Front Page Titles (by Subject) RECENT WRITERS ON REFORM 1859 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XIX - Essays on Politics and Society Part 2
Return to Title Page for The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XIX - Essays on Politics and Society Part 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
RECENT WRITERS ON REFORM 1859 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XIX - Essays on Politics and Society Part 2 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XIX - Essays on Politics and Society Part II, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by Alexander Brady (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977).
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 online edition of the Collected Works is published under licence from the copyright holder, The University of Toronto Press. ©2006 The University of Toronto Press. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form or medium without the permission of The University of Toronto Press.
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.
RECENT WRITERS ON REFORM
Dissertations and Discussions, III (1867), 47-96, where the title is footnoted, “Fraser’s Magazine, April 1859.—1. ‘A Plea for the Constitution.’ / By John Austin, Esq., formerly Professor of Jurisprudence at the/London University, and Reader on the same subject at the Inner/Temple. [London: Murray,] 1859./ 2. ‘Political Progress not necessarily Democratic; or, Relative/Equality the true Foundation of Liberty.’ By James Lorimer, Esq.,/Advocate. [London and Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate,] 1857./ 3. ‘A Treatise on the Election of Representatives, Parliamentary/and Municipal.’ By Thomas Hare, Esq., Barrister-at-Law. [London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts,] 1859.” / Reprinted from Fraser’s Magazine, LIX (Apr., 1859), 489-508, signed “J.S.M.”, where a footnote to the title gives the same list of works. Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “An article entitled ‘Recent Writers on Reform’ being a review of writings by Austin, Lorimer and Hare; in Fraser’s Magazine for April 1859” (MacMinn, 92). An offprint from Fraser’s (paged 1-20) in the Somerville College Library has no corrections or emendations.
For comments on the composition of the work, see the Textual Introduction, lxxxiv-lxxxv above.
The text below is that in D&D, III (1867), the only edition of that volume in JSM’s lifetime. In the footnoted variants, “67” indicates D&D, III; “591” indicates Fraser’s Magazine. JSM quotes passages from this essay in Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform, 2nd pamphlet edition (see 358-70), and Considerations on Representative Government (see 368); changes in the quotations are indicated as variants, in which “592” indicates Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform, and “611”, “612”, and “65” indicate the editions of Considerations on Representative Government.
Recent Writers on Reform
the present Reform movement, which differs from other similar movements in not having been immediately preceded by any strong manifestation of popular discontent, seems likely to be still further distinguished by the quality of the contributions made by individual thinkers towards the better understanding of the philosophical elements of the subject. There is a natural connexion between the two characteristics. During the storm which preceded and accompanied the Reform discussions of 1831 and 1832, no voice was raised, because none would have been audible, save those which shouted for or against the one thing which the public so loudly cried for. But the present demand for Parliamentary Reform, being in an unusual degree the product of calm reason, leaves room to hope that any appeal to reason may be listened to, and encourages the superior intellects to bring forward any thoughts they possess which seem to them to have a useful bearing upon the questions at issue.
From the publications of more or less mark which have been called forth by the prospect of another Parliamentary reform, we select three, among the most distinguished by their thoughtful character, and by the mental qualities of the writers. Their objects, their doctrines, their practical conclusions, are widely different, but they are the productions of highly-instructed and disciplined minds; they all deserve and will repay meditation, and one of them we hold to be the most important work ever written on the practical part of the subject. Before attempting an analysis of Mr. Hare’s admirable treatise, we shall endeavour to give some notion of the merits, as well as of what we deem the errors, of the other productions on our list.
Of the three writers, Mr. Austin alone is opposed to any further Parliamentary reform; the two others are strong reformers, each according to his particular mode of thought. Mr. Austin has claims to an attentive hearing which cannot be lightly estimated. His book on the “Province of Jurisprudence”[*] stepped at once into the very highest authority on what may be termed the metaphysics of law; though it was only the introduction to a course of lectures, delivered but not printed, every part of which was at least equal in merit to the preliminary portion. Whoever is acquainted either with these or with the writings attributed to Mr. Austin which have been published anonymously, regrets that a mind so fitted by capacity and acquirements for untying the hard knots which the philosophy of law is full of, and which are the great impediment to simplicity and intelligibility in its practice, should have accomplished only a small part of the work to which his peculiar combination of endowments especially called him. We shall rejoice that he has resumed the pen, even on a question on which we differ with him, if it authorizes us to hope that we may yet see the completion of his great book. The worth, to us, of his present performance, does not lie in his conclusions, but in some of his premises. We receive it as an exposition of what, in the opinion of probably the most intellectual man who is an enemy to further reform, are the specific evils to be apprehended from it. Whoever points out the rocks and shoals with which our course is beset, does us a service which may be all the greater because we are not terrified thereby into renouncing the voyage. Mr. Austin is perhaps no unlikely person to over-estimate some dangers, but he is not a man to conjure up any which are entirely chimerical; and it may readily be admitted that every plan of reform ought to stand his test; ought to show, either that it does not tend to produce the evils dreaded by him, or that its tendency to do so can be counteracted.
The first half of Mr. Austin’s pamphlet is occupied by an analytical examination of the actual constitution of this country, and a display of what he deems its characteristic advantages. In his estimate of these, few Englishmen will disagree with him: but when he connects them pre-eminently with those elements in the distribution of political power which further reform may be expected to weaken, several of his observations seem questionable. Thus he enlarges, with reason, on the necessity to the successful working of a free, or even of any constitution, of a spirit of compromise. “All successful government, and all prosperous society, is carried on and maintained by a mutual give and take.”[*] As little can he be gainsaid when he affirms that this spirit is remarkably an attribute of English politics. If any one of the three powers in the British constitution exerted the whole of its legal rights, and pressed every difference of opinion to the utmost, the action of the government would be paralyzed, and its energies absorbed, by internal contests, which would induce an ultimate disruption of the whole fabric. It is equally true that this habitual willingness on the part of every constituted authority to acquiesce cheerfully in the necessary conditions of stable government, has been found very difficult to introduce where it did not previously exist: and eminent political thinkers have founded their systems on the belief that this conscientious or prudent self-restraint was too difficult to be ever really practised, and that the co-ordinate powers in a balanced constitution will always struggle with each other, until one of them has completely subordinated the others to itself. On all this we entirely agree with Mr. Austin; but not in the passage which follows:
But though this talent for compromise is one of the conditions of happy political society, few nations have possessed it in a high degree; and none but the people of England have ever possessed the degree of it which is one of the principal conditions of enduring free government. . . . The long duration of a system so difficult to work . . . has doubtless arisen to a great extent from the habitual reverence of the several members of the Parliament for their respective constitutional rights, and from the habitual moderation (if not the habitual courtesy) which tempers and sets a measure to their hottest contentions. This habitual reverence for the constitutional rights of others, and this habitual moderation in Parliamentary battle and victory, have mainly arisen from the breeding of the men who have formed the great majority of the Lower House. If the composition of the House should in this respect deteriorate, the spirit of compromise will be enfeebled, and the difficulty of working the system will be vastly aggravated.
With submission, we think there is a mistake here. The English are not the only people who have shown an eminent degree of what Mr. Austin calls a “talent for compromise.” The Americans possess it largely, and have proved it super-abundantly in the course of their history, short as that history is. The only questions on which the Union has been agitated by important differences of opinion are the tariff and the slavery questions; and whenever either of these quarrels has reached a height which threatened seriously to interfere with the working of the national institutions, it has been closed up for the moment by a legislative compromise. The whole history of each is a series of such compromises: and if none of these have been of long duration, it is because, as most Englishmen will now admit, the questions are such as in their nature cannot and ought not to be the subjects of permanent compromise. These facts indicate that Mr. Austin cannot be right in ascribing the temperate and conciliatory spirit of English contests mainly to “the breeding of the men who have formed the great majority of the Lower House,” a cause which was not found to produce any similar effect on the royalist and aristocratic party in France; though doubtless it has contributed much to the calmness and amenity with which the debates of the British Parliament have usually been conducted, and which deserve to be placed in the number of the safeguards against precipitate and passionate action on the part of the assembly itself. The compromising temper which English and American politicians have in common, and the want of which is one cause of the repeated failures of liberal institutions elsewhere, is sometimes ascribed to the less inflammable character of their northern blood; but may more rationally be attributed to their greater political experience, and longer possession of free government. They are content to exercise a limited power, because they have never felt or been subject to any power which was not obviously limited. We think Mr. Austin would have been nearer the truth, while even his own argument would not have suffered, if he had attributed this quality in the English and Americans to the complicated and balanced character of their political institutions. Democratic as the American government is, the powers of every magistrate and of every assembly composing it, are narrowly hemmed in by those of other functionaries and public bodies. No American assembly is encouraged by the constitution to believe that its will is law. We agree with those who think that the spirit of conciliation and compromise could with difficulty establish itself in any government which consisted of one sovereign assembly, whether accompanied or not by an hereditary president under a royal title.
