Christianism ("Christianity"), Etc.

A History of Freethought


from: A History of Freethought in the Nineteenth Century, J.M. Robertson [1856 -1933], Watts, Part I. January, 1929 (To be published in about Twelve Fortnightly Parts).

[reproduced, in: A History of Freethought in the Nineteenth Century, 2 vols., Watts, 1929 (1930, G.P. Putnam's Sons)].

'A Brief Outline

The History of Freethought has a variety of interest and importance little known save to those who have sought to trace it. Compared with any other field of "culture history," such as those of Politics, Science, Art, and Literature, it is as rich in excitement, in the play of personality, in the thrill of struggle, as any, and much more dramatic in its record than the other separate histories, save that of Politics. And in comparison with the history of Politics, that of Freethought has a wider appeal, inasmuch as it covers all forms of aspiration for human betterment, the mental as well as the social.

If educated men can be interested in records of horse-racing, they should be interested in this.' ["second page of cover"]. [first seen 12/15/98].

"Alongside of the Feuerbachs, the Büchners, the Paines and Bradlaughs and Holyoakes, the Strausses and the Renans, we must portray not only the Colensos but the Maurices, the Kingsleys, the Martineaus. And an attempt has been made to do justice to the women. A biographical as well as a critical aim has been present from start to finish; and some of the details, it is hoped, will be found newly interesting.

In the concluding chapters there has been attempted a survey of the religious situation in outlying communities and countries, as in Modern Jewry, Japan, India, Turkey, Greece, and Latin America; also a conspectus and prognosis of the present and future in Christendom. But the strictly historical treatment is necessarily confined to the nineteenth century." ["third page of cover"].

"It is always to be remembered in regard to the struggle between Freethought and Religion that it is mainly a conflict between unsalaried and salaried combatants; between disinterested propaganda, right or wrong, and propaganda always backed up by large vested interests. The latter may be perfectly sincere, but like the functioning of the priest, it is on the side of an endowed institution, collectively rich, broad-bottomed on common prejudice, while the militant freethinker appeals to the more thoughtful few, and is commonly poor, since the possession of wealth is a strong suasive to social conformity, save for eccentrics. Except in respect of the guarded activities of well-placed wise men alive to the need for a gradual correction of common dogmas, the battle is broadly one between unpaid freelances and an army of professional defenders." [3].

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[Germany] 'Revolt against orthodoxy was the mark of the vigorous minds of the day....

The young Hegel [George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel 1770 - 1831], writing to Schelling in 1795, is explosive in his hostility to the official system:—

Orthodoxy cannot be shaken so long as its profession is interwoven with worldly advantage, and bound up with the structure of the State. An interest like this is too strong to be readily surrendered, and has an effect as a whole of which people are hardly aware. While this is so, it has on its side the whole troop—ever the most numerous—of clamorous devotees, void of thought and of higher interests. If a mob like this reads something opposed to their convictions (if one is to do their pedantic jargon the honour of calling it by that name), the truth of which they cannot deny, they will say, "Yes, I suppose it is true," and then go to bed, and next morning drink their coffee as if nothing had happened. But I think it would be interesting to molest, in their ant-like industry, the theologians who are fetching up critical [Kantian] materials to prop their Gothic temple, to whip them out of all their refuges, till they could find no more, and should have to reveal their nakedness before the sun. I shall do all I can......Our watchword shall be Reason and Freedom, and our rallying-point the invisible Church.2 ["2Briefe, ed. Karl Hegel, p. 11, cited by B. Bosanquet, Essays and Addresses, 1889, pref."]

Hegel was destined to attempt, in his turn, to frame a philosophy "bound up with the structure of the State," and his invective well specifies the forces constantly massed on the side of inertia....' [44].

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