The Growth of European Nationalism
The development of political ideas after 1700 becomes increasingly parochial in the sense that problems that are specific to the several national communities are misunderstood as problems of universal import, and the ideas advanced for their solution are misunderstood as a political theory of general validity. This characterization, however, which is correct for the general structure of ideas, will obviously not exhaust the problems of the age. As soon as we descend to the more concrete levels of the problems, an infinity of complications arises owing to the survival of the general Western tradition in the particular national histories, as well as to the interaction among ideas that arise within the national regions.
The “breakdown” of Western Christianity does not mean that it disappears without a trace. Rather it means the refraction and gradual transformation of the common Christian tradition within the national areas. A substantial common stock of ideas remains preserved in this process, particularly at the beginning. A further common substance of problems and ideas arises from the processes of democratization and industrialization that spread (with considerable time lags in the various countries) over the whole area of Western civilization. The problems of representative government, of the formation of parties, of universal suffrage, of the industrial proletariat, of the petty bourgeoisie, of trade unions, of labor legislation, and so forth, evoke everywhere similar ideas and similar technical solutions.
We are not surprised, therefore, to observe an intense interplay of ideas and influences across national boundaries: the influence of Newton and Locke on Voltaire, of Locke and Sidney on Montesquieu, of Montesquieu on American constitutionalism, of Locke on Condillac and Helvetius, of Helvetius on Bentham, of Hume and Rousseau on Kant, of Benjamin Franklin on Herder, of the American experience on Tocqueville, of Humboldt, Tocqueville, and Comte on John Stuart Mill, of Hegelianism in England, of the French moralistes on Nietzsche, and so forth.
The network of mutual influences is, indeed, so closely knit that, if the eye is fixed on the detail, the observer may be tempted to assume it outweighs in importance the schismatic trend. This assumption, however, would be erroneous. The isolation of the general, schismatic structure finds its justification in the historical fact that, on the level of pragmatic politics, the schismatic tendency has gained ascendancy over the unifying problems and ideas. The idea of a Western, if not human, validity for the national schismatic developments then hardened into intransigent national missions with the catastrophic consequence that the attempts to realize the claim of universality through imperial expansion were opposed by the prospective victims in prolonged wars.
The French Revolution with its climax in Napoleon’s imperialism and the German Revolution with its climax in Hitler’s imperialism had to be defeated–with the result that the Anglo-Saxon powers with their claims of universality for the English and American variant of democracy have now to face a non-Western civilization, with a universal claim of its own, across the battlefields of Europe. The pragmatic consequences justify an emphasis on the schismatic problem that even a generation ago would have seemed exaggerated.
The English Problem: The Loss of the Concrete
The foundations for the English schismatic development, toward which we now turn, were laid in the first half of the eighteenth century. The period is well known as far as the details of the history of its political ideas are concerned, but it is still rather obscure with regard to its gestalt, that is, with regard to the common denominator of its problems.
The reasons for this obscurity are highly complex, and their exposition does not properly belong in a context that is primarily one of political ideas. Nevertheless, we have to be aware of the fact that only since the 1920s has the structure of this period come under serious observation and that the process of reassessment is far from being concluded. Our own attempt at an organization of the problems must, therefore, be considered tentative. Future inquiries may compel far-reaching corrections.
The title of this chapter, “The English Quest for the Concrete,” is intended to designate the common denominator of the problems. The term concrete is taken from Berkeley, whose search for the concrete ranged through the realms of being from matter to God and through the varieties of experience from sense perception to faith. That such a search for the concrete is necessary implies that the concrete has become lost: the search for the concrete is correlative to a state of sentiments and ideas that must be characterized as a loss of contact with the concreteness of existence.
A Stagnant Population
The violent disturbance of the Puritan revolution, of the Restoration, and of the Glorious Revolution had left as its heritage a profound exhaustion and disorientation. The dissolution of English society was, indeed, so profound that it not only was manifest in such comparatively innocuous symptoms as a temporary confusion of ideas and morals but touched the very biological substance of the nation. It is not possible to establish the extent of the disaster with exactness because the collection of statistics was still in its infancy, but a few comparative figures for the growth of population in various countries are available. The annual rate of increase was for:
The facts in themselves are eloquent. In the first half of the eighteenth century the population of England had practically ceased to grow; the Swedish rate of increase in the comparable time was about twenty-eight times as high; and the English rate of increase after 1741 is about thirty-five times as high as before 1741.1 This retardation in growth is probably not a result of a low birthrate. The birthrate in England rose steeply in the first three decades of the eighteenth century, just as in other countries. In the same way as in other countries it leveled out toward the middle of the century.
The retardation is due to an even steeper rise of the death rate in the same period. The population in other countries increased because at this time the divergence between birthrate and death rate became strongly marked, whereas in England the death rate rose faster than the birthrate and even surpassed it during the decade preceding 1740.2
The Gin Age
The immediate physiological cause of this abnormal development in England is no mystery; it can be found in the “unexampled orgy of drunkenness” that characterized this period.3 The English drank a lot before the “unexampled orgy” of the Gin Age: in 1688, when the population was about 5 million, beer was brewed to the amount of 12.4 million barrels; two-and-a-half barrels per capita, including infants, is not bad. The orgy itself, however, begins after 1689 when the importation of distilled spirits was prohibited and the domestic distillery developed. The production figures tell the story:
The temporary slump in 1737 is a result of the enactment of restrictive legislation in 1736, but the clandestine trade was soon organized sufficiently to overcome any legal obstacles.4 The consequences of the orgy for the mores of the age are well known; we need not dwell on the atrocious and juicy details.
A state of dissolution that endangers the biological existence of a nation is not an ephemeral disorder that has attacked only a part of the society. It is more profound even than a class tension that might burst forth in political revolution. A suicidal indulgence of this kind indicates what every suicide indicates: that existence has arrived at an impasse, that no longer can a meaningful alternative to suicide be seen.
Let us conclude with the summary that Henry Fielding gave in 1751 in his pamphlet On the Late Increase of Robbers: “Should the drinking of this poison be continued at its present height during the next twenty years, there will, by that time, be very few of the common people left to drink it.”5
The Purge of the Church
The destruction of meaning is characteristic of the epoch, and the rebuilding of meaning is its problem. The nature and magnitude of this problem are little understood even today because, during this dark period of her history, the power of England remained unimpaired and the shell of political institutions continued to function. The high degree of corruption even within this functioning shell is a matter of common knowledge, and we shall not repeat what the reader can find in any treatise on English history.
For a moment, however, we have to reflect on one segment of English society, the functioning of which was of the greatest importance for the preservation of the intellectual and spiritual substance of the nation, that is, the Church of England. The functioning of the church had been impaired, not by an internal development of ideas, but by a series of incisive operations that removed the most vital members from the ranks of its clergy. The first of these operations was perpetrated by means of the so-called Clarendon Code.
The Act of Uniformity of 1662 provided that all clergymen, college fellows, and schoolmasters had to accept the new anti-Puritan revisions to the Book of Common Prayer, that they had to conform to the liturgy as it was now established, and that they had to repudiate the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 by which the signatories had agreed on religious reform according to the word of God and the example of the best reformed churches. The result of the act was that two thousand clergymen refused acceptance, which meant that one-fifth of the clergy of the Church of England lost their positions.
The Nonconformist private religious meetings that sprang up as a consequence were suppressed by the Conventicle Act of 1664, which provided severe punishments for dissenting religious meetings at which more than five persons attended. And last, the Five Mile Act of 1665 forbade the expelled clergymen to come within five miles of any incorporated town or of any place where they had been ministers.
For our problem this last act is the most interesting because of the occasion of its passage as well as because of its consequences. The occasion was the Great Plague of 1665, which reduced the population of London by 20 percent. Along with the more affluent part of the population a good number of clergymen fled London and deserted their flocks. In the care of the sick, in burials, and in services their places were taken by volunteering Nonconformists.