Mr. Austin considers the British Government to be not only the most free, but also the most democratical government which has “governed a great nation through a long and eventful period.” [P. 9.] this may be admitted, so long as the solidity of the Federal and State Governments of America “has not been tried by time.” But Mr. Austin is unfortunate in the argument he uses to prove that, “in spirit and effect,” apart from the form of the constitution, the English Government is “the most democratical of all governments, past and present.”
The interests and opinions, [he says,] of the entire population of the country (and not only those of the sovereign body), are habitually consulted by the Legislature and by the executive Government. In the United States, the large slave population are excluded from political power, and almost from legal rights; whilst their interests and feelings are set at naught by the Governments, and are scorned or slighted by the great majority of the public.
The American Government is here stated to be practically less democratic than the English, because it disregards the interests and feelings of a portion of the people quoad whom the American Government is not a democracy at all, but the closest, hardest, and most exclusive of aristocracies. To have any bearing on the merits of democratic institutions, the comparison should not have been made with the American Federation, but with the free Northern States, which alone have any pretension to be democracies. As well might any one tell us that Europe is a great slave country, meaning by Europe, Russia.
Mr. Austin expatiates on the advantage we derive from the fact that, while the electors are a democratic body, the elected are mostly, in the personal and social meaning of the term, aristocratic. He says:
The art of statesmanship, like other high and difficult arts, can only be acquired by those who make it their principal business. The aristocracy in question, being men of independent means, can afford to devote themselves to public life; whilst men whose time and thoughts are absorbed by their private affairs, cannot give themselves thoroughly to the concerns of the nation. From the possession of an aristocratical body specially affected to practical politics, the nation derives the well-known advantages which arise from the division of labour. A larger proportion of competent statesmen will naturally be furnished by a body comparatively skilled, than by the bodies (far more numerous) whose attention to public business is necessarily intermittent, and whose knowledge of those interests is therefore necessarily superficial. To this it must be added that, in consequence of the high and undisputed positions occupied socially by the aristocracy in question, they naturally acquire a cool self-possession, a quick insight into men, and a skill in dealing with men, which are specially necessary to statesmen in a free and aparliamentarya country. From their high social positions, and the peculiar influences acting upon them from the cradle, they are naturally restrained in a more than common degree by the sentiment of gentlemanly honour. As filling those high positions, and as being permanently occupied with public life, they are more obvious to the public eye, and are more restrained by public opinion, than men whose social positions are comparatively humble, and whose public lives are comparatively intermittent and obscure. On account of their independence in respect of pecuniary means . . . they are under smaller temptations than political adventurers to succumb to a ministry of which they conscientiously disapprove, or to flatter their constituencies at the expense of the public interests, in prejudices and illusions which in their hearts they despise.
Surely this is a large superstructure on a small basis of reality. Whatever may be the advantages of pecuniary independence in Members of Parliament, and whatever superiority in point of “gentlemanly honour” may accrue to them from the class to which they principally belong, the advantage of having a body of instructed and trained statesmen and legislators is, we should have thought, almost the last which any one could possibly represent us as deriving from them. The classes spoken of have it in their power to be all that Mr. Austin has described, but how many of them actually are so? Since public opinion began to require some amount of appropriate knowledge and training in the members of an Administration, it has never been possible to find a sufficient number of such men to form a Cabinet, much less a Legislature. Is it not a speaking fact that, at this critical moment, not a man can be thought of as fit to lead the great Liberal party, except one or the other of two noblemen advanced in years?[*] And even they are not thought to be fit absolutely, but only fitter than any one else. We have no desire to see a Parliament of rich elderly manufacturers, but we certainly prefer them to the young fribbles of family who formerly did us the honour to legislate for us. We, too, maintain that statesmanship of any high quality can only be looked for in persons who devote themselves to it as an art. There have been aristocratic governments which were carried on by such persons—the open aristocracy of Rome for example, and the close aristocracy of Venice; and we acknowledge that the influences of unbalanced democracy have a tendency to prevent the formation of such a class. But it answers no good purpose to argue as if we at present enjoyed a benefit which we neither have nor ever had, and are as little likely to have under the existing mixed government as under a republic.
The objections to Parliamentary reform which compose the latter half of Mr. Austin’s performance, consist of presumptive objections to any change, and positive ones to the particular changes most widely advocated. Of those which bear against reform in general, the principal one is this: that all practical evils which admit of legislative correction are as likely to be remedied under the present constitution of the Legislature as under any other: that the undiscerning conservatism called into existence by the French Revolution has disappeared, and all parties in Parliament are well disposed towards legal and administrative reforms, which are now impeded by no serious difficulties but those inherent in their subjects, and (we must add) by the private interests, not indeed of the rulers, but of those whom the rulers trust, and by the spirit of routine and obstruction, which is not peculiar to any set of institutions, but common to all established systems. With this modification, we agree to some extent with Mr. Austin. There is a spirit of improvement, common to all parties, in many of the details of government; and it may perhaps be true that there is hardly any beneficial change, demanded by a mature public opinion, which, after a moderate interval, would not have a good chance of being carried, under our present political institutions. For what practical end, then, do we desire a more popular basis for those institutions? Mainly for that of maturing and enlightening public opinion itself. Parliament has another function besides that of making laws. The House of Commons is not only the most powerful branch of the Legislature; it is also the great council of the nation; the place where the opinions which divide the public on great subjects of national interest, meet in a common arena, do battle, and are victorious or vanquished. This latter function the House of Commons does not fulfil, if the most numerous class, and that which is least favoured by fortune, after it has once begun to have and to express opinions, remains without direct representation there. Besides being an instrument of government, Parliament is a grand institution of national education, having for one of its valuable offices to create and correct that public opinion whose mandates it is required to obey. That which Acts of Parliament and votes of money can do for the political instruction of the people, falls short of what might be done by the discussions in Parliament itself, if those who most need instruction were there in the persons of their representatives, saying their best for their opinions; counted among those whose reason a minister or an orator must appeal to; when they were wrong, some one taking pains to answer them, and to make the answer understood by them: not left, as now, under the gloomy persuasion that their interests are dealt with in their absence, and unheard—that Parliament occupies itself with everything rather than with the burthen which is weighing on their hearts, and even when it busies itself about the same questions, never for an instant looks at them from their point of view. Is it wonderful if they should think that “les absents ont toujours tort,”[*] and should persist in errors when their errors are ignored by their superiors, and are never met and encountered in equal conflict, with opportunity of explanation and rejoinder?
There is a further practical consideration appropriate to the present time. The non-represented classes, as a body, are just now, to all appearance, peaceful and acquiescent. But they were not always so; we are not far from the days of Chartist insurrections, and monster petitions signed by millions of men. If the existing tranquillity is caused by the people’s having grown wiser—expecting more from themselves, and less from what the Government can do in any direct way to improve their condition, the main argument for excluding them from the suffrage is very much abated. But if the cause be lassitude, or despair of success, or that they are at present tolerably prosperous, such times as we have seen not many years ago we shall see again; and concessions which, made at the present calm season, can be accompanied by proper safeguards, may then be wrung from Parliament without any safeguards at all, under the same imminent dangers which prevailed in 1832. Prudence and foresight, therefore, combine with principle in recommending that the present favourable opportunity be made use of for placing our representative system on a footing which can be defended on intelligible principles of justice, and such that the greatest number of persons, consistent with safety, shall have evident cause to be well affected towards it.
