Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER V.: political forms and forces. - Political Institutions, being Part V of the Principles of Sociology
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CHAPTER V.: political forms and forces. - Herbert Spencer, Political Institutions, being Part V of the Principles of Sociology 
Political Institutions, being Part V of the Principles of Sociology (The Concluding Portion of Vol. II) (London: Williams and Norgate, 1882).
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political forms and forces.
§ 464. The conceptions of biologists have been greatly enlarged by the discovery that organisms which, when adult, appear to have scarcely anything in common, were, in their first stages, very similar; and that, indeed, all organisms start with a common structure. Recognition of this truth has revolutionized not only their ideas respecting the relations of organisms to one another, but also their ideas respecting the relations of the parts of each organism to one another.
If societies have evolved, and if that mutual dependence of their parts which cooperation implies, has been gradually reached, then the implication is that however unlike their developed structures become, there is a rudimentary structure with which they all set out. And if there can be recognized any such primitive unity, recognition of it will help us to interpret the ultimate diversity. We shall understand better how in each society the several components of the political agency have come to be what we now see them; and also how those of one society are related to those of another.
Setting out with an unorganized horde, including both sexes and all ages, let us ask what must happen when some public question, as that of migration, or of defence against enemies, has to be decided. The assembled individuals will fall, more or less clearly, into two divisions. The elder, the stronger, and those whose sagacity and courage have been proved by experience, will form the smaller part, who carry on the discussion; while the larger part,formed of the young, the weak, and the undistinguished, will be listeners, who usually do no more than express from time to time assent or dissent. A further inference may safely be drawn. In the cluster of leading men there is sure to be one whose weight is greater than that of any other—some aged hunter, some distinguished warrior, some cunning medicine-man, who will have more than his individual share in forming the resolution finally acted upon. That is to say, the entire assemblage will resolve itself into three parts. To use a biological metaphor, there will, out of the general mass, be differentiated a nucleus and a nucleolus.
These first traces of political structure which we infer à priori must spontaneously arise, we find have arisen among the rudest peoples: repetition having so strengthened them as to produce a settled order. When, among the aborigines of Victoria, a tribe plans revenge on another tribe supposed to have killed one of its members, “a council is called of all the old men of the tribe… The women form an outer circle round the men… The chief [simply ‘a native of influence’] opens the council.” And what we here see happening in an assemblage having no greater differences than those based on strength, age, and capacity, happens when, later, these natural distinctions have gained definiteness. In illustration may be named the account which Schoolcraft gives of a conference at which the Chippewas, Ottawas, and Pottowattomies met certain United States’ Commissioners: Schoolcraft being himself present. After the address of the head commissioner had been delivered, the speaking on behalf of the Indians was carried on by the principal chiefs: the lead being taken by “a man venerable for his age and standing.” Though Schoolcraft does not describe the assemblage of undistinguished people, yet that they were present is shown by a passage in one of the native speeches:—“Behold! see my brethren, both young and old—the warriors and chiefs—the women and children of my nation.” And that the political order observed on this occasion was the usual order, is implied by its recurrence even in parts of America where chiefs have become marked off by ascribed nobility; as instance the account of one of the Central American tribes, who “have frequent reunions in their council-house at night. The hall is then lighted up by a large fire, and the people sit with uncovered heads, listening respectfully to the observations and decisions of the ahuales—men over forty years of age, who have occupied public positions, or distinguished themselves in some way.” Among peoples unlike in type and remote in locality, we find, modified in detail but similar in general character, this primitive governmental form. Of the Hill tribes of India may be instanced the Khonds, of whom we read that—
“Assemblies of the whole tribe, or of any of its sub-divisions, are convened, to determine questions of general importance. The members of every society, however, have a right to be present at all its councils, and to give their voices on the questions mooted, although the patriarchs alone take a part in their public discussion.“… “The federal patriarchs, in like manner, consult with the heads of tribes, and assemble when necessary the entire population of the federal group.”
In New Zealand, too, the government was conducted in accordance with public opinion expressed in general assemblies; and the chiefs “could not declare peace or war, or do anything affecting the whole people, without the sanction of the majority of the clan.” Of the Tahitians, Ellis tells us that the king had a few chiefs as advisers, but that no affair of national importance could be undertaken without consulting the land-holders or second rank, and also that public assemblies were held. Similarly of the Malagasy. “The greatest national council in Madagascar is an assembly of the people of the capital, and the heads of the provinces, towns, villages, &c.” The king usually presides in person.
