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Title: Free Thought and Official Propaganda
Author: Russell, Bertrand, 1872-1970
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  [Italics are marked with _underscores_.]

  Ex Libris


  MARCH 24, 1922

  M.A., F.R.S.

  _(Professor Graham Wallas in the Chair)_

  WATTS & CO.,


I have come here to-night, partly because I want to hear Mr. Russell,
and partly because of an old affection for South Place and its
traditions. I myself have been for more than forty years a professional
teacher; and it is as a teacher—who thirty-seven years ago was
dismissed for refusing religious conformity—that I most easily approach
the problem of free thought. Though systems of education professing to
teach men and women how to think have been in use in Europe for,
perhaps, three thousand years, we have not yet reached that degree of
success which would be shown if most educated people came to much the
same conclusions on the great problems of life from a study of the same
evidence. Everywhere you have rebels; but ninety per cent. of French or
American students of history come to French or American conclusions, and
eighty-five per cent. of English students come to English conclusions;
eighty per cent. of Eton boys hold Eton political opinions all their
lives; ninety per cent. of the Irish Catholic population of the United
States seem to hold generation after generation identical opinions on
religion and politics which are not held by the vast majority of
Americans. It may be said that in these cases only one kind of evidence
is allowed to reach the students in each institution. But everybody
reads newspapers, and talks with his neighbours, and travels, and visits
museums; and most intelligent people read books and magazines. Sooner or
later much of the same evidence reaches us all. I myself believe that
one of the main reasons why we do not to a greater degree draw the same
conclusions from that evidence is that we do not really learn the
difficult art of thought. A boy at school is taught to memorize and to
understand mathematical formulæ or foreign languages or scientific
statements. But in weighing evidence the effort of memorizing, and even
the effort of understanding, are not of the first importance. The
effective process is a sort of painful and watchful expectancy. A
schoolboy or a college student finds that he has an uncomfortable sense
of unreality in repeating some accustomed formula, or writing an essay
to enforce some accustomed line of argument. He shrinks from that
feeling, as all animals shrink from discomfort. If he were taught what
are the conditions of effective thought, and were encouraged to act on
that lesson, he would know that it is only by resolutely fastening on
such vague and painful premonitions, and forcing them to come into full
consciousness and disclose their deeper causes and tendencies that he
can arrive at new truth or make some old truth his own.

But who is going to tell him this secret? Every day in London thousands
of clever and sympathetic boys and girls begin the day by sitting
through three-quarters of an hour of the dreary “Cowper-Temple”
instruction which consists, as Bishop Temple once said, of teaching at
everybody’s expense what nobody believes. They may be conscious or
half-conscious of a feeling of unreality; but, even if they have not
been taught that it is a sacred duty to “struggle against doubt,” they
shrink, as the cleverest of them feel that the teacher is shrinking,
from any further exploration on that path.

Perhaps some day the teachers and students of the ordinary school and
college subjects may learn something from those little isolated
institutions where men and women try to prepare themselves for the
creative arts. The young painter or sculptor or member of a group of
young poets is often queerly ignorant and one-sided. But he lives in
another world from that of the big conventional sixth-form boy at Harrow
or St. Paul’s, or the hockey-playing athlete of a girls’ High School,
because he has felt the pain and the exhilaration reached through pain
by which alone new truth and new beauty are born into the world.


Moncure Conway, in whose honour we are assembled to-day, devoted his
life to two great objects: freedom of thought and freedom of the
individual. In regard to both these objects, something has been gained
since his time, but something also has been lost. New dangers, somewhat
different in form from those of past ages, threaten both kinds of
freedom, and unless a vigorous and vigilant public opinion can be
aroused in defence of them, there will be much less of both a hundred
years hence than there is now. My purpose in this address is to
emphasize the new dangers and to consider how they can be met.

Let us begin by trying to be clear as to what we mean by “free thought.”
This expression has two senses. In its narrower sense it means thought
which does not accept the dogmas of traditional religion. In this sense
a man is a “free thinker” if he is not a Christian or a Mussulman or a
Buddhist or a Shintoist or a member of any of the other bodies of men
who accept some inherited orthodoxy. In Christian countries a man is
called a “free thinker” if he does not decidedly believe in God, though
this would not suffice to make a man a “free thinker” in a Buddhist

I do not wish to minimize the importance of free thought in this sense.
I am myself a dissenter from all known religions, and I hope that every
kind of religious belief will die out. I do not believe that, on the
balance, religious belief has been a force for good. Although I am
prepared to admit that in certain times and places it has had some good
effects, I regard it as belonging to the infancy of human reason, and to
a stage of development which we are now outgrowing.

