Front Page Titles (by Subject) PART III. - Social Statics
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PART III. - Herbert Spencer, Social Statics 
Social Statics: or, The Conditions essential to Happiness specified, and the First of them Developed, (London: John Chapman, 1851).
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Our principle is the primordial one. It is the first pre-requisite to the realization of the Divine will. Every mode of interpreting that will points to this as the all-essential condition of its fulfilment. If we start with an à priori view of creative design, we are immediately led to the law of equal freedom (Chap. III). Do we appeal to the general character of the human constitution? the law of equal freedom is its corollary (Chap. IV). And when, pursuing the examination further, we observe the detailed arrangements of that constitution, we discover a faculty by which the law of equal freedom is recognised and responded to (Chap. V.). Otherwise viewed, this law is seen to be a direct deduction from the necessities of existence: as thus. Life depends upon the performance of certain actions. Abrogate entirely the liberty to exercise the faculties, and we have death: abrogate it partially, and we have pain or partial death. This remains true of man whether he be savage or civilized—isolated or social. And as there must be life before there can be society, this first principle of life must take precedence of the first principle of society—must fix or govern it. Or, speaking definitely, as liberty to exercise the faculties is the first condition of individual life, the liberty of each, limited only by the like liberty of all, must be the first condition of social life.
Derived, therefore, as it is, directly from the Divine will, and underlying as it does the right organization of society, the law of equal freedom is of higher authority than all other laws. The creative purpose demands that everything shall be subordinated to it. Institutions and social forms must just marshal themselves as it commands. It dates from the creation; they are of yesterday. It is constant; they are changeable. It appertains to the perfect; they to the imperfect. It is co-enduring with humanity; they may die to-morrow. As surely then as the incidental must bow before the necessary, so surely must all conventional arrangements be subject to the absolute moral law.
Allusion has from time to time been made to a school of politicians, especially claiming for themselves the title of philosophical, who demur to this. They do not recognise any such supreme authority to which all human regulations must bend. Practically, if not professedly, they hold, with Archelaus, that nothing is intrinsically right or wrong; but that it becomes either by the dictum of the state. If we are to credit them government determines what shall be morality; and not morality what shall be government. They believe in no oracular principle by whose yea or nay we may be guided: their Delphi is the House of Commons. By their account man lives and moves and has his being by legislative permit. His freedom to do this or that is not natural, but conferred. The question—Has the citizen any claim to the work of his hands? can only be decided by a parliamentary division. If—the ayes have it,—he has; if—the noes,—he has not.
The reader who has arrived thus far, needs not to have the fallacy of this doctrine pointed out. The expediency-system, of which it forms an essential part, has been repeatedly proved untenable, and with it must fall its dependent propositions. And having, moreover, been collaterally refuted in foregoing chapters, the notion that man has no rights save those of government manufacture, might safely be left where it lies. There are, however, additional evidences of its untruth, which it may be as well to state. And first let us inquire how it has originated.
Considering society as a corporate body, we may say that man, when he first enters into it, has the repulsive force in excess, whilst in the cohesive force he is deficient. His passions are strong; his sympathies weak. Those propensities which fitted him for savage life necessarily tend to breed war between himself and his neighbours. His condition has been that of perpetual antagonism; and his antagonistic habits must of course accompany him into the social state. Aggression, dispute, anger, hatred, revenge—these are the several stages of the process by which the members of a primitive community are continually being sundered. Hence the smallness of the first communities. Populations burst as fast as they increase. Races split into tribes; tribes into factions. Only as civilization advances do larger unions become possible. And even these have to pass through some such stage as that of feudalism, with its small chieftainships and right of private war, showing that the tendency to repel is still active.
Now, in proportion to the repulsive force subsisting between atoms of matter, must be the restraint required to keep them from exploding. And in proportion to the repulsive force subsisting between the units of a society must be the strength of the bonds requisite to prevent that society from flying to pieces. Some powerful concentrative influence there must be to produce even these smallest unions: and this influence must be strong in proportion to the savageness of the people; otherwise the unions cannot be maintained. Such an influence we have in the sentiment of veneration, reverence for power, loyalty, or, as Carlyle terms it—hero-worship. By this feeling it is, that society begins to be organized; and where the barbarism is greatest, there is this feeling strongest. Hence the fact that all traditions abound in superhuman beings, in giants and demigods. The mythical accounts of Bacchus and Hercules, of Thor and Odin, and of the various divine and half-divine personages who figure in the early histories of all races, merely prove the intensity of the awe with which superiority was once regarded. In that belief of some of the Polynesian Islanders that only their chiefs have souls, we find a still extant example of the almost incredible influence which this sentiment of reverence has over savage men. Through it only does all authority, whether that of ruler, teacher, or priest, become possible. It was alike the parent of beliefs in the miraculous conception of Gengis Khan, in the prophetic characters of Zoroaster, Confucius, and Mahomet, and in the infallibility of the Pope. Where it no longer deifies power, it associates it with divine attributes. Thus it was death for the Assyrian to enter unbidden into the presence of his monarch. The still stationary Orientals ascribe to their emperors celestial relationships. Schamyl, the prophet-chief of the Circassians, is believed to have entire union with the Divine essence. And the Russian soldiers pray for their Czar as—our God upon earth.—The fealty of vassal to feudal lord—the devotion of Highland Celt to chief—were exhibitions of the same feeling. Loyalty it made the brightest virtue, and treason the blackest crime.
With the advance of civilization this awe of power diminishes. Instead of looking up to the monarch as a God, it begins to view him as a man reigning by divine authority—as—the Lord’s anointed.—Submission becomes less abject. Subjects no longer prostrate themselves before their rulers, nor do serfs kiss their master’s feet. Obedience ceases to be unlimited: men will choose their own faiths. Gradually, as there grow up those sentiments which lead each to maintain his own rights, and sympathetically to respect the rights of others—gradually as each, thus, by the acquirement of self-restraining power, becomes fitted to live in harmony with his fellow—so gradually do men cease to need external restraint, and so gradually does this feeling which makes them submit to that external restraint decrease. The law of adaptation necessitates this. The feeling must lose power just as fast as it ceases to be needful. As the new regulator grows, the old one must dwindle. The first amelioration of a pure despotism is a partial supplanting of the one by the other. Mixed constitutions exhibit the two acting conjointly. And whilst the one advances to supremacy, the other sinks into decrepitude: divine right of kings is exploded, and monarchical power becomes but a name.
Although the adaptation of man to the social state has already made considerable progress—although the need for external restraint is less—and although consequently that reverence for authority which makes restraint possible, has greatly diminished—diminished to such an extent that the holders of power are daily caricatured, and men begin to listen to the National Anthem with their hats on—still the change is far from complete. The attributes of the aboriginal man have not yet died out. We still trench upon each other’s claims—still pursue happiness at each other’s expense. Our savage selfishness is seen in commerce, in legislation, in social arrangements, in amusements. The shopkeeper imposes on his lady customer; his lady customer beats down the shopkeeper Classes quarrel about their respective—interests;—and corruption is defended by those who profit from it. The spirit of caste morally tortures its victims with as much coolness as the Indian tortures his enemy. Gamblers pocket their gains with unconcern: and your share-speculator cares not who loses, so that he gets his premium. No matter what their rank, no matter in what they are engaged—whether in enacting a Corn Law, or in struggling with each other at the doors of a theatre—men show themselves as yet, little else than barbarians in broadcloth.
Hence we still require shackles; rulers to impose them; and power-worship to make those rulers obeyed. Just as much as the love of God’s law is deficient, must the fear of man’s law be called in to supply its place. And to the extent that man’s law is needful there must be reverence for it to ensure the necessary allegiance. Hence, as men are still under the influence of this sentiment, we must expect their customs, creeds, and philosophies to testify of its presence.
Here, then, we have a rationale of the expediency-idea of government. It is the latest and most refined form assumed by this disposition to exalt the state at the expense of the individual. There have been books written to prove that the monarch’s will should be the subject’s absolute law; and if instead of monarch we read legislature, we have the expediency-theory. It merely modifies—divine right of kings—into divine right of governments. It is despotism democratized. Between that old eastern regime under which the citizen was the private property of his ruler, having no rights at all, and that final state under which his rights will be entire and inviolable, there comes this intermediate state in which he is allowed to possess rights, but only by sufferance of parliament. Thus the expediency-philosophy falls naturally into its place as a phenomenon attending our progress from past slavery to future freedom. It is one of a series of creeds through which mankind have to pass. Like each of its predecessors, it is natural to a certain phase of human development. And it is fated to lose its hold as fast as our adaptation to the social state increases.
It is only by bearing in mind that a theory of some kind being needful for men they will espouse any absurdity in default of something better, that we can understand how Rousseau’s doctrine of Social Contract ever came to be so widely received. This fact remembered, however, the belief in such a doctrine becomes comprehensible. Here were men combined together under government and law. It seemed clear that the arrangement was on the whole a beneficial one. Hence the very natural, though erroneous, conclusion that state-authority was a moral institute. And state-authority being taken for a moral institute, it became needful to account for it, to defend it, to reconcile it with justice and truth. Under which stimulus there suggested itself this theory of a covenant originally entered into between individuals on the one hand, and the community, or agents acting for it, on the other, by which allegiance was agreed to be exchanged for protection; and in virtue of which supposed covenant governments continue to exercise power and demand obedience.
That such an explanation should have satisfied the unthinking, is not to be wondered at; but it is passing strange that it should have gained credence amongst educated men. Observe the battery of fatal objections which may be opened upon it.
In the first place, the assumption is a purely gratuitous one. Before submitting to legislative control on the strength of an agreement alleged to have been made by our forefathers, we ought surely to have some proof that such agreement was made. But no proof is given. On the contrary, the facts, so far as we can ascertain them, rather imply that under the earliest social forms, whether savage, patriarchal, or feudal, obedience to authority was given unconditionally; and that when the ruler afforded protection it was because he resented the attempt to exercise over one of his subjects a power similar to his own—a conclusion quite in harmony with what we know of oaths of allegiance taken in later times.
Again; even supposing the contract to have been made, we are no forwarder, for it has been repeatedly invalidated by the violation of its terms. There is no people but what has from time to time rebelled; and there is no government but what has, in an infinity of cases, failed to give the promised protection. How, then, can this hypothetical contract be considered binding, when, if ever made, it has been broken by both parties?
But, granting the agreement, and granting that nothing positive has occurred to vitiate it, we have still to be shown on what principle that agreement, made, no one knows when, by no one knows whom, can be held to tie people now living. Dynasties have changed, and different forms of government have supplanted each other, since the alleged transaction could have taken place; whilst, between the people who are supposed to have been parties to it, and their existing descendants, unnumbered generations have lived and died. So we must assume that this covenant has over and over again survived the deaths of all parties concerned! Truly a strange power this which our forefathers wielded—to be able to fix the behaviour of their descendants for all futurity! What would any one think of being required to kiss the Pope’s toe, because his great- great-great-grandfather promised that he should do so?
However, there never was such a contract. If there had been, constant breaches must have destroyed it. And even if undestroyed it could not bind us, but only those who made it.
The self-importance of a Malvolio is sufficiently ludicrous; but we must go far beyond it to parallel the presumption of legislatures. Some steward who, deluded by an intense craving after dominion, and an impudence equal to his craving, should construe his stewardship into proprietorship, would more fitly illustrate it. Were such an one to argue that the estate he was appointed to manage had been virtually resigned into his possession—that to secure the advantages of his administration its owner had given up all title to it—that he now lived on it only by his (the steward’s) sufferance—and that he was in future to receive no emoluments from it, except at his (the steward’s) good pleasure—then should we have an appropriate travesty upon the behaviour of governments to nations; then should we have a doctrine perfectly analogous to this fashionable one, which teaches how men on becoming members of a community, give up, for the sake of certain social advantages, their natural rights. Adherents of this fashionable doctrine will doubtless protest against such an interpretation of it. They have no reasonable cause for doing so, however, as will appear on submitting them to a cross-examination. Suppose we begin it thus:—
“Your hypothesis that men, when they entered into the social state, surrendered their original freedom, implies that they entered into such state voluntarily, does it not?”
“Then they must have considered the social state preferable to that under which they had previously lived?”
“Why did it appear preferable?”
“Because it offered greater security.”
“Greater security for what?”
“Greater security for life, for property, for the things that minister to happiness.”
“Exactly. To get more happiness: that must have been the object. If they had expected to get more unhappiness, they would not have willingly made the change, would they?”
“Does not happiness consist in the due satisfaction of all the desires? in the due exercise of all the faculties?”
“And this exercise of the faculties is impossible without freedom of action. The desires cannot be satisfied without liberty to pursue and use the objects of them.”
“Now it is this freedom to exercise the faculties within specific limits, which we signify by the term ‘rights,’ is it not?”(Page 77.)
“Well, then, summing up your answers, it seems that, by your hypothesis, man entered the social state voluntarily; which means that he entered it for the sake of obtaining greater happiness; which means that he entered it to obtain fuller exercise of his faculties; which means that he entered it to obtain security for such exercise; which means that he entered it for the guaranteeing of his ‘rights.’”
“Put your proposition in a more tangible form.”
“Very good. If this is too abstract a statement for you, let us attempt a simpler one. You say that a state of political combination was preferred mainly because it afforded greater security for life and property than the isolated state, do you not?”
“Are not a man’s claims to his life and his property amongst what we term his rights; and moreover, the most important of them?”
“Then to say that men formed themselves into communities to prevent the constant violation of their claims to life and property, is to say that they did it for the preservation of their rights?”
“Wherefore, either way we find that the preservation of rights was the object sought.”
“So it would seem.”
“But your hypothesis is that men give up their rights on entering the social state?”
“See now how you contradict yourself. You assert that on becoming members of a society, men give up, what by your own showing they joined it the better to obtain!”
“Well, perhaps I ought not to have said that they ‘give up’ their rights, but that they place them in trust.”
“In whose trust?”
“In that of a government.”
“A government, then, is a kind of agent employed by the members of a community, to take care of, and administer for their benefit, something given into its charge?”
“And of course, like all other agents, exercises authority only at the will of those who appoint it—performs all that it is commissioned to do subject to their approval?”
“And the things committed to its charge still belong to the original owners. The title of the people to the rights they have placed in trust continues valid: the people may demand from this agent the full benefit accruing from these rights; and may, if they please, resume possession of them?”
“Not so! What, can they not reclaim their own?”
“No. Having once consigned their rights into the keeping of a legislature, they must be content with such use of them as that legislature permits.”
And thus we arrive at the curious doctrine above referred to, that the members of a community having entrusted an estate (their rights) to the care of a steward (their government), thereby lose all proprietorship in such estate, and can have no benefit from it, except what their steward pleases to vouchsafe!
But it is needless to assault this theory of government-omnipotence from without, for it is betrayed from within. It is self-destructive. It is disproved by its own innermost principle. The very witness called to testify of its truth lets out its falsity. For to what end is this attempted denial of rights? It is to the end of establishing the law of the greatest happiness to the greatest number—a law to carry out which government is said to exist—a law by whose dictates alone government ought to be guided—a law, therefore, of higher authority than government; antecedent to it—a law to which government must be subservient, subordinate. But what, when scrutinized, does this law of the greatest happiness to the greatest number resolve itself into? Why, into the ultrademocratic dogma—all men have equal rights to happiness (page 22). Wherefore it is to carry out the law—all men have equal rights to happiness, that government exists. And thus, even according to the opposition hypothesis, rights are the be-all and end-all of government; and rank above it, as the end above the means.
the right to ignore the state.
As a corollary to the proposition that all institutions must be subordinated to the law of equal freedom, we cannot choose but admit the right of the citizen to adopt a condition of voluntary outlawry. If every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man, then he is free to drop connection with the state—to relinquish its protection, and to refuse paying towards its support. It is self-evident that in so behaving he in no way trenches upon the liberty of others; for his position is a passive one; and whilst passive he cannot become an aggressor. It is equally selfevident that he cannot be compelled to continue one of a political corporation, without a breach of the moral law, seeing that citizenship involves payment of taxes; and the taking away of a man’s property against his will, is an infringement of his rights (p. 134). Government being simply an agent employed in common by a number of individuals to secure to them certain advantages, the very nature of the connection implies that it is for each to say whether he will employ such an agent or not. If any one of them determines to ignore this mutual-safety confederation, nothing can be said except that he loses all claim to its good offices, and exposes himself to the danger of maltreatment—a thing he is quite at liberty to do if he likes. He cannot be coerced into political combination without a breach of the law of equal freedom; he can withdraw from it without committing any such breach; and he has therefore a right so to withdraw.
“No human laws are of any validity if contrary to the law of nature; and such of them as are valid derive all their force and all their authority mediately or immediately from this original.” Thus writes Blackstone, to whom let all honour be given for having so far outseen the ideas of his time; and, indeed, we may say of our time. A good antidote, this, for those political superstitions which so widely prevail. A good check upon that sentiment of power-worship which still misleads us by magnifying the prerogatives of constitutional governments as it once did those of monarchs. Let men learn that a legislature is not “our God upon earth,” though, by the authority they ascribe to it, and the things they expect from it, they would seem to think it is. Let them learn rather that it is an institution serving a purely temporary purpose, whose power, when not stolen, is at the best borrowed.
Nay, indeed, have we not seen (p. 13) that government is essentially immoral? Is it not the offspring of evil, bearing about it all the marks of its parentage? Does it not exist because crime exists? Is it not strong, or, as we say, despotic, when crime is great? Is there not more liberty, that is, less government, as crime diminishes? And must not government cease when crime ceases, for very lack of objects on which to perform its function? Not only does magisterial power exist because of evil, but it exists by evil. Violence is employed to maintain it; and all violence involves criminality. Soldiers, policemen, and gaolers; swords, batons, and fetters, are instruments for inflicting pain; and all infliction of pain is in the abstract wrong. The state employs evil weapons to subjugate evil, and is alike contaminated by the objects with which it deals, and the means by which it works. Morality cannot recognise it; for morality, being simply a statement of the perfect law, can give no countenance to anything growing out of, and living by, breaches of that law (Chap. I.). Wherefore, legislative authority can never be ethical—must always be conventional merely.
Hence, there is a certain inconsistency in the attempt to determine the right position, structure, and conduct of a government by appeal to the first principles of rectitude. For, as just pointed out, the acts of an institution which is in both nature and origin imperfect, cannot be made to square with the perfect law. All that we can do is to ascertain, firstly, in what attitude a legislature must stand to the community to avoid being by its mere existence an embodied wrong;—secondly, in what manner it must be constituted so as to exhibit the least incongruity with the moral law;—and thirdly, to what sphere its actions must be limited to prevent it from multiplying those breaches of equity it is set up to prevent.
The first condition to be conformed to before a legislature can be established without violating the law of equal freedom, is the acknowledgment of the right now under discussion—the right to ignore the statea .
Upholders of pure despotism may fitly believe state-control to be unlimited and unconditional. They who assert that men are made for governments and not governments for men, may consistently hold that no one can remove himself beyond the pale of political organization. But they who maintain that the people are the only legitimate source of power—that legislative authority is not original, but deputed—cannot deny the right to ignore the state without entangling themselves in an absurdity.
For, if legislative authority is deputed, it follows that those from whom it proceeds are the masters of those on whom it is conferred: it follows further, that as masters they confer the said authority voluntarily: and this implies that they may give or withhold it as they please. To call that deputed which is wrenched from men whether they will or not, is nonsense. But what is here true of all collectively is equally true of each separately. As a government can rightly act for the people, only when empowered by them, so also can it rightly act for the individual, only when empowered by him. If A,B, and C, debate whether they shall employ an agent to perform for them a certain service, and if whilst A and B agree to do so, C dissents, C cannot equitably be made a party to the agreement in spite of himself. And this must be equally true of thirty as of three: and if of thirty, why not of three hundred, or three thousand, or three millions?
Of the political superstitions lately alluded to, none is so universally diffused as the notion that majorities are omnipotent. Under the impression that the preservation of order will ever require power to be wielded by some party, the moral sense of our time feels that such power cannot rightly be conferred on any but the largest moiety of society. It interprets literally the saying that “the voice of the people is the voice of God,” and transferring to the one the sacredness attached to the other, it concludes that from the will of the people, that is, of the majority, there can be no appeal. Yet is this belief entirely erroneous.
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that, struck by some Malthusian panic, a legislature duly representing public opinion were to enact that all children born during the next ten years should be drowned. Does any one think such an enactment would be warrantable? If not, there is evidently a limit to the power of a majority. Suppose, again, that of two races living together—Celts and Saxons, for example—the most numerous determined to make the others their slaves. Would the authority of the greatest number be in such case valid? If not there is something to which its authority must be subordinate. Suppose, once more, that all men having incomes under £50 a year were to resolve upon reducing every income above that amount to their own standard, and appropriating the excess for public purposes. Could their resolution be justified? If not it must be a third time confessed that there is a law to which the popular voice must defer. What, then, is that law, if not the law of pure equity—the law of equal freedom? These restraints, which all would put to the will of the majority, are exactly the restraints set up by that law. We deny the right of a majority to murder, to enslave, or to rob, simply because murder, enslaving, and robbery are violations of that law—violations too gross to be overlooked. But if great violations of it are wrong, so also are smaller ones. If the will of the many cannot supersede the first principle of morality in these cases, neither can it in any. So that, however insignificant the minority, and however trifling the proposed trespass against their rights, no such trespass is permissible.
When we have made our constitution purely democratic, thinks to himself the earnest reformer, we shall have brought government into harmony with absolute justice. Such a faith, though perhaps needful for the age, is a very erroneous one. By no process can coercion be made equitable. The freest form of government is only the least objectionable form. The rule of the many by the few we call tyranny: the rule of the few by the many is tyranny also; only of a less intense kind. “You shall do as we will, and not as you will,” is in either case the declaration; and if the hundred make it to the ninety-nine, instead of the ninety-nine to the hundred, it is only a fraction less immoral. Of two such parties, whichever fulfils this declaration necessarily breaks the law of equal freedom: the only difference being that by the one it is broken in the persons of ninety-nine, whilst by the other it is broken in the persons of a hundred. And the merit of the democratic form of government consists solely in this, that it trespasses against the smallest number.
The very existence of majorities and minorities is indicative of an immoral state. The man whose character harmonizes with the moral law, we found to be one who can obtain complete happiness without diminishing the happiness of his fellows (Chap. III.). But the enactment of public arrangements by vote implies a society consisting of men otherwise constituted—implies that the desires of some cannot be satisfied without sacrificing the desires of others—implies that in the pursuit of their happiness the majority inflict a certain amount of unhappiness on the minority—implies, therefore, organic immorality. Thus, from another point of view, we again perceive that even in its most equitable form it is impossible for government to dissociate itself from evil; and further, that unless the right to ignore the state is recognised, its acts must be essentially criminal.
That a man is free to abandon the benefits and throw off the burdens of citizenship, may indeed be inferred from the admissions of existing authorities and of current opinion. Unprepared as they probably are for so extreme a doctrine as the one here maintained, the radicals of our day yet unwittingly profess their belief in a maxim which obviously embodies this doctrine. Do we not continually hear them quote Blackstone’s assertion that “no subject of England can be constrained to pay any aids or taxes even for the defence of the realm or the support of government, but such as are imposed by his own consent, or that of his representative in parliament?” And what does this mean? It means, say they, that every man should have a vote. True: but it means much more. If there is any sense in words it is a distinct enunciation of the very right now contended for. In affirming that a man may not be taxed unless he has directly or indirectly given his consent, it affirms that he may refuse to be so taxed; and to refuse to be taxed, is to cut all connection with the state. Perhaps it will be said that this consent is not a specific, but a general one, and that the citizen is understood to have assented to everything his representative may do, when he voted for him. But suppose he did not vote for him; and on the contrary did all in his power to get elected some one holding opposite views—what then? The reply will probably be that, by taking part in such an election, he tacitly agreed to abide by the decision of the majority. And how if he did not vote at all? Why then he cannot justly complain of any tax, seeing that he made no protest against its imposition. So, curiously enough, it seems that he gave his consent in whatever way he acted—whether he said yes, whether he said no, or whether he remained neuter! A rather awkward doctrine this. Here stands an unfortunate citizen who is asked if he will pay money for a certain proffered advantage; and whether he employs the only means of expressing his refusal or does not employ it, we are told that he practically agrees; if only the number of others who agree is greater than the number of those who dissent. And thus we are introduced to the novel principle that A’s consent to a thing is not determined by what A says, but by what B may happen to say!
It is for those who quote Blackstone to choose between this absurdity and the doctrine above set forth. Either his maxim implies the right to ignore the state, or it is sheer nonsense.
There is a strange heterogeneity in our political faiths. Systems that have had their day, and are beginning here and there to let the daylight through, are patched with modern notions utterly unlike in quality and colour; and men gravely display these systems, wear them, and walk about in them, quite unconscious of their grotesqueness. This transition state of ours, partaking as it does equally of the past and the future, breeds hybrid theories exhibiting the oddest union of bygone despotism and coming freedom. Here are types of the old organization curiously disguised by germs of the new—peculiarities showing adaptation to a preceding state modified by rudiments that prophecy of something to come—making altogether so chaotic a mixture of relationships that there is no saying to what class these births of the age should be referred.
As ideas must of necessity bear the stamp of the time, it is useless to lament the contentment with which these incongruous beliefs are held. Otherwise it would seem unfortunate that men do not pursue to the end the trains of reasoning which have led to these partial modifications. In the present case, for example, consistency would force them to admit that, on other points besides the one just noticed, they hold opinions and use arguments in which the right to ignore the state is involved.
For what is the meaning of Dissent? The time was when a man’s faith and his mode of worship were as much determinable by law as his secular acts; and, according to provisions extant in our statute-book, are so still. Thanks to the growth of a Protestant spirit, however, we have ignored the state in this matter—wholly in theory, and partly in practice. But how have we done so? By assuming an attitude which, if consistently maintained, implies a right to ignore the state entirely. Observe the positions of the two parties. “This is your creed,” says the legislator; “you must believe and openly profess what is here set down for you.” “I shall not do anything of the kind,” answers the nonconformist; “I will go to prison rather.” “Your religious ordinances,” pursues the legislator, “shall be such as we have prescribed. You shall attend the churches we have endowed, and adopt the ceremonies used in them.” “Nothing shall induce me to do so,” is the reply; “I altogether deny your power to dictate to me in such matters, and mean to resist to the uttermost.” “Lastly,” adds the legislator, “we shall require you to pay such sums of money towards the support of these religious institutions, as we may see fit to ask.” “Not a farthing will you have from me,” exclaims our sturdy Independent: “even did I believe in the doctrines of your church (which I do not), I should still rebel against your interference; and if you take my property, it shall be by force and under protest.”
What now does this proceeding amount to when regarded in the abstract? It amounts to an assertion by the individual of the right to exercise one of his faculties—the religious sentiment—without let or hindrance, and with no limit save that set up by the equal claims of others. And what is meant by ignoring the state? Simply an assertion of the right similarly to exercise all the faculties. The one is just an expansion of the other—rests on the same footing with the other—must stand or fall with the other. Men do indeed speak of civil and religious liberty as different things: but the distinction is quite arbitrary. They are parts of the same whole and cannot philosophically be separated.
“Yes they can,” interposes an objector; “assertion of the one is imperative as being a religious duty. The liberty to worship God in the way that seems to him right, is a liberty without which a man cannot fulfil what he believes to be Divine commands, and therefore conscience requires him to maintain it.” True enough; but how if the same can be asserted of all other liberty? How if maintenance of this also turns out to be a matter of conscience? Have we not seen that human happiness is the Divine will—that only by exercising our faculties is this happiness obtainable—and that it is impossible to exercise them without freedom? (Chap. IV.) And if this freedom for the exercise of faculties is a condition without which the Divine will cannot be fulfilled, the preservation of it is, by our objector’s own showing, a duty. Or, in other words, it appears not only that the maintenance of liberty of action may be a point of conscience, but that it ought to be one. And thus we are clearly shown that the claims to ignore the state in religious and in secular matters are in essence identical.
The other reason commonly assigned for nonconformity, admits of similar treatment. Besides resisting state dictation in the abstract, the dissenter resists it from disapprobation of the doctrines taught. No legislative injunction will make him adopt what he considers an erroneous belief; and, bearing in mind his duty towards his fellow-men, he refuses to help through the medium of his purse in disseminating this erroneous belief. The position is perfectly intelligible. But it is one which either commits its adherents to civil nonconformity also, or leaves them in a dilemma. For why do they refuse to be instrumental in spreading error? Because error is adverse to human happiness. And on what ground is any piece of secular legislation disapproved? For the same reason—because thought adverse to human happiness. How then can it be shown that the state ought to be resisted in the one case and not in the other? Will any one deliberately assert that if a government demands money from us to aid in teaching what we think will produce evil, we ought to refuse it; but that if the money is for the purpose of doing what we think will produce evil, we ought not to refuse it? Yet, such is the hopeful proposition which those have to maintain who recognise the right to ignore the state in religious matters, but deny it in civil matters.
The substance of this chapter once more reminds us of the incongruity between a perfect law and an imperfect state. The practicability of the principle here laid down varies directly as social morality. In a thoroughly vicious community its admission would be productive of anarchy. In a completely virtuous one its admission will be both innoeuous and inevitable. Progress towards a condition of social health—a condition, that is, in which the remedial measures of legislation will no longer be needed, is progress towards a condition in which those remedial measures will be cast aside, and the authority prescribing them disregarded. The two changes are of necessity co-ordinate. That moral sense whose supremacy will make society harmonious and government unnecessary, is the same moral sense which will then make each man assert his freedom even to the extent of ignoring the state—is the same moral sense which, by deterring the majority from coercing the minority, will eventually render government impossible. And as what are merely different manifestations of the same sentiment must bear a constant ratio to each other, the tendency to repudiate governments will increase only at the same rate that governments become needless.
Let not any be alarmed, therefore, at the promulgation of the foregoing doctrine. There are many changes yet to be passed through before it can begin to exercise much influence. Probably a long time will elapse before the right to ignore the state will be generally admitted, even in theory. It will be still longer before it receives legislative recognition. And even then there will be plenty of checks upon the premature exercise of it. A sharp experience will sufficiently instruct those who may too soon abandon legal protection. Whilst, in the majority of men, there is such a love of tried arrangements, and so great a dread of experiments, that they will probably not act upon this right until long after it is safe to do so.
the constitution of the statea .
Of the several conclusions deducible from the law of equal freedom there are few more manifest or more generally agreed to than this, that all members of a community have like claims to political power. If every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man, then each is free to exercise the same authority in legislation as his fellows; and no individual or class can exercise greater authority than the rest without violating the law.
Evidently, therefore, a purely democratic government is the only one which is morally admissible — is the only one that is not intrinsically criminal. As lately shown, no government can have any ethical authority. The highest form it can assume is that in which the moral law remains passive with regard to it—tolerates it—no longer protests against it. The first condition of that form is that citizenship shall be voluntary; the second—that it shall confer equal privileges.
It is a tolerably well-ascertained fact that men are still selfish. And that beings answering to this epithet will employ the power placed in their hands for their own advantage is self-evident. Directly or indirectly, either by hook or by crook, if not openly, then in secret, their private ends will be served. Granting the proposition that men are selfish, we cannot avoid the corollary, that those who possess authority will, if permitted, use it for selfish purposes.
Should any one need facts in proof of this, he may find them at every page in the nearest volume of history. Under the head—Monarchy, he will read of insatiable cravings after more territory; of confiscations of the subjects’ property; of justice sold to the highest bidder; of continued debasements of coinage; and of a greediness which could even descend to share the gains of prostitutes.
He will find Feudalism exemplifying the same spirit by the cruelties inflicted upon serfs; by the right of private war; by the predatory incursions of borderers; by robberies practised on Jews; and by the extortionate tribute wrung from burghers—all of them illustrations of that motto, so characteristic of the system, “Thou shalt want ere I want.”
Does he seek like evidence in the conduct of later aristocracies? He may discover it in every state in Europe: in Spain, where the lands of nobles and clergy were long exempted from direct taxation; in Hungary, where, until lately, men of rank were free of all turnpikes, and only the mercantile and working classes paid; in France, before the first revolution, where the tiers-etat had to bear all the state burdens; in Scotland, where less than two centuries ago it was the custom of lairds to kidnap the common people, and export them as slaves; in Ireland, where at the rebellion a band of usurping landowners hunted and shot the Catholics as they would game, for daring to claim their own.
If more proofs are wanted that power will be made to serve the purposes of its possessors, English legislation can furnish many such. Take, for example, the significantly named “Black Act” (9th of George I.), which declares that any one disguised and in possession of an offensive weapon “appearing in any warren, or place where hares or conies have been, or shall be usually kept, and being thereof duly convicted, shall be adjudged guilty of felony, and shall suffer death, as in cases of felony, without benefit of clergy.” Instance again the Inclosure Laws, by which commons were divided amongst the neighbouring landowners, in the ratios of their holdings, regardless of the claims of the poor cottagers. Notice also the manœuvre by which the land tax has been kept stationary, or has even decreased, whilst other taxes have so enormously increased. Add to these the private monopolies (obtained from the King for “a consideration”), the perversion of the funds of public schools, the manufacture of places, and pensions.
Nor is the disposition to use power for private ends less manifest in our own day. It shows itself in the assertion that an electoral system should give a preponderance to the landed interest. We see it in the legislation which relieves farmers from sundry assessed taxes, that they may be enabled to pay more rent. It is palpably indicated in the Game Laws. The conduct of the squire, who gets his mansion rated at one-third of its value, bears witness to it. It appears in the law enabling a landlord to anticipate other creditors, and to obtain his rent by immediate seizure of his tenant’s property. We are reminded of it by the often-mentioned legacy and probate duties. It is implied by the fact that whilst no one dreams of compensating the discharged workman, gentlemen sinecurists must have their “vested interests” bought up if their offices are abolished. In the tracts of the Anti-Corn Law League it received abundant illustration. It is seen in the votes of the hundred and fifty military and naval members of Parliament. And lastly, we find this self-seeking of those in authority creeps out, even in the doings of the “Right Reverend Fathers in God” forming the Ecclesiastical Commission, who have appropriated, for the embellishment of their own palaces, funds entrusted to them for the benefit of the Church.
But it is needless to accumulate illustrations. Though every historian the world has seen should be subpœned as a witness, the fact could not be rendered one whit more certain than it is already. Why ask whether those in power have sought their own advantage in preference to that of others? With human nature as we know it, they must have done so. It is this same tendency in men to pursue gratification at the expense of their neighbours that renders government needful. Were we not selfish, legislative restraint would be unnecessary. Evidently, then, the very existence of a state-authority proves that irresponsible rulers will sacrifice the public good to their personal benefit; all solemn promises, specious professions, and carefully-arranged checks and safeguards, notwithstanding.
If, therefore, class-legislation is the inevitable consequence of class-power, there is no escape from the conclusion that the interest of the whole society can be secured, only by giving power into the hands of the whole people.
Against the position that to ensure justice to the nation at large all its members must be endowed with like powers, it is indeed urged that, as the working classes constitute the majority, to endow all with like powers, is practically to make the working classes supreme. And it will probably be added that by virtue of this same self-seeking tendency just insisted upon, legislation in their hands would inevitably be twisted to serve the ends of labour regardless of the claims of property.
Of course those who raise this objection do not wish to insinuate that the people would use their power after the fashion of brigands. Although in the old Norman day, when the sacking and burning of towns by neighbouring nobles was not unfrequent, a change to popular rule involved retaliatory attacks upon the strongholds of these feudal buccaneers, yet we may fairly conclude that the increased social morality which deters modern aristocracies from direct robbery of the people, would also prevent the people from inflicting any direct injury upon them. The danger this objection points to—the only danger to be rationally feared—is that the same insensible bias by which our present rulers are swayed, would lead the working classes to sacrifice the rights of the rich on the altar of their own desires—would give rise to a code of laws favouring poverty at the expense of wealth.
Even were there no answer to this, the evidence would still preponderate in favour of popular enfranchisement. For what at the utmost does the argument amount to? Just this:—that the few must continue to trespass against the many, lest the many should trespass against the few. The well fed, the luxuriously housed and clothed, the placemen and pensioners, may perhaps think it better that the masses should suffer for their benefit (as they do) than that they should suffer for the benefit of the masses (as they might). But would a just arbitrator say this? Would he not say, on the contrary, that even if their respective members were blessed with equal advantages, the minority ought to be sacrificed rather than the majority; but that as the most numerous are at the same time the least favoured, their claim becomes still more imperative. Surely, if one of the two parties must submit to injustice, it ought to be the rich hundreds, and not the poor thousands.
The foregoing objection, however, is not so sound as it looks. It is one thing for a comparatively small class to unite in the pursuit of a common advantage, and it is another thing for a dispersed multitude to do so. Some thousands of individuals having identical interests, moving together in the same circle, brought up with like prejudices, educated in one creed, bound together by family ties, and meeting annually in the same city, may easily enough combine for the obtainment of a desired object. But for half a dozen millions of working men, distributed over a vast area, engaged in various occupations, belonging to different religious sects, and divided into two totally distinct bodies, the one imbued with the feelings and theories of town life, the other retaining all those prejudices of the past which yet linger in the country—for these to act with unanimity is scarcely possible. Their mass is too great, too incongruous, too scattered, for effective combination. We have current proof of this. The Chartist agitation shows us men, who, during the last twenty years, have gradually imbibed ideas of political freedom—men who have been irritated by a sense of injustice—men who have been slighted by their fellow-citizens—men who have been suffering daily privations—men, therefore, who have had an accumulated stimulus to unite in obtaining what they feel themselves entitled to, and what they see reason to believe would greatly benefit them. And how have they prospered in the attempt to carry their point? Disputes, divisions, apathy, adverse influences of every kind, have joined to produce repeated failures. Now if, with the aid of that enthusiasm which a righteous cause always inspires, the masses have not attained to that unity of action needful for the accomplishment of their object, much less would they be able successfully to unite were that object a dishonest one.
Whoever demurs to the enfranchisement of the working men on the ground that they are immoral, is bound to point out a constituency which is not immoral. When it is alleged that the venality of the people renders them unfit for the possession of votes, it is assumed that some class not chargeable with venality may be found. But no such class exists. Bring them all to trial and not a single section of the community would obtain a verdict of “not guilty.”
Were the shopkeepers put upon their examination, how would they excuse their trade practices? Is it moral to put potatoes and alum in bread; to add salt, tobacco, and colchicum to beer; to mix lard with butter; to manufacture milk in various known and unknown ways; to adulterate oils, chemicals, colours, wines—in short, everything capable of adulteration? Does the existence of inspectors of weights and measures indicate morality? Or is it honest to sell over the counter, goods whose quality is inferior to that of the samples ticketed in the window?
Did the manufacturers make any pretension to purity, they might have to encounter some awkward hints as to the practice of tearing up old rags into shoddy to be worked into cloth along with new wool. Disagreeable questions might be asked concerning the proportion of cotton woven into some fabrics, pretended to be wholly of silk. The piracy of patterns, too, would be a delicate subject. And the practice of using gypsum to increase the weight and substance of paper, could hardly be defended on the principles of the Decalogue.