Mr. Austin proceeds to set forth the evils which he would anticipate, either from universal suffrage, or from any such reform as would vest the predominant power in the lower portion of the middle class. A House of Commons returned by universal suffrage (which he always supposes unguarded by provisions that would give a share of influence to any but the numerical majority), though it would not, he says, attempt to carry out Socialist theories—
Would ruin our finances, and destroy our economical prosperity, by insensate interferences with the natural arrangements of society, which would not be the less pernicious for not being inspired by theory. No man, looking attentively at the realities around him, can doubt that a great majority of the working classes are imbued with principles essentially socialist; that their very natural opinions on political and commercial subjects are partial applications of the premises which are the groundwork of the socialist theories. They believe, for example, very generally, that the rate of wages depends upon the will of the employers; that the prices of provisions and other articles of general consumption, depend upon the will of the sellers; that the wealth of the richer classes is somehow subtracted from their own; and that capital is not an adminicle, but an antagonist of labour. We might, therefore, expect from a House of Commons representing the prejudices of the non-proprietary class, a minimum rate of wages, a maximum price of provisions and other necessaries of life, with numberless other restrictions on the actual freedom of contracting. We might also expect from such an assembly that they would saddle the richer classes, and especially the owners of so-called “realized” property, with the entire burthen of taxation; destroying or diminishing thereby the motives to accumulation, together with the efficient demand for the labour of their own constituents.
Mr. Austin has put his estimate of what might be the practical result of a Parliament elected by equal and universal suffrage, at the very worst possible; far worse than we consider at all probable. But might, in a case of this importance, is as conclusive as would; and those who look the most hopefully to universal suffrage, seldom propose to introduce it otherwise than gradually and tentatively, with the power of stopping short wherever a tendency begins to manifest itself towards making legislation subservient to the misunderstood class interests of labourers and artisans. But while no rational person would entrust the preponderant power in the State to persons aiming at the objects which Mr. Austin describes, there is no reason why even these should not be represented as one class among others—why they, like so many other classes having sinister interests or absurd opinions, should not have their spokesmen in Parliament, to ventilate their nonsense, and secure attention to their sense and to the facts of their position. Until this is the case, the working classes, with however good intentions on the part of the Legislature, will never obtain complete justice (though they may receive mischievous courtship), and if they did, would never believe that they had obtained it. We will go a step further. We are completely at issue with those who are unable to see that there is a true side to many of the crudest notions of the working classes, and that there is something, and even much, which can be rationally done for them in the direction of what seem their wildest aberrations. From the cast of his mind, we should have thought Mr. Austin one of the likeliest of all men to recognise this; and we would gladly believe that, when he appears to see in the great fact of Socialism only simple “insanity,” as when he calls the revolutionary movements of 1848 an “atrocious outbreak,” [p. 18,] he rather gives way to an impulse of passion than expresses a deliberate judgment.
To any system which should “give to the lower classes of the vast middle class an unchecked ascendancy in the House of Commons,” [p. 22,] Mr. Austin is no less opposed; partly because, as he thinks, any such measure would be a step to universal suffrage, and partly for the following reasons:
From what is known of the constituencies in which these classes actually predominate, we may infer that the majority of the reformed assembly would probably be composed in no small measure of men endowed with no higher faculties than glibness of tongue and adroitness in managing elections; and ready, moreover, to court their constituents at the cost of the public interests, by bowing to their prejudices and even to their momentary caprices. The aristocracies of birth and social position, and still more the aristocracy of mind, would be generally distasteful to the constituencies. On finance and political economy, on law and the administration of justice, on the education of the lower and superior classes, on the relations of the country to other independent states, and on almost all the subjects of our domestic and foreign policy, the constituencies would think like men who have not considered such subjects, or have considered them slightly, and through the medium of popular prejudices. Sound financiers and political economists, profound theoretical and practical lawyers, men eminent in science and letters, distinguished journalists and philosophical statesmen (such, for example, as Mr. Burke), would not be appreciated by the reformed constituencies, or would even be objects of their positive dislike. . . . According to the true theory of the British constitution, the powers residing in the electoral body of the Commons are completely delegated to the Commons House, insomuch that the members of that assembly are not severally representatives of their respective constituencies, but are representatives of the entire kingdom. If this theory were generally disregarded in practice . . . the House of Commons would become a congress of ambassadors deputed by communities substantially independent states; and as being provided with several, and often conflicting instructions, they would form a body of representatives incapable of united action. . . . Now it has been shown by frequent experience that the conceptions of Parliamentary Government commonly entertained by the lower middle classes are inconsistent with this necessary theory. In the event of a reform giving to those classes an unchecked ascendancy in the House of Commons, the constituencies would dictate to their representatives their votes on particular questions, and owing to their servile deference to the prejudices and caprices of their constituents, the representatives would pledge themselves very generally to follow their imperative instructions. There is a mischievous and growing tendency in the House of Commons to encroach upon the functions of the Executive Government. . . . The functions thus usurped by the House of Commons are transferred from experienced and responsible to inexperienced and irresponsible hands, while the House, by attending to business for which its constitution unfits it, performs its legislative functions with diminished care, and neglects its important office of supervising and checking the Executive. In the event of a reform such as we are now contemplating, this mischievous and growing tendency would be greatly strengthened. Many of the representatives would be notable vestrymen, or men of the like character—men of limited views, of considerable capacity for details, of untiring activity and of restless and intrusive ambition. Meddling with administrative details would suit their capacity and taste; and by wrenching the business of the Executive from the ministers of the Crown, they would exalt themselves in the eyes of the country, or at least in those of their several localities. The respective functions of the several branches of the Parliament would be imperfectly apprehended by the reformed constituencies, and as they would naturally sympathize with the aggressive ambition of their representatives, they would back their encroachments on the province of the Crown.
Could we be disposed to give “unchecked ascendancy” in Parliament to a single type of any description, the small tradesman is scarcely the one we should select. Yet it is important that real evils should not be exaggerated, The shopocracy, like other powers of darkness, is not so black as it is painted. If the metropolitan districts, to which mainly it owes its bad reputation, do not return many distinguished men, let it be remembered that distinguished men seldom offer themselves for those districts. Men who wish to give their time to other matters than local business, do not like to live in the midst of a numerous and exigeant constituency. When candidates of any eminence have presented themselves, they have generally been elected. Lord John Russell never lost an election for the City, nor Sir William Molesworth for Southwark. In the second rank of politicians, Sir Benjamin Hawes, Sir William Clay, and others, who sat many years for metropolitan districts, are surely much superior to average members for small boroughs; nor is it any ordinary member of the House of Commons that is entitled to look down on Mr. Ayrton, who often says a useful word in Parliament when there is no one else to say it. We think it a mistake also to suppose that middle class constituencies prefer to be represented by persons like themselves. A lord or a baronet, who speaks them fair, and will swallow pledges on all the questions of the day, is the man for them. They do not elect “vestrymen.” It would be more true to say that they allow vestrymen to elect for them. Still, there is a foundation of truth for many of Mr. Austin’s apprehensions. He has marked some of the dangers to be avoided.
We shall touch only on one more point in Mr. Austin’s discourse, and it is one on which we thoroughly agree with him: the importance of adapting our improvements, whenever it is possible, to the framework of the existing Constitution. This is one of the subjects on which knowledge of mankind teaches the most important lessons—on which inexperienced political theorists are most apt to differ from experienced. Until mankind are much more improved than there is any present hope of, even good political institutions cannot dispense with the support afforded by traditional sentiment. “The principle of public utility, applied to so vast a subject as the constitution of a Sovereign Government, leads generally to an invincible diversity of views.” [P. 37.] An attachment resting on authority and habit to the existing Constitution “in and for itself,” is, as Mr. Austin remarks [p. 37], in the existing state of the human mind, an almost indispensable condition of the stability of free government; which has the greatest difficulty in taking firm root among any people whose misfortune it is, never to have had institutions capable of inspiring such an attachment. Such a people, when they break entirely with their past, are apt to fall by degrees into a condition of passive indifference, and what Mr. Austin calls political scepticism.
