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ART. 1.-UNSECTARIANISM AND SCIENTIFIC
First Principles. By HERBERT SPENCER. London. 1862.
F.R.S. London. 1871.
TYNDALL, LL.D., F.R.S. London. 1871.
LTHOUGH the portentous catastrophes which at intervals
befall nations, as well as their gradual disintegration and decay are always predominantly, as well as ultimately, due to moral evil, it is none the less certain that intellectual defects often exercise a powerful influence in intensifying the former and in accelerating the latter. This is especially the case when such defects occasion a wide-spread popular misapprehension of terms and epithets, parts of the meanings of which strongly appeal to most powerful social instincts.
The results of such misapprehension (fatal miscarriages of philanthropic effort) form some of the most depressing and disappointing phenomena which mark critical epochs in the evolution of the political and social condition of the civilized world.
In spite of the gross immorality and the profound irreligion which dominated that movement of the North German mind, misnamed the Reformation, it cannot be doubted but that ignorant well-intentioned zeal contributed to its advance. Ignorance of the essentially Papal character of the Christian Church, and want of appreciation of the deadly nature of Erastianism,were necessary precursors of that miserable Lutheran heresy, the moral consequences of which its wretched author was one of the first to deplore, while politically it resulted in that thirty years of war the devastating and disintegrating effects of
VOL. XIX.--N0. XXXVII. [New Series.]
which, on Germany, only ended through the sharp cautery of the Napoleonio invasions, if even through that.
The most notable example which the world has ever produced of social and political disappointment of the kind above referred to, is, perhaps, that great political and social transformation the French Revolution.
in spite of wide-spread moral corruption, and the ravages of Voltairean unbelief, never perhaps was a people more moved by aspirations after social regeneration or philanthropic action, more eager and energetic, than in the France of that period.
The privileged classes, on the memorable 4th of August, 1789, divested themselves of their time-honoured distinctions with an eagerness of which it is impossible not to admire the generosity, while lamenting the precipitancy and imprudence. From the unhappy king downwards, a strong desire prevailed that henceforth the nation, having secured freedom for all, should march forward in peaceful “progression," guided by the light of an "emancipated reason." Yet the result of all
” these well-meaning efforts was that unprecedented series of horrors, the faint reproduction of part of which appalled us in the past year. In the name of "liberty” the first conditions of freedom were made impossible for at least three generations—as the event has shown.
The deeply-seated canses of political crises generally escape detection by contemporaries. In the latter part of the 18th century the promoters of the movement as little dreamed of the true nature of their labour, as did the democratic tyrants of its culmination imagine that they were not destroying, but rather intensifying, the evils of the ancien régime itself. With passionate invocations of liberty the last feeble barriers against utter despotism were levelled to the ground, and the germinating seeds of freedom still left in the provincial assemblies were torn up in the interest of a bureaucracy yet more central. ized than that which existed under the Bourbon kings.
For a calm and judicial investigation of the causes of such a miscarriage of effort, society is (as now is generally admitted) pre-eminently indebted to the labours of Alexis de Tocqueville. In his work on the ancien régime he has most conclusively demonstrated how fatal to real reform, and to the social amelioration so much desired, were the destruction of the nobility and the confiscation of all ecclesiastical landed property ; to say nothing of that violent warfare against all religion, resulting in a moral degeneracy, the fatal effects of which France is even now reaping; and but too probably has still to reap.
“Du dix-huitième siècle et de la Révolution, comme d'une source commune, étaient sortis deux fleuves; le premier con
duisait les hommes aux institutions libres, tandis que le second les menait au pouvoir absolu.” At its close: “Les. Français se trouvèrent plus loin de la liberté qu'ils ne l'avaient été à aucune époque de l'histoire.” *
These memorable results were in no slight degree due to widespread misapprehensions as to the true meaning of the phrases adopted as the favourite Shibboleths of the period. In this way the unlimited despotism of the dominant party came to be taken as synonymous with “ freedom,” the degradation of all superiority as "equality before the law,” the brutalities of a profane mob as “religious liberty.” Freedom, legal equity, and the liberty of religion-worthy objects of aspiration indeed—thus, through confusion of thought and expression, lent their powerful aid (as stimuli to generous emotion) to the perpetration of acts directly opposed to the real objects which those emotions favoured. Had it been possible to make the leaders
the leaders of the movement, or the mass of the nation, apprehend clearly the true signification of their favourite watchwords, the results would probably have been widely different. Unhappily that great nation-claiming to be yet at the head of the world's civilization—still suffers from the poison of that fatal period ; and its further decay and corruption are certain, unless it possesses sufficient recuperative energy (sufficient moral force and religious faith) to expel at last the virus.
