« PrécédentContinuer »
The exposition is taken in strict connection with the interests, experience, and character of the expositor. This, of course, is what everyone feels to be the common-sense view, and yet there are probably few more frequent sources of error and confusion than just this failure to consider the precise strength and direction of the feeling of the individual teacher, and how far it will be likely to carry him. Apart from this consideration, the testimony is of little value. In the elucidation of truth, evidence and personality cannot be separated. It is only thus that there may be felt the necessity of some standard in which the element of bias is absent, in which a consensus of those familiar with the evidence takes the place of personal opinion. With a keener watchfulness as to the workings of bias, there arises a higher appreciation of the judicial faculty and a corresponding depreciation of simple advocacy; it is seen that in order to establish a truth, it is not necessary to over-state it, that a right judgment is more likely to be obtained from attempts at impartial treatment, than from intentionally one-sided views.
The question as to how far all knowledge is relative is, of course, beyond the range of this paper. It must be here assumed that to those sufficiently in earnest, and having the necessary opportunities, the truth is attainable. Our immediate concern, therefore, is not with truth itself, but with the mental attitude in regard to it. Given a community the members of which are from various causes indifferent in this respect, and all the enthusiasm and skill of which they are capable will serve but to glorify error, and obscure the benefits of more accurate knowledge
But bias is not only individual, but collective; it is in the group that its most characteristic features are observed. The larger the group, the less conscious is it of its peculiar bias. Let us readily admit the inspiration that proceeds from numbers. There is no type of mind, however cold or unsympathetic, which is not largely sustained by the encouragement of kindred minds; as an influence in the lives of teachers and reformers, its power may scarcely be over-estimated. But let us not fall into the error of supposing that there is an absolutely necessary connection between numbers and infallibility. We cannot get at the truth by a mere process of counting heads. The most that can be said is that the beliefs of groups are more likely to have in them an element of truth than the beliefs of the individuals of which the group is composed. But there is still to be taken into account the beliefs outside the group. The result of the bringing together of individuals having similar opinions is to augment feeling, to enhance rather than dispel prejudice, to encourage rather than remove bias. If the individuals of the group are, in the main, right, the feeling of sympathy will cause them to push their principles to an unwarrantable extreme. If in the main they are wrong, the same feeling will cause them to insist upon the least assailable points of their own creed, and enlarge upon the weaknesses of beliefs to which they are opposed. Sympathy is often stronger than truth. The path of error is easy by way of companionship. There is no opinion or belief, however unjustifiable, which is not strengthened by the discovery that it is shared by another mind; and ideas which the individual would be afraid, or even ashamed to express, have quite a different aspect when presented boldly in a new form.
Thus the part played by the more impulsive spirits of a group is quite out of proportion to the value of their counsel. The process is familiar enough. The man who knows the least is the most easily convinced. For him the golden mean has no charms. He has little sympathy with the attitude of those who confess to uncertainty from lack of data, still less with those who candidly admit a change of belief. What he requires are clear, simple, decided views, warmly and pointedly expressed. This man of little knowledge and strong convictions will almost invariably be found in the ranks of the most demonstrative, setting the emotional pace of the group-a pace which so often ends in sharp reaction. He it is who offers the strongest temptation to over-statement, to unfairness, and to all the weaknesses associated with the element of personality. Thus do we realise the important part played by numbers. The bias of the individual is patent to many; that of the group may be seen with equal clearness only by those outside it.
Now the group with which the present investigation is concerned is almost the largest, and certainly the most important of all the groups composing modern civilised society. Its bias is the most unconscious, and therefore the most difficult to appraise, the most difficult to attack. If no man is free from bias, from this form he is least likely of all to be free. Hence on such a subject there can never be any approach to finality, the knowledge of those within and those without the group varies too widely. In the very nature of the case we look in vain for any safe guide, any fixed standard of what, under the circumstances is true or false, right or wrong. Why, then, it may be asked, should we essay a task which presents so many elements of uncertainty, whose results cannot be either definite or conclusive? I think here, as in the case of so many of the deeper problems of life, the end is of less importance than the means. In the most fundamental of all beliefs there is an element of indefiniteness, if not of contradiction, yet it is just these beliefs which have most profoundly influenced human conduct in all ages. Thus the absence of fixed criteria is no valid objection to our enquiry. In order to know a thing, it is not
, necessary to measure it; the mere recognition that it exists, that it has certain broadly marked characteristics, that its influence is felt in certain directions is knowledge often of vital importance.
