Socialism and Modern Science Enrico Ferri 1900


It can also be shown that scientific socialism proceeds directly from Darwinism by an examination of the different modes of conceiving of the individual in relation to the species.

The eighteenth century closed with the exclusive glorification of the individual, of the man – as an entity in himself. In the works of Rousseau this was only a beneficent, though exaggerated re-action against the political and sacerdotal tyranny of the Middle Ages.

This individualism led directly to that artificiality in politics, which I will consider a little further on in studying the relations between the theory of evolution and socialism, and which is common to the ruling classes under the bourgeois regime and to the individualistic anarchists, – since both alike imagine that the social organization can be changed in a day by the magical effect of a bomb, – more or less murderous.

Modern biology has radically changed this conception of the individual and it has demonstrated, in the domain of biology as in that of sociology, that the individual is himself only an aggregation of more simple living elements, and likewise that the individual in himself, the Selbstwesen of the Germans, does not exist in independent isolation, but only as a member of a society (Gliedwesen).

Every living object is an association, a collectivity.

The monad itself, the living cell, the irreducible expression of biological individuality, is also an aggregate of various parts (nucleus, nucléole, protoplasm), and each one of them in its turn is an aggregate of molecules which are aggregates of atoms.

The atom does not exist alone, as an individual; the atom is invisible and impalpable and it does not live.

And the complexity of the aggregation, the federation of the parts constantly increases with the ascent in the zoological series from protozoa to Man.

Unifying, Jacobin artificiality corresponds to the metaphysics of individualism, just as the conception of national and international federalism corresponds to the scientific character of modern socialism.

The organism of a mammal is simply a federation of tissues, organs and anatomical machinery; the organism of a society can consist of nothing but a federation of communes, provinces and regions; the organism of humanity can be nothing but a federation of nations.

If it is absurd to conceive of a mammal whose head should have to move in the same fashion as the extremities and all of whose extremities would have to perform the same motions simultaneously, there is no less absurdity in a political and administrative organization in which the extreme northern province or the mountainous province, for instance, have to have the same bureaucratic machinery, the same body of laws, the same methods, etc., as the extreme southern province or the province made up of plains, solely through the passion for symmetrical uniformity, that pathological expression of unity.

If we disregard those considerations of a political order which make it possible to conclude, as I have done elsewhere,[35] that the only possible organization for Italy, as for every other country, appeared to me to be that of an administrative federalism combined with political unity, we can regard it as manifest, that at the close of the nineteenth century the individual, as an independent entity, is dethroned alike in biology and sociology.

The individual exists, but only in so far as he forms a part of a social aggregate.

Robinson Crusoe – that perfect type of individualism – can not possibly be aught but a legend or a pathological specimen.

The species – that is to say, the social aggregate – is the great, the living and eternal reality of life, as has been demonstrated by Darwinism and confirmed by all the inductive sciences from astronomy to sociology.

At the close of the eighteenth century Rousseau thought that the individual alone existed, and that society was an artificial product of the “social contract” and, as he attributed (just as Aristotle had done in the case of slavery) a permanent human character to the transitory manifestations of the period, such as the rottenness of the regime under which he lived, he further thought that Society was the cause of all evils, and that individuals are all born good and equal. At the end of the nineteenth century, on the contrary, all the inductive sciences agree in recognizing that society, the social aggregate, is a fact of Nature, inseparable from life, in the vegetable species as in the animal species, from the lowest “animal colonies” of zoophytes up to societies of mammals (herbivora), and to human society.[36]

All that is best in the individual, he owes to the social life, although every phase of evolution is marked at its decline by pathological conditions of social decay – essentially transitory, however – which inevitably precede a new cycle of social renovation.

The individual, as such, if he could live, would fulfill only one of the two fundamental requirements (needs) of existence: alimentation – that is to say, the selfish preservation of his own organism, by means of that primordial and fundamental function, which Aristotle designated by the name of ctesi – the conquest of food.

But all individuals have to live in society because a second fundamental requirement of life imposes itself upon the individual, viz., the reproduction of beings like himself for the preservation of the species. It is this life of relationship and reproduction (sexual and social) which gives birth to the moral or social sense, which enables the individual not only to be, but to co-exist with his fellows.

It may be said that these two fundamental instincts of life – bread and love – by their functioning maintain a social equilibrium in the life of animals, and especially in Man.

It is love which causes, in the great majority of men, the principal physiological and psychical expenditure of the forces accumulated in larger or smaller quantities by the consumption of daily bread, and which the daily labor has not absorbed or which parasitic inaction has left intact.

Even more – love is the only pleasure which truly has a universal and equalitarian character. The people have named it “the paradise of the poor;” and religions have always bidden them to enjoy it without limits – “be fruitful and multiply” – because the erotic exhaustion which results from it, especially in males, diminishes or hides beneath the pall of forgetfulness the tortures of hunger and servile labor, and permanently enervates the energy of the individual; and to this extent it performs a function useful to the ruling class.

But indissolubly linked to this effect of the sexual instinct there is an other, the increase of the population. Hence it happens that the desire to eternize a given social order is thwarted and defeated by the pressure of this population which in our epoch assumes the characteristic form of the proletariat, – and the social evolution continues its inexorable and inevitable forward march.

It follows from our discussion that while at the end of the eighteenth century it was thought that Society was made for the individual – and from that the deduction could be made that millions of individuals could and ought to toil and suffer for the exclusive advantage of a few individuals – at the end of our century the inductive sciences have demonstrated, just the opposite, that it is the individual who lives for the species and that the latter is the only eternal reality of life.

There we have the starting-point of the sociological or socialist tendency of modern scientific thought in the face of the exaggerated individualism inherited from the last century.

Modern biology also demonstrates that it is necessary to avoid the opposite excess – into which certain schools of utopian socialism and of communism fall – the excess of regarding only the interests of Society and altogether neglecting the individual. Another biological law shows us, in fact, that the existence of the aggregation is the resultant of the life of all the individuals, just as the existence of an individual is the resultant of the life of its constituent cells.

We have demonstrated that the socialism which characterizes the end of the nineteenth century and which will illumine the dawn of the coming century is in perfect harmony with the entire current of modern thought. This harmony manifests itself even on the fundamental question of the predominance given to the vital necessity of collective or social solidarity over the dogmatic exaggerations of individualism, and if the latter at the close of the last century was the outward sign of a potent and fruitful awakening, it inevitably leads, through the pathological manifestations of unbridled competition, to the “libertarian” explosions of anarchism which preaches “individual action,” and which is entirely oblivious of human and social solidarity.

We now come to the last point of contact and essential oneness that there is between Darwinism and socialism.


35. Sociologie criminelle, French trans., Paris, 1892.

36. I cannot consider here the recent attempt at eclecticism made by M. Fouillée and others. M. Fouillée wishes to oppose, or at least to add, to the naturalistic conception of society the consensual or contractual conception. Evidently, since no theory is absolutely false, there is even in this consensual theory a share of truth, and the liberty of emigration may be an instance of it – as long as this liberty is compatible with the economic interests of the class in power. But, obviously, this consent, which does not exist at the birth of each individual into such or such a society (and this fact of birth is the most decisive and tyrannical factor in life) also has very little to do with the development of his aptitudes and tendencies, dominated as they are by the iron law of the economic and political organization in which he is an atom.