Front Page Titles (by Subject) CENTRALISATION 1862 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XIX - Essays on Politics and Society Part 2
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CENTRALISATION 1862 - 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).
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Edinburgh Review, CXV (Apr., 1862), 323-58, where it is headed “Act. II—1. L’Individu et L’État. Par M. [Charles Brook] Dupont-White, / 2me ed. Paris: [Guillaumin,] 1858. / 2. La Centralisation; suite à L’Individu et l’État. Par M. / Dupont-White. Paris: [Guillaumin,] 1860. / 3. De la Centralisation et de ses Effets. Par M. [Camille Hyacinthe] Odilon-Barrot. Paris: [Dumineray,] 1861.” Unsigned; not republished. Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “A review of M. Dupont White and M. Odilon Barrot’s writings on Centralization, in the Edinburgh Review for April 1862” (MacMinn, 94). There are no corrections or emendations in the two copies of the article in the Somerville College Library, though on one copy, having cancelled the heading, JSM inked an asterisk after the running title (“Centralisation”) on p. 323, and added a note, which begins “Edinburgh Review, April 1862” and then lists the three titles as in the Edinburgh heading. This being the footnote form he uses in the articles reprinted in Dissertations and Discussions, it seems likely that he intended to reprint this article in Vol. III, but changed his mind for unknown reasons. (There are no other periodical articles of which two cut copies remain in JSM’s library in Somerville College, and the copy mentioned above is in loose sheets, as though for the printer.)
For comments on the composition of the essay, and related matters, see the Textual Introduction, lxxxvii-lxxxviii above.
these works express the opinions of two able and accomplished writers, taken from opposite points of view, on that one among the political questions of the age which bears the strongest marks of being destined to remain a question for generations to come—Centralisation; or in other words, the limits which separate the province of government from that of individual and spontaneous agency, and of central from local government. The importance of this question is constantly tending to increase, by the perpetual growth of collective action among mankind, and the progress made in the settlement of other questions which stand before it in the natural order of discussion. The more noisy and exciting subject of Forms of Government, which has for so many ages occupied the front rank of political controversy, is likely, with all its difficulties, to be much sooner, at least theoretically, settled; both as being simpler in itself, and because it admits, in any given country, of a more definite answer; whereas the answer to the question between governmental or central, and private or local, action is perpetually varying; depending not on any single principle, but on a compromise between principles, the elements of which are not exactly the same in any two applications. The degree in which political authority can justly and expediently interfere, either to control individuals and voluntary associations, to supersede them by doing their work for them, to guide and assist, or to invoke and draw forth their agency, varies not only with the wants of every country and age, and the capabilities of every people, but with the special requirements of every kind of work to be done.
The most despotic government, indeed, must leave by far the greatest part of the world’s business to be transacted by the individuals whom it directly concerns; while in the freest countries there is much which is and must be undertaken by governments, because it is indispensable that it should be done, and impossible that individuals should do it. But between these limits there is a vast extent of debateable ground, on which the question is merely one of degree, turning upon a comparison of advantages; and so great are the advantages of either mode of proceeding, where circumstances and habits have brought it into vigorous and well-directed action, that inexhaustible arguments may be found on each side of the question. Unfortunately it is not on the merits of either individual or government agency at its best, that the question depends, but on the imperfections and shortcomings of both in their average condition; by far the strongest arguments of each side being drawn, not from the excellence of the kind of agency it advocates, but from the infirmities of its rival.
There can, among English thinkers, be no doubt, and there is at present as little among the principal thinkers on the other side of the Channel, that in all the great civilised countries of the world, except England and the United States, the governmental and central element is the one in excess, and that in a prodigious degree. Englishmen are accustomed to think that the nations of the Continent—and France the most conspicuously, as being in all other respects the most advanced—have been kept in a state of political infancy by over-government: that the concentration of the entire direction of national affairs in a bureaucracy has been more crushing in its effects on the character and capabilities of the nation than tyranny itself, and the main instrument by which tyranny has been established and maintained: that the government, by doing everything through its own officers, which it can possibly contrive so to do—by regulating minutely whatever it allows to be done by others, and requiring, in all cases which involve the smallest collective action, its own previous assent formally obtained, not only to the thing to be done, but to every item of the means proposed for doing it—has dwarfed not only the political, but in a great measure the entire practical, capacity of the people, and even their intellectual activity and moral aspirations in every field of mental action except pure theory. This, which had long been an established opinion in England, has now (with some abatement for exaggeration) become also the opinion of France; or, at all events, of the great majority of French thinkers, who are likely in the long run to form and guide the national sentiment.
The reaction in France against governmentalism and centralism, and in favour of individual and local agency, is at present intense. There was an undercurrent in this direction, when the general stream of opinion was setting strongest towards the opposite side. In the first years of the Restoration, the best of the Liberals and the leaders of the Ultra-Royalists joined for a time in demanding local franchises and a limitation of the powers of government. As M. Odilon-Barrot truly says (p. 12), men of such opposite opinions as MM. de Villèle, de Corbière, Benjamin Constant, Fiévée, Châteaubriand, Royer-Collard, were in this one respect unanimous. Unfortunately the movement slackened when the two great parties, at that time equally in opposition against the juste milieu policy of Louis XVIII, conceived the hope of getting into their own hands the powers which they had been desirous of restraining. The renewed and more serious movement in this beneficent direction is usually dated from the publication of the great work of M. de Tocqueville. That eminent and deeply to be lamented thinker, more than any other person, took the lead in the new tendency of opinion. It was promoted by the writings and exertions of that valuable body of men, the political economists of France; almost the only writers on political and social subjects who were able to continue their teaching without reserve during the first years of the present French Government; and to whose opinions their recent triumph on the comparatively limited subject of Free Trade, has given an importance which they had long merited, but had not previously attained. The spontaneity and unfettered action of the individual, and of voluntary association, are, as all know, the life of modern political economy. Of all persons, a political economist is the one to whose opinions and associations any avoidable intervention of government in the affairs of society is the most repugnant. Accordingly the non-intervention theory is, by some French political economists (men of great talents and virtues, such as M. Dunoyer), carried to a length which even in England would be accounted excessive. They allow no post-office, no government roads, no public provision for the poor, no aids to education. They rely solely on the voluntary principle for meeting requirements, which even in the countries where individual enterprise, public spirit, and capacity of voluntary co-operation are at the highest, it has been found or thought necessary that the government should take under its care.
But far beyond any writings, in producing the change now manifesting itself in French opinion, is the operation of political events. If anything could alleviate the painful regret with which we regard the despotic government of Napoleon the Third, it would be the mode in which that despotism is purging the vision and ripening the political judgment of the French mind. A few years have done the work of generations, in making the chief representatives of French intellect understand what it is in the social system and national habits of their country, which made it possible for them, in the sixty-second year of their struggle for freedom, to be thrown back for an indeterminate period into a political servitude no less complete than before its commencement. Since that time it has become the habitual theme of the principal leaders of opinion in France that liberty is a more precious thing than equality; that equality in slavery makes slavery still more slavish; and that a people are not and cannot be free, unless they have learnt to dare and do for themselves, not fitfully, at intervals of a generation, by turning out one set of masters and putting in another, but in the practice of daily life: that a government which is allowed to meddle in everything, let its forms be never so free, is at all times little different from a despotism, and a word of command to a file of soldiers may at any time convert it into an avowed one: and that a national character capable of maintaining the control of the nation over the great affairs of State, is not consistent with the habit of looking to rulers for authorisation and guidance at every step in the smaller concerns of life. This doctrine is now earnestly taught by almost every French writer who has either retained or acquired reputation as a political thinker during the ten years that have elapsed since the coup d’état. The great Review which numbers among its contributors, either habitual or occasional, nearly all the first minds in France, and which from the sustained ability as well as the quantity of its matter (a bulk equal to that of an English Review once a fortnight) takes rank as the most important organ of French intellect, is pervaded everywhere by anti-centralisation principles. Not content with this, the more ardent and energetic spirits determined to have a Review, of which anti-centralism and the principle of individual liberty should be the main and governing feature; and they founded, in November, 1860, the Revue Nationale, also published fortnightly, a work in general character inferior only to the Revue des Deux Mondes, and not surpassed even by that in the merit of its principal articles, and in its treatment of the greater questions of politics and society.* No reader of these Reviews can mistake for a moment either the direction or the intensity of the present movement in French public opinion. Those who still adhere to the banner of centralisation, “the most splendid conquest of our Revolution,” as writers of M. Thiers’ school delighted to call it, are as fully aware as others that the tide is against them. “We are saturated with government” was the expression, on a late occasion, of one of the most enlightened and intellectual of their number. “It requires,” he added, “a great strength of conviction to enable me to write as I do,” namely, in favour of centralisation and state interference.
The work of M. Odilon-Barrot of which we have transcribed the title, is one of the manifestations of the new tendency. It belongs to a series of publications which, under the title of Études Contemporaines, have been commenced by a body of known and distinguished lovers of liberty; two of which, M. de Haussonville’s Lettre au Sénat,[*] and that entitled Les Anciens Partis,[*] for which M. Prévost-Paradol was sentenced to fine and imprisonment, have, from their bearing on the affairs of the moment, attracted some attention from newspaper writers and readers in England. M. Odilon-Barrot’s book is short, and aims at being popular rather than philosophical; but it puts forth clearly, with earnest conviction and strong feeling, the leading points of the case; the evils of over-government, both as a matter of theory and principle, and, in France, of sad practical experience.
