SPURIOUS LIBERALISM—MODERN INSTANCES.
"There is no surer way of drying up this great stream of self-help and self-reliance, than to teach the working classes that they should look, not so much to their own efforts, but to the state or the municipality."—PROFESSOR FAWCETT.
"The popular cry now is for the state to override the man; for legislation to supply the place of open competition and free personal action."—JOSEPH COWEN.
"Democracies should leave as little as possible for the state to do. Every citizen should prevent, as much as possible, any control over individual energy."—BRADLAUGH.
"It is proposed to mitigate or extirpate poverty by governmental regulation of industry and accumulation. The substitution of government direction for the play of individual action, and the attempt to secure by restriction what can better be secured by freedom.... Whatever savours of regulation and restriction is in itself bad."—HENRY GEORGE.
I HAVE already ventured to submit to my readers what I may term a theory of the growth of Liberalism in Great Britain, as generalised from what I conceive to be a broad and comprehensive study of that nation's political history. At the risk of seeming to repeat myself, I venture to shortly re-state that theory. Whatever may have been the condition of the English people, prior to the conquest of 1066, that important event at once plunged the whole of the conquered population into a condition of absolute subjection to the Norman invaders. Whatever liberty the people had acquired and enjoyed, prior to that event, was, in fact, taken from them by the sudden accession of the new monarch, who, at once, assumed all the rights and powers incidental to the despotic position which he had secured by his military victory. The people of England can therefore be said to have commenced afresh, from this event, in the growth and development of their freedom. The history of that growth has already been traced in previous chapters; but it is necessary to observe that in the gradual acquirement of that freedom from the monarch, (which acquirement was of necessity accompanied by a corresponding curtailment of that monarch's power), the people had the advantage of the assistance of the nobles, in the numerous agitations by means of which that freedom was obtained. The despotism of unchecked monarchical rule may be said to have spent its last effort with the Revolution of 1688, when that particular and formidable obstacle to true Liberalism was disposed of for all time.
From the year 1688, however, the people had a new mission to fulfil; viz., to commence their attack upon what may be called the "privileges," which were then exclusively enjoyed by the nobility and the wealthy classes. What those privileges were has been explained in the various epochs of Liberalism which have been already enumerated as having occurred since that great event. From the year 1688 the co-operation of the classes mentioned ceases; and the titles of "Toryism" and "Whiggism" thenceforth represent the conflicting causes of the aristocracy and wealthy classes, and of "the people" respectively. During the whole struggle of about two centuries which have elapsed since the Revolution of 1688, the people have been contending for "equal freedom," "equal opportunities." That goal has, I submit, now been practically reached—that is to say, all Englishmen are, at the present day, in the enjoyment of "equal freedom," "equal opportunities;" and what may be described as a turning-point has presented itself in the political history of the English people. In confirmation of this, Mr. Frederick Harrison, in a paper upon "The Progress of Labour," contained in the October (1883) number of the Contemporary Review, says: "It is matter for congratulation how completely the old parliamentary programme has been cleared off, and how small are the measures, still to be won, which directly affect the working-class alone;" and M. de Lavelye even admits that "caste and its privileges are abolished; the principle of equality of all in the eye of the law is everywhere proclaimed; the suffrage is bestowed on all."
It is not difficult to understand that "the people" (by which term I mean to include, among others, the whole of the manual working-classes), after six centuries of struggle against monarchical despotism, and two centuries of struggle against aristocratic privileges, during the whole of which time they have been gradually becoming more free, and more confident of their power and importance, should have acquired the habit of looking constantly to the legislature, when engaged on matters of "reform," for some benefits, if not of freedom of speech, of action, of combination, of acquiring property, of taking their part in public matters, either as voters or as candidates, or of determining matters of national taxation, all of which they already enjoy—then of some other advantages similarly beneficial. And, further, it is not unnatural that those classes should have been brought, as a consequence of this hitherto uniform result of "Liberal" legislation, to the belief that that which has, as a fact, been only the effect of "Liberalism,' viz., benefit to themselves, was the actual basis or indispensable condition of that particular political policy.