The second work on our list, that of Mr. Lorimer, is not a dissertation on the question of the day, but an elaborate though concise treatise on the philosophy of government; of which we must of necessity confine ourselves to the parts which have a direct bearing on immediate practice. Mr. Lorimer is as much an enemy as Mr. Austin to the absolute dominion of the numerical majority; perhaps even more so: for Mr. Austin’s quarrel with the multitude turns chiefly, it would seem, on their existing errors and prejudices, which may admit of removal; but Mr. Lorimer deems their autocracy to be unjust in itself, as well as destructive in its consequences. With Aristotle, Polybius, and others of the ancients, he regards the democracy of numbers as the “final form of degeneracy of all governments;”[*] inasmuch as, to the evils of every other government, the natural progress of democracy is a spontaneous corrective; but when democracy has itself become predominant, there is no other growing influence by which its characteristic evils can be kept under; society has then reached the last step of the ladder, and the next move can only carry it over the top, to begin again at the bottom with the despotism of one. But Mr. Lorimer is no preacher of despair; nor is the course he recommends that of a sullen opposition to the claims of the numerical majority. His hope is, by “removing the sources of theoretical conflict between political doctrines which have hitherto been supposed to be irreconcileable, and showing the possibility of their simultaneous recognition,” to “pave the way for a safer progress on a road which not Englishmen only, but every civilized people, must inevitably tread.” [P. vii.] It is useless to resist a natural law face to face; we should endeavour, by availing ourselves of other natural laws, to convert it from a peril into a blessing. Mr. Lorimer thinks it neither just nor practicable, finally to exclude any one from a vote;* and he would apparently have little objection even to immediate universal suffrage. But it must not be equal suffrage. Mr. Lorimer would give a voice to every one, but a more potential voice, by means of plurality of voting, to those classes who, either because they are presumably more enlightened than the majority, or merely because their biasses are different, form the natural counterpoise.
This is the chief practical idea of Mr. Lorimer’s work; and there must be something in it apparently well adapted to the needs of the present time, since, new as it is in speculation, it has occurred almost simultaneously to three writers of very different schools, each of them probably—the last certainly—without any knowledge of the other two: Mr. Lorimer, Lord Robert Cecil (in the Oxford Essays),[†] and the author of the present article, in a pamphlet entitled Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform.[‡] It is a suggestion which deserves, as well as requires, unprejudiced consideration. Its merit is, that it affords a basis of settlement which can be, with their eyes open, accepted by both parties. All arguments grounded on probable dangers fall dead and meaningless on the minds of those who have the physical force. Very few individuals, and no classes, ever were withheld from seeking power for themselves, by predictions of the bad use they would make of it. It is their sense of justice that must be appealed to, and to do that with effect, what is proposed must be visibly just. No one who has begun to concern himself about politics will think it just that his opinions and wishes should be counted for nothing at all, in matters in which his greatest interests are involved. Such a political arrangement, considered as final, is revolting both to the universal conscience, and to the sense of dignity which it is desirable to encourage in every human being. But it is a very different thing when the question is between, not some influence and none, but a greater influence and a less. Between something and nothing, the ratio, morally and mathematically, is infinite; between less and more, it is finite and appreciable. No one feels insulted and injured by the admission that those who are jointly interested with himself, and more capable, ought to have greater individual weight in the common deliberations.
But, proportional to the value of the principle, would be the mischief of applying it, misunderstood and perverted from its purpose. Its excellence is, that while it fulfils the demands of expediency, it approves itself to the natural sense of justice. If plural voting were made to depend on conditions which cannot possibly commend themselves to the conscience of the majority; if, as Lord Robert Cecil proposes, the additional votes were given, not to the educated as such, but to mere riches, as measured by taxation;[*] the whole scheme would be looked upon as nothing but a trick for rendering the concession of the suffrage nugatory: it would be for ever, or for a long period, discredited and depopularized, and would lose all its chances of serving as a permanent barrier against the class-legislation of manual labourers. What justice can any one be expected to see in his having only one vote, while others have more than one, not because he has less knowledge and ability, but because he is less fortunate? Lord R. Cecil, and those who agree with him, lay great stress upon the analogy of a joint-stock company, in which every shareholder has a number of votes bearing some proportion to the number of shares belonging to him.[†] As if the business of government, like that of a mercantile association, were concerned only with property! The directors of a company exist as such, solely to administer its capital, and have no power of causing to the subscribers either good or harm, except through the interest they possess in that. But the stake which an individual has in good government is far other than his κτησίδιον* —nothing less than his entire earthly welfare, in soul, body, and mind. The government to which he is subject has power over all his sources of happiness, and can inflict on him a thousand forms of intolerable misery. Even as regards property, the stake of the day labourer is not measured by the little he calls his own, but by the bond that unites his interest, no less than that of the rich, with the general security of property; which could not be impaired without rendering his means of employment and subsistence more scanty and precarious.
Our objections to Lord Robert Cecil apply in some degree to Mr. Lorimer, though the latter considers riches not as a title to power in themselves, but as an evidence of education; and would give plurality of votes not to property alone, but to all reasonable presumptions of superior intelligence. Mr. Lorimer has, however, a general theory of government, from which this and most of his other practical recommendations are presented as corollaries. He thinks that the constitution of the Legislature should be an exact mirror of the existing constitution of society. He would have the national polity recognise, on the one hand, the just claims, together with the intrinsic powers, of man as man; but also, on the other, all de facto social inequalities. He is of opinion that each person should have an amount of power assigned to him by political institutions, as nearly identical as the imperfection of human arrangements will admit, with the influence he actually exercises:
The sum of influences should stand over against the sum of individual sentiments, and the institutions of the State should be the expression of the former, not of the latter. As regards the individual, whatever may be the amount of influence which belongs to his character in society generally, whether it be greater or less than that of a simple human unit, to the benefit of that influence in regulating the public and private laws of the country, and to nothing more, is he entitled. If the voice of one man be ten times as powerful as that of another, then he contributes ten times as much to swell that general voice, of which voice the laws are the articulate utterance. But as the State can never take cognizance of individual importance directly, the principle of classification becomes indispensable, [&c.]
The perfection of social organization in all its forms, from the simplest to the most complex, will be in direct proportion to the completeness with which it recognises the inequalities which exist among the members of the society with which it deals. (P. 49.)
The office of the suffrage is to give political expression to the social powers actually existing in the community. (P. 226.)
And more fully as follows:
The partial character of the representation which is secured by the universal equal suffrage, and its consequent inadequacy to satisfy the conditions of the suffrage as we have defined them, comes out perhaps most clearly of all when we consider that, in addition to depriving some classes of the political influence corresponding to their social position, and thus to a certain extent disfranchising them, it deprives every individual, to whatever class he may belong, of the whole direct political influence which corresponds to the social influence which he has acquired. A and B, at the age of twenty-one we shall say, are both fairly represented by the manhood suffrage. At the age of forty, by a life of virtuous effort, A has merited and obtained the consideration of his fellow citizens; and his case will be no unusual one if his influence, whether for good or evil, has increased tenfold. In his person, consequently, now centre the pouvoirs de fait to ten times the extent to which they belonged to him at the former period of his life. B, on the contrary, differs from what he was, only in having lost the potentiality of influence, which renders every man important at the commencement of his career. He has done and suffered nothing to forfeit his public rights. He is neither a criminal, a lunatic, nor a pauper; and the influences of a human unit still are his. This, however, is but one-tenth of that which now belongs to A, and a suffrage which establishes an equality between these two individuals consequently leaves nine-tenths of A’s actual social influence unrepresented. Can it be said of such a suffrage that it actually translates social into political power?