Though in these last cases we see considerable changes in the relative powers of the three components, so that the inner few have gained in authority at the expense of the outer many, yet all three are still present; and they continue to be present when we pass to sundry historic peoples. Even of the Phœnicians, Movers notes that “in the time of Alexander a war was decided upon by the Tyrians without the consent of the absent king, the senate acting together with the popular assembly.” Then there is the familiar case of the Homeric Greeks, whose Agora, presided over by the king, was “an assembly for talk, communication and discussion to a certain extent by the chiefs, in presence of the people as listeners and sympathisers,” who were seated around; and that the people were not always passive is shown by the story of Thersitês, who, ill-used though he was by Odysseus and derided by the crowd for interfering, had first made his harangue. Again, the king, the senate, and the freemen, in early Roman times, stood in relations which had manifestly grown out of those existing in the original assembly; for though the three did not simultaneously co-operate, yet on important occasions the king communicated his proposals to the assembled burgesses, who expressed their approval or disapproval, and the clan-chiefs, forming the senate, though they did not debate in public, had yet such joint power that they could, on occasion, negative the decision of king and burgesses. Concerning the primitive Germans, Tacitus, as translated by Mr. Freeman, writes—
“On smaller matters the chiefs debate, on greater matters all men; but so that those things whose final decision rests with the whole people are first handled by the chiefs.… The multitude sits armed in such order as it thinks good; silence is proclaimed by the priests, who have also the right of enforcing it. Presently the king or chief, according to the age of each, according to his birth, according to his glory in war or his eloquence, is listened to, speaking rather by the influence of persuasion than by the power of commanding. If their opinions give offence, they are thrust aside with a shout; if they approved, the hearers clash their spears.”
Similarly among the Scandinavians, as shown us in Iceland, where, besides the general Al-thing annually held, which it was “disreputable for a freeman not to attend,” and at which “people of all classes in fact pitched their tents,” there were local assemblies called Var-things “attended by all the freemen of the district, with a crowd of retainers…both for the discussion of public affairs and the administration of justice… Within the circle [formed for administering justice] sat the judges, the people standing on the outside.” In the account given by Mr.Freeman of the yearly meetings in the Swiss cantons of Uri and Appenzell, we may trace this primitive political form as still existing; for though the presence of the people at large is the fact principally pointed out, yet there is named, in the case of Uri, the body of magistrates or chosen chiefs who form the second element, as well as the head magistrate who is the first element. And that in ancient England there was a kindred constitution of the Witenagemót, is indirectly proved; as witness the following passage from Freeman’s Growth of the English Constitution:—
“No ancient record gives us any clear or formal account of the constitution of that body. It is commonly spoken of in a vague way as a gathering of the wise, the noble, the great men. But, alongside passages like these, we find other passages which speak of it in a way which implies a far more popular constitution. King Eadward is said to be chosen King by ‘all folk.’ Earl Godwine ‘makes his speech before the king and all the people of the land.’”
And the implication, as Mr. Freeman points out, is that the share taken by the people in the proceedings was that of expressing by shouts their approval or disapproval.
This form of ruling agency is thus shown to be the fundamental form, by its presence at the outset of social life and by its continuance under various conditions. Not among peoples of superior types only, such as Aryans and some Semites, do we find it, but also among sundry Malayo-Polynesians, among the red men of North America, the Dravidian tribes of the Indian hills, the aborigines of Australia. In fact, as already implied, governmental organization could not possibly begin in any other way. On the one hand, no controlling force at first exists save that of the aggregate will as manifested in the assembled horde. On the other hand, leading parts in determining this aggregate will are inevitably taken by the few whose superiority is recognized. And of these predominant few, some one is sure to be most predominant. That which we have to note as specially significant, is not that a free form of government is the primitive form; though this is an implication which may be dwelt upon. Nor are we chiefly concerned with the fact that at the very begining there shows itself that separation of the superior few from the inferior many, which becomes marked in later stages; though this, too, is a fact which may be singled out and emphasized. Nor is attention to be mainly directed to the early appearance of a man whose controlling power is greater than that of any other; though the evidence given may be cited to prove this. But here we have to note, particularly, the truth that at the outset may be discerned the vague outlines of a tri-une political structure.
