Letter 8. English Jealousy of Church and Army

{353} IN spite of the administrative weakness, characteristic of the English Constitution, from its defects in organization, from the interference of traditional principles and extraneous influences in its working, and from the corruption and jobbing incident to it, still so vast are its benefits in the security which it offers to person and property, in the freedom of speech, locomotion, and action, in the religious toleration, and in the general tranquillity and comfort, which go with it; and again, so numerous and various are the material and mechanical advantages which the energy of the people has associated with it, that, I suppose, England is, in a political and national point of view, the best country to live in in the world. It has not the climate, it has not the faith, it has not the grace and sweetness, the festive cheerfulness, the social radiance, of some foreign cities and people; but nowhere else surely can you have so much your own way, nowhere can you find ready to your hand so many of your wants and wishes. Take things as a whole, and the Executive and Nation work well, viewed in their results. What is it to the average Englishman that a jury sometimes gives an unjust verdict, that seats in Parliament are virtually bought, that the prizes of the Establishment are attained by interest, not merit, that political parties and great families monopolize the government, and share among themselves its places and {354} appointments, or that the public press is every now and then both cowardly and tyrannical,—what is all this compared with the upshot of the whole national and political system?

Look at things as a philosopher, and you will learn resignation, or rather thankful content, by perceiving that they all so hang together, that on the whole you cannot make them much better, nor can gain much more without losing much. No idea or principle of political society includes in its operation all conceivable good, or excludes all evil; that is the best form of society which has most of the good, and least of the bad. In the English ideal, the Nation is the centre,—"l'Etat c'est moi:" and everything else is dependent and subservient. We are carried back in our thoughts to the fable of Menenius Agrippa, though with a changed adaptation. The Nation is the sacred seat of vital heat and nourishment, the original element, and the first principle, and the number one of the State framework, and in its various members we find, not what is most effective or exquisite of its kind, but accessories compatible with the supremacy of that digestive and nutritive apparatus. The whole body politic is in unity "cujus participatio ejus in id ipsum." The kingly office does not give scope for the best of conceivable kings, but for the chief of a self-governing people; the ministers of state, the members of Parliament, the judges, are not intended to be perfect in their own kind respectively, but national statesmen, councillors and lawyers; the bishops and commanders of the forces, the squires and the justices of the peace, belong to a Constitutional clergy, soldiery, and magistracy. I will not say that nothing admits of improvement, or what is called "reform," in such a society; I will not attempt to determine the limits of improvement; still {355} a limit there is, and things must remain in substance what they are, or "Old England" will cease to be. Let us be merciful to ourselves; as in our own persons, one by one, we consult for our particular constitution of mind and body, and avoid efforts and aims, modes of exercise and diet, which are unsuitable to it, so in like manner those who appreciate the British Constitution aright will show their satisfaction at what it does well, resignation as to what it cannot do, and prudence in steering clear of those problems which are difficult or dangerous in respect to it. Such men will not make it dance on its lame leg. They will not go to war, if they can help it, for the conduct of war is not among its chef-d'œuvres, as I now, for positively the last time, will explain.

Material force is the ultima ratio of political society everywhere. Arms alone can keep the peace; and, as all other professions are reducible to system and rule, there is of course a science and an art of war. This art is learned like other arts by study and practice; it supposes the existence of expounders and instructors, an experimental process, a circulation of ideas, a traditionary teaching, and an aggregation of members,—in a word, a school. Continuity, establishment, organization, are necessary to the idea of a school and a craft. In other words, if war be an art, and not a matter of haphazard and pell-mell fighting, as under the walls of Troy, it requires what is appropriately called a standing army, that is, an army which has a status. Unless we are in a happy valley, or on a sea-protected island, we must have a standing army, or we are open to hostile attack.

But, when you have got your standing army, how are you to keep it from taking the wrong side, and turning upon you, like elephants in Eastern fights, instead of {356} repelling your foe? Thus it was that the Pretorians, the Gothic mercenaries, the medieval Turks, and later Janizzaries, became the masters and upsetters of the Emperors, Caliphs, and Sultans who employed them. This formidable difficulty has been fatal to the military profession in popular governments, who in alarm have thrown the national defence upon the Nation, aided, as it might happen, by foreign mercenaries paid by the job. In such governments, the war department has not been the science of arms, but a political institution. An army has been raised for the occasion from off the estates and homesteads of the land, being soldiers of the soil, as rude as they were patriotic. When a danger threatened, they were summoned from plough or farm-yard, formed into a force, marched against the enemy, with whatever success in combat, and then marched home again. Which of the two would be the greater,—the inconvenience or the insufficiency of such a mode of waging war? Thus we have got round again to the original dilemma of the Horse, the Stag, and the Man; the Horse destined to feel at his flanks the Man's spurs, or the Stag's horns,—a Standing Army, or no profession of arms. In this difficulty, we must strike a balance and a compromise, and then get on as well as we can with a conditional Standing Army and a smattering in military science. Such has been the course adopted by England; and her insular situation, hitherto impregnable, has asked for nothing more.

