Short Studies On Great Subjects, Series Iii Quotes

"Fear Is The Parent Of Cruelty"

Context: Froude was an English historian of considerable stature, who conceived of history as a great drama; his treatment of British history therefore emphasizes the personal element, and incidents are recounted in a stirring and dramatic manner. His most substantial accomplishment is his History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Defeat of the Spanish Armada. He also wrote a lengthy biography of Carlyle and a historical novel. His Short Studies on Great Subjects include a large variety of essays on various topics. In one of these, "Party Politics," he expresses concern over what he fears is the end of party government. Both parties intend to continue in the same spirit and along the same lines of progress; the only differences between them pertain to the rate at which changes shall take place. As conservatism weakens, it ensures its own doom, talented and ambitious men will join the successful faction, and even when the people desire a change, the materials for a conservative government will no longer exist. Froude then considers the nature of progress, or motion, and points out that it can mean movement toward either growth or decay. He compares expedient social change with the device that captains of slave-ships used to escape their pursuers. They sawed through the bulkheads of their own ships; this trick made the craft more flexible and thus faster. They were safe so long as the wind was behind them, but if they met a head wind the vessel would fall apart and sink. Liberal statesman, in Froude's opinion, act in much the same fashion; for this reason their work can be only destructive in the long run. Froude is suspicious of democracies. "Popular governments have hitherto uniformly glided into democracies, and democracies as uniformly perish of their own excess. If they escape a violent end by faction, they die of a disease which they cannot escape. Men are made by nature unequal." He then considers the necessity of organization, cohesion, and leadership:

. . . If work is to be productive, the wise must direct and the fool must obey; and as the business of life cannot stand still till the fool is convinced of his folly by argument, direction must take the form of command. Thus gradually the continent of human occupation is trodden into roads, which experience proves to lead most directly to the desired end. Experience teaches slowly, and at the cost of mistakes . . . at any given time the beaten track is safer for the multitude than any independent course which originality may strike out for itself; and if a person who fancies that he is not one of the multitude chooses to act in another direction, he is regarded with natural distrust. In one instance in a thousand he may be right, and if he has the courage to persevere he will earn an exceptional place for himself in the honour of his kind. But the presumption is against him, and penalties are fitly imposed on eccentricity in proportion to the disturbance which it threatens.
As it has been with practice, so it has been with opinion. Surrounded by invisible forces, their destination and their origin alike concealed behind a veil, yet liable at any moment to accidents by which their lives, their fortunes, their happiness might be affected for good or ill, men began early to speculate on the nature of the powers which seemed to envelope their existence. They gave rein to their fears and to their fancy. . . . Ignorance is the dominion of absurdity. Fear is the parent of cruelty. Ignorance and fear combined have made the religious annals of mankind the most hideous chapters in history. . . .