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CHAPTER III: the functions of the state - Wordsworth Donisthorpe, Individualism: A System of Politics 
Individualism: A System of Politics (London: Macmillan and Co., 1889).
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the functions of the state
WHEN we examine the numerous questions which exercise the minds of those who take an intelligent interest in politics, we find that they fall into two distinct classes: one class relating to the structure or constitution of government; the other to the function or duty of government. These two fundamental questions, “What is the State? ” and “What does the State? ” though standing clearly apart, are usually confounded and treated together. Now, although they may be equally vital, that is no reason for assuming that those who agree upon the one point must necessarily hold identical views on the other. With respect to structure, politicians fall at once into two large and nearly equal parties, namely, those who are satisfied with the existing constitution just as it is, and those who contend that it ought to be more or less modified. Doubtless, the members of this latter class differ also among themselves as to the kind and amount of change desirable, from the red republican, through all shades of radicalism, to the most timid trimmer that adorns the Liberal benches. Their opponents are of opinion that changes are dangerous, or that at all events, if they must occur, it is best to let them come of themselves, and to retard rather than hasten them on. This party also contains many shades of Toryism, from the old-fashioned worshipper of antiquity, who would fain, if possible, reverse the tide of history and undo the evil of modern days, to the so-called Liberal-Conservative, who deems it wise to bend to circumstances and to float passively on the stream, though not to swim with it.
Turn now to the other great question, “What ought the Government, however constituted, to do?” “Wliat are the duties of the State, be it monarchical, republican, or mixed? '” And here again politicians may be split up into two great parties. There are those who maintain the greatest possible liberty of the individual citizen compatible with the equal liberty of his fellows, and who disapprove, therefore, of all meddlesome legislation. They would restrict the functions of the State to the administration of justice, the maintenance of order, the defence of the country against foreign antagonism, and the collection and management of revenue for these purposes; and leave other matters to take care of themselves. On the other hand, there are those who believe that a well-organised body like the State is, or might be made, the most highly-efficient machine for the carrying out of many great and noble schemes for the improvement of the people and the amelioration of their lot. Such are the persons who support State education. State charities, State museums and galleries, State railways and telegraphs, State banks, State post-offices, and even State censors and spies. Such are the persons who would close the public-house at ten o'clock or altogether, and who would convert drunkards by force, who would and do force their medical nostrums upon unbelievers, and imprison those who resist. Such were the persons who took into the general- charge the eternal welfare of their fellow-creatures, and founded inquisitions to keep them in the right path. All these and a thousand other matters say they, can be best regulated and managed by the State.
Diametrically opposed as these two parties are, and fundamental as the issue between them undoubtedly is, it is a remarkable fact that they enjoy at present no distinctive appellations; and it is entirely upon difference of opinion concerning State structure that the existing party divisions are based. Indeed, some persons (even experienced statesmen) appear to be so far carried away by zeal for structural change or resistance to it, as never to give the equally if not more vital question of function a thought. Others, again, care little for the form of government so long as it is easy to live happily and freely under it—
or as the old but less refined saw hath it, “A good horse is never a bad colour.”
Men of this stamp have during the last fifty years kept themselves in the background. The battle for equality, the struggles for parliamentary reform, for a redistribution of seats, for extension of the suffrage, for the enfranchisement of women, for the reconstruction of the House of Lords, and for the endless other constitutional reforms and changes, must be fought out when liberty is not in danger. But the very structural changes accomplished since the framing of the first Reform Bill have produced unforeseen effects upon the views of the ultimate governing body with respect to the duties of the State, which effects have been quickened since some two decades ago Mr. Disraeli threw open the floodgates still wider to the torrent of democracy. Speaking at the inaugural meeting of the Liberty and Property Defence League, Mr. Pleydell Bouverie, said—
“One sees proposals of even eminent men nowadays which, by looking into the history of this country, you will find are strictly allied to the old sumptuary laws, and laws for the regulation of labour, and for settling what men are to earn, eat, and drink, which are to be found in the statute book four hundred years ago. We thought these notions had been exploded a hurtful and foolish, but they are coming to the front again, and I think it is due to the fact that a large amount of political power is now wielded by the comparatively uneducated and ignorant classes. The very mistakes and fallacies which were not recognised to be such by the educated classes four hundred years ago, and which influenced their legislation, are again influencing the classes which have recently acquired political power. They are for emulating those old-fashioned Acts of Parliament; unreasonable and impossible expectations are indulged in; and there is a great desire for ridiculous interference by Act of Parliament, which will again have to be exploded by the good sense of those who agree with the gentlemen here.”
Agitations for constitutional reform in harmony with the principle of equality are giving place to agitations for restrictions on the liberty of one class for the benefit of another, and the liberty of the individual for the supposed benefit of the public. This tendency brings politics home to the doors of those who take but a lukewarm interest in the “levelling ” process, and a very keen interest in their own freedom.
Before we are competent to define the proper sphere of State action with any degree of accuracy we must survey the whole field covered by officialism at the present day, in this country and in other countries, and in past times. By the use of the comparative method we shall possibly be enabled to detect permanent tendencies which will guide us in predicting the probable limitations of State action among civilised communities of the future. This work has not yet been done, or even begun, and it is needless to say I do not presume to attempt it here. At the same time it may be some help to those who are seriously considering this most important of all political questions of the day, if we cast our eye over the province of governmental interference in our own country, and point out what substitutes for such action have in the several departments been suggested, and how far they are feasible. From a condition of tribal socialism Englishmen have taken many centuries to attain their present degree of civil liberty, and it is admitted that considerable remnants of the old patriarchal socialism still remain, and are likely to remain (though possibly in diminishing quantities) for many years, decades, and perhaps centuries to come. In so far as such socialism is necessary because we are not yet ripe for absolute individualism, we are bound to regard it as “beneficent socialism.” It is none the less socialism. It must be understood then that in the following review of existing State interferences I am at present offering no opinion on their goodness or badness, but merely pointing out the fact.