Not less discreditable would be the sentence deserved by the agriculturists. In spite of the refining effects which poets ascribe to intercourse with nature, it is nevertheless an undoubted fact that the farmers—in Dorsetshire, at least—have been convicted of paying their labourers in damaged wheat, charged at the full price—a habit not altogether conscientious. It is matter of history, too, that before the enactment of the New Poor Law, it was in many districts the custom to give farm servants but half wages; the remainder being made up to them out of the poor-rates, over which their masters exercised the chief control. And to these samples of morality the transactions of the cattle-market and the horse-fair would probably furnish fit companions.
Neither in such a scrutiny would the professions escape unscathed. Who can hear the word “venality” without straight-way thinking of the law? Attorneys already stand in too bad repute to need their sins hinting at; and even the gentlemen of the bar are not without reproach. The attempt to make a known felon appear innocent denotes rather confused ideas of right and wrong. Then their habit of taking fees to plead in a cause, which other engagements will not permit them to attend, and keeping the pay, although they do not perform the work, scarcely implies that honesty deemed so requisite for the proper use of political power.
Our members of Parliament, too, were the gauntlet taken up on their behalf, would come off but indifferently. That arrangement which places them beyond the reach of their creditors, is hardly consistent with the moral law; nor does it imply the nicest sense of honour. And then that disease of the representative system—bribery; ought the rich to escape all the odium attaching to it—should all the disgrace fall upon the poor electors?
Nor can those who move in titled circles boast of superior integrity. In the trickeries of the turf, and in the midnight scenes at gaming-houses, the denizens of Mayfair and Belgravia play a sufficiently conspicuous part. The Huntingtower bankruptcy was not to the credit of the caste, any more than are those acts of outlawry to which, from time to time, members of it are subjected. And did the aristocracy possess strict notions of equity it is probable that a little more respect would be shown by them to the claims of their tradesmen, than is indicated by their proverbially bad character as paymasters.
Nay, even our highest officers of state participate in the general contamination. Did not the Mazzini affair show some laxity of principle? Was it nothing, as the Westminster Review put it, to teach that theft is permissible when officials wish to steal information from a letter—that lying is permissible if they desire to conceal the theft by re-sealing that letter—that forgery is permissible for the purpose of counterfeiting seals? And then our present ministers—are they any better than their predecessors? If so, how shall we explain away the garbling of some of the West Indian despatches, and the suppression of others?
No, no; let not any one oppose the enfranchisement of the people on the score of their immorality, lest he be put to the blush by the exposure of his own offences, or the offences of his class. Let him that is guiltless cast the first stone. Vice, dishonesty, venality, pervade all ranks; and if political power must be denied to working men because they are corrupt, it must be denied to all classes whatever for the same reason.
Some indeed allege that the masses are more vicious than the rest of the community. But those who express this opinion arrive at it very illogically. They glance at assize proceedings, read through the names and occupations in the calendar of prisoners, skim over statistics of crime, and because they meet with an immense preponderance of vagrants, farm-servants, bricklayers, drovers, bargemen, porters, factory hands, and the like, they forthwith set down the peasant and artizan class as greatly inferior in moral character to every other class. They take no account of the fact, that in number, the labouring population is at least six times all the rest put together. They do not inquire whether, if the cases that appear in the police sheets of swindling advertisers, of false-ticketing tradesmen, of embezzling clerks, of young gentlemen concerned in drunken sprees, attacks on the police, insults to women, and so on, were multiplied by six, they would not approach in number the other cases daily reported. Were this done, however—were the crimes committed by each class reduced to a percentage upon the size of that class, there would be found much less inequality than is commonly thought to exist.
Moreover, it should be remembered that the immorality of the middle and upper ranks assumes a different guise from that worn by the vices of the poor. Men comparatively well off are not likely to be guilty of those grosser offences seen amongst the lower orders, for their circumstances remove them almost beyond temptation to these. But the bad propensities may and do exist in full force notwithstanding; and enough of their workings may any day be seen in courts of law. Fraudulent bankruptcies, actions for debt, suits for the restitution of usurped rights, quarrels about wills—all these show the activity of passions which, under other conditions, might have produced acts technically called crimes. Men who, by legal chicanery, cheat others out of their property, or who refuse to discharge the claims justly made upon them until forced by law, are men who, in a lower walk of life, would have picked pockets or robbed hen-roosts. We must measure morality by motives, not by deeds. And if we thus estimate the characters of the trading and richer grades, taking into account also the consideration above adverted to—number—we shall find that the data on the strength of which we attribute especial immorality to the labouring classes are by no means sufficient.
It is a pity that those who speak disparagingly of the masses have not wisdom enough, or candour enough, to make due allowance for the unfavourable circumstances in which the masses are placed. Suppose that after carefully weighing the evidence it should turn out that the working men do exhibit greater vices than those more comfortably off; does it therefore follow that they are morally worse? Are the additional temptations under which they labour to be left out of the estimate? Shall as much be expected at their hands as from those born into a more fortunate position? Ought the same demands to be made upon the possessors of five talents as upon the possessors of ten? Surely the lot of the hard-handed labourer is pitiable enough without having harsh judgments passed upon him. To be wholly sacrificed to other men’s happiness; to be made a mere human tool; to have every faculty subordinated to the sole function of work—this, one would say, is alone a misfortune, needing all sympathy for its mitigation. Consider well these endowments of his—these capacities, affections, tastes, and the vague yearnings to which they give birth. Think of him now with his caged-up desires doomed to a daily, weekly, yearly round of painful toil, with scarcely any remission but for food and sleep. Observe how he is tantalized by the pleasures he sees his richer brethren partaking of, but from which he must be for ever debarred. Note the humiliation he suffers from being looked down upon as of no account amongst men. And then remember that he has nothing to look forward to but a monotonous continuance of this till death. Is this a salutary state of things to live under?
It is very easy for you, O respectable citizen, seated in your easy chair, with your feet on the fender, to hold forth on the misconduct of the people;—very easy for you to censure their extravagant and vicious habits;—very easy for you to be a pattern of frugality, of rectitude, of sobriety. What else should you be? Here are you surrounded by comforts, possessing multiplied sources of lawful happiness, with a reputation to maintain, an ambition to fulfil, and the prospect of a competency for your old age. A shame indeed would it be if with these advantages you were not well regulated in your behaviour. You have a cheerful home, are warmly and cleanly clad, and fare, if not sumptuously every day, at any rate abundantly. For your hours of relaxation there are amusements. A newspaper arrives regularly to satisfy your curiosity; if your tastes are literary, books may be had in plenty: and there is a piano if you like music. You can afford to entertain your friends, and are entertained in return. There are lectures, and concerts, and exhibitions, accessible if you incline to them. You may have a holiday when you choose to take one, and can spare money for an annual trip to the sea-side. And enjoying all these privileges you take credit to yourself for being a well-conducted man! Small praise to you for it! If you do not contract dissipated habits where is the merit? you have few incentives to do so. It is no honour to you that you do not spend your savings in sensual gratification; you have pleasures enough without. But what would you do if placed in the position of the labourer? How would these virtues of yours stand the wear and tear of poverty? Where would your prudence and self-denial be if you were deprived of all the hopes that now stimulate you; if you had no better prospect than that of the Dorsetshire farm-servant with his 7s. a week, or that of the perpetually-straitened stocking-weaver, or that of the mill-hand with his periodical suspensions of work? Let us see you tied to an irksome employment from dawn till dusk; fed on meagre food, and scarcely enough of that; married to a factory girl ignorant of domestic management; deprived of the enjoyments which education opens up; with no place of recreation but the pot-house, and then let us see whether you would be as steady as you are. Suppose your savings had to be made, not, as now, out of surplus income, but out of wages already insufficient for necessaries; and then consider whether to be provident would be as easy as you at present find it. Conceive yourself one of a despised class contemptuously termed “the great unwashed;” stigmatized as brutish, stolid, vicious; suspected of harbouring wicked designs; excluded from the dignity of citizenship; and then say whether the desire to be respectable would be as practically operative on you as now. Lastly, imagine that seeing your capacities were but ordinary, your education next to nothing, and your competitors innumerable, you despaired of ever attaining to a higher station; and then think whether the incentives to perseverance and forethought would be as strong as your existing ones. Realize these circumstances, O comfortable citizen, and then answer whether the reckless, disorderly habits of the people are so inexcusable.
How offensive is it to hear some pert, self-approving personage, who thanks God that he is not as other men are, passing harsh sentence on his poor hard-worked heavily-burdened fellow-countrymen; including them all in one sweeping condemnation, because in their struggles for existence they do not maintain the same prim respectability as himself. Of all stupidities there are few greater, and yet few in which we more doggedly persist, than this of estimating other men’s conduct by the standard of our own feelings. There is no more mischievous absurdity than this judging of actions from the outside as they look to us, instead of from the inside as they look to the actors; nothing more irrational than to criticize deeds as though the doers of them had the same desires, hopes, fears, and restraints with ourselves. We cannot understand another’s character except by abandoning our own identity, and realizing to ourselves his frame of mind, his want of knowledge, his hardships, temptations, and discouragements. And if the wealthier classes would do this before forming their opinions of the working man, their verdicts would savour somewhat more of that charity which covereth a multitude of sins.
After all it is a pitiful controversy, this about the relative vices of rich and poor. Two school-boys taunting each other, with faults of which they were equally guilty, would best parody it. Whilst indignant Radicalism denounces “the vile aristocrats,” these in their turn enlarge with horror on the brutality of the mob. Neither party sees its own sins. Neither party recognises in the other, itself in a different dress. Neither party can believe that it would do all the other does if placed in like circumstances. Yet a cool bystander finds nothing to choose between them; knows that these class recriminations are but the inflammatory symptoms of a uniformly-diffused immorality. Label men how you please with titles of “upper,” and “middle,” and “lower,” you cannot prevent them being units of the same society, acted upon by the same spirit of the age, moulded after the same type of character. The mechanical law, that action and reaction are equal, has its moral analogue. The deed of one man to another tends ultimately to produce a like effect upon both, be the deed good or bad. Do but put them in relationship, and no division into castes, no differences of wealth, can prevent men from assimilating. Whoso is placed amongst the savage will in process of time get savage too; let his companions be treacherous, and he will become treacherous in self-defence; surround him with the kind-hearted and he will soften; amidst the refined he will acquire polish; and the same influences which thus rapidly adapt the individual to his society, ensure, though by a slower process, the general uniformity of a national character. This is no unsupported theory. Look when or where we please, thickly-strewn proofs may be gathered. The cruelties of the old Roman rulers were fully paralleled by those over which the populace gloated in their arenas. During the servile wars of the middle ages, barons tortured rebels, and rebels tortured barons, with equally diabolical ferocity. Those massacres which took place a few years since in Gallicia covered with infamy both the people who committed them and the government who paid for them at per head. The Assam chiefs, to whom the East India Company have allowed compensation for abandoning their established right of plunder, are neither better nor worse than the mass of the people, amongst whom joint-stock robbing companies are common. A similar sameness is exhibited in Russia, where all are alike swindlers, from the Prince Marshal who cheats the troops out of their rations, the officers who rob the Emperor of his stores, the magistrates who require bribing before they will act, the police who have secret treaties with the thieves, the shopkeepers who boast of their successful trickeries, down to the postmasters and dhrosky-drivers with their endless impositions. In Ireland, during the last century, whilst the people had their faction fights and secret revenge societies, duelling formed the amusement of the gentry, and was carried to such a pitch that the barrister was bound to give satisfaction to the witness he had bullied, or to the client who was dissatisfied with hima . And let us not forget how completely this unity of character is exhibited by the Irish of to-day, amongst whom Orangemen and Catholics display the same truculent bigotry; amongst whom magistrates and people join in party riots; and amongst whom the improvidence of the peasantry is only to be paralleled by that of the landlords. Our own history furnishes like illustrations in plenty. The time when England swarmed with highwaymen and outlaws, and when the populace had that sneaking kindness for a bold robber still shown in some parts of the Continent, was the time when kings also played the bandit; when they cheated their creditors by debasing the coinage; when they impressed labourers to build their palaces (Windsor Castle, for instance), obliging them under pain of imprisonment to take the wages offered; and when they seized and sold men’s goods, paying the owners less than a third of what the goods realized. During the age of religious persecution, Papists martyred Protestants, and Protestants martyred Papists, with equal cruelty; and Cavaliers and Roundheads treated each other with the same rancour. In the present day dishonesty shows itself not less in the falsification of dockyard accounts, or the “cooking” of railway-reports, than in burglary or sheep-stealing; whilst those who see heartlessness in the dealings of slop-tailors and their sweaters, may also find it in the conduct of rich landlords, who get double rent from poor allotment holdersa , and in that of respectable ladies who underpay half-starved seamstressesb Changes in tastes and amusements are similarly common to all. The contrast between the Squire Westerns and their descendants has its analogy amongst the people. As in Spain a bull fight is still the favourite pastime of both the Queen and her subjects, so in England fifty years ago, the cock-pit and the prize-ring were patronized alike by peer and pauper; and a reference to the sporting papers will show that the lingering instincts of the savage are at this moment exhibited by about an equal percentage of all classes.
Thus the alleged homogeneity of national character is abundantly exemplified. And so long as the assimilating influences productive of it continue at work, it is folly to suppose any one grade of a community can be morally different from the rest. In whichever rank you see corruption, be assured it equally pervades all ranks—be assured it is the symptom of a bad social diathesis. Whilst the virus of depravity exists in one part of the body politic, no other part can remain healthy.
When it is urged that the working classes ought not to be admitted within the pale of the constitution because they are ignorant, it is tacitly assumed that the existing electors are enlightened. And, quietly making this assumption, the opponents of popular enfranchisement argue, at their ease, that it would be extremely impolitic to swamp intelligent ten-pound house-holders, freeholders, and tenants at will, by letting in upon them the masses lying in outer darkness.
Painful as it may be, the pleasing illusion that our present constituency is thus honourably distinguished, must be dispelled. If by ignorance is meant want of information on matters which, for the due performance of his function, the citizen should understand (and no other definition is to the point), then it is a great error to suppose that ignorance is peculiar to the unenfranchised. Were there no other illustrations, sufficient proof that this ignorance is shared by those on the register, might be gathered from their conduct at elections. Much might be inferred from the tuft-hunting spirit exhibited in the choice of aristocratic representatives. It might be asked whether those are intelligent voters whose ears are tickled by the euphony of a title, whose eyes are attracted by heraldic emblazonry, or whose votes are determined by the acreage of a candidate’s estates. Some doubts might be cast on the penetration of men who, whilst they complain of the pressure of taxation, send to parliament hordes of military and naval officers, who have an interest in making that taxation still greater. Or the pretensions of the present monopolists of political power might be tested by quotations from the debates of a farmer’s market-ordinary, and from those of the assembly into which electoral wisdom is distilled. But without dilating upon these general considerations, let us examine a few of the opinions entertained by the mercantile classes upon state questions, and see how far these opinions entitle them to a reputation for enlightenment.
“Money is wealth,” was the dogma universally held by legislators and economists before the days of Adam Smith, as a self-evident truth; and in conformity with it acts of parliament were, by general consent, framed to attract and retain in the country as much coin as possible. Mr. Mill, in the introduction to his recent elaborate work, assumes that this belief is now extinct. It may be so amongst philosophers, but it is still prevalent in the trading world. We continue to hear acts praised as tending to “circulate money;” and on analyzing the alarm periodically raised that “the money is going out of the country,” we find such an occurrence regarded as a disaster in itself, and not simply as indicating that the country is poor in some essential commodity. Is there not occasion for a little “enlightenment” here?
Again; no small number of respectable people seeing that increased consumption always accompanies prosperity, infer that consumption is in itself beneficial—is the cause of prosperity, instead of its collateral effect; and hence, on witnessing a fire, or the mad extravagance of some spendthrift, they console themselves with the reflection that such things are “good for trade.” Dangerous voters these, if sound political knowledge is a needful qualification.
Similarly diffused amongst the middle ranks, is a notion that the withdrawal of a large part of the funds of the community by the non-producing classes is no real detriment to the rest; for that as the money thus abstracted is subsequently spent amongst the rest, it eventually comes to the same thing as though it had not been abstracted at all. Even a professed political economist—Doctor Chalmers—maintains that the revenues of landowners form no deduction from the means of society, seeing that the expenditure of such revenues consists “in a transference to the industrious of sustenance and support for their services:” which proposition amounts to this—that it matters not in the end whether A and his servants B, C, and D, live on the produce of their own industry, or on the produce of other men’s industrya !
Another mistake current alike amongst rich and poor is, that the speculations of corn-dealers are injurious to the public. So indignant are many well-meaning men at what they conceive to be a practice of intolerable cruelty, that it is scarcely possible to make them see how perfect freedom of trade is nationally advantageous in this, as in all other cases. Their anger blinds them to the fact that were not the price raised immediately after a deficient harvest by the purchases of these large factors, there would be nothing to prevent the people from consuming food at their ordinary rate; which would end in the inadequate supply being eaten up long before the ripening of the next crop. They do not perceive that this mercantile operation is analogous in its effect to putting the crew of a vessel on diminished rations when the stock of provisions is found insufficient to last out the voyage. A somewhat serious error this, for electors to labour under; especially as many of them would prevent the buying up of corn by legal penalties!
What crude theories prevail also respecting the power of a legislature to encourage different branches of industry—“agricultural interests” and other “interests.” It is not farmers only who labour under the mistake that their occupation can be made permanently more prosperous than the rest by act of parliament: educated towns people, too, participate in the delusion; quite forgetting that the greater profitableness artificially given to any particular trade, inevitably draws into that trade such an increased number of competitors as quickly to reduce its proffered advantages to the general level, and even for a time below that level. Is not the educator wanted behind the counter and on the farm, as well as in the workshop?
Note again the wild ideas entertained on currency questions. We smile at the simplicity which in times past led a famine-pinched populace to ascribe the high price of bread to the covetousness of bakers and millers; yet there is no little analogy between such a theory and that which attributes national distress to bad monetary arrangements. Just as the poor man, when made to feel the scarcity of food by having to pay double the usual sum for a loaf, straightway taxed the seller of the loaf with the evil; so do many traders to whom commercial depression comes in the shape of a difficulty in getting advances from their bankers, or cash for their bills of exchange, conclude that the “circulating medium” is in fault; being ignorant, like their hungry prototypes, that the primary cause of the mischief is a deficiency in the national stock of food or other commodities. To suppose that a state of general privation can be cured by the issue of bank notes, is to err with the projector of perpetual motion, who hopes to make power out of nothing.
Thus the tu quoque argument, which we found so completely to neutralize the inference drawn from the alleged immorality of the labouring classes, is a not much less cogent answer to the objection urged against the extension of the suffrage on the ground of popular ignorance. If, because they are deficient in information, the people should continue unenfranchised, then for a like reason should the existing electoral body be disfranchised. If the two classes are to have their relative degrees of competence to wield political power determined by comparing the amounts of their knowledge—their political knowledge, mind—then the advantage on the side of the present holders of such power is quite insufficient to give them an exclusive claim to it. As we have just seen, a great proportion of them are in error on the most important public questions—on the nature of wealth, on what things are “good for trade,” on the relationship of producers and non-producers, on dealings in the people’s food, on the “encouragement” of trade, on the influences of currency, and so forth. Where, then, is their great superiority over the non-electors? Have many artizans mistaken excessive competition for the cause of an evil, instead of taking it for what it is—the symptom of one? why they are countenanced in this error by not a few of the educated. Do working men hold wrong opinions concerning machinery? so likewise do nearly all the farmers and no small number of tradesmen. Is the false impression that manufacturers can raise or lower wages at will, prevalent amongst the masses? it is widely entertained, too, by their richer neighbours. How, then, can the ignorance of the people be urged as a reason for refusing them votes?
Those who cut short the arguments in favour of democracy by saying that it has been tried and found wanting, would do well to consider whether the governments they refer to really were democratic ones—whether a true democracy has ever been known—whether such a thing can be found even now. Of arrangements simulating it, the world has seen not a few. But that democracy itself has ever existed—existed, that is, for a sufficient length of time to admit of its fruits being judged—or that it was possible for it so to have existed during the past condition of humanity, is denied. A return to definitions settles the matter at once. A democracy, properly so called, is a political organization modelled in accordance with the law of equal freedom. And if so, those cannot be called democracies under which, as under the Greek and Roman governments, from four-fifths to eleven-twelfths of the people were slaves. Neither can those be called democracies, which, like the constitutions of mediæval Italy, conferred power on the burghers and nobles only. Nor can those even be called democracies, which, like the Swiss states, have always treated a certain unincorporated class as political outlaws. Enlarged aristocracies these should be termed; not democracies. No matter whether they be a minority or a majority to whom power is denied; the exclusion of them is in spirit the same, and the definition of a democracy is equally broken. The man who steals a penny we call dishonest, as well as the man who steals a pound; and we do so because his act equally testifies to a certain defect of character. Similarly we must consider a government aristocratic, be the class it excludes large or small.
They, however, make the strangest mistake who, referring as they commonly do to the United States, urge the existence of slavery as itself an argument against democracy. Put in a definite form, this would aptly serve the logician as a specimen absurdity. A pseudo-democracy is found not democratic enough, and it is therefore inferred that democracy is a bad thing! Whilst some Autolycus is eulogizing honesty and quoting himself as a sample of it, he is detected in the act of picking his neighbour’s pocket; whereupon it is argued that honesty ought forthwith to be repudiated! With his mouth full of “noble sentiments,” and leading a seemingly moral life, a Joseph Surface deceives his friends; and, on its being discovered that he is a villain, there arises the exclamation—“What a shocking thing is this morality!”
But, passing over what might further be said concerning the alleged failure of democracies, let it be granted that they have failed; let it be granted that there have from time to time been forms of government approaching to the democratic—nay, that in the course of revolutions the thing itself has had a transient existence; let all this be granted, it still proves nothing. For which is it amongst the endeavours of man that does not at first fail? Is not perseverance through a series of defeats the natural history of success? Does not the process we pass through in learning to walk afford us a type of all human experiences? Though we see a child make hundreds of bootless attempts to maintain its balance, we do not conclude that it is doomed to remain for ever upon all-fours. Nor do we, in the conduct of its education, cease telling it to “try again,” because it has many times fallen short of a desired achievement. Doubtless it would be unwise to base an argument upon the assumed analogy between the growth of the individual and of the state (though, both being governed by the same laws of human development, there is probably a genuine analogy between them); but the simile may fairly be employed to hint that the failure of past efforts made by society to preserve the erect attitude of democracy, by no means shows that such attitude is not the proper one.
And, in fact, our theory anticipates such failures. We have already seen that a high form of government is rendered practicable only by a high type of character—that freedom can increase only as fast as control becomes needless—that the perfect man alone can realize the perfect state. A democracy, therefore, being the highest form that a government can assume—indicative, if not of the ultimate phase of civilization, still of the penultimate one—must of necessity fail in the hands of barbarous and semi-barbarous men.
Whilst, then, it is maintained that nearly all these alleged failures of democracy are not failures of democracy at all, but of something else, it is argued that the fact of those comparatively genuine democracies set up during revolutions, lapsing rapidly back into pre-existing arrangements, is in nowise at variance with our position.
Whether in any given case a democracy is practicable, is a question that will always find its own solution. The physiologist shows us that in an animal organism, the soft parts determine the forms of the hard ones; and it is equally true that in the social organism, the seemingly fixed framework of laws and institutions is moulded by the seemingly forceless thing—character. Social arrangements are the bones to that body, of which the national morality is the life; and they will grow into free, healthy shapes, or into sickly and cramped ones, according as that morality, that life, is vigorous or otherwise.
The vital principle of society we have seen to be the law of equal freedom: and we have further seen that in the compound faculty originating a moral sense, there exists an agent enabling men to appreciate, to love, and to act up to this law (Chaps. IV. and V.). We have seen that to realize the Divine idea—greatest happiness—the human constitution must be such as that each man confining himself within his own sphere of activity, shall leave intact the similar spheres of activity of others (Chap. III.); and we have further seen that an instinct of our own freedom, and a sympathy which makes us respect the like freedom of our fellows, compose a mechanism capable of establishing this state of things. If these feelings are undeveloped, a people’s beliefs, laws, customs, and manners, will be aggressive in their character: let them act with due force, and the organization of the community, equally with the conduct of its members, will be in harmony with the social law. Political forms indicate the degree of efficiency with which this mental mechanism works; are in a manner supplementary to such mechanism; are bad and coercive if it is defective; become ameliorated in proportion as it acts well. And thus democracy, as one of the higher social forms, is of necessity identified, both in origin and practicability, with a dominant moral sense. This fact has been already more than once hinted; but it will be desirable now to examine more attentively than heretofore the grounds on which it is alleged.
Observe first, then, that in the earlier stages of civilization, before the process of adaptation has yet produced much effect, the desire for political equality does not exist. There were no agitations for representative government amongst the Egyptians, or the Persians, or the Assyrians; with them all disputes were as to who should be tyrant. By the Hindoos a similar state of things is exhibited to the present hour. The Russians, too, are still under this phase; and, in their utter carelessness of civil liberty, shun any one who preaches justice and condemns tyranny, as a perverse malcontent. The like mental condition was shown during the earlier stages of our own progress. In the middle ages fealty to a feudal lord was accounted a duty, and the assertion of personal freedom a crime. Rights of man were not then dreamed of. Revolutions were nothing but dynastic quarrels; not what they have been in later times—attempts to make government more popular. And if, after glancing at the changes that have taken place between the far past and the present, we reflect upon the character of modern ideas and agitations, on declarations of rights, liberty of the press, slave emancipation, removal of religious disabilities, Reform Bills, Chartism, &c., and consider how through all of them there runs a kindred spirit, and how this spirit is manifesting itself with constantly-increasing intensity and universality, we shall see that these facts imply some moral change; and explicable as they are by the growth of this compound faculty responding to the law of equal freedom, it is reasonable to consider them as showing the mode in which such faculty seeks to place social arrangements in harmony with that law; or, in other words, as illustrating the efforts of the moral sense to realize the democratic state.
If a democracy is produced by this agency, so also is it rendered practicable by it. The popular form of government as contrasted with the monarchical, is professedly one which places less restraint upon the individual. In speaking of it we use such terms as free institutions, civil liberty, self-government, all implying this. But the diminution of external restraint can take place only at the same rate as the increase of internal restraint. Conduct has to be ruled either from without or from within. If the rule from within is not efficient, there must exist a supplementary rule from without. If, on the other hand, all men are properly ruled from within, government becomes needless, and all men are perfectly free. Now the chief faculty of self-rule being the moral sense (Chap. V.), the degree of freedom in their institutions which any given people can bear, will be proportionate to the diffusion of this moral sense amongst them. And only when its influence greatly predominates can so large an instalment of freedom as a democracy become possible.
Lastly, the supremacy of this same faculty affords the only guarantee for the stability of a democracy. On the part of the people it gives rise to what we call a jealousy of their liberties—a watchful determination to resist anything like encroachment upon their rights: whilst it generates amongst those in power such a respect for these rights as checks any desire they may have to agress. Conversely, let the ruled be deficient in the instinct of freedom, and they will be indifferent to the gradual usurpation of their privileges so long as it entails no immediate inconvenience upon them; and the rulers in such case, being deficient in sympathetic regard for these privileges, will be, to a like extent, unscrupulous in usurping. Let us observe, in detail, the different modes in which men thus contradistinguished comport themselves under a representative form of government. Amongst a people not yet fitted for such a form, citizens, lacking the impulse to claim equal power with each other, become careless in the exercise of their franchise, doubt whether it is of any use to them, and even pride themselves on not interfering in public affairsa . Provided their liberties are but indirectly affected, they will watch the passing of the most insidious measures with vacant unconcern. It is only barefaced aggressions that they can perceive to be aggressions at all. Placing as they do but little value upon their privileges, they are readily bribed. When threatened, instead of assuming that altitude of dogged resistance which the instinct of freedom dictates, they truckle. If tricked out of a right of citizenship, they are quite indifferent about getting it again; and indeed when the exercise of it conflicts with any immediate interest are glad to give it up,—will even petition, as in times past did many of the corporate towns, both in England and Spain, that they may be excused from electing representatives. Meanwhile, in accordance with that law of social homogeneity lately dwelt upon, those in authority are in a like ratio ready to encroach. They intimidate, they bribe, they plot, and by degrees establish a comparatively coercive government. On the other hand, amongst a people sufficiently endowed with the faculty responding to the law of equal freedom, no such retrograde process is possible. The man of genuinely democratic feeling loves liberty as a miser loves gold, for its own sake and quite irrespective of its advantages (p. 95). What he thus highly values he sleeplessly watches; he quickly detects any attempt at diminution of it; and he opposes aggression the moment it commences. Should any assume undue prerogatives, he straightway steps up to them, and demands their authority for so doing. Transactions that seem in the remotest degree underhand awaken his suspicions, which are not be laid so long as anything remains unexplained. He scents out an abuse with instinctive sagacity, and having found one, never rests until it is abolished. If in any proposed arrangement there be a latent danger to the liberties of himself and others—any germ of irresponsible power, he instantly discovers it and refuses his consent. He is alarmed by such a proposal as the disfranchisement of a constituency by the legislature; for it at once occurs to him that the measure thus levelled against one may be levelled against many. To call that responsible government under which a cabinet minister can entangle the nation in a quarrel about some paltry territory before they know anything of it, he sees to be absurd. It needs no chain of reasoning to show him that the assumption, by a delegated assembly, of the power to lengthen its own existence from three years to seven, is an infraction of the representative principle; he feels that it is so; and no plausible professions of patriotism, no boasting of honourable intentions, can check his opposition to the setting up of so dangerous a precedent. Still more excited is he when applied to for grants of public money, with the understanding that on a future occasion he shall be told how they have been spent. Flimsy excuses about “exigencies of the state,” and the like, cannot entrap him into so glaring an act of self-stultification. He listens to them frowningly, and maintaining as he does that the protection of men’s rights is the chief, or rather the sole, “exigency of the state,” sternly negatives the request. Thus is he ever on the watch to extirpate incipient oppression; to nip abuses in the bud; or, if such an expression is allowable, to stop encroachment before it begins. And when a community consists of men animated by the spirit thus exemplified, the continuance of liberal institutions is certain.
Political freedom, therefore, is, as we say, an external result of an internal sentiment—is alike, in origin, practicability, and permanence, dependent on the moral sense; and it is only when this is supreme in its influence that so high a form of social organization as a democracy can be maintained.
And thus we arrive at the true answer to that question at present so widely agitated—Is a purely popular form of government practicable now? For, as the sentiment by which a state of perfect political liberty is generated, is also the one by which it is upheld, there immediately suggests itself the corollary that, when the sentiment is strong enough to generate it, it is strong enough to uphold it. Whenever, therefore, a people calmly arrives at the conclusion that democratic institutions are right; whenever they dispassionately determine that they shall be adopted; or, in other words, whenever the circumstances show that the setting up of such institutions is not an accident, but results from the ascendancy of the aforesaid sentiment; then, and then alone, are such institutions permanently possible.
In the opinion, now happily so prevalent, that the pacific mode of working out political changes is the only efficient one, we have a collateral expression of this truth. Men see that freedom achieved by the sword is uniformly lost again; but that it is lasting when gained by peaceful agitation. Hence they very properly infer the propriety of carrying reforms solely by means which the moral law recognises—means which do not involve violations of it. Right as this conclusion may be, however, it is not philosophically understood. Men do not see why the thing is so. There is no truth in the usual supposition that the loss of liberties obtained by violence is a kind of retribution. It is not that bloodshed vitiates the free institutions it may help to set up; nor is it that when peacefully established such institutions are preserved by virtue of their being so established; but it is that the manner in which the change is wrought indicates the national character, and proves it to be respectively unfit or fit for the new social form. A brief examination of the moral conditions implied by these different kinds of revolution will show this.
When an old regime is overthrown by force, no guarantee is given that the new one put in its place will satisfy the wants of the age. The occurrence is simply a demonstration that the miseries inflicted under this old regime were no longer bearable. To repeat the saying of Sully, quoted by Burke, and which is perfectly true when applied to convulsions of this nature—“It is never from the desire to attack that the people rise, but from impatience under suffering.” Now anger against an agent inflicting pain is a passion, exhibited by brutes as well as by men; and a social revolution wrought out by such a motive power is not likely to leave behind it a state of things specially adapted to the people’s circumstances. That sudden display of ill-temper with which a man dashes on the ground something that has given him much provocation, and yet the loss of which he will subsequently regret, serves in some measure to illustrate the conduct of a people thus excited. They are irritated, and justly so; the hold which authority has had over them is weakened; that sentiment of power-worship—that loyalty, as we term it—which was but the index of a certain adaptation between their characters and the rule they had lived under, is for the time being in abeyance—is silenced, drowned in the rising tide of their wrath; and when, after they have destroyed the old framework of things, another becomes needful, it is very improbable that the one set up during this temporary state of excitement will be one really in harmony with their natural characters. Nay, indeed, it is sure to be out of harmony with their natural characters; for consider, the institutions they set up will bear the impress of the feeling then prevalent—a feeling widely different from that previously exhibited, and also from that which will come uppermost again by-and-by. Stimulated by transpiring events, the germs of those sentiments destined some day to establish genuine political freedom, assume a precocious activity—seem much stronger and more general than they really are; whilst, on the contrary, those sentiments which upheld the preceding state of things are almost wholly dormant. The improvised form of government exactly answers to this exceptional condition of mind, and might work could that condition be maintained; but as fast as the popular feeling ebbs back into its ordinary channels, so fast does the incongruity between the new arrangements and the old character make itself felt; and so fast is the retrogression.
On viewing the facts, through the foregoing theory of moral-sense agency, it becomes still more manifest that free institutions obtained by violence are of necessity premature. For what are the requisite antecedents to one of these social convulsions? They are the torments of a wide-spread and deep-seated injustice. And of what character is this injustice the exponent? Evidently a character deficient in those sentiments which deter men from aggression—a character in which the faculties of the social man are as yet imperfectly developed—a character, that is, by which the law of equal freedom is not duly responded to. Hence the unscrupulous trespasses on the one part, and the culpable submission on the other, which, by their accumulated results, have induced so terrible a crisis. Well: though by a revolution the people may re-make their government, they cannot re-make themselves. Slightly changed, perhaps, they may be in the passing through a period of such fiery excitement; but, in the main, they are still the men they were. The old process will consequently repeat itself. The storm of passion having died away, there will again begin these encroachments and this indifference; and they will continue until, by a gradual imposition of fresh bonds, the nation has been reduced, not, indeed, to a condition as bad as before, but to a condition not greatly in advance of it.
Of political ameliorations pacifically wrought out, exactly the opposite is predicable. These appertain to a higher phase of civilization. In the first place they presuppose the popular suffering to be of a comparatively mild type—no longer unbearable, maddening; and, other things equal, this indicates a diminished amount of injustice; and a diminished amount of injustice implies a more prevalent and energetic moral sense. Thus the very antecedents of a peaceful agitation serve in some measure to ensure the success of the free institutions obtained by it. But it is in the process by which one of these bloodless revolutions is brought about that the existence of the needful popular character is most clearly evinced. For in what consists the vitality of such a movement? What is the secret power that originates it; to which its growth is due; and by the help of which it triumphs? Manifestly this feeling that responds to the law of equal freedom. These pertinacious demands for political equality are simply the signs of its increasing activity. Not hunger, nor the anxiety to escape from torture, nor the desire for vengeance, is now the transforming force, but a calm unswerving determination to get human liberties recognised. The carrying out one of these battles of opinion to a successful issue through long delays and discouragements, through ridicule and misrepresentation, implies a perennial source of energy quite different from mere insurrectionary rage. In place of a passing gust of anger, a persistent and ever-strengthening sentiment is here the acting agent. Agitation is its gymnasium. Men in whom it predominates cultivate it in the rest. They address it in speeches; they write articles to it; they convene meetings for its manifestation. It is aroused by denunciations of injustice; it is appealed to in the name of conscience; it is conjured by all that is fair and upright and equitable. Pictures of the slave and the tyrant are exhibited to excite its abhorrence; a state of pure freedom is described to it as the one to be loved and hoped for; and it is made sensible of the sacredness of human rights. After men’s minds have been for many years thus exercised and stimulated, a sufficiently intense manifestation of feeling is produced, and then comes the reform. But this feeling, mark, proceeds from that same combination of faculties by which, as we have seen, free institutions are upheld and made practicable. One of these agitations, therefore, is a kind of apprenticeship to the liberties obtained by it. The power to get freedom becomes the measure of the power to use it. The law of social forms is that they shall be expressive of national character; they come into existence bearing its impress; and they live only so long as it supplies them with vitality. Now a general dissatisfaction with old arrangements is a sign that the national character requires better ones; and for the people in pursuit of these better ones to have organised associations, maintained lecturers, and for session after session to have wearied the legislature with petitions—to have continued this, too, until the accumulated force of opinion has become irresistible, is to have given conclusive proof that the change brought about is really in harmony with the wants of the age. The new institutions do not now express an exceptional state of the popular mind, but express its habitual state, and hence are certain to be fitted to it.
Here then is encouragement for timid reformers. Men of true insight need none of these detailed considerations to steady their convictions by. The mathematician does not call for a pair of compasses to test a proved theorem with; nor does the man of healthy faith wait for more evidence after he hears what the moral law says. It is enough for him that a thing is right. He will never believe that the carrying out of what is right by right means, can be injurious. And this is the only spirit worthy to be named religious. But as, unhappily, the many are not endowed with so trusting a belief, it is requisite to back the dictates of equity with supplementary arguments. The moral infidelity of the expediency school requires meeting. And it is to those infected by it that the above considerations are commended, as showing that they need not fear to exhibit whatever sympathy with democratic principles they possess—need not fear to throw their energies at once into the popular cause, for that when equitable institutions are equitably obtained, they must necessarily prosper.
Thus the claim deducible from the law of equal freedom—the claim possessed by each citizen to like political power with the rest—is not counterbalanced by any of those prudential considerations commonly urged against it. We find that so long as selfishness makes government needful at all, it must make every government corrupt, save one in which all men are represented. The assertion that conceding universal suffrage would be creating a comparatively immoral constituency, proves to be quite unwarrantable; seeing that all classes are immoral, and, when numbers and circumstances are taken into account, apparently in an equal degree. A glance at the evidence shows that popular ignorance also is a two-edged objection; for, in the knowledge which may be supposed needful for the right use of votes, the mass of those inside the pale of the constitution are about as deficient as those outside of it. The argument that purely representative institutions have been tried and have failed, is not only based upon inapplicable instances, but would prove nothing if substantiated. Lastly, in this, as in other cases, it turns out that the possibility of fulfilling the injunctions of the moral law is proportionate to the advance men have made towards the moral state; political arrangements inevitably adjusting themselves to the popular character. So that whilst we may say to the ardent democrats—“Be sure that a democracy will be attained whenever the people are good enough for one”—we may on the other hand say to those of little faith—“Fear not that a democracy, when peacefully attained, can be attained too soon.”
the duty of the state.
