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Title: On Compromise
Author: Morley, John, 1838-1923
Language: English
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  _'It makes all the difference in the world whether we put
  Truth in the first place or in the second place.'_








_This Edition first printed 1886_


The writer has availed himself of the opportunity of a new edition to
add three or four additional illustrations in the footnotes. The
criticisms on the first edition call for no remark, excepting this,
perhaps, that the present little volume has no pretensions to be
anything more than an Essay. To judge such it performance as if it
professed to be an exhaustive Treatise in casuistry, is to subject it to
tests which it was never designed to bear. Merely to open questions, to
indicate points, to suggest cases, to sketch outlines,--as an Essay does
all these things,--may often be a process not without its own modest
usefulness and interest.

_May 4, 1877._



  Design of this Essay
  The question stated
  Suggested by some existing tendencies in England
  Comparison with other countries
  Test of this comparison
  The absent quality specifically defined
  History and decay of some recent aspirations
  Characteristics of one present mood
  Analysis of its causes
    (1) Influence of French examples
    (2) Influence of the Historic Method
    (3) Influence of the Newspaper Press
    (4) Increase of material prosperity
    (5) Transformation of the spiritual basis of thought
    (6) Influence of a State Church


  Questions of a dual doctrine lies at the outset of our inquiry
  This doctrine formulated
  Marks the triumph of _status quo_
  Psychological vindication of such a doctrine
  Answered by assertion of the dogmatic character of popular belief
  And the pernicious social influence of its priests
  The root idea of the defenders of a dual doctrine
  Thesis of the present chapter, against that idea
  Examination of some of the pleas for error
      I. That a false opinion may be clothed with good associations
     II. That all minds are not open to reason
    III. That a false opinion, considered in relation to the general
         mental attitude, may be less hurtful than its premature
     IV. That mere negative truth is not a guide
      V. That error has been a stepping-stone to truth
  We cannot tell how much truth has been missed
  Inevitableness is not utility


  The modern _disciplina arcani_
  Hume's immoral advice
  Evil intellectual effects of immoral compromise
  Depravation that follows its grosser forms
  The three provinces of compromise
  Radical importance of their separation
  Effects of their confusion in practical politics
  Economy or management in the Formation of opinion
  Its lawfulness turns on the claims of majority and minority over one
  Thesis of the present chapter
  Its importance, owing to the supremacy of the political spirit in
  Effects of the predominance of this spirit
  Contrasted with epochs of intellectual responsibility
  A modern movement against the political spirit
  An objection considered
  Importance to character of rationalised conviction, and of ideals
  The absence of them attenuates conduct
  Illustrations in modern politics
  Modern latitudinarianism
  Illustration in two supreme issues
  Pascal's remarks upon a state of Doubt
  Dr. Newman on the same
  Three ways of dealing with the issues
  Another illustration of intellectual improbity
  The Savoyard Vicar
  Mischievousness of substituting spiritual self-indulgence for reason


  Compromise in Expression
  Touches religion rather than politics
  Hume on non-resistance
  Reason why rights of free speech do not exactly coincide with rights of
    free thought
  Digression into the matter of free speech
  Dissent no longer railing and vituperative
  Tendency of modern free thought to assimilate some elements from the
    old faith
  A wide breach still remains
  Heresy, however, no longer traced to depravity
  Tolerance not necessarily acquiescence in scepticism
  Object of the foregoing digression
  The rarity of plain-speaking a reason why it is painful
  Conformity in the relationship between child and parent
  Between husband and wife
  In the education of children
  The case of an unbelieving priest
  The case of one who fears to lose his influence
  Conformity not harmless nor unimportant


  The application of opinion to conduct
  Tempering considerations
  Not to be pressed too far
  Our action in realising our opinions depends on our social theory
  Legitimate and illegitimate compromise in view of that
  The distinction equally sound on the evolutional theory
  Condition of progressive change
  A plea for compromise examined
  A second plea
  The allegation of provisional usefulness examined
  Illustrated in religious institutions
  In political institutions
  Burke's commendation of political compromise
  The saying that small reforms may be the worst enemies of great ones
  In what sense true
  Illustration in the Elementary Education Act
  Wisdom of social patience
  The considerations which apply to political practice do not apply to
    our own lives
  Nor to the publication of social opinions
  The amount of conscience in a community
  Evil of attenuating this element
  Historic illustration
  New side of the discussion
  Is earnestness of conviction fatal to concession of liberty to others?
  Two propositions at the base of an affirmative answer
  Earnestness of conviction consistent with sense of liability to error
  Belief in one's own infallibility does not necessarily lead to
  The contrary notion due to juristic analogies in social discussion
  Connection between the doctrine of liberty and social evolution
  The timid compromisers superfluous apprehension
  Material limits to the effect of moral speculation
  Illustration from the history of Slavery
  Illustration from French history
  Practical influence of a faith in the self-protecting quality of a


  The Doctrine of Liberty




The design of the following essay is to consider, in a short and direct
way, some of the limits that are set by sound reason to the practice of
the various arts of accommodation, economy, management, conformity, or
compromise. The right of thinking freely and acting independently, of
using our minds without excessive awe of authority, and shaping our
lives without unquestioning obedience to custom, is now a finally
accepted principle in some sense or other with every school of thought
that has the smallest chance of commanding the future. Under what
circumstances does the exercise and vindication of the right, thus
conceded in theory, become a positive duty in practice? If the majority
are bound to tolerate dissent from the ruling opinions and beliefs,
under what conditions and within what limitations is the dissentient
imperatively bound to avail himself of this toleration? How far, and in
what way, ought respect either for immediate practical convenience, or
for current prejudices, to weigh against respect for truth? For how much
is it well that the individual should allow the feelings and convictions
of the many to count, when he comes to shape, to express, and to act
upon his own feelings and convictions? Are we only to be permitted to
defend general principles, on condition that we draw no practical
inferences from them? Is every other idea to yield precedence and empire
to existing circumstances, and is the immediate and universal
workableness of a policy to be the main test of its intrinsic fitness?

To attempt to answer all these questions fully would be nothing less
than to attempt a compendium of life and duty in all their details, a
Summa of cases of conscience, a guide to doubters at every point of the
compass. The aim of the present writer is a comparatively modest one;
namely, to seek one or two of the most general principles which ought
to regulate the practice of compliance, and to suggest some of the
bearings which they may have in their application to certain
difficulties in modern matters of conduct.

It is pretty plain that an inquiry of this kind needs to be fixed by
reference to a given set of social circumstances tolerably well
understood. There are some common rules as to the expediency of
compromise and conformity, but their application is a matter of endless
variety and the widest elasticity. The interesting and useful thing is
to find the relation of these too vague rules to actual conditions; to
transform them into practical guides and real interpreters of what is
right and best in thought and conduct, in a special and definite kind of
emergency. According to the current assumptions of the writer and the
preacher, the one commanding law is that men should cling to truth and
right, if the very heavens fall. In principle this is universally
accepted. To the partisans of authority and tradition it is as much a
commonplace as to the partisans of the most absolute and unflinching
rationalism. Yet in practice all schools alike are forced to admit the
necessity of a measure of accommodation in the very interests of truth
itself. Fanatic is a name of such ill repute, exactly because one who
deserves to be called by it injures good causes by refusing timely and
harmless concession; by irritating prejudices that a wiser way of urging
his own opinion might have turned aside; by making no allowances,
respecting no motives, and recognising none of those qualifying
principles, which are nothing less than necessary to make his own
principle true and fitting in a given society. The interesting question
in connection with compromise obviously turns upon the placing of the
boundary that divides wise suspense in forming opinions, wise reserve in
expressing them, and wise tardiness in trying to realise them, from
unavowed disingenuousness and self-illusion, from voluntary
dissimulation, and from indolence and pusillanimity. These are the three
departments or provinces of compromise. Our subject is a question of
boundaries.[1] And this question, being mainly one of time and
circumstance, may be most satisfactorily discussed in relation to the
time and the circumstances which we know best, or at least whose
deficiencies and requirements are most pressingly visible to us.

Though England counts her full share of fearless truth-seekers in most
departments of inquiry, yet there is on the whole no weakening, but a
rather marked confirmation, of what has become an inveterate national
characteristic, and has long been recognised as such; a profound
distrust, namely, of all general principles; a profound dislike both of
much reference to them, and of any disposition to invest them with
practical authority; and a silent but most pertinacious measurement of
philosophic truths by political tests. 'It is not at all easy, humanly
speaking,' says one who has tried the experiment, 'to wind an Englishman
up to the level of dogma.' The difficulty has extended further than the
dogma of theology. The supposed antagonism between expediency and
principle has been pressed further and further away from the little
piece of true meaning that it ever could be rightly allowed to have,
until it has now come to signify the paramount wisdom of counting the
narrow, immediate, and personal expediency for everything, and the
whole, general, ultimate, and completed expediency for nothing.
Principle is only another name for a proposition stating the terms of
one of these larger expediencies. When principle is held in contempt, or
banished to the far dreamland of the philosopher and the student, with
an affectation of reverence that in a materialist generation is in truth
the most overweening kind of contempt, this only means that men are
thinking much of the interests of to-day, and little of the more ample
interests of the many days to come. It means that the conditions of the
time are unfriendly to the penetration and the breadth of vision which
disclose to us the whole range of consequences that follow on certain
kinds of action or opinion, and unfriendly to the intrepidity and
disinterestedness which make us willing to sacrifice our own present
ease or near convenience, in the hope of securing higher advantages for
others or for ourselves in the future.

Let us take politics, for example. What is the state of the case with
us, if we look at national life in its broadest aspect? A German has his
dream of a great fatherland which shall not only be one and
consolidated, but shall in due season win freedom for itself, and be as
a sacred hearth whence others may borrow the warmth of freedom and order
for themselves. A Spaniard has his vision either of militant loyalty to
God and the saints and the exiled line of his kings, or else of devotion
to the newly won liberty and to the raising up of his fallen nation. An
American, in the midst of the political corruption which for the moment
obscures the great democratic experiment, yet has his imagination
kindled by the size and resources of his land, and his enthusiasm fired
by the high destinies which he believes to await its people in the
centuries to come. A Frenchman, republican or royalist, with all his
frenzies and 'fool-fury' of red or white, still has his hope and dream
and aspiration, with which to enlarge his life and lift him on an ample
pinion out from the circle of a poor egoism. What stirs the hope and
moves the aspiration of our Englishman? Surely nothing either in the
heavens above or on the earth beneath. The English are as a people
little susceptible in the region of the imagination. But they have done
good work in the world, acquired a splendid historic tradition of stout
combat for good causes, founded a mighty and beneficent empire; and
they have done all this notwithstanding their deficiencies of
imagination. Their lands have been the home of great and forlorn causes,
though they could not always follow the transcendental flights of their
foreign allies and champions. If Englishmen were not strong in
imagination, they were what is better and surer, strong in their hold of
the great emancipating principles. What great political cause, her own
or another's, is England befriending to-day? To say that no great cause
is left, is to tell us that we have reached the final stage of human
progress, and turned over the last leaf in the volume of human
improvements. The day when this is said and believed marks the end of a
nation's life. Is it possible that, after all, our old protestant
spirit, with its rationality, its austerity, its steady political
energy, has been struck with something of the mortal fatigue that seizes
catholic societies after their fits of revolution?

We need not forget either the atrocities or the imbecilities which mark
the course of modern politics on the Continent. I am as keenly alive as
any one to the levity of France, and the [Greek: hubris] of Germany. It
may be true that the ordinary Frenchman is in some respects the victim
of as poor an egoism as that of the ordinary Englishman; and that the
American has no advantage over us in certain kinds of magnanimous
sentiment. What is important is the mind and attitude, not of the
ordinary man, but of those who should be extraordinary. The decisive
sign of the elevation of a nation's life is to be sought among those who
lead or ought to lead. The test of the health of a people is to be found
in the utterances of those who are its spokesmen, and in the action of
those whom it accepts or chooses to be its chiefs. We have to look to
the magnitude of the issues and the height of the interests which engage
its foremost spirits. What are the best men in a country striving for?
And is the struggle pursued intrepidly and with a sense of its size and
amplitude, or with creeping foot and blinking eye? The answer to these
questions is the answer to the other question, whether the best men in
the country are small or great. It is a commonplace that the manner of
doing things is often as important as the things done. And it has been
pointed out more than once that England's most creditable national
action constantly shows itself so poor and mean in expression that the
rest of Europe can discern nothing in it but craft and sinister
interest. Our public opinion is often rich in wisdom, but we lack the
courage of our wisdom. We execute noble achievements, and then are best
pleased to find shabby reasons for them.

There is a certain quality attaching alike to thought and expression and
action, for which we may borrow the name of grandeur. It has been
noticed, for instance, that Bacon strikes and impresses us, not merely
by the substantial merit of what he achieved, but still more by a
certain greatness of scheme and conception. This quality is not a mere
idle decoration. It is not a theatrical artifice of mask or buskin, to
impose upon us unreal impressions of height and dignity. The added
greatness is real. Height of aim and nobility of expression are true
forces. They grow to be an obligation upon us. A lofty sense of personal
worth is one of the surest elements of greatness. That the lion should
love to masquerade in the ass's skin is not modesty and reserve, but
imbecility and degradation. And that England should wrap herself in the
robe of small causes and mean reasons is the more deplorable, because
there is no nation in the world the substantial elements of whose power
are so majestic and imperial as our own. Our language is the most widely
spoken of all tongues, its literature is second to none in variety and
power. Our people, whether English or American, have long ago superseded
the barbarous device of dictator and Caesar by the manly arts of
self-government. We understand that peace and industry are the two most
indispensable conditions of modern civilisation, and we draw the lines
of our policy in accordance with such a conviction. We have had imposed
upon us by the unlucky prowess of our ancestors the task of ruling a
vast number of millions of alien dependents. We undertake it with a
disinterestedness, and execute it with a skill of administration, to
which history supplies no parallel, and which, even if time should show
that the conditions of the problem were insoluble, will still remain
for ever admirable. All these are elements of true pre-eminence. They
are calculated to inspire us with the loftiest consciousness of national
life. They ought to clothe our voice with authority, to nerve our action
by generous resolution, and to fill our counsels with weightiness and

Within the last forty years England has lost one by one each of those
enthusiasms which may have been illusions,--some of them undoubtedly
were so,--but which at least testified to the existence among us, in a
very considerable degree, of a vivid belief in the possibility of
certain broad general theories being true and right, as well as in the
obligation of making them lights to practical conduct and desire. People
a generation ago had eager sympathy with Hungary, with Italy, with
Poland, because they were deeply impressed by the doctrine of
nationalities. They had again a generous and energetic hatred of such an
institution as the negro slavery of America, because justice and
humanity and religion were too real and potent forces within their
breasts to allow them to listen to those political considerations by
which American statesmen used to justify temporising and compromise.
They had strong feelings about Parliamentary Reform, because they were
penetrated by the principle that the possession of political power by
the bulk of a society is the only effective security against sinister
government; or else by the principle that participation in public
activity, even in the modest form of an exercise of the elective
franchise, is an elevating and instructing agency; or perhaps by the
principle that justice demands that those who are compelled to obey laws
and pay national taxes should have a voice in making the one and
imposing the other.

It may be said that the very fate of these aspirations has had a
blighting effect on public enthusiasm and the capacity of feeling it.
Not only have most of them now been fulfilled, and so passed from
aspiration to actuality, but the results of their fulfilment have been
so disappointing as to make us wonder whether it is really worth while
to pray, when to have our prayers granted carries the world so very
slight a way forward. The Austrian is no longer in Italy; the Pope has
ceased to be master in Rome; the patriots of Hungary are now in
possession of their rights, and have become friends of their old
oppressors; the negro slave has been transformed into an American
citizen. At home, again, the gods have listened to our vows. Parliament
has been reformed, and the long-desired mechanical security provided for
the voter's freedom. We no longer aspire after all these things, you may
say, because our hopes have been realised and our dreams have come true.
It is possible that the comparatively prosaic results before our eyes at
the end of all have thrown a chill over our political imagination. What
seemed so glorious when it was far off, seems perhaps a little poor now
that it is near; and this has damped the wing of political fancy. The
old aspirations have vanished, and no new ones have arisen in their
place. Be the cause what it may, I should express the change in this
way, that the existing order of facts, whatever it may be, now takes a
hardly disputed precedence with us over ideas, and that the coarsest
political standard is undoubtingly and finally applied over the whole
realm of human thought.

The line taken up by the press and the governing classes of England
during the American Civil War may serve to illustrate the kind of mood
which we conceive to be gaining firmer hold than ever of the national
mind. Those who sympathised with the Southern States listened only to
political arguments, and very narrow and inefficient political
arguments, as it happened, when they ought to have seen that here was an
issue which involved not only political ideas, but moral and religious
ideas as well. That is to say, the ordinary political tests were not
enough to reveal the entire significance of the crisis, nor were the
political standards proper for measuring the whole of the expediencies
hanging in the balance. The conflict could not be adequately gauged by
such questions as whether the Slave States had or had not a
constitutional right to establish an independent government; whether the
Free States were animated by philanthropy or by love of empire; whether
it was to the political advantage of England that the American Union
should be divided and consequently weakened. Such questions were not
necessarily improper in themselves, and we can imagine circumstances in
which they might be not only proper but decisive. But, the
circumstances being what they were, the narrower expediencies of
ordinary politics were outweighed by one of those supreme and
indefeasible expediencies which are classified as moral. These are, in
other words, the higher, wider, more binding, and transcendent part of
the master art of social wellbeing.

Here was only one illustration of the growing tendency to substitute the
narrowest political point of view for all the other ways of regarding
the course of human affairs, and to raise the limitations which
practical exigencies may happen to set to the application of general
principles, into the very place of the principles themselves. Nor is the
process of deteriorating conviction confined to the greater or noisier
transactions of nations. It is impossible that it should be so. That
process is due to causes which affect the mental temper an a whole, and
pour round us an atmosphere that enervates our judgment from end to end,
not more in politics than in morality, and not more in morality than in
philosophy, in art, and in religion. Perhaps this tendency never showed
itself more offensively than when the most important newspaper in the
country criticised our great naturalist's scientific speculations as to
the descent of man, from the point of view of property, intelligence,
and a stake in the country, and severely censured him for revealing his
particular zoological conclusions to the general public, at a moment
when the sky of Paris was red with the incendiary flames of the Commune.
It would be hard to reduce the transformation of all truth into a
subordinate department of daily politics, to a more gross and unseemly

The consequences of such a transformation, of putting immediate social
convenience in the first place, and respect for truth in the second, are
seen, as we have said, in a distinct and unmistakable lowering of the
level of national life; a slack and lethargic quality about public
opinion; a growing predominance of material, temporary, and selfish
aims, over those which are generous, far-reaching, and spiritual; a
deadly weakening of intellectual conclusiveness, and clear-shining moral
illumination, and, lastly, of a certain stoutness of self-respect for
which England was once especially famous. A plain categorical
proposition is becoming less and less credible to average minds. Or at
least the slovenly willingness to hold two directly contradictory
propositions at one and the same time is becoming more and more common.
In religion, morals, and politics, the suppression of your true opinion,
if not the positive profession of what you hold to be a false opinion,
is hardly ever counted a vice, and not seldom even goes for virtue and
solid wisdom. One is conjured to respect the beliefs of others, but
forbidden to claim the same respect for one's own.

This dread of the categorical proposition might be creditable, if it
sprang from attachment to a very high standard of evidence, or from a
deep sense of the relative and provisional quality of truth. There might
even be a plausible defence set up for it, if it sprang from that
formulated distrust of the energetic rational judgment in comparison
with the emotional, affective, contemplative parts of man, which
underlies the various forms of religious mysticism. If you look closely
into our present mood, it is seen to be the product mainly and above all
of a shrinking deference to the _status quo_, not merely as having a
claim not to be lightly dealt with, which every serious man concedes,
but as being the last word and final test of truth and justice. Physical
science is allowed to be the sphere of accurate reasoning and distinct
conclusions, but in morals and politics, instead of admitting that these
subjects have equally a logic of their own, we silently suspect all
first principles, and practically deny the strict inferences from
demonstrated premisses. Faith in the soundness of given general theories
of right and wrong melts away before the first momentary triumph of
wrong, or the first passing discouragement in enforcing right.

Our robust political sense, which has discovered so many of the secrets
of good government, which has given us freedom with order, and popular
administration without corruption, and unalterable respect for law along
with indelible respect for individual right, this, which has so long
been our strong point, is fast becoming our weakness and undoing. For
the extension of the ways of thinking which are proper in politics, to
other than political matter, means at the same time the depravation of
the political sense itself. Not only is social expediency effacing the
many other points of view that men ought to take of the various facts of
life and thought: the idea of social expediency itself is becoming a
dwarfed and pinched idea. Ours is the country where love of constant
improvement ought to be greater than anywhere else, because fear of
revolution is less. Yet the art of politics is growing to be as meanly
conceived as all the rest At elections the national candidate has not
often a chance against the local candidate, nor the man of a principle
against the man of a class. In parliament we are admonished on high
authority that 'the policy of a party is not the carrying out of the
opinion of any section of it, but the general consensus of the whole,'
which seems to be a hierophantic manner of saying that the policy of a
party is one thing, and the principle which makes it a party is another
thing, and that men who care very strongly about anything are to
surrender that and the hope of it, for the sake of succeeding in
something about which they care very little or not at all. This is our
modern way of giving politicians heart for their voyage, of inspiring
them with resoluteness and self-respect, with confidence in the worth of
their cause and enthusiasm for its success. Thoroughness is a mistake,
and nailing your flag to the mast a bit of delusive heroics. Think
wholly of to-day, and not at all of to-morrow. Beware of the high and
hold fast to the safe. Dismiss conviction, and study general consensus.
No zeal, no faith, no intellectual trenchancy, but as much low-minded
geniality and trivial complaisance as you please.

Of course, all these characteristics of our own society mark tendencies
that are common enough in all societies. They often spring from an
indolence and enervation that besets a certain number of people, however
invigorating the general mental climate may be. What we are now saying
is that the general mental climate itself has, outside of the domain of
physical science, ceased to be invigorating; that, on the contrary, it
fosters the more inglorious predispositions of men, and encourages a
native willingness, already so strong, to acquiesce in a lazy
accommodation with error, an ignoble economy of truth, and a vicious
compromise of the permanent gains of adhering to a sound general
principle, for the sake of the temporary gains of departing from it.

Without attempting an elaborate analysis of the causes that have brought
about this debilitation of mental tone, we may shortly remind ourselves
of one or two facts in the political history, in the intellectual
history, and in the religious history of this generation, which perhaps
help us to understand a phenomenon that we have all so keen an interest
both in understanding and in modifying.

To begin with what lies nearest to the surface. The most obvious agency
at work in the present exaggeration of the political standard as the
universal test of truth, is to be found in some contemporary incidents.
The influence of France upon England since the revolution of 1848 has
tended wholly to the discredit of abstract theory and general reasoning
among us, in all that relates to politics, morals, and religion. In
1848, not in 1789, questions affecting the fundamental structure and
organic condition of the social union came for the first time into
formidable prominence. For the first time those questions and the
answers to them were stated in articulate formulas and distinct
theories. They were not merely written in books; they so fascinated the
imagination and inflamed the hopes of the time, that thousands of men
were willing actually to go down into the streets and to shed their
blood for the realisation of their generous dream of a renovated
society. The same sight has been seen since, and even when we do not see
it, we are perfectly aware that the same temper is smouldering. Those
were premature attempts to convert a crude aspiration into a political
reality, and to found a new social order on a number of umcompromising
deductions from abstract principles of the common weal. They have had
the natural effect of deepening the English dislike of a general theory,
even when such a theory did no more than profess to announce a remote
object of desire, and not the present goal of immediate effort.

It is not only the Socialists who are responsible for the low esteem
into which a spirit of political generalisation has fallen in other
countries, in consequence of French experience. Mr. Mill has described
in a well-known passage the characteristic vice of the leaders of all
French parties, and not of the democratic party more than any other.
'The commonplaces of politics in France,' he says, 'are large and
sweeping practical maxims, from which, as ultimate premisses, men reason
downwards to particular applications, and this they call being logical
and consistent. For instance, they are perpetually arguing that such and
such a measure ought to be adopted, because it is a consequence of the
principle on which the form of government is founded; of the principle
of legitimacy, or the principle of the sovereignty of the people. To
which it may be answered that if these be really practical principles,
they must rest on speculative grounds; the sovereignty of the people
(for example) must be a right foundation for government, because a
government thus constituted tends to produce certain beneficial effects.
Inasmuch, however, as no government produces all possible beneficial
effects, but all are attended with more or fewer inconveniences; and
since these cannot be combated by means drawn from the very causes which
produce them, it would often be a much stronger recommendation of some
practical arrangement that it does not follow from what is called the
general principle of the government, than that it does,'[2]

The English feeling for compromise is on its better side the result of a
shrewd and practical, though informal, recognition of a truth which the
writer has here expressed in terms of Method. The disregard which the
political action of France has repeatedly betrayed of a principle really
so important has hitherto strengthened our own regard for it, until it
has not only made us look on its importance as exclusive and final, but
has extended our respect for the right kind of compromise to wrong and
injurious kinds.

A minor event, which now looks much less important than it did not many
years ago, but which still had real influence in deteriorating moral
judgment, was the career of a late sovereign of France. Some apparent
advantages followed for a season from a rule which had its origin in a
violent and perfidious usurpation, and which was upheld by all the arts
of moral corruption, political enervation, and military repression. The
advantages lasted long enough to create in this country a steady and
powerful opinion that Napoleon the Third's early crime was redeemed by
the seeming prosperity which followed. The shocking prematureness of
this shallow condonation is now too glaringly visible for any one to
deny it. Not often in history has the great truth that 'morality is the
nature of things' received corroboration so prompt and timely. We need
not commit ourselves to the optimistic or sentimental hypothesis that
wickedness always fares ill in the world, or on the other hand that
whoso hearkens diligently to the divine voice, and observes all the
commandments to do them, shall be blessed in his basket and his store
and all the work of his hand. The claims of morality to our allegiance,
so far as its precepts are solidly established, rest on the same
positive base as our faith in the truth of physical laws. Moral
principles, when they are true, are at bottom only registered
generalisations from experience. They record certain uniformities of
antecedence and consequence in the region of human conduct Want of faith
in the persistency of these uniformities is only a little less fatuous
in the moral order than a corresponding want of faith would instantly
disclose itself to be in the purely physical order. In both orders alike
there is only too much of this kind of fatuousness, this readiness to
believe that for once in our favour the stream shall flow up hill, that
we may live in miasmatic air unpoisoned, that a government may depress
the energy, the self-reliance, the public spirit of its citizens, and
yet be able to count on these qualities whenever the government itself
may have broken down, and left the country to make the best of such
resources as are left after so severe and prolonged a drain. This is the
sense in which morality is the nature of things. The system of the
Second Empire was in the same sense an immoral system. Unless all the
lessons of human experience were futile, and all the principles of
political morality mere articles of pedantry, such a system must
inevitably bring disaster, as we might have seen that it was sowing the
seeds of disaster. Yet because the catastrophe lingered, opinion in
England began to admit the possibility of evil being for this once good,
and to treat any reference to the moral and political principles which
condemned the imperial system, and all systems like it, beyond hope or
appeal, as simply the pretext of a mutinous or Utopian impatience.

This, however, is only one of the more superficial influences which have
helped and fallen in with the working of profounder causes of weakened
aspiration and impoverished moral energy, and of the substitution of
latitudinarian acquiescence and faltering conviction for the
whole-hearted assurance of better times. Of these deeper causes, the
most important in the intellectual development of the prevailing forms
of thought and sentiment is the growth of the Historic Method. Let us
consider very shortly how the abuse of this method, and an unauthorised
extension and interpretation of its conclusions, are likely to have had
something to do with the enervation of opinion.

The Historic Method may be described as the comparison of the forms of
an idea, or a usage, or a belief, at any given time, with the earlier
forms from which they were evolved, or the later forms into which they
were developed, and the establishment, from such a comparison, of an
ascending and descending order among the facts. It consists in the
explanation of existing parts in the frame of society by connecting them
with corresponding parts in some earlier frame; in the identification of
present forms in the past, and past forms in the present. Its main
process is the detection of corresponding customs, opinions, laws,
beliefs, among different communities, and a grouping of them into
general classes with reference to some one common feature. It is a
certain way of seeking answers to various questions of origin, resting
on the same general doctrine of evolution, applied to moral and social
forms, as that which is being applied with so much ingenuity to the
series of organic matter. The historic conception is a reference of
every state of society to a particular stage in the evolution of its
general conditions. Ideas of law, of virtue, of religion, of the
physical universe, of history, of the social union itself, all march in
a harmonious and inter-dependent order.

Curiosity with reference to origins is for various reasons the most
marked element among modern scientific tendencies. It covers the whole
field, moral, intellectual, and physical, from the smile or the frown on
a man's face, up to the most complex of the ideas in his mind; from the
expression of his emotions, to their root and relations with one another
in his inmost organisation. As an ingenious writer, too soon lost to our
political literature, has put it:--'If we wanted to describe one of the
most marked results, perhaps the most marked result, of late thought, we
should say that by it everything is made _an antiquity_. When in former
times our ancestors thought of an antiquarian, they described him as
occupied with coins and medals and Druids' stones. But now there are
other relics; indeed all matter is become such. Man himself has to the
eye of science become an antiquity. She tries to read, is beginning to
read, knows she ought to read, in the frame of each man the result of a
whole history of all his life, and what he is and what makes him so.'[3]
Character is considered less with reference to its absolute qualities
than as an interesting scene strewn with scattered rudiments, survivals,
inherited predispositions. Opinions are counted rather as phenomena to
be explained than as matters of truth and falsehood. Of usages, we are
beginning first of all to think where they came from, and secondarily
whether they are the most fitting and convenient that men could be got
to accept. In the last century men asked of a belief or a story, Is it
true? We now ask, How did men come to take it for true? In short the
relations among social phenomena which now engage most attention, are
relations of original source, rather than those of actual consistency in
theory and actual fitness in practice. The devotees of the current
method are more concerned with the pedigree and genealogical connections
of a custom or an idea than with its own proper goodness or badness, its
strength or its weakness.

