MR. LECKY'S HISTORY OF RATIONALISM* [SEcown Norms.]
WE have spoken already of Mr. Lecky's arriere pen.see in writ- ing this able book,—a book the style of which is as luminous and attractive as its learning is profound,—the notion that by developing the law of intellectual phenomena in Europe it may provide those thinkers who have little belief in their own intel- lectual judgment with a sort of historical clue to truth. It is curious that this yearning to supersede reason should exist as it does in the very heart of rationalism, that the desire for some objective support more stable than the changeful thoughts and feelings of our own minds should haunt the very school which has waged most unrelenting war against the principle of an objective test of truth, whether identified with the authority of an infallible Church or the inspiration of an infallible God. But thus unques- tionably it is. 41b4 yet so far from agreeing with Mr. Lecky that his book furnishes us with such a clue, we think that its most instructive lesson to any careful student is of a rather opposite character to that which he suggests,—that it shakes the authority of history except as an enlarging mental influence, and enhances the respect which is felt for the anticipative power of sincere intel-
For, Mr. Lecky's main idea in this book, and we think also its truest and most striking conception, is, that what he calls Rationalism is by no means to be limited to the influence of Reason. He teaches that
"A change of speculative opinions does not imply an increase of the data upon which these opinions rest, but a change of the habits of thought and mind which they reflect. Definite arguments are the symptoms and pretexts. but seldom the causes of the change. Their chief merit is to accelerate [or postpone?] the inevitable crisis. They derive their force and efficacy from their conformity with the mental habits of those to whom they are addressed. Reasoning which in one age would make no impre.sion whatever, in the next age is received with enthusiastic applause. It is one thing to understand its nature, but quite another to appreciate its force. And this standard of belief, this tone and habit of thought, which is the supreme arbiter of the opinions of successive periods, is created, not by the influences arising out of any one depart- ment of intellect, but by the combination of all the intellectual and even social tendencies of the age."
And in fact Mr. Lecky shows us, and insists upon the fact, that many of the changes in this standard of belief are not due to intellectual causes at all, but rather to new habits encroaching on the old scheme of life. For example, one of his most successful points is the influence exerted by industrial and co;nmercial habits over the mind of the middle and lower classes of modern society, which, as he shows, is fardess of an intellectual influence than of an overshadowing of former intellectual influences by prudential or utilitarian cares. Mr. Lecky himself appears to think that this great influence of modern times, which he regards as a rapidly-increasing one, will rather distort in many respects the intellectual measures of society than enlarge or rectify them. Industrial development is no doubt a civilizing influence because it promotes peace and the moral habits of a progressive society, but, though civilizing in its effect on the will, it is not elevating in its effect on the pure intellect. Mr. Lecky gives us other examples of the same truth. He believes that the political habits of a national character tend to injure the delicacy of the intellect,—" to make utilitarianism a kind of mental perspective, according to which the different points of belief are magnified or diminished." He thinks that Germany has a keener sense of truth in consequence of her political languor, because the misleading accentuation of useful ideas does not disturb the equity of her intellectual judgment, and, therefore, that as she gains in freedom she may lose in intellectual significance. Now without discussing this last opinion, in which we think there is consider- able insight, but more considerable oversight, we must r,cognize Mr. Lecky's great merit in enlarging Mr. Buckle's conception of 'civilization' as the accumulation of purely intellectual influences into his own larger conception of what he somewhat unfortunately calls Rationalism,'—the chief difference being that his own mean- ing includes much more that is not purely rational, much more of the body and animal instincts, as distinguished from the soul and intellect, of civilization, than Mr. Buckle's meaning. But then for this very reason he shakes our confidence in the law of develop- ment. He shows us most powerfully that ideas take hold of differ- ent generations less in proportion to their intrinsic power than to the "climate of belief" in which they appear. If they are suited to the soil and to the climate,—whether true or false, one-sided or many-sided, whether they be gross superstitions or permanent truths, or "enlightened" superstitions,—they will take • History of the Rise and Isfi.enee of &lima= is Europe. By W. IL IL Look, N.A. Tao vole. Lund,m: Longman. root and spread like weeds. If they be unsuited to the soil and climate, then, to whichever class they belong, they may linger for a few years, perhaps they may affect the thoughts of a few individuals,, possibly they may leave a seed or two which may grow up and ripen in a more prosperous era, but they disappear before long, and are seen no more till the appropriate season and soil are found. The climate of belief' in the Middle Ages encouraged the most arbitrary dogmatism and the most extravagant principles of inter- pretation. Thus Mr. Lecky tells us that a writer of the name of Wier, in 1569, furnished incidentally the most recent census of Hell, explaining that it had seventy-two subordinate princes and a total population of 7,405,926 devils, the individual principalities being apparently almost as small as those of the' mediatized German princes. We suppose it has largely increased since then by immigration, if in no other way. As Satan has the credit