As already said (pp. 207 and 208), morality stands towards government only in the nature of a limitation—behaves negatively with regard to it, not positively—replies to all inquiries by silently indicating the conditions of existence, constitution, and conduct, under which alone it may be ethically tolerated. And thus, ignoring government altogether, the moral law can give us no direct information as to what a government ought to do—can merely say what it ought not to do. That we are left with no precise knowledge beyond this, may indeed be inferred from a preceding chapter. For if, as was shown, every man has a right to secede from the state, and if, as a consequence, the state must be regarded as a body of men voluntarily associated, there remains nothing to distinguish it in the abstract from any other incorporated society—nothing to determine its specific function; and we may conceive its members assigning to it any function that does not involve a breach of the moral law.
Immediate guidance in this matter being thus impossible, we must follow such indirect ways of arriving at the truth as are open to us. The question is no longer one of pure ethics, and is therefore incapable of solution by any exact methods: approximative ones only are available. Fortunately there are several of these; and converging as they do to the same conclusion, that conclusion assumes something like the character of certainty. Let us now successively employ them.
Good, and perfect, and complete, are words applicable to whatever is thoroughly fitted to its purpose; and by the word moral we signify the same property in a man. A thing which entirely answers its end cannot be improved; and a man whose nature leads him to a spontaneous fulfilment of the Divine will cannot be conceived better. To be quite self-sufficing—to have powers exactly commensurate with what ought to be done, is to be organically moral. Given the ordained object—happiness; given the conditions under which this happiness is to be compassed; and perfection consists in the possession of faculties exactly adapted to these conditions: whilst the moral law is simply a statement of that line of conduct by which the conditions are satisfied. Hence to the rightly-constituted man all external help is needless—detrimental even. Just as the healthy body wants no crutch, tonic, or stimulus, but has within itself the means of doing everything required of it, so the normally-developed character asks no artificial aids; and indeed repudiates them as pre-occupying the sphere for the exercise of faculties which the hypothesis supposes it to have. When, on the other hand, man’s constitution and the conditions of his existence are not in harmony there arise external agencies to supply the place of deficient internal faculties. And these temporary substitutes being supplementary to the faculties, and assisting the imperfect man as they do to fulfil the law of his being—the moral law, as we call it—obtain a certain reflex authority from that law, varying with the degree in which they subserve its requirements. Whatever may be its special function, it is clear that government is one of these artificial aids; and the most important of them.
Or the case may perhaps be more clearly stated thus:—If government has any duty at all, that duty must be to perform a service of some kind—to confer a benefit. But every possible benefit or service which can be rendered to a man is comprehended under the general expression of assisting him to fulfil the law of his being. Whether you feed the hungry, or cure the diseased, or defend the weak, or curb the vicious, you do but enable or constrain them to conform to the conditions of complete happiness more nearly than they would otherwise do. And causing conformity to the conditions of complete happiness is causing conformity to the moral law. If, therefore, all benefits that can be conferred on men are aids to the fulfilment of the moral law, the benefits to be conferred by government must be of this nature.
So much being conceded, let us next inquire how the moral law may be most essentially subserved. Practicability manifestly underlies performance. That which makes an act feasible must take precedence of the act itself. Before the injunction—Do this, there necessarily comes the postulate—It can be done. Before establishing a code for the right exercise of faculties, there must be established the condition which makes the exercise of faculties possible. Now, this condition which makes the exercise of faculties possible is—power to pursue the objects on which they are to be exercised—the objects of desire; and this is what we otherwise call liberty of action—freedom. But that which makes the exercise of faculties possible, is that which makes the fulfilment of the moral law possible. And freedom being thus the grand pre-requisite to the fulfilment of the moral law, it follows that if a man is to be helped in fulfilling the moral law, the first thing to be done is to secure to him this all-essential freedom. This aid must come before any other aid—is, in fact, that which renders any other aid practicable; for no faculty to which liberty of action is denied can be assisted in the performance of its function until liberty of action has been restored. Of all institutions, therefore, which the imperfect man sets up as supplementary to his nature, the chief one must have for its office to guarantee his freedom. But the freedom that can be guaranteed to each is bounded by the like freedom to be guaranteed to all others. This is necessitated both by the moral law and by the simultaneous claims made upon the institution itself by its clients. Hence we must infer that it is the function of this chief institution which we call a government, to uphold the law of equal freedom.
To determine the duty of the state by reverting to a supposed understanding entered into by the founders of society—a social contract—we have already seen to be impracticable (p. 200). Men did not deliberately establish political arrangements, but grew into them unconsciously—probably had no conception of an associated condition until they found themselves in it. Moreover, were the hypothesis of an original agreement reasonable, it could not help us; for it would be folly to assume that the duties imposed by a horde of savages on their chief, or council of chiefs, must necessarily be the duties of governments throughout all time. Nevertheless, if, instead of speculating as to what might have happened during the infancy of civilization, we consider what must have happened, something may be learnt. On turning to page 203, the reader will find it argued at length that for men to have remained in the associated state implies that on the whole they found it preferable to the isolated one; which means that they obtained a greater sum total of gratification under it; which means that it afforded them fuller exercise for their faculties; which means that it offered a safer guarantee for such exercise—more security for their claims to life and property; that is, for their rights. But if men could have continued in the associated state only because on the average it insured their rights better than the previous one, then the insurance of their rights becomes the special duty which society in its corporate capacity has to perform towards individuals. That function by which a thing begins to exist we may safely consider its all-essential function. Now, whilst those many aids to gratification which civilization has brought us were yet undeveloped, society must have existed only because it protected its members in the pursuit of those things which afford satisfaction to the faculties. But to protect men in the pursuit of those things which afford satisfaction to the faculties is to maintain their rights. And if it was by maintaining the rights of its members that society began to be, then to maintain their rights must ever be regarded as its primary duty.
Further confirmation may be drawn from the universal practice of mankind in this matter. Widely as people have differed respecting the proper bounds of legislative superintendence, all have held them to include the defence of the subject against aggression. Whilst, in various countries and times, a hundred different functions have been assigned to the state—whilst there have probably been no two governments that have entirely agreed in the number and nature of their functions—whilst the things specially attended to by some have been wholly neglected by others, and thereby proved non-essential, there is one office—that of protector—which has been common to them all. Did this fact stand alone it might by a stretch of incredulity be construed into an accident. But coinciding as it does with the foregoing inferences drawn from the nature of man’s constitution and the necessary origin of society, we may safely take it as a further evidence that the duty of the state is—to protect—to enforce the law of equal freedom; to maintain men’s rights, or, as we commonly express it—to administer justice.
The question—What is the thing to be done by a government? being answered, there arises the other—Which is the most efficient mode of doing it? To the proposition—the administration of justice is the special duty of the state, there hangs the corollary—the state ought to employ the best methods of fulfilling that duty; and this brings us to the inquiry—What are they?
By our hypothesis the connection of each individual with the community as politically organized, must be voluntary. In virtue of its very office an institution which proposes to guarantee a man’s freedom to exercise his faculties, can only tender its services to him; cannot coerce him into the acceptance of them. If it does it becomes self-contradicting—vio. lates that very freedom which it proposes to maintain. Citizenship then being willingly assumed, we must inquire what agreement is thereby tacitly entered into between the state and its members. Two things are conceivable. There may either be an understanding that whoever applies to the judicial power for assistance shall defray the costs thereupon incurred by it on his behalf, or it may be provided that the payment of a constant contribution towards the expenses of this judicial power shall entitle the contributor to its services whenever he needs them. The first of these arrangements does not seem altogether practicable; the other is one to which existing systems partially assimilate. In either case, however, it is taken for granted that the parties will duly fulfil their promises; that equivalents of protection and taxation shall be exchanged; that, on the one side, if the individual chooses to avail himself of state guardianship, he shall not refuse his fair share of state burdens; and on the other, that when the state has imposed the burdens it shall not withhold the guardianship.
Self-evident as is this interpretation of the agreement, which citizenship presupposes, judicial practice is but little guided by it. Our system of jurisprudence takes a very one-sided view of the matter. It is indeed stringent enough in enforcing the claim of the state against the subject; but as to the reciprocal claim of the subject against the state it is comparatively careless. That it recognises the title of the tax-payer to protection is true; but it is also true that it does this but partially. From certain infringements of rights, arbitrarily classed as criminal, it is ready to defend every complainant; but against others, not so classed, it leaves every one to defend himself. The most trifling injury, if inflicted in a specified manner, is cognizable by the magistrate, and redress may be obtained free of charge; but if otherwise inflicted, the injury, no matter how serious, must be passively borne, unless the sufferer has plenty of money and a sufficiency of daring. Let a man have his hat knocked over his eyes, and the law will zealously espouse his cause—will mulct his assailant in a fine and costs, and will do this without charge. But if, instead of having been bonneted, he has been wrongfully imprisoned, he is politely referred to a solicitor, with the information that the offence committed against him is actionable: which means, that if rich he may play double or quits with Fate; and that if poor he must go without even this chance of compensation. Against picking of pockets, as ordinarily practised, the ruling power grants its lieges gratuitous protection; but pockets may be picked in various indirect ways, and it will idly look on unless costly means are taken to interest it. It will rush to the defence of one who has been deprived of a few turnips by a half-starved tramp; but as to the estate on which these turnips grew, that may be stolen without risk, so long as the despoiled owner is left friendless and pennylessa . Some complaints need only to be whispered, and it forthwith plays the parts of constable, lawyer, judge, and gaoler; whilst to others it turns a deaf ear unless they are made through its bribed hangers-on. Now it is the injured man’s champion; and now it throws down its weapons to sit as umpire, whilst oppressor and oppressed run a tilt at each other. Over such and such portions of a citizen’s rights it mounts guard and cries—“Who goes there?” to every intruder; but upon the rest any one may trample without fear of being challenged by it.
To a man with perceptions unblunted by custom, this mode of carrying out the agreement subsisting between himself and the state, would seem strange enough. It is not impossible that he might call the transaction a swindle; might argue that his property had been taken from him under false pretences. “To what purpose,” he might ask, “did I submit myself to your laws, if I am now to be denied the advantages promised in return? Have I not complied with all the stipulations? You demanded allegiance, and I gave it. You said money was needful, and I paid the uttermost farthing of your exactions, heavy as they were. You required me to fulfil certain civil functions, and I fulfilled them cheerfully. Yet now when I ask you to give me that for which I made these sacrifices, you shuffle. I supposed you were to act the part of an Arguseyed and Briareus-armed guardian, ever watching over my interests, ever ready to step in and defend them; so that whether sleeping or waking, absorbed in business or immersed in pleasure, I might have the gratifying consciousness of being carefully shielded from injury. Now, however, I find, not only that my rights may be trespassed upon in many ways without attracting your notice, but that even when I tell you I have been wronged, and demand your interposition, you shut the door in my face, and will not listen until I have exorbitantly feed some of the servants who have access to your private ear. What am I to understand by this? Is it that your revenue is insufficient to defray the cost of dispensing justice in all cases? If so, why not say as much, and let us increase it? Is it that you cannot accomplish what you profess? If so, declare candidly what you are able to do, and what not. But at any rate let us have some intelligible understanding, and not this jumble of contradictions—this conflict of promise and performance—this taking of the pay without doing the duty.”
That men should sit down so apathetically as they do under the present corrupt administration of justice, is not a little remarkable. That we, with all our jealousy of abuses; with all our opportunities of canvassing, blaming, and amending the acts of the legislature; with all our readiness to organize and agitate; with the Anti-Corn-Law, Slavery-Abolition, and Catholic-Emancipation victories fresh in remembrance; that we, the independent, determined, self-ruling English, should daily behold the giant abominations of our judicial system, and yet do nothing to rectify them, is really quite incomprehensible. It is not as though the facts were disputed; all men are agreed upon them. The dangers of law are proverbial. The names of its officers are used as synonymes for trickery and greediness. The decisions of its courts are typical of chance. In all companies you hear but one opinion, and each person confirms it by a fresh illustration. Now you are informed of £300 having been expended in the recovery of forty shillings’ worth of property; and again of a cause that was lost because an affirmation could not be received in place of an oath. A right-hand neighbour can tell you of a judge who allowed an indictment to be objected to, on the plea that the words, “in the year of our Lord,” were not inserted before the date; and another to your left narrates how a thief lately tried for stealing a guinea-pig was acquitted, because a guinea-pig was shown to be a kind of rat, and a rat could not be property. At one moment the story is of a poor man whose rich enemy has deliberately ruined him by tempting him into litigation; and at the next it is of a child who has been kept in prison for six weeks, in default of sureties for her appearance as witness against one who had assaulted hera . This gentleman has been cheated out of half his property, but dared not attempt to recover it for fear of losing more; whilst his less prudent companion can parallel the experience of him who said that he had only twice been on the verge of ruin; once when he had lost a law-suit, and once when he had gained one. On all sides you are told of trickery and oppression, and revenge, committed in the name of justice; of wrongs endured for want of money wherewith to purchase redress; of rights unclaimed because contention with the powerful usurper was useless; of chancery-suits that outlasted the lives of the suitors; of fortunes swallowed up in settling a title; of estates lost by an informality. And then comes a catalogue of victims—of those who have trusted and been deceived; gray-headed men whose hardly-earned savings went to fatten the attorney; threadbare and hollow-cheeked insolvents who lost all in the attempt to get their due; some who had been reduced to subsist on the charity of friends; others who had died the death of a pauper; with not a few whose anxieties had produced insanity, or who in their desperation had committed suicide. Yet, whilst all parties echo each others’ exclamations of disgust, these iniquities continue unchecked!
There are not wanting, however, men who defend this state of things—who actually argue that government should perform but imperfectly what they allow to be its special function. Whilst, on the one hand, they admit that administration of justice is the vital necessity of civilized life, they maintain, on the other, that justice may be administered too well! “For,” say they, “were law cheap, all men would avail themselves of it. Did there exist no difficulty in obtaining justice, justice would be demanded in every case of violated rights. Ten times as many appeals would be made to the authorities as now. Men would rush into legal proceedings on the slightest provocation; and litigation would be so enormously increased as to make the remedy worse than the disease.”
Such is the argument; an argument involving either a gross absurdity or an unwarrantable assumption. For observe: when this great multiplication of law proceedings under a gratuitous administration of justice is urged as a reason why things should remain as they are, it is implied that the evils attendant upon the rectification of all wrongs, would be greater than are the evils attendant upon submission to those wrongs. Either the great majority of civil aggressions must be borne in silence as now, or must be adjudicated upon as then; and the allegation is that the first alternative is preferable. But if ten thousand litigations are worse than ten thousand injustices, then one litigation is worse than one injustice. Which means that, as a general principle, an appeal to the law for protection is a greater evil than the trespass complained of. Which means that it would be better to have no administration of justice at all! If for the sake of escaping this absurdity it be assumed that, as things now are, all great wrongs are rectified,—that the costliness of law prevents insignificant ones only from being brought into court, and that consequently the above inference cannot be drawn,—then, either denial is given to the obvious fact that, by the poverty they inflict, many of the greatest wrongs incapacitate their victims from obtaining redress, and to the obvious fact that the civil injuries suffered by the masses, though absolutely small, are relatively great; or else it is taken for granted that on nine-tenths of the population, who are too poor to institute legal proceedings, no civil injuries of moment are ever inflicted!
Nor is this all. It is not necessarily true that making the law easy of access would increase litigation. An opposite effect might be produced. The prophecy is vitiated by that very common mistake of calculating the result of some new arrangement on the assumption that all other things would remain as they are. It is taken for granted that under the hypothetical regime just as many transgressions would occur as at present. Whereas any candid observer can see that most of the civil offences now committed, are committed in consequence of the inefficiency of our judicial system;
“For sparing justice feeds iniquity.”
It is the difficulty that he knows there will be in convicting him which tempts the knave to behave knavishly. Were not the law so expensive and so uncertain, dishonest traders would never risk the many violations of it they now do. The trespasses of the wealthy against the poor would be rare, were it not that the aggrieved have practically no remedy. Mark how, to the man who contemplates wronging his fellow, our legal system holds out promises of impunity. Should his proposed victim be one of small means, there is the likelihood that he will not be able to carry on a law-suit: here is encouragement. Should he possess enough money, why, even then, having, like most people, a great dread of litigation, he will probably bear his loss unresistingly: here is further encouragement. Lastly, our plotter remembers that, should his victim venture an action, judicial decisions are very much matters of accident, and that the guilty are often rescued by clever counsel: here is still more encouragement. And so, all things considered, he determines to chance it. Now, he would never decide thus were legal protection efficient. Were the administration of law prompt, gratuitous, and certain, those probabilities and possibilities which now beckon him on to fraudulent acts would vanish. Civil injuries wittingly committed would almost cease. Only in cases where both parties sincerely believed themselves right, would judicial arbitration be called for; and the number of such cases is comparatively small. Litigation, therefore, so far from increasing on justice being made easy of obtainment, would probably decrease.
But, after all, it is not the setting up of this or that system of jurisprudence which causes the intercourse of men with each other to be equitable or otherwise. The matter lies deeper. As with forms of government, so with forms of law; it is the national character that decides. The power of an apparatus primarily depends, not on the ingenuity of its design, but on the strength of its materials. Be his plan never so well devised—his arrangement of struts, and ties, and bolts, never so good—his balance of forces never so perfect—yet if our engineer has not considered whether the respective parts of his structure will bear the strain to be put upon them, we must call him a bungler. Similarly with the institution-maker. If the people with whom he has to deal are not of the requisite quality, no cleverness in his contrivance will avail anything. Let us never forget that institutions are made of men; that men are the struts, ties, and bolts, out of which they are framed; and that, dovetail and brace them together as we may, it is their nature which must finally determine whether the institutions can stand. Always there will be some line of least resistance, along which, if the humanity they are wrought out of be not strong enough, they will give way; and having given way, will sink down into a less trying attitude. Thus it is, amongst other things, with judicial mechanisms. No matter how admirably devised, their results will be good only in proportion as the nation is good. The instrumentalities by which they are to act—judges, juries, constables, witnesses, gaolers, and the rest—must be units of the people—will, on the average, be marked by the same imperfections as the people; and though the system they are set to work out be perfect, yet will the badness of their characters degrade its acts down to a level with the general conduct of society.
That justice can be well administered only in proportion as men become just, is a fact too generally overlooked. “If they had but trial by jury!” says some one, moralizing on the Russians. But they can’t have it. It could not exist amongst them. Even if established it would not work. They lack that substratum of honesty and truthfulness on which alone it can stand. To be of use, this, like any other institution, must be born of the popular character. It is not trial by jury that produces justice, but it is the sentiment of justice that produces trial by jury, as the organ through which it is to act; and the organ will be inert unless the sentiment is there. These social forms which we regard as so potential, are things of quite secondary importance. What mattered it that the Roman plebeians were endowed with certain privileges, when the patricians prevented them from exercising those privileges by ill-treatment carried even to the death? What mattered it that our statute-book contained equitable provisions, and that officers were appointed to enforce them, when there needed a Magna Charta to demand that justice should neither be sold, denied, nor delayed? What matters it even now, that all men are declared equal before the law, when magistrates are swayed by class sympathies, and treat a gentleman more leniently than an artizan? If we think that we can rectify the relationships of men at will, we deceive ourselves. What Sir James Mackintosh says of constitutions—that they are not made, but grow, applies to all social arrangements. It is not true that once upon a time men said—“Let there be law”; and there was law. Administration of justice was originally impracticable, Utopian; and has become more and more practicable only as men have become less savage. The old system of settling disputes by personal contest, and the new system of settling them by state arbitration, have coexisted throughout all ages; the one little by little usurping the place of the other, outgrowing it. It was only after some advance had been made that the civil power could get recognised at all as a maintainer of rights. The feudal baron with castle and retainers maintained his own rights, and would have considered himself disgraced by asking legal aid. Even after he had agreed to regard his suzerain as umpire, it was still in the lists, and by the strength of his arm and his lance, that he made good his cause. And when we remember that equally amongst lords and labourers this practice lingers even now—that we have still duels, which it is thought dishonourable for a gentleman to avoid by applying to a magistrate—that we have still pugilistic fights, which the people try to hide from the police—we are taught that it is impossible for a judicial system to become efficient faster than men become good. It is only after public morality has gained a certain ascendancy, that the civil power gets strong enough to perform its simplest functions. Before this it cannot even put down banditti; border forays continue in spite of it; and it is bearded in its very strongholds, as, amongst ourselves, by the thieves of Whitefriars but two centuries ago. Under early governments the officers of law are less friends than enemies. Legal forms are habitually used for purposes of oppression. Causes are decided by favouritism, bribery, and back-stairs intrigue. The judicial apparatus breaks down under the work it has to do, and shows us in a Jonathan Wild, a Judge Jeffries, and even a Lord Chancellor Bacon, how inevitably its several parts are rendered inoperative by a generally-diffused wickedness.
Of course the efficiency of present and future systems of jurisprudence must be determined by the same influences. Of our own legal arrangements we may say, what Emerson has well said of institutions generally—that they are about as good as the characters of men permit them to be. When we read of Orange magistrates who become aggressors rather than protectors; of policemen who conspire with each other to obtain convictions that they may be promoted; and of the late Palace Court, whose officers habitually favoured the plaintiff with the view of inducing men to enter suits there, we find that now, as of old, judicial protection is vitiated by the depravity of the age. Nevertheless it is probable that we are ripe for something better than we have. The universal disgust with which law is regarded, may be taken as evidence of this—as evidence, moreover, that a change is at hand. But it is not likely that the mode of administering justice lately pointed out as the proper one is immediately feasible; seeing that men, by not having yet even recognised it as theoretically right, show themselves considerably below the state to which it is natural. This, however, is no reason for not advocating its adoption. For, what was said in the last chapter respecting an equitable form of government, may be here said respecting an equitable system of law; that the power quietly to establish it is the measure of its practicability.
By dispersing that haze of political superstition through which the state and its appendages loom so large, the foregoing considerations suggest a somewhat startling question. For if when men’s savageness and dishonesty render the administration of justice most necessary, it is impossible; if it becomes possible only in proportion as men themselves become just; and if that same universal uprightness, which permits the administration of justice to become perfect, also makes it needless, as it evidently must, then we may naturally ask—Can the state really administer justice at all? Does it, looking at society as a whole, secure to the people any fuller enjoyment of their rights than they would have without it? May we not conclude that it takes away from men’s liberties in one direction, as much as it gives in another? Is it not a mere dead mechanism worked by a nation’s moral sense; neither adding to, nor deducting from, the force of that moral sense; and consequently unable to alter the sum-total of its effects?
A strange idea, this, some will think; and so at first sight it seems. We have such a habit of regarding government in its protective character, and forgetting its aggressive one, that to ask whether the rights it secures are not about balanced by the rights it violates, seems almost laughable. Nevertheless we shall find that on drawing up a debtor and creditor account, the absurdity of the doubt disappears. Passing over those ruling powers of the East, which, in return for the small amount of security they guarantee, are in the habit of confiscating, under one pretence or other, any property not efficiently concealed by the unfortunate owners, and which, in some cases, push their exactions so far as to have to give back for seed in the spring a part of that crop they had taken from the husband-man at the previous harvest—passing over, too, those middle-age systems of government under which protection, such as it was, had to be purchased by the resignation of personal freedom, let us institute as favourable a comparison as possible. Let us take the relatively good governments we now know, and setting down on the one side the benefits conferred, and on the other the evils inflicted, let us strike a balance between them. Under the head of obligations may be entered the efficient curb which our police system puts upon offences against person and property; our courts of law, too, with all their defects, afford a partial defence against civil injuries which needs setting down in the estimate; and to these must be added what far outweigh them both—that sense of habitual security, and that consequent ability to fearlessly carry on the business of life, which are produced by the mere presence of an active civil power. Even after deducting from these a heavy discount on the score of shortcomings, there unquestionably remains a large surplus of benefit for which the state may claim credit. Turn we now to the per contra statement. As the first item on the list there stands that gigantic injustice inflicted upon nineteen-twentieths of the community by the usurpation of the soil—by the breach of their rights to the use of the earth (Chap. IX.). For this the civil power is responsible—has itself been a party to the aggression—has made it legal, and still defends it as right. Next comes the trespass committed against the many by subordinating them to the few, and forcing them to obey laws to which their consent was never asked. Note again the tyrannies accompanying national defence—the impressments and militiadrawings, the continuous abnegation of liberty in the persons of soldiers and sailors, ending not unfrequently in the sacrifice of their lives. Remember also how our rights are trenched upon by commercial restrictions; and how men are not only prevented from buying and selling where they please, but are debarred from following certain occupations until they have bought government permits. Nor let us forget the penalties that until lately so seriously transgressed religious freedom—penalties which, as the Anti-State-Church Association can show, have by no means disappeared. And all these, together with the many minor restrictions hedging us about, are accompanied by those never-ceasing incursions made upon our property by the tax-gatherer and the officers of customs and excise, by poorrate collectors and churchwardens. Measuring wrongs, as we must, by the degree in which they limit the exercise of faculties, let us now add up the two accounts and contrast their sum-totals. On the one side government partially saves us (only partially, mind) from those assaults, robberies, murders, cheatings, and kindred injuries, to which, were there no such institution, the existing immorality of men would expose us. These we must imagine to be distributed over the community at large, and over the life of each citizen, and then conceive to what average restriction on the free exercise of faculties they would be equivalent. On the other side government itself transgresses men’s liberties by the monopoly of land, by the usurpation of power, by restrictions on trade, by the slavery and death of thousands of soldiers, by the ruin of hundreds it ought to protect, by favouritism to creeds and classes, by the civil functions it makes imperative, by petty restraints too numerous to name, but above all by a remorseless taxation, which, affecting seven-eighths of the nation as it does by abstracting a large percentage from earnings already insufficient for necessaries, virtually obliterates, in great measure, the spheres needed for the development of their natures. We have now to suppose these manifold limitations to the free exercise of faculties averaged like the others, and then to ask ourselves whether the two averages are, or are not, equal. Is the question after all so very irrational? Is not the answer doubtful?
Nay, indeed; consider it rightly and the answer is not at all doubtful. It is very certain that government can not alter the total amount of injustice committed. The absurdity is in supposing that it can—in supposing that by some ingenious artifice we may avoid the consequences of our own natures. The civil power no more does what to the careless eye it seems to do, than the juggler really performs his apparent miracles. It is impossible for man to create force. He can only alter the mode of its manifestation, its direction, its distribution. The power that propels his steamboats and locomotives is not of his making; it was all lying latent in the coal. He telegraphs by an agent set free during the oxidation of zinc; but of which no more is obtained than is due to the number of atoms that have combined. The very energy he expends in moving his arm is generated by the chemical affinities of the food he eats. In no case can he do anything but avail himself of dormant forces. This is as true in ethics as in physics. Moral feeling is a force—a force by which men’s actions are restrained within certain prescribed bounds; and no legislative mechanism can increase its results one iota. By how much this force is deficient, by so much must its work remain undone. In whatever degree we lack the qualities needful for our state, in the same degree must we suffer. Nature will not be cheated. Whoso should think to escape the influence of gravitation by throwing his limbs into some peculiar attitude, would not be more deceived than are those who hope to avoid the weight of their depravity by arranging themselves into this or that form of political organization. Every jot of the evil must in one way or other be borne—consciously or unconsciously; either in a shape that is recognised, or else under some disguise. No philosopher’s stone of a constitution can produce golden conduct from leaden instincts. No apparatus of senators, judges, and police, can compensate for the want of an internal governing sentiment. No legislative manipulation can eke out an insufficient morality into a sufficient one. No administrative sleight of hand can save us from ourselves.
But must not this imply that government is of no use whatever? Not at all. Although unable to alter the sum-total of injustice to be supported, it can still alter its distribution. And this is what it really does. By its aid, men to a considerable extent equalize the evil they have to bear—spread it out more uniformly over the whole community, and over the life of each citizen. Entire freedom to exercise the faculties, interrupted by entire deprivations of it, and marred by the perpetual danger of these deprivations, is exchanged for a freedom on which the restrictions are constant but partial. Instead of those losses of life, of limb, or of the means of subsistence, which, under a state of anarchy, all are liable to, and many suffer, a political organization commits universal aggressions of a comparatively mild type. Wrongs that were before occasional, but crushing, are now unceasing, but bearable. The system is one of mutual assurance against moral disasters. Just as men, whilst they cannot prevent fires and shipwrecks, can yet guarantee each other against ruin from these, by bearing them in common, and distributing the injuries entailed over long periods of time; so, although by uniting together for judicial purposes men cannot diminish the amount of injustice to be borne, they can, and do, insure themselves against its otherwise fatal results.
When we agreed that it was the essential function of the state to protect—to administer the law of equal freedom—to maintain men’s rights—we virtually assigned to it the duty, not only of shielding each citizen from the trespasses of his neighbours, but of defending him, in common with the community at large, against foreign aggressions. An invading force may violate people’s rights as much as, or far more than, an equal body of felons; and our definition requires that government shall resist transgression in the one case as much as in the other. Protection,—this is what men seek by political combination; and whether it be against internal or external enemies matters not. Unquestionably war is immoral. But so likewise is the violence used in the execution of justice; so is all coercion. Ethical law is as certainly broken by the deeds of judicial authorities as by those of a defensive army. There is, in principle, no difference whatever between the blow of a policeman’s baton and the thrust of a soldier’s bayonet. Both are infractions of the law of equal freedom in the persons of those injured. In either case we have force sufficient to produce submission; and it matters not whether that force be employed by a man in red or by one in blue. Policemen are soldiers who act alone: soldiers are policemen who act in unison. Government employs the first to attack in detail ten thousand criminals who separately make war upon society; and it calls in the last when threatened by a like number of criminals in the shape of drilled troops. Resistance to foreign foes and resistance to native ones having consequently the same object—the maintenance of men’s rights, and being effected by the same means—force, are in their nature identical, and no greater condemnation can be passed upon the one than upon the other. The doings of the battle-field merely exhibit in a concentrated form that immorality which is inherent in government, and attaches to all its functions. What is so manifest in its military acts is true of its civil acts, that it uses wrong to put down wrong.
Defensive warfare (and of course it is solely to this that the foregoing argument applies) must therefore be tolerated as the least of two evils. There are indeed some who unconditionally condemn it, and would meet invasion by non-resistance. To such there are several replies.
First, consistency requires them to behave in like fashion to their fellow-citizens. They must not only allow themselves to be cheated, assaulted, robbed, wounded, without offering active opposition, but must refuse help from the civil power; seeing that they who employ force by proxy, are as much responsible for that force as though they employed it themselves.
Again, such a theory makes pacific relationships between men and nations look needlessly Utopian. If all agree not to aggress, they must as certainly be at peace with each other as though they had all agreed not to resist. So that, whilst it sets up so difficult a standard of behaviour, the rule of non-resistance is not one whit more efficient as a preventive of war, than the rule of non-aggression.
Moreover this principle of non-resistance is not deducible from the moral law. The moral law says—Do not aggress. It cannot say—Do not resist; for to say this would be to presuppose its own precepts broken. As explained at the outset (Chap. I.), Morality describes the conduct of perfect men; and cannot include in its premises circumstances that arise from imperfection. That rule which attains to universal sway when all men are what they ought to be, must be the right rule, must it not? And that rule which then becomes impossible of fulfilment must be the wrong one? Well; in an ideal state the law of non-aggression is obeyed by all—is the vital principle of every one’s conduct—is fully carried out, reigns, lives; whereas in such a state the law of non-resistance necessarily becomes a dead letter.
Lastly, it can be shown that non-resistance is absolutely wrong. We may not carelessly abandon our rights. We may not give away our birthright for the sake of peace. If it be a duty to respect other men’s claims, so also is it a duty to maintain our own. That which is sacred in their persons is sacred in ours also. Have we not a faculty which makes us feel and assert our title to freedom of action, at the same time that, by a reflex process, it enables us to appreciate the like title in our fellows? Did we not find that this faculty can act strongly on behalf of others, only when it acts strongly on our own behalf (p. 98)? And must we assume that, whilst its sympathetic promptings are to be diligently listened to, its direct ones are to be disregarded? To suppose this, is to suppose an incurable defect in our moral constitution—is to suppose that the very sentiment intended to lead us will itself mislead us. No: we may not be passive under aggression. In the due maintenance of our claims is involved the practicability of all our duties. Without liberty of action, without rights, we cannot fully exercise our faculties; and if we cannot fully exercise our faculties we cannot fulfil the Divine will; and if we allow ourselves to be deprived of that without which we cannot fulfil the Divine will, we virtually neglect that will.
But how, if all coercion is immoral? Will it not follow that it is immoral to use violence in opposing a trespasser? Certainly. Then either alternative is wrong? Just so: the law of right conduct has been broken, and this dilemma is the consequence. Action and reaction are equal. The blow dealt at morality in the person of the injured cannot end with itself: there must be a corresponding recoil. The first evil gives rise to an equivalent second, whether it is met by resistance or not. The assertion looks strange—will perhaps be incredible to many; nevertheless it must be made. And all we can say of this seeming paradox is, that it shows how actions lapse into a moral chaos when once the equilibrium of men’s relationships is destroyed.
Thus we find that the principle of non-resistance is not ethically true, but only that of non-aggression—that hence a government is justified in taking up a defensive attitude towards foreign enemies—and that the abstract criminality undoubtedly attaching to such a proceeding is the same criminality which pervades the administration of justice, is the same criminality of which government is itself a consequence.
Of international arbitration we must say, as of a free constitution, or a good system of jurisprudence, that its possibility is a question of time. The same causes which once rendered all government impossible have hitherto forbidden this widest extension of it. A federation of peoples—a universal society, can exist only when man’s adaptation to the social state has become tolerably complete. We have already seen (p. 197), that in the earliest stage of civilization, when the repulsive force is strong, and the aggregative force weak, only small communities are possible; a modification of character causes these tribes, and satrapies, and gentes, and feudal lordships, and clans, gradually to coalesce into nations; and a still further modification will allow of a still further union. That the time for this is now drawing nigh, seems probable. We may gather as much from the favour with which such an arrangement is regarded. The recognition of its desirableness foreshadows its realization. In peace societies, in proposals for simultaneous disarmment, in international visits and addresses, and in the frequency with which friendly interventions now occur, we may see that humanity is fast growing towards such a consummation. Though hitherto impracticable, and perhaps impracticable at the present moment, a brotherhood of nations is being made practicable by the very efforts used to bring it about. These philanthropic enthusiasms, which the worldly-wise think so ridiculous, are essential parts of the process by which the desideratum is being wrought out. Perhaps no fact is more significant of the change going on than the spread of that non-resistance theory lately noticed. That we should find sprinkled amongst us, men, who from the desire to receive this ultra-humane doctrine do violence to their perceptions of what is due to themselves, cannot but afford matter for congratulation. Unsound as the idea may be, its origin is good. It is a redundant utterance of that sympathy which transforms the savage man into the social man, the brutal into the benevolent, the unjust into the just; and, taken in conjunction with other signs of the times, prophesies that a better relationship between nations is approaching. Meanwhile, in looking forward to some all-embracing federal arrangement, we must keep in mind that the stability of so complicated a political organization depends, not upon the fitness of one nation but upon the fitness of many.
the limit of state-duty.
A function to each organ, and each organ to its own function, is the law of all organization. To do its work well, an apparatus must possess special fitness for that work; and this will amount to unfitness for any other work. The lungs cannot digest, the heart cannot respire, the stomach cannot propel blood. Each muscle and each gland must have its own particular nerve. There is not a fibre in the body but what has a channel to bring it food, a channel to take its food away, an agency for causing it to assimilate nutriment, an agency for stimulating it to perform its peculiar duty, and a mechanism to take away effete matter; not one of which can be dispensed with. Between creatures of the lowest type, and creatures of the highest, we similarly find the essential difference to be, that in the one the vital actions are carried on by a few simple agents, whilst in the other the vital actions are severally decomposed into their component parts, and each of these parts has an agent to itself. In organizations of another order the same principle is apparent. When the manufacturer discovered that by confining each of his employés wholly to one process, he could immensely increase the productive powers of his establishment, he did but act upon this same rule, of one function to one organ. If we compare the mercantile arrangements of a village with those of a city, we shall find that the huxters of the one carry on many trades each, whilst every shopkeeper of the other confines himself to a single trade; showing us how a highly-developed apparatus for the distribution of commodities is similarly distinguished by subdivision of duties. Language, too, exemplifies the same truth. Between its primitive state, in which it consisted of nothing but nouns, used vaguely to indicate all ideas indiscriminately, and its present state, in which it consists of numerous “parts of speech,” the process of growth has been that of gradually separating words into classes serving different purposes; and just as fast as this process has advanced, has language become capable of completely fulfilling its end.
May we not, then, suspect that the assigning of one function to one organ, is the condition of efficiency in all instrumentalities? If, as far as we can see, such is the law not only of natural organizations, but of what, in a superficial sense, we call artificial ones, does it not seem probable that it is the universal law? Will it not be the law of institutions? Will it not be the law of the state? Must we not expect that with a government also, special adaptation to one end implies non-adaptation to other ends? And is it not likely that by devolving on a government additional functions, the due discharge of its peculiar function will be sacrificed? And would not this imply that a government ought not to undertake such additional functions?
But laying aside analogy, let us inquire whether it is not the fact, that in assuming any office besides its original one, the state begins to lose the power of fulfilling that original one. What is it that we call the state? Men politically associated. How associated? Voluntarily. For what purpose? For mutual protection. Men voluntarily associated for mutual protection: this then is our definition. Now, when rightly ordered, the conditions on which this voluntary association offers its services, must be such as enable it to afford the greatest amount of protection possible. If otherwise—if it insists on non-essential conditions which prevent some men from accepting its services, or on conditions which unnecessarily compromise the liberty of those men who do accept its services, it manifestly fails to that extent in performing its function. Now the moment the state undertakes a second office it does all this. Men leagued together for a special object will never unanimously agree in the pursuit of any other object. So long as our joint-stock protection-society confines itself to guaranteeing the rights of its members, it is pretty certain to be co-extensive with the nation; for whilst such an organization is needed at all, most men will sacrifice something to secure its guardianship. But let an additional duty be assigned to it, and there will immediately arise more or less schism. The dissenting minority may in such case consist of two parties; the one comprising those who have so great a repugnance to the contemplated arrangement, as to resolve upon seceding rather than consent to it; and a larger party consisting of those who grumble at the imposition of additional charges for the doing what they do not wish to be done, but who think well to submit rather than give up the benefits of protection. Towards both these parties the state fails in its duty. The one it drives away by disadvantageous terms; and from the other it exacts sacrifices beyond what are needful for the performance of its original function; and by so doing becomes an aggressor instead of a protector. Observe how the case stands when put personally.
