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CHAPTER 3 - William Edward Hartpole Lecky, Democracy and Liberty, vol. 1 
Democracy and Liberty, edited and with an Introduction by William Murchison, 2 vols. (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981). Vol. 1.
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I do not think that any one who seriously considers the force and universality of the movement of our generation in the direction of democracy can doubt that this conception of government will necessarily, at least for a considerable time, dominate in all civilised countries, and the real question for politicians is the form it is likely to take, and the means by which its characteristic evils can be best mitigated. As we have, I think, abundantly seen, a tendency to democracy does not mean a tendency to parliamentary government, or even a tendency towards greater liberty. On the contrary, strong arguments may be adduced, both from history and from the nature of things, to show that democracy may often prove the direct opposite of liberty. In ancient Rome the old aristocratic republic was gradually transformed into a democracy, and it then passed speedily into an imperial despotism. In France a corresponding change has more than once taken place. A despotism resting on a plebiscite is quite as natural a form of democracy as a republic, and some of the strongest democratic tendencies are distinctly adverse to liberty. Equality is the idol of democracy, but, with the infinitely various capacities and energies of men, this can only be attained by a constant, systematic, stringent repression of their natural development. Whenever natural forces have unrestricted play, inequality is certain to ensue. Democracy destroys the balance of opinions, interests, and classes, on which constitutional liberty mainly depends, and its constant tendency is to impair the efficiency and authority of parliaments, which have hitherto proved the chief organs of political liberty. In the Middle Ages, the two most democratic institutions were the Church and the guild. They first taught the essential spiritual equality of mankind, and placed men taken from the servile class on a pedestal before which kings and nobles were compelled to bow; but it also formed the most tremendous instrument of spiritual tyranny the world has ever seen. The second organised industry on a self-governing and representative basis, but at the same time restricted and regulated it in all its details with the most stringent despotism.
In our own day, no fact is more incontestable and conspicuous than the love of democracy for authoritative regulation. The two things that men in middle age have seen most discredited among their contemporaries are probably free contract and free trade. The great majority of the democracies of the world are now frankly protectionist, and even in free-trade countries the multiplication of laws regulating, restricting, and interfering with industry in all its departments is one of the most marked characteristics of our time. Nor are these regulations solely due to sanitary or humanitarian motives. Among large classes of those who advocate them another motive is very perceptible. A school has arisen among popular working-class leaders which no longer desires that superior skill, or industry, or providence should reap extraordinary rewards. Their ideal is to restrict by the strongest trade-union regulations the amount of work and the amount of the produce of work, to introduce the principle of legal compulsion into every branch of industry, to give the trade union an absolute coercive power over its members, to attain a high average, but to permit no superiorities. The industrial organisation to which they aspire approaches far more nearly to that of the Middle Ages or of the Tudors than to the ideal of Jefferson and Cobden. I do not here argue whether this tendency is good or bad. No one at least can suppose that it is in the direction of freedom. It may be permitted to doubt whether liberty in other forms is likely to be very secure if power is mainly placed in the hands of men who, in their own sphere, value it so little.
The expansion of the authority and the multiplication of the functions of the State in other fields, and especially in the field of social regulation, is an equally apparent accompaniment of modern democracy. This increase of State power means a multiplication of restrictions imposed upon the various forms of human action. It means an increase of bureaucracy, or, in other words, of the number and power of State officials. It means also a constant increase of taxation, which is in reality a constant restriction of liberty. One of the first forms of liberty is the right of every man to dispose of his own property and earnings, and every tax is a portion of this money taken from him by the force and authority of the law. Many of these taxes are, no doubt, for purposes in which he has the higest interest. They give him the necessary security of life, property, and industry, and they add in countless ways to his enjoyment. But if taxes are multiplied for carrying out a crowd of objects in which he has no interest, and with many of which he has no sympathy, his liberty is proportionately restricted. His money is more and more taken from him by force for purposes of which he does not approve. The question of taxation is in the highest degree a question of liberty, and taxation under a democracy is likely to take forms that are peculiarly hostile to liberty. I have already pointed out how the old fundamental principle of English freedom, that no one should be taxed except by his consent, is being gradually discarded; and how we are steadily advancing to a state in which one class will impose the taxes, while another class will be mainly compelled to pay them. It is obvious that taxation is more and more employed for objects that are not common interests of the whole community, and that there is a growing tendency to look upon it as a possible means of confiscation; to make use of it to break down the power, influence, and wealth of particular classes; to form a new social type; to obtain the means of class bribery.
There are other ways in which democracy does not harmonise well with liberty. To place the chief power in the most ignorant classes is to place it in the hands of those who naturally care least for political liberty, and who are most likely to follow with an absolute devotion some strong leader. The sentiment of nationality penetrates very deeply into all classes; but in all countries and ages it is the upper and middle classes who have chiefly valued constitutional liberty, and those classes it is the work of democracy to dethrone. At the same time democracy does much to weaken among these also the love of liberty. The instability and insecurity of democratic politics; the spectacle of dishonest and predatory adventurers climbing by popular suffrage into positions of great power in the State; the alarm which attacks on property seldom fail to produce among those who have something to lose, may easily scare to the side of despotism large classes who, under other circumstances, would have been steady supporters of liberty. A despotism which secures order, property, and industry, which leaves the liberty of religion and of private life unimpaired, and which enables quiet and industrious men to pass through life untroubled and unmolested, will always appear to many very preferable to a democratic republic which is constantly menacing, disturbing, or plundering them. It would be a great mistake to suppose that the French despotic Empire after 1852 rested on bayonets alone. It rested partly on the genuine consent of those large agricultural classes who cared greatly for material prosperity and very little for constitutional liberty, and partly on the panic produced among the middle classes by the socialist preaching of 1848.
The dangers to be apprehended from democracy are enormously increased when the transformation is effected by sudden bounds. Governments or societies may be fundamentally changed, without producing any great convulsion or catastrophe, if the continuity of habit is preserved, if the changes are made by slow, gradual, and almost imperceptible steps. As I have already said, it is one of the evils of our present party system that it greatly accelerates this progress. Very few constitutional changes are the results of a genuine, spontaneous, unforced development. They are mainly, or at least largely, due to rival leaders bidding against each other for popularity; to agitators seeking for party purposes to raise a cry; to defeated statesmen trying, when they are condemned by existing constituencies, to regain power by creating new ones. The true origin of some of the most far-reaching changes of our day is, probably, simply a desire so to shuffle cards or combine votes as to win an election. With a powerful Upper Chamber and a strong organisation of property in the electorate, the conservative influences are sufficient to prevent a too rapid change. But when these checks are weakened and destroyed, and when there are no constitutional provisions to take their place, the influences working in the direction of change acquire an enormously augmented force, the dangers of the process are incalculably increased, and the new wine is very likely to burst the old bottles.
It is impossible to foretell with confident accuracy in what form societies will organise their governments if, under the pressure of democracy, our present system of parliamentary government breaks down. A study of the methods which many different countries have adopted, and especially of the manner in which America has dealt with the dangers of democracy, furnishes us with perhaps the best light we can obtain. But, within the framework of the British Constitution, a few remedies or mitigations of existing evils have been suggested, which may be easily, or at least without any insuperable difficulty, introduced.
The first and most obvious is a change in the Irish representation. The presence in the House of Commons of a body of men who are entirely detached from the general interests of the Empire, and prepared to subordinate all Imperial concerns to their own special policy, must always bring with it some danger; and there could hardly be a greater folly than to allow such an element to possess an abnormal and wholly excessive share in the representation. Few more foolish or wicked acts have been done in modern times than the lowering of the suffrage in Ireland, by which this great evil and danger was deliberately raised to its present magnitude, while not a single step was taken, either by curtailing representation, or redistributing seats, or securing a representation of minorities, to mitigate the evil. Such a policy, indeed, would seem simple madness if party interest did not furnish an explanation. It is acknowledged that the Irish representation, if measured by the test of numbers alone, is about twenty-three seats in excess of its proper number. If the far more rational test of numbers and taxation combined be taken, the excess is still greater. It is an excess, too, which is mainly in one portion of Ireland, and in one class—the most ignorant, the most disloyal, the most amenable to sinister influence. The steady action of this party has been to disintegrate and degrade parliamentary government, to support every measure in the direction of anarchy or plunder. Yet it is well known that for some years the Government of England depended for its existence, not only on the Irish vote, but on the illegitimate strength of that vote. If we look through the more revolutionary and dangerous measures of the last few years, we shall find that very few have been carried through all their stages by an English majority and not many by a British majority, while some of the worst measures could never have been carried by the votes of the whole kingdom if the Irish representatives had not been disproportionately large. And the men who have kept a Government in power, and largely influenced its policy, have been men who are avowedly and ostentatiously indifferent to the welfare of the Empire, men whose votes on questions vitally affecting British or Imperial interests are notoriously governed by considerations in which these interests have no part. It is owing to the excessive number of such men in Parliament that a system of taxation has been carried through the House of Commons which may break up the social organisation on which a great part of the well-being of England has depended for nearly a thousand years. No one supposes that the Irish surplus which turned the balance felt the smallest interest in the result.
It would be difficult to conceive a situation either more dangerous, or more absurd, or more humiliating than this. According to all rational conceptions of constitutional government, it should be the object of the legislator to strengthen the influence of intelligence, loyalty, and property in the representation, and in every change to improve, or not to injure, the character of Parliament. If, however, such ideas are discarded as obsolete and behind the age, if the new worship of mere numbers prevails, to the utter disregard of all the real interests of the State, the present representation of Ireland is still completely indefensible. The argument from the 100 votes stipulated by the Union treaty has been torn to pieces by the legislation of the last few years. A party which has abolished the Established Church of Ireland, which the Irish Parliament made ‘an essential and fundamental part of the Union,’ and which threatens to abolish the Established Church of Scotland, which was guaranteed with equal solemnity at both the Scotch and the Irish Unions, cannot avail itself of such an argument. And the absurdity becomes still more manifest when it is remembered that the great industrial counties in Ireland, which represent its most progressive and loyal portions, are not over-represented, but under-represented, and that, as the result of the present system, in three provinces property, loyalty, and intelligence are practically disfranchised.
There can be little doubt that a reduction, and at the same time a rearrangement, of the Irish representation would greatly improve the constitution of parties, and it would certainly be a great blessing to Ireland. Should this reduction be effected, it is to be hoped that the seats taken from Ireland may not be added to Great Britain, and that statesmen will avail themselves of the opportunity to effect some slight diminution of the numbers of the House.
Nearly all the methods by which it has been attempted to secure in Parliament a representation of the various classes and interests of the community seem passing away under the influence of democracy. Unequal constituencies, restrictions of the suffrage, property qualifications, special representations of property, are all denounced as opposed to the spirit of the age. Direct class representation also, which has borne a large part in the history of representative government, has been steadily declining, though it has in our own day some able defenders,1 and though it is, I think, by no means impossible that in some future stage of the world's history it may be largely revived. The apportionment of political power between distinctly separated classes has, indeed, been one of the oldest and most fruitful ideas in political philosophy. It existed in Athens even before the days of Solon, and Solon, in his revision of the Athenian Constitution, divided the citizens into four classes, according to the amount of their property, subjecting each class to a special proportion of taxation, and giving each class special and peculiar privileges in the State.2 In the Roman republic the citizens were divided into six different classes, according to the amount of their property, the lowest class comprising the poorest citizens; and each class was subdivided into a number of ‘centuries,’ proportioned to what was considered their importance in the State, and each century had a single vote in enacting laws and electing magistrates. Cicero claims for this system that it gave some voice to every class, but a greatly preponderating voice to those who had most interest in the well-being of the State.3 A similar idea inspired the special representation of the three estates of Lords, Clergy, and Commons, which grew up in the Middle Ages, and which played a great part in the early constitutional history of England, France, and Spain. The four orders of Nobles, Clergy, Burgesses, and Peasants were separately represented in Sweden up to 1866, and the same system still survives in the Constitution of Finland. In the Prussian Constitution of 1850 an attempt is made to maintain a balance of classes by dividing the electors ‘of the first degree’ into three different classes, according to the direct taxes they pay, and giving each class a separate and equal power of election. In the still more recent Constitution of Austria the electors are divided into four great classes—the large territorial proprietors, the towns, the chambers of commerce, and the rural communes—and each category returns its own members to the Chamber of the Deputies. But it is evident that the present stream of political tendency is not flowing in this direction, and it is remarkable that the legislators who framed the Constitution for the German Empire did not follow the example of Prussia, but based the representative chamber on direct universal suffrage. It is now chiefly in the upper chambers that class representation may be found.
The question, however, of proportionate representation, or the representation of minorities, stands on a different basis from the representation of classes. It can hardly be contended that the substitution of a representation of the whole nation for a representation of a mere majority is contrary to democratic principles. It is manifest that, under the existing system, multitudes of electors are in effect permanently disfranchised and unrepresented because they are in a permanent minority in the constituencies in which they live. The majority possess not merely a preponderance, but a monopoly; and in a constituency where three-fifths vote one way and two-fifths the other, the whole representation is in the hands of the former. Where constituencies are very unequal in their magnitude it is quite possible that a majority of the representatives may be returned by a minority of the electors, as the minority in a large constituency will often outnumber the majority in a small one. With equalised constituencies and widely extended suffrage another, but not less serious, evil will prevail. A single class—the most numerous, but also the most ignorant—will generally exceed all others, and other classes in large numbers of constituencies will be wholly unrepresented. In such a state of things, the importance of providing some representation for minorities is extremely great, and it continually happens that the proportion of parties in the representation differs very widely from the proportion in the electorate. When two-thirds of a constituency vote for one party, and one-third for the other, it is obviously just that the majority should have two-thirds, and the minority one-third, of the representation.
The importance of this question has been widely felt during the last few years in many countries, especially since the powerful chapter in which Mill discussed it. ‘In a really equal democracy,’ he wrote, ‘every or any section would be represented, not disproportionately, but proportionately. A majority of the electors would always have a majority of the representatives, but a minority of the electors would have a minority of the representatives. Man for man, they would be as fully represented as the majority. Unless they are, there is not equal government, but government of inequality and privilege, … contrary to the principles of democracy which professes equality as its very root and foundation.’4
There are several methods by which this representation of minorities may be obtained with more or less perfection. The most perfect is that which was first proposed by Mr. Hare in 1859. It has undergone several slight modifications, at the hands either of Mr. Hare or of his disciples; but it will here be sufficient to state its principle in the simplest form. The legislator must first ascertain the number of voters who are entitled to return a member; which is done by the easy process of dividing the number of voters in the kingdom, or in one portion of the kingdom, by the number of seats. Every candidate who can gain this number of votes is to be elected, whether these votes come from his own or from other constituencies. It is proposed that each elector should have one vote, but should vote on a paper on which the candidate he prefers stands first, while the names of other candidates follow in the order of preference. If, when the paper is drawn, the candidate at the head of the list has already obtained the requisite number of votes, the vote is to pass to the first of the succeeding candidates who is still deficient. No candidate is to be credited with a greater number of votes than is required for his election, and his superfluous votes are in this manner to be transferred to other candidates to make up their quota. And this transfer is to be made quite irrespectively of the locality for which they stand.
It cannot, I think, be said that there is anything very mysterious or perplexing in this proceeding, though it would probably be some little time before the electors became accustomed to it, and though it would impose some difficulties of detail and some rather complicated calculations upon the officials who worked it. An element of chance would always remain, as the direction of the votes would partly depend upon the order in which the papers were drawn; and it would probably be found impossible to adapt the system to bye-elections, which might continue as at present. If all the seats were not filled by candidates who had obtained the requisite number of votes, those who approximated most nearly to the number might be chosen to fill the vacancies. The plan is not put forward as absolutely perfect, but it is contended for it that it would give at every general election a far more accurate representation of the wishes of the electorate than our present system; that it would utilise a great number of votes which are now lost or wasted; that it would rekindle political life among large classes who are at present in a hopeless minority in their constituencies; that it would diminish the oscillations of politics, by preventing the wholly disproportionate change of power that so often follows a slight shifting in the electorate; and that it would greatly improve the intellectual level of the House of Commons, by making it the interest of party managers to select candidates of acknowledged eminence, and by giving such candidates far greater chances of success. It has been said that it would destroy local representation; but it is answered that a strong local candidate would usually have most chance of obtaining the required number of votes, and that it would be mainly the voters who are in a minority in their constituency, and are now virtually disfranchised, who would transfer their votes. On the great majority of papers a local candidate would almost certainly head the list. It is urged that the system realises more perfectly than any other the democratic principle of absolute equality, while it at the same time secures the representation of all considerable minorities. Under no other system would the representative chamber reflect so truly, in their due numerical proportion, the various classes, interests, and opinions of the nation.
