Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER X.: ministries. - Political Institutions, being Part V of the Principles of Sociology
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CHAPTER X.: ministries. - 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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§ 504. Men chosen by the ruler to help him, we meet with in early stages of social evolution—men whose positions and duties are then vague and variable. At the outset there is nothing to determine the selection of helpers save considerations of safety, or convenience, or liking. Hence we find ministers of quite different origins.
Relationship leads to the choice in some places and times; as with the Bachassins, among whom the chief’s brother conveys his orders and sees them executed; as of old in Japan, where the Emperor’s son was prime minister and the daimios had cadets of their families as counsellors; as in ancient Egypt where “the principal officers of the Court or administration appear to have been at the earliest period the relatives” of the king. Though in some cases family-jealousy excludes kinsmen from these places of authority, in other cases family-feeling and trust, and the belief that the desire for family-predominance will ensure loyalty, lead to the employment of brothers, cousins, nephews, &c.
More general appears to be the unobtrusive growth of personal attendants, or household servants, into servants of State. Those who are constantly in contact with the ruler have opportunities of aiding or hindering intercourse with him, of biassing him by their statements, and of helping or impeding the execution of his commands; and they thus gain power, and tend to become advising and executive agents. From the earliest times onwards we meet with illustrations. In ancient Egypt—
“The office of fan-bearer to the king was a highly honourable post, which none but the royal princes, or the sons of the first nobility, were permitted to hold. These constituted a principal part of his staff; and in the field they either attended on the monarch to receive his orders, or were despatched to have the command of a division.”
In Assyria the attendants who thus rose to power were not relatives, but were habitually eunuchs; and the like happened in Persia. “In the later times, the eunuchs acquired a vast political authority, and appear to have then filled all the chief offices of state. They were the king’s advisers in the palace, and his generals in the field.” Kindred illustrations are furnished by the West. Shown among the primitive Germans, the tendency for officers of the king’s household to become political officers, was conspicuous in the Merovingian period: the seneschal, the marshal, the chamberlain, grew into public functionaries. Down to the later feudal period in France, the public and household administrations of the king were still undistinguished. So was it in old English times. According to Kemble, the four great officers of the Court and Household were the Hræge Thegn (servant of the wardrobe); the Steallere and Horsthegn (first, Master of the Horse, then General of the Household Troops, then Constable or Grand Marshal); the Discthegn (or thane of the table— afterwards Seneschal); the Butler (perhaps Byrele or Scenca). The like held under the conquering Normans; and it holds in a measure down to the present time.
Besides relatives and servants, friends are naturally in some cases fixed on by the ruler to get him information, give him advice, and carry out his orders Among ancient examples the Hebrews furnish one. Remarking that in the small kingdoms around Israel in earlier times, it was customary for the ruler to have a single friend to aid him, Ewald points out that under David, with a larger State and a more complex administration, “the different departments are necessarily more subdivided, and new offices of ‘friends’ or ministers of the king assume a sort of independent importance.” Like needs produced kindred effects in the first days of the Roman empire. Duruy writes:—
“Augustus, who called himself a plain Roman citizen, could not, like a king, have ministers, but only friends who aided him with their experience. … The multitude of questions…induced him afterwards to distribute the chief affairs regularly among his friends. … This council was gradually organized.”
And then in later days and other regions, we see that out of the group known as “friends of the king” there are often some, or there is one, in whom confidence is reposed and to whom power is deputed. In Russia the relation of Lefort to Peter the Great, in Spain that of Albuquerque to Don Pedro, and among ourselves that of Gaveston to Edward II., sufficiently illustrate the genesis of ministerial power out of the power gained by personal friendship and consequent trust. And then with instances of this kind are to be joined instances showing how attachment between the sexes comes into play. Such facts as that after Albuquerque fell, all offices about the court were filled by relations of the king’s mistress; that in France under Louis XV. “the only visible government was that by women” from Mme. de Prie to Mme. du Barry; and that in Russia during the reign of Catherine II., her successive lovers acquired political power, and became some of them prime ministers and practically autocrats; will serve adequately to recall a tendency habitually displayed.
Regarded as able to help the ruler supernaturally as well as naturally, the priest is apt to become his chosen ally and agent. The Tahitians may be named as having a prime minister who is also chief priest. In Africa, among the Eggarahs (Inland Negroes), a priest “officiates as minister of war.” How political power of priests results from their supposed influence with the gods, is well shown by the case of Mizteca (part of Mexico).