“Your taxes are heavier this year than last,” complains a citizen to the government; “how is it?”
“The sums voted for these new school-houses, and for the salaries of the masters and mistresses, have increased the draught upon our exchequer,” replies the government.
“School-houses, masters and mistresses—what have I to do with these? you are not charging me with the cost of them, are you?”
“Why, I never authorized you to do so.”
“True; but parliament, or, in other words, the majority of the nation, has decided that the education of the young shall be entrusted to us, and has authorized us to raise such funds as may be necessary for fulfilling this trust.”
“But suppose I wish to superintend the education of my children myself?”
“You may do as you please; but you must pay for the privilege we offer, whether you avail yourself of it or not. Even if you have no children you must still pay.”
“And what if I refuse?”
“Why, were we to act up to old precedents, we should punish you; but as things now stand we shall content ourselves with giving notice that you have outlawed yourself.”
“Nay, I have no wish to do that; I cannot at present dispense with your protection.”
“Very well, then you must agree to our terms, and pay your share of the new tax.”
“See, now, what a dilemma you place me in. As I dare not relinquish the protection I entered into political combination to obtain, I must either give you a part of my property for nothing; or, should I make a point of having some equivalent, I must cease to do that which my natural affections prompt. Will you answer me a few questions?”
“What is it that you, as a national executive, have been appointed for? Is it not to maintain the rights of those who employ you; or, in other words, to guarantee to each the fullest freedom for the exercise of his faculties compatible with the equal freedom of all others?”
“It has been so decided.”
“And it has been also decided that you are justified in diminishing this freedom only to such extent as may be needful for preserving the remainder, has it not?”
“That is evidently a corollary.”
“Exactly. And now let me ask what is this property, this money, of which in the shape of taxes you are demanding from me an additional amount? Is it not that which enables me to get food, clothing, shelter, recreation, or, to repeat the original expression—that on which I depend for the exercise of most of my faculties?”
“Therefore to decrease my property is to decrease my freedom to exercise my faculties, is it not?”
“Then this new impost of yours will practically decrease my freedom to exercise my faculties?”
“Well, do you not now perceive the contradiction? Instead of acting the part of a protector you are acting the part of an aggressor. What you were appointed to guarantee me and others, you are now taking away. To see that the liberty of each man to pursue the objects of his desires is unrestricted, save by the like liberty of all, is your special function. To diminish this liberty by means of taxes, or civil restraints more than is absolutely needful for performing such function, is wrong, because adverse to the function itself. Now your new impost does so diminish this liberty more than is absolutely needful, and it is consequently unjustifiable.”
Thus we find, as was foretold, that whenever the state begins to exceed its office of protector, it begins to lose protective power. Not a single supplementary service can it attempt without producing dissent; and in proportion to the amount of dissent so produced by it, the state defeats the end for which it was established. Let it undertake many additional duties, and there will be scarcely a man who does not object to being taxed on account of one or more of them—scarcely a man, therefore, to whom the state does not in some degree do the very opposite of what it is appointed to do. Now this thing which the state is appointed to do is the essential thing—the thing by which society is made possible; and these other things proposed to be done are non-essential, for society is possible without them. And as the essential ought not to be sacrificed to the non-essential, the state ought not to do anything but protect.
It will perhaps be urged, however, that the evil done by a government, when it thus oversteps its original duty, is only an apparent one; seeing that though it diminishes men’s spheres of action in one direction, it adds to them in another. All such supplementary functions, an objector may say, subserve in some way or other the wants of society; that is, they facilitate the satisfaction of men’s desires; that is, they afford to men greater freedom for the exercise of their faculties. For if you argue that taking away a man’s property diminishes his freedom to exercise his faculties, because it diminishes his means of exercising them, then you must in fairness admit, that by procuring for him certain of the objects he desires, or by taking away the obstacles that lie between him and those objects, or by otherwise helping him to his ends, the state is increasing his power to exercise his faculties, and hence is practically increasing his freedom.
To all which the answer is, that cutting away men’s opportunities on one side, to add to them on another, is at best accompanied by a loss. Let us remember that the force by which a society, through its government, works out certain results, is never increased by administrative mechanisms, but that part of it escapes in friction. Government evidently cannot create any facilities for the exercise of faculties; all it can do is to redistribute them. It is easy to calculate what one of these artificial arrangements can effect. Set down the amount of power to satisfy his wants, which it takes from a citizen in extra taxes; deduct the serious waste occurring under official manipulations; and the remainder, transformed into some new shape, is all that can be returned to him. The transaction is consequently a losing one. So that, whilst in attempting to serve the public by undertaking supplementary functions, a government fails in its duty towards all who dissent; it does not really compensate for this by additional advantages afforded to the rest; to whom it merely gives, with one hand, less than it takes away with the other.
But in truth the transaction is a yet more detrimental one than it thus appears, for even the gift is a delusion—has a minus sign before it, unobserved, perhaps, by the many, but sufficiently visible to the analyst. The expediency philosophy of which this general state-superintendence is a practical expression, embodies the belief that government ought not only to guarantee men in the unmolested pursuit of happiness, but should provide the happiness for them and deliver it at their doors. Now no scheme could be more self-defeating, for no scheme could be more completely at variance with the constitution of things. Man, as briefly delineated at the outset, (p. 19) consists of a congeries of faculties, qualifying him for surrounding conditions. Each of these faculties, if normally developed, yields to him, when exercised, a gratification constituting part of his happiness; whilst, in the act of exercising it, some deed is done subserving the wants of the man as a whole, and affording to the other faculties the opportunity of performing in turn their respective functions, and of producing every one its peculiar pleasure: so that, when healthily balanced, each subserves all, and all subserve each. We cannot live at all unless this mechanism works with tolerable efficiency; and we can live entirely—that is can have entire happiness—only when the reciprocity between capacities and requirements is perfect. As before said, the complete man is the self-sufficing man—the man who is in every point fitted to his circumstances—the man in whom there are desires corresponding not only to all the acts which are immediately advantageous, but to those which are remotely so. Evidently, one who is thus rightly constituted cannot be helped. To do anything for him by some artificial agency, is to supersede certain of his powers—is to leave them unexercised, and therefore to diminish his happiness. To healthily-developed citizens, therefore, state aid is doubly detrimental. It injures them both by what it takes and by what it does. By the revenues required to support its agencies it absorbs the means on which certain of the faculties depend for their exercise; and by the agencies themselves it shuts out other faculties from their spheres of action.
“But men are not complete; they are not healthily developed; they have not capacities in harmony with their wants; and therefore, as matters stand, a government does not by its interpositions preoccupy offices which there are faculties to fill.” Very true; but next to being what we ought to be, the most desirable thing is that we should become what we ought to be as fast as possible. We are undergoing the process of adaptation. We have to lose the characteristics which fitted us for our original state, and to gain those which will fit us for our present state; and the question to be asked, respecting these mechanical remedies for our deficiencies, is—do they facilitate the change? Certainly not. A moment’s thought will convince us that they retard it. No one can need reminding that demand and supply is the law of life as well as the law of trade—that strength will show itself only where strength is called for—that an undeveloped capability can be developed only under the stern discipline of necessity. Would you draw out and increase some too feeble sentiment? Then you must set it to do, as well as it can, the work required of it. It must be kept ever active, ever strained, ever inconvenienced by its incompetency. Under this treatment it will, in the slow lapse of generations, attain to efficiency; and what was once its impossible task will become the source of a healthy, pleasurable, and desired excitement. But let a state-instrumentality be thrust between such faculty and its work, and the process of adaptation is at once suspended. Growth ceases; and in its place commences retrogression. The embryo agency now superseded by some commission—some board and staff of officers, straightway dwindles; for power is as inevitably lost by inactivity as it is gained by activity. Hence, humanity no longer goes on moulding itself into harmony with the natural requirements of the social state; but begins, instead, to assume a form fitting these artificial requirements. It is consequently stopped in its progress towards that self-sufficingness characteristic of the complete man; or, in other words, is prevented from fulfilling the conditions essential to complete happiness. And thus, as before said, not only does a government reverse its function by taking away more property than is needful for protective purposes, but even what it gives, in return for the excess so taken, is in essence a loss.
There is indeed one faculty, or rather combination of faculties, for whose shortcomings the state, as far as in it lies, may advantageously compensate—that, namely, by which society is made possible. It is clear that any being whose constitution is to be moulded into fitness for new conditions of existence must be placed under those conditions. Or, putting the proposition specifically—it is clear that man can become adapted to the social state, only by being retained in the social state. This granted, it follows that as man has been, and is still, deficient in those feelings which, by dictating just conduct, prevent the perpetual antagonism of individuals and their consequent disunion, some artificial agency is required by which their union may be maintained. Only by the process of adaptation itself can be produced that character which makes social equilibrium spontaneous. And hence, whilst this process is going on, an instrumentality must be employed, firstly to bind men into an associated state, and secondly to check all conduct endangering the existence of that state. Such an instrumentality we have in a government.
And now mark that whether we consider government from this point of view, or from that previously occupied, our conclusions respecting it are in essence identical. For when government fulfils the function here assigned it, of retaining men in the circumstances to which they are to be adapted, it fulfils the function which we on other grounds assigned it—that of protector. To administer justice,—to mount guard over men’s rights,—to prevent aggression,—is simply to render society possible, to enable men to live together—to keep them in contact with their new conditions. And seeing that the two definitions are thus at root the same, we shall be prepared for the fact that, in whichever way we specify its duty, the state cannot exceed that duty without defeating itself. For, if regarded as a protector, we find that the moment it does anything more than protect, it becomes an aggressor instead of a protector; and, if regarded as a help to adaptation, we find that when it does anything more than sustain the social state, it retards adaptation instead of hastening it.
Thus much for the positive evidence: let us now enter upon the negative. The expediency-philosophers say that government has other functions to fulfil besides that of upholding men’s rights. If so, what are they? To the assertion that the boundary line of state-duty as above drawn is at the wrong place, the obvious rejoinder is—show us where it should be drawn. This appeal the expediency-philosophers have never yet been able to answer. Their alleged definitions are no definitions at all. As was proved at the outset (p. 3), to say that government ought to do that which is “expedient,” or to do that which will tend to produce the “greatest happiness,” or to do that which will subserve the “general good,” is to say just nothing; for there is infinite disagreement respecting the natures of these desiderata. A definition of which the terms are indefinite is an absurdity. Whilst the practical interpretation of “expediency” remains a matter of opinion, to say that a government should do that which is “expedient,” is to say that it should do, what we think it should do!
Still then our demand is—a definition. Between the two extremes of its possible power—the everything and the nothing with which a government may be entrusted, where is the proper limitation? Of the innumerable fields of action lying open to an uncontrolled legislature, which shall it occupy? Shall it extend its interference to the fixing of creeds, as in the old times; or to overlooking modes of manufacture, farming operations, and domestic affairs, as it once did; or to commerce, as of late—to education, as now—to public health, as some wish—to dress, as in China—to literature, as in Austria—to charity, to manners, to amusements? If not to all of them, to which of them? Should the perplexed inquirer seek refuge in authority, he will find precedents not only for these but for many more such interferences. If, like those who disapprove of master tailors having their work done off the premises, or like those who want to prevent the produce of industrial prisons displacing that of free artizans, or like those who would restrain charity-school children from competing with seamstresses, he thinks it desirable to meddle with trade arrangements, there are plenty of exemplars for him. There is the law of Henry VII., which directed people at what fairs they should sell their goods; and that of Edward VI., which enacted a fine of £100 for a usurious bargain; and that of James I., which prescribed the quantity of ale to be sold for a penny; and that of Henry VIII., which made it penal to sell any pins but such as are “double headed, and have their head soldered fast to the shank, and well smoothed; the shank well shaven; the point well and round-filed and sharpened.” He has the countenance, too, of those enactments which fixed the wages of labour; and of those which dictated to farmers, as in 1533, when the sowing of hemp and flax was made compulsory; and of those which forbad the use of certain materials, as that now largely-consumed article, logwood, was forbidden in 1597. If he approves of so extended a superintendence, perhaps he would adopt M. Louis Blanc’s idea that “government should be considered as the supreme regulator of production,” and having so adopted it, push state control as far as it was once carried in France, when manufacturers were pilloried for defects in the materials they employed, and in the texture of their fabrics; when some were fined for weaving of worsted a kind of cloth which the law said should be made of mohair, and others because their camlets were not of the specified width; and when a man was not at liberty to choose the place for his establishment, nor to work at all seasons, nor to work for everybody. Is this considered too detailed an interference? Then, perhaps, greater favour will be shown to those German regulations by which a shoemaker is prevented from following his craft until an inspecting jury has certified to his competence; which disable a man who has chosen one calling from ever adopting another; and which forbid any foreign tradesman from settling in a German town without a licence. And if work is to be regulated, is it not proper that work should be provided, and the idle compelled to perform a due amount of it? In which case how shall we deal with our vagrant population? Shall we take a hint from Fletcher of Saltoun, who warmly advocated the establishment of slavery in Scotland as a boon to “so many thousands of our people who are at this day dying for want of bread”? or shall we adopt the analagous suggestion of Mr. Carlyle, who would remedy the distresses of Ireland by organizing its people into drilled regiments of diggers? The hours of labour too—what must be done about these? Having acceded to the petition of the factory workers, ought we not to entertain that of the journeymen bakers? and if that of the journeymen bakers, why not, as Mr. Cobden asks, consider the cases of the glass-blowers, the nightmen, the iron-founders, the Sheffield knife-grinders, and indeed all other classes, including the hardworked M.P.s themselves? And when employment has been provided, and the hours of labour fixed, and trade regulations settled, we must decide how far the state ought to look after peoples’ minds, and morals, and health. There is this education question: having satisfied the prevalent wish for government schools with tax-paid teachers, and adopted Mr. Ewart’s plan for town-libraries and museums, should we not canvass the supplementary proposal to have national lecturers? and if this proposal is assented to, would it not be well to carry out the scheme of Sir David Brewster, who desires to have “men ordained by the State to the undivided functions of science”—“an intellectual priesthood,” “to develop the glorious truths which time and space embosom”?a Then having established “an intellectual priesthood” to keep company with our religious one, a priesthood of physic such as is advocated by certain feeless medical men, and of which we have already the germ in our union doctors, would nicely complete the trio. And when it had been agreed to put the sick under the care of public officials, consistency would of course demand the adoption of Mr. G. A. Walker’s system of government funerals, under which “those in authority” are “to take especial care” that “the poorest of our brethren” shall have “an appropriate and solemn transmission” to the grave, and are to grant in certain cases “gratuitous means of interment.” Having carried out thus far the communist plan of doing everything for everybody, should we not consider the peoples’ amusements, and, taking example from the opera-subsidy in France, establish public ball-rooms, and gratis concerts, and cheap theatres, with state-paid actors, musicians and masters of the ceremonies; using care at the same time duly to regulate the popular taste, as indeed in the case of the Art-Union subscribers our present Government proposed to do? Speaking of taste naturally reminds us of dress, in which sundry improvements might be enforced; for instance—the abolition of hats: we should have good precedent either in Edward IV., who fined those wearing “any gown or mantell” not according to specification, and who limited the superfluity of peoples’ boot toes, or in Charles II., who prescribed the material for his subjects’ grave-clothes. The matter of health, too, would need attending to; and, in dealing with this, might we not profitably reconsider those ancient statutes which protected peoples’ stomachs by restricting the expenses of their tables: or, remembering how injurious are our fashionable late hours, might we not advantageously take a hint from the old Norman practice, and fix the time at which people should put out their fires and go to bed: or might we not with benefit act upon the opinion of M. Beausobre, a statesman, who said it was “proper to watch during the fruit season, lest the people eat that which is not ripe”? And, then, by way of making the superintendence quite complete, would it not be well to follow the example of that Danish king who gave directions to his subjects how they should scour their floors, and polish their furniture?
Multiply these questions into a volume full; add to them the endless subordinate ones to which in practice they must give rise; and some idea may be formed of the maze through which the expediency-philosopher has to find his way. Where now is his clue? Again comes the inquiry—how does he propose to determine between what should be attempted and what should not? which is his definition? If he would escape the charge of political empiricism, he must show us some scientific test by which he can in each case determine whether or not state-superintendence is desirable. Between the one extreme of entire non-interference, and the other extreme in which every citizen is to be transformed into a grown-up baby, “with bib and pap-spoon,” there lie innumerable stopping places; and he who would have the state do more than protect is required to say where he means to draw the line, and to give us substantial reasons why it must be just there and nowhere else.
After the difficulty of finding out the thing to be done, there comes the other difficulty of finding out the way to do it. Let us excuse the expediency-philosopher one half of his task—let us for the occasion assume something to be unanimously agreed to as a proper undertaking; and now suppose we enquire of him—How about your means of accomplishing it? Are you quite sure they will answer? Are you quite sure that your apparatus will not break down under its work? quite sure that it will produce the result you wish? quite sure that it will not produce some very different result? quite sure that you will not get into one of those imbroglios that so many have lost themselves in? There is no lack of warnings. “Let us put down usury,” said to themselves the rulers of the middle ages: they tried; and did just the reverse of what they intended; for it has turned out, that “all regulations interfering with the interest of money render its terms more rigorous and burdensome.” “We will exterminate Protestantism,” whispered the continental Catholics to each other: they tried; and instead of doing this they planted in England the germs of a manufacturing organization which has to a great extent superseded their own. “It will be well to give the labouring classes fixed settlements” thought the Poor Law legislators; and having acted out this thought there eventually grew up the clearance system, with its overcrowded cottages, and non-resident labour-gangs. “We must suppress these brothels,” decided the authorities of Berlin in 1845: they did suppress them; and in 1848, the registrar’s books and the hospital returns proved matters to be considerably worse than beforea . “Suppose we compel the London parishes to maintain and educate their pauper children in the country,” said statesmen in the time of George III; “’it would greatly tend to the preservation of the lives of the infant parish poor:’” so they passed the 7 Geo. III., c. 39; and by-and-by there began the business of child-farming, ending in the Tooting tragedy. Are not such warnings worthy of attention? Or does the expediency-philosopher value those facts only which are embodied in Blue-books and Board of Trade tables?
Then as to his administrative mechanisms—can be answer for the satisfactory working of them? The common remark that public business is worse managed than all other business, is not altogether unfounded. To-day he will find it illustrated in the doings of a department which makes a valuable estate like the New Forest, a loss to the country of £3000 a year; which allowed Salcey Forest to be wholly cut down and made away with by a dishonest agent; and which, in 1848, had its accounts made up to March, 1839, only. To-morrow he may read of Admiralty bunglings—of ships badly built, pulled to pieces, re-built and patched—of nearly a million spent on iron war-steamers which are now found not to stand cannon shot—and of a sluggishness which puts the national dockyards “about seven years” behind all others. Now the exposure is of an extravagance which builds gaols at a cost of £1200 per prisoner; and now of a carelessness which permits important legal records to rot amongst rubbish. Here is a sailor of whom the State demanded sixpence a month towards a hospital which was never provided, and whose pension from the Merchant-Seamen’s Fund is nothing like what it would have been from an ordinary assurance society; and there, on the other hand, is a Mint moneyer who gets more than £4000 a year for doing what a tithe of the amount would amply pay for. Official delay is seen in the snail-paced progress of the Museum Catalogue; official mismanagement in the building of Houses of Parliament not fit for speaking in; and official perversity in the opposition uniformly made to improvement by the Excise, the Customs, and the Post Office authorities. Does the expediency-philosopher feel no apprehensions on contemplating such evidence? Or, as one specially professing to be guided by experience, does he think that on the whole experience is in his favour?
Perhaps he has not heard that of ten mechanical inventions, usually some nine fail; and that, before the tenth can be made to answer, endless obstacles that had never been dreamed of have to be surmounted. Or, if he has heard this, does he think that the properties of humanity being so much easier to understand than those of iron and brass, and an institution constructed of living men being a simple thing as compared with an inanimate mechanism, legislative schemes are not likely thus to miscarry?
“It is a gross delusion to believe in the sovereign power of political machinery,” says M. Guizot. True: and it is not only a gross delusion, but a very dangerous one. Give a child exaggerated notions of its parent’s power, and it will by-and-by cry for the moon. Let a people believe in government-omni-potence, and they will be pretty certain to get up revolutions to achieve impossibilities. Between their exorbitant ideas of what the state ought to do for them on the one side, and its miserable performances on the other, there will surely be generated feelings extremely inimical to social order—feelings which, by adding to the dissatisfaction otherwise produced, may occasion outbreaks that would not else have occurred.
But this belief in “the sovereign power of political machinery” is not born with men; they are taught it. And how are they taught it? Evidently by these preachers of universal legislative superintendence—by the pretensions of statesmen themselves—and by having seen, from their childhood, all kinds of functions undertaken by government officials. The idea which, in his critique upon the late events in France, M. Guizot calls a “gross delusion,” is an idea which he, in common with others, has been practically inculcating. Following in the steps of his predecessors, he has kept in action, and in some cases even extended, that system of official supervision to which this idea owes its birth. Was it not natural that men, living under the regulation of legions of prefects, sub-prefects, inspectors, controllers, intendants, commissaries, and other civil employés to the number of 535,000—men who were educated by the government, and taught religion by it—who had to ask its consent before they could stir from home—who could not publish a handbill without a permit from the authorities, nor circulate a newspaper after the censor’s veto—who daily saw it dictating regulations for railways, inspecting and managing mines, building bridges, making roads, and erecting monuments—who were led to regard it as the patron of science, literature, and the fine arts, and as the dispenser of honours and rewards—who found it undertaking the manufacture of gunpowder, superintending the breeding of horses and sheep, playing the part of public pawnbroker, and monopolizing the sale of tobacco and snuff—who saw it attending to everything, from the execution of public works down to the sanitary inspection of prostitutes—was it not natural that men so circumstanced should acquire exalted ideas of state power? And, having acquired such ideas, were they not likely to desire the state to compass for them unattainable benefits; to get angry because it did not do this; and to attempt by violent means the enforcement of their wishes? Evidently the reply must be affirmative. And if so, it is not too much to say that this overstepping of the proper sphere of government, leading as it does to that “gross delusion,” a belief in “the sovereign power of political machinery,” is the natural forerunner of such schemes as those of Blanc and Cabet, and of that confusion which the attempt to realize them by state-agency must produce.
There are other modes, too, in which social stability is endangered by this interference system. It is a very expensive system: the further it is carried, the larger become the revenues required: and we all know that beavy taxation is inseparable from discontent. Moreover it is in its nature essentially despotic. In governing everything it unavoidably cramps men; and, by diminishing their liberty of action, angers them. It galls by its infinity of ordinances and restrictions; it offends by professing to help those whom it will not allow to help themselves; and it vexes by its swarms of dictatorial officials, who are for ever stepping in between men and their pursuits. Those regulations by which the French manufacturers were hampered during the last century, when the state decided on the persons to be employed, the articles to be made, the materials to be used, and the qualities of the products—when inspectors broke the looms and burnt the goods that were not made according to law—and when improvements were illegal and inventors were fined—had no small share in producing the great revolution. Nor, amongst the causes which conspired to overthrow the government of Louis Philippe, must we forget the irritation generated by an analogous supervision, under which a mine cannot be opened without the permission of the authorities; under which a bookseller or printer may have his business suspended by the withdrawal of his licence; and under which it is penal to take a bucket of water out of the sea.
Thus, if we regard government as a means of upholding the social state, we find that, besides suffering a direct loss of power to perform its duty on attempting anything else, there are several subsidiary ways in which the assumption of additional functions endangers the fulfilment of its original function.
But we have not sufficiently considered the infinite presumption discernible in this attempt at regulating all the doings of men by law. To make up for defects in the original constitution of things—this is the meaning of the scheme, nakedly stated. It is said of a certain personage, that he wished he had been consulted when the world was being made, for that he could have given good advice; and not a little historical celebrity has attached to this personage, in virtue of his so-thought unparalleled arrogance. Shallow, shallow! Why, the great majority of our statesmen and politicians do as much every day. Advice, indeed! they do not stop at advice. They actively interpose, take into their own hands matters that God seems to be mismanaging, and undertake to set them right! It is clear to them that social wants and relationships have been so carelessly provided for, that without their vigilant management all will go wrong. As for any silent influences by which imperfections are in process of being removed, they do not believe in them. But by a commission, a staff of officers, and a parliamentary grant, every deficiency shall be made good, and the errors of Omniscience be rectified!
In truth it is a sad sight for any one who has been, what Bacon recommends—“a servant and interpreter of nature,” to see these political schemers, with their clumsy mechanisms, trying to supersede the great laws of existence. Such an one, no longer regarding the mere outsides of things, has learned to look for the secret forces by which they are upheld. After patient study, this chaos of phenomena into the midst of which he was born has begun to generalize itself to him; and where there seemed nothing but confusion, he can now discern the dim outlines of a gigantic plan. No accidents, no chance; but everywhere order and completeness. One by one exceptions vanish, and all becomes systematic. Suddenly what had appeared an anomaly answers to some intenser thought, exhibits polarity, and ranges itself along with kindred facts. Throughout he finds the same vital principles, ever in action, ever successful, and embracing the minutest details. Growth is unceasing; and though slow, all powerful: showing itself here in some rapidly-developing outline; and there, where the necessity is less, exhibiting only the fibrils of incipient organization. Irresistible as it is subtle, he sees in the worker of these changes, a power that bears onwards peoples and governments regardless of their theories, and schemes, and prejudices—a power which sucks the life out of their lauded institutions, shrivels up their state-parchments with a breath, paralyzes long-venerated authorities, obliterates the most deeply-graven laws, makes statesmen recant and puts prophets to the blush, buries cherished customs, shelves precedents, and which, before men are yet conscious of the fact, has wrought a revolution in all things, and filled the world with a higher life. Always towards perfection is the mighty movement—towards a complete development and a more unmixed good; subordinating in its universality all petty irregularities and fallings back, as the curvature of the earth subordinates mountains and valleys. Even in evils, the student learns to recognise only a struggling beneficence. But, above all, he is struck with the inherent sufficingness of things, and with the complex simplicity of those principles by which every defect is being remedied—principles that show themselves alike in the self-adjustment of planetary perturbations, and in the healing of a scratched finger—in the balancing of social systems, and in the increased sensitiveness of a blind man’s ear—in the adaptation of prices to produce, and in the acclimatization of a plant. Day by day he sees a further beauty. Each new fact illustrates more clearly some recognised law, or discloses some inconceived completeness: contemplation thus perpetually discovering to him a higher harmony, and cherishing in him a deeper faith.
And now, in the midst of his admiration and his awe, the student shall suddenly see some flippant red-tapist get upon his legs and tell the world how he is going to put a patch upon nature! Here is a man who, in the presence of all the wonders that encompass him, dares to announce that he and certain of his colleagues have laid their heads together and found out a way to improve upon the Divine arrangements! Scarcely an idea have these meddlers got of what underlies the facts with which they propose to deal; as you shall soon find on sounding their philosophy: and yet, could they carry out their pretensions, we should see them self-appointed nurses to the universe! They have so little faith in the laws of things, and so much faith in themselves, that, were it possible, they would chain earth and sun together, lest centripetal force should fail! Nothing but a parliament-made agency can be depended upon; and only when this infinitely-complex humanity of ours has been put under their ingenious regulations, and provided for by their supreme intelligence, will the world become what it ought to be! Such, in essence, is the astounding creed of these creation-menders.
Consider it then in what light we may—morally or scientifically, with reference to its practicableness, or as a question of political prudence, or even in its bearings upon religious faith—we find this theory, that a government ought to undertake other offices besides that of protector, to be an untenable theory. It has been shown that if the maintaining of rights be regarded as the special function of the state, the state cannot fulfil any other function without a partial loss of power to fulfil its special one. When, from another point of view, the state is looked upon as an aid to adaptation, we still find that it cannot exceed its duty of guarding men’s liberties, without becoming a hindrance to adaptation, instead of an aid. It turns out that to abolish the limit of legislative interposition now contended for, is in fact to abolish all limits whatever—is to give the civil power a field of action to which no bounds can be fixed, save in some arbitrary and utterly unphilosophical way. Moreover, even could certain supplementary affairs, considered fit for government supervision, be duly distinguished from the rest, there would still be the fact that all experience shows government to be an incompetent manager of such supplementary affairs. It is further urged, that the system of extended official control is bad, because unfavourable to social stability. And, finally, that system is repudiated, as involving an absurd and even impious presumption.
Such, then, are the general arguments brought forward to prove that whilst the state ought to protect, it ought to do nothing more than protect. By the abstract thinker they may perhaps be deemed conclusive. There are others, however, with whom they will weigh comparatively little; and, for the conviction of these, it will be needful to examine in detail each of the several cases in which legislative superintendence is commonly advocated. Let us now proceed to do this.
the regulation of commerce.
Arrangements which alter the natural course of trade are of two kinds; they may be classed as either artificial stimuli or artificial restraints—bounties or restrictions.
Of bounties must here be said specially what was said in the last chapter of factitious advantages generally; namely, that a government cannot give them without indirectly reversing its function. Not being requisite for the due maintenance of the citizen’s rights, the taking away of his property for the purpose of encouraging certain branches of production, would be wrong even were collateral benefits given in exchange; and as, instead of affording him collateral benefits, the commercial derangements consequent upon it put additional limits to the exercise of his faculties, such a measure is doubly wrong. Now that the faith in mercantile bribes is nearly extinct, it is needless to enforce this abstract inference by any supplementary reasoning.
Of restrictions it scarcely needs saying that they are even more directly inequitable than bounties. Deducible as it is from the law of equal freedom, the right of exchange is as sacred as any other right (Chap. XIII.), and exists as much between members of different nations as between members of the same nation. Morality knows nothing of geographical boundaries, or distinctions of race. You may put men on opposite sides of a river or a chain of mountains; may else part them by a tract of salt water; may give them, if you like, distinct languages; and may even colour their skins differently; but you cannot change their fundamental relationships. Originating as these do in the facts of man’s constitution, they are unalterable by the accidents of external condition. The moral law is cosmopolite—is no respecter of nationalities: and between men who are the antipodes of each other, either in locality or anything else, there must still exist the same balance of rights as though they were next-door neighbours in all things.
Hence, in putting a veto upon the commercial intercourse of two nations, or in putting obstacles in the way of that intercourse, a government trenches upon men’s liberties of action; and by so doing directly reverses its function. To secure for each man the fullest freedom to exercise his faculties, compatible with the like freedom of all others, we find to be the state’s duty. Now trade prohibitions and trade restrictions not only do not secure this freedom, but they take it away. So that in enforcing them the state is transformed from a maintainer of rights into a violator of rights. If it be criminal in a civil power commissioned to shield us from murder to turn murderer itself; if it be criminal in it to play the thief, though set to keep off thieves; then must it be criminal in it to deprive men, in any way, of liberty to pursue the objects of desire, when it was appointed to ensure them that liberty. Whether it kills, or robs, or enslaves, or shackles by trade regulations, its guilt is alike in kind, and differs only in degree. In the one extreme it wholly destroys the power to exercise the faculties; in the other it does this partially. And in strict ethics the same species of condemnation must be visited upon it in both cases.
Not a few will be startled by this view of the matter. Let such reflect awhile upon the antecedents and associations of this trade-ruling. They will find, on doing so, that it is allied in both origin and practice to all other forms of wrong. More than once it has been pointed out, that as unjust customs and institutions derive their viciousness from a moral defect in the people living under them, they must be uniformly pervaded by that viciousness—that as social laws, creeds, and arrangements consist merely of solidified character, the same character will be shown in all the social laws, creeds, and arrangements which co-exist; and, further, that any process of amelioration will affect them simultaneously. This truth was amply illustrated (pp. 161 and 178). We saw that tyranny in forms of government, tyranny in the conduct of lord to serf, tyranny in religious organizations and discipline, tyranny in the matrimonial relationship, and tyranny in the treatment of children, regularly flourished together and regularly decreased at a like rate. In the same category we must now put—tyranny in commercial laws. Sinking those minor irregularities which pervade all nature’s processes, we shall find that from the days when exportation was a capital crime, down to our own free-trade era, there has been a constant ratio kept between the stringency of mercantile restraints and the stringency of other restraints, as there has between the increase of commercial liberty and the increase of general liberty.
A few facts will sufficiently exemplify this. Take as one the instance just alluded to, in which associated with autocratic rule in church, in state, and in feudal hall, we find Edward III., for the purpose of making foreigners come and buy in our markets, prohibiting his subjects from sending abroad any staple goods “under penalty of death and confiscation;” and further enacting, “that the law should be unalterable either by himself or his successors.” Observe, too, how this same despotic spirit was exhibited in the regulations requiring these continental traders to reside during their stay with certain inspectors commissioned to see the cargoes sold within a specified time, and the proceeds re-invested in English goods, and charged to transmit to the Exchequer periodical statements of each merchant’s bargains—regulations, by the way, of which the abandonment was in after times lamented by the venerators of ancestral wisdom, much as the abolition of the sliding scale is mourned over by a certain party of our own day. Note again how, under the same regime, labourers were coerced into working for fixed wages; and then how, to keep the balance even, shopkeepers had the prices of provisions dictated to them. Mark further, that when the most tyrannical of these ordinances fell into disuse, there still continued the less burdensome ones, such as those usury laws, orders to farmers, prescribings of the material for grave-clothes, instructions to manufacturers, &c., referred to in the last chapter. But without going into further detail—without enlarging upon the fact that those intolerable restraints once borne by the manufacturing classes of France were contemporary with intense despotism at court, and a still lingering feudalism in the provinces—without tracing the parallelism that exists between the political and commercial bondage, under which, in spite of their revolutions, the French still live—without pointing out at length the same connection of phenomena in Prussia, in Austria, and in other similarly-ruled countries—without doing all this, the evidence adduced sufficiently shows that the oppressiveness of a nation’s mercantile laws varies as the oppressiveness of its general arrangements and government. Whilst, conversely, if we glance over the annals of progress, and then contemplate the changes that have taken place within these few years, or which are yet in progress, we cannot but remark a similar kinship between the manifestations of a juster feeling in political organization, in ecclesiastical affairs, in the family, and in our commercial code.
Thus, trade restrictions are of the same race with irresponsible government and slavery. An obtuse perception of, and an insufficient sympathy with, the claims of man, are the parents of all tyrannies and dishonesties, bear they what name they may. Interferences with the freedom of exchange are as certainly their progeny as are the worst violations of human rights: they are constantly found in the society of these: and though not popularly classed as crimes, they are in both origin and nature closely related to them.
There is another aspect under which these trade regulations, in common with many kindred contrivances for the management of social affairs, may be regarded. They are all in essence idolatrous. The worship of dead, powerless things made with human hands is not extinct, as people flatter themselves—cannot be extinct—never will be entirely extinct. The elements of man’s nature are persistent: the change is in their ratios. Typical remains of every disposition must continue traceable even to the remotest future. If, on the one hand, it is an error to suppose that humanity has not altered at all, it is, on the other hand, an error to suppose that it has altered, or even will alter, so completely as to retain no traces of its bygone character.
Scientifically defined, idolatry is a mode of thought under which all causation is attributed to entities. It results from the first generalization of the undeveloped intellect, which, having constantly seen results produced by visible, tangible objects, infers that all results are so produced. In the mind of the savage every effect is believed to be due to a special worker, because special workers have been observed to precede effects in a multitude of instances. The laws of mental action necessitate that, as all known causes have presented themselves to him as personal agencies, all unknown causes must be conceived by him of the same nature. Hence the original fetishism. A stone thrown by an unseen hand, a piece of wood that, when heated, bursts into flame, or an animal found in the neighbour-hood of some natural catastrophe, is at once assumed to be the acting power. Here is a phenomenon—a visible change of state in some observed object: past experience inevitably suggests that there is a worker of this change: past experience also inevitably suggests that such worker is an entity: the entity to which the character of worker is ultimately ascribed will be that which past experience points out as most probable: and, in the absence of other entities, this character of worker will attach to the wood that gives out the flame, or to the stone that inflicts the blow. Thus the wood and stone, being looked upon as agents of unknown power capable of inflicting injury, are prayed to and propitiated.
From the very first, however, there begins an accumulation of facts calculated to undermine this theory of things, and certain ultimately to overthrow it. For, whilst he regards all phenomena as the doings of living beings, the primitive man necessarily attributes to such beings qualities similar to those of the beings he sees—men and brutes. Reasoning, as he must, from the known to the unknown, he is obliged to conceive the unknown generators of change to be like the known ones in all things: and we find that he does this; we find that he represents them by forms either human, or bestial, or both, and that he imagines their passions and habits to be like his own. Now an attribute, possessed in common by all the beings known to him, is that of irregular volition. He sees no creature whose acts are so uniform that he can say positively what its future behaviour will be. Hence it happens that when certain natural events, originally ascribed by him to living agents—events such as the rising and setting of the sun and the falling of bodies to the earth—come to be perpetually repeated, and follow the same antecedents without exception, his notion of personal agency is shaken. This perfect uniformity of action is at variance with his knowledge of all known beings—is at variance with his very conception of a being. And thus in respect to the most familiar sequences, experience silently forces upon him the idea of a constant course of procedure—or what we express by the word law; and a belief in impersonal agency slowly supplants the original belief in personal agency. This revolution in his mode of thinking, though at first confined to the every-day instances of causation, extends in process of time to a wider and wider range of cases. The unceasing accumulation of facts which begins when increase of population provides a multitude of observers, continually furnishes new illustrations of that uniformity of sequence which conflicts with the notion of special workers; and thus the domain of the so-called supernatural is step by step usurped by the so-called natural. Still, it is only in as far as uniformity of sequence is made abundantly manifest, that the old theory is superseded. Though, amongst the Greeks, Thales taught that there were laws of matter, he nevertheless considered that a load-stone had a soul. Where the occurrence is unusual—that is, where the connection between antecedent and consequent is not familiar—that is, where circumstances do not discountenance the original belief in special workers, that belief is still held. Hence it happens that, long after all ordinary phenomena have come to be considered as due to the properties of things, or, in other words, to impersonal agency, such an event as an eclipse or an earthquake is explained as a dragon eating the sun, or as a god turning over in his sleep; an epidemic is ascribed to witchcraft; a luminous whiff of marsh-gas is regarded as a “Will o’ the whisp;” a failure in the dairy or brewhouse is set down to fairy malice; and there are myths about Giants’ Causeways and Devils’ Bridges. Where the connection between cause and effect is very remote or obscure, as in matters of fortune and in certain bodily affections, this disposition to attribute power to entities continues even after science has made great progress; and thus we find that in our own day the old fetishism still lingers in the regard shown to crooked sixpences, wart-charms, and omens.
