Socialism and Modern Science Enrico Ferri 1900



One of the strangest facts in the history of the scientific thought of the nineteenth century is that, though the profound scientific revolution caused by Darwinism and Spencerian evolution has reinvigorated with new youth all the physical, biological and even psychological sciences, when it reached the domain of the social sciences, it only superficially rippled the tranquil and orthodox surface of the lake of that social science par excellence, political economy.

It has led, it is true, through the initiative of Auguste Comte – whose name has been somewhat obscured by those of Darwin and Spencer, but who was certainly one of the greatest and most prolific geniuses of our age – to the creation of a new science, Sociology, which should be, together with the natural history of human societies, the crowning glory of the new scientific edifice erected by the experimental method.

I do not deny that sociology, in the department of purely descriptive anatomy of the social organism, has made great and fruitful new contributions to contemporary science, even developing into some specialized branches of sociology, of which criminal sociology, thanks to the labors of the Italian school, has become one of the most important results.

But when the politico-social question is entered upon, the new science of sociology is overpowered by a sort of hypnotic sleep and remains suspended in a sterile, colorless limbo, thus permitting sociologists to be in public economy, as in politics, conservatives or radicals, in accordance with their respective whims or subjective tendencies.

And while Darwinian biology, by the scientific determination of the relations between the individual and the species, and evolutionist sociology itself by describing in human society the organs and the functions of a new organism, was making the individual a cell in the animal organism, Herbert Spencer was loudly proclaiming his English individualism extending to the most absolute theoretical anarchism.

A period of stagnation was inevitable in the scientific productive activity of sociology, after the first original observations in descriptive social anatomy and in the natural history of human societies. Sociology represented thus a sort of arrested development in experimental scientific thought, because those who cultivated it, wittingly or unwittingly, recoiled before the logical and radical conclusions that the modern scientific revolution was destined to establish in the social domain – the most important domain of all if science was to become the handmaid of life, instead of contenting itself with that barren formula, science for the sake of science.

The secret of this strange phenomenon consists not only in the fact that, as Malagodi said,[77] sociology is still in the period of scientific analysis and not yet in that of synthesis, but especially in the fact that the logical consequences of Darwinism and of scientific evolutionism applied to the study of human society lead inexorably to socialism, as I have demonstrated in the foregoing pages.


77. MALAGODI, Il Socialismo e la scienza. In Critica Sociale, Aug. 1, 1892.