This outrage, which illuminated somewhat too glaringly where and where not the common man in distress might find bodily and spiritual help, was answered by the Five Mile Act. While the act was difficult to enforce in every instance, its general purpose was achieved: the Nonconformist clergy were effectively removed from leadership in English society by the simple device of removing them physically from town society, where their influence could have been of social relevance.
In particular they were removed from the universities since universities happened to be located in towns. The physical elimination of Puritan culture from English society, which lasted for a generation until the Toleration Act of 1689, dealt it a blow from which it never recovered. It is hardly necessary to elaborate the parallel with more recent technical improvements in the political art of destroying the substance of a people by removing its intellectual and spiritual leadership.
A Totalitarian State Emerges
The second operation on the Church of England came with the Glorious Revolution. The Oath of Allegiance of 1689 was refused by more than four hundred clergymen who had their doubts about the legality of the transaction between the Convention Parliament and the new king; in 1690 they were deprived of their livings.
This blow against the so-called nonjurors would not be so interesting if it had done no more than remove the Jacobite faction from the church. As a matter of fact, however, a goodly number of political Jacobites remained in the church and took the oath. The removal of the nonjurors was important because among them were the principal representatives of the patristic, sacramental, and old Catholic conception of the church.
While the first operation had removed the reforming left wing, the second operation removed the reforming right wing. As a consequence of this double amputation the church was deprived of practically all its living forces. What remained were its worst elements, the mediocrities, the rakes, and the opportunists.
The process of castration was completed in 1717 when, on occasion of the Bangorian controversy, the convocation of the Church of England was prorogued by royal writ. No royal license to transact business was issued again before 1861, and not even a consultative assembly was granted before the middle of the nineteenth century. The church had ceased to have independent public visibility and had been reduced to the position of being a department of state.6
If we add to these measures the Corporation Act of 1661, the Test Act of 1673 (nullified in practice after 1689, but repealed only in 1828), the Test Act against Scotland of 1681, which caused some eighty bishops to resign, and the Papists’ Disabling Act of 1678, which barred Catholics from Parliament (repealed in 1829) we get the impression of a totalitarian revolution, only slightly relieved by the Toleration Act for dissenters of 1689.
And something like a totalitarian revolution had indeed occurred, with destructive effects on the substance of the nation similar to the destructions worked by later revolutions of this type.
Regaining Firm Ground: The Wesleys and the English Constitution
If the English nation could work her way out of this morass, though not unscathed, and regain firm ground after the middle of the eighteenth century, this was mainly the result of two lucky circumstances.
The first of these circumstances we have discussed already in the chapter “The Schismatic Nations.” It is the fact that the national crisis occurred at a time when enlightenment and progress had not yet corroded the mass of the common people, so that the populist revival of the nation when it came, through John and Charles Wesley, could still be a revival of Christian fellowship–however spiritually and civilizationally thinned out it may have been.
The second of these circumstances is the fact that between 1689 and 1721 the English constitution was created as an
autonomous political form, independent of dynastic vicissitudes. The new constitutional system, secured by the Bill
of Rights, the Habeas Corpus Act (1679), the Trials for Treason Act (1696), the Act of Settlement (1701), and the
establishment of cabinet government and the party system with the accession of Walpole to the premiership in 1721,
kept the channels open for the influx of new forces that grew in importance after the middle of the century.
How a Rump Churchman Defended the Status Quo
The peculiar process of a free constitution emerging from the totalitarian devastation of a nation has found its reflection in the political thought of the age.
As a representative example of the manner in which a member of the rump church would come to grips with this problem we select the sermons delivered by William Warburton, the later bishop of Gloucester, in Lincoln’s Inn, on occasion of the Scotch Rebellion of 1745-1746.7
Warburton starts from a preestablished harmony between Christianity and constitutional government: faith prescribes the rules of civil justice, and a free and equal government favors the profession of the truth. This harmony has become actuality in England, because the civil constitution leaves the consciences free and protects their liberty, and the religious constitution has more than once supported the rights of citizens when they were threatened by arbitrary and illegal power.
Opposed to this harmony of light is the harmony of the powers of darkness, that is, of Superstition and Despotism. Concretely, the powers of darkness are Popery and the Arbitrary Power of the Stuarts. Popery brings darkness because it effaces all fear of God from the minds of men. The “Anti-christian policy,” the “unchristian Church,” achieves this purpose by a series of measures: the “idolatrous adoration of dead men” creates a polytheistic system in rivalry with the true God; the doctrine of [contrition] and absolution destroys the fear of God’s justice; the government of the church “by a mere man” destroys the fear of God’s dominion; and the Inquisition produces hypocrisy and thereby destroys the fear of God’s omniscience.
Arbitrary Power destroys the honor that is owed to kings. The arbitrary king is a tyrant who treats his subjects as slaves and thereby produces contempt. He favors superstition in support of illegal prerogative and thereby creates detestation. He makes his will and pleasure the rule of his administration and thereby creates servile fear. And he derives his authority not from the people but from heaven, nature, or conquest and thereby creates distrust. Hence the admonition to fear God and to honor the king (1 Peter 2:17) must be interpreted as meaning that we must support “our holy Religion against popish Superstition; and our equable government against Arbitrary power.”8
The World Belongs to the English “Children of Light”
The articulation of the world into a focus on the English children of light and the surrounding darkness enables Warburton to assess the role of England in politics and history. In the present emergency of the Rebellion it is the duty of every Christian and Briton to rally to the defense of the country, for this country is “The pride and confidence of our friends! The envy of our neighbours! The terror of our enemies, and the admiration of mankind!” “Happy nation! the nurse of heroes, the school of sages, the seminary of holy martyrs, the distinguished favorite of Heaven!”9
In relation to other nations this England has now:
“the distinguished glory of being the Depository, as it were, of civil and religious Freedom, for the rest of mankind. And while we continue faithful to our trust, there are still hopes that the degenerate sons of men may, sometime or other, catch this noble fire from us, and vindicate their ravaged birthright. But, in our destruction, Liberty itself expires; and human nature will despair of evermore regaining its first and original dignity.”10
“The preservation of British liberty” is the preservation “of the liberties of Mankind.”11 The men who attack such light and glory obviously must be unpleasant characters; and, indeed, Warburton’s fierce indignation is aroused by the thought:
“that a mighty Kingdom, a people that still gives laws to the Main, and has long held the balance between contending Empires, was suddenly overturned by a rabble of superstitious ruffians, of mountain robbers, of half-armed and half-starved barbarians, with a wild and desperate Adventurer at their head; and reduced, by the madness of these miserable varlets, from the most free and happy people upon earth, to be a Province to France, a Warehouse to Spain, and a patrimony to the pretended successor of St. Peter.”12
If the forceful and lurid Manichaeism of “Sermon I” exhausted the politics of Warburton, not much importance would attach to his ideas. We could discount them as the rantings of a smug nationalist.
God Condemns Sin, But Not England’s Glory
Warburton certainly was smug and conceited, but in addition he had a good deal of astuteness. He knew very well what was going on all around him. He was not blind to the fact that English society of his time was abysmally rotten, and he must have been aware that his unqualified praise of English glory would sound funny to an audience of lawyers with some worldly discernment.
In his “Sermon II” (December 1745) he repairs the omission of the first sermon and develops a shrewd argument that makes the corruption of a people compatible with its glory. Good Christians might draw, and at the time actually did draw, conclusions with regard to the fate of England through analogy with the fate of Israel.
“God punished his chosen people for their sins by delivering them into the hands of their enemies. Might he not do the same with England? Warburton denies the validity of this argument. He denies ‘that, because the private vices and impieties of men under that economy have, by the just judgment of God, often brought distress upon the community, that they have now the same tendency to provoke his wrath and indignation against ours.'”13
The English people are rich in vice, and the state of immorality may lead to disaster, but such disaster will come in the order of natural causation insofar as the dissolution of the individuals may ultimately undermine the social order. It will not come as a judgment of God. The analogy with the fate of Israel is impermissible because under the Christian dispensation God has separated the problems of private and public morality.