But there is also a wider sense of “free thought,” which I regard as of
still greater importance. Indeed, the harm done by traditional religions
seems chiefly traceable to the fact that they have prevented free
thought in this wider sense. The wider sense is not so easy to define as
the narrower, and it will be well to spend some little time in trying to
arrive at its essence.

When we speak of anything as “free,” our meaning is not definite unless
we can say what it is free _from_. Whatever or whoever is “free” is not
subject to some external compulsion, and to be precise we ought to say
what this kind of compulsion is. Thus thought is “free” when it is free
from certain kinds of outward control which are often present. Some of
these kinds of control which must be absent if thought is to be “free”
are obvious, but others are more subtle and elusive.

To begin with the most obvious. Thought is not “free” when legal
penalties are incurred by the holding or not holding of certain
opinions, or by giving expression to one’s belief or lack of belief on
certain matters. Very few countries in the world have as yet even this
elementary kind of freedom. In England, under the Blasphemy Laws, it is
illegal to express disbelief in the Christian religion, though in
practice the law is not set in motion against the well-to-do. It is also
illegal to teach what Christ taught on the subject of non-resistance.
Therefore, whoever wishes to avoid becoming a criminal must profess to
agree with Christ’s teaching, but must avoid saying what that teaching
was. In America no one can enter the country without first solemnly
declaring that he disbelieves in anarchism and polygamy; and, once
inside, he must also disbelieve in communism. In Japan it is illegal to
express disbelief in the divinity of the Mikado. It will thus be seen
that a voyage round the world is a perilous adventure. A Mohammedan, a
Tolstoyan, a Bolshevik, or a Christian cannot undertake it without at
some point becoming a criminal, or holding his tongue about what he
considers important truths. This, of course, applies only to steerage
passengers; saloon passengers are allowed to believe whatever they
please, provided they avoid offensive obtrusiveness.

It is clear that the most elementary condition, if thought is to be
free, is the absence of legal penalties for the expression of opinions.
No great country has yet reached to this level, although most of them
think they have. The opinions which are still persecuted strike the
majority as so monstrous and immoral that the general principle of
toleration cannot be held to apply to them. But this is exactly the same
view as that which made possible the tortures of the Inquisition. There
was a time when Protestantism seemed as wicked as Bolshevism seems now.
Please do not infer from this remark that I am either a Protestant or a

Legal penalties are, however, in the modern world, the least of the
obstacles to freedom of thoughts. The two great obstacles are economic
penalties and distortion of evidence. It is clear that thought is not
free if the profession of certain opinions makes it impossible to earn a
living. It is clear also that thought is not free if all the arguments
on one side of a controversy are perpetually presented as attractively
as possible, while the arguments on the other side can only be
discovered by diligent search. Both these obstacles exist in every large
country known to me, except China, which is the last refuge of freedom.
It is these obstacles with which I shall be concerned—their present
magnitude, the likelihood of their increase, and the possibility of
their diminution.

We may say that thought is free when it is exposed to free competition
among beliefs—i.e., when all beliefs are able to state their case, and
no legal or pecuniary advantages or disadvantages attach to beliefs.
This is an ideal which, for various reasons, can never be fully
attained. But it is possible to approach very much nearer to it than we
do at present.

Three incidents in my own life will serve to show how, in modern
England, the scales are weighted in favour of Christianity. My reason
for mentioning them is that many people do not at all realize the
disadvantages to which avowed Agnosticism still exposes people.

The first incident belongs to a very early stage in my life. My father
was a Freethinker, but died when I was only three years old. Wishing me
to be brought up without superstition, he appointed two Freethinkers as
my guardians. The Courts, however, set aside his will, and had me
educated in the Christian faith. I am afraid the result was
disappointing, but that was not the fault of the law. If he had directed
that I should be educated as a Christadelphian or a Muggletonian or a
Seventh-Day Adventist, the Courts would not have dreamed of objecting. A
parent has a right to ordain that any imaginable superstition shall be
instilled into his children after his death, but has not the right to
say that they shall be kept free from superstition if possible.

The second incident occurred in the year 1910. I had at that time a
desire to stand for Parliament as a Liberal, and the Whips recommended
me to a certain constituency. I addressed the Liberal Association, who
expressed themselves favourably, and my adoption seemed certain. But, on
being questioned by a small inner caucus, I admitted that I was an
Agnostic. They asked whether the fact would come out, and I said it
probably would. They asked whether I should be willing to go to church
occasionally, and I replied that I should not. Consequently, they
selected another candidate, who was duly elected, has been in Parliament
ever since, and is a member of the present Government.

