Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση


[ocr errors]

That the Right Honourable Zero should attempt controlling the horsealas, alas, he, sticking with beak and claws, is too happy if the horse will only gallop any whither, and not throw him. Measure, polity, plan or scheme of public good or evil, is not in the head of Felicissimus ; except, if he could but devise it, some measure that would please his horse for the moment, and encourage him to go with softer paces, godward or devilward as it might be, and save Felicissimus's leather, which is fast wearing. This is what we call a Government in England. Further : What is the means by which office is attained or retained? Bribery. Not of free and independent electors by small money doles ; no-our virtuous legislators would blush at that, or, at all events, would blush to find it fame'; but bribery on a much larger scale, and by far more nefarious and detestable expedients. Consider the present Government, for example. I select it as an example because it is before eyes, not because it is essentially different from former Governments, or worse-at all events, much worse--than some of them. The numerical strength of the Liberal party proper--if I may so speak-is inadequate to keep the Government in office. More votes are wanted, and they have to be paid for. There are two considerable groups in the House of Commons whose suffrages are on sale-one, the Home Rule party, whose price is the dismemberment of the Empire ;^ the other, the Labour party, whose price is the disintegration of society. And does the Government hesitate, in either case, to pay the price demanded ? By no means. It is willing to pay that price, and more also, in order to remain for a time 'dressed in a little brief authority.' The late coal strike was bitterly resented by the Government as an unmannerly interruption of the party game. And Mr. Asquith's avowed object has been not to diagnose and to heal the disease in the body politic of which it is so grave a symptom ; no, but merely to get it out of the way as quickly as possible.

• I found this statement upon Mr. Redmond's public declarations. Here are a few of them. At Kanturk, on the 17th of November 1895, he asserted : • The consummation of all our hopes and aspirations is, in one word, to drive English rule, sooner or later, bag and baggage, from our country.' He said at Cork, on the 24th of October 1901, that the aim of the Irish League was 'the national independence of Ireland.' At an Irish-American Convention, held in New York on the 21st of September 1907, he spoke on behalf of the following resolution : That, in supporting Home Rule for Ireland, we abandon no principle of Irish nationhood as laid down by the fathers in the Irish movement for independence, from Wolfe Tone and Emmet to Charles J. Kickham and Charles Stewart Parnell,' and in the course of his speech he said : 'I do not think I ever heard a more magnificent declaration of Irish national principles. The declaration puts, in the clearest way, the meaning and essence of this movement-it is no new movement : it is the movement for which Emmet died.' I am far from making it a matter of reproach to Mr. Redmond that he holds these views. I think I should hold them too if I were a Celtic Irishman. The Home Rule movement is the natural consequence, the merited punishment of England for centuries of cruel and cowardly oppression in Ireland. We have sown the wind; we are reaping the whirlwind.

З н 2

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

And now I will venture, as a student, all my life, of history and political science, to make my modest contribution to the discussion invited by Mr. Sherwell, although, within the narrow limits of a Review article, I am necessarily restricted to outlines. The only knowledge which is worth having on this great question is causal knowledge. Indeed, to understand any political situation aright, we must understand how things have become what they are. The last century witnessed a great change in this nation. The ten or twelve millions of the population of the country in 1812 have become forty millions. They have ceased to be a pastoral and agricultural people, leading quiet and healthful rural lives—'fortunatus et ille deos qui novit agrestes '—to become dwellers in fog-grimed slums, and profitmaking machines,'hands’ is the significant term commonly employed-in manufactories, on railways, in docks, in mines. The change has not been to their advantage physically. Has it been so morally or intellectually? The schoolmaster has been abroad. But what is the real worth of the so-called 'education imparted by him? The Duke of Wellington is reported to have said that the Church Catechism had moulded the character of the English people—the Church Catechism with its teaching as to the great end of life, the right rule of life, the duty of truth and justice in all one's dealings, of respect for and obedience to the powers that be, as ordained of God. That teaching is now at a discount. I remember Mr. Ruskin observing that what has superseded it is a mere training in impudence. I think he might have added, and in discontent. It appears to me, indeed, that discontent is the special note of the working classes at the present day. And I do not wonder at it. The condition of vast numbers of them-for example, those employed in the sweated trades—is horrible, and a national disgrace. Moreover, the old orthodox political economy, by installing competition, working by supply and demand, a's the all-sufficient principle in industrial relations, by proclaiming the supremacy of bodily appetites over moral motives, has arrayed capital and labour in two hostile camps. As I wrote in this Review last October, The old charities and courtesies which once bound together the various members of the body politic have disappeared, and have been replaced by a state of universal war-bellum omnium contra omnes.' And the conception of the social organism, of the country's solidarity, has disappeared too. A century ago we were a nation still, the rulers and the ruled.' Then the notion of such a movement as the recent coal strike would have been unthinkable. Now the workers in each of the various branches of industry are bound together in a vast organisation, insisting