The state is an independent moral agent and is not responsible for the conduct of individuals. “Society is an artificial man, having like the natural, all those essential qualities, which constitute a Moral Agent.“14 The state may be punished by God for its own viciousness, but there is no necessity for inflicting on the community punishment for the crimes of individuals. Because of the viciousness of individuals, “the sanctions of our religion are future rewards and punishments.”15
Hence the rottenness of the people, while fraught with natural dangers, is no cause for defeatism with regard to the fate of the nation in international politics. On the world scene only the morality of the state is crucial in the present contingency. With regard to this point we can rest assured, for the state of England is a paragon of public virtue.
A “Balance of Power” Makes “the Liberties of Europe”
The remainder of “Sermon II” is devoted to an elucidation of English virtue in international politics. Warburton’s task was not as easy as it might have been because England happened to be involved at the time in the War of the Austrian Succession, and virtue had little to do with that affair.
Nevertheless, he arrives at a happy conclusion. The continental wars are inspired by the dark design of unsettling “that established and equitable balance of Power, so necessary for the peace and felicity of Europe.” Supporting the balance of power is synonymous with supporting “the liberties of Europe, against the most detestable perfidy, the most unjust usurpations, and the most lawless and destructive ambition.”
England has a cause in this war “for which it may not only with decency supplicate the protection, but with confidence appeal to the justice of Heaven: a cause founded on the solid basis of self-defense, public faith, and the liberties of mankind.”16
A Piece of Speculation: The Three Phases of History
The speculation with regard to the domestic and international excellence of England is rounded out in “Sermon III” by a piece of philosophical history.
History is articulated into antiquity, the middle ages, and the modern period beginning with the Reformation. The oppressive Roman empire had to be torn to pieces by “the fierce and free nations of the North.” Within the realms of their conquest they established polities on the principle of the liberty of the people.” And erected on so just a plan, these Gothic governments might have stood till now, had not the rank influence of Papal superstition viciated those generous policies.”
By the time of the Reformation the Western world was as deeply lost in civil as it was in ecclesiastical slavery. “For the triumphant Hierarchy had amply revenged the fallen Empire on the necks of its destroyers.” With the Reformation begins the era of political as well as religious freedom, for “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” In this struggle for new freedom, England is “at present most indebted to providence of the whole race of mankind.”
It even seems possible that “we may be selected by Providence, in these latter ages, to preserve the memory of civil liberty amidst a slavish world, as the house of Israel was formerly, to keep alive true religion amidst apostasy.”17
The Sentiments that Lead to Totalitarianism
The political evocation of Warburton holds a peculiar fascination for us because here we can observe in its origins the state of sentiments that later, after having outgrown the remnants of Christian tradition, develops into the totalitarianism of our time. Warburton’s position may be characterized as a totalitarian national constitutionalism. The structure of the constitution has separated from the moral and spiritual substance of the nation.
Infidelity and Luxury are “the two capital evils of our infatuated countrymen. The height, to which they are both arrived, cannot be aggravated; and need not be particularly described. The case is notorious, and confessed.”18 The rottenness of society may even engulf the state, because precisely the procedural protections accorded by a free constitution may degenerate in practice into the protection of the criminal against punishment.19
Nevertheless, the constitution is perfect. It is free even if it suppresses Nonconformists and nonjurors and deprives Catholics of political representation. It is wholesome even if it gives free reign to dissoluteness to the point of criminality. The idolatry of a shell without substance, which in our time has produced the fantastical situation of the overthrow of democracy by the means of democratic procedure, is fully developed.
Megalomania: The Chosen People
Moreover, this free constitution is the political form of a nation. We see fully developed the conception of the nation as the chosen people, the Manichaean articulation of the field of politics into the pure nation and the surrounding darkness, the idea of a national mission, the identification of the national civilization with the civilization of mankind, and the identification of the national destiny with the destiny of mankind at large. Warburton elaborates a system of national megalomania that, once it is taken over by the other nations, can only result in the war of all against all that we witness in our time.
A Rationale for War
Of specific importance, finally, is the inclusion of the principle of the balance of power into the new dogma. In political practice this principle means that, whenever the balance (which we may assume to be established at a given point of time) is disturbed by such factors as growth of population and technological or economic progress within one nation, the only admissible means for the solution of the problem is a world war that reduces the disproportionately growing power to comparative weakness.
Alternative solutions, such as a Western hegemonic confederation under the leadership of the strongest power, or a genuine federation that would dissolve the national ossification and produce new supranational communities, are impermissible because they would conflict with the idolatry of national exclusiveness.
Warburton’s dogmatism of national exclusiveness and the balance of power is the English equivalent to the French and German imperial expansion. In the disaster that resulted from the clash of these megalomanic nationalisms the Germans have fared worst, while to date the English have managed only to come dangerously close to the point where they have balanced themselves out of power.
The Limits of Nationalism: Cardinal Newman Defends the Claims of the Spirit
The totalitarian constitutionalism of Warburton is not a passing mood in English politics. It is a constant that has found its great and representative expression in the nineteenth century in the brilliant debate between Gladstone on the one side and Manning and Newman on the other, which arose on the occasion of the Papal Syllabus of 1864 and the Vatican Council of 1871.
Gladstone complained: “All other Christian bodies are content with freedom in their own religious domain. Orientals, Lutherans, Calvinists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Nonconformists, one and all, in the present day, contentedly and thankfully accept the benefits of civil order; never pretend that the state is not its own master; make no religious claims to temporal possessions or advantages; and, consequently, never are in perilous collision with the State. Nay, more, even so I believe it is with the mass of Roman Catholics individually. But not so with the leaders of their Church, or with those who take pride in following the leaders.”
Catholic leaders even pride themselves on their unwillingness to submit to the civil order. Gladstone was particularly aroused by an earlier remark of Manning that there is no other church than the Roman “which does not submit, or obey, or hold its peace when the civil governors of the world command.”20
Again the parochial state, which in the meanwhile has absorbed the heritage of English radicalism and liberalism into its totalitarian dogma, is in conflict with a spiritual substance of universal validity and claim. And still, the remnants of Christian tradition in the parochial substance obscure the danger of the conflict.
Today, in retrospect, we may wonder whether Gladstone would be so enthusiastic about submissive churches when the state that they recognize as their master is not the state of England but a National Socialist German or a Communist Russian state, and whether he would be quite so indignant about the insolence of church leaders who pride themselves that they are not unconditionally submissive.21
Anyway, Newman’s answer is equally succinct: “The rule and measure of duty is not utility, nor expedience, nor the happiness of the greatest number, nor State convenience, nor fitness, order, and the pulchrum.” None of these can substitute for conscience as a guide to conduct. “Conscience is the voice of God . . . conscience is not a long-sighted selfishness, nor a desire to be consistent with oneself, but it is a messenger from Him, who, in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by His representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ.”22
In their argument concerning the Syllabus Errorum, Newman sharpens the issue with regard to the positive content of Gladstone’s position when he asks: “Is Benthamism so absolute the Truth, that the Pope is to be denounced because he has not yet become a convert to it?”23 Gladstone might have answered: Yes—for he was beyond critical doubt and his attitude was inspired by a strong sentiment of its universal validity. With the magnificent pathos of a representative of mankind he clarified the relative positions: It is not anyone who:
“actually writes from a Papal point of view, that has a right to remonstrate with the world at large; but it is the world at large, on the contrary, that has the fullest right to remonstrate, first with His Holiness, secondly with those who share his proceedings, thirdly even with such as passively allow and accept them. I, therefore, as one of the world at large, propose to expostulate in my turn.”24
The liberal upholders of the autonomous state and its constitution have become the “world at large,” the new universal church of which Gladstone is a representative member. The spirit of the schismatic polity develops its universal claim in imitation of imperial Christianity. Across the shambles of the Western-Christian homonoia, the infallible Gladstone challenges the infallible pope. It does not need much imagination to extrapolate this trend and to prolong the curve into the contemporary forms of totalitarianism.
The Loss of the Concrete
The suicidal orgy of drinking that led to the early deaths of many] indicates the degree to which English existence had lost its meaning in this period of material prosperity, and the sermons of Warburton are a representative example of the intellectual and moral decline that had followed the great age of Puritanism in the Church of England. The two symptoms characterize the amplitude of the loss of the concrete to which we now turn.
