The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, 1939
The Relation of Science to Politics
The Relation of Science to Politics
Science... to the average man this is a term signifying the cause of a number of evils which have befallen him. From the book "Britain," by Mass Observation, we obtain an insight into the reasons why such prejudices have been built up against science and scientists. When asked what he thought about science, the average man's answer was one of this nature—"What with them scientists and Mussolini and Hitler, the world'll be in a bloody mess soon, that's what I think." The statement gives a clear indication that science must be shown to the people in a better light, so that ultimately the whole of humanity will be able to reap the benefits of scientific research. It appears that the average man looks at science from an economic angle. He sees it as a means to an end; that is, as a method whereby certain individuals are using it for purposes of their own gain, a method whereby a few are reaping the benefits at the expense of the majority. This attitude is a result of the present economic system. The capitalistic state was necessary for the birth of our modern science and also for its growth, but now capitalism is beginning to use the results of scientific investigation to suit its own ends—for the benefit of the few. From this we are forced to the conclusion that in order that science can be used to benefit humanity as a whole, capitalism in its present form must go.
In the past it has been considered that science should remain neutral, that it should be placed on a plane apart from politics, but now it is realised that this neutrality must be in the nature of a compromise. Science cannot remain neutral when the political designs of individuals are such that they restrict its expansion and the freedom of thought which must necessarily be part of the .furthering of scientific interests. The spirit of free inquiry, which is essentially the basis of all science, must not be hampered in any way, otherwise its further investigation will prove fruitless. The ideal of science is international and it must not be used as a means to satisfy the material appetites of individual nations. Looking back over the period of years between the Renaissance and the present day, we begin to realise that the growth and expansion of science is necessary for the very existence of our civilisation. States where restrictions are imposed tend to drop back into a form of barbarism. Let us review Fascist Germany as a typical state where science has been permitted to develop only along certain prescribed lines. What is the attitude of those young Germans who will, some day, be the rulers of Germany? They appear to be intoxicated with the idea of the glorification of war, their intellectual discussions are restricted to those views which are held by the Fuehrer, no free thought can be considered because it may be detrimental to the purity of the Aryan race; science finally is being used merely as a means to build up a vast war machine greater than any the world has seen. What will be the outcome of the building of such a state? Such a state must be, economically and politically, unstable. The arms are being placed in the hands of those people who, because of the privations and restrictions which they suffer, must ultimately bring about the collapse of the dictatorship. We hope it will be by this means that the struggle between the Fascist powers and the democracies will be settled.
But what of science in the democratic states? The present tendency is for it to be used in much the same way as it is being used in Germany. In the democratic states, science must not only be let free, but fostered. Then the economical and material development of these countries will be such that, should the clash between the democratic and dictatorial powers come, the victory for the democratic powers will be overwhelming, due to their great excess of wealth and material, and their happier and healthier people. The chief factors which are hindering the true development of science in the democratic states are capitalism, in its present form, and the church. The reason why capitalism is proving to be a stumbling-blockpage break page 41
for the further expansion of science has already been given, namely that science at present is being exploited as a means to benefit the few, whereas its results should be used for gain for the people as a whole. Modern church discipline and organisation are based on formulae and superstitutions that are centuries old. The church considers scientific progress and method inimical to its continued unchanged existence, therefore it steadily opposes the science which tends to expose its foundations of fable and mysticism, the theories which will ultimately be of benefit, socially and materially, to the community. This opposition is usually based on some religious pretext which in reality has no bearing on the case. And this attitude of the church must be changed, otherwise science will never be able to give full range to its powers of increasing the well-being of those people who are most vitally concerned.
In future the scientist must become a politician, but he can never become a party politician. He will see the economic, social and political situation as a problem which must be solved, and not as a means to his own ends or those of his political backers. He must be conscious of the relation of his science to society, otherwise his gifts to humanity will probably prove fruitless.
All true scientists realise the cruelty and utter futility of war, and all problems of an international nature will be solved by the application of those scientific methods which have been proved to be practicable. Here it may be argued that the use of weapons of war in such a situation are the application of scientific method, but it must be realised that science, in its true sense, is to be used entirely for the well-being of the world as a whole and is used as a destructive force only for the eradication of some social evil, such as disease.
We all must realise that the integrated, scientific world organisation is coming. Such a state cannot be reached overnight, because, as we look back over the last few hundred years, we see that science has not progressed very far as yet. We must wait many years before this form of Utopia will be attained. Nevertheless, this realisation must not deter us from working towards that goal. We must seek, test, apply or reject methods which will affect, socially, economically, and politically, the well-being of our community—the community being not the people of New Zealand, not the people of Great Britain, not the people of Germany, but the people of the world.