Dare to Stand Alone: The Story of Charles Bradlaugh, Atheist and Republican, by Bryan Niblett. Oxford: Kramedart Press, 2011. 400 pp. $32 (hardcover).
Dr. Bryan Niblett’s work, Dare to Stand Alone: The Story of Charles Bradlaugh, Atheist and Republican, immerses the reader in the life of a man who courageously fought against the Victorian-era culture of his time—and won. Niblett shows Bradlaugh to be a radical of his time, whose life’s work consisted of passionately arguing in support of his unpopular views, including atheism and individual rights, and against injustices such as the “Oaths Act” of England, which excluded men with certain religious beliefs, including atheism, from taking office as a member of Parliament (MP).
Niblett’s thesis is “that one man, relying on reason, and daring to stand alone, can make a difference in the world” (p. viii). This he shows by surveying the life of Charles Bradlaugh (1833–1891), including personal, family, social, and business matters, but focusing primarily on various legal conflicts that defined Bradlaugh’s career. His life and struggles are presented in a series of short and accessible chapters.
We first see Bradlaugh as a poor young lad with a sense of justice, a desire to gain a wide range of knowledge and skills, and a penchant for conveying his ideas to others by means of logical arguments. He would grow to be one of 19th-century England’s greatest orators, a famous (and detested) atheist, the founder and first president of the National Secular Society, a powerful and distinctive MP, and a prominent opponent of socialism and communism.
Niblett shows that Bradlaugh was a consummate individualist, believing that people should never accept the claims of authorities on faith or expect to be taken care of by others, but rather should seek to understand matters for themselves and solve their own problems. And because he held that men should live by the judgment of their own minds, he held that they should be free to do so.
Following Bradlaugh’s formal education, which ended at age eleven, he proceeded to educate himself and, in the process, mastered the arts of rhetoric, lecturing, writing, and legal reasoning. Niblett explains that Bradlaugh . . .