The concrete is lost with regard to the fundamental orientation of existence through faith, and it is lost with regard to the system of symbols and concepts by which the orientation of existence is expressed. The two losses are related to each other because the loss of orientation through faith prevents the creation and clarification of symbols, and at the same time the perversion of meaning in the realm of symbols and concepts prevents the return to the orienting experiences.
The devastation is far-reaching. The experiences in which meaning originates are smothered, and the symbols by which meaning is expressed are destroyed so thoroughly that it is impossible to give an account of the disorientation in terms of the literary documents of the period. Attempting to present the contents of the works of this period would be an attempt at reproducing a chaos.
Hence, in approaching this problem, we must follow the method that contemporary critics, and in particular Berkeley, adopted when they penetrated to the roots of the disorder. There is no sense in repeating the gyrations of thought of men who are in confusion. The critic must diagnose the cause of the confusion and use the pathological cases as typical instances that illustrate the nosos in the Platonic sense.
Berkeley focused his diagnosis in the symbols of materialism and freethinking, and we shall follow his analysis. We shall accept the two symbols as signifying the principal sources of confusion, and we shall lend them a preliminary precision by defining them as materialization of the external world and psychologization of the self.
Materialization of the External World
By materialization of the external world we mean the misapprehension that the structure of the external world as it is constituted in the system of mathematized physics is the ontologically real structure of the world. The tendency of mistaking the laws of mechanics for the structure of the world makes itself felt strongly even by the middle of the seventeenth century under the influence of Galileo’s discoveries and even more so under the influence of Cartesian physics. Pascal already has some incisive pages on the subject.
The movement gains its full momentum, however, only with the publication of Newton’s Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica, of 1687. The impact of this masterful systematization of mechanics on his contemporaries, coming at a time when the sources of an active faith were drying up, must have had a force that is difficult to reproduce imaginatively today.
To a spiritually feeble and confused generation, this event transformed the universe into a huge machinery of dead matter, running its course by the inexorable laws of Newton’s mechanics. The earth was an insignificant corner in this vast machinery, and the human self was a still more insignificant atom in this corner.
We have discussed the critical early phase of this problem on the occasion of the debate between Kepler and Robert Fludd.25 The obliteration of the substance of nature through the propositions of mathematized science that could still be resisted at the beginning of the seventeenth century had become an almost accomplished social fact at the beginning of the eighteenth century.
The obliteration had been so thorough that Western thought has not completely recovered from the blow even today. The first shock, of course, wore off, and the recovery of substance became the preoccupation of the foremost Western thinkers. Nevertheless, from the age of Newton the great cleavage runs through the Western world between the thinkers who submit to the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness” (as Whitehead has named this philosophical mistake) and those who can free themselves of it.
It is not an exaggeration to say that in the history of Western civilization Newton’s Principia Mathematica is at least as important as the cause of the great schism in Western thought as it is important in the advancement of science.26
The Psychologization of the Self
By psychologization of the self we mean the misapprehension that through reflection on the stream of consciousness, and on the experiences given in it, the nature of man or the substance of the self can become known.
This second misapprehension is closely related to the first one. When man no longer experiences himself as embedded substantially in the cosmos, when the unity of creation that embraces man is torn asunder into a perceived structure of the world and a perceiving self, problems peculiar to Cartesian and post-Cartesian metaphysical speculation arise.
When the experience of substantial participation of man in the world is interrupted, doubts arise about whether the reality as it appears to the perceiving subject is indeed the reality of the external world, and if the reality of an external world is assumed, intricate problems of the relation between the external world and the self impose themselves.
Historically they appear in the speculation of Malebranche and Leibniz under the title of the psychophysical problem. The self has become a consciousness that by sensations and ideas refers to an external world–though it remains enigmatic how the external world can affect consciousness in such a manner that sensations and ideas are produced. It remains equally enigmatic why the reference of these images to an external world should be considered trustworthy.
If the idea of psychologization were carried out consistently in a philosophical system, the result would be a strict solipsism of a stream of consciousness with complete annihilation of all reality outside the stream. This radical possibility, however, need not concern us here because it does not occur in any historically relevant instance.
In the historical situation at the beginning of the eighteenth century all instances of psychologization compromise to some degree with reality. The degree of the compromise is a historical problem, and correspondingly so is the degree of destruction of reality. As the minimum of compromise the situational pressure induces the acceptance of the external world, at least so far as it enters into the system of Newtonian physics.
The Lockean compromise with its distinction of primary and secondary qualities is typical. Primary qualities are solidity, extension, figure, motion, number, etc.; these qualities are “really” in bodies whether our senses perceive them or not. Secondary qualities such as color, heat, light, etc., do not exist “really” but are sensations in the stream of consciousness.27
Beyond this minimum of acceptance the field of variants opens richly. With profound disturbances of the elementary experiences of participation in the cosmos, even the reality of the realm of matter becomes doubtful. Such disturbances cause particularly deep ravages with regard to transcendental reality because the persuasive assurance lent to the reality of the realm of matter by means of the pragmatic tests of experiment and astronomical observation does not exist for transcendental reality.
With regard to the radical transcendence of the world there is only genuine participation through the trembling experience of faith as substance and proof of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1). Moreover, the symbolism of the dogma has grown historically as the expression of nuances of active faith.
When the light of faith is extinguished, the dogmatic symbols lose their luminosity of meaning and become a dead letter, a jungle of logical inconsistencies, and a collection of unverifiable propositions. When the symbols no longer glow with the inner light of faith, the time has come for their examination under the external light of reason.
The symbolization of transcendental reality does not stand up too well under the light of reason. But again: there is no complete annihilation but rather a gamut of compromises. Never was there a greater penumbra of thought than when men were enlightened, because reason itself, by whose light the mysteries of religion were to be examined, was a historically somewhat sputtering notion.
The reason that emerges in the philosophy of Locke and of his Deistic followers and successors is not a well-defined function of the human mind but a gradually thinning, secularist derivation of the Christian logos. The antithesis of the light of faith that fills the religious symbols with meaning from within, and of the light of reason by which they are examined from without, must be understood historically as signifying two terms of a series of notions that paper over in spurious continuity the real distance between them.
The rationalism of Lockean reason develops gradually out of the suprarationalism of the Christian logos. Specifically, the Lockean idea has developed out of the speculation on the inner light of reason of the Cambridge Platonists.
The Cambridge Platonists: Culverwel’s Reason
In our context it is impossible to go through all the steps of this development, but we must characterize at least one or two of the major ones. As characteristic for an early phase of this process we select the speculation of Nathaniel Culverwel (1618-1651).
In his Discourse of the Light of Nature, this student of Cudworth says: “To blaspheme reason is to reproach heaven itself, and to dishonour the God of Reason, to question the beauty of the image.” “What would these railers have? Would they be banished from their own essence? Would they forfeit and renounce their understanding? Or have they any to forfeit or disclaim? Would they put out the candle of the Lord, intellectuals of His own Lighting?”28
Although the Lockean tone can be heard already in these sentences, Culverwel’s reason has not yet become entirely a secular faculty, for this lamp of the Lord shines with a somewhat diminished candlepower because of the Fall. Still, it is reliable enough to serve as a guide in orienting human existence and to be an internal authority that makes man independent of all external authority–be it the classics or the councils.