Though there is no necessary or truly logical association between
systematic use of this method rightly limited, and a slack and slipshod
preference of vague general forms over definite ideas, yet every one can
see its tendency, if uncorrected, to make men shrink from importing
anything like absolute quality into their propositions. We can see also,
what is still worse, its tendency to place individual robustness and
initiative in the light of superfluities, with which a world that goes
by evolution can very well dispense. Men easily come to consider
clearness and positiveness in their opinions, staunchness in holding and
defending them, and fervour in carrying them into action, as equivocal
virtues of very doubtful perfection, in a state of things where every
abuse has after all had a defensible origin; where every error has, we
must confess, once been true relatively to other parts of belief in
those who held the error; and where all parts of life are so bound up
with one another, that it is of no avail to attack one evil, unless you
attack many more at the same time. This is a caricature of the real
teaching of the Historic Method, of which we shall have to speak
presently; but it is one of those caricatures which the natural sloth in
such matters, and the indigenous intellectual haziness of the majority
of men, make them very willing to take for the true philosophy of

Then there is the newspaper press, that huge engine for keeping
discussion on a low level, and making the political test final. To take
off the taxes on knowledge was to place a heavy tax on broad and
independent opinion. The multiplication of journals 'delivering brawling
judgments unashamed on all things all day long,' has done much to deaden
the small stock of individuality in public verdicts. It has done much to
make vulgar ways of looking at things and vulgar ways of speaking of
them stronger and stronger, by formulating and repeating and
stereotyping them incessantly from morning until afternoon, and from
year's end to year's end. For a newspaper must live, and to live it must
please, and its conductors suppose, perhaps not altogether rightly, that
it can only please by being very cheerful towards prejudices, very
chilly to general theories, loftily disdainful to the men of a
principle. Their one cry to an advocate of improvement is some sagacious
silliness about recognising the limits of the practicable in politics,
and seeing the necessity of adapting theories to facts. As if the fact
of taking a broader and wiser view than the common crowd disqualifies a
man from knowing what the view of the common crowd happens to be, and
from estimating it at the proper value for practical purposes. Why are
the men who despair of improvement to be the only persons endowed with
the gift of discerning the practicable? It is, however, only too easy to
understand how a journal, existing for a day, should limit its view to
the possibilities of the day, and how, being most closely affected by
the particular, it should coldly turn its back upon all that is general.
And it is easy, too, to understand the reaction of this intellectual
timorousness upon the minds of ordinary readers, who have too little
natural force and too little cultivation to be able to resist the
narrowing and deadly effect of the daily iteration of short-sighted

Far the most penetrating of all the influences that are impairing the
moral and intellectual nerve of our generation, remain still to be
mentioned. The first of these is the immense increase of material
prosperity, and the second is the immense decline in sincerity of
spiritual interest. The evil wrought by the one fills up the measure of
the evil wrought by the other. We have been, in spite of momentary
declensions, on a flood tide of high profits and a roaring trade, and
there is nothing like a roaring trade for engendering latitudinarians.
The effect of many possessions, especially if they be newly acquired, in
slackening moral vigour, is a proverb. Our new wealth is hardly leavened
by any tradition of public duty such as lingers among the English
nobles, nor as yet by any common custom of devotion to public causes,
such as seems to live and grow in the United States. Under such
conditions, with new wealth come luxury and love of ease and that fatal
readiness to believe that God has placed us in the best of possible
worlds, which so lowers men's aims and unstrings their firmness of
purpose. Pleasure saps high interests, and the weakening of high
interests leaves more undisputed room for pleasure. Management and
compromise appear among the permitted arts, because they tend to
comfort, and comfort is the end of ends, comprehending all ends. Not
truth is the standard, but the politic and the reputable. Are we to
suppose that it is firm persuasion of the greater scripturalness of
episcopacy that turns the second generation of dissenting manufacturers
in our busy Lancashire into churchmen? Certainly such conversions do no
violence to the conscience of the proselyte, for he is intellectually
indifferent, a spiritual neuter.

That brings us to the root of the matter, the serious side of a
revolution that in this social consequence is so unspeakably ignoble.
This root of the matter is the slow transformation now at work of the
whole spiritual basis of thought. Every age is in some sort an age of
transition, but our own is characteristically and cardinally an epoch of
transition in the very foundations of belief and conduct. The old hopes
have grown pale, the old fears dim; strong sanctions are become weak,
and once vivid faiths very numb. Religion, whatever destinies may be in
store for it, is at least for the present hardly any longer an organic
power. It is not that supreme, penetrating, controlling, decisive part
of a man's life, which it has been, and will be again. The work of
destruction is all the more perturbing to timorous spirits, and more
harassing even to doughtier spirits, for being done impalpably,
indirectly, almost silently and as if by unseen hands. Those who dwell
in the tower of ancient faiths look about them in constant
apprehension, misgiving, and wonder, with the hurried uneasy mien of
people living amid earthquakes. The air seems to their alarms to be full
of missiles, and all is doubt, hesitation, and shivering expectancy.
Hence a decisive reluctance to commit one's self. Conscience has lost
its strong and on-pressing energy, and the sense of personal
responsibility lacks sharpness of edge. The native hue of spiritual
resolution is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of distracted, wavering,
confused thought. The souls of men have become void. Into the void have
entered in triumph the seven devils of Secularity.

And all this hesitancy, this tampering with conviction for fear of its
consequences, this want of faithful dealing in the highest matters, is
being intensified, aggravated, driven inwards like a fatal disorder
toward the vital parts, by the existence of a State Church. While
thought stirs and knowledge extends, she remains fast moored by ancient
formularies. While the spirit of man expands in search after new light,
and feels energetically for new truth, the spirit of the Church is
eternally entombed within the four corners of acts of parliament. Her
ministers vow almost before they have crossed the threshold of manhood
that they will search no more. They virtually swear that they will to
the end of their days believe what they believe then, before they have
had time either to think or to know the thoughts of others. They take
oath, in other words, to lead mutilated lives. If they cannot keep this
solemn promise, they have at least every inducement that ordinary human
motives can supply, to conceal their breach of it. The same system which
begins by making mental indolence a virtue and intellectual narrowness a
part of sanctity, ends by putting a premium on something too like
hypocrisy. Consider the seriousness of fastening up in these bonds some
thousands of the most instructed and intelligent classes in the country,
the very men who would otherwise be best fitted from position and
opportunities for aiding a little in the long, difficult, and plainly
inevitable work of transforming opinion. Consider the waste of
intelligence, and what is assuredly not less grave, the positive
dead-weight and thick obstruction, by which an official hierarchy so
organised must paralyse mental independence in a community.

We know the kind of man whom this system delights to honour. He was
described for us five and thirty years ago by a master hand. 'Mistiness
is the mother of wisdom. A man who can set down half a dozen general
propositions which escape from destroying one another only by being
diluted into truisms; who can hold the balance between opposites so
skilfully as to do without fulcrum or beam; who never enunciates a truth
without guarding himself against being supposed to exclude the
contradictory,--who holds that scripture is the only authority, yet that
the Church is to be deferred to, that faith only justifies, yet that it
does not justify without works, that grace does not depend upon the
sacraments, yet is not given without them, that bishops are a divine
ordinance, yet that those who have them not are in the same religious
condition as those who have,--this is your safe man and the hope of the
Church; this is what the Church is said to want, not party men, but
sensible, temperate, sober, well-judging persons, to guide it through
the channel of no meaning, between the Scylla and Charybdis of Aye and
No.'[4] The writer then thought that such a type could not endure, and
that the Church must become more real. On the contrary, her reality is
more phantom-like now than it was then. She is the sovereign pattern and
exemplar of management, of the triumph of the political method in
spiritual things, and of the subordination of ideas to the _status quo_.

It is true that all other organised priesthoods are also bodies which
move within formularies even more inelastic than those of the
Establishment. But then they have not the same immense social power, nor
the same temptations to make all sacrifices to preserve it. They affect
the intellectual temper of large numbers of people, but the people whom
they affect are not so strongly identified with the greater organs of
the national life. The State Church is bound up in the minds of the most
powerful classes with a given ordering of social arrangements, and the
consequence of this is that the teachers of the Church have reflected
back upon thorn a sense of responsibility for these arrangements, which
obscures their spirituality, clogs their intellectual energy and mental
openness, and turns them into a political army of obstruction to new
ideas. They feel themselves to a certain extent discharged from the
necessity of recognising the tremendous conflict in the region of belief
that goes on around them, just as if they were purely civil
administrators, concerned only with the maintenance of the present
order. None of this is true of the private Churches. Their teachers and
members regard belief as something wholly independent of the civil
ordering of things. However little enlightened in some respects, however
hostile to certain of the ideas by which it is sought to replace their
own, they are at least representatives of the momentous principle of our
individual responsibility for the truth of our opinions. They may bring
their judgments to conclusions that are less in accord with modern
tendencies than those of one or two schools that still see their way to
subscribing Anglican articles and administering Anglican rites. At any
rate, they admit that the use of his judgment is a duty incumbent on the
individual, and a duty to be discharged without reference to any
external considerations whatever, political or otherwise. This is an
elevating, an exhilarating principle, however deficiencies of culture
may have narrowed the sphere of its operations. It is because a State
Church is by its very conception hostile to such a principle, that we
are justified in counting it apart from the private Churches with all
their faults, and placing it among the agencies that weaken the vigour
of a national conscience and check the free play and access of
intellectual light.

Here we may leave the conditions that have made an inquiry as to some of
the limits of compromise, which must always be an interesting and
important subject, one of especial interest and importance to ourselves
at present. Is any renovation of the sacredness of principle a possible
remedy for some of these elements of national deterioration? They will
not disappear until the world has grown into possession of a new
doctrine. When that comes, all other good things will follow. What we
have to remember is that the new doctrine itself will never come, except
to spirits predisposed to their own liberation. Our day of small
calculations and petty utilities must first pass away; our vision of the
true expediencies must reach further and deeper; our resolution to
search for the highest verities, to give up all and follow them, must
first become the supreme part of ourselves.


[Footnote 1: See below, ch. iii.]

[Footnote 2: _System of Logic_, bk. vi. ch. xi.]

[Footnote 3: Bagehot.]

[Footnote 4: Dr. J.H. Newman's _Essays Critical and Historical_, vol. i.
p. 301.]



  _Das Wahre fördert; aus dem Irrthum entwickelt
        sich nichts, er verwickeltuns nur.--_

At the outset of an inquiry how far existing facts ought to be allowed
to overrule ideas and principles that are at variance with them, a
preliminary question lies in our way, about which it may be well to say
something. This is the question of a dual doctrine. In plainer words,
the question whether it is expedient that the more enlightened classes
in a community should upon system not only possess their light in
silence, but whether they should openly encourage a doctrine for the
less enlightened classes which they do not believe to be true for
themselves, while they regard it as indispensably useful in the case of
less fortunate people. An eminent teacher tells us how after he had
once succeeded in presenting the principle of Necessity to his own mind
in a shape which seemed to bring with it all the advantages of the
principle of Free Will, he 'no longer suffered under the burden so heavy
to one who aims at being a reformer in opinions, of thinking one
doctrine true, and the contrary doctrine morally beneficial.'[5] The
discrepancy which this writer thought a heavy burden has struck others
as the basis of a satisfactory solution.

      Nil dulcius est bene quam munita tenere
  Edita doctrina sapientum templa serena,
  Despicere unde queas alios passimque videre
  Errare atque viam palantes quaerere vitae.

The learned are to hold the true doctrine; the unlearned are to be
taught its morally beneficial contrary. 'Let the Church,' it has been
said, 'admit two descriptions of believers, those who are for the
letter, and those who hold by the spirit. At a certain point in rational
culture, belief in the supernatural becomes for many an impossibility;
do not force such persons to wear a cowl of lead. Do not you meddle with
what we teach or write, and then we will not dispute the common people
with you; do not contest our place in the school and the academy, and
then we will surrender to your hands the country school.'[6] This is
only a very courageous and definite way of saying what a great many less
accomplished persons than M. Renan have silently in their hearts, and in
England quite as extensively as in France. They do not believe in hell,
for instance, but they think hell a useful fiction for the lower
classes. They would deeply regret any change in the spirit or the
machinery of public instruction which would release the lower classes
from so wholesome an error. And as with hell, so with other articles of
the supernatural system; the existence of a Being who will distribute
rewards and penalties in a future state, the permanent sentience of each
human personality, the vigilant supervision of our conduct, as well as
our inmost thoughts and desires, by the heavenly powers; and so forth.

Let us discuss this matter impersonally, without reference to our own
opinions and without reference to the evidence for or against their
truth. I am not speaking now of those who hold all these ideas to be
certainly true, or highly probable, and who at the same time
incidentally insist on the great usefulness of such ideas in confirming
morality and producing virtuous types of character. With such persons,
of course, there is no question of a dual doctrine. They entertain
certain convictions themselves, and naturally desire to have their
influence extended over others. The proposition which we have to
consider is of another kind. It expresses the notions of those who--to
take the most important kind of illustration--think untrue the popular
ideas of supernatural interference in our obscure human affairs; who
think untrue the notion of the prolongation of our existence after death
to fulfil the purpose of the supernatural powers; or at least who think
them so extremely improbable that no reasonable man or woman, once
awakened to a conviction of this improbability, would thenceforth be
capable of receiving effective check or guidance from beliefs, that
would have sunk slowly down to the level of doubtful guesses. We have
now to deal with those who while taking this view of certain doctrines,
still declare them to be indispensable for restraining from anti-social
conduct all who are not acute or instructed enough to see through them.
In other words, they think error useful, and that it may be the best
thing for society that masses of men should cheat and deceive themselves
in their most fervent aspirations and their deepest assurances. This is
the furthest extreme to which the empire of existing facts over
principles can well be imagined to go. It lies at the root of every
discussion upon the limits which separate lawful compromise or
accommodation from palpable hypocrisy.

It will probably be said that according to the theory of the school of
which M. Renan is the most eloquent representative, the common people
are not really cheating themselves or being cheated. Indeed M. Renan
himself has expatiated on the charm of seeing figures of the ideal in
the cottages of the poor, images representing no reality, and so forth.
'What a delight,' he cries, 'for the man who is borne down by six days
of toil to come on the seventh to rest upon his knees, to contemplate
the tall columns, a vault, arches, an altar; to listen to the chanting,
to hear moral and consoling words!'[7] The dogmas which criticism
attacks are not for these poor people 'the object of an explicit
affirmation,' and therefore there is no harm in them; 'it is the
privilege of pure sentiment to be invulnerable, and to play with poison
without being hurt by it.' In other words, the dogmas are false, but the
liturgy, as a performance stirring the senses of awe, reverence,
susceptibility to beauty of various kinds, appeals to and satisfies a
sentiment that is both true and indispensable in the human mind. More
than this, in the two or three supreme moments of life to which men look
forward and on which they look back,--at birth, at the passing of the
threshold into fulness of life, at marriage, at death,--the Church is
present to invest the hour with a certain solemn and dignified charm.
That is the way in which the instructed are to look at the services of a
Church, after they have themselves ceased to believe its faith, us a
true account of various matters which it professes to account for

It will be perceived that this is not exactly the ground of those who
think a number of what they confess to be untruths, wholesome for the
common people for reasons of police, and who would maintain churches on
the same principle on which they maintain the county constabulary. It is
a psychological, not a political ground. It is on the whole a more true,
as well as a far more exalted position. The human soul, they say, has
these lovely and elevating aspirations; not to satisfy them is to leave
man a dwarfed creature. Why quarrel with a system that leaves you to
satisfy them in the true way, and does much to satisfy thorn in a false
but not very harmful way among those who unfortunately have to sit in
the darkness of the outer court?

This is not a proper occasion for saying anything about the adequateness
of the catholic, or any other special manner of fostering and solacing
the religious impulses of men. We have to assume that the instructed
class believe the catholic dogmas to be untrue, and yet wishes the
uninstructed to be handed over to a system that reposes on the theory
that these dogmas are superlatively true. What then is to be said of the
tenableness of such a position? To the plain man it looks like a
deliberate connivance at a plan for the propagation of error--assuming,
as I say, for the moment, that these articles of belief are erroneous
and contrary to fact and evidence. Ah, but, we are told, the people make
no explicit affirmation of dogma; that does nothing for them; they are
indifferent to it. A great variety of things might be said to this
statement. We might ask, for instance, whether the people ever made an
explicit affirmation of dogma in the past, or whether it was always the
hazy indifferent matter which it is supposed to be now. If so, whether
we shall not have to re-cast our most fundamental notions of the way in
which Christian civilisation has been evolved. If not, and if people did
once explicitly affirm dogma, when exactly was it that they ceased to do

The answers to these questions would all go to show that at the time
when religion was the great controlling and organising force in conduct,
the prime elemental dogmas were accepted with the most vivid conviction
of reality. I do not pretend that the common people followed all the
inferences which the intellectual subtlety of the master-spirits of
theology drew so industriously from the simple premisses of scripture
and tradition. But assuredly dogma was at the foundation of the whole
structure. When did it cease to be so? How was the structure supported,
after you had altered this condition of things?

Apart from this historic issue, the main question one would like to put
to the upholder of duality of religion on this plea, is the simple one,
whether the power of the ceremonial which charms him so much is not
actually at this moment drawn wholly from dogma and the tradition of
dogma; whether its truth is not explicitly affirmed to the unlettered
man, and whether the inseparable connection between the dogma and the
ceremonial is not constantly impressed upon him by the spiritual
teachers to whom the dual system hands him and his order over for all
time? If any one of those philosophic critics will take the trouble to
listen to a few courses of sermons at the present day, and the remark
applies not less to protestant than to catholic churches, he will find
that instead of that '_parole morale et consolante_' which is so
soothing to think of, the pulpit is now the home of fervid controversy
and often exacerbated declamation in favour of ancient dogma against
modern science. We do not say whether this is or is not the wisest line
for the clergy to follow. We only press the fact against those who wish
us to believe that dogma counts for nothing in the popular faith, and
that therefore we need not be uneasy as to its effects.

Next, one would say to those who think that all will go well if you
divide the community into two classes, one privileged to use its own
mind, the other privileged to have its mind used by a priesthood, that
they overlook the momentous circumstance of these professional upholders
of dogmatic systems being also possessed of a vast social influence in
questions that naturally belong to another sphere. There is hardly a
single great controversy in modern politics, where the statesman does
not find himself in immediate contact with the real or supposed
interests, and with the active or passive sentiment, of one of these
religious systems. Therefore if the instructed or intellectually
privileged class cheerfully leave the field open to men who, _ex
hypothesi_, are presumed to be less instructed, narrower, more
impenetrable by reason, and the partisans of the letter against the
spirit, then this result follows. They are deliberately strengthening
the hands of the persons least fitted by judgment, experience, and
temper, for using such power rightly. And they are strengthening them
not merely in dealing with religious matters, but, what is of more
importance, in dealing with an endless variety of the gravest social and
political matters. It is impossible to map out the exact dimensions of
the field in which a man shall exercise his influence, and to which he
is to be rigorously confined. Give men influence in one matter,
especially if that be such a matter as religious belief and ceremonial,
and it is simply impossible that this influence shall not extend with
more or less effect over as much of the whole sphere of conduct as they
may choose surrendering the common people without dispute or effort to
organised priesthoods for religious purposes, you would be inevitably
including a vast number of other purposes in the self-same destination.
This does not in the least prejudice practical ways of dealing with
certain existing circumstances, such as the propriety or justice of
allowing a catholic people to have a catholic university. It is only an
argument against erecting into a complete and definite formula the
division of a society into two great castes, the one with a religion of
the spirit, the other with a creed of the letter.

Again, supposing that the enlightened caste were to consent to abandon
the common people to what are assumed to be lower and narrower forms of
truth,--which is after all little more than a fine phrase for forms of
falsehood,--what can be more futile than to suppose that such a
compromise will be listened to for a single moment by a caste whose
first principle is that they are the possessors and ministers, not of an
inferior or superior form of truth, but of the very truth itself,
absolute, final, complete, divinely sent, infallibly interpreted? The
disciples of the relative may afford to compromise. The disciples of the
absolute, never.

We shall see other objections as we go on to this state of things, in
which a minority holds true opinions and abandons the majority to false
ones. At the bottom of the advocacy of a dual doctrine slumbers the idea
that there is no harm in men being mistaken, or at least only so little
harm as is more than compensated for by the marked tranquillity in which
their mistake may wrap them. This is not an idea merely that
intellectual error is a pathological necessity of the mind, no more to
be escaped than the pathological necessities which afflict and finally
dissolve the body. That is historically true. It is an idea that error
somehow in certain stages, where there is enough of it, actually does
good, like vaccination. Well, the thesis of the present chapter is that
erroneous opinion or belief, in itself and as such, can never be useful.
This may seem a truism which everybody is willing to accept without
demur. But it is one of those truisms which persons habitually forget
and repudiate in practice, just because they have never made it real to
themselves by considering and answering the objections that may be
brought against it. We see this repudiation before our eyes every day.
Thus for instance, parents theoretically take it for granted that error
cannot be useful, while they are teaching or allowing others to teach
their children what they, the parents, believe to be untrue. Thus
husbands who think the common theology baseless and unmeaning, are found
to prefer that their wives shall not question this theology nor neglect
its rites. These are only two out of a hundred examples of the daily
admission that error may be very useful to other people. I need hardly
say that to deny this, as the commonplace to which this chapter is
devoted denies it, is a different thing from denying the expediency of
letting errors alone at a given time. That is another question, to be
discussed afterwards. You may have a thoroughly vicious and dangerous
enemy, and yet it may be expedient to choose your own hour and occasion
for attacking him. 'The passage from error to truth,' in the words of
Condorcet, 'may be accompanied by certain evils. Every great change
necessarily brings some of these in its train; and though they may be
always far below the evil you are for destroying, yet it ought to do
what is possible to diminish them. It is not enough to do good; one must
do it in a good way. No doubt we should destroy all errors, but as it is
impossible to destroy them all in an instant, we should imitate a
prudent architect who, when obliged to destroy a building, and knowing
how its parts are united together, sets about its demolition in such a
way as to prevent its fall from being dangerous.'[8]

Those, let us note by the way, who are accustomed to think the moral
tone of the eighteenth century low and gross compared with that of the
nineteenth, may usefully contrast these just and prudent word? of
caution in extirpating error, with M. Renan's invitation to men whom he
considers wrong in their interpretation of religion, to plant their
error as widely and deeply as they can; and who are moreover themselves
supposed to be demoralised, or else they would not be likely to
acquiesce in a previous surrender of the universities to men whom they
think in mortal error. Apart however from M. Renan, Condorcet's words
merely assert the duty of setting to work to help on the change from
false to true opinions with prudence, and this every sensible man
admits. Our position is that in estimating the situation, in counting up
and balancing the expediencies of an attack upon error at this or that
point, nothing is to be set to the credit of error as such, nor is there
anything in its own operations or effects to entitle it to a moment's
respite. Every one would admit this at once in the case of physical
truths, though there are those who say that some of the time spent in
the investigation of physical truths might be more advantageously
devoted to social problems. But in the case of moral and religious
truths or errors, people, if they admit that nothing is to be set to the
credit of error as such, still constantly have a subtle and practically
mischievous confusion in their minds between the possible usefulness of
error, and the possible expediency of leaving it temporarily
undisturbed. What happens in consequence of such a confusion is this.
Men leave error undisturbed, because they accept in a loose way the
proposition that a belief may be 'morally useful without being
intellectually sustainable,' They disguise their own dissent from
popular opinions, because they regard such opinions as useful to other
people. We are not now discussing the case of those who embrace a creed
for themselves, on the ground that, though they cannot demonstrate its
truth to the understanding, yet they find it pregnant with moralising
and elevating characteristics. We are thinking of a very different
attitude--that, namely, of persons who believe a creed to be not more
morally useful than it is intellectually sustainable, so far as they
themselves are concerned. To them it is pure and uncompensated error.
Yet from a vague and general idea that what is useless error to them may
be useful to others, they insist on doing their best to perpetuate the
system which spreads and consecrates the error. And how do they settle
the question? They reckon up the advantages, and forget the drawbacks.
They detect and dwell on one or two elements of utility in the false
belief or the worn-out institution, and leave out of all account the
elements that make in the other direction.

Considering how much influence this vague persuasion has in encouraging
a well-meaning hypocrisy in individuals, and a profound stagnation in
societies, it may be well to examine the matter somewhat generally. Let
us try to measure the force of some of the most usual pleas for error.

I. A false opinion, it may be said, is frequently found to have
clustering around it a multitude of excellent associations, which do far
more good than the false opinion that supports them, does harm. In the
middle ages, for instance, there was a belief that a holy man had the
gift of routing demons, of healing the sick, and of working divers other
miracles. Supposing that this belief was untrue, supposing that it was
an error to attribute the sudden death of an incredible multitude of
troublesome flies in a church to the fact of Saint Bernard having
excommunicated them, what then? The mistaken opinion was still
associated with a deep reverence for virtue and sanctity, and this was
more valuable, than the error of the explanation of the death of the
flies was noxious or degrading.

The answer to this seems to be as follows. First, in making false
notions the proofs or close associates of true ones, you are exposing
the latter to the ruin which awaits the former. For example, if you have
in the minds of children or servants associated honesty, industry,
truthfulness, with the fear of hell-fire, then supposing this fear to
become extinct in their minds,--which, being unfounded in truth, it is
in constant risk of doing--the virtues associated with it are likely to
be weakened exactly in proportion as that association was strong.

Second, for all good habits in thought or conduct there are good and
real reasons in the nature of things. To leave such habits attached to
false opinions is to lessen the weight of these natural or spontaneous
reasons, and so to do more harm in the long run than effacement of them
seems for a time to do good. Most excellences in human character have a
spontaneous root in our nature. Moreover if they had not, and where they
have not, there is always a valid and real external defence for them.
The unreal defence must be weaker than the real one, and the
substitution of a weak for a strong defence, where both are to be had,
is not useful but the very opposite.

II. It is true, the objector would probably continue, that there is a
rational defence for all excellences of conduct, as there is for all
that is worthy and fitting in institutions. But the force of a rational
defence lies in the rationality of the man to whom it is proffered. The
arguments which persuade one trained in scientific habits of thought,
only touch persons of the same kind. Character is not all pure reason.
That fitness of things which you pronounce to be the foundation of good
habits, may be borne in upon men, and may speak to them, through other
channels than the syllogism. You assume a community of highly-trained
wranglers and proficient sophisters. The plain fact is that, for the
mass of men, use and wont, rude or gracious symbols, blind custom,
prejudices, superstitions,--however erroneous in themselves, however
inadequate to the conveyance of the best truth,--are the only safe
guardians of the common virtues. In this sense, then, error may have its

A hundred years ago this apology for error was met by those high-minded
and interesting men, the French believers in human perfectibility, with
their characteristic dogma,--of which Rousseau was the ardent
expounder,--that man is born with a clear and unsophisticated spirit,
perfectly able to discern all the simple truths necessary for common
conduct by its own unaided light. His motives are all pure and unselfish
and his intelligence is unclouded, until priests and tyrants mutilate
the one and corrupt the other. We who have the benefit of the historic
method, and have to take into account the medium that surrounds a human
creature the moment it comes into the world, to say nothing of all the
inheritance from the past which it brings within it into the world at
the same moment, cannot take up this ground. We cannot maintain that
everybody is born with light enough to see the rational defences of
things for himself, without the education of institutions. What we do
maintain is--and this is the answer to the plea for error at present
under consideration--that whatever impairs the brightness of such light
as a man has, is not useful but hurtful. Our reply to those who contend
for the usefulness of error on the ground of the comparative impotence
of rationality over ordinary minds, is something of this kind.
Superstition, blind obedience to custom, and the other substitutes for a
right and independent use of the mind, may accidentally and in some few
respects impress good ideas upon persons who are too darkened to accept
those ideas on their real merits. But then superstition itself is the
main cause of this very darkness. To hold error is in so far to foster
erroneous ways of thinking on all subjects; is to make the intelligence
less and less ready to receive truth in all matters whatever. Men are
made incapable of perceiving the rational defences, and of feeling
rational motives, for good habits,--so far as they are thus
incapable,--by the very errors which we are asked silently to
countenance as useful substitutes for right reason. 'Erroneous motives,'
as Condorcet has expressed this matter, 'have an additional drawback
attached to them, the habit which they strengthen of reasoning ill. The
more important the subject on which you reason ill, and the more you
busy yourself about it, by so much the more dangerous do the influences
of such a habit become. It is especially on subjects analogous to that
on which you reason wrongly, or which you connect with it by habit, that
such a defect extends most powerfully and most rapidly. Hence it is
extremely hard for the man who believes himself obliged to conform in
his conduct to what he considers truths useful to men, but who
attributes the obligation to erroneous motives, to reason very correctly
on the truths themselves; the more attention he pays to such motives,
and the more importance he comes to attach to them, the more likely he
will be to go wrong.'[9] So, in short, superstition does an immense harm
by enfeebling rational ways of thinking; it does a little good by
accidentally endorsing rational conclusions in one or two matters. And
yet, though the evil which it is said to repair is a trifle beside the
evil which it is admitted to inflict, the balance of expediencies is
after all declared to be such as to warrant us in calling errors useful!

III. A third objection now presents itself to me, which I wish to state
as strongly as possible. 'Even if a false opinion cannot in itself be
more useful than a true one, whatever good habits may seem to be
connected with it, yet,' it may be contended, 'relatively to the general
mental attitude of a set of men, to their other notions and maxims, the
false opinion may entail less harm than would be wrought by its mere
demolition. There are false opinions so intimately bound up with the
whole way of thinking and feeling, that to introduce one or two detached
true opinions in their stead, would, even if it were possible, only
serve to break up that coherency of character and conduct which it is
one of the chief objects of moralists and the great art of living to
produce. For a true opinion does not necessarily bring in its train all
the other true opinions that are logically connected with it. On the
contrary, it is only too notorious a fact in the history of belief, that
not merely individuals but whole societies are capable of holding at one
and the same time contradictory opinions and mutually destructive
principles. On the other hand, neither does a false opinion involve
practically all the evil consequences deducible from it. For the results
of human inconsistency are not all unhappy, and if we do not always act
up to virtuous principle, no more do we always work out to its remotest
inference every vicious principle. Not insincerity, but inconsistency,
has constantly turned the adherents of persecuting precepts into friends
of tolerant practice.'

'It is a comparatively small thing to persuade a superstitious person to
abandon this or that article of his superstition. You have no security
that the rejection of the one article which you have displaced will lead
to the rejection of any other, and it is quite possible that it may lead
to all the more fervid an adhesion to what remains behind. Error,
therefore, in view of such considerations may surely be allowed to have
at least a provisional utility.'

Now undoubtedly the repudiation of error is not at all the same thing
as embracing truth. People are often able to see the force of arguments
that destroy a given opinion, without being able to see the force of
arguments for the positive opinion that ought to replace it. They can
only be quite sure of seeing both, when they have acquired not merely a
conviction that one notion is false and another true, but have
furthermore exchanged a generally erroneous way of thinking for a
generally correct way. Hence the truly important object with every one
who holds opinions which he deems it of the highest moment that others
should accept, must obviously be to reach people's general ways of
thinking; to stir their love of truth; to penetrate them with a sense of
the difference in the quality of evidence; to make them willing to
listen to criticism and new opinion; and perhaps above all to teach them
to take ungrudging and daily trouble to clear up in their minds the
exact sense of the terms they use.

If this be so, a false opinion, like an erroneous motive, can hardly
have even a provisional usefulness. For how can you attack an erroneous
way of thinking except in detail, that is to say through the sides of
this or that single wrong opinion? Each of these wrong opinions is an
illustration and type, as it is a standing support and abettor, of some
kind of wrong reasoning, though they are not all on the same scale nor
all of them equally instructive. It is precisely by this method of
gradual displacement of error step by step, that the few stages of
progress which the race has yet traversed, have been actually achieved.
Even if the place of the erroneous idea is not immediately taken by the
corresponding true one, or by the idea which is at least one or two
degrees nearer to the true one, still the removal of error in this
purely negative way amounts to a positive gain. Why? For the excellent
reason that it is the removal of a bad element which otherwise tends to
propagate itself, or even if it fails to do that, tends at the best to
make the surrounding mass of error more inveterate. All error is what
physiologists term fissiparous, and in exterminating one false opinion
you may be hindering the growth of an uncounted brood of false opinions.

Then as to the maintenance of that coherency, interdependence, and
systematisation of opinions and motives, which is said to make character
organic, and is therefore so highly prized by some schools of thought.
No doubt the loosening of this or that part of the fabric of
heterogeneous origin, which constitutes the character of a man or woman,
tends to loosen the whole. But do not let us feed ourselves upon
phrases. This organic coherency, what does it come to? It signifies in a
general way, to describe it briefly, a harmony between the intellectual,
the moral, and the practical parts of human nature; an undisturbed
cooperation between reason, affection, and will; the reason prescribing
nothing against which the affections revolt, and proscribing nothing
which they crave; and the will obeying the joint impulses of these two
directing forces, without liability to capricious or extravagant
disturbance of their direction. Well, if the reason were perfect in
information and method, and the affections faultless in their impulse,
then organic unity of character would be the final consummation of all
human improvement, and it would be criminal, even if it were possible,
to undermine a structure of such priceless value. But short of this
there can be no value in coherency and harmonious consistency as such.
So long as error is an element in it, then for so long the whole product
is vitiated. Undeniably and most fortunately, social virtues are found
side by side with speculative mistakes and the gravest intellectual
imperfections. We may apply to humanity the idea which, as Hebrew
students tell us, is imputed in the Talmud to the Supreme Being. _God
prays_, the Talmud says; and his prayer is this,--'Be it my will that my
mercy overpower my justice.' And so with men, with or without their
will, their mercifulness overpowers their logic. And not their
mercifulness only, but all their good impulses overpower their logic. To
repeat the words which I have put into the objector's mouth, we do not
always work out every vicious principle to its remotest inference. What,
however, is this but to say that in such cases character is saved, not
by its coherency, but by the opposite; to say not that error is useful,
but what is a very different thing, that its mischievousness is
sometimes capable of being averted or minimised?

