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"Knowledge” may, as Tennyson sings, of any personal interest, or other bias “ grow from more to more," but inde- sufficiently powerful to overcome his pendent familiarity with it will shrink desire to tell the truth. from less to less.
The great bulk of men in a civilized If we dismiss the case of professed community evidently possess these students, and think of the great mass qualifications, and are therefore credible of our countrymen, whose main energies witnesses in matters of fact. The corare absorbed in the occupations of active responding requisites to constitute a life, there can be no room for doubt that man a trustworthy authority in a matter as a rule, their opinions on all subjects of opinion, are far less easy of attainlying beyond the circle of the avoca- ment. We must be assured that he has tions by which they live, must be enjoyed adequate opportunities of studytaken on trust from the opinions of ing his subject, and has availed himself other people.
of those opportunities ; that his powers Enough has been said to show beyond of mind are more than a match for the the possibility of dispute, that the prin- difficulties to be encountered, and his ciple of authority plays a predominant love of truth strong enough to overcome part in forming the opinions of all any misleading personal influences which thinking men, except within the nar. can be brought to bear upon him. Now rowest individual limits. If, however, these are qualifications rarely united in we are to take our opinions in a great any one individual. It is not hard to measure on trust, we stand in urgent find a man of leisure, or a man of need of some guide to tell us what energy, or a man of brains, or a man of opinions to adopt. We need, in short, integrity, but we may search for a long a test by which to discriminate between time before we meet with one who comtrustworthy and untrustworthy authority. bines all these in the high degree which It will aid us in the search for such a is essential to constitute him an authority test if we first consider a case which in a matter of opinion. presents considerable analogy to that Thus it would seem, at first sight, as under discussion.
if nothing were gained by an appeal When a lawsuit comes before a jury, to the principle of authority, because the first step is to establish by evidence it would often be quite as difficult the facts of the case. If the evidence to ascertain what person possessed is conflicting, the jury have to make up all the essential marks of trustworthy their minds to which of two or more authority, as to investigate for ourselves witnesses they will give, and to which the question on which we had to form refuse, credence. In so far as they an opinion. Certainly, if in every such accept the evidence of a particular wit- case we had to make out for ourselves ness, he becomes to them a kind of whether a particular man had the authority for the time being, though only amount of leisure, devotion to his subin a matter of fact, and not of opinion. ject, capacity and honesty of mind sufStill the cases are sufficiently alike for ficient to justify our taking his opinion the rules which hold in the one to be on trust, the process would, as a rule, applicable mutatis mutandis to the be too long to be worth going through. other. Now the requisites to make a We are, however, relieved from any man a good witness in a matter of fact such necessity by the great principle are the following:
of agreement among independent investi1. That he was present when the gators. Ecclesiastical tradition supplies alleged fact occurred.
ils with an incident which aptly illus2. That he observed what took place. trates the nature of this principle. We
3. That he possesses adequate intelli read that when a Greek translation of gence and memory to report clearly what the Hebrew original of the Old Testahe observed.
ment was called for, seventy translators 4. That he is not under the influence were set to work in separate cells with
out being allowed any communication have as yet afforded us no ground for with each other. Each translated the thinking that, as a body, they possess whole of the Old Testament, and on the the exceptional qualifications requisite completion of the work it was found for men who undertake to deal with the that all the versions produced agreed most difficult problems of physiology word for word throughout. This was and mental science. held to prove that a supernatural in- Again, at the time of the Anti-Cornfluence had acted on the minds of the law agitation, the landed interest with translators, and thus guaranteed the one voice exclaimed that the proposed absolute perfection of their version. It measure would ruin the country. The was not the ability of the several trans- nation disregarded their agreement in lators on which the stress of this infer- this opinion. Why? Because it perence was made to rest, but their mutual ceived that class interests, and not independence, and the entire agreement genuine conviction, raised the outcry. of their work.
Once more: throughout the Middle Let us take a corresponding incident Ages a vast and most imposing array of more consonant with modern experience. theological agreement supported the Suppose that one of the lost works of dogmas of the Roman Church. Yet the classical antiquity has been discovered voice of the Reformation pronounced in manuscript in the library of a Greek the claim of that Church to authority in monastery, and that translations have matters of belief to be an utter usurpabeen made by scholars in different parts tion, and treated the mass of consentient of Europe. Without instituting any opinion which backed it up as a mere inquiry into the qualifications of the delusion. Why? Because the expresindividual translators, we should at once sion of opposite opinion was rendered conclude that those passages of the ori. impossible, and the dominant system ginal as to the meaning of which there enforced by a mechanism of external existed substantial agreement, had been coercion, of which, for spying vigilance correctly translated.