Now this theory, as it seems to us, is not only erroneous, but involves some confusion of ideas. If by the social influence of A we are to understand (as is the most obvious interpretation) the power he exercises over the convictions and inclinations of others through the affection with which he inspires them, or the high opinion they entertain of him, all this influence he will possess under equal and universal suffrage. Indeed, under no suffrage but that which is equal and universal, can his political influence be exactly co-extensive with his moral influence, measured by the number of persons who look up to his judgment, and are willing to accept him as their leader. If besides this influence, supposed to be ten times that of B, he has also ten votes of his own to B’s one, the effect is not, as Mr. Lorimer professes, to recognise, but to double, A’s superiority of importance. It is for the very opposite reason to Mr. Lorimer’s, that the third writer to whom we have referred[*] made the suggestion of giving a number of votes proportional to degree of education, as indicated by whatever tests, other than that of wealth, may be the most truly discriminative. He proposed it, not because educated persons have already a greater influence, but because, though they boughtb to have that influence, yet without some such provision they possibly might not.
In so far, on the other hand, as the existing social influences contemplated by Mr. Lorimer include the power which one person exercises over others, not through his personal superiority, but his social status, and above all, that which is exercised not through their spontaneous feelings, but their personal interests, the doctrine is liable to still graver objections. These influences are of society’s own making, and it cannot be necessary that society should bend to forces created by itself, as it does to laws of nature over which it has no control. If a peer, simply by being a peer, exercises social influence, it is a vicious circle to maintain that the Constitution ought for that reason to give him additional political influence, when the peerage and its influences only exist at all because the Constitution wills it. Before recognising and doubling this influence, there is a preliminary question to be settled—whether the influence is beneficial. Even in the case of influences not wholly the creation of law, but which can be increased or diminished by it, such as those of wealth, it is indispensable to consider whether they are salutary influences; and if so, to what degree; since if they exist beyond the degree which is salutary, it may be a merit and not a fault in the system of suffrage that by taking no notice of these influences, it not only avoids strengthening, but does something towards weakening them. For though we concede to Mr. Lorimer that a Government cannot for long together be better than the collective mind of the community, it can do a great deal to uphold or to undermine the social influences which either pervert or improve the collective mind.
We have spoken of Mr. Lorimer’s theory as he himself enunciates it; not precisely as he applies it, for he is often willing that in apportioning political influences according to social influence, the indirect political influence already possessed should be counted as part. We wonder he does not see, that for the purposes of the present question it is the whole. Under a limited suffrage, indeed, it is within possibility that persons or classes may possess a social influence not represented by any corresponding political one: but under equal and universal suffrage this is impossible; all social influences tell politically at their full value, except indeed those with which the ballot would interfere; and if Mr. Lorimer thinks that these ought not to be interfered with, he should be an enemy to the ballot, but not to equal and universal suffrage. We assume in this argument, that the suffrage is accompanied with such auxiliary arrangements as may prevent the virtual disfranchisement of minorities; for while this disfranchisement continues to exist as at present, the suffrage would not be really equal and universal, whatever it might be called.
There is much more that we would gladly notice in Mr. Lorimer’s book, which contains many shrewd remarks, and some noble thoughts and aspirations, in the chapters entitled “By what means may the public spirit be influenced and directed?” “Of the leaders of thought, scientific and popular;” “Of the universal duty of active-mindedness,” and elsewhere. He has also a negative merit, in our eyes not inconsiderable: he does not give in to the sophistical doctrine of a representation of interests. This theory owes all its plausibility to being mistaken for a principle from which it is totally distinct. As regards interests in themselves, whenever not identical with the general interest, the less they are represented the better. What is wanted is a representation, not of men’s differences of interest, but of the differences in their intellectual points of view. Shipowners are to be desired in Parliament, because they can instruct us about ships, not because they are interested in having protecting duties. We want from a lawyer in Parliament his legal knowledge, not his professional interest in the expensiveness and unintelligibility of the law.
Commending Mr. Lorimer’s treatise to the attention of students in politics, we pass to a book[*] in our opinion of far superior value: in which, for the first time, a way is really shown to that reconciliation and simultaneous recognition of the best principles and ends of rival theories, which the generality of political writers have despaired of, which Mr. Lorimer aims at, but which Mr. Hare actually realizes, and has not only illuminated it with the light of an advanced political philosophy, but embodied it in a draft of an Act of Parliament, prepared with the hand of a master in the difficult art of practical legislation.
cThough Mr. Hare has delivered an opinion—and generally, in our judgment, a wise one—on nearly all the questions at present in issue connected with representative government; the originality of his plan, as well as most of the effects to be expected from it, turn on the development which he has given to what is commonly called the Representation of Minorities. He has raised this principle to an importance and dignity which no previous thinker had ascribed to it. As conceived by him, it should be called the real, instead of nominal, representation of every individual elector.
That minorities in the nation ought in principle, if it be possible, to be represented by corresponding minorities in the legislative assembly, is a necessary consequence from all premises on which any representation at all can be defended. In a deliberative assembly the minority must perforce give way, because the decision must be either aye or no; but it is not so in choosing those who are to form the deliberative body: that ought to be the express image of the wishes of the nation, whether divided or unanimous, in the designation of those by whose united councils it will be ruled; and any section of opinion which is unanimous within itself, ought to be able, in due proportion to the rest, to contribute its elements towards the collective deliberation. At present, if three-fifths of the electors vote for one person and two-fifths for another, every individual of the two-fifths is, for the purposes of that election, as if he did not exist: his intelligence, his preference, have gone for nothing in the composition of the Parliament. Whatever was the object designed by the Constitution in giving him a vote, that object, at least on the present occasion, has not been fulfilled: and if he can be reconciled to his position, it must be by the consideration that some other time he may be one of a majority, and another set of persons instead of himself may be reduced to ciphers: just as, before a regular government had been established, a man might have consoled himself for being robbed, by the hope that another time he might be able to rob some one else. But this compensation, however gratifying, will be of no avail to him if he is everywhere overmatched; and the same may be said of the elector who is habitually outvoted.
Of late years several modes have been suggested of giving an effective voice to a minority; by limiting each elector to fewer votes than the number of members to be elected, or allowing him to concentrate all his votes on the same candidate. These various schemes are praiseworthy so far as they go, but they attain the object very imperfectly. All plans for dividing a merely local representation in unequal ratios, are limited by the small number of members which can be, and the still smaller which ought to be, assigned to any one constituency. There are considerable objections to the election even of so many as three by every constituent body. This, however, under present arrangements, is the smallest number which would admit of any representation of a minority; and in this case the minority must amount to at least a third of the whole. All smaller minorities would continue, as at present, to be disfranchised; and in a minority of a third, the whole number must unite in voting for the same candidate. There may therefore be a minority within the minority who have sacrificed their individual preference, and from whose vote nothing can with certainty be concluded but that they dislike less the candidate they voted for, than they do the rival candidate.*
Mr. Hare offers an outlet from this difficulty. The object being that the suffrages of those who are in a minority locally, should tell in proportion to their number on the composition of the Parliament; since this is all that is required, why should it be imperative that their votes should be received only for some one who is a local candidate? Why might they not give their suffrage to any one who is a candidate anywhere, their number of votes being added to those which he may obtain elsewhere? Suppose that a comparison between the number of members of the House and of registered electors in the kingdom, gives a quotient of 2000 as the number of electors per member, on an average of the whole country (which, according to Mr. Hare’s calculation, dwould bed not far from the fact, if the existing electoral body eweree augmented by 200,000): why should not any candidate, who can obtain 2000 suffrages in the whole kingdom, be returned to Parliament? By the supposition, 2000 persons are sufficient to return a member; and there are 2000 who unanimously desire to have him for their representative. Their claim to be represented surely does not depend on their all residing in the same place. Since one member can be given to every 2000, the most just mode of arrangement and distribution must evidently be, to give the member to 2000 electors who have voted for him, rather than to 2000 some of whom have voted against him. We should then be assured that every member of the House has been wished for by 2000 of the electoral body; while in the other case, even if all the electors have voted, he may possibly have been wished for by no more than a thousand and one.
This arrangement provides for all the difficulties involved in representation of minorities. The smallest minority obtains an influence proportioned to its numbers; the largest obtains no more. The representation becomes, what under no other system it can be, really equal. Every member of fparliamentf is the representative of an unanimous constituency. No one is represented, or rather misrepresented, by a member whom he has voted against. Every elector in the kingdom is represented by the candidate he most prefers, if as many persons in the whole extent of the country are found to agree with him, as come up to the number entitled to a representive.