M. Dupont-White’s two treatises, or rather one treatise in two parts, are of higher pretensions, which their author is quite competent to support. With a wide range of knowledge, and great resources applicable to illustration, M. Dupont-White combines a force and liveliness of expression, which recall the manner of the best French writers; and, what is of still greater importance, he has that habit of seeking and power of perceiving general truths, which enables him to place the opinions he supports, whether right or wrong, on the truest and least exceptionable grounds which their nature admits of. In the present case, he has taken the side which we regard as, on the whole, wrong: he has placed himself in opposition to a movement which we hold to be, within its present limits, eminently wise and salutary. Nevertheless we consider his performance to be, both in a philosophical and a practical point of view, of real value. There is much that may be truly and reasonably said on his side of the question; and it is a service to truth, when the tendency of opinion is in one direction, to give a résumé of the real other side of the matter—the valid reasons which have a claim to be taken into consideration, and estimated at what they are worth, apart from the fallacies and nonsense of more vulgar advocates, which, when they have ceased to carry the general opinion with them, an opponent can afford to disregard. This we find in M. Dupont-White’s work; and it is well that a book should exist, which supplies in some respects a needful limitation and correction to the ideas now prevalent, and tends to prevent the reaction against State and central agency from running into a contrary excess, not only in itself injurious, but naturally provocative of a counter-reaction.
To these merits of M. Dupont-White’s book is to be added that of entire candour. He not only never misrepresents, but he never slurs over, or purposely understates, the arguments on the other side. In our opinion, he often—indeed generally—undervalues them; but he is scrupulous in bringing them forward, and stating them with as much force and plausibility as if they were his own. This candour in statement is naturally accompanied by similar candour in judgment. Doing careful justice to the reasons of his opponents, he is almost necessarily led to do a considerable measure of justice to their conclusions. His concessions, accordingly, are great and numerous; and though his premises are mostly favourable to State interference, and those of M. Odilon-Barrot unfavourable, there is a much less amount of divergence than would naturally be expected in their practical conclusions. The following, for instance, is M. Odilon-Barrot’s statement of grievances,—of the principal evils which he denounces in the French administrative system:
We do not seek to impair that splendid unity of France, which a powerfully concentrated government may have helped to constitute, but which liberty alone can cement and preserve. What we reject in centralisation is its excess. We regard as excessive a centralisation, which by the confusion of spiritual and temporal power, or by their alliance, infringes directly or indirectly, either for religious or political purposes, upon freedom of conscience and worship. We object to a centralisation which, sometimes on the plea of guardianship and sometimes of police, subjects to its preventive control the collective and even the individual rights of the citizens; which, for example, on the pretext that the communes are incapable of managing their own affairs, manages them through its own agents, appoints their mayors, their tax-collectors, their schoolmasters, their curés, and almost their gardes-champêtres; will not suffer their councils to assemble without its permission; reserves to itself the framing of their annual estimates, and even after an outlay has been voted and sanctioned, claims to govern its execution, by imposing on the unfortunate communes who pay the cost, its own plans, its own engineers, its own architects. I hold as excessive a centralisation which so ties up almost every act of a citizen by the necessity of a previous authorisation, that he is not permitted to pray to God, nor to move from one place to another, unless at its good pleasure. I denounce as an abuse, a centralisation which, while giving to the agents of the Government all this power over private citizens, refuses to them all judicial redress against those agents, who are declared inviolable under the protection of a Council of State chosen by the Government; a centralisation which, by means of conflicts which it raises and resolves at its own option, supersedes the regular tribunals, and evokes to itself the decision of every cause in which it declares itself to have an interest. I, lastly, reject a centralisation of which the appetite, always excited and never satisfied, incessantly menaces every thing resembling an independent existence which may still remain in the country; extending its hand, now over the estates of hospitals, now over those of communes, now over the great railway and insurance companies. A centralisation such as this, which would end by reducing the individual to the condition of an automaton, is what I attack, and I will attempt to portray its fatal effects.
Now, to almost every article of this programme M. Dupont-White has given, in some part or other of his two volumes, either an express or an implied adhesion. That worst tyranny of all, the emancipation of Government officers from responsibility to the courts of justice,—the impossibility of suing or prosecuting a public functionary for any illegal act of power, without the previous consent of the Government, through its organ, the “Conseil d’État,”—M. Dupont-White calls an “enormity;” and says that its continuance during thirty years of constitutional government is only intelligible, because the publicity inherent in representative institutions was a sufficient practical guarantee against its mischiefs; thus showing with sufficient plainness what he thinks of the mode in which it must operate under the present French Government. We give M. Dupont-White credit for being kept right, by his feelings as a lover of liberty, on the principle of an institution which places the executive openly above the laws. But his notion that such an institution was or might be innocuous under a Parliamentary form of government, would almost lead us to think of him as one who only cares for protecting the collective body of the nation from great acts of high-handed oppression by the chiefs of the State, against which free discussion and representative institutions really are a considerable security; but thinks nothing of the universal habit of trembling before every petty public officer, which, beyond almost everything else that can be named, renders a people incapable of liberty. How should they not be slavish, when anyone wearing a Government uniform, so long as he takes care to be servile to all persons of station who are on good terms with the Government, can domineer at will over all the rest,—well knowing that instead of laying a complaint before the nearest magistrate, they have no refuge but an appeal to his own, perhaps distant, employer? What protection are a free press and Parliamentary government to them? Who will hear, or who will attend to, their complaints? It is a most significant fact, that, of this exclusive right to judge in its own cause, no French Government, however constitutional or liberal in its professions, has been able to make up its mind to divest itself. This alone, of the promises of the Charter of 1830, remained through the eighteen years of the reign of Louis Philippe unredeemed.
M. Odilon-Barrot’s treatise falls in so thoroughly with the reigning tone of sentiment in this country, that we deem it needless to give any analysis of its contents; but we propose to do this rather fully in the case of M. Dupont-White. To understand a mode of thought different from our own, is always a valuable acquisition; and on a subject where everything depends on a correct balancing of opposite considerations, there is a peculiar propriety in studying the face of the question with which most of us are least familiar. It must be said, however, that the work of M. Dupont-White, though rich in matter, does not entirely satisfy us by the mode in which this matter is presented and disposed. There is true French point and felicity in the manner in which each thought is separately expressed. But we miss, in some degree, that well-marked separation of the various particulars of which the case is made up, ranging each idea or argument under the most appropriate head, which usually distinguishes the expositions and discussions of French thinkers,—that skilful marshalling of topics and arguments, which gives to their best works at once a scientific and an artistic character,—one thought never jostling or encumbering another, but appearing to occupy the position which is at once the most natural to it, and that in which it groups most impressively with, and lends the most effective support to, the rest. The titles of M. Dupont-White’s chapters point to an arrangement of topics, but in the execution he almost loses sight of it; allowing a mind, full of the subject, to pour forth, in every one of the divisions, matter from all the rest, so profusely that though much of what he says is excellently well said, the general impression is almost one of confusion; and after a first reading, one rather feels that the writer has a great deal to say, and has brought forward many strong arguments, than knows exactly what these are, and to which of the difficulties of the subject they especially apply. We shall endeavour,—not adhering to the writer’s own order, but taking his ideas where we find them, and his arguments and illustrative statements where he has expressed them best,—to give some conception of the general purport of his observations.
According to M. Dupont-White, the absorption of the last few generations in the work of establishing the control of nations over their rulers, together with the exaggerated claims made in behalf of governments by Socialists in theory, and by despotisms in practice, have engendered a prejudice in the contrary direction, which regards the intervention of the State in the affairs of society as inherently an evil and a danger. He looks upon the State as, in all stages of civilisation, the main instrument and organ of Progress; a strong and earnest faith in which is one of the most marked as well as the most honourable features of his treatise. Man (he says), as a being whose selfish are ordinarily stronger than his moral feelings, naturally requires to be governed.[*] He requires it more, not less, as society advances. For though, on the one hand, improvement, the result of experience, renders his selfishness in many respects more enlightened, yet, on the other, the advance of civilisation holds out to selfishness ever new opportunities and fields of action, to which the lessons of the past do not strictly apply, and in which the process of instructing and disciplining selfishness has to be continually renewed. Under these conditions, the conflicting self-interest of individuals, and, above all, of classes, requires an arbiter, deciding not on the impulses of the particular occasion, but on general rules and comprehensive views; and the Government, when properly constituted, and duly responsible to the nation, is that arbiter: being, by its position, more impartial than any separate section of society can possibly be, and therefore qualified to sit in judgment on the conflicting pretensions of each, and to make a fairer and better compromise between them than it is at all to be expected that they would be able to work out by a hostile struggle.
Against this doctrine, while confined to generals, there is nothing to be said. All theories permit the State to establish whatever laws are necessary to protect the legitimate rights of persons and classes against the selfishness of one another. But to prove that this is a growing exigency, that the demand for legal intervention is an increasing demand as society advances, which is the essential point of our author’s case, his argument is as follows.