The apologist may retort that he did not mean answer to the argument
from coherency of conduct. In measuring utility you have to take into
account not merely the service rendered to the objects of the present
hour, but the contribution to growth, progress, and the future. From
this point of view most of the talk about unity of character is not much
more than a glorifying of stagnation. It leaves out of sight the
conditions necessary for the continuance of the unending task of human
improvement. Now whatever ease may be given to an individual or a
generation by social or religious error, such error at any rate can
conduce nothing to further advancement That, at least, is not one of its
possible utilities.

This is also one of the answers to the following plea. 'Though the
knowledge of every positive truth is an useful acquisition, this
doctrine cannot without reservation he applied to negative truth. When
the only truth ascertainable is that nothing can be known, we do not, by
this knowledge, gain any new fact by which to guide ourselves.'[10] But
logical coherency, but a kind of practical everyday coherency, which
may be open to a thousand abstract objections, yet which still secures
both to the individual and to society a number of advantages that might
be endangered by any disturbance of opinion or motive. No doubt, and the
method and season of chasing erroneous opinions and motives out of the
mind must always be a matter of much careful and far-seeing
consideration. Only in the course of such consideration, let us not
admit the notion in any form that error can have even provisional
utility. For it is not the error which confers the advantages that we
desire to preserve, but some true opinion or just motive or high or
honest sentiment, which exists and thrives and operates in spite of the
error and in face of it, springing from man's spontaneous and
unformulated recognition of the real relations of things. This
recognition is very faint in the beginnings of society. It grows clearer
and firmer with each step forward. And in a tolerably civilised age it
has become a force on which you can fairly lean with a considerable
degree of assurance.

And this leads to the central point of the the negative truth that
nothing can be known is in fact a truth that guides us. [Transcriber's
note: sic.] It leads us away from sterile and irreclaimable tracts
of thought and emotion, and so inevitably compels the energies which
would otherwise have been wasted, to feel after a more profitable
direction. By leaving the old guide-marks undisturbed, you may give
ease to an existing generation, but the present ease is purchased at
the cost of future growth. To have been deprived of the faith of the
old dispensation, is the first condition of strenuous endeavour after
the new.

No doubt history abounds with cases in which a false opinion on moral or
religious subjects, or an erroneous motive in conduct, has seemed to be
a stepping-stone to truth. But this is in no sense a demonstration of
the utility of error. For in all such cases the erroneous opinion or
motive was far from being wholly erroneous, or wholly without elements
of truth and reality. If it helped to quicken the speed or mend the
direction of progress, that must have been by virtue of some such
elements within it. All that was error in it was pure waste, or worse
than waste. It is true that the religious sentiment has clothed itself
in a great number of unworthy, inadequate, depressing, and otherwise
misleading shapes, dogmatic and liturgic. Yet on the whole the religious
sentiment has conferred enormous benefits on civilisation. This is no
proof of the utility of the mistaken direction which these dogmatic or
liturgic shapes imposed upon it. On the contrary, the effect of the
false dogmas and enervating liturgies is so much that has to be deducted
from the advantages conferred by a sentiment in itself valuable and of
priceless capability.[11]

Yes, it will be urged, but from the historic conditions of the time,
truth could only be conveyed in erroneous forms, and motives of
permanent price for humanity could only be secured in these mistaken
expressions. Here I would again press the point of this necessity for
erroneous forms and mistaken expressions being, in a great many of the
most important instances, itself derivative, one among other ill
consequences of previous moral and religious error. 'It was gravely
said,' Bacon tells us, 'by some of the prelates in the Council of Trent,
where the doctrines of the Schoolmen have great sway; that the schoolmen
were like Astronomers, which did faigne Eccentricks and Epicycles and
Engines of Orbs to save the Phenomena; though they know there were no
such Things; and in like manner that the Schoolmen had framed a number
of subtile and intricate Axioms and Theorems, to save the practice of
the Church.' This is true of much else besides scholastic axioms and
theorems. Subordinate error was made necessary and invented, by reason
of some pro-existent main stock of error, and to save the practice of
the Church. Thus we are often referred to the consolation which this or
that doctrine has brought to the human spirit. But what if the same
system had produced the terror which made absence of consolation
intolerable? How much of the necessity for expressing the enlarged
humanity of the Church in the doctrine of purgatory, arose from the
existence of the older unsoftened doctrine of eternal hell?

Again, how much of this alleged necessity of error, as alloy for the too
pure metal of sterling truth, is to be explained by the interest which
powerful castes or corporations have had in preserving the erroneous
forms, even when they could not resist, or did not wish to resist, their
impregnation by newer and better doctrine? This interest was not
deliberately sinister or malignant. It may be more correctly as well as
more charitably explained by that infirmity of human nature, which makes
us very ready to believe what it is on other grounds convenient to us to
believe. Nobody attributes to pure malevolence the heartiness with which
the great corporation of lawyers, for example, resist the removal of
superfluous and obstructive forms in their practice; they have come to
look on such forms as indispensable safeguards. Hence powerful teachers
and preachers of all kinds have been spontaneously inclined to suppose
a necessity, which had no real existence, of preserving as much as was
possible of what we know to be error, even while introducing wholesome
modification of it. This is the honest, though mischievous, conservatism
of the human mind. We have no right to condemn our foregoers; far less
to lavish on them the evil names of impostor, charlatan, and brigand,
which the zealous unhistoric school of the last century used so
profusely. But we have a right to say of them, as we say of those who
imitate their policy now, that their conservatism is no additional proof
of the utility of error. Least of all is it any justification for those
who wish to have impressed upon the people a complete system of
religious opinion which men of culture have avowedly put away. And,
moreover, the very priests must, I should think, be supposed to have put
it away also. Else they would hardly be invited deliberately to abdicate
their teaching functions in the very seats where teaching is of the
weightiest and most far-spreading influence.

Meanwhile our point is that the reforms in opinion which have been
effected on the plan of pouring the new wine of truth into the old
bottles of superstition--though not dishonourable to the sincerity of
the reformers--are no testimony to even the temporary usefulness of
error. Those who think otherwise do not look far enough in front of the
event. They forget the evil wrought by the prolonged duration of the
error, to which the added particle of truth may have given new vitality.
They overlook the ultimate enervation that is so often the price paid
for the temporary exaltation.

Nor, finally, can they know the truths which the error thus prolonged
has hindered from coming to the birth. A strenuous disputant has
recently asserted against me that 'the region of the _might have been_
lies beyond the limits of sane speculation.'[12] It in surely extending
optimism too far to insist on carrying it back right through the ages.
To me at any rate the history of mankind is a huge _pis-aller_, just as
our present society is; a prodigious wasteful experiment, from which a
certain number of precious results have been extracted, but which is
not now, nor ever has been at any other time, a final measure of all the
possibilities of the time. This is not inconsistent with the scientific
conception of history; it is not to deny the great law that society has
a certain order of progress; but only to urge that within that, the only
possible order, there is always room for all kinds and degrees of
invention, improvement, and happy or unhappy accident. There is no
discoverable law fixing precisely the more or the less of these; nor how
much of each of them a community shall meet with, nor exactly when it
shall meet with them. We have to distinguish between possibility and
necessity. Only certain steps in advance are possible at a given time;
but it is not inevitable that those potential advances should all be
realised. Does anybody suppose that humanity has had the profit of all
the inventive and improving capacity born into the world? That Turgot,
for example, was the only man that ever lived who might have done more
for society than he was allowed to do, and spared society a cataclysm?
No,--history is a _pis-aller_. It has assuredly not moved without the
relation of cause and effect; it is a record of social growth and its
conditions; but it is also a record of interruption and misadventure and
perturbation. You trace the long chain which has made us what we are in
this aspect and that. But where are the dropped links that might have
made all the difference? _Ubi sunt eorum tabulae qui post vota nuncupate
perierunt_? Where is the fruit of those multitudinous gifts which came
into the world in untimely seasons? We accept the past for the same
reason that we accept the laws of the solar system, though, as Comte
says, 'we can easily conceive them improved in certain respects.' The
past, like the solar system, is beyond reach of modification at our
hands, and we cannot help it. But it is surely the mere midsummer
madness of philosophic complacency to think that we have come by the
shortest and easiest of all imaginable routes to our present point in
the march; to suppose that we have wasted nothing, lost nothing, cruelly
destroyed nothing, on the road. What we have lost is all in the region
of the 'might have been,' and we are justified in taking this into
account, and thinking much of it, and in trying to find causes for the
loss. One of them has been want of liberty for the human intelligence;
and another, to return to our proper subject, has been the prolonged
existence of superstition, of false opinions, and of attachment to gross
symbols, beyond the time when they might have been successfully
attacked, and would have fallen into decay but for the mistaken
political notion of their utility. In making a just estimate of this
utility, if we see reason to believe that these false opinions, narrow
superstitions, gross symbols, have been an impediment to the free
exercise of the intelligence and a worthier culture of the emotions,
then we are justified in placing the unknown loss as a real and most
weighty item in the account against them.

In short, then, the utmost that can be said on behalf of errors in
opinion and motive, is that they are inevitable elements in human
growth. But the inevitable does not coincide with the useful. Pain can
be avoided by none of the sons of men, yet the horrible and
uncompensated subtraction which it makes from the value and usefulness
of human life, is one of the most formidable obstacles to the smoother
progress of the world. And as with pain, so with error. The moral of our
contention has reference to the temper in which practically we ought to
regard false doctrine and ill-directed motive. It goes to show that if
we have satisfied ourselves on good grounds that the doctrine is false,
or the motive ill directed, then the only question that we need ask
ourselves turns solely upon the possibility of breaking it up and
dispersing it, by methods compatible with the doctrine of liberty. Any
embarrassment in dealing with it, due to a semi-latent notion that it
may be useful to some one else is a weakness that hinders social


[Footnote 5: Mill's _Autobiography_ p. 170.]

[Footnote 6: M. Renan's _Réforme Intellectuelle et Morale de la France_,
p. 98.]

[Footnote 7: _Etudes d'Histoire Religieuse_, Preface, p. xvi.]

[Footnote 8: In 1779 the Academy of Prussia announced this as the
question for their annual prize essay:--'_S'il est utile au peuple
d'être trompé_.' They received thirty-three essays; twenty showing that
it is not useful, thirteen showing that it is. The Academy, with an
impartiality that caused much amusement in Paris and Berlin, awarded two
prizes, one to the best proof of the negative answer, another to the
best proof of the affirmative. See Bartholmess, _Hist. Philosophique de
l'Académie de Prusse_, i. 281, and ii. 278. Condorcet did not actually
compete for the prize, but he wrote a very acute piece, suggested by the
theme, which was printed in 1790. _Oeuv._ v. 343.

To illustrate the common fact of certain currents of thought being in
the air at given times, we may mention that in 1770 was published the
posthumous work of another Frenchman, Chesneau du Marsais (1676-1756)
entitled:--'_Essai sur les Préjugés; ou de l'influence des Opinions sur
les Moeurs et sur le Bonheur des Hommes_.' The principal prejudices to
which he refers are classed under Antiquity--Ancestry--Native
Country--Religion--Respect for Wealth. Some of the reasoning is almost
verbally identical with Condorcet's. For an account of Du Marsais, see
D'Alembert, _Oeuv._ iii 481.]

[Footnote 9: _Oeuv._ v. 354.]

[Footnote 10: Mill's _Three Essays on Religion_, p.73. I have offered
some criticisms on the whole passage in _Critical Miscellanies, Second
Series_, pp. 300-304.]

[Footnote 11: 'Enfin, supposons pour un instant que le dogme de l'autre
vie soit de quelqu'utilité, et qu'il retienne vraiment un petit nombre
d'individus, qu'est-ce que ces foibles avantages comparés à la foule de
maux que l'on en voir découler? Contre un homme timide que cette idée
contient, il en est des millions qu'elle ne peut contenir; il en des
millions qu'elle rend insensés, farouches, fanatiques, inutiles et
méchants; il en est des millions qu'elle détourne de leurs devoirs
envers la société; il en est une infinité qu'elle afflige et qu'elle
trouble, sans aucun bien réel pour leurs associés.--_Système de la
Nature_, i. xiii.]

[Footnote 12: Sir J.F. Stephen's _Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity_,
2d. ed., p. 19, _note_.]



We have been considering the position of those who would fain divide the
community into two great castes; the one of thoughtful and instructed
persons using their minds freely, but guarding their conclusions in
strict reserve; the other of the illiterate or unreflecting, who should
have certain opinions and practices taught them, not because they are
true or are really what their votaries are made to believe them to be,
but because the intellectual superiors of the community think the
inculcation of such a belief useful in all cases save their own. Nor is
this a mere theory. On the contrary, it is a fair description of an
existing state of things. We have the old _disciplina arcani_ among us
in as full force as in the primitive church, but with an all-important
difference. The Christian fathers practised reserve for the sake of
leading the acolyte the more surely to the fulness of truth. The modern
economiser keeps back his opinions, or dissembles the grounds of them,
for the sake of leaving his neighbours the more at their ease in the
peaceful sloughs of prejudice and superstition and low ideals. We quote
Saint Paul when he talked of making himself all things to all men, and
of becoming to the Jews a Jew, and as without the Law to the heathen.
But then we do so with a view to justifying ourselves for leaving the
Jew to remain a Jew, and the heathen to remain heathen. We imitate the
same apostle in accepting old time-worn altars dedicated to the Unknown
God. We forget that he made the ancient symbol the starting-point of a
revolutionised doctrine. There is, as anybody can see, a whole world of
difference between the reserve of sagacious apostleship, on the one
hand, dealing tenderly with scruple and tearfulness and fine sensibility
of conscience, and the reserve of intellectual cowardice on the other
hand, dealing hypocritically with narrow minds in the supposed interests
of social peace and quietness. The old _disciplina arcani_ signified
the disclosure of a little light with a view to the disclosure of more.
The new means the dissimulation of truth with a view to the perpetuation
of error. Consider the difference between these two fashions of
compromise, in their effects upon the mind and character of the person
compromising. The one is fully compatible with fervour and hopefulness
and devotion to great causes. The other stamps a man with artifice, and
hinders the free eagerness of his vision, and wraps him about with
mediocrity,--not always of understanding, but that still worse thing,
mediocrity of aspiration and purpose.

The coarsest and most revolting shape which the doctrine of conformity
can assume, and its degrading consequences to the character of the
conformer, may be conveniently illustrated by a passage in the life of
Hume. He looked at things in a more practical manner than would find
favour with the sentimental champions of compromise in nearer times.
There is a well-known letter of Hume's, in which he recommends a young
man to become a clergyman, on the ground that it was very hard to got
any tolerable civil employment, and that as Lord Bute was then all
powerful, his friend would be certain of preferment. In answer to the
young man's scruples as to the Articles and the rest, Hume says:--

'It is putting too great a respect on the vulgar and their superstitions
to pique one's self on sincerity with regard to them. If the thing were
worthy of being treated gravely, I should tell him [the young man] that
the Pythian oracle with the approbation of Xenophon advised every one to
worship the gods--[Greek: nhomô pholeôs]. I wish it were still in my
power to be a hypocrite in this particular. The common duties of society
usually require it; and the ecclesiastical profession only adds a little
more to an innocent dissimulation, or rather simulation, without which
it is impossible to pass through the world.'[13]

This is a singularly straightforward way of stating a view which
silently influences a much greater number of men than it is pleasant to
think of. They would shrink from throwing their conduct into so gross a
formula. They will lift up their hands at this quotation, so strangely
blind are we to the hiding-places of our own hearts, even when others
flash upon them the terrible illumination that comes of calling conduct
and motives by plain names. Now it is not merely the moral improbity of
these cases which revolts us--the improbity of making in solemn form a
number of false statements for the sake of earning a livelihood; of
saying in order to get money or social position that you accept a number
of propositions which in fact you utterly reject; of declaring expressly
that you trust you are inwardly moved to take upon you this office and
ministration by the Holy Ghost, when the real motive is a desire not to
miss the chance of making something out of the Earl of Bute. This side
of such dissimulation is shocking enough. And it is not any more
shocking to the most devout believer than it is to people who doubt
whether there be any Holy Ghost or not. Those who no longer place their
highest faith in powers above and beyond men, are for that very reason
more deeply interested than others in cherishing the integrity and
worthiness of man himself. Apart, however, from the immorality of such
reasoned hypocrisy, which no man with a particle of honesty will
attempt to blink, there is the intellectual improbity which it brings in
its train, the infidelity to truth, the disloyalty to one's own
intelligence. Gifts of understanding are numbed and enfeebled in a man,
who has once played such a trick with his own conscience as to persuade
himself that, because the vulgar are superstitious, it is right for the
learned to earn money by turning themselves into the ministers and
accomplices of superstition. If he is clever enough to see through the
vulgar and their beliefs, he is tolerably sure to be clever enough from
time to time and in his better moments to see through himself. He begins
to suspect himself of being an impostor. That suspicion gradually unmans
him when he comes to use his mind in the sphere of his own
enlightenment. One of really superior power cannot escape these better
moments and the remorse that they bring. As he advances in life, as his
powers ought to be coming to fuller maturity and his intellectual
productiveness to its prime, just in the same degree the increasing
seriousness of life multiplies such moments and deepens their remorse,
and so the light of intellectual promise slowly goes out in impotent
endeavour, or else in taking comfort that much goods are laid up, or,
what is deadliest of all, in a soulless cynicism.

We do not find out until it is too late that the intellect too, at least
where it is capable of being exercised on the higher objects, has its
sensitiveness. It loses its colour and potency and finer fragrance in an
atmosphere of mean purpose and low conception of the sacredness of fact
and reality. Who has not observed inferior original power achieving
greater results even in the intellectual field itself, where the
superior understanding happens to have been unequally yoked with a
self-seeking character, over scenting the expedient? If Hume had been in
the early productive part of his life the hypocrite which he wished it
were in his power to show himself in its latter part, we may be
tolerably sure that European philosophy would have missed one of its
foremost figures. It has been often said that he who begins life by
stifling his convictions is in a fair way for ending it without any
convictions to stifle. We may, perhaps, add that he who sets out with
the notion that the difference between truth and falsehood is a thing of
no concern to the vulgar, is very likely sooner or later to come to the
kindred notion that it is not a thing of any supreme concern to himself.

Let thus much have been said as to those who deliberately and knowingly
sell their intellectual birthright for a mess of pottage, making a
brazen compromise with what they hold despicable, lest they should have
to win their bread honourably. Men need to expend no declamatory
indignation upon them. They have a hell of their own; words can add no
bitterness to it. It is no light thing to have secured a livelihood on
condition of going through life masked and gagged. To be compelled, week
after week, and year after year, to recite the symbols of ancient faith
and lift up his voice in the echoes of old hopes, with the blighting
thought in his soul that the faith is a lie, and the hope no more than
the folly of the crowd; to read hundreds of times in a twelvemonth with
solemn unction as the inspired word of the Supreme what to him are
meaningless as the Abracadabras of the conjuror in a booth; to go on to
the end of his days administering to simple folk holy rites of
commemoration and solace, when he has in his mind at each phrase what
dupes are those simple folk and how wearisomely counterfeit their rites:
and to know through all that this is really to be the one business of
his prostituted life, that so dreary and hateful a piece of play-acting
will make the desperate retrospect of his last hours--of a truth here is
the very [Greek: bdhelygma tês erêmhôseôs], the abomination of
desolation of the human spirit indeed.

No one will suppose that this is designed for the normal type of priest.
But it is well to study tendencies in their extreme catastrophe. This is
only the catastrophe, in one of its many shapes, of the fatal doctrine
that money, position, power, philanthropy, or any of the thousand
seductive masks of the pseudo-expedient, may carry a man away from love
of truth and yet leave him internally unharmed. The depravation that
follows the trucking for money of intellectual freedom and self-respect,
attends in its degree each other departure from disinterested following
of truth, and each other substitution of convenience, whether public or
private, in its place. And both parties to such a compromise are losers.
The world which offers gifts and tacitly undertakes to ask no questions
as to the real state of the timeserver's inner mind, loses no less than
the timeserver himself who receives the gifts and promises to hold his
peace. It is as though a society placed penalties on mechanical
inventions and the exploration of new material resources, and offered
bounties for the steadiest adherence to all ancient processes in culture
and production. The injury to wealth in the one case would not be any
deeper than the injury to morality is in the other.

To pass on to less sinister forms of this abnegation of intellectual
responsibility. In the opening sentences of the first chapter we spoke
of a wise suspense in forming opinions, a wise reserve in expressing
them, and a wise tardiness in trying to realise them. Thus we meant to
mark out the three independent provinces of compromise, each of them
being the subject of considerations that either do not apply at all to
the other two, or else apply in a different degree. Disingenuousness or
self-illusion, arising from a depressing deference to the existing state
of things, or to what is immediately practicable, or to what other
people would think of us if they knew our thoughts, is the result of
compromising truth in the matter of forming and holding opinions.
Secondly, positive simulation is what comes of an unlawful willingness
to compromise in the matter of avowing and publishing them. Finally,
pusillanimity or want of faith is the vice that belongs to unlawful
compromise in the department of action and realisation. This is not
merely a division arranged for convenience of discussion. It goes to the
root of conduct and character, and is the key to the present mood of our
society. It is always a hardy thing to attempt to throw a complex matter
into very simple form, but we should say that the want of energy and
definiteness in contemporary opinions, of which we first complained, is
due mainly to the following notion; that if a subject is not ripe for
practical treatment, you and I are therefore entirely relieved from the
duty of having clear ideas about it. If the majority cling to an
opinion, why should we ask whether that is the sound and right opinion
or the reverse? Now this notion, which springs from a confusion of the
three fields of compromise with one another, quietly reigns almost
without dispute. The devotion to the practical aspect of truth is in
such excess, as to make people habitually deny that it can be worth
while to form an opinion, when it happens at the moment to be incapable
of realisation, for the reason that there is no direct prospect of
inducing a sufficient number of persons to share it. 'We are quite
willing to think that your view is the right one, and would produce all
the improvements for which you hope; but then there is not the smallest
chance of persuading the only persons able to carry out such a view; why
therefore discuss it?' No talk is more familiar to us than this. As if
the mere possibility of the view being a right one did not obviously
entitle it to discussion; discussion being the only process by which
people are likely to be induced to accept it, or else to find good
grounds for finally dismissing it.

It is precisely because we believe that opinion, and nothing but
opinion, can effect great permanent changes, that we ought to be
careful to keep this most potent force honest, wholesome, fearless, and
independent. Take the political field. Politicians and newspapers almost
systematically refuse to talk about a new idea, which is not capable of
being at once embodied in a bill, and receiving the royal assent before
the following August. There is something rather contemptible, seen from
the ordinary standards of intellectual integrity, in the position of a
minister who waits to make up his mind whether a given measure, say the
disestablishment of the Irish Church, is in itself and on the merits
desirable, until the official who runs diligently up and down the
backstairs of the party, tells him that the measure is practicable and
required in the interests of the band. On the one hand, a leader is
lavishly panegyrised for his highmindedness, in suffering himself to be
driven into his convictions by his party. On the other, a party is
extolled for its political tact, in suffering itself to be forced out of
its convictions by its leader. It is hard to decide which is the more
discreditable and demoralising sight. The education of chiefs by
followers, and of followers by chiefs, into the abandonment in a month
of the traditions of centuries or the principles of a lifetime may
conduce to the rapid and easy working of the machine. It certainly marks
a triumph of the political spirit which the author of _The Prince_ might
have admired. It is assuredly mortal to habits of intellectual
self-respect in the society which allows itself to be amused by the
cajolery and legerdemain and self-sophistication of its rulers.

Of course there are excellent reasons why a statesman immersed in the
actual conduct of affairs, should confine his attention to the work
which his hands find to do. But the fact that leading statesmen are of
necessity so absorbed in the tasks of the hour furnishes all the better
reason why as many other people as possible should busy themselves in
helping to prepare opinion for the practical application of unfamiliar
but weighty and promising suggestions, by constant and ready discussion
of them upon their merits. As a matter of fact it is not the men most
occupied who are usually most deaf to new ideas. It is the loungers of
politics, the quidnuncs, gossips, bustling idlers, who are most
industrious in stifling discussion by protests against the waste of
time and the loss of force involved in talking about proposals which are
not exactly ready to be voted on. As it is, everybody knows that
questions are inadequately discussed, or often not discussed at all, on
the ground that the time is not yet come for their solution. Then when
some unforeseen perturbation, or the natural course of things, forces on
the time for their resolution, they are settled in a slovenly,
imperfect, and often downright vicious manner, from the fact that
opinion has not been prepared for solving them in an efficient and
perfect manner. The so-called settlement of the question of national
education is the most recent and most deplorable illustration of what
comes of refusing to examine ideas alleged to be impracticable. Perhaps
we may venture to prophesy that the disendowment of the national church
will supply the next illustration on an imposing scale. Gratuitous
primary instruction, and the redistribution of electoral power, are
other matters of signal importance, which comparatively few men will
consent to discuss seriously and patiently, and for our indifference to
which we shall one day surely smart. A judicious and cool writer has
said that 'an opinion gravely professed by a man of sense and education
demands always respectful consideration--demands and actually receives
it from those whose own sense and education give them a correlative
right; and whoever offends against this sort of courtesy may fairly be
deemed to have forfeited the privileges it secures.'[14] That is the
least part of the matter. The serious mischief is the eventual
miscarriage and loss and prodigal waste of good ideas.

The evil of which we have been speaking comes of not seeing the great
truth, that it is worth while to take pains to find out the best way of
doing a given task, even if you have strong grounds for suspecting that
it will ultimately be done in a worse way. And so also in spheres of
thought away from the political sphere, it is worth while 'to scorn
delights and live laborious days' in order to make as sure as we can of
having the best opinion, even if we know that this opinion has an
infinitely small chance of being speedily or ever accepted by the
majority, or by anybody but ourselves. Truth and wisdom have to bide
their time, and then take their chance after all. The most that the
individual can do is to seek them for himself, even if he seek alone.
And if it is the most, it is also the least. Yet in our present mood we
seem not to feel this. We misunderstand the considerations which should
rightly lead us in practice to surrender some of what we desire, in
order to secure the rest; and rightly make us acquiesce in a second-best
course of action, in order to avoid stagnation or retrogression. We
misunderstand all this, and go on to suppose that there are the same
grounds why we should in our own minds acquiesce in second-best
opinions; why we should mix a little alloy of conventional expression
with the too fine ore of conviction; why we should adopt beliefs that we
suspect in our hearts to be of more than equivocal authenticity, but
into whose antecedents we do not greatly care to inquire, because they
stand so well with the general public. This is compromise or economy or
management of the first of the three kinds of which we are talking. It
is economy applied to the formation of opinion; compromise or management
in making up one's mind.

The lawfulness or expediency of it turns mainly, as with the other two
kinds of compromise, upon the relative rights of the majority and the
minority, and upon the respect which is owing from the latter to the
former. It is a very easy thing for people endowed with the fanatical
temperament, or demoralised by the habit of looking at society
exclusively from the juridical point of view, to insist that no respect
at all, except the respect that arises from being too weak to have your
own way, is due from either to the other. This shallow and mischievous
notion rests either on a misinterpretation of the experience of
civilised societies, or else on nothing more creditable than an
arbitrary and unreflecting temper. Those who have thought most carefully
and disinterestedly about the matter, are agreed that in advanced
societies the expedient course is that no portion of the community
should insist on imposing its own will upon any other portion, except in
matters which are vitally connected with the maintenance of the social
union. The question where this vital connection begins is open to much
discussion. The line defining the sphere of legitimate interference may
be drawn variously, whether at self-regarding acts, or in some other
condition and element of conduct. Wherever this line may be best taken,
not only abstract speculation, but the practical and spontaneous tact of
the world, has decided that there are limits, alike in the interest of
majority and minority, to the rights of either to disturb the other. In
other words, it is expedient in certain affairs that the will of the
majority should be absolutely binding, while in affairs of a different
order it should count for nothing, or as nearly nothing, as the sociable
dependence of a man on his fellows will permit.

Our thesis is this. In the positive endeavour to realise an opinion, to
convert a theory into practice, it may be, and very often is, highly
expedient to defer to the prejudices of the majority, to move very
slowly, to bow to the conditions of the _status quo_, to practise the
very utmost sobriety, self-restraint, and conciliatoriness. The mere
expression of opinion, in the next place, the avowal of dissent from
received notions, the refusal to conform to language which implies the
acceptance of such notions,--this rests on a different footing. Here
the reasons for respecting the wishes and sentiments of the majority are
far less strong, though, as we shall presently see, such reasons
certainly exist, and will weigh with all well-considering men. Finally,
in the formation of an opinion as to the abstract preferableness of one
course of action over another, or as to the truth or falsehood or right
significance of a proposition, the fact that the majority of one's
contemporaries lean in the other direction is naught, and no more than
dust in the balance. In making up our minds as to what would be the
wisest line of policy if it were practicable, we have nothing to do with
the circumstance that it is not practicable. And in settling with
ourselves whether propositions purporting to state matters of fact are
trim or not, we have to consider how far they are conformable to the
evidence. We have nothing to do with the comfort and solace which they
would be likely to bring to others or ourselves, if they were taken as

A nominal assent to this truth will be instantly given even by those who
in practice systematically disregard it. The difficulty of transforming
that nominal assent into a reality is enormous in such a community as
ours. Of all societies since the Roman Republic, and not even excepting
the Roman Republic, England has been the most emphatically and
essentially political. She has passed through military phases and
through religious phases, but they have been transitory, and the great
central stream of national life has flowed in political channels. The
political life has been stronger than any other, deeper, wider, more
persistent, more successful. The wars which built up our far-spreading
empire were not waged with designs of military conquest; they were
mostly wars for a market. The great spiritual emancipation of the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries figures in our history partly as an
accident, partly as an intrigue, partly as a raid of nobles in search of
spoil. It was hardly until the reformed doctrine became associated with
analogous ideas and corresponding precepts in government, that people
felt at home with it, and became really interested in it.

One great tap-root of our national increase has been the growth of
self-government, or government by deliberative bodies, representing
opposed principles and conflicting interests. With the system of
self-government has grown the habit--not of tolerance precisely, for
Englishmen when in earnest are as little in love with tolerance as
Frenchmen or any other people, but--of giving way to the will of the
majority, so long as they remain a majority. This has come to pass for
the simple reason that, on any other terms, the participation of large
numbers of people in the control and arrangement of public affairs
immediately becomes unworkable. The gradual concentration of power in
the hands of a supreme deliberative body, the active share of so many
thousands of persons in choosing and controlling its members, the close
attention with which the proceedings of parliament are followed and
watched, the kind of dignity that has been lent to parliamentary methods
by the great importance of the transactions, have all tended in the same
direction. They have all helped both to fix our strongest and most
constant interests upon politics, and to ingrain the mental habits
proper to politics, far more deeply than any other, into our general
constitution and inmost character.