The third incident occurred immediately afterwards. I was invited by
Trinity College, Cambridge, to become a lecturer, but not a Fellow. The
difference is not pecuniary; it is that a Fellow has a voice in the
government of the College, and cannot be dispossessed during the term of
his Fellowship except for grave immorality. The chief reason for not
offering me a Fellowship was that the clerical party did not wish to add
to the anti-clerical vote. The result was that they were able to dismiss
me in 1916, when they disliked my views on the War.[1] If I had been
dependent on my lectureship, I should have starved.

These three incidents illustrate different kinds of disadvantages
attaching to avowed freethinking even in modern England. Any other
avowed Freethinker could supply similar incidents from his personal
experience, often of a far more serious character. The net result is
that people who are not well-to-do dare not be frank about their
religious beliefs.

It is not, of course, only or even chiefly in regard to religion that
there is lack of freedom. Belief in communism or free love handicaps a
man much more than Agnosticism. Not only is it a disadvantage to hold
those views, but it is very much more difficult to obtain publicity for
the arguments in their favour. On the other hand, in Russia the
advantages and disadvantages are exactly reversed: comfort and power are
achieved by professing Atheism, communism, and free love, and no
opportunity exists for propaganda against these opinions. The result is
that in Russia one set of fanatics feels absolute certainty about one
set of doubtful propositions, while in the rest of the world another set
of fanatics feels equal certainty about a diametrically opposite set of
equally doubtful propositions. From such a situation war, bitterness,
and persecution inevitably result on both sides.

William James used to preach the “will to believe.” For my part, I
should wish to preach the “will to doubt.” None of our beliefs are quite
true; all have at least a penumbra of vagueness and error. The methods
of increasing the degree of truth in our beliefs are well known; they
consist in hearing all sides, trying to ascertain all the relevant
facts, controlling our own bias by discussion with people who have the
opposite bias, and cultivating a readiness to discard any hypothesis
which has proved inadequate. These methods are practised in science, and
have built up the body of scientific knowledge. Every man of science
whose outlook is truly scientific is ready to admit that what passes for
scientific knowledge at the moment is sure to require correction with
the progress of discovery; nevertheless, it is near enough to the truth
to serve for most practical purposes, though not for all. In science,
where alone something approximating to genuine knowledge is to be found,
men’s attitude is tentative and full of doubt.

In religion and politics, on the contrary, though there is as yet
nothing approaching scientific knowledge, everybody considers it _de
rigueur_ to have a dogmatic opinion, to be backed up by inflicting
starvation, prison, and war, and to be carefully guarded from
argumentative competition with any different opinion. If only men could
be brought into a tentatively agnostic frame of mind about these
matters, nine-tenths of the evils of the modern world would be cured.
War would become impossible, because each side would realize that both
sides must be in the wrong. Persecution would cease. Education would aim
at expanding the mind, not at narrowing it. Men would be chosen for jobs
on account of fitness to do the work, not because they flattered the
irrational dogmas of those in power. Thus rational doubt alone, if it
could be generated, would suffice to introduce the millennium.

We have had in recent years a brilliant example of the scientific temper
of mind in the theory of relativity and its reception by the world.
Einstein, a German-Swiss-Jew pacifist, was appointed to a research
professorship by the German Government in the early days of the War; his
predictions were verified by an English expedition which observed the
eclipse of 1919, very soon after the Armistice. His theory upsets the
whole theoretical framework of traditional physics; it is almost as
damaging to orthodox dynamics as Darwin was to _Genesis_. Yet physicists
everywhere have shown complete readiness to accept his theory as soon as
it appeared that the evidence was in its favour. But none of them, least
of all Einstein himself, would claim that he has said the last word. He
has not built a monument of infallible dogma to stand for all time.
There are difficulties he cannot solve; his doctrines will have to be
modified in their turn as they have modified Newton’s. This critical
undogmatic receptiveness is the true attitude of science.

