state and nation arises. Thus the process is ever repeated, and civilization rises ever higher. And the nations which today stand at the pinnacle of civilization are those in whom this process has been most frequently repeated, who have gone through the greatest number of amalgamations.


This, in brief, is the history of civilization and evolution of the state through conquest. Must we, then, draw the conclusion, that conflicts, antagonisms, and even bloody wars will always be necessary to insure the further progress of mankind? Gumplowicz seems almost to hold this view; to his mind history ever repeats itself. because what he calls the "nature-process" remains eternally. the same. But in this he is mistaken. Though the nature-process, as Mr. Ward has pointed out,[1] remains the same in form, it does not remain the same in its essence. The very fact that it is creative prevents that. If something new is continually formed out of existing material and conditions, then it is impossible ever to go back to exactly the same beginning. Progress or evolution is not only relative, as Mr. Gumplowicz will have it, but absolute. Even if, as some people pretend to believe, the new is inferior to the old (in which belief I do not coincide), it is certainly never the same and cannot be the came. The process is ever carried to a higher plane. Thus while conflicts may always remain necessary, they need not be destructive. Out of the conflicts occasioned by natural emotions and passions grew intelligence and organization. Mind, thus originated, is a new factor in the problem, which did not exist before, and mind will give a new direction to the process. It will recognize that, though necessary and unavoidable under the conditions of low, egotistic intelligence, destructive wars and conflicts are not necessary under a regime of social consciousness and intelligence; that here as elsewhere the natural process, unaided by intelligent foresight, has been wasteful of much that is precious, has expended energies ruthlessly, that can be turned to better account under more intelligent management. It will see, that, just as slavery and the compulsory training of mankind to v work were an improvement over cannibalism, so now, after the habit of continuous work has been ingrained into the very constitution of man, freedom of activity will in most cases be superior to enforced labor, and that gradually attractive measures can be substituted for compulsory measures. The conflicts between peoples and nations will be changed more and more into conflicts of ideas, out of which new and broader views will continually arise, until finally an era may be ushered in, in which we shall have peace of arms but the utmost possible contact of mind with mind, tire greatest difference of character, capacity, and work, with the greatest unity of purpose and aim.


  1. American Journal of Sociology, March, 1905, p. 547

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2