THE NEW LIBERAL PARTY.
[TO THE EDITOB OF THE "SPECTATOR."] Sufi—Will you give me room for one or two remarks, from a clerical point of view, on the programme of the Tiers Parti which it is proposed to form, as given by you in your article of August 12 on "The English Extreme Left ' ?"
The proposal itself I will not discuss, further than to say that the arguments for it, as you candidly state them, seem to me at least to hold in equipoise, if not to outweigh, those against it. I should add to those which you adduce this further advantage,— that a recognised Third Party would help to weaken the tendency in the public mind to count every issue raised in Parliament as a mere question between the " Ins " and the "Outs," and thus counteract one of the worst symptoms of public opinion, the fatal cynicism with which even the generous and thoughtful habitually discount the utterance of every public man—how- ever obviously high-minded—with a far too large allowance for his motives of party or personal interest. That a more definite subdivision of parties would have some effect that way it seems reasonable to hope, especially as any such sub- organisation on the "Liberal" side would be pretty certainly followed before long by a corresponding subdivision on the " Conservative " side. If I am not mistaken, no less shrewd and weighty a Conservative than Lord Derby has once or twice ex- pressed himself in terms of by no means absolute devotion to the principle of party government!
But I should like to offer an observation, before it is too late, on two of the items of the new programme,—" The Church dis- established, Education secularised." Of the rest I will only say that, so far as I can see, I am ready and eager to vote for them all, especially the last, the "overthrow of the squirearchy." And so are hundreds, if not thousands, of my brethren. It is the ideas and the ways of the squires and the " squarsona," and what I may call the squarsonic type of religion and of Churchmanship, which is at the bottom of all the unpopularity of the Church, so far as it is really unpopular. It is the memory and tradition of this which lingers, even where the reality has long been sup- planted by healthier relations between the Church and the people. It is this which we workers in the East of London and the other centres of the humbler populations are daily and hourly expiating, in the stolid hostility, the silent aversion, the unreasoning pre- judice, the indefinable suspicion, against which we make headway by inches, and thank God ! do make good our footing amongst them, to an extent of which the loudness of the clamour against the Church is often an accurate measure.
But I wish to ask why " Disestablishment " and "secular edit- cation" are necessary nails in the platform of the new schooL Surely the one is merely the policy of revenge, the other the policy of despair,—neither of them very worthy bases of a came. Is not one main motive of the Liberal crusade against the Church a very natural but not very statesmanlike wish to punish us for our alleged illiberalism as a body? I do not admit the charge to anything like the extent of the popular indictment. There have always been the 7,000 who have never bent the knee to Basil But in the main, and in the sense of the accusation and from the accusers' point of view, it is undeniably true to a great extent of the past. "Aids nous avons change tout cela." Mr. Disraeli and the Bishops have done all that mortal men could do to make Liberals of the clergy, and they have done it with surprising success. Some of us, who are by no means " irreconcileables," either in civil or ecclesiastical politics, are watching with amused complacency this probably unexpected result of the legislation and debates of the year before last. It would be easy to illustrate this, but it would lead me into issues beside the present question, in which we might less agree. Anyhow, this detachment of the clerical mind from its old political moorings is going on on every side. I submit that it is impolitic to alienate this immense force. I put this view of the case first, because I am arguing with the politicians of to-day for an immediate purpose. And I would add that the Liberals, old or new, will certainly need our help in some of their enterprises, for our hold as a body upon the people is not such a dream as it snits some of them to suppose.
But far more important considerations remain. Is it really part of the nature of things that the new Liberal campaign should open with what must wear to the public eye, and is meant by not a few of the advanced Liberals to wear, the air of an assault upon religion? I am aware, of course, how this issue is disguised. "It is all for the good of religion ; it is to emancipate the clergy, and elevate the people, and to break up a degrading alliance," and all the rest of it. Alas ! there is so much in the existing state of things to lend colour to this version of the facts, that I can hardly trust myself to begin making admissions. But the broad answer to this way of patting the matter is that hundreds and thousands of just as good Liberals as any that "sit below the gangway" really don't believe (for a variety of reasons) that disestablishment would have any such effect as is implied in these rhetorical phrases. We are, moreover, simply unable to imagine how any kind of corporate confession of Christianity is to be made by our country, if some form of a National Church is not retained. And we wish that confession to be made. It is all very difficult and confused, as it is, no doubt. There is no need' to darken counsel by gratuitous exaggeration and recrimination. But most of us are convinced that some form and measure -of - autonomy for the Church, as a religious organisation, for her own- internal conoerns, must be conceded to us (apart from the appeal
to Parliament and the Law Courts, necessitated by the unique fact in Christendom that our Book of public prayers and formu- laries is also a schedule in an Act of Parliament), or else the whole existing fabric must break up. If some recent experiments in direct government of the Church by Parliament are forcibly
persisted in, and certain theories of her absolute subordination
to the civil power are roughly reduced to practice, then the whole strength of those who retain a vestige of belief in the Christian Revelation, and in the independence and authority of the body
divinely organised for its protection and diffusion, must go for 444 the dissolution of a relationship proved to be fatal to the first purpose of the Church. But some of us do not believe that any
such point has yet been reached, though it often looks threaten- ingly near. What we do feel is that the Dissenting liberals, if they really mean one set of arguments which they use when it suits them, ought not to be found steadily resisting all our efforts to be free. It is not to their credit as fellow-Christians that for the sake of securing a reductio ad absurdum of our position they should belie their own professions, in order to expose Us to a cross- fire of Christian and non-Christian artillery. They know as well as we know that their hostility to religious establishments (of which I wish to speak with decent respect, but cannot leave it to be supposed that I think it either rational or practical) is being made use of by the otherwise insignificant minority who wish to suppress all public recognition of religion. Surely no principle is at stake for the sake of which the "orthodox Dissenters" can afford to have themselves regarded as the natural allies of irreligion and unbelief !