§ 465. Of course the ratios among the powers of these three components are in no two cases quite the same; and, as implied in sundry of the above examples, they everywhere undergo more or less change—change determined here by the emotional natures of the men composing the group; there by the physical circumstances as favouring or hindering independence; now by the activities as warlike or peaceful; and now by the exceptional characters of particular individuals.
Unusual sagacity, skill, or strength, habitually regarded by primitive men as supernatural, may give to some member of the tribe an influence which, transmitted to a successor supposed to inherit his supernatural character, establishes an authority subordinating both that of the other leading men and that of the mass. Or from a division of labour such that while some remain exclusively warriors the rest are in a measure otherwise occupied, it may result that the two superior components of the political agency get power to over-ride the third. Or the members of the third, keeping up habits which make coercion of them difficult or impossible, may maintain a general predominance over the other two. And then the relations of these three governing elements to the entire community may, and ordinarily do, undergo change by the formation of a passive class excluded from their deliberations—a class at first composed of the women and afterwards containing also the slaves or other dependents.
War successfully carried on, not only generates this passive class, but also, implying as it does subjection to leaders, changes more or less decidedly the relative powers of these three parts of the political agency. As, other things equal, groups in which there is little subordination are subjugated by groups in which subordination is greater, there is a tendency to the survival and spread of groups in which the controlling power of the dominant few becomes relatively great. In like manner, since success in war largely depends on that promptitude and consistency of action which singleness of will gives, there must, where warfare is chronic, be a tendency for members of the ruling group to become more and more obedient to its head: failure in the struggle for existence among tribes otherwise equal, being ordinarily a consequence of disobedience. And then it is also to be noted that the over-runnings of societies one by another, repeated and rerepeated as they often are, have the effect of obscuring and even obliterating the traces of the original structure.
While, however, recognizing the fact that during political evolution these three primitive components alter their proportions in various ways and degrees, to the extent that some of them become mere rudiments or wholly disappear, it will greatly alter our conception of political forms if we remember that they are all derived from this primitive from—that a despotism, an oligarchy, or a democracy, is a type of government in which one of the original components has greatly developed at the expense of the other two; and that the various mixed types are to be arranged according to the degrees in which one or other of the original components has the greater influence.
§ 466. Is there any fundamental unity of political forces accompanying this fundamental unity of political forms ? While losing sight of the common origin of the structures, have we not also become inadequately conscious of the common source of their powers ? How prone we are to forget the ultimate while thinking of the proximate, it may be worth while pausing a moment to observe.
One who in a storin watches the breaking-up of a wreck or the tearing down of a sea-wall, is impressed by the immense energy of the waves. Of course, when it is pointed out that in the absence of winds no such results can be produced, he recognizes the truth that the sea is in itself powerless, and that the power enabling it to destroy vessels and piers is given by the currents of air which roughen its surface. If he stops short here, however, he fails to identify the force which works these striking changes. Intrinsically, the air is just as passive as the water is. There would be no winds were it not for the varying effects of the Sun’s heat on different parts of the Earth’s surface. Even when he has traced back thus far the energy which undermines cliffs and makes shingle, he has not reached its source; for in the absence of that continuous concentration of the solar mass caused by the mutual gravitation of its parts, there would be no solar radiations.
The tendency here illustrated, which all have in some degree and most in a great degree, to associate power with the visible agency exercising it rather than with its inconspicuous source, has, as above implied, a vitiating influence on conceptions at large, and, among others, on political ones. Though the habit, general in past times, of regarding the powers of governments as inherent, has been, by the growth of popular institutions, a good deal qualified; yet, even now, there is no clear apprehension of the fact that governments are not themselves powerful, but are the instrumentalities of a power. This power existed before governments arose; governments were themselves produced by it; and it ever continues to be that which, disguised more or less completely, works through them. Let us go back to the beginning.
