Friday, November 03, 2006

Macaulay on Southey's Colloquies on Society

Written in 1830, some 176 years ago, Macauley's review is sadly just as applicable today as it was in his own time.

Mr. Southey brings to the task two faculties which were never, we believe, vouchsafed in measure so copious to any human being, the faculty of believing without a reason, and the faculty of hating without a provocation.

Apply that to any of the religious figures who claim authority to lead and to condemn today.

He judges of a theory, of a public measure, of a religious or a political party, of a peace or a war, as men judge of a picture or a statue, by the effect produced on his imagination. A chain of associations is to him what a chain of reasoning is to other men; and what he calls his opinions are in fact merely his tastes.

It's true, reason has been lost to us, as a result of education concentrating on what is merely useful to us for gaining our living as opposed to what is absolutely necessary to us if our lives are not to become worthless.

Now in the mind of Mr. Southey reason has no place at all, as either leader or follower, as either sovereign or slave. He does not seem to know what an argument is. He never uses arguments himself. He never troubles himself to answer the arguments of his opponents. It has never occurred to him, that a man ought to be able to give some better account of the way in which he has arrived at his opinions than merely that it is his will and pleasure to hold them. It has never occurred to him that there is a difference between assertion and demonstration, that a rumour does not always prove a fact, that a single fact, when proved, is hardly foundation enough for a theory, that two contradictory propositions cannot be undeniable truths, that to beg the question is not the way to settle it, or that when an objection is raised, it ought to be met with something more convincing than 'scoundrel' and 'blockhead.'

Again, this could be applied to almost any of the religious leaders of our time, whose first recourse, when some kind of reasonable law tries to prevent them from destroying those of whom they do not approve, is to scream offense and lack of religious freedom.