Thus the political spirit has grown to be the strongest element in our
national life; the dominant force, extending its influence over all our
ways of thinking in matters that have least to do with politics, or even
nothing at all to do with them. There has thus been engendered among us
the real sense of political responsibility. In a corresponding degree
has been discouraged, what it is the object of the present chapter to
urge, the sense of intellectual responsibility. If it were inevitable
that one of these two should always enfeeble or exclude the other, if
the price of the mental alacrity and open-mindedness of the age of
Pericles must always be paid in the political incompetence of the age of
Demosthenes, it would be hard to settle which quality ought to be most
eagerly encouraged by those who have most to do with the spiritual
direction of a community. No doubt the tone of a long-enduring and
imperial society, such as Rome was, must be conservative, drastic,
positive, hostile to the death to every speculative novelty. But then,
after all, the permanence of Roman power was only valuable to mankind
because it ensured the spread of certain civilising ideas. And these
ideas had originated among people so characteristically devoid of the
sovereign faculty of political coherency as were the Greeks and the
Jews. In the Greeks, it is true, we find not only ideas of the highest
speculative fertility, but actual political institutions. Still we
should hardly point to Greek history for the most favourable examples of
their stable working. Practically and as a matter of history, a society
is seldom at the same time successfully energetic both in temporals and
spirituals; seldom prosperous alike in seeking abstract truth and
nursing the political spirit. There is a decisive preponderance in one
direction or the other, and the equal balance between free and active
thinking, and coherent practical energy in a community, seems too hard
to sustain. The vast military and political strength of Germany, for
instance, did not exist, and was scarcely anticipated in men's minds,
during the time of her most strenuous passion for abstract truth and
deeper learning and new criticism. In France never was political and
national interest so debilitated, so extinct, as it was during the reign
of Lewis the Fifteenth: her intellectual interest was never so vivid,
so fruitful, or so widely felt.

Yet it is at least well, and more than that, it is an indispensable
condition of social wellbeing, that the divorce between political
responsibility and intellectual responsibility, between respect for what
is instantly practicable and search after what is only important in
thought, should not be too complete and universal. Even if there were no
other objection, the undisputed predominance of the political spirit has
a plain tendency to limit the subjects in which the men animated by it
can take a real interest. All matters fall out of sight, or at least
fall into a secondary place, which do not bear more or less directly and
patently upon the material and structural welfare of the community. In
this way the members of the community miss the most bracing, widening,
and elevated of the whole range of influences that create great
characters. First, they lose sincere concern about the larger questions
which the human mind has raised up for itself. Second, they lose a
fearless desire to reach the true answers to them, or if no certain
answers should prove to be within reach, then at any rate to be
satisfied on good grounds that this is so. Such questions are not
immediately discerned by commonplace minds to be of social import.
Consequently they, and all else that is not obviously connected with the
machinery of society, give way in the public consideration to what is so
connected with it, in a manner that cannot be mistaken.

Again, even minds that are not commonplace are affected for the worse by
the same spirit. They are aware of the existence of the great
speculative subjects and of their importance, but the pressure of the
political spirit on such men makes them afraid of the conclusions to
which free inquiry might bring them. Accordingly they abstain from
inquiry, and dread nothing so much as making up their minds. They see
reasons for thinking that, if they applied themselves seriously to the
formation of true opinions in this or that department, they would come
to conclusions which, though likely to make their way in the course of
some centuries, are wholly unpopular now, and which might ruin the
influence of anybody suspected of accepting, or even of so much as
leaning towards, them. Life, they reflect, is short; missionaries do
not pass for a very agreeable class, nor martyrs for a very sensible
class; one can only do a trifling amount of good in the world, at best;
it is moral suicide to throw away any chance of achieving even that
trifle; and therefore it is best not only not to express, but not to
take the trouble to acquire, right views in this quarter or that, and to
draw clear away from such or such a region of thought, for the sake of
keeping peace on earth and superficial good will among men.

It would be too harsh to stigmatise such a train of thought as
self-seeking and hypocritical. It is the natural product of the
political spirit, which is incessantly thinking of present consequences
and the immediately feasible. There is nothing in the mere dread of
losing it, to hinder influence from being well employed, so far as it
goes. But one can hardly overrate the ill consequences of this
particular kind of management, this unspoken bargaining with the little
circle of his fellows which constitutes the world of a man. If he may
retain his place among them as preacher or teacher, he is willing to
forego his birthright of free explanation; he consents to be blind to
the duty which attaches to every intelligent man of having some clear
ideas, even though only provisional ones, upon the greatest subjects of
human interest, and of deliberately preferring these, whatever they may
be, to their opposites. Either an individual or a community is fatally
dwarfed by any such limitation of the field in which one is free to use
his mind. For it is a limitation, not prescribed by absorption in one
set of subjects rather than another, nor by insufficient preparation for
the discussion of certain subjects, nor by indolence nor incuriousness,
but solely by apprehension of the conclusions to which such use of the
mind might bring the too courageous seeker. If there were no other ill
effect, this kind of limitation would at least have the radical
disadvantage of dulling the edge of responsibility, of deadening the
sharp sense of personal answerableness either to a God, or to society,
or to a man's own conscience and intellectual self-respect.

How momentous a disadvantage this is, we can best know by contemplating
the characters which have sometimes lighted up the old times. Men were
then devoutly persuaded that their eternal salvation depended on their
having true beliefs. Any slackness in finding out which beliefs are the
true ones would have to be answered for before the throne of Almighty
God, at the sure risk and peril of everlasting damnation. To what
quarter in the large historic firmament can we turn our eyes with such
certainty of being stirred and elevated, of thinking better of human
life and the worth of those who have been most deeply penetrated by its
seriousness, as to the annals of the intrepid spirits whom the
protestant doctrine of indefeasible personal responsibility brought to
the front in Germany in the sixteenth century, and in England and
Scotland in the seventeenth? It is not their fanaticism, still less is
it their theology, which makes the great Puritan chiefs of England and
the stern Covenanters of Scotland so heroic in our sight. It is the fact
that they sought truth and ensued it, not thinking of the practicable
nor cautiously counting majorities and minorities, but each man
pondering and searching so 'as ever in the great Taskmaster's eye.'

It is no adequate answer to urge that this awful consciousness of a
divine presence and supervision has ceased to be the living fact it once
was. That partly explains, but it certainly does not justify, our
present lassitude. For the ever-wakeful eye of celestial power is not
the only conceivable stimulus to responsibility. To pass from those grim
heroes of protestantism to the French philosophers of the last century
is a wide leap in a hundred respects, yet they too were pricked by the
oestrus of intellectual responsibility. Their doctrine was dismally
insufficient, and sometimes, as the present writer has often pointed
out, it was directly vicious. Their daily lives were surrounded by much
shabbiness and many meannesses. But, after all, no temptation and no
menace, no pains or penalties for thinking about certain subjects, and
no rewards for turning to think about something else, could divert such
men as Voltaire and Diderot from their alert and strenuous search after
such truth as could be vouchsafed to their imperfect lights. A
catastrophe followed, it is true, but the misfortunes which attended it
were due more to the champions of tradition and authority than to the
soldiers of emancipation. Even in the case of the latter, they were due
to an inadequate doctrine, and not at all either to their sense of the
necessity of free speculation and inquiry, or to the intrepidity with
which they obeyed the promptings of that ennobling sense.

Perhaps the latest attempt of a considerable kind to suppress the
political spirit in non-political concerns was the famous movement which
had its birth a generation ago among the gray quadrangles and ancient
gardens of Oxford, 'the sweet city with her dreaming spires,' where
there has ever been so much detachment from the world, alongside of the
coarsest and fiercest hunt after the grosser prizes of the world. No one
has much less sympathy with the direction of the tractarian revival than
the present writer, in whose Oxford days the star of Newman had set, and
the sun of Mill had risen in its stead. And it is needful to distinguish
the fervid and strong spirits with whom the revival began from the
mimics of our later day. No doubt the mere occasion of tractarianism was
political. Its leaders were alarmed at the designs imputed to the newly
reformed parliament of disestablishing the Anglican Church. They asked
themselves the question, which I will put in their own words (_Tract_
i.)--'Should the government of the country so far forget their God as to
cut off the Church, to deprive it of its temporal honours and substance,
on what will you rest the claims to respect and attention which you make
upon your flock? In answering this question they speedily found
themselves, as might have been expected, at the opposite pole of thought
from things political. The whole strength of their appeal to members of
the Church lay in men's weariness of the high and dry optimism, which
presents the existing order of things as the noblest possible, and the
undisturbed way of the majority as the way of salvation. Apostolical
succession and Sacramentalism may not have been in themselves
progressive ideas. The spirit which welcomed them had at least the
virtue of taking away from Caesar the things that are not Caesar's.

Glaring as were the intellectual faults of the Oxford movement, it was
at any rate a recognition in a very forcible way of the doctrine that
spiritual matters are not to be settled by the dicta of a political
council. It acknowledged that a man is answerable at his own peril for
having found or lost the truth. It was a warning that he must reckon
with a judge who will not account the _status quo_, nor the convenience
of a cabinet, a good plea for indolent acquiescence in theological
error. It ended, in the case of its most vigorous champions, in a final
and deliberate putting out of the eyes of the understanding. The last
act of assertion of personal responsibility was a headlong acceptance of
the responsibility of tradition and the Church. This was deplorable
enough. But apart from other advantages incidental to the tractarian
movement, such as the attention which it was the means of drawing to
history and the organic connection between present and past, it had, we
repeat, the merit of being an effective protest against what may be
called the House of Commons' view of human life--a view excellent in its
place, but most blighting and dwarfing out of it. It was, what every
sincere uprising of the better spirit in men and women must always be,
an effective protest against the leaden tyranny of the man of the world
and the so-called practical person. The man of the world despises
catholics for taking their religious opinions on trust and being the
slaves of tradition. As if he had himself formed his own most important
opinions either in religion or anything else. He laughs at them for
their superstitious awe of the Church. As if his own inward awe of the
Greater Number were one whit less of a superstition. He mocks their
deference for the past. As if his own absorbing deference to the present
were one tittle better bottomed or a jot more respectable. The modern
emancipation will profit us very little if the _status quo_ is to be
fastened round our necks with the despotic authority of a heavenly
dispensation, and if in the stead of ancient Scriptures we are to accept
the plenary inspiration of Majorities.

It may be urged that if, as it is the object of the present chapter to
state, there are opinions which a man should form for himself, and which
it may yet be expedient that he should not only be slow to attempt to
realise in practical life, but sometimes even slow to express,--then we
are demanding from him the performance of a troublesome duty, while we
are taking from him the only motives which could really induce him to
perform it. If, it may be asked, I am not to carry my notions into
practice, nor try to induce others to accept them, nor even boldly
publish them, why in the name of all economy of force should I take so
much pains in forming opinions which are, after all, on these conditions
so very likely to come to naught? The answer to this is that opinions do
not come to naught, even if the man who holds them should never think
fit to publish them. For one thing, as we shall see in our next
division, the conditions which make against frank declaration of our
convictions are of rare occurrence. And, apart from this, convictions
may well exert a most decisive influence over our conduct, even if
reasons exist, or seem to exist, for not pressing them on others. Though
themselves invisible to the outer world, they may yet operate with
magnetic force both upon other parts of our belief which the outer world
does see, and upon the whole of our dealings with it. Whether we are
good or bad, it is only a broken and incoherent fragment of our whole
personality that even those who are intimate with us, much less the
common world, can ever come into contact with. The important thing is
that the personality itself should be as little as possible broken,
incoherent, and fragmentary; that reasoned and consistent opinions
should back a firm will, and independent convictions inspire the
intellectual self-respect and strenuous self-possession which the
clamour of majorities and the silent yet ever-pressing force of the
_status quo_ are equally powerless to shake.

Character is doubtless of far more importance than mere intellectual
opinion. We only too often see highly rationalised convictions in
persons of weak purpose or low motives. But while fully recognising
this, and the sort of possible reality which lies at the root of such a
phrase as 'godless intellect' or 'intellectual devils'--though the
phrase has no reality when it is used by self-seeking politicians or
prelates--yet it is well to remember the very obvious truth that
opinions are at least an extremely important part of character. As it is
sometimes put, what we think has a prodigiously close connection with
what we are. The consciousness of having reflected seriously and
conclusively on important questions, whether social or spiritual,
augments dignity while it does not lessen humility. In this sense,
taking thought can and does add a cubit to our stature. Opinions which
we may not feel bound or even permitted to press on other people, are
not the less forces for being latent. They shape ideals, and it is
ideals that inspire conduct. They do this, though from afar, and though
he who possesses them may not presume to take the world into his
confidence. Finally, unless a man follows out ideas to their full
conclusion without fear what the conclusion may be, whether he thinks it
expedient to make his thought and its goal fully known or not, it is
impossible that he should acquire a commanding grasp of principles. And
a commanding grasp of principles, whether they are public or not, is at
the very root of coherency of character. It raises mediocrity near to a
level with the highest talents, if those talents are in company with a
disposition that allows the little prudences of the hour incessantly to
obscure the persistent laws of things. These persistencies, if a man
has once satisfied himself of their direction and mastered their
bearings and application, are just as cogent and valuable a guide to
conduct, whether he publishes them _ad urbem et orbem_, or esteems them
too strong meat for people who have, through indurated use and wont,
lost the courage of facing unexpected truths.

One conspicuous result of the failure to see that our opinions have
roots to them, independently of the feelings which either majorities or
other portions of the people around us may entertain about them, is that
neither political matters nor any other serious branches of opinion,
engage us in their loftiest or most deep-reaching forms. The advocate of
a given theory of government or society is so misled by a wrong
understanding of the practice of just and wise compromise in applying
it, as to forget the noblest and most inspiring shape which his theory
can be made to assume. It is the worst of political blunders to insist
on carrying an ideal set of principles into execution, where others have
rights of dissent, and those others persons whose assent is as
indispensable to success, as it is impossible to attain. But to be
afraid or ashamed of holding such an ideal set of principles in one's
mind in their highest and most abstract expression, does more than any
one other cause to stunt or petrify those elements in character to which
life should owe most of its savour.

If a man happens to be a Conservative, for instance, it is pitiful that
he should think so much more of what other people on his side or the
other think, than of the widest and highest of the ideas on which a
conservative philosophy of life and human society reposes. Such ideas
are these,--that the social union is the express creation and ordering
of the Deity: that its movements follow his mysterious and fixed
dispensation: that the church and the state are convertible terms, and
each citizen of the latter is an incorporated member of the former: that
conscience, if perversely and misguidedly self-asserting, has no rights
against the decrees of the conscience of the nation: that it is the most
detestable of crimes to perturb the pacific order of society either by
active agitation or speculative restlessness; that descent from a long
line of ancestors in great station adds an element of dignity to life,
and imposes many high obligations. We do not say that these and the
rest of the propositions which make up the true theoretic basis of a
conservative creed, are proper for the hustings, or expedient in an
election address or a speech in parliament. We do say that if these high
and not unintelligible principles, which alone can give to reactionary
professions any worth or significance, were present in the minds of men
who speak reactionary language, the country would be spared the ignominy
of seeing certain real truths of society degraded at the hands of
aristocratic adventurers and plutocratic parasites into some miserable
process of 'dishing Whigs.'

This impoverishment of aims and depravation of principles by the triumph
of the political spirit outside of its proper sphere, cannot
unfortunately be restricted to any one set of people in the state. It is
something in the very atmosphere, which no sanitary cordon can limit.
Liberalism, too, would be something more generous, more attractive--yes,
and more practically effective, if its professors and champions could
allow their sense of what is feasible to be refreshed and widened by a
more free recognition, however private and undemonstrative, of the
theoretic ideas which give their social creed whatever life and
consistency it may have. Such ideas are these: That the conditions of
the social union are not a mystery, only to be touched by miracle, but
the results of explicable causes, and susceptible of constant
modification: that the thoughts of wise and patriotic men should be
perpetually turned towards the improvement of these conditions in every
direction: that contented acquiescence in the ordering that has come
down to us from the past is selfish and anti-social, because amid the
ceaseless change that is inevitable in a growing organism, the
institutions of the past demand progressive re-adaptations: that such
improvements are most likely to be secured in the greatest abundance by
limiting the sphere of authority, extending that of free individuality,
and steadily striving after the bestowal, so far as the nature of things
will ever permit it, of equality of opportunity: that while there is
dignity in ancestry, a modern society is only safe in proportion as it
summons capacity to its public counsels and enterprises; that such a
society to endure must progress: that progress on its political side
means more than anything else the substitution of Justice as a governing
idea, instead of Privilege, and that the best guarantee for justice in
public dealings is the participation in their own government of the
people most likely to suffer from injustice. This is not an exhaustive
account of the progressive doctrine, and we have here nothing to say as
to its soundness. We only submit that if those who use the watchwords of
Liberalism were to return upon its principles, instead of dwelling
exclusively on practical compromises, the tone of public life would be
immeasurably raised. The cause of social improvement would be less
systematically balked of the victories that are best worth gaining.
Progress would mean something more than mere entrances and exits on the
theatre of office. We should not see in the mass of parliamentary
candidates--and they are important people, because nearly every
Englishman with any ambition is a parliamentary candidate, actual or
potential--that grave anxiety, that sober rigour, that immense caution,
which are all so really laughable, because so many of those men are only
anxious lest they should make a mistake in finding out what the
majority of their constituents would like them to think; only rigorous
against those who are indiscreet enough to press a principle against the
beck of a whip or a wire-puller; and only very cautious not so much lest
their opinion should be wrong, as lest it should not pay.

Indolence and timidity have united to popularise among us a flaccid
latitudinarianism, which thinks itself a benign tolerance for the
opinions of others. It is in truth only a pretentious form of being
without settled opinions of our own, and without any desire to settle
them. No one can complain of the want of speculative activity at the
present time in a certain way. The air, at a certain social elevation,
is as full as it has ever been of ideas, theories, problems, possible
solutions, suggested questions, and proffered answers. But then they are
at large, without cohesion, and very apt to be the objects even in the
more instructed minds of not much more than dilettante interest. We see
in solution an immense number of notions, which people think it quite
unnecessary to precipitate in the form of convictions. We constantly
hear the age lauded for its tolerance, for its candour, for its openness
of mind, for the readiness with which a hearing is given to ideas that
forty years ago, or even less than that, would have excluded persons
suspected of holding them from decent society, and in fact did so
exclude them. Before, however, we congratulate ourselves too warmly on
this, let us be quite sure that we are not mistaking for tolerance what
is really nothing more creditable than indifference. These two attitudes
of mind, which are so vitally unlike in their real quality, are so hard
to distinguish in their outer seeming.

One is led to suspect that carelessness is the right name for what looks
like reasoned toleration, by such a line of consideration as the
following. It is justly said that at the bottom of all the great
discussions of modern society lie the two momentous questions, first
whether there is a God, and second whether the soul is immortal. In
other words, whether our fellow-creatures are the highest beings who
take an interest in us, or in whom we need take an interest; and, then,
whether life in this world is the only life of which we shall ever be
conscious. It is true of most people that when they are talking of
evolution, and the origin of species, and the experiential or
intuitional source of ideas, and the utilitarian or transcendental basis
of moral obligation, these are the questions which they really have in
their minds. Now, in spite of the scientific activity of the day, nobody
is likely to contend that men are pressed keenly in their souls by any
poignant stress of spiritual tribulation in the face of the two supreme
enigmas. Nobody will say that there is much of that striving and
wrestling and bitter agonising, which whole societies of men have felt
before now on questions of far less tremendous import. Ours, as has been
truly said, is 'a time of loud disputes and weak convictions,' In a
generation deeply impressed by a sense of intellectual responsibility
this could not be. As it is, even superior men are better pleased to
play about the height of these great arguments, to fly in busy
intellectual sport from side to side, from aspect to aspect, than they
are intent on resolving what it is, after all, that the discussion comes
to and to which solution, when everything has been said and heard, the
balance of truth really to incline. There are too many giggling
epigrams; people are too willing to look on collections of mutually
hostile opinions with the same kind of curiosity which they bestow on a
collection of mutually hostile beasts in a menagerie. They have very
faint predilections for one rather than another. If they were truly
alive to the duty of conclusiveness, or to the inexpressible magnitude
of the subjects which nominally occupy their minds, but really only
exercise their tongues, this elegant Pyrrhonism would be impossible, and
this light-hearted neutrality most unendurable.

Well has the illustrious Pascal said with reference to one of the two
great issues of the modern controversy:--'The immortality of the soul is
a thing that concerns us so closely and touches us so profoundly, that
one must have lost all feeling to be indifferent as to knowing how the
matter is. All our actions and all our thoughts must follow such
different paths, according as there are eternal goods to hope for or are
not, that it is impossible to take a step with sense and judgment,
without regulating it in view of this point, which ought to be our first
object.... I can have nothing but compassion for those who groan and
travail in this doubt with all sincerity, who look on it as the worst of
misfortunes, and who, sparing no pains to escape from it, make of this
search their chief and most serious employment.... But he who doubts and
searches not is at the same time a grievous wrongdoer, and a grievously
unfortunate man. If along with this he is tranquil and self-satisfied,
if he publishes his contentment to the world and plumes himself upon it,
and if it is this very state of doubt which he makes the subject of his
joy and vanity--I have no terms in which to describe so extravagant a
creature.'[15] Who, except a member of the school of extravagant
creatures themselves, would deny that Pascal's irritation is most
wholesome and righteous?

Perhaps in reply to this, we may be confronted by our own doctrine of
intellectual responsibility interpreted in a directly opposite sense. We
may be reminded of the long array of difficulties that interfere between
us and knowledge in that tremendous matter, and of objections that rise
in such perplexing force to an answer either one way or the other. And
finally we may be despatched with a eulogy of caution and a censure of
too great heat after certainty. The answer is that there is a kind of
Doubt not without search, but after and at the end of search, which is
not open to Pascal's just reproaches against the more ignoble and
frivolous kind. And this too has been described for us by a subtle
doctor of Pascal's communion. 'Are there pleasures of Doubt, as well as
of Inference and Assent? In one sense there are. Not indeed if doubt
means ignorance, uncertainty, or hopeless suspense; but there is a
certain grave acquiescence in ignorance, a recognition of our impotence
to solve momentous and urgent questions, which has a satisfaction of its
own. After high aspirations, after renewed endeavours, after bootless
toil, after long wanderings, after hope, effort, weariness, failure,
painfully alternating and recurring, it is an immense relief to the
exhausted mind to be able to say, "At length I know that I can know
nothing about anything." ... Ignorance remains the evil which it ever
was, but something of the peace of certitude is gained in knowing the
worst, and in having reconciled the mind to the endurance of it.'[16]
Precisely, and what one would say of our own age is that it will not
deliberately face this knowledge of the worst. So it misses the peace of
certitude, and not only its peace, but the strength and coherency that
follow strict acceptance of the worst, when the worst is after all the
best within reach.

Those who are in earnest when they blame too great haste after
certainty, do in reality mean us to embrace certainty, but in favour of
the vulgar opinions. They only see the prodigious difficulties of the
controversy when you do not incline to their own side in it. They only
panegyrise caution and the strictly provisional when they suspect that
intrepidity and love of the conclusive would lead them to unwelcome
shores. These persons, however, whether fortunately or unfortunately,
have no longer much influence over the most active part of the national
intelligence. Whether permanently or not, resolute orthodoxy, however
prosperous it may seem among many of the uncultivated rich, has lost its
hold upon thought. For thought has become dispersive, and the
centrifugal forces of the human mind, among those who think seriously,
have for the time become dominant and supreme. No one, I suppose,
imagines that the singular ecclesiastical revival which is now going on,
is accompanied by any revival of real and reasoned belief; or that the
opulent manufacturers who subscribe so generously for restored cathedral
fabrics and the like, have been moved by the apologetics of _Aids to
Faith_ and the Christian Evidence Society.

Obviously only three ways of dealing with the great problems of which we
have spoken are compatible with a strong and well-bottomed character. We
may affirm that there is a deity with definable attributes; and that
there is a conscious state and continued personality after the
dissolution of the body. Or we may deny. Or we may assure ourselves that
we have no faculties enabling us on good evidence either to deny or
affirm. Intellectual self-respect and all the qualities that are derived
from that, may well go with any one of these three courses, decisively
followed and consistently applied in framing a rule of life and a
settled scheme of its aims and motives. Why do we say that intellectual
self-respect is not vigorous, nor the sense of intellectual
responsibility and truthfulness and coherency quick and wakeful among
us? Because so many people, even among those who might be expected to
know better, insist on the futile attempt to reconcile all those
courses, instead of fixing on one and steadily abiding in it. They speak
as if they affirmed, and they act as if they denied, and in their hearts
they cherish a slovenly sort of suspicion that we can neither deny nor
affirm. It may be said that this comes to much the same thing as if they
had formally decided in the last or neutral sense. It is not so. This
illegitimate union of three contradictories fritters character away,
breaks it up into discordant parts, and dissolves into mercurial
fluidity that leavening sincerity and free and cheerful boldness, which
come of harmonious principles of faith and action, and without which men
can never walk as confident lovers of justice and truth.

Ambrose's famous saying, that 'it hath not pleased the Lord to give his
people salvation in dialectic,' has a profound meaning far beyond its
application to theology. It is deeply true that our ruling convictions
are less the product of ratiocination than of sympathy, imagination,
usage, tradition. But from this it does not follow that the reasoning
faculties are to be further discouraged. On the contrary, just because
the other elements are so strong that they can be trusted to take care
of themselves, it is expedient to give special countenance to the
intellectual habits, which alone can check and rectify the constantly
aberrating tendencies of sentiment on the one side, and custom on the
other. This remark brings us to another type, of whom it is not
irrelevant to speak shortly in this place. The consequences of the
strength of the political spirit are not all direct, nor does its
strength by any means spring solely from its indulgence to the less
respectable elements of character, such as languor, extreme pliableness,
superficiality. On the contrary, it has an indirect influence in
removing the only effective restraint on the excesses of some qualities
which, when duly directed and limited, are among the most precious parts
of our mental constitution. The political spirit is the great force in
throwing love of truth and accurate reasoning into a secondary place.
The evil does not stop here. This achievement has indirectly
countenanced the postponement of intellectual methods, and the
diminution of the sense of intellectual responsibility, by a school that
is anything rather than political.

Theology has borrowed, and coloured for her own use, the principles
which were first brought into vogue in politics. If in the one field it
is the fashion to consider convenience first and truth second, in the
other there is a corresponding fashion of placing truth second and
emotional comfort first. If there are some who compromise their real
opinions, or the chance of reaching truth, for the sake of gain, there
are far more who shrink from giving their intelligence free play, for
the sake of keeping undisturbed certain luxurious spiritual
sensibilities. This choice of emotional gratification before truth and
upright dealing with one's own understanding, creates a character that
is certainly far less unlovely than those who sacrifice their
intellectual integrity to more material convenience. The moral flaw is
less palpable and less gross. Yet here too there is the stain of
intellectual improbity, and it is perhaps all the more mischievous for
being partly hidden under the mien of spiritual exaltation.

There is in literature no more seductive illustration of this seductive
type than Rousseau's renowned character of the Savoyard
Vicar--penetrated with scepticism as to the attributes of the deity, the
meaning of the holy rites, the authenticity of the sacred documents; yet
full of reverence, and ever respecting in silence what he could neither
reject nor understand. 'The essential worship,' he says, 'is the worship
of the heart. God never rejects this homage, under whatever form it be
offered to him. In old days I used to say mass with the levity which in
time infects even the gravest things when we do them too often. Since
acquiring my new principles [of reverential scepticism] I celebrate it
with more veneration: I am overcome by the majesty of the Supreme Being,
by his presence, by the insufficiency of the human mind, which conceives
so ill what pertains to its author. When I approach the moment of
consecration, I collect myself for performing the act with all the
feelings required by the church and the majesty of the sacrament. I
strive to annihilate my reason before the Supreme Intelligence, saying,
Who art thou that thou shouldst measure infinite power?'[17]

The Savoyard Vicar is not imaginary. The acquiescence in indefinite
ideas for the sake of comforted emotions, and the abnegation of strong
convictions in order to make room for free and plenteous effusion, have
for us all the marks of a too familiar reality. Such a doctrine is an
everyday plea for self-deception, and a current justification for
illusion even among some of the finer spirits. They have persuaded
themselves not only that the life of the religious emotions is the
highest life, but that it is independent of the intellectual forms with
which history happens to have associated it. And so they refine and
sophisticate and make havoc with plain and honest interpretation, in
order to preserve a soft serenity of soul unperturbed.

Now, we are not at all concerned to dispute such positions as that
Feeling is the right starting-point of moral education; that in forming
character appeal should be to the heart rather than to the
understanding; that the only basis on which our faculties can be
harmoniously ordered is the preponderance of affection over reason.
These propositions open much grave and complex discussion, and they are
not to our present purpose. We only desire to state the evil of the
notion that a man is warranted in comforting himself with dogmas and
formularies, which he has first to empty of all definite, precise, and
clearly determinable significance, before he can get them out of the way
of his religious sensibilities. Whether Reason or Affection is to have
the empire in the society of the future, when Reason may possibly have
no more to discover for us in the region of morals and religion, and so
will have become _emeritus_ and taken a lower place, as of a tutor whose
services the human family, being now grown up, no longer
requires,--however this may be, it is at least certain that in the
meantime the spiritual life of man needs direction quite as much as it
needs impulse, and light quite as much as force. This direction and
light can only be safely procured by the free and vigorous use of the
intelligence. But the intelligence is not free in the presence of a
mortal fear lest its conclusions should trouble soft tranquillity of
spirit. There is always hope of a man so long as he dwells in the region
of the direct categorical proposition and the unambiguous term; so long
as he does not deny the rightly drawn conclusion after accepting the
major and minor premisses. This may seem a scanty virtue and very easy
grace. Yet experience shows it to be too hard of attainment for those
who tamper with disinterestedness of conviction, for the sake of
luxuriating in the softness of spiritual transport without interruption
from a syllogism. It is true that there are now and then in life as in
history noble and fair natures, that by the silent teaching and
unconscious example of their inborn purity, star-like constancy, and
great devotion, do carry the world about them to further heights of
living than can be attained by ratiocination. But these, the blameless
and loved saints of the earth, rise too rarely on our dull horizons to
make a rule for the world. The law of things is that they who tamper
with veracity, from whatever motive, are tampering with the vital force
of human progress. Our comfort and the delight of the religious
imagination are no better than forms of self-indulgence, when they are
secured at the cost of that love of truth on which, more than on
anything else, the increase of light and happiness among men must
depend. We have to fight and do lifelong battle against the forces of
darkness, and anything that turns the edge of reason blunts the surest
and most potent of our weapons.


[Footnote 13: Burton's _Lift of Hume,_ ii. 186-188]

[Footnote 14: Isaac Taylor's _Natural History of Enthusiasm_, p. 226.]

[Footnote 15: _Pensées_, II. Art ii.]

[Footnote 16: Dr. Newman's _Grammar of Assent_, p. 201.]

[Footnote 17: _Emile_, bk. iv.]



The main field of discussion touching Compromise in expression and
avowal lies in the region of religious belief. In politics no one
seriously contends that respect for the feelings and prejudices of other
people requires us to be silent about our opinions. A republican, for
instance, is at perfect liberty to declare himself so. Nobody will say
that he is not within his rights if he should think it worth while to
practise this liberty, though of course he will have to face the obloquy
which attends all opinion that is not shared by the more demonstrative
and vocal portions of the public. It is true that in every stable
society a general conviction prevails of the extreme undesirableness of
constantly laying bare the foundations of government. Incessant
discussion of the theoretical bases of the social union is naturally
considered worse than idle. It is felt by many wise men that the chief
business of the political thinker is to interest himself in
generalisations of such a sort as leads with tolerable straightness to
practical improvements of a far-reaching and durable kind. Even among
those, however, who thus feel it not to be worth while to be for ever
handling the abstract principles which are, after all, only clumsy
expressions of the real conditions that bring and keep men together in
society, yet nobody of any consideration pretends to silence or limit
the free discussion of these principles. Although a man is not likely to
be thanked who calls attention to the vast discrepancies between the
theory and practice of the constitution, yet nobody now would
countenance the notion of an inner doctrine in politics. We smile at the
line that Hume took in speaking of the doctrine of non-resistance. He
did not deny that the right of resistance to a tyrannical sovereign does
actually belong to a nation. But, he said, 'if ever on any occasion it
were laudable to conceal truth from the populace, it must be confessed
that the doctrine of resistance affords such an example; and that all
speculative reasoners ought to observe with regard to this principle
the same cautious silence which the laws, in every species of
government, have ever prescribed to themselves.' As if the cautious
silence of the political writer could prevent a populace from feeling
the heaviness of an oppressor's hand, and striving to find relief from
unjust burdens. As if any nation endowed with enough of the spirit of
independence to assent to the right of resistance when offered to them
as a speculative theorem, would not infallibly be led by the same spirit
to assert the right without the speculative theorem. That so acute a
head as Hume's should have failed to perceive these very plain
considerations, and that he should moreover have perpetrated the
absurdity of declaring the right of resistance, in the same breath in
which he declares the laudableness of keeping it a secret, only allows
how carefully a man need steer after he has once involved himself in the
labyrinths of Economy.[18]

In religion the unreasonableness of imposing a similar cautious silence
is not yet fully established, nor the vicious effects of practising it
clearly recognised. In these high matters an amount of economy and
management is held praiseworthy, which in any other subject would be
universally condemned as cowardly and ignoble. Indeed the preliminary
stage has scarcely been reached--the stage in which public opinion
grants to every one the unrestricted right of shaping his own beliefs,
independently of those of the people who surround him. Any woman, for
instance, suspected of having cast behind her the Bible and all
practices of devotion and the elementary articles of the common creed,
would be distrustfully regarded even by those who wink at the same kind
of mental boldness in men. Nay, she would be so regarded even by some of
the very men who have themselves discarded as superstition what they
still wish women to retain for law and gospel. So long as any class of
adults are effectually discouraged in the free use of their minds upon
the most important subjects, we are warranted in saying that the era of
free thought, which naturally precedes the era of free speech, is still
imperfectly developed.