The first and greatest duty of the State, in all stages of society, is to protect the weak against the strong. Now, the operation of Progress is to give to the State ever new duties of this description to discharge. We can look back to a time when the State exerted very little power over the great majority of the community. But is it supposed that because the State did not, nobody else did? Quite the reverse. The State did not concern itself about the multitude, because they were under the absolute power of masters, who could be made responsible for them. Law and government recognised, as legally existing, only the few in authority: the slave-masters, the heads of families, the patriarchal chiefs of tribes or clans. Improving civilisation changes this state of things—relieves man from the power of man, and brings him under that of the law. Has not the State necessarily a wider range of action, when it is expected to protect the slave, the wife, the child, the debtor, instead of leaving them to the will and pleasure of masters, husbands, fathers, and creditors? These primitive superiors once had power of life and death over those who were subject to them. It was the State which freed the weaker party from this despotism. The State alone could have done it, and on the State rests the duty of doing it, wherever it still remains to be done.
All this is admitted, and forms no part of the debateable ground. The power here claimed for the State is within its acknowledged functions. As long as any wrongful authority is exercised by human beings over one another, the State has still the duty of abolishing it. As long as any, even necessary, authority can be tyrannically abused, it is incumbent on the State to repress and punish the tyranny. To protect all human beings against injury from those who are stronger than themselves, whether the superiority of strength is physical or the gift of the law, is a function conceded to governments by those who are most eager to restrict their action. But does it follow that by extending the protection of law to classes unjustly excluded from it, the business of protection is made more difficult or operose? It may require more tribunals, but why should it need more laws? What more need be done for the emancipated classes, than merely not to refuse to them the legal remedies which are open to all others?
M. Dupont-White answers: The State cannot leave the newly enfranchised classes to shift afterwards for themselves. Though enfranchised, they are still the weakest, unable to contend on equal terms with their former masters. These will be struggling to exert their old authority by new means, and take all advantage which the new social relations allow, of the superior strength which still remains to them. The State must be prepared to meet every such attempt at encroachment by fresh precautions and acts of guardianship.
Whenever (for example) the depressed classes of society are striving upwards, the constitution of property will infallibly require modification. The first use which the emancipated classes endeavour to make of their liberty, is to acquire property; but the organisation of society has previously been such as to make property inaccessible to them. Generations or even ages must pass, before the descendants of serfs are enabled to exert their labour and enterprise on terms of fair equality with their former masters. Nor has this ever been effected but through a succession of laws or edicts, and by holding out at every step the helping hand of the State. The history of modern Europe is a series of such legislative acts, of which the great changes made at the French Revolution were the culmination. The nations of our own day have experienced the same necessity when emancipating their colonial slaves. And we may remark in confirmation, that the question of property forms the principal difficulty in that great work of justice and civilisation now in progress, the enfranchisement of the Russian serfs. M. Dupont-White has an easy victory while he confines himself to barbarous or backward countries. The nominal emancipation of the peasants of Esthonia and Livonia left them nearly as much serfs as before. But he is mistaken in supposing that in the British West Indies it has been necessary to retain any State protectorship over the negroes. The measures of that character which he specifies were all antecedent to emancipation. They were the incidents and consequences of slavery, and ceased with it. The conclusion which they justify is directly opposite to that of M. Dupont-White. They illustrate a tendency, the reverse of that which he alleges; the diminished need of State action as institutions improve. They are an example, from how much minute supervision, from how many cares and labours for the protection and general benefit of the less favoured classes, the State can exempt itself by doing them complete justice once for all; how much of the energy and forethought of society in behalf of individuals, is only needed because it does not choose to set free their own.
When our author argues that many relations between man and man, which were once left to the arbitration of force or the authority of a master, become the subject of legal regulation in a more advanced state, he says what nobody denies; and it is only to make clear the general scope of his argument that we dwell on this portion of the subject. But we now come upon controverted ground. M. Dupont-White says:
When the State has put an end to the oppression of law, it has still to prevent l’exploitation naturelle, the unfair use of natural advantages. . . . Merely not to subordinate and sacrifice some to others as if they were an inferior species, cannot be the dernier mot, the last achievement of civilisation. Can we forget what an amount of difference exists between human beings, and think only of their general resemblance? Can it be overlooked, that these differences, left to themselves, would subject all weakness, bodily or intellectual, to the ascendancy of the strongest, the ablest, the most persevering; and that this domination by virtue of nature, would be as oppressive as that which was formerly exercised by virtue of the law? Nature itself requires to be rectified, as well as institutions. But who shall correct the abuse of natural superiorities except the State? And how can the State do so, unless by an accession of strength and of attributions?
(L’Individu et l’État, pp. 54-5.)
Here commences the great divergence between our author’s doctrine and that of nearly all English thinkers. These concede to the State the right and duty of regulating, and, when possible, abolishing, the artificial inequalities of which it is itself the author. But they do not admit that it should concern itself with natural inequalities. That “the abuse” of these should be corrected they willingly admit, for who will affirm that abuses of any kind ought not to be interfered with? But they consider nothing as an abuse of natural superiority, except force or fraud. Provided these are abstained from, they hold it good that the strong should be allowed to reap the full advantage of their strength. It is only thus, they think, that all the members of the community are incited to exert their strength, and to cultivate it. Those who take this ground have on their side much of the reason of the case; yet not all of it; for in racing for a prize, the stimulus to exertion on the part of the competitors is only at its highest when all start fair, that is, when natural inequalities are compensated by artificial weights; and the complaint is, that in the race of life all do not start fair; and that unless the State does something to strengthen the weaker side, the unfairness becomes utterly crushing and dispiriting.
According to M. Dupont-White, as productive industry advances, there is a natural and growing antagonism of conflicting interests—land, capital, and labour. Ought there, he asks, to be no moderator in these conflicts; no one to arbitrate between jarring self-interests, each equally inconsiderate of the reasonable claims of the others—and to prescribe, and if necessary enforce, some just rule, or to say the least, some admissible terms of compromise? To this question English thinkers almost unanimously answer—No. All that the State should do is to maintain the peace. Competition in a free market, can alone show what terms of accommodation are reasonable, and enforce those terms on the contending parties. If this were universally true, there would be an end to the question. That it is true for the most part, and that the onus of making out a case rests on those who contend for an exception, is indisputable. But M. Dupont-White easily proves, from the example of England itself, that exceptions in growing numbers do from time to time manifest themselves. From the period when England began to feel the effects of the astonishing growth of her manufacturing industry, new authoritative interferences with freedom of contract have been forced upon her every few years. Parliament has regulated the hours of labour. It has prohibited the employment of children under a certain age.[*] It has interdicted, in mines, the employment of women as well as children.[†] It has imposed upon manufacturers precautions against accident and unhealthiness, instead of depending on the operatives to enforce such precautions by refusal to work.[‡] It has insisted on a certain amount of professional competency in masters of merchantmen, lest people should voluntarily entrust themselves or their property to incapable seamanship.[§] It has made imperative on owners of emigrant ships to carry medical officers, and not to crowd their vessels beyond certain limits, that the greed of gain or the competition for cheapness may not avail itself of the opportunities which the poverty, ignorance, or recklessness of intending emigrants holds out.[∥] It has made unlawful the construction of houses which it deems unfit for the habitation of human beings; though the pure doctrine of competition would leave it to the poor to correct the evil by refusing to live in them.[§§]
M. Dupont-White argues, that it may be the duty of government to protect those who depend on labour for their subsistence, against excess of suffering from those industrial improvements, which in the first instance are only beneficial to employers and unproductive consumers. Again, he observes, every great industrial improvement is, or is thought to be, detrimental to some individual interests, which, left to the mere operation of the law, would have power to thwart the improvement, or to exact, as the price of acquiescence, terms extremely onerous to society. England has had cause to know this in the case of railways, docks, harbours, roads, town improvements. The intervention of the State is necessary, to quell the resistance of those private interests, and fix the compensation due to them. Such enterprises, also, often require pecuniary aid from the State. Even in England, ocean steam navigation and marine telegraphs are not able to dispense with it.
If it be said that civilisation, by diffusing knowledge and strengthening the moral sentiments, diminishes the necessity for government, inasmuch as it causes men to identify more and more their interest and feelings with the general good, M. Dupont-White, to a certain extent, admits the fact; but urges, that since the same progress makes society and its interests more complicated, greater compass and elevation of mind become necessary for comprehending them; while the amount of those qualities in society, instead of increasing with the need, rather tends to fall off, as the subdivision of labour, and increasing speciality of men’s particular occupations, restrict the attention and accurate knowledge of each individual to a narrower circle of ideas. It is more necessary, therefore, in an advanced than even in a primitive state, that the more comprehensive interests should be taken charge of by persons who, being expressly dedicated to them, can make the study and understanding of them a speciality of their own (pp. 280-2). Besides, advancing civilisation constantly demands new public services, to which individuals and associations are not competent; and even in the case of those to which they are competent, government intervention is required to repress the abuses, negotiate the compromises, and decide the conflicts, to which that very fact gives rise. “Association easily passes into monopoly as regards the public, dictatorship as towards the shareholders” (p. 350). The State is essential as the protector of both against the recklessness or knavery of managers. Railways can be made and worked by private companies; but the State does not find it superfluous to limit the fares, and impose precautions for the safety of travellers, the commercial interests of the community, and in some respects (as by publicity and an audit) even that of the shareholders. Thus the increasing activity of the individual, in an improving society, does not take place at the expense of the activity of government. On the contrary, the more is done by the people themselves, the more there is for government to watch and superintend, and, if need be, to regulate.