To enable the scheme to work in the manner intended, a second and subsidiary expedient is necessary. A candidate who enjoys a wide-spread popularity, if votes are received for him everywhere, will often be voted for by many times the number of persons forming the quota entitled to a member. If this multitude of votes were all counted for his return, the number of members required to constitute the House would not be obtained; while the many thousand votes given for these favourite characters, will have had no more influence than the simple 2000 given for the least popular candidate who is returned at all. To obviate this, Mr. Hare proposes that no more than 2000 votes be counted for any one; that whoever has obtained that number be declared duly elected, and the remainder of his votes be set free to be given to another. For this purpose (while no one’s vote would be counted for more than one candidate) voters should make a practice of putting into their voting papers a second name, and as many other names as they like, in the order of their preference, of persons for whom they are willing to vote in case their vote is not needed for the one who stands first in their list. Suppose that 8000 electors give their first vote to the same candidate. Only 2000 of these (that being the supposed amount of the electoral quota) will be counted for his return. We will not discuss which 2000 should be chosen out of the 8000, as this is the solitary point we have yet discovered, in which Mr. Hare’s arrangements appear to us susceptible of improvement. The 2000, on whatever principle selected, form the constituency whom this candidate will represent. His name will then be cancelled in the remaining 6000 papers, each of which will be counted as a vote for the person next in order who is named in them, unless he also shall have been already returned by other votes—and so on. In this manner the 8000 electors who prefer A. B. will obtain from among the list of persons by whom they have declared their willingness to be represented, the full complement of four members due to them, A. B. being one; or will have exerted an amount of influence equal to the return of four members, in the election of some greater number.
Of this breadth, clearness, and simplicity are the principles of the plan. Indeed, if Mr. Hare had stopped here, the chief difficulty he would have had to encounter would have been the doubt whether a scheme so theoretically perfect could be brought into practical operation. But since he has taken the trouble to point out, even to the minutest detail, the mode in which the plan can be executed, and has drawn up in all legal form the statute necessary to give it effect, the danger now is lest the inevitable prominence of the mechanical arrangements should confuse the mind of a mere cursory reader, and enable the scheme to be represented as too complex and subtle to be workable. Such a notion would be extremely erroneous. Mr. Hare’s draft of a Bill is ten times more simple and intelligible than the Reform Act, or almost any other Act of Parliament which deals with a great subject. Its details are worked out with infinite care and sagacity, and accompanied with an explanatory comment which must satisfy any one not only of the possibility, but the facility of carrying them into effect. Seldom has it happened that a great political idea could be realized by such easy and simple machinery; and there is not a serious objection, nor a genuine difficulty, of however slight a nature, which will not, we think, be found to have been foreseen and met.
That these arrangements are just and reasonable, and afford a complete remedy for an evil for which none but very imperfect palliatives were supposed to be attainable, is obvious almost at first sight. But it was not till after mature reflection, and diligent study of Mr. Hare’s admirable exposition, that we fully realized the greatness of the incidental benefits, not at first apparent, which would result from the substitution of personal instead of exclusively local representation.
In the first place, it would prodigiously improve the personnel of the national representation. At present, were they ever so desirous, a great majority of the most distinguished men in the country have little or no chance of being elected anywhere as members of the House of Commons. The admirers, and those who would be the supporters, of a person whose claims rest on acknowledged personal merit, are generally dispersed throughout the country, while there is no one place in which his influence would not be far outweighed by that of some local grandee, or notabilité de clocher, who neither has, nor deserves to have, the smallest influence anywhere else. If a man of talents and virtue could count as votes for his return all electors in any part of the kingdom who would like to be represented by him, every such person who is well known to the public would have a probable chance; and under this encouragement nearly all of them, whose position and circumstances were compatible with Parliamentary duties, might be willing to offer themselves to the electors. Those voters who did not like either of the local candidates, or who believed that one whom they did not like was sure to prevail against them, would have all the available intellectual strength of the country from whom to select the recipient of their otherwise wasted vote. An assembly thus chosen would contain the élite of the nation.
Nor must it be supposed that only the minorities, or weaker parties in the localities, would give themselves a wider range of choice, to acquire, by combining with one another, their just share in the representation. The majorities also would be brought under inducements to make a more careful choice. There are few things more discreditable to the country than the mode in which the member for a borough, when not the mere creature of the local influences, is generally selected. What do the body of those who give him their suffrages usually know of him? Unless in the case of those who live among them, and are known to them privately, nothing at all, except that he is of the right political party; that he calls himself the Liberal or the Conservative candidate. But there are Liberal and Conservative candidates of all qualities; and what are the qualifications looked for by the attorney, the gparliamentaryg agent, or the half-dozen local leaders, who bring down the candidate from London? What they seek for is a man with money, and willing to spend it—if of any social rank, so much the better—and who will make professions on some subjects, and be silent on others, according to what they tell him is required by the local opinion. Whatever may be his worth, or want of worth, in other respects, the voters who are on the same side in politics vote for him en masse: whether he is to their taste or not, they cannot, by proposing another candidate, divide the party; they must either bring him in, or lose their votes, and give a victory to the other side. Under Mr. Hare’s plan things would be far otherwise. The candidate of the party which is strong enough to carry its nominee would still, no doubt, be generally selected by the local leaders; when many persons are to be brought to act together, some must take the initiative. But the position and interest of the leaders would be much changed. They could no longer count upon bringing up the whole strength of the party, to return any professed Liberal or Conservative who would make it worth their while. An elector even of their own party, who was dissatisfied with the candidate offered him, would not then be obliged to vote for that candidate or remain unrepresented. He would have the option of contributing to give his country, or his party, the benefit of a better representative elsewhere; and his leaders would be under the necessity of offering him some one whom he would consider creditable, to be secure of his vote. It is probable that a competition would spring up among constituencies for the most creditable candidates, and that the stronger party in every locality (local influences apart) would be anxious to bring forward the ablest and most distinguished men on their own side, that they might be sure of uniting the whole of their local strength, and have a chance of being reinforced by stray votes from other parts of the country.
A member who had already served in Parliament with any distinction, would under this system be almost sure of his re-election. At present the first man in the hhouseh may be thrown out of Parliament precisely when most wanted, and may be kept out for several years, from no fault of his own, but because a change has taken place in the local balance of parties, or because he has voted against the prejudices or local interests of some influential portion of his constituents. Under Mr. Hare’s system, if he has not deserved to be thrown out, he will be nearly certain to obtain votes from other places, sufficient, with his local strength, to make up the quota of 2000 (or whatever the number may be) necessary for his return to Parliament.
The considerations on which we have hitherto dwelt are independent of any possible changes in the composition of the electoral body. But the bearing of Mr. Hare’s proposals on the question of extending the suffrage, is of the very greatest importance. Why is nearly the whole educated class united in uncompromising hostility to a purely democratic suffrage? Not so much because it would make the most numerous class, that of manual labourers, the strongest power; that many of the educated class would think only just. It is because it would make them the sole power; because in every constituency the votes of that class would swamp and politically annihilate all other members of the community taken together; would put them in the same position, as regards Parliament, in which the labouring classes are now, without the same imposing physical strength out of doors; and would produce (or would be in danger of producing) a Legislature reflecting exclusively the opinions and preferences of the most ignorant class, with no member of any higher standard to compare and confront themselves with, except such as may have stripped themselves of their superiority by conforming to the prejudices of their supporters. But if the greater number could obtain their share of political power without silencing the smaller number; if the educated and the propertied classes could still be represented, though by a minority, in the House; there would not, in the minds of many of those classes, be the same insuperable objection to the political preponderance of the majority. Represented as ithati minority would be likely then to be, by the ablest heads and noblest hearts in the nation, their representatives would probably acquire considerable personal ascendancy over the other section of the House; especially as the majorities would have been under the inducements already spoken of to get themselves represented by the most intelligent and morally recommendable persons they could find. The cause of the minority would be likely to be supported with such consummate skill, and such a weight of moral authority, as might prove a sufficient balance to the superiority of numbers on the other side, and enable the opinions of the higher and middle classes to prevail when they were right, even in an assembly of which the majority had been chosen by the poor. We have not the smallest wish that they should prevail when they were wrong, as no doubt they often would be. So much confidence, indeed, have we in the moral efficacy of such a representation of minorities as Mr. Hare’s scheme would give, that we should not despair of its rendering ultimately unnecessary the system, which in principle we have advocated, of plural voting, an expedient not included in Mr. Hare’s plan, though perfectly compatible with it.
Meanwhile, however, and so long as the working classes are not admitted to the suffrage so indiscriminately as to outnumber the other electors, those classes have a most direct interest in the due representation of minorities, since in numerous cases they would themselves be in a position to benefit by it. There is great difficulty, under the present machinery, in measuring out influence to the working classes, so as to be just to them without being unjust to every one else. They are not represented even as a class, unless they are the majority of the constituency, and if they are, nobody else is represented. A strong sense of the importance of their obtaining, by whatever means, a certain number of members who actually represent them, has led an intelligent writer, Mr. Bagehot, to propose so violent a remedy as that of giving up the representation of the large towns to day-labourers, by establishing, in them, equal and universal suffrage, thereby disfranchising the higher and middle classes of those places, who comprise the majority of the most intellectual persons in the kingdom.[*] All this Mr. Hare’s plan would supersede. By admitting the working classes into the constituencies generally, in such numbers as to constitute a large minority therein, they would be enabled to return all their leaders, and a considerable number of other members, without swamping, or even outnumbering, the rest of the electors. They would be relieved from the mischievous alternative of all or none. They would have the exact amount of influence in the composition of Parliament which it was the intention of the Legislature to give them; whereas on the present system the effects of any extension of the suffrage would be so entirely uncertain, that to be sure of not giving them more than Parliament is willing to allow, it would be thought necessary to give much less than is fairly allowable.
Consider next the check which would be given to bribery and intimidation in the return of members to Parliament. Who, by bribery and intimidation, could get together 2000 electors from a hundred different parts of the country? Intimidation would have no means of acting over so large a surface; and bribery requires secresy, and an organized machinery, which can only be brought into play within narrow local limits. Where would then be the advantage of bribing or coercing the 200 or 300 electors of a small borough? They could not of themselves make up the quota, and nobody could know what part of the country the remaining 1700 or 1800 suffrages might come from. In places so large as to afford the number of 2000 electors, bribery or intimidation would have the same chances as at present. But it is not in such places that, even now, these malpractices are successful. As regards bribery (Mr. Hare truly remarks), the chief cause of it is, that in a closely contested election certain votes are indispensable: the side which cannot secure those particular votes is sure to be defeated. But under Mr. Hare’s plan no vote would be indispensable. A vote from any other part of the country would serve the purpose as well; and a candidate might be in a minority at the particular place, and yet be returned.
Those who demand equal electoral districts should strenuously support Mr. Hare’s plan; for it fulfils, in a far preferable manner, their professed purposes. In his system all the constituencies are equal, and all unanimous. Disfranchisement becomes unnecessary, for every place is represented in the ratio, and no place in more than the ratio, due to its number of electors. The endless disputations, the artful manipulation and elaborate ponderation of interests, to endeavour to make sure (which can never really be done) that there shall always be places enough returning persons of certain descriptions, may all now be dispensed with. Every description of persons, every class, every so-called interest, will be sure of exactly the amount of representation it is entitled to. The system, moreover, is self-adjusting: there would not be need of an Act of Parliament once in every quarter of a century to readjust the representation. Every year the whole number of registered electors would be ascertained, and the quota necessary for returning a member declared: this done, the rest of the machinery would work of itself. There need be no grouping of boroughs; the boroughs and the electors inhabiting them would spontaneously group themselves. Nor need there be any limit to the number of places returning members. Mr. Hare would have any town or district, or any corporate body (an inn of court, for example), permitted to call itself a Parliamentary constituency, if it chose. This would excite, he thinks, a salutary emulation to elect the best men; and small bodies are the most likely to bring forward, from personal knowledge, men of merit not yet generally known. Of course, no constituency would have a member to itself, unless it contained the quota of electors. If it were a small body, the member who might be returned for it would be the representative of many other electors, and perhaps of other places or bodies; but he would not be called the member for any place or body in which he had not the local majority. Nor need it be apprehended that by the greater play given to influences of a wider and more national character, local influences would be deprived of any weight which justly belongs to them. Local influences would be safe in the hands of the local majority, through whom alone those influences are effective at present. The power which would be called into action for national purposes, under motives of a national character, is a power now wasted and thrown away. The instrument by which larger and higher elements would be brought into the arena of public affairs, would be mainly the votes which are now virtual nonentities.
But in no way would the effects of this masterly contrivance be more unspeakably beneficial, than in raising the tone of the whole political morality of the country. A representative would be under nothing like the same temptation to gain or keep his seat by time-serving arts, and sacrifices of his convictions to the local or class prejudices and interests of any given set of electors. Unless the prejudice was universal in the nation, a spirited resistance would cause his name to be inscribed in the voting-papers of some electors in almost every place in which it was heard of. The elevating effect on the minds of the electors themselves would be still more valuable. Hardly anything within the scope of possible attainment would do so much to make the voting for a member of Parliament be felt as a moral act, involving a real responsibility. Every elector’s interest in his representative would be at the highest pitch. The member would be the elector’s own representative, not chosen for him, but by him. Instead of having been chosen, perhaps against him, by electors of sentiments the remotest possible from his, he will not even have been accepted by him as a compromise; he is the man whom the elector has really preferred. No longer required to choose between two or some small number of candidates, much alike probably in all respects except the party banner they carry, and seldom having any strong public recommendation but that, to the suffrage of any one who votes for them; the elector would have the opportunity, if he chose, of tendering his vote for the ablest and best man in the Empire who is willing to serve. Is not this a situation to rouse a moral feeling in any one, who has sufficient conscience belonging to him to have any of it to bestow on the performance of a public duty? It is the seeming insignificance of men’s individual acts that deadens their consciences respecting them. The self-deluding sophistry of indolence or indifference operates by “What does it matter?” Place before any one a high object; show him that he can individually do something to promote that object; and if there is a spark of virtue in the man, it will be kindled into a glow. To the new feeling of duty would be added a pride in making a good choice—a desire to connect himself as a constituent with some one who is an honour to the nation—to be known to him and to the world as one who has voluntarily sought him out to give him his vote. Mr. Hare, when he reaches this part of his subject, rises into a noble enthusiasm, which is irresistibly attractive when combined, as it is in him, with a sober and sagacious perception of the relation between means and ends, and a far-sighted circumspection in guarding his arrangements against all possibilities of miscarriage and abuse.
With this exalted sense of the moral responsibility of an elector, Mr. Hare is, as might be expected, an enemy to the ballot.* His plan requires voting papers, but he would have them signed by the elector, and delivered personally “by every voter at his proper polling-place” [pp. 144-5]; saving the case of necessary absence, when arrangements are suggested (p. 318) for transmitting his voting paper, with proper evidence of his identity, to a central office. There are serious objections to voting papers under the existing system, of which the strongest is the facilities and efficacy they would give to undue influences; since the act of subservience would be done in the privacy of home, where the eye of the public would be absent, but the hand of the briber, or the vultus instantis tyranni, might and would be present. The system of personal representation does so much in other respects to weaken the inducements to the exercise of the undue influences, that it can afford to leave them such advantages as voting papers would give. But the evil is a real, and, in any system but Mr. Hare’s, a conclusive objection.
On many other points in the theory and practice of representation Mr. Hare’s opinions are valuable, but not in the same degree original. On some minor questions he has not, perhaps, bestowed the same maturity of meditation as on the one which is peculiarly his own. He would remove all disqualifications for membership (pp. 136ff.). Neither clergymen, nor judicial officers, nor persons in official employment, should in his opinion be excluded from Parliament. If attendance in the House is inconsistent with a functionary’s official duties, it should be left (he thinks) to the functionary’s superiors to remove him. In some of these cases Mr. Hare may be in the right, but he takes no notice of the reasons which are commonly considered to justify the exclusion: in the case of clergymen and of judges, the importance of their not being thought to be political partisans; in that of subordinates in Government offices, a more cogent reason. These officers are kept out of Parliament, that their appointments may not be the wages of Parliamentary support. Not so much for fear of corrupting Parliament, though that also deserves to be considered; but as the sole means of keeping up a high standard of qualifications in the officers themselves. The whole efficiency of the public service depends on the personal qualities of a few individuals, whom the public never see, and hardly ever hear of. Their places, if allowed to be held by members of Parliament, would often be given to political tools, who would not then have capable prompters under them on whom to rely; and by the time they had learnt their business, if they ever did learn it, they would be changed, to give their places to others, as officials who can sit in Parliament now are, at every change of ministry.
We heartily join in Mr. Hare’s condemnation of the proposal for payment of members of Parliament. “The constant meddling of a body of men, paid for making laws, and acting under the notion that they are bound to do something for their salaries, would in this country be intolerable” (p. 122). jkMoreover, as Mr. Lorimer remarks (p. 169)k , by creating a pecuniary l“inducement to persons of the lowest class to devote themselves to public affairs, the calling of the demagogue would be formally inaugurated.”l Nothing is more to be deprecated than making it the private interest of a number of active persons to urge the form of government in the direction of its natural perversion. The indications which either a multitude or an individual can give, when merely left to their own weaknesses, afford but a faint idea of what those weaknesses would become when played upon by a thousand flatterers. If there were six hundred and fifty-eight places, of certain, however moderate, emolument, to be gained by persuading the multitude that ignorance is as good as knowledge, and better, it is terrible odds that they would believe and act upon the lesson.j The objection, however, to the payment of members, as Mr. Hare remarks, is chiefly applicable to payment from the public purse. If a person who cannot give his time to Parliament without losing his means of subsistence, is thought so highly qualified for it by his supporters as to be provided by them with the necessary income at their own expense,—this sort of mpaymentm of a member of Parliament may be equally useful and honourable; and of this resource it is open even to the working classes to avail themselves. They are perfectly capable of supporting their Parliamentary representatives, as they already do the managers of their trade societies.
Though Mr. Hare is strongly averse to this “point of the Charter,” he would relieve candidates from the heavy burthen of election expenses, except a payment of fifty pounds, which he would require from each on declaring himself a candidate, “to prevent any trifling or idle experiment, whereby the lists of candidates might be encumbered with the names of persons who can have no rational expectation of being usefully placed in nomination.” [P. 126.]
This preliminary payment should
nExoneraten the candidate from all liability in respect of any further expenses, except such as he may voluntarily incur. Such voluntary expenses will of course, as now, vary according to the peculiar circumstances of every candidate. They will probably be in the inverse ratio of his political eminence and distinction. Men of high character and reputation, and those whose political conduct and discretion have been tested and proved by experience, would stand in need of no more than that announcement of their names which the gazetted list would publish. A man of less distinction might require something more; possibly the charges of a public meeting, and of an advertisement or printed address, declaring his general views on political questions. This, perhaps, would be less necessary if the candidate were a person of any mark in literature or science, and had in his previous career become known to the public. Those who would probably be compelled to spend most, would be the persons who have the least to recommend them besides their money.
With regard to the suffrage, Mr. Hare does not deliver a decided opinion as to the most proper test of capacity, but lays down the broad principle, that it should be
oOneo which will exclude no man of ordinary industry and skill in his calling, and ordinary prudence and self-denial in his conduct. It cannot be necessary that the suffrage should be given to every youth as soon as he is out of his apprenticeship: it is not necessary that it should be given without regard to property, or to position, as the head of a family, or to participation in the burdens of citizenship, at least to one in early manhood, whilst the character is in process of formation, and the pleasures and anticipations of life exercise a strong influence on his conduct, and divert him from more serious thought on subjects not directly affecting his own career. . . . The qualification, however, should be accessible to every man when he acquires a home, and settles to the line of occupation for which the preparatory course of his earlier years has fitted him.
This general doctrine is sufficiently liberal to satisfy any one; but when Mr. Hare (p. 313) considers the present 10l. qualification in the large towns, and one varying from that to 6l. in the smaller towns and in the counties, to be a standard “so low that it is within the reach of every well-conducted man who is not a victim of some extraordinary misfortune, forming an exception to the general lot” [p. 313], we fear statistics will not bear him out. An educational test he deems inapplicable (p. 310), because “it would be next to impossible to apply” such a test “to every individual of a multitude” (not true of the simple test of writing and arithmetic, which might with ease be applied to every elector at the registry); because “it may exclude men of much practical knowledge and good sense” (we greatly question the knowledge and good sense, as applicable to politics, of any one who has not the power and habit of reading); and finally, because “it would operate severely on those who were more advanced in life, and to whom elementary tests are less suitable.” [Pp. 310-11.] The rights of existing electors should certainly be reserved; but in the case of any others, the supposed hardship, being merely that of not being entrusted with duties they are not fit for, is no subject for complaint.
Mr. Hare passes an unqualified and most just condemnation on the exclusion of women from the suffrage:
In all cases where a woman is sui juris, occupying a house or tenement, or possessed of a freehold, or is otherwise in a position which, in the case of a male, would amount to a qualification, there is no sound reason for excluding her from the parliamentary franchise. The exclusion is probably a remnant of the feudal law, and is not in harmony with the other civil institutions of the country. There would be great propriety in celebrating a reign which has been productive of so much moral benefit, by the abolition of an anomaly which is so entirely without any justifiable foundation.
Such is this remarkable book: of the contents of which we have been compelled to leave a great portion unnoticed, including the simple arrangements by which the system of voting is adapted to the case of single elections, and of municipalities. In our brief exposition we have given a much more adequate idea of Mr. Hare’s specific proposals, than of the instructive and impressive discussions by which he introduces them. Yet if the book made no practical suggestions whatever, and had no value but that of the principles it enforces, it would still deserve a high rank among manuals of political thought. We trust it will be widely read, and we are convinced that, by competent thinkers, the system it embodies will be recognised as alone just in principle, as one of the greatest of all practical improvements, and as the most efficient possible safeguard of further Parliamentary Reform.c
[[*] ]The Province of Jurisprudence Determined (London: Murray, 1832).
[[*] ]Austin, A Plea for the Constitution, p. 6.
[[*] ]Lord Palmerston and Lord John Russell.
[[*] ]Cf. Jean Baptiste Gresset, Le Méchant, Act II, Scene vii.
[[*] ]Lorimer, Political Progress not Necessarily Democratic, pp. 130-1.
[* ]He seems disposed to exclude women (see note to p. 213), not because he wishes them to have no influence, but because he thinks their indirect influence sufficient. We shall see that if he applied this standard of judgment in all cases, it would upset his whole theory.
[[†] ]“The Theories of Parliamentary Reform,” in Oxford Essays, 4 vols. (London: Parker, 1855-58), Vol. IV, pp. 51-79.
[[‡] ]See above, pp. 311-39.
[[*] ]See “Theories of Parliamentary Reform,” pp. 61ff.
[[†] ]See ibid., p. 63.
[* ]Epictetus. [See Discourses, trans. W. A. Oldfather, 2 vols. (London: Heinemann; New York: Putnam’s Sons, 1926, 1928), Vol. I, p. 8 (I.i.10), and Vol. II, p. 180 (III.xxiii.32).]
[[*] ]I.e., Mill himself; see pp. 353 and 324-8 above.
[[*] ]Thomas Hare, A Treatise on the Election of Representatives.
[c-c]370 [printed as a supplement to the 2nd pamphlet edition of Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform; cf. 339k above]
[* ]These semi-dissentients might even amount to a majority of the minority; for (as Mr. Hare remarks) if fifty persons agree to combine their strength, who, left to themselves, would have divided their votes among ten candidates, six of the fifty may impose their candidate on all the rest, though perhaps only relatively preferred by them.
[e-e]591,592 is supposed to be
[[*] ]See Walter Bagehot, Parliamentary Reform (London: Chapman and Hall, ), pp. 34ff.
[* ]Pp. 168ff.
[j-j][quoted in Considerations on Representative Government; cf. 499n below]
[k-k]611,612,65 As Mr. Lorimer remarks
[l-l]611,612,65 [not in quotation marks]