We can sense this Protestant pathos of autonomous reason in this passage:
“For this very end God hath set up a distinct lamp in every soul that men might make use of their own light. All the works of men, they should smell of this lamp of the Lord that is to illuminate them all. Men are not to depend wholly upon the courtesy of any fellow-creature; not upon the dictates of men; nay, not upon the votes and determinations of angels: for if an angel from heaven contradict first principles, though I will not say, in the language of the Apostle, “let him be accursed,” yet this one may safely say, that all the sons of men are bound to disbelieve him.”29
Nevertheless, it would be a grave misunderstanding to identify this reliable candle of the Lord already with secular reason as the supreme orienting faculty of men. Culverwel’s reason is still outshone by the light of Revelation. “Revealed truths shine with their own beams; they do not borrow their primitive and original lustre from this ‘candle of the Lord,’ but from the purer light, wherewith God hath clothed and attired them as with a garment.”30
This higher light is not in conflict with the light of reason, and the light of reason alone is sufficient as a guide if faithfully obeyed. But precisely this “if” of faithful obedience seems to be the point at which Culverwel’s speculation on reason retains its connection with orthodox Calvinism. Not all men are equal with regard to their obedience, and the ability of obeying is not a matter of human discretion. By the beams of revealed truth we understand that God gave a measure of his unconditional grace to Socrates to improve his “naturals,” while he denied this same measure to Aristophanes.
The light of reason shines in everybody, but only those who have been accorded the grace of God will be able to follow it as their guide of conduct:
“As take two several lutes. Let them be made both alike for essentials, for matter and form. If now the one be strung better than the other, the thanks is not due to the lute, but to the arbitrary pleasure of him that strung it. Let them both be made alike, and strung alike yet if the one be quickened with a more delicate and graceful touch, the prevailing excellence of the music is not to be ascribed to the nature of the lute, but to the skill and dexterity of him that did move it and prompted it into such elegant sounds.”31
The Cambridge Platonists: Whichcote’s Reason
Let us next consider the meaning of reason in the Sermons of Benjamin Whichcote (1609-1683).
The strong tension between a light of reason that is common to all men and a receptiveness that is accorded arbitrarily to a few, which characterized the speculation of Culverwel, is reduced to a minimum in Whichcote. The Gospel is accepted as a revelation, superhuman in origin but not in conflict with reason:
“The excellency of infinite wisdom, power, and goodness is displayed in it, and God, by it, works powerfully in us, and upon us: and this commanding is in the highest way of reason. No better way of arguing than by strong reason and convincing argument; and no such conviction, no fuller satisfaction, in any undertaking, than in the business of regeneration and conversion.”32
Scripture and reason are in a prestabilized harmony because in the Bible there are these two things: “the consonancy of the things therein contained with the things of natural knowledge, and the report there made of God, agreeable to what reason leads men to think.”33 There is, of course, the problem of interpretation of the sacred text, but this problem will be solved satisfactorily in the direction of reason if we do not insist on putting recondite interpretations on isolated passages:
“Scripture as it is a matter of faith, is not a single text, but all the Scripture; and not so much the words as the sense, that sense which is verified by other scriptures.” God expects the reader to be “of an ingenuous spirit and use candor, and not lie at the catch: for the Scripture is to be read as a man would read a letter from a friend, in which he doth only look after what was his friend’s mind and meaning, not what he can put upon the words.”34
The audience to whom Whichcote directs these sermons seems to be beset already by problems that inevitably must arise when the traditional expression of faith is swept aside and the content of faith is rebuilt through the interpretation of a document. The danger point is near where reason shades off into the methods of critical philology, and where revelation shades off into a literary text.
Whichcote himself is still on the safe side. Reason is for him not yet an autonomous faculty of man that can produce true propositions with regard to transcendental reality and substitute this body of propositions for the dogma of tradition. For him reason is still the result of faith:
“The mind diverted from God wanders in darkness and confusion. But being directed to Him, soon finds its way, and doth receive from Him in a way that is abstracted from the noise of the world, and withdrawn from the call of the body; having shut the doors of our senses, to recommend ourselves to the Divine light, which readily enters into the eye of the mind that is prepared to receive it. For there is light enough of God in the world, if the eye of our minds were but fitted to receive it, and let it in.”35
Reason does not orient existence; existence must be oriented through openness to God in order to make reason operative. The interpretation of Scripture will avoid pitfalls only if the reason that interprets it is the Christian logos, that is, reason oriented by faith.
Only then will be achieved the harmony of a religion “that is grounded in reason and by divine authority,” of a religion “that makes men humble and modest, not proud and conceited; that makes men poor in Spirit, not full of their own mind,” of a religion “that makes them loving, and not hard-hearted; that makes men kind, not harsh and cruel.” For “an uncharitable Christianity, unmerciful, void of good-nature, is not more religion than a dark sun is a sun, or a cold fire is a fire. He only can dwell in God who dwells in love . . . . To be out of love and good-will, is to be in the devil’s form and spirit.”36
But “the devil’s form and spirit” are close at hand, and they will take possession of the soul as soon as the tenuous bond of faith is broken and reason is left to shift for itself with nothing to rely on but the historically accidental content of the age.
The last step [of something] is taken by Locke in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding. “Reason is natural revelation, whereby the Father of Light and fountain of all knowledge, communicates to mankind that portion of truth which he has laid within the reach of their natural faculties.” This part of the passage sounds comparatively harmless, so harmless that in isolation it could perhaps be taken as Thomistic in meaning.
The sequel is less harmless:
“Revelation is natural reason enlarged by a new set of discoveries communicated by God immediately, which Reason vouches the truth of, by the testimony and proofs it gives that they come from God. So that he that takes away Reason to make a way for Revelation, puts out the light of both, and does much the same as if he would persuade a man to put out his eyes, the better to receive the remote light of an invisible star by a telescope.”
Now, indeed, Reason is made the judge of the truth of Revelation. “Whatsoever God hath revealed is certainly true. No doubt can be made of it. But whether it be a Divine Revelation or no, Reason must judge, which can never permit the mind to reject a greater evidence for that which is less evident, or prefer less certainty to greater.”
The bond of faith is broken and the experiences that give meaning to the symbols of myth and religion are lost. Reason has become an autonomous, natural faculty. The formula that it originates in “the Father of Light” is empty because this very symbol is meaningless without the experience from which it springs.
This sudden loss of meaning becomes visible in a passage such as the following: “No Proposition can be received for Divine Revelation, or obtain the assent due to all such, if it be contradictory to our clear intuitive knowledge.” In this passage the dogmatic symbols have become “propositions,” and the faith that creates them has become “our clear intuitive knowledge” (whatever that means) that gives or denies assent after due examination of the “propositions” presented to it.
We should also note the change of meaning in the term Revelation: from the irruption of transcendental reality in religious experience and its expression in symbols (of which the meaning must be regained through faith concretely by every believer) into a body of propositions of which the meaning is not to be recovered by faith but to be examined critically by Reason.
In brief: with this change we are in the jungle of enlightenment jargon in which discussion becomes impossible because the terms are no longer rooted in the concreteness of experience.37
Locke’s Reasonableness of Christianity
The implications of the new meaning of Reason are obvious, and the further course of disintegration that will flow from it is inexorable. The title of Reason from now on covers a highly explosive combination of elements. The principal ones are the following:
(1) the historically accidental body of civilizational values that emerges from the century of the Puritan Revolution and Newtonian physics,
(2) the apparatus of critical method in philology and history as well as in the experiment and logic of science, and
(3) an act of faith that erects these values and methods into absolutes.
We are acquainted already with some of the grotesque results of this new creed of reason. We have seen the political constitution without social obligations emerging from reason in Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government, and we have seen how Warburton’s God willed the Bill of Rights, the civilizational mission of England, and the holy war for the balance of power.
From Lockean Reason to Materialism and Freethinking
In the present context, however, we have to concentrate on the systematic main line that leads from Reason in the Lockean sense into the problems of materialism and freethinking.
This line can be traced by the use that Locke makes of Reason in his Reasonableness of Christianity of 1695. The contents of the work in detail are of no interest to us. What is relevant for our purpose is the destruction that Reason works when it is put to the interpretation of Christianity as the historical religion of Western civilization, and of equal importance will be the patterns of thought that emerge from this work of destruction.
We shall properly begin with the external aspect of the destruction.
When Locke approaches Christianity he makes a tabula rasa of Western history. In the Essay Concerning Human Understanding he had swept aside all earlier metaphysical efforts and started philosophizing from scratch. In the present study he makes a similar sweep of all Christian tradition, including the patres and scholastics, and starts on an analysis of the New Testament as if it were a book that had been published yesterday. The mind of the Essay is a blank paper ready to receive the impression of the Gospel.
