Lester Frank Ward

Lester Frank Ward was an American botanist, paleontologist and sociologist.


In many respects the botanist looks at the world from a point of view precisely the reverse of that of other people. Rich fields of corn are to him waste lands; cities are his abhorrence, and great open areas under high cultivation he calls 'poor country'; while on the other hand the impenetrable forest delights his gaze, the rocky cliff charms him, thin-soiled barrens, boggy fens, and unreclaimable swamps and morasses are for him the finest land in a State. He takes no delight in the 'march of civilization,' the ax and the plow are to him symbols of barbarism, and the reclaiming of waste lands and opening up of his favorite haunts to civilization he instinctively denounces as acts of vandalism.

Every implement or utensil, every mechanical device...is a triumph of mind over the physical forces of nature in ceaseless and aimless competition. All human institutions—religion, government, law, marriage, custom—together with innumerable other modes of regulating social, industrial and commercial life are, broadly viewed, only so many ways of meeting and checkmating the principle of competition as it manifests itself in society.

Thus far, social progress has in a certain awkward manner taken care of itself, but in the near future it will have to be cared for. To do this, and maintain the dynamic condition against all the hostile forces which thicken with every new advance, is the real problem of sociology considered as an applied science

To overcome [the] manifold hindrances to human progress, to check this enormous waste of resources, to calm these rhythmic billows of hyper-action and reaction, to secure the rational adaptation of means to remote ends, to prevent the natural forces from clashing with the human feelings, to make the current of physical phenomena flow in the channels of human advantage - these are some of the tasks which belong to the great art which forms the final or active department of the science of society - this, in brief, is DYNAMIC SOCIOLOGY. “Voir pour prévoir";(1*) "prévoyance, d'où action,"(2*) i.e., predict in order to control, such is the logical history and process of all science; and, if sociology is a science, such must be its destiny and its legitimate function.

Again, society desires most the education of those most needing to be educated. From an economical point of view, an uneducated class is an expensive class. It is from it that most criminals, drones, and paupers come. From it—and this is still more important—no progressive actions ever flow. Therefore, society is most anxious that this class, which would never educate itself, should be educated...The secret of the superiority of state over private education lies in the fact that in the former the teacher is responsible to society ... [T]he result desired by the state is a wholly different one from that desired by parents, guardians, and pupils.

And now, mark : The charge of paternalism is chiefly made by the class that enjoys the largest share of government protection. Those who denounce state interference are the ones who most frequently and successfully invoke it. The cry of laissez faire mainly goes up from the ones who, if really "let alone," would instantly lose their wealth-absorbing power.... Nothing is more obvious to-day than the signal inability of capital and private enterprise to take care of themselves unaided by the state; and while they are incessantly denouncing "paternalism," by which they mean the claim of the defenceless laborer and artisan to a share in this lavish state protection, they are all the while besieging legislatures for relief from their own incompetency, and "pleading the baby act" through a trained body of lawyers and lobbyists. The dispensing of national pap to this class should rather be called "maternalism," to which a square, open, and dignified paternalism would be infinitely preferable.

When a well-clothed philosopher on a bitter winter’s night sits in a warm room well lighted for his purpose and writes on paper with pen and ink in the arbitrary characters of a highly developed language the statement that civilisation is the result of natural laws, and that man’s duty is to let nature alone so that untrammeled it may work out a higher civilisation, he simply ignores every circumstance of his existence and deliberately closes his eyes to every fact within the range of his faculties. If man had acted upon his theory there would have been no civilisation, and our philosopher would have remained a troglodyte.

Quotes about Lester WardEdit

In perspicacity, intellectual acumen, and imagination, he [Lester Ward] was the equal of Henry Adams or Thorstein Velben or Louis Sullivan, but he was better rounded and more constructive than these major critics. In the rugged vigor of his mind, the richness of his learning, the originality of his insights, the breath of his conceptions, he takes place alongside William James, John Dewey and Oliver Wendell Holmes as one of the creative spirits of Twentieth-century America. –Henry Steele Commager