Although there is no particular order in which State functions need be considered, it may be well to begin with those which are admitted by most people to be normal functions, and to pass on to those which are condemned by larger and larger numbers, till we come to those which even socialists would hardly defend. First, then, we find that the State undertakes the defence of the country against foreign aggression. It maintains at the general expense a costly army and navy. It builds forts and ships, and supplies itself with all the requirements in connection therewith. Some persons contend that it should not make its own guns and ammunition: that it should not build its own ships, or construct its own military railways, that it should not even erect its own fortifications; but that it should purchase all such things and services from private persons under suitable contracts regulated by competition. Apart from the defence of the country, the State goes farther, it follows the trade of its citizens to the uttermost parts of the earth, and for their protection it keeps up lines of communication along the water highways. It holds other peoples in subjection, partly for their own good, but chiefly for the commercial advantage of Englishmen. Some persons think that traders should be left to take care of themselves, to raise and maintain their own armies and fleets, as the East India Company did last century.
The next State function of which the large majority approve is the maintenance at home of law and order; that is to say, the defence of every citizen against the aggression of other citizens, and the enforcement of promises of a certain kind (contracts). With the exception of Anarchists none dispute the propriety of this State work. The performance of it requires the maintenance of Courts of Justice and an army of police. The extent to which the State should go in preventing crime is keenly disputed. Some, for instance, would prohibit the carrying of firearms; others would allow the storing of dynamite in private houses, leaving the consequences to private responsibility. Recourse has been had recently to spies and informers; some consider this bad, others maintain that it is defensible.
The next State function which very few persons deprecate is the levying of the necessary means for carrying out the above and other Government work. The raising of revenue by some kind of taxation is denounced by Mr. Auberon Herbert, but he seems on this point to be in a minority of one, though I have no wish here to beg the question.
We now come to matters of State interference which excite a considerable amount of opposition-rightly or wrongly. The State holds itself responsible for the qualification of certain private workers. Persons who wish to practise medicine and surgery, to sell drugs, to lend money on pledges, to deal in second-hand metals, to sell alcoholic liquors, tobacco, or “game,” to plead in the Courts, to mind engines, to carry on a variety of other occupations, must satisfy the State that they are properly qualified by education or respectability, or both. Some think that if the Bar, for example, were thrown open, the public would easily judge for itself as to the competency of the competitors, just as it now does in spite of the Government certificate. The same argument is applied to medicine. Due responsibility for culpable negligence would, it is said, suffice.
And the State carries on many works also on its own account. It carries letters and sends telegrams and parcels. Some point to the fact that the telephone companies, which are private, are much more cheaply worked than the telegraphs, and deduce the natural conclusion from the observation. Others point to the high charges which private carriers made for letter-distributing before the State took up the work and claimed the monopoly. But the State examines poetry and chooses the best poet as the Laureate. It studies astronomy on its own account and appoints an Astronomer Royal. It undertakes scientific expeditions and (some ten or twenty years after) publishes reports of them. It vies with private enterprise in its efforts to get to the North Pole. It collects pictures and books and objects of antiquarian and scientific interest, and stores them in national museums and galleries. It keeps up botanical gardens, and also gardens for simple recreation. All these things may be regarded as national, and not calculated to benefit any particular class of persons at the expense of the others. In some quarters it is objected that these matters would be attended to by private enterprise if it were not for State competition, and better managed. It is pointed out that the Polaris Expedition effected more than the British Expedition under Captain Nares at less than a tenth of the cost; and that the report of the Challenger is only still very far from complete. On the other hand, it is contended that no private library can compare in any respect with that of the British Museum. Similarly, it is said, that private individuals could never have kept such recreation grounds as Hyde Park out of the hands of the builders for the good of the public health.
We have surveyed the field of modern State action, and passed in review certain institutions intended to benefit the nation as a whole. But beyond these national institutions the State undertakes to provide others which benefit one class at the expense of the remainder: it maintains local baths and wash-houses, free libraries and free or half-free schools, and it builds dwelling-houses for certain classes of persons. It is contended by the advocates of these State institutions that, although one class is primarily benefited, the whole community derives indirect advantage from them. Individualists, on the other hand, urge that private enterprise will, in the absence of Government competition, supply enough to meet the demand, and that more than this is detrimental to the public welfare. It is also said that the quality of the supply is thus stereotyped and private initiative crippled. The State is asked by some to distribute the population in accordance with the fertility of the soil and the production, of the district, by what is called State emigration or State-aided colonisation. This is strongly opposed by the majority, which maintains that population distributes itself most economically when left to itself. But the same majority approves of so distributing wealth that those who have shall contribute something towards the maintenance of the utterly destitute. Some contend that the levying of a poor-rate is in response to a legal and moral claim on the part of the poorest section of the community —a right to live. Others say it is a tribute to the national sentiment, the offspring of pity, and in the same category with the laws against cruelty to animals; while others again defend the poor law as a safety-valve against revolution, and without any other justification. Again the question has been keenly debated whether the State is warranted in stepping in between a citizen and his own animals in the interest of humanity. Some say these matters may safely be left to the social sanction.
Other State interferences may be classified under the heads of Sanitation, Morality, Religion, and Justice. Whether individuals should be allowed to dispose of their sewage as they think fit, or should be compelled to adopt some general and approved system; whether they should be forced to adopt certain medical precautions in the general interest, such as those required by quarantine laws, Vaccination Acts, Contagious Diseases Acts, notification and compulsory removal laws and the like; whether they should be allowed to build according to demand, or according to rules like those contained iu the Metropolitan Buildings Acts; whether such matters as smoke-abatement should be treated as questions of mere private nuisance; whether the dead should be disposed of according to the fancies of their surviving relations, or on some State-ordained system; whether private persons should be permitted to use and also to abuse public waters by polluting them until such time as they see the necessity of combining to keep them pure; whether the makers and vendors of foods, drugs, beverages, etc., should be untrammelled by any other law than the maxim caveat emptor, or whether the State should analyse these commodities and punish adulterators: upon all these questions of sanitation, and a hundred others of the same kind, opinions differ.