The Greenlanders are entirely without political control; having nothing which represents it more nearly than the deference paid to the opinion of some old man, skilled in sealcatching and the signs of the weather. But a Greenlander who is aggrieved by another, has his remedy in what is called a singing combat. He composes a satirical poem, and challenges his antagonist to a satirical duel in face of the tribe: “he who has the last word wins the trial.” And then Crantz adds—“paying tribute,nothing so effectually restrains a Greenlander from vice, as the dread of public disgrace.” Here we see operating in its original unqualified way, that governing influence of public sentiment which precedes more special governing influences. The dread of social reprobation is in some cases enforced by the dread of banishment. Among the otherwise unsubordinated Australians, they “punish each other for such offences as theft, sometimes by expulsion from the camp.” Of one of the Columbian tribes we read that “the Salish can hardly be said to have any regular form of government;” and then, further, we read that “criminals are sometimes punished by banishment from their tribe.” Certain aborigines of the Indian hills, widely unlike these Columbians in type and in mode of life, show us a similar relation between undeveloped political restraint and the restraint of aggregate feeling. Among the Bodo and the Dhimáls, whose village heads are simply respected elders with no coercive powers, those who offend against customs “are admonished, fined, or excommunicated, according to the degree of the offence.” But the controlling influence of public sentiment in groups which have little or no organization, is best shown in the force with which it acts on those who are bound to avenge murders. Concerning the Australian aborigines, Sir George Grey writes:—
“The holiest duty a native is called on to perform is that of avenging the death of his nearest relation, for it is his peculiar duty to do so; until he has fulfilled this task, he is constantly taunted by the old women; his wives, if he is married, would soon quit him; if he is unmarried, not a single young woman would speak to him; his mother would constantly cry, and lament that she should ever have given birth to so degenerate a son; his father would treat him with contempt, and reproaches would constantly be sounded in his ear.”
We have next to note that for a long time after political control has made its appearance, it remains conspicuously subordinate to this control of general feeling; both because, while there are no developed governmental structures, the head man has but little ability to enforce his will, and because such ability as he has, if unduly exercised, causes desertion. All parts of the world furnish illustrations. In America among the Snake Indians “each individual is his own master, and the only control to which his conduct is subjected, is the advice of a chief supported by his influence over the opinions of the rest of the tribe.” Of a Chinook chief we are told that his ability to render service to his neighbours, and the popularity which follows it, is at once the foundation and the measure of his authority.” If a Dakota “wishes to do mischief, the only way a chief can influence him is to give him something, or pay him to desist from his evil intentions. The chief has no authority to act for the tribe, and dare not do it.” And among the Creeks, more advanced in political organization though they are, the authority of the elected chiefs “continues during good behaviour. The disapproval of the body of the people is an effective bar to the exercise of their powers and functions.” Turning to Asia, we read that the bais or chiefs of the Khirgiz “have little power over them for good or evil. In consideration of their age and blood, some deference to their opinions is shown, but nothing more.” The Ostyaks “pay respect, in the fullest sense of the word, to their chief, if wise and valiant, but this homage is voluntary, and founded on personal regard.” And of the Naga chiefs Butler says—“Their orders are obeyed so far only as they accord with the wishes and convenience of the community.” So, too, is it in parts of Africa; as instance the Koranna Hottentots. “A chief or captain presides over each clan or kraal, being usually the person of greatest property; but his authority is extremely limited, and only obeyed so far as it meets the general approbation.” And even among the more politically-organized Kaffirs, there is a kindred restraint. The king “makes laws and executes them according to his sole will. Yet there is a power to balance his in the people: he governs only so long as they choose to obey.” They leave him if he governs ill.
In its primitive form, then, political power is the feeling of the community, acting through an agency which it has either informally or formally established. Doubtless, from the beginning, the power of the chief is in part personal: his greater strength, courage, or cunning, enables him in some degree to enforce his individual will. But, as the evidence shows, his individual will is but a small factor; and the authority he wields is proportionate to the degree in which he expresses the wills of the rest.
§ 467. While this public feeling, which first acts by itself and then partly through an agent, is to some extent the feeling spontaneously formed by those concerned, it is to a much larger extent the opinion imposed on them or prescribed for them. In the first place, the emotional nature prompting the general mode of conduct is derived from ancestors—is a product of all ancestral activities; and in the second place, the special desires which, directly or indirectly, determine the courses pursued, are induced during early life by seniors, and enlisted on behalf of beliefs and usages which the tribe inherits. The governing sentiment is, in short, mainly the accumulated and organized sentiment of the past.
It needs but to remember the painful initiation which, at a prescribed age, each member of a tribe undergoes (submitting to circumcision, or knocking out of teeth, or gashing of the flesh, or tatooing)—it needs but to remember that from these imperative customs there is no escape; to see that the directive force which exists before a political agency arises, and which afterwards makes the political agency its organ, is the gradually-formed opinion of countless preceding generations; or rather, not the opinion, which, strictly speaking, is an intellectual product wholly impotent, but the emotion associated with the opinion. This we everywhere find to be at the outset the chief controlling power.