There have been, as I have said, several slight modifications of this system—usually, I think, not improvements. M. de Girardin has urged that all local constituencies should be abolished, and that the whole country should be treated as one great constituency. Another proposal is, that each candidate should have a right to have the votes for him that are in excess of those required for his election transferred to some other candidate whom he had previously named. I do not think that, if Mr. Hare's system were adopted, there would be any great difficulty in working it, and it would probably materially improve the Constitution; but it is very doubtful whether, in a democratic age, public opinion would ever demand with sufficient persistence a representation of minorities, or whether the British nation could ever be induced to adopt a system which departs so widely from its traditional forms and habits. It is remarkable, however, that a system very like that of Mr. Hare had, without his knowledge, been adopted on a small scale in Denmark as early as 1855. It was due to a distinguished statesman named Andreae, who was also a distinguished mathematician; and, with some modifications and restrictions, it still continues.5
Two other methods have been proposed for giving representation to minorities which, though much less perfect than the plan of Mr. Hare, diverge much less from the current notions about representation. One is the system of three-cornered constituencies—that is, of constituencies returning three members, in which every elector has only a right to two votes, and in which a minority exceeding a third could, in consequence, secure one representative. This system was proposed by Lord John Russell in 1854, but was not received with favour. In 1867 the House of Lords, on the motion of Lord Cairns, introduced it into the Reform Bill, and it became law, but without any wide redistribution of seats. If the three-cornered system had been made general, it would probably have been readily accepted, and soon been looked upon as natural; but, being applied only to thirteen constituencies, it was an exceptional thing, and not popular. Birmingham and one or two other great towns resented the addition of a third member, whose vote in a party division might counteract that of one of the two representatives they already possessed, and therefore diminish instead of increase their political strength. In cases where the majority equalled or slightly exceeded two-thirds much difficult and expensive organisation was required to enable it to retain the three seats to which, according to its numbers, it was entitled. Bright, who himself sat for Birmingham, opposed the system with great bitterness and persistence, and the Radical party were generally hostile to it. It was accordingly abolished in the Reform Bill of 1885, which broke up the great majority of the constituencies into smaller divisions, each retaining one member. It was contended that such subdivision improved the chances of a minority; but the case of Ireland abundantly shows how little reliance can be placed on this security,6 and the adoption of such seats greatly added to the difficulty of establishing any general system of minority representation.
‘Nothing is more remarkable,’ writes Mr. Hare in speaking of this episode, ‘than that the attempts to retrace the steps that have been made towards rendering the representative bodies comprehensive, and not exclusive in their character, should all emanate from members of the Liberal party, which is understood to insist upon equality in political freedom, without partiality in favour of person or place. The abolition of the restricted vote was put forward as a pretended vindication of electoral rights, while, by delivering the electoral power of every community over to the majority, it would practically disfranchise a third, or even more, of the electors.’7
The other system is that of the cumulative vote, by which, in a constituency returning three or more members, each elector has a right to as many votes as there are members, and may either distribute them, or concentrate them, if he pleases, on a single candidate. This method is more likely to be popular than the limited vote, as it gives a privilege instead of imposing a restriction, and it would undoubtedly be effectual in enabling any considerable minority to return a member. It was strongly, but unsuccessfully, advocated by Mr. Lowe in 1867, and it was introduced into the school board elections in 1870. Various inequalities and anomalies have been pointed out in its working, but, on the whole, it is undoubtedly efficacious in giving minorities a real representation. It is manifest, however, that it can only be really useful in constituencies represented by more than two members.
These various methods are attempts to attain an end which was, on the whole, roughly though unsystematically attained under the older methods of representation. Various other devices have been proposed, which, however, have at present no chance of being accepted. Perhaps the only exception is a low educational qualification, obliging the electors at least to be able to read and write. Such a qualification was much recommended by Mill, and it has passed into several democratic constitutions. It was first introduced in the French Revolutionary Constitution of 1795, but it was not reproduced in any of the subsequent French constitutions. It exists, however, in Portugal, Italy, and Roumania, and in some of the republics of South America.8 The most recent and most extensive instance of the adoption of plural voting has been in the new Constitution of Belgium. The electors are divided into three classes. One vote is given to all male persons above twenty-five years of age who have resided for a year in one constituency; an additional vote is given to married men and widowers, of not less than thirty-five years, with families, paying a personal tax of five francs to the State on the buildings they inhabit, and also to the owners of property of a certain amount; while a third and smaller class, formed out of men who have received a higher education, filled a public function, or belonged to a learned profession, are entitled to three votes. In this very democratic constitution a form of compulsion is introduced which does not, I believe, exist in any other contemporary constitution. All voters who have not obtained a special exemption from a judge are compelled to vote, and are liable to a fine if they abstain.
It is too soon to form a conclusive opinion on either the value or the permanence of the Belgian system of plural voting, incorporated in an extremely democratic constitution. It is especially interesting to English observers, as being an attempt to carry out in some measure one of the favourite ideas of Mill.
Mill was not insensible to the danger and injustice of dissociating the power of voting taxes from the necessity of paying them, and to the fact that unqualified universal suffrage leads plainly and rapidly to this form of robbery. Universal suffrage he valued in the highest degree as a system of education, and he was quite prepared, for educational purposes, to give the most incompetent classes in the community an enormous power of determining the vital interests of the Empire, regulating the industry, and disposing of the property of their neighbours. He imagined that he could mitigate or avert the danger by two expedients. One was to extend direct taxation to the very lowest class, imposing a small annual tax in the form of capitation on every grown person in the community. If this direct tax could be made to rise or fall with the gross expenditure of the country, he believed that every elector would feel himself directly interested in wise and economical administration. Paupers and bankrupts, and those who had not paid their taxes, were to be excluded from the suffrage. Is it a rash thing to say that the very first measure of a Radical Chancellor of the Exchequer who desired to win a doubtful election under the system of universal suffrage would be to abolish this capitation tax?
The other expedient was a very great extension of plural voting. Every man and every woman, according to Mill, should have a vote, but in order to correct the great dangers of class legislation and a too low standard of political intelligence, large classes should be strengthened by a plurality of votes. Employers of labour, foremen, labourers in the more skilled trades, bankers, merchants, and manufacturers, might all be given two or more votes. Similar or greater advantages might be given to the members of the liberal professions, to graduates of universities, to those who had passed through different kinds of open examination. The old system, according to which those who possessed property in different constituencies stituencies had a vote in each, should be preserved, although it was an imperfect one; but it should be considerably extended. ‘In any future Reform Bill which lowers greatly the pecuniary conditions of the suffrage it might be a wise provision to allow all graduates of universities, all persons who had passed creditably through the higher schools, all members of the liberal professions, and perhaps some others, to be registered specifically in these characters, and to give their votes as such in any constituency in which they choose to register, retaining, in addition, their votes as simple citizens in the localities in which they reside.’9
It is sufficiently obvious how utterly opposed all these views are to the predominating tendency of modern English Radicalism, with its watchword of one man, one vote, and its steadily successful efforts to place the property and the liberty of the Empire under the complete dominion of the poorest and the most ignorant. In the first cast of the Reform Bill of 1867 Disraeli introduced a number of qualifications very much in the spirit of those which had been advocated by Mill. While enormously extending and lowering the suffrage connected with the ownership and occupation of property, he proposed to confer a number of votes of another description. There was an educational franchise, to be conferred on all graduates of universities, on all male persons who had passed at any senior middle-class examination of any university of the United Kingdom, on all priests and deacons of the Established Church, all ministers of other denominations, all barristers, pleaders, attorneys, medical men, or certificated schoolmasters. There was a pecuniary franchise, to belong to every man who, during the preceding two years, had a balance of not less than fifty pounds in a savings bank, or in the Bank of England, or in any parliamentary stock, or who paid twenty shillings for assessed taxes or income-tax; and there was a clause enabling voters in a borough to be registered on two different qualifications, and to exercise in consequence a dual vote.
It was intended by these franchises to qualify the ascendency of mere numbers by strengthening in the electorate intelligence, education, property, and frugality. All such attempts, however, were opposed by Mr. Gladstone and his followers, and the new franchises were very lightly abandoned by their author. They were usually condemned and ridiculed as ‘fancy franchises’—a curious instance of the manner in which, in English politics, a nickname that is neither very witty nor very descriptive can be made to take the place of serious argument.
No such efforts to improve the electorate are now likely to obtain even a respectful hearing. Whether, however, they have passed for ever is another question. When the present evils infecting our parliamentary system have grown still graver; when a democratic house, more and more broken up into small groups, more and more governed by sectional or interested motives, shall have shown itself evidently incompetent to conduct the business of the country with honour, efficiency, and safety; when public opinion has learnt more fully the enormous danger to national prosperity, as well as individual happiness, of dissociating power from property, and giving the many an unlimited right of confiscating by taxation the possessions of the few, some great reconstruction of government is sure to be demanded. Fifty, or even twenty five years hence, the current of political opinion in England may be as different from that of our own day as contemporary political tendencies are different from those in the generation of our fathers. Expedients and arguments that are now dismissed with contempt may then revive, and play no small part in the politics of the future.
One great possible constitutional change, very new to English public opinion, has risen with remarkable rapidity into prominence in the last few years, and is perhaps destined hereafter to have an extensive influence. I mean the Swiss Referendum. Rousseau, in his ‘Contrat Social,’ maintained that all laws ought to be voted by universal male suffrage, and that no law which had not received this direct sanction was binding. It is probable that in this, as in some other parts of his political philosophy, he was much influenced by his Swiss experience, for the old form of government known as the Landsgemeinde, according to which all the adult males assemble twice a year to vote their laws and elect their functionaries by universal suffrage, existed widely in his time, both in the town governments and the canton governments of Switzerland. It is a form of government which has played a great part in the early history of mankind, but it is manifestly unsuited to wide areas and large populations. It was abolished in our own century in Zug and in Schwytz, but it may still be seen in Uri, Unterwalden, Appenzell, and Glarus. The French Convention, in 1793, attempted to carry out the doctrine of Rousseau by introducing into its Constitution a provision that, in case a certain proportion of the electors desired it, there should be a popular vote upon every law; and although this Constitution was never put into force, the same doctrine was, as we have seen, in some degree carried out in the shape of plebiscites directly sanctioning several changes of government.
In Switzerland it has taken the form of the Referendum, which appears to have grown out of the Landsgemeinde. It became a regular and permanent element in Swiss government after the French Revolution of 1830, and in recent times it has been largely extended. The Referendum is not intended as a substitute for representative government, but as a final court of appeal, giving the electors, by a direct vote, the right of veto or ratification upon measures which had already passed the legislative chambers. For many years it was confined to the separate cantons, and it took different forms. Sometimes it was restricted to new taxes and changes in the constitutions of the cantons. In several cantons it is chiefly optional, taking place only when a specified number of electors demand it. In other cantons it is compulsory, the constitution providing that all laws passed by the representative body must be submitted to a direct popular vote in order to acquire validity. In all the cantons there is now a compulsory Referendum on every proposition to alter the cantonal constitution, and in many cantons there is a compulsory Refer endum on every expenditure of public money, beyond a certain specified sum, varying according to their extent and population. The Catholic canton of Fribourg is now the only one which confines it to questions of constitutional revision.
The Referendum was introduced into the Federal system by the Constitution of 1848, but it was only made applicable to the single case of constitutional revision. Every change in the Constitution made by the Federal Legislature required the ratification of a direct popular vote. In the Constitution of 1874, however, the province of the Referendum was largely extended, for it was provided that all Federal laws, as well as general Federal decrees which were not of an urgent nature, should be submitted to the popular vote on the demand of 30,000 qualified voters or of eight cantons. A remarkable provision was also inserted in this Constitution giving the people some right of initiative, as well as ratification, in matters of constitutional revision. If 50,000 voters demanded it, a popular vote must be taken on the question whether the Constitution should be revised; and, if it was in favour of revision, the two Federal Councils were renewed for the purpose of undertaking the task. A revision of the Constitution which was carried in 1891 went much further. It entitled 50,000 voters to obtain a popular vote which might decree directly the introduction of a new article, or the abolition or modification of an old article of the Helvetic Constitution.10 In all these ways the nation directly intervenes to dictate or to make its own laws, and the power of the representative bodies is to that extent abridged. A corresponding tendency to give the popular vote an initiative in legislation has appeared in some of the separate cantons.
Laveleye has collected an interesting series of examples of the manner in which this power has been used.11 On the whole the popular vote, when it extends over the entire Con federation, more frequently negatives than ratifies the measures submitted to it. The tendencies which it most strongly shows are a dislike to large expenditure, a dislike to centralisation, a dislike to violent innovation. The Referendum is more frequently employed in cantonal than in Federal legislation. Between the enactment of the Constitution of 1874 and July 1891 about 130 laws passed through the Federal Chamber. Of these, sixteen only, exclusive of some constitutional modifications, were submitted to the popular vote, and, of these sixteen, eleven were rejected. The chief charges that have been brought against the popular vote are, that it refuses adequate stipends to public servants, and is very niggardly in providing for works of public utility, especially when they relate to interests that are not easily appreciated by agricultural peasants. On the whole, it has been decidedly conservative, though there have been a few exceptions. It sanctioned the severely graduated taxation which exists in some of the Swiss cantons; but in Neuchatel the system of graduated taxation, having been accepted by the Grand Council, was rejected by the Referendum, and the same thing has happened still more recently in the canton of Berne.12 One remarkable vote, which was taken in 1879, restored to the different cantons the power of introducing capital punishment into their criminal codes, which had been taken from them by the Constitution of 1874. A somewhat curious recent vote has prohibited the Jews from killing their cattle in the way prescribed by their law. In this case the anti-Semitic feeling and a feeling of what was supposed to be humanity to animals probably blended, though in very unequal proportions.
The popularity of the Referendum in Switzerland is clearly shown by the rapidity with which its scope has been ex tended. There is a very remarkable movement of the same kind in America, where in State politics the tendency runs strongly in favour of a substitution of direct popular legislation for legislation through the medium of representative bodies. Every change in a State Government is now made by summoning a convention for that express purpose, and the revision determined on by this convention must be sanctioned by a direct popular vote. In this respect, therefore, the State constitutions of the United States rest on exactly the same basis as the cantonal governments of Switzerland, and the same system has been widely extended to various forms of municipal and county government. In many State constitutions it is prescribed that the State capital can only be changed by a popular vote, and in one or two constitutions the same restriction applies to transfers of great local institutions. In a large number of cases, as I have already noticed, the extreme corruption of the State legislatures has led the people to introduce clauses into their State constitutions limiting strictly the power of the legislatures to impose taxes or incur debts, and obliging them to submit all expenditure beyond the assigned limits to a direct popular vote.
This is, however, only a small part of the legislation which is now carried by direct popular vote. Conventions summoned for the purpose of amending the State constitutions have taken the largest possible view of their powers: they have laid down rules relating not only to organic constitutional change, but to every important subject of legislation, withdrawing those subjects wholly, or partially, from the competency of the State legislatures, and every enactment made by these conventions requires for its validity the ratification of a direct popular vote.
This movement is but little known in England, and although I have already referred to it in another connection, it is sufficiently important to warrant some repetition. In England, a large class of politicians are now preaching a multiplication of small democratic local legislatures as the true efflorescence and perfection of democracy. In America, no fact is more clearly established than that such legislatures almost invariably fall into the hands of caucuses, wirepullers, and professional politicians, and become centres of jobbing and corruption. One of the main tasks of the best American politicians has, of late years, been to withdraw gradually the greater part of legislation from the influence of these bodies, and to entrust it to conventions specially elected for a special purpose, and empowered to pass particular laws, subject to direct ratification by a popular vote. I can here hardly do better than to quote at some length the American writer who has recently treated this subject with the fullest knowledge and detail. ‘It is very usual,’ writes Mr. Oberholtzer, ‘for conventions in late years, at the time of submitting constitutions, to submit special articles or sections of articles for separate consideration by the people. These pertain to subjects upon which there is likely to be much public feeling.… Subjects so treated by the conventions have been slavery, woman's suffrage, the prohibition of the liquor traffic, the location of state capitals, & c.… There has been within recent times a radical change in our ideas in regard to State constitutions, and our conceptions as to what matters are suitable for a place in these instruments. At the beginning they were, as constitutions are supposed to be, statements of the fundamentals of government.… Now, however, very different constitutional standards obtain, and in the States of every section of the country the same tendency is visible, until we have to-day come to a point when our State constitutions are nothing short of codes of laws giving instruction to the Legislature and the other agents of Government on nearly every subject of general public concern, and often stating the methods which shall be used in legislating, if not, indeed, actually legislating, on local questions.… The constitutions have been the repositories for much of the legislation which before was left to be enacted by the legislatures.’13
This writer then proceeds to show how the State constitutions as amended by the conventions now make pamphlets of from fifty to seventy-five pages long, including almost all matters of education, taxation, expenditure, and local administration; the organisation and regulation of the railroads, of the militia, of the trade in drink, of the penal and reformatory institutions; clauses prohibiting lotteries, prize fights, or duels, establishing a legal day's work, even defining the relations of husbands and wives, and debtors and creditors.
All these subjects are withdrawn from the province of the State legislature, and are dealt with by conventions ratified by a direct popular vote. ‘Indeed,’ continues our writer, ‘there are now few matters which are subjects for legislation at all that, according to the new conception of a constitution, may not be dealt with by the conventions. It is only after considering the nature of this new conception that the Referendum as exemplified in America is seen to have its closest likeness to the institution as it exists to-day in Switzerland.’
‘Side by side with this movement to make codes of laws of our constitutions, and to restrict in many ways the powers of the State legislatures, has grown up a movement tending directly to the almost entire abolition of these bodies. In nearly all the States, by the development of the last few years, the conventions have substituted biennial for annual legislative sessions. These sessions, now being held only half as often, are further limited so that they may not extend over more than a certain number of days.… Those States which still retain the system of annual sessions—as, for instance, New York and New Jersey—constantly find cause for dissatisfaction, and the feeling of distrust for these bodies is taking deeper hold of the people every year. The feeling, indeed, has reached a conviction nearly everywhere that the powers of the legislatures should be still further curtailed, and in but one State—Georgia—has there been shown any inclination to return to original principles.’
‘With the change in the character of the constitutions, has of necessity come a change in the character of constitutional amendments. Statute legislation, of late years, has been more and more disguised in these amendments, and sent to the Referendum. No better evidence of this is to be found than in the frequency of amendments to prohibit the manufacture and traffic in intoxicating liquors, a subject as far removed as any well could be from the original idea as to a proper matter for treatment in a constitution. Of these elections, in nine years there were nineteen, beginning with Kansas, Nov. 2, 1880, and closing with Connecticut, Oct. 7,1889.’14
These passages are, I think, very significant, as showing certain tendencies of democracy which are as yet little recognised in England, but which are probably destined to contribute largely towards moulding the governments of the future. I must refer my reader to the curious work which I am citing for detailed evidence of the many instances in which, in different States of the American Republic, local measures about taxation and debt, changes in the State territorial boundaries, jurisdiction, or municipal arrangements, or in the suffrage, the system of representation, or the liquor laws, have been settled by a direct popular vote of the same character as the Swiss Referendum. This system appears to have almost wholly arisen in America since 1850,15 and it has grown rapidly in public favour. It has been the subject of many, and sometimes conflicting, decisions in the law courts, but in the great majority of States it has obtained a firm legal footing, and it is transforming the whole character of State government.
It is not surprising that the Referendum is now beginning seriously to occupy those political thinkers who can look beyond the contests of the hour and the immediate interests of a party. Laveleye has devoted much attention to it,16 and it was much discussed in Belgium during the recent democratic revision of the Constitution. It was proposed, as a safeguard against the dangers to be feared from that great and sudden change, that the King should possess the power of submitting measures which had passed through the Chambers to a direct popular vote in the form of a Referendum. The proposal was (as I think, unfortunately) defeated, but there have been several minor indications of its growing popularity. The Referendum has, in more than one case, been employed in Belgium in questions of municipal government. The vote which is required in England for the establishment in any borough of a free library supported by the rates, and the system of local option so strenuously advocated by many temperance reformers, and which a growing party desires to apply to the hours of labour in different trades, belong to this category. The Referendum now occupies a prominent place in the programme of the Labour party in Australia, and in most of the Socialist programmes in Europe, while its incorporation in the British Constitution has of late years found several advocates of a very different order of opinion, and has been supported by the brilliant pen and by the great authority of Professor Dicey.17
It is a question which is indeed well worthy of serious consideration. If such a system could be made to work, it would almost certainly do something to correct, by an eminently democratic method, democratic evils that are threatening grave calamities to the Empire. It would make it possible to introduce into England that distinction between constitutional questions and ordinary legislation which in America and in nearly all continental countries not only exists, but is maintained and fortified by the most stringent provisions. In the days when the balance of power between the different ele ments in the Constitution was still unimpaired, when the strongly organised conservative influences of class and property opposed an insuperable barrier to revolutionary change, such a distinction might be safely dispensed with. In the conditions of the present day, no serious thinker can fail to perceive the enormous danger of placing the essential elements of the Constitution at the mercy of a simple majority of a single Parliament, a majority, perhaps, composed of heterogeneous and discordant fractions, combined for a party purpose, and not larger than is required to pass a Bill for regulating music-halls or protecting sea-birds’ eggs.
The Referendum, in its first and most universal application, is intended to prevent this evil by making it impossible to carry constitutional changes without the direct and deliberate assent of the people. It would also have the immense advantage of disentangling issues, separating one great question from the many minor questions with which it may be mixed. Confused or blended issues are among the gravest political dangers of our time. Revolutionary and predatory measures are much less likely to be carried on their merits than because their proposers have obtained a majority by joining with them a sufficient number of other measures appealing to different sections of the electorate. With the multiplication of groups this evil is constantly increasing, and it is in this direction that many dangerous politicians are mainly working. In the House of Commons, a measure may often be carried which would never have had a chance of success if the members could vote on their own conviction of its merits; if they could vote by ballot; if they could vote as they thought best, without destroying a ministry, or endangering some wholly different measure which stood lower down in the ministerial programme. Motives of the same kind, absolutely distinct from an approval or disapproval of one great measure, govern the votes of the electorate, and largely determine the course of parties and legislation. It would be a great gain to English politics if a capital question could be decided by the electorate on its own merits, on a direct and simple issue. If the nation is moving towards revolution, it should at least do so with its eyes open, and with a clear and deliberate intention.
It would probably be found that such a vote would prove the most powerful bulwark against violent and dishonest change. It would bring into action the opinion of the great silent classes of the community, and reduce to their true proportions many movements to which party combinations or noisy agitations have given a wholly factitious prominence. It might restore in another form something of the old balanced Constitution, which has now so nearly passed away. The transcendently important function of the House of Lords in restraining the despotism of the Commons, and referring great changes to the adjudication of the people, is now rarely exercised and violently assailed. If, when the House of Lords differed on a question of grave national importance from the Commons, it possessed, or, if possessing, it would exercise, the power of submitting that question to the direct vote of the electorate, the most skilful demagogue would find it difficult to persuade the people that it was trampling on their rights. If the power of insisting on a Referendum was placed, as in Switzerland, in the hands of a large body of voters, it would still form a counterpoise and a check of the most important kind.
It is contended for it that it would not only extricate one capital measure from the crowd of minor measures with which it is associated, but would also lift it above the dominion of party, and thus greatly increase the probability of its representing the genuine wishes of the electorate. It would enable the nation to reject a measure which it dislikes, without destroying a ministry of which it approves. The vote would not be on the general policy of the Government. It would be exclusively on the merits of a single measure, and it would leave the ministerial majority in the House of Commons unchanged. Few persons will doubt that a measure brought in this manner before the electorate would be voted on with a much fuller consideration and a much more serious sense of responsibility than if it came before them mixed up with a crowd of other measures, and inseparably connected with a party issue. At a general election, the great majority of votes are given for a party or a statesman, and the real question is, which side should rule the country. By the Referendum the electorate can give its deliberate opinion, not upon men, but upon measures, and can reject a measure without placing the Government of the country into other hands.
It is often said that there are large classes of questions on which such a popular opinion could be of little worth. To this I have no difficulty in subscribing. It is very doubtful whether a really popular vote would have ratified the Toleration Act in the seventeenth century, or the abolition of the capital punishment of witches in the eighteenth century, or Catholic Emancipation in the nineteenth century, or a crowd of other measures that might be enumerated. It is now, however, too late to urge such an argument. Democracy has been crowned king. The voice of the multitude is the ultimate court of appeal, and the right of independent judgment, which was once claimed for the members of Parliament, is now almost wholly discarded. If the electorate is to judge policies, it is surely less likely to err if it judges them on a clear and distinct issue. In such a case it is most likely to act independently, and not at the dictation of party wirepullers. It is to be remembered, too, that the Referendum is not intended as a substitute for representative government. All the advantages of parliamentary debate would still remain. Policies would not be thrown before the electorate in a crude, undigested, undeveloped state. All measures would still pass through Parliament, and the great majority would be finally decided by Parliament. It would only be in a few cases, after a measure had been thoroughly discussed in all its bearings, after the two Houses had given their judgment, that the nation would be called to adjudicate. The Referendum would be an appeal from a party majority, probably made up of discordant groups, to the genuine opinion of the country. It would be an appeal on a question which had been thoroughly examined, and on which the nation had every means of arriving at a conclusion. It would be a clear and decisive verdict on a matter on which the two branches of the Legislature had differed.
It is argued against the Referendum that many of the differences between the two Houses are differences not of principle, but of detail. A Bill is before Parliament on the general policy of which both parties and both Houses are agreed, but one clause or amendment, dealing with a subsidiary part, produces an irreconcilable difference. The popular vote, it has been said, would be an instrument wholly unfit to discriminate between the portion of a Bill that should be preserved and the part that should be rejected. I do not, however, think that there is much weight in this argument. After all discussions of details, a Bill, if it is to become law, must now pass through its third reading, and be accepted or rejected as a whole by a single vote. All that is proposed by the Referendum is, that there should be one more step before its enactment. If the House of Lords objected essentially to some Bill which the House of Commons had more than once adopted, it might pass that Bill with the addition of a clause providing that it should not become law until it had been ratified by a direct popular vote. If the two Houses, agreeing upon the general merits of the Bill, differed irreconcilably upon one clause, instead of the Bill being wholly lost the Houses might agree that it should be passed in one or other form with a similar addition. By this simple method the Referendum might be put in action, and as the appeal would be to the existing electorate, no insuperable difficulties of machinery would be likely to arise.
Another objection is, that the Referendum would have the effect of lowering the authority of the House of Commons, which is now, in effect, the supreme legislative authority in the Empire. This is undoubtedly true, and, in my own judgment, it would be one of its great merits. The old saying of Burghley, that ‘England never can be ruined but by her Parliament,’ was never more true than at the present time, and the uncontrolled, unbalanced authority of a single representative body constituted like our own seems to me one of the gravest dangers to the Empire. In our age we must mainly look to democracy for a remedy. According to the theories which now prevail, the House of Commons has absolutely no right as against its electors, and it is to the electors that the Referendum would transfer, in a far more efficient manner than at present, the supreme authority in legislation. If the House of Commons moves during the next quarter of a century as rapidly on the path of discredit as it has done during the quarter of a century that has passed, it is not likely that many voices would be found to echo this objection.
The foregoing arguments seem to me, at least, to show that the Referendum is not a question to be lightly dismissed. It might furnish a remedy for great and growing evils which is very difficult to cure, and it would do so in a way which is in full accordance with the democratic spirit of the time. Further than this I should not venture to go. To carry out successfully a scheme so widely diverging from old English modes of thought, to foresee and guard against the possible evils connected with it, would need the experience and discussion of many minds. It is obviously much easier to apply such a system to a small and sparse population like that of Switzerland, than to a dense population like our own; and the ascendency of party has so long been supreme in England that it is not likely that the Referendum could withdraw questions wholly from its empire. It is probable that the vote would often be taken under the glamour of a great name; its result would be looked upon as a party triumph, and for some time it would not be easy to persuade the British public that a ministry should remain in power when its capital measure had been defeated. The experience, however, of Switzerland and America shows that, when the Referendum takes root in a country, it takes political questions, to an immense degree, out of the hands of wirepullers, and makes it possible to decide them mainly, though perhaps not wholly, on their merits, without producing a change of government or of party predominance.
Difficulties arising from both Houses of Parliament would, no doubt, have to be encountered. The House of Commons would naturally dislike to surrender any part of its power, even into the hands of its masters. The House of Lords, as at present constituted, is viewed with such suspicion by large classes that they would object to a measure which might increase its power, even though that increase was wholly derived from association with the most extreme form of democracy. The great and pressing question of the reform of the Upper House would probably have to precede the adoption of the Referendum.
It seems to me also clear, that in a country like England the Referendum could never become an habitual agent in legislation. Perpetual popular votes would be an intolerable nuisance. To foreign politics the Referendum would be very inapplicable, and in home politics it ought only to be employed on rare and grave occasions. It should be restricted to constitutional questions altering the disposition of power in the State, with, perhaps, the addition of important questions on which, during more than one Parliament, the two Houses of the Legislature had differed.
Within these limits it appears to me full of promise, and it is to be hoped that political thinkers may keep their minds open upon the subject. For some considerable time to come all questions are likely to be submitted to the adjudication of the greatest number, and statesmen must accept the fact, and endeavour to make it as little dangerous as possible. It has been the opinion of some of the ablest and most successful politicians of our time that, by adopting a very low suffrage, it would be possible to penetrate below the region where crotchets and experiments and crude Utopias and habitual restlessness prevail, and to reach the strong, settled habits, the enduring tendencies, the deep conservative instincts of the nation. Such an idea was evidently present in the minds both of Louis Napoleon and of Lord Beaconsfield, and it probably largely influenced the great statesman who based the German Constitution on universal suffrage. How far it may be true I do not here discuss. It is probable that the recent turn in English politics has added considerably to the number of those who believe in it. It seems to me, at least, certain that popular opinion is likely to be least dangerous if it is an unsophisticated opinion on a direct issue, as far as possible uninfluenced by agitators and professional politicians. It is very possible that its tendencies might be towards extreme Conservatism; but the pendulum has moved so long and so violently in the opposite direction that a period of pause, or even of reaction, might not appear an evil.
The welcome the reader will extend to such considerations will depend largely upon his view of the existing state of the Constitution. If he believes that parliamentary government in its present form is firmly established, working well, and likely to endure, he will naturally object to any change which would alter fundamentally the centre of power. If he believes that some of the most essential springs of the British Constitution have been fatally weakened, and that our system of government is undergoing a perilous process of disintegration, transformation, and deterioration, he will be inclined to look with more favour on possible remedies, even though they be very remote from the national habits and traditions.
Another method by which the evils of a decaying parliamentary system may be in some degree mitigated is by the extension of the powers of committees. The only possible manner in which a large assembly of men can directly and efficiently discharge much business is by the strict organisation of parties, which throws the whole initiation and direction into a few competent hands. But under the best organisation a large assembly is unfit for the investigation of details, and when the discipline of Parliament and of parties gives way its incapacity becomes very manifest. In the United States, as is well known, congressional, or, as we should say, parliamentary, legislation is almost entirely in the hands of committees. Fifty or sixty committees of the House of Representatives, and a somewhat smaller number of committees of the Senate, are appointed at the beginning of every Congress. Each of them usually consists of about eleven members; they sit for two years, and they are entrusted with unlimited powers of curtailing, altering, or extending the Bills that come before them. They do not receive those Bills after discussion in the Chambers. Both the first and second readings are granted as a matter of course, and it is in the committees that Bills receive their full investigation and definite shape. The deliberations there are usually secret, and nearly always unreported. The great majority of the Bills are stifled in committee, either by long postponement or by unfavourable reports. Those which are favourably reported have to receive the sanction of Congress; but they are usually only discussed in the shortest and most cursory manner, and in the vast majority of cases the task of framing legislation lies in reality, not with the Chambers, but with these small delegated bodies. Mr. Bryce has described the process in detail, and he observes that ‘the House has become not so much a legislative assembly as a huge panel from which committees are selected.’18
The system is extremely unlike our own. The ministers do not sit in Congress, and therefore cannot guide it; and they do not depend for their tenure of office upon its approval. The Speaker, who in England represents the most absolute impartiality, is, in America, the most powerful of party leaders, for he nominates the members of the committees, by whom legislation is virtually made. As Mr. Bryce observes, Congress loses its unity and much of its importance, and parliamentary oratory dwindles into insignificance. The public, who know that the real business of legislation is transacted in small secret bodies, come to look on Congress and its proceedings with great indifference; and legislation being mainly the product of a number of small and independent bodies, is much wanting in cohesion and harmony.
If these were the only consequences, they might readily be accepted. Some of them, indeed, would appear to many of us positive advantages. Unfortunately, the corruption, log-rolling, and intrigue that so deeply infect American politics appear to be abundantly displayed in the work of the committees.19
The system, however, is essentially different from parliamentary government. It places the task of framing laws in the hands of small groups of shrewd business men, who work without any of the disturbing influences of publicity; and it diminishes, though it certainly does not destroy, the injurious influence on public business of anarchy and deterioration in Congress. In France a different system prevails, but most legislation is practically done in ‘bureaux,’ or subdivisions of the Chamber, which are appointed for the consideration of particular subjects. In England the action of the whole House is much greater; but the committee system appears to be the healthiest part of our present parliamentary system, and it has been considerably extended by the adoption of standing committees in the House of Commons in 1883, and in the House of Lords in 1891.20 The committees are of several kinds. There are the select committees, which are appointed by either House for the purpose of investigating complex subjects, and which have the power of calling witnesses before them. The new Standing Committees of Law and Trade, commonly called grand committees, consist of from sixty to eighty members, representing different sections of the House, and they generally include Cabinet ministers. Various Bills are referred to them from the committee stage by a process of devolution, and their divisions on disputed points are duly recorded. Besides these there is the Committee of Public Accounts, which, with the assistance of the departmental officials, exercises a close and useful supervision over the details of finance.21
It is probable that the power, and perhaps the number, of the committees will be increased, and that in this manner the much-impaired business capacity of the House may be considerably recruited. The process of devolution is likely, in some manner and under some conditions and restrictions, to be extended, either by special parliamentary committees, or in other ways, to bodies representing different portions of the Empire. The expense of carrying to London great masses of non-political private business which might be as efficiently and much more cheaply settled at home, is a real and serious grievance; and the obstruction to parliamentary business caused by the introduction of many matters that ought never to be brought before the supreme legislature of an empire, is now keenly felt. Sooner or later some change in this system must be effected, and a much larger proportion of Irish and Scotch business than at present is likely to be entrusted to bodies specially representing those countries. I do not propose to enter at large into this question. The two limitations that should be observed are, I think, sufficiently obvious. The one is, that no body should be set up which would be likely to prove in times of danger a source of weakness or division to the Empire. The other is, that Parliament should never so far abdicate its supreme duty of doing justice to all sections of the people as to set up any body that is likely to oppress or plunder any class. If these two conditions are fully and efficiently secured, local government may be wisely and largely extended. There is, however, no greater folly in politics than to set up a political body without considering the hands into which it is likely to fall, or the spirit in which it is likely to be worked.
One change in the internal regulation of Parliament has also been powerfully urged for the purpose of correcting the instability and intrigue which a multiplication of independent parliamentary groups is certain to produce. It is, that a government should not consider itself bound either to resign or dissolve on account of an adverse division due, perhaps, to a chance or factious combination of irreconcilable minorities, but should retain office until a formal vote of want of confidence indicates clearly the desire of the House of Commons. It does not, however, appear to me that this change would be, on the whole, an improvement. The fact that it has never been made in France, where the evil of instability in the government arising from the group system in Parliament has attained its extreme limits, shows how difficult it would be to implant it in parliamentary institutions. A defeat in the House of Lords does not overthrow a ministry; a defeat in the House of Commons on a particular question may be always remedied, if the House desires it, by a vote of confidence. If the change we are considering would mitigate the evil of parliamentary disintegration, it would, as it seems to me, aggravate the not less serious evil of the despotism of party caucuses. It continually happens that a government, long before the natural duration of a Parliament has expired, loses the confidence of the House of Commons and of the country, and it is very undesirable that, under these circumstances, it should continue in office. It is, however, seldom likely that its majority would be destroyed by a formal vote of want of confidence. Liberals would hesitate to vote definitely as Tories, or Tories as Liberals, and the pressure of party organisations would override genuine opinions. It is on side-issues or incidental questions that the true feeling of the House is most likely to be displayed and a bad ministry defeated.
After all due weight has been given to the possible remedies that have been considered, it still seems to me that the parliamentary system, when it rests on manhood suffrage, or something closely approaching to manhood suffrage, is extremely unlikely to be permanent. This was evidently the opinion of Tocqueville, who was strongly persuaded that the natural result of democracy was a highly concentrated, enervating, but mild despotism.22 It is the opinion of many of the most eminent contemporary thinkers in France and Germany, and it is, I think, steadily growing in England. This does not mean that Parliaments will cease, or that a wide suffrage will be abolished. It means that Parliaments, if constructed on this type, cannot permanently remain the supreme power among the nations of the world. Sooner or later they will sink by their own vices and inefficiencies into a lower plane. They will lose the power of making and unmaking ministries, and it will be found absolutely necessary to establish some strong executive independently of their fluctuations. Very probably this executive may be established, as in America and under the French Empire, upon a broad basis of an independent suffrage. Very possibly upper chambers, constituted upon some sagacious plan, will again play a great restraining and directing part in the government of the world. Few persons who have watched the changes that have passed over our own House of Commons within the last few years will either believe or wish that in fifty years’ time it can exercise the power it now does. It is only too probable that some great catastrophe or the stress of a great war may accelerate the change.
I do not speak of the modern extensions of local government in the counties or towns as diminishing the authority of democratic Parliaments. These extensions have been themselves great democratic triumphs, transferring to bodies resting on a very low suffrage powers which were either in the hands of persons nominated by the Crown, or in the hands of persons whose election depended on a high property qualification, and especially on the possession of landed property. The preceding pages will have abundantly illustrated the dangers that are to be feared from unchecked democracy in this field. In England there is a great belief in the educational value of this kind of government. It is true that an honest, well-meaning local government may begin by making many mistakes, but will soon acquire the habits of good government. On the other hand, if local government falls into the hands of corrupt, self-seeking, dishonest men, it will promote quite other habits, and will have very little tendency to improve. Prolonged continuity of jobbing is not an education in which good statesmen are likely to be formed, and few things have done so much to demoralise American political life as the practices that prevail in municipal government and in the management of ‘the machine.’
On the whole, it can hardly be questioned that, in spite of great complexities and incoherences of administration, and of many strange anomalies, England has been for many years singularly happy in her local governments. The country gentlemen who chiefly managed her county government, at least discharged their task with great integrity, and with a very extensive and minute knowledge of the districts they ruled. They had their faults, but they were much more negative than positive. They did few things which they ought not to have done, but they left undone many things which they ought to have done. There was in general no corruption; gross abuses were very rare, and public money was, on the whole, wisely and economically expended; but evils that might have been remedied were often left untouched, and there was much need of a more active reforming spirit in county administration.
Our town governments, also, since the great Municipal Act of 1835, have been, on the whole, very successful. They have not fallen into the hands of corrupt politicians like the greater number of the municipal governments in America; the statesmen of the period of the first Reform Bill never failed to maintain a close connection between the power of taxing and the obligation of paying rates and taxes, and the strong controlling influence they gave to property in municipal government, and in the administration of the poor laws, secured an honest employment of public money. The first and most vital rule of all good government is, that those who vote taxes should contribute, to some appreciable extent, to paying them; that those who are responsible for the administration of affairs should themselves suffer from maladministration. This cardinal rule is, if possible, even more applicable to local than to imperial government. Imperial government is largely concerned with wide political issues. Local government is specially, and beyond all things, a machine for raising and employing money. In every sound company the directors must qualify for their post by being large shareholders, and the shareholders who have the largest interest have the greatest number of votes. This is the first and most obvious rule for obtaining an honest and frugal administration of money, and the success and purity of English local government have been largely due to the steadiness with which the great statesmen who followed the Reform Bill of 1832 acted upon it.
It has been reserved for the present generation of statesmen to do all that is in their power to destroy it. It has come to be regarded as a Liberal principle that it is a wrong thing to impose rating or property qualifications on those who vote rates and govern property. Thus, by the Act of 1894 all property qualifications for vestrymen and poorlaw guardians have been abolished. The rating qualification for voting is no longer necessary. The ex-officio and nominated guardians, who were always men of large experience and indisputable character, have been swept away; the obviously equitable rule that ratepayers should have votes for guardians in proportion to the amount of their contributions has been replaced by the rule of one voter, one vote. The old property qualifications for the electors of district boards have been abolished, and at the same time those boards have acquired additional powers over different kinds of property. With many politicians the evident ideal of city government is, that a great owner of town property, who necessarily pays the largest proportion of the municipal taxation, whose interests are most indissolubly associated with the prosperity of the city, and who, from his very prominence, is specially likely to be made the object of predatory attacks, should have no more voice than the humblest tenant on his estate in imposing, regulating, distributing, and applying municipal taxation.
It would be difficult to conceive a system more certain to lead to corruption and dishonesty; and other circumstances contribute to enhance the danger. If taxation were as limited in its amount, and public expenditure restricted to as few objects as in the past generation, it would signify comparatively little how its burden was distributed. But one of the most marked tendencies of our time is the enlargement of the area of State functions and the amount of State expenditure. The immense increase of local taxation, and especially local debt, that has taken place within a very few years has long excited the alarm of the most serious politicians in England. The complications of local taxation are so great that it is probably not possible to obtain complete accuracy on this subject, but there can be no question of the appalling rapidity with which the movement has advanced. In a very useful paper published under the auspices of the Cobden Club in 1882, it was calculated that the local indebtedness of England and Wales had risen between 1872 and 1880 from 80,000,000l. to 137,096,607l.23 In 1891, it was stated in the House of Commons to be 195,400,000l. In the following year it was stated that, in the preceding fifteen years, the national debt had fallen from 768,945,757l. to 689,944,026l., but that during the same period the municipal debt had risen from 92,820,100l. to 198,671,312l.24 There seems no sign of this tendency having spent its force, and schemes involving vast increases of municipal expenditure are manifestly in the air. It is at this time that the policy of separating the payment of taxes from the voting of taxes is almost largely adopted. Unfortunately, the very tendencies that make it so dangerous increase its popularity, and therefore its attractiveness to politicians, whose great object is to win votes and tide over an election.
The enormous increase which has also taken place in the State taxation of nearly every civilised country during the last forty-five years is certainly one of the most disquieting features of our time. It is to be attributed to several different causes. The worst is that gigantic increase of national debts and of military expenditure which has taken place in Europe since the Revolution of 1848. National indebtedness has reached a point that makes the bankruptcy of many nations an almost inevitable result of any prolonged European war; and the immense burden of unproductive expenditure that is drawn from every nation for the purpose of paying the national creditors, gives revolutionary literature a great part of its plausibility, and forms one of the strongest temptations to national dishonesty. The incentive is the stronger as most national debts are largely held by foreigners, and as there is no international organisation corresponding to a bankruptcy court for coercing or punishing a defaulting nation. Of this military expenditure it will here be sufficient to say that it is far from measured by the direct taxes which are raised; and the withdrawal of a vast proportion of human effort from productive employment, and the enslavement, during the best part of their lives, of a vast proportion of the population of Europe, have probably contributed, as much as any other single cause, to the revolutionary tendencies of our time.
England need not, I think, take to herself much blame in these respects. If she has not done all that she might have done since the great French war to diminish her debt, she has at least done very much, and far more than any other European country, while her military and naval expenditure has usually been rather below than above what is needed for her absolute security. The growth, however, of this expenditure has been very great. Between 1835 and 1888 it is said to have increased by no less than 173 per cent.25 This is, however, mainly due to the gigantic armaments on the continent, and to the enormous increase in the cost and the constant changes in the type of ships and guns. The burden is a terrible one; but every one who will look facts in the face must recognise that the existence at each given moment of an English fleet of overwhelming power is the first and most vital condition of the security of the nation. An island Power which cannot even support its population with food; which depends for its very existence on a vast commerce; which from the vastness of its dominions and interests is constantly liable to be involved in dispute with other Powers, and which presents peculiar temptation to an invader, could on no other condition maintain her independence, and it is a healthy sign that English public opinion realises the transcendent importance of the fact, and has more than once forced it upon politicians who were neglecting it.
What may be the final result of this growing expenditure no man can say. It is possible, and by no means improbable, that the increasing power of guns and torpedoes may make large ships useless in war, and may again revolutionise, and perhaps greatly cheapen, naval war. It is possible, and perhaps probable, that the means of defence may obtain an overwhelming preponderance over the means of attack. Small and poor nations which have taken an honourable part in the naval history of the past find it impossible to enter into serious competition with the costly navies of the present, and it is probable that the richest nations will, sooner or later, find it impossible without ruin to maintain at once the position of a first-rate military and a first-rate naval Power. The time may come when some great revolution of opinion or some great internal convulsion may check or reverse the tendency of the last half-century, and bring about a great movement for disarmament. Till that time arrives there can be little hope of any serious diminution of this great branch of national expenditure.
I know few things more melancholy or more instructive than to compare the present state of Europe in this respect with the predictions of the Manchester school, and of the writers who, within the memory of many of us, were looked upon as the most faithful representatives of advanced thought. Some of my readers will doubtless remember the enthusiasm and admiration with which, in 1857, the first volume of Buckle's great History was welcomed. In spite of much crudeness, many shortcomings, and great dogmatism, it was a book well fitted to make an epoch on its subject. The vast horizons it opened; the sweep and boldness of its generalisations; its admirable literary qualities, and the noble enthusiasm for knowledge, for progress, and for liberty that animated it, captivated and deeply influenced a whole generation of young men. One of the most confident of Buckle's predictions was, that the military spirit had had its day; that the ‘commercial spirit,’ which is now ‘invariably pacific,’ would speedily reduce it to insignificance; that, although it might linger for a time among the most backward and semi-barbarous nations of Europe, like Russia and Turkey, all the higher talent, all the stronger ambitions, all the force of public opinion in the civilised world, would be steadily against it.
The American Civil War, the war of France and Italy against Austria, the war of Prussia and Austria against Denmark, the war of Prussia and Italy against Austria, the great Franco-German War of 1870, speedily followed, and Europe in time of peace has become a gigantic camp, supporting armies which, in their magnitude and their perfection, are unparalleled in the history of the world. It was estimated in 1888 that Germany, Austria, France, Italy, and Russia, could probably together put in the field more than sixteen millions of soldiers in time of war, and that their united armies in time of peace were not less than 2,315,000 men.26
Two facts connected with this military development are especially significant. One is, that the trading and commercial spirit has now become one of the chief impulses towards territorial aggrandisement. ‘Trade,’ as it has been truly said, ‘follows the flag.’ With the present system of enormous manufacturing production and stringent protective barriers, it has become absolutely necessary for a great manufacturing State to secure for itself a sufficient market by incorporating new territories in its dominions. In hardly any period of her history has England annexed so much territory as in the last half-century, and although many of these annexations are due to the necessity which often compels a civilised power as a mere measure of police and self-defence to extend its frontier into the uncivilised world, much also must be attributed to commercial enterprise.
England has not been alone in this respect. Few more curious spectacles have been exhibited in the present century than that of the chief civilised nations of Europe dividing among themselves the African continent without even a shadow or pretext of right. Experience has already shown how easily these vague and ill-defined boundaries may become a new cause of European quarrels, and how often, in remote African jungles or forests, negroes armed with European guns may inflict defeats on European soldiers which will become the cause of costly and difficult wars.
Another very remarkable fact has been the growing feeling in the most civilised portions of Europe in favour of universal military service. Not many years ago it would scarcely have found a conspicuous defender, except perhaps Carlyle, outside purely military circles; but no competent judge can fail to observe the change which has of late years taken place. The system has now struck a deep root in the habits of continental life, and in the eyes of a considerable and able school it is rather a positive good than a necessary evil.
Its defenders contend, in the first place, that these gigantic armies make rather for peace than for war. The tremendous force of the weapon, the extreme difficulty of managing it; the uncertainty that more than ever hangs over the issue of a struggle; the complete paralysis of all industrial life that must now accompany a great war, and the utter ruin that may follow defeat, impose a severe restraint on the most ambitious statesman and the most excited population; while vast citizen armies, which must be dragged from domestic life and peaceful industry to the battlefield, will never be pervaded with the desire for war that animates purely professional soldiers. I have heard, indeed, one of the most competent judges of the political and military state of Europe predict that the most dangerous period of European peace will be that which follows a disarmament, reducing the armies of the rival Powers to moderate and manageable dimensions.
But, in addition to this consideration, a strong conviction has grown up of the moral and educational value of military discipline. It is urged that, in an age when many things contribute to weaken the national fibre and produce in large classes a languid, epicurean, semi-detached cosmopolitanism, universal service tends strongly to weld nations together, to strengthen the patriotic feeling, to form a high standard of civic duty and of self-sacrificing courage, to inspire the masses of the population with the kind and the intensity of enthusiasm that is most conducive to the greatness of nations. It carries the idea and sentiment of nationhood to multitudes whose thoughts would otherwise have never travelled beyond the narrow circle of daily wants or of village interests. The effect of universal service in Italy in civilising half-barbarous populations, in replacing old provincial jealousies and prejudices by the sentiment of a common nationality, has been abundantly displayed. In some cases a measure of ordinary education is now combined with military service, and the special education which discipline in itself produces is, it is contended, peculiarly needed in our day. ‘The true beginning of wisdom,’ a wise old Hebrew writer has said, ‘is the desire of discipline,’27 and it is probably on this side that modern education is most defective. Military service at least produces habits of order, cleanliness, punctuality, obedience, and respect for authority, and, unlike most forms of popular education, it acts powerfully on the character and on the will. A few years spent in this school and amid the associations of the barrack will not tend to make men saints, but it is likely to do much to strengthen and discipline their characters, and to fit them to play a useful and honourable part in civil life. It at least gives them the tastes and habits of civilised men, corrects many senseless prejudices, forms brave, steady, energetic, and patriotic citizens. It mitigates the problems of the unemployed and of pauperism, and exercises a reforming influence on the idlest and most disorderly elements in society. Such men are far more likely to be reclaimed by the strong, steady pressure of military discipline than by any teaching of the Churches or the schools.
In all countries, it is truly said, when peace has continued long, and when wealth and prosperity have greatly increased, insidious vices grow up which do much to corrode the strength of nations. Lax principles, low ideals; luxurious, self-indulgent, effeminate habits of thought and life prevail; the robuster qualities decline; the power of self-sacrifice is diminished, and life in all its forms takes a less serious cast. The catastrophe of a great war is often Nature's stern corrective of these evils, but every wise statesman will look for remedies that are less drastic and less perilous. Of these, a few years of universal military discipline is one of the most powerful. It is the best tonic for a debilitated system.
Some admirers have gone even further. There is a theory, which, I believe, took its rise in Germany, but which has found adherents in England, that the gigantic armies of the Continent in reality cost nothing, for the productive powers of men are so much increased by a few years of military discipline that society is amply compensated for the sacrifice it has made. Two or three years of a life are taken from productive employment and supported from national funds, but the remainder is rendered greatly more productive.
I have endeavoured to state the case of the supporters of universal service in its strongest form. I do not think that it can be doubted that it contains some truth; but, like much truth that has been long neglected, it has been thrust into an exaggerated and misleading prominence. The question is one of extreme importance for the English-speaking race, for, if the education of universal military service does all that is attributed to it, the continental nations which have generally adopted it must necessarily, in the long run, rise to a higher plane than the English race, who, on both sides of the ocean, have steadily rejected it. To me, at least, the theory of the inexpensiveness of the continental military system seems to be a complete paradox, in the face of the overwhelming and ever-increasing burden of debt and taxation distinctly due to the military system, which is crushing and paralysing the industry of Europe and threatening great nations with speedy bankruptcy. It is true that military discipline often forms valuable industrial qualities; but it is also true that the conscription breaks the habits of industrial life at the very age when it is most important that they should be formed, and that, in countless cases, the excitements and associations of military life utterly unfit men for the monotony of humble labour, pursued, perhaps, in some remote hamlet, and amid surroundings of abject poverty.
With the present gigantic armies, wars have, no doubt, become less frequent, though they have become incomparably more terrible; but can any one seriously contend that the unrestrained and reckless military competition of the last few years has given Europe any real security, or that either the animosities or the aspirations that threaten it have gone down? Are its statesmen confident that an ambitious monarch, or a propitious moment, or an alliance or an invention that materially changes the balance of forces, or some transient outburst of national irritation injudiciously treated, might not at any moment set it once more in a blaze? To strew gunpowder on all sides may, no doubt, produce caution, but it is not the best way of preventing an explosion. Never in the history of mankind have explosive elements of such tremendous potency been accumulated in Europe, and, with all our boasted democracy, the issues of peace or war have seldom rested so largely with three or four men. In the present condition of the world, it would be quite possible for the folly of a single ruler to bring down calamities upon Europe that might transfer the sceptre of civilisation to the other side of the Atlantic.
The security of internal peace given by a great army, and the influence of military discipline in forming habits of life and thought that are opposed to anarchical and revolutionary tendencies, have been much dwelt on. But if the military system does much to employ and reclaim the dangerous classes, if it teaches loyalty and obedience and respect, it also brings with it burdens which are steadily fomenting discontent. Certainly, the great military nations of the world are not those in which Anarchy, Socialism, and Nihilism are least rife. Of all the burdens that a modern Government can impose on its subjects, incomparably the heaviest is universal compulsory military service, and, to a large minority of those who undergo it, it is the most irritating and the most crushing servitude. Nor should it be forgotten that, if this system furnishes Governments with tremendous engines of repression, it is also preparing the time when every revolutionary movement will be made by men who have the knowledge and experience of military life. A great military Power continually augmenting its army in hopes of repressing anarchy presents a spectacle much like that which may be seen at a Spanish bullfight when the banderilla has been planted by a skilful hand, and when every bound by which the infuriated animal seeks to shake off the barb that is lacerating its flesh only deepens and exasperates the wound.
No reasonable man will deny that a period of steady discipline is, to many characters, an education of great value-an education producing results that are not likely in any other way to be equally attained. It is especially useful in communities that are still in a low stage of civilisation, and have not yet attained the habits of order and respect for authority, and in communities that are deeply divided by sectional and provincial antipathies. It is, I think, equally true that improvements have been introduced into modern armies which have greatly raised their moral tone. But, when all this is admitted, the shadows of the picture remain very marked. Deferred marriage, the loosening of domestic ties, the growth of ideals in which bloodshed and violence play a great part, a diminished horror of war, the constant employment of the best human ingenuity in devising new and more deadly instruments of destruction-all these things follow in the train of the great armies. It is impossible to turn Europe into a camp without in some degree reviving the ideals and the standards of a military age.
Discipline teaches much, but it also represses much, and the dead-level and passive obedience of the military system are not the best school of independent thought and individual energy. To the finer and more delicate flowers of human culture it is peculiarly prejudicial. Strongly marked individual types, highly strung, sensitive, nervous organisations, are the soils from which much that is most beautiful in our civilisation has sprung. Beyond all other things, enforced military service tends to sterilise them. Among such men it is difficult to overestimate either the waste and ruin of high talent, or the amount of acute and useless suffering that it produces. To democracies these things are of little moment, and they seem lost in the splendour and pageantry of military life. But the statistics that are occasionally published, exhibiting the immensely disproportionate number of suicides in some of the chief armies of the Continent, show clearly the suffering that is festering beneath.
Taine has devoted to the growth of the military system several pages of admirable power and truth, and he justly describes conscription as the natural companion or brother of universal suffrage-one of the two great democratic forces which seem destined for some time to rule the world.28 The levelling and intermingling of classes it produces renders it congenial to a democratic age, and the old system of obtaining exemptions and substitutions for money has been generally abolished. In the majority of cases, those who desired exemption were men with no military aptitude, so the army probably gained by the substitution. It was a free contract, in which the poor man received what the rich man paid, and by which both parties were benefited. It gave, however, some privilege to wealth, and democracy, true to its genuine instinct of preferring equality to liberty, emphatically condemned it.
There is, however, another aspect of the question which has impressed serious observers on the Continent. In spite of the affinity I have mentioned, it would be hardly possible to conceive a greater contrast in spirit and tendency than exists in some essential respects between the highly democratic representative Governments and the universal military service, which are simultaneously flourishing in a great part of Europe. The one is a system in which all ideas of authority and subordination are discarded, in which the skilful talker or demagogue naturally rules, in which every question is decided by the votes of a majority, in which liberty is perpetually pushed to the borders of license. The other is a system of the strictest despotism and subordination, of passive obedience without discussion or remonstrance; a system with ideals, habits, and standards of judgment utterly unlike those of popular politics; a system which is rapidly including, and moulding, and representing the whole adult male population. And while parliamentary government is everywhere showing signs of growing inefficiency and discredit, the armies of Europe are steadily strengthening, absorbing more and more the force and manhood of Christendom. Some observers are beginning to ask themselves whether these two things are likely always to go on together, and always to maintain their present relation-whether the eagles will always be governed by the parrots.
The great growth of militarism in the latter half of the nineteenth century has, I think, contributed largely, though indirectly, to the prevailing tendency to aggrandise the powers of government and to seek social reforms in strong coercive organisations of society. It is also the chief source of the immense increase of taxation, which has so seriously aggravated the dangers of a period of democratic transformation. It is not, indeed, by any means the only source. Something is due to the higher wages, the better payment of functionaries and workmen of every order, which has followed in the train of a higher standard of life and comfort. This beneficent movement was much accentuated in a period of great prosperity, and it has continued with little abatement, though economical conditions have much changed.
A much more considerable cause, however, of the increase of national expenditure is to be found in the many new duties that are thrown upon the State. The most important of these has been that of national education. Hardly any change in our generation has been more marked than that which made the education of the poor one of the main functions of the Government. In 1833, a parliamentary grant of 20,000l. was, for the first time, made in England to assist two societies engaged in popular education. In 1838, the parliamentary grant was raised to 30,000l. a year. It soon passed these limits; but the great period of national expenditure on education is much more recent. Before the Act of 1870 the State, in encouraging primary education, confined itself to grants in aid of local and voluntary bodies. It built no schools, and it made no provision for education where local agencies were wanting. The Act of 1870 providing for the establishment of a school in every district where the supply of education was deficient, the Act of 1876 making it penal for parents to neglect the education of their children, and the Act of 1891 granting free education, were the chief causes of the rapid rise in this branch of expenditure. In 1892 the total expenditure of school boards in England and Wales amounted to the enormous sum of 7,134,386l. The number of free scholars was about 3,800,000, and the number of children paying fees or partial fees was about 1,020,000.29
England has, in this respect, only acted on the same lines as other civilised countries. She has acted on the supposition that, in the competition of nations, no uneducated people can hold its own, either in industrial or political competitions, and that democratic government can only be tolerable when it rests on the broad basis of an educated people. Probably few persons will now altogether doubt these truths, though something of the old belief in the omnipotence of education may have passed away, and though some qualifying considerations may have come into sight. The old Tory doctrine, that national education may easily be carried to a point which unfits men for the manual toil in which the great majority must pass their lives, was certainly not without foundation. Formerly the best workman was usually content to remain in his class, and to bring up his children in it. He took a pride in his work, and by doing so he greatly raised its standard and character. His first desire is now, much more frequently, to leave it, or at least to educate his children in the tastes and habits of a class which he considers a little higher than his own. That a man born in the humbler stages of society, who possesses the power of playing a considerable part in the world, should be helped to do so is very desirable; but it is by no means desirable that the flower of the working class, or their children, should learn to despise manual labour and the simple, inexpensive habits of their parents, in order to become very commonplace doctors, attorneys, clerks, or newspaper writers. This is what is continually happening, and while it deprives the working classes of their best elements, it is one great cause of the exaggerated competition which now falls with crushing weight on the lower levels of the intellectual professions.
Education, even to a very humble degree, does much to enlarge interests and brighten existence; but, by a melancholy compensation, it makes men far more impatient of the tedium, the monotony, and the contrasts of life. It produces desires which it cannot always sate, and it affects very considerably the disposition and relations of classes. One common result is the strong preference for town to country life. A marked and unhappy characteristic of the present age in England is the constant depletion of the country districts by the migration of multitudes of its old healthy population to the debilitating, and often depraving, atmosphere of the great towns. The chief causes of this change are, no doubt, economical. In the extreme depression of agriculture, every farmer finds it absolutely essential to keep his wage bill at the lowest point, and therefore to employ as few labourers as possible. Machinery takes the place of hand labour. Arable land, which supports many, becomes pasture land, which supports few. But every one who has much practical acquaintance with country life will, I believe, agree that the movement has been greatly intensified by the growing desire for more excitement and amusement which, under the influence of popular education, has spread widely through the agricultural labourers. Hopes and ambitions that are too often bitterly falsified draw them in multitudes to the great towns.
This restlessness and discontent produce considerable political effects. Education nearly always promotes peaceful tastes and orderly habits in the community, but in other respects its political value is often greatly overrated. The more dangerous forms of animosity and dissension are usually undiminished, and are often stimulated, by its influence. An immense proportion of those who have learnt to read, never read anything but a party newspaper-very probably a newspaper specially intended to inflame or to mislead them-and the half-educated mind is peculiarly open to political utopias and fanaticisms. Very few such men can realise distant consequences, or even consequences which are but one remove distant from the primary or direct one. How few townsmen, in a political contest, will realise that the neglect or depression of agriculture beats down town wages, by producing an immigration of agricultural labourers; or that a great strike in times of manufacturing depression will usually drive the industry on which they depend for their food, in part at least, out of the country; or that a highly graduated system of taxation, which at first brings in much money at the cost of the few, will soon lead to a migration of the capital which is essential to the subsistence of the many. Every politician knows how difficult it is in times of peace to arouse the public to the importance of the army and navy, on which the very existence of the Empire may depend, or to questions affecting national credit, or to questions affecting those distant portions of the Empire which feed, by their commerce, our home industries. Few men clearly realise that each popular exemption from taxation, each popular subsidy that is voted, means a corresponding burden imposed on some portion of the community; or that economies which leave Civil Servants underpaid almost always lead to wastefulness, inefficiency, and corruption. Men seldom bestow on public questions the same seriousness of attention that they bestow on their private concerns, and they seldom look as far into the future. National interests continually give way to party or to class interests. The ultimate interests even of a class are subordinated to the immediate benefit of a section of it. Proximate ends overshadow distant consequences, and when the combative instinct, with all its passion and its pride, is aroused, even proximate interests are often forgotten. In few fields have there been more fatal miscalculations than in the competition and struggle of industrial life, and they are largely due to this cause.
All classes are liable to mistakes of this kind, but they are especially prevalent among the half-educated, who have passed out of the empire of old habits and restraints. Such men are peculiarly apt to fall under misleading influences. They are usually insensible to the extreme complexity of the social fabric and the close interdependence of its many parts, and to the transcendent importance of consequences that are often obscure, remote, and diffused through many different channels. The complete illiteracy of a man is, no doubt, a strong argument against entrusting him with political power, but the mere knowledge of reading and writing is no real guarantee, or even presumption, that he will wisely exercise it. In order to attain this wisdom we must look to other methods-to a wide diffusion of property, to a system of representation that gives a voice to many different interests and types. The sedulous maintenance of the connection between taxation and voting is perhaps the best means of obtaining it.
These considerations are not intended to show that education is not a good thing, but only that its political advantages have not always proved as unmixed and as great as has been supposed. In the age in which we live, the incapacity and impotence that result from complete illiteracy can hardly be exaggerated, and every Government, as it seems to me, should make it its duty to provide that all its subjects should at least possess the rudiments of knowledge. It is also a matter of much importance to the community that there should be ladders by which poor men of real ability can climb to higher positions in the social scale. This is an object for which private endowments have largely and wisely provided, and, unless the flow of private benevolence is arrested by the increasing action of the State, endowments for this purpose are sure to multiply. Another order of considerations, however, comes into play when great revenues are raised by compulsion for the purpose of establishing a free national education which has more the character of secondary than primary education. The childless are taxed for the education of children, and large classes of parents for the support of schools they will never use. Parental responsibility, as well as parental rights, are diminished, and a grinding weight of taxation, for a purpose with which they have little or no real sympathy, falls upon some of the most struggling classes in the community.
There can be little doubt that this form of taxation is likely to increase. A large party desire to provide at the expense of the State, not only free education, but also free school books, free recreation grounds, and at least one meal during school hours. Sectarian jealousies and animosities, in more than one country, add largely to the cost of education by an unnecessary multiplication of schools, or by establishing a ruinous competition between State schools and schools established by voluntary subscription or supported by religious denominations. At the same time, the standard of popular and free, or, in other words, State-paid education, seems steadily rising. A crowd of subjects which lie far beyond the limits of primary education are already taught, either gratuitously or below cost price. In most countries, education in all its stages seems becoming more and more a State function, bearing more and more the State stamp, and more and more supported from public funds.
This is one main cause of the increase of the revenue drawn by the Government from the people. There are others, on which we may, I think, look with more unhesitating approval. The great work of sanitary reform has been perhaps the noblest legislative achievement of our age, and, if measured by the suffering it has diminished, has probably done far more for the real happiness of mankind than all the many questions that make and unmake ministries. It received its first great impetus in the present century from the Public Health Act of 1848, and in our own generation it has been greatly and variously extended. There can be no nobler or wiser end for a statesman to follow than to endeavour to secure for the poor, as far as is possible, the same measure of life and health as for the rich. Among the many addresses that were presented to the Queen in her Jubilee year, none appeared to me so significant as that which was presented by the sanitary inspectors, summing up what had been done in England during the first fifty years of the reign. They observed that the general health of Her Majesty's subjects had advanced far beyond that of any great State of Europe or of the United States; that the mean duration of life of all the Queen's subjects had been augmented by three and a half years; that in the last year's population of England and Wales there had been a saving of 84,000 cases of death, and of more than 1,700,000 cases of sickness, over the average rates of death and sickness at the beginning of the reign; that the death-rate of the home army had been reduced by more than half, and the death-rate of the Indian army by more than four-fifths.
All this cannot be done without the constant intervention of Government. On the subject of sanitary reform the case of the extreme individualist will always break down, for disease is most frequently of a contagious and epidemical character, and the conditions from which it springs can never be dealt with except by general, organised, coercive measures. The real justification of the law imposing compulsory vaccination on an unwilling subject is, not that it may save his life, but that it may prevent him from being a centre of contagion to his neighbours. In all legislation about drainage, pollution of rivers, insanitary dwellings, the prevention of infection, and the establishment of healthy conditions of labour, spasmodic and individual efforts, unsupported by law, will always prove insufficient. As population increases, and is more and more massed in large towns; as the competition for working men's houses within a limited area grows more intense; as industry takes forms which bring great numbers of working men and women under the same roof, and as multiplying schools increase the danger of children's epidemics, the need for coercive measures of sanitary regulation becomes more imperious.
A Government can have no higher object than to raise the standard of national health, and it may do so in several different ways. It may do much to encourage those most fruitful and beneficial of all forms of research-research into the causes of disease and the methods of curing it. It may bring within the reach of the poorest class the medical knowledge and appliances which, in a ruder state of society, would be a monopoly of the rich. It may make use of the great technical knowledge at its command to establish qualifications for medical practice which will restrain the quack, who trades on the fears and weaknesses of the ignorant much as the professional money-lender does on their improvidence and inexperience. It may also greatly raise the health of the community by measures preventing insanitary conditions of life, noxious adulterations, or the spread of contagion.
In this, no doubt, as in other departments, there are qualifications to be made, dangers and exaggerations to be avoided. Sanitary reform is not wholly a good thing when it enables the diseased and feeble members of the community, who in another stage of society would have died in infancy, to grow up and become parent stocks, transmitting a weakened type or the taint of hereditary disease. The diminution of mortality which sanitary science effects is mainly in infant mortality, and infant mortality is a far less evil than adult mortality, and in not a few cases it is a blessing in disguise. It is true, too, that mere legislation in this, as in other fields, will prove abortive if it is not supported by an intelligent public opinion. As one of the wisest statesmen of our age has truly said, ‘Sanitary instruction is even more essential than sanitary legislation, for if in these matters the public knows what it wants, sooner or later the legislation will follow; but the best laws, in a country like this, are waste paper if they are not appreciated and understood.’30
It is possible that a Government, acting at the dictation of a professional which is strongly wedded to professional traditions and etiquette, and which at the same time deals with a subject very far removed from scientific certainty, may throw obstacles in the way of new treatments and remedies that may prove of great benefit to mankind. It is also possible, and indeed probable, that it may carry the system of regulation to an exaggerated extent. Some portions of the Factory Acts are open to this criticism, though it will usually be found that in these cases other than sanitary considerations have entered into this legislation. It is, however, a universal rule that when a system of regulation has begun, it will tend to increase, and when men entrusted with sanitary reforms become a large profession, they will naturally aggrandise their power, exaggerate their importance, and sometimes become meddlesome and inquisitorial. M. Léon Say has lately pointed out the dangers of this scientific protectionism, which is leading sanitarians to attempt to watch our lives in the minutest detail; and another distinguished French authority has bluntly declared that a new ′89 will be needed against the tyranny of hygiene, in order to regain our liberty of eating and drinking, and to limit the incessant meddling of sanitarians in our private lives.31 Legislators constantly overlook the broad distinction between lines of conduct that are injurious, but injurious only to those who follow them, and lines of conduct that can be clearly shown to produce danger or evil to the community. In the latter case Government interference is always called for. In the former, in the case of adults there is at least a strong presumption against it. As a general rule, an adult man should regulate his own life, and decide for himself whether he will run exceptional risks with a view to exceptional rewards.
But, when all this is admitted, there is hardly any other field in which Governments can do, or have done, so much to alleviate or prevent human suffering. Neither Governments nor their advisers are infallible; but in this case Governments act with the best lights that medical science can give, and they act, for the most part, with perfect good faith, and without any possibility of party advantage. The prolongation of human life is much. The diminution or alleviation of disease and suffering is much more. Sanitary reform cannot be effectually carried out without a heavy expenditure, which is borne in the shape of taxes by the community. But, looking at this expenditure merely from an economical point of view, no expenditure that a Government can make is more highly remunerative. Sir James Paget has estimated the loss of labour by the wage classes from excessive preventible sickness at twenty millions of weeks per annum. Sir Edwin Chadwick writes: ‘The burden of lost labour, of excessive mortality, and of excessive funerals from preventible causes were largely underestimated in 1842 at two millions per annum in the Metropolis. In England and Wales, those same local burdens of lost labour and excessive sickness may now be estimated at upwards of twenty-eight million pounds per annum.’32
A very similar line of reasoning may be employed to justify the great increase of national expenditure in England, and in most other countries, in the field of prisons and reformatories. The enormous improvements that have taken place in the prison system during the present century have added largely to the expenditure of nations, but they have put an end to an amount of needless suffering, demoralisation, and waste of human character and faculty that it is difficult to overestimate. ‘The best husbandry,’ as Grattan once said, ‘is the husbandry of the human creature.’ To distinguish between crime that springs from strongly marked criminal tendency and crime that is due to mere unfavourable circumstances, or transient passion, or weakness of will; to distinguish among genuine criminal tendencies between those which are still incipient and curable, and those which have acquired the force of an inveterate disease, is the basis of all sound criminal reform. It cannot be carried out without much careful classification and many lines of separate treatment. The agencies for reclaiming and employing juvenile criminals; the separate treatment of intoxication; the broad distinction drawn between a first offender and an habitual criminal; the prison regulations that check the contagion of vice, have all had a good effect in reducing the amount of crime. Most of these things cost much, but they produce a speedy and ample return. Money is seldom better or more economically spent than in diminishing the sum of human crime and raising the standard of human character. In this case, as in the case of sanitary reform, it may be truly said that legislators act under the best available advice and with perfect singleness of purpose. On such questions very few votes can be either gained or lost.
The Same thing cannot be said of all extensions of Government functions. No feature is more characteristic of modern democracy than the tendency to regulate and organise by law countless industries which were once left to private initiative and arrangement; to apply the machinery of the State to countless functions which were once discharged by independent bodies, or private benevolence, or co-operation. A vast increase in many forms of expenditure and in many different kinds of officials is the inevitable consequence, imposing great additional burdens on the taxpayer, and each new departure in the field of expenditure is usually made a precedent and a pretext for many others. I cannot go as far as Mr. Herbert Spencer and some other writers of his school in denouncing this as wholly evil, though I agree with them that the dangerous exaggerations and tendencies are chiefly on this side. Much of this increased elaboration of government seems to me inevitable. As civilisation becomes more highly organised and complex, as machinery increases and population and industries agglomerate, new wants, interests, and dangers arise, which imperiously require increased regulation. It is impossible to leave a great metropolis or a vast, fluctuating, industrial population with as little regulation as a country village or a pastoral people. Compare the old system of locomotion by a few coaches or wagons with our present railway system; or our old domestic industries with our present gigantic factories, stores, and joint-stock companies; or the old system of simple isolated cesspools with the highly complex drainage on which the safety of our great towns depends, and it will be evident how much new restraining and regulating legislation is required. The growth of philanthropy, and the increasing light which the press throws on all the sides of a nation's life, make public opinion keenly sensible of much preventible misery it would have either never known or never cared for, and science discloses dangers, evils, and possibilities of cure of which our ancestors never dreamed.
All these things produce a necessity for much additional regulation, and a strong pressure of public opinion for much more. If Governments, as distinguished from private companies, have some disadvantages, they have also some important advantages. They can command a vast amount of technical skill. They can act with a simultaneity and authority and on a scale which no private organisation can emulate, and in England, at least since the old system of patronage has been replaced by the present system of examination and constant control, the State can usually count upon a very large supply of pure and disinterested administrators. On some subjects Governments are much less likely than private companies to be deflected by corrupt or sinister motives, and an English Government has the great advantage of possessing the best credit in the world, which enables it to give many enterprises an unrivalled stability and security, and to conduct them with unusual economy. The application of British credit to schemes for the benefit of the poor, or the solution of great social questions, has of late years been largely extended, and seems likely steadily to advance. There is also some difference between the action of a representative Government, including, utilising, and commanding the best talent in all classes, and a despotic or highly aristocratic Government, which is in the hands of a few men, and acts under very little restraint and control, like a kind of Providence apart from the nation.
In many departments the conveniences of State action are very great. Few persons, for example, would withdraw the post-office from Government hands. Private enterprise might perform its functions with equal efficiency in the chief centres of population, but Government alone could carry on the enterprise uniformly and steadily, in all countries, in the districts that are unremunerative as well as in those which are profitable. It would be difficult to conceive a more flagrant violation of the English fetish of Free Trade than the regulation of cab fares by authority; but the convenience of the system is so great that no one wishes to abolish it. Banking for the benefit of private persons is certainly not a natural business of Government, but Government machinery and Government credit have built up a system of savings banks and post-office banks which has been a vast blessing to the poor, encouraging among them, to an eminent degree, providence and thrift, and at the same time giving them a direct interest in the stability of the Empire and the security of property. Few things have conferred more benefits on agriculture than the large sums which have been advanced to landlords for drainage, at a rate of interest sufficient to secure the State from loss, but lower than they could have obtained in a private market. Of all the schemes that have been formed for improving the condition of Ireland, the most promising is that for the creation of a peasant proprietary by means of loans issued at a rate of interest which the State, and the State alone, could command, and repaid by instalments in a defined number of years. This is a type of legislation which is almost certain in the future to be widely and variously applied.
All these excursions outside the natural sphere of Government influence should be carefully and jealously watched; but there are some distinctions which should not be forgotten. Government enterprises which are remunerative stand on a different basis from those which must be permanently subsidised by taxation, or, in other words, by forced payments, in most cases largely drawn from those who are least benefited by them. If it be shown that the State management of some great enterprise can be conducted with efficiency, and at the same time made to pay its expenses; if it can be shown that, by the excellent credit of the State, a State loan or a State guarantee can effect some useful change or call into being some useful enterprise without loss to the State or to its credit, a large portion of the objections to this intervention will have been removed. It is also very important to consider whether the proposed intervention of the Government lies apart from the sphere of politics, or whether it may become a source or engine of corruption. It may do so by placing a large addition of patronage in the hands of the executive, and it may do so still more dangerously by creating new and corrupt reasons for giving or soliciting votes. Few persons, for example, can doubt that, if the Socialist policy of placing the great industries of the country in the hands of municipalities were carried out, numbers of votes would be systematically given for the sole purpose of obtaining advantages for the workmen connected with these industries, at the cost of the community at large.
Another element to be considered is, whether the things the State is asked to assist are of a kind that can flourish without its aid. There are forms of science and literature and research which can by no possibility be remunerative, or at least remunerative in any proportion to the labour they entail or the ability they require. A nation which does not produce and does not care for these things can have only an inferior and imperfect civilisation. A Government grant which would appear almost infinitesimal in the columns of a modern Budget will do much to support and encourage them. Expenditure in works of art and art schools, in public buildings, in picture galleries, in museums, adds largely to the glory and dignity of a nation and to the education of its people. It is continually increasing that common property which belongs alike to all classes; and it is a truly democratic thing, for it makes it possible for the poor man to know and appreciate works of art which, without State intervention, he would have never seen, and which would have been wholly in the hands of the rich and cultivated few. The total indifference of English Governments during a long period to artistic development is one of the great causes that art has flowered so tardily in England.
In many countries in Europe dramatic art is assisted by subsidies to the opera and the classical theatre. Such subsidies stand on a different ground from those which I have just noticed, for they minister directly to the pleasures of the rich; though a brilliant theatre, by drawing many strangers to the metropolis, probably ultimately benefits the poor. It is not likely that English democratic opinion would tolerate an expenditure of this kind; and it may be observed that the connection between Governments and amusement is much closer in most continental countries than in England. In these countries a large portion of the money raised for the relief of the poor and the suffering is levied upon public amusements.33
The objections to the vast extension of State regulations and of State subsidies are very many. There is, in the first place, what may be called the argument of momentum, which Herbert Spencer has elaborated with consummate skill and force.34 It is absolutely certain that, when this system is largely adopted, it will not remain within the limits which those who adopted it intended. It will advance with an accelerated rapidity; every concession becomes a precedent or basis for another step, till the habit is fully formed of looking on all occasions for State assistance or restriction, and till a weight of taxation and debt has been accumulated from which the first advocates of the movement would have shrunk with horror. There is the weakening of private enterprise and philanthropy; a lowered sense of individual responsibility; diminished love of freedom; the creation of an increasing army of officials, regulating in all its departments the affairs of life; the formation of a state of society in which vast multitudes depend for their subsistence on the bounty of the State. All this cannot take place without impairing the springs of self-reliance, independence, and resolution, without gradually enfeebling both the judgment and the character. It produces also a weight of taxation which, as the past experience of the world abundantly shows, may easily reach a point that means national ruin. An undue proportion of the means of the individual is forcibly taken from him by the State, and much of it is taken from the most industrious and saving, for the benefit of those who have been idle or improvident. Capital and industry leave a country where they are extravagantly burdened and have ceased to be profitable, and even the land itself has often been thrown out of cultivation on account of the weight of an excessive taxation.
The tendency to constantly increasing expenses in local taxation is in some degree curtailed by enactments of the Imperial Parliament limiting in various ways the powers which it concedes to local bodies of raising taxes or incurring debts. That the restrictions are very unduly lax, few good judges will question; yet it is the constant effort of local bodies, which are under democratic influence, to extend their powers. Parliament itself is unlimited, and Parliament, on financial questions, means simply the House of Commons. The constituencies are the only check, but a vast proportion of the expenditure of the State is intended for the express purpose of bribing them. Democracy as it appeared in the days of Joseph Hume was pre-eminently a penurious thing, jealously scrutinising every item of public expenditure, denouncing as intolerable scandal the extravagance of aristocratic government, and viewing with extreme disfavour every enlargement of the powers of the State. It has now become, in nearly all countries, a government of lavish expenditure, or rapidly accumulating debt, of constantly extending State action.
It is, I believe, quite true that the functions of Government must inevitably increase with a more complicated civilisation. But, in estimating their enormous and portentously rapid aggrandisement within the last few years, there is one grave question which should always be asked. Is that aggrandisement due to a reasoned conviction that Government can wisely benefit, directly, different classes by its legislation? Or is it due to a very different cause-to the conviction that, by promising legislation in favour of different classes, the votes of those classes may most easily be won?
A large portion of the increased expenditure is also due, not to subsidies, but to the increased elaboration of administrative machinery required by the system of constant inspection and almost universal regulation. Nothing is more characteristic of the new democracy than the alacrity with which it tolerates, welcomes, and demands coercive Government interference in all its concerns. In the words of Mr. Goschen, ‘the extension of State action to new and vast fields of business, such as telegraphy, insurance, annuities, postal orders, and parcel post, is not the most striking feature. What is of far deeper import is its growing interference with the relations between classes, its increased control over vast categories of transactions between individuals.… The parent in dealing with his child, the employer in dealing with his workmen, the shipbuilder in the construction of his ships, the shipowner in the treatment of his sailors, the houseowner in the management of his house property, the landowner in his contracts with his tenants, have been notified by public opinion or by actual law that the time has gone by when the cry of laissez-nous fair would be answered in the affirmative. The State has determined what is right and wrong, what is expedient and inexpedient, and has appointed its agents to enforce its conclusions. Some of the higest obligations of humanity, some of the smallest businesses of everyday life, some of the most complicated transactions of our industrial and agricultural organisations, have been taken in hand by the State. Individual responsibility has been lessened, national responsibility has been heightened.35
Nor can the change of tendency in this respect be measured merely by actual legislation. It is to be seen still more clearly in the countless demands for legislative restriction that are multiplying on all sides; in the Bills which, though not yet carried into law, have received a large amount of parliamentary support; in the resolutions of trade-union congresses, or county councils, or philanthropic meetings or associations; in the questions asked and the pledges exacted at every election; in the great mass of socialistic or semi-socialistic literature that is circulating through the country. Few things would have more astonished the old Radicals of the Manchester school than to be told that a strong leaning towards legislative compulsion was soon to become one of the marked characteristics of an ‘Advanced Liberal, and ‘all contracts to the contrary notwithstanding'-a favourite clause in democratic legislation.
Accompanying this movement, and naturally growing out of the great change in the disposition of power, is the marked tendency to throw taxation to a greater extent on one class of the community, in the shape of graduated taxation. In certain forms and to a certain measure this has always existed in England. The shameful exemption from taxation enjoyed by both nobles and clergy in nearly all continental countries up to the eve of the French Revolution was unknown in England, and it had always been an English custom to impose special taxes on the luxuries of the rich. Tocqueville, in the remarkable passage, which has been often quoted, observed that ‘for centuries the only inequalities of taxation in England were those which had been successively introduced in favour of the necessitous classes. … In the eighteenth century it was the poor who enjoyed exemption from taxation in England, in France it was the rich. In the one case, the aristocracy had taken upon its own shoulders the heaviest public charges in order to be allowed to govern. In the other case, it retained to the end an immunity from taxation in order to console itself for the loss of government.’36 Arthur Young, in a little speech which he made to a French audience at the beginning of the Revolution, described vividly the difference subsisting in this respect between the two countries. ‘We have many taxes,’ he said, ‘in England which you know nothing of in France, but the Hers etat-the poor-do not pay them. They are laid on the rich. Every window in a man's house pays, but if he has no more than six windows he pays nothing. A seigneur with a great estate pays the vingtiemes and tailles, but the little proprietor of a garden pays nothing. The rich pay for their horses, their carriages, their servants, and even for liberty to kill their own partridges; but the poor farmer pays nothing of this; and, what is more, we have in England a tax paid by the rich for the relief of the poor.37
Both the window tax and the house tax of the eighteenth century were graduated taxes, rising in an increased proportion according to the value of the dwelling. A similarly progressive scale of taxation was introduced by Pitt for carriages, pleasure-horses, and male servants, the duty on each of these rising rapidly according to the numbers in each establishment.
The doctrine that revenue should be raised chiefly from luxuries or superfluities has been very largely recognised in English taxation, and since the great fiscal reforms instituted by Sir Robert Peel it has been carried out to an almost complete extent. A working man who is a teetotaller and who does not smoke is now almost absolutely untaxed, except in the form of a very low duty on tea and on coffee. In the opinion of many good judges, this movement of taxation, though essentially beneficent, has been carried in England to an exaggerated point. It is not right, they say, that any class should be entirely exempt from all share in the imperial burden, especially when that class is entrusted with political power, and has a considerable voice in imposing and adjusting the expenditure of the nation. Taxes on articles of universal consumption are by far the most productive. They ought always to be kept low, for when they are heavy they produce not only hardships, but injustice, as the poor would then pay an unduly large proportion of the national revenue; but, on the other hand, their complete repeal is a matter of very doubtful expediency.
In England, however, the policy of absolutely abolishing the taxes on the chief objects of a poor man's necessary consumption has been steadily carried out by both parties in the State. Tory Governments abolished the salt duty in 1825 and (after many reductions) the sugar duty in 1874; while Liberal Governments abolished the coal duty and the tax on candles in 1831, the last vestige of the corn duty in 1869, the taxes on soap and on licenses for making it in 1853 and 1870. Both parties have also concurred in freeing nearly every article of a working man's attire by removing the duties on wool, calico, and leather.38 It may be questioned whether this policy has been carried to its present extreme because legislators believed it to be wise, or because they believed that it would prove popular with the electors. Such measures furnish exactly the kind of topic that is most useful on the platform.
There is another principle of taxation which has been advocated by Bentham and Mill, and which, before their time, was propounded by Montesquieu. It is that a minimum income which is sufficient to secure to a labouring family of moderate size the bare necessaries, though not the luxuries, of life, should remain exempt from all taxation. Strictly speaking, this principle is, no doubt, inconsistent with the imposition of taxation on any article of first necessity; but it has been largely adopted in England in the exemption of the poorest class of houses from taxation, and in the partial or complete exemption of small incomes from the income tax. Successive Acts of Parliament have wholly freed incomes under 100l., under 150l., and under 160l. a year from the tax, and have granted abatements in the case of incomes under 200l., under 400l., and, finally, under 500l. a year. The large majority of the electors who return the members of the House of Commons now pay nothing to the income tax.
By all these measures a system of graduated taxation has steadily grown up. A few lines from a speech made by Lord Derby in 1885 give a clear picture of what in his day had been done. Take the income tax. We exempt altogether incomes up to a certain point, and we exempt them partially up to a higher point. Take the house tax. What have you got there? Total exemption of all that class of houses in which working men usually live. Take the death duties. They absolutely spare property below a certain limited amount. Take the carriage tax. The class of conveyances used by poor persons, or used otherwise than for purposes of pleasure, are made specially free of charge. Take the railway-passenger tax. It falls on first and second class passengers, and leaves the third class untouched. … In our poor law, now 300 years old, we have adopted a system so socialistic in principle that no continental Government would venture even to look at it.39
Articles of luxury or ostentation used exclusively by the rich are, in many instances, specially taxed. Such, for example, are the taxes on armorial bearings, on the more expensive qualities of wine, on menservants, and on sporting. In some cases taxes of this kind have been abolished, because the expense of collecting them, or the expense of distinguishing between the better and the cheaper descriptions of a single article, made them nearly wholly unproductive. But, on the whole, the strong leaning of our present system in favour of the poor cannot reasonably be questioned; and it becomes still more apparent when we consider not merely the sources, but the application, of the taxes. The protection of life, industry, and even property, is quite as important to the poor man as to the rich, and the most costly functions which Governments have of late years assumed are mainly for his benefit. Primary education, the improvement of working men's dwellings, factory inspection, savings banks, and other means of encouraging thrift, are essentially poor men's questions.
Adam Smith, in a well-known passage, has laid down the principle on which, in strict equity, taxation should be levied. The subjects of every State ought to contribute to the support of the Government as nearly as possible in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the State. The expense of government to the individuals of a great nation is like the expense of management to the joint tenants of a great estate, who are all obliged to contribute in proportion to their respective interests in the estate.40
According to this principle, the man with 1,000l. a year should pay ten times the taxes of a man with 100l. a year, and the man with 10,000l. a year ten times the taxes of a man with 1,000l. a year. In the words of Thiers, ‘every kind of revenue, without exception, ought to contribute to the needs of the State, for all depend upon it for their existence. Every exemption from taxation is an injustice.… The true principle, which was established in 1789, is that every man, without exception, in proportion to what he gains or what he possesses, should contribute. To exempt labour in order to strike property, or to tax property in exorbitant proportions, would only be to add a new iniquity as great as that which was abolished in 1789.… Society is a company of mutual insurance, in which each man should pay the risk in proportion to the amount of property insured. If he has insured a house of the value of 100,000 francs (the rate being 1 per cent.), he owes 1,000 francs to the company. If the insured house is worth a million, he owes 10,000 francs.… Society is a company, in which each man has more or less shares, and it is just that each should pay in proportion to their number, whether they be ten, or 100, or 1,000, but always according to the same rate imposed on all. There should be one rule for all, neither more nor less. To abandon this would be as if a merchant were to say to his customers, “You are richer than your neighbour, and must therefore pay more for the same goods.” It would only lead to endless confusion, and open out boundless, incalculable, possibilities of arbitrary imposition.41
The great majority of serious economists have, I believe, agreed that, as a matter of strict right, this doctrine is the true one. Adam Smith, however, clearly saw that human affairs cannot, or will not, be governed by the strict lines of economic science, and he fully recognised that it may be expedient that taxes should be so regulated that the rich should pay in proportion something more than the poor. In England, the system of graduated taxation which I have described has passed fully into the national habits, and is accepted by all parties. The taxation of luxuries, as distinguished from necessaries, has been productive of much good, and is much less liable than other forms of graduated taxation to abuse. The exemption of small incomes from all direct taxation undoubtedly brings with it grave dangers, especially when those who are exempted form the bulk of the electorate, and are thus able to increase this taxation to an indefinite extent, without any manifest sacrifice to themselves. At the same time, few persons will object to these exemptions, provided they are kept within reasonable limits, are intended solely as measures of relief, and do not lead to lavish expenditure. It does not necessarily follow that, because a class are a minority in the electorate, they are in grave danger of being unduly taxed. As long as they still form a sufficiently considerable portion to turn the balance in elections, they have the means of vindicating their rights. It is the duty of the Government to provide that the taxes are moderate in amount, and are levied for the bona fide purpose of discharging functions which are necessary or highly useful to the State. There is, however, another conception of taxation, which has of late years been rapidly growing. It has come to be regarded as a socialistic weapon, as an instrument of confiscation, as a levelling agent for breaking down large fortunes, redistributing wealth, and creating a new social type.
The growing popularity of graduated taxation in the two forms of an exemption of the smaller incomes from all direct taxation, and of the taxation of large incomes on a different scale or percentage from moderate ones, is very evident, and it is accompanied by an equally strong tendency towards a graduated taxation of capital and successions. Precedents may, no doubt, be found in earlier times. A graduated income tax existed in ancient Athens, and was warmly praised by Montesquieu. Graduated taxation was imposed with much severity and elaborated with great ingenuity in Florence in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries. But it is chiefly of late years, and since democratic influence has predominated, that the question of graduated taxation has been pushed into the forefront. It exists, though only to a very moderate degree, in Prussia and most of the German States, and a Prussian law of 1883 considerably enlarged the number of exemptions.42 It prevails in slightly different forms in a large number of the Swiss cantons, and especially in the cantons of Vaud, Zürich, Geneva, Uri, and the Grisons. Thus, in the Canton de Vaud real property is divided into three classes—properties of a value not exceeding 1,000l., properties that are valued between 1,000l. and 4,000l., and properties of a value above 4,000l. The first class are taxed at the rate of 1l., the second at the rate of 1l.10S., and the third at the rate of 2l. per 1,000l. Personal property is divided into seven classes, each of them taxed at a separate rate. Fortunes exceeding in capital value 32,000l., and incomes exceeding 1,600l., are subject to the highest rate. In Zürich a different system is adopted. Though both capital and income are progressively taxed, the rate of that tax is the same for all, but the amount liable to taxation becomes proportionately larger as the fortune or the income increases. Thus five-tenths of the first 800l. of a capital fortune, six-tenths of the next 1,200l, seven-tenths of the next 2,000l., eight-tenths of the next 4,000l., and ten-tenths of anything above it, are taxed.43
In the Netherlands the capital value of every fortune has, by a recent law, to be annually stated, and it is taxed according to that value on a graduated scale. Ten thousand florins are untaxed; after that the tax on capital gradually rises from one to two in a thousand. There is also a progressive tax on revenue, but with exemptions intended to prevent capital from being twice taxed. In New Zealand and the Australian colonies there is much graduated taxation, chiefly directed against the growth of large landed properties. In New Zealand the ordinary land tax is thrown upon 12,000 out of 90,000 owners of land. There is an additional and graduated land tax on properties which, after deducting the value of improvements, are worth 5,000l. and upwards. It rises from 1/8d. to 2d. in the pound, and there is also a special and graduated tax on absentees. The income tax is 6d. in the pound on the first taxable 1,000l., and is. in the pound on higher rates.44 In Victoria there is a graduated succession duty, varying from 1 to 10 per cent.45 In France the question of graduated, or, as it is called, progressive, taxation has of late been much discussed; but, with the exception of a graduated house tax,46 attempts in this direction have, until quite recently, been defeated. In the United States, as I have noticed in a former chapter, proposals for graduated taxation have received a serious check in the decision of the Supreme Court in 1894, which appears to establish that, in the imposition of direct Federal taxation, the Congress must only recognise State divisions and the number of citizens. During the war of secession, however, a graduated income tax for a short time existed. The first war income tax, which was established in 1861, taxed all incomes above 800 dollars at the same rate; but the second income tax, which was enacted in July 1862, established a system of graduation, which was, however, nearly all repealed in 1865. The English Budget of 1894 went far in the direction of graduated taxation, both by the additional exemptions granted in the income tax and by the new system of graduation.
Recent discussions have made the arguments which have been adduced by economists against graduated taxation very familiar. It is obvious that a graduated tax is a direct penalty imposed on saving and industry, a direct premium offered to idleness and extravagance. It discourages the very habits and qualities which it is most in the interest of the State to foster, and it is certain to operate forcibly where fortunes approach the limits at which a higher scale of taxation begins. It is a strong inducement at that period, either to cease to work or to cease to save. It is at the same time perfectly arbitrary. When the principle of taxing all fortunes on the same rate of computation is abandoned, no definite rule or principle remains. At what point the higher scale is to begin, or to what degree it is to be raised, depends wholly on the policy of Governments and the balance of parties. The ascending scale may at first be very moderate, but it may at any time, when fresh taxes are required, be made more severe, till it reaches or approaches the point of confiscation. No fixed line or amount of graduation can be maintained upon principle, or with any chance of finality. The whole matter will depend upon the interest and wishes of the electors; upon party politicians seeking for a cry and competing for the votes of very poor and very ignorant men. Under such a system all large properties may easily be made unsafe, and an insecurity may arise which will be fatal to all great financial undertakings. The most serious restraint on parliamentary extravagance will, at the same time, be taken away, and majorities will be invested with the easiest and most powerful instrument of oppression. Highly graduated taxation realises most completely the supreme danger of democracy, creating a state of things in which one class imposes on another burdens which it is not asked to share, and impels the State into vast schemes of extravagance, under the belief that the whole cost will be thrown upon others.
The belief is, no doubt, very fallacious, but it is very natural, and it lends itself most easily to the claptrap of dishonest politicians. Such men will have no difficulty in drawing impressive contrasts between the luxury of the rich and the necessities of the poor, and in persuading ignorant men that there can be no harm in throwing great burdens of exceptional taxation on a few men, who will still remain immeasurably richer than themselves. Yet no truth of political economy is more certain than that a heavy taxation of capital, which starves industry and employment, will fall most severely on the poor. Graduated taxation, if it is excessive or frequently raised, is inevitably largely drawn from capital. It discourages its accumulation. It produces an insecurity which is fatal to its stability, and it is certain to drive great masses of it to other lands.
The amount to be derived from this species of taxation is also much exaggerated. The fortunes of a few millionaires make a great show in the world, but they form in reality a very insignificant sum, compared with the aggregate of moderate fortunes and small savings. Unless the system of graduation be extended, as in Switzerland, to very moderate fortunes, it will produce little, and even then the exemptions that accompany it will go far to balance it. It is certain, too, that it will be largely evaded. There is, it is true, a great distinction to be drawn in this respect between real and personal property. Land is of such a nature that it cannot escape the burden which is imposed on it, but there are many ways in which personal property can escape. Confidential arrangements between members of a family or partners in a business, foreign investments payable to foreign bankers, an increasing portion of wealth sunk in life annuities, insurances made in companies that are not subject to British taxation, securities payable to bearer, which it will be impossible to trace, will all multiply, and the frauds that are so much complained of in income-tax returns will certainly increase. No graver error can be made by a financier than to institute a system which is so burdensome and so unjust that men will be disposed to employ all their ingenuity to evade it. With the vast and various field of international investment that is now open to them they are sure, in innumerable instances, to succeed, and no declaration, no oath, no penalty will effectually prevent it. Taxation is ultimately the payment which is made by the subject for the security and other advantages which he derives from the State. If the taxation of one class is out of all proportion to the cost of the protection they enjoy; if its members are convinced that it is not an equitable payment, but an exceptional and confiscatory burden imposed upon them by an act of power because they are politically weak, very many of them will have no more scruple in defrauding the Government than they would have in deceiving a highwayman or a burglar.
It would be pressing these arguments too far to maintain that a graduated scale of taxation is always and necessarily an evil. In this, as in most political questions, much will depend upon circumstances and degrees. It is, however, sufficiently dear that any financier who enters on this field is entering on a path surrounded with grave and various dangers. Graduated taxation is certain to be contagious, and it is certain not to rest within the limits that its originators desired. No one who dearly reads the signs of the times as they are shown in so many lands can doubt that this system of taxation is likely to increase. It would be hardly possible that it should be otherwise when political power is placed mainly in the hands of the working classes; when vast masses of landed property are accumulated in a few hands; when professional politidans are continually making changes in the inddence of taxation a prominent part of their electioneering programmes; when almost every year enlarges the functions, and therefore the expenditure, of the State; when nearly all the prevalent Utopias take a socialistic form, and point to an equalisation of conditions by means of taxation. Under such conditions the temptation to enter upon this path becomes almost invincible.
It is a question of great importance to consider to what result it is likely to lead. To suppose that any system of taxation can possibly produce a real equality of fortunes, or prevent the accumulation of great wealth, seems to me wholly chimerical; though it is quite possible that legislators in aiming at these objects may ruin national credit, and bring about a period of rapid commerdal decadence. Highly graduated taxation, however, is likely to have great political and social effects in transforming the character of wealth. It will probably exercise a special influence on landed property, breaking up or greatly diminishing those vast estates which are so distinctive a feature of English life. The tendences which are in operation acting in this direction are very powerful. Land, as it is at present held by the great proprietors, is usually one of the least profitable forms of property. The political influence attached to it has greatly diminished. The magisterial and other administrative functions, that once gave the great landlord an almost commanding influence in his county, are being steadily taken away, and county government in all its forms is passing into other hands. If government is effectually divorced from property, and if a system of graduated taxation intended to equalise fortunes becomes popular, great masses of immovable land must become one of the most undesirable forms of property. No other excites so much cupidity, or is so much exposed to predatory legislation. Under all these circumstances, we may expect to see among the great landowners a growing desire to diminish gradually their stake in the land, thus reversing the tendency to agglomeration which for many generations has been dominant.
The change, in my opinion, will not be wholly evil. It is not a natural thing that four or five country places should be held by one man; that whole counties should be included in one gigantic property; that square miles of territory should be enclosed in a single park. The scale of luxury and expenditure in English country life is too high. The machinery of life is too cumbersome. Its pleasures are costly out of all proportion to the enjoyment they give. Nor, on the other hand, is it desirable that great landed properties should be held together when the fixed and necessary charges are so great that they become overwhelming whenever agricultural depression, or any other form of adversity, arrives, while the girls and younger children of the family are left to a poverty which seems all the more acute from the luxurious surroundings in which they have been brought up. If the result of graduated taxation should be to produce a more equal division of property between the members of a family; if rich men, instead of making an allowance to their sons, should seek to avoid death duties by capitalising and at once handing over the amount; if the preservation of game should be on a less extravagant scale; if estates should become smaller and less encumbered, and the habits of great country houses somewhat less luxurious than at present, these things would not injure the country.