The duties and rights of free speech are by no means identical with
those of independent thought. One general reason for this is tolerably
plain. The expression of opinion directly affects other people, while
its mere formation directly affects no one but ourselves. Therefore the
limits of compromise in expression are less widely and freely placed,
because the rights and interests of all who may be made listeners to our
spoken or written words are immediately concerned. In forming opinions,
a man or woman owes no consideration to any person or persons whatever.
Truth is the single object. It is truth that in the forum of conscience
claims an undivided allegiance. The publication of opinion stands on
another footing. That is an external act, with possible consequences,
like all other external acts, both to the doer and to every one within
the sphere of his influence. And, besides these, it has possible
consequences to the prosperity of the opinion itself.[19]

A hundred questions of fitness, of seasonableness, of conflicting
expediencies, present themselves in this connection, and nothing gives
more anxiety to a sensible man who holds notions opposed to the current
prejudices, than to hit the right mark where intellectual integrity and
prudence, firmness and wise reserve, are in exact accord. When we come
to declaring opinions that are, however foolishly and unreasonably,
associated with pain and even a kind of turpitude in the minds of those
who strongly object to them, then some of our most powerful sympathies
are naturally engaged. We wonder whether duty to truth can possibly
require us to inflict keen distress on those to whom we are bound by the
tenderest and most consecrated ties. This is so wholly honourable a
sentiment, that no one who has not made himself drunk with the thin sour
wine of a crude and absolute logic will refuse to consider it. Before,
however, attempting to illustrate cases of conscience in this order, we
venture to make a short digression into the region of the matter, as
distinct from the manner of free speech. One or two changes of great
importance in the way in which men think about religion, bear directly
upon the conditions on which they may permit themselves and others to
speak about it.

The peculiar character of all the best kinds of dissent from the nominal
creed of the time, makes it rather less difficult for us to try to
reconcile unflinching honesty with a just and becoming regard for the
feelings of those who have claims upon our forbearance, than would have
been the case a hundred years ago. 'It is not now with a polite sneer,'
as a high ecclesiastical authority lately admitted, 'still less with a
rude buffet or coarse words, that Christianity is assailed.' Before
churchmen congratulate themselves too warmly on this improvement in the
nature of the attack, perhaps they ought to ask themselves how far it is
due to the change in the position of the defending party. The truth is
that the coarse and realistic criticism of which Voltaire was the
consummate master, has done its work. It has driven the defenders of the
old faith into the milder and more genial climate of non-natural
interpretations, and the historic sense, and a certain elastic
relativity of dogma. The old criticism was victorious, but after victory
it vanished. One reason of this was that the coarse and realistic forms
of belief had either vanished before it, or else they forsook their
ancient pretensions and clothed themselves in more modest robes. The
consequence of this, and of other causes which might be named, is that
the modern attack, while fully as serious and much more radical, has a
certain gravity, decorum, and worthiness of form. No one of any sense or
knowledge now thinks the Christian religion had its origin in
deliberate imposture. The modern freethinker does not attack it; he
explains it. And what is more, he explains it by referring its growth to
the better, and not to the worse part of human nature. He traces it to
men's cravings for a higher morality. He finds its source in their
aspirations after nobler expression of that feeling for the
incommensurable things, which is in truth under so many varieties of
inwoven pattern the common universal web of religious faith.

The result of this way of looking at a creed which a man no longer
accepts, is that he is able to speak of it with patience and historic
respect. He can openly mark his dissent from it, without exacerbating
the orthodox sentiment by galling pleasantries or bitter animadversion
upon details. We are now awake to the all-important truth that belief in
this or that detail of superstition is the result of an irrational state
of mind, and flows logically from superstitious premisses. We see that
it is to begin at the wrong end, to assail the deductions as impossible,
instead of sedulously building up a state of mind in which their
impossibility would become spontaneously visible.

Besides the great change which such a point of view makes in men's way
of speaking of a religion, whose dogmas and documents they reject, there
is this further consideration leaning in the same direction. The
tendency of modern free thought is more and more visibly towards the
extraction of the first and more permanent elements of the old faith, to
make the purified material of the new. When Dr. Congreve met the famous
epigram about Comte's system being Catholicism minus Christianity, by
the reply that it is Catholicism plus Science, he gave an ingenious
expression to the direction which is almost necessarily taken by all who
attempt, in however informal a manner, to construct for themselves some
working system of faith, in place of the faith which science and
criticism have sapped. In what ultimate form, acceptable to great
multitudes of men, these attempts will at last issue, no one can now
tell. For we, like the Hebrews of old, shall all have to live and die in
faith, 'not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off,
and being persuaded of them, and embracing them, and confessing that we
are strangers and pilgrims on the earth.' Meanwhile, after the first
great glow and passion of the just and necessary revolt of reason
against superstition have slowly lost the exciting splendour of the
dawn, and become diffused in the colourless space of a rather bleak
noonday, the mind gradually collects again some of the ideas of the old
religion of the West, and willingly, or even joyfully, suffers itself to
be once more breathed upon by something of its spirit. Christianity was
the last great religious synthesis. It is the one nearest to us. Nothing
is more natural than that those who cannot rest content with
intellectual analysis, while awaiting the advent of the Saint Paul of
the humanitarian faith of the future, should gather up provisionally
such fragmentary illustrations of this new faith as are to be found in
the records of the old. Whatever form may be ultimately imposed on our
vague religious aspirations by some prophet to come, who shall unite
sublime depth of feeling and lofty purity of life with strong
intellectual grasp and the gift of a noble eloquence, we may at least be
sure of this, that it will stand as closely related to Christianity as
Christianity stood closely related to the old Judaic dispensation. It is
commonly assumed that the rejecters of the popular religion stand in
face of it, as the Christians stood in face of the pagan belief and
pagan rites in the Empire. The analogy is inexact. The modern denier, if
he is anything better than that, or entertains hopes of a creed to come,
is nearer to the position of the Christianising Jew.[20] Science, when
she has accomplished all her triumphs in her own order, will still have
to go back, when the time comes, to assist in the building up of a new
creed by which men can live. The builders will have to seek material in
the purified and sublimated ideas, of which the confessions and rites of
the Christian churches have been the grosser expression. Just as what
was once the new dispensation was preached _a Judaeos ad Judaeos apud
Judaeos_, so must the new, that is to be, find a Christian teacher and
Christian hearers. It can hardly be other than an expansion, a
development, a readaptation, of all the moral and spiritual truth that
lay hidden under the worn-out forms. It must be such a harmonising of
the truth with our intellectual conceptions as shall fit it to be an
active guide to conduct. In a world '_where men sit and hear each other
groan, where but to think is to be full of sorrow_,' it is hard to
imagine a time when we shall be indifferent to that sovereign legend of
Pity. We have to incorporate it in some wider gospel of Justice and

I shall not, I hope, be suspected of any desire to prophesy too smooth
things. It is no object of ours to bridge over the gulf between belief
in the vulgar theology and disbelief. Nor for a single moment do we
pretend that, when all the points of contact between virtuous belief and
virtuous disbelief are made the most of that good faith will allow,
there will not still and after all remain a terrible controversy between
those who cling passionately to all the consolations, mysteries,
personalities, of the orthodox faith, and us who have made up our minds
to face the worst, and to shape, as best we can, a life in which the
cardinal verities of the common creed shall have no place. The future
faith, like the faith of the past, brings not peace but a sword. It is a
tale not of concord, but of households divided against themselves. Those
who are incessantly striving to make the old bottles hold the new wine,
to reconcile the irreconcilable, to bring the Bible and the dogmas of
the churches to be good friends with history and criticism, are prompted
by the humanest intention.[21] One sympathises with this amiable anxiety
to soften shocks, and break the rudeness of a vital transition. In this
essay, at any rate, there is no such attempt. We know that it is the son
against the father, and the mother-in-law against the daughter-in-law.
No softness of speech will disguise the portentous differences between
those who admit a supernatural revelation and those who deny it. No
charity nor goodwill can narrow the intellectual breach between those
who declare that a world without an ever-present Creator with
intelligible attributes would be to them empty and void, and those who
insist that none of the attributes of a Creator can ever be grasped by
the finite intelligence of men.[22] Our object in urging the historic,
semi-conservative, and almost sympathetic quality, which distinguishes
the unbelief of to-day from the unbelief of a hundred years ago, is only
to show that the most strenuous and upright of plain-speakers is less
likely to shock and wound the lawful sensibilities of devout persons
than he would have been so long as unbelief went no further than bitter
attack on small details. In short, all save the purely negative and
purely destructive school of freethinkers, are now able to deal with
the beliefs from which they dissent, in a way which makes patient and
disinterested controversy not wholly impossible.

One more point of much importance ought to be mentioned. The belief that
heresy is the result of wilful depravity is fast dying out. People no
longer seriously think that speculative error is bound up with moral
iniquity, or that mistaken thinking is either the result or the cause of
wicked living. Even the official mouthpieces of established beliefs now
usually represent a bad heart as only one among other possible causes of
unbelief. It divides the curse with ignorance, intellectual shallowness,
the unfortunate influence of plausible heresiarchs, and other
alternative roots of evil. They thus leave a way of escape, by which the
person who does not share their own convictions may still be credited
with a good moral character. Some persons, it is true, 'cannot see how a
man who deliberately rejects the Roman Catholic religion can, in the
eyes of those who earnestly believe it, be other than a rebel against
God.' They assure us that, 'as opinions become better marked and more
distinctly connected with action, the truth that decided dissent from
them implies more or less of a reproach upon those who hold them
decidedly, becomes so obvious that every one perceives it.' No doubt a
protestant or a sceptic regards the beliefs of a catholic as a reproach
upon the believer's understanding. So the man whose whole faith rests on
the miraculous and on acts of special intervention, regards the strictly
positive and scientific thinker as the dupe of a crude and narrow logic.
But this now carries with it no implication of moral obliquity. De
Maistre's rather grotesque conviction that infidels always die of
horrible diseases with special names, could now only be held among the
very dregs of the ecclesiastical world.

Nor is it correct to say that 'when religious differences come to be,
and are regarded as, mere differences of opinion, it is because the
controversy is really decided in the sceptical sense.' Those who agree
with the present writer, for example, are not sceptics. They positively,
absolutely, and without reserve, reject as false the whole system of
objective propositions which make up the popular belief of the day, in
one and all of its theological expressions. They look upon that system
as mischievous in its consequences to society, for many reasons,--among
others because it tends to divert and misdirect the most energetic
faculties of human nature. This, however, does not make them suspect the
motives or the habitual morality of those who remain in the creed in
which they were nurtured. The difference is a difference of opinion, as
purely as if we refused to accept the undulatory theory of light; and we
treat it as such. Then reverse this. Why is it any more impossible for
those who remain in the theological stage, who are not in the smallest
degree sceptical, who in their heart of hearts embrace without a shadow
of misgiving all the mysteries of the faith, why is it any more
impossible for them than for us, whose convictions are as strong as
theirs, to treat the most radical dissidence as that and nothing other
or worse? Logically, it perhaps might not be hard to convict them of
inconsistency, but then, as has been so often said, inconsistency is a
totally different thing from insincerity, or doubting adherence, or
silent scepticism. The beliefs of an ordinary man are a complex
structure of very subtle materials, all compacted into a whole, not by
logic, but by lack of logic; not by syllogism or sorites, but by the

As a plain matter of fact and observation, we may all perceive that
dissent from religious opinion less and less implies reproach in any
serious sense. We all of us know in the flesh liberal catholics and
latitudinarian protestants, who hold the very considerable number of
beliefs that remain to them, quite as firmly and undoubtingly as
believers who are neither liberal nor latitudinarian. The compatibility
of error in faith with virtue in conduct is to them only a mystery the
more, a branch of the insoluble problem of Evil, permitted by a Being at
once all-powerful and all-benevolent. Stringent logic may make short
work of either fact,--a benevolent author of evil, or a virtuous
despiser of divine truth. But in an atmosphere of mystery, logical
contradictions melt away. Faith gives a sanction to that tolerant and
charitable judgment of the character of heretics, which has its real
springs partly in common human sympathy whereby we are all bound to one
another, and partly in experience, which teaches us that practical
righteousness and speculative orthodoxy do not always have their roots
in the same soil. The world is every day growing larger. The range of
the facts of the human race is being enormously extended by naturalists,
by historians, by philologists, by travellers, by critics. The manifold
past experiences of humanity are daily opening out to us in vaster and
at the same time more ordered proportions. And so even those who hold
fast to Christianity as the noblest, strongest, and only final
conclusion of these experiences, are yet constrained to admit that it is
no more than a single term in a very long and intricate series.

The object of the foregoing digression is to show some cause for
thinking that dissent from the current beliefs is less and less likely
to inflict upon those who retain them any very intolerable kind or
degree of mental pain. Therefore it is in so far all the plainer, as
well as easier, a duty not to conceal such dissent. What we have been
saying comes to this. If a believer finds that his son, for instance,
has ceased to believe, he no longer has this disbelief thrust upon him
in gross and irreverent forms. Nor does he any longer suppose that the
unbelieving son must necessarily be a profligate. And moreover, in
ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, he no longer supposes that infidels,
of his own family or acquaintance at any rate, will consume for eternal
ages in lakes of burning marl.

Let us add another consideration. One reason why so many persons are
really shocked and pained by the avowal of heretical opinions is the
very fact that such avowal is uncommon. If unbelievers and doubters were
more courageous, believers would be less timorous. It is because they
live in an enervating fool's paradise of seeming assent and conformity,
that the breath of an honest and outspoken word strikes so eager and
nipping on their sensibilities. If they were not encouraged to suppose
that all the world is of their own mind, if they were forced out of that
atmosphere of self-indulgent silences and hypocritical reserves, which
is systematically poured round them, they would acquire a robuster
mental habit. They would learn to take dissents for what they are worth.
They would be led either to strengthen or to discard their own
opinions, if the dissents happened to be weighty or instructive; either
to refute or neglect such dissents as should be ill-founded or
insignificant. They will remain valetudinarians, so long as a curtain of
compromise shelters them from the real belief of those of their
neighbours who have ventured to use their minds with some measure of
independence. A very brief contact with people who, when the occasion
comes, do not shrink from saying what they think, is enough to modify
that excessive liability to be shocked at truth-speaking, which is only
so common because truth-speaking itself is so unfamiliar.

Now, however great the pain inflicted by the avowal of unbelief, it
seems to the present writer that one relationship in life, and one only,
justifies us in being silent where otherwise it would be right to speak.
This relationship is that between child and parents. Those parents are
wisest who train their sons and daughters in the utmost liberty both of
thought and speech; who do not instill dogmas into them, but inculcate
upon them the sovereign importance of correct ways of forming opinions;
who, while never dissembling the great fact that if one opinion is
true, its contradictory cannot be true also, but must be a lie and must
partake of all the evil qualities of a lie, yet always set them the
example of listening to unwelcome opinions with patience and candour.
Still all parents are not wise. They cannot all endure to hear of any
religious opinions except their own. Where it would give them sincere
and deep pain to hear a son or daughter avow disbelief in the
inspiration of the Bible and so forth, then it seems that the younger
person is warranted in refraining from saying that he or she does not
accept such and such doctrines. This, of course, only where the son or
daughter feels a tender and genuine attachment to the parent. Where the
parent has not earned this attachment, has been selfish, indifferent, or
cruel, the title to the special kind of forbearance of which we are
speaking can hardly exist. In an ordinary way, however, a parent has a
claim on us which no other person in the world can have, and a man's
self-respect ought scarcely to be injured if he finds himself shrinking
from playing the apostle to his own father and mother.

One can indeed imagine circumstances where this would not be true. If
you are persuaded that you have had revealed to you a glorious gospel of
light and blessedness, it is impossible not to thirst to impart such
tidings most eagerly to those who are closest about your heart. We are
not in that position. We have as yet no magnificent vision, so definite,
so touching, so 'clothed with the beauty of a thousand stars,' as to
make us eager, for the sake of it, to murder all the sweetnesses of
filial piety in an aggressive eristic. This much one concedes. Yet let
us ever remember that those elders are of nobler type who have kept
their minds in a generous freedom, and have made themselves strong with
that magnanimous confidence in truth, which the Hebrew expressed in old
phrase, that if counsel or work be of men it will come to nought, but if
it be of God ye cannot overthrow it.

Even in the case of parents, and even though our new creed is but
rudimentary, there can be no good reason why we should go further in the
way of economy than mere silence. Neither they nor any other human being
can possibly have a right to expect us, not merely to abstain from the
open expression of dissents, but positively to profess unreal and
feigned assents. No fear of giving pain, no wish to soothe the alarms of
those to whom we owe much, no respect for the natural clinging of the
old to the faith which has accompanied them through honourable lives,
can warrant us in saying that we believe to be true what we are
convinced is false. The most lax moralist counts a lie wrong, even when
the motive is unselfish, and springs from the desire to give pleasure to
those whom it is our duty to please. A deliberate lie avowedly does not
cease to be one because it concerns spiritual things. Nor is it the less
wrong because it is uttered by one to whom all spiritual things have
become indifferent. Filial affection is a motive which would, if any
motive could, remove some of the taint of meanness with which pious
lying, like every other kind of lying, tends to infect character. The
motive may no doubt ennoble the act, though the act remains in the
category of forbidden things. But the motive of these complaisant
assents and false affirmations, taken at their very best, is still
comparatively a poor motive. No real elevation of spirit is possible for
a man who is willing to subordinate his convictions to his domestic
affections, and to bring himself to a habit of viewing falsehood
lightly, lest the truth should shock the illegitimate and over-exacting
sensibilities either of his parents or any one else. We may understand
what is meant by the logic of the feelings, and accept it as the proper
corrective for a too intense egoism. But when the logic of the feelings
is invoked to substitute the egoism of the family for the slightly
narrower egoism of the individual, it can hardly be more than a fine
name for self-indulgence and a callous indifference to all the largest
human interests.

This brings us to consider the case of another no less momentous
relationship, and the kind of compromise in the matter of religious
conformity which it justifies or imposes. It constantly happens that the
husband has wholly ceased to believe the religion to which his wife
clings with unshaken faith. We need not enter into the causes why women
remain in bondage to opinions which so many cultivated men either reject
or else hold in a transcendental and non-natural sense. The only
question with which we are concerned is the amount of free assertion of
his own convictions which a man should claim and practise, when he knows
that such convictions are distasteful to his wife. Is it lawful, as it
seems to be in dealing with parents, to hold his conviction silently? Is
it lawful either positively or by implication to lead his wife to
suppose that he shares her opinions, when in truth he rejects them?

If it were not for the maxims and practice in daily use among men
otherwise honourable, one would not suppose it possible that two answers
could be given to these questions by any one with the smallest pretence
of principle or self-respect. As it is, we all of us know men who
deliberately reject the entire Christian system, and still think it
compatible with uprightness to summon their whole establishments round
them at morning and evening, and on their knees to offer up elaborately
formulated prayers, which have just as much meaning to them as the
entrails of the sacrificial victim had to an infidel haruspex. We see
the same men diligently attending religious services; uttering assents
to confessions of which they really reject every syllable; kneeling,
rising, bowing, with deceptive solemnity; even partaking of the
sacrament with a consummate devoutness that is very edifying to all who
are not in the secret, and who do not know that they are acting a part,
and making a mock both of their own reason and their own probity, merely
to please persons whose delusions they pity and despise from the bottom
of their hearts.

On the surface there is certainly nothing to distinguish this kind of
conduct from the grossest hypocrisy. Is there anything under the surface
to relieve it from this complexion? Is there any weight in the sort of
answer which such men make to the accusation that their conformity is a
very degrading form of deceit, and a singularly mischievous kind of
treachery? Is the plea of a wish to spare mental discomfort to others an
admissible and valid plea? It seems to us to be none of these things,
and for the following among other reasons.

If a man drew his wife by lot, or by any other method over which neither
he nor she has any control, as in the case of parents, perhaps he might
with some plausibleness contend that he owed her certain limited
deferences and reserves, just as we admit that he may owe them to his
parents. But this is not the case. Marriage, in this country at least,
is the result of mutual choice. If men and women do as a matter of fact
usually make this choice hastily and on wofully imperfect information of
one another's characters, that is no warrant for a resort to unlawful
expedients to remedy the blunder. If a woman cares ardently enough about
religion to feel keen distress at the idea of dissent from it on the
part of those closely connected with her, she surely may be expected to
take reasonable pains to ascertain beforehand the religious attitude of
one with whom she is about to unite herself for life. On the other hand,
if a man sets any value on his own opinions, if they are in any real
sense a part of himself, he must be guilty of something like deliberate
and systematic duplicity during the acquaintance preceding marriage, if
his dissent has remained unsuspected. Certainly if men go through
society before marriage under false colours, and feign beliefs which
they do not hold, they have only themselves to thank for the degradation
of having to keep up the imposture afterwards. Suppose a protestant
were to pass himself off for a catholic because he happened to meet a
catholic lady whom he desired to marry. Everybody would agree in calling
such a man by a very harsh name. It is hard to see why a freethinker,
who by reticence and conformity passes himself off for a believer,
should be more leniently judged. The differences between a catholic and
a protestant are assuredly not any greater than those between a believer
and an unbeliever. We all admit the baseness of dissimulation in the
former case. Why is it any less base in the latter?

Marriages, however, are often made in haste, or heedlessly, or early in
life, before either man or woman has come to feel very deeply about
religion either one way or another. The woman does not know how much she
will need religion, nor what comfort it may bring to her. The man does
not know all the objections to it which may disclose themselves to his
understanding as the years ripen. There is always at work that most
unfortunate maxim, tacitly held and acted upon in ninety-nine marriages
out of a hundred, that money is of importance, and social position is of
importance, and good connections are of importance, and health and
manners and comely looks, and that the only thing which is of no
importance whatever is opinion and intellectual quality and temper. Now
granting that both man and woman are indifferent at the time of their
union, is that any reason why upon either of them acquiring serious
convictions, the other should be expected, out of mere complaisance, to
make a false and hypocritical pretence of sharing them? To see how
flimsy is this plea of fearing to give pain to the religious
sensitiveness of women, we have only to imagine one or two cases which
go beyond the common experience, yet which ought not to strain the plea,
if it be valid.

Thus, if my wife turns catholic, am I to pretend to turn catholic too,
to save her the horrible distress of thinking that I am doomed to
eternal perdition? Or if she chooses to embrace the doctrine of direct
illumination from heaven, and to hear voices bidding her to go or come,
to do or abstain from doing, am I too to shape my conduct after these
fancied monitions? Or if it comes into her mind to serve tables, and to
listen in all faith to the miracles of spiritualism, am I, lest I
should pain her, to feign a surrender of all my notions of evidence, to
pretend a transformation of all my ideas of worthiness in life and
beyond life, and to go to séances with the same regularity and
seriousness with which you go to church? Of course in each of these
cases everybody who does not happen to share the given peculiarity of
belief, will agree that however severely a husband's dissent might pain
the wife, whatever distress and discomfort it might inflict upon her,
yet he would be bound to let her suffer, rather than sacrifice his
veracity and self-respect. Why then is it any less discreditable to
practise an insincere conformity in more ordinary circumstances? If the
principle of such conformity is good for anything at all, it ought to
cover these less usual cases as completely as the others which are more
usual. Indeed there would be more to be said on behalf of conformity for
politeness' sake, where the woman had gone through some great process of
change, for then one might suppose that her heart was deeply set on the
matter. Even then the plea would be worthless, but it is more
indisputably worthless still where the sentiment which we are bidden to
respect at the cost of our own freedom of speech is nothing more
laudable than a fear of moving out of the common groove of religious
opinion, or an intolerant and unreasoned bigotry, or mere stupidity and
silliness of the vulgarest type.[23]

Ah, it is said, you forget that women cannot live without religion. The
present writer is equally of this opinion that women cannot be happy
without a religion, nor men either. That is not the question. It does
not follow because a woman cannot be happy without a religion, that
therefore she cannot be happy unless her husband is of the same
religion. Still less, that she would be made happy by his insincerely
pretending to be of the same religion. And least of all is it true, if
both these propositions were credible, that even then for the sake of
her happiness he is bound not merely to live a life of imposture, but in
so doing to augment the general forces of imposture in the world, and to
make the chances of truth, light, and human improvement more and more
unfavourable. Women are at present far less likely than men to possess a
sound intelligence and a habit of correct judgment. They will remain so,
while they have less ready access than men to the best kinds of literary
and scientific training, and--what is far more important--while social
arrangements exclude them from all those kinds of public activity, which
are such powerful agents both in fitting men to judge soundly, and in
forming in them the sense of responsibility for their judgments being

It may be contended that this alleged stronger religiosity of women,
however coarse and poor in its formulae, is yet of constant value as a
protest in favour of the maintenance of the religious element in human
character and life, and that this is a far more important thing for us
all than the greater or less truth of the dogmas with which such
religiosity happens to be associated. In reply to this, without
tediously labouring the argument, I venture to make the following
observations. In the first place, it is an untenable idea that
religiosity or devoutness of spirit is valuable in itself, without
reference to the goodness or badness of the dogmatic forms and the
practices in which it clothes itself. A fakir would hardly be an
estimable figure in our society, merely because his way of living
happens to be a manifestation of the religious spirit. If the religious
spirit leads to a worthy and beautiful life, if it shows itself in
cheerfulness, in pity, in charity and tolerance, in forgiveness, in a
sense of the largeness and the mystery of things, in a lifting up of the
soul in gratitude and awe to some supreme power and sovereign force,
then whatever drawback there may be in the way of superstitious dogma,
still such a spirit is on the whole a good thing. If not, not. It would
be better without the superstition: even with the superstition it is
good. But if the religious spirit is only a fine name for narrowness of
understanding, for stubborn intolerance, for mere social formality, for
a dread of losing that poor respectability which means thinking and
doing exactly as the people around us think and do, then the religious
spirit is not a good thing, but a thoroughly bad and hateful thing. To
that we owe no management of any kind. Any one who suppresses his real
opinions, and feigns others, out of deference to such a spirit as this
in his household, ought to say plainly both to himself and to us that he
cares more for his own ease and undisturbed comfort than he cares for
truth and uprightness. For it is that, and not any tenderness for holy
things, which is the real ground of his hypocrisy.

Now with reference to the religious spirit in its nobler form, it is
difficult to believe that any one genuinely animated by it would be
soothed by the knowledge that her dearest companion is going through
life with a mask on, quietly playing a part, uttering untrue
professions, doing his best to cheat her and the rest of the world by a
monstrous spiritual make-believe. One would suppose that instead of
having her religious feeling gratified by conformity on these terms,
nothing could wound it so bitterly nor outrage it so unpardonably. To
know that her sensibility is destroying the entireness of the man's
nature, its loyalty alike to herself and to truth, its freedom and
singleness and courage--surely this can hardly be less distressing to a
fine spirit than the suspicion that his heresies may bring him to the
pit, or than the void of going through life without even the semblance
of religious sympathy between them. If it be urged that the woman would
never discover the piety of the man to be a counterfeit, we reply that
unless her own piety were of the merely formal kind, she would be sure
to make the discovery. The congregation in the old story were untouched
by the disguised devil's eloquence on behalf of religion: it lacked
unction. The verbal conformity of the unbeliever lacks unction, and its
hollowness is speedily revealed to the quick apprehension of true

Let us not be supposed to be arguing in favour of incessant battle of
high dialectic in the household. Nothing could be more destructive of
the gracious composure and mental harmony, of which household life ought
to be, but perhaps seldom is, the great organ and instrument. Still less
are we pleading for the freethinker's right at every hour of day or
night to mock, sneer, and gibe at the sincere beliefs and
conscientiously performed rites of those, whether men or women, whether
strangers or kinsfolk, from whose religion he disagrees. 'It is not
ancient impressions only,' said Pascal, 'which are capable of abusing
us. The charm of novelty has the same power.' The prate of new-born
scepticism may be as tiresome and as odious as the cant of gray
orthodoxy. Religious discussion is not to be foisted upon us at every
turn either by defenders or assailants. All we plead for is that when
the opportunity meets the freethinker full in front, he is called upon
to speak as freely as he thinks. Not more than this. A plain man has no
trouble in acquiring this tact of reasonableness. We may all write what
we please, because it is in the discretion of the rest of the world
whether they will hearken or not. But in the family this is not so. If a
man systematically intrudes disrespectful and unwelcome criticism upon a
woman who retains the ancient belief, he is only showing that
freethinker may be no more than bigot differently writ. It ought to be
essential to no one's self-respect that he cannot consent to live with
people who do not think as he thinks. We may be sure that there is
something shallow and convulsive about the beliefs of a man who cannot
allow his house-mates to possess their own beliefs in peace.

On the other hand, it is essential to the self-respect of every one
with the least love of truth that he should be free to express his
opinions on every occasion, where silence would be taken for an assent
which he does not really give. Still more unquestionably, he should be
free from any obligation to forswear himself either directly, as by
false professions, or by implication, as when he attend services, public
or private, which are to him the symbol of superstition and mere
spiritual phantasmagoria. The vindication of this simple right of living
one's life honestly can hardly demand any heroic virtue. A little of the
straightforwardness which men are accustomed to call manly, is the only
quality that is needed; a little of that frank courage and determination
in spiritual things, which men are usually so ready to practise towards
their wives in temporal things. It must be a keen delight to a cynic to
see a man who owns that he cannot bear to pain his wife by not going to
church and saying prayers, yet insisting on having his own way,
fearlessly thwarting her wishes, and contradicting her opinions, in
every other detail, small and great, of the domestic economy.

The truth of the matter is that the painful element in companionship is
not difference of opinion, but discord of temperament. The important
thing is not that two people should be inspired by the same convictions,
but rather that each of them should hold his and her own convictions in
a high and worthy spirit. Harmony of aim, not identity of conclusion, is
the secret of the sympathetic life; to stand on the same moral plane,
and that, if possible, a high one; to find satisfaction in different
explanations of the purpose and significance of life and the universe,
and yet the same satisfaction. It is certainly not less possible to
disbelieve religiously than to believe religiously. This accord of mind,
this emulation in freedom and loftiness of soul, this kindred sense of
the awful depth of the enigma which the one believes to be answered, and
the other suspects to be for ever unanswerable--here, and not in a
degrading and hypocritical conformity, is the true gratification of
those spiritual sensibilities which are alleged to be so much higher in
women than in men. Where such an accord exists, there may still be
solicitude left in the mind of either at the superstition or the
incredulity of the other, but it will be solicitude of that magnanimous
sort which is in some shape or other the inevitable and not unfruitful
portion of every better nature.