What would have happened if Einstein had advanced something equally new
in the sphere of religion or politics? English people would have found
elements of Prussianism in his theory; anti-Semites would have regarded
it as a Zionist plot; nationalists in all countries would have found it
tainted with lily-livered pacifism, and proclaimed it a mere dodge for
escaping military service. All the old-fashioned professors would have
approached Scotland Yard to get the importation of his writings
prohibited. Teachers favourable to him would have been dismissed. He,
meantime, would have captured the Government of some backward country,
where it would have become illegal to teach anything except his
doctrine, which would have grown into a mysterious dogma not understood
by anybody. Ultimately the truth or falsehood of his doctrine would be
decided on the battlefield, without the collection of any fresh evidence
for or against it. This method is the logical outcome of William James’s
will to believe.

What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out,
which is its exact opposite.

If it is admitted that a condition of rational doubt would be desirable,
it becomes important to inquire how it comes about that there is so much
irrational certainty in the world. A great deal of this is due to the
inherent irrationality and credulity of average human nature. But this
seed of intellectual original sin is nourished and fostered by other
agencies, among which three play the chief part—namely, education,
propaganda, and economic pressure. Let us consider these in turn.

(1) _Education._—Elementary education, in all advanced countries, is in
the hands of the State. Some of the things taught are known to be false
by the officials who prescribe them, and many others are known to be
false, or at any rate very doubtful, by every unprejudiced person. Take,
for example, the teaching of history. Each nation aims only at
self-glorification in the school text-books of history. When a man
writes his autobiography he is expected to show a certain modesty; but
when a nation writes its autobiography there is no limit to its boasting
and vainglory. When I was young, school books taught that the French
were wicked and the Germans virtuous; now they teach the opposite. In
neither case is there the slightest regard for truth. German school
books, dealing with the battle of Waterloo, represent Wellington as all
but defeated when Blücher saved the situation; English books represent
Blücher as having made very little difference. The writers of both the
German and the English books know that they are not telling the truth.
American school books used to be violently anti-British; since the War
they have become equally pro-British, without aiming at truth in either
case (see _The Freeman_, Feb. 15, 1922, p. 532). Both before and since,
one of the chief purposes of education in the United States has been to
turn the motley collection of immigrant children into “good Americans.”
Apparently it has not occurred to any one that a “good American,” like a
“good German” or a “good Japanese,” must be, _pro tanto_, a bad human
being. A “good American” is a man or woman imbued with the belief that
America is the finest country on earth, and ought always to be
enthusiastically supported in any quarrel. It is just possible that
these propositions are true; if so, a rational man will have no quarrel
with them. But if they are true, they ought to be taught everywhere, not
only in America. It is a suspicious circumstance that such propositions
are never believed outside the particular country which they glorify.
Meanwhile the whole machinery of the State, in all the different
countries, is turned on to making defenceless children believe absurd
propositions the effect of which is to make them willing to die in
defence of sinister interests under the impression that they are
fighting for truth and right. This is only one of countless ways in
which education is designed, not to give true knowledge, but to make the
people pliable to the will of their masters. Without an elaborate system
of deceit in the elementary schools it would be impossible to preserve
the camouflage of democracy.

Before leaving the subject of education, I will take another example
from America[2]—not because America is any worse than other countries,
but because it is the most modern, showing the dangers that are growing
rather than those that are diminishing. In the State of New York a
school cannot be established without a licence from the State, even if
it is to be supported wholly by private funds. A recent law decrees that
a licence shall not be granted to any school “where it shall appear that
the instruction proposed to be given includes the teachings of the
doctrine that organized Governments shall be overthrown by force,
violence, or unlawful means.” As the _New Republic_ points out, there is
no limitation to this or that organized Government. The law therefore
would have made it illegal, during the War, to teach the doctrine that
the Kaiser’s Government should be overthrown by force; and, since then,
the support of Kolchak or Denikin against the Soviet Government would
have been illegal. Such consequences, of course, were not intended, and
result only from bad draughtsmanship. What was intended appears from
another law passed at the same time, applying to teachers in State
schools. This law provides that certificates permitting persons to teach
in such schools shall be issued only to those who have “shown
satisfactorily” that they are “loyal and obedient to the Government of
this State and of the United States,” and shall be refused to those who
have advocated, no matter where or when, “a form of government other
than the Government of this State or of the United States.” The
committee which framed these laws, as quoted by the _New Republic_, laid
it down that the teacher who “does not approve of the present social
system......must surrender his office,” and that “no person who is not
eager to combat the theories of social change should be entrusted with
the task of fitting the young and old for the responsibilities of
citizenship.” Thus, according to the law of the State of New York,
Christ and George Washington were too degraded morally to be fit for the
education of the young. If Christ were to go to New York and say,
“Suffer the little children to come unto me,” the President of the New
York School Board would reply: “Sir, I see no evidence that you are
eager to combat theories of social change. Indeed, I have heard it said
that you advocate what you call the _kingdom_ of heaven, whereas this
country, thank God, is a republic. It is clear that the Government of
your kingdom of heaven would differ materially from that of New York
State, therefore no children will be allowed access to you.” If he
failed to make this reply, he would not be doing his duty as a
functionary entrusted with the administration of the law.