Such open-mindedness leads to an interesting discovery, which Sir Leslie Stephen has summarized nicely in the following passage: “Christ and his apostles, on admitting converts to the Church, did not exact from them a profession of belief in the Athanasian Creed, the Thirty-nine Articles, or the Westminster Confession, but were satisfied with the acknowledgment that Christ was the Messiah.”38
We might have guessed it; and Locke probably guessed it, too, before he indulged in his lengthy and painstaking analysis that rendered this meager result. He did not want to prove the obvious. His ponderous exposition of the trite gains its weight through the implication that the later development of Christianity is an illegitimate excrescence.
Only under the assumption that his labors restore the true core of Christianity do they make sense. This true core is small. It contains no more than the acceptance of Christ as the Messiah, the belief in the one God, and genuine repentance and submission to the law of Christ. These articles of faith are exhaustive. They are a plain and simple religion, intelligible to “laboring and illiterate men,” free of the theological apparatus that creates the impression that the way to the church leads through “academy or lyceum.”
Let us consider what Locke is actually doing in this attempt to restore the legitimate nucleus of Christianity.
Christian doctrine as it has grown in the tradition of the church is not an arbitrary addition to the Gospel. It is the labor of generations in the attempt to find an adequate expression to the substance of faith in the historically changing economic, political, moral, and intellectual environment of Mediterranean and Western civilization.
The Christological struggles of the early centuries absorbed into this expression the Hellenistic intellectual culture, and the Scholasticism of the high Middle Ages absorbed into it the corpus Aristotelicum. In general, the history of Christian doctrine is the process by which the substance of faith is built into the civilization of man. It is a process that started in the immediate environment of Christ, and it is still going on. The precipitation of the process in the New Testament represents, for all that we know, a phase that has already advanced materially beyond the generation of Jesus’ immediate followers.
Locke ignores this problem of the historicity of the Christian spirit. But beyond this statement it is not easy to formulate with precision what he has actually done.
Dumping the Cultural Baggage
At first sight one might say that, through his return to the New Testament phase of the process, he has deliberately thrown out the intellectual civilization that has been built into the expression of the relation of man to the divine ground in his soul. That is quite true.
And the ease with which Locke gets rid at one fell swoop of the whole patristic and scholastic intellectual culture has remained paradigmatic for the wholesale civilizational destruction in which the politically predominant movements of our time engage.
Nevertheless, the situation is much too complicated to be covered by the brief formula of throwing out a body of tradition. Above all, this formula ignores the problem of the historical process. A tradition is not a block that can be thrown out. One can throw out a tradition only by throwing oneself out of it. This feat, however, is not so simple as it looks to the naive minds who believe they can return to a “primitive” Christianity without returning to the civilizational state of “primitive” Christians.
This feat, if realized socially, would imply the complete destruction of contemporary civilization, not only under its intellectual aspects, but also economically and technologically. This is not Locke’s intention. Locke and those who follow him in his course go on to live and to participate in a civilizational environment that has been formed into the remotest wrinkles of its intellectual language by the very tradition they try to remove.
Hence, the attempt to return to the earlier phase will result not in a genuine removal of tradition (which would imply the rebuilding of a civilization on a new basis) but in a far-reaching devastation of the intellectual form of contemporary civilization. Since this devastation is accomplished by means of a return to a more primitive civilizational phase, we may call it “primitivization.” Under this aspect, Locke’s philosophy of Reason is a phase of the anticivilizational revolt that we have described in the chapter “The People of God.”39
Locke’s Religion is Both Reasonable and Useful
Before we pursue this topic further, let us include in the discussion another problem that Locke raises in his treatise. Locke discovers that Christianity is reasonable. Its chief claim to our respect originates in the fact that we do not find anything in it that man would not find without it.
The “rationale and thinking part of mankind” could discover the one, supreme, and invisible God, and the philosophers could discover the law of nature, without Christian guidance—though the body of the law has never been set forth by any philosopher as a clear deductive system. Hence, the question arises for Locke of why his elimination of Christianity should stop short of the New Testament. Why not eliminate Christianity altogether and be reasonable without it?
Locke advances several reasons for his preferred option, but the decisive one seems to be the argument of utility. Christ is useful because he lends the authority of a divine command to propositions that can be discovered by reason. The “rational and thinking part of mankind” unfortunately is somewhat small: “you may as soon expect to have all the day-labourers and tradesmen, the spinsters and dairymaids, perfect mathematicians, as to have them perfect in ethics in this way.” Christianity, thus, becomes a codification and sanction by divine authority of a body of precepts that can be found by the reason of philosophers, but it will not find social acceptance if it is promulgated by unauthorized thinkers only.
As far as this argument interprets Christianity, it only confirms and clarifies the “primitivization” that Locke achieves through his philosophy of Reason. When Christianity is reduced to a reasonable moral code that after all may be found also in non-Christian civilizations, the realm of spirit is annihilated. With this reduction, Locke has eliminated the Christian drama of Fall and Redemption, that is, the understanding of the spiritual problems of the soul by which Christianity has advanced beyond the Myth of Nature of antiquity.
Locke can dispense with the intellectual culture of the patres and scholastics because he has abandoned the culture of the spirit that it serves. The psychologization of the self begins to reveal its ontological motivation. The psyche of the psychology that begins with Locke is no longer the scene of a spiritual process, that is, of a process in which the human soul orients itself toward transcendental reality. It has become a stream of experiences that refer only to intramundane reality.
In his utilitarian argument, however, Locke is more than an interpreter of Christianity. In this argument he speaks as an ecclesiastical statesman. We must not overlook this issue and its subtle ramifications.
What Locke wants is a Christianity that will be comprehensible for “laboring and illiterate men.” His attack is directed against the scandal of churches and sects that pester good, plain people with niceties of theological distinction, that instigate them to participate in theological argument with insufficient educational means, that encourage them to have a mind of their own in the interpretation of Scripture, and that make the scrupulous acceptance of this or that complicated codification of the creed a condition of church membership and salvation.
Insofar as Locke intends to protect the faith of the people against the dubious theological quarrels of the age, we are happy for once to be in full sympathy with him. For this, he certainly was a better Christian than the quarreling demagogues.
This sympathy will diminish, however, when we reflect on Locke’s solution of the problem. The problem itself is as old as the church. It is sociological in nature, and can hardly be solved otherwise than along the lines laid down by Saint Paul and developed by the church: recognize the differentiation of charismata in the mystical body; let the teachers, bishops, and trained theologians conduct the struggle for right doctrine; develop a constitutional procedure for the struggle; let the participants come to a settlement in the forms of the procedure; and have faith that the Spirit of Christ will have guided the constitutional settlement.
The solution, as we said, is narrowly determined by the nature of the problem, but obviously such wisdom cannot be of much help to Locke.
The breakdown of the institutions that secured the unity of doctrine for Christianity is an accomplished fact. Locke is in search of an authority for what he considers the doctrine of Christianity, precisely because the institutional organization of this authority is gone.
We must recognize the full seriousness of the problem: Locke was justified in his intention even when he erred in the solution. When the institutions of spiritual authority have broken down, and when the members of the schismatic rival organizations are diligently engaged in cutting each others’ throats for the advancement of the realm of Christ, certainly those who are appalled by the insanity of the procedure have reason to be concerned about the restoration of authority.
Nevertheless, while we must recognize Locke’s right to be concerned, we must also recognize that the spiritual breakdown of a civilization is not among the problems that can be solved by a piece of philosophical speculation. A man who undertakes such a task in full seriousness is guilty of the very insanity that aroused his concern. He will not solve the problem that he set himself to solve. Instead he runs the risk of setting a pattern of conduct that will create even worse disorder than the disorder he wishes to heal. And that is what happened to Locke.
In his role as an ecclesiastical statesman, he decides that Christianity is identical with what he personally thinks and can understand. Christianity has nothing to say but what he, the man of reason (for he does not reckon himself among the dairymaids and spinsters), knows for truth by his own intuitive knowledge. What he is lacking is not insight but authority. The solution for the spiritual breakdown of Western civilization is found: the church must back with the authority of Christ the reason of Locke.