Every sovereign State will naturally feel a jealousy of the semblance of an imperium in imperio; though not every State is in a condition to give expression to it. England has indulged that jealousy to the full, and has assumed a bearing towards the military profession much the same as she shows towards the ecclesiastical. There is indeed a close analogy between these two powers, both in themselves {357} and in their relation to the State; and, in order to explain the position of the army in England, I cannot do better than refer to the position which in this country has been assigned to the Church. The Church and the Army are respectively the instruments of moral and material force; and are real powers in their own respective fields of operation. They necessarily have common sympathies, and an intense esprit de corps. They are in consequence the strongest supports or the most formidable opponents of the State to which they belong, and require to be subjected, beyond any mistake, to its sovereignty. In England, sensitively suspicious of combination and system, three precautions have been taken in dealing with the soldier and the parson,—(I hope I may be familiar without offence),—precautions borrowed from the necessary treatment of wild animals,—(1) to tie him up, (2) to pare his claws, and (3) to keep him low; then he will be both safe and useful;—the result is a National Church, and a Constitutional Army.

1. In the first place, we tie both parson and soldier up, by forbidding each to form one large organization. We prohibit an organized religion and an organized force. Instead of one corporation in religion, we only allow of a multitude of small ones, as chapters and rectories, while we ignore the Establishment as a whole, deny it any legal status, and recognize the Dissenting bodies. For Universities we substitute Colleges, with rival interests, that the intellect may not be too strong for us, as is the case with some other countries; but we freely multiply local schools, for they have no political significance. And, in like manner, we are willing to perfect the discipline and appointment of regiments, but we instinctively recoil from the idea of an Army. We toast indeed "The Army," but as an abstraction, as we used to drink to {358} "The Church," before the present substitution of "The Clergy of all denominations," which has much more of reality in it. Moreover, while, we have a real reason for sending our troops all over the world, shifting them about, using them for garrison duty, and for the defence of dependencies, we are thereby able also to divide and to hide them from each other. Nor is this all: if any organization requires a directing mind at the head of it, it is an army; but, faithful to our Constitutional instincts, we have committed its command, ex abundanti cautelā, to as many, I believe, as five independent boards, whose concurrence is necessary for a practical result. Nay, as late occurrences have shown, we have thought it a lesser evil, that our troops should be starved in the Crimea for want of the proper officer to land the stores, and that clothing and fuel shall oscillate to and fro between Balaklava and Malta, than that there should be the chance of the smallest opening for the introduction into our political system of a power formidable to nationalism. Thus we tie up both parson and soldier.

2. Next, in all great systems and agencies of any kind, there are certain accessories, absolutely necessary for their efficiency, yet hardly included in their essential idea. Such, to take a very small matter, is the use of the bag in making a pudding. Material edifices are no part of religion; but you cannot have religious services without them; nor can you move field-pieces without horses, nor get together horses without markets and transports. The greater part of these supplemental articles the English Constitution denies to its religious Establishment altogether, and to its Army, when not on active service. Fabrics of worship it encourages; but it gives no countenance to such ecclesiastical belongings as the ritual and ceremonial of religion, synods, religious orders, sisters of {359} charity, missions, and the like, necessary instruments of Christian faith, which zealous Churchmen, in times of spiritual danger, decay, or promise, make vain endeavours to restore. And such in military matters are the commissariat, transport, and medical departments, which are jealously suppressed in time of peace, and hastily and grudgingly restored on the commencement of hostilities. The Constitutional spirit allows to the troops arms and ammunition, as it allows to the clergy Ordination and two sacraments, neither being really dangerous, while the supplements, which I have spoken of, are withheld. Thus it cuts their claws.