The effect of such laws is very serious. Let it be granted, for the sake
of argument, that the government and the social system in the State of
New York are the best that have ever existed on this planet; yet even
then both would presumably be capable of improvement. Any person who
admits this obvious proposition is by law incapable of teaching in a
State school. Thus the law decrees that the teachers shall all be either
hypocrites or fools.

The growing danger exemplified by the New York law is that resulting
from the monopoly of power in the hands of a single organization,
whether the State or a Trust or federation of Trusts. In the case of
education, the power is in the hands of the State, which can prevent the
young from hearing of any doctrine which it dislikes. I believe there
are still some people who think that a democratic State is scarcely
distinguishable from the people. This, however, is a delusion. The State
is a collection of officials, different for different purposes, drawing
comfortable incomes so long as the _status quo_ is preserved. The only
alteration they are likely to desire in the _status quo_ is an increase
of bureaucracy and of the power of bureaucrats. It is, therefore,
natural that they should take advantage of such opportunities as war
excitement to acquire inquisitorial powers over their employees,
involving the right to inflict starvation upon any subordinate who
opposes them. In matters of the mind, such as education, this state of
affairs is fatal. It puts an end to all possibility of progress or
freedom or intellectual initiative. Yet it is the natural result of
allowing the whole of elementary education to fall under the sway of a
single organization.

Religious toleration, to a certain extent, has been won because people
have ceased to consider religion so important as it was once thought to
be. But in politics and economics, which have taken the place formerly
occupied by religion, there is a growing tendency to persecution, which
is not by any means confined to one party. The persecution of opinion in
Russia is more severe than in any capitalist country. I met in Petrograd
an eminent Russian poet, Alexander Block, who has since died as the
result of privations. The Bolsheviks allowed him to teach æsthetics, but
he complained that they insisted on his teaching the subject “from a
Marxian point of view.” He had been at a loss to discover how the theory
of rhythmics was connected with Marxism, although, to avoid starvation,
he had done his best to find out. Of course, it has been impossible in
Russia ever since the Bolsheviks came into power to print anything
critical of the dogmas upon which their regime is founded.

The examples of America and Russia illustrate the conclusion to which we
seem to be driven—namely, that so long as men continue to have the
present fanatical belief in the importance of politics free thought on
political matters will be impossible, and there is only too much danger
that the lack of freedom will spread to all other matters, as it has
done in Russia. Only some degree of political scepticism can save us
from this misfortune.

It must not be supposed that the officials in charge of education desire
the young to become educated. On the contrary, their problem is to
impart information without imparting intelligence. Education should have
two objects: first, to give definite knowledge—reading and writing,
languages and mathematics, and so on; secondly, to create those mental
habits which will enable people to acquire knowledge and form sound
judgments for themselves. The first of these we may call information,
the second intelligence. The utility of information is admitted
practically as well as theoretically; without a literate population a
modern State is impossible. But the utility of intelligence is admitted
only theoretically, not practically; it is not desired that ordinary
people should think for themselves, because it is felt that people who
think for themselves are awkward to manage and cause administrative
difficulties. Only the guardians, in Plato’s language, are to think; the
rest are to obey, or to follow leaders like a herd of sheep. This
doctrine, often unconsciously, has survived the introduction of
political democracy, and has radically vitiated all national systems of

The country which has succeeded best in giving information without
intelligence is the latest addition to modern civilization, Japan.
Elementary education in Japan is said to be admirable from the point of
view of instruction. But, in addition to instruction, it has another
purpose, which is to teach worship of the Mikado—a far stronger creed
now than before Japan became modernized.[3] Thus the schools have been
used simultaneously to confer knowledge and to promote superstition.
Since we are not tempted to Mikado-worship, we see clearly what is
absurd in Japanese teaching. Our own national superstitions strike us as
natural and sensible, so that we do not take such a true view of them as
we do of the superstitions of Nippon. But if a travelled Japanese were
to maintain the thesis that our schools teach superstitions just as
inimical to intelligence as belief in the divinity of the Mikado, I
suspect that he would be able to make out a very good case.