In the interests of Morality some contend (an enormous majority) that the State should punish bigamy and practices inimical to monogamy, and should prescribe between whom, marriages should lawfully be sanctioned. Some of those who admit this, contend that the State is needlessly strict in its prohibitions, e.g. in the case of marriage with the sister of a deceased wife. Some of those who would allow young girls, against their inclinations, to be sacrificed to the greed or ambition of parents or guardians, provided the contract is one of marriage, deny the sufficiency of parental responsibility in the case of similar contracts of a temporary character, even when the young person is a consenting party. Opinions widely differ as to how far the State is warranted in sharing the responsibility with parents, and in standing in loco parentis with respect to orphans. It is also debated whether the suppression of brothels other than disorderly houses is, properly speaking, a State duty; and the same difference extends to the question of public-houses, where drunkenness may (or may not) result in disorder and nuisance. In the interest of morality the State exercises censorship of plays, though it has not till the other day been deemed necessary to continue the precaution in the case of light literature. In the matter of gambling, opinions widely differ, and the State seems to comply with them all. It prohibits some kinds of betting and lotteries under heavy penalties. Other kinds, such as betting on racecourses, it tolerates, but refuses to sanction; and other kinds, again, it recognises and sanctions, such as Stock Exchange speculations. Probably it may be said that according to the spirit of Scotch jurisprudence a fair bet should be enforced like any other contract, whereas English law would consistently refuse to sanction it. As to which is the best course for the State to adopt, having regard to the general welfare, opinions again differ.
Coming to State action in the interest of Religion, there is great diversity of view. The tendency has clearly been in the direction of diminished Government interference in such matters. People are no longer burned for heresy. Whether heretics should be burnt is still a debated question, but the “Noes” have it. Not so, however, with regard to Sabbath observance, Sunday trading. Sunday amusements, etc. On these points, and on the maintenance of a Church Establishment, public opinion seems to be pretty evenly balanced. There still remain on the Statute-books certain laws relating to oaths, and others relating to blasphemy, which imply that the State considers itself bound to punish offences against what may be called the national religion.
In this very brief survey of existing State functions in England we have necessarily omitted all reference to whole classes of Government action, and notably to that coming under the head Justice. And we have passed over the whole field of municipal functions, such as road-making, maintaining, paving, and cleaning; lighting, bridge-building; the laying of sewers and drains, water supply, fire extinction, the regulation of cemeteries, markets, and fairs, etc. etc. In spite of all these omissions the area surveyed is wide enough to call up doubts in the minds of both parties—Individualists and Socialists— as to whether the happy mean has in all cases been yet hit by the State.
The spirit of the individualist movement is one of resistance to any overstepping by the legislature of its normal boundaries. It is the embodiment of the absolute principle of civil liberty, or the greatest possible liberty of each compatible with the equal liberty of all. Of those who have faith in State action it is probable that none follow up the principle to its extreme logical conclusion, and look forward to the time when every man in the land shall have his own inspector to follow him about, to carry his goloshes, and to see that he puts them on before crossing the road; to take notes of what he says; to correct his grammar and his religious opinions when out of harmony with authorised usage; to see that he drinks what is good for him, and no more; to put out his candle at nine at night, and to accompany him twice to church every Sunday. Consistency wavers before such a prospect—an age when there shall be no crime, no drunkenness, no wrangling, not even difference of opinion, and we shall be an orderly people, doing that which is right in the eyes of the majority—the supreme, allwise, and serenely disinterested majority! But if the State socialists shrink from this outcome of State idolatry, so also do their opponents shrink from carrying the principle of non-interference to extreme lengths. Probably if they are prepared to accept any working principle at all as to the expediency of any proposed legislation, it is that the onus prdbandi lies on those who would limit the freedom of the citizen. “The old-fashioned presumption was always that in the case of any interference with liberty, its reasonableness should be demonstrated before it should be adopted; but nowadays it seems to be the notion that the presumption is the other way, and the burden of proof is on those who have to defend liberty instead of on those who insist upon interference.” Yes, till the sweets of bondage are proved, it is better to remain free.
The need for such a movement was never more urgent than it is to-day, for, blink the matter as we may, there is no denying that a new departure has of late been made by the Conservative party, the outcome of which it is impossible to foresee. In an apparent bid for socialist support, opposed though it is to Conservative traditions and practice, there is nothing actually inconsistent with Conservative theory. Be this as it may, the die is cast. The Conservative party have thrown in their lot with State socialism. The gloomy and unheeded forebodings of Lord Werayss, in 1883, are already fulfilled.
“Whereas in commerce freedom of contract is the very breath of its nostrils, the soul of its being; and whereas the commercial transactions in land—that is, the bargains between landlord and tenant-are in the aggregate greater than those of any two or three of the other largest British commercial interests; these bargains are not only to be forbidden in the future, but broken in the past. This is what the two great parties in the State affirmed when, with grateful hearts and cheerful countenances, they with delightful unanimity passed the second reading of the Government Agricultural Holdings Bill. Contracts, not in ' exceptional' Ireland, but here in law-abiding, free, commercial England and Scotland—forbidden in the future and broken in the past! And why Solely because—disguise the truth as they may under specious phrases, bury it no matter how deep under agricultural commissioners' reports-Liberals and Conservatives have cast principle and sound economic doctrine aside, and are playing a game of grab for the farmers' vote.”
The result of the game will, of course, depend on the answer to the question, Who holds the trump card? And the trump card is not nationalisation of land only, but nationalisation of all wealth. That is the trump card in the game. Hitherto, the part of the Conservative has been to throw obstacles in the path of the Radical charioteer, while the Whig has taken his seat on the box and hampered the driver's movements, endeavouring all the while to damp his ardour with prudent counsel. It now remains to be seen whether the old party of progress with liberty can any longer continue to play the role of unheeded mentor to the new party of communism and spoliation. If those Liberals who, anxious not to impede the process of structural reform, have up to the present silently tolerated much over-legislation of which they secretly disapprove, rather than seem to join hands with those who would bolster up effete institutions, do not now come forward and speak out boldly for the ancient rights and liberties of all classes on the time-honoured lines of property and freedom, to whom shall the country look?
