Page:History of Freedom.djvu/303

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259
GOLDWIN SMITH'S IRISH HISTORY

now impossible may have been reasonable and legitimate in the days when they were actually exercised.

The zeal with which Mr. Goldwin Smith condemns the Irish establishment and the policy of the ascendency is all the more meritorious because he has no conception of the amount of iniquity involved in them.

The State Church of Ireland, however anomalous and even scandalous its position may be as the Church of a dominant minority upheld by force in the midst of a hostile people, does not, in truth, rest on a principle different from that of other State Churches. To justify the existence of any State Church, it must be assumed as an axiom that the State is the judge of religious truth; and that it is bound to impose upon its subjects, or at least to require them as a community to maintain, the religion which it judges to be true (p. 91).

No such analogy in reality subsists as is here assumed. There is a great difference between the Irish and the English establishment; but even the latter has no similarity of principle with the Catholic establishments of the continent.

The fundamental distinction is, that in one case the religion of the people is adopted by the State, whilst in the other the State imposes a religion on the people. For the political justification of Catholic establishments, no more is required than the theory that it is just that the religion of a country should be represented in, and protected by, its government. This is evidently and universally true; for the moral basis which human laws require can only be derived from an influence which was originally religious as well as moral. The unity of moral consciousness must be founded on a precedent unity of spiritual belief. According to this theory, the character of the nation determines the forms of the State. Consequently it is a theory consistent with freedom. But Protestant establishments, according to our author's definition, which applies to them, and to them alone, rest on the opposite theory, that the will of the State is independent of the condition of the community; and that it may, or indeed must, impose on the nation a faith which may be that of a minority, and which in some