For the present I am not in search of remedies, but am only concerned
with diagnosis. We are faced with the paradoxical fact that education
has become one of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of
thought. This is due primarily to the fact that the State claims a
monopoly; but that is by no means the sole cause.

(2) _Propaganda._—Our system of education turns young people out of the
schools able to read, but for the most part unable to weigh evidence or
to form an independent opinion. They are then assailed, throughout the
rest of their lives, by statements designed to make them believe all
sorts of absurd propositions, such as that Blank’s pills cure all ills,
that Spitzbergen is warm and fertile, and that Germans eat corpses. The
art of propaganda, as practised by modern politicians and governments,
is derived from the art of advertisement. The science of psychology owes
a great deal to advertisers. In former days most psychologists would
probably have thought that a man could not convince many people of the
excellence of his own wares by merely stating emphatically that they
were excellent. Experience shows, however, that they were mistaken in
this. If I were to stand up once in a public place and state that I am
the most modest man alive, I should be laughed at; but if I could raise
enough money to make the same statement on all the busses and on
hoardings along all the principal railway lines, people would presently
become convinced that I had an abnormal shrinking from publicity. If I
were to go to a small shopkeeper and say: “Look at your competitor over
the way, he is getting your business; don’t you think it would be a good
plan to leave your business and stand up in the middle of the road and
try to shoot him before he shoots you?”—if I were to say this, any
small shopkeeper would think me mad. But when the Government says it
with emphasis and a brass band, the small shopkeepers become
enthusiastic, and are quite surprised when they find afterwards that
business has suffered. Propaganda, conducted by the means which
advertisers have found successful, is now one of the recognized methods
of government in all advanced countries, and is especially the method by
which democratic opinion is created.

There are two quite different evils about propaganda as now practised.
On the one hand, its appeal is generally to irrational causes of belief
rather than to serious argument; on the other hand, it gives an unfair
advantage to those who can obtain most publicity, whether through wealth
or through power. For my part, I am inclined to think that too much fuss
is sometimes made about the fact that propaganda appeals to emotion
rather than reason. The line between emotion and reason is not so sharp
as some people think. Moreover, a clever man could frame a sufficiently
rational argument in favour of any position which has any chance of
being adopted. There are always good arguments on both sides of any real
issue. Definite mis-statements of fact can be legitimately objected to,
but they are by no means necessary. The mere words “Pear’s Soap,” which
affirm nothing, cause people to buy that article. If, wherever these
words appear, they were replaced by the words “The Labour Party,”
millions of people would be led to vote for the Labour Party, although
the advertisements had claimed no merit for it whatever. But if both
sides in a controversy were confined by law to statements which a
committee of eminent logicians considered relevant and valid, the main
evil of propaganda, as at present conducted, would remain. Suppose,
under such a law, two parties with an equally good case, one of whom had
a million pounds to spend on propaganda, while the other had only a
hundred thousand. It is obvious that the arguments in favour of the
richer party would become more widely known than those in favour of the
poorer party, and therefore the richer party would win. This situation
is, of course, intensified when one party is the Government. In Russia
the Government has an almost complete monopoly of propaganda, but that
is not necessary. The advantages which it possesses over its opponents
will generally be sufficient to give it the victory, unless it has an
exceptionally bad case.

The objection to propaganda is not only its appeal to unreason, but
still more the unfair advantage which it gives to the rich and powerful.
Equality of opportunity among opinions is essential if there is to be
real freedom of thought; and equality of opportunity among opinions can
only be secured by elaborate laws directed to that end, which there is
no reason to expect to see enacted. The cure is not to be sought
primarily in such laws, but in better education and a more sceptical
public opinion. For the moment, however, I am not concerned to discuss

(3) _Economic pressure._—I have already dealt with some aspects of this
obstacle to freedom of thought, but I wish now to deal with it on more
general lines, as a danger which is bound to increase unless very
definite steps are taken to counteract it. The supreme example of
economic pressure applied against freedom of thought is Soviet Russia,
where, until the trade agreement, the Government could and did inflict
starvation upon people whose opinions it disliked—for example,
Kropotkin. But in this respect Russia is only somewhat ahead of other
countries. In France, during the Dreyfus affair, any teacher would have
lost his position if he had been in favour of Dreyfus at the start or
against him at the end. In America at the present day I doubt if a
university professor, however eminent, could get employment if he were
to criticize the Standard Oil Company, because all college presidents
have received or hope to receive benefactions from Mr. Rockefeller.
Throughout America Socialists are marked men, and find it extremely
difficult to obtain work unless they have great gifts. The tendency,
which exists wherever industrialism is well developed, for trusts and
monopolies to control all industry, leads to a diminution of the number
of possible employers, so that it becomes easier and easier to keep
secret black books by means of which any one not subservient to the
great corporations can be starved. The growth of monopolies is
introducing in America many of the evils associated with State Socialism
as it has existed in Russia. From the standpoint of liberty, it makes no
difference to a man whether his only possible employer is the State or a

In America, which is the most advanced country industrially, and to a
lesser extent in other countries which are approximating to the American
condition, it is necessary for the average citizen, if he wishes to make
a living, to avoid incurring the hostility of certain big men. And these
big men have an outlook—religious, moral, and political—with which
they expect their employees to agree, at least outwardly. A man who
openly dissents from Christianity, or believes in a relaxation of the
marriage laws, or objects to the power of the great corporations, finds
America a very uncomfortable country, unless he happens to be an eminent
writer. Exactly the same kind of restraints upon freedom of thought are
bound to occur in every country where economic organization has been
carried to the point of practical monopoly. Therefore the safeguarding
of liberty in the world which is growing up is far more difficult than
it was in the nineteenth century, when free competition was still a
reality. Whoever cares about the freedom of the mind must face this
situation fully and frankly, realizing the inapplicability of methods
which answered well enough while industrialism was in its infancy.

There are two simple principles which, if they were adopted, would solve
almost all social problems. The first is that education should have for
one of its aims to teach people only to believe propositions when there
is some reason to think that they are true. The second is that jobs
should be given solely for fitness to do the work.

To take the second point first. The habit of considering a man’s
religious, moral, and political opinions before appointing him to a post
or giving him a job is the modern form of persecution, and it is likely
to become quite as efficient as the Inquisition ever was. The old
liberties can be legally retained without being of the slightest use.
If, in practice, certain opinions lead a man to starve, it is poor
comfort to him to know that his opinions are not punishable by law.
There is a certain public feeling against starving men for not belonging
to the Church of England, or for holding slightly unorthodox opinions in
politics. But there is hardly any feeling against the rejection of
Atheists or Mormons, extreme communists, or men who advocate free love.
Such men are thought to be wicked, and it is considered only natural to
refuse to employ them. People have hardly yet waked up to the fact that
this refusal, in a highly industrial State, amounts to a very rigorous
form of persecution.

If this danger were adequately realized, it would be possible to rouse
public opinion, and to secure that a man’s beliefs should not be
considered in appointing him to a post. The protection of minorities is
vitally important; and even the most orthodox of us may find himself in
a minority some day, so that we all have an interest in restraining the
tyranny of majorities. Nothing except public opinion can solve this
problem. Socialism would make it somewhat more acute, since it would
eliminate the opportunities that now arise through exceptional
employers. Every increase in the size of industrial undertakings makes
it worse, since it diminishes the number of independent employers. The
battle must be fought exactly as the battle of religious toleration was
fought. And as in that case, so in this, a decay in the intensity of
belief is likely to prove the decisive factor. While men were convinced
of the absolute truth of Catholicism or Protestantism, as the case might
be, they were willing to persecute on account of them. While men are
quite certain of their modern creeds, they will persecute on their
behalf. Some element of doubt is essential to the practice, though not
to the theory, of toleration. And this brings me to my other point,
which concerns the aims of education.

If there is to be toleration in the world, one of the things taught in
schools must be the habit of weighing evidence, and the practice of not
giving full assent to propositions which there is no reason to believe
true. For example, the art of reading the newspapers should be taught.
The schoolmaster should select some incident which happened a good many
years ago, and roused political passions in its day. He should then read
to the school children what was said by the newspapers on one side, what
was said by those on the other, and some impartial account of what
really happened. He should show how, from the biased account of either
side, a practised reader could infer what really happened, and he should
make them understand that everything in newspapers is more or less
untrue. The cynical scepticism which would result from this teaching
would make the children in later life immune from those appeals to
idealism by which decent people are induced to further the schemes of

History should be taught in the same way. Napoleon’s campaigns of 1813
and 1814, for instance, might be studied in the _Moniteur_, leading up
to the surprise which Parisians felt when they saw the Allies arriving
under the walls of Paris after they had (according to the official
bulletins) been beaten by Napoleon in every battle. In the more advanced
classes, students should be encouraged to count the number of times that
Lenin has been assassinated by Trotsky, in order to learn contempt for
death. Finally, they should be given a school history approved by the
Government, and asked to infer what a French school history would say
about our wars with France. All this would be a far better training in
citizenship than the trite moral maxims by which some people believe
that civic duty can be inculcated.