Now that the masses have tasted power they will strive for more, and it will be a wise precaution to guard democracy from its own defects by limiting the powers of the State, however constituted, and to enact, while Yet it is day, that all interference of Government in matters outside its normal duties shall be a violation of the constitution. So long as the people see us arbitrarily shutting up their clubs, while our own are left open; forcing their children to learn what we were taught instead of what their fathers were taught, namely, their handicraft; closing their places of business on specified days: taxing them for the support of our museums, picture galleries, and scientific expeditions; in fine, acting as though by our mere fiat we could shower luxuries upon them or doom them to starvation —is it very wonderful they should wish to wield this power which can effect so much for good or for evil? If, ask they, we can reduce their working hours to ten, why not to eight? If we can build schools for their children, why not cottages for them? If we can afford to protect them gratis from smallpox, why cannot we pay the doctor's bill when they do catch it? Naturally they argue that capital is better paid than labour, because the labourer is not well represented in the House of Commons, and not at all in the House of Lords. When they obtain the reins, then, say they, it will be the labourer's turn. And who shall blame them? They are only taking a leaf out of our book. It cannot be honestly denied that recourse has been had to class legislation for the benefit of the upper classes at the expense of the lower. Have not wages been kept down by law? Has not the price of bread been kept up by law for the benefit of a class? What have shipowners to say about the old navigation laws? But it is not necessary to assign instances when there are hundreds in the recollection of all. Something more than mortal, then, will these new masters be, if, for any nobler motive than enlightened self-interest, they can be induced, with victory within their grasp, to forego the luxury of revenge and the plunder of their quondam taskmasters.
Nor can we lay the blame of this evil example of over-legislation at the door of either party in the State. Both are alike culpable, though, for reasons which are apparent, the Radical party chiefly has been made the tool of the rising socialism. Unless, therefore, it can be shown to the satisfaction of the working classes that class legislation worked in their own interest cannot in the long run be of advantage to them. but rather the reverse, we must prepare for a long period of sullen uniformity and mob despotism, such as has never been known before. And yet individualism has no easy task before it. The enemy is overwhelming in numbers and strongly entrenched. With the old Anglo-Saxon love of liberty and self-dependence on the one side; ranged against it are the not yet extinct class hatred, a thirst for retaliation, and, above and before all, sympathy with suffering. Not that it is necessary to overcome the sympathy, but to convince those who sympathise, that the best medicine for all social ills is liberty; optima medicina est non uti medicina. This is in many cases no light matter. Try and convince the recipient of outdoor relief that such relief is inexpedient. Have you seen whole families during the famines in Ireland or India literally starving to death on land from which its owner or usufructuary draws thousands a year? Demonstrate to them that it would be neither wise nor kind to abolish by law the payment of rent. Have you hopelessly watched a crew of stalwart fellows go down on some rotten craft within sight of port? Convince Mr. Plimsoll, and those who think with him, that the seaworthiness of ships is best left to the shipowners. Have you known little children of nine and ten sent down into the pit to toil in solitude, in danger, and in darkness for the livelong day? If so, are you sure that the law relating to mines and prohibiting such cruelty is altogether unjustifiable? Is it true that £80,000,000 is annually spent in intoxicating drink in this country? If so, shall we blame those who would do their utmost, by legislation, to extirpate the national curse? Again, it is not pleasant to see the little ones of the people growing up in ignorance of much that is useful and beautiful for the want of elementary teaching. Surely men will not be found capable of banding themselves together for the express purpose of resisting all these noble efforts for the amelioration of poverty and weakness.
Now this question brings us to the remarkable misconception that has somehow got afloat as to the views of individualists with respect to rules and regulations in general. It seems to be supposed that anything of the nature of a rule is in their eyes anathema. The Radical papers teem with questions calculated to bring ridicule upon those who oppose State interference in general. It seems to be forgotten that other bodies can make laws besides the State. The Stock Exchange and the Jockey Club at once present themselves as instances of private bodies making laws which are virtually accepted by the whole country. The customs of the Lancashire cotton trade are the finest example of commercial law in the world. Every club, every society and association, makes its own laws, which are sufficiently sanctioned to meet with respect and obedience, quite as uniformly as the laws of the land. And yet the prevailing impression seems to be that only the State can make laws having any binding effect-that without such State rules and regulations everything would be topsy-turvy. Mine-owners and miners would conspire to blow up the mines: shipowners would scuttle their ships, drown their crews, get up a glorious reputation for going to the bottom, and pay double insurance; cabmen would charge at least a guinea a mile; bankers would smother the country with worthless paper; railway companies would smash up passengers and goods, charge prohibitive fares, and ruin their shareholders; theatrical managers would drive all the respectable and monied classes away from the theatres by exhibitions of bad taste; publicans would sit up all night in order to sell a pint of ale; pawnbrokers would charge 60 per cent a month, and receive stolen goods with alacrity; landlords would keep their farms unlet and uncultivated; farmers would pay more in rent than they could recoup in profit; and everybody would work to death without taking a holiday; in line, society is accredited with suicidal mania and must be kept in a strait-waistcoat.
The first question asked is, “What! would you allow a thoughtless collier to light his pipe in the workings? ” or, “Would you let the railway companies charge what they like? ” or, “Would you have all the land thrown out of cultivation? ” or, “Would you have all the crops devoured by vermin? ” or something equally irrelevant. Now the answer to all these and similar questions is, that it is not the expediency or appropriateness of this or that regulation with which individualism concerns itself. It mav be an excellent provision that passenger trains should not run at more than sixty miles an hour, or it may not; if it is, let the companies make such a rule, or let the public refrain from travelling by lines which have no such rule; but let not Parliament interfere in the matter. Again, as to the naked lights in a coalpit, is it really believed that colliers are so absurdly reckless of their own lives as to imperil them for the sake of a whiff of tobacco? And even granting that there are a few such dangerous lunatics in the pits, as out of them, is the mine-owner so anxious himself for a meeting with his creditors as to allow such doings if they can possibly be prevented? The plain fact is, apart from theory, that before the passing of any Acts relating to mines, the most stringent regulations were in force concerning the use of lights and lamps in the workings —rules not so much imposed by the masters, as agreed to alike by owners, managers, and men, for the common safety. It is the ability to make such rules, to obey them, and to enforce them, which makes the Anglo-Saxon race what it is-a colonising people, a people tit for self-government. And it is the weakening and supplanting of these contractual rules by rules emanating from a central legislature which will some day, if persisted in, reduce the Englishman to the level of his continental neighbours. It is not from any horror of law and order, of method and regulation in all things, that individualism is opposed to State interference; on the contrary, it is rather the reverse: it is because it attaches so high a value to these things, and because it fears to see the habits of self-rule crushed out by the enervating effects of grandmotherly government.