Such however is the fact; and I venture to affirm that the vast majority of the working-classes of to-day, would, if asked the question, express their belief that the one characteristic which should, above all others, distinguish "Liberal" legislation, is this—that it should be "liberal" towards the poorer classes, that is to say, should confer some benefits or advantages on those classes, as distinguished from what are called the "propertied" classes. This belief receives, every day, all the confirmation, such as it is, which certain eminent politicians can give it. In their subservience to the masses, they allow themselves to be drawn into observations which, instead of discouraging, only render more confident this belief. When masses of workmen are told, at a political meeting, after a hard day's work, that the mission of the "Liberal or Radical party is to increase their comforts, secure their health, and multiply their luxuries, which they may enjoy in common"—that it is "the duty of the state" to "protect the weak, to provide for the poor, to redress the inequalities of our social system"—who can be surprised that they should place such an interpretation on the term, and be willing to lift into prominence all who come to them with such comprehensive promises? Doctrine of this kind is well calculated to drive from their minds the true principles of the political school to which they have attached themselves. They would be surprised, indeed, to be told that the whole tendency of the legislation which is thus being promised to them, is in the very opposite direction to that which Liberalism indicated fifty years ago. Yet they have been told so by a Liberal of much sounder principles than those of Mr. Chamberlain. Mr. Joseph Cowen has said, "We have, during the last sixty years, conquered liberty of conscience, political securities, freedom of the press, and unfettered commerce. During all that time we have been busy unfolding mediæval swathes and entanglements; and there are some amongst us, who now seem bent on encircling us with others equally as anomalous, if not as oppressive." Mr. Henry George, too, with all his wildness on the subject of land nationalisation, sees this ebb in popular political belief. "It is proposed," he says, "to mitigate or extirpate poverty by governmental regulation of industry and accumulation." He subsequently speaks of the change as "the substitution of government direction for the play of individual action, and the attempt to secure by restriction what can better be secured by freedom. Whatever," he adds, "savours of regulation and restriction is, in itself, bad." A third author, who has devoted much attention to this subject, says: "The party known successively by the names Whig, Liberal, and Radical, after having been for years the champions of freedom, the apostles of liberty, have begun to retrace their steps, and to substitute for the tyranny of an individual or a class, the tyranny of the majority."
If there is any truth in these reflections, then the masses, having deprived kings of their despotic power, and the aristocracy and wealthy classes of any privileges they may have enjoyed, seem to be inclining now towards the creation of privileges for themselves, as against the propertied classes. To demand such advantages, or, if obtained, to persist in holding them, is simply to turn round on their own principles; for the author of "The Radical Programme" says that the "preservation of class privileges" is "the fundamental doctrine and uniform aim of Conservatism."
In the last chapter I explained my reasons for believing that English-speaking communities will have yet to pass through a long period of well-meant but misconceived and abortive legislation—the inevitable "measles," as it were, of democratic or popular government. I see no escape from the conclusion that, quite apart from the popular ignorance of the political science, so long as the masses pin their faith to the belief I have just mentioned, or to the bald principle of "majority" voting as a test of wisdom, the chances of legislation, beneficial to society as a whole, are well-nigh hopeless. That conclusion I think unavoidable, even as an abstract deduction; but we are not dependent upon conclusions so obtained, for already the air is full (and the statute-books are fast becoming so) of legislative schemes from which their authors vainly anticipate results of the most truly Utopian character.
These alone are sufficient to show the direction which legislation will take in the future. On the one hand we have schemes for artificially creating a peasant proprietary, by which "smiling homesteads" are to be scattered over a land, in which the condition of the agricultural industry is at present too depressed to render such holdings even self-supporting. Yet all of this is to be done by the magic influence of an act of parliament, compelling landowners to sell their property at such a valuation as will constitute what Mr. Joseph Chamberlain has lately spoken of as a "ransom" from the propertied classes. Another visionary would—again by act of parliament—put an end to private ownership in land by "nationalising" the proprietary. The advocates of this scheme would convert the country into an immense public estate, and burden the people with an enormous "Lands Department," which would cost an endless amount of money to manage or mismanage, as the case might be; and, by this means, it is vainly hoped that the poor would be made better off. A third dreamer would found a national system of insurance, by which every citizen would be compelled to make provision for those about him; unmindful of the contingency that he might be lacking the means to provide for himself. Others, equally unpractical, would compel society, by act of parliament, to confine itself to eight hours' work per day, from which it might soon follow (if applied to domestic servants) that fires and lights would have to be extinguished at about the old Curfew Bell hour. Another class of enthusiasts would pass an act of parliament to prohibit the use of all spirits and fermented liquors; while a further section of extremists would return to the old law which enforced strict Sunday observance.