3. And lastly, it keeps them low. Though lawyers are educated for the law, and physicians for medicine, it is felt among us to be dangerous to the Constitution to have real education either in the clerical or military profession. Neither theology nor the science of war is compatible with a national regime. Military and naval science is, in the ordinary Englishman's notion, the bayonet and the broadside. Religious knowledge comes by nature; and so far is true, that Anglican divines thump away in exhortation or in controversy, with a manliness, good sense, and good will as thoroughly John Bullish as the stubbornness of the Guards at Inkerman. Not that they are forbidden to cultivate theology in private as a personal accomplishment, but that they must not bring too much of it into the pulpit, for then they become "extreme men," Calvinists or Papists, as it may be. A general good education, a public school, and a knowledge of the classics, make a parson; and he is chosen for a benefice or a dignity, not on any abstract ground of merit, but by the great officers of State, by members of the aristocracy, and by country gentlemen, or their nominees, men who by their position are a sufficient {360} guarantee that the nation will continually flow into the Establishment, and give it its own colour. And so of the army; it is not so many days ago that a gentleman in office assured the House of Commons (if he was correctly reported) that the best officers were those who had a University education; and I doubt not it is far better for the troops to be disciplined and commanded by good scholars than by incapables and dunces. But in each department professional education is eschewed, and it is thought enough for the functionary to be a gentleman. A clergyman is the "resident gentleman" in his parish; and no soldier must rise from the ranks, because he is not "company for gentlemen."

Let no man call this satire, for it is most seriously said; nor have I intentionally coloured any one sentence in the parallel which I have been drawing out; nor do I speak as grumbling at things as they are;—I merely want to look facts in the face. I have been exposing what I consider the weak side of our Constitution, not exactly because I want it altered, but because people should not consider it the strong side. I think it a necessary weakness; I do not see how it can be satisfactorily set right without dangerous innovations. We cannot in this world have all things as we should like to have them. Not that we should not try for the best, but we should be quite sure that we do not, like the dog in the fable, lose what we have, in attempting what we cannot have. Not that I deny that, even with a Constitution adapted for peace, British energy and pluck may not, as it has done before, win a battle, or carry through a war. But after all, reforms are but the first steps in revolution, as medicine is often a diluted poison. Enthusiasts have from time to time thought otherwise. There was Dr. Whately in 1826, who maintained that the Establishment {361} was in degrading servitude, that it had a dog's collar round its neck, that the position of Bishops was intolerable, and that it was imperative to throw off State control, keeping the endowments [Note]. And there is the Times newspaper in 1855 which would re-organize the Army, and put it on a scientific basis, satisfactory indeed to the military critic, startling to the Constitutional politician.

Mr. Macaulay gives us a warning from history. "The Constitution of England," he says, "was only one of a large family. In the fifteenth century, the government of Castile seems to have been as free as that of our own country. That of Arragon was, beyond all question, more so even than France; the States-General alone could impose taxes. Sweden and Denmark had Constitutions of a different description. Let us overleap two or three hundred years, and contemplate Europe at the commencement of the eighteenth century. Every free Constitution, save one, had gone down. That of England had weathered the danger, and was riding in full security. What, then, made us to differ? The progress of civilization introduced a great change. War became a science, and, as a necessary consequence, a trade. The great body of the people grew every day more reluctant to undergo the inconvenience of military service, and thought it better to pay others for undergoing them. That physical force which in the dark ages had belonged to the nobles and the commons, and had, far more than any charter or any assembly, been the safeguard of their privileges, was transferred entire to the king. The great mass of the population, destitute of all military discipline and organization, ceased to exercise any influence by force on political transactions. Thus absolute monarchy {362} was established on the Continent; England escaped, but she escaped very narrowly. If Charles had played the part of Gustavus Adolphus, if he had carried on a popular war for the defence of the Protestant cause in Germany, if he had gratified the national pride by a series of victories, if he had formed an army of 40,000 or 50,000 devoted soldiers, we do not see what chance the nation would have had of escaping from despotism."

These are very different times; but, however steady and self-righting is John Bull, however elastic his step, and vigorous his arm, I do not see how the strongest and healthiest build can overcome difficulties which lie in the very nature of things.

And now, however circuitously, I have answered my question, "Who's to blame for the untoward events in the Crimea?" They are to blame, the ignorant, intemperate public, who clamour for an unwise war, and then, when it turns out otherwise than they expected, instead of acknowledging their fault, proceed to beat their zealous servants in the midst of the fight for not doing impossibilities.

March, 1855.

Top | Contents | Works | Home


[I am informed that Dr. Whately never acknowledged the work here referred to as his own.]
Return to text

Top | Contents | Works | Home

Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright © 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.