Socialism and Modern Science Enrico Ferri 1900


Not one of the three contradictions between socialism and Darwinism, which Haeckel formulated, and which so many others have echoed since, resists a candid and more accurate examination of the natural laws which bear the name of Charles Darwin.

I add that not only is Darwinism not in contradiction with socialism, but that it constitutes one of its fundamental scientific premises. As Virchow justly remarked, socialism is nothing but a logical and vital corollary, in part of Darwinism, in part of Spencerian evolution.

The theory of Darwin, whether we wish it or not, by demonstrating that man is descended from the animals, has dealt a severe blow to the belief in God as the creator of the universe and of man by a special fiat. This, moreover, is why the most bitter opposition, and the only opposition which still continues, to its scientific inductions, was made and is made in the name of religion.

It is true that Darwin did not declare himself an atheist[26] and that Spencer is not one; it is also true that, strictly speaking, the theory of Darwin, like that of Spencer, can also be reconciled with the belief in God, since it may be admitted that God created matter and force, and that both afterward evolved into their successive forms in accordance with the initial creative impulse. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that these theories, by rendering the idea of causality more and more inflexible and universal, lead necessarily to the negation of God, since there always remains this question: And God, who created him? And if it is replied that God has always existed, the same reply may be flung back by asserting that the universe has always existed. To use the phrase of Ardigò, human thought is only able to conceive the chain which binds effects to causes as terminating at a given point, purely conventional.[27]

God, as Laplace said, is an hypothesis of which exact science has no need; he is, according to Herzen, at the most an X, which represents not the unknowable – as Spencer and Dubois Raymond contend – but all that which humanity does not yet know. Therefore, it is a variable X which decreases in direct ratio to the progress of the discoveries of science.

It is for this very reason that science and religion are in inverse ratio to each other; the one diminishes and grows weaker in the same proportion that the other increases and grows stronger in its struggle against the unknown.[28]

And if this is one of the consequences of Darwinism, its influence on the development of socialism is quite obvious.

The disappearance of faith in the hereafter, where the poor shall become the elect of the Lord, and where the miseries of the “vale of tears” will find an eternal compensation in paradise, gives greater strength to the desire for some semblance of an “earthly paradise” here below even for the unfortunate and the poor, who are the great majority.

Hartmann and Guyau[29] have shown that the evolution of religious beliefs may be summarized thus: All religions include, with various other matters, the promise of happiness; but the primitive religions concede that this happiness will be realized during the life of the individual himself, and the later religions, through an excess of reaction, place its realization after death, outside the human world; in the final phase, this realization of happiness is once more placed within the field of human life, no longer in the ephemeral moment of the individual existence, but indeed in the continuous evolution of all mankind.

On this side, then, socialism is closely related to the religious evolution, and tends to substitute itself for religion, since its aim is for humanity to have its own “earthly paradise” here, without having to wait for it in the hereafter, which, to say the least, is very problematical.

Therefore, it has been very justly remarked that the socialist movement has many traits in common with, for example, primitive Christianity, notably that ardent faith in the ideal that has definitively deserted the arid field of bourgeois skepticism, and some savants, not socialists, such as Messrs. Wallace, de Lavaleye and the Roberty, etc., admit that it is entirely possible for socialism to replace by its humanitarian faith the faith in the hereafter of the former religions.

More direct and potent than these relations (between socialism and faith in a hereafter) are, however, the relations which exist between socialism and the belief in God.

It is true that Marxian Socialism, since the Congress held at Erfurt (1891), has rightly declared that religious beliefs are private affairs[30] and that, therefore, the Socialist party combats religious intolerance under all its forms, whether it be directed against Catholics[31] or against Jews, as I have shown in an article against Anti-Semitism.[32] But this breadth of superiority of view is, at bottom, only a consequence of the confidence in final victory.

It is because socialism knows and foresees that religious beliefs, whether one regards them, with Sergi,[33] as pathological phenomena of human psychology, or as useless phenomena of moral incrustation, are destined to perish by atrophy with the extension of even elementary scientific culture. This is why socialism does not feel the necessity of waging a special warfare against these religious beliefs which are destined to disappear. It has assumed this attitude although it knows that the absence or the impairment of the belief in God is one of the most powerful factors for its extension, because the priests of all religions have been, throughout all the phases of history, the most potent allies of the ruling classes in keeping the masses pliant and submissive under the yoke by means of the enchantment of religion, just as the tamer keeps wild beasts submissive by the terrors of the cracks of his whip.

And this is so true that the most clear-sighted conservatives, even though they are atheists, regret that the religious sentiment – that precious narcotic – is diminishing among the masses, because they see in it, though their pharisaism does not permit them to say it openly, an instrument of political domination.[34]

Unfortunately, or fortunately, the religious sentiment cannot be re-established by royal decree. If it is disappearing, the blame for this cannot be laid at the door of any particular individual, and there is no need of a special propaganda against it, because its antidote impregnates the air we breathe – saturated with the inductions of experimental science – and religion no longer meets with conditions favorable to its development as it did amid the superstitious ignorance of past centuries.

