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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 42

6.—"Our Position."

6.—"Our Position."

The following then seems to me to be a just and fair summary:—
(a)They have no common political sympathies.
(b)They have no common religion, and may be of any religion if ithas not an old creed.
(c)Each man refuses to recognise any authority as competent to dictate to him.
(d)Each person is an independent entity.page 11
(e.)It is every person's right to form his own independent judgment, and follow the bent of his own will.
(f.)It is his "highest duty" to carry out the dictates of his own will fearlessly, and careless of the interests of others,
(g.)He is entitled to defend his position against those who differ from him.
(h.)While he grants the same liberties to others.
What, then, does all this amount to? Does it contain the germ of charity between men? Is there anything in these principles to ennoble the mind of man? Anything to make him less selfish, and more affectionate? Is it possible here to discover any incitement to virtuous patriotism? Any sentiment which will strike at the root of the many sources of vices which degenerate and corrupt our race? Granting to the phrases all the beauty that the words in which they are adorned command, I am compelled to confess my utter inability to discover more than is to be found in the lawlessness of savage life. Such sentiments can have no possible effect, except to throw organised and civilised society into a most absolute state of confusion and anarchy. Where every man's hand is turned against that of his neighbour, while there is no recognised constitutional authority to dare to interfere. Commend to me the rule of the despot, rather than force me into this outcome of personal freedom. If ever this vain utopia of the Freethought Association should become a fact, the couplet of Pope will have a practical realisation—

"Then rose the seed of chaos and of night,
To blot out order, and extinguish light.,

And the "philosophic historian" of those days will repeat again the pregnant words of the same immortal bard—

"Lo! thy dread empire. Chaos, is restored,
Light dies before thy uncreating word;
Thy hand, great Anarch, lets the curtain fall,
And universal darkness buries all."

Man is gregarious. No man is an independent entity. We cannot succeed in loneliness. We are so constituted that companionship is absolutely essential to our mental, moral, and physical development. Every man is more or less moulded by his company. He is an uncommonly constituted man whose happiest hours are not those spent with congenial associates. It is only when harmony reigns among companions that true enjoyment is possible; and it is only when individuality is blended in community that harmony is possible. 'Tis only then that men will

"Live as brothers should with brother."

'Tis only that will

"Keep them in good humour with each other."

If society is to go smoothly, and avoid jars and ruptures, it is not self-isolation, arrogance, and suspicion which will secure it. Nothing so oils the wheels of social life as charity and reciprocity, a blending of interests, and a genial consideration for each other's well-being.

page 12

"Affliction's sons are brothers in distress;
A brother to relieve, how exquisite the bliss."

But the contrast is well and pithily put by the same poet of nature—

"Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn."

Those rules or principles which are contrary to the nature of man, are contrary to wisdom. Those laws which would seek to unhinge the natural order of human life, are unnatural; and therefore will prove futile in the production of good fruit; while the very high probability—almost certainty—is that they will result in much mischief, not only in delaying the promulgation and establishment of good laws and the reign of virtue, but in inuring the minds of the community to their wrongs, and the continuation of vice and oppression.

Such a position as that assumed by the Freethought Association can only be the result of rash inconsideration, and the careless adoption of the principles of some bold misanthrope, who "Ruminates like a hostess that hath no arithmetic but her brain to put down the reckoning." But even the very advocates of this society will decare that

"They only babble who practice not reflection."

Yet, where is the evidence of reflection in the conflicting and contradictory principles they have announced as their rules of thought and action? It would be difficult in the last degree to compile and publish an exposition of doctrines of more diametrically opposed sentiments, and yet in such a shape that it would be accepted by a number of people as a harmonious whole. Nevertheless, it is a fact that some men of shrude perception seem to accept these propositions as if they were the very grandest scheme ever formulated by the mind of man, or even for the mind of man to contemplate. How it is that men of ordinary intelligence can bring themselves to such a state of mind, is a matter of singular interest yet bidding defiance to my reason. The very effort to discover how any man can see a harmony and beauty existing between the two following propositions is perplexing:—"Every man has the privilege to define his own rights of citizenship, and to defend his position thus decided upon." "Every man is bound to grant every other man similar liberties to those which he claims for himself." The more I look at them and examine their true logical effect, the more fiercely do I see them gore each other as with

"The horns of an angry bull."

There may be a harmony, however, between the following:—"We recognise no authority, &c.," and "We cannot be expected to work as one man at elections;" but if there is harmony, is there not also the acme of absurdity! for while these men will acknowledge "no authority," they take part in the mummery of elections, which place their fellow men in offices with imaginary but no real authority. They will take part in elections, but hold the power of the elected in contempt. They will choose citizens to frame and enforce laws, and then mock them in their office. "There is no authority competent to dictate to us;" yet they mimic to set up constituted authority, simply that their scorn for this page 13 relic of antiquity may be displayed in slapping it in the face and pulling the pedestal from beneath it, that it may fall and be smashed to fragments at their feet It is merely a pastime of the "Aunt Sally" description in appearance, but in reality it is a gross outrage on human intelligence and morality. Do our freethinking friends entertain a serious opinion that, if all authority and constraint or restraint were abolished, and each person allowed to shape and carry out his own line of action, that the need of laws of restraint would also disappear? If so, they have a larger degree of faith in human nature than is either very common or wise. I should like to learn from them by what process of reasoning they arrive at such a conviction. I might possibly work myself up to such a state of mind, but I should first have to obliterate my knowledge of history, and banish from me what I have been taught by experience of man's predilections. My experience most emphatically corroborates the ancient saying, "Law is a terror to evildoers, and a praise to those who do well." I am also convinced that vice will not be supplanted by license, or charmed out of existence by absolute freedom from restraint. Crime is not kept alive by punishment, or fear of detection; the greater the certainty of discovery is, the greater is the weakness and shamefacedness of crime, and the greater is society's immunity from its annoyance. Therefore, authority is good, and its maintenance wise; but much depends upon the nature of that authority. That of the autocrat is harsh, and to enlightened minds it is repugnant and mischievous. Men want to look upon the power to rule and keep order, not as the power of a chief, but as the united power of the people centred in a chosen representative or officer. Then they have a respect for it, and act up to it, not from dread, but from a sense of honour. It is utterly impossible for men to live in communities without recognising some controlling authority. The rules of the Freethought Association, which have Mr Stout's approbation, reject all authority; therefore, it rejects the bond or organisation, and consequently tends to the introduction of governmental destruction and popular confusion.