If there are women who petulantly or sourly insist on more than this
kind of harmony, it is probable that their system of divinity is little
better than a special manifestation of shrewishness. The man is as much
bound to resist that, as he is bound to resist extravagance in spending
money, or any other vice of character. If he does not resist it, if he
suppresses his opinions, and practices a hypocritical conformity, it
must be from weakness of will and principle. Against this we have
nothing to say. A considerable proportion of people, men no less than
women, are born invertebrate, and they must got on as they best can. But
let us at least bargain that they shall not erect the maxims of their
own feebleness into a rule for those who are braver and of stronger
principle than themselves. And do not let the accidental exigencies of a
personal mistake be made the foundation of a general doctrine. It is a
poor saying, that the world is to become void of spiritual sincerity,
because Xanthippe has a turn for respectable theology.

One or two words should perhaps be said in this place as to conformity
to common religious belief in the education of children. Where the
parents differ, the one being an unbeliever, the other a believer, it is
almost impossible for anybody to lay down a general rule. The present
writer certainly has no ambition to attempt the thorny task of compiling
a manual for mixed marriages. It is perhaps enough to say that all would
depend upon the nature of the beliefs which the religious person wished
to inculcate. Considering that the woman has an absolutely equal moral
right with the man to decide in what faith the child shall be brought
up, and considering how important it is that the mother should take an
active part in the development of the child's affections and impulses,
the most resolute of deniers may perhaps think that the advantages of
leaving the matter to her, outweigh the disadvantages of having a
superstitious bias given to the young mind. In these complex cases an
honest and fair-minded man's own instincts are more likely to lead him
right than any hard and fast rule. Two reserves in assenting to the
wife's control of early teaching will probably suggest themselves to
everybody who is in earnest about religion. First, if the theology which
the woman desires to instill contains any of those wicked and depraving
doctrines which neither Catholicism nor Calvinism is without, in the
hands of some professors, the husband is as much justified in pressing
his legal rights over the child to the uttermost, as he would be if the
proposed religion demanded physical mutilation. Secondly, he will not
himself take part in baptismal or other ceremonies which are to him no
better than mere mummeries, nor will he ever do anything to lead his
children at any age to suppose that he believes what he does not
believe. Such limitations as these are commanded by all considerations
alike of morality and good sense.

To turn to the more normal case where either the man has had the wise
forethought not to yoke himself unequally with a person of ardent belief
which he does not share, or where both parents dissent from the popular
creed. Here, whatever difficulties may attend its application, the
principle is surely as clear as the sun at noonday. There can be no good
plea for the deliberate and formal inculcation upon the young of a
number of propositions which you believe to be false. To do this is to
sow tares not in your enemy's field, but in the very ground which is
most precious of all others to you and most full of hope for the future.
To allow it to be done merely that children may grow up in the
stereotyped mould, is simply to perpetuate in new generations the
present thick-sighted and dead-heavy state of our spirits. It is to do
one's best to keep society for an indefinite time sapped by hollow and
void professions, instead of being nourished by sincerity and

Nor here, more than elsewhere in this chapter, are we trying to turn
the family into a field of ceaseless polemic. No one who knows the stuff
of which life is made, the pressure of material cares, the play of
passion, the busy energising of the affections, the anxieties of health,
and all the other solicitudes, generous or ignoble, which naturally
absorb the days of the common multitude of men--is likely to think such
an ideal either desirable or attainable. Least of all is it desirable
to give character a strong set in this polemical direction in its most
plastic days. The controversial and denying humour is a different thing
from the habit of being careful to know what we mean by the words we
use, and what evidence there is for the beliefs we hold. It is possible
to foster the latter habit without creating the former. And it is
possible to bring up the young in dissent from the common beliefs around
them, or in indifference to them, without engendering any of that pride
in eccentricity for its own sake, which is so little likeable a quality
in either young or old. There is, however, little risk of an excess in
this direction. The young tremble even more than the old at the
penalties of nonconformity. There is more excuse for them in this. Such
penalties in their case usually come closer and in more stringent forms.
Neither have they had time to find out, as their elders have or ought to
have found out, what a very moderate degree of fortitude enables us to
bear up against social disapproval, when we know that it is nothing more
than the common form of convention.

The great object is to keep the minds of the young as open as possible
in the matter of religion; to breed in them a certain simplicity and
freedom from self-consciousness, in finding themselves without the
religious beliefs and customs of those around them; to make them regard
differences in these respects as very natural and ordinary matters,
susceptible of an easy explanation. It is of course inevitable, unless
they are brought up in cloistered seclusion, that they should hear much
of the various articles of belief which we are anxious that they should
not share. They will ask you whether the story of the creation of the
universe is true; whether such and such miracles really happened;
whether this person or that actually lived, and actually did all that he
is said to have done. Plainly the right course is to tell them, without
any agitation or excess or vehemence or too much elaboration, the simple
truth in such matters exactly as it appears to one's own mind. There is
no reason why they should not know the best parts of the Bible as well
as they know the Iliad or Herodotus. There are many reasons why they
should know them better. But one most important condition of this is
constantly overlooked by people, who like to satisfy their intellectual
vanity by scepticism, and at the same time to make their comfort safe by
external conformity. If the Bible is to be taught only because it is a
noble and most majestic monument of literature, it should be taught as
that and no more. That a man who regards it solely us supreme
literature, should impress it upon the young as the supernaturally
inspired word of God and the accurate record of objective occurrences,
is a piece of the plainest and most shocking dishonesty. Let a youth be
trained in simple and straightforward recognition of the truth that we
can know, and can conjecture, nothing with any assurance as to the
ultimate mysteries of things. Let his imagination and his sense of awe
be fed from those springs, which are none the less bounteous because
they flow in natural rather than supernatural channels. Let him be
taught the historic place and source of the religions which he is not
bound to accept, unless the evidence for their authority by and by
brings him to another mind. A boy or girl trained in this way has an
infinitely better chance of growing up with the true spirit and
leanings of religion implanted in the character, than if they had been
educated in formulae which they could not understand, by people who do
not believe them.

The most common illustration of a personal mistake being made the base
of a general doctrine, is found in the case of those who, after
committing themselves for life to the profession of a given creed, awake
to the shocking discovery that the creed has ceased to be true for them.
The action of a popular modern story, Mrs. Gaskell's _North and South_,
turns upon the case of a clergyman whoso faith is overthrown, and who in
consequence abandons his calling, to his own serious material detriment
and under circumstances of severe suffering to his family. I am afraid
that current opinion, especially among the cultivated class, would
condemn such a sacrifice as a piece of misplaced scrupulosity. No man,
it would be said, is called upon to proclaim his opinions, when to do so
will cost him the means of subsistence. This will depend upon the value
which he sets upon the opinions that be has to proclaim. If such a
proposition is true, the world must efface its habit of admiration for
the martyrs and heroes of the past, who embraced violent death rather
than defile themselves by a lying confession. Or is present heroism
ridiculous, and only past heroism admirable? However, nobody has a right
to demand the heroic from all the world; and if to publish his dissent
from the opinions which he nominally holds would reduce a man to
beggary, human charity bids us say as little as may be. We may leave
such men to their unfortunate destiny, hoping that they will make what
good use of it may be possible. _Non ragioniam di lor_. These cases only
show the essential and profound immorality of the priestly
profession--in all its forms, and no matter in connection with what
church or what dogma--which makes a man's living depend on his
abstaining from using his mind, or concealing the conclusions to which
use of his mind has brought him. The time will come when society will
look back on the doctrine, that they who serve the altar should live by
the altar, as a doctrine of barbarism and degradation.

But if one, by refusing to offer a pinch of incense to the elder gods,
should thus strip himself of a marked opportunity of exerting an
undoubtedly useful influence over public opinion, or over a certain
section of society, is he not justified in compromising to the extent
necessary to preserve this influence? Instead of answering this
directly, we would make the following remarks. First, it can seldom be
clear in times like our own that religious heterodoxy must involve the
loss of influence in other than religious spheres. The apprehension that
it will do so is due rather to timorousness and a desire to find a fair
reason for the comforts of silence and reserve. If a teacher has
anything to tell the world in science, philosophy, history, the world
will not be deterred from listening to him by knowing that he does not
walk in the paths of conventional theology. Second, what influence can a
man exert, that should seem to him more useful than that of a protester
against what he counts false opinions, in the most decisive and
important of all regions of thought? Surely if any one is persuaded,
whether rightly or wrongly, that his fellows are expending the best part
of their imaginations and feelings on a dream and a delusion, and that
by so doing moreover they are retarding to an indefinite degree the
wider spread of light and happiness, then nothing that he can tell them
about chemistry or psychology or history can in his eyes be comparable
in importance to the duty of telling them this. There is no advantage
nor honest delight in influence, if it is only to be exerted in the
sphere of secondary objects, and at the cost of the objects which ought
to be foremost in the eyes of serious people. In truth the men who have
done most for the world have taken very little heed of influence. They
have sought light, and left their influence to fare as it might list.
Can we not imagine the mingled mystification and disdain with which a
Spinosa or a Descartes, a Luther or a Pascal, would have listened to an
exhortation in our persuasive modern manner on the niceties of the
politic and the social obligation of pious fraud? It is not given to
many to perform the achievements of such giants as these, but every one
may help to keep the standard of intellectual honesty at a lofty pitch,
and what better service can a man render than to furnish the world with
an example of faithful dealing with his own conscience and with his
fellows? This at least is the one talent that is placed in the hands of
the obscurest of us all.[26]

And what is this smile of the world, to win which we are bidden to
sacrifice our moral manhood; this frown of the world, whose terrors are
more awful than the withering up of truth and the slow going out of
light within the souls of us? Consider the triviality of life and
conversation and purpose, in the bulk of those whose approval is held
out for our prize and the mark of our high calling. Measure, if you can,
the empire over them of prejudice unadulterated by a single element of
rationality, and weigh, if you can, the huge burden of custom,
unrelieved by a single leavening particle of fresh thought. Ponder the
share which selfishness and love of ease have in the vitality and the
maintenance of the opinions that we are forbidden to dispute. Then how
pitiful a thing seems the approval or disapproval of these creatures of
the conventions of the hour, as one figures the merciless vastness of
the universe of matter sweeping us headlong through viewless space; as
one hears the wail of misery that is for ever ascending to the deaf
gods; as one counts the little tale of the years that separate us from
eternal silence. In the light of these things, a man should surely dare
to live his small span of life with little heed of the common speech
upon him or his life, only caring that his days may be full of reality,
and his conversation of truth-speaking and wholeness.

Those who think conformity in the matters of which we have been
speaking harmless and unimportant, must do so either from indifference
or else from despair. It is difficult to convince any one who is
possessed by either one or other of these two evil spirits. Men who have
once accepted them, do not easily relinquish philosophies that relieve
their professors from disagreeable obligations of courage and endeavour.
To the indifferent person one can say nothing. We can only acquiesce in
that deep and terrible scripture, 'He that is filthy, let him be filthy
still.' To those who despair of human improvement or the spread of light
in the face of the huge mass of brute prejudice, we can only urge that
the enormous weight and the firm hold of baseless prejudice and false
commonplace are the very reasons which make it so important that those
who are not of the night nor of the darkness should the more strenuously
insist on living their own lives in the daylight. To those, finally, who
do not despair, but think that the new faith will come so slowly that it
is not worth while for the poor mortal of a day to make himself a
martyr, we may suggest that the new faith when it comes will be of
little worth, unless it has been shaped by generations of honest and
fearless men, and unless it finds in those who are to receive it an
honest and fearless temper. Our plea is not for a life of perverse
disputings or busy proselytising, but only that we should learn to look
at one another with a clear and steadfast eye, and march forward along
the paths we choose with firm step and erect front. The first advance
towards either the renovation of one faith or the growth of another,
must be the abandonment of those habits of hypocritical conformity and
compliance which have filled the air of the England of to-day with gross
and obscuring mists.


[Footnote 18: It may be said that Hume meant no more than this: that of
two equally oppressed nations, the one which had been taught to assent
to the doctrine of resistance would be more likely to practise 'the
sacred duty of insurrection' than the other, from whom the doctrine had
been concealed. Or, in other words, that the first would rise against
oppression, when the oppression had reached a pitch which to the second
would still seem bearable. The answer to Hume's proposition, interpreted
in this way, would be that if the doctrine of resistance be presented to
the populace in its true shape,--if it be 'truth,' as he admits,--then
the application of it in practice should be as little likely to prove
mischievous as that of any other truth. If the gist of the remark be
that this is a truth which the populace is especially likely to apply
wrongly, in consequence of its ignorance, passion, and heedlessness, we
may answer by appealing to history, which is rather a record of
excessive patience in the various nations of the earth than of excessive

[Footnote 19: There is another ground for the distinction between the
conditions of holding and those of expressing opinion. This depends upon
the psychological proposition that belief is independent of the will.
Though this or any other state of the understanding may be involuntary,
the manifestation of such a state is not so, but is a voluntary act,
and, 'being neutral in itself, may be commendable or reprehensible
according to the circumstances in which it takes place.' (Bailey's
_Essay on Formation of Opinion_, § 7).]

[Footnote 20: The following words, illustrating the continuity between
the Christian and Jewish churches, are not without instruction to those
who meditate on the possible continuity between the Christian church and
that which is one day to grow into the place of it:--'Not only do forms
and ordinances remain under the Gospel equally as before; but, what was
in use before is not so much superseded by the Gospel ordinances as
changed into them. What took place under the Law is a pattern, what was
commanded is a rule, under the Gospel. The substance remains, the use,
the meaning, the circumstances, the benefit is changed; grace is added,
life is infused: "the body is of Christ;" but it is in great measure
that same body which was in being before He came. The Gospel has not put
aside, it has incorporated into itself the revelation which went before
it. It avails itself of the Old Testament, as a great gift to Christian
as well as to Jew. It does not dispense with it, but it dispenses it.
Persons sometimes urge that there is no code of duty in the New
Testament, no ceremonial, no rules for Church polity. Certainly not;
they are unnecessary; they are already given in the Old. Why should the
Old Testament remain in the Christian church but to be used? _There_ we
are to look for our forms, our rites, our polity; only illustrated,
tempered, spiritualised by the Gospel. The preempts remain, the
observance of them is changed,'--Dr. J.H. Newman; _Sermon on Subjects of
the Day_, p. 205.]

[Footnote 21: There is a set of most acute and searching criticisms on
this matter in Mr. Leslie Stephen's _Essays on Free-Thinking and
Plain-Speaking_ (Longmans, 1873). The last essay in the volume, _An
Apology for Plain-Speaking_, is a decisive and remarkable exposition of
the treacherous playing with words, which underlies even the most
vigorous efforts to make the phrases and formula of the old creed hold
the reality of new faith.]

[Footnote 22: Upon this sentence the following criticism has been
made:--'Surely both of these so-called contradictions are deliberately
affirmed by the vast majority of all thinkers upon the subject. What
orthodox asserter of the omnipresence of a "Creator with intelligible
attributes" ever maintained that these attributes could be "grasped by
men"?'--The orthodox asserter, no doubt, _says_ that he does not
maintain that the divine attributes can be grasped by men; but his
habitual treatment of them as intelligible, and as the subjects of
propositions made in languages that is designed to be intelligible,
shows that his first reservation is merely nominal, as it is certainly
inconsistent with his general position. Religious people who warn you
most solemnly that man who is a worm and the son of a worm cannot
possibly compass in his puny understanding the attributes of the Divine
Being, will yet--as an eminent divine not in holy orders has truly
said--tell you all about him, as if he were the man who lives in the
next street.]

[Footnote 23: That able man, the late J.E. Cairnes, suggested the
following objection to this paragraph. When two persons marry, there is
a reasonable expectation, almost amounting to an understanding, that
they will both of them adhere to their religion, just as both of them
tacitly agree to follow the ways of the world in the host of minor
social matters. If, therefore, either of them turns to some other creed,
the person so turning has, so to speak, broken the contract. The utmost
he or she can contend for is forbearance. If a woman embraces
catholicism, she may seek tolerance, but she has no right to exact
conformity. If the man becomes an unbeliever, he in like manner breaks
the bargain, and may be justly asked not to flaunt his misdemeanour.

My answer to this would turn upon the absolute inexpediency of such
silent bargains being assumed by public opinion. In the present state of
opinion, where the whole air is alive with the spirit of change, nobody
who takes his life or her life seriously, could allow an assumption
which means reduction of one of the most important parts of character,
the love of truth, to a nullity.]

[Footnote 24: The reader remembers how Wolmar, the atheistic husband of
Julie in Rousseau's _New Heloïsa_, is distressed by the chagrin which
his unbelief inflicts on the piety of his wife. 'He told me that he had
been frequently tempted to make a feint of yielding to her arguments,
and to pretend, for the sake of calming her sentiments that he did not
really hold. But such baseness of soul is too far from him. Without for
a moment imposing on Julie, such dissimulation would only have been a
new torment to her. The good faith, the frankness, the union of heart,
that console for so many troubles, would have been eclipsed between
them. Was it by lessening his wife's esteem for him that he could
reassure her? Instead of using any disguise, he tells her sincerely what
he thinks, but he says it in so simple a tone, etc.--V. v. 126.]

[Footnote 25: The common reason alleged by freethinkers for having their
children brought up in the orthodox ways is that, if they were not so
brought up, they would be looked on as contaminating agents whom other
parents would take care to keep away from the companionship of their
children. This excuse may have had some force at another time. At the
present day, when belief is so weak, we doubt whether the young would be
excluded from the companionship of their equals in age, merely because
they had not been trained in some of the conventional shibboleths. Even
if it were so, there are certainly some ways of compensating for the
disadvantages of exclusion from orthodox circles.

I have heard of a more interesting reason; namely, that the historic
position of the young, relatively to the time in which they are placed,
is in some sort falsified, unless they have gone through a training in
the current beliefs of their age: unless they have undergone that, they
miss, as it were, some of the normal antecedents. I do not think this
plea will hold good. However desirable it may be that the young should
know all sorts of erroneous beliefs and opinions as products of the
past, it can hardly be in any degree desirable that they should take
them for truths. If there were no other objection, there would be this,
that the disturbance and waste of force involved in shaking off in their
riper years the erroneous opinions which had been instilled into them
in childhood, would more than counter-balance any advantages, whatever
their precise nature may be, to be derived from having shared in their
own proper persons the ungrounded notions of others.]

[Footnote 26: Miss Martineau has an excellent protest against 'the
dereliction of principle shown in supposing that any "Cause" can be of
so much importance as fidelity to truth, or can be important at all
otherwise than in its relation to truth which wants vindicating. It
reminds me of an incident which happened when I was in America, at the
time of the severest trials of the Abolitionists. A pastor from the
southern States lamented to a brother clergyman in the North the
introduction of the Anti-slavery question, because the views of their
sect were "getting on so well before!" "Getting on!" cried the northern
minister. "What is the use of getting your vessel on when you have
thrown both captain and cargo overboard?" Thus, what signifies the
pursuit of any one reform, like those specified,--Anti-slavery and the
Woman question,--when the freedom which is the very soul of the
controversy, the very principle of the movement,--is mourned over in any
other of its many manifestations? The only effectual advocates of such
reforms as those are people who follow truth wherever it
leads.'--_Autobiography_, ii. 442.]



A person who takes the trouble to form his own opinions and beliefs will
feel that he owes no responsibility to the majority for his conclusions.
If he is a genuine lover of truth, if he is inspired by the divine
passion for seeing things as they are, and a divine abhorrence of
holding ideas which do not conform to the facts, he will be wholly
independent of the approval or assent of the persons around him. When he
proceeds to apply his beliefs in the practical conduct of life, the
position is different. There are now good reasons why his attitude
should be in some ways less inflexible. The society in which he is
placed is a very ancient and composite growth. The people from whom he
dissents have not come by their opinions, customs, and institutions by a
process of mere haphazard. These opinions and customs all had their
origin in a certain real or supposed fitness. They have a certain depth
of root in the lives of a proportion of the existing generation. Their
fitness for satisfying human needs may have vanished, and their
congruity with one another may have come to an end. That is only one
side of the truth. The most zealous propagandism cannot penetrate to
them. The quality of bearing to be transplanted from one kind of soil
and climate to another is not very common, and it is far from being
inexhaustible even where it exists.

In common language we speak of a generation as something possessed of a
kind of exact unity, with all its parts and members one and homogeneous.
Yet very plainly it is not this. It is a whole, but a whole in a state
of constant flux. Its factors and elements are eternally shifting. It is
not one, but many generations. Each of the seven ages of man is
neighbour to all the rest. The column of the veterans is already
staggering over into the last abyss, while the column of the newest
recruits is forming with all its nameless and uncounted hopes. To each
its tradition, its tendency, its possibilities. Only a proportion of
each in one society can have nerve enough to grasp the banner of a new
truth, and endurance enough to bear it along rugged and untrodden ways.

And then, as we have said, one must remember the stuff of which life is
made. One must consider what an overwhelming preponderance of the most
tenacious energies and most concentrated interests of a society must be
absorbed between material cares and the solicitude of the affections. It
is obviously unreasonable to lose patience and quarrel with one's time,
because it is tardy in throwing off its institutions and beliefs, and
slow to achieve the transformation which is the problem in front of it.
Men and women have to live. The task for most of them is arduous enough
to make them well pleased with even such imperfect shelter as they find
in the use and wont of daily existence. To insist on a whole community
being made at once to submit to the reign of new practices and new
ideas, which have just begun to commend themselves to the most advanced
speculative intelligence of the time,--this, even if it were a possible
process, would do much to make life impracticable and to hurry on social

'It cannot be too emphatically asserted,' as has been said by one of
the most influential of modern thinkers, 'that this policy of
compromise, alike in institutions, in actions, and in beliefs, which
especially characterises English life, is a policy essential to a
society going through the transitions caused by continued growth and
development. Ideas and institutions proper to a past social state, but
incongruous with the new social state that has grown out of it,
surviving into this new social state they have made possible, and
disappearing only as this new social state establishes its own ideas and
institutions, are necessarily, during their survival, in conflict with
these new ideas and institutions--necessarily furnish elements of
contradiction in men's thoughts and deeds. And yet, as for the carrying
on of social life, the old must continue so long as the new is not
ready, this perpetual compromise is an indispensable accompaniment of a
normal development.'[27]

Yet we must not press this argument, and the state of feeling that
belongs to it, further than they may be fairly made to go. The danger in
most natures lies on this side, for on this side our love of ease
works, and our prejudices. The writer in the passage we have just quoted
is describing compromise as a natural state of things, the resultant of
divergent forces. He is not professing to define its conditions or
limits as a practical duty. Nor is there anything in his words, or in
the doctrine of social evolution of which he is the most elaborate and
systematic expounder, to favour that deliberate sacrifice of truth,
either in search or in expression, against which our two previous
chapters were meant to protest.[28] When Mr. Spencer talks of a new
social state establishing its own ideas, of course he means, and can
only mean, that men and women establish their own ideas, and to do that,
it is obvious that they must at one time or another have conceived them
without any special friendliness of reference to the old ideas, which
they were in the fulness of time to supersede. Still less, of course,
can a new social state ever establish its ideas, unless the persons who
hold them confess them openly, and give to them an honest and effective

Every discussion of the more fundamental principles of conduct must
contain, expressly or by implication, some general theory of the nature
and constitution of the social union. Let us state in a few words that
which seems to command the greatest amount both of direct and analogical
evidence in our time. It is perhaps all the more important to discuss
our subject with immediate and express reference to this theory, because
it has become in some minds a plea for a kind of philosophic
indifference towards any policy of Thorough, as well as an excuse for
systematic abstention from vigorous and downright courses of action.

A progressive society is now constantly and justly compared to a growing
organism. Its vitality in this aspect consists of a series of changes in
ideas and institutions. These changes arise spontaneously from the
operation of the whole body of social conditions, external and
internal. The understanding and the affections and desires are always
acting on the domestic, political, and economic ordering. They influence
the religious sentiment. They touch relations with societies outside. In
turn they are constantly being acted on by all these elements. In a
society progressing in a normal and uninterrupted course, this play and
interaction is the sign and essence of life. It is, as we are so often
told, a long process of new adaptations and re-adaptations; of the
modification of tradition and usage by truer ideas and improved
institutions. There may be, and there are, epochs of rest, when this
modification in its active and demonstrative shape slackens or ceases to
be visible. But even then the modifying forces are only latent. Further
progress depends on the revival of their energy, before there has been
time for the social structure to become ossified and inelastic. The
history of civilisation is the history of the displacement of old
conceptions by new ones more conformable to the facts. It is the record
of the removal of old institutions and ways of living, in favour of
others of greater convenience and ampler capacity, at once multiplying
and satisfying human requirements.

Now compromise, in view of the foregoing theory of social advance, may
be of two kinds, and of these two kinds one is legitimate and the other
not. It may stand for two distinct attitudes of mind, one of them
obstructive and the other not. It may mean the deliberate suppression or
mutilation of an idea, in order to make it congruous with the
traditional idea or the current prejudice on the given subject, whatever
that may be. Or else it may mean a rational acquiescence in the fact
that the bulk of your contemporaries are not yet prepared either to
embrace the new idea, or to change their ways of living in conformity to
it. In the one case, the compromiser rejects the highest truth, or
dissembles his own acceptance of it. In the other, he holds it
courageously for his ensign and device, but neither forces nor expects
the whole world straightway to follow. The first prolongs the duration
of the empire of prejudice, and retards the arrival of improvement. The
second does his best to abbreviate the one, and to hasten and make
definite the other, yet he does not insist on hurrying changes which,
to be effective, would require the active support of numbers of persons
not yet ripe for them. It is legitimate compromise to say:--'I do not
expect you to execute this improvement, or to surrender that prejudice,
in my time. But at any rate it shall not be my fault if the improvement
remains unknown or rejected. There shall be one man at least who has
surrendered the prejudice, and who does not hide that fact.' It is
illegitimate compromise to say:--'I cannot persuade you to accept my
truth; therefore I will pretend to accept your falsehood.'

That this distinction is as sound on the evolutional theory of society
as on any other is quite evident. It would be odd if the theory which
makes progress depend on modification forbade us to attempt to modify.
When it is said that the various successive changes in thought and
institution present and consummate themselves spontaneously, no one
means by spontaneity that they come to pass independently of human
effort and volition. On the contrary, this energy of the members of the
society is one of the spontaneous elements. It is quite as
indispensable as any other of them, if indeed it be not more so.
Progress depends upon tendencies and forces in a community. But of these
tendencies and forces, the organs and representatives must plainly be
found among the men and women of the community, and cannot possibly be
found anywhere else. Progress is not automatic, in the sense that if we
were all to be cast into a deep slumber for the space of a generation,
we should awake to find ourselves in a greatly improved social state.
The world only grows better, even in the moderate degree in which it
does grow better, because people wish that it should, and take the right
steps to make it better. Evolution is not a force, but a process; not a
cause, but a law. It explains the source, and marks the immovable
limitations, of social energy. But social energy itself can never be
superseded either by evolution or by anything else.

The reproach of being impracticable and artificial attaches by rights
not to those who insist on resolute, persistent, and uncompromising
efforts to remove abuses, but to a very different class--to those,
namely, who are credulous enough to suppose that abuses and bad customs
and wasteful ways of doing things will remove themselves. This
credulity, which is a cloak for indolence or ignorance or stupidity,
overlooks the fact that there are bodies of men, more or less numerous,
attached by every selfish interest they have to the maintenance of these
abusive customs. 'A plan,' says Bentham, 'may be said to be too good to
be practicable, where, without adequate inducement in the shape of
personal interest, it requires for its accomplishment that some
individual or class of individuals shall have made a sacrifice of his or
their personal interest to the interest of the whole. When it is on the
part of a body of men or a multitude of individuals taken at random that
any such sacrifice is reckoned upon, then it is that in speaking of the
plan the term _Utopian_ may without impropriety be applied.' And this is
the very kind of sacrifice which must be anticipated by those who so
misunderstand the doctrine of evolution as to believe that the world is
improved by some mystic and self-acting social discipline, which
dispenses with the necessity of pertinacious attack upon institutions
that have outlived their time, and interests that have lost their

We are thus brought to the position--to which, indeed, bare observation
of actual occurrences might well bring us, if it were not for the
clouding disturbances of selfishness, or of a true philosophy of society
wrongly applied--that a society can only pursue its normal course by
means of a certain progression of changes, and that these changes can
only be initiated by individuals or very small groups of individuals.
The progressive tendency can only be a tendency, it can only work its
way through the inevitable obstructions around it, by means of persons
who are possessed by the special progressive idea. Such ideas do not
spring up uncaused and unconditioned in vacant space. They have had a
definite origin and ordered antecedents. They are in direct relation
with the past. They present themselves to one person or little group of
persons rather than to another, because circumstances, or the accident
of a superior faculty of penetration, have placed the person or group in
the way of such ideas. In matters of social improvement the most common
reason why one hits upon a point of progress and not another, is that
the one happens to be more directly touched than the other by the
unimproved practice. Or he is one of those rare intelligences, active,
alert, inventive, which by constitution or training find their chief
happiness in thinking in a disciplined and serious manner how things can
be better done. In all cases the possession of a new idea, whether
practical or speculative, only raises into definite speech what others
have needed without being able to make their need articulate. This is
the principle on which experience shows us that fame and popularity are
distributed. A man does not become celebrated in proportion to his
general capacity, but because he does or says something which happened
to need doing or saying at the moment.

This brings us directly to our immediate subject. For such a man is the
holder of a trust It is upon him and those who are like him that the
advance of a community depends. If he is silent, then repair is checked,
and the hurtful elements of worn-out beliefs and waste institutions
remain to enfeeble the society, just as the retention of waste products
enfeebles or poisons the body. If in a spirit of modesty which is often
genuine, though it is often only a veil for love of ease, he asks why he
rather than another should speak, why he before others should refuse
compliance and abstain from conformity, the answer is that though the
many are ultimately moved, it is always one who is first to leave the
old encampment. If the maxim of the compromiser were sound, it ought to
be capable of universal application. Nobody has a right to make an
apology for himself in this matter, which he will not allow to be valid
for others. If one has a right to conceal his true opinions, and to
practice equivocal conformities, then all have a right. One plea for
exemption is in this case as good as another, and no better. That he has
married a wife, that he has bought a yoke of oxen and must prove them,
that he has bidden guests to a feast--one excuse lies on the same level
as the rest. All are equally worthless as answers to the generous
solicitation of enlightened conscience. Suppose, then, that each man on
whom in turn the new ideas dawned wore to borrow the compromiser's plea
and imitate his example. We know what would happen. The exploit in
which no one will consent to go first, remains unachieved. You wait
until there are persons enough agreeing with you to form an effective
party? But how are the members of the band to know one another, if all
are to keep their dissent from the old, and their adherence to the new,
rigorously private? And how many members constitute the innovating band
an effective force! When one-half of the attendants at a church are
unbelievers, will that warrant us in ceasing to attend, or shall we
tarry until the dissemblers number two-thirds? Conceive the additions
which your caution has made to the moral integrity of the community in
the meantime. Measure the enormous hindrances that will have been placed
in the way of truth and improvement, when the day at last arrives on
which you and your two-thirds take heart to say that falsehood and abuse
have now reached their final term, and must at length be swept away into
the outer darkness. Consider how much more terrible the shock of change
will be when it does come, and how much less able will men be to meet
it, and to emerge successfully from it.

Perhaps the compromiser shrinks, not because he fears to march alone,
but because he thinks that the time has not yet come for the progressive
idea which he has made his own, and for whose triumph one day he
confidently hopes. This plea may mean two wholly different states of the
case. The time has not yet come for what? For making those positive
changes in life or institution, which the change in idea must ultimately
involve? That is one thing. Or for propagating, elaborating, enforcing
the new idea, and strenuously doing all that one can to bring as many
people as possible to a state of theory, which will at last permit the
requisite change in practice to be made with safety and success? This is
another and entirely different thing. The time may not have come for the
first of these two courses. The season may not be advanced enough for us
to push on to active conquest. But the time has always come, and the
season is never unripe, for the announcement of the fruitful idea.