I have thus shown the direct influence of modern science, science based on observation and experiment, – which has substituted the idea of natural causality for the ideas of miracle and divinity, – on the extremely rapid development and on the experimental foundation of contemporary socialism.

Democratic socialism does not look with unfriendly eyes upon “Catholic Socialism” (the Christian Socialism of Southern Europe), since it has nothing to fear from it.

Catholic socialism, in fact, aids in the propagation of socialist ideas, especially in the rural districts where religious faith and practices are still very vigorous, but it will not win and wear the palm of victory ad majorem dei gloriam. As I have shown, there is a growing antagonism between science and religion, and the socialist varnish cannot preserve Catholicism. The “earthly” socialism has, moreover, a much greater attractive power.

When the peasants shall have become familiar with the views of Catholic socialism, it will be very easy for democratic socialism to rally them under its own flag – they will, indeed, convert themselves.

Socialism occupies an analogous position with regard to republicanism. Just as atheism is a private affair which concerns the individual conscience, so a republican form of government is a private affair which interests only a part of the bourgeoisie. Certainly, by the time that socialism draws near to its day of triumph, atheism will have made immense progress, and a republican form of government will have been established in many countries which to-day submit to a monarchical regime. But it is not socialism which develops atheism, any more than it is socialism which will establish republicanism. Atheism is a product of the theories of Darwin and Spencer in the present bourgeois civilization, and republicanism has been and will be, in the various countries, the work of a portion of the capitalist bourgeoisie, as was recently said in some of the conservative newspapers of Milan (Corriere della sera and Idea liberale), when “the monarchy shall no longer serve the interests of the country,” that is to say of the class in power.

The evolution from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy and to republicanism is an obvious historical law; in the present phase of civilization the only difference between the two latter is in the elective or hereditary character of the head of the State. In the various countries of Europe, the bourgeoisie themselves Hill demand the transition from monarchy to republicanism, in order to put off as long as possible the triumph of socialism. In Italy as in France, in England as in Spain, we see only too many republicans or “radicals” whose attitude with regard to social questions is more bourgeois and more conservative than that of the intelligent conservatives. At Montecitorio, for example, there is Imbriani whose opinions on religious and social matters are more conservative than those of M. di Rudini. Imbriani, whose personality is moreover very attractive, has never attacked the priests or monks – this man who attacks the entire universe and very often with good reason, although without much success on account of mistaken methods – and he was the only one to oppose even the consideration of a law proposed by the Député Ferrari, which increased the tax on estates inherited by collateral heirs!

Socialism then has no more interest in preaching republicanism than it has in preaching atheism. To each his role (or task), is the law of division of labor. The struggle for atheism is the business of science; the establishment of republicanism in the various countries of Europe has been and will be the work of the bourgeoisie themselves – whether they be conservative or radical. All this constitutes the historical progress toward socialism, and individuals are powerless to prevent or delay the succession of the phases of the moral, political and social evolution.


26. Darwin never made a declaration of atheism, but that was in fact his way of looking at the problem (“sa manière de voir.”).

While Haeckel, concerned solely with triumphing over the opposition, said at the Congress of Eisenach (1882) that Darwin was not an atheist, Büchner, on the contrary, published shortly afterward a letter which Darwin had written him, and in which he avowed that “since the age of forty years, his scientific studies had led him to atheism.”

(See also, “Charles Darwin and Karl Marx: A Comparison,” by Ed. Aveling. Published by the Twentieth Century Press, London. – Translator.)

In the same way, John Stuart Mill never declared himself a Socialist, but that, nevertheless, in opinion he was one, is made evident by his autobiography and his posthumous fragments on Socialism. (See “The Socialism of John Stuart Mill.” Humboldt Pub. Co., New York. – Tr.)

27. ARDIGÒ, La Formazione naturale, Vol. II. of his Opere filologiche, and Vol. VI., La Ragione, Padone, 1894.

28. Guyau, L'Irréligion de l'avenir. Paris. 1887.

29. The dominant factor, nevertheless, in religious beliefs, is the hereditary or traditional sentimental factor; this it is which always renders them respectable when they are professed in good faith, and often makes them even appeal to our sympathies, – and this is precisely because of the ingenuous or refined sensibility of the persons in whom religious faith is the most vital and sincere.

30. NITTI, Le Socialisme catholique, Paris, 1894, p. 27 and 393.

31. Its usual form in America. – Translator.

32. Nuova Rassegna, August, 1894.

33. SERGI, L'origine dei fenomeni psichici e loro significazione biologica, Milan, 1885, p. 334, et seq.

34. DURKHEIM, De la division du travail social. Paris. 1893. As regards the pretended influence of religion on personal morality I have shown how very slight a foundation there was for this opinion in my studies on criminal psychology, and more particularly in Omicidio nell’ antropologia criminale.