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This review is taken from PN Review 52, Volume 13 Number 2, November - December 1986.

CONSCIENCE AND OPINION I. D. MacKillop, The British Ethical Societies (Cambridge University Press) £25.00

It cannot be said that a study - said to be 'the first' - of British ethical societies in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, promises any great excitement to many at this time of day, but there is no doubt of at least the symptomatic importance of this subject. Dr MacKillop has 'concentrated on three major groups in the metropolis . . . for the sake of clarity and to make a modest contribution to the history of London.' With these groups he deals with meticulous care, and so throws light on 'several regions . . . adjacent to the movement' but 'uncharted in this book', of which 'the largest is the history of organized British humanism.' Because of its relative importance as a voice in the public discussion of issues said to be matters of conscience, what is now called 'humanism' is probably the most important upshot of the ethical movement. In so far as MacKillop succeeds in his aim of defining 'the "unformulated content" of the ethical movement, its "active social conscience, always in contact with 'progressive' social action"', his work may throw light on current political habits, for in politics 'unformulated content' is usually more powerful than common sense.

The narking highmindedness which appeared from time to time in the earlier ethical movement is not unknown to its successors, and indeed has flooded into what should be the strongholds of Christianity, where it does not belong. This may be accounted a triumph of ...


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