If material progress thus tends to enlarge instead of narrowing the province of the State, this, in our author’s opinion, is fully as true of moral progress. One of the surest results of improvement is to develope the conscience of society. The ethical requirements of mankind tend to increase. Acts which once seemed to them permissible or venial, they now feel prompted to repress; they are more sensitive to wrong, and require to extend the sphere, not only of social discountenance, but of prohibition and penalty. Judicial statistics show that while crimes of the old types tend to diminish, there is a steady increase of the general sum of offences, principally because legal punishment is from time to time extended to forms of fraud or injury which the previous laws did not reach. Not only does the general conscience become more delicately perceptive of wrongs, but of rights; as in the case of literary property, and property in designs or inventions. How much new action of governments has been rendered necessary by the determination of modern societies to suppress the slave-trade! What a world of labour and regulation has been imposed upon governments, since the conscience of nations became sensitive to the well-being and the reformation of criminals undergoing imprisonment! The laws against cruelty to animals bring an entire province of human conduct for the first time within the pale of law. Not content, too, with enforcing stricter justice, the requirements of the improved public conscience extend to increase of beneficence. Here, indeed, our author holds with all the world, that the proper sphere of coercive authority comes to an end. It is not for the State to enforce philanthropy by law. But what it cannot exact, improving morality demands that it shall itself practise. Not to speak of the obligation to supply the indigent with work or subsistence, a duty not universally admitted, though recognised by the English Poor Laws—
The State may make provision for certain of the wants of the individual; public worship, education, roads, administration of justice; erecting the services of the minister of religion, the schoolmaster, the judge, the engineer, into public functions. This is a bounty to the poor, who benefit by these public services in proportion to their need, but contribute to them only in proportion to their means. . . . The State also practises beneficence to the poor when it acts as their unpaid agent, receiving their small savings, paying them interest, and refunding the principal on demand. . . . Or its beneficence may take the form of direct charity; either permanent, such as assistance to hospitals, gratuitous schooling, &c. or by such occasional measures as are often required in civilised countries, in times of dearth, epidemics, inundations, or commercial crises.
(L’Individu et l’État, p. 86.)
Our abstract of M. Dupont-White’s case would be too much prolonged, were we to include the arguments which he draws from the particular circumstances and national character of France. We shall mention, one for which there is, at least, so much foundation as to make it plausible: that the love of distinction, in France, is a more powerful motive to action, and incentive to enterprise, than the desire of profit;—that to erect certain branches, even of private industry, into public services (as is the case in France with mining, civil engineering, and others), instead of being, as it would be in England, a sure way of perpetuating routine and stifling improvements, is in France the most effectual means of promoting them;—that persons are much more powerfully stimulated to bring to perfection industrial inventions and improvements, by the hope that decorations and honours will be conferred on them for it, than by what might seem the more natural prospect of enriching themselves and their families. However this may be, and even were it literally correct, the question remains whether this tendency of the national mind is not in great part created by the institutions and practices which it is invoked to defend.
Having stated his own side of the case, our author proceeds to the opposite side: the limitations which his theory requires, the objections to which it is liable, and the capacity and sufficiency of individual agency to carry on the progress of society, without the instrumentality of the State.
The limitations with which M. Dupont-White propounds his doctrine are great and important. His practical conclusions are not at all proportioned to the startling breadth and generality, and the occasionally paradoxical form, of his theoretical premises. He generally gives a full adhesion to the limiting principles, however he may or may not assign to them their just weight. Again and again he urges that there ought to be no State action which would really tend to impair the full development of the faculties of the individual.* The individual (he says) is the final object of all government; and his capacities and powers the fountain-head of all social good. What our author desires is not a government strong by the weakness and compression of individualities, but individuals active and strong in a strong State. The State must not interfere with thought, nor with its free expression. Some mere modes of expression, such as the theatre, clubs, public meetings, may require regulation; but such of them alone as Thought can afford to dispense with. The press must be free to do everything but defame character, or unnecessarily outrage feelings. In the matter of public instruction, the State may teach its own doctrines, but must allow full license of competition to those of others. In economical affairs, the State must not interfere with the right of the labourer to the free employment of his labour. Its regulative functions must be confined to those great aggregations of labour by the aid of large capitals, which are not a mere means of subsistence, but a power in society. In all things, the State is bound, no less than individuals, by the moral law. The rights of private property must be sacred to it. Confiscation, bankruptcy, alteration of the monetary standard, all modes of either open or disguised spoliation, are on its part a crime. But to define and limit the rights of property,—to decide what matters shall or shall not be allowed to become subjects of property, and under what limitations property may be transmitted,—all this is within State functions, and a most important part of them: a doctrine not likely to be questioned in England, though esteemed very heretical in France, where the foundation of the laws of property, and the answers to all disputed questions respecting it, are usually rested not on the obvious consideration of public good, but on a metaphysical abstraction called le droit.
The objections to his theory are discussed by M. Dupont-White at great length; especially if we count, in the reply to objections, his strictures on the efficacy of individual agency as an instrument of progress. The interest of the individual (he says) is an ample security for the interest of the individual. But it is scarcely a security at all for collective interests. To begin with one, the greatest of these, though not commonly classed under the head of interest—not l’utile, but le vrai, le beau, et le bien,—the pursuits, of which the reward is inward, not outward, and the external fruits only in a distant future. How can these prosper, without inducements held out, or, at the lowest, without means supplied, from other sources than the private interest of individuals? Private interest is not a sufficient stimulus in the sphere of the most ordinary utility, when that utility is collective, not individual. The strongest of all cases of coincidence between public and private interest, is that of protection against open violence. Is this, or can it be, anywhere left dependent on individual self-interest? The want in this case, it may indeed be said, is one which private individuals cannot provide for; but how many others are there which they can, but will not?
It is precisely the collective character of an interest which turns men back from the pursuit of it. Men do even that which concerns them most, only when it can be carried through by their own efforts, and when the benefit is for themselves alone. Self-interest is an adequate motive to the cultivation of the earth, for success in this is the private concern of the individual; he and his take all the trouble, and reap the entire fruit. But the paving and lighting of a town, however important it may be to each, still, since he cannot accomplish it alone, and has no assurance that others will do the same as he—since his own effort avails nothing unless as a portion of the general effort—he remains inactive. Thus a collective interest is neglected by individuals, even though their own is included in it. The individual abstains from things the most advantageous to himself, when he is unable to execute them alone, and has no power of compelling others to do their part.
(L’Individu et l’État, pp. 267-8.)
Besides, individuals may be too low placed to feel the stimulating influence of self-interest. Inaction and torpidity as often result from the absence of aid and encouragement, as from their excess.
Love of personal comfort, and impatience of privations, are not an incentive capable of operating upon every one. These sentiments do not spring up in persons so steeped in misery that they care only to forget their condition, instead of improving it. The services which Necessity renders to Progress are limited; it can only develope what exists. Without it the qualities of the most privileged natures might never come to light; but it does not endow average human beings with courage and forethought; on the contrary, it plunges them and keeps them in a state of reckless self-abandonment. What is a stimulus to the strong, is to the ordinary man only a cause of despair. The education of necessity was never wanting to the Irish, or the North American Indians; to keep themselves alive was to them the business of life. Yet it did not teach either to the Irishman or the Iroquois the lesson of forethought. . . . Governments, wiser than sectarian theorists, have understood that it was their business, not indeed to take complete charge of the individual, but to offer him facilities, awaken his hopes, and lead him towards though not to, the end. . . . Do you dread the effect of such assistance in enervating those vigorous characters which can do without it? But a degree of tutelage may be imagined, beneficial to the greater number, yet not damaging to the more gifted natures. To find the limit and keep to it, may be a delicate point; but the path of all truth applicable to human uses, is one of compromise. Do you prefer to steer by only one principle, instead of combining several? Conclude, then, if you are bold enough, for the suppression of hospitals—the ultimate and perfectly legitimate consequence of the individualist principle, and the doctrine of leaving people to necessity.
One of the objections anticipated is, that the State is only the aggregate of individuals, and its rights their united rights; it can therefore have no right to employ force, but that which individuals have, namely, the right of self-defence. Repression of violence and fraud are hence the only rightful functions of the State. It is instituted for order only, not for progress.
Our author answers, that the State is more than a mere aggregation of individuals. “This is the definition of a caravanserai, of a place like Baden or Homburg, not of a society” (p. 168). The State is not the sum of the individuals comprising it, merely as individuals; each of them, in becoming a part of society, becomes something more than an individual. From the union of human beings in society, arise relations and necessities other than those of mere individuals; and it is not strange if there arise also rights which only the social state renders legitimate. Placing within the reach of man innumerable ends not else attainable, it warrants the use of additional means.