The notion of the Tupis that “if they departed from the customs of their forefathers they should be destroyed,” may be named as a definite manifestation of the force with which this transmitted opinion acts. In one of the rudest tribes of the Indian hills, the Juángs, less clothed than even Adam and Eve are said to have been, the women long adhered to their bunches of leaves in the belief that change was wrong. Of the Koranna Hottentots we read that “when ancient usages are not in the way, every man seems to act as is right in his own eyes.” Though the Damara chiefs “have the power of governing arbitrarily, yet they venerate the traditions and customs of their ancestors.” Smith says, “laws the Araucanians can scarcely be said to have, though there are many ancient usages which they hold sacred and strictly observe.” According to Brooke, among the Dyaks custom simply seems to have become law, and breaking the custom leads to a fine. In the minds of some clans of the Malagasy, “innovation and injury are .… inseparable, and the idea of improvement altogether inadmissible.”
This control by inherited usages is not simply as strong in groups of men who are politically unorganized, or but little organized, as it is in advanced tribes and nations, but it is stronger. As Sir John Lubbock remarks—“No savage is free. All over the world his daily life is regulated by a complicated and apparently most inconvenient set of customs (as forcible as laws), of quaint prohibitions and privileges.” Though one of these rude societies appears structureless, yet its ideas and usages form a kind of invisible framework for it, serving rigorously to restrain certain classes of its actions. And this invisible framework has been slowly and unconsciously shaped, during daily activities impelled by prevailing feelings and guided by prevailing thoughts, through generations stretching back into the far past.
In brief, then, before any definite agency for social control is developed, there exists a control arising partly from the public opinion of the living, and more largely from the public opinion of the dead.
§ 468. But now let us note definitely a truth implied in some of the illustrations above given—the truth that when a political agency has been evolved, its power, largely dependent on present public opinion, is otherwise almost wholly dependent on past public opinion. The ruler, in part the organ of the wills of those around, is in a still greater degree the organ of the wills of those who have passed away; and his own will, much restrained by the first, is still more restrained by the last.
For his function as regulator is mainly that of enforcing the inherited rules of conduct which embody ancestral sentiments and ideas. Everywhere we are shown this. Among the Arafuras such decisions as are given by their elders, are “according to the customs of their forefathers, which are held in the highest regard.” So is it with the Khirgiz: “the judgments of the Bis, or esteemed elders, are based on the known and universally-recognized customs.” And in Sumatra “they are governed, in their various disputes, by a set of longestablished customs (adat), handed down to them from their ancestors.… The chiefs, in pronouncing their decisions, are not heard to say, ‘so the law directs,’ but ‘such is the custom.’”
As fast as custom passes into law, the political head becomes still more clearly an agent through whom the feelings of the dead control the actions of the living. That the power he exercises is mainly a power which acts through him, we see on noting how little ability he has to resist it if he wishes to do so. His individual will is practically inoperative save where the overt or tacit injunctions of departed generations leave him free. Thus in Madagascar, “in cases where there is no law, custom, or precedent, the word of the sovereign is sufficient.” Among the East Africans, “the only limit to the despot’s power is the Ada or precedent.” Of the Javans, Raffles writes—“the only restraint upon the will of the head of the government is the custom of the country, and the regard which he has for his character among his subjects.” In Sumatra the people “do not acknowledge a right in the chiefs to constitute what laws they think proper, or to repeal or alter their ancient usages, of which they are extremely tenacious and jealous.” And how imperative is conformity to the beliefs and sentiments of progenitors, is shown by the fatal results apt to occur from disregarding them.
“‘The King of Ashantee, although represented as a despotic monarch.… is not in all respects beyond control.’ He is under an ‘obligation to observe the national customs which have been handed down to the people from remote antiquity; and a practical disregard of this obligation, in the attempt to change some of the customs of their fore-fathers, cost Osai Quamina his throne.’”
Which instance reminds us how commonly, as now among the Hottentots, as in the past among the ancient Mexicans, and as throughout the histories of civilized peoples, rulers have engaged, on succeeding to power, not to change the established order.