“The high-priests were highly respected by the caziques, who did nothing without their advice; they commanded armies, and ruled the state, reproved vice, and when there was no amendment, threatened famine, plague, war, and the anger of the gods.”
Other places in ancient America—Guatemala, Vera Paz, &c., furnish kindred facts; as do historic peoples from the earliest times downwards. In ancient Egypt the king’s advisers mostly belonged to the priestly caste. Under the Roman emperors ecclesiastics became ministers and secret counsellors. In mediæval days Dominican and Franciscan monks held the highest political offices. And in later times the connexion was shown by the ministerial power of cardinals, or, as in Russia, of patriarchs. This acquisition of leading political functions by functionaries of the church, has in some cases special causes in addition to the general cause. A royal chaplain (uniting the character of personal attendant with that of priest) stands in a relation to the king which almost necessitates acquisition of great influence. Moreover, being fitted by culture for secretarial work, he falls naturally into certain State-duties; as he did into those of chancellor among ourselves in early days.
Recognizing the fact that at the outset, these administrative agents, whatever further characters they have, are usually also soldiers, and are included in the primitive consultative body, of which they become specialized parts, we may say of them generally, that they are relatives, friends, attendants, priests, brought into close relations with the ruler, out of whom he is obliged by stress of business to choose assistants; and that at first vague and irregular, their appointments and functions gradually acquire definiteness.
§ 505. Amid much that is too indefinite for generalization, a few tolerably constant traits of ministers, and traits of ministries, may be briefly indicated.
That a trusted agent commonly acquires power over his principal, is a fact everywhere observable. Even in a gentleman’s household a head servant of long standing not unfrequently gains such influence, that his master is in various matters guided by him—almost controlled by him. With chief officers of State it has often been the same; and especially where hereditary succession is well established. A ruler who, young, or idle, or pleasure-seeking, performs his duties by proxy, or who, through personal liking or entire trust, is led to transfer his authority, presently becomes so ill informed concerning affairs, or so unused to modes of procedure, as to be almost powerless in the hands of his agent.
Where hereditary succession pervades the society and fixes its organization, there is sometimes shown a tendency to inheritance, not of the rulership only, but also of these offices which grow into deputy-rulerships. Under the Norman dukes before the Conquest, the places of seneschal, cup-bearer, constable, and chamberlain, were “hereditary grand serjeanties.” In England in Henry II.’s time, succession to the posts of high-steward, constable, chamberlain, and butler, followed from father to son in the houses of Leicester, Miles, Vere, and Albini. So was it with the Scotch in King David’s reign: “the offices of great steward and high constable had become hereditary in the families of Stewart and De Morevil.” And then in Japan the principle of inheritance of ministerial position had so established itself as to insure ministerial supremacy. In these cases there come into play influences and methods like those which conduce to hereditary kingship. When, as during the later feudal period in France, we see efforts made to fix in certain lines of descent, the chief offices of State (efforts which, in that case, sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed), we are shown that ministers use the facilities which their places give them, to establish succession to these places in their own families, in the same way that early kings do. Just as, during the stage of elective kingship, the king is apt to use the advantages derived from his position to secure the throne for his son, by getting him chosen during his own life, and thus to initiate hereditary succession; so the minister who has been allowed to acquire great power, is prompted to employ it for the purpose of establishing a monopoly of his office among his own descendants. Generally his desire is effectually antagonized by that of the ruler; but where, as in Japan, seclusion of the ruler impedes his hold on affairs, this desire of the minister takes effect.
Since there ever tend to arise these struggles between a king and one or more of those who serve him—since his efforts to maintain his authority are sometimes so far defeated that he is obliged to accept assistants who are hereditary; there results a jealousy of those whose interests are at variance with his own, and an endeavour to protect himself by excluding them from office. There comes a motive for choosing as ministers men who, having no children, cannot found houses which, growing powerful, may compete for supremacy; and hence in certain times the preference for celibate priests. Or, from allied motives, men neither clerical nor military are selected; as in France, where in the 15th and 17th centuries, members of the bourgeois class came to be preferred. A policy like that shown in the befriending of towns as a set-off against feudal chiefs, prompted the official employment of citizens instead of nobles. Under other conditions, again, there is a jealousy of ecclesiastics and an exclusion of them from power. For generations before the time of Peter the Great, the head of the church in Russia was “considered the second person in the empire; he was consulted on all State-affairs, until at length, their [his] spiritual pride outrunning all decorum, venturing upon, and even attempting to control the sovereign power, it was resolved by Peter the Great to abolish the patriarchate altogether.” Between Louis XIV. and the Pope, there was a conflict for supremacy over the French church; and on more occasions than one, certain of the clergy encouraged “the absolutist pretensions of the Roman Pontiffs:” the result being that such prelates as held office were those who subordinated clerical to political aims, and that by Louis XIV., after 1661, “no churchman was allowed to touch the great engine of State-government.” Among ourselves may be traced, if less clearly, the working of kindred tendencies. During the 15th century, “clergymen were secretaries of government, the privy seals, cabinet councillors, treasurers of the crown, ambassadors, commissioners to open parliament, and to Scotland; presidents of the king’s council, supervisors of the royal works, chancellors, keepers of the records, the masters of the rolls, &c.;” but with antagonism to the Church came partial, and in later days complete, disappearance of the clerical element from the administration. Under Henry VIII. the King’s secretary, and afterwards the chancellor, ceased to be ecclesiastics; while of the council of sixteen executors appointed to govern during the minority of his son, three only were in holy orders. And though, during a subsequent temporary revival of papal influence, there was a re-acquirement of ministerial position by priests, they afterwards again ceased to be chosen.
