22 AUGUST 1885, Page 6


WE do not believe that there is any disposition on the part of those who are most trusted by the Radical Party to raise the question of Disestablishment as one of the practical issues of the next Parliament. Mr. IL. B. Brett's invitation to the Liberal leaders to make it one of the rallying cries has signally failed. Mr. George Russell, indeed, and Mr. Osborne Morgan have favoured it. And here and there, there have been faint indications that there are Radical constituencies which would be all the happier for such a war-cry. But even Mr. Chamberlain has pointedly ignored it. The soberest of the Radical candidates have frankly told the constituencies they are canvassing, like Mr. Brinsley Nixon in West Bristol, that though they favour the abstract principle of " religious equality," there is other and more urgent work to do before so mighty a question can be raised with any view to its practical solution. And on the whole, we believe that the state of feeling in the Liberal Party is pretty much what it was as far back as 1868, when, as Canon MacColl has shown in his interesting letter to last Saturday's Times, men who were as strongly opposed to the principle of our existing Established Church as Mr. Bright and the late Mr. Edward Miall, drew the broadest possible distinction between the case of the Establishment in Ireland and the Establishment in England, Mr. Bright, indeed, having plainly said that even after a thorough reform of Parliament, it would still remain a great question for argument whether or not there should still be an Established Church at all. That was Mr. Bright's opinion in 1840, and that evidently remained his opinion in 1868. If he were interrogated on the question now, we do not know what be might say ; but we are pretty sure of this, that he would entreat any Liberals with whom he had influence to defer raising a question so certain to split the Liberal Party in half, till after more urgent questions, on which the Liberal Party are fully united, should have been settled. Even the leader of the policy of Disestablishment in 1868, the late Mr. Edward Miall, was careful to show how widely he dis- tinguished between the case of the Church of Ireland and that of the Church of England. Mr. Miall, in a speech in September, 1868, said :—" Neither the establishment of the Church of England nor the principle of Church establish- ment was at issue now ; it was simply a matter of political 'notice to the people of Ireland. Nothing was proposed to be taken from the Irish Church but her ascendancy by law." At the same time he declared as follows, in his paper, the Nonconformist:—"If it would do any real and permanent good to the Anglicans in Ireland, without at the same time tending to frustrate the object of national conciliation, we believe there would be no indisposition on the part of Liberationists to make them a present of the whole of the ecclesiastical pro- perty now in their possession." Is such moderation as this even conceivable amongst those who want to bring Disestab- lishment to the front now I If not, surely we may fairly say that the cry is something of a got-up cry, and not in any sense that deep feeling of political duty on which the proposal to disestablish the Irish Church was founded.

Those who desire to push Disestablishment at once, are in reality acting, however little they may intend it, in the interest of the Tories, because, in the first place, they are doing exactly what is most likely to keep the Conservatives in power ; and, in the second place, even if that were not the result, they are risking the unity of the party on the subject of such questions as the Land Laws and Local Government, by flinging into it this apple of discord. Who can answer for it that those Liberals who are devoted adherents of the Church will be willing to clear the field of battle for the array of her enemies against her friends ? Who would be surprised if the result of the announcement that the great Church Question would come on so soon as the Land Question and the Local Government Question were settled, were tube the springing-up of a host of obstacles to the settlement of those previous questions, which never would have appeared bat for the fear of what was behind? We do not scruple for a moment to assert that those who are trying to pledge the next Parliament to settle the question of the English Establishment, are really doing the most they can possibly effect to postpone indefinitely the settlement of the Land Question and the Local Government Question. Depend upon it, that unless the next Parliament be elected on the express understanding that the Liberal leaders do not,—at present at all events,—approve the proposal to disestablish the Church of England, there will be extremely little likelihood of rapid progress with the proposals

to which they do lend their full sanction. No question touches the heart of politics so nearly as the Church Question ; and let it once be understood that, other reforms being accepted, the Church Question will come on, and we think that we may safely predict that those other reforms will never be settled by the Parliament to be returned in November next. In reality, however, the matter would be decided much more simply. If Disestablishment were to be made one of the great test questions of the General Election no Liberal majority would be returned which could possibly hope to defeat the forces of the Con- servatives and the Parnellites combined. The Liberals would either be defeated outright, or at the very least paralysed for all the more important purposes of legislation. Nor do we think that Liberals can be blamed, who, heartily as they may favour a thorough reform of the system of Local Government, and a thorough reform of the Land Laws, are so strongly opposed to an attack on the Established Church that they decline to support candidates who profess their intention to force on Disestablishment in the very next Parliament. In the first place, they have been taught to expect that either Mr. Gladstone or Lord Hartington will take the lead, and they very well know that neither of these states- men could take the lead with such a policy as this inscribed upon the Liberal banner. It would, therefore, be the springing of a mine upon Liberals to ask them to support