But (it may be said) since governments are composed of individuals, if individuals are not competent to carry on the great interests of the human race, why should better be expected from the individuals who compose the government? To this it is answered, first, that those individuals are, or ought to be, the élite; and, next, that they are, as a matter of course, more competent than others to what is made their especial business. In addition to this, the mere fact of their more elevated position (provided they are chosen indiscriminately, and not identified with castes or classes having separate interests,) tends of itself to give them a higher degree of impartiality,—an identity of interest with the community, as to all that concerns the relations of citizens among themselves, though not as to their relation with the government. In its position, what in individuals would require heroic virtue, demands no more than ordinary good sense and good intention. It costs but a small effort to a government to lay on a tax for supporting schools; while, for individuals to endow them from their own funds, requires real virtue. “For a master to set free his slaves, supposes a certain greatness of mind; but the commonest sense of morality in a State is enough to make it abolish slavery” (p. 346). It militates somewhat against this doctrine that slavery took so many ages to abolish. We must at least suppose that the government is not composed of slaveholders, nor under their influence; or that the ruler is a despot like Caracalla, to whose tyranny slave and citizen were much the same. Such (adds our author) is the effect of a commanding position, in elevating the ruler above the narrow interests which pervert mankind, that many of the worst sovereigns have made excellent laws, and enforced them between their subjects, while retaining for themselves the liberty of not obeying them. “Even Cæsar Borgia tolerated in his dominions no other poisoner than himself” (p. 308). With this remark, we close our summary of the first and most important of M. Dupont-White’s two volumes.
Of the second, La Centralisation, it is not necessary to give so copious an abstract. It completes the theory of State influence, as contrasted with individual agency, by a corresponding theory of central, as preferable to local, government agency. The two questions, in truth, are fundamentally one. Whatever advantages, in promoting the general interest, governments have over individuals, the central government has over any local body; while local bodies stand nearer to the merits as well as the defects which belong to the spontaneous energies of the private citizen.
Of central contrasted with local authority, as of government contrasted with the individual, M. Dupont-White holds that it is more impartial. Local functionaries are too near to those over whom they administer; too much implicated in their interests and partialities; often identified, personally or by class, with a particular section among them. [Pp. 229 ff.] But to this idea M. Dupont-White adds another, different, but allied to it. The central government is naturally the organ of a more advanced portion of the nation. The public whose opinion acts upon governments, is principally that of the capital city. Local bodies are immediately amenable to an inferior, perhaps a very backward, part of the public. The ascendancy of central administration over local is, in our author’s conception, that of the active and enlightened van of the community, over the more ignorant, more narrow-minded, and less public-spirited rearguard. The central power, of which he is anxious to maintain the predominance, is quite as much that of Paris as of the executive. Accordingly, he would assign to the capital a number of representatives, not smaller, as in England, but much larger than in the ratio of its population:
Suppose that, twelve or fifteen years ago, when there was a Chamber of 450 deputies, Paris had returned forty-five representatives instead of twelve; suppose (which is no strained hypothesis) that all these had voted and acted, as the twelve usually did, with the Opposition; a certain majority (there is every reason to think) would not have been formed, a certain Cabinet would not have lasted eight years, a certain Revolution, with all its consequences, would not have broken out.
(La Centralisation, pp. 277-8.)
A suggestion curiously illustrative of one of the many political differences between England and France. It would occur to few persons in England that giving eighty or a hundred members to the metropolis would be the way to obtain a government of greater wisdom, and less exposed to revolution. But then, there is not that superiority of political capacity and intelligence in the middle and working classes of London over those of Warwickshire or Lancashire, which nearly all authorities concur in ascribing to those of Paris over every other part of France.
M. Dupont-White certainly mentions some astonishing exhibitions of folly and ignorance by mayors of great provincial towns. We wish he had told us whether these specimens of local functionaries were elected by their fellow-citizens, or actually nominated by the government. A government which has all the educated intelligence of the country against it, must often find itself under the necessity of appointing ignorant men. We cannot, without further information, accept these as examples of the working of free local institutions. It is more to the purpose, when our author states that neither elementary schools nor local roads (chemins vicinaux) could be got established in most of the localities, until the government of Louis Philippe enforced them by an act of authority.
Another of his arguments in recommendation of central control, is its necessity for the protection of minorities. In local as well as general affairs, the majority has a perpetual tendency to tyrannise over the rest. In justice to the minority, who may be taxed for purposes of which they very reasonably disapprove, an arbitrator is indispensable. Any arbitrator is preferable to the mere despotism of number; but the central government, from its distance and its elevated position, is in general an impartial umpire. Even in England, the chosen soil of freedom and individual spontaneity, there is a growing tendency to associate with local administration an organ of central control. Parochial or district management of the Poor Laws is now subordinated to a Poor Law Board. Charitable endowments, which formerly—as far as superintended at all—were under the superintendence of corporations and other local bodies, have been withdrawn from them, and placed under Charity Commissioners appointed by the State.[*]
M. Dupont-White does not seek to annihilate provincial and municipal institutions. He acknowledges their value for cultivating the intelligence of the citizens, and familiarising them with the management of interests not private and personal; but (he contends) it is not necessary for this purpose that the localities should have the complete control of their own affairs. It is not sovereignty they require, but a veto and an initiative; the power of rejecting, and that of proposing. That they should be at liberty to do anything of themselves, without leave from a superior, does not enter into his idea of their use. But he admits that the interference with them, at present, passes all reasonable bounds, and is not de la tutelle, but de la pédagogie.* He declares for a great relaxation of this despotism, and is, upon occasion, as severe as any one upon the manie réglementaire of the French national mind [p. 71].
It is often objected that the State, by meddling in everything, takes on itself the blame of everything, and concentrates upon its own head all animosities (toutes les haines) [p. 117]. Our author treats this objection very lightly. He replies that there will always be haine, and that the State is the very properest quarter upon which it can discharge itself. It is far better that men whose interests are crossed should lay the blame on the Government, than on hostile classes, or on one another. Besides, hatred directed against a distant object is always less intense. In confirmation of which it might have been said, that the vengeance of a rude people falls less upon the original author of a supposed wrong, than upon the comparatively harmless subordinate instrument. A dispossessed Irish cottier did not shoot at his landlord, but at his landlord’s agent, or the mere incoming tenant. Wherever there is not a strong central government, society, says our author, is all broken up by hatreds. Like the cities of Italy or Flanders in the Middle Ages, every town, family, or individual is the bitter enemy of its nearest neighbour (pp. 118-19). The perpetual causes of jarring which necessarily arise, are envenomed into animosity by the absence of an authorised arbitrator.
Our author, though a zealot for liberty, distinguishes between political and what he calls civil liberty [pp. 133 ff.]. Many writers have drawn this distinction, and have lavished their praises on civil, their suspicion and distrust on political, liberty. M. Dupont-White does the reverse. He is a vigorous partisan of political liberty—the control of the nation over the government. But he sets no value on civil liberty, which he considers to be synonymous with not being governed. By this paradoxical use of language he needlessly flies in the face of opinion, and renders his doctrines unpopular in a much greater degree than the practical use he makes of them will be found to warrant. For in reality he would release the private liberty of the citizen from most of the irksome restraints to which in Continental countries it is still subject: and his doctrine, in so far as different from that of moderate politicians in England, is chargeable not so much with repressing individual spontaneity, as with giving fatal facility and encouragement to its voluntary disuse.
Our author is weakest where he attempts to show that a people under a centralised government may be free; and that France, having always manifested a strong love of liberty, is no instance of the contrary. The security he relies on, to prevent a centralised government from overpowering political freedom, is that resistance is also centralised in the metropolis: a doctrine at which we may well wonder, in a book written subsequently to December 1851. It was then seen what this centralisation of resistance is good for, against a numerous and well disciplined army. Resistance is centralised, as Caligula wished his enemies to be centralised, that they might all be cut off at one blow. Uncentralised Spain is not a bright example of the influences of freedom; but her resistance to the first Napoleon when in full military possession of her capital, was a different thing, it must be confessed, from the resistance of France to his living imitator and representative.
Those who have accompanied us through our necessarily meagre abridgment of M. Dupont-White’s pleading for State interference as an unavoidable consequence and indispensable instrument of progress, cannot have failed to observe one great deficiency, which cuts down his case to something far smaller in reality than in appearance. He does not distinguish, or distinguishes only casually and incidentally, between one mode of State interference and another. His main argument can at most only prove, that as society advances there is a frequent demand for new laws. This proposition most English opponents of centralisation would admit, without thinking that they made any great concession. When there were no railways, there needed no Railway Acts. When there were no joint-stock companies, no laws were needed for their formation, their winding up, or the responsibility of their shareholders or directors. When there was no insurance, no banks, no bills of exchange, there was no need of a great part of our mercantile law. But the new laws commonly require, to ensure their execution, only the ordinary tribunals. Extension of legislation in itself implies no fresh delegation of power to the executive; no discretionary authority, still less control, still less obligation to ask permission of the executive for every new undertaking. It does, at times, imply some increase of public functionaries and patronage. Many laws which protect collective against individual interests, would remain unexecuted if volunteer agency were solely relied on for carrying them into effect.* When Parliament made laws to be observed by schools, manufactories, or endowed charities, it had to create a staff of Inspectors or Commissioners to watch over the observance of those laws. But it is not necessary that these officers should have administrative control. Their business is to warn the chiefs of establishments when certain specified legal obligations are departed from, and to put the law in force against the offenders if the violations are persisted in. This is the kind of additional State interference, some amount of which is useful and inevitable as improvement proceeds. But this form of it does not, or at least need not, weaken the stimulus to individual effort. There may indeed be over-legislation, as well as over-administration. A legislature, as well as an executive, may take upon itself to prescribe how individuals shall carry on their own business for their own profit. It may bind the operations of manufacture to an unchangeable routine, by all the minutieux regulations of Colbert. But when, instead of protecting individuals against themselves, it only protects them against others, from whom it would be either difficult or impossible for them to protect themselves, it is within its province. This is the principle which legitimates laws against false weights and measures, and the adoption of a common standard of them for the whole country;[*] which justifies the legal regulation of emigrant ships, and of the professional qualification of masters of merchant vessels; which requires that employers and parents shall not, by conspiring together, selfishly overwork children for their private gain, or work them at all, at times or in modes inconsistent with their proper education; which forbids that individuals should be allowed to build, and let out for dwelling in, places such as human beings cannot inhabit with decency or safety to their health. For though it may be alleged that, in this last case, acceptance of the conditions is voluntary, it is so only as regards the head of the family, who, being oftenest absent, suffers least from the evil; and it is not voluntary at all when better residences are not to be had; while, if bad ones are prohibited, the spontaneous provision of good ones follows as a matter of course.