Whether a ruler is able to prevent high offices of State from being held by men whose ambitions and interests he fears, depends, however, upon his acquirement of adequate predominance. A class which, being powerful, is excluded as therefore dangerous, being still more powerful, cannot be excluded; and is apt either to monopolize administrative functions or practically to dictate the choice of ministers. In ancient Egypt, where the priesthood was pre-eminent in influence, the administration was chiefly officered by its members, with the result that at one time there was usurpation of the kingship by priests; and the days during which the Catholic church was most powerful throughout Europe, were the days during which high political posts were very generally held by prelates. In other cases supremacy of the military class is shown; as in Japan, where soldiers have habitually been the ministers and practically usurpers; as in feudal England, when Henry III. was obliged by the barons to accept Hugh Le Despenser as chief justiciary, and other nominees as officers of his household; or as when, in the East, down to our own time, changes of ministry are insisted. on by the soldiery. Naturally in respect of these administrative offices, as in respect of all other places of power, there arises a conflict between the chiefs of the warrior class, who are the agents of the terrestrial ruler, and the chiefs of the clerical class, who profess to be agents of the celestial ruler; and the predominance of the one of the other class, is in many cases implied by the extent to which it fills the chief offices of State.
Such facts show us that where there has not yet been established any regular process for making the chief advisers and agents of the ruler into authorized exponents of public opinion, there nevertheless occurs an irregular process by which some congruity is maintained between the actions of these deputy rulers and the will of the community; or, at any rate, the will of that part which can express its will.
§ 506. Were elaboration desirable, and collection of the needful data less difficult, a good deal might here be added respecting the development of ministries.
Of course it could, in multitudinous cases, be shown how, beginning as simple, they become compound—the solitary assistant to the chief, helping him in all ways, developing into the numerous great officers of the king, dividing among them duties which have become extensive and involved. Along with this differentiation of a ministry might also be traced the integration of it that takes place under certain conditions: the observable change being from a state in which the departmental officers separately take from the ruler their instructions, to a state in which they form an incorporated body. There might be pursued an inquiry respecting the conditions under which this incorporated body gains power and accompanying responsibility; with the probable result of showing that development of an active executive council, and accompanying reduction of the original executive head to an automatic state, characterizes that representative form of government proper to the industrial type. But while results neither definite nor important are likely to be reached, the reaching of such as are promised would necessitate investigation at once tedious and unsatisfactory.
For such ends as are here in view, it suffices to recognize the general facts above set forth. As the political head is at first but a slightly-distinguished member of the group—now a chief whose private life and resources are like those of any other warrior, now a patriarch or a feudal lord who, becoming predominant over other patriarchs or other feudal lords, at first lives like them on revenues derived from private possessions—so the assistants of the political head take their rise from the personal connexions, friends, servants, around him: they are those who stand to him in private relations of blood, or liking, or service. With the extension of territory, the increase of affairs, and the growth of classes having special interests, there come into play influences which differentiate some of those who surround the ruler into public functionaries, distinguished from members of his family and his household. And these influences, joined with special circumstances, determine the kinds of public men who come into power. Where the absoluteness of the political head is little or not at all restrained, he makes arbitrary choice irrespective of rank, occupation, or origin. If, being predominant, there are nevertheless classes of whom he is jealous, exclusion of these becomes his policy; while if his predominance is inadequate, representatives of such classes are forced into office. And this foreshadows the system under which, along with decline of monarchical power, there grows up an incorporated body of ministers having for its recognized function to execute the public will.