The reader should not be shocked too much by the apparent megalomania of the conception. He should rather be touched by its engaging modesty, because Locke at least claims only insight and not yet authority. Less modest men will come after him; they will add authority to their insight and become the founders of the totalitarian state churches. The bonds of sentiment are still strong enough to hold Locke with the shadow of tradition, and only the shadow of the future falls on his solution.
We may resume now the problem of “primitivization.” Locke’s civilizational destruction is not idiosyncratic or arbitrary. It is not incidental to his ecclesiastical politics but an instrumental part in his program of restoring spiritual authority.
The question now arises as to whether the spiritual authority of Christianity can be restored by the Lockean method. And if, as we think, the means is not adequate for reaching the end, what is the end that actually will be reached if this means is brought into play?
In reflecting on these questions we must, first of all, be clear that the authority of the spirit does not disappear from the world if its institutionalization in a historical society breaks down. The spirit bloweth where it listeth, and if it does not blow through the soul of men in community it may still blow through the soul in solitude.
The solution to the problem of spiritual authority in social crisis is the way of the mystic. It is a problem that arises whenever society is in crisis. We had occasion to discuss it in all detail when it appeared in Hellenic society. For the systematic discussion of its principles the reader should refer back to the analysis of Plato’s ideas, in particular to the analysis of the Gorgias.40
But Locke is no Plato. The Socratic “transfer of authority” was not within the range of his personality. A renovatio Evangelica is a return into the soul and cannot, therefore, be the external return to a historical state of doctrine. Locke missed the return into the soul–it was reserved to Berkeley to find this way into the depth of the soul and, because of his age, into social oblivion as well.
Locke’s missing of the way leads on to the further question: where did the way lead that he actually went?
The very fact that Locke returns to the New Testament, as to a literary document, in search of articles of faith is the proof that his profounder motivation is not quite Evangelical, and it also gives us a clue to its true nature.
Locke’s return is to the text of the New Testament and is an event in the history of English Protestantism, but it also belongs to the generic class of returns to primitive phases of civilization that are characteristic of the age of Western revolution and crisis.
Let us remember Warburton’s philosophical history, which we have related but not yet commented on. When Warburton makes his plea for England he reminds us of “the fierce and free nations of the North” who broke the Roman empire, who erected their “Gothic Governments” on the principles of liberty, and who might have lived happily ever after had they not fallen under the thralldom of the new Roman superstition.
Here we have another instance of the pattern of return, the pattern that we shall find again in the more famous cases of Montesquieu’s Germans who were free in their forests, as well as of the natural men of Rousseau who were free before they fell under the oppression of civilization. Moreover, from Locke’s own Treatise of Civil Government we may remember the nostalgia of primitivism in the cry: “In the beginning all the world was America.”
The Beginning of Historical Romanticism
In the light of such comparisons, Locke’s return to the New Testament looks very much like a beginning of historical Romanticism, like an early case of the return to a historical “myth” for the purpose of assuaging the disorder of the age.
The common characteristic of such returns is the open or implied critique of civilization, the assumption that the substance has seeped out of its institutional and intellectual forms, the suspicion that perhaps these very forms have killed the substance, and the growing conviction that the meaning of existence can be recovered only by the destruction of the incubus.
In particular Warburton’s oratory is suggestive of things to come: when we read his plaints about the “fierce and free nations of the North,” about the sad fate of the “Gothic Governments” and the horror of “Papal Superstition,” we are reminded of nothing so much as of Alfred Rosenberg’s Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts with its invectives against the Roman haruspices who have poisoned the blood and spirit of the noble Nordics.
If we consider this aspect of Locke’s return (and I think we must consider it), the subterranean connections between Reason and Romanticism become clearer.
There is a Romantic touch to Locke’s Reason insofar as it reflects the mood of civilizational critique and despair, and insofar as the autonomous Reason emerges as the Lucifer of the community. There is a hesitancy in completing the step because Locke still employs Christ for lending authority to his own light in order to make it socially effective. This hesitancy, however, will appear as such only if we look toward the past.
If we look toward the future, Locke’s use of the Gospel as a “myth” marks the beginning of a line (though it be a long one) at the end of which we find the fancies of the Uralinda Chronik and the Wotanism of the Ludendorffs. In our analysis of Locke’s Reasonableness of Christianity we have concentrated on what we consider to be its historically and philosophically effective nucleus. This nucleus does not exhaust Locke’s attitude toward Christianity.
Locke as a Thinker
A study of Locke as a thinker would have to explore the vast shadowy field of half thought that surrounds the rather small nucleus that in itself is not too clear. His mode of philosophizing was characterized by a good deal of whim.
Spurts of irritation by contemporary evils would push his thought in a direction he would not have moved, could he have seen the end of the road. And he could follow the road with complacency because the energy of the push gave out long before the end came into view. It is an interesting mental constitution. The men who have the happy gift can indulge in irresponsible boutades of thought, can produce considerable havoc and misery, and can nevertheless sincerely protest that their intentions have been misunderstood when the mischievousness of their indulgence is held up to them.
Speaking less metaphorically: Locke’s spiritual gifts and intellectual abilities were no match for the problems he tried to solve, and his ethos as a thinker was deplorably weak. With regard to the questions under discussion, he did not follow this thought to its conclusions, but let the path conveniently end in an underbrush of sentiments to which historians usually refer as his reverence and his devout Christianity.
Locke was aware, of course, that the symbolism of Christianity, even if reduced to the formulations of the New Testament, would not altogether enter into propositions that by any stretch of imagination could be called reasonable. In the Essay he distinguishes between religious truths above reason, contrary to reason, and according to reason.41 He does not, however deny the truth of those that are not according to reason. He recognizes the mysteries of religion as part of Revelation. He gets around the problem of the mysteries by extending reverence to them and putting them beyond a debate that would only sully them.
He had neither the strength of the mystic who would make the mysteries luminous by reenacting the religious experiences they symbolize, nor the courage of the philosopher who would let himself be carried wherever his thought led. Nor did he have the plain honesty of giving up a train of thought that led him to results that his sentiments told him were false.
Toland’s Christianity Not Mysterious
The inevitable happened. A more adventurous and less reverential mind drove the thought of Locke to the point where the consequences became plain. A year after Locke’s treatise, that is in 1696, appeared John Toland’s Christianity Not Mysterious. Toland professed to be Locke’s disciple, and Locke was not amused.
Again, the details of Toland’s work are not our concern. We have to indicate only the principal points where the author went beyond Locke. As a matter of fact, the title of the book summarizes the issue. While Locke was satisfied to find reason in Christianity and let the unreasonable part pass into the shadow of a reverential underemphasis, Toland insisted that there were no mysteries in Christianity—a position that could be maintained only under the assumption that the mysteries were non-Christian.
On this issue, however, Toland hedged. He did not state it in so many words, and the second volume of his work, in which he promised further elucidation, was never published. His restraint was probably caused by justified fears of the consequences of publication. Nevertheless, he pressed the argument far enough to make the conclusions clear beyond doubt.
Toland’s decisive step is the assumption that the methods employed in the sciences of the external world have an absolute validity for the cognition of all realms of being, as well as the corollary that nothing can be knowledge that has not been found by these methods.
On principle, Toland is already an adherent of the scientistic creed. A fact is what can be observed by the senses or what is attested by a trustworthy observer. Knowledge results from the comparison of ideas. In order to be comparable, ideas must be clear. A process of demonstration must be free of contradictions. As long as a proposition is not sufficiently supported by observation and noncontradictory reasoning, our judgment has to remain in suspense. The climax is the introduction of the Newtonian hypotheses non fingo: “I banish all hypotheses from my philosophy.”42
Once this type of epistemology is adopted as a standard, the mystery in the true sense, that is, the paradox in religious experience, must dissolve. Toland defines mystery as a proposition that is known to us through revelation alone. That is to say, as long as it is not revealed to us we do not know it. Once it is revealed it must be rationally intelligible just as any other proposition that we have found without revelation. A revealed truth must show the characteristics of divine wisdom and sound reason. Propositions about something that is inconceivable are not a religious truth but nonsense.
