Walter James, 4th Baron Northbourne

British rower, agriculturalist and translator (1896–1982)

Walter Ernest Christopher James, 4th Baron Northbourne (18 January 189617 June 1982) was an English agriculturalist, author and rower who competed in the 1920 Summer Olympics.



Intellectual Freedom (1971)

"Intellectual Freedom", in Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 5, No.1. (Winter 1971)
  • The idea has grown up that the scientific approach can alone properly be said to be intellectual, whereas the approach of religion cannot, and that therefore the tendency of religion is to impede intellectuality. This is not to be wondered at in people for whom the word "intellectuality" implies no more than conformity to the scientific approach; but if the goal of intellectuality is not a better understanding of the origin, nature and end of man and of the universe, what is it? It is just such an understanding that religion claims to offer, and in so far as that claim is justified, religion, very far from impeding intellectuality, is an essential part of it.
  • Science offers no alternative framework. The best it can offer is wealth in a wide sense of the term, that is to say, the satisfaction of a wide variety of desires. It cannot conceive of any means of achieving that escape from desires we call "contentment" otherwise than through the satisfaction of those desires; it has not yet learnt that there is no limit to the multiplication of desires, nor that, since different people's desires are often mutually incompatible, an indefinite multiplication of desires increases conflict as well as discontent.
  • People, even poor people, were in general more contented before the 1914-18 war than they are now, although not nearly so well provided with comforts and luxuries. Incidentally they were also more often people of strong individuality, "characters" or "personalities" as we might say; not of course always either virtuous or agreeable, but qualitatively distinctive, not mere drops in an ocean of mediocrity. And they were more content with their lot than we are. What then is the true criterion of contentment? Can it be anything but the acceptance of one's lot, whatever it may be? Or in other words, knowing one's place and fulfilling faithfully whatever function may be associated with it, with a pride in the quality of the product as the principal incentive rather than any tangible reward; knowing, perhaps, that not to want is better than to have; and above all being intelligent enough not to place one's best hopes in nothing but the satisfactions which a short sojourn in this world can bring. All these things are criteria of contentment, and at the same time they are universal ethical constituents of every religion and tradition.
  • If the confusion, fear and discontent of our times seem to be reaching towards an extreme, despite a technological development bringing a wealth and a luxury unparalleled in history, why is an exactly coincident decay of religion scarcely ever suggested as a causal factor?
  • Anyone who clings to religion is clinging, not to an arbitrary framework of man's devising, but to the only framework that can serve as a starting-point for the realization of an inward freedom that is independent of terrestrial contingencies.