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A History of Freedom of Thought by J. B. Bury

From Ostwald's Monistic Sunday Sermons German


[1]

From Greek monos, alone.

[2] Besides the works referred to in the text, may be mentioned: Winwood Reade, Martyrdom of Man, 1871; Mill, Three Essays on Religion; W. R. Cassels, Supernatural Religion; Tyndall, Address to British Association at Belfast; Huxley, Animal Automatism; W. K. Clifford, Body and Mind; all in 1874.

[3] It may be noted that Holyoake towards the end of his life helped to found the Rationalist Press Association, of which Mr. Edward Clodd has been for many years Chairman. This is the chief society in England for propagating rationalism, and its main object is to diffuse in a cheap form the works of freethinkers of mark (cp. Bibliography). I understand that more than two million copies of its cheap reprints have been sold.

[4] The advertisement tax was abolished in 1853, the stamp tax in 1855, the paper duty in 1861, and the optional duty in 1870.

[5] In Austria-Hungary the police have the power to suppress printed matter provisionally. In Russia the Press was declared free in 1905 by an Imperial decree, which, however, has become a dead letter. The newspapers are completely under the control of the police.

[6] I have taken these points, illustrating the Monistic attitude to the Churches, from Ostwald's Monistic Sunday Sermons (German), 1911, 1912.

[7] I

may note here that, as this is not a history of thought, I make no reference to recent philosophical speculations (in America, England, and France) which are sometimes claimed as tending to bolster up theology. But they are all profoundly unorthodox.

[233]

CHAPTER VIII

THE JUSTIFICATION OF LIBERTY OF THOUGHT

MOST men who have been brought up in the free atmosphere of a modern State sympathize with liberty in its long struggle with authority and may find it difficult to see that anything can be said for the tyrannical, and as they think extraordinarily perverse, policy by which communities and governments persistently sought to stifle new ideas and suppress free speculation. The conflict sketched in these pages appears as a war between light and darkness. We exclaim that altar and throne formed a sinister conspiracy against the progress of humanity. We look back with horror at the things which so many champions of reason endured at the hands of blind, if not malignant, bearers of authority.

But a more or less plausible case can be made out for coercion. Let us take the most limited view of the lawful powers of society over its individual members. Let us lay down, with Mill, that "the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually and collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their members is self- protection," and that coercion is only justified

[234] for the prevention of harm to others. This is the minimum claim the State can make, and it will be admitted that it is not only the right but the duty of the State to prevent harm to its members. That is what it is for. Now no abstract or independent principle is discoverable, why liberty of speech should be a privileged form of liberty of action, or why society should lay down its arms of defence and fold its hands, when it is persuaded that harm is threatened to it through the speech of any of its members. The Government has to judge of the danger, and its judgment may be wrong; but if it is convinced that harm is being done, is it not its plain duty to interfere?


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