We must go further than that. In so far as it can be done by one man
without harming his neighbours, the time has always come for the
realisation of an idea. When the change in way of living or in
institution is one which requires the assent and co-operation of numbers
of people, it may clearly be a matter for question whether men enough
are ready to yield assent and co-operation. But the expression of the
necessity of the change and the grounds of it, though it may not always
be appropriate, can never be premature, and for these reasons. The fact
of a new idea having come to one man is a sign that it is in the air.
The innovator is as much the son of his generation as the conservative.
Heretics have as direct a relation to antecedent conditions as the
orthodox. Truth, said Bacon, has been rightly named the daughter of
Time. The new idea does not spring up uncaused and by miracle. If it has
come to me, there must be others to whom it has only just missed coming.
If I have found my way to the light, there must be others groping after
it very close in my neighbourhood. My discovery is their goal. They are
prepared to receive the new truth, which they were not prepared to find
for themselves. The fact that the mass are not yet ready to receive, any
more than to find, is no reason why the possessor of the new truth
should run to hide under a bushel the candle which has been lighted for
him. If the time has not come for them, at least it has come for him. No
man can ever know whether his neighbours are ready for change or not. He
has all the following certainties, at least:--that he himself is ready
for the change; that he believes it would be a good and beneficent one;
that unless some one begins the work of preparation, assuredly there
will be no consummation; and that if he declines to take a part in the
matter, there can be no reason why every one else in turn should not
decline in like manner, and so the work remain for ever unperformed. The
compromiser who blinds himself to all those points, and acts just as if
the truth were not in him, does for ideas with which he agrees, the very
thing which the acute persecutor does for ideas which he dislikes--he
extinguishes beginnings and kills the germs.

The consideration on which so many persons rely, that an existing
institution, though destined to be replaced by a better, performs useful
functions provisionally, is really not to the point. It is an excellent
reason why the institution should not be removed or fundamentally
modified, until public opinion is ripe for the given piece of
improvement. But it is no reason at all why those who are anxious for
the improvement, should speak and act just as they would do if they
thought the change perfectly needless and undesirable. It is no reason
why those who allow the provisional utility of a belief or an
institution or a custom of living, should think solely of the utility
and forget the equally important element of its provisionalness. For the
fact of its being provisional is the very ground why every one who
perceives this element, should set himself to act accordingly. It is the
ground why he should set himself, in other words, to draw opinion in
every way open to him--by speech, by voting, by manner of life and
conduct--in the direction of new truth and the better practice. Let us
not, because we deem a thing to be useful for the hour, act as if it
were to be useful for ever. The people who selfishly seek to enjoy as
much comfort and ease as they can in an existing state of things, with
the desperate maxim, 'After us, the deluge,' are not any worse than
those who cherish present comfort and case and take the world as it
comes, in the fatuous and self-deluding hope, 'After us, the
millennium.' Those who make no sacrifice to avert the deluge, and those
who make none to hasten their millennium, are on the same moral level.
And the former have at least the quality of being no worse than their
avowed principle, while the latter nullify their pretended hopes by
conformities which are only proper either to profound social
contentment, or to profound social despair. Nay, they seem to think that
there is some merit in this merely speculative hopefulness. They act as
if they supposed that to be very sanguine about the general improvement
of mankind, is a virtue that relieves them from taking trouble about any
improvement in particular.

If those who defend a given institution are doing their work well, that
furnishes the better reason why those who disapprove of it and
disbelieve in its enduring efficacy, should do their work well also.
Take the Christian churches, for instance. Assume, if you will, that
they are serving a variety of useful functions. If that were all, it
would be a reason for conforming. But we are speaking of those for whom
the matter does not end here. If you are convinced that the dogma is not
true; that a steadily increasing number of persons are becoming aware
that it is not true; that its efficacy as a basis of spiritual life is
being lowered in the same degree as its credibility; that both dogma and
church must be slowly replaced by higher forms of faith, if not also by
more effective organisations; then, all who hold such views as these
have as distinctly a function in the community as the ministers and
upholders of the churches, and the zeal of the latter is simply the most
monstrously untenable apology that could be invented for dereliction of
duty by the former.

If the orthodox to some extent satisfy certain of the necessities of the
present, there are other necessities of the future which can only be
satisfied by those who now pass for heretical. The plea which we are
examining, if it is good for the purpose for which it is urged, would
have to be expressed in this way:--The institution is working as
perfectly as it can be made to do, or as any other in its place would be
likely to do, and therefore I will do nothing by word or deed towards
meddling with it. Those who think this, and act accordingly, are the
consistent conservatives of the community. If a man takes up any
position short of this, his conformity, acquiescence, and inertia at
once become inconsistent and culpable. For unless the institution or
belief is entirely adequate, it must be the duty of all who have
satisfied themselves that it is not so, to recognise its deficiences,
and at least to call attention to them, even if they lack opportunity or
capacity to suggest remedies. Now we are dealing with persons who, from
the hypothesis, do not admit that this or that factor in an existing
social state secures all the advantages which might be secured if
instead of that factor there were some other. We are speaking of all the
various kinds of dissidents, who think that the current theology, or an
established church, or a monarchy, or an oligarchic republic, is a bad
thing and a lower form, even at the moment while they attribute
provisional merit to it. They can mean nothing by classing each of
these as bad things, except that they either bring with them certain
serious drawbacks, or exclude certain valuable advantages. The fact that
they perform their functions well, such as they are, leaves the
fundamental vice or defect of these functions just where it was. If any
one really thinks that the current theology involves depraved notions of
the supreme impersonation of good, restricts and narrows the
intelligence, misdirects the religious imagination, and has become
powerless to guide conduct, then how does the circumstance that it
happens not to be wholly and unredeemedly bad in its influence, relieve
our dissident from all care or anxiety as to the points in which, as we
have seen, he does count it inadequate and mischievous? Even if he
thinks it does more good than harm--a position which must be very
difficult for one who believes the common supernatural conception of it
to be entirely false--even then, how is he discharged from the duty of
stigmatising the harm which he admits that it does?

Again, take the case of the English monarchy. Grant, if you will, that
this institution has a certain function, and that by the present chief
magistrate this function is estimably performed. Yet if we are of those
who believe that in the stage of civilisation which England has reached
in other matters, the monarchy must be either obstructive and injurious,
or else merely decorative; and that a merely decorative monarchy tends
in divers ways to engender habits of abasement, to nourish lower social
ideals, to lessen a high civil self-respect in the community; then it
must surely be our duty not to lose any opportunity of pressing these
convictions. To do this is not necessarily to act as if one were anxious
for the immediate removal of the throne and the crown into the museum of
political antiquities. We may have no urgent practical solicitude in
this direction, on the intelligible principle that a free people always
gets as good a kind of government as it deserves. Our conviction is not,
on the present hypothesis, that monarchy ought to be swept away in
England, but that monarchy produces certain mischievous consequences to
the public spirit of the community. And so what we are bound to do is to
take care not to conceal this conviction; to abstain scrupulously from
all kinds of action and observance, public or private, which tend ever
so remotely to foster the ignoble and degrading elements that exist in a
court and spread from it outwards; and to use all the influence we have,
however slight it may be, in loading public opinion to a right attitude
of contempt and dislike for these ignoble and degrading elements, and
the conduct engendered by them. A policy like this does not interfere
with the advantages of the monarchy, such as they are asserted to be,
and it has the effect of making what are supposed to be its
disadvantages as little noxious as possible. The question whether we can
get others to agree with us is not relevant. If we were eager for
instant overthrow, it would be the most relevant of all questions. But
we are in the preliminary stage, the stage for acting on opinion. The
fact that others do not yet share our opinion, is the very reason for
our action. We can only bring them to agree with us, if it be possible
on any terms, by persistency in our principles. This persistency, in all
but either very timid or very vulgar natures, always has been and
always will be independent of external assent or co-operation. The
history of success, as we can never too often repeat to ourselves, is
the history of minorities. And what is more, it is for the most part the
history of insurrection exactly against what the worldly spirits of the
time, whenever it may have been, deemed mere trifles and accidents, with
which sensible men should on no account dream of taking the trouble to

'Halifax,' says Macaulay, 'was in speculation a strong republican and
did not conceal it. He often made hereditary monarchy and aristocracy
the subjects of his keen pleasantry, while he was fighting the battles
of the court and obtaining for himself step after step in the peerage.'
We are perfectly familiar with this type, both in men who have, and men
who have not, such brilliant parts as Halifax. Such men profess to
nourish high ideals of life, of character, of social institutions. Yet
they never think of these ideals, when they are deciding what is
practically attainable. One would like to ask them what purpose is
served by an ideal, if it is not to make a guide for practice and a
landmark in dealing with the real. A man's loftiest and most ideal
notions must be of a singularly ethereal and, shall we not say,
senseless kind, if he can never see how to take a single step that may
tend in the slightest degree towards making them more real. If an ideal
has no point of contact with what exists, it is probably not much more
than the vapid outcome of intellectual or spiritual self-indulgence. If
it has such a point of contact, then there is sure to be something which
a man can do towards the fulfilment of his hopes. He cannot substitute a
new national religion for the old, but he can at least do something to
prevent people from supposing that the adherents of the old are more
numerous than they really are, and something to show them that good
ideas are not all exhausted by the ancient forms. He cannot transform a
monarchy into a republic, but he can make sure that one citizen at least
shall aim at republican virtues, and abstain from the debasing
complaisance of the crowd.

'It is a very great mistake, said Burke, many years before the French
Revolution is alleged, and most unreasonably alleged, to have alienated
him from liberalism: 'it is a very great mistake to imagine that
mankind follow up practically any speculative principle, either of
government or of freedom, as far as it will go in argument and logical
illation. All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment,
every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and
barter. We balance inconveniences; we give and take;--we remit some
rights that we may enjoy others.... Man acts from motives relative to
his interests; and not on metaphysical speculations.[29] These are the
words of wisdom and truth, if we can be sure that men will interpret
them in all the fulness of their meaning, and not be content to take
only that part of the meaning which falls in with the dictates of their
own love of ease. In France such words ought to be printed in capitals
on the front of every newspaper, and written up in letters of burnished
gold over each faction of the Assembly, and on the door of every bureau
in the Administration. In England they need a commentary which shall
bring out the very simple truth, that compromise and barter do not mean
the undisputed triumph of one set of principles. Nor, on the other hand,
do they mean the mutilation of both sets of principles, with a view to
producing a _tertium quid_ that shall involve the disadvantages of each,
without securing the advantages of either. What Burke means is that we
ought never to press our ideas up to their remotest logical issues,
without reference to the conditions in which we are applying them. In
politics we have an art. Success in politics, as in every other art,
obviously before all else implies both knowledge of the material with
which we have to deal, and also such concession as is necessary to the
qualities of the material. Above all, in politics we have an art in
which development depends upon small modifications. That is the true
side of the conservative theory. To hurry on after logical perfection is
to show one's self ignorant of the material of that social structure
with which the politician has to deal. To disdain anything short of an
organic change in thought or institution in infatuation. To be willing
to make such changes too frequently, even when they are possible, is
foolhardiness. That fatal French saying about small reforms being the
worst enemies of great reforms is, in the sense in which it is commonly
used, a formula of social ruin.

On the other hand, let us not forget that there is a sense in which this
very saying is profoundly true. A small and temporary improvement may
really be the worst enemy of a great and permanent improvement, unless
the first is made on the lines and in the direction of the second. And
so it may, if it be successfully palmed off upon a society as actually
being the second. In such a case as this, and our legislation presents
instances of the kind, the small reform, if it be not made with
reference to some large progressive principle and with a view to further
extension of its scope, makes it all the more difficult to return to the
right line and direction when improvement is again demanded. To take an
example which is now very familiar to us all. The Education Act of 1870
was of the nature of a small reform. No one pretends that it is anything
approaching to a final solution of a complex problem. But the government
insisted, whether rightly or wrongly, that their Act was as large a
measure as public opinion was at that moment ready to support. At the
same time it was clearly agreed among the government and the whole of
the party at their backs, that at some time or other, near or remote, if
public instruction was to be made genuinely effective, the private,
voluntary, or denominational system would have to be replaced by a
national system. To prepare for this ultimate replacement was one of the
points to be most steadily borne in mind, however slowly and tentatively
the process might be conducted. Instead of that, the authors of the Act
deliberately introduced provisions for extending and strengthening the
very system which will have eventually to be superseded. They thus by
their small reform made the future great reform the more difficult of
achievement. Assuredly this is not the compromise and barter, the give
and take, which Burke intended. What Burke means by compromise, and what
every true statesman understands by it, is that it may be most
inexpedient to meddle with an institution merely because it does not
harmonise with 'argument and logical illation.' This is a very different
thing from giving new comfort and strength with one hand, to an
institution whose death-warrant you pretend to be signing with the

In a different way the second possible evil of a small reform may be
equally mischievous--where the small reform is represented as settling
the question. The mischief here is not that it takes us out of the
progressive course, as in the case we have just been considering, but
that it sets men's minds in a posture of contentment, which is not
justified by the amount of what has been done, and which makes it all
the harder to arouse them to new effort when the inevitable time

In these ways, then, compromise may mean, not acquiescence in an
instalment, on the ground that the time is not ripe to yield us more
than an instalment, but either the acceptance of the instalment as
final, followed by the virtual abandonment of hope and effort; or else
it may mean a mistaken reversal of direction, which augments the
distance that has ultimately to be traversed. In either of these senses,
the small reform may become the enemy of the great one. But a right
conception of political method, based on a rightly interpreted
experience of the conditions on which societies unite progress with
order, leads the wise conservative to accept the small change, lest a
worse thing befall him, and the wise innovator to seize the chance of a
small improvement, while incessantly working in the direction of great
ones. The important thing is that throughout the process neither of them
should lose sight of his ultimate ideal; nor fail to look at the detail
from the point of view of the whole; nor allow the near particular to
bulk so unduly large as to obscure the general and distant.

If the process seems intolerably slow, we may correct our impatience by
looking back upon the past. People seldom realise the enormous period of
time which each change in men's ideas requires for its full
accomplishment. We speak of these changes with a peremptory kind of
definiteness, as if they had covered no more than the space of a few
years. Thus we talk of the time of the Reformation, as we might talk of
the Reform Bill or the Repeal of the Corn Duties. Yet the Reformation is
the name for a movement of the mind of northern Europe, which went on
for three centuries. Then if we turn to that still more momentous set
of events, the rise and establishment of Christianity, one might suppose
from current speech that we could fix that within a space of half a
century or so. Yet it was at least four hundred years before all the
foundations of that great superstructure of doctrine and organisation
were completely laid. Again, to descend to less imposing occurrences,
the transition in the Eastern Empire from the old Roman system of
national organisation to that other system to which we give the specific
name of Byzantine,--this transition, so infinitely less important as it
was than either of the two other movements, yet occupied no less than a
couple of hundred years. The conditions of speech make it indispensable
for us to use definite and compendious names for movements that were
both tardy and complex. We are forced to name a long series of events as
if they were a single event. But we lose the reality of history, we fail
to recognise one of the most striking aspects of human affairs, and
above all we miss that most invaluable practical lesson, the lesson of
patience, unless we remember that the great changes of history took up
long periods of time which, when measured by the little life of a man,
are almost colossal, like the vast changes of geology. We know how long
it takes before a species of plant or animal disappears in face of a
better adapted species. Ideas and customs, beliefs and institutions,
have always lingered just as long in face of their successors, and the
competition is not less keen nor less prolonged, because it is for one
or other inevitably destined to be hopeless. History, like geology,
demands the use of the imagination, and in proportion as the exercise of
the historic imagination is vigorously performed in thinking of the
past, will be the breadth of our conception of the changes which the
future has in store for us, as well as of the length of time and the
magnitude of effort required for their perfect achievement[30].

This much, concerning moderation in political practice. No such
considerations present themselves in the matters which concern the
shaping of our own lives, or the publications of our social opinions. In
this region we are not imposing charges upon others, either by law or
otherwise. We therefore owe nothing to the prejudices or habits of
others. If any one sets serious value upon the point of difference
between his own ideal and that which is current, if he thinks that his
'experiment in living' has promise of real worth, and that if more
persons could be induced to imitate it, some portion of mankind would be
thus put in possession of a better kind of happiness, then it is selling
a birthright for a mess of pottage to abandon hopes so rich and
generous, merely in order to avoid the passing and casual penalties of
social disapproval. And there is a double evil in this kind of flinching
from obedience to the voice of our better selves, whether it takes the
form of absolute suppression of what we think and hope, or only of
timorous and mutilated presentation. We lose not only the possible
advantage of the given change. Besides that, we lose also the certain
advantage of maintaining or increasing the amount of conscientiousness
in the world. And everybody can perceive the loss incurred in a society
where diminution of the latter sort takes place. The advance of the
community depends not merely on the improvement and elevation of its
moral maxima, but also on the quickening of moral sensibility. The
latter work has mostly been effected, when it has been effected on a
large scale, by teachers of a certain singular personal quality. They do
nothing to improve the theory of conduct, but they have the art of
stimulating men to a more enthusiastic willingness to rise in daily
practice to the requirements of whatever theory they may accept. The
love of virtue, of duty, of holiness, or by whatever name we call this
powerful sentiment, exists in the majority of men, where it exists at
all, independently of argument. It is a matter of affection, sympathy,
association, aspiration. Hence, even while, in quality, sense of duty is
a stationary factor, it is constantly changing in quantity. The amount
of conscience in different communities, or in the same community at
different times, varies infinitely. The immediate cause of the decline
of a society in the order of morals is a decline in the quantity of its
conscience, a deadening of its moral sensitiveness, and not a
depravation of its theoretical ethics. The Greeks became corrupt and
enfeebled, not for lack of ethical science, but through the decay in the
numbers of those who were actually alive to the reality and force of
ethical obligations. Mahometans triumphed over Christians in the East
and in Spain--if we may for a moment isolate moral conditions from the
rest of the total circumstances--not because their scheme of duty was
more elevated or comprehensive, but because their respect for duty was
more strenuous and fervid.

The great importance of leaving this priceless element in a community
as free, as keen, and as active as possible, is overlooked by the
thinkers who uphold coercion against liberty, as a saving social
principle. Every act of coercion directed against an opinion or a way of
living is in so far calculated to lessen the quantity of conscience in
the society where such acts are practised. Of course, where ways of
living interfere with the lawful rights of others, where they are not
strictly self-regarding in all their details, it is necessary to force
the dissidents, however strong may be their conscientious sentiment. The
evil of attenuating that sentiment is smaller than the evil of allowing
one set of persons to realise their own notions of happiness, at the
expense of all the rest of the world. But where these notions can be
realised without unlawful interference of that kind, then the forcible
hindrance of such realisation is a direct weakening of the force and
amount of conscience on which the community may count. There is one
memorable historic case to illustrate this. Lewis XIV., in revoking the
Edict of Nantes, and the author of the still more cruel law of 1724, not
only violently drove out multitudes of the most scrupulous part of the
French nation; they virtually offered the most tremendous bribes to
those of less stern resolution, to feign conversion to the orthodox
faith. This was to treat conscience as a thing of mean value. It was to
scatter to the wind with both hands the moral resources of the
community. And who can fail to see the strength which would have been
given to France in her hour of storm, a hundred years after the
revocation of the Edict of Nantes, if her protestant sons, fortified by
the training in the habits of individual responsibility which
protestantism involves, had only been there to aid?

This consideration brings us to a new side of the discussion. We may
seem to have been unconsciously arguing as strongly in favour of a
vigorous social conservatism as of a self-asserting spirit of social
improvement. All that we have been saying may appear to cut both ways.
If the innovator should decline to practise silence or reserve, why
should the possessor of power be less uncompromising, and why should he
not impose silence by force? If the heretic ought to be uncompromising
in expressing his opinions, and in acting upon them, in the fulness of
his conviction that they are right, why should not the orthodox be
equally uncompromising in his resolution to stamp out the heretical
notions and unusual ways of living, in the fulness of his conviction
that they are thoroughly wrong? To this question the answer is that the
hollow kinds of compromise are as bad in the orthodox as in the
heretical. Truth has as much to gain from sincerity and thoroughness in
one as in the other. But the issue between the partisans of the two
opposed schools turns upon the sense which we design to give to the
process of stamping out. Those who cling to the tenets of liberty limit
the action of the majority, as of the minority, strictly to persuasion.
Those who dislike liberty, insist that earnestness of conviction
justifies either a majority or a minority in using not persuasion only,
but force. I do not propose here to enter into the great question which
Mr. Mill pressed anew upon the minds of this generation. His arguments
are familiar to every reader, and the conclusion at which he arrived is
almost taken for a postulate in the present essay.[31] The object of
these chapters is to reiterate the importance of self-assertion,
tenacity, and positiveness of principle. The partisan of coercion will
argue that this thesis is on one side of it a justification of
persecution, and other modes of interfering with new opinions and new
ways of living by force, and the strong arm of the law, and whatever
other energetic means of repression may be at command. If the minority
are to be uncompromising alike in seeking and realising what they take
for truth, why not the majority? Now this implies two propositions. It
is the same as to say, first, that earnestness of conviction is not to
be distinguished from a belief in our own infallibility; second, that
faith in our infallibility is necessarily bound up with intolerance.

Neither of these propositions is true. Let us take them in turn.
Earnestness of conviction is perfectly compatible with a sense of
liability to error. This has been so excellently put by a former writer
that we need not attempt to better his exposition. 'Every one must, of
course, think his own opinions right; for if he thought them wrong, they
would no longer be his opinions: but there is a wide difference between
regarding ourselves as infallible, and being firmly convinced of the
truth of our creed. When a man reflects on any particular doctrine, he
may be impressed with a thorough conviction of the improbability or even
impossibility of its being false: and so he may feel with regard to all
his other opinions, when he makes them objects of separate
contemplation. And yet when he views them in the aggregate, when he
reflects that not a single being on the earth holds collectively the
same, when he looks at the past history and present state of mankind,
and observes the various creeds of different ages and nations, the
peculiar modes of thinking of sects and bodies and individuals, the
notions once firmly held, which have been exploded, the prejudices once
universally prevalent, which have been removed, and the endless
controversies which have distracted those who have made it the business
of their lives to arrive at the truth; and when he further dwells on
the consideration that many of these, his fellow-creatures, have had a
conviction of the justness of their respective sentiments equal to his
own, he cannot help the obvious inference, that in his own opinion it is
next to impossible that there is not an admixture of error; that there
is an infinitely greater probability of his being wrong in some than
right in all.'[32]

Of course this is not an account of the actual frame of mind of ordinary
men. They never do think of their opinions in the aggregate in
comparison with the collective opinions of others, nor ever draw the
conclusions which such reflections would suggest. But such a frame of
mind is perfectly attainable, and has often been attained, by persons of
far lower than first-rate capacity. And if this is so, there is no
reason why it should not be held up for the admiration and imitation of
all those classes of society which profess to have opinions. It would
thus become an established element in the temper of the age. Nor need we
fear that the result of this would be any flaccidity of conviction, or
lethargy in act. A man would still be penetrated with the rightness of
his own opinion on a given issue, and would still do all that he could
to make it prevail in practice. But among the things which he would no
longer permit himself to do, would be the forcible repression in others
of any opinions, however hostile to his own, or of any kind of conduct,
however widely it diverged from his own, and provided that it concerned
themselves only. This widening of his tolerance would be the natural
result of a rational and realised consciousness of his own general

Next, even belief in one's own infallibility does not necessarily lead
to intolerance. For it may be said that though no man in his senses
would claim to be incapable of error, yet in every given case he is
quite sure that he is not in error, and therefore this assurance in
particular is tantamount by process of cumulation to a sense of
infallibility in general. Now even if this were so, it would not of
necessity either produce or justify intolerance. The certainty of the
truth of your own opinions is independent of any special idea as to the
means by which others may best be brought to share them. The question
between persuasion and force remains apart--unless, indeed, we may say
that in societies where habits of free discussion have once begun to
take root, those who are least really sure about their opinions, are
often most unwilling to trust to persuasion to bring them converts, and
most disposed to grasp the rude implements of coercion, whether legal or
merely social. The cry, 'Be my brother, or I slay thee,' was the sign of
a very weak, though very fiery, faith in the worth of fraternity. He
whose faith is most assured, has the best reason for relying on
persuasion, and the strongest motive to thrust from him all temptations
to use angry force. The substitution of force for persuasion, among its
other disadvantages, has this further drawback, from our present point
of view, that it lessens the conscience of a society and breeds
hypocrisy. You have not converted a man, because you have silenced him.
Opinion and force belong to different elements. To think that you are
able by social disapproval or other coercive means to crush a man's
opinion, is as one who should fire a blunderbuss to put out a star. The
acquiescence in current notions which is secured by law or by petulant
social disapproval, is as worthless and as essentially hypocritical, as
the conversion of an Irish pauper to protestantism by means of
soup-tickets, or that of a savage to Christianity by the gift of a
string of beads. Here is the radical fallacy of those who urge that
people must use promises and threats in order to encourage opinions,
thoughts, and feelings which they think good, and to prevent others
which they think bad. Promises and threats can influence acts. Opinions
and thoughts on morals, politics, and the rest, after they have once
grown in a man's mind, can no more be influenced by promises and threats
than can my knowledge that snow is white or that ice is cold. You may
impose penalties on me by statute for saying that snow is white, or
acting as if I thought ice cold, and the penalties may affect my
conduct. They will not, because they cannot, modify my beliefs in the
matter by a single iota. One result therefore of intolerance is to make
hypocrites. On this, as on the rest of the grounds which vindicate the
doctrine of liberty, a man who thought himself infallible either in
particular or in general, from the Pope of Rome down to the editor of
the daily newspaper, might still be inclined to abstain from any form of
compulsion. The only reason to the contrary is that a man who is so
silly as to think himself incapable of going wrong, is very likely to be
too silly to perceive that coercion may be one way of going wrong.

The currency of the notion that earnest sincerity about one's opinions
and ideals of conduct is inseparably connected with intolerance, is
indirectly due to the predominance of legal or juristic analogies in
social discussion. For one thing, the lawyer has to deal mainly with
acts, and to deal with them by way of repression. His attention is
primarily fixed on the deed, and only secondarily on the mind of the
doer. And so a habit of thought is created, which treats opinion as
something equally in the sphere of coercion with actions. At the same
time it favours coercive ways of affecting opinion. Then, what is still
more important, the jurist's conception of society has its root in the
relation between sovereign and subject, between lawmaker and those whom
law restrains. Exertion of power on one hand, and compliance on the
other--this is his type of the conditions of the social union. The
fertility and advance of discussion on social issues depends on the
substitution of the evolutional for the legal conception. The lawyer's
type of proposition is absolute. It is also, for various reasons which
need not be given here, inspired by involuntary reference to the lower,
rather than to the more highly developed, social states. In the lower
states law, penalties, coercion, compulsion, the strong hand, a sternly
repressive public opinion, were the conditions on which the community
was united and held together. But the line of thought which these
analogies suggest, becomes less and less generally appropriate in social
discussion, in proportion as the community becomes more complex, more
various in resource, more special in its organisation, in a word, more
elaborately civilised. The evolutionist's idea of society concedes to
law its historic place and its actual part. But then this idea leads
directly to a way of looking at society, which makes the replacement of
law by liberty a condition of reaching the higher stages of social

The doctrine of liberty belongs to the subject of this chapter, because
it is only another way of expressing the want of connection between
earnestness in realising our opinions, and anything like coercion in
their favour. If it were true that aversion from compromise, in carrying
out our ideas, implied the rightfulness of using all the means in our
power to hinder others from carrying out ideas hostile to them, then we
should have been preaching in a spirit unfavourable to the principle of
liberty. Our main text has been that men should refuse to sacrifice
their opinions and ways of living (in the self-regarding sphere) out of
regard to the _status quo_, or the prejudices of others. And this, as a
matter of course, excludes the right of forcing or wishing any one else
to make such a sacrifice to us. Well, the first foundation-stone for the
doctrine of liberty is to be sought in the conception of society as a
growing and developing organism. This is its true base, apart from the
numerous minor expediencies which may be adduced to complete the
structure of the argument. It is fundamentally advantageous that in
societies which have reached our degree of complex and intricate
organisation, unfettered liberty should be conceded to ideas and, within
the self-regarding sphere, to conduct also. The reasons for this are of
some such kind as the following. New ideas and new 'experiments in
living' would not arise, if there were not a certain inadequateness in
existing ideas and ways of living. They may not point to the right mode
of meeting inadequateness, but they do point to the existence and
consciousness of it. They originate in the social capability of growth.
Society can only develop itself on condition that all such novelties
(within the limit laid down, for good and valid reasons, at self
regarding conduct) are allowed to present themselves. First, because
neither the legislature nor any one else can ever know for certain what
novelties will prove of enduring value. Second, because even if we did
know for certain that given novelties were pathological growths and not
normal developments, and that they never would be of any value, still
the repression necessary to extirpate them would involve too serious a
risk both of keeping back social growth at some other point, and of
giving the direction of that growth an irreparable warp. And let us
repeat once more, in proportion as a community grows more complex in its
classes, divisions, and subdivisions, more intricate in its productive,
commercial, or material arrangements, so does this risk very obviously
wax more grave.

In the sense in which we are speaking of it, liberty is not a positive
force, any more than the smoothness of a railroad is a positive
force.[33] It is a condition. As a force, there is a sense in which it
is true to call liberty a negation. As a condition, though it may still
be a negation, yet it may be indispensable for the production of certain
positive results. The vacuity of an exhausted receiver is not a force,
but it is the indispensable condition of certain positive operations.
Liberty as a force may be as impotent as its opponents allege. This does
not affect its value as a preliminary or accompanying condition. The
absence of a strait-waistcoat is a negation; but it is a useful
condition for the activity of sane men. No doubt there must be a
definite limit to this absence of external interference with conduct,
and that limit will be fixed at various points by different thinkers. We
are now only urging that it cannot be wisely fixed for the more complex
societies by any one who has not grasped this fundamental preconception,
that liberty, or the absence of coercion, or the leaving people to
think, speak, and act as they please, is in itself a good thing. It is
the object of a favourable presumption. The burden of proving it
inexpedient always lies, and wholly lies, on those who wish to abridge
it by coercion, whether direct or indirect.

One reason why this truth is so reluctantly admitted, is men's
irrational want of faith in the self-protective quality of a highly
developed and healthy community. The timid compromiser on the one hand,
and the advocate of coercive restriction on the other, are equally the
victims of a superfluous apprehension. The one fears to use his liberty
for the same reason that makes the other fearful of permitting liberty.
This common reason is the want of a sensible confidence that, in a free
western community, which has reached our stage of development,
religious, moral, and social novelties--provided they are tainted by no
element of compulsion or interference with the just rights of others,
may be trusted to find their own level. Moral and intellectual
conditions are not the only motive forces in a community, nor are they
even the most decisive. Political and material conditions fix the limits
at which speculation can do either good or harm. Let us take an
illustration of the impotence of moral ideas to override material
circumstances; and we shall venture to place this illustration somewhat
fully before the reader.