Toland concentrated this position in the algebraic sentence: “Could that person justly value himself upon his knowledge who, having infallible assurance that something called a Blictri had a being in nature, in the meantime knew not what this Blictri was?” This is as far as Toland dares to go. He leaves it to the discretion of the reader to make his substitutions for “Blictri.”
Beyond this point the position of Toland cannot be discerned clearly: did he conceal his thought or did he believe, like Locke, that his thesis was compatible with orthodox Christianity? Was he a sincerely troubled soul, or an ambitious one who wanted to ride to fame on Locke’s coattails? We do not know.
One thing is certain: he took a decisive step, one that was immanent in the logic of Locke’s position, namely the step of erecting a consciousness that is turned in cognitive acts toward the external world into the model of the self. Whatever opportunistic or truly reverential lip service may be paid to the dogma, the Cognitio fidei is annihilated and the symbols that express this realm of experience are discarded as unreasonable.
From Unitarianism to Atheism
With this step, we may say, freethinking proper begins. The literature of this class is not worth any detailed attention in our context. Let us only indicate the main lines of thought. With regard to the Christian dogma freethought evolves from a reverential Trinitarianism through Unitarianism and Deism to Atheism.
With regard to ethics it evolves from a reverential acceptance of traditional standards through the psychology of pleasure and pain into the variants of hedonism and utilitarianism.
With regard to psychology it evolves from the reverential acceptance of the stream of consciousness as the residue of the Christian soul to a straight materialism that explains psychic phenomena as epiphenomena of matter.
With regard to the external world it develops from the reverential acceptance of creation, through the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness,” into the conception of the world as a mechanism of matter that runs its course according to Newton’s laws.
Let us conclude this account with the judgment that Swift rendered in his Argument against Abolishing Christianity in England: “Who would ever have suspected Asgil for a wit, or Toland for a philosopher, if the inexhaustible stock of Christianity had not been at hand, to provide them with materials? What other subject, through all art or nature, could have produced Tindal for a profound author, or furnished him with readers? It is the wise choice of the subject, that alone adorns and distinguishes the writer. For, had a hundred such pens as these been employed on the side of religion, they would have immediately sunk into silence and oblivion.”
1. The figures in the text are taken from A. M. Carr-Saunders, World Population (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1936), fig. 3, p. 21; see also the diagram on p. 20.
2. For the comparative movement of birthrates and death rates in this period see ibid., chap. 5, “Natural Increases,” and fig. 13, p. 61.
3. Ibid., 76.
4. The figures in the text are taken from W. E. H. Lecky, A History of England in the Eighteenth Century, new ed. (New York: Appleton, 1903), 2:101-3.
5. Quoted in ibid., 2:103.
6. For the draining of the Church of England of its vital elements and the consequences see J. Wesley Bready, England: Before and after Wesley (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1938), in particular chap. 1, “Triple Tragedies.” For the problem of the nonjurors see H. Broxap, “Jacobites and Non-furors,” in F. J. C. Hearnshaw, ed., The Social and Political Ideas of Some English Thinkers of the Augustan Age a.d. 1650-1750 (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1923), 97-111, and the bibliography at the end of this article. For the Bangorian Controversy see in the same volume Norman Sykes, “Benjamin Hoadly, Bishop of Bangor,” 112-56.
7. Three Sermons Preached and Published on Occasion of the Late Rebellion, in 1745; printed as an appendix to the second volume of Warburton’s The Principles of Natural and Revealed Religion Occasionally Opened and Explained in a Course of Sermons Preached before the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn (London: Knapton,1753-1754).
8. Warburton, “Sermon I” (November 1745), in ibid., 3-14.
9. “Sermon I,” in ibid., 16.
10. “Sermon I,” in ibid., 17.
11. “Sermon III,” in ibid., 73.
12. “Sermon I,”in ibid., 18.
13. “Sermon II,”in ibid., 32 f.
14. “Sermon II,”in ibid., 38.
15. “Sermon II,”in ibid., 32.
16. “Sermon II,”in ibid., 42-43.
17. “SermonIII,” in ibid., 65 ff. and 91 ff.
18. “Sermon III,”in ibid., 83.
19. “SermonIII,” in ibid., 96 ff.
20. W. E.Gladstone, The Vatican Decrees in Their Bearing on Civil Allegiance, in Alexander Campbell, ed., The Battle of the Giants (Cincinnati: Vent, 1875), 7. The same volume also contains the Cincinnati debate on Catholicism between Alexander Campbell and John B. Purcell in 1837. To every student of Americana this debate is warmly recommended.
21.The problem of the English attitude was brought home to me in a conversation in 1934 with the master of a college in Oxford, one of the finest contemporary English minds. The conversation turned on National Socialism and the plight of the churches in Germany. My interlocutor took a detached view of the question and opined that the German churches were in a position similar to that of the English and would have to submit to the order of the state like the English. To the consideration that submission to the English civil order was perhaps less of a problem for a Christian church than submission to a National Socialist order, he seemed impermeable. For him, the problem of spiritual substance seemed completely superseded by the dogmatism of the English institutional arrangements.
22. “Dr. Newman’s Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, in Reply to Gladstone,” in Campbell, ed., Battle of the Giants, 74.
23. Ibid., 95.
24. Gladstone, “The Vatican Decrees,” in ibid., 6.
25. See vol. V, Religion and the Rise of Modernity, 168, 179.
26. For the further development of this problem the reader should refer to the chapter on “Phenomenalism” in vol. VII, The New Order and Last Orientation. For an introduction and use of the term “fallacy of misplaced concreteness” see Alfred N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New,York: Macmillan, 1925), 72 ff. The most penetrating analysis of the problem, in particular for the Galilean phase, is to be found in Edmund Husserl, Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phänomenologie, first published in the international yearbook Philosophia, ed. Arthur Liebert, vol. 1 (Belgrade, 1936). English edition: The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, trans. David Carr (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970).
27. John Locke, As Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Peter H. Nidditch (Oxford: Clarendon, 1975), bk. II, chap. 7, “Of Simple Ideas of Both Sensation and Reflection,” 128 ff.
28. From the introduction to the Discourse, quoted in Frederick J. Powicke, The Cambridge Platonists (London: Dent, 1926), 134.
29. Culverwel, Discourse, 206, quoted in ibid., 136.
30. Culverwel, Discourse, 223, in ibid., 138.
31. Culverwel, Discourse, 270, in ibid., 140.
32. Whichcote, Sermons, 3:86, in ibid., 79 f.
33. Sermons, 3:117, in ibid., 78.
34. Sermons, 1:245, in ibid.
35. Sermons, 3:102, in ibid., 83.
36. Sermons, 3:271-72, 332, in ibid., 80 f.
37. Locke, An Essay, bk. IV, chap. 18, sec. 5, 10, “Of Faith and Reason, and Their distinct Provinces,” 691-96; bk. IV, chap. 19, sec. 4, “Of Enthusiasm,” 698.
38. Stephen, History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, 1:80.
39. See The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 22, History of Political Ideas, vol. IV, Renaissance and Reformation, ed. David L. Morse and William M. Thompson (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998), Part Four, chap. 3.
40. Voegelin’s reference is to a section of chapter 4 of the original plan of History of Political Ideas. It was first published as “The Philosophy of Existence: Plato’s Gorgias,” Review of Politics 11 (1949): 477-98, and reproduced with small changes as chapter 2, “The Gorgias,” in Order and History, vol. III, Plato and Aristotle (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1957), 24-45.
41. Locke, An Essay, bk. IV, chap. 17, sec. 23, “Of Reason,” 687.
42. For the content of Toland’s work I am following the account in Stephen, History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, 1:85-100.
This excerpt is from History of Political Ideas (Volume 6): Revolution and the New Science (Collected Works of Eric Voegelin 24) (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1999)