9 FEBRUARY 1895, Page 12


IT is curious to find in a great politician at the very summit of political life, one of the greatest of the thinkers who is moulding our intellectual habits of thought and belief; and yet we have this in Mr. Balfour. Perhaps the greatest service which the leader of Opposition has rendered to this generation, is not the influence which he exerts as the head of the Conservative party in the House of Commons, but the force with which, in the striking work which Messrs. Longmans have just published for him on "The Conditions of Belief," he has illustrated the influence of Authority in the evolution of beliefs, both true and false. "If we were to judge with equity," he says (p. 229), between these rival claimants to the distinction of having formed human belief, namely, Reason and Authority, "we must not forget that it is Authority rather than Reason, to which in the main we owe not religion only but ethics and politics; that it is Authority which supplies us with essential elements in the premises of Science; that it is Authority rather than Reason which lays deep the foundation• of social life ; that it is Authority rather than Reason which cements its super- structure. And though it may seem to savour of paradox, it is yet no exaggeration to say that if we would find the quality in which we most notably excel the brute creation, we should look for it not so much in our faculty of convincing and being convinced by the exercise of reasoning, as in our capacity of influencing and being influenced through the action of Authority." He points out with the greatest lucidity as well as subtlety, what an enormous part Authority takes even in the very processes which are most ostensibly due to the exercise of reason, and illustrates it by one of the most ingenious and useful of the inventions which perfected the steam-engine. Originally, the valve by which steam was admitted to the cylinder was worked by a boy. But one of the boys who was more intelligent than the rest, discovered that by tying the valve to one of the moveable portions of the engine he could trust the steam-engine to work the valve for itself while he could get time for play, and so he finished the machine and made it a perfect whole. "I have little doubt," says Mr. Balfour, " that until the advent of that revolutionary youth who so tied the string to one of the moving parts of the engine that his personal supervision was no longer neces- sary, the boy in office greatly magnified his functions and regarded himself with pardonable pride, as the most im- portant, because the only rational, link in the chain of causes and effects by which the energy developed in the furnace was ultimately converted into the motion of the fly-wheel So do we stand as reasoning beings in the presence of the complea processes, physiological and psychical, out of which are