It lingers, moreover, as already hinted, in less suspected forms. Many much-reverenced social instrumentalities, also, have originated in this primitive necessity of ascribing all causation to special workers—this inability to detach the idea of force from an individual something. Just in proportion as natural phenomena are regarded by any people as of personal instead of impersonal origin, will the phenomena of national life be similarly construed: and, indeed, since moral sequences are less obvious than physical ones, they will be thus construed even more generally. The old belief that a king could fix the value of coinage, and the cry raised at the change of style—“Give us our eleven days,” obviously implied minds incapable of conceiving social affairs to be regulated by other than visible, tangible agencies. That there should be at work some unseen but universally-diffused influence determining the buyings and sellings of citizens and the transactions of merchants from abroad, in a way the most advantageous to all parties, was an idea as foreign to such minds as was that of uniform physical causation to the primitive Greeksa ; and, conversely, as the primitive Greeks could understand the operations of nature being performed by a number of presiding individualities, so to the people of the middle ages it was comprehensible that a proper production and distribution of commodities should be ensured by acts of Parliament and government officials. Whilst the due regulation of trade by a natural indestructible force was inconceivable to them, they could conceive trade to be duly regulated by a force resident in some material instrumentality put together by legislators, clothed in the robes of office, painted by court flatterers, and decorated with “jewels five words long.”b
But with the complex phenomena of commerce, as with the simpler phenomena of the inorganic world, constancy of sequence has gradually undermined the theory that power dwells in entities. Irresistible evidence is at length establishing a belief in the law of supply and demand, as some thousands of years ago it established a belief in the law of gravitation. And the development of politico-economical science, being thus a further conquest of the faith in impersonal agencies over the faith in personal agencies, must be regarded as one of that series of changes which commenced with the first victory of natural philosophy over superstition.
Fortunately it is now needless to enforce the doctrine of commercial freedom by any considerations of policy. After making continual attempts to improve upon the laws of trade, from the time of Solon downwards, men are at length beginning to see that such attempts are worse than useless. Political economy has shown us in this matter—what indeed it is its chief mission to show—that our wisest plan is to let things take their own course. An increasing sense of justice, too, has assisted in convincing us. We have here learned, what our forefathers learned in some cases, and what, alas! we have yet to learn in many more, that nothing but evil can arise from inequitable regulations. The necessity of respecting the principles of abstract rectitude—this it is that we have had another lesson upon. Look at it rightly and we shall find that all the Anti-Corn-Law League did, with its lectures, its newspapers, its bazaars, its monster meetings, and its tons of tracts, was to teach people—what should have been very clear to them without any such teaching—that no good can come of violating men’s rights. By bitter experience and a world of talk we have at length been made partially to believe as much. Be it true or not in other cases, we are now quite certain that it is true in trade. In respect to this at least we have declared that, for the future, we will obey the law of equal freedom.
As a matter of routine, it is needful here to point out what the reader will have inferred from Chap. XXII., that, by devoting a portion of its revenues or a part of the nation’s property to the propagation of Christianity or any other creed, a government necessarily commits a wrong. If, as with ourselves, such government forcibly takes a citizen’s money for the support of a national church, it is guilty of infringing the rights it ought to maintain—of trespassing upon that freedom to exercise the faculties which it was commissioned to guard. For, as already shown, by diminishing a subject’s liberty of action more than is needful for securing the remainder, the civil power becomes an aggressor instead of a protector. If, on the other hand, the right to ignore the state is recognised, as, in considering the question abstractedly, we must suppose it to be, then, by insisting upon conditions which drive some men to abandon its aid, and which unnecessarily restrict the freedom of those who do not, the state fails to that extent in discharging its duty. Hence, specifically applying the principle lately set forth in general terms, we find that a government cannot undertake the teaching of a religious faith without either directly reversing its function, or partially incapacitating itself for the performance of that function.
In the conduct of English churchmen we have a curious illustration of the way in which men will re-adopt, when it is thinly disguised, a belief they had indignantly cast from them. That same Romish dogmatism, against which our clergy exclaim with such vehemence, they themselves defend when it is exercised on behalf of their own creed. Every state-church is essentially popish. We also have a Vatican—St. Stephen’s. It is true that our arch-priest is a composite one. It is true that with us the triple tiara is separated into its parts—one for monarch, one for peers, and one for commons. But this fact makes no difference. In substance, popery is the assumption of infallibility. It matters not in principle whether this assumption is made by one man, or by an assembly of men. No doubt the astounding announcement—“You must believe what we say is right, and not what you think is right,” comes less offensively from the lips of a parliamentary majority than from those of a single individual. But there still arises the question—By what authority do these men assert this? Whence do they derive their infallibility?
That in establishing any religion a government does claim to be infallible, scarcely needs proof. Before a church organization can be set to work, a distinct understanding as to a what it is to do must be arrived at. Before state-paid ministers can be set to preach, it must first be decided what they are to preach. And who is to say? Clearly the state. Either it must itself elaborate a creed, or it must depute some man or men to do so. It must in some way sift out truth from error, and cannot escape the responsibility attending this. If it undertakes itself to settle the doctrines to be taught, it is responsible. If it adopts a ready-made set of doctrines, it is equally responsible. And if it selects its doctrines by proxy, it is still responsible; both as appointing those who chose for it, and as approving their choice. Hence, to say that a government ought to set up and maintain a system of religious instruction, is to say that it ought to pick out from amongst the various tenets that men hold or have held, those which are right; and that, when it has done this—when it has settled between the Roman Catholic, the Greek, the Lutheran, and the Anglican creeds, or between the Puseyite, High Church, and Evangelical ones—when it has decided whether we should be baptized during infancy or at a mature age, whether the truth is with Trinitarians or Unitarians, whether men are saved by faith or by works, whether pagans go to hell or not, whether ministers should preach in black or white, whether confirmation is scriptural, whether or not saints’ days should be kept, and (as we have lately seen it debating) whether baptism does or does not regenerate—when, in short, it has settled all those controversies which have split mankind into innumerable sects, it ought to assert that its judgment is incapable of error—is unquestionable—is beyond appeal. There is no alternative. Unless the state says this, it convicts itself of the most absurd inconsistency. Only on the supposition of infallibility can its ecclesiastical doings be made to seem tolerable. How else shall it demand rates and tithes of the dissenter? What answer can it make to his expostulations? “Are you quire sure about these doctrines of yours?” inquires the dissenter. “No,” replies the state; “not quite sure, but nearly so.” “Then it is just possible you may be wrong, is it not?” “Yes.” “And it is just possible that I may be right, is it not?” “Yes.” “Yet you threaten to inflict penalties upon me for nonconformity! You seize my goods; you imprison me if I resist; and all to force from me the means to preach up doctrines which you admit may be false, and by implication to preach down doctrines which you admit may be true! How do you justify this?” No reply. Evidently, therefore, if the state persists, the only position open to it is that its judgment cannot be mistaken—that its doctrines cannot be erroneous. And now observe, that if it says this, it stands committed to the whole Roman Catholic discipline as well as to its theory. Having a creed that is beyond the possibility of doubt, and being commissioned to disseminate that creed, the state is in duty bound to employ the most efficient means of doing this—is bound to put down all adverse teachers, as usurping its function and hindering the reception of its unquestionable doctrine—is bound to use as much force as may be needful for doing this—is bound, therefore, to imprison, to fine, and if necessary, to inflict severer penalties, so that error may be exterminated and truth be triumphant. There is no half-way. Being charged to put men in the way to heaven, it cannot without in permit some to be led the other way. If, rather than punish a few on earth, it allows many to be eternally damned for misbelief, it is manifestly culpable. Evidently it must do all, or it must do nothing. If it does not claim infallibility, it cannot in reason set up a national religion; and if, by setting up a national religion, it does claim infallibility, it ought to coerce all men into the belief of that religion. Thus, as was said, every state-church is essentially popish.
But there has been gradually dawning upon those who think, the conviction that a state-church is not so much a religious as a political institution. “Who does not see,” inquires Locke, speaking of the clergy, “that these men are more ministers of the government than ministers of the gospel? “Probably in Locke’s time there were few who did see this; but there are now many. Nor, indeed, is the fact altogether denied, as you shall hear from some politic supporter of religious establishments during an after-dinner confidence. “Between ourselves,” will whisper such an one, “these churches and parsons, and all the rest of it, are not for sensible men, such as you and I; we know better; we can do without all that; but there must be something of the kind to keep the people in order.”a And then he will go on to show what influential restraints religious services are; how they encourage subordination and contentment; and how the power which the clergy obtain over their parishioners strengthens the hands of the civil ruler. That some such view widely prevails may be gathered from the acts and proposals of our statesmen. How otherwise can we understand that avowed willingness in the political leaders of all parties to endow the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland if the religious public of England would let them? Or what but a political motive can that States’ lieutenant—the East India Company—have for giving an annual subsidy of 23,000 rupees to the temple of Juggernaut, reimbursing itself by a tax upon the pilgrims? Or why else should the Ceylon government take upon itself to be curator of Buddha’s tooth, and to commission the Buddhist priestsa ?
Of the clergy who, on the other hand, commonly advocate a state-church as being needful for the upholding of religion, it may be said that by doing this they condemn their own case, pass sentence upon their creed as worthless, and bring themselves in guilty of hypocrisy. What! will they allow this faith, which they value so highly, to die a natural death if they are not paid for propagating it? Must all these people, about whose salvation they profess such anxiety, be left to go to perdition if livings, and canonries, and bishoprics, are abolished? Has that apostolic inspiration, of which they claim to be the inheritors, brought with it so little apostolic zeal that there would be no preaching were it not for parsonages and tithes? Do they who, on ordination, declared themselves “inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost,” now find that they are inwardly moved only by the chink of gold? This would be called slander coming from any but themselves. And then their flocks—what say they of these? Do these care so little for the faith they have been taught, that its maintenance cannot be entrusted to them? After centuries of church-culture, has Christianity got so little root in men’s hearts that but for government watering-pots it must wither away? Are we to understand that these perpetual prayers and sacraments, these homilies and exhortations, these visitings and scripture-readings, have not even generated as much enthusiasm as can keep itself alive? Have ten thousand sermons a week done so little that the hearers will not contribute a sum sufficient for the sustentation of a ministry? Why, if this be true, what is the system good for? These advocates do but open their briefs, and then straightway argue themselves out of court. They labour to prove either how powerless is the faith they teach, or how miserably they teach it! The sum and substance of their plea for the state propagation of this creed is, that it has failed in animating its ministers with its own spirit of self-sacrifice, and failed to arouse in its devotees a spark of its own generosity!
It is needless, however, in this year of grace 1850, with its Gorham controversies and Puseyite divisions, with its Romish and Rationalist secessions, with confusion inside the church, and a hostile association outside—to debate the question at greater length. Events are proving to most of the reflective—even to many of the clergy themselves—that a state-support of any particular faith is wrong, and that in England at least, it must shortly cease. For those who do not yet see this there are already volumes of argument to which addition is almost superfluous. The conclusions above come to, that the state cannot establish a religion without assuming infallibility, and that to argue an establishment of it needful is to condemn the religion itself, will sufficiently enforce, for present purposes, our abstract proposition.
In common with its other assumptions of secondary offices, the assumption by a government of the office of Reliever-general to the poor, is necessarily forbidden by the principle that a government cannot rightly do anything more than protect. In demanding from a citizen contributions for the mitigation of distress—contributions not needed for the due administration of men’s rights—the state is, as we have seen, reversing its function, and diminishing that liberty to exercise the faculties which it was instituted to maintain. Possibly, unmindful of the explanations already given, some will assert that by satisfying the wants of the pauper, a government is in reality extending his liberty to exercise his faculties, inasmuch as it is giving him something without which the exercise of them is impossible; and that hence, though it decreases the rate-payer’s sphere of action, it compensates by increasing that of the rate-receiver. But this statement of the case implies a confounding of two widely-different things. To enforce the fundamental law—to take care that every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man—this is the special purpose for which the civil power exists. Now insuring to each the right to pursue within the specified limits the objects of his desires without let or hindrance, is quite a separate thing from insuring him satisfaction. Of two individuals, one may use his liberty of action successfully—may achieve the gratifications he seeks after, or accumulate what is equivalent to many of them—property; whilst the other, having like privileges, may fail to do so. But with these results the state has no concern. All that lies within its commission is to see that each man is allowed to use such powers and opportunities as he possesses; and if it takes from him who has prospered to give to him who has not, it violates its duty towards the one to do more than its duty towards the other. Or, repeating the idea elsewhere expressed (p. 278), it breaks down the vital law of society, that it may effect what social vitality does not call for.
The notion popularized by Cobbett, that every one has a right to a maintenance out of the soil, leaves those who adopt it in an awkward predicament. Do but ask them to specify, and they are set fast. Assent to their principle; tell them you will assume their title to be valid; and then, as a needful preliminary to the liquidation of their claim, ask for some precise definition of it—inquire “What is a maintenance?” They are dumb. “Is it,” say you, “potatoes and salt, with rags and a mud cabin? or is it bread and bacon, in a two-roomed cottage? Will a joint on Sundays suffice? or does the demand include meat and malt liquor daily? Will tea, coffee, and tobacco be expected? and if so, how many ounces of each? Are bare walls and brick floors all that is needed? or must there be carpets and paper-hangings? Are shoes considered essential? or will the Scotch practice be approved? Shall the clothing be of fustian? if not, of what quality must the broad-cloth be? In short, just point out where, between the two extremes of starvation and luxury, this something called a maintenance lies.” Again they are dumb. You expostulate. You explain that nothing can be done until the question is satisfactorily answered. You show that the claim must be reduced to a detailed, intelligible shape before a step can be taken towards its settlement. “How else,” you ask, “shall we know whether enough has been awarded, or whether too much?” Still they are dumb. And, indeed, there is no possible reply for them. Opinions they may offer in plenty; but not a precise, unanimous answer. One thinks that a bare subsistence is all that can fairly be demanded. Here is another who hints at something beyond mere necessaries. A third maintains that a few of the enjoyments of life should be provided for. And some of the more consistent, pushing the doctrine to its legitimate result, will rest satisfied with nothing short of community of property. Who now shall decide amongst these conflicting notions? Or, rather, how shall their propounders be brought to an agreement? Can any one of them prove that his definition is tenable and the others not? Yet he must do this if he would make out a case. Before he can prosecute his claim against society, in the high court of morality, he must “file his bill of particulars.” If he accomplishes this he is entitled to a hearing. If not, he must evidently be non-suited.
The right to labour—that French translation of our poor-law doctrine—may be similarly treated. A criticism parallel to the foregoing would place its advocates in a parallel dilemma. But there is another way in which the fallacy of this theory, either in its English or its continental form, may be made manifest—a way that may here be fitly employed.
And first let us make sure of the meaning wrapped up in this expression—right to labour. Evidently if we would avoid mistakes we must render it literally—right to the labour; for the thing demanded is not the liberty of labouring: this, no one disputes; but it is the opportunity of labouring—the having remunerative employment provided, which is contended for. Now, without dwelling upon the fact that the word right as here used, bears a signification quite different from its legitimate one—that it does not here imply something inherent in man, but something depending upon external circumstances—not something possessed in virtue of his faculties, but something springing out of his relationship to others—not something true of him as a solitary individual, but something which can be true of him only as one of a community—not something antecedent to society, but something necessarily subsequent to it—not something expressive of a claim to do, but of a claim to be done unto—without dwelling upon this, let us take the expression as it stands, and see how it looks when reduced to its lowest terms. When the artizan asserts his right to have work provided for him, he presupposes the existence of some power on which devolves the duty of providing such work. What power is this? The government, he says. But the government is not an original power, it is a deputed one—is subject therefore, to the instruction of its employer—must do that only which its employer directs—and can be held responsible for nothing save the performance of its employer’s behests. Now who is its employer? Society. Strictly speaking, therefore, the assertion of our artizan is, that it is the duty of society to find work for him. But he is himself a member of society—is consequently a unit of that body who ought, as he says, to find work for every man—has hence a share in the duty of finding work for every man. Whilst, therefore, it is the duty of all other men to find work for him, it is his duty to help in finding work for all other men. And hence, if we indicate his fellows alphabetically, his theory is that A, B, C, D, and the rest of the nation, are bound to employ him; that he is bound, in company with B, C, D, and the rest, to employ A; that he is bound, in company with A, C, D, and the rest, to employ B; is bound, with A, B, D, and the rest, to employ C, with A, B C, and the rest, to employ D; and so on with each individual of the half score or score millions, of whom the society may be composed!
Thus do we see how readily imaginary rights are distinguishable from real ones. They need no disproof: they disprove themselves. The ordeal of a definition breaks the illusion at once. Bubble-like, they will bear a cursory glance; but disappear in the grasp of any one who tries to lay hold of them.
Meanwhile we must not overlook the fact that, erroneous as are these poor-law and communist theories—these assertions of a man’s right to a maintenance, and of his right to have work provided for him—they are, nevertheless, nearly related to a truth. They are unsuccessful efforts to express the fact, that whoso is born on to this planet of ours thereby obtains some interest in it—may not be summarily dismissed again—may not have his existence ignored by those in possession. In other words, they are attempts to embody that thought which finds its legitimate utterance in the law—all men have equal rights to the use of the Earth (Chap. IX.). The prevalence of these crude ideas is natural enough. A vague perception that there is something wrong about the relationship in which the great mass of mankind stand to the soil and to life, was sure eventually to grow up. After getting from under the grosser injustice of slavery, men could not help beginning in course of time to feel what a monstrous thing it was that nine people out of ten should live in the world on sufferance, not having even standing room, save by allowance of those who claimed the Earth’s surface (p. 114). Could it be right that all these human beings should not only be without claim to the necessaries of life—should not only be denied the use of those elements from which such necessaries are obtainable—but should further be unable to exchange their labour for such necessaries, except by leave of their more fortunate fellows? Could it be that the majority had thus no better title to existence than one based upon the good-will or convenience of the minority? Could it be that these landless men had “been mis-sent to this earth, where all the seats were already taken?” Surely not. And if not, how ought matters to stand? To all which questions, now forced upon men’s minds in more or less definite shapes, there come, amongst other answers, these theories of a right to a maintenance and a right of labour. Whilst, therefore, they must be rejected as untenable, we may still recognise in them the imperfect utterances of the moral sense in its efforts to express equity.
The wrong done to the people at large by robbing them of their birthright—their heritage in the earth—is, indeed, thought by some a sufficient excuse for a poor-law, which is regarded by such as an instrumentality for distributing compensation. There is much plausibility in this construction of the matter. But as a defence of national organizations for the support of paupers, it will not bear criticism. Even were there no better reason for demurring to the supposed compromise, it might still be objected that to counterbalance one injury by inflicting another, and to perpetuate these mutual injuries without knowing whether they are or are not equivalents, is at best a very questionable policy. Why organize a diseased state? Some time or other this morbid constitution of things, under which the greater part of the body-politic is cut off from direct access to the source of life, must be changed. Difficult, no doubt, men will find it to establish a normal condition. There is no knowing how many generations may pass away before the task is accomplished. But accomplished it will eventually be. All arrangements, however, which disguise the evils entailed by the present inequitable relationship of mankind to the soil, postpone the day of rectification. “A generous poor-law” is openly advocated as the best means of pacifying an irritated people. Workhouses are used to mitigate the more acute symptoms of social unhealthiness. Parish pay is hush-money. Whoever, then, desires the radical cure of national maladies, but especially of this atrophy of one class, and hypertrophy of another, consequent upon unjust land tenure, cannot consistently advocate any kind of compromise.
But a poor-law is not the means of distributing compensation. Neither in respect of those from whom it comes, nor in respect of those to whom it goes, does pauper-relief fulfil the assumed purpose. According to the hypothesis poors’-rates should bear wholly upon the land. But they do not. And at least that part of them which bears upon the land should come from the usurpers or their descendants. But it does not According to the hypothesis the burden should not fall upon the innocent. But it does; for poors’-rates were imposed after landed property had in many cases changed hands by purchase. According to the hypothesis the burden should not fall upon those already defrauded. But it does; for the majority of rate-payers belong to the non-landowning class. According to the hypothesis all men kept out of their inheritance should receive a share of this so-called compensation. But they do not; for only here and there one, gets any of it. In no way, therefore, is the theory carried out. The original depredators are beyond reach. The guiltless are taxed in their place. A large proportion of those already robbed are robbed afresh. And of the rest, only a few receive the proceeds.
The usual reason assigned for supporting a poor-law is, that it is an indispensable means of mitigating popular suffering. Given by a churchman such a reason is natural enough; but coming, as it often does, from a dissenter, it is strangely inconsistent. Most of the objections raised by the dissenter to an established religion will tell with equal force against established charity. He asserts that it is unjust to tax him for the support of a creed he does not believe. May not another as reasonably protest against being taxed for the maintenance of a system of relief he disapproves? He denies the right of any bishop or council to choose for him which doctrines he shall accept and which he shall reject. Why does he not also deny the right of any commissioner or vestry to choose for him who are worthy of his charity and who are not? If he dissents from a national church on the ground that religion will be more general and more sincere when voluntarily sustained, should he not similarly dissent from a poor-law on the ground that spontaneous beneficence will produce results both wider and better? Might not the corruption which he points out as neutralizing the effects of a state-taught creed, be paralleled by those evils of pauperism accompanying a state-provision for the poor? Should not his nonconformity in respect to faith be accompanied by non-conformity in respect to good works? Certainly his present opinions are incongruous beyond all reconciling. He resists every attempt to interfere with the choice of his religion, but submits to despotic dictation as to the exercise of that religion. Whilst he denies the right of a legislature to explain the theory, he yet argues the necessity of its direction in the practice. It is inconceivable that these positions can be harmonized. Whoso believes that spiritual destitution is to be remedied only by a national church, may with some show of reason propose to deal with physical destitution by an analogous instrumentality. But the advocate of voluntaryism is bound to stand by his principle in the one case as much as in the other.
Whether the sufferings of the unfortunate shall be soothed in obedience to the gentle whisperings of benevolence, or whether fear of the harsh threats of law shall be the motive for relieving them, is indeed a question of no small importance. In deciding how misery is best alleviated we have to consider, not only what is done for the afflicted, but what is the reactive effect upon those who do it. The relationship that springs up between benefactor and beneficiary is, for this present state of the world, a refining one. Having power to muzzle awhile those propensities of the savage which yet linger in us—corrective as it is of that cold, hard state of feeling in which the every-day business of life is pursued—and drawing closer as it does those links of mutual dependence which keep society together—charity is in its nature essentially civilizing. The emotion accompanying every generous act adds an atom to the fabric of the ideal man. As no cruel thing can be done without character being thrust a degree back towards barbarism, so no kind thing can be done without character being moved a degree forward towards perfection. Doubly efficacious, therefore, are all assuagings of distress instigated by sympathy; for not only do they remedy the particular evils to be met, but they help to mould humanity into a form by which such evils will one day be precluded.
Far otherwise is it with law-enforced plans of relief. These exercise just the opposite influence. “The quality of mercy (or pity) is not strained,” says the poet. But a poor-law tries to make men pitiful by force. “It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven,” continues the poet. By a poor-law it is wrung from the unwilling. “It blesses him that gives, and him that takes,” adds the poet. A poor-law makes it curse both; the one with discontent and recklessness, the other with complainings and often-renewed bitterness.
This turning of balm into poison must have been remarked by the most careless. Watch a ratepayer when the collector’s name is announced. You shall observe no kindling of the eye at some thought of happiness to be conferred—no relaxing of the mouth as though selfish cares had for the moment been forgotten—no softening of the voice to tell of compassionate emotion: no, none of these; but rather shall you see contracted features, a clouded brow, a sudden disappearance of what habitual kindliness of expression there may be; the tax-paper is glanced over half in fear and half in vexation; there are grumblings about the short time that has elapsed since the last rate; the purse comes slowly from the pocket; every coin is grudgingly parted with; and after the collector (who is treated with bare civility) has made his exit, some little time passes before the usual equanimity is regained. Is there anything in this to remind us of the virtue which is “twice blessed?” Note again how this act-of-parliament charity perpetually supersedes men’s better sentiments. Here is a respectable citizen with enough and to spare: a man of some feeling; liberal, if there is need; generous even, if his pity is excited. A beggar knocks at his door; or he is accosted in his walk by some way-worn tramp. What does he do? Does he listen, investigate, and, if proper, assist? No; he commonly cuts short the tale with—“I have nothing for you, my good man; you must go to your parish.” And then he shuts the door, or walks on, as the case may be, with evident unconcern. Should it strike him the next moment that there was something very wo-begone in the petitioner’s look, this uncomfortable thought is met by the reflection, that so long as there is a poor-law he cannot starve, and that it will be time enough to consider his claims when he applies for relief. Thus does the consciousness that there exists a legal provision for the indigent, act as an opiate to the yearnings of sympathy. Had there been no ready-made excuse, the behaviour would probably have been different. Commiseration, pleading for at least an inquiry into the case, would most likely have prevailed; and, in place of an application to the board of guardians, ending in a pittance coldly handed across the pay-table to be thanklessly received, might have commenced a relationship good for both parties—a generosity humanizing to the one, and a succour made doubly valuable to the other by a few words of consolation and encouragement, followed, it may be, by a lift into some self-supporting position.
In truth there could hardly be found a more efficient device for estranging men from each other, and decreasing their fellow-feeling, than this system of state-almsgiving. Being kind by proxy!—could anything be more blighting to the finer instincts? Here is an institution through which, for a few shillings periodically paid, the citizen may compound for all kindness owing from him to his poorer brothers. Is he troubled with twinges of conscience? here is an anodyne for him, to be had by subscribing so much in the pound on his rental. Is he indifferent as to the welfare of others? why then in return for punctual payment of rates he shall have absolution for hardness of heart. Look: here is the advertisement. “Gentlemen’s benevolence done for them, in the most business-like manner, and on the lowest terms. Charity doled out by a patent apparatus, warranted to save all soiling of fingers and offence to the nose. Good works undertaken by contract. Infallible remedies for self-reproach always on hand. Tender feelings kept easy at per annum.”
And thus we have the gentle, softening, elevating intercourse that should be habitually taking place between rich and poor, superseded by a cold, hard, lifeless mechanism, bound together by dry parchment acts and regulations—managed by commissioners, boards, clerks, and collectors, who perform their respective functions as tasks—and kept a-going by money forcibly taken from all classes indiscriminately. In place of the music breathed by feelings attuned to kind deeds, we have the harsh creaking and jarring of a thing that cannot stir without creating discord—a thing whose every act, from the gathering of its funds to their final distribution, is prolific of grumblings, discontent, anger—a thing that breeds squabbles about authority, disputes as to claims, brow-beatings, jealousies, litigations, corruption, trickery, lying, ingratitude—a thing that supplants, and therefore makes dormant, men’s nobler feelings, whilst it stimulates their baser ones.
And now mark how we find illustrated in detail the truth elsewhere expressed in the abstract, that whenever a government oversteps its duty—the maintaining of men’s rights—it inevitably retards the process of adaptation. For what faculty is it whose work a poor-law so officiously undertakes? Sympathy. The very faculty above all others needing to be exercised. The faculty which distinguishes the social man from the savage. The faculty which originates the idea of justice—which makes men regardful of each other’s claims—which renders society possible. The faculty of whose growth civilization is a history—on whose increased strength the future ameliorations of man’s state mainly depend—and by whose ultimate supremacy, human morality, freedom, and happiness will be secured. Of this faculty poor-laws partially supply the place. By doing which they diminish the demands made upon it, limit its exercise, check its development, and therefore retard the process of adaptation.
Pervading all nature we may see at work a stern discipline, which is a little cruel that it may be very kind. That state of universal warfare maintained throughout the lower creation, to the great perplexity of many worthy people, is at bottom the most merciful provision which the circumstances admit of. It is much better that the ruminant animal, when deprived by age of the vigour which made its existence a pleasure, should be killed by some beast of prey, than that it should linger out a life made painful by infirmities, and eventually die of starvation. By the destruction of all such, not only is existence ended before it becomes burdensome, but room is made for a younger generation capable of the fullest enjoyment; and, moreover, out of the very act of substitution happiness is derived for a tribe of predatory creatures. Note further, that their carnivorous enemies not only remove from herbivorous herds individuals past their prime, but also weed out the sickly, the malformed, and the least fleet or powerful. By the aid of which purifying process, as well as by the fighting, so universal in the pairing season, all vitiation of the race through the multiplication of its inferior samples is prevented; and the maintenance of a constitution completely adapted to surrounding conditions, and therefore most productive of happiness, is ensured.
The development of the higher creation is a progress towards a form of being capable of a happiness undiminished by these drawbacks. It is in the human race that the consummation is to be accomplished. Civilization is the last stage of its accomplishment. And the ideal man is the man in whom all the conditions of that accomplishment are fulfilled. Meanwhile the well-being of existing humanity, and the unfolding of it into this ultimate perfection, are both secured by that same beneficent, though severe discipline, to which the animate creation at large is subject: a discipline which is pitiless in the working out of good: a felicity-pursuing law which never swerves for the avoidance of partial and temporary suffering. The poverty of the incapable, the distresses that come upon the imprudent, the starvation of the idle, and those shoulderings aside of the weak by the strong, which leave so many “in shallows and in miseries,” are the decrees of a large, far-seeing benevolence. It seems hard that an unskilfulness which with all his efforts he cannot overcome, should entail hunger upon the artizan. It seems hard that a labourer incapacitated by sickness from competing with his stronger fellows, should have to bear the resulting privations. It seems hard that widows and orphans should be left to struggle for life or death. Nevertheless, when regarded not separately, but in connection with the interests of universal humanity, these harsh fatalities are seen to be full of the highest beneficence—the same beneficence which brings to early graves the children of diseased parents, and singles out the low-spirited, the intemperate, and the debilitated as the victims of an epidemic.
There are many very amiable people—people over whom in so far as their feelings are concerned we may fitly rejoice—who have not the nerve to look this matter fairly in the face. Disabled as they are by their sympathies with present suffering, from duly regarding ultimate consequences, they pursue a course which is very injudicious, and in the end even cruel. We do not consider it true kindness in a mother to gratify her child with sweetmeats that are certain to make it ill. We should think it a very foolish sort of benevolence which led a surgeon to let his patient’s disease progress to a fatal issue, rather than inflict pain by an operation. Similarly, we must call those spurious philanthropists, who, to prevent present misery, would entail greater misery upon future generations. All defenders of a poor-law must, however, be classed amongst such. That rigorous necessity which, when allowed to act on them, becomes so sharp a spur to the lazy, and so strong a bridle to the random, these paupers’ friends would repeal, because of the wailings it here and there produces. Blind to the fact, that under the natural order of things society is constantly excreting its unhealthy, imbecile, slow, vacillating, faithless members, these unthinking, though well-meaning, men advocate an interference which not only stops the purifying process, but even increases the vitiation—absolutely encourages the multiplication of the reckless and incompetent by offering them an unfailing provision, and discourages the multiplication of the competent and provident by heightening the prospective difficulty of maintaining a family. And thus, in their eagerness to prevent the really salutary sufferings that surround us, these sigh-wise and groan-foolish people bequeath to posterity a continually increasing curse.
Returning again to the highest point of view, we find that there is a second and still more injurious mode in which lawenforced charity checks the process of adaptation. To become fit for the social state, man has not only to lose his savageness, but he has to acquire the capacities needful for civilized life. Power of application must be developed; such modification of the intellect as shall qualify it for its new tasks must take place; and, above all, there must be gained the ability to sacrifice a small immediate gratification for a future great one. The state of transition will of course be an unhappy state. Misery inevitably results from incongruity between constitution and conditions. All these evils, which afflict us, and seem to the uninitiated the obvious consequences of this or that removable cause, are unavoidable attendants on the adaptation now in progress. Humanity is being pressed against the inexorable necessities of its new position—is being moulded into harmony with them, and has to bear the resulting unhappiness as best it can. The process must be undergone, and the sufferings must be endured. No power on earth, no cunningly-devised laws of statesmen, no world-rectifying schemes of the humane, no communist panaceas, no reforms that men ever did broach or ever will broach, can diminish them one jot. Intensified they may be, and are; and in preventing their intensification, the philanthropic will find ample scope for exertion. But there is bound up with the change a normal amount of suffering, which cannot be lessened without altering the very laws of life. Every attempt at mitigation of this eventuates in exacerbation of it. All that a poor-law, or any kindred institution can do, is to partially suspend the transition—to take off for awhile, from certain members of society, the painful pressure which is effecting their transformation. At best this is merely to postpone what must ultimately be borne. But it is more than this: it is to undo what has already been done. For the circumstances to which adaptation is taking place cannot be superseded without causing a retrogression—a partial loss of the adaptation previously effected; and as the whole process must some time or other be passed through, the lost ground must be gone over again, and the attendant pain borne afresh. Thus, besides retarding adaptation, a poor-law adds to the distresses inevitably attending it.
At first sight these considerations seem conclusive against all relief to the poor—voluntary as well as compulsory; and it is no doubt true that they imply a condemnation of whatever private charity enables the recipients to elude the necessities of our social existence. With this condemnation, however, no rational man will quarrel. That careless squandering of pence which has fostered into perfection a system of organized begging—which has made skilful mendicancy more profitable than ordinary manual labour—which induces the simulation of palsy, epilepsy, cholera, and no end of diseases and deformities—which has called into existence warehouses for the sale and hire of impostor’s dresses—which has given to pity-inspiring babes a market value of 9d. per day—the unthinking benevolence which has generated all this, cannot but be disapproved by every one. Now it is only against this injudicious charity that the foregoing argument tells. To that charity which may be described as helping men to help themselves, it makes no objection—countenances it rather. And in helping men to help themselves, there remains abundant scope for the exercise of a people’s sympathies. Accidents will still supply victims on whom generosity may be legitimately expended. Men thrown upon their backs by unforeseen events, men who have failed for want of knowledge inaccessible to them, men ruined by the dishonesty of others, and men in whom hope long delayed has made the heart sick, may, with advantage to all parties, be assisted. Even the prodigal, after severe hardship has branded his memory with the unbending conditions of social life to which he must submit, may properly have another trial afforded him. And, although by these ameliorations the process of adaptation must be remotely interfered with, yet in the majority of cases, it will not be so much retarded in one direction as it will be advanced in another.
Objectionable as we find a poor-law to be, even under the supposition that it does what it is intended to do—diminish present suffering—how shall we regard it on finding that in reality it does no such thing—cannot do any such thing? Yet, paradoxical as the assertion looks, this is absolutely the fact. Let but the observer cease to contemplate so fixedly one side of the phenomenon—pauperism and its relief, and begin to examine the other side—rates and the ultimate contributors of them, and he will discover that to suppose the sum-total of distress diminishable by act-of-parliament bounty is a delusion. A statement of the case in terms of labour and produce will quickly make this clear.
Here, at any specified period, is a given quantity of food and things exchangable for food, in the hands or at the command of the middle and upper classes. A certain portion of this food is needed by these classes themselves, and is consumed by them at the same rate, or very near it, be there scarcity or abundance. Whatever variation occurs in the sum-total of food and its equivalents must therefore affect the remaining portion, not used by these classes for personal sustenance. This remaining portion is given by them to the people in return for their labour, which is partly expended in the production of a further supply of necessaries, and partly in the production of luxuries. Hence, by how much this portion is deficient, by so much must the people come short. Manifestly a re-distribution by legislative or other agency cannot make that sufficient for them which was previously insufficient. It can do nothing but change the parties by whom the insufficiency is felt. If it gives enough to some who else would not have enough, it must inevitably reduce certain others to the condition of not having enough. And thus, to the extent that a poor-law mitigates distress in one place, it unavoidably produces distress in another.
Should there be any to whom this abstract reasoning is unsatisfactory, a concrete statement of the case will, perhaps, remove their doubts. A poors’-rate collector takes from the citizen a sum of money equivalent to bread and clothing for one or more paupers. Had not this sum been so taken, it would either have been used to purchase superfluities, which the citizen now does without, or it would have been paid by him into a bank, and lent by the banker to a manufacturer, merchant, or tradesman; that is, it would ultimately have been given in wages either to the producer of the superfluities or to an operative, paid out of the banker’s loan. But this sum having been carried off as poors’-rate, whoever would have received it as wages must now to that extent go without wages. The food which it represented having been taken to sustain a pauper, the artizan to whom that food would have been given in return for work done, must now lack food. And thus, as at first said, the transaction is simply a change of the parties by whom the insufficiency of food is felt.
Nay, the case is even worse. Already it has been pointed out, that by suspending the process of adaptation, a poor-law increases the distress to be borne at some future day; and here we shall find that it also increases the distress to be borne now. For be it remembered, that of the sum taken in any year to support paupers, a large portion would otherwise have gone to support labourers employed in new reproductive works—land-drainage, machine-building, &c. An additional stock of commodities would by-and-by have been produced, and the number of those who go short would consequently have been diminished. Thus the astonishment expressed by some that so much misery should exist, notwithstanding the distribution of fifteen millions a year by endowed charities, benevolent societies, and poor-law unions, is quite uncalled for; seeing that the larger the sum gratuitously administered, the more intense will shortly become the suffering. Manifestly, out of a given population, the greater the number living on the bounty of others, the smaller must be the number living by labour; and the smaller the number living by labour, the smaller must be the production of food and other necessaries; and the smaller the production of necessaries, the greater must be the distress.
We find, then, that the verdict given by the law of state-duty against a public provision for the indigent is enforced by sundry independent considerations. A critical analysis of the alleged rights, for upholding which a poor-law is defended, shows them to be fictitious. Nor does the plea that a poor-law is a means of distributing compensation for wrongs done to the disinherited people turn out to be valid. The assumption that only by law-administered relief can physical destitution be met, proves to be quite analogous to the assumption that spiritual destitution necessitates a law-administered religion; and consistency requires those who assert the sufficiency of voluntary effort in the one case to assert it in the other also. The substitution of a mechanical charity for charity prompted by the heart is manifestly unfavourable to the growth of men’s sympathies, and therefore adverse to the process of adaptation. Legal bounty further retards adaptation by interposing between the people and the conditions to which they must become adapted, so as partially to suspend those conditions. And, to crown all, we find, not only that a poor-law must necessarily fail to diminish popular suffering, but that it must inevitably increase that suffering, both directly by checking the production of commodities, and indirectly by causing a retrogression of character, which painful discipline must at some future day make good.
In the same way that our definition of state-duty forbids the state to administer religion or charity, so likewise does it forbid the state to administer education. Inasmuch as the taking away, by government, of more of a man’s property than is needful for maintaining his rights, is an infringement of his rights, and therefore a reversal of the government’s function towards him; and inasmuch as the taking away of his property to educate his own or other people’s children is not needful for the maintaining of his rights; the taking away of his property for such a purpose is wrong.