In one respect there is no comparison at all between the contractual regulations made by those chiefly interested and the State regulations made, so to speak, by outsiders; and that is, in point of economy, the true balance of advantage. It is doubtless more or less dangerous to go into a pit at all; but a law to prohibit coal-mining would be to sacrifice too much for the sake of safety. Again, a safety lamp costs more than a naked candle; but to tolerate the candle would be to sacrifice too little for the sake of safety. There is always a happy medium, and the legislature is not likely to find it. Take shipping—seaworthiness is a matter of degree; if absolute, unquestionable seaworthiness is insisted upon, the lower-class seaman is ruined; if the cranky craft is allowed, foul deeds for the sake of insurance are rendered possible. Where the line should be drawn is a nice question, and must-be settled between the shipowner and the sailor; it certainly cannot be settled by the State without the certainty of a false economy. “To the seafaring population,” writes Mr. Crofts, “the character of each ship and ship's captain are as well known as the performances of every racehorse to the betting fraternity. If a sailor takes employment on a rotten and overladen ship, with a drunken skipper, to whom astronomical reckonings are as Greek, it is in most cases not because he does not know any better, but because he cannot do any better. Able-bodied seamen with good recommendations and habits naturally monopolise the forecastles of the best ships, where bad characters and Lascars are at a discount. If these latter want to go to sea. their evil reputation does not permit of their being over-fastidious in the choice of accommodation and masters; and the question for them is frequently one of going afloat with a chance of living, or staying ashore with a certainty of starving.”
I have no desire to impugn the motives of those simple-minded philanthropists, who, filled with sympathy for suffering humanity, struggle to mitigate the laws of nature by Act of Parliament. It is not with these men we need quarrel; they are possibly intelligent men of little knowledge, and open to conviction when the truth is stated to them simply; but it is their subtler allies that are to be feared, imposters who trade on the nobler instincts of their fellow-workers for the sake of place, popularity, or pelf. Such men are beneath conviction: frequently they know the futility of their own proposals, but it suits them to pose as philanthropists. Let us name no names, but there are well-known legislators who speak with unction of the rights and wrongs of labour, and who grind down their own work-people with an iron heel. There is such a thing as Brummagem philanthropy; these are the impostors who form the extreme sect of what Mr. Gladstone once called “Political quacks.”
But the lovers of civil liberty are not without questionable allies, men who are open to the charge of protesting against State interference with the industry in which they are themselves interested, lest such interference should favour their weaker fellow-workers. When we see men whose whole political lives have been spent in plotting against the liberties of the people, suddenly cry out for liberty, more liberty, as soon as their own pockets are threatened, we may know how far to trust such men, and what their alliance is worth. Poor Jack must not be allowed to drink rum: it is bad for him physically and morally, but he may drown, for am I not a shipowner? The wretched miner must be wrapped up in cotton wool and work no more than four hours a day, but as for the peasant he may rot on my threshold, for am 1 not a landlord? Let the poverty-stricken be defended against the rapacity of the merciless pawnbroker; but it is preposterous to tolerate the claim of the helpless widow and children whom a railway accident has left destitute, for be it known that I am a railway king. One can hardly blame those demagogues who stigmatise individualism as selfishness. Sympathy with suffering quickens the zeal of these scribblers for quixotic legislation, while their knowledge of political philosophy is too defective to permit of their seeing its futility.
It is unfortunately too true that a consistent individualist must combine knowledge of principles and the courage of his opinions with a certain surgeon-like imperturbability in the presence of the inevitable: he must know how to withhold the iced drink from the parched fever patient; he must be prepared to be accused of selfishness and greed, of hardness of heart and indifference to the sufferings of others, and of hypocrisy in appealing to the lofty principles of liberty for the sinister purpose of bolstering up unjust privileges and monopolies. These charges must be met and disproved, not only in general but in detail.
Between socialism and liberalism there is no necessary bond, neither, as we shall see, is conservatism uniformly individualistic. After passing in view some of the more prominent pieces of proposed legislation of a semi-socialistic character, which are even now within the ranse of practical politics, judged by the rate at which we have been travelling of late in this direction, Mr. Fawcett concluded one of his latest pamphlets in these remarkable words: “In endeavouring to explain some of the consequences which their adoption would involve, we should greatly regret to do any injustice to the motives of those by whom they are advocated. Mischievous as we believe many of these schemes would prove to be, the great majority of those by whom they are advocated are undoubtedly prompted by no other desire than to promote social, moral, and material advancement. The conclusion above all others which we desire to enforce is, that any scheme, however well-intentioned it may be, will indefinitely increase every evil it seeks to alleviate if it lessens individual responsibility by encouraging the people to rely less upon themselves and more upon the State.”
Again, Mr. Thorold liogers, in a lecture on “Some Aspects of Laissez-faire and Control,” has treated the question historically. But, as he will himself admit, the trustworthiness of the results of a study of tendencies to a very great extent depends on the length of time during which those tendencies can be shown to have been in operation. Mr. Rogers's conclusion that the general consensus is distinctly favourable to increased State interference is probably correct for the present time, and it coincides with what has been already said about the recent rapid advance of State socialism: but to infer from proof of such present tendency that increased Government action is a concomitant of civilisation would or would not be justifiable according as the tendency can be shown to be a persistent one, or at least an increasing one throughout the whole range of history. Any shorter period of observation is apt to be delusive; the present prevalence of socialistic opinions in this and other countries can no more be pointed to as part of a universal development than could the equally remarkable advance of the extreme doctrine of “let-be ” thirty or forty years ago. Almost as philosophically might the marked revival of that doctrine during a recent period in England be cited in support of the doctrine of individualism. Now, if we take English constitutional history as the subject of our examination, we shall find that so far from being on the increase, State interference with individual liberty has been a constantly-diminishing quantity. We have but to cast our eyes down the statutes of the Plantagenet period to discover in what numberless private concerns the State intruded, with which no modern Government would dream of meddling. The price of corn, the wages of labourers, the importation of coin, the manufacture of beer, the rate of interest on loans, attendance at divine service, and a thousand other matters, were carefully supervised by the State. A statute of Henry VIII. goes so far as to forbid the use of machinery in the manufacture of broadcloth, a law which drove a good deal of the woollen trade to Holland, where the “divers devilish contrivances” were under no ban. “Why, there are actually early English laws setting forth with what amount of energy and thoroughness the ploughman shall plough each furrow. Further illustrations are unnecessary, for it will be admitted by any candid reader of history that, on the whole, the tendency to State interference diminishes with the evolution of societies. The slight reaction observable in our own day seems to be satisfactorily explained by the sudden inclusion withiu the electorate of two new layers of citizens with limited political experience. The evil will disappear only when the newly-enfranchised classes perceive not only that they will themselves suffer from restrictions on free action, but that they will be the first and the worst sufferers. When Mr. Rogers descends to the particular instances of what may be called modern socialistic legislation, he seems to be anxious and able to find some special justification for each in its turn. Mr. Rogers is quite incapable of prostituting science to the defence of party, and yet any one might be forgiven for thinking otherwise to whom Mr. Rogers's writings were previously unknown. The Factory Acts are good, he says, because they result in the restraint of waste. It might easily be shown that the economy of labour has been indefinitely postponed by the operation of the Factory Acts.” The doctrine of laissez-faire is absolute in the case of contracts for the use of labour, except in cases where—" and then comes a string of exceptions apparently cast in general Language for the purpose of justifying the Acts just named, the Truck Acts, the Act of 1883 for prohibiting the payment of wages in public-houses, and other similar interferences with individual freedom.
