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London: Allen & Unwin, 1916. Pp. 208. 1

The New Statesman,7 (29 July 1916) 405-06

This book has a greater importance than even the name of Mr. C. C. J. Webb upon its cover would lead us to assign it. It represents the resistance of the orthodoxy, the brains, and the scholarship of Oxford to a new heresy in religion. Mr. Webb is an Aristotelian; his religion is based upon Aquinas, and brought up to Bosanquet and Royce. 2 The writers whom he attacks are students of anthropology and sociology, nourished upon Spencer and Comte; 3 those in Cambridge–Miss Harrison, Mr. Cornford 4 –are touched with the infection of Bergsonism. Mr. Webb stands for the humane tradition; his opponents, for the novelties of science. This is a chapter in the history of classicism and romanticism.

The actual content of the book consists of an examination of two works: Durkheim’s Formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse 5 and Lévy-Bruhl’s earlier Fonctions mentales dans les sociétés inférieures. 6 Mr. Webb objects strongly to Lévy-Bruhl’s theory of a “prelogical mentality.” Undoubtedly M. LévyBruhl has made too much of this distinction between the mind of savagery and the mind of civilisation. But the exaggeration can be more or less discounted from his own writings. The mind of the savage is not a different type; it is merely a mind, to use M. Lévy-Bruhl’s own words, “differently oriented.” The “law of participation”–the union of the worshipper with his god, the identity of the individual and his totem–is not confined to primitive societies; nor, on the other hand, is the primitive mind indifferent to the law of contradiction. 7 And the theory of “collective representations,” which Mr. Webb criticizes at some length, is obviously overworked. 8 Both these doctrines Mr. Webb subjects to an acute examination. In more fundamental criticism Mr. Webb is not so successful. This is due to the fact that he vacillates between criticism of the sociological theories on their own merits and criticism of what he construes to be their tendency for religion and philosophy. He deprecates, and justly, a tendency to reduce religion to feeling, a tendency to underestimate the value of the individual (the mystical heresy), and a tendency to regard religion as essentially a feature of primitive society, destined to disappear in a world of positive science.

All of these tendencies are undoubtedly present, but in a latent form, and if made explicit are not altogether compatible. Mr. Webb’s book is therefore not an introduction to the work of the sociologists mentioned, but an original polemic in an important struggle.

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