There is no more important distinction between modern civilised
communities and the ancient communities than the fact that the latter
rested on Slavery, while the former have abolished it. Hence there can
hardly be a more interesting question than this--by what agencies so
prodigious a transformation of one of the fundamental conditions of
society was brought about. The popular answer is of a very ready kind,
and it passes quite satisfactorily. This answer is that the first great
step towards free labour, the transformation of personal slavery into
serfdom, was the result of the spiritual change which was wrought in
men's minds by the teaching of the Church. It is unquestionable that the
influence of the Church tended to mitigate the evils of slavery, to
humanise the relations between master and slave, between the lord and
the serf. But this is a very different thing from the radical
transformation of those relations. If we think of society as an
organism we instantly understand that so immense a change as this could
not possibly have been effected without the co-operation of the other
great parts of the social system, any more than a critical evolution
could take place in the nutritive apparatus of an animal, without a
change in the whole series of its organs. Thus in order that serfage
should be evolved from slavery, and free labour again from serfage, it
could not be enough that an alteration should have been wrought in men's
ideas as to their common brotherhood, and the connected ideas as to the
lawfulness or unlawfulness of certain human relations. There must have
been an alteration also of the economic and material conditions. History
confirms the expectations which we should thus have been led to
entertain. The impotence of spiritual and moral agencies alone in
bringing about this great metamorphosis, is shown by such facts as
these. For centuries after the new faith had consolidated itself,
slavery was regarded without a particle of that deep abhorrence which
the possession of man by man excites in us now. In the ninth and tenth
centuries the slave trade was the most profitable branch of the
commerce that was carried on in the Mediterranean. The historian tells
us that, even so late as this, slaves were the principal article of
European export to Africa, Syria, and Egypt, in payment for the produce
of the East which was brought from those countries. It was the crumbling
of the old social system which, by reducing the population, lessening
the wealth, and lowering the standard of living among the free masters,
tended to extinguish slavery, by diminishing the differences between the
masters and their bondsmen. Again, it was certain laws enacted by the
Roman government for the benefit of the imperial fisc, which first
conferred rights on the slave. The same laws brought the free farmer,
whose position was less satisfactory for the purposes of the revenue,
down nearer and nearer to a servile condition. Again, in the ninth and
tenth centuries, pestilence and famine accelerated the extinction of
predial slavery by weakening the numbers of the free population.
'History,' we are told by that thoroughly competent authority, Mr.
Finlay, 'affords its testimony that neither the doctrines of
Christianity, nor the sentiments of humanity, have ever yet succeeded
in extinguishing slavery, where the soil could be cultivated with profit
by slave labour. No Christian community of slave-holders has yet
voluntarily abolished slavery. In no country where it prevailed has
rural slavery ceased, until the price of productions raised by slave
labour has fallen so low as to leave no profit to the slave-owner.'

The moral of all this is the tolerably obvious truth, that the
prosperity of an abstract idea depends as much on the medium into which
it is launched, as upon any quality of its own. Stable societies are
amply furnished with force enough to resist all effort in a destructive
direction. There is seldom much fear, and in our own country there is
hardly any fear at all, of hasty reformers making too much way against
the spontaneous conservatism which belongs to a healthy and
well-organised community. If dissolvent ideas do make their way, it is
because the society was already ripe for dissolution. New ideas, however
ardently preached, will dissolve no society which was not already in a
condition of profound disorganisation. We may be allowed just to point
to two memorable instances, by way of illustration, though a long and
elaborate discussion would be needed to bring out their full force. It
has often been thought since, as it was thought by timorous
reactionaries at the time, that Christianity in various ways sapped the
strength of the Roman Empire, and opened the way for the barbarians. In
truth, the most careful and competent students know now that the Empire
slowly fell to pieces, partly because the political arrangements were
vicious and inadequate, but mainly because the fiscal and economic
system impoverished and depopulated one district of the vast empire
after another. It was the break-up of the Empire that gave the Church
its chance; not the Church that broke up the Empire. It is a mistake of
the same kind to suppose that the destructive criticism of the French
philosophers a hundred years ago was the great operative cause of the
catastrophe which befel the old social régime. If Voltaire, Diderot,
Rousseau, had never lived, or if their works had all been suppressed as
soon as they were printed, their absence would have given no new life to
agriculture, would not have stimulated trade, nor replenished the
bankrupt fisc, nor incorporated the privileged classes with the bulk of
the nation, nor done anything else to repair an organisation of which
every single part had become incompetent for its proper function. It was
the material misery and the political despair engendered by the reigning
system, which brought willing listeners to the feet of the teachers who
framed beneficent governments on the simple principles of reason and the
natural law. And these teachers only busied themselves with abstract
politics, because the real situation was desperate. They had no
alternative but to evolve social improvements out of their own
consciousness. There was not a single sound organ in the body politic,
which they could have made the starting-point of a reconstitution of a
society on the base of its actual or historic structure. The mischiefs
which resulted from their method are patent and undeniable. But the
method was made inevitable by the curse of the old régime.[34]

Nor is there any instance in history of mere opinion making a breach in
the essential constitution of a community, so long as the political
conditions were stable and the economic or nutritive conditions sound.
If some absolute monarch were to be seized by a philanthropic resolution
to transform the ordering of a society which seemed to be at his
disposal, he might possibly, by the perseverance of a lifetime, succeed
in throwing the community into permanent confusion. Joseph II. perhaps
did as much as a modern sovereign can do in this direction. Yet little
came of his efforts, either for good or harm. But a man without the
whole political machinery in his power need hardly labour under any
apprehension that he may, by the mere force of speculative opinion,
involuntarily work a corresponding mischief. If it is true that the most
fervent apostles of progress usually do very little of the good on which
they congratulate themselves, they ought surely on the same ground to be
acquitted of much of the harm for which they are sometimes reviled. In a
country of unchecked and abundant discussion, a new idea is not at all
likely to make much way against the objection of its novelty, unless it
is really commended by some quality of temporary or permanent value. So
far therefore as the mere publication of new principles is concerned,
and so far also as merely self-regarding action goes, one who has the
keenest sense of social responsibility, and is most scrupulously afraid
of doing anything to slacken or perturb the process of social growth,
may still consistently give to the world whatever ideas he has gravely
embraced. He may safely trust, if the society be in a normal condition,
to its justice of assimilation and rejection. There are a few
individuals for whom newness is a recommendation. But what are these
few among the many to whom newness is a stumbling-block? Old ideas may
survive merely because they are old. A new one will certainly not, among
a considerable body of men in a healthy social state, gain any
acceptance worth speaking of, merely because it is new.

The recognition of the self-protecting quality of society is something
more than a point of speculative importance. It has a direct practical
influence. For it would add to the courage and intrepidity of the men
who are most attached to the reigning order of things. If such men could
only divest themselves of a futile and nervous apprehension, that things
as they are have no root in their essential fitness and harmony, and
that order consequently is ever hanging on a trembling and doubtful
balance, they would not only gain by the self-respect which would be
added to them and the rest of the community, but all discussion would
become more robust and real. If they had a larger faith in the stability
for which they profess so great an anxiety, they would be more free
alike in understanding and temper to deal generously, honestly, and
effectively with those whom they count imprudent innovators. There is
nothing more amusing or more instructive than to turn to the debates in
parliament or the press upon some innovating proposal, after an interval
since the proposal was accepted by the legislature. The flaming hopes of
its friends, the wild and desperate prophecies of its antagonists, are
found to be each as ill-founded as the other. The measure which was to
do such vast good according to the one, such portentous evil according
to the other, has done only a part of the promised good, and has done
none of the threatened evil. The true lesson from this is one of
perseverance and thoroughness for the improver, and one of faith in the
self-protectiveness of a healthy society for the conservative. The
master error of the latter is to suppose that men are moved mainly by
their passions rather than their interests, that all their passions are
presumably selfish and destructive, and that their own interests can
seldom be adequately understood by the persons most directly concerned.
How many fallacies are involved in this group of propositions, the
reader may well be left to judge for himself.

We have in this chapter considered some of the limitations which are
set by the conditions of society on the duty of trying to realise our
principles in action. The general conclusion is in perfect harmony with
that of the previous chapters. A principle, if it be sound, represents
one of the larger expediencies. To abandon that for the sake of some
seeming expediency of the hour, is to sacrifice the greater good for the
less, on no more creditable ground than that the less is nearer. It is
better to wait, and to defer the realisation of our ideas until we can
realise them fully, than to defraud the future by truncating them, if
truncate them we must, in order to secure a partial triumph for them in
the immediate present. It is better to bear the burden of
impracticableness, than to stifle conviction and to pare away principle
until it becomes more hollowness and triviality. What is the sense, and
what is the morality, of postponing the wider utility to the narrower?
Nothing is so sure to impoverish an epoch, to deprive conduct of
nobleness, and character of elevation.


[Footnote 27: _The Study of Sociology_, p. 396.]

[Footnote 28: No one, for instance, has given more forcible or decisive
expression than Mr. Spencer has done to the duty of not passively
accepting the current theology. See his _First Principles_, pt. i. ch.
vi, § 34; paragraph beginning,--'Whoever hesitates to utter that which
he thinks the highest truth, lest it should be too much in advance of
the time, may reassure himself by looking at his acts from an impersonal
point of view,' etc.]

[Footnote 29: _Speech on Conciliation with America_.]

[Footnote 30: 'Toute énormité dans les esprits d'un certain ordre n'est
souvent qu'une grande vue prise hors du temps et du lieu, et ne gardant
aucun rapport réel avec les objets environnants. Le propre de certaines
prunelles ardentes est de franchir du regard les intervalles et de les
supprimer. Tantôt c'est une idée qui retarde de plusieurs siècles, et
que ces vigoureux esprits se figurent encore présente et vivante; tantôt
c'est une idée qui avance, et qu'ils croient incontinent réalisable. M.
de Couaën était ainsi; il voyait 1814 dès 1804, et de là une
supériorité; mais il jugeait 1814 possible dès 1804 ou 1805, et de là
tout un chimérique entassement.--Voilà un point blanc à l'horizon,
chacun jurerait que c'est un nuage. "C'est une montagne," dit le
voyageur à l'oeil d'aigle; mais s'il ajoute: "Nous y arriverons ce soir,
dans deux heures;" si, à chaque heure de marche, il crie avec
emportement: "Nous y sommes," et le veut démontrer, il choque les
voisins avec sa poutre, et donne l'avantage aux yeux moins perçants et
plus habitués à la plaine.'--Ste. Beuve's _Volupté_, p. 262]

[Footnote 31: It is sometimes convenient to set familiar arguments down
once more; so I venture to reprint in a note at the end of the chapter a
short exposition of the doctrine of liberty, which I had occasion to
make in considering Sir J.F. Stephen's vigorous attack on that

[Footnote 32: Mr. Samuel Bailey's _Essays on the Formation and
Publication of Opinions_, etc., p. 138, (1826.)]

[Footnote 33: There is a sense, and a most important sense, in which
liberty is a positive force. It is its robust and bracing influence on
character, which makes wise men prize freedom and strive for the
enlargement of its province. As Mr. Mill expressed this:--'It is of
importance not only what men do, but what manner of men they are that do
it,' Milton pointed to the positive effect of liberty on character in
the following passage:--'They are not skilful considerers of human
things who imagine to remove sin by removing the matter of sin. Though
ye take from a covetous man his treasure, he has yet one jewel left; ye
cannot bereave him of his covetousness. Banish all objects of lust, shut
up all youth into the severest discipline that can be exercised in any
hermitage, ye cannot make them chaste that came not thither so. Suppose
we could expel sin by this means; look how much we thus expel of sin, so
much we expel of virtue. And were I the chooser, a dram of well-doing
should be preferred before many times as much the forcible hindrance of
evil-doing. For God sure esteems the growth and completing of one
virtuous person, more than the restraint of ten vicious.']

[Footnote 34: There is, I think, nothing in this paragraph really
inconsistent with De Tocqueville's well-known and striking chapter,
'Comment les hommes de lettres devinrent les principaux hommes
politiques du pays, et des effets qui en résultèrent.' (_Ancien Régime_,
iii. i.) Thus Sénac de Meilhan writes in 1795;--'C'est quand la
Révolution a été entamée qu'on a cherché dans Mably, dans Rousseau, des
armes pour sustenter le système vers lequel entrainait l'effervescence
de quelques esprits hardis. Mais ce ne sont point les auteurs que j'ai
cités qui ont enflamme les têtes; M. Necker seul a produit cet effet, et
déterminé l'explosion,' ... 'Les écrits de Voltaire ont certainement nui
à la religion, et ébranlé la croyance dans un assez grand nombre; mais
ils n'ont aucun rapport avec les affaires du gouvernement, et sont plus
favorables que contraires à la monarchie....' Of Rousseau's _Social
Contract_:--'Ce livre profond et abstrait était peu lu, et etendu de
bien peu de gens.' Mably--'avait peu de vogue.' _De Gouvernment, etc.,
en France_, p. 129, etc.]



Mr. Mill's memorable plea for social liberty was little more than an
enlargement, though a very important enlargement, of the principles of
the still more famous Speech for Liberty of Unlicensed Printing with
which Milton ennobled English literature two centuries before. Milton
contended for free publication of opinion mainly on these grounds:
First, that the opposite system implied the 'grace of infallibility and
incorruptibleness' in the licensers. Second, that the prohibition of
bold books led to mental indolence and stagnant formalism both in
teachers and congregations, producing the 'laziness of a licensing
church.' Third, that it 'hinders and retards the importation of our
richest merchandise, truth;' for the commission of the licenser enjoins
him to let nothing pass which is not vulgarly received already, and 'if
it come to prohibiting, there is not aught more likely to be prohibited
than truth itself, whose first appearance to our eyes, bleared and
dimmed with prejudice and custom, is more unsightly and unplausible
than many errors, even as the person is of many a great man slight and
contemptible to see to.' Fourth, that freedom is in itself an ingredient
of true virtue, and 'they are not skilful considerers of human things
who imagine to remove sin by removing the matter of sin; that virtue
therefore, which is but a youngling in the contemplation of evil, and
knows not the utmost that vice promises to her followers, and rejects
it, is but a blank virtue, not a pure; her virtue is but an excremental
virtue, which was the reason why our sage and serious poet Spenser, whom
I dare be known to think a better teacher than Scotus or Aquinas,
describing true temperance under the form of Guion, brings him in with
his palmer through the cave of Mammon and the tower of earthly bliss,
that he might see and know and yet abstain.'

The four grounds on which Mr. Mill contends for the necessity of freedom
in the expression of opinion to the mental wellbeing of mankind, are
virtually contained in these. His four grounds are, (1) that the
silenced opinion may be true; (2) it may contain a portion of truth,
essential to supplement the prevailing opinion; (3) vigorous contesting
of opinions that are even wholly true, is the only way of preventing
them from sinking to the level of uncomprehended prejudices; (4) without
such contesting, the doctrine will lose its vital effect on character
and conduct.

But Milton drew the line of liberty at what he calls 'neighbouring
differences, or rather indifferences.' The Arminian controversy had
loosened the bonds with which the newly liberated churches of the
Reformation, had made haste to bind themselves again, and weakened that
authority of confessions, which had replaced the older but not more
intolerant authority of the universal church. Other controversies which
raged during the first half of the seventeenth century,--those between
catholics and protestants, between prelatists and presbyterians, between
socinians and trinitarians, between latitudinarians, puritans, and
sacramentalists,--all tended to weaken theological exclusiveness. This
slackening, however, was no more than partial. Roger Williams, indeed,
the Welsh founder of Rhode Island, preached, as early as 1631, the
principles of an unlimited toleration, extending to catholics, Jews, and
even infidels. Milton stopped a long way short of this. He did not mean
'tolerated popery and open superstition, which, as it extirpates all
religious and civil supremacies, so itself should be extirpate, provided
first that all charitable and compassionate means be used to win and
regain the weak and the misled: that also which is impious or evil
absolutely either against faith or manners no law can possibly permit
that intends not to unlaw itself.'

Locke, writing five-and-forty years later, somewhat widened these
limitations. His question was not merely whether there should be free
expression of opinion, but whether there should furthermore be freedom
of worship and of religious union. He answered both questions
affirmatively,--not on the semi-sceptical ground of Jeremy Taylor, which
is also one of the grounds taken by Mr. Mill, that we cannot be sure
that our own opinion is the true one,--but on the strength of his
definition of the province of the civil magistrate. Locke held that the
magistrate's whole jurisdiction reached only to civil concernments, and
that 'all civil power, right, and dominion is bounded to that only care
of promoting these things; and that it neither can nor ought in any
manner to be extended to the saving of souls. This chiefly because the
power of the civil magistrate consists only in outward force, while true
and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind,
without which nothing can be acceptable to God, and such is the nature
of the understanding that it cannot he compelled to the belief of
anything by outward force.... It is only light and evidence that can
work a change in men's opinions; and that light can in no manner proceed
from corporal sufferings, or any other outward penalties.' 'I may grow
rich by an art that I take not delight in; I may be cured of some
disease by remedies that I have not faith in; but I cannot be saved by a
religion that at I distrust and a ritual that I abhor.' (_First Letter
concerning Toleration_.) And much more in the same excellent vein. But
Locke fixed limits to toleration. 1. No opinions contrary to human
society, or to those moral rules which are necessary to the preservation
of civil society, are to be tolerated by the magistrate. Thus, to take
examples from our own day, a conservative minister would think himself
right on this principle in suppressing the Land and Labour League; a
catholic minister in dissolving the Education League; and any minister
in making mere membership of the Mormon sect a penal offence. 2. No
tolerance ought to be extended to 'those who attribute unto the
faithful, religious, and orthodox, that is in plain terms unto
themselves, any peculiar privilege or power above other mortals, in
civil concernments; or who, upon pretence of religion, do challenge any
manner of authority over such as are not associated with them in their
ecclesiastical communion.' As I have seldom heard of any sect, except
the Friends, who did not challenge as much authority as it could
possibly get over persons not associated with it, this would amount to a
universal proscription of religion; but Locke's principle might at any
rate be invoked against Ultra-montanism in some circumstances. 3. Those
are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of God. The taking
away of God, _though but even in thought_, dissolves all society; and
promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society,
have no hold on such. Thus the police ought to close Mr. Bradlaugh's
Hall of Science, and perhaps on some occasions the Positivist School.

Locke's principles depended on a distinction between civil concernments,
which he tries to define, and all other concernments. Warburton's
arguments on the alliance between church and state turned on the same
point, as did the once-famous Bangorian controversy. This distinction
would fit into Mr. Mill's cardinal position, which consists in a
distinction between the things that only affect the doer or thinker of
them, and the things that affect other persons as well. Locke's attempt
to divide civil affairs from affairs of salvation, was satisfactory
enough for the comparatively narrow object with which he opened his
discussion. Mr. Mill's account of civil affairs is both wider and more
definite; naturally so, as he had to maintain the cause of tolerance in
a much more complex set of social conditions, and amid a far greater
diversity of speculative energy, than any one dreamed of in Locke's
time. Mr. Mill limits the province of the civil magistrate to the
repression of acts that directly and immediately injure others than the
doer of them. So long as acts, including the expression of opinions, are
purely self-regarding, it seems to him expedient in the long run that
they should not be interfered with by the magistrate. He goes much
further than this. Self-regarding acts should not be interfered with by
the magistrate. Not only self-regarding acts, but all opinions
whatever, should, moreover, be as little interfered with as possible by
public opinion, except in the way of vigorous argumentation and earnest
persuasion in a contrary direction; the silent but most impressive
solicitation of virtuous example; the wise and careful upbringing of the
young, so that when they enter life they may be most nobly fitted to
choose the right opinions and obey the right motives.

The consideration by which he supports this rigorous confinement of
external interference on the part of government, or the unorganised
members of the community whose opinion is called public opinion, to
cases of self-protection, are these, some of which have been already

1. By interfering to suppress opinions or experiments in living, you may
resist truths and improvements in a greater or less degree.

2. Constant discussion is the only certain means of preserving the
freshness of truth in men's minds, and the vitality of its influence
upon their conduct and motives.

3. Individuality is one of the most valuable elements of wellbeing, and
you can only be sure of making the most of individuality, if you have an
atmosphere of freedom, encouraging free development and expansion.

4. Habitual resort to repressive means of influencing conduct tends more
than anything else to discredit and frustrate the better means, such as
education, good example, and the like. (_Liberty_, 148.)

The principle which he deduces from these considerations is--'that the
sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively,
in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is
self-protection; the only purpose for which power can be rightfully
exercised over any member of a civilised community, is to prevent harm
to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient
warrant. He cannot be rightfully compelled to do or forbear because it
will make him happier, because in the opinion of others to do so would
be wise or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with
him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but
not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do
otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to
deter him must be calculated to produce evil to others.' (_Liberty_,

Two disputable points in the above doctrine are likely at once to reveal
themselves to the least critical eye. First, that doctrine would seem to
check the free expression of disapproval; one of the most wholesome and
indispensable duties which anybody with interest in serious questions
has to perform, and the non-performance of which would remove the most
proper and natural penalty from frivolous or perverse opinions and
obnoxious conduct. Mr. Mill deals with this difficulty as follows:--'We
have a right in various ways to act upon our unfavourable opinion of any
one, not to the oppression of his individuality, but in the exercise of
ours. We are not bound, for example, to seek his society; we have a
right to avoid it (though not to parade the avoidance) for we have a
right to choose the society most acceptable to us. We have a right, and
it may be our duty, to caution others against him, if we think his
example or conversation likely to have a pernicious effect on those with
whom he associates. We may give others a preference over him in optional
good offices, except those which tend to his improvement. In these
various modes a person may suffer very severe penalties at the hands of
others for faults which directly concern only himself; but he suffers
these penalties only in so far as they are the natural, and as it were
the spontaneous, consequences of the faults themselves, not because they
are purposely inflicted on him for the sake of punishment.' (_Liberty_,
139.) This appears to be a satisfactory way of meeting the objection.
For though the penalties of disapproval may be just the same, whether
deliberately inflicted, or naturally and spontaneously falling on the
object of such disapproval, yet there is a very intelligible difference
between the two processes in their effect on the two parties concerned.
A person imbued with Mr. Mill's principle would feel the responsibility
of censorship much more seriously; would reflect more carefully and
candidly about the conduct or opinion of which he thought ill; would be
more on his guard against pharisaic censoriousness, and that desire to
be ever judging one another, which Milton well called the stronghold of
our hypocrisy. The disapproval of such a person would have an austere
colour, a gravity, a self-respecting reserve, which could never belong
to an equal degree of disapproval in a person who had started from the
officious principle, that if we are sure we are right, it is straightway
our business to make the person whom we think wrong smart for his error.
And in the same way such disapproval would be much more impressive to
the person whom it affected. If it was justified, he would be like a
froward child who is always less effectively reformed--if reformable at
all--by angry chidings and passionate punishments than by the sight of a
cool and austere displeasure which lets him persist in his frowardness
if he chooses.

The second weak point in the doctrine lies in the extreme vagueness of
the terms, protective and self-regarding. The practical difficulty
begins with the definition of these terms. Can any opinion, or any
serious part of conduct, be looked upon as truly and exclusively
self-regarding? This central ingredient in the discussion seems
insufficiently laboured in the essay on Liberty. Yet it is here more
than anywhere else that controversy is needed to clear up what is in
just as much need of elucidation, whatever view we may take of the
inherent virtue of freedom--whether we look on freedom as a mere
negation, or as one of the most powerful positive conditions of
attaining the highest kind of human excellence.

To some persons the analysis of conduct, on which the whole doctrine of
liberty rests, seems metaphysical and arbitrary. They are reluctant to
admit there are any self-regarding acts at all. This reluctance implies
a perfectly tenable proposition, a proposition which has been maintained
by nearly all religious bodies in the world's history in their
non-latitudinarian stages. To distinguish the self-regarding from the
other parts of conduct, strikes them not only as unscientific, but as
morally and socially mischievous. They insist that there is a social as
well as a personal element in every human act, though in very different
proportions. There is no gain, they contend, and there may be much harm,
in trying to mark off actions, in which the personal element decisively
preponderates, from actions of another sort. Mr. Mill did so distinguish
actions, nor was his distinction either metaphysical or arbitrary in its
source. As a matter of observation, and for the practical purposes of
morality, there are kinds of action whose consequences do not go beyond
the doer of them. No doubt, you may say that by engaging in these kinds
in any given moment, the doer is neglecting the actions in which the
social element preponderates, and therefore even acts that seem purely
self-regarding have indirect and negative consequences to the rest of
the world. But to allow considerations of this sort to prevent us from
using a common-sense classification of acts by the proportion of the
personal element in them, is as unreasonable as if we allowed the
doctrine of the conservation of physical force, or the evolution of one
mode of force into another, to prevent us from classifying the
affections of matter independently, as light, heat, motion, and the
rest. There is one objection obviously to be made to most of the
illustrations which are designed to show the public element in all
private conduct. The connection between the act and its influence on
others is so remote (using the word in a legal sense), though quite
certain, distinct, and traceable, that you can only take the act out of
the self-regarding category, by a process which virtually denies the
existence of any such category. You must set a limit to this 'indirect
and at-a-distance argument,' as Locke called a similar plea, and the
setting of this limit is the natural supplement to Mr. Mill's 'simple

The division between self-regarding acts and others then, rests on
observation of their actual consequences. And why was Mr. Mill so
anxious to erect self-regarding acts into a distinct and important
class, so important as to be carefully and diligently secured by a
special principle of liberty? Because observation of the recorded
experience of mankind teaches us, that the recognition of this
independent provision is essential to the richest expansion of human
faculty. To narrow or to repudiate such a province, and to insist
exclusively on the social bearing of each part of conduct, is to limit
the play of motives, and to thwart the doctrine that 'mankind obtain a
greater sum of happiness when each pursues his own, under the rules and
conditions required by the rest, than when each makes the good of the
rest his only object.' To narrow or to repudiate such a province is to
tighten the power of the majority over the minority, and to augment the
authority of whatever sacerdotal or legislative body may represent the
majority. Whether the lawmakers be laymen in parliament, or priests of
humanity exercising the spiritual power, it matters not.

We may best estimate the worth and the significance of the doctrine of
Liberty by considering the line of thought and observation which led to
it. To begin with, it is in Mr. Mill's hands something quite different
from the same doctrine as preached by the French revolutionary school;
indeed one might even call it reactionary, in respect of the French
theory of a hundred years back. It reposes on no principle of abstract
right, but, like the rest of its author's opinions, on principles of
utility and experience. Dr. Arnold used to divide reformers into two
classes, popular and liberal. The first he defined as seekers of
liberty, the second as seekers of improvement; the first were the goats,
and the second were the sheep. Mr. Mill's doctrine denied the mutual
exclusiveness of the two parts of this classification, for it made
improvement the end and the test, while it proclaimed liberty to be the
means. Every thinker now perceives that the strongest and most durable
influences in every western society lead in the direction of democracy,
and tend with more or less rapidity to throw the control of social
organisation into the hands of numerical majorities. There are many
people who believe that if you only make the ruling body big enough, it
is sure to be either very wise itself, or very eager to choose wise
leaders. Mr. Mill, as any one who is familiar with his writings is well
aware, did not hold this opinion. He had no more partiality for mob rule
than De Maistre or Goethe or Mr. Carlyle. He saw its evils more clearly
than any of these eminent men, because he had a more scientific eye, and
because he had had the invaluable training of a political administrator
on a large scale, and in a very responsible post. But he did not content
himself with seeing these evils, and he wasted no energy in passionate
denunciation of them, which he knew must prove futile. Guizot said of De
Tocqueville, that he was an aristocrat who accepted his defeat. Mr. Mill
was too penetrated by popular sympathies to be an aristocrat in De
Tocqueville's sense, but he likewise was full of ideas and hopes which
the unchecked or undirected course of democracy would defeat without
chance of reparation. This fact he accepted, and from this he started.
Mr. Carlyle, and one or two rhetorical imitators, poured malediction on
the many-headed populace, and with a rather pitiful impatience insisted
that the only hope for men lay in their finding and obeying a strong
man, a king, a hero, a dictator. How he was to be found, neither the
master nor his still angrier and more impatient mimics could ever tell

Now Mr. Mill's doctrine laid down the main condition of finding your
hero; namely, that all ways should be left open to him, because no man,
nor majority of men, could possibly tell by which of these ways their
deliverers were from time to time destined to present themselves. Wits
have caricatured all this, by asking us whether by encouraging the tares
to grow, you give the wheat a better chance. This is as misleading as
such metaphors usually are. The doctrine of liberty rests on a faith
drawn from the observation of human progress, that though we know wheat
to be serviceable and tares to be worthless, yet there are in the great
seed-plot of human nature a thousand rudimentary germs, not wheat and
not tares, of whose properties we have not had a fair opportunity of
assuring ourselves. If you are too eager to pluck up the tares, you are
very likely to pluck up with them these untried possibilities of human
excellence, and you are, moreover, very likely to injure the growing
wheat as well. The demonstration of this lies in the recorded experience
of mankind.

Nor is this all. Mr. Mill's doctrine does not lend the least countenance
to the cardinal opinion of some writers in the last century, that the
only need of human character and of social institutions is to be let
alone. He never said that we were to leave the ground uncultivated, to
bring up whatever might chance to grow. On the contrary, the ground was
to be cultivated with the utmost care and knowledge, with a view to
prevent the growth of tares--but cultivated in a certain manner. You may
take the method of the Inquisition, of the more cruel of the Puritans,
of De Maistre, of Mr. Carlyle; or you may take Mr. Mill's method of
cultivation. According to the doctrine of Liberty, we are to devote
ourselves to prevention, as the surest and most wholesome mode of
extirpation. Persuade; argue; cherish virtuous example; bring up the
young in habits of right opinion and right motive; shape your social
arrangements so as to stimulate the best parts of character. By these
means you will gain all the advantages that could possibly have come of
heroes and legislative dragooning, as well as a great many more which
neither heroes nor legislative dragooning could ever have secured.

It is well with men, Mr. Mill said, moreover, in proportion as they
respect truth. Now they at once prove and strengthen their respect for
truth, by having an open mind to all its possibilities, while at the
same time they hold firmly to their own proved convictions, until they
hear better evidence to the contrary. There is no anarchy, nor
uncertainty, nor paralysing air of provisionalness in such a frame of
mind. So far is it from being fatal to loyalty or reverence, that it is
an indispensable part of the groundwork of the only loyalty that a wise
ruler or teacher would care to inspire--the loyalty springing from a
rational conviction that, in a field open to all comers, he is the best
man they can find. Only on condition of liberty without limit is the
ablest and most helpful of 'heroes' sure to be found; and only on
condition of liberty without limit are his followers sure to be worthy
of him. You must have authority, and yet must have obedience. The
noblest and deepest and most beneficent kind of authority is that which
rests on an obedience that is rational and spontaneous.

The same futile impatience which animates the political utterances of
Mr. Carlyle and his more weak-voiced imitators, takes another form in
men of a different training or temperament. They insist that if the
majority has the means of preventing vice by law, it is folly and
weakness not to resort to those means. The superficial attractiveness
of such a doctrine is obvious. The doctrine of liberty implies a broader
and a more patient view. It says:--Even if you could be sure that what
you take for vice is so--and the history of persecution shows how
careful you should be in this preliminary point--even then it is an
undoubted and, indeed, a necessary tendency of this facile repressive
legislation, to make those who resort to it neglect the more effective,
humane, and durable kinds of preventive legislation. You pass a law (if
you can) putting down drunkenness; there is a neatness in such a method
very attractive to fervid and impatient natures. Would you not have done
better to leave that law unpassed, and apply yourselves sedulously
instead to the improvement of the dwellings of the more drunken class,
to the provision of amusements that might compete with the ale-house, to
the extension and elevation of instruction, and so on? You may say that
this should be done, and yet the other should not be left undone; but,
as matter of fact and history, the doing of the one has always gone with
the neglect of the other, and ascetic law-making in the interests of
virtue has never been accompanied either by law-making or any other
kinds of activity for making virtue easier or more attractive. It is the
recognition how little punishment can do, that leaves men free to see
how much social prevention can do. I believe, then, that what seems to
the criminal lawyers and passionate philanthropists self-evident, is in
truth an illusion, springing from a very shallow kind of impatience,
heated in some of them by the addition of a cynical contempt for human
nature and the worth of human existence.

If people believe that the book of social or moral knowledge is now
completed, that we have turned over the last page and heard the last
word, much of the foundation of Mr. Mill's doctrine would disappear. But
those who hold this can hardly have much to congratulate themselves
upon. If it were so, and if governments were to accept the principle
that the only limits to the enforcement of the moral standard of the
majority are the narrow expediencies of each special case, without
reference to any deep and comprehensive principle covering all the
largest considerations, why, then, the society to which we ought to look
with most admiration and envy, is the Eastern Empire during the ninth
and tenth centuries, when the Byzantine system of a thorough
subordination of the spiritual power had fully consolidated itself!

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "On Compromise" ***

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