What is patriotism? The apparently simple love of the fatherland is really a very complex sentiment. There is first the simple affection for the native speech. Whether or not we agree with Freeman and Max Nordau that language may be taken as a rough test of nationality, it is obvious that by no other means is the sense of kinship so strongly brought home, whilst a difference in speech amongst an otherwise united people can only be overcome by a community of interests which, however powerful, is never absolute. It is not that a people deliberately loves its speech as the result of a conscious choice in which their own mode of expression is known to be superior to that of others. To the vast majority of mankind such a process is altogether unknown. The affection must be classed with the special instincts, and it has all the force of a purely natural impulse. Playing a leading part in the acquisition of all that belongs to the thought of a people, both past and present, language is thus the distinctive feature which, in any process of absorption, is the last to disappear. The joys, sorrows, struggles, and triumphs of a people are indissolubly associated with its native speech, which in this way becomes invested with a magic power, giving its possessors a certain reserve of strength as against the rest of the world.
There is next the affection for the purely physical surroundings. In its most primitive form, the feeling does not reach much beyond the immediate district in which a man has been brought up, every detail of which is so interwoven with his experience as to enter into his personality. The sentiment undergoes modification with the increase in the facilities for locomotion, particularly amongst town-dwellers, the affection for the native district giving place to a similar sentiment towards more remote localities, which from various causes become more attractive. This love of the soil, of the native climate, mountains, rivers, fields, lanes, trees, flowers, and so forth, remains a sentiment at once real and lasting, affecting one's judgment regarding the physical features of other lands.
Thirdly, there is the affection inspired by history. Emerging from the mists of tradition, we find amongst every people carefully preserved records of national achievements. As until comparatively recent times, the only way in which a people could distinguish itself was in war, the prominent feature in all these records is prowess in arms. Being in the main the work of native chroniclers, the deeds are set forth with a loving thoroughness which appeals strongly to the national temper. Accordingly, whatever the actual course of a people's history may have been, they always find in it abundant material for exciting their admiration and sympathy. Also largely inspired by history, we have that phase of the patriotic sentiment which is called forth by the institutions, laws, and customs of a country—social, political, and religious. In the evolution of these the best energy of a people is absorbed. In this way is brought home to a race its obligation to past generations, and thus arises that continuity of sentiment, which marks the growth of national thought and character.
Finally there is the affection inspired by great menwarriors, statesmen, poets, philosophers, and artists. Whatever view may be taken of the “great man” theory of history, it must be recognised that in its great men the genius of a race finds its most striking and adequate expression. Amongst the different peoples of the world there is the widest difference of ideals; there is a very wide difference in the ideals of the same people in different ages. But whatever standard is observed we have, in the attribute of greatness, the best that the race has to offer. It follows, therefore, that the admiration always evoked by the display of exceptional gifts, will become reflected in the people amongst whom they appear as a feeling of national gratification or pride. In the mind of each individual there is a vague consciousness that he is entitled to some share of the credit in producing the great ones of his own country. He feels that the possibilities of the race have a new significance for him. In this way does he become bound to the race by a sentiment which appeals to some of the best faculties of his nature. Through great men the love of kindred is intensified; it is also refined and elevated, and may thus claim a justification on grounds other than those pertaining to mere geographical position or purely instinctive feeling.
In all these ways then is the sentiment of patriotism manifested. It is not, of course, suggested that in all countries the part played by these various emotions is of the same relative importance. For instance, the love of physical surroundings—the pays—is very fully developed in France, whilst in England and America—the great traveling nations