§ 469. Doubtless the proposition that a government is in the main but an agency through which works the force of public feeling, present and past, seems at variance with the many facts showing how great may be the power of a ruling man himself. Saying nothing of a tyrant’s ability to take lives for nominal reasons or none at all, to make groundless confiscations, to transfer subjects bodily from one place to another, to exact contributions of money and labour without stint, we are apparently shown by his ability to begin and carry on wars which sacrifice his subjects wholesale, that his single will may over-ride the united wills of all others. In what way, then, must the original statement be qualified?
While holding that, in unorganized groups of men, the feeling manifested as public opinion controls political conduct, just as it controls the conduct distinguished as ceremonial and religious; and while holding that governing agencies, during their early stages, are at once the products of aggregate feeling, derive their powers from it, and are restrained by it; we must admit that these primitive relations become complicated when, by war, small groups are compounded and re-compounded into great ones. Where the society is largely composed of subjugated people held down by superior force, the normal relation above described no longer exists. We must not expect to find in a rule coercively established by an invader, the same traits as in a rule that has grown up from within. Societies formed by conquest may be, and frequently are, composed of two societies, which are in large measure, if not entirely, alien; and in them there cannot arise a political force from the aggregate will. Under such conditions the political head either derives his power exclusively from the feeling of the dominant class, or else, setting the diverse feelings originated in the upper and lower classes, one against the other, is enabled so to make his individual will the chief factor.
After making which qualifications, however, it may still be contended that ordinarily, nearly all the force exercised by the governing agency originates from the feeling, if not of the whole community, yet of the part which is able to manifest its feeling. Though the opinion of the subjugated and unarmed lower society becomes of little account as a political factor, yet the opinion of the dominant and armed upper society continues to be the main cause of political action. What we are told of the Congo people, that “the king, who reigns as a despot over the people, is often disturbed in the exercise of his power by the princes his vassals,”—what we are told of the despotically-governed Dahomans, that “the ministers, war-captains, and feetishers may be, and often are, individually punished by the king: collectively they are too strong for him, and without their cordial cooperation he would soon cease to reign;” is what we recognize as having been true, and as being still true, in various better-known societies where the supreme head is nominally absolute. From the time when the Roman emperors were chosen by the soldiers and slain when they did not please them, to the present time when, as we are told of Russia, the desire of the army often determines the will of the Czar, there have been many illustrations of the truth that an autocrat is politically strong or weak according as many or few of the influential classes give him their support; and that even the sentiments of those who are politically prostrate occasionally affect political action; as instance the influence of Turkish fanaticism over the decisions of the Sultan.
A number of facts must be remembered if we are rightly to estimate the power of the aggregate will in comparison with the power of the autocrat’s will. There is the fact that the autocrat is obliged to respect and maintain the great mass of institutions and laws produced by past sentiments and ideas, which have acquired a religious sanction; so that, as in ancient Egypt, dynasties of despots live and die leaving the social order essentially unchanged. There is the fact that a serious change of the social order, at variance with general feeling, is likely afterwards to be reversed; as when, in Egypt, Amenhotep IV., spite of a rebellion, succeeded in establishing a new religion, which was abolished in a succeeding reign; and there is the allied fact that laws much at variance with the general will prove abortive, as, for instance, the sumptuary laws made by mediæval kings, which, continually re-enacted, continually failed. There is the fact that, supreme as he may be, and divine as the nature ascribed to him, the all-powerful monarch is often shackled by usages which make his daily life a slavery: the opinions of the living oblige him to fulfil the dictates of the dead. There is the fact that if he does not conform, or if he otherwise produces by his acts much adverse feeling, his servants, civil and military, refuse to act or turn against him; and in extreme cases there comes an example of “despotism tempered by assassination.” And there is the final fact that habitually in societies where an offending autocrat is from time to time removed, another autocrat is set up: the implication being that the average sentiment is of a kind which not only tolerates but desires autocracy. That which some call loyalty and others call servility, both creates the absolute ruler and gives him the power he exercises.
But the cardinal truth, difficult adequately to appreciate, is that while the forms and laws of each society are the consolidated products of the emotions and ideas of those who lived throughout the past, they are made operative by the subordination of existing emotions and ideas to them. We are familiar with the thought of “the dead hand” as controlling the doings of the living in the uses made of property; but the effect of “the dead hand” in ordering life at large through the established political system, is immeasureably greater. That which, from hour to hour in every country, governed despotically or otherwise, produces the obedience making political action possible, is the accumulated and organized sentiment felt towards inherited institutions made sacred by tradition. Hence it is undeniable that, taken in its widest acceptation, the feeling of the community is the sole source of political power: in those communities, at least, which are not under foreign domination. It was so at the outset of social life, and it still continues substantially so.