It must, I think, be admitted that the evils of the world are due to
moral defects quite as much as to lack of intelligence. But the human
race has not hitherto discovered any method of eradicating moral
defects; preaching and exhortation only add hypocrisy to the previous
list of vices. Intelligence, on the contrary, is easily improved by
methods known to every competent educator. Therefore, until some method
of teaching virtue has been discovered, progress will have to be sought
by improvement of intelligence rather than of morals. One of the chief
obstacles to intelligence is credulity, and credulity could be
enormously diminished by instruction as to the prevalent forms of
mendacity. Credulity is a greater evil in the present day than it ever
was before, because, owing to the growth of education, it is much easier
than it used to be to spread misinformation, and, owing to democracy,
the spread of misinformation is more important than in former times to
the holders of power. Hence the increase in the circulation of

If I am asked how the world is to be induced to adopt these two
maxims—namely (1) that jobs should be given to people on account of
their fitness to perform them; (2) that one aim of education should be
to cure people of the habit of believing propositions for which there is
no evidence—I can only say that it must be done by generating an
enlightened public opinion. And an enlightened public opinion can only
be generated by the efforts of those who desire that it should exist. I
do not believe that the economic changes advocated by Socialists will,
of themselves, do anything towards curing the evils we have been
considering. I think that, whatever happens in politics, the trend of
economic development will make the preservation of mental freedom
increasingly difficult, unless public opinion insists that the employer
shall control nothing in the life of the employee except his work.
Freedom in education could easily be secured, if it were desired, by
limiting the function of the State to inspection and payment, and
confining inspection rigidly to the definite instruction. But that, as
things stand, would leave education in the hands of the Churches,
because, unfortunately, they are more anxious to teach their beliefs
than Freethinkers are to teach their doubts. It would, however, give a
free field, and would make it possible for a liberal education to be
given if it were really desired. More than that ought not to be asked of
the law.

My plea throughout this address has been for the spread of the
scientific temper, which is an altogether different thing from the
knowledge of scientific results. The scientific temper is capable of
regenerating mankind and providing an issue for all our troubles. The
results of science, in the form of mechanism, poison gas, and the yellow
press, bid fair to lead to the total downfall of our civilization. It is
a curious antithesis, which a Martian might contemplate with amused
detachment. But for us it is a matter of life and death. Upon its issue
depends the question whether our grandchildren are to live in a happier
world, or are to exterminate each other by scientific methods, leaving
perhaps to negroes and Papuans the future destinies of mankind.



At a general meeting of the South Place Ethical Society, held on October
22, 1908, it was resolved, after full discussion, that an effort should
be made to establish a series of lectures, to be printed and widely
circulated, as a permanent Memorial to Dr. Conway.

Moncure Conway’s untiring zeal for the emancipation of the human mind
from the thraldom of obsolete or waning beliefs, his pleadings for
sympathy with the oppressed and for a wider and profounder conception of
human fraternity than the world has yet reached, claim, it is urged, an
offering of gratitude more permanent than the eloquent obituary or
reverential service of mourning.

The range of the lectures (of which the thirteenth is published
herewith) must be regulated by the financial support accorded to the
scheme; but it is hoped that sufficient funds will be eventually
forthcoming for the endowment of periodical lectures by distinguished
public men, to further the cause of social, political, and religious
freedom, with which Dr. Conway’s name must ever be associated.

The Conway Memorial Lecture Committee, although not yet in possession of
the necessary capital for the permanent endowment of the Lectureship,
have inaugurated and maintained the work while inviting further
contributions. The funds in hand, together with those which may
reasonably be expected from supporters of the Movement, will ensure the
delivery of an annual lecture for some years at least.

The Committee earnestly appeal for either donations or subscriptions
from year to year until the Memorial is permanently established.
Contributions may be forwarded to the Hon. Treasurer.

On behalf of the Executive Committee:—

(Mrs.) C. Fletcher Smith and Ernest Carr, _Hon. Secretaries_.

(Mrs.) F. M. Cockburn, _Hon. Treasurer_, “Peradeniya,” Northampton Road,



[1] I should add that they re-appointed me later, when war passions had
begun to cool.

[2] See _The New Republic_, Feb. 1, 1922, p. 259 _ff._

[3] See _The Invention of a New Religion_. By Professor Chamberlain, of
Tokio. Published by the Rationalist Press Association. (Now out of

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