and inexorable rigour, the world has In reasoning thus, we should be never seen the like. The absolute conmaking one or two tacit assumptions, sent of overt expression on which the which, though perfectly legitimate in Roman controversialists relied, was the case in band, by no means hold therefore merely apparent, and it was universally. We should take for granted as unsafe to infer from it a correspondthat classical scholars are, on the whole, ing agreement of internal conviction, as properly qualified to deal with their it would be to conclude from the consubject, not under the influence of mis- stantly repeated evolutions of a gang of leading class-interests or prejudices, and convicts that the treadmill was the free to express, without lot or hindrance, mode of taking exercise which above all whatever opinions they may form. The others their souls loved. importance of these tacitly assumed con. We come, then, to the following reditions will be immediately seen if we sult. If a particular subject has been examine a few cases in which they are diligently studied by well-qualified and not satisfied. For example, there is a thoroughly independent persons, we may very considerable amount of agreement accept their conclusions wherever they among a large number of persons calling possess the guarantee of unanimity, themselves Spiritualists, in support of provided always that there exists entire the assertion that certain phenomena freedom of discussion, that no particular are due to the agency of departed spirits. opinions are favoured by restricting The public pays no deference to this posts of emolument and social pre-emi. agreement, and treats the asserted nence to such as profess them, and no spiritual agency with general incredu. class of thinkers so persistently assailed, lity or indifference. Why is this? Be- on account of unpopular tenets, with cause the cultivators of Spiritualism calumny and misrepresentation, as to
silence their opposition to what they conceive to be popular errors
The views to which we have been led as to the paramount sway of the principle of authority, have undoubtedly something about them rather humbling to human vanity. It will therefore be worth while to bring out a few of the compensating advantages which it bestows on us. In the first place we obtain from it an extent of knowledge out of all proportion to what we could hope to acquire by our own efforts alone. Now in many branches of learning, the results are just the most beautiful and interesting parts. For instance, in astronomy, the great laws of planetary motion have an incomparable grandeur, which any clear-headed person can be made to perceive ; whereas the details of observation and calculation which must be gone through in order to demonstrate these laws are in many respects excessively wearisome and repulsive. Further, all progress in knowledge depends on the principle of authority, since by it men are enabled to build higher and higher. One generation makes a single course of bricks firm and secure, the next lays another upon it, and so on. If each generation had insisted on ignoring the work of its predecessor, our temple of knowledge would never have risen beyond a hovel
But, it may be objected, if we admit these conclusions, we shall have to abandon the ground taken up at the Reformation, and adopt submissive, slavish principles in religion, which have hitherto led, and must always lead, to ecclesiastical tyranny. My answer is, there is no need to do anything of the kind. We have merely to apply to the specimens of so-called Church authority presented to us the few simple tests enumerated in this paper, and we shall find that they are no authorities at all, but mere counterfeits. The test which proves at once fatal to their claim is that which requires entire freedom of discussion as a guarantee of sound authority. This has been so notoriously absent, or rather, its exact opposite has been so persistently present, throughout
history, whether represented by the fires of the Inquisition abroad, or by parliamentary and episcopal tyranny in England, that there is no occasion to go a step further.
It may have seemed to some of my hearers that the topics to which I have directed attention are but distantly connected with the proper objects of a society such as that which I have the honour to address. I hope, however, to be able to show that the conclusions at which we have arrived admit of being applied with great advantage to the field of politics. One of the most essential differences between Liberals and Conservatives lies in the attitude which they respectively assume towards the principle of authority. Men of both parties alike necessarily form the bulk of their opinions by the aid of this principle-in fact, they can no more help doing so than they can help breathing the common air, and basking in the common sunshine. But the Liberal party, not content with merely using the principle, has persistently striven to bring about a more complete fulfilment of those conditions on which, as we have seen, all its validity and soundness depend. The history of the Liberal party is essentially the history of a long struggle for mental freedom and unfettered utterance. The removal, more or less complete, of severe restrictions on the press and on literature-of invidious civil disabilities inflicted on the maintainers of particular theological tenets-of enforced subscription to antiquated formularies of belief-has directly tended to increase publicity, diminish hypocrisy, and remove to a great extent the obloquy attaching to impugners of dominant notions; and so most powerfully to enhance that feeling of mutual confidence which practically sums up the guarantees of trustworthy authority. The history of the Conservative party is the history of a persistent effort to hinder the emancipation of the human intellect, and to choke its utterance. The policy of that party has, accordingly, tended to perpetuate mistrust and classsuspicion, and thus to stunt the growth
of the principle of authority. The authorities will be as various as the attitude of the two parties may there subjects with which he is called on to fore be described as follows. Both owe deal. On many questions the best will their political opinions to authority. probably be the leaders of the political Liberals, while perhaps not adequately party to which he himself belongs. acknowledging their obligations to this These men have access to exceptional principle, nevertheless strive to bring it sources of information, and are specially to the highest state of efficiency. Conser- well informed as to what measures are, vatives, though never weary of parading not perhaps in the abstract the very their adherence to the principle, cling best possible, but the best that the with unreasoning tenacity to the imper- strength of the party admits of carrying. fections which clog its development. We often hear men who vote steadily
Besides affording us the means of with their party sneered at, and called clearly expressing a marked distinction place-hunters and office-seekers, but between our party in the State and that clearly nothing can be more unjust. of our political opponents, the results They are simply adopting the most we have reached are capable of indi- trustworthy body of opinion within their cating the kind of personal qualifications reach, and probably, in most cases, which a Liberal constituency should look taking the very best course that circumfor when choosing its candidate for a stances allow of. parliamentary election. I have used A debate is a great opportunity for the word personal advisedly, as I must consulting authorities. On most quesof course take it for granted that the tions which crop up, there are some candidate is at one with his supporters members of the House who are entitled, on the general principles and policy of by special study or exceptional means the Liberal party. On these there can of information, to act as guides of be no discussion within the circle of opinion. By weighing these experts this society.