manufactured the convictions necessary to the conduct of life. To the results attained by their co-operation, reason makes its slender contribution ; but in order that it may do so effectively, it is beneficently decreed that, pending the evolution of some better device, reason should appear to the reasoner the most admirable and important contrivance in the whole mechanism." (pp. 203.4) And Mr. Balfour evidently regards himself as leader of Opposition, or even his uncle as Prime Minister, as only the boy who so shifts the valve that the Conservative instincts generated hundreds or thousands of years ago in the heart of man shall rush into the various social and political cylinders by which modern society converts feeling into action. Even when Reason is really at work, we often exaggerate its function, as he holds, in forming our convictions. It effects some little change like the movement of a valve, and so lets the steam in where there was no motive power before. It opens the con- nection with the cold water that condenses it, and then the steam is all resolved into a few drops of cold water ; but the urnace which produces the steam is the chief agent after all, without which the motion would not go on, and in moral tills this power is not provided by human reason, but by those great providential arrangements which mould human -affections and hopes and fears without any help from the .reason which we vaunt so much. What, for instance, asks Mr. Balfour, can have a more powerful effect in moulding human society than the mental and moral climate called "the Spirit of the Age," which sometimes affects only a single class, sometimes a society, sometimes a nation, some- times a number of successive generations, sometimes a civilisation which lasts for a thousand years, yet how much does the conscious exercise of reason contribute to the formation of a moral or intellectual climate of this kind ? When bigotry or inveterate prejudice enters profusely, as it so often does, into the spirit of an age, the result is not due to reasoning, but to some habit of mind which is not reasoning at all. Again, in other cases, Reason has had a share in pro- ducing one of these "psychological climates." For instance, Rationalism is a habit of mind which has been largely pro- duced by the reasonings of our forefathers. But Rationalism, since it has once become a habit of mind, produces great affects which are not the results of reasoning at all. Take the scorn with which mesmerism was treated for two genera- tions, just because the rationalistic habit of Mind rendered 2nen disinclined to believe in facts which have since been sub- stantiated beyond all question, only because they were not on the same plane with other facts which science had connected together into a homogeneous body. Here is a definite case in which the rationalistic habit of mind produced a deep dis- inclination to accept an unquestionable reality. In this case facts which would have been avonched by the "plain evidence of the senses," if the senses had been trusted, were rejected -and ridiculed because rationalistic conceptions generated chiefly by the study of experimental science, rendered men unwilling even to trust their senses when they could discover none of the physical causes for the new facts to which they had been accustomed in the investigation of the more ordinary physical sciences. Thus Rationalism itself is found taking the shape of a kind of Authority hostile to true reason. And in like manner Mr. Balfour shows most lucidly that whatever difficulties there may be in Theism, the Naturalism which refers everything to the development of the physical forces of the universe, is subjected to difficulties certainly quite as great, for Naturalism requires us to accept as rational a system of which it is the very essence to regard man as the product of causes entirely irrational because they have "no tendency to truth rather than te false- hood, or to falsehood rather than to truth." Forget, he says, if you please, that in the system of naturalism reason "is the result, like nerves or muscles, of physical ante- cedents. Assume (a rather violent assumption) that in deal- ing with her assumptions, she obeys only her own laws. Of what value is this autonomy if those premises are settled for 'her by purely irrational forces which she is powerless to con- trol or even to comprehend ? The professor of naturalism rejoicing in the display of his dialectical resources, is like a voyager pacing at his own pleasure up and down the ship's deck, who should suppose that his movements had some important share in determining his position on the illimitable ocean. And the parallel would be complete if we can conceive such a voyager pointing to the alertness of his step and the vigour of his limbs as auguring well for the successful prose- cution of his journey, while assuring you in the very same breath that the vessel within whose narrow bounds he dis- plays all this meaningless activity, is drifting he knows not whence nor whither, without pilot or captain, at the bidding ‹,f shifting winds and incalculable currents." (pp. 297-8.) And Mr. Balfour lays it down as the outcome of the system of naturalism that the believer in this creed has no right to feel any confidence in the causes which he regards as having determined the universe as he sees it, since that confidence is an inference from these causes and partakes of their weakness, so that he cannot either "securely doubt" his own certainties or "be certain about" his own doubts.

The general drift, then, of this remarkable book is to suggest that the most reasonable view we can take of the universe justifies the impression that it is the work of an Authority with a purpose, and with a purpose that can be more or less adequately discerned hymen, partly by the study of the order of Nature, partly by scanning those communications which are addressed from behind the veil directly to man's spirit ; that the Reason on which this Authority is founded, envelops our petty reason with its infinite complexities of resource, and that however inadequately we discern its drift, it confers on man that which is most trustworthy and solid for the moulding of his convictions and his habits of life. And Mr. Balfour sums up the effect, not perhaps of what he inculcates, but of what his argument at least tends to affirm, in the following fine passage, which indicates how human needs (as distinguished from mere human desires) may be legitimately satisfied by accepting revelation :—" What is needed is such a living faith in God's relationship to Man as shall leave no place for that helpless resentment against the appointed Order so apt to rise within us at the sight of undeserved pain. And this faith is possessed by those who vividly realise the Christian form of Theism. You may worship One Who is no remote contriver of a universe to whose ills He is indifferent. If they suffer, did He not on their account suffer also ? If suffering falls not always on the most guilty, was He not innocent ? Shall they cry aloud that the world is ill-designed for their convenience, when He for their sakes subjected Himself to its conditions ? It is true that beliefs like these do not in any narrow sense resolve our doubts nor provide us with explanations. But they give us something better than many explanations. For they minister, or rather the Reality behind them ministers, to one of our deepest ethical needs ; to a need which, far from showing signs of diminution, seems to grow with the growth of civilisation, and to touch us ever more keenly as the hardness of an earlier time dissolves away." (p. 3.4)