• In an article entitled 'The Philosophy of Strikes.'

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


at all costs on their rights and interests, real or supposed, and utterly indifferent to the rights and interests of the community. at large, or, for the matter of that, of the workers in other industries. Do not let us suppose that this present coal strikefor it is still present with us--is an isolated phenomenon. No: it is the forerunner of fresh and worse industrial convulsions : for it is the outcome of an idea which has by no means had its full development. Let us see what that idea is.

To do that we must go back for rather more than a century. The idea of which we are in search was introduced into the world by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He is the author of the doctrine of pseudo-democracy, of the autonomy of the individual. He postulates unrestricted liberty and boundless sovereignty for the abstract man who is the unit of his speculations, and whom he declares to be naturally good and reasonable. The doctrine of the absolute equivalence of men is of the essence of his teaching : and so is the dogma of the sufficiency of the individual in the order of thought and the order of action. He was gladly heard by all classes in France as a new evangelist, and the French Revolution was an attempt to realise his gospel at any cost of blood or crime. The conception of civil society adopted by the revolutionary legislators and underlying 'The Declaration of the Rights of the Man and the Citizen' is a multitude of sovereign human units who—that is to say, the majority of whom-exercise their power through their mandatories. And in the will, or whim, of this numerical majority we are bidden to find the unique source of all rights. The essence of the revolutionary dogma is that only on equality, absolute and universal, can the public order be properly founded. Arrange that everybody shall count for one, and nobody for more than one, and by this distribution of political power, whatever be the moral, intellectual, or social condition of its depositories, you realise the perfect, the only legitimate form of the State.

Upon the causes which led to the enthusiastic reception of this doctrine in France it is impossible for me to dwell here. They are admirably expounded, as all the world knows, in the initial chapters of Taine's great work. It has been well said that an idea must become French before it can become European. And one effect of the French Revolution and its wars was to spread the doctrine of Rousseauan individualism throughout Europe. Napoleon's campaigns, bringing down in a common ruin the old-world polities, shook this idea into the air. He claimed that he embodied the Revolution : and so, in a sense, he did. The essence of Bonapartism is plebiscitary despotism, which rests upon the conception of the people as an aggregate of isolated and unrelated atoms. Socialism, for the origin of which, let us remember, we go back to Rousseau, is another issue of the same conception. It rests upon that doctrine of the unlimited power of the majority of sovereign human units so widely received and believed in France, and that country, in the judgment of a very clear-headed publicist, the late M. Scherer, is bound to make trial of Socialism. Nor, if we survey its history during the last two decades, would it probably be much worse off under a Socialistic régime. A French writer, whom I must reckon the profoundest student of men and society that France has seen of late years,

observes : Since June 1889 the country has beheld ignoble possessors of ephemeral authority proscribe, in the name of Liberty, her dearest convictions : abominable politicians play upon universal suffrage as an instrument wherewith to seize power and to instal their lying mediocrity in the highest place. And the country has endured this universal suffrage, the 'most monstrous and the most iniquitous of tyrannies, for the force of numbers is the most brutal of forces.?