a party with such a policy. In the next place, they may fairly say that what both Mr. Bright and Mr. Miall virtually regarded as out of the field of practical politics in 1868, has not been brought within the field of practical politics by any more recent event. What- ever change there has been, in the English Church at all events, since 1868, has been a change greatly for the better, —a change endearing the Church to very large sections of the people who had formerly regarded it with comparative coldness and indifference. If it be said that the abstract preference for religious equality has grown since then, we should perhaps hesitate to deny it, though we should certainly hesitate to affirm it. But we should say with some confidence that the disposition to govern policy rigorously by mere abstract prin- ciples had rather declined than increased ; that in the com- plexity of modern life it had more and more been seen that abstract equality means so much which it is impossible adequately to realise, and so much, too, which, while it may be easy enough to realise, would bring with it mere desolation where there had hitherto been innumerable agencies for good, that very few sagacious and prudent statesmen would commit themselves to it, till they had at least grappled with more practical and less dangerous issues. As the Bishop of Rochester justly says, in his letter to the lay members of the Diocesan Conference, this is not a question for the clergy, but a question for the laity. If Disestablishment came about to-morrow, the vested interests of the clergy would certainly be respected. It is not they who have to fear the result for any selfish reasons of their own. It is the laity who have to fear it on behalf of the community at large. And if they think that Disestablishment will obliterate one of the moat beneficent influences in thousands of parishes, that it will extinguish religious life in a vast number of city and rural districts without any reasonable hope of the place of the Church being filled by any Voluntary religions body, that it will increase the bitterness of sectarian feeling, and rob the nation of that kind of Christianity which is even more concerned for the spirituality of the national life than it is for the triumph of any controversial doctrine, then they will fight against it with far more zeal than they would be at all likely to throw into any other political question whatever. And certainly this, which is the view of the Bishop of Rochester, is also our own. We have adocated eagerly every great reform of the last twenty years, except secret voting, from the extension of the Franchise in 1866 and 1867, to such a reform of the Constitution as would get rid of that permanent Tory barrier to progress which is now erected in the House of Lords. But if the Liberal Party were really to be called upon to choose between the Establishment and Dis- establishment, we should have no choice but to range ourselves for such a battle as that on the side which would, we suppose, be the side of the Conservatives. Does any one suppose that the line which so strongly Liberal a paper as the Spectator would be compelled to take, would not be taken by at least half,—probably much more than half,—of the Liberal Party And if so, is it not obvious that the raising of this question for the purposes of the General Election would be a disastrous blunder of the first magnitude. We quite admit that some

time or other this question will have to be fought out ; but surely not while a great number of Liberals have given no thought to it at all, as obviously premature, while on other important points the whole Liberal Party have made up their mind, and made it up for instant action. To bring Disestablishment now to the front would be to play directly into Lord Salisbury's hands, and probably to secure him complete command of the next Parliament. If that is what Liberals wish, they may force on the question of Dis- establishment. But we are quite sure that they do not wish it. We are quite sure that, for the next six years at least, Liberals may consider at their leisure what their duty•should be, if, in the last decade of this century, the question of dis- establishing the Church of England comes on seriously for discussion. For our own parts, we are not abstract adherents of Establishments any more than we are abstract opponents of them. We hold that every Established Church should be judged by its works. So long as it contributes largely to the richest part of the national life, it should be upheld. When- ever it fails to do so, it should be given up. But it is no more possible to judge a great historical institution solely on the issue of an abstract question like that of its tendency to prevent or to promote " religious equality,"—and it might be reasonably contended by different minds that either result was the more probable,—than it is possible to judge such an institution as the Monarchy solely on the issue of an abstract question like that of its tendency to prevent or to pro- mote social equality,—on which question, again, the most opposite judgments might be reasonably formed. Such a question as to the bearing of Disestablishment on " Religious Equality," may be very pertinent to the political issue ; but though pertinent, it is a very small element in that issue, just as it is a very small element in the issue between Royalty and Republicanism, whether at any particular era a throne tends to confirm or to undermine that independence of character which every healthy State desires to encourage in its citizens.