Should it be said that the rights of the children are involved, and that state-interposition is required to maintain these, the reply is that no cause for such interposition can be shown until the children’s rights have been violated, and that their rights are not violated by a neglect of their education. For, as repeatedly explained, what we call rights are merely arbitrary subdivisions of the general liberty to exercise the faculties; and that only can be called an infringement of rights which actually diminishes this liberty—cuts off a previously existing power to pursue the objects of desire. Now the parent who is careless of a child’s education does not do this. The liberty to exercise the faculties is left intact. Omitting instruction in no way takes from a child’s freedom to do whatsoever it wills in the best way it can; and this freedom is all that equity demands. Every aggression, be it remembered—every infraction of rights, is necessarily active; whilst every neglect, carelessness, omission, is as necessarily passive. Consequently, however wrong the non-performance of a parental duty may be—however much it is condemned by that secondary morality—the morality of beneficence (pp. 68 and 69)—it does not amount to a breach of the law of equal freedom, and cannot therefore be taken cognizance of by the state.
Were there no direct disproof of the frequently alleged right to education at the hands of the state, the absurdities in which it entangles its assertors would sufficiently show its invalidity. Conceding for a moment that the government is bound to educate a man’s children, then, what kind of logic will demonstrate that it is not bound to feed and cloth them? If there should be an act-of-parliament provision for the development of their minds, why should there not be an act-of-parliament provision for the development of their bodies? If the mental wants of the rising generation ought to be satisfied by the state, why not their physical ones? The reasoning which is held to establish the right to intellectual food, will equally well establish the right to material food: nay, will do more—will prove that children should be altogether cared for by government. For if the benefit, importance, or necessity of education be assigned as a sufficient reason why government should educate, then may the benefit, importance, or necessity of food, clothing, shelter, and warmth be assigned as a sufficient reason why government should administer these also. So that the alleged right cannot be established without annulling all parental responsibility whatever.
Should further refutation be thought needful, there is the ordeal of a definition. We lately found this ordeal fatal to the assumed right to a maintenance; we shall find it equally fatal to this assumed right to education. For what is an education? Where, between the teaching of a dame-school, and the most comprehensive university curriculum, can be drawn the line separating that portion of mental culture which may be justly claimed of the state, from that which may not be so claimed? What peculiar quality is there in reading, writing, and arithmetic, which gives the embryo citizen a right to have them imparted to him, but which quality is not shared in by geography, and history, and drawing, and the natural sciences? Must calculation be taught because it is useful? why so is geometry, as the carpenter and mason will tell us; so is chemistry, as we may gather from dyers and bleachers; so is physiology, as is abundantly proved by the ill-health written in so many faces. Astronomy, mechanics, geology, and the various connate sciences—should not these be taught, too? they are all useful. Where is the unit of measure by which we may determine the respective values of different kinds of knowledge? Or, assuming them determined, how can it be shown that a child may claim from the civil power knowledge of such and such values, but not knowledge of certain less values? When those who demand a state-education can say exactly how much is due—can agree upon what the young have a right to, and what not—it will be time to listen. But until they accomplish this impossibility, their plea cannot be entertained.
A sad snare would these advocates of legislative teaching betray themselves into, could they substantiate their doctrine. For what is meant by saying that a government ought to educate the people? why should they be educated? what is the education for? Clearly to fit the people for social life—to make them good citizens. And who is to say what are good citizens? The government: there is no other judge. And who is to say how these good citizens may be made? The government: there is no other judge. Hence the proposition is convertible into this—a government ought to mould children into good citizens, using its own discretion in settling what a good citizen; is, and how the child may be moulded into one. It must first form for itself a definite conception of a pattern citizen; and having done this, must elaborate such system of discipline as seems best calculated to produce citizens after that pattern. This system of discipline it is bound to enforce to the uttermost. For if it does otherwise, it allows men to become different from what in its judgment they should become, and therefore fails in that duty it is charged to fulfil. Being thus justified in carrying out rigidly such plans as it thinks best, every government ought to do what the despotic governments of the Continent and of China do. That regulation under which, in France, “private schools cannot be established without a licence from the minister, and can be shut up by a simple ministerial order,” is a step in the right direction, but does not go far enough; seeing that the state cannot permit its mission to be undertaken by others, without endangering the due performance of it. The forbidding of all private schools whatever, as until recently in Prussia, is nearer the mark. Austrian legislation, too, realizes with some consistency the state-education theory. By it a tolerably stringent control over the mental culture of the nation is exercised. Much thinking being held at variance with good citizenship, the teaching of metaphysics, political economy, and the like, is discouraged. Some scientific works are prohibited. And a reward is offered for the apprehension of those who circulate bibles—the authorities in the discharge of their function preferring to entrust the interpretation of that book to their employes the Jesuits. But in China alone is the idea carried out with logical completeness. There the government publishes a list of works which may be read; and considering obedience the supreme virtue, authorizes such only as are friendly to despotism. Fearing the unsettling effects of innovation, it allows nothing to be taught but what proceeds from itself. To the end of producing pattern citizens it exerts a stringent discipline over all conduct. There are “rules for sitting, standing, walking, talking, and bowing, laid down with the greatest precision. Scholars are prohibited from chess, football, flying kites, shuttlecock, playing on wind instruments, training beasts, birds, fishes, or insects—all which amusements, it is said, dissipate the mind and debase the heart.”
Now a minute dictation like this, which extends to every action, and will brook no nay, is the legitimate realization of this state-education theory. Whether the government has got erroneous conceptions of what citizens ought to be, or whether the methods of training it adopts are injudicious, is not the question. According to the hypothesis it is commissioned to discharge a specified function. It finds no ready-prescribed way of doing this. It has no alternative, therefore, but to choose that way which seems to it most fit. And as there exists no higher authority, either to dispute or confirm its judgment, it is justified in the absolute enforcement of its plans, be they what they may. As from the proposition that government ought to teach religion, there springs the other proposition, that government must decide what is religious truth, and how it is to be taught; so, the assertion that government ought to educate, necessitates the further assertion that it must say what education is, and how it shall be conducted. And the same rigid popery, which we found to be a logical consequence in the one case (p. 307), follows in the other also.
There are few sayings more trite than this, that love of offspring is one of our most powerful passions. To become a parent is an almost universal wish. The intensity of affection exhibited in the glistening eye, the warm kiss, and the fondling caress—in the untiring patience, and the ever ready alarm of the mother, is a theme on which philosophers have written and poets have sung in all ages. Every one has remarked how commonly the feeling overmasters all others. Observe the self-gratulation with which maternity witnesses her first-born’s unparalleled achievements. Mark the pride with which the performances of each little brat are exhibited to every visitor as indicating a precocious genius. Consider again the deep interest which in later days a father feels in his children’s mental welfare, and the anxiety he manifests to get them on in life; the promptings of his natural affection being ofttimes sharpened by the reflection that the comfort of his old age may, perchance, be dependent upon their success.
Now “servants and interpreters of nature” have usually supposed these feelings to be of some use. Hitherto they have always thought that the gratification accruing to a mother from the forwardness of her little ones serves as a stimulus to the proper culture of their minds—that the honour which the father expects to derive from the distinction of his sons acts as an incentive to their improvement—and that the anticipation by parents of the distress which ill-trained children may one day entail constitutes an additional spur to the proper management of them. In these strong affections and mutual dependencies observers believed they saw an admirably-arranged chain of influences, calculated to secure the mental and physical development of successive generations; and in the simplicity of their faith had concluded that these divinely-appointed means were fully sufficient for this purpose. It would appear, however, according to the state-educationists, that they have been mistaken. It seems that this apparatus of feelings is wholly insufficient to work out the desideratum—that this combination of affections and interests was not provided for such a purpose, or, what is the same thing, that it has no purpose at all. And so, in default of any natural provision for supplying the exigency, legislators exhibit to us the design and specification of a state-machine, made up of masters, ushers, inspectors, and councils, to be worked by a due proportion of taxes, and to be plentifully supplied with raw material, in the shape of little boys and girls, out of which it is to grind a population of well-trained men and women, who shall be “useful members of the community”!
But it is argued that parents, and especially those whose children most need instructing, do not know what good instruction is. “In the matter of education,” says Mr. Mill, “the intervention of government is justifiable; because the case is one in which the interest and judgment of the consumer are not sufficient security for the goodness of the commodity.”
It is strange that so judicious a writer should feel satisfied with such a worn-out excuse. This alleged incompetency on the part of the people has been the reason assigned for all state-interferences whatever. It was on the plea that buyers were unable to tell good fabrics from bad, that those complicated regulations which encumbered the French manufacturers were established. The use of certain dyes here in England was prohibited, because of the insufficient discernment of the people. Directions for the proper making of pins were issued, under the idea that experience would not teach the purchasers which were best. Those examinations as to competency which the German handicraftsmen undergo, are held needful, as safeguards to the consumers. A stock argument for the state-teaching of religion has been that the masses cannot distinguish false religion from true. There is hardly a single department of life over which, for similar reasons, legislative supervision has not been, or may not be, established. Here is Mr. H. Hodson Rugg, M.R.C.S., publishing a pamphlet to point out the injury inflicted upon poor ignorant householders by the adulteration of milk, and proposing as a remedy that there shall be government officers to test the milk, and to confiscate it when not good—police to inspect the ventilation of cow-sheds, and to order away invalid cattle—and a government cow-infirmary, with veterinary surgeon attached. To-morrow some one else may start up to tell us that bad bread is still more injurious than bad milk, equally common, quite as difficult to distinguish, and that, consequently, bakehouses ought to be overlooked by the authorities. Next there will be wanted officials with hydrometers and chemical re-agents, to dabble in the vats of the porter-breweries. In the wake of these must, of course, follow others, commissioned to watch the doings of wine merchants. And so on, until, in the desire to have all processes of production duly inspected, we approach a condition somewhat like that of the slave states, in which, as they say, “one-half of the community is occupied in seeing that the other half does its duty.” And for each additional interference the plea may be, as it always has been, that “the interest and judgment of the consumer are not sufficient security for the goodness of the commodity.”
Should it be said that the propriety of legislative control depends upon circumstances; that respecting some articles the judgment of the consumer is sufficient, whilst respecting other articles it is not; and that the difficulty of deciding upon its quality, places education amongst these last; the reply again is, that the same has been said on behalf of all meddlings in turn. Plenty of trickeries, plenty of difficulties in the detection of fraud, plenty of instances showing the inability of purchasers to protect themselves, are quoted by the advocates of each proposed recourse to official regulation; and in each case it is urged that here, at any rate, official regulation is required. Yet does experience disprove these inferences one after another, teaching us that, in the long run, the interest of the consumer is not only an efficient guarantee for the goodness of the things consumed, but the best guarantee. Is it not unwise, then, to trust for the hundredth time in one of these plausible but deceptive conclusions? Is it not rational, rather, to infer, that however much appearances are to the contrary, the choice of the commodity—education, like the choice of all other commodities, may be safely left to the discretion of buyers?
Still more reasonable will this inference appear on observing that the people are not, after all, such incompetent judges of education as they seem. Ignorant parents are generally quick enough to discern the effects of good or bad teaching; will note them in the children of others, and act accordingly. Moreover it is easy for them to follow the example of the better instructed, and choose the same schools. Or they may get over the difficulty by asking advice; and there is generally some one both able and willing to give the uneducated parent a trustworthy answer to his inquiry about teachers. Lastly, there is the test of price. With education, as with other things, price is a tolerably safe index of value; it is one open to all classes; and it is one which the poor instinctively appeal to in the matter of schools; for it is notorious that they look coldly at very cheap or gratuitous instruction.
But even admitting that, whilst this defect of judgment is not virtually so extreme as is alleged, it is nevertheless great, the need for interference is still denied. The evil is undergoing rectification, as all analogous ones are or have been. The rising generation will better understand what good education is than their parents do, and their descendants will have clearer conceptions of it still. Whoso thinks the slowness of the process a sufficient reason for meddling, must, to be consistent, meddle in all other things; for the ignorance which in every case serves as an excuse for state-interposition is of very gradual cure. The errors both of consumers and producers often take generations to set right. Improvements in the carrying on of commerce, in manufactures, and especially in agriculture, spread almost imperceptibly. Take rotation of crops for an example. And if this tardiness is a valid argument for interference in one case, why not in others? Why not have farms superintended by government, because it may take a century for farmers generally to adopt the plans suggested by modern science?
Did we duly realize the fact that society is a growth, and not a manufacture—a thing that makes itself, and not a thing that can be artificially made—we should fall into fewer mistakes; and we should see that amongst other imperfections this incompetence of the masses to distinguish good instruction from bad, is being outgrown.
When in the matter of education “the interest and judgment of the consumer” are said not to be “sufficient security for the goodness of the commodity,” and when it is argued that government superintendence is therefore needful, a very questionable assumption is made: the assumption, namely, that “the interest and judgment” of a government are sufficient security. Now there is good reason to dispute this, nay, even to assert that, taking the future into account, they offer much less security.
The problem is, how best to develop minds: a problem amongst the most difficult—may we not say, the most difficult? Two things are needful for its solution. First, to know what minds should be fashioned into. Next, to know how they may be so fashioned. From the work to be done, turn we now to the proposed doers of it. Men of education (as the word goes) they no doubt are; well-meaning, many of them; thoughtful, some; philosophical, a few; men, however, for the most part, born with silver spoons in their mouths, and prone to regard human affairs as reflected in these—somewhat distortedly. Very comfortable lives are led by the majority of them, and hence “things as they are” find favour in their eyes. For their tastes—they are shown in the subordination of national business to the shooting of grouse and the chasing of foxes. For their pride—it is in wide estates or long pedigrees; and should the family coat of arms bear some such ancient motto as “Strike hard,” or, “Furth fortune, and fill the fetters,” it is a great happiness. As to their ideal of society, it is either a sentimental feudalism; or it is a state, something like the present, under which the people shall be respectful to their betters, and “content with that station of life to which it has pleased God to call them;” or it is a state arranged with the view of making each labourer the most efficient producing tool, to the end that the accumulation of wealth may be the greatest possible. Add to this, that their notions of moral discipline are shown in the maintenance of capital punishment, and in the sending of their sons to schools where dogging is practised, and where they themselves were brought up. Now could the judgment of such respecting the commodity—education be safely relied on? Certainly not.
Still less might their “interest” be trusted. Though at variance with that of the people, it would inevitably be followed in preference. The self-seeking which, consciously or unconsciously, sways rulers in other cases, would sway them in this likewise—could not fail to do so, whilst the character of men is what it is. With taxation unequally distributed, with such a glaringly unjust apportionment of representatives to population, with a nepotism that fills lucrative places with Greys and Elliots, with a staff of a hundred admirals more than are wanted, with lavish pensions to the undeserving, with a system of retrenchment which discharges common men and retains officers, and with such votes as those given by the military, the naval, the landed, and the clerically-related members of parliament, we may be quite sure that a state-education would be administered for the advantage of those in power, rather than for the advantage of the nation. To hope for anything else is to fall into the old error of looking for grapes from thorns. Nothing can be more truly Utopian than expecting that, with men and things as they are, the influences which have vitiated all other institutions would not vitiate this one.
Thus, even were it true that in the matter of education “the interest and judgment of the consumer are not sufficient security for the goodness of the commodity,” the wisdom of superseding them by the “interest and judgment” of a government is by no means obvious. It may, indeed, be said that the argument proves only the unfitness of existing governments to become national teachers, and not the unfitness of a government normally constituted: whereas the object of inquiry being to determine what a government should do, the hypothesis must be that the government is what it should be. To this the reply is, that the nature of the allegation to be met necessitates a descent to the level of present circumstances. It is on the defective “interest and judgment” of the people, as they now are, that the plea for legislative superintendence is based; and, consequently, in criticising this plea we must take government as it now is. We cannot reason as though government were what it should be; since, before it can become so, any alleged deficiency of “interest and judgment” on the part of the people must have disappeared.
The impolicy of setting up a national organization for cultivating the popular mind, and commissioning the government to superintend this organization, is further seen in the general truth that every such organization is in spirit conservative, and not progressive. All institutions have an instinct of selfpreservation growing out of the selfishness of those connected with them. Being dependent for their vitality upon the continuance of existing arrangements, they naturally uphold these. Their roots are in the past and the present; never in the future. Change threatens them, modifies them, eventually destroys them; hence to change they are uniformly opposed. On the other hand, education, properly so called, is closely associated with change—is its pioneer—is the never-sleeping agent of revolution—is always fitting men for higher things, and unfitting them for things as they are. Therefore, between institutions whose very existence depends upon man continuing what he is, and true education, which is one of the instruments for making him something other than he is, there must always be enmity.
From the time of the Egyptian priesthood downwards, the conduct of corporations, whether political, ecclesiastical, or educational, has given proof of this. Some 300 years B.C., unlicensed schools were forbidden by the Athenian senate. In Rome, the liberty of teaching was attacked twice before the Christian era; and again, afterwards, by the Emperor Julian. The existing continental governments show, by their analogous policy, how persistent the tendency is. In the universality of censorships we see the same fact further illustrated. The celebrated saying of the Empress Catharine to her prime minister, well exhibits the way in which rulers regard the spread of knowledge. And whenever governments have undertaken to educate, it has been with the view of forestalling that spontaneous education which threatened their own supremacy. Witness the case of China, where diligently-impressed ideas, such as, “O! how magnificent are the affairs of government!” “O! what respect is due to the officers of government!” sufficiently indicate the intention. Witness, again, the case of Austria, where, in accordance with the will of the Emperor Francis, the training of the popular mind was entrusted to the Jesuits, that they might “counteract the propagandism of liberty, by the propagandism of superstition.”a Nor have there been wanting signs of a like spirit here in England. That attempt in Cobbett’s day to put down cheap literature, by an act which prevented weekly publications from being sold for less than sixpence, unmistakably indicated it. It was again exhibited in the reluctance with which the newspaper stamp duty was reduced, when resistance had become useless. And we may still see it in the double-facedness of a legislature which professes to favour popular enlightenment, and yet continues to raise a million and a quarter sterling yearly from “taxes on knowledge.”
How unfriendly all ecclesiastical bodies have been to the spread of education every one knows. The obstinacy shown by the Brahmin in fighting against the truths of modern science—the fanaticism with which the Mahometan doctor ignores all books but the Koran—and the prejudice fostered by the religious institutions of our own country against the very name of philosophy—are kindred illustrations of the conduct which this self-conserving instinct produces. In that saying of the monks, “We must put down printing, or printing will put down us,” the universal motive was plainly expressed; as it was, again, through the mouth of that French bishop who denounced the Bell and Lancaster systems as inventions of the devil. Nor let any one conclude that the educational zeal latterly manifested by Church clergy indicates a new animus. Those who remember the bitterness with which Sunday schools were at first assailed by them; and those who mark how keenly they now compete with dissenters for the children of the poor, can see clearly enough that they are endeavouring to make the best of a necessity—that, having a more or less defined consciousness of the inevitability of educational progress, they wish to educate the people in allegiance to the Church.
Still more manifest becomes this obstructive tendency on considering that the very organizations devised for the spreading of knowledge, may themselves act as suppressors of it. Thus it is said, that Oxford was one of the last places in which the Newtonian philosophy was acknowledged. We read again, in the life of Locke, that “there was a meeting of the heads of houses at Oxford, where it was proposed to censure and discourage the reading of this essay (On the Human Understanding); and after various debates, it was concluded that without any public censure each head of a house shall endeavour to prevent its being read in his own college.” At Eton, too, in Shelley’s time, “Chemistry was a forbidden thing,” even to the banishment of chemical treatises. So uniformly has it been the habit of these endowed institutions to close the door against innovations, that they are amongst the last places to which any one looks for improvements in the art of teaching, or a better choice of subjects to be taught. The attitude of the universities towards natural science has been that of contemptuous non-recognition. College authorities have long resisted, either actively or passively, the making of physiology, chemistry, geology, &c., subjects of examination; and only of late, under pressure from without, and under the fear of being supplanted by rival institutions, have new studies been gingerly taken to.
Now, although vis inertiæ may be very useful in its place—although the resistance of office-holders has its function—although we must not quarrel with this instinct of self-preservation which gives to institutions their vitality, because it also upholds them through a lingering decrepitude—we may yet wisely refuse to increase its natural effect. It is very necessary to have in our social economy a conservative force as well as a reforming one, that there may be progress for the resultant; but it is highly impolitic to afford the one an artificial advantage over the other. To establish a state-education is to do this, however. The teaching organization itself, and the government which directs it, will inevitably lean to things as they are; and to give them control over the national mind, is to give them the means of repressing aspirations after things as they should be. Just that culture which seems compatible with their own preservation will these institutions allow, whilst just that culture which, by advancing society, threatens to sap their own foundations, or, in other words—just that culture which is most valuable, they will oppose.
The sanguine will perhaps hope that, though this has been the rule hitherto, it will not be the rule in future. Let them not deceive themselves. So long as men pursue private advantage at the expense of the common weal, that is to say—so long as government is needful at all, so long will this be true. Less marked the tendency will no doubt be in proportion as men are less unjustly selfish. But to whatever extent they lack perfect conscientiousness, to the same extent will vested interests sway them, and to the same extent will institutions resist change.
Did the reader ever watch a boy in the first heat of a gardening fit? The sight is an amusing, and not uninstructive one. Probably a slice of a border—some couple of square yards or so—has been made over to him for his exclusive use. No small accession of dignity, and not a little pride of proprietorship, does he exhibit. So long as the enthusiasm lasts, he never tires of contemplating his territory; and every companion, and every visitor with whom the liberty can be taken, is pretty sure to be met with the request—“Come and see my garden.” Note chiefly, however, with what anxiety the growth of a few scrubby plants is regarded. Three or four times a day will the little urchin rush out to look at them. How provokingly slow their progress seems to him. Each morning on getting up he hopes to find some marked change; and lo, everything appears just as it did the day before. When will the blossoms come out! For nearly a week has some forward bud been promising him the triumph of a first flower, and still it remains closed. Surely there must be something wrong! Perhaps the leaves have stuck fast. Ah! that is the reason, no doubt. And so ten to one you shall some day catch our young florist very busily engaged in pulling open the calyx, and, it may be, trying to unfold a few of the petals.
Somewhat like this childish impatience is the feeling exhibited by not a few state-educationists. Both they and their type show a lack of faith in natural forces—almost an ignorance that there are such forces. In both there is the same dissatisfaction with the ordained rate of progress. And by both, artificial means are used to remedy what are conceived to be nature’s failures. Within these few years men have all at once been awakened to the importance of instructing the people. That to which they were awhile since indifferent or even hostile has suddenly become an object of enthusiasm. With all the ardour of recent converts—with all a novice’s inordinate expectations—with all the eagerness of a lately-aroused desire—do they await the hoped- for result; and, with the unreasonableness ever attendant upon such a state of mind, are dissatisfied, because the progress from general ignorance to universal enlightenment has not been completed in a generation. One would have thought it sufficiently clear to everybody that the great changes taking place in this world of ours are uniformly slow. Continents are upheaved at the rate of a foot or two in a century. The deposition of a delta is the work of tens of thousands of years. The transformation of barren rock into life-supporting soil takes countless ages. If any think society advances under a different law, let them read. Has it not required the whole Christian era to abolish slavery in Europe? as far at least as it is abolished. Did not a hundered generations live and die while picture-writing grew into printing? Have not science and commerce and mechanical skill increased at a similarly tardy pace? Yet are men disappointed that a pitiful fifty years has not sufficed for thorough popular enlightment! Although within this period an advance has been made far beyond what the calm thinker would have expected—far beyond what the past rate of progress in human affairs seemed to prophesy—yet do these so impatient people summarily condemn the voluntary system as a failure! A natural process—a process spontaneously set up—a process of self-unfolding which the national mind had commenced, is pooh-poohed because it has not wrought a total transformation in the course of what constitutes but a day in the life of humanity! And then, to make up for nature’s incompetency, the unfolding must be hastened by legislative fingerings!
There is, indeed, one excuse for attempts to spread education by artificial means, namely, the anxiety to diminish crime, of which education is supposed to be a preventive. “We hold,” says Mr. Macaulay, “that whoever has the right to hang has the right to educate.”a And in a letter relative to the Manchester district-system, Miss Martineau writes—“Nor can I see that political economy objects to the general rating for educational purposes. As a mere police-tax this rating would be a very cheap affair. It would cost us much less than we now pay for juvenile depravity.” In both which remarks this prevalent belief is implied.
Now, with all respect to the many high authorities holding it, the truth of this belief may be disputed. We have no evidence that education, as commonly understood, is a preventive of crime. Those perpetually re-iterated newspaper paragraphs, in which the ratios of instructed to uninstructed convicts are so triumphantly stated, prove just nothing. Before any inference can be drawn, it must be shown that these instructed and uninstructed convicts, come from two equal sections of society, alike in all other respects but that of knowledge—similar in rank and occupation, having similar advantages, labouring under similar temptations. But this is not only not the truth; it is nothing like the truth. The many ignorant criminals belong to a most unfavourably circumstanced class; whilst the few educated ones are from a class comparatively favoured. As things stand it would be equally logical to infer that crime arises from going without animal food, or from living in badly-ventilated rooms, or from wearing dirty shirts; for were the inmates of a goal to be catechised, it would doubtless be found that the majority of them had been placed in these conditions. Ignorance and crime are not cause and effect; they are coincident results of the same cause. To be wholly untaught is to have moved amongst those whose incentives to wrong-doing are strongest; to be partially taught is to have been one of a class subject to less urgent temptations; to be well taught is to have lived almost beyond the reach of the usual motives for transgression. Ignorance, therefore (at least in the statistics reffered to), simply indicates the presence of crime-producing influences, and can no more be called the cause of crime than the falling of a barometer can be called the cause of rain.
So far indeed from proving that morality is increased by education, the facts prove, if anything, the reverse. Thus we are told, in a report by the Rev. Joseph Kingsmill, head chaplain of Pentonville Prison, that the proportion borne by the educated to the uneducated convicts is fully as high as that which exists between the educated and the uneducated classes in the general population; although, as just explained, we might reasonably expect, that having had fewer temptations, the educated convicts would bear a smaller ratio to their class. Again, it has been shown from government returns—“That the number of juvenile offenders in the metropolis has been steadily increasing every year since the institution of the Ragged School Union; and that whereas the number of criminals who cannot read and write has decreased from 24,856 (in 1844) to 22,968 (in 1848)—or no less than 1888 in that period—the number of those who can read and write imperfectly has increased from 33,337 to 36,229—or 2857—in the same time.”—Morning Chronicle, April 25, 1850. Another contributor to the series of articles on “Labour and the Poor,” from which the above statement is quoted, remarks that “the mining population (in the north) are exceedingly low in point of education and intelligence; and yet they contradict the theories generally entertained upon the connection of ignorance with crime, by presenting the least criminal section of the population of England.”—Morning Chronicle, Dec. 27, 1849. And, speaking of the women employed in the iron-works and collieries throughout South Wales, he says—“their ignorance is absolutely awful; yet the returns show in them a singular immunity from crime.”—Morning Chronicle, March 21, 1850.
If these testimonies are thought insufficient, they may be enforced by that of Mr. Fletcher, who has entered more elaborately into this question than perhaps any other writer of the day. Summing up the results of his investigations, he says:—
“1. In comparing the gross commitments for criminal offences with the proportion of instruction in each district, there is found to be a small balance in favour of the most instructed districts in the years of most industrial depression (1842-3-4), but a greater one against them in the years of less industrial depression (1845-6-7); while in comparing the more with the less instructed portions of each district, the final result is against the former at both periods, though fourfold at the latter what it is at the former.
“2. No correction for the ages of the population in different districts, to meet the excess of criminals at certain younger periods of life, will change the character of this superficial evidence against instruction; every legitimate allowance of the kind having already been made in arriving at these results.
“3. Down to this period, therefore, the comparison of the criminal and educational returns of this, any more than of any other country of Europe, has afforded no sound statistical evidence in favour, and as little against, the moral effects associated with instruction, as actually disseminated among the people.”a
To all which evidence may be added that of Messrs. Gurrea and Dupin, who have shown that the most highly-educated districts in France are the most criminal districts.
The fact is, that scarcely any connection exists between morality and the discipline of ordinary teaching. Mere culture of the intellect (and education as usually conducted amounts to little more) is hardly at all operative upon conduct. Creeds pasted upon the memory, good principles learnt by rote, lessons in right and wrong, will not eradicate vicious propensities, though people, in spite of their experience as parents, and as citizens, persist in hoping they will. All history, both of the race and of individuals, goes to prove that in the majority of cases precepts do not act at all. And where they seem to act, it is not by them, but by pre-existing feelings which respond to them, that the effects are really produced. Intellect is not a power, but an instrument—not a thing which itself moves and works, but a thing which is moved and worked by forces behind it. To say that men are ruled by reason, is as irrational as to say that men are ruled by their eyes. Reason is an eye—the eye through which the desires see their way to gratification. And educating it only makes it a better eye—gives it a vision more accurate and more comprehensive—does not at all alter the desires subserved by it. However far-seeing you make it, the passions will still determine the directions in which it shall be turned—the objects on which it shall dwell. Just those ends which the instincts or sentiments propose will the intellect be employed to accomplish: culture of it having done nothing but increase the ability to accomplish them. Probably some will urge that enlightening men enables them to discern the penalties which naturally attach to wrong-doing; and in a certain sense this is true. But it is only superficially true. Though they may learn that the grosser crimes commonly bring retribution in one shape or other, they will not learn that the subtler ones do. Their sins will merely be made more Machiavellian. If, as Coleridge says, “a knave is a fool with a circumbendibus,” then by instructing the knave you do but make the circumbendibus a wider one. Did much knowledge and piercing intelligence suffice to make men good, then Bacon should have been honest, and Napoleon should have been just. Where the character is defective, intellect, no matter how high, fails to regulate rightly, because predominant desires falsify its estimates. Nay, even a distinct foresight of evil consequences will not restrain when strong passions are at work. How else does it happen that men will get drunk, though they know drunkenness will entail on them suffering, and disgrace, and (as with the poor) even starvation? How else is it that medical students, who know the diseases brought on by dissolute living better than other young men, are just as reckless, and even more reckless? How else is it that the London thief, who has been at the treadmill a dozen times, will steal again as soon as he is at liberty? How else is it that people, who have all their lives long been taught Christianity, will not behave as Christians, though they believe that dire penalties are entailed by behaving otherwise?
It is, indeed, strange that with the facts of daily life before them in the street, in the counting-house, and in the family, thinking men should still expect education to cure crime. If armies of teachers, regarded with a certain superstitious reverence, have been unable to purify society in all these eighteen centuries, it is hardly likely that other armies of teachers, not so regarded, will be able to do it. If natural persuasion, backed by super-natural authority, will not induce men to do as they would be done by, it is hardly likely that natural persuasion alone will induce them. If hopes of eternal happiness and terrors of eternal damnation fail to make human beings virtuous, it is hardly likely that the commendations and reproofs of the schoolmaster will succeed.
There is, in fact, a quite sufficient reason for failure—no less a reason than the impossibility of the task. The expectation that crime may presently be cured, whether by state-education, or the silent system, or the separate system, or any other system, is one of those Utopianisms fallen into by people who pride themselves on being practical. Crime is incurable, save by that gradual process of adaptation to the social state which humanity is undergoing. Crime is the continual breaking out of the old unadapted nature—the index of a character unfitted to its conditions—and only as fast as the unfitness diminishes can crime diminish. To hope for some prompt method of putting down crime, is in reality to hope for some prompt method of putting down all evils—laws, governments, taxation, poverty, caste, and the rest; for they and crime have the same root. Reforming men’s conduct without reforming their natures is impossible; and to expect that their natures may be reformed, otherwise than by the forces which are slowly civilizing us, is visionary. Schemes of discipline or culture are of use only in proportion as they organically alter the national character, and the extent to which they do this is by no means great. It is not by humanly-devised agencies, good as these may be in their way, but it is by the never-ceasing action of circumstances upon men—by the constant pressure of their new conditions upon them—that the required change is mainly effected.
Meanwhile it may be remarked, that whatever moral benefit can be effected by education, must be effected by an education which is emotional rather than preceptive. If, in place of making a child understand that this thing is right and the other wrong, you make it feel that they are so—if you make virtue loved and vice loathed—if you arouse a noble desire, and make torpid an inferior one—if you bring into life a previously dormant sentiment—if you cause a sympathetic impulse to get the better of one that is selfish—if, in short, you produce a state of mind to which proper behaviour is natural, spontaneous, instinctive, you do some good. But no drilling in catechisms, no teaching of moral codes, can effect this. Only by repeatedly awakening the appropriate emotions can character be changed. Mere ideas received by the intellect, meeting no response from within—having no roots there—are quite inoperative upon conduct, and are quickly forgotten upon entering into life.
Perhaps it will be said that a discipline like this now described as the only efficient one, might be undertaken by the state. No doubt it might. But from all legislative attempts at emotional education may Heaven defend us!
Yet another objection remains. Just as we found, on close examination, that by poor-laws a government cannot really cure distress, but can only shift it from one section of the community to another (p. 327), so, astounding as the assertion looks, we shall find that a government cannot in fact educate at all, but can only educate some by uneducating others. If, before agitating the matter, men had taken the precaution to define education, they would probably have seen that the state can afford no true help in the matter. But having unfortunately neglected to do this, they have confined their attention solely to the education given at school, and have forgotten to inquire how their plans bear upon the education which commences when school-days end. It is not indeed that they do not know this discipline of daily duty to be valuable—more valuable, in fact, than the discipline of the teacher. You may often hear them remark as much. But, with the eagerness usual amongst schemers, they are so absorbed in studying the action of their proposed mechanism as to overlook its reaction.
Now of all qualities which is the one men most need? To the absence of what quality are popular distresses mainly attributable? What is the quality in which the improvident masses are so deficient? Self-restraint—the ability to sacrifice a small present gratification for a prospective great one. A labourer endowed with due self-restraint would never spend his Saturday-night’s wages at the public-house. Had he enough self-restraint, the artizan would not live up to his income during prosperous times and leave the future unprovided for. More self-restraint would prevent imprudent marriages and the growth of a pauper population. And were there no drunkenness, no extravagance, no reckless multiplication, social miseries would be trivial.
Consider next how the power of self-restraint is to be increased. By a sharp experience alone can anything be done. Those in whom this faculty needs drawing out—educating must be left to the discipline of nature, and allowed to bear the pains attendant on their defect of character. The only cure for imprudence is the suffering which imprudence entails. Nothing but bringing him face to face with stern necessity, and letting him feel how unbending, how unpitying, are her laws, can improve the man of ill-governed desires. As already shown (p. 324), all interposing between humanity and the conditions of its existence—cushioning-off consequences by poor-laws or the like—serves but to neutralize the remedy and prolong the evil. Let us never forget that the law is—adaptation to circumstances, be they what they may. And if, rather than allow men to come in contact with the real circumstances of their position, we place them in artificial—in false circumstances, they will adapt themselves to these instead; and will, in the end, have to undergo the miseries of a re-adaptation to the real ones.
Of all incentives to self-restraint, perhaps none is so strong as the sense of parental responsibility. And if so, to diminish that sense is to use the most effectual means of preventing self-restraint from being developed. We have ample proof of this in the encouragement of improvident marriages by a poor-law; and the effect which a poor-law produces by relieving men from the final responsibility of maintaining their children, must be produced in a smaller degree by taking away the responsibility of educating their children. The more the state undertakes to do for his family, the more are the expenses of the married man reduced, at the cost of the unmarried man, and the greater becomes the temptation to marry. Let not any think that the offer of apparently gratuitous instruction for his offspring would be of no weight with the working man deliberating on the propriety of taking a wife. Whoever has watched the freaks which strong passion plays in the councils of the intellect—has marked how it will bully into silence the weaker feelings that oppose it—how it will treat slightingly the most conclusive adverse evidence, whilst, in urging the goodness of its own cause, “trifles light as air are confirmations strong as proofs of Holy Writ”—whoever has marked this, can hardly doubt that, in the deliberations of such an one, the prospect of public training for children would in no small degree affect the decision. Nay, indeed, it would afford a positive reason for giving way to his desires. Just as a man at an expensive dinner will eat more than he knows is good for him, on the principle of having his money’s worth, so would the artizan find one excuse for marrying in the fact that, unless he did so, he would be paying education-rates for nothing.
Nor is it only thus that a state-education would encourage men to obey present impulses. An influence unfavourable to the increase of self-control would be exercised by it throughout the whole of parental life. That powerful restraint which the anxiety to give children schooling now imposes upon the improvident tendencies of the poor, would be removed. Many a man who, as things are, can but just keep the mastery over some vicious or extravagant propensity, and whose most efficient curb is the thought that if he gives way it must be at the sacrifice of that book-learning which he is ambitious to give his family, would fall were this curb weakened—would not only cease to improve in power of self-control as he is now doing, but would probably retrograde, and bequeath his offspring to a lower instead of a higher phase of civilization.
Hence, as was said, a government can educate in one direction only by uneducating in another—can confer knowledge only at the expense of character. It retards the development of a quality universally needed—one in the absence of which poverty, and recklessness, and crime, must ever continue; and all that it may give a smattering of information.
What a contrast is there between these futile contrivances of men and the admirable, silent-working mechanisms of nature! Nature, with a perfect economy, turns all forces to account. She makes action and re-action alike useful. This strong affection for progeny becomes in her hands the agent of a double culture, serving at once to fashion parent and child into the desired form. And beautiful is it to see how the most powerful of instincts is made the means of holding men under a discipline to which, perhaps, nothing else could make them submit. Yet this skilfully-devised arrangement statesmen propose to dislocate, confidently opining that their own patent apparatus will answer a great deal better!
Thus, in the present, as in other cases, we find the dictate of the abstract law enforced by secondary considerations. The alleged right to education at the hands of the state proves to be untenable; first, as logically committing its supporters to other claims too absurd for consideration; and again, as being incapable of definition. Moreover, could the claim be established, it would imply the duty of government despotically to enforce its system of discipline, and the duty of the subject to submit. That education ought not to be dealt in after the same manner as other things, because in its case “the interest and judgment of the consumer are not sufficient security for the goodness of the commodity,” is a plea with most suspicious antecedents; having been many times employed in other instances, and many times disproved. Neither is the implied assumption that the “interest and judgment” of a government would constitute a sufficient security admissible. On the contrary, experience proves that the interests of a government, and of all the institutions it may set up, are directly opposed to education of the most important kind. Again, to say that legislative teaching is needful, because other teaching has failed, presupposes a pitiably narrow view of human progress; and further, involves the strange scepticism that, though natural agencies have brought the enlightenment of mankind to its present height, and are even now increasing it at an unparalleled rate, they will no longer answer. The belief that education is a preventive of crime, having no foundation either in theory or fact, cannot be held an excuse for interference. And, to crown all, it turns out that the institution so much longed for is a mere dead machine, which can only give out in one form the power it absorbs in another, minus the friction—a thing which cannot stir towards effecting this kind of education without abstracting the force now accomplishing that—a thing, therefore, which cannot educate at all.
A colony being a community, to ask whether it is right for the state to found and govern colonies, is practically to ask, whether it is right for one community to found and govern other communities. And this question not being one in which the relationships of a society to its own authorities are alone involved, but being one into which there enter the interests of parties external to such society, is in some measure removed out of the class of questions hitherto considered. Nevertheless, our directing principle affords satisfactory guidance in this case as well as in the others.