And when one comes to details of the controversy, it is seen at once that the abstract idea of the inherent wickedness of the in- cidents of establishment is not adapted for presentation to the people, and is not presented. For example, this town is plaearded at this moment with the telling hand-bills against the Establishment The first denounces its " sacerdotalism," and ends with the flagrant non-sequitur, "Destroy the Establish- ment." Whatever sense we attach to the word and whatever importance to the thing, it must surely be clear that " sacer- dotalism," in any sense, is the very character of the Church, that would not be diminished by her separation from the State. If any one thinks that a Puritan revision of the Prayer-book would be the first product of a Free Church of England Synod, I think he has strangely misread the signs of the times. The second placard brings out forcibly the disproportionate incomes of the Bishops, not only with those of their humbler brethren, but with those of other highly-placed public servants. But that is a mere question of readjustment of revenue, a detail of reform, not at all an adequate ground for the utter destruction of the institu- tion. As a matter of fact, I suppose there is no practical question on which so nearly unanimous a clerical vote could be obtained (it would not include my own) as for the exclusion of the Bishops from the House of Lords. And with this change, most of their incomes could at once, without any inconvenience, be reduced ; and these details, and not the abstract objection, are worked to excite the people. Altogether, I venture to urge that no case exists for weighting the Liberal party with the supposed duty of redressing so unreal a grievance, or for delaying a mass of more important and most needful reforms in order that the pique of a profession may be slaked with revenge, that a scruple not a century old may be exalted to the rank of a political axiom and made the article of a standing or falling State, and that the grudge of a few atheists against religion in any form may be gratified.
I must not presume to say more than a few words about "Secular Education "now. But the Flame considerations come in. It is, in professedly Christian mouths, the avowal of pure despair of arriving at any solution acceptable to all, or even. tolerable by all. The bulk of those who bullied Mr. Forster in 1870 and Lord Sandon in 1876 do not in the least want to forbid all religious teaching in schools. They want to prohibit teaching to which they object, and they paid us the compliment of assuming, as the Archbishop has shrewdly pointed out, that friendship to religion is friendship to the Church of England. Let it be so assumed, by all manner of means. But here, too, I venture to affirm that to make the principle of absolutely secular national education an article of the Liberal creed will be pure detriment to the Liberal cause. I do not now dwell on the religious aide of the question. That plan of education is quite capable of being defended on religious grounds, and may be made to look like a gain to religion. But it is the expedient of youthful impatience, or the resource of weary disappointment. And no one can pre- tend that to adopt it, still more to enforce it, in this country could
be made to look like a concession to religion. Moreover, it is advocated by the same men who most loudly urge State rights and responsibilities, and advocate most strongly universal com- pulsion, and who, if we can suppose them to have committed the State to their theory, would instantly require (as they already imply), first, the "painless extinction," and then the proscription of all other elementary education ; and we should find ourselves beginning the weary battle all over again, which Lamennais, Lacordaire, and Montalembert ("impenitent Liberals" to the last) fought in France for "liberty of Christian instruction." The bulk of those who are swelling this cry do not mean this, or even see it. But it is little creditable to the intelligence or the candour of the eminent Dissenting ministers who go for this platform, not to perceive or not to own whereunto these things tend. Like the Disestablishment of the Church, the general establishment of secular education by the State couldj only be regarded by the people as a heavy blow and deep discouragement to religion, and I protest against the policy, as vicious in itself, and against the mistake of damaging a new movement:for the political education and elevation of the people, and for a series of social reforms, by identifying it with a direct assault upon