I am not going to defend the tally—shop, though many a poor wife has cursed the day since when her husband's wages, instead of being paid in groceries and household stores, were paid in cash to be spent in drink. “What is of more importance to note is, that where workmen as a class were thrifty arid steady, as in the mining districts of Durham and Nor—thumberland, the truck system died a natural death without any need for State intervention. Similarly, the fishermen in several of the east-coast ports have put a stop to the system of paying wages in the public-house in a very simple manner; by steadily refusing to order liquor, or even to drink it at the expense of another, they have made it unprofitable to the publican to give the use of his premises for the purpose. Men who have not the strength of mind to act thus will not be made more self-reliant or more fit to wrestle with the many temptations of the world by being put into leading-strings and kept out of sight of beer. With respect to the free choice of a calling, Mr. Rogers agrees” that the aggregate of industry sorts itself best in the interests of all when the process is left to perfectly free action.” But this excellent generalisation goes too far for him; it condemns much recent legislation: consequently a qualifying clause must be introduced to justify it, so that the rule now reads, “The aggregate of industry sorts itself best in the interest of all when, certain obvious conditions being satisfied, and precautions taken, the process is left to perfectly free action.” One of these precautions seems to be the State examination of everybody in order that “adequate evidence should be given of professional competence.” “The impulse,” says Mr. Rogers, “is towards the creation of new professions with special tests of proficiency; this is the case with the art of the dispensing druggist, of the surveyor, of the elementary schoolmaster,” and he might have added, of the skipper and second hand of fishing-boats. The enforcement of professional responsibility by law is a totally distinct question, and rests on the answer given to a deeper question than that concern-in “the demarkation of State functions. When we come to the railways, Mr. Rogers seems to have some difficulty in finding any sound or even specious reason for making them an exception to the general rule. “The case of these adventurers is most peculiar,” he says.” The directors and shareholders of the existing companies vote in Parliament against rival lines without pretending to consider the public good." I believe the brewers as a class do not support local-option bills; it is hinted that the bishops are somewhat biassed in favour of the Established Church; and landowners are not always agitating for a heavy land-tax; but the charge against the railway directors appears to be, not so much that they consider the interests of their own class first, after the manner of others, but that they have not the decency to pretend to put the interests of plasterers, tanners, physicians, etc. etc., before their own. So the railways are to be brought under increased State control, the so-called Cheap Trains Act is only an instalment in the direction of this control. Reasons are also forthcoming for the violation of the “let-be ” principle in the matter of agricultural holdings, of homes for the poor, of places of entertainment and refreshment, of education, and of sanitary arrangements. With respect to education, Mr. Rogers is candid enough and paradoxical enough to admit that “it is of no material or economical benefit to the recipient;” and since we force it upon others solely for our own benefit, at some loss and inconvenience to themselves, we have no right to charge them anything for it. Many people will agree that if education is to be compulsory, it should certainly be free, but they will underline the word "if.”
But conservatism also dallies with socialism.
“Some persons,” writes Lord Salisbury, on the subject of artisans' dwellings, “may be disposed to inquire at the outset whether it is right that Parliament should interfere at all. I see a statement in the newspaper that the Liberty and Property Defence League are preparing to denounce any such interference as unsound in principle. I have the greatest respect for the League. They preach a wholesome doctrine, and necessary for these times. But if this account of their views is a true one, I think they have in this instance gone farther than sound reasoning and the precedents of our legislation will justify. At present no proposal has been made, as far as I know, to give assistance for this purpose except by way of loan, and surely it cannot be maintained that loans for public objects are against the practice of this country because their first effects may be to promote the interest of individuals. Without entering upon disputable ground by quoting Ireland and the West Indies, it is sufficient to recall the advances made by various Governments, but especially by that of Sir Robert Peel, for the, extension of drainage in this country. A very large sum was advanced to landlords at an interest which secured the State from loss, but lower than their own credit would have obtained. It was duly paid after having done its work. That work was in the first instance to increase the rental of the land, and, in the second, undoubtedly it served the useful purpose of giving employment under the agricultural depression caused by the repeal of the corn-laws, and of increasing the general production of the country. In the case before us also the loan would be justified by imperious considerations of public policy, even if all thoughts of humanity were cast aside. These overcrowded centres of population are also centres of disease, and successive discoveries of biologists tell us more and more clearly that there is in this matter an indissoluble partnership among all human beings breathing in the same vicinity. If the causes of disease were inanimate, no one would hesitate about employing advances of public money to render them innocuous. Why should the expenditure become illegitimate because the causes happen to be human beings? But this unhappy population has a special claim on any assistance that Parliament can give. The evil has in a great measure been created by Parliament itself. If London had been allowed to go on as it was half a century ago, many benefits of vast importance would have been lost, but the intense competition for house room would not exist and the reformation of ' rookeries' would have been a much less arduous task. But improvements on a vast scale have been made, and those improvements in too manv cases have only meant packing the people tighter. New streets, railways, viaducts, law courts and other public buildings, made compulsory under the authority of Parliament, have swept away the dwellings of thousands of the poor, and in that proportion have made the competition more intense for those that remain. Many tenements have let for a high price, which, if artificial compression bad not been used, would have found no tenant. Under these circumstances it is no violation, even of the most scrupulous principles, to ask Parliament to give what relief it can. Laissez-faire is an admirable doctrine, but it must be applied upon both sides.”
