Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. I.—: What should be done in order to abolish the privileges of the Aristocracy.—Necessity of Centralisation. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 2
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Sect. I.—: What should be done in order to abolish the privileges of the Aristocracy.—Necessity of Centralisation. - Gustave de Beaumont, Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 2 
Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, ed. W.C. Taylor (London: Richard Bentley, 1839). Vol. 2.
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What should be done in order to abolish the privileges of the Aristocracy.—Necessity of Centralisation.
To destroy the political power of the aristocracy, it would be necessary to deprive it of the daily administration of the laws, as it was formerly deprived of legislation. Consequently, the whole administrative and judicial system must be changed from top to bottom, in so far as it rests on justices of the peace and the organisation of grand juries as at present constituted. In order to accomplish this destruction, power must be centralised.
If it is, in general, difficult to conceive any foundation for a new government without the aid of the central power, which commences with the destruction of the existing system, the assistance of this central power seems especially necessary when, before laying the basis for a new system of society, an aristocracy is to be overthrown. What means, in fact, are there of reaching the multitude of petty powers scattered over the surface of the country, all these local existences, all these individual influences peculiar to aristocracy, unless by concentrating the whole public strength on one single point, from which it might be brought to act against every condemned privilege and rebellious superiority?
In the countries where the best aristocracy exists, the central arm, when extended to strike them, is, in general, popular with the masses. This is sufficient to show how popular in Ireland a powerful system of centralisation would be, established on the ruins of a detested aristocracy, against which political hatred is mingled with religious hatred.
The more the state of Ireland is considered, the more clearly will it appear that, under all circumstances, a strong central government would be the best which that country could possess, at least for the present. A bad aristocracy exists, which there is an urgent necessity for destroying. But to whom must the power wrested from its hands be entrusted? Is it to the middle classes? They are only beginning to exist in Ireland. The future belongs to them; but will they not compromise that future, if the power of leading society at the present is entrusted to their unskilled hands and violent passions?
Such is the present state of parties in Ireland, that justice cannot be obtained if the political powers are left in the hands of the Protestant aristocracy; and that it cannot furthermore be expected, if these powers are at once transferred to the rising middle classes of Catholics.
What Ireland wants is a strong administration, superior to parties, beneath whose shadow the middle classes might grow up, develope themselves, and acquire instruction, whilst the aristocracy would crumble away, and its last remains gradually disappear. Here is a great work to be accomplished, the execution of which is offered to the English government.
When I indicate centralisation as a means of reforming political society in Ireland, I hasten to explain my whole opinion on this head. I am assuredly very far from considering as salutary in itself the absolute principle of complete centralisation. There may be a central government of such a nature that it would be, in my opinion, worse than aristocracy itself. The principal vice of an aristocracy is, that it restricts by patronage the number of individual existences; but a single central power, which does everything and directs everything, not only diminishes but annihilates the political life of the citizens.
Although this power might not be tyrannical or oppressive, though it may restrain itself within the limits of law, and respect the popular passions and interests, still I should not find it the less bad; for it would still annihilate the political existence of individuals. Now, just as the best education is that which developes man’s intelligence and multiplies his moral forces, so the best institutions give him the greatest number of civil rights and political powers. The greater number of people that there are in a state, competent to manage and guide their family, their parish, their county, or the state itself, the more political life will there be in that country, and the more the value of each individual will be increased.
Though it might be proved to me that this single central power, whether of a man or of an assembly, a minister or a commission, might execute, better than all the individuals together, the affairs of their parish, their province, or their entire country, I would not be less of the opinion, that it is bad to take from them the care of their private interests, because, in my view, it is of less importance to render their lives physically pleasant and comfortable, than to increase by political interests the domain offered in this world to their soul and understanding. It is not, then, as a final form of government that I recommend centralisation to Ireland.
