On almost every religious and secular political issue Thomas Arnold appears so a daring liberal that on many points he could easily be confused with far-left radicals like John Stuart Mill, whose beliefs he in fact associated with "the Antichrist of Utilitarian belief" (II, 102). On two points, however, he surprises us — an Australia populated by former convicts and his opposition to granting Jews civil rights. To me, the first (as I have argued) seems inexplicable; the second, however, can be accounted for on several grounds. First, Evangelicals within and without the Church of England fought for granting civil rights to Jews, and Arnold rarely agreed with evangelicals, in part because he often found them too divisive. Second, however odd this might appear to twenty-first century readers, Arnold saw the world in terms of as a simple binary opposition, Christians and non-Christians. As he explained to W. W. Hull on 27 April 1836,
I want to petition against the Jew Bill, but I believe I must petition alone; for you would not sign my preamble, nor would many others who will petition doubtless against the measure. I want to take my stand on my favourite principle, that the world is made up of Christians and non-Christians ; with all the former we should be one, with none of the latter. I would thank the Parliament for having done away with distinctions between Christian and Christian; I would pray that distinctions be kept up between Christians and non-Christians. Then I think that the Jews have no claim whatever of political right. If I thought of Roman Catholicism as you do, I would petition for the Repeal of the Union to-morrow, because I think Ireland ought to have its own Church established in it; and, if I thought that Church antichristian, I should object to living in political union with a people belonging to it. But the Jews are strangers in England, and have no more claim to legislate for it, than a lodger has to share with the landlord in the management of his house. If we had brought them here by violence, and then kept them in an inferior condition, they would have just cause to complain ; though even then, I think, we might lawfully deal with them on the Liberia system, and remove them to a land where they might live by themselves independent; for England is the land of Englishmen, not of Jews. And in this my German friends agree with me as fully as they do in my dislike to the Protestant Establishment in Ireland, which is the land of Irishmen; and from which we ought to go. [II, 32-33]
Arnold here perhaps astonishes us because unlike almost any other Englishman of Victoria's reign, he was willing in theory both to grant Roman Catholics their rights and to consider a free and independent Ireland. Arnold, who was fond of labelling his Tractarian opponents as Judaizers, understandably follows his usual liberal, ecumenical attutudes toward Christians. He does, however, write pretty ignorantly about the history of Jews in England, a history which goes back almost a thousand years and which began when royalty invited them to settle there. After hundreds and hundreds of years, Jews remain, for Arnold, "voluntary strangers" (II, 35). Like many members of the British nobility and even members of the royal family up to World War II, Arnold, otherwise an exemplary liberal, here proved himself anti-semitic.
Stanley, Arthur Penrhyn. The life and correspondence of Thomas Arnold, D.D., late head-master of Rugby school, and regius professor of modern history in the University of Oxford. 4th ed. 2 vols. London: B. Fellowes, 1845.
Last modified 14 August 2006