Whether loans for public objects are, or are not, against the practice of this country is hardly relevant when we are discussing the wisdom of the plan. This country, like most other countries, is occasionally guilty of foolish practices, and what we want to know is, not what the State has been in the habit of doing in the past but what it ought to do in the future. As to the advances made under Sir Robert p'eel to landlords for drainage purposes at a lower rate of interest than their own credit would have obtained, the question is, Was this effected without loss to the country? That the State was duly repaid with interest in full may be quite true, and yet the country may have lost heavily by the transaction. The interest on State loans has to be paid for out of taxation; and the question is, Would the money intercepted by the State for these purposes have found its way into more remunerative channels than the three per cents or not? And in any case, would the wealth so intercepted have fructified at a greater rate in the hands of the people than on the fields of the landlords? There is at least this to be said, the capital which is invested by the private enterprise of the people does, as a fact, on the average realise over three per cent per annum, whereas the investment on drainage was after all nothing less than a speculation which was justified only by success. It might have been a colossal failure. Perhaps the worst that can be said of this speculation is, that its good luck has elevated it into a very dangerous precedent. The amount of risk involved in it was accurately measured by the interest which the landlords would have had to pay if they had borrowed the money on their own credit. “If,” said the late Mr. Fawcett, “the State makes loans in cases where they cannot be obtained from ordinary commercial sources, it is clear that, in the judgment of those best qualified to form an opinion, the State is running a risk of loss.” As to the useful purposes of giving employment, could a more dangerous doctrine be formulated?
Lord Salisbury's chief argument for State interference in this direction is based on a complete misapprehension of the position of the “let-be ” school. It amounts in effect to this. These London slums are foci of pestilence; if similar dangers were due solely to inanimate causes, you would not hesitate to spend the public money in their prompt removal. Why, then, should you refrain from doing so merely lest one wretched class of the community should be accidentally benefited at the expense of the remainder? Why, indeed? But that is not the reason for objecting to the expenditure. Lord Salisbury is mistaken when he says “that no one would hesitate if the causes of disease were inanimate.” They would and do hesitate; they strongly protest. But their reason is the most profound distrust in the efficiency of State machinery for these and all similar purposes—absolute disbelief in the power of the State to effect the desired object. There is no doubt whatever that Parliament has already done much in the way of aggravating the evil, and in making “improvements which in too many cases have only meant packing the people tighter.” Therefore, although it may be “no violation of the most scrupulous principles to ask Parliament to give what relief it can,” it is nevertheless permissible to doubt if Parliament can give any, and to protest against throwing good money after bad. The problem to be solved is, How to build and fit out a £75 tenement for £30 or £40; and we have only to look deep enough into all the schemes propounded with a view to its solution to find that the key to every one of them is plunder more or less disguised. The promoters of the urban scheme would continue to compel the ratepayers to buy land at a guinea a foot, and to sell it to the philanthropists for five shillings. The friends of the suburban scheme have more respect for the pockets of the ratepayers; they would organise “a system of cheap trains ”; in other words, they would compel the railway companies to carry certain classes of passengers at a dead loss. Whether this is done after the manner of Dick Turpin, or on the model of the so-called Cheap Trains Act matters little. Whether shareholders are to be robbed in the old-fashioned style, or tricked out of their rights by a dishonest Act of Parliament, is a question for those whose policy is spoliation with decency. The passenger duty has been condemned by all parties on grounds of justice and expediency, and the companies had been given distinctly to understand that the tax would be abolished as soon as the state of the revenue justified the sacrifice. On the faith of this understanding the companies refrained from further agitation in the matter, until they were informed that they were at last to receive part of their admitted rights on condition of their carrying a certain class of persons over their lines at an un-remunerative rate. There are many other schemes before the public, but of this we may rest assured, that plunder underlies them all. If anything was wanted to demonstrate the utter hopelessness of any attempt to improve the dwellings of the poor by State help, that want was met by Lord Salisbury's own very able analysis of the position. The difficulty to be overcome is summed up in these words, “Until their wages rise they cannot pay for the bare cost of decent lodging such as existing agencies can offer.”
Lord Pembroke's pamphlet on “Liberty and Socialism” begins with an analysis of the causes which have led to the rapid decline in popular favour of the doctrine of laissez-faire during the last two or three decades. “A few years ago the doctrine of non-interference seemed to be paramount in English politics, and any one who ventured to prophesy that there would be a reversal of public opinion before the end of the century was ridiculed as a crotcheteer and an alarmist.” And yet only recently the Times is found maintaining that “the doctrine of laissez-faire is as dead as the worship of Osiris.” “Among other things that helped to bring about the reaction,” says Lord Pembroke, “was the fact that it had been an era of continual political reform. Laws and institutions that the country had outgrown had to be removed; restrictions that our wiser knowledge had shown us the folly of had to be swept away. One would hardly have supposed that this process could have been favourable to a belief in the efficacy of interference. But, however strange and unreasonable, it is undoubtedly true, that in many minds this purely liberative and destructive course of legislation has given rise to the notion that perpetual meddling by Act of Parliament is necessary to prevent stagnation—that unless our legislators keep stirring up things progress will stop; that what is called on platforms ' beneficial legislation' is a kind of stimulating manure indispensable to the national growth. To those who hold this profoundly foolish, but by no means uncommon view, the very name laissez-faire implies dereliction of duty, and thereby stands condemned.” Who cannot bear testimony to this strange confusion of ideas? Because repealing or undoing Acts of Parliament are themselves called legislation, they are frequently adduced as proofs of the efficacy of legislation. Should the question be asked at a public meeting, “What good has ever come of legislation yet? ” some one is sure to reply, “Look at the repeal of the corn-laws.” It is more than probable that the expression laissez-faire is still commonly understood in its oldest sense to mean: Let things alone, let them drift, let that which is filthy be filthy still. There is no doubt that this is the sense in which it was used by the French Minister of State who first gave the phrase political currency. And this may be another cause of its present unpopularity. Another vulgar notion, which is thoroughly disposed of in Mr. Herbert Spencer's Over-Legislation, is the erroneous one that if the maxim is carried out the duties of the State will necessarily be reduced to nil, and there will be no further use for a legislature. To those who are acquainted with the chaotic state of the English law and its ponderous procedure this mistaken notion will not require disproof. The reform, completion, and codification of the law will supply material for many an abler I'arliament than any we have yet sent to Westminster.