That a government cannot undertake to administer the affairs of a colony, and to support for it a judicial staff, a constabulary, a garrison, and so forth, without trespassing against the parent society, scarcely needs pointing out. Any expenditure for these purposes, be it like our own some three and a half millions sterling a year, or but a few thousands, involves a breach of state-duty. The taking from men property beyond what is needful for the better securing of their rights, we have seen to be an infringement of their rights. Colonial expenditure cannot be met without property being so taken. Colonial expenditure is therefore unjustifiable.
An objector might indeed allege, that by maintaining in a settlement a subordinate legislature, the parent legislature does but discharge towards the settlers its original office of protector, and that the settlers have a claim to protection at its hands. But the duty of a society towards itself, that is, of a government towards its subjects, will not permit the assumption of such a responsibility. For, as it is the function of a government to administer the law of equal freedom, it cannot, without reversing its function, tax one portion of its subjects at a higher rate than is needful to protect them, that it may give protection to another portion below prime cost; and to guard those who emigrate, at the expense of those who remain, is to do this. Manifestly, the guardianship which a nation in its corporate capacity extends to each of its members, is limited by conditions. The citizen must defray his share of the expenses, must agree to perform certain political duties, and must reside within specified geographical boundaries. If he prefers to go elsewhere, it may be presumed that he has duly considered, on the one hand, the benefits promised by his contemplated emigration, and on the other, the evils attending loss of citizenship, and that the prospective advantages of a change preponderate. At any rate he cannot show that, by refusing to send out officers to the antipodes to take care of him, society violates a recognised or implied contract.
Moreover, colonial government, properly so called, cannot be carried on without transgressing the rights of the colonists. For if, as generally happens, the colonists are dictated to by authorities sent out from the mother country, then the law of equal freedom is broken in their persons, as much as by any other kind of autocratic rule. If, again, they are allowed to administer their own affairs, the parent state retaining only a veto-power, there is still injustice in the assumption of greater freedom by the members of the old community than is conceded to those of the new one. And if the new community is as completely self-governed as the old one, then, politically speaking, it is not a colony at all, but a separate nation. In one way, however, legislative union between a parent state and its colonies may be maintained without breach of the law; namely, by making them integral parts of one empire, severally represented in a united assembly commissioned to govern the whole. But theoretically just as such an arrangement may be, and even carried out though it is by France, it is still too palpably impolitic for serious consideration. To propose that, whilst the English joined in legislating for the people of Australia, of the Cape, of New Zealand, of Canada, of Jamaica, and of the rest, these should in turn legislate for the English, and for each other, is much like proposing that the butcher should superintend the classification of the draper’s goods, the draper draw up a tariff of prices for the grocer, and the grocer instruct the baker in making bread.
Hence, the political union of a parent state with a colony is inadmissible; seeing that, as usually maintained, such union necessarily infringes the rights of the members of both communities, and seeing that it cannot be made just without at the same time being made absurdly unfit.
It was exceedingly cool of Pope Alexander VI. to parcel out the unknown countries of the Earth between the Spaniards and Portuguese, granting to Spain all discovered and undiscovered heathen lands lying west of a certain meridian drawn through the Atlantic, and to Portugal those lying east of it. Queen Elizabeth, too, was somewhat cool, when she empowered Sir Humphrey Gilbert “to discover and take possession of remote and heathen countries,” and “to exercise rights, royalties, and jurisdiction, in such countries and seas adjoining.” Nor did Charles II. show less coolness, when he gave to Winthrop, Mason, and others, power to “kill, slay, and destroy, by all fitting ways, enterprises, and means whatsoever, all and every such person or persons as shall at any time hereafter attempt or enterprise the destruction, invasion, detriment, or annoyance of the inhabitants,” of the proposed plantation of Connecticut. Indeed, all colonizing expeditions down to those of our own day, with its American annexations, its French occupations of Algiers and Tahiti, and its British conquests of Scinde, and of the Punjaub, have borne a very repulsive likeness to the doings of buccaneers. As usual, however, these unscrupulous acts have brought deserved retributions. Insatiate greediness—a mere blind impulse to clutch whatever lies within reach—has generated very erroneous beliefs, and betrayed nations into most disastrous deeds. “Men are rich in proportion to their acres,” argued politicians. “An increase of estate is manifestly equivalent to an increase of wealth. What, then, can be clearer than that the acquirement of new territory must be a national advantage?” So, misled by the analogy, and spurred on by acquisitiveness, we have continued to seize province after province, in utter disregard of the losses uniformly entailed by them. In fact, it has been inconceivable that they do entail losses. That the addition of anything must enrich seems so self-evident a truth, that it has never struck men to ask what happens when the thing added is a minus quantity. And even now, though doubt is beginning to dawn upon the public mind, the instinctive desire to keep hold is too strong to permit a change of policy. Our predicament is like that of the monkey in the fable, who, putting his hand into a jar of fruit, grasps so large a quantity that he cannot get his hand out again, and is obliged to drag the jar about with him, never thinking to let go what he has seized. When we shall attain to something more than the ape’s wisdom remains to be seen. Happily the old piratical spirit is on the decline. A conquest is no longer gloried in as a national aggrandizement. Our last Indian annexation was lamented as an unfortunate necessity. Experience is fast teaching us that distant dependencies are burdens, and not acquisitions. And thus this earliest motive for state-colonization—the craving for wider possessions—will very soon be destroyed by the conviction that territorial aggression is as impolitic as it is unjust.
Whilst the mere propensity to thieve,—commonly known under some grandiloquent alias, disguised by glittering falsehoods, and made sublime in men’s eyes by the largeness of its aims,—has been the real prompter of colonizing invasions, from those of Cortez and Pizarro downwards, the ostensible purpose of them has been either the spread of religion or the extension of commerce. In modern days the latter excuse has been the favourite one. To obtain more markets—this is what people have said aloud to each other, was the object aimed at. And, though second to the widening of empire, it has been to the compassing of this object that colonial legislation has been mainly directed. Let us consider the worth of such legislation.
Those holy men of whom the middle ages were so prolific, seem to have delighted in exhibiting their supernatural powers on the most trifling occasions. It was a common feat with them, when engaged in church-building, magically to lengthen a beam which the carpenter had made too short. Some were in the constant habit of calling down fire from heaven to light their candles. When at a loss where to deposit his habiliments, St. Goar, of Treves, would transform a sunbeam into a hat-peg. And it is related of St. Columbanus that he wrought a miracle to keep the grubs from his cabbages. Now, although these examples of the use of vast means for the accomplishment of insignificant ends are not quite paralleled by the exertions of governments to secure colonial trade, the absurdity attaching to both differs only in degree. An expenditure of power ridiculously disproportionate to the occasion is their common characteristic. In the one case, as in the other, an unnatural agency is employed to effect what a natural agency would effect as well. Trade is a simple enough thing that will grow up wherever there is room for it. But, according to statesmen, it must be created by a gigantic and costly machinery. That trade only is advantageous to a country which brings in return for what is directly and indirectly given, a greater worth of commodities than could otherwise be obtained. But statesmen recognize no such limit to its benefits. Every new outlet for English goods, kept open at no matter what cost, they think valuable. Here is some scrubby little island, or wild territory—unhealthy, or barren, or inclement, or uninhabited even—which by right of discovery, conquest, or diplomatic manœuvring, may be laid hands on. Possession is forthwith taken; a high salaried governor is appointed; officials collect round him; then follow forts, garrisons, guardships; from these by-and-bye come quarrels with neighbouring peoples, incursions, war; and these again call for more defensive works, more force, more money. And to all protests against this reckless expenditure, the reply is—“Consider how it extends our commerce.” If you grumble at the sinking of £800,000 in fortifying Gibraltar and Malta, at the outlay of £130,000 a year for the defence of the Ionian Islands, at the maintenance of 1200 soldiers in such a good-for-nothing place as the Bermudas, at the garrisoning of St. Helena, Hong Kong, Heligoland, and the rest, you are told that all this is needful for the protection of our commerce. If you object to the expenditure of £110,000 per annum on the government of Ceylon, it is thought a sufficient answer that Ceylon buys manufactures from us to the gross value of £240,000 yearly. Any criticisms you may pass upon the policy of retaining Canada, at an annual cost of £800,000, are met by the fact that this amounts to only 30 per cent. upon the sum which the Canadians spend on our goodsa . Should you, under the fear that the East India Company’s debt may some day be saddled upon the people of England, lament the outlay of £17,000,000 over the Affghan war, the sinking of £1,000,000 a year in Scinde, and the swallowing up of untold treasure in the subjugation of the Punjaub, there still comes the everlasting excuse of more trade. A Bornean jungle, the deserts of Kaffraria, and the desolate hills of the Falkland Islands, are all occupied upon this plea. The most profuse expenditure is forgiven, if but followed by an insignificant demand for merchandise; even though such demand be but for the supply of a garrison’s necessities—glass for barrack windows, starch for officers’ shirts, and lump-sugar for the governor’s table—all of which you shall find carefully included in Board of Trade Tables, and rejoiced over as constituting an increase in our exports.
But not only do we expend so much to gain so little, we absolutely expend it for nothing; nay, indeed, in some cases to achieve a loss. All profitable trade with colonies will come without the outlay of a penny for colonial administration—must flow to us naturally; and whatever trade will not flow to us naturally, is not profitable, but the reverse. If a given settlement deals solely with us, it does so from one of two causes: either we make the articles its inhabitants consume at a lower rate than any other nation, or we oblige its inhabitants to buy those articles from us, though they might obtain them for less elsewhere. Manifestly, if we can undersell other producers, we should still exclusively supply its markets, were the settlement independent. If we cannot undersell them, it is equally certain that we are indirectly injuring ourselves and the settlers too; for, as M’Culloch says:—“Each country has some natural or acquired capabilities that enable her to carry on certain branches of industry more advantageously than any one else. But the fact of a country being undersold in the markets of her colonies, shows conclusively that, instead of having any superiority, she labours under a disadvantage, as compared with others, in the production of the peculiar articles in demand in them. And hence, in providing a forced market in the colonies for articles that we should not otherwise be able to dispose of, we really engage a portion of the capital and labour of the country in a less advantageous channel than that into which it would naturally have flowed.” And if to the injury we do ourselves by manufacturing goods which we could more economically buy, is added the injury we suffer in pacifying the colonists, by purchasing from them commodities obtainable on better terms elsewhere, we have before us the twofold loss which these much-coveted monopolies entail.
Thus are we again taught how worthy of all reverence are the injunctions of equity, and how universal is their applicability. Just that commercial intercourse with colonies which may be had without breaking these injunctions, brings gain; whilst just that commercial intercourse which cannot be so had, brings loss.
Passing from home interests to colonial interests, we still meet nothing but evil results. It is a prettily sounding expression that of mother-country protection, but a very delusive one. If we are to believe those who have known the thing rather than the name, there is but little of the maternal about it. In the Declaration of American Independence we have a candid statement of experience on this point. Speaking of the king—the personification of the parent state, the settlers say:—
“He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.
“He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.
“He has kept among us in times of peace standing armies, without the consent of our legislatures.
“He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their pretended acts of legislation:—
“For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us.
“For protecting them by a mock trial from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states.
“For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world.
“For imposing taxes upon us without our consent.
“For depriving us in many cases of the benefits of trial by jury,” &c., &c., &c.
Now, though tyrannies so atrocious as these do not commonly disgrace colonial legislation in the present day, we have but to glance over the newspapers published in our foreign possessions, to see that the arbitrary rule of the Colonial Office is no blessing. Chronic irritation, varying in intensity from that of which petitions are symptomatic, to that exhibited in open rebellions, is habitually present in these forty-six scattered dependencies which statesmen have encumbered us with. Two outbreaks in fifteen years pretty plainly hint the feeling of the Canadas—a feeling still extant and growing, as recent events testify. Within the same period the Cape Boers have revolted thrice; and we have just had a tumultuous agitation and a violent paper war about convicts. In the West Indies there is universal discontent. Jamaica advices tell of stopped supplies, and state-machinery at a dead lock. Guiana sends like news. Here are quarrels about retrenchment; there, insurrectionary riots; and anger is everywhere. The name of Ceylon calls to mind the insolence of a titled governor on the one side, and on the other the bitterness of insulted colonists. In the Australian settlements, criminal immigration has been the sore subject; whilst from New Zealand there come protests against official despotism. All winds bring the same tale of a negligence caring for no expostulations, impertinence without end, blunderings, disputes, delays, corruption. Canadians complain of having been induced by a proffered privilege to sink their capital in flour-mills, which subsequent legislation made useless. With an ever-varying amount of protection, sugar-planters say they do not know what to be at. South Africa bears witness to a mismanagement that at one time makes enemies of the Griquas, and at another entails a Kaffir war. The emigrants of New Zealand lament over a seat of government absurdly chosen, money thrown away upon useless roads, and needful works left undone. South Australia is made bankrupt by its governor’s extravagance; lands are apportioned so as to barbarize the settlers by dispersion, and labourers are sent out in excess, and left to beg. Our Chinese trade gets endangered by the insulting behaviour of military officers to the natives; and the authorities of Labuan make their first settlement in a pestilential swamp.
Nevertheless, these odd results of mother-country protection need not surprise us, if we consider by whom the duties of maternity are discharged. Dotted here and there over the earth, at distances varying from one thousand to fourteen thousand miles, and to and from some of which it takes three-quarters of a year to send a question and get back an answer, are forty-six communities, consisting of different races, placed in different circumstances. And the affairs of these numerous, far-removed communities—their commercial, social, political, and religious interests, are to be cared for—by whom? By six functionaries and their twenty-three clerks, sitting at desks in Downing Street! being at the rate of 0.13 of a functionary and half a clerk to each settlement!
Is is not, then, sufficiently clear that this state-colonization is as indefensible on the score of colonial welfare, as on that of home interests? May we not reasonably doubt the propriety of people on one side of the earth being governed by officials on the other? Would not these transplanted societies probably manage their affairs better than we can do it for them? At any rate our benevolent anxiety on their behalf may be at rest, should it turn out that they would willingly dispense with our superintendence. All that the most romantic generosity can require from us, is the tender of our good offices; and should these be declined, our consciences may feel fully discharged of any assumed duty. Now on polling the inhabitants of each colony on the question whether England should continue legislating for them or not, we should be pretty certain to get the answer that, were it the same thing to us, they would much rather legislate for themselves.
Great, however, as are the evils entailed by government colonization upon both parent state and settlers, they look insignificant when compared with those it inflicts upon the aborigines of the conquered countries. The people of Java believe that the souls of Europeans pass at death into the bodies of tigers; and it is related of a Hispaniolan chief that he hoped not to go to heaven when he heard there would be Spaniards there. Significant facts these: darkly suggestive of many an unrecorded horror. But they hint nothing worse than history tells of. Whether we think of the extinct West-Indian tribes, who were worked to death in mines; or of the Cape Hottentots, whose masters punished them by shooting small shot into their legs; or of those nine thousand Chinese whom the Dutch massacred one morning in Batavia; or of the Arabs lately suffocated in the caves of Dahra by the French, we do but call to mind solitary samples of the treatment commonly received by subjugated races from so-called Christian nations. Should any one flatter himself that we English are guiltless of such barbarities, he may soon be shamed by a narrative of our doings in the East. The Anglo-Indians of the last century—“birds of prey and of passage,” as they were styled by Burke—showed themselves only a shade less cruel than their prototypes of Peru and Mexico. Imagine how black must have been their deeds, when even the Directors of the Company admitted that “the vast fortunes acquired in the inland trade have been obtained by a scene of the most tyrannical and oppressive conduct that was ever known in any age or country.” Conceive the atrocious state of society described by Vansittart, who tells us that the English compelled the natives to buy or sell at just what rates they pleased, on pain of flogging or confinement. Judge to what a pass things must have come when, in describing a journey, Warren Hastings says, “most of the petty towns and serais were deserted at our approach.” A cold-blooded treachery was the established policy of the authorities. Princes were betrayed into war with each other; and one of them having been helped to overcome his antagonist, was then himself dethroned for some alleged misdemeanor. Always some muddied stream was at hand as a pretext for official wolves. Dependent chiefs holding coveted lands were impoverished by exorbitant demands for tribute; and their ultimate inability to meet these demands was construed into a treasonable offence, punished by deposition. Even down to our own day kindred iniquities are continueda Down to our own day, too, are continued the grievous salt-monopoly, and the pitiless taxation, that wrings from the poor ryots nearly half the produce of the soil. Down to our own day continues the cunning despotism which uses native soldiers to maintain and extend native subjection—a despotism under which, not many years since, a regiment of sepoys was deliberately massacred, for refusing to march without proper clothing. Down to our own day the police authorities league with wealthy scamps, and allow the machinery of the law to be used for purposes of extortion. Down to our own day, so-called gentlemen will ride their elephants through the crops of impoverished peasants; and will supply themselves with provisions from the native villages without paying for them. And down to our own day, it is common with the people in the interior to run into the woods at sight of a European!
No one can fail to see that these cruelties, these treacheries, these deeds of blood and rapine, for which European nations in general have to blush, are mainly due to the carrying on of colonization under state-management, and with the help of state-funds and state-force. It is quite needless to point to the recent affair at Wairau in New Zealand, or to the Kaffir war, or to our perpetual aggressions in the East, or to colonial history at large, in proof of this, for the fact is self-evident. A schoolboy, made overbearing by the consciousness that there is always a big brother to take his part, typifies the colonist, who sees in his mother-country a bully ever ready to back and defend him. Unprotected emigrants, landing amongst a strange race, and feeling themselves the weaker party, are tolerably certain to behave well, and a community of them is likely to grow up in amicable relationship with the natives. But let these emigrants be followed by regiments of soldiers—let them have a fort built, and cannons mounted—let them feel that they have the upper hand, and they will no longer be the same men. A brutality will come out, which the discipline of civilized life had kept under; and not unfrequently they will prove more vicious than they even knew themselves to be. Various evil influences conspire with their own bad propensities. The military force guarding them has a strong motive to foment quarrels; for war promises prize-money. To the civil employés, conquest holds out a prospect of more berths and quicker promotion—a fact which must bias them in favour of it. Thus an aggressive tendency is encouraged in all—a tendency which is sure to show itself in acts, and to betray the colonists into some of those atrocities that disgrace civilization.
As though to round off the argument more completely, history presents us with proof that whilst government colonization is accompanied by endless miseries and abominations, colonization naturally carried on is free from these. Notwithstanding the misconduct he is accused of, to William Penn belongs the honour of having shown men that the kindness, justice, and truth of its inhabitants, are better safeguards to a colony than troops and fortifications and the bravery of governors. In all points Pennsylvania illustrates the equitable, as contrasted with the inequitable, mode of colonizing. It was founded not by the state, but by private individuals. It needed no mother-country protection, for it committed no breaches of the moral law. Its treaty with the Indians, described as “the only one ever concluded which was not ratified by an oath, and the only one that was never broken,” served it in better stead than any garrison. For the seventy years during which the Quakers retained the chief power, it enjoyed an immunity from that border warfare, with its concomitant losses, and fears, and bloodshed, to which other settlements were subject. On the other hand, its people maintained a friendly and mutually-beneficial intercourse with the natives; and, as a natural consequence of complete security, made unusually rapid progress in material prosperity.
That a like policy would have been similarly advantageous in other cases, may reasonably be inferred. No one can doubt, for instance, that had the East India Company been denied military aid and state-conferred privileges, both its own affairs, and the affairs of Hindostan, would have been in a far better condition than they now are. In sane longing for empire would never have burdened the Company with the enormous debt which at present paralyzes it. The energy that has been expended in aggressive wars would have been employed in developing the resources of the country. Unenervated by monopolies, trade would have been much more successful. The native rulers, influenced by a superior race on friendly terms with them, would have facilitated improvements; and we should not have seen, as now, rivers unnavigated, roads not bridged or metalled, and the proved capabilities of the soil neglected. Private enterprise would long ago have opened up these sources of wealth, as in fact it is at length doing, in spite of the discouragements thrown in its way by conquest-loving authorities. And had the settlers thus turned their attention wholly to the development of commerce, and conducted themselves peaceably, as their defenceless state would have compelled them to do, England would have been better supplied with raw materials, the markets for her goods would have enlarged, and something appreciable towards the civilization of the East would have been accomplished.
In many ways, then, does experience enforce the verdict pronounced by the law of state-duty against state-colonization. It turns out that extension of empire is not synonymous with increase of wealth; but that, on the contrary, aggressions bred of the desire for territorial gain, entail loss. The notion that we secure commercial benefits by legislative connection with colonies, is a proved delusion. At best we throw away the whole sum which colonial government costs us; whilst we may, and often do, incur further loss, by establishing an artificial trade. The plea for protection to the settlers must be abandoned; seeing that this so-called protection is in practice oppression; and seeing that the settlers, from whose judgment on the matter there is no appeal, hint very plainly their wish to dispense with it. As for the aborigines, it is manifest that the cruelties inflicted on them have been mainly due to the backing of emigrants by the parent state. And, lastly, we have conclusive proof not only that voluntary colonization is practicable, but that it is free from those many evils attendant upon colonization managed by a government.
The current ideas respecting legislative interference in sanitary matters do not seem to have taken the form of a definite theory. The Eastern Medical Association of Scotland does indeed hold “that it is the duty of the state to adopt measures for protecting the health as well as the property of its subjects;” and the Times lately asserted that “the Privy Council is chargeable with the health of the Empire;”a but no considerable political party has adopted either of these dogmas by way of a distinct confession of faith. Nevertheless, the opinions that widely prevail on questions of sewage, watersupply, ventilation, and the like, fully commit their advocates to the belief these dogmas embody.
That it comes within the proper sphere of government to repress nuisances is evident. He who contaminates the atmosphere breathed by his neighbour, is infringing his neighbour’s rights. Men having equal claims to the free use of the elements—having faculties which need this free use of the elements for their due exercise—and having that exercise more or less limited by whatever makes the elements more or less unusable, are obviously trespassed against by any one who unnecessarily vitiates the elements, and renders them detrimental to health, or disagreeable to the senses; and in the discharge of its function as protector, a government is obviously called upon to afford redress to those so trespassed against.
Beyond this, however, it cannot lawfully go. As already shown in several kindred cases, for a government to take from a citizen more property than is needful for the efficient defence of that citizen’s rights, is to infringe his rights—is, consequently, to do the opposite of what it, the government, is commissioned to do for him—or, in other words, is to do wrong. And hence all taxation for sanitary superintendence coming, as it does, within this category, must be condemned.
This theory, of which Boards of Health and the like are embodiments, is not only inconsistent with our definition of state-duty, but is further open to strictures, similar to, and equally fatal with, those made in analogous cases. If by saying “that it is the duty of the state to adopt measures for protecting the health of its subjects,” it is meant (as it is meant by the majority of the medical profession) that the state should interpose between quacks and those who patronize them, or between the druggist and the artizan who wants a remedy for his cold—if it is meant that to guard people against empirical treatment, the state should forbid all unlicensed persons from prescribing—then the reply is, that to do so is directly to violate the moral law. Men’s rights are infringed by these, as much as by all other trade interferences. The invalid is at liberty to buy medicine and advice from whomsoever he pleases; the unlicensed practitioner is at liberty to sell these to whomsoever will buy. On no pretext whatever can a barrier be set up between them, without the law of equal freedom being broken; and least of all may the government, whose office it is to uphold that law, become a transgressor of it.
Moreover this doctrine, that it is the duty of the state to protect the health of its subjects, cannot be established, for the same reason that its kindred doctrines cannot, namely, the impossibility of saying how far the alleged duty shall be carried out. Health depends upon the fulfilment of numerous conditions—can be “protected” only by ensuring that fulfilment: if, therefore, it is the duty of the state to protect the health of its subjects, it is its duty to see that all the conditions of health are fulfilled by them. Shall this duty be consistently discharged? If so, the legislature must enact a national dietary: prescribe so many meals a day for each individual; fix the quantities and qualities of food, both for men and women; state the proportion of fluids, when to be taken, and of what kind; specify the amount of exercise, and define its character; describe the clothing to be employed; determine the hours of sleep, allowing for the difference of age and sex: and so on with all other particulars, necessary to complete a perfect synopsis, for the daily guidance of the nation: and to enforce these regulations it must employ a sufficiency of duly-qualified officials, empowered to direct every one’s domestic arrangements. If, on the other hand, a universal supervision of private conduct is not meant, then there comes the question—Where, between this and no supervision at all, lies the boundary up to which supervision is a duty? To which question no answer can be given.
There is a manifest analogy between committing to government-guardianship the physical health of the people, and committing to it their moral health. The two proceedings are equally reasonable, may be defended by similar arguments, and must stand or fall together. If the welfare of men’s souls can be fitly dealt with by acts of parliament, why then the welfare of their bodies can be fitly dealt with likewise. He who thinks the state commissioned to administer spiritual remedies, may consistently think that it should administer material ones. The disinfecting society from vice may naturally be quoted as a precedent for disinfecting it from pestilence. Purifying the haunts of men from noxious vapours may be held quite as legitimate as purifying their moral atmosphere. The fear that false doctrines may be instilled by unauthorized preachers, has its analogue in the fear that unauthorized practitioners may give deleterious medicines or advice. And the persecutions once committed to prevent the one evil, countenance the penalties used to put down the other. Contrariwise, the arguments employed by the dissenter to show that the moral sanity of the people is not a matter for state superintendence, are applicable, with a slight change of terms, to their physical sanity also.
Let no one think this analogy imaginary. The two notions are not only theoretically related; we have facts proving that they tend to embody themselves in similar institutions. There is an evident inclination on the part of the medical profession to get itself organized after the fashion of the clericy. Moved as are the projectors of a railway, who, whilst secretly hoping for salaries, persuade themselves and others that the proposed railway will be beneficial to the public—moved as all men are under such circumstances, by nine parts of self-interest gilt over with one part of philanthropy—surgeons and physicians are vigorously striving to erect a medical establishment akin to our religious one. Little do the public at large know how actively professional publications are agitating for state-appointed overseers of the public health. Take up the Lancet, and you shall find articles written to show the necessity of making poor-law medical officers independent of Boards of Guardians by appointing them for life, holding them responsible only to central authority, and giving them handsome salaries from the Consolidated Fund. The Journal of Public Health proposes that “every house on becoming vacant be examined by a competent person as to its being in a condition adapted for the safe dwelling in of the future tenants;” and to this end would raise by fees, chargeable on the landlords, “a revenue adequate to pay a sufficient staff of inspectors four or five hundred pounds a year each.” A non-professional publication, echoing the appeal, says—“No reasonable man can doubt that if a proper system of ventilation were rendered imperative upon landlords, not only would the cholera and other epidemic diseases be checked, but the general standard of health would be raised.” Whilst the Medical Times shows its leanings, by announcing, with marked approbation, that “the Ottoman government has recently published a decree for the appointment of physicians to be paid by the state,” who “are bound to treat gratuitously all—both rich and poor—who shall demand advice.”
More or less distinctly expressed in these passages there is an unmistakable wish to establish an organized, tax-supported class, charged with the health of men’s bodies, as the clergy are charged with the health of their souls. And whoever has watched how institutions grow—how by little and little a very innocent-looking infancy unfolds into a formidable maturity, with vested interests, political influence, and a strong instinct of self-preservation, will see that the germs here peeping forth are quite capable, under favourable circumstances, of developing into such an organization. He will see further, that favourable circumstances are not wanting—that the prevalence of unemployed professional men, with whom these proposals for sanitary inspectors and public surgeons mostly originate, is likely to continue; and that continuing, it will tend to multiply the offices it has created, much in the same way that the superabundance of clergy multiplies churches. He will even anticipate that, as the spread of education is certain to render the pressure upon the intellectual labour-market still more intense than it now is, there will by-and-by be a yet greater stimulus to the manufacture of berths—a yet greater tendency on the part of all who want genteel occupations for their sons, to countenance this manufacture—and, therefore, a yet greater danger of the growth of a medical establishment.
The most specious excuse for not extending to medical advice the principles of free-trade, is the same as that given for not leaving education to be diffused under them; namely, that the judgment of the consumer is not a sufficient guarantee for the goodness of the commodity. The intolerance shown by orthodox surgeons and physicians, towards unordained followers of their calling, is to be understood as arising from a desire to defend the public against quackery. Ignorant people say they cannot distinguish good treatment from bad, or skilful advisers from unskilful ones: hence it is needful that the choice should be made for them. And then, following in the track of priesthoods, for whose persecutions a similar defence has always been set up, they agitate for more stringent regulations against unlicensed practitioners, and descant upon the dangers to which men are exposed by an unrestricted system. Hear Mr. Wakley. Speaking of a recently-revived law relating to chemists and druggists, he says, “It must have the effect of checking, to a vast extent, that frightful evil called counter practice, exercised by unqualified persons, which has so long been a disgrace to the operation of the laws relating to medicine in this country, and which, doubtless, has been attended with a dreadful sacrifice of human life.” (Lancet, Sept. 11, 1841.) And again, “There is not a chemist and druggist in the empire who would refuse to prescribe in his own shop in medical cases, or who would hesitate day by day to prescribe simple remedies for the ailments of infants and children.” ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ “We had previously considered the evil to be of enormous magnitude, but it is quite clear that we had under-estimated the extent of the danger to which the public are exposed.” (Lancet, Oct. 16, 1841.)
Any one may discern through these ludicrous exaggerations much more of the partizan than of the philanthropist. But let that pass. And without dwelling upon the fact, that it is strange a “dreadful sacrifice of human life” should not have drawn the attention of the people themselves to this “frightful evil,”—without doing more than glance at the further fact, that nothing is said of those benefits conferred by “counter practice,” which would at least form a considerable set-off against this “evil of enormous magnitude,”—let it be conceded that very many of the poorer classes are injured by druggists prescriptions and quack medicines. The allegation having been thus, for argument’s sake, admitted in full, let us now consider whether it constitutes a sufficient plea for legal interference.
Inconvenience, suffering, and death, are the penalties attached by nature to ignorance, as well as to incompetence—are also the means of remedying these. And whoso thinks he can mend matters by dissociating ignorance and its penalties, lays claim to more than Divine wisdom, and more than Divine benevolence. If there seems harshness in those ordinations of things, which, with unfaltering firmness, punish every breach of law—if there seems harshness in those ordinations of things which visit a slip of the foot with a broken limb—which send lingering agonies to follow the inadvertent swallowing of a noxious herb—which go on quietly, age after age, giving fevers and agues to dwellers in marshes—and which, now and then, sweep away by pestilence tens of thousands of unhealthy livers—if there seems harshness in such ordinations, be sure it is apparent only, and not real. Partly by weeding out those of lowest development, and partly by subjecting those who remain to the never-ceasing discipline of experience, nature secures the growth of a race who shall both understand the conditions of existence, and be able to act up to them. It is impossible in any degree to suspend this discipline by stepping in between ignorance and its consequences, without, to a corresponding degree, suspending the progress. If to be ignorant were as safe as to be wise, no one would become wise. And all measures which tend to put ignorance upon a par with wisdom, inevitably check the growth of wisdom. Acts of parliament to save silly people from the evils which putting faith in empirics may entail upon them, do this, and are therefore bad. Unpitying as it looks, it is best to let the foolish man suffer the appointed penalty of his foolishness. For the pain—he must bear it as well as he can: for the experience—he must treasure it up, and act more rationally in future. To others as well as to himself will his case be a warning. And by multiplication of such warnings, there cannot fail to be generated in all men a caution corresponding to the danger to be shunned. Are there any who desire to facilitate the process? Let them dispel error; and, provided they do this in a legitimate way, the faster they do it the better. But to guard ignorant men against the evils of their ignorance—to divorce a cause and consequence which God has joined together—to render needless the intellect put into us for our guidance—to unhinge what is, in fact, the very mechanism of existence—must necessarily entail nothing but disasters.
Who, indeed, after pulling off the coloured glasses of prejudice, and thrusting out of sight his pet projects, can help seeing the folly of these endeavours to protect men against themselves? A sad population of imbeciles would our schemers fill the world with, could their plans last. A sorry kind of human constitution would they make for us—a constitution lacking the power to uphold itself, and requiring to be kept alive by superintendence from without—a constitution continually going wrong, and needing to be set right again—a constitution even tending to self-destruction. Why the whole effort of nature is to get rid of such—to clear the world of them, and make room for better. Nature demands that every being shall be self-sufficing. All that are not so, nature is perpetually withdrawing by death. Intelligence sufficient to avoid danger, power enough to fulfil every condition, ability to cope with the necessities of existence—these are qualifications invariably insisted on. Mark how the diseased are dealt with. Consumptive patients, with lungs incompetent to perform the duties of lungs, people with assimilative organs that will not take up enough nutriment, people with defective hearts that break down under excitement of the circulation, people with any constitutional flaw preventing the due fulfilment of the conditions of life, are continually dying out, and leaving behind those fit for the climate, food, and habits to which they are born. Even the less-imperfectly organized, who, under ordinary circumstances, can manage to live with comfort, are still the first to be carried off by epidemics; and only such as are robust enough to resist these—that is, only such as are tolerably well adapted to both the usual and incidental necessities of existence, remain. And thus is the race kept free from vitiation. Of course this statement is in substance a truism; for no other arrangement of things is conceivable. But it is a truism to which most men pay little regard. And if they commonly overlook its application to body, still less do they note its bearing upon mind. Yet it is equally true here. Nature just as much insists on fitness between mental character and circumstances, as between physical character and circumstance; and radical defects are as much causes of death in the one case as in the other. He on whom his own stupidity, or vice, or idleness, entails loss of life, must, in the generalizations of philosophy, be classed with the victims of weak viscera or malformed limbs. In his case, as in the others, there exists a fatal non-adaptation; and it matters not in the abstract whether it be a moral, an intellectual, or a corporeal one. Beings thus imperfect are nature’s failures, and are recalled by her laws when found to be such. Along with the rest they are put upon trial. If they are sufficiently complete to live, they do live, and it is well they should live. If they are not sufficiently complete to live, they die, and it is best they should die. Whether the incompleteness be in strength, or agility, or perception, or foresight, or self-control, is not heeded in the rigorous proof they are put to. But if any faculty is unusually deficient, the probabilities are that, in the long run, some disastrous, or, in the worst cases—fatal result will follow. And, however irregular the action of this law may appear—however it may seem that much chaff is left behind which should be winnowed out, and that much grain is taken away which should be left behind, yet due consideration must satisfy every one that the average effect is to purify society from those who are, in some respect or other, essentially faulty.
Of course, in so far as the severity of this process is mitigated by the spontaneous sympathy of men for each other, it is proper that it should be mitigated: albeit there is unquestionably harm done when sympathy is shown, without any regard to ultimate results. But the drawbacks hence arising are nothing like commensurate with the benefits otherwise conferred. Only when this sympathy prompts to a breach of equity—only when it originates an interference forbidden by the law of equal freedom—only when, by so doing, it suspends in some particular department of life the relationship between constitution and conditions, does it work pure evil. Then, however, it defeats its own end. Instead of diminishing suffering, it eventually increases it. It favours the multiplication of those worst fitted for existence, and, by consequence, hinders the multiplication of those best fitted for existence—leaving, as it does, less room for them. It tends to fill the world with those to whom life will bring most pain, and tends to keep out of it those to whom life will bring most pleasure. It inflicts positive misery, and prevents positive happiness.
Turning now to consider these impatiently-agitated schemes for improving our sanitary condition by act of parliament, the first criticism to be passed upon them is that they are altogether needless, inasmuch as there are already efficient influences at work gradually accomplishing every desideratum.
Seeing, as do the philanthropic of our day, like the congenitally blind to whom sight has just been given—looking at things through the newly-opened eyes of sympathy—they form very crude and very exaggerated notions of the evils to be dealt with. Some, anxious for the enlightenment of their fellows, collect statistics exhibiting a lamentable amount of ignorance; publish these; and the lovers of their kind are startled. Others dive into the dens where poverty hides itself, and shock the world with descriptions of what they see. Others, again, gather together information respecting crime, and make the benevolent look grave by their disclosures. Whereupon, in their horror at these revelations, men keep thoughtlessly assuming that the evils have lately become greater, when in reality it is they who have become more observant of them. If few complaints have hitherto been heard about crime, and ignorance, and misery, it is not that in times past these were less widely spread; for the contrary is the fact; but it is, that our forefathers were comparatively indifferent to them—thought little about them, and said little about them. Overlooking which circumstance, and forgetting that social evils have been undergoing a gradual amelioration—an amelioration likely to progress with increasing rapidity—many entertain a needless alarm lest fearful consequences should ensue, if these evils are not immediately remedied, and a visionary hope that immediate remedy of them is possible.
Such are the now prevalent feelings relative to sanitary reform. We have had a multitude of blue-books, Board of Health reports, leading articles, pamphlets, and lectures, descriptive of bad drainage, overflowing cesspools, festering graveyards, impure water, and the filthiness and humidity of low lodging houses. The facts thus published are thought to warrant, or rather to demand, legislative interference. It seems never to be asked, whether any corrective process is going on. Although every one knows that the rate of mortality has been gradually decreasing, and that the value of life is higher in England than elsewhere—although every one knows that the cleanliness of our towns is greater now than ever before, and that our spontaneously-grown sanitary arrangements are far better than those existing on the Continent, where the stinks of Cologne, the uncovered drains of Paris, the water-tubs of Berlina , and the miserable footways of the German towns, show what state-management effects—although every one knows these things, yet is it perversely assumed that by state-management only can the remaining impediments to public health be removed. Surely the causes which have brought the sewage, the paving and lighting, and the water-supply of our towns, to their present state, have not suddenly ceased. Surely that amelioration, which has been taking place in the condition of London for these two or three centuries, may be expected to continue. Surely the public spirit, which has carried out so many urban improvements since the Municipal Corporations Act gave greater facilities, can carry out other improvements. Surely, if all that has been done towards making cities healthy, has been done, not only without government aid, but in spite of government obstructions—in spite, that is, of the heavy expense of local acts of parliament—we may reasonably suppose, that what remains to be done can be done in the same way, especially if the obstructions are removed. One would have thought that less excuse for meddling existed now than ever. Now that so much has been effected; now that spontaneous advance is being made at an unparalleled rate; now that the laws of health are beginning to be generally studied; now that people are reforming their habits of living; now that the use of baths is spreading; now that temperance, and ventilation, and due exercise are getting thought about—to interfere now, of all times, is surely as rash and uncalled-for a step as was ever taken.
