THE SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST.
The third and last part of the argument of Haeckel is correct if applied solely to the purely biological and Darwinian domain, but its starting point is false if it is intended to apply it to the social domain and to turn it into an objection against socialism.
It is said the struggle for existence assures the survival of the fittest; it therefore causes an aristocratic, hierarchic gradation of selected individuals—a continuous progress—and not the democratic leveling of socialism.
Here again, let us begin by accurately ascertaining the nature of this famous natural selection which results from the struggle for existence.
The expression which Haeckel uses and which, moreover, is in current use, “survival of the best or of the best fitted,” ought to be corrected. We must suppress the adjective best. This is simply a persisting relic of that teleology which used to see in Nature and history a premeditated goal to be reached by means of a process of continuous amelioration or progress.
Darwinism, on the contrary, and still more the theory of universal evolution, has completely banished the notion of final causes from modern scientific thought and from the interpretation of natural phenomena. Evolution consists both of involution and dissolution. It may be true, and indeed it is true, that by comparing the two extremes of the path traversed by humanity we find that there has really been a true progress, an improvement taking it all in all; but, in any case, progress has not followed a straight ascending line, but, as Goethe has said, a spiral with rhythms of progress and of retrogression, of evolution and of dissolution.
Every cycle of evolution, in the individual life as in the collective life, bears within it the germs of the corresponding cycle of dissolution; and, inversely, the latter, by the decay of the form already worn out, prepares in the eternal laboratory new evolutions and new forms of life.
It is thus that in the world of human society every phase of civilization bears within it and is constantly developing the germs of its own dissolution from which issues a new phase of civilization—which will be more or less different from its predecessor in geographical situation and range—in the eternal rhythm of living humanity. The ancient hieratic civilizations of the Orient decay, and through their dissolution they give birth to the Graeco-Roman world, which in turn is followed by the feudal and aristocratic civilization of Central Europe; it also decays and disintegrates through its own excesses, like the preceding civilizations, and it is replaced by the bourgeois civilization which has reached its culminating point in the Anglo-Saxon world. But it is already experiencing the first tremors of the fever of dissolution, while from its womb there emerges and is developing the socialist civilization which will flourish over a vaster domain than that of any of the civilizations which have preceded it.