of the first suggestion of a census to David, it is not perhaps surprising that he should have a minutely accurate one of his own dominions,—but the statement admirably illustrates the type of intellectual weed which the 'climate' of unlimited credulity on such matters would foster. So again, with respect to interpretation ; long before physical science had been born in Europe, Cosmas, a monk in the mo- nastery of Alexandria, living about A.D. 535, undertook, Mr. Lecky tells us, to disprove the existence of antipodes and show what sort of a place the world is, from an analysis of Scripture.. He pointed out that St. Paul calls the earth a tabernacle. This meant, he said, that it was shaped like the Jewish tabernacle. But the Jewish tabernacle was a parallelogram twice as long from east to west as from north to south, and was covered over as a room. Hence, he argued, the world is a flat parallelogram twice as broad from east to west as from north to south, and it is covered over with a roof of sky ; the sky "consists of four high walls rising to a great height and then me2titig in a vast concave roof, thus forming an immense edifice of which our earth is the floor." Here we have the weed propagated by its suitability to that" cli- mate" of credulity which attributed a sort of veiled scientific value to the incidental metaphors of the Bible. This kind of thing was believed not because it was founded on evidence, but because it agreed with the predispositions of the time. In the same way precisely Mr. Lecky shows that the superstition about witches was never driven out by argument, but died away with the gradual growth of other modes of thought concerning disease and proba- bility; that the undermining of the faith in miracles is due less to a growth of intellectual power than to a growth of an oppo- site habit of intellectual attitude, and that the scepticism as to original sin is to be attributed less to rational analysis than to the spread of democratic estimates of the value and worth of the people. Now this is all exceedingly true, but is not its tendency precisely opposite to that which Mr. Lecky wishes us to infer? If intellectual 'climate' has much more to do with belief than natural or moral reason, how little value can we set upon the revolutions of belief which are thus initiated. It is true that all which are founded on the gradual adoption of sound knowledge of any sort,—as, for example, on the advance of physical reason,—are to be justified ; but then we accept such revolutions of belief not on the ground of a mere historical change of belief, but on the legitimate ground that there is a good reason for the change. In truth, so far our changed opinions are intellectually substantiated, and not due to any blind trust in a law of change. But how with regard to changes which we cannot trace -to any intellectual source? How with regard to those more utilitarian standards of truth which Mr. Lecky traces to the encroachments of a commercial and industrial civilization ? Shall we regard them as equally trustworthy, or shall we trust rather, as thinking men have tastily ever done and must ever do, to our own deliberate estimate of the proportions of truth as it appears to us after deliberate effort to resist all the narrowing and misleading currents of immediate tendency ?
Again, shall we not say that the system to which Rationalism, according to Mr. Lecky, is most opposed, is itself a striking testi- mony both to the truth of Mr. Lecky's principle that the intellec- tual 'climate' fosters an appropriate set of delusions, and also to the falsehood of his impression that the law of successive changes of European thought indicates a tendency on which we may rely more than we can on the light of our own reasons and consciences? Mr. Lecky shows most convincingly that the whole system of ecclesiastical dogmatism, the theory of persecution, the dominating ideas in fast of some eight centuries, are not really rooted in Revelation at all, but incrustations upon it, secretions of human ignorance and credulity gathering about the institution of the priesthood. Th* error of authoritative and dogmatic theo- ries is therefore not due to revelation, but to the density of the popular mini, which could not receive that revelation. The principle of dogmatism is itself a form of the principle of what Mr. Lecky calls rationalism. The ' nature ' of pagan Europe demanded a dogmatic system and infallible interpre- t:is, and a dogmatic system and infallible interpreters grew up. They were therefore as much the results of the naturalistic bias which Mr. Lecky includes in ' Rationalism ' as the ideas re- sulting from the commercial or industrial bias of the present age. All that Mr. Lecky combats as opposed to rationalism should be included in his own formula, as resulting from the spontaneous growth of unconscious popular tendencies of thought or habit. And yet before these false and ossifying dogmas grew up, we had, as even Mr. Lecky himself admits, a far purer and higher.theo- logy than any which we have had since, unless Mr. Lecky excepts the present day. Well, then, the stream of tendency for twelve centuries at least was from the purest faith to the grossest alloys of that faith, and how are we to trust the intellectual results of the last four centuries in the abstract, and apart from the exa- mination of the reasons for its thoughts, with a tradition of twice as many centuries behind them in which the stream of development flowed as it were the wrong way,—flowed up hill ?
These are the considerations which force themselves upon us in reading Mr. Lecky's able and vigorous book. But it is scarcely possible to overrate the value of that book, both to those who agree and to those who, like ourselves, differ with its implied teaching. No book more full of scholarly learning and popular interest, more graphic in thought, more lucid in exposition, more candid in temper, has been submitted to theologians for many years. It cannot but excite thought and stimulate study in the minds of all who read it, laymen or clergymen ; and for the last we should say it would be an invaluable discipline.