Lord Pembroke makes search for a simple principle which shall “limit the rights of society against the individual, and of the individual against society—a principle which if it cannot, owing to the limitation of human knowledge, completely solve all difficulties, will at least prove a true guide in all cases in which we can see correctly how to apply it.” The search is fruitless and the discovery is pronounced impossible. “I can no more imagine a principle that would tell us in every case the limits of individual and State rights, than one that would tell us in every case whether the dictates of egoism or altruism are to be obeyed.” The principle attributed to the school of Spencer and Von Humboldt, viz. “absolute freedom for each, limited only by the like freedom for others,” is examined and discarded as only “an undue straining of language.” “If by any effort of ingenuity it be stretched wide enough to be made the true rule in all known stages of human progress, it is evident that its width of interpretation would make it quite worthless as a practical guide to us. If, on the other hand, it is admitted that it could not apply as a wise practical rule to all these phases, or even to any one of them that has yet been known—and it is only claimed that it is an ideal principle towards which progress is constantly tending, and which may become of universal application when men are very different from what they are now—its equal uselessness to us in the present day as a practical guide or test is no less plain.” And, as a test of its value as a practical guide, the writer asks those who hold it to consider how they propose to apply it to the law of marriage. “Are they prepared to abrogate this greatest of all interferences with freedom of contract, and do they hold that such a reform would bring a preponderance of benefit in our present state of civilisation? If, on the other hand, they declare that the principle of absolute freedom for each, limited only by the like freedom of all, does not condemn such a law, I am puzzled to guess what form of State regulation it is capable of defending us against. We must not loosen or tighten its interpretation to suit our convenience.” The writer reverts to this awkward question of marriage: “I think,” he says, “we have a right to ask those who regard this as an infallible practical rule whether they are prepared to adhere to it in this instance? If they answer in the affirmative, as Von Humboldt did, most people will have a strong opinion about the soundness and wisdom of the principle.” Now, without in the least disputing Lord Pembroke's right to ask this crucial question, the extreme individualist may with equal right decline to answer it. Clearly he must either admit that the marriage law is an exception, which upsets the trustworthiness of his principle, or else he must express the contrary view; in which case there can be no doubt that “most people will have a strong opinion,” not only about the soundness of his principle, but also about the desirableness of his acquaintance. And unless he is prepared to pose as a martyr to his political doctrines, he had better keep his mouth shut. His interrogator may, from that, possibly infer his inner admission, but it is surely cruel to demand an answer to such a question in the market - place. Perhaps Lord Pembroke's own opinion upon this point would be interesting, and since he will admit that we “have a right to demand it,” he will doubtless favour us with it on the occasion of his promised return to this subject.
When Lord Pembroke confidently asks, “Yet will any one contend that the abolition of prescribed cab fares would be an improvement? ” I may venture to point out, not only that the suggestion has been seriously made, but that it has actually been carried out in practice in the city of Liverpool, and succeeded remarkably well. We cannot follow the writer through his extremely interesting and profound examination of the application to the concrete of Mr. Spencer's division of State action into negatively-regulative and positively-regulative; but I am quite ready to admit that until this part of the essay has been carefully considered and fairly answered, individualists of the absolutist school, of whom Mr. Auberon Herbert is the able, albeit somewhat Quixotic chief in this country, must rest content to sit in the cool shades of speculative philosophy, and leave the field of practical politics to others. “Experience and observation will enable us to frame rules and principles that will become wider and more general with the advance of political science: and if in this science the first principles should be the last things to be discovered. we should remember that it will prove no exception to the general rule.” This is the outcome of Lord Pembroke's study, and it is in complete harmony with the teachings of inductive philosophy.
Let me cite one more authority on this great question. Mr. Goschen is known rather as a shrewd and observant statesman than as a student of abstract science, and it is gratifying to find him warning the public against the dangers of modern State socialism. “The dangers in the road of social reconstruction under Government control are so grave that they can scarcely be exaggerated; dangers arising not only from the serious chance of inefficiency in the methods chosen, but from the transfer of responsibilities by the establishment of national law in the place of individual duty; from the withdrawal of confidence in the qualities of men in order to bestow it on the merits of administrations; from the growing tendency to invoke the aid of the State, and the declining belief in individual power.” Mr. Goschen appears to derive some comfort from the reflection that pari passu with an increased demand for State interference goes an increased tendency towards decentralisation. “The transfer of work in the way of interference from the central body to local authorities diminishes the extension of central power and patronage, which is a most undesirable accompaniment of increased Government action; it reduces the number of the army of men whom the central authority are compelled to employ; it eases the work of the Government; it imposes public functions on different classes of citizens: it interests an additional stratum of society in public business; and lastly, it provides to some extent a safety-valve against possible tyranny on the part of an all-powerful class. If the extended demand for Government interference is to be progressively satisfied, it is earnestly to be hoped that we may proceed pari passu on the lines of decentralisation.” I fail to see that decentralisation can be an antidote to democratic despotism. “What is the use of reducing the number of central officials if ten times the number is to be maintained by the local authorities? Why ease the work of a government which will only make use of its increased opportunities to devise new mischief, simply in order that local bodies may help to do it 1 Why impose public functions on new strata of society, when those functions are abnormal and despotic 1 If we are to have a despot, myriad-headed or otherwise, the more central, cumbrous, and unwieldy the machinery through which it has to obtain its ends, the better for its victims. The tyranny of the Sultan is as nothing to the tyranny of the pashas. The larger the area from which the central body is drawn, the greater the number of conflicting interests which it is necessary to reconcile before the desired policy can be carried out, and the better the chance of its being emasculated during the process. Local despotism is the worst despotism. Decentralisation cannot go farther than the family; and what kind of local government is more loathsome than the unchecked rule of a brutal paterfamilias? Local option, in regard to liquor and to other matters, is part and parcel of a system of decentralisation which, for the trampling underfoot of private liberty and the crushing out of individuality, has no equal among modern forms of government. When the normal functions of the central legislature, and of provincial legislatures down to the municipality, have been defined and approximately adapted to the age, then, and then only, is decentralisation compatible with civil liberty.
“How,” asked Mr. Gladstone,” is the time of the House of Commons to be economised? " The answer is simple: Let the House of Commons mind its own business-thoroughly and exclusively.