Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IV.: OFFICIAL MALEFACTOR'S SCREEN—( ad metum. ) - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 2
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CHAPTER IV.: OFFICIAL MALEFACTOR’S SCREEN—( ad metum. ) - 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.
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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.
[* ]More’s Observations, pp. 77, 78.