Just so much as a central government appears to me necessary for this country, would its long continuance seem to me an evil. Extreme centralisation is rather a violent remedy than an institution. It is not a state, but an accident: it is a weapon potent in combat, which must be laid aside after the battle is over, under pain of being wounded by its edge, or borne down by its weight. It is a stage through which every nation must pass that is obliged, before erecting a new social edifice, to clear away the ruins of the old; and from which they must hasten to depart the instant that the work of transition is completed. Unfortunately it is not always easy to dismiss this auxiliary when its aid is no longer required; and society may find the seeds of destruction in the very cause by which it was saved. There is the danger. This danger is so great, that a people should not incur it, unless it were about to be exposed to a greater danger. There is a choice to make between the chance of not being able to destroy a bad government without the aid of centralisation, and the risk of not being able, after the destruction is accomplished, to get rid of the instrument by which it was effected. But it is because the overthrowing of the aristocracy is in Ireland the first and most urgent, that it is necessary to employ the most powerful though the most perilous instrument.
It accords neither with my wishes nor my purpose to explain the form and mechanism of the centralisation that would suit Ireland; I limit myself to recognising, as a principle, its transitory utility to that country. I will, however, venture to suggest one single practical idea. In order to organise a powerful central government in Ireland, it would be necessary to draw closer the bonds that unite Ireland to England, to bring Dublin as close as possible to London, and to make Ireland an English county. Everything at the present day tends to make this an object of easy execution; we are no longer at the period when a voyage of weeks or even months separated Ireland from England.
Once, in the reign of Henry VIII., the Irish parliament, long deprived of all news from England, on the arrival of a long-delayed courier passed an act recognising the king’s marriage with Anna Boleyn; and on the following day, having received a second and a speedier courier, solemnly voted the nullity of the marriage.1 If an Irish parliament existed in our day, and if a tyrant asked from it a similar act of baseness, it would not run the same risk of displeasing its master by its very servility.
Thanks to the improvement of navigation and the roads, London is now within twenty-one hours of Dublin. Ireland is nearer the English parliament than Scotland or Wales. How strange! England is now nearer to the United States of America, though they are six thousand miles distant, than she was to Ireland half a century ago, though Ireland is separated from her only by a narrow strait. These wondrous creations of human science, which are destined to change the social relations, not only of men but of nations, will exercise their first influence on Ireland, for the route between London and Dublin is the first great distance by land and sea which has been greatly diminished by steam. Whence comes it, then, that Ireland continues to retain a government distinct from the English government, a special executive power, peculiar and local administrations? This distinct government separates Ireland from England, to which it could not be drawn too close. The English who come to Ireland to contend against the aristocracy, are less powerful than if they remained in England. Every administration in Dublin is in one or other of these two predicaments: it either submits to the influence of the aristocracy which it ought to attack; or, if it rejects the aristocracy, it is exposed to attacks which it is less able to resist in Dublin than it would be in London.
We do not dispute that Ireland has need of a special government; and if there be a necessity of governing it on a legislative system different from that of England, special agents are required to apply different rules of administration. But this being granted, we see no reason why the seat of Irish government should not be fixed in the first city of the British empire.
There are those who consider the vice-regal court of Dublin as necessary to temper the violence of parties, and keep them separate when it cannot extinguish them. But has this opinion any foundation?
The only way in which a court can be brilliant is, by calling around it the aristocracy of the country. Now this aristocracy, exclusive by its nature, being in possession of the ground, will not suffer the inferior classes to mingle in its ranks; and besides, of what fusion or what harmony can this court be the source? Suppose that the head of the court in Dublin has received orders to combat the Irish aristocracy, how can he invite its members to his parties, or how avoid the invitation? If he asks for their company, he deceives them—if he passes them over, he insults them. And even should he attempt to attract them, this aristotocracy, mortally wounded in its pride, will hold itself apart, will affect to despise a court which it will call mercantile and vulgar, and will refuse to join in pleasures, of which, however, it will not hear the fame without regret. In fact, a court at Dublin would create parties, if they were not already in existence.
The reform of the viceroyalty, and the abolition of the local administrations of Ireland are, doubtless, mere changes of form. But they are practical means, indispensable for the execution of the political reforms of which the country is in want. It is absolutely necessary, that during the period of transition in which Ireland is placed, those who govern the country should be completely severed from it, from its habits, and its passions. The government must wholly cease to be Irish; it must be, if not entirely English, at least entrusted to Englishmen.
[1.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]