It must, then, be granted that new legislation is often necessitated, by the progress of society, to protect from injury either individuals or the public: not only through the rising-up of new economical and social phenomena, each accompanied with its own public and private inconveniencies; but also because the more enlarged scale on which operations are carried on, involves evils and dangers which on a smaller scale it was allowable to overlook. One among a thousand illustrations which might be adduced of this incident of mere growth, is the vast trouble which society is now obliged to take in order to prevent its principal sources of water supply from being poisoned. As respects such new laws, and as much new agency as is needed to ensure their observance, the function of the State naturally does widen with the advance of civilisation. But this part of the case, though sometimes undervalued, is seldom, by English thinkers, denied: and to this extent only can English practice be cited in evidence that State intervention is, or ought to be, a growing fact.
Our author makes a stand on another doctrine, quite unassailable in principle—that the State may be required to render all such services as, being necessary or important to society, are not of a nature to remunerate any one for their performance. Thus, the State, or some public authority, must build and maintain light-houses and lay down buoys, it being impossible to make those who benefit by these essential requisites of navigation pay any compensation for their use. But though necessities of this description exist, it cannot be admitted that they tend, on the whole, to multiply as society advances. Though the progress of civilisation is constantly requiring new things to be done, it also multiplies the cases in which individuals or associations are able and willing to do them gratuitously. Our author, having pointed out many needful things which would never be done by the mere self-interest of individuals, does not seem to be aware that anything can be expected from their public spirit: apparently because public spirit in this form is almost entirely stifled in the countries with which he is most familiar, by the centralisation which he applauds. But in our uncentralised country, even such a public want as that of life-boats is supplied by private liberality, through the agency of a voluntary association. Societies are formed to watch even over the execution of laws, in the enforcement of which no individual is sufficiently interested; such as the laws against cruelty to animals. Naval expeditions for purposes of science or philanthropy have been fitted out by subscription; and private associations undertake on a large scale the education of the poor. For this, indeed, both here and in other countries, individual munificence had already made a large provision. For centuries past there have existed numerous endowments, by which not only the elements of letters, but the most complete intellectual education known when they were founded, was given without remuneration to a far larger class than has ever by any other means received it. M. Dupont-White fails to show that the province of government in works of public utility receives accessions at one end, greater than what private zeal and benevolence subtracts from it at the other; even though he swells his catalogue of things which can only be accomplished by the Government, with objects so exceptional as acquisition of territory for colonisation or commerce. And even as to these, his theory does not always hold. A company of merchant adventurers acquired India for Great Britain. France had the start of England in that part of the world; the empire which is now British was very near being French, and would have been so if the matter had not depended on the State but on individuals—if the central government would but have let Dupleix and Bussy alone. All the functions of Government which do not consist in affording legal protection, are in reality greatest when civilisation is at the lowest; when the poverty of individuals, their ignorance, and inaptness for combination, leaves society no resource but State action for anything requiring large means, co-operation of numbers, or elevated views. There was a time when neither roads, nor canals, nor drainage, nor irrigation, nor banks, nor schools, nor encouragement of arts, letters, or science, could possibly exist except as the work of the government. In an advanced stage of civilisation these things are better done by voluntary associations, or by the public indiscriminately; though we do not deny that, when so done, they create a necessity for new laws, inasmuch as all new good which arises in the world must be expected to bring new evil as its accompaniment.
A second oversight, which, as it seems to us, goes through the whole extent of M. Dupont-White’s argument, is that he assumes the government, for whose prerogatives he is contending, to be an ideal government, bearing very little affinity to any actual one. He has a perfect right to exclude the despotism of one man, or the rule of a class or caste, which may have a positive interest in unjust laws and administration. He is entitled to stipulate for an elective government, with a free press, in which the opinion of the nation, collected in some fair manner, decides everything in the last resort. He is free to say, as he does* —If the government does not leave open to public discussion the whole range of politics, religion, and philosophy, it is not the kind of government which I contemplate. But after accepting these postulates, there is an additional assumption, which M. Dupont-White tacitly asks us to admit,—that the government is an embodiment of the élite of the nation. Now, exists there any such government? Can we at present foresee a time when there will be any such? Our author has not pointed out how it must be constituted to effect this object; and takes, indeed, anything but an enthusiastic view of the efficacy of forms of government, and of political contrivances generally. Yet he virtually assumes that under the government which his theory supposes, the persons at the head of affairs will be the choice spirits of the community. But this state of things is a mere ideal, to be unremittingly striven for, but seldom with any approach to attainment. The nearest approximation to it is usually found at those great national crises, which impose silence on petty jealousies, frighten away the herd of mediocrities from the arena, and call forth the great souls in all their strength. But the only permanent governments by men of capacity known to history, are some of the bad aristocracies, the Roman or Venetian, which our author, we presume, would sternly reprobate. That democracy is very far from realising this ideal, America is a sufficient example. If its conditions could be supposed present anywhere in our own age, it would probably be in England; yet does any Englishman believe that the members of the Cabinet are usually the ten or fifteen ablest and most enlightened members of the community, or that the Houses of Lords and Commons embody, or even reflect, the thoughts and opinions of the most eminent men in the country? Do we not think ourselves well off, if the majority of the Ministers are tolerable public speakers, and half of them or thereabouts moderately assiduous and competent men of business? Do we expect more from Parliament than that it should be a rather favourable representation of the average sentiments and opinions of the classes possessing influence in the country? The moving power of Government and Parliament is the sentiment of the majority; not indeed hitherto in mere numbers, but in numbers and social importance combined. Sometimes the government is a little better, sometimes a little worse, than the general opinion of society; but in most cases, much the same. To suppose, therefore, that Government will do, better than individuals, anything which individuals are able and willing to do, is to suppose that the average of society is better than any individual in it, which is both a mathematical and a moral absurdity. Though the élite of society are not often found in the government, yet, when anything worthy of their efforts is open to fair competition, they will generally be competitors. The persons most capable of winning are among those who start in the race; and if society has any capacity of judging of work after it has been performed, these are more likely than others to be the successful competitors. Whatever is done by individuals, without a monopoly, has thus a considerable chance of being done by those who can do it best; and such will generally do it better than the government, which only represents the average.
A third defect in M. Dupont-White’s argument is the very inadequate sense which he entertains of the manner in which individual capacity and efficiency are blunted, by being dependent, in nearly every effort they make, on leave from a superior. He asks, Have the French been, throughout their history, or are they now, a people devoid of energy, activity, and mental life? Yet we need quote no other opinion than his own, as to the kind of those qualities which generally characterises his countrymen. He has himself unconsciously pronounced the severest judgment upon them, as to this particular point. He says* that they are deficient in initiative; that they are energetic and active only in doing what is set down for them, and marked out by authority. He discusses this peculiarity, philosophises on it, makes theories about it, but steadily affirms it. The greatest enemies of centralisation have said nothing more stringent against the theory of national progress by government agency. To M. Dupont-White this deficiency proves that the French require to be much governed. Others see in it a proof and an effect of too much government. He asks, If a people will not make roads, or keep up schools, except on compulsion, is leaving them to themselves the way to make them do it? Certainly not. They are in a state of prostration from which they cannot rise without help. Let help be given to them. They require to be urged, not only by the government, but by everyone else to whom they look up. But urged to what? To let the government act for them? No; but to act for themselves. This is, at least, the ultimatum to which it should be endeavoured to bring them.