And the ethos of the revolutionary movement throughout Europe is just what it is in France. Look at Portugal, for example, the scene of its latest triumph : a look at the abominations there will be sufficient : ‘guarda e passa.'

Very few publicists have realised how widespread is the influence of the speculations of Rousseau. But certain it is that in every country those who denominate themselves the party of progress, although in most cases they have probably never read a line of him, spout his sophisms and vent his verbiage, which have become current coin.

In England, the advance of the Rousseauan idea has been slower than on the Continent of Europe. Perhaps it was not until about the year 1820 that it made itself much felt in this country. It found here a distribution of political power resting upon quite another conception than the numerical-resting, not upon counting heads, but upon the representation of classes, corporations, localities, interests, and, we may say, all the elements of national life. That system, as it then existed, undoubtedly required reform. The so-called Reform Bill of 1832

* Its germ is unquestionably in a well-known passage of Rousseau's Discourse on the Origin of Inequality.

'I quote this passage from an article of M. Bourget's, but unfortunately I have mislaid the reference. I have, however, before me the original French, which I am the more glad to give as I feel how inadequate is my rendering of it : La France dès 1889 a vu d'ignobles maîtres d'un jour proscrire, au nom de la liberté, ses plus chères croyances : des politiciens abominables jouer du suffrage universel comme un instrument de règne, et installer leur médiocrité menteuse dans les plus hautes places. Elle l'a subi, ce suffrage universel, la plus monstreuse des tyrannies---car la force des nombres est la plus brutale des forces.'


did not reform, but overthrew it. The Duke of Wellington, 'rich in saving common sense beyond any man of that time, truly told the House of Lords that 'the principle of this measure was not reform': that the spirit animating it was 'the outcome of the French Revolution, and that ‘from the period of its adoption we shall date the downfall of the Constitution.' It was, in fact, the introduction into this country of political atomism, of a representation of mere numbers; and it was but the beginning of a series of similar statutes, all underlain by the Rousseauan principle, and each carrying that principle further. There were, indeed, wise and far-seeing men who sought to stay this disastrous movement, and who, for a brief timebut only for a brief time-checked it. Thus, Mr. Gladstone's Household Suffrage Bill of 1866 was opposed and defeated by the moderate section of the Liberal party led by Mr. Lowe, afterwards Lord Sherbrooke. That clear-headed thinker protested that one class should not be allowed to outvote all the other classes combined, and predicted that the effect of the legislation to which he offered such strenuous opposition would be to convert the trade unions into political organisations, merely intent on gaining their own ends, in utter disregard of national interests. The event has shown that he was right. The trade unions originally devised, and for some time carried on, for the most righteous object of protecting working men against the atrocious tyranny of capital, gradually fell under the influence of demagogues, and, in the event, became the instruments of Socialistic agitators. I have dwelt upon that subject in a previous number of this Review, already referred to, and need not here repeat what I there said. The average working man is too ignorant—that is not his fault-to understand anything beyond the simplest matters touching him personally--and even these he often misunderstands. He is the natural prey of the charlatan who flatters his vanity, stimulates his passions, and makes of his very defects a qualification for power, assuring him-it is part of Rousseau's message to the world--that education is depravation, that the untutored children of nature are endowed with an instinct qualifying them to sway the rod of empire :

You that woo the Voices, tell them old experience is a fool,

Teach your flattered Kings that only they who cannot read can rule. Such was the teaching of that demagogue in excelsis the late Mr. Gladstone, ‘most incomparable master in the art of per

8 And in other still more valuable qualities : 'the last honest and perfectly brave man they had,” Carlyle judged; truly, as I think.

• Lord Acton has pungently remarked that the doctrine of equality means government by the poor and payment by the rich.' Lectures on the French Revolution, p. 300.

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »