Front Page Titles (by Subject) PART II.: FALLACIES OF DANGER, THE SUBJECT-MATTER OF WHICH IS DANGER IN VARIOUS SHAPES, AND THE OBJECT TO REPRESS DISCUSSION ALTOGETHER, BY EXCITING ALARM. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
PART II.: FALLACIES OF DANGER, THE SUBJECT-MATTER OF WHICH IS DANGER IN VARIOUS SHAPES, AND THE OBJECT TO REPRESS DISCUSSION ALTOGETHER, BY EXCITING ALARM. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 2 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 2.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
FALLACIES OF DANGER,
VITUPERATIVE PERSONALITIES—(ad odium.)
To this class belongs a cluster of fallacies so intimately connected with each other, that they may first be enumerated, and some observations be made upon them in the lump. By seeing their mutual relations to each other—by observing in what circumstances they agree, and in what they differ—a much more correct as well as complete view will be obtained of them, than if they were considered each of them by itself.
The fallacies that belong to this cluster may be denominated—
1. Imputation of bad design.
2. Imputation of bad character.
3. Imputation of bad motive.
4. Imputation of inconsistency.
5. Imputation of suspicious connexions—Noscitur ex sociis.
6. Imputation founded on identity of denomination—Noscitur ex cognominibus.
Of the fallacies belonging to this class, the common character is the endeavour to draw aside attention from the measure to the man;* and this in such sort as, from the supposed imperfection on the part of the man by whom a measure is supported or opposed, to cause a correspondent imperfection to be imputed to the measure so supported, or excellence to the measure so opposed. The argument in its various shapes amounts to this:—In bringing forward or supporting the measure in question, the person in question entertains a bad design; therefore the measure is bad:—he is a person of a bad character; therefore the measure is bad:—he is actuated by a bad motive; therefore the measure is bad:—he has fallen into inconsistencies; on a former occasion, he either opposed it, or made some observation not reconcilable with some observation which he has advanced on the present occasion; therefore the measure is bad:—he is on a footing of intimacy with this or that person, who is a man of dangerous principles and designs, or has been seen more or less frequently in his company, or has professed, or is suspected of entertaining some opinion which the other has professed, or been suspected of entertaining; therefore the measure is bad:—he bears a name that at a former period was borne by a set of men now no more, by whom bad principles were entertained, or bad things done; therefore the measure is bad.
In these arguments, thus arranged, a sort of anti-climax may be observed; the fact intimated by each succeeding argument being suggested in the character of evidence of the one immediately preceding it, or at least of some one or more of those which precede it, and the conclusion being accordingly weaker and weaker at each step. The second is a sort of circumstantial evidence of the first, the third of the second, and so on. If the first is inconclusive, the rest fall at once to the ground.
Exposure.—Various are the considerations which concur in demonstrating the futility of the fallacies comprehended in this class, and (not to speak of the improbity of the utterers) the weakness of those with whom they obtain currency—the weakness of the acceptors:—
1. In the first place comes that general character of irrelevancy which belongs to these, in common with the several other articles that stand upon the list of fallacies.
2. In the next place comes the complete inconclusiveness. Whatsoever be their force as applied to a bad measure—to the worst measure that can be imagined, they would be found to apply with little less force to all good measures—to the best measures that can be imagined.
Among 658, or any such large number of persons taken at random, there will be persons of all characters: if the measure is a good one, will it become bad because it is supported by a bad man? If it is bad, will it become good because supported by a good man? If the measure be really inexpedient, why not at once show that it is so? Your producing these irrelevant and inconclusive arguments in lieu of direct ones, though not sufficient to prove that the measure you thus oppose is a good one, contributes to prove that you yourselves regard it as a good one.
After these general observations, let us examine, more in detail, the various shapes the fallacy assumes.
To begin with the imputation of bad design.
The measure in question is not charged with being itself a bad one; for if it be, and in so far as it is thus charged, the argument is not irrelevant and fallacious. The bad design imputed, consists not in the design of carrying this measure, but some other measure, which is thus, by necessary implication, charged with being a bad one. Here, then, four things ought to be proved: viz. 1. That the design of bringing forward the supposed bad measure is really entertained; 2. That this design will be carried into effect; 3. That the measure will prove to be a bad one; 4. That but for the actually proposed measure, the supposed bad one would not be carried into effect.
This is, in effect, a modification of the fallacy of distrust, which will shortly be treated of.
But on what ground rests the supposition that the supposed bad measure will, as such a consequence, be carried into effect? The persons by whom, if at all, it will be carried into effect, will be either the legislators for the time being, or the legislators of some future contingent time. As to the legislators for the time being, observe the character and frame of mind which the orator imputes to these his judges:—“Give not your sanction to this measure; for though there may be no particular harm in it, yet if you do give your sanction to it, the same man by whom this is proposed, will propose to you others that will be bad; and such is your weakness, that, however bad they may be, you will want either the discernment necessary to enable you to see them in their true light, or the resolution to enable you to put a negative upon measures, of the mischief of which you are fully convinced.” The imbecility of the persons thus addressed in the character of legislators and judges—their consequent unfitness for the situation,—such, it is manifest, is the basis of this fallacy. On the part of these legislators themselves, the forbearance manifested under such treatment on the part of the orator—the confidence entertained of his experiencing such forbearance—afford no inconsiderable presumption of the reality of the character so imputed to them.
Imputation of bad character.
The inference meant to be drawn from an imputation of bad character, is either to cause the person in question to be considered as entertaining bad designs—i. e. about to be concerned in bringing forward future contingent and pernicious measures—or simply to destroy any persuasive force with which, in the character of authority, his opinion is likely to be attended.
In this last case, it is a fallacy opposed to a fallacy of the same complexion, played off on the other side: to employ it, is to combat the antagonist with his own weapons. In the former case, it is another modification of the fallacy of distrust—of which hereafter.
In proportion to the degree of efficiency with which a man suffers these instruments of deception to operate upon his mind, he enables bad men to exercise over him a sort of power, the thought of which ought to cover him with shame. Allow this argument the effect of a conclusive one, you put it into the power of any man to draw you at pleasure from the support of every measure which in your own eyes is good—to force you to give your support to any and every measure which in your own eyes is bad. Is it good?—the bad man embraces it, and by the supposition, you reject it. Is it bad?—he vituperates it, and that suffices for driving you into its embrace. You split upon the rocks, because he has avoided them—you miss the harbour, because he has steered into it.
Give yourself up to any such blind antipathy, you are no less in the power of your adversaries than by a correspondently irrational sympathy and obsequiousness you put yourself into the power of your friends.
Imputation of bad motive.
The proposer of the measure, it is asserted, is actuated by bad motives, from whence it is inferred that he entertains some bad design. This, again, is no more than a modification of the fallacy of distrust; but one of the very weakest—1. Because motives are hidden in the human breast; 2. Because, if the measure is beneficial, it would be absurd to reject it on account of the motives of its author. But what is peculiar to this particular fallacy, is the falsity of the supposition on which it is grounded; viz. the existence of a class or species of motives, to which any such epithet as bad, can with propriety be applied. What constitutes a motive, is the eventual expectation either of some pleasure or exemption from pain; but forasmuch as in itself there is nothing good but pleasure, or exemption from pain, it follows that no motive is bad in itself, though every kind of motive may, according to circumstances, occasion good or bad actions;* and motives of the dissocial cast may aggravate the mischief of a pernicious act. But if the act itself to which the motive gives birth—if in the proposed measure in question there be nothing pernicious,—it is not in the motive’s being of the dissocial class—it is not in its being of the self-regarding class,—that there is any reason for calling it a bad one. Upon the influence and prevalence of motives of the self-regarding class, depends the preservation, not only of the species, but of each individual belonging to it. When, from the introduction of a measure, a man beholds the prospect of personal advantage in any shape whatever to himself,—say for example a pecuniary advantage, as being the most ordinary and palpable, or, dyslogistically speaking, the most gross,—it is certain that the contemplation of this advantage must have had some share in causing the conduct he pursues: it may have been the only cause. The measure itself being by the supposition not pernicious, is it the worse for this advantage? On the contrary, it is so much the better. For of what stuff is public advantage composed, but of private and personal advantage?
Imputation of inconsistency.
Admitting the fact of the inconsistency, the utmost can amount to, in the character of an argument against the proposed measure, is, the affording a presumption of bad design in a certain way, or of bad character in a certain way and to a certain degree, on the part of the proposer or supporter of the measure. Of the futility of that argument, a view has been already given: and this, again, is a modification of the fallacy of distrust.
That inconsistency, when pushed to a certain degree, may afford but too conclusive evidence of a sort of relatively bad character, is not to be denied: if, for example, on a former occasion, personal interest inclining him one way (say against the measure,) arguments have been urged by the person in question against the measure; while on the present occasion, personal interest inclining him the opposite way, arguments are urged by him in favour of the measure,—or if a matter of fact, which on a former occasion was denied, be now asserted, or vice versâ—and in each case, if no notice of the inconsistency is taken by the person himself;—the operation of it to his prejudice will naturally be stronger than if an account more or less satisfactory is given by him of the circumstances and causes of the variance.
But, be the evidence with regard to the cause of the change what it may, no inference can be drawn from it against the measure, unless it be that such inconsistency, if established, may weaken the persuasive force of the opinion of the person in question in the character of authority: and in what respect and degree an argument of this complexion is irrelevant, has been already brought to view.
Imputation of suspicious connexions—(noscitur ex sociis.)
The alleged badness of character on the part of the alleged associate being admitted, the argument now in question will stand upon the same footing as the four preceding; the weakness of which has been already exposed, and will constitute only another branch of the fallacy of distrust. But before it can stand on a par even with those weak ones, two ulterior points remain to be established:—
1. One is, the badness of character on the part of the alleged associate.
2. Another is, the existence of a social connexion between the person in question and his supposed associate.
3. A third is, that the influence exercised on the mind of the person in question is such, that in consequence of the connexion he will be induced to introduce and support measures (and those mischievous ones) which otherwise he would not have introduced or supported.
As to the two first of these three supposed facts, their respective degrees of probability will depend on the circumstances of each case. Of the third, the weakness may be exposed by considerations of a general nature. In private life, the force of the presumption in question is established by daily experience: but in the case of a political connexion, such as that which is created by an opposition to one and the same political measure or set of measures, the presumption loses a great part, sometimes the whole, of its force. Few are the political measures, on the occasion of which men of all characters, men of all degrees in the scale of probity and improbity, may not be seen on both sides.
The mere need of information respecting matters of fact, is a cause capable of bringing together, in a state of apparent connexion, some of the most opposite characters.
Imputation founded on identity of denomination—(noscitur ex cognominibus.)
The circumstances by which this fallacy is distinguished from the last preceding is, that in this case, between the person in question, and the obnoxious persons by whose opinions and conduct he is supposed to be determined or influenced, neither personal intercourse nor possibility of personal intercourse can exist. In the last case, his measures were to be opposed because he was connected with persons of bad character,—in the present, because he bears the same denomination as persons now no more, but who in their own time were the authors of pernicious measures. In so far as a community of interest exists between the persons thus connected by community of denomination, the allegation of a certain community of designs is not altogether destitute of weight. Community of denomination, however, is but the sign, not the efficient cause, of community of interest. What have the Romans of the present day in common with the Romans of early times? Do they aspire to recover the empire of the world?
But when evil designs are imputed to men of the present day, on the ground that evil designs were entertained and prosecuted by their namesakes in time past, whatsoever may be the community of interest, one circumstance ought never to be out of mind:—this is, the gradual melioration of character from the most remote and barbarous, down to the present time; the consequence of which is, that in many particulars the same ends which were formerly pursued by persons of the same denomination are not now pursued; and if in many others the same ends are pursued, they are not pursued by the same bad means. If this observation pass unheeded, the consequences may be no less mischievous than absurd: that which has been, is unalterable. If, then, this fallacy be suffered to influence the mind, and determine human conduct, whatsoever degree of depravity be imputed to preceding generations of the obnoxious denomination—whatsoever opposition may have been manifested towards them or their successors,—must continue without abatement to the end of time. “Be my friendship immortal, my enmity mortal,” is the sentiment that has been so warmly and so justly applauded in the mouth of a sage of antiquity: but the fallacy here in question proposes to maintain its baneful influence for ever.
It is in matters touching religious persuasion, and to the prejudice of certain sects, that this fallacy has been played off with the greatest and most pernicious effect. In England, particularly against measures for the relief of the Catholics, “those of our ancestors, who, professing the same branch of the Christian religion as that which you now profess, were thence distinguished by the same name, entertained pernicious designs, that for some time showed themselves in pernicious measures; therefore you, entertaining the same pernicious designs, would now, had you but power enough, carry into effect the same pernicious measures:—they, having the power, destroyed by fire and faggot those who, in respect of religious opinions and ceremonies, differed from them; therefore, had you but power enough, so would you.” Upon this ground, in one of the three kingdoms, a system of government continues, which does not so much as profess to have in view the welfare of the majority of the inhabitants,—a system of government in which the interest of the many is avowedly, so long as the government lasts, intended to be kept in a state of perpetual sacrifice to the interest of the few. In vain is it urged, these inferences, drawn from times and measures long since past, are completely belied by the universal experience of all present time. In the Saxon kingdom, in the Austrian empire, in the vast and ever-flourishing empire of France, though the sovereign is Catholic, whatsoever degree of security the government allows of, is possessed alike by Catholics and Protestants. In vain is it observed (not that to this purpose this or any other part of the history of the 17th century is worth observing)—in vain is it observed, and truly observed, the Church of England continued her fires after the Church of Rome had discontinued hers.*
It is only in the absence of interest, that experience can hope to be regarded, or reason heard. In the character of sinecurists and over-paid placemen, it is the interest of the members of the English government to treat the majority of the people of Ireland on the double footing of enemies and subjects; and such is the treatment which is in store for them to the extent of their endurance.
Cause of the prevalence of the fallacies belonging to this class.
Whatsoever be the nature of the several instruments of deception by which the mind is liable to be operated upon and deceived, the degree of prevalence they experience—the degree of success they enjoy, depends ultimately upon one common cause, viz. the ignorance and mental imbecility of those on whom they operate. In the present instance, besides this ultimate cause or root, they find in another fallacy, and the corresponding propensity of the human mind, a sort of intermediate cause. This is the fallacy of authority: the corresponding propensity is the propensity to save exertion by resting satisfied with authority. Derived from, and proportioned to, the ignorance and weakness of the minds to which political arguments are addressed, is the propensity to judge of the propriety or impropriety of a measure from the supposed character or disposition of its supporters or opposers, in preference to, or even in exclusion of, its own intrinsic character and tendency. Proportioned to the degree of importance attached to the character and disposition of the author or supporter of the measure, is the degree of persuasive force with which the fallacies belonging to this class will naturally act.
Besides, nothing but laborious application and a clear and comprehensive intellect, can enable a man on any given subject to employ successfully relevant arguments drawn from the subject itself. To employ personalities, neither labour nor intellect is required: in this sort of contest, the most idle and the most ignorant are quite on a par with, if not superior to, the most industrious and the most highly-gifted individuals. Nothing can be more convement for those who would speak without the trouble of thinking: the same ideas are brought forward over and over again, and all that is required is to vary the turn of expression. Close and relevant arguments have very little hold on the passions, and serve rather to quell than to inflame them; while in personalities, there is always something stimulant, whether on the part of him who praises, or him who blames. Praise forms a kind of connexion between the party praising and the party praised, and vituperation gives an air of courage and independence to the party who blames.
Ignorance and indolence, friendship and enmity, concurring and conflicting interest, servility and independence—all conspire to give personalities the ascendency they so unhappily maintain. The more we lie under the influence of our own passions, the more we rely on others being affected in a similar degree. A man who can repel these injuries with dignity may often convert them into triumph: “Strike me, but hear,” says he; and the fury of his antagonist redounds to his own discomfiture.
The Hobgoblin Argument, or, No Innovation!—(ad metum.)
Exposition.—The hobgoblin, the eventual appearance of which is denounced by this argument, is anarchy; which tremendous spectre has for its forerunner the monster innovation. The forms in which this monster may be denounced are as numerous and various as the sentences in which the word innovation can be placed.
“Here it comes!” exclaims the barbarous or unthinking servant in the hearing of the affrighted child, when, to rid herself of the burthen of attendance, such servant scruples not to employ an instrument of terror, the effects of which may continue during life. “Here it comes!” is the cry; and the hobgoblin is rendered but the more terrific by the suppression of its name.
Of a similar nature, and productive of similar effects, is the political device here exposed to view. As an instrument of deception, the device is generally accompanied by personalities of the vituperative kind:—imputation of bad motives, bad designs, bad conduct and character, &c. are ordinarily cast on the authors and advocates of the obnoxious measure; whilst the term employed is such as to beg the question in dispute. Thus, in the present instance, innovation means a bad change; presenting to the mind, besides the idea of a change, the proposition, either that change in general is a bad thing, or at least that the sort of change in question is a bad change.
Exposure.—All-comprehensiveness of the condemnation passed by this fallacy.
This is one of the many cases in which it is difficult to render the absurdity of the argument more glaring than it is upon the face of the argument itself.
Whatever reason it affords for looking upon the proposed measure, be it what it may, as about to be mischievous, it affords the same reason for entertaining the same opinion of everything that exists at present. To say all new things are bad, is as much as to say all things are bad—or, at any event, at their commencement: for of all the old things ever seen or heard of, there is not one that was not once new. Whatever is now establishment, was once innovation.
He who on this ground condemns a proposed measure, condemns, in the same breath, whatsoever he would be most averse to be thought to disapprove:—he condemns the Revolution, the Reformation, the assumption made by the House of Commons of a part in the penning of the laws in the reign of Henry VI., the institution of the House of Commons itself in the reign of Henry III.:—all these he bids us regard as sure forerunners of the monster anarchy, but particularly the birth and first efficient agency of the House of Commons—an innovation, in comparison of which all others, past or future, are for efficiency, and consequently mischievousness, but as grains of dust in the balance.
Apprehension of mischief from change—what foundation it has in truth.
A circumstance that gives a sort of colour to the use of this fallacy is, that it can scarcely ever be found without a certain degree of truth adhering to it. Supposing the change to be one which cannot be effected without the interposition of the legislature, even this circumstance is sufficient to attach to it a certain quantity of mischief. The words necessary to commit the change even to writing, cannot be put into that form without labour, importing a proportional quantity of vexation to the head employed in it; which labour and vexation, if paid for, is compensated by and productive of expense. When disseminated by the operation of the press, as it always must be before it can be productive of whatever effect is aimed at, it becomes productive of ulterior vexation and expense. Here, then, is so much unavoidable mischief, of which the most salutary and indispensable change cannot fail to be productive: to this natural and unavoidable portion of mischief, the additions that have been made, in the shape of factitious and avoidable mischief of the same kind, are such as have sufficient claim to notice, but to a notice not proper for this place.
Here, then, we have the minimum of mischief which accompanies every change; and in this minimum of mischief we have the minimum of truth with which this fallacy is accompanied, and which is sufficient to protect it against exposure, from a flat and undiscriminating demal.
It is seldom, however, that the whole of the mischief, with the corresponding portion of truth, is confined within such narrow bounds.
Wheresoever any portion, however great or small, of the aggregate mass of the objects of desire in any shape—matter of wealth, power, dignity, or even reputation—and whether in possession, or only in prospect, and that ever so remote and contingent—must, in consequence of the change, pass out of any hand or hands that are not willing to part with it, viz. either without compensation, or with no other than what, in their estimation, is insufficient;—here we have, in some shape or other, a quantity of vexation uncompensated—so much vexation, so much mischief beyond dispute.
But in one way or other, whether from the total omission of this or that item, or from the supposed inadequacy of the compensation given for it, or from its incapacity of being included in any estimate, as in case of remote and but weakly probable as well as contingent profits, it will not unfrequently happen that the compensation allotted in this case shall be inadequate, not only to the desires, but to the imagined rights of the party from whom the sacrifice is exacted. In so far as such insufficiency appears to himself to exist, he will feel himself urged by a motive, the force of which will be in proportion to the amount of such deficiency, to oppose the measure; and in so far as in his eyes such motive is fit to be displayed, it will constitute what in his language will be reason, and what will be received in that character by all other persons in whose estimate any such deficiency shall appear to exist. So far as any such deficiency is specifically alleged in the character of a reason, it forms a relevant and specific argument, and belongs not to the account of fallacies; and, if well founded, constitutes a just reason, if not for quashing the measure, at any rate for adding to the compensation thus shown to be deficient. And in this shape, viz. in that of a specific argument, will a man of course present his motive to view, if it be susceptible of it. But when the alleged damage and eventual injury will not, even in his own view of it, bear the test of inquiry, then, this specific argument failing him, he will betake himself to the general fallacy in lieu of it. He will set up the cry of Innovation! Innovation! hoping by this watchword to bring to his aid all whose sinister interest is connected with his own; and to engage them to say, and the unreflecting multitude to believe, that the change in question is of the number of those in which the mischief attached to it is not accompanied by a preponderant mass of advantage.
Time the innovator-general, a counter-fallacy.
Among the stories current in the profession of the law, is that of an attorney, who, when his client applied to him for relief against a forged bond, advised him, as the shortest and surest course, to forge a release.
Thus, as a shorter and surer course than that of attempting to make men sensible of the imposture, this fallacy has been every now and then met by what may be termed its counter-fallacy: Time itself is the archinnovator. The inference is, the proposed change, branded as it has thus been by the odious appellative of innovation, is in fact no change: its sole effect being either to prevent a change, or to bring the matter back to the good state in which it formerly was. This counter-fallacy, if such it may be termed, has not, however, any such pernicious properties or consequences attached to it as may be seen to be indicated by that name. Two circumstances, however, concur in giving it a just title to the appellation of a fallacy: one is, that it has no specific application to the particular measure in hand, and on that score may be set down as irrelevant; the other, that by a sort of implied concession and virtual admission, it gives colour and countenance to the fallacy to which it is opposed,—admitting by implication, that if the appellation of a change belonged with propriety to the proposed measure, it might on that single account with propriety be opposed.
A few words, then, are now sufficient to strip the mask from this fallacy. No specific mischief, as likely to result from the specific measure, is alleged; if it were, the argument would not belong to this head. What is alleged, is nothing more than that mischief, without regard to the amount, would be among the results of this measure. But this is no more than can be said of every legislative measure that ever did pass, or ever can pass. If, then, it be to be ranked with arguments, it is an argument that involves in one common condemnation all political measures whatsoever, past, present, and to come; it passes condemnation on whatsoever, in this way, ever has been, or ever can be done, in all places as well as in all times. Delivered from an humble station, from the mouth of an old woman beguiling by her gossip the labours of the spinning-wheel in her cottage, it might pass for simple and ordinary ignorance:—delivered from any such exalted station as that of a legislative house or judicial bench,—from such a quarter, if it can be regarded as sincere, it is a mark of drivelling rather than ignorance.
But it may be said—“My meaning is not to condemn all change—not to condemn all new institutions, all new laws, all new measures,—only violent and dangerous ones, such as that is which is now proposed.” The answer is: Neither drawing or attempting to draw any line, you do by this indiscriminating appellative pass condemnation on all change—on everything to which any such epithet as new can with propriety be applied. Draw any such line, and the reproach of insincerity or imbecility shall be withholden: draw your line; but remember, that whenever you do draw it, or so much as begin to draw it, you give up this your argument.
Alive to possible-imaginable evils, dead to actual ones—eagle-eyed to future contingent evils, blind and insensible to all existing ones,—such is the character of the mind, to which a fallacy such as this can really have presented itself in the character of an argument possessing any the smallest claim to notice. To such a mind,—that by denial and sale of justice, anarchy, in so far as concerns nine-tenths of the people, is actually by force of law established, and that it is only by the force of morality—of such morality as all the punishments denounced against sincerity, and all the reward applied for the encouragement of insincerity, have not been able to banish,—that society is kept together;—that to draw into question the fitness of great characters for their high situations, is in one man a crime, while to question their fitness, so that their motives remain unquestioned, is lawful to another;—that the crime called libel remains undefined and undistinguishable, and the liberty of the press is defined to be the absence of that security which would be afforded to writers by the establishment of a licenser;—that under a show of limitation, a government shall be in fact an absolute one, while pretended guardians are real accomplices, and at the nod of a king or a minister, by a regular trained body of votes, black shall be declared white—miscarriage, success—mortality, health—disgrace, honour—and notorious experienced imbecility, consummate skill;—to such a mind, these, with other evils boundless in extent and number, are either not seen to be in existence, or not felt to be such. In such a mind, the horror of innovation is as really a disease as any to which the body in which it is seated is exposed. And in proportion as a man is afflicted with it, he is the enemy of all good, which, how urgent soever may be the demand for it, remains as yet to be done; nor can he be said to be completely cured of it, till he shall have learnt to take, on each occasion, and without repugnance, general utility for the general end, and to judge of whatever is proposed, in the character of a means conducive to that end.
Sinister interests in which this fallacy has its source.
Could the wand of that magician be borrowed, at whose potent touch the emissaries of his wicked antagonist threw off their several disguises, and made instant confession of their real character and designs,—could a few of those ravens by whom the word innovation is uttered with a scream of horror, and the approach of the monster anarchy denounced,—be touched with it, we should then learn their real character and have the true import of these screams translated into intelligible language.
1. I am a lawyer (would one of them be heard to say,)—a fee-fed judge—who, considering that the money I lay up, the power I exercise, and the respect and reputation I enjoy, depend on the undiminished continuance of the abuses of the law, the factitious delay, vexation, and expense with which the few who have money enough to pay for a chance of justice are loaded, and by which the many who have not, are cut off from that chance,—take this method of deterring men from attempting to alleviate those torments in which my comforts have their source.
2. I am a sinecurist (cries another,) who being in the receipt of £38,000 a-year, public money, for doing nothing, and having no more wit than honesty, have never been able to open my mouth and pronounce any articulate sound for any other purpose,—yet, hearing a cry of “No sinecures!” am come to join in the shout of “No innovation! down with the innovators!” in hopes of drowning, by these defensive sounds, the offensive ones which chill my blood and make me tremble.
3. I am a contractor (cries a third,) who having bought my seat that I may sell my votes—and in return for them, being in the habit of obtaining with the most convenient regularity a succession of good jobs, foresee, in the prevalence of innovation, the destruction and the ruin of this established branch of trade.
4. I am a country gentleman (cries a fourth,) who observing that from having a seat in a certain assembly a man enjoys more respect than he did before, on the turf, in the dog-kennel, and in the stable, and having tenants and other dependents enough to seat me against their wills for a place in which I am detested, and hearing it said that if innovation were suffered to run on unopposed, elections would come in time to be as free in reality as they are in appearance and pretence,—have left for a day or two the cry of “Tally-ho!” and “Hark forward!” to join in the cry of “No Anarchy!” “No innovation!”
5. I am a priest (says a fifth,) who having proved the pope to be antichrist to the satisfaction of all orthodox divines whose piety prays for the cure of souls, or whose health has need of exoneration from the burthen of residence; and having read, in my edition of the Gospel, that the apostles lived in palaces, which innovation and anarchy would cut down to parsonage-houses; though grown hoarse by screaming out, “No reading!” “No writing!” “No Lancaster!” and “No popery!”—for fear of coming change, am here to add what remains of my voice to the full chorus of “No Anarchy!” “No Innovation!”
FALLACY OF DISTRUST, OR, WHAT’S AT THE BOTTOM?—(ad metum.)
Exposition.—This argument may be considered as a particular modification of the No-Innovation argument. An arrangement or set of arrangements has been proposed, so plainly beneficial, and at the same time so manifestly innoxious, that no prospect presents itself of bringing to bear upon them with any effect the cry of No innovation. Is the anti-innovationist mute? No; he has this resource:—In what you see as yet (says he) there may perhaps be no great mischief; but depend upon it, in the quarter from whence these proposed innoxious arrangements come, there are more behind that are of a very different complexion; if these innoxious ones are suffered to be carried, others of a noxious character will succeed without end, and will be carried likewise.
Exposure.—The absurdity of this argument is too glaring to be susceptible of any considerable illustration from anything that can be said of it:—
1. In the first place, it begins with a virtual admission of the propriety of the measure considered in itself; and thus containing within itself a demonstration of its own futility, it cuts up from under it the very ground which it is endeavouring to make: yet, from its very weakness, it is apt to derive for the moment a certain degree of force. By the monstrosity of its weakness, a feeling of surprise, and thereupon of perplexity, is apt to be produced: and so long as this feeling continues, a difficulty of finding an appropriate answer continues with it. For that which is itself nothing, what answer (says a man) can I find?
If two measures—G and B—were both brought forward at the same time, G being good and B bad;—rejecting G, because B is bad, would be quite absurd enough; and at first view a man might be apt to suppose that the force of absurdity could go no further.
But the present fallacy does in effect go much further:—two measures, both of them brought upon the carpet together, both of them unobjectionable, are to be rejected, not for anything that is amiss in either of them, but for something that by possibility may be found amiss in some other or others that nobody knows of, and the future existence of which, without the slightest ground, is to be assumed and taken for granted.
In the field of policy as applied to measures, this vicarious reprobation forms a counterpart to vicarious punishment in the field of justice as applied to persons.
The measure G, which is good, is to be thrown out, because, for aught we can be sure of, some day or other it may happen to be followed by some other measure B, which may be a bad one. A man A, against whom there is neither evidence nor charge, is to be punished, because, for aught we can be sure of, some time or other there may be some other man who will have been guilty.
If on this ground it be right that the measure in question be rejected, so ought every other measure that ever has been or can be proposed: for of no measure can anybody be sure but that it may be followed by some other measure or measures, of which, when they make their appearance, it may be said that they are bad.
If, then, the argument proves anything, it proves that no measure ought ever to be carried, or ever to have been carried; and that, therefore, all things that can be done by law or government, and therefore law and government themselves, are nuisances.
This policy is exactly that which was attributed to Herod in the extermination of the innocents; and the sort of man by whom an argument of this sort can be employed, is the sort of man who would have acted as Herod did, had he been in Herod’s place.
But think, not only what sort of man he must be who can bring himself to employ such an argument; but moreover, what sort of men they must be to whom he can venture to propose it—on whom he can expect it to make any impression, but such a one as will be disgraceful to himself. “Such drivellers,” says he to them in effect, “such drivellers are you, so sure of being imposed upon by any one that will attempt it, that you know not the distinction between good and bad; and when, at the suggestion of this or that man, you have adopted any one measure, good or bad, let but that same man propose any number of other measures, whatever be their character, ye are such idiots and fools, that without looking at them yourselves, or vouchsafing to learn their character from others, you will adopt them in a lump.” Such is the compliment wrapt up in this sort of argument.
OFFICIAL MALEFACTOR’S SCREEN—(ad metum.)
“Attack us, you attack Government.”
Exposition.—The fallacy here in question is employed almost as often as, in speaking of the persons by whom, or of the system on which, the business of the government is conducted, any expressions importing condemnation or censure are uttered. The fallacy consists in affecting to consider such condemnation or censure as being, if not in design, at least in tendency, pregnant with mischief to government itself:—“Oppose us, you oppose government;” “Disgrace us, you disgrace government;” “Bring us into contempt, you bring government into contempt; and anarchy and civil war are the immediate consequences.” Such are the forms it assumes.
Exposure.—Not ill-grounded, most assuredly, is the alleged importance of this maxim: to the class of persons by or for whom it is employed, it must be admitted to be well worth whatsoever pains can be employed in decking it out to the best advantage.
Let but this notion be acceded to, all persons now partaking, or who may at any time be likely to partake, in the business and profit of misrule, must, in every one of its shapes, be allowed to continue so to do without disturbance: all abuses, as well future as present, must continue without remedy. The most industrious labourers in the service of mankind will experience the treatment due to those to whose dis-social or selfish nature the happiness of man is an object of aversion or indifference. Punishment, or at least disgrace, will be the reward of the most exalted virtue; perpetual honour, as well as power, the reward of the most pernicious vices. Punishment will be, and so by English libel-law it is at this day—let but the criminal be of a certain rank in the state, and the mischief of the crime upon a scale to a certain degree extensive—punishment will be, not for him who commits a crime, but for him who complains of it.
So long as the conduct of the business of the government contains anything amiss in it—so long as it contains in it anything that could be made better—so long, in a word, as it continues short of a state of absolute perfection,—there will be no other mode of bringing it nearer to perfection—no other means of clearing it of the most mischievous abuses with which government can be defiled, than the indication of such points of imperfection as at the time being exist, or are supposed to exist in it; which points of imperfection will always be referable to one or other of two heads: the conduct of this or that one of the individuals by whom in such or such a department the business of government is conducted; or the state of the system of administration under which they act. But neither in the system in question, nor in the conduct of the persons in question, can any imperfection be pointed out, but that, as towards such persons or such system, in proportion to the apparent importance and extent of that imperfection, aversion or contempt must in a greater or less degree be produced.
In effect, this fallacy is but a mode of intimating in other words, that no abuse ought to be reformed—that nothing ought to be uttered in relation to the misconduct of any person in office, which may produce any sentiment of disapprobation.
In this country at least, few if any persons aim at any such object as the bringing into contempt any of those offices on the execution of which the maintenance of the general security depends;—any such office, for example, as that of king, member of parliament, or judge. As to the person of the king, if the maxim, “The king can do no wrong,” be admitted in both its senses, there can be no need of imputing blame to him, unless in the way of defence against the imprudence or the improbity of those who, by groundless or exaggerated eulogiums on the personal character of the individual monarch on the throne, seek to extend his power, and to screen from censure or scrutiny the misconduct of his agents.
But in the instance of any other office, to reprobate everything the tendency of which is to expose the officer to hatred or contempt, is to reprobate everything that can be said or done, either in the way of complaint against past, or for the purpose of preventing future transgressions;—to reprobate everything the tendency of which is to expose the office to hatred or contempt, is to reprobate everything that can be said or done towards pointing out the demand for reform, how needful soever, in the constitution of the office.
If in the constitution of the office, in respect of mode of appointment, mode of remuneration, &c., there be anything that tends to give all persons placed in it an interest acting in opposition to official duty, or to give an increased facility to the effective pursuit of any such sinister interest, everything that tends to bring to view such sinister interest, or such facility, contributes, it may be said, to bring the office itself into contempt.
That under the existing system of judicature, so far as concerns its higher seats, the interest of the judge is, throughout the whole field of his jurisdiction, in a state of constant and diametrical opposition to the line of his duty;—that it is his interest to maintain undiminished, and as far as possible to increase, every evil opposite to the ends of justice, viz. uncertainty, delay, vexation and expense;—that the giving birth to these evils has at all times been more or less an object with every judge (the present ones excepted, of whom we say nothing) that ever sat on a Westminster-Hall bench;—and that, under the present constitution of the office, it were weakness to expect at the hands of a judge anything better;—whilst, that of the above-mentioned evils, the load which is actually endured by the people of this country, is, as to a very small part only, the natural and unavoidable lot of human nature;—are propositions which have already in this work been made plain to demonstration, and in the belief of which the writer has been confirmed by the observations of nearly sixty years—propositions, of the truth of which he is no more able to entertain a doubt, than he is of his own existence.
But in these sentiments, has he any such wish as to see enfeebled and exposed to effectual resistance the authority of judges?—of any established judicatory?—of any one occupier of any such judicial seat? No: the most strenuous defender of abuse in every shape would not go further than he in wishes, and upon occasion in exertion, for its support.
For preventing, remedying, or checking transgression on the part of the members of government, or preventing their management of the business of government from becoming completely arbitrary, the nature of things affords no other means than such, the tendency of which, as far as they go, is to lower either these managing hands, or the system, or both, in the affection and estimation of the people: which effect, when produced in a high degree, may be termed bringing them into hatred and contempt.
But so far is it from being true that a man’s aversion or contempt for the hands by which the powers of government, or even for the system under which they are exercised, is a proof of his aversion or contempt towards government itself, that, even in proportion to the strength of that aversion or contempt, it is a proof of the opposite affection. What, in consequence of such contempt or aversion, he wishes for, is, not that there be no hands at all to exercise these powers, but that the hands may be better regulated;—not that those powers should not be exercised at all, but that they should be better exercised;—not that, in the exercise of them, no rules at all should be pursued, but that the rules by which they are exercised should be a better set of rules.
All government is a trust—every branch of government is a trust, and immemorially acknowledged so to be: it is only by the magnitude of the scale, that public differ from private trusts.
I complain of the conduct of a person in the character of guardian—as domestic guardian, having the care of a minor or insane person. In so doing, do I say that guardianship is a bad institution? Does it enter into the head of any one to suspect me of so doing?
I complain of an individual in the character of a commercial agent, or assignee of the effects of an insolvent. In so doing, do I say that commercial agency is a bad thing?—that the practice of vesting in the hands of trustees or assignees the effects of an insolvent, for the purpose of their being divided among his creditors, is a bad practice? Does any such conceit ever enter into the head of man, as that of suspecting me of so doing?
I complain of an imperfection in the state of the law relative to guardianship. In stating this supposed imperfection in the state of the law itself, do I say that there ought to be no law on the subject?—that no human being ought to have any such power as that of guardian over the person of any other? Does it ever enter into the head of any human being to suspect me so much as of entertaining any such persuasion, not to speak of endeavouring to cause others to entertain it?
Nothing can be more groundless than to suppose that the disposition to pay obedience to the laws by which security in respect of person, property, reputation, and condition in life, is afforded, is influenced by any such consideration as that of the fitness of the several functionaries for their respective trusts, or even so much as by the fitness of the system of regulations and customs under which they act.
The chief occasions in which obedience on the part of a member of the community, in his character of subject, is called upon to manifest itself, are the habitual payment of taxes, and submission to the orders of courts of justice: the one an habitual practice, the other an occasional and eventual one. But in neither instance in the disposition to obedience, is any variation produced by any increase or diminution in the good or ill opinion entertained in relation to the official persons by whom the business of those departments is respectively carried on, or even in relation to the goodness of the systems under which they act.
Were the business of government carried on ever so much worse than it is, still it is from the power of government in its several branches, that each man receives whatsoever protection he enjoys, either against foreign or domestic adversaries. It is therefore by his regard for his own security, and not by his respect either for the persons by whom, or the system according to which, those powers are exercised, that his wish to see obedience paid to them by others, and his disposition to pay obedience to them himself, are produced.
Were it even his wish to withhold from them his own obedience, that wish cannot but be altogether ineffectual, unless and until he shall see others in sufficient number disposed and prepared to withhold each of them his own obedience—a state of things which can only arise from a common sense of overwhelming misery, and not from the mere utterance of complaint. There is no freedom of the press, no power to complain, in Turkey; yet of all countries it is that in which revolts and revolutions are the most frequent and the most violent.
Here and there a man of strong appetites, weak understanding and stout heart excepted, it might be affirmed with confidence that the most indigent and most ignorant would not be foolish enough to wish to see a complete dissolution of the bonds of government. In such a state of things, whatsoever he might expect to grasp for the moment, he would have no assured hope of keeping. Were he ever so strong, his strength, he could not but see, would avail him nothing against a momentarily confederated multitude; nor in one part of his field, against a swifter individual ravaging the opposite part; nor during sleep, against the weakest and most sluggish: and for the purpose of securing himself against such continually-impending disasters, let him suppose himself entered into an association with others-for mutual security,—he would then suppose himself living again under a sort of government.
Even the comparatively few who, for a source of subsistence, prefer depredation to honest industry, are not less dependent for their wretched and ever palpitating existence than the honest and industrious are for theirs, on that general security to which their practice creates exceptions. Be the momentary object of his rapacity what it may, what no one of them could avoid having a more or less distinct conception of, is, that it could not exist for him further than it is secured against others.
So far is it from being true, that no government can exist consistently with such exposure, no good government can exist without it.
Unless by open and lawless violence, by no other means than lowering in the estimation of the people the hands by which the powers of government are exercised, if the cause of the mischief consist in the unfitness of the hands—or the system of management under which they act, if the cause of the mischief lie in the system—be the hands ever so unfit, or the system ever so ill-constructed,—can there be any hope or chance of beneficial change.
There being no sufficient reason for ascribing even to the worst-disposed any wish so foolish as that of seeing the bonds of government dissolved, nor on the part of the best-disposed any possibility of contributing to produce change, either in any ruling hands deemed by them unfit for their trust, or of the system deemed by them ill adapted to those which are or ought to be its ends, otherwise than by respectively bringing into general disesteem these objects of their disapprobation,—there cannot be a more unfounded imputation, or viler artifice if it be artifice, or grosser error if it be error, than that which infers from the disposition, or even the endeavour to lessen in the estimation of the people the existing rulers, or the existing system, any such wish as that of seeing the bands of government dissolved.
In producing a local or temporary debility in the action of the powers of the natural body, in many cases, the honest and skilful physician beholds the only means of cure: and from the act of the physician who prescribes an evacuant or a sedative, it would be as reasonable to infer a wish to see the patient perish, as from the act of a statesman, whose endeavours are employed in lowering the reputation of the official hands in whom, or the system of management in which, he beholds the cause of what appears to him amiss,—to infer a wish to see the whole frame of government either destroyed or rendered worse.
In so far as a man’s feeling and conduct are influenced and determined by what is called public opinion, by the force of the popular or moral sanction, and that opinion runs in conformity with the dictates of the principles of general utility,—in proportion to the value set upon reputation, and the degree of respect entertained for the community at large, his conduct will be the better, the more completely the quantity of respect he enjoys is dependent upon the goodness of his behaviour: it will be the worse, the more completely the quantity of respect he is sure of enjoying is independent of it.
Thus, whatsoever portion of respect the people at large are in the habit of bestowing upon the individual by whom, on any given occasion, the office in question is filled, this portion of respect may, so long as the habit continues, be said to be attached to the office, just as any portion of the emolument is, which happens to be attached to the office.
But as it is with emolument, so is it with respect. The greater the quantity of it a man is likely to receive independently of his good behaviour, the less good, in so far as depends upon the degree of influence with which the love of reputation acts upon his mind, is his behaviour likely to be.
If this be true, it is in so far the interest of the public, that that portion of respect, which along with the salary is habitually attached to the office, should be as small as possible.
If, indeed, the notion which it is the object of the fallacy in question to inculcate were true, viz. that the stability of the government, or its existence at each given point of time, depends upon the degree of respect bestowed upon the several individuals by whom at that point of time its powers are exercised,—if this were true, it would not be the interest of the public that the portion of respect habitually attached to the office, and received by the official person independently of his good behaviour in it, should be as small as possible. But in how great a degree this notion is erroneous, has been shown already.
But while it is the interest of the public, that in the instance of each trustee of the public, the remuneration received by him in the shape of respect should be as completely dependent as possible upon the goodness of his behaviour in the execution of his trust, it is the interest of the trustee himself that, as in every other shape, so in the shape of respect, whatsoever portion of the good things of this world he receives, on whatever score, whether on the score of remuneration or any other, should be as great as possible; since by good behaviour, neither respect nor anything else can be always earned by him but by sacrifices in some shape or other, and in particular in the shape of ease.
Whatsoever, therefore, be the official situation which the official person in question occupies, it is his interest that the quantity of respect habitually attached to it be as great, and at the same time as securely attached to it, as possible.
And in the point of view from which he is by his personal and sinister interest led to consider the subject, the point of perfection in this line will not be attained until the quantity of respect he receives, in consequence of the possession he has of the office, be at all times as great as the nature of the office admits—at all times as completely independent of the goodness of his behaviour in his office as possible—as great, in the event of his making the worst and least good use, as in that of his making the best and the least bad use, of the powers belonging to it.
Such being his interest, whatsoever be his official situation, if, as is the case of most, if not all official situations, it be of such a nature as to have power in any shape attached to it, his endeavour and study will be so to order matters as to cause to be attached to it as above, and by all means possible, the greatest portion of respect possible.
To this purpose, amongst others, will be directed whatsoever influence his will can be made to act with on other wills, and whatsoever influence his understanding can be made to exert over other understandings.
If, for example, his situation be that of a judge,—by the influence of will on will, it will seldom in any considerable degree be in his power to compel men by force to bestow upon him the sentiment of respect, either by itself, or in any considerable degree by means of any external mark or token of it: but he may restrain men from saying or doing any of those things, the effect of which would be to cause others to bestow upon him less respect than they would otherwise.
If, being a judge of the King’s Bench, any man has the presumption to question his fitness for such his high situation, he may for so doing punish him by fine and imprisonment with et cæteras. If a Lord Chancellor, he may prosecute him before a judge, by whom a disposition to attach such punishments to such offences has been demonstrated by practice.
Thus much as to what can, and what cannot be done, towards attaching respect to office, by the influence of will on will.
What may be done by the influence of understanding on understanding, remains to be noticed. Laying out of the question that influence which, in the official situation in question, is exercised over the understandings of the people at large, independently of any exertions on the part of him by whom it is filled,—that which on his part requires exertion, and is capable of being exercised by exertion, consists in the giving utterance and circulation in the most impressive manner to the fallacy in question, together with a few such others as are more particularly connected with it.
Upon the boldness and readiness with which the hands and system are spoken ill of, depends the difference between arbitrary and limited government—between a government in which the great body of the people have, and one in which they have not, a share.
In respect of the members of the governing body, undoubtedly the state of things most to be desired is, that the only occasion on which any endeavours should be employed to lower them in the estimation of the public should be those in which inaptitude in some shape or other, want of probity, or weakness of judgment, or want of appropriate talent, have justly been imputable to them: that on those occasions in which inaptitude has not in any of those shapes been justly imputable, no such endeavour should ever be employed.
Unfortunately, the state of things hereby supposed is plainly (need it be said?) an impossible one. Admit no accusation, you may, and you will exclude all unjust ones: admit just ones, you must admit unjust ones along with them; there is no help for it. One of two evils being necessary to be chosen, the question is, which is the least?—to admit all such imputations, and thereby to admit of unjust ones? or to exclude all such imputations, and thereby to exclude all just ones? I answer without difficulty,—the admission of unjust imputations is, beyond comparison, the least of the two evils. Exclude all unjust imputations, and with them all just ones,—the only check by which the career of deterioration can be stopped being thus removed, both hands and system will, until they arrive at the extreme of despotism and misrule, be continually growing worse and worse: the hands themselves will grow worse and worse, having nothing to counteract the force of that separate and sinister interest to the action of which they remain constantly exposed; and the system itself will grow worse and worse, it being all along, the interest, and, by the supposition, within the power, of the hands themselves to make it so.
Admit just imputations, though along with them you admit unjust ones,—so slight is the evil as scarcely to bear that name. Along with unjust imputations, are not defences admitted? In respect of motives and of means, have not the defendants in this case, beyond all comparison, the advantage of the complainants?
As far as concerns motives, in the instance of every person included in the attack (and in an attack made upon any one member of the government as such, who does not know how apt all are to feel themselves included?) the principle of self-preservation is stronger than the exciting cause productive of the disposition to attack can be in any instance.
As far as concerns means of defence, if the person against whom the attack is principally levelled wants time or talent to defend himself, scarce a particle of the immense mass of the matter of reward,—which, in all manner of shapes, for the purpose of carrying on the ordinary business of government, lies constantly at the disposal of the members of the government,—but is applicable, even without any separate expense, to the extraordinary purpose of engaging defending advocates.
Let it not be said—“This is a persecution to which an honourable man ought not to be exposed—a persecution which, though to some honourable men it may be tolerable, will to others be intolerable—intolerable to such a degree as to deprive the public of the benefit of their services.”
A notion to any such effect will scarcely be advanced with a grave face. That censure is the tax imposed by nature upon eminence, is the A B C of common place. Who is there to whom it can be a doubt that exposure to such imputations is among the inevitable appendages of office? If it were an office which in no shape whatever had any adequate allowance of the matter of reward annexed to it—if it were a situation into which men were pressed—the observation would have some better ground; but in the class of office here in question, exists there any such?
A self-contradiction is involved in the observation itself. The subject, of which sensibility thus morbid is predicated, is an honourable man: but to an honourable man, to any man to whom the attribute honourable can with truth and justice be applied, such sensibility cannot be attributed. The man who will not accept an office but upon condition that his conduct in it shall remain exempt from all imputation, intends not that his conduct shall be what it ought to be;—the man to whom the idea of being subject to those imputations, to which he sees the best are exposed, is intolerable,—is in his heart a tyrant—and, to become so in practice, wants nothing but to be seated on one of those thrones, or on one of those benches, in which, by the appearance of chains made for show and not for use, a man is enabled, with the greater dignity as well as safety, to act the part of the tyrant, and glut himself with vengeance.
To a man who, in the civil line of office, accepts a commission, it is not less evident that by so doing he exposes himself to imputations, some of which may happen to be unjust, than to a man in the military line it is evident, that by acceptance of a commission in that line he exposes himself to be shot at: and of a military office, with about equal truth might it be said, that an honourable man will not accept it on such condition, as of a civil office, that an honourable man will not accept it if his conduct is to stand exposed to such imputations.
In such circumstances, it is not easy to see how it should happen to a public man to labour at the long-run under an imputation that is not just. In so far as any such incident does take place, evil does in truth take place: but even in this case, the evil will not be unaccompanied with concomitant good, operating in compensation for it. On the part of men in office, it contributes to keep up the habit of considering their conduct as exposed to scrutiny—to keep up in their minds that sense of responsibility on which goodness of conduct depends, in which good behaviour finds its chief security.
On the part of the people at large, it serves to keep alive the expectation of witnessing such attacks,—the habit of looking out for them; and, when any such attack does come, it prevents the idea of hardship which is apt to attach upon any infliction, how necessary soever, of which it can be said that it is unprecedented or even rare; and hinders the public mind from being set against the attack, and him who finds exertion and courage enough to make it.
When, in support of such imputations, false facts are alleged, the act of him by whom such false allegations are made, not only ought to be regarded as pernicious, but ought to be, and is, consistently with justice and utility, punishable—punishable even when advanced through temerity, without consciousness of the falsity, and more so when accompanied with such dishonest consciousness.
But by a sort of law, of which the protection of high-seated official delinquency is at least the effect, not to say the object, a distinction thus obvious as well as important has been carefully overlooked: and whenever, to the prejudice of the reputation of a man, especially if he be a man in office, a fact which has with more or less confidence been asserted or insinuated, turns out to be false, the existence of dishonest consciousness, whether really existing or not, is assumed.
In so far as public men, trustees and agents for the people in possession or expectancy, are the objects, a general propensity to scrutinize into their conduct, and thereby to cast imputations on it at the hazard of their being more or less unmerited, is a useful propensity—it is conducive to good behaviour on their part: and for the opposite and corresponding reason, the habit of general laudation—laudation without specific grounds—is a mischievous propensity, being conducive to ill behaviour on their part.
Render all such endeavours hopeless, you take from a bad state of things all chance of being better: allow to all such endeavours the freest range, you do no injury to the best state of things imaginable.
Whatsoever facilities the adversaries of the existing state of things have for lowering it in the estimation of the people, equal facilities at least, if not greater, have its friends and supporters for keeping and raising it up.
Under the English constitution, at any rate, the most strenuous defenders of the existing set of managing hands, as well as of the existing system of management, are not backward in representing an opposition as being no less necessary a power among the springs of government than the regulator in a watch.* But in what way is it that opposition, be it what it may, ever acts, or ever can act, but by endeavouring to lower either the managing hands, or, in this or that part of it, the system of management, in the estimation of the people? And from a watchmaker’s putting a regulating spring into the watch he is making, it would be just as reasonable and fair to infer that his meaning is to destroy the watch, as from the circumstance of a man seeking, in this or that instance, to lower in the estimation of the people the managing hands, or this or that part of the system of management, to infer a desire on his part to destroy the government.
Under the English constitution at least, not only in point of fact, is the disposition to pay that obedience by which the power of government is constituted, and on which the existence of it depends, independent of all esteem for the hands by which this power is exercised, unaffected by any dis-esteem for this or that part of the system of management according to which it is executed; but, under such a constitution at least, the more complete this independence, the better for the stability and prosperity of the state. Being as it is, it suffices for carrying on at all times the business of government; viz. upon that footing in point of skill and prosperity which is consistent with the aptitude, probity, and intelligence of the managing hands, and the goodness of the system of management under which they act: but if on each occasion it depended on the degree of estimation in which the conduct and character of the managing hands, and the structure of the system of management under which they act, happened at that time to be held by the majority of the people, this power would be seen strong, and perhaps too strong, at one time; weak to any degree of weakness—insufficient to any degree of insufficiency—at another.
Among the peculiar excellencies of the English constitution, one is, that the existence of the government, and even the good conduct of it, depends in a less degree than under any other monarchy upon the personal qualifications of the chief ruler, and upon the place he occupies in the estimation of the people. Conceive the character of the chief ruler perfect to a certain degree of perfection, all checks upon his power would be a nuisance. On the other hand, under a constitution of government into which checks upon that power are admitted, the stronger and more efficient those checks, the worse the personal character of the chief ruler may be, and the business of government still go on without any fatal disturbance.
On recent occasions, as if the endeavour had been new and altogether anomalous to the constitution, great were the outcries against the audacity of those parliamentary electors and other members of the community, who, in the character of petitioners, were using their endeavours to lower the House of Commons in the estimation of the people, or, in stronger terms, to bring it and its authority into contempt. That by the individuals in question, an endeavour of this nature should be regarded as a cause of personal inconvenience, and, as such, be resisted, is natural enough; but as to its being, on the part of the authors of those exertions, blameable—or, on the part of the constitution, dangerous—surely no further observation need here be added.
But what was complained of as an abuse, was the existence of that state of things—of that system of management, under which, in a number sufficient on ordinary occasions to constitute or secure a majority, the members of that governing body have a sinister interest separate from and opposite to that of the people for whom they profess to serve: that being independent as towards those to whom they ought to be dependent, as to those whom it is their duty to controul, and towards whom they ought to be independent they are dependent; and that by means by which, though altogether out of the reach of punishment, the dependence is rendered beyond comparison more constant and effectual than it would be by acts of punishable bribery.
In this state of things, if any alteration in it be desirable, it is impossible that such alteration should be brought about by other means than lowering in the estimation of the people, not only the system itself, but all those who act willingly under it, and use their endeavours to uphold it.
Without this means, and by any other means, how is it that by possibility any such change should be produced? Supposing them assured of possessing, in the event of a refusal of all such change, as high a place in the estimation of the people as they hold at present, anything done by them in furtherance of such a change would be an effect without a cause. In their personal capacities, they have all, or most of them, little to gain, while they have much to lose, by any proposed change.
True, it may be said,—to be remedied, an imperfection, be it what it may, must be pointed out. But what we complain of as dangerous to government is, not the indication of such imperfections, with their supposed remedies, but the mode in which they are apt to be pointed out—the heat, the violence, with which such indication is accompanied. This we object to, not merely as dishonest, but as unwise,—as tending to irritate the very persons at whose hands the remedy thus pleaded for is sought.
To this, the answer is as follows:—
1. Whatsoever may be the terms most decorous, and, upon the supposition, the best adapted to the obtaining of the relief desired, it is not possible to comprise them in any such scheme of description as will enable a man to satisfy himself beforehand what terms will be considered exposed to, what exempt from, censure.
2. The cause of irritation is not so properly in the terms of the application, as in the substance and nature of the application itself; so that the greatest irritation would be produced by that mode of application, whichever it were, that appeared most likely to produce the effect in question—the effect the production of which is on the one part an object of desire, on the other of aversion; the least irritation by that which, in whatever terms couched, afforded the fairest pretence for non-compliance.
3. The imperfection in question being, by the supposition, one of a public nature, the advantages of which are enjoyed by a few, while the interest which the many, each taken individually, have in the removal of the imperfection is commonly comparatively small and remote, no little difficulty is commonly experienced by any one whose endeavour it should be to persuade the many to collect amongst them a degree of impressive force sufficient to operate upon the ruling powers with effect. On the part of the many, the natural interest being in each case commonly but weak, it requires to bring it into effective action whatsoever aids can be afforded it. Strong arguments, how strong soever, will of themselves be scarcely sufficient; for at the utmost they can amount to no more than the indication of that interest, which, in the case of the greater part of the many whose force it is necessary to bring to bear upon the point in question, is by the supposition but weak. In aid of the utmost strength of which the argument is susceptible, strength of expression will therefore be necessary, or at least naturally and generally regarded as necessary, and as such employed. But in proportion as this strength of expression is employed, the mode of application stands exposed to the imputation of that heat, and violence, and acrimony, the use of which it is the object of the alleged fallacy to prevent.
4. It is only on the supposition of its being in effect, and being felt to be, conducive, or at least not repugnant, to the interest of the ruling powers addressed, that the simple statement of the considerations which, in the character of reasons, prove the existence of the supposed imperfection, and, if a remedy be proposed, the aptitude of the proposed remedy, can with reason be expected to operate on them with effect. But the fact is, that on the part of those ruling powers, this sort of repugnance, in a degree more or less considerable, is no other than what on every such occasion ought in reason to be expected. If the imperfection in question be of the nature of those to which the term abuse is wont to be applied, these ruling powers have some or all of them, by the supposition, a special profit arising out of that abuse—a special interest, consequently, in the preservation and defence of it. Even if there be no such special interest, there exists in that quarter at all times, and in more shapes than one, a general and constant interest by which they are rendered mutually averse to applications of that nature. In the first place, in addition to their ordinary labours, they find themselves called upon to undertake a course of extraordinary labour, which it was not their design to undertake, and for which it may happen to some or all of them to feel themselves but indifferently prepared and qualified; and thus the application itself finds it self opposed by the interest of their case. In the next place, to the extent of the task thus imposed upon them, they find the business of government taken out of their hands. To that same extent, their conduct is determined by a will which originated not among themselves; and if, the measure being carried into effect, the promoters of it would obtain reputation, respect, and affection,—of those rewards, a share more or less considerable falls into other hands; and thus the application in question finds an opponent in the interest of their pride.
ACCUSATION-SCARER’S DEVICE—(ad metum.)
“Infamy must attach somewhere.”
Exposition.—This fallacy consists in representing the imputation of purposed calumny as necessarily and justly attaching upon him who, having made a charge of misconduct against any person or persons possessed of political power or influence, fails of producing evidence sufficient for conviction.
Its manifest object, accordingly, is, as far as possible, to secure impunity to crimes and transgressions in every shape, on the part of persons so situated; viz. by throwing impediments in the way of accusation, and in particular, by holding out to the eyes of those persons who have in view the undertaking the functions of accusers, in case of failure, in addition to disappointment, the prospect of disgrace.
Exposure.—“Infamy must attach somewhere.” To this effect was a dictum ascribed in the debates to the Right Honourable George Canning, on the occasion of the inquiry into the conduct of the Duke of York in his office of Commander-in-Chief.
In principle, insinuation to this effect has an unlimited application: it applies not only to all charges against persons possessed of political power, but, with more or less force to all criminal charges in form of law against any persons whatsoever; and not only to all charges in a prosecution of the criminal cast, but to the litigants on both sides of the cause in a case of a purely non-penal, or, as it is called, a civil nature.
If taken as a general proposition applying to all public accusations, nothing can be more mischievous as well as fallacious. Supposing the charge unfounded, the delivery of it may have been accompanied with mâla fides (consciousness of its injustice,) temerity only, or it may have been perfectly blameless. It is in the first case alone that infamy can with propriety attach upon him who brings it forward. A charge really groundless may have been honestly believed to be well founded; i. e. believed with a sort of provisional credence, sufficient for the purpose of engaging a man to do his part towards the bringing about an investigation, but without sufficient reasons. But a charge may be perfectly groundless, without attaching the smallest particle of blame upon him who brings it forward. Suppose him to have heard from one or more, presenting themselves to him in the character of percipient witnesses, a story, which either in toto, or perhaps only in circumstances, though in circumstances of the most material importance, should prove false and mendacious,—how is the person who hears this, and acts accordingly, to blame? What sagacity can enable a man, previously to legal investigation—a man who has no power that can enable him to insure correctness or completeness on the part of this extra-judicial testimony—to guard against deception in such a case? Mrs. C. states to the accuser, that the Duke of York knew of the business; stating a conversation as having passed between him and herself on the occasion. All this (suppose) is perfectly false: but the falsity of it, how was it possible for one in the accuser’s situation to be apprised of?
The tendency of this fallacy is, by intimidation to prevent all true charges whatever from being made,—to secure impunity to delinquency in every shape.
But the conclusion, that because the discourse of a witness is false in one particular, or on one occasion, it must therefore be false in toto,—in particular, that because it is false in respect of some fact or circumstance spoken to on some extra-judicial occasion, it is therefore not credible on the occasion of a judicial examination,—is a conclusion quite unwarranted.
If this argument were consistently and uniformly applied, no evidence at all ought ever to be received, or at least to be credited: for where was ever the human being, of full age, by whom the exact line of truth had never been in any instance departed from in the whole course of his life?
The fallacy consists, not in the bringing to view, as lessening the credit due to the testimony of the witness, this or that instance of falsehood, as indicated by inconsistency or counter-evidence, but in speaking of them as conclusive, and as warranting the turning a deaf ear to everything else the witness has said, or, if suffered, might have said. Under the pressure of some strong and manifest falsehood-exciting interest, suppose falsehood has been uttered by the witness: be it so; does it follow that falsehood will on every occasion—will on the particular occasion in question—be uttered by him without any such excitement?
Under the pressure of terror, the Apostle Peter, when questioned whether he were one of the adherents of Jesus, who at that time was in the situation of a prisoner just arrested on a capital charge,—denied his being so; and in so doing, uttered a wilful falsehood: and this falsehood he thrice repeated within a short time:—does it follow that the testimony of the Apostle ought not on any occasion to have been considered as capable of being true?
If any such rule were consistently pursued, what judge, who had ever acted in the profession of an advocate, could with propriety be received in the character of a witness?
Again, with respect to the object of the charge, so far from receiving less countenance where the object is a public than where he is a private man, accusation, whether it be at the bar of an official judicatory or at the bar of the public at large, ought to receive beyond comparison more countenance. In case of the truth of the accusation, the mischief is greater—the demand for appropriate censure as a check to it, correspondently greater. On the other hand, in case of non-delinquency, the mischief to the groundlessly-accused individual is less. Power, in whatever hands lodged, is almost sure to be more or less abused; the check, in all its shapes, so as it does not defeat the good purposes for which the power has been given or suffered to be exercised, can never be too strong. That against a man who, by the supposition, has done nothing wrong, it is not desirable, whether his situation be public or private, that accusation should have been preferred—that he should have been subjected to the danger, and alarm, and evil in other shapes attached to it, is almost too plainly true to be worth saying. But in the case of a public accusation, though by the supposition it turns out to be groundless, it is not altogether without its use—the evil produced is not altogether without compensation; for by the alarm it keeps up in the breasts in which a disposition to delinquency has place, such accusation acts as a check upon it, and contributes to the prevention or repression of it. On the other hand, in the situation of the public man, the mischief, in the case of his having been the object of an unfounded accusation, is less, as we have shown in the preceding chapter, than in the case of a private man. In the advantages that are attached to his situation, he possesses a fund of compensation, which, by the supposition, has no place in the other case: and apprised as he ought to be, and but for his own fault is, of the enmity and envy to which, according to the nature of it, his situation exposes him, and not the private man, he ought to be, and, but for his own fault, will be, proportionably prepared to expect it, and less sensibly affected by it when it comes.
[* ]On the subject of personalities of the vituperative kind, the following are the instructions given by Gerard Hamilton: they contain all he says upon the subject. I. 31, 367, p. 67—“It is an artifice to be used (but if used by others, to be detected,) to begin some personality, or to throw in something that may bring on a personal altercation, and draw off the attention of the House from the main point.” II. 36 (470) p. 86—“If your cause is too bad, call, in aid, the party” (meaning, probably, the individual who stands in the situation of party, not the assemblage of men of whom a political party is composed)—“if the party is bad, call, in aid, the cause: if neither is good, wound the opponent.” III., “If a person is powerful, he is to be made obnoxious; if helpless, contemptible; if wicked, detestable.” In this we have, so far as concerns the head of personalities, “the whole fruit and result of the experience of one who was by no means unconversant with law,” (says his editor, p. 6,) “and had himself sat in parliament for more than forty years; . . . . devoting almost all his leisure and thoughts, during the long period above mentioned, to the examination and discussion of all the principal questions agitated in parliament, and of the several topics and modes of reasoning by which they were either supported or opposed.”
[* ]See Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislat on, Vol. I.
[* ]Under James I., when, for being Anabaptists or Arians, two men were burnt in Smithfield.
[* ]More’s Observations, pp. 77, 78.