This section is from the book "Principles Of Sociology With Educational Applications", by Frederick R. Clow. Also available from Amazon: Principles of sociology with educational applications.
Telic progress, as the name implies, depends altogether upon that faculty of the mind which enables man to pursue ends which it foresees and judges to be advantageous. . . .
On any "social organism" theory government must be regarded as the brain or organ of consciousness of society, and the small amount of "brains" shown by government is simply in confirmation of the conclusion . . . that society represents an organism of low degree. . . .
. . . Only when spurred on by the most intense egoistic impulses have nations exhibited any marked indications of the telic power. This has developed in proportion to the extent to which the national will has coincided with the will of some influential individual. Great generals in war, inspired by personal ambition, have often expressed the social will of their own country by brilliant feats of strategy and generalship, and famous statesmen like Richelieu have represented a whole nation by strokes of diplomacy that called out the same class of talents in a high degree. Even monarchs like Peter the Great, Frederick the Great, and Charles XII, not to mention Caesar and Alexander, have made their own genius in a sense the genius of their country. . . .
The examples given . . . are merely instances of the usurpation of the powers of society by individual members. On the other hand, the tendencies in the direction of democratic government do mark progress in social integration, however feeble may be the telic power displayed. . . . - Ward, Outlines of Sociology, pp. 237, 268, 269, 276, 279.
The general will is like the giant forces of nature. It is diffused and intangible, elusive and hidden. It lets men play with it, and seemingly defy it; but when they have defied too far, it kills like the lightning and wrecks like the tempest.
. . . Through ages of slow progress the general will has created social order. It will maintain civilization; it will broaden opportunity; it will establish justice. Not many men will understand it, but every man will heed it. Every man will learn to work with it and through it for the achievement of general human ends, or he will be broken and thrown to the scrap heap by it. - The Independent, Vol. 74, p. 124, editorial.
Natural selection comes through nature's laws; telic selection comes only through conscious choice. Natural selection goes on all the time whether or not there be any public will or social organization of any kind. The difference between natural selection and telic selection will become evident if we compare them with respect to three qualities: directness, economy, and extent of progress made, (a) Natural selection wanders in every possible direction, like the channel of the Mississippi River; telic selection goes directly to a goal, like the channel of a canal. (b) Natural selection, therefore, is wasteful; it produces a million seeds that one may have a chance to grow. Telic selection, on the other hand, is economical; if it is to plant a field, it brings as much seed as is necessary, and very little more, (c) Natural selection selects according to fitness to survive in the natural environment; a high development in any one quality is not likely to be attained because of the many conditions in the environment which have to be met; hogs that run wild must be slab-sided and long-legged in order that they may escape enemies. Telic selection attains a high degree of perfection by making an artificial environment which is favorable to it.
But social telesis does more than select from the varieties of organization which happen to be at hand; it invents new ones to meet its needs, just as the breeder of plants by artificial pollination develops varieties of plants which would never have come into existence by chance variation. This chapter, therefore, should be contrasted with the two preceding, and not alone with the last. Telic progress is to be distinguished from progress by evolution.
So far there is not the slightest evidence to warrant the belief in continuous, automatic, inevitable progress; still less the belief that it is a blessing conferred by some mysterious Power from without. Progress is rare, evolution and change universal . . . Balfour says, and rightly, progressive civilization "is no form of indestructible energy which, if repressed here must needs break out there, if refused embodiment in one shape must needs show itself in another. It is a plant of tender habit, difficult to propagate, not difficult to destroy, that refuses to flourish except in a soil which is not to be found everywhere nor at all times, nor even, so far as we can see, necessarily to be found at all."
. . . Science, philosophy, history and common sense unite in testifying that progress is not a free gift of the gods but something to be earned by clear vision and hard work; that is, a human contingency based upon human effort, foresight, and constructive utilization of human powers. - Todd, Theories of Social Progress, pp. 103-105.