Other consequences, however, of a far less desirable character are certain to ensue, and they are consequences that will fall more heavily upon the poor than upon the rich. Only a very small fraction of the expenditure of a great landowner can be said to contribute in any real degree to his own enjoyment. The vast cost of keeping up a great place, and the scale of luxurious hospitality which the conventionalities of society impose, count for much. Parks maintained at great expense, and habitually thrown open to public enjoyment; the village school, or church, or institute established and endowed; all local charities, all county enterprises largely assisted; costly improvements, which no poor landlord could afford; much work given for the express purpose of securing steady employment to the poor-these things form the largest items in the budget of many of the great landowners. Nor should we omit to mention remissions of rent in times of depression which no poor man could afford to make, and very low rents kept unchanged during long periods of increasing prosperity.
In every considerable class there will be the good and the bad, the generous and the grasping; but, on the whole, no candid man will deny the extremely liberal spirit in which the large landed properties in England have been administered. Whatever ultimate benefits may be obtained by their dissolution, it is certain that the first effect will be to extinguish great centres of beneficence and civilisation, to diminish employment, to increase the severity of contracts, and in many other ways to curtail the pleasures and augment the hardships of the deserving poor. It is often said that wealthy Americans, not having the ambition of founding families, give more than wealthy Englishmen for public purposes; but I believe that an examination of the unselfish expenditure of the larger English landlords on objects connected with their estates would show that they in this respect fall little, if at all, below the Transatlantic example. It is probably only in England that we frequently see the curious spectacle of men with incomes of several thousands a year overwhelmed by lifelong pecuniary troubles, not because of any improvidence, of luxurious habits or tastes, but simply because their incomes are insufficient to bear the necessary expenses of their great position.
It seems likely, under the influences I have described, that a great change, both for good and evil, will take place. Land will probably, in future, be more divided, will change hands more frequently, will be treated in a more purely commercial spirit than in the past. Country places taken for mere pleasure, and unconnected with any surrounding property or any landlord duties, will be more frequent. It is not probable that yeomen farmers will multiply as long as it is economically more advantageous for a farmer to rent than to purchase his farm; but land will be bought and sold more frequently, in moderate quantities, as a speculation, let at its extreme value, and divested of all the feudal ideas that are still connected with it. The old historic houses will, no doubt, remain, but they will remain, like the French castles along the Loire, memories of a state of society that has passed away. Many will be in the hands of rich merchants or brewers, and perhaps American millionaires. They will often be shut up, as a measure of economy, for long periods. They will no longer be the centres of great landed properties, or represent a great county influence or a long train of useful duties. Parks will be divided. Picture-galleries will be broken up. Many noble works of art will cross the Atlantic. The old type of English country life will be changed, and much of its ancient beauty will have passed away.
Assuming, as is most probable, that these changes are effected gradually and without violent convulsion, they by no means imply the impoverishment of those who are now the great landed proprietors. No one can doubt that, at the present day, the members of this class would be better off if they had less land and more money; if their properties were in such forms that they had more power of modifying their expenditure according to their means. They will have to pass through a trying period of transition, but, as they are remarkably free from the prejudices and narrow conventionalities that incapacitate some continental aristocracies in the battle of life, they will probably soon adapt themselves to their new circumstances. With ordinary good fortune, with skilful management, with the rich marriages they can always command, with the excellent legal advice that is always at their disposal, they will probably succeed in many instances in keeping together enormous fortunes, and the time is far distant when a really able man, bearing an historic name, does not find that name an assistance to him in his career. But the class will have lost their territorial influence. Public life, dominated, or at least largely influenced, by professional politicians of the American type, will become more distasteful to them. They will find themselves with few landlord or county duties, and with much less necessary hospitality to perform, and they will probably content themselves with smaller country establishments, and spend much more of their time in brighter lands beyond the sea.
The effects of highly graduated taxation on personal property will also be considerable, but probably not so great as on real property. It will strengthen the disposition of a rich man to divide as much as possible his investments, as all great masses of homogeneous immovable property will become specially insecure. It will, in this respect, increase a movement very dangerous to English commercial supremacy, which labour troubles and organisations have already produced. Most good observers have come to the conclusion that an appreciable influence in the commercial depression of the last few years has been the reluctance of rich men to embark on extensive enterprises at a time when labour troubles are so acute, so menacing, and so likely to exercise an influence on legislation. Far-seeing men hesitate to commit themselves to undertakings which can only slowly arrive at maturity when they see the strong bias of popular legislation against property, and the readiness with which a considerable number of modern statesmen will purchase a majority in the House of Commons by allying themselves with the most dishonest groups, and countenancing the most subversive theories. Every influence which, in any department of industrial life, increases risk and diminishes profits must necessarily divert capital, and, whatever other consequences may flow from the frequent strikes and the formidable labour organisations of our time, it cannot be denied that they have both of these effects. If, in addition to these things, it becomes the policy of Governments to seek to defray national expenditure more and more by exceptional taxation, levied for the sake of popularity exclusively on the rich, the tendency to abstain from large manufacturing and commercial enterprises will be greatly accentuated. Such enterprises will not cease, but they will become less numerous. Many manufacturers will probably follow the example which some have already set, and throw out branch establishments in foreign countries. A manufacturer who has some thousand pounds on hand, instead of employing them, as he would once have done, in extending his business, will be inclined to divide them in distant investments. It need scarcely be pointed out how dangerous all this is to a country which has a population much beyond its natural resources, and mainly dependent upon the enormous, unflagging, ever-extending manufacturing and commercial enterprise which vast accumulations and concentrations of capital can alone produce.
Another consequence, which has perhaps not been sufficiently considered, is the tendency of large fortunes to take forms which bring with them no dear and definite duties. The English landed system, which seems now gradually passing away, had, to a very eminent degree, associated great fortunes and high social position with an active life spent in the performance of a large number of administrative county and landlord duties. It in this way provided, perhaps as far as any social institution can provide, that the men who most powerfully influence others by their example should on the whole lead useful, active, and patriotic lives. A great manufacturer and the head of a great commercial undertaking is still more eminently a man whose wealth is indissolubly connected with a life of constant and useful industry.
Wealth, however, takes many other forms than these, and, if I mistake not, a conspicuous characteristic of our century has been the rapid multiplication of the idle rich. In the conditions of modern life it is quite possible for a man to have a colossal fortune in forms that require absolutely no labour, and bring with them no necessary or obvious duties. If he is content with the low rate of iwginterest of the very best securities, he need scarcely give a thought to the sources of his income. If, as is probable, the whole or a portion of his fortune is invested in more speculative securities, it will require from him some time and thought, but it will not necessarily bring with it any imperative duties towards his fellow-creatures. It is true that a rich man of this kind is in reality a large employer of labour. As a shareholder he is part proprietor of railroads, steampackets, dockyards, mines, and many other widely different, and probably widely scattered, industrial enterprises and organisations. But he has no real voice in the management of these concerns. He knows nothing of the conditions of the countless labourers who, in many countries and many climes, are toiling for his profit. He looks on his investments simply as sources of income. His sole information concerning them is probably confined to a few statistics about dividends, traffic returns, encumbrances, and trade prospects.
We are all familiar with great numbers of more or less wealthy men whose fortunes are of this description. Under the influences that I have described such fortunes seem to me likely to multiply. The tendency of most great forms of industry is evidently towards vast joint-stock companies with many shareholders. With improved means of communication, the securities and enterprises of many countries are easily thrown into a common market, and national and municipal debts, which create one of the easiest and most important forms of investment, are rapidly increasing. One of the first signs that a barbarous nation is adopting the manners of Occidental civilisation is usually the creation of a national debt, and democracies are certainly showing themselves in no degree behind the most extravagant monarchies in the rapidity with which they accumulate national and local indebtedness. Nor should we forget the effect which frequent revolutions and violent social and industrial perturbations always exercise on the disposition of fortunes. These things seldom fail to depress credit, to increase debt, to destroy industry, to impoverish nations; but they also furnish many opportunities by which the skilful, the fortunate, and the unscrupulous rise rapidly to easily acquired wealth. If we take them in conjunction with the influences that are in so many directions dissociating great wealth from landed property and administrative functions, and adding to the risks of extensive industrial undertakings, it will appear probable that the fortunes of the future will be much less connected with active duties than those of the past.
The prospect is not an encouraging one. A man of very superior powers will, no doubt, always find his work, and to such a man a fortune of this description will be an incalculable blessing. It will save him from years of drudgery and anxiety, and it will give him at the outset of his career the priceless advantage of independence. To men of lofty moral qualities it will at least be no injury. Such men will feel strongly the inalienable responsibilities of wealth, and will find in the fields of social and philanthropic activity ample scope for their exertions. Many, too, who are not men of conspicuous mental or moral force will have some strong taste for art, or literature, or country pursuits, or science, or research, which will secure for them useful and honourable lives. Yet it can scarcely be doubted that even these will always be exceptions. The majority of men fail to find their work unless it is brought before them prominently by circumstances, or forced upon them by the strong pressure of necessity. Wealth which brings with it no ties and is obtained and enjoyed with no effort is to most men a temptation and a snare. All the more dissipated capitals and watering-places of Europe and America are full of examples of men in this position, living lives of absolute frivolity, dissociated from all serious interests, ever seeking with feverish eagerness for new forms of pleasure, raising the standard of luxury and ostentation, and often, in still graver ways, depressing the moral tone of the society in which they live.
Considerations of this kind will probably be treated with much disdain by Radical critics. They will truly say that the section of society referred to forms only a very small portion of the population, and they will ask whether nations are to frame their institutions with the object of providing occupation for the spoilt children of fortune, and saving them from their own frivolity or vice. No one, I suppose, would maintain that they should do so; but, in estimating the advantages and disadvantages of different institutions, many weights enter into either scale which would not of themselves be sufficient to turn the balance. It is, however, a grave error to suppose that the evils I have described can be confined to the classes who are immediately concerned. It is impossible that the upper class of a nation can become corrupt, frivolous, or emasculated without affecting deeply and widely the whole body of the community. Constituted as human nature is, rich men will always contribute largely to set the tone of society, to form the tastes, habits, ideals, and aspirations of other classes. In this respect, as in many others, the gradual dissociation of the upper classes from many forms of public duty is likely to prove a danger to the community.
It is an evil which appears wherever democracy becomes ascendant, though its progress varies much in different countries. The strong traditions, the firmly knit organisation of English life, have hitherto resisted it much more effectively than most nations. No one can say that the upper classes in England have as yet abandoned politics. Those who fear this change may derive some consolation from observing how largely the most Radical Cabinets of our time have consisted of peers and connections of peers, and from counting up the many thousands of pounds at which the average private incomes of their members may be estimated. Nor indeed, can it be said that English democracy, on either side of the Atlantic, shows any special love for a Spartan, or Stoical, or Puritan simplicity. Mr. Cecil Rhodes once described a prominent politician as ‘a cynical sybarite who was playing the demagogue;’ and it must be owned that professions of a very austere democracy have not unfrequently been found united with the keenest appetite for wealth, for pleasure, and even for titles.
The political and economical influences, however, which I have endeavoured to trace have established in England, as elsewhere, a tendency which is not the less real because it has not yet triumphed, and the experience of American political and municipal life throws much light upon the path along which we are moving. The change in the House of Commons is becoming visible to every eye, and one of the most important questions for the future is the possibility of maintaining an Upper Chamber as a permanent and powerful element in the Constitution.
See, e.g., the remarkable book of M. Adolphe Prins, L'Organisation de la Liberté (Brussels, 1895). M. Prins observes: ‘II est incontestable que le suffrage universel sans cadres, sans organisation, sans groupement, est un système factice; il ne donne que l'ombre de la vie politique. Il n'atteint pas le seul but vraiment politique que l'on doive avoir en vue, et qui est non de faire voter tout le monde, mais d'arriver à représenter le mieux les intérêts du plus grand nombre.… On peut avoir le droit de vote sans être représenté. C'est le fait de toutes les minorités électorales sous le légime de la majorité numérique.… Le suffrage universel moderne c'est surtout le suffrage des passions, des courants irréfléchis, des partis extrêmes. Il ne laisse aucune place aux idées modèrées et il écrase les partis modérés. La victoire est aux exaltés. La représentation des intérêts, qui contient les passions par les idèes, qui modère l'ardeur des partis par l'action des facteurs sociaux, donne à la société plus d'équilibre’ (pp. 186, 187, 201).
See Grote's History, iii. 118-21.
‘Ita nec prohibebatur quisquam jure suffragii, et is valebat in suffragio plurimum, cujus plurimum intererat esse in optimo statu civitatum’ (Cicero, de Republica, ii. 22). This Constitution is attributed to Servius Tullius, but probably acquired its most characteristic features much later. It was for some time greatly abused by the first class, who possessed the majority of centuries, and voted first.
Mill, On Representative Government, p. 133.
See La Représentation Proportionnelle, published by the Société pour l'Etude de la Représentation Proportionnelle (Paris, 1888), pp. 338-66.
See on this subject an admirable pamphlet by Mr. Aubrey de Vere, called Ireland and Proportional Representation (1885).
Hare, On the Election of Representatives, 4th ed. p. 14.
Revue de Droit International, xxiv. 97.
Mill, On Representative Government, pp. 165-7 1.
Dareste, Constitutions Modernes, ii. 658.
Laveleye, Le Gouvernement dans la Democratie, ii. 146-70. See, too, the chapter on the Swiss Referendum in Oberholtzer's Referendum in America, pp. 10-14.
See the Report on Graduated Taxation in Switzerland presented to the Foreign Office in 1892, p. 15. Mr. Buchanan, the author of this Report, mentions the remarkable fact that in this canton ‘the Radical party was returned to power by a very large majority on the same day that witnessed the rejection of the most important measure which it had passed in the previous session of the Cantonal Grand Council.’ This shows how clearly the Referendum vote can be kept separate from party questions.
Oberholtzer, The Referendum in America, pp. 38-44 (Philadelphia, 1893).
Oberholtzer, The Referendum in America, pp. 45-46. See, too, the chapter of Mr. Bryce on Direct Legislation by the People, The American Commonwealth, ii. 67-82.
Oberholtzer, p. 105.
Laveleye, Le Gouvernement dans la Democratic, ii. 169-70.
See an admirable article by Professor Dicey on this subject in the Contemporary Review, April 1890. The subject has been also ably discussed in the National Review for February, March, and April 1894.
Since Mr. Bryce's book appeared, an American politician, discussing the decline of oratory in the United States, says: ‘A change in the method of conducting business in legislative bodies, which has become general, must also be taken into account. Legislation by committees, instead of the whole body, is the prevailing method of the present day. Almost the entire consideration and shaping of the most important measures which now come before legislative bodies is done in the committee-room before they are reported for action. Little more than ratification of committee work remains after a measure leaves the committee-room. There are exceptions, but this is the rule. Consequently, the opportunity for debate is greatly abridged, and for extended oration almost entirely cut off.… Add to this modern method that other invention of recent years, which takes up legislation thus prepared in the committee-room, and puts it in charge of another committee of three, to determine beforehand when it shall be considered by the bodies who are to pass upon it, for how long a time, and in what shape, and by what number of supporters and opponents, to be selected as prize combatants are selected by the opposing sides in a ring, and the hour by the clock when such considerations shall cease—does any one conceive it possible that anything deserving the name of oratory or eloquence can be the outcome of such a contest?’ (The Hon. Henry Dawes in the Forum, October 1894, p. 153).
Bryce's American Commonwealth, i. 204-18
May's Parliamentary Procedure (Palgrave's edition).
There is an excellent account of the working of these committees in Sir R. Temple's Life in Parliament.
La Démocratie en Améerique, 4me partie.
Local Government and Taxation of the United Kingdom (Cobden Club), p. 480.
See some facts collected by Lord Wemyss in an Address on Modern Municipalism (1893), p. 11.
Leroy-Beaulieu, Traité des finances, ii. 168.
Revue de Droit International, xi. 99.
Wisdom of Solomon, vi. 17.
Origines de la France Contemporaine: Le Régime Moderne, i. 284-96.
See the statistics in Whitaker's Almanack for 1894, pp. 601, 605.
Speeches and Addresses of Lord Derby, i. 176.
See an essay by M. Raffalovich in Mackay's Plea for Liberty, p. 217.
Chadwick on Unity, p. 63.
See Le droit des pauvres sur les spectacles en Europe, par Cros-Mayrevielle (1889).
The Man versus the State.
Laissez faire; or, Government Interference, by the Right Hon. G. Goschen. Address delivered at Edinburgh, 1883, p. 4.
L ‘Ancien Regime, pp. 146-47.
Pinkerton's Voyages, iv. 200.
Dowell's History of Taxation.
Times, November 2, 1885.
Wealth of Nations, Book v. chapter ii.
La Propritte, livre iv. chaps, ii., iii.
Leroy-Beaulieu, Traite des Finances, i. 139-74; Say, Solutions Democratiques de la Question des Impôts, ii. 184-224.
See a Foreign Office Report on Graduated Taxation in Switzerland (1892).
New Zealand Official Year-book, 1894, pp. 245-47.
Dilke's Problems of Greater Britain, ii. 277
Ibid. pp. 278-79.