Turning now from the general question of government interference, to the comparative merits of central and of local government, we must admit that M. Dupont-White’s doctrines on this subject are not only a legitimate corollary, but an indispensable corrective, of his opinions on the more fundamental point. Any despotism is preferable to local despotism. If we are to be ridden over by authority, if our affairs are to be managed for us at the pleasure of other people, heaven forefend that it should be at that of our nearest neighbours. To be under the control, or have to wait for the sanction, of a Minister or a Parliament, is bad enough; but defend us from the leading-strings of a Board of Guardians or a Common Council. In the former authorities there would be some knowledge, some general cultivation, some attention and habitual deference to the opinions of the more instructed minds. To be under the latter, would be in most localities, unless by the rarest accident, to be the slave of the vulgar prejudices, the cramped, distorted, and short-sighted views, of the public of a small town or a group of villages. It is only affairs of a simple character and on a humble scale, not exceeding the levying of a local rate, and the application of it to purposes strictly predetermined, that can with impunity be left to the unassisted and unchecked management of the representatives of a narrow locality. The most strenuous English champion of local liberties would probably admit, that the localities should do little more than execute, and provide the means for executing, laws and instructions laid down by the legislature of the empire. The parish, or the quarter-sessions, fix the local taxation; but they would not be permitted to levy it by an income-tax, or to assess it in any manner but the one authorised by Parliament, a percentage on the rent.
But it does not follow, because the local authority ought not to be supreme and absolute, that the central ought; or that the latter should be able, by an act of authority, to overrule the resistance, or dispense with the assent, of the former, in matters on which the legislature had not declared itself. Respecting the degree in which the central executive should co-operate with the localities in the control of local affairs, there are great differences of opinion amongst us. Our author is in the right in saying that our recent legislation has associated central with local authority in a far greater degree than before. The reason is, that the characteristic of the present age is the reform of abuses, and their reform could not be trusted to the persons and the institutions that had introduced them. But our author imagines the tendency, which really exists, to be much stronger than it is. He never wearies of repeating that England has found it necessary to centralise the relief of the poor. He is perhaps not aware that the relief of the poor in England is not central, but local, under central supervision; and that the Poor Law of 1834, which established the Central Board, also created the first tolerably-constituted Local Boards of Poor Law Administration which England has ever possessed.
Enlightened English opinion was never more hostile than now to the actual management of local affairs by central authority. The centralisation which it approves is that of knowledge and experience, rather than of power. It would not be content with what M. Dupont-White allows to local authorities, le véto et l’initiative.[*] The cases are few in which, by our recent legislation, the local authority has to ask permission of the central. Within the limits of its attributions, it generally has complete discretion, subject to central interference only when it infringes the distinctly expressed commands of Parliament.
It is further to be considered that if the authorities of a small rural district are unfit to be trusted with difficult public duties, it is not indispensable that local authorities should be on this contracted scale. There are provincial authorities as well as municipal. Our Quarter Sessions are such an authority. The Councils-General of French departments are another,—an institution which M. Dupont-White, M. Odilon-Barrot, and other writers of authority, represent as the only one of modern introduction which has struck root in the country, and under all political changes has continued to work wisely and beneficently. The French system errs, not solely in giving too little power to local bodies, but in having those bodies too numerous and too insignificant. It is not the law in England for every village to have its mayor and municipal council. Every parish, indeed, has its vestry, but the duties of this are now almost limited to the affairs of the parish church. Our chemins vicinaux are not made by parishes, but by the justices in sessions. The far greater number even of our towns are not corporate, and their local affairs are managed by the county magistrates, except when Parliament, by a Private Act, has provided a set of Commissioners or a Paving Board. A moderately sized town, or a Poor Law Union, is perhaps the smallest district which ought to have a local representation; and a great part of the business even of these would be better intrusted, if not to the Quarter Sessions, to a representative County Board, or some combination of both. Boards of this range of jurisdiction, composed as they would probably be, could be trusted to do whatever business was assigned to them, without subjection to the central executive; whose functions in regard to them might be limited to collecting and diffusing information, and calling the localities to account if they violated the rules laid down by Parliament for their observance, or usurped powers not confided to them by law.
Another point to which M. Dupont-White does not attach due importance, is the danger to liberty, from the increase of the power and patronage of government, inseparable from every extension of its superintendence over individuals and local bodies. One of the highest French authorities on constitutional government, M. Royer-Collard, long ago proclaimed that an administration strongly centralised is sure to be master of the assembly appointed to control it. In a speech delivered under the Villèle ministry, he asked—
Who votes at elections? The electors? No: very often it is only the ministry. The ministry votes by the whole mass of places and salaries in its gift, all or almost all, directly or indirectly, the reward of proved docility; by the whole mass of the business and interests which centralisation brings under its control; by all the establishments, religious, civil, military, scientific, which the localities fear to lose, or solicit to obtain; by roads, bridges, canals, town-halls, since the satisfaction of every public want is a favour of the administration, to attain which, the public, a courtier of a new description, must please. In a word, the ministry votes by all the weight of the Government, which is brought to bear with its whole force on every department, every commune, every profession, I might say every individual. And this Government, what is it? The Imperial Government, curtailed of no one of its hundred thousand arms; having, on the contrary, acquired new vigour from the struggle it has had to sustain against a few forms of freedom, and always recovering in case of need the instincts of its cradle, cunning and force. (Quoted by M. Léonce de Lavergne [“Royer-Collard, orateur et politique,”] in the Revue des Deux Mondes [XXXV,] for October 1, 1861, pp. 586-7.)
A government with all this mass of favours to give or to withhold, however free in name, wields a power of bribery scarcely surpassed by an avowed autocracy; rendering it master of the elections in almost any circumstances but those of rare and extraordinary public excitement. It is true that, even thus armed, it may break down; the Villèle and Polignac governments were defeated at two successive general elections. But this does not affect the practical truth of M. Royer-Collard’s proposition. The Government remained master of the Chambers until the storm of public disapprobation had become equivalent to a revolution, and, when resisted, produced one. The public opinion which was strong enough to outvote the ministry, sufficed to turn out the king and the royal family in three days. The public opinion which eighteen years later was again able to expel a king and his dynasty, had failed six months before to carry a general election against a minister.[*] So completely does recent history bear out the assertion, that an over-centralised government is amenable to no check short of a revolution; and is lured to its ruin by an appearance of unlimited power, up to the very moment when it is abandoned by all mankind.
We have not yet noticed the great moral and political mischief of training a people to be one vast tribe of place-hunters. Yet if there be a fact respecting which all French thinkers—M. Dupont-White not excepted—are unanimous, it is that from the days of the First Empire this is the character which centralisation has impressed upon France. Our author, indeed, relies on the rewards of productive industry as a rival temptation to that of place. But if all the higher and more dignified pursuits, even those of literature and science, are organised (which he seems to approve) as branches of the public service, what must be the consequence? That the ambitious and active part of the nation is divided into two classes, place-seekers and money-seekers.
It is from a sense of these evils, fully as much as from the fortunate national habit of distrusting the government, that nearly all English thinkers regard the presumption as always unfavourable to any extension of governmental functions, and hold as a rooted conviction that not only are there many of the greatest public concerns from which, as soon as the nation has emerged from the swathing bands of infancy, the State should hold its hand, but that even where no general principle forbids its interference, nothing should be done by it except what has been clearly proved to be incapable of being done by other means. Opinion in England only consented to national grants for education,[*] after private associations had tried their hand for many years, and had shown the limits of what they could be expected to do. The regulation of emigrant ships was only undertaken by government, after the horrors which arose from leaving them unregulated had become a scandal to the country, which there was no mode of stopping except by recourse to government. The creation of the Poor Law Board was only feasible, because the abuses of the Poor Laws[†] had reached a height of mischief which the country could no longer tolerate, while two centuries had proved that the qualities necessary for cleansing that Augean stable were only found in about one parish out of a thousand, and that even there the reform scarcely ever outlasted the life of its individual author. The general tone of English feeling on these subjects is on the whole, we think, very much what it ought to be. There is no blind prejudice against having recourse to the State, such as reaction against over-government seems to have raised up in some of the more thorough French reformers. But there is a strong persuasion that what can be tolerably done in any other way, had better be done in that way than by the government. State action is regarded as an extreme remedy, to be reserved, in general, for great purposes; for difficult and critical moments in the course of affairs, or concerns too vital to be trusted to less responsible hands. Few Englishmen, we believe, would grudge to the government, for a time, or permanently, the powers necessary to save from serious injury any great national interest; and equally few would claim for it the power of meddling with anything, which it could let alone without touching the public welfare in any vital part. And though the line thus indicated neither is, nor can be, very definitely drawn, a practical compromise of this sort between the State and the individual, and between central and local authority, is, we believe, the result which must issue from all prolonged and enlightened speculation and discussion on this great subject.
We should not be doing justice to M. Dupont-White, were we to dismiss his writings without giving a few specimens of the acute, and often finely expressed, incidental thoughts, in which his volumes abound beyond most of even the better class of contemporary works. Neither can we acquit our conscience without entering a protest against some opinions and sentiments, to which we regret that such a writer should have lent the authority of his talents. Of these, the following is the worst:
Consider for an instant: if liberty is a principle of moral elevation, it is because it means power. A free man finds in the power which he enjoys over himself, the space necessary for his faculties, and a sentiment which exalts him in his own eyes. But, if so, how can the supreme power, with all the careers, all the horizons which it opens, all the sentiments which it awakens, fail to be a principle of exaltation analogous and even superior to liberty?
(L’Individu et l’État, pp. xxi-xxii.)