against each other, and striking a We all know that the variety of sub- balance between them, a shrewd, intellijects which engage the attention of our gent man may easily come to a right. legislators is practically unlimited—that conclusion without any previous indethere is hardly anything in heaven, on pendent study of the points at issue. earth, or under the earth, which may But the legislator must clearly extend not be made the subject of a parlia- his search for authorities far beyond the mentary debate and a parliamentary limits of the assembly to which he division. No man possesses an inde- belongs. In dealing with private perpendent familiarity with more than an 'sons who claim to act influentially on infinitesimally small proportion of the public opinion, he will often find the subjects which may thus be brought tests of authority adapted to numerous before him ; nevertheless a constituency bodies of men inapplicable, and have to generally expects its representative to depend on negative and less decisive give, by his vote, an opinion on all the marks, such as the absence of over-statemost important questions submitted to ment and mystic airs of infallibility, of the test of a division. A member of concealment and convenient vagueness Parliament has, therefore, necessarily to of expression. make more habitual use of the principle It seems, then, that the requisites of authority, in forming his opinions, needed for the efficient discharge of than any other class of men in the com- parliamentary duties—as far as an outmunity. He ought, then, not indeed to sider may presume to judge—are mainly be more versed than other men in all a disciplined intellect, trained to conkinds of political questions, but to know centrate itself with vigorous rapidity better than they the right quarter in on any subject which may claim its which to apply for a sound opinion on attention, a straightness and uprightness each question as it presents itself. His of mind which is ready to follow truth
with confidence, but shrinks instinctively some vigorous words of Professor Goldfrom the touch of falsehood, and a wide win Smith in an article on the labour knowledge of, and tact in dealing with, question, in the January number of the men of all classes and conditions. Such Contemporary Review :-“Whatever the I conceive to be the main qualities to be rich man desires, the finest house, the sought for in one who is to stand forth biggest diamond, the reigning beauty as the representative of other men, the for his wife, social homage, public guardian of their interests, and the honours, political power, is ready at his champion of their rights. When we command. Does he fancy a seat in the consider the high trust and dignity British House of Commons, the best involved in such an office, we may even, club in London, as it has been truly I think, go a step further, and seek as called ? All other claims, those of the our candidate one who, besides being a public service included, at once give skilled collector of authoritative opinions way. I remember a question arising in general, is, on some one or more about a nomination for a certain conquestions, an authority himself. A con- stituency (a working man's constituency stituent enjoys a feeling of internal by the way), which was cut short by the satisfaction if he knows that his repre- announcement that the seat was wanted sentative, when speaking on his own by a local millionaire. When the name special subject in Parliament, is listened of the millionaire was mentioned, sur
o with the deference which, for in- prise was expressed. Has he, it was stance, is accorded by the House of asked, any political knowledge or capaCommons on more than one subject to city, any interest in public affairs, any the member for Brighton.
ambition ? The answer was None.' I have spoken of the qualifications "Then why does he want the seat ?' which have a legitimate claim on the 'He does not want it.' Then why support of a reasonable and thinking does he take it?' 'Because his wife elector. Let me, in conclusion, contrast does. Cleopatra, as the story goes, with them certain so-called qualifica- displayed her mad prodigality by melttions, which, though they by no means ing a pearl in a cup out of which she really qualify a man to perform well the drank to Antony. But this modern duties of a representative, nevertheless money-queen could throw into her cup succeed in usurping a predominant in- of pleasure, to give it a keener zest, a fluence. I mean great wealth and here- share in the government of the greatest ditary connection with the territorial empire in the world.” aristocracy.
Aristocratic birth is also an effective A very large amount of capital ac- passport to Parliament. Young nobleeumulated in the hands of an individual men are promoted with surprising inevitably confers upon him a consider rapidity from the University to the able power over other men. He can House of Commons. A good many turn the fertilizing streams of a vast specimens of this class of men come business into what channels he pleases, before us in Cambridge in the course of systematically lay men struggling with a few years, so that one can form a difficulties under a yoke of money obli. pretty accurate estimate of their quali. gation wbich they are powerless to shake fications for parliamentary duties and off, and in a hundred different ways responsibilities. As a rule they do not manipulate the interested springs of rise above the average level of our underhuman action. This is what we call graduates, either in ability or in power local influence. Let a candidate for a of application. Nevertheless we may seat in the House of Commons possess reckon with tolerable certainty on seeit, and we know that he has an excellent ing them, a year or two after they have chance of being returned, let his per- left the University, occupying seats in sonal unfitness for the post he seeks be Parliament which far abler men canwhat it may. On this point I will quote not hope to attain until they are grey