UNLIKE Carlyle, Ruskin, and Arnold, Fitzjames Stephen was not of the blood of the prophet; he was capable neither of moving the minds of men nor of giving new significance to old ideas. His talent lay rather in a smashing criticism. He was the severest critic of the advanced democratic thought of the 1860's and 70's. Stephen found in his day a growing enthusiasm for what he called the "Religion of Humanity," a creed of liberty, equality, fraternity -- the belief, as he put it, that the human race has splendid destinies before it, and that the road to them is to be found in the removal of all restraints on human conduct, in substantial equality, and in general love.
Though Positivism, Stephen thought, was the most definite form in which the "Religion of Humanity" had expressed itself, its most accredited representative was John Stuart Mill, not the early but the later John Stuart Mill, the one who wrote Liberty, Subjection of Women, and Utilitarianism. Stephen focused his attention on Mill, dissecting his philosophy as if the process of criticism were something like the operations of an anatomist. He dissected Mill's ideas minutely in order more surely to wither them with logic. Stephen, however, was more than a technical critic. He submitted Mill's ideas to a sledgehammer rhetoric, of which at times even Dr. Johnson might have been proud. Nor were logic and rhetoric his only weapons. He brought to bear against his opponent the moral zeal of an indignant puritan, who was out to save the world from
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Publication information: Book title: Victorian Critics of Democracy:Carlyle, Ruskin, Arnold, Stephen, Maine, Lecky. Contributors: Benjamin Evans Lippincott - Editor. Publisher: H. Milford, Oxford University Press. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 1938. Page number: 134.
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