Hardly anything can be more important to a nation, in a period pregnant with social or political changes, than that it should clearly apprehend the real objects aimed at; for misapprehension may so pervert the action of generous emotions as to cause it to miscarry, and produce results the very opposite to those originally intended.
After a long period of comparative tranquillity, or of changes which have been almost exclusively political, signs are not wanting to warn us that we ourselves are entering upon an epoch of active social transformation.
In England, at the present moment, we find ardent aspirations and efforts in favour of the elevation and improvement of the lower classes, a wider distribution of comfort and happiness, and an equitable adjustment of public burthens. Social changes may easily produce consequences greater than any resulting from merely political transformations. The latter modify, indeed, the structure of the political fabric, but the former may
Speech of M. de Tocqueville in the Chanuber of Deputies, 28th May, 1840.
directly affect the source of energy itself, or even the very coherence of its particles.
Warned then by the past and instructed by the example of France, it becomes not only desirable, but necessary, carefully to avoid fatal misunderstandings, so that no verbal ambiguities may induce destruction where the real aim was to edify.
The estimable aspirations of our philanthropists have chiefly manifested themselves in two sets of actions. One of these has consisted of endeavours to promote the greater welfare of the masses by exhortations and publications, and by material means, such as the erection of baths and wash houses, model lodging-houses, &c. The other set (which, of late, may be said to have become the movement of the day) has been made up of measures and proceedings intended to diffuse and improve popular education. In a word, the objects aimed at by the present movement are (in the ideas and intentions of very many) nothing less high than the promotion of "truth” and “ godliness” as included and implied in the “amelioration of the conditions of life.”
It becomes, then, supremely important for the influential masses of our fellow-countrymen to ascertain accurately what is and what should be meant by “amelioration," and what is and should be meant by “education.”
The prevailing direction of intellectual effort at any one period cannot but modify its various aims and modes of action. The external manifestation of sanctity by a S. Bernard at the epoch of the Crusades, and that exhibited by a S. Francis of Sales at the period of the renaissance, are as diverse as might be expected from the intellectual contrast between the two centuries.
Moreover, if the results of such efforts are both dazzling as to their success, and unquestionable as to their utility, the influence must be greatly intensified. No wonder then that at the present day, conceptions as to "amelioration” and “education” are deeply coloured by the influence of the physical sciences, the wonderful progress of which during the last two centuries is the commonplace of our popular literature. We might expect à priori that physical welfare and physical truth would enter largely-often almost exclusively-into contemporary conceptions of those objects, deemed the most worthy of pursuit, as tending directly to promote "truth” and “wellbeing.”
Side by side with this physical aspect of contemporary teaching we yet find in England that there is now an increasing tendency to idealism in philosophy, which, if it only continues and augments, will (in spite of its errors and dangers), to a certain extent, modify the one-sided effects of physical predomi. pance, and will so far do good, as it forces upon general recognition the fact that there is science which is not physical, and that, to say the least, it is to this non-physical science that precedence must be yielded even by the professors of physical science themselves. This is largely exemplified by the more recent teaching of Professor Huxley, as also by that of Mr. Herbert Spencer, Professor Tyndall, and Dr. Bence Jones.
Nevertheless, this idealism is as yet far from popular and widespread, aud, in view of the rapid march of events, no time should be lost in forcing on the attention of the middle class in this country the great importance of forming a correct estimate of what share physical science can justly claim in social amelioration and education, lest by its hypertrophy a corresponding atrophy of other knowledge and of other yet more important well-being than the merely physical, should ensue.
Now it is undeniable that we not seldom meet with certain ambiguous popular phrases which are intended to express such aspirations as have been spoken of above, after "goodness” and “truth."
Thus there is a strong desire that education should be more “scientific,” and as much as possible “unsectarian." The amelioration of the masses is to be accomplished by increasing their "welfare,” aided by the promotion of "morality” not based on “theological dogmas," while, above all, those persons and those measures are to be encouraged which are found ticketed with the euphemistic title “liberal.”
On the other hand, it is not expressly denied that a nation is in some sense an organic whole--not a mere herd of individuals. It is not denied that the merely animal wants of men are unfitted to be the highest object of desire for each, nor that the lowest mental processes are not the most deserving of cultivation. Again, it is not expressly denied that to act under a strong sense of God's supervision, and in accordance with what is believed to be His wil, is the supreme duty, and, moreover, calculated to serve the highest interest of each citizen and of the entire nation.
Nevertheless we are convinced, and think we can make it plain, that the logical result of much popular teaching and the utterances of more than one popular leader of high standing and deserved eminence in certain fields, tend inevitably to reduce the nation to a herd, or rather chaos, of self-seeking units ; tend to discourage self-denial, and to make willing subordination seem a Quixotic imbecility ; tend to deprive moral aspiration at one and the same time of its highest aim and its highest sanction; tend to make men regard the gratification of their animal