We look upon this confounding of the love of liberty with the love of power, the desire not to be improperly controlled with the ambition of exercising control, to be both a psychological error, and the worst possible moral lesson. If there be an ethical doctrine which more than all others requires to be taught, and has been taught with deepest conviction by the great moral teachers, it is, that the love of power is the most evil passion of human nature; that power over others, power of coercion and compulsion, any power other than that of moral and intellectual influence, even in the cases where it is indispensable, is a snare, and in all others a curse, both to the possessor and to those over whom it is possessed; a burthen which no rightly constituted moral nature consents to take upon itself, but by one of the greatest sacrifices which inclination ever makes to duty. With the love of liberty it is wholly the reverse. The love of liberty, in the only proper sense of that word, is unselfish; it places no one in a position of hostility to the good of his fellow-creatures; all alike may be free, and the freedom of one has no solid security but in the equal freedom of the rest. The appetite for power is, on the contrary, essentially selfish; for all cannot have power; the power of one is power over others, who not only do not share in his elevation, but whose depression is the foundation on which it is raised. Accordingly the love of power is the passion of the τυραννικαὶ ϕυσει̑ς[*] —of those, in all ages, who have inflicted on the human race its greatest miseries: the love of liberty is usually that of its most illustrious benefactors.
The prosperity of England is greatly due to two institutions, the Navigation Laws and the Poor Laws; the former protecting British ships by excluding foreign vessels from British ports; to the latter . . . British industry owes the security it enjoys, and above all a rate of wages which allows it to produce and to sell at prices inaccessible to its competitors, and triumphant in almost all the markets of the world.
(L’Individu et l’État, pp. 126, 129.)
We need not, at this time of day, say one word about the Navigation Laws, except that English commerce and navigation seem to have thriven wonderfully well since they were abolished.[*] But we have rarely seen a greater amount of error as to fact, compressed into a few words, than in the three statements, that wages are lower in England than on the Continent, that their lowness is owing to the Poor Laws, and that low wages are what enable her to sell her products at a lower price than other countries.
Why is the penal law applied without scruple to the most ignorant and stupid malefactor? Because he is reputed to know it. And how can he know it except by that divine ray [of conscience] which is the original patrimony of every intelligence?
(L’Individu et l’État, p. 226.)
M. Dupont-White surely does not mistake a mere presumption of law for a fact, and believe that instinctive morality really reveals to the lowest of the low every important prohibition of the penal law! They neither know nor anticipate a particle more of it than what they have been taught. Conscience does not suggest to them what might seem its most obvious dictates, as that they should not wantonly ill-treat their wives (for example) or their animals.
M. Dupont-White approves and applauds religious liberty, and even equality carried to the length of providing churches, and state payment for all tolerably numerous communions. But he thinks it right that these favours should be conditional upon abstinence from doing anything to spread their opinions:
The laws of France require of them, in return for these bounties, that they should keep the peace, should not trouble one another, should abstain from propagandism, and not reawaken the passions of other times, in an age which has quite enough to do in managing its own.
(La Centralisation, p. 291.)
When this is the price of state assistance to religion, assuredly M. de Pressensé and his friends have done well and wisely in repudiating it; though this refusal is about the greatest offence which as a body they could have given to the Imperial Government, insuring them its covert hostility, and as much quiet persecution as that Government or its functionaries think it prudent to venture on. For, in France, churches or communions not recognised by the law, in other words not paid and controlled by the State, are not considered as having a right to the same religious freedom as other people.
We proceed to the pleasanter task of extracting a few of the valuable or striking thoughts which are scattered through M. Dupont-White’s pages.
The nations which arrive earliest at a certain stage of human advancement are apt to stop short there:
In general, the peoples which arrive the first at any kind of religious or political greatness, are liable to halt permanently at that point; whether it be that the influences of race, climate, and position which accelerated their development, have also the power to arrest it; or whether, being at first superior to those who surround them, they mistake their relative excellence for an absolute one, their superiority for perfection.
(L’Individu et l’État, p. xxx.)
The separation between spiritual and temporal power a more important discovery than printing:
The grand discovery of Western Europe is not the press, but the division of spiritual from temporal; printing, by itself, would only have served to multiply the Koran and the Vedas.
The things in which mankind chiefly improve, are those which admit of being, either literally or virtually, stored up:
Whatever can be accumulated and capitalised, steadily increases: riches, science, and even morality. But poetry, eloquence, sculpture, are those of our own day superior to the Iliad, the Parthenon, the Athenian Bema? . . . The constituent elements of human nature, as of that of other animals, do not change. But certain human faculties yield products susceptible of being accumulated and transmitted: and from thence comes progress.
Privileged classes the original source of elevated sentiments:
The feudal lord, with his lofty idea of himself, rose to pride, which is the beginning of virtue. When such individuals are numerous, and compose a class, the class creates for the education of the country a grand type, capable of elevating all the rest. There is of course a great distance between sentiments and conduct, between the device and the exploit; but it is much to exalt the ideal standard of a society. No great soul is born into the world which does not become greater by striving after this model. From a heroic mask, something permanently remains, and passes into the features of a people. It is a great deficiency in the Russians, never to have had chivalry. The sentiment even of honour came to us from the feudal period. . . . Society cannot afford to part with anything which stiffens up to a greater stature the poverty of human nature—qui peut guinder notre indigente espèce.
(La Centralisation, pp. 15-16 and 112.)
We cannot end more appropriately than with one other quotation, which gives an emphatic rebuke to a sentiment deeply engrafted on the French mind, and until lately predominant in nearly all its marked manifestations; but of which we should have expected to find a denunciation anywhere rather than in a defence of centralisation. “Unity,” says M. Dupont-White, “is but another word for intolerance” (p. 188). Unity, indeed, is a phrase, which, as it comes from the lips of a politician, either theoretical or practical, nurtured in the stifling governmentalism of the Imperial school, is one of the curses of Europe. It stands for the negation of the main determining principle of improvement, and even of the permanence of civilisation, which depends on diversity, not unity. “One God, one France, one King, one Chamber,” was the exclamation of a member of the first Constituent Assembly. Sir Walter Scott appended to it as an appropriate commentary, “one mouth, one nose, one ear, and one eye.”[*] And if the jest sets in a strong light the ridiculousness, it does nothing like justice to the mischievousness, of the wretched propensity, which, in order that all the affairs of mankind may be cut after a single pattern, tends irresistibly to subject all of them to a single will.
[* ]It seems invidious to single out particular writers for commendation where the general level is so high; yet we may be permitted to name the two contributors, who, more even than the rest, have hitherto given to this Review the tone and character which distinguish it: M. Edouard Laboulaye, who of the rising celebrities of France is the most peculiarly identified with the philosophy of individual liberty; and M. Lanfrey, not only one of the most enlightened politicians, but one of the most powerful political writers in France. Among their auxiliaries may be numbered some of the principal representatives of French Protestantism, to which Europe already owes so much, and which is now zealously reasserting its place in the ranks both of speculative and of practical thought; in particular M. de Pressensé, the best known, out of France, of living French Protestant theologians, and the founder and leader of that portion of the French Protestant Church which rejects pecuniary assistance from the State.
[[*] ]Joseph Othenin Bernard de Cléron, Comte d’Haussonville, Lettre au Sénat (Paris: Dumineray, 1860).
[[*] ]Lucien Anatole Prévost-Paradol, Les Anciens Partis (Paris: Dumineray, 1860).
[[*] ]See L’Individu et l’État, pp. 217-18.
[[*] ]3 & 4 William IV, c. 103 (1833).
[[†] ]5 & 6 Victoria, c. 99 (1842).
[[‡] ]7 & 8 Victoria, c. 15 (1844).
[[§] ]13 & 14 Victoria, c. 93 (1850).
[[∥] ]5 & 6 William IV, c. 53 (1835).
[[§§] ]11 & 12 Victoria, c. 63 (1848).
[* ]See particularly L’Individu et l’État, pp. lxiii-lxiv; 53, 282, 283, 308-11; and La Centralisation, pp. 127-30.
[[*] ]16 & 17 Victoria, c. 137 (1853).
[* ]La Centralisation, p. 86.
[* ]This, M. Dupont-White says, is the case in France, with the laws for limiting the hours of children’s labour in factories; even in a country which, unlike our own, attaches to every court of justice a public prosecutor. [See D.P. 41.3.116, Loi relative au travail des enfants employés dans les manufactures, usines ou ateliers (22 March, 1841).]
[[*] ]See 5 George IV, c. 74 (1824); for the following laws, see p. 592 above.
[* ]L’Individu et l’État, p. xlix.
[* ]L’Individu et l’État, pp. 354, 355. La Centralisation, pp. 306 ff.
[[*] ]L’Individu et l’État, p. 81.
[[*] ]François Pierre Guizot.
[[*] ]See 3 & 4 William IV, c. 96 (1833).
[[†] ]See 43 Elizabeth, c. 2 (1601).
[[*] ]See Plato, Republic (Greek and English), trans. Paul Shorey, 2 vols. (London: Heinemann; New York: Putnam’s Sons, 1930, 1935), Vol. II, p. 352 (ix.2; 576a).
[[*] ]See 12 & 13 Victoria, c. 29 (1849).
[[*] ]Walter Scott, The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte (Edinburgh: Cadell, 1827), Vol. I, p. 178. The member of the Constituent Assembly is identified by Scott as Rabaut St. Etienne.