And then to think that, in their hot haste to obtain by law healthier homes for the masses, men should not see that the natural process already commenced is the only process which can eventually succeed. The Metropolitan Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Labouring Classes is doing all that is possible in the matter. It is endeavouring to show that, under judicious management, the building of salubrious habitations for the poor becomes a profitable employment of capital. If it shows this, it will do all that needs to be done; for capital will quickly flow into investments offering good returns. If it does not show this—if, after due trial, it finds that these Model Lodging Houses do not pay, and that better accommodation than the working people now have can be obtained for them only by diminishing the interest on money sunk in building, then not all the acts of parliament that can be passed between now and doomsday will improve matters one jot. These plans for making good ventilation imperative; insisting upon water-supply, and fixing the price for it, as Lord Morpeth’s Bill would have done; having empty houses cleansed before re-occupation, and charging the owners of them for inspection—these plans for coercing landlords into giving additional advantages for the same money are nothing but repetitions of the old proposal, that “the three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops,” and are just as incapable of realization. The first result of an attempt to carry them out would be a diminution of the profits of house-owners. The interest on capital invested in houses no longer being so high, capital would seek other investments. The building of houses would cease to keep pace with the growth of population. Hence would arise a gradual increase in the number of occupants to each house. And this change in the ratio of houses to people would continue until the demand for houses had raised the profits of the landlord to what they were, and until, by overcrowding, new sanitary evils had been produced to parallel the old onesa . If, by building in larger masses, and to a greater height, such an economy can be achieved in ground-rent, the cost of outer walls, and of roofing, as to give more accommodation at the same expense as now (which happily seems probable), then the fact only needs proving, and, as before said, the competition of capital for investment will do all that can be done; but if not, the belief that legislative coercion can make things better is a fit companion to the belief that it can fix the price of bread and the rate of wages.
Let those who are anxious to improve the health of the poor, through the indirect machinery of law, bring their zeal to bear directly upon the work to be done. Let them appeal to men’s sympathies, and again to their interests. Let them prove to people of property that the making of these reforms will pay. Let them show that the productive powers of the labourer will be increased by bettering his health, whilst the poors’-rates will be diminished. Above all, let them demand the removal of those obstacles which existing legislation puts in the way of sanitary improvementa . Their efforts thus directed will really promote progress. Whereas their efforts as now directed are either needless or injurious.
These endeavours to increase the salubrity of town-life by law, are not only open to the criticism that the natural forces already at work render them unnecessary, and to the additional criticism that some of the things strained after are impossible of legislative achievement, but it must further be observed, that even the desiderata which acts of parliament will reach, can be so reached only through very faulty instrumentalities. It is, in this case, as in many others, the peculiarity of what are oddly styled “practical measures,” that they supersede agencies which are answering well by agencies which are not likely to answer well. Here is a heavy charge of inefficiency brought against the drains, cesspools, stink-traps, &c., of England in general, and London in particular. The evidence is voluminous and conclusive, and by common consent a verdict of proven is returned. Citizens look grave and determine to petition parliament about it. Parliament promises to consider the matter; and after the usual amount of debate, says—“Let there be a Board of Health.” Whereupon petitioners rub their hands, and look out for great things. They have unbounded simplicity—these good citizens. Legislation may disappoint them fifty times running, without at all shaking their faith in its efficiency. They hoped that Church abuses would be rectified by the Ecclesiastical Commission: the poor curates can say whether that hope has been realized. Backed by an act of parliament, the Poor-Law Commissioners were to have eradicated able-bodied pauperism: yet, until checked by the recent prosperity, the poors’-rates have been rapidly rising to their old level. The New Building Act was to have given the people of London better homes; whereas, as we lately saw, it has made worse the homes that most wanted improving. Men were sanguine of reforming criminals by the silent system, or the separate system; but, if we are to judge by the disputes of their respective advocates, neither of these plans is very successful. Pauper children were to have been made into good citizens by industrial education; from all quarters, however, come statements that a very large percentage of them get into goal, or become prostitutes, or return to the workhouse. The measures enjoined by the Vaccination Act of 1840 were to have exterminated small-pox; yet the Registrar-General’s reports show that the deaths from small-pox have been increasing. And thus does year after year add to those abortive schemes, of which so many have been quoted (pp. 8, 46,288). Yet scarcely a doubt seems to arise, respecting the competency of legislators to do what they profess. From the times when they tried to fix the value of money down to our own day, when they have but just abandoned the attempt to fix the price of corn, statesmen have been undertaking all kinds of things, from regulating the cut of boot-toes, up to preparing people for Heaven; and have been constantly failing, or producing widely-different results from those intended. Nevertheless such inexhaustible faith have men, that, although they see this, and although they are daily hearing of imbecilities in public departments—of Admiralty Boards that squander three millions a year in building bad ships and breaking them up again—of Woods and Forests Commissioners who do not even know the rental of the estates they manage—of bungling excise-chemists who commit their chiefs to losing prosecutions, for which compensation has to be made—yet government needs but to announce another plausible project, and men straightway hurrah, and throw up their caps, in the full expectation of getting all that is promised.
But the belief that Boards of Health, and the like, will never effect what is hoped, needs not wholly rest either upon abstract considerations, or upon our experience of state-instrumentalities in general. We have one of these organizations at work, and, as far as may be at present judged, it has done anything but answer people’s expectations. To condemn it, because choked sewers, and open gully-holes, and filthy alleys remain much as they were, would, perhaps, be unreasonable, for time is needed to rectify evils so widely established. But there is one test by which we may fairly estimate its efficiency, viz., its conduct before and during the late pestilence. It had more than a year’s notice that the cholera was on its way here. There were two whole sessions of parliament intervening between the time when a second invasion from that disease was foreseen and the time when the mortality was highest. The Board of Health had, therefore, full opportunity to put forth its powers, and to get greater powers if it wanted them. Well, what was the first step that might have been looked for from it? Shall we not say the suppression of intramural interments? Burying the dead in the midst of the living was manifestly hurtful; the evils attendant on the practice were universally recognised; and to put it down required little more than a simple exercise of authority. If the Board of Health believed itself possessed of authority sufficient for this, why did it not use that authority when the advent of the epidemic was rumoured? If it thought its authority not great enough (which can hardly be, remembering what it ultimately did), then why did it not obtain more? Instead of taking either of these steps, however, it occupied itself in considering future modes of water-supply, and devising systems of sewage. Whilst the cholera was approaching, the Board of Health was cogitating over reforms, from which the most sanguine could not expect any considerable benefit for years to come. And then, when the enemy was upon us, this guardian, in which men were putting their trust, suddenly bestirred itself, and did what, for the time being, made worse the evils to be remedied. As was said by a speaker, at one of the medical meetings held during the height of the cholera, “the Commissioners of Public Health had adopted the very means likely to produce that complaint. Instead of taking their measures years ago, they had stirred up all sorts of abominations now. They had removed dunghills and cesspools, and added fuel tenfold to the fire that existed. (Hear, hear.) Never since he could recollect had there been such accumulations of abominable odours as since the Health of Towns Commission had attempted to purify the atmosphere. (A laugh, and Hear, hear.)” At length, when, in spite of all that had been done (or, perhaps, partly in consequence of it), the mortality continued to increase, the closing of graveyards was decided upon, in the hope, as we must suppose, that the mortality would thereby be checked. As though, when there were hundreds of thousands of bodies decomposing, the ceasing to add to them would immediately produce an appreciable effect!
If to these facts we add the further one, that, notwithstanding the directions issued for prophylactic treatment, and the system of domiciliary visits, the cholera carried off a greater number than before, we have some reason for thinking that this sanitary guardianship did no good, but, it may be, even harm.
Should it be said that the Board of Health is badly constituted, or has not sufficient power, and that had a better organization been given to it we should have seen different results, the reply is, that the almost invariable occurrence of some such fatal hitch is one of the reasons for condemning these interferences. There is always some provoking if in the way. If the established clergy were what they should be, a state-church might do some good. If parish relief were judiciously administered, a poor-law would not be so bad thing. And if a sanitary organization could be made to do just what it is intended to do, something might be said in its favour.
Even could state-agency compass for our towns the most perfect salubrity, it would be in the end better to remain as we are, rather than obtain such a benefit by such means. It is quite possible to give too much even for a great desideratum. However valuable good bodily health may be, it is very dearly purchased when mental health goes in exchange. Whoso thinks that government can supply sanitary advantages for nothing, or at the cost of more taxes only, is woefully mistaken. They must be paid for with character as well as with taxes. A full equivalent must be given in other coin than gold, and even more than an equivalent.
Let it be again remembered that men cannot make force. All they can do is to avail themselves of force already existing, and employ it for working out this or that purpose. They cannot increase it; they cannot get from it more than its specific effect; and as much as they expend of it for doing one thing, must they lack of it for doing other things. Thus it is now becoming a received doctrine, that what we call chemical affinity, heat, light, electricity, magnetism, and motion, are all manifestations of the same primordial force—that they are severally convertible into each other—and, as a corollary, that it is impossible to obtain in any one form of this force more than its equivalent in the previous form. Now this is equally true of the agencies acting in society. It is quite possible to divert the power at present working out one result, to the working out of some other result. You may transform one kind of influence into another kind. But you cannot make more of it, and you cannot have it for nothing. You cannot, by legislative manæuvring, get increased ability to achieve a desired object, except at the expense of something else. Just as much better as this particular thing is done, so much worse must another thing be done.
Or, changing the illustration, and regarding society as an organism, we may say that it is impossible artificially to use up social vitality for the more active performance of one function, without diminishing the activity with which other functions are performed. So long as society is let alone, its various organs will go on developing in due subordination to each other. If some of them are very imperfect, and make no appreciable progress towards efficiency, be sure it is because still more important organs are equally imperfect, and because the amount of vital force pervading society being limited, the rapid growth of these involves cessation of growth elsewhere. Be sure, also, that whenever there arises a special necessity for the better performance of any one function, or for the establishment of some new function, nature will respond. Instance in proof of this, the increase of particular manufacturing towns and sea-ports, or the formation of incorporated companies. Is there a rising demand for some commodity of general consumption? Immediately the organ secreting that commodity becomes more active, absorbs more people, begins to enlarge, and secretes in greater abundance. Instrumentalities for the fulfilment of other social requirements—for the supply of religious culture, education, and so forth, are similarly provided: the less needful being postponed to the more needful; just as the several parts of the embryo are developed in the order of their subservience to life. To interfere with this process by producing premature development in any particular direction is inevitably to disturb the due balance of organization, by causing somewhere else a corresponding atrophy. Let it never be forgotten that at any given time the amount of a society’s vital force is fixed. Dependent as is that vital force upon the degree of adaptation that has taken place—upon the extent to which men have acquired fitness for a co-operative life—upon the efficiency with which they can combine as elements of the social organism, we may be quite certain that, whilst their characters remain constant, nothing can increase its total quantity. We may be also certain that this total quantity can produce only its exact equivalent of results; and that no legislators can get more from it; although by wasting it they may, and always do, get less.
Already, in treating of Poor-Laws and National Education, we have examined in detail the reaction by which these attempts at a multiplication of results are defeated. In the case of sanitary administrations, a similar reaction may be traced; showing itself, amongst other ways, in the checking of all social improvements that demand popular enterprise and perseverance. Under the natural order of things, the unfolding of an intelligent, self-helping character, must keep pace with the amelioration of physical circumstances—the advance of the one with the exertions put forth to achieve the other; so that in establishing arrangements conducive to robustness of body, robustness of mind must be insensibly acquired. Contrariwise, to whatever extent activity of thought and firmness of purpose are made less needful by an artificial performance of their work, to that same extent must their increase, and the dependent social improvements, be retarded.
Should proof of this be asked for, it may be found in the contrast between English energy and Continental helplessness. English engineers (Manby, Wilson, and Co.) established the first gas-works in Paris, after the failure of a French company; and many of the gas-works throughout Europe have been constructed by Englishmen. An English engineer (Miller) introduced steam navigation on the Rhone; another English engineer (Pritchard) succeeded in ascending the Danube by steam, after the French and Germans had failed. The first steam-boats on the Loire were built by Englishmen (Fawcett and Preston); the great suspension bridge at Pesth has been built by an Englishman (Tierney Clarke); and an Englishman (Vignolles) is now building a still greater suspension bridge over the Dnieper; many continental railways have had Englishmen as consulting engineers; and in spite of the celebrated Mining College at Freyburg, several of the mineral fields along the Rhine have been opened up by English capital employing English skill. Now why is this? Why were our coaches so superior to the diligences and eilwagen of our neighbours? Why did our railway system develop so much faster? Why are our towns better drained, better paved, and better supplied with water? There was originally no greater mechanical aptitude, and no greater desire to progress in us than in the connate nations of northern Europe. If anything, we were comparatively deficient in these respects. Early improvements in the arts of life were imported. The germs of our silk and woollen manufactures came from abroad. The first water-works in London were erected by a Dutchman. How happens it, then, that we have now reversed the relationship? How happens it, that instead of being dependent on continental skill and enterprise, our skill and enterprise are at a premium on the Continent? Manifestly the change is due to difference of discipline. Having been left in a greater degree than others to manage their own affairs, the English people have become self-helping, and have acquired great practical ability. Whilst conversely that comparative helplessness of the paternally-governed nations of Europe, illustrated in the above facts, and commented upon by Laing, in his “Notes of a Traveller,” and by other observers, is a natural result of the state-superintendence policy—is the reaction attendant on the action of official mechanisms—is the atrophy corresponding to some artificial hypertrophy.
One apparent difficulty accompanying the doctrine now contended for remains to be noticed. If sanitary administration by the state be wrong, because it implies a deduction from the citizen’s property greater than is needful for maintaining his rights, then is sanitary administration by municipal authorities wrong also for the same reason. Be it by general government or by local government, the levying of compulsory rates for drainage, and for paving and lighting, is inadmissible, as indirectly making legislative protection more costly than necessary, or, in other words, turning it into aggression (p. 278); and if so, it follows that neither the past, present, nor proposed methods of securing the health of towns are equitable.
This seems an awkward conclusion; nevertheless, as deducible from our general principle, we have no alternative but to take to it. How streets and courts are rightly to be kept in order remains to be considered. Respecting sewage there would be no difficulty. Houses might readily be drained on the same mercantile principle that they are now supplied with water. It is highly probable that in the hands of a private company the resulting manure would not only pay the cost of collection, but would yield a considerable profit. But if not, the return on the invested capital would be made up by charges to those whose houses were drained: the alternative of having their connections with the main sewer stopped, being as good a security for payment as the analogous ones possessed by water and gas companies. Paving and lighting would properly fall to the management of house-owners. Were there no public provision for such conveniences, house-owners would quickly find it their interest to furnish them. Some speculative building society having set the example of improvement in this direction, competition would do the rest. Dwellings without proper footway before them, and with no lamps to show the tenants to their doors, would stand empty, when better accommodation was offered. And good paving and lighting having thus become essential, landlords would combine for the more economical supply of them.
To the objection that the perversity of individual landlords and the desire of others to take unfair advantage of the rest, would render such an arrangement impracticable, the reply is that in new suburban streets not yet taken to by the authorities such an arrangement is, to a considerable extent, already carried out, and would be much better carried out but for the consciousness that it is merely temporary. Moreover, no adverse inference could be drawn, were it even shown that for the present such an arrangement is impracticable. So, also, was personal freedom once. So once was representative government, and is still with many nations. As repeatedly pointed out, the practicability of recognising men’s rights is proportionate to the degree in which men have become moral. That an organization dictated by the law of equal freedom cannot yet be fully realized is no proof of its imperfection: is proof only of our imperfection. And as by diminishing this, the process of adaptation has already fitted us for institutions which were once too good for us, so will it go on to fit us for others that may be too good for us now.
We find, then, that besides being at variance with the moral law, and besides involving absurdities, the dogma that it is the duty of the state to protect the health of its subjects may be successfully combated on grounds of policy. It turns out, upon examination, to be near akin to the older dogma that it is the duty of the state to provide for the spiritual welfare of its subjects—must, if consistently followed out, necessitate a co-extensive organization—and must, for aught there appears to the contrary, produce analogous results. Of the sufferings consequent upon unrestrained empiricism, it may safely be said that they are not so great as is represented; and that in as far as they do exist, they are amongst the penalties nature has attached to ignorance or imbecility, and which cannot be dissociated from it without ultimately entailing much greater sufferings. The anxiety to improve by legislative measures the salubrity of our towns, is deprecated on the ground that natural causes insure the continuance of progress—insure further sanitary reforms, just as they insure advancement in the arts of life, the development of manufactures and commerce, and the spread of education. Moreover, it appears that such of these measures as are directed to the improvement of habitations, aim at what laws either cannot do, or what is being done much better without them; and to the rest it is objected, that they are not likely to accomplish the proposed end—a belief founded upon the results of all analogous legislation, and confirmed by the little experience we have at present had of sanitary legislation itself. Further it is argued that even could the hoped-for advantages be fully realized they would be purchased at too great a cost; seeing that they could be obtained only by an equivalent retardation in some still more important department of social progress.
currency, postal arrangements, etc.
So constantly have the ideas currency and government been associated—so universal has been the control exercised by lawgivers over monetary systems—and so completely have men come to regard this control as a matter of course, that scarcely any one seems to inquire what would result were it abolished. Perhaps in no case is the necessity of state-superintendence so generally assumed; and in no case will the denial of that necessity cause so much surprise. Yet must the denial be made.
That laws interfering with currency cannot be enacted without a reversal of state-duty is obvious; for to either forbid the issue or enforce the receipt of certain notes or coin in return for other things, is to infringe the right of exchange—is to prevent men making exchanges which they otherwise would have made, or to oblige them to make exchanges which they otherwise would not have made—is, therefore, to break the law of equal freedom in their persons (Chap. XXIII.). If there be truth in our general principle, it must be impolitic as well as wrong to do this. Nor will those who infer as much be deceived; for it may be shown that all such dictation is not only needless, but necessarily injurious.
The monetary arrangements of any community are ultimately dependent, like most of its other arrangements, on the morality of its members. Amongst a people altogether dishonest, every mercantile transaction must be effected in coin or goods; for promises to pay cannot circulate at all, where, by the hypothesis, there is no probability that they will be redeemed. Conversely, amongst perfectly honest people paper alone will form the circulating medium; seeing that as no one of such will give promises to pay more than his assets will cover, there can exist no hesitation to receive promises to pay in all cases; and metallic money will be needless, save in nominal amount to supply a measure of value. Manifestly, therefore, during any intermediate state, in which men are neither altogether dishonest nor altogether honest, a mixed currency will exist; and the ratio of paper to coin will vary with the degree of trust individuals can place in each other. There seems no evading this conclusion. The greater the prevalence of fraud, the greater will be the number of transactions in which the seller will part with his goods only for an equivalent of intrinsic value; that is, the greater will be the number of transactions in which coin is required, and the more will the metallic currency preponderate. On the other hand, the more generally men find each other trustworthy, the more frequently will they take payment in notes, bills of exchange, and checks; the fewer will be the cases in which gold and silver are called for, and the smaller will be the quantity of gold and silver in circulation.
Thus, self-regulating as is a currency when let alone, laws cannot improve its arrangements, although they may, and continually do, derange them. That the state should compel every one who has given promises to pay, be he merchant, private banker, or shareholder in a joint-stock bank, duly to discharge the responsibilities he has incurred, is very true. To do this, however, is merely to maintain men’s rights—to administer justice; and therefore comes within the state’s normal function. But to do more than this—to restrict issues, or forbid notes below a certain denomination, is no less injurious than inequitable. For, limiting the paper in circulation to an amount smaller than it would otherwise reach, inevitably necessitates a corresponding increase of coin; and as coin is locked-up capital, on which the nation gets no interest, a needless increase of it is equivalent to an additional tax equal to the additional interest lost.
Moreover, even under such restrictions, men must still depend mainly upon each other’s good faith and enlightened self-interest; seeing that only by requiring the banker to keep sufficient specie in his coffers to cash all the notes he has issued, can complete security be given to the holders of them; and to require as much is to destroy the motive for issuing notes. It should be remembered, too, that even now the greater part of our paper currency is wholly unguaranteed. Over the bills of exchange in circulationa which represent liabilities three times as great as are represented by notes, no control is exercised. For the honouring of these there exists no special security, and the multiplication of them is without any limit, save that natural one above mentioned—the credit men find it safe to give each other.
Lastly, we have experience completely to the point. Whilst in England banking has been perpetually controlled, now by privileging the Bank of England, now by limiting banking partnerships, now by prohibiting banks of issue within a specified circle, and now by restricting the amounts issued—whilst “we have never rested for many years together without some new laws, some new regulations, dictated by the fancy and theory fashionable at particular periods”b —and whilst “by constant interference we have prevented public opinion, and the experience of bankers themselves, adapting and moulding their business to the best and safest course”c —there has existed in Scotland for nearly two centuries a wholly uncontrolled system,—a complete free-trade in currency. And what have been the comparative results? Scotland has had the advantage, both in security and economy. The gain in security is proved by the fact that the proportion of bank failures in Scotland has been far less than in England. Though “by law there has never been any restriction against any one issuing notes in Scotland; yet, in practice, it has ever been impossible for any unsound or unsafe paper to obtain currency.”a And thus the natural guarantee in the one case has been more efficient than the legislative one in the other. The gain in economy is proved by the fact that Scotland has carried on its business with a circulation of £3,500,000, whilst in England the circulation is from £50,000,000 to £60,000,000; or, allowing for difference of population, England has required a currency three times greater than Scotland.
When, therefore, we find á priori reason for concluding that in any given community the due balance between paper and coin will be spontaneously maintained—when we also find that three-fourths of our own paper circulation is self-regulated—that the restrictions on the other fourth entail a useless sinking of capital—and further, that facts prove a self-regulated system to be both safer and cheaper, we may fairly say, as above, that legislative interference is not only needless, but injurious.
If evil arises when the state takes upon itself to regulate currency, so also does evil arise when it turns banker. True, no direct breach of duty is committed in issuing notes; for the mere transfer of promises to pay to those who will take them, necessitates neither infringement of men’s rights nor the raising of taxes for illegitimate purposes. And did the state confine itself to this, no harm would result; but when, as in practice, it makes its notes, or, rather, those of its proxy, legal tender, it both violates the law of equal freedom and opens the door to abuses that were else impossible. Having enacted that its agent’s promises to pay shall be taken in discharge of all claims between man and man, there readily follows, when occasion calls, the further step of enacting that these promises to pay shall be taken in discharge of all claims on its agent. This done, further liabilities are incurred without difficulty, for they can be liquidated in paper. Paper continues to be issued without limit, and then comes depreciation; which depreciation is virtually an additional taxation, imposed without the popular consent—a taxation which, if directly imposed, would make men realize the extravagance of their national expenditure, and condemn the war necessitating it. Seeing, then, that there could never occur depreciation, and its concomitant evils, were there no notes made inconvertible by act of parliament—and seeing that there could never exist any motive to make notes legally inconvertible, save for purposes of state-banking—there is good reason to consider state-banking injurious. Should it be urged that, for the occasional evils it entails, state-banking more than compensates by the habitual supply of many millions’ worth of notes, whose place could not be supplied by other notes of equal credit, it is replied that had the Bank of England no alliance with the statea , its notes would still circulate as extensively as now, provided its proprietors continued their solicitude (so constantly shown at the half-yearly meetings) to keep their assets more than three millions above their liabilities.
There is a third capacity in which a government usually stands related to the currency, viz., as a manufacturer of coins. That in theory a government may carry on the trade of stamping bullion without necessarily reversing its proper function is admitted. Practically, however, it never does so without collaterally transgressing. For the same causes which prevent it from profitably competing with private individuals in other trades, must prevent it from profitably competing with them in this—a truth which inquiry into the management of the mint will sufficiently enforce. And if so, a government can manufacture coins without loss, only by forbidding every one else to manufacture them. By doing this, however, it diminishes men’s liberty of action in the same way as by any other trade restriction—in short, does wrong. And, ultimately, the breach of the law of equal freedom thus committed results in society having to pay more for its metallic currency than would otherwise be necessary.
Perhaps to many it will seem that by a national mint alone can the extensive diffusion of spurious coinage be prevented. But those who suppose this, forget that under a natural system there would exist the same safeguards against such an evil as at present. The ease with which bad money is distinguished from good, is the ultimate guarantee for genuineness; and this guarantee would be as efficient then as now. Moreover, whatever additional security arises from the punishment of “smashers” would still be afforded; seeing that to bring to justice those who by paying in base coin obtain goods “under false pretences,” comes within the state’s duty. Should it be urged that in the absence of legislative regulations there would be nothing to prevent makers from issuing new mintages of various denominations and degrees of fineness, the reply is that only when some obvious public advantage was to be obtained by it, could a coin differing from current ones get into circulation. Were private mints now permitted, the proprietors of them would be obliged to make their sovereigns like existing ones, because no others would be taken. For the size and weight—they would be tested by gauge and balance, as now (and for a while with great caution). For the fineness—it would be guaranteed by the scrutiny of other makers. Competing firms would assay each other’s issues whenever there appeared the least reason to think them below the established standard, and should their suspicions prove correct, would quickly find some mode of diffusing the information. Probably a single case of exposure and the consequent ruin would ever after prevent attempts to circulate coins of inferior fineness.a
It is not unlikely that many readers, though unprepared with definite replies to these reasonings, will still doubt their correctness. That the existing monetary system—an actual working system, seemingly kept going by the state—would be benefited by the withdrawal of state-control, is a belief which the strongest arguments will in most cases fail to instil. Custom will bias men in this case, much as in another case it does the vine-growers of France, who, having long been instructed by state-commissioned authorities when to commence the vintage, believe that such dictation is beneficial. So much more does a realized fact influence us than an imagined one, that had the baking and sale of bread been hitherto carried on by government-agents, probably the supply of bread by private enterprise would scarcely be conceived possible, much less advantageous. The philosophical free-trader, however, remembering this effect of habit over the convictions—remembering how innumerable have been the instances in which legislative control was erroneously thought necessary—remembering that in this very matter of currency men once considered it requisite “to use the most ferocious measures to bring as much foreign bullion as possible into the country, and to prevent any going out”—remembering how that interference, like others, proved not only needless but injurious—remembering thus much, the philosophical free-trader will infer that in the present instance also, legislative control is undesirable. Reasons for considering trade in money an exception to the general rule, will weigh but little with him; for he will recollect that similar reasons have been assigned for restricting various trades, and disproved by the results. Rather will he conclude that as, in spite of all prophecies and appearances to the contrary, entire freedom of exchange has been beneficial in other cases, so, despite similar prophecies and adverse appearances, will it be beneficial in this case.
What was lately said respecting the stamping of bullion may here be repeated respecting the carrying of letters, viz., that it is not intrinsically at variance with state-duty; for it does not in the abstract necessitate any infringement of men’s rights, either directly, or by taxes raised for non-protective purposes. Nevertheless, just as we found reason to think that government could not continue to manufacture coin unless by preventing private individuals from doing the same, we shall also find reason to think that it would cease to carry letters did it not forbid competition. And if so, a government cannot undertake postal functions without reversing its essential function.
Evidence that private enterprise would supersede state-agency in this matter, were it allowed the opportunity, is deducible not only from our general experience of the inferiority of government in the capacity of manufacturer, trader, or manager of business, but from facts immediately bearing upon the question. Thus we must remember that the efficiency to which our postal system has actually attained is not due to its being under public administration, but is due to pressure from without. Changes have been forced upon the authorities, not introduced by them. The mail-coach system was established, and for a length of time managed, by a private individual, and lived down official opposition. The reform originated by Mr. Rowland Hill was strenuously resisted; and it is generally reported that even now, official perversity prevents his plans from being fully carried out. Whereas, seeing that the speculative spirit of trade is not only ready, but eager to satisfy social wants, it is probable that under a natural state of things modern postal improvements would have been willingly adopted, if not forestalled. Should it be alleged that private enterprize would not be competent to so gigantic an undertaking, it is replied that already there are extensive organizations of analogous character which work well. The establishments of our large carriers ramify throughout the whole kingdom; whilst we have a Parcels’ Delivery Company, co-extensive in its sphere with the London District Post, and quite as efficient. Private agencies for communicating information beat public ones even now, wherever they are permitted to compete with them. The foreign expresses of our daily papers are uniformly before the government expresses. Copies of a royal speech, or statements of an important vote, are diffused throughout the country by the press, with a rapidity exceeding that even achieved by the Post Office; and if expedition is shown in the stamping and sorting of letters, it is far surpassed by the expedition of parliamentary reporting. Moreover, much of the postal service itself is already performed by private agency. Not only are our internal mails carried by contract, but nearly all our external ones also; and where they are carried by government they are carried at a great loss. In proof of which assertion it needs but to quote the fact that the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company offers to secure for us a direct monthly communication with Australia; two communications, monthly, from Southampton to Alexandria; two communications, monthly, from Suez to Ceylon, Singapore, and China; and two communications, monthly, from Calcutta to Singapore and China; besides performing the service twice a month between Suez and Bombay, and all for the same sum of money which the latter service alone (Suez to Bombay) now costs the governments of India and Great Britain.
If, then, public letter-carrying has been brought to its existing efficiency by the thought, enterprize, and urgency of private persons, in spite of official resistance—if organizations similar to our postal ones already exist and work well—if, as conveyers of intelligence by other modes than the mail, trading bodies uniformly excel the state—if much of the mail service itself is performed by such trading bodies, and that, too, on the largest scale, with incomparably greater economy than the state can perform it with—there is nothing unreasonable in the conclusion that, were it permitted, commercial enterprize would generate a letter-carrying system as efficient as, if not more efficient than, our present one. It is true that many obstacles stand in the way of such a result. But because it is now scarcely possible to see our way over these, it does not at all follow that they may not be surmounted. There are moral inventions, as well as physical ones. And it frequently happens that the instrumentalities which ultimately accomplish certain social desiderata, are as little foreseen as are the mechanical appliances of one generation by the previous one. Take the Railway Clearing House for an example. Hence it is not too much to expect that under the pressure of social necessity, and the stimulus of self-interest, satisfactory modes of meeting all such difficulties would be discovered.
However, any doubts which may still be entertained on the point do not militate against our general principle. It is clear that the restriction put upon the liberty of trade, by forbidding private letter-carrying establishments, is a breach of state-duty. It is also clear that were that restriction abolished, a natural postal system would eventually grow up, could it surpass in efficiency our existing one. And it is further clear that if it could not surpass it, the existing system might rightly continue; for, as at first said, the fulfillment of postal functions by the state is not intrinsically at variance with the fulfillment of its essential function.
The execution by government of what are commonly called public works, as lighthouses, harbours of refuge, &c., implying, as it does, the imposition of taxes for other purposes than maintaining men’s rights, is as much forbidden by our definition of state-duty as is a system of national education, or a religious establishment. Nor is this unavoidable inference really an inconvenient one; however much it may at first seem so. The agency by which these minor wants of society are now satisfied, is not the only agency competent to satisfy them. Wherever there exists a want, there will also exist an impulse to get it fulfilled, and this impulse is sure, eventually, to produce action. In the present case, as in others, that which is beneficial to the community as a whole, it will become the private interest of some part of the community to accomplish. And as this private interest has been so efficient a provider of roads, canals, and railways, there is no reason why it should not be an equally efficient provider of harbours of refuge, lighthouses, and all analogous appliances. Even were there no classes whose private interests would be obviously subserved by executing such works, this inference might still be defended. But there are such classes. Ship-owners and merchants have a direct and ever-waking motive to diminish the dangers of navigation; and were they not taught by custom to look for state-aid, would themselves quickly unite to establish safeguards. Or, possibly, they would be anticipated by a combination of Marine Insurance Offices (themselves protective institutions, originated by self-interest). But inevitably, in some way or other, the numerousness of the parties concerned, and the largeness of the capital at stake, would guarantee the taking of all requisite precautions. That enterprise which built the docks of London, Liverpool, and Birkenhead—which is enclosing the Wash—which so lately bridged the Atlantic by steam—and which is now laying down the electric telegraph across the Channel—might safely be trusted to provide against the contingencies of coast navigation.
[a]Hence may be drawn an argument for direct taxation; seeing that only when taxation is direct does repudiation of state burdens become possible
[a]The immediate interest of the subject will sufficiently explain the length to which this chapter is extended; and if the style of argument used in it is somewhat too popular for a work like the present, the same consideration must serve as an excuse. Two of the sections have already appeared in print.
[a]“It is time,” said a veteran of this school, “to retire from the bar, since this new-fangled special pleading has superseded the use of gunpowder.”—Sketches of Ireland Sixty Years Ago.
[a]“Allotments are generally given on poor and useless pieces of land, but the thorough cultivation they receive soon raises them to a high pitch of fertility. The more fertile they become the more the rent of each portion is increased, and we were informed that there are at present allotments on the Duke’s property which, under the influence of the same competition which exists with reference to farms, bring his Grace a rent of 2l., 3l., and even 4l. an acre.”—Times Agricultural Commissioner on the Blenheim Estates.
[b]See Letters on “Labour and the Poor.” An officer’s widow says:—“Generally, the ladies are much harder as to their terms than the tradespeople; oh, yes, the tradespeople usually show more lemty towards the needlewomen than the ladies. I know the mistress of an institution who refused some chemises of a lady who wanted to have them made at 9d. She said she would not impose upon the poor workpeople so much as to get them made at that price.”—Morning Chronicle, November 16, 1849. A vendor of groundsel and turfs for singing birds says:—“The ladies are very hard with a body. They tries to beat me down, and particular in the matter of turfs. They tell me they can buy half-a-dozen for Id., so I’m obligated to let’em have three or four.”—Morning Chronicle, November 20, 1849.
[a]No doubt the belief which Dr. Chalmers combats, viz., that the landlord’s revenue is wholly consumed by him, is an erroneous one; for, as he points out, the greater portion of it goes to maintain those who directly or indirectly minister to the landlord’s wants: but Dr. Chalmers overlooks the fact that did the landlord not exist, the services which such now render to him in return for “sustenance and support,” would be rendered to those producers from whom the landlord’s revenue originally came; and that in the loss of these services society suffers.
[a]Instance the behaviour of the Prussian electors since the late revolution.
[a]It is true that a plaintiff who can swear that he is not worth £5 may sue in formâ pauperis. But this privilege is almost a dead letter. Actions so instituted are usually found to fail, because those who conduct them, having to plead gratuitously, plead carelessly.
[a]The case occurred at Winchester in July, 1849.
[a]See Address to the British Association at Edinburgh, in 1850.
[a]Reports of Dr. Fr. J. Behrend. See Medical Times, March 16, 1850.
[a]See Grote’s History.
[b]A metaphor that has been used to denote the pride with which the German officials regard their titles.
[a]The writer has himself been thus addressed.
[a]See letter of Sir Colin Campbell to Lord Stanley, May 2, 1845.
[a]And not without success, according to Mr. Wilde, who (writing before the late revolution) tells us, by way of panegyric upon the Austrian system of education, that the people “sigh not for a state of political liberty about which they know nothing. The government wisely preventing their minds from being inflamed by those blisters upon society that have written and preached our own countrymen into the fever of discontent and disaffection, the effects of which are now so visible in Great Britain.”(!)
[a]Quoted from a speech at Edinburgh
[a]Summary of the Moral Statistics of England and Wales. By Joseph Fletcher, Esq., Barrister-at-Law, one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools.
[a]For these and other such facts, see Sir W. Molesworth’s speeches delivered during the sessions of 1848 and 1849.
[a]See Sir Alexander Burns dispatches.
[a]See Times, Oct. 17, 1848.
[a]For putting out fires in Berlin they depend on open tubs of water that stand about the city at certain points, ready to be dragged where they are wanted.
[a]Such results have actually been brought about by the Metropolitan Buildings Act. Whilst this Act has introduced some reform in the better class of houses (although to nothing like the expected extent, for the surveyors are bribed, and moreover the fees claimed by them for inspecting every trifling alteration operate as penalties on improvement), it has entailed far more evil, just where it was intended to confer benefit. An architect and surveyor describes it as having worked after the following manner. In those districts of London consisting of inferior houses, built in that insubstantial fashion which the New Building Act was to mend, there obtains an average rent, sufficiently remunerative to landlords whose houses were run up economically before the New Building Act passed. This existing average rent fixes the rent that must be charged in these districts for new houses of the same accommodation—that is, the same number of rooms, for the people they are built for do not appreciate the extra safety of living within walls strengthened with hoop-iron bond. Now it turns out upon trial, that houses built in accordance with the present regulations, and let at this established rate, bring in nothing like a reasonable return. Builders have consequently confined themselves to erecting houses in better districts (where the possibility of a profitable competition with pre-existing houses shows that those pre-existing houses were tolerably substantial), and have ceased to erect dwellings for the masses, except in the suburbs where no pressing sanitary evils exist. Meanwhile, in the inferior districts above described, has resulted an increase of overcrowding—half-a-dozen families in a house—a score lodgers to a room. Nay, more than this has resulted. That state of miserable dilapidation into which these abodes of the poor are allowed to fall, is due to the absence of competition from new houses. Landlords do not find their tenants tempted away by the offer of better accommodation. Repairs, being unnecessary for securing the largest amount of profit, are not made. And the fees demanded by the surveyor, even when an additional chimney-pot is put up, supply ready excuses for doing nothing. Thus, whilst the New Building Act has caused some improvement where improvement was not greatly needed, it has caused none where it was needed, but has instead generated evils worse than those it was to remove. In fact, for a large percentage of the very horrors which our sanitary agitators are now trying to cure by law, we have to thank previous agitators of the same school!
[a]Writing before the repeal of the brick-duty, the Builder says, “It is supposed that one-fourth of the cost of a dwelling which lets for 2s. 6d. or 3s. a week is caused by the expense of the title-deeds and the tax on wood and bricks used in its construction. Of course the owner of such property must be remunerated, and he therefore charges 7 ½d. or 9d. a week to cover these burdens.” Mr. C. Gatliff, secretary to the Society for Improving the Dwellings of the Working Classes, describing the effect of the window-tax, say, “They are now paying upon their institution in St. Pancras the sum of £162 16s. in window-duties, or 1 per cent. per annum upon the original outlay. The average rental paid by the Society’s tenants is 5s. 6d. per week, and the window-duty deducts from this 7 ¼d. per week.”—Deputation to Lord Ashley, see Times, Jan. 31, 1850. Mr. W. Voller, a master-tailor, says, “I lately inserted one of Dr. Arnott’s ventilators in the chimney of the workshop, little thinking I should be called upon by Mr. Badger, our district surveyor, for a fee of 25s.“—Morning Chronicle, Feb. 4, 1850.
[a]Though not literally currency, bills of exchange, serving in many cases to effect mercantile transactions which would otherwise be effected in money, to that extent perform its function.
[b]Capital, Currency, and Banking. By James Wilson, Esq., M.P.
[a]Capital, Currency, and Banking. By James Wilson, Esq., M.P.
[a]The alliance consists in this, that on the credit of a standing debt of £14,000,000, due from the Government to the Bank, the Bank is allowed to issue notes to that amount (besides further notes on other security), and hence to the extent of this debt the notes have practically a Government guarantee.
[a]Whilst these sheets are passing through the press, facts, which he is not now at liberty to quote, have been communicated to the writer, conclusively proving the superior economy of a coin-manufacture conducted by private individuals; together with other facts suggesting the obvious truth that the debasement of coinage, from which our forefathers suffered so much, was made possible only by legal compulsion—would never have been possible had the currency been left to itself.