F. J. GOULD AND THE LEICESTER SECULAR SOCIETY: A POSITIVIST COMMONWEALTH IN EDWARDIAN POLITICS
Author: Nash, David S.
Source: Midland History, Volume 16, 1991 , pp. 126-140(15)
Publisher: Maney Publishing
Abstract:The mid-nineteenth century is still seen by many historians as a period during which radicalism in Britain was comparatively dormant. This period is generally contrasted with the disturbances of the Chartist years and the increasingly militant stance of labour at the end of the century. Though the eighteen-fifties and sixties are generally portrayed as an era of dissolution for both the Chartist and Owenite movements, there were also attempts to regroup both personnel and ideas within new ideologies and movements. One of the most important of these was Secularism which evolved from the ideas of the ex-Owenite and cooperator George Jacob Holyoake in 1851. Holyoake had grown dissatisfied with the confrontational tactics of the Owenite and Infidel preachers of the 1840s who sought to ridicule Christianity from the public lecture platform. He argued that this approach had been counter-productive leading to needless prosecutions and that surely there was more concrete and important work to be done by organising Secularists for their own protection and welfare. As a result of this reaction Secularism was not intended actively to deny the existence of God nor to blaspheme or lampoon Christianity. Rather it declared that Christianity's doctrines and works were irrelevant and often unhelpful to the needs of the social and self-improver. From an attitude of active confrontation the creation of a new ideology of agnosticism had allowed Secularists to lay the responsibility for conflict on the Christian religion. However it is doubtful whether this new emphasis had any real bearing upon the beliefs of individual Secularists and Secularism continued to nurture, particularly in the provinces a range of beliefs that encompassed atheism, pantheism and the Positivism of August Comte. Though the veteran socialist, Ernest Belfort Bax, a later visitor to the Leicester Secular platform, stridently denounced philosophical agnosticism in London as merely a convenience, the fact remained that the relative intellectual security of the position allowed artisan and working class Secularists in the provinces an enduring peace during which they could organise a culture and social life for themselves and their families.
Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 1991-01-01