§ 470. It has come to be a maxim of science that in the causes still at work, are to be identified the causes which, similarly at work during past times, have produced the state of things now existing. Acceptance of this maxim, and pursuit of the inquiries suggested by it, lead to verifications of the foregoing conclusions.
For day after day, every public meeting illustrates afresh this same differentiation characterizing the primitive political agency, and illustrates afresh the actions of its respective parts. There is habitually the great body of the less distinguished, forming the audience, whose share in the proceedings consists in expressing approval or disapproval, and saying aye or no to the resolutions proposed. There is the smaller part, occupying the platform—the men whose wealth, rank, or capacity, give them influence—the local chiefs, by whom the discussions are carried on. And there is the chosen head, commonly the man of greatest mark to be obtained, who exercises a recognized power over speakers and audience—the temporary king. Even an informally-summoned assemblage soon resolves itself into these divisions more or less distincly; and when the assemblage becomes a permanent body, as of the men composing a commercial company, or a philanthropic society, or a club, definiteness is quickly given to the three divisions—president or chairman, board or committee, proprietors or members. To which add that, though at first, like the meeting of the primitive horde or the modern public meeting, one of these permanent associations voluntarily formed, exhibits a distribution of powers such that the select few and their head are subordinate to the mass; yet, as circumstances determine, the proportions of the respective powers usually change more or less decidedly. Where the members of the mass besides being much interested in the transactions, are so placed that they can easily cooperate, they hold in check the select few and their head; but where wide distribution, as of railway-shareholders, hinders joint action, the select few become, in large measure, an oligarchy, and out of the oligarchy there not unfrequently grows an autocrat: the constitution becomes a despotism tempered by revolution.
In saying that from hour to hour proofs occur that the force possessed by a political agency is derived from aggregate feeling, partly embodied in the consolidated system which has come down from the past, and partly excited by immediate circumstances, I do not refer only to the proofs that among ourselves governmental actions are habitually thus determined, and that the actions of all minor bodies, temporarily or permanently incorporated, are thus determined. I refer, rather, to illustrations of the irresistible control exercised by popular sentiment over conduct at large. Such facts as that, while general opinion is in favour of duelling law does not prevent it, and that sacred injunctions backed by threats of damnation, fail to check iniquitous aggressions on foreign peoples when the prevailing passions prompt them, alone suffice to show that legal codes and religious creeds, with the agencies enforcing them, are impotent in face of an adverse state of mind. On remembering the eagerness for public applause and the dread of public disgrace which stimulate and restrain men, we cannot question that the diffused manifestations of feeling habitually dictate their careers, when their immediate necessities have been satisfied. It requires only to contemplate the social code which regulates life, down even to the colour of an evening neck-tie, and to note how those who dare not break this code have no hesitation in smuggling, to see that an unwritten law enforced by opinion is more peremptory than a written law not so enforced. And still more on observing that men disregard the just claims of creditors, who for goods given cannot get the money, while they are anxious to discharge so-called debts of honour to those who have rendered neither goods nor services, we are shown that the control of prevailing sentiment, unenforced by law and religion, may be more potent than law and religion together when they are backed by sentiment less strongly manifested. Looking at the total activities of men, we are obliged to admit that they are still, as they were at the outset of social life, guided by the aggregate feeling, past and present; and that the political agency, itself a gradually-developed product of such feeling, continues still to be in the main the vehicle for a specialized portion of it, regulating actions of certain kinds.
Partly, of course, I am obliged here to set forth this general truth as an essential element of political theory. My excuse for insisting at some length on what appears to be a trite conclusion, must be that, however far nominally recognized, it is actually recognized to a very small extent. Even in our own country, where non-political agencies spontaneously produced and worked are many and large, and still more in most other countries less characterized by them, there is no due consciousness of the truth that the combined impulses which work through political agencies, can, in the absence of such agencies, produce others through which to work. Politicians reason as though State-instrumentalities have intrinsic power, which they have not, and as though the feeling which creates them has not intrinsic power, which it has. Evidently their actions must be greatly affected by reversal of these ideas.