It is truly appalling to contemplate what life would become if each of these, and the hundred and one other wild and immature theories which are now in the air, were allowed to be carried into practice. Life would indeed be unbearable. Yet reflection will show that we are fast tending in that direction; for if we turn our eyes towards impending legislation, whether regarding commercial or social matters, we find that our individual liberty is being slowly but surely curtailed in a manner which will not for a moment stand the test of criticism, by the light of true principles. To whatever department, indeed, of the social organism we turn our attention, we shall find that some scheme for producing impossible results either has been already attempted by the legislature, or is impending, with every prospect of being sooner or later tried as a sort of harmless experiment. The manifesto of the Liberty and Property Defence League of Great Britain, the special mission of which powerful society is to resist such overlegislation, contains the following too-well founded statement: "During the last fifteen years all interests in the country have successively suffered, at the hands of the state, an increasing loss of their self-government. These apparently disconnected invasions of individual freedom of action, by the central authority, are, in reality, so many instances of a general movement towards state-socialism, the deadening effect of which, on all branches of industry, the working classes will be the first to feel." Mr. Gladstone even has, as lately as January of this year, sounded a note of warning. Speaking of the legislative work of the last fifty years, he says it has been "a process of setting free the individual man, that he may work out his vocation, without wanton hindrance. If," he adds, "instead of this, government is to work out his vocation for him, I, for one, am not sanguine as to the result." He significantly observes, in the same paper, "The law cannot give prosperity, but it can remove grievance."
I shall now enumerate some of the instances of that class of modern legislation, or proposed legislation, of which I have spoken, as involving grave disadvantages to society. First of Commercial legislation. It was thought, after the publication of Smith's "Wealth of Nations," upwards of a century ago, that free trade, as an economic principle, was established for all time; and that the then worn-out theory of Protection had for ever been buried as one of the great errors of the dark ages. Those who thought so, however, miscalculated the bent of the human mind. The theory of Protection had held the field for centuries; and scarcely anyone had ventured to dispute its wisdom, till Adam Smith threw down the controversial gauntlet, by the publication of the work in question. "If," says Buckle, "the 'Wealth of Nations' had appeared in any preceding century, it would have shared the fate of the great works of Stafford and Serra." When that great economist did secure a hearing, the progress which his theories made was almost hopelessly tardy. "The principles of free trade" (continues Buckle), "and all the consequences which flow from them, were vainly struggled against by the most overwhelming majorities of both Houses of Parliament. Year by year, the great truth made its way, always advancing, never receding. The majority was at first deserted by a few men of ability, then by ordinary men, then it became a minority, then even the minority began to dwindle; and at the present day (1856), eighty years after the publication, there is not to be found anyone of tolerable education, who is not ashamed of holding opinions, which, before the time of Adam Smith, were universally received."
It would be distinctly beyond my province to enter, here, into a dissertation upon the purely economic merits and demerits of the two rival policies. I have, in a former chapter, contended that freedom for the individual, subject to certain necessary limits, is indispensable to human progress. It is so, as much in commerce as in any other department of social activity; for it is through the medium of commerce that the acquirement and accumulation of wealth is effected, and by which, therefore, most of the comforts of life are obtained. "The feelings of rival tradesmen," says Mill, "prevailing among nations, overruled for centuries all sense of the general community of advantage which commercial countries derive from the prosperity of one another; and that commercial spirit which is now one of the strongest obstacles to war, was, during a certain period of European history, their principal cause." Quite apart, however, from the economic aspects of the question, which, as I have said I cannot consistently dwell upon here, Protection, as a legislative policy, involves a very distinct breach of a very distinct principle of Liberalism. The liberty to barter is one of the primary rights, or at least the primary necessities of society; for it goes to the very root of the principle of the division of labour, which cannot operate as a factor in social evolution except with a certain amount of freedom of exchange. Protection says: "You shall not barter with a foreigner without paying a penalty to your community for the privilege." This penalty involves the taking away, for no justifiable purpose, of a portion of a citizen's legally acquired property, which it is the first duty of the state to secure to him. The state is thus, itself, committing, towards one or more citizens, the very wrong which it is its first duty to prevent others from committing. Thus, the community as a body (represented by government) violates a principle which it prohibits any individual from violating. "Every such encroachment," says Adam Smith, "every violation of that natural distribution which the most perfect liberty would establish, must, according to this system, necessarily degrade, more or less, from one year to another, the value and sum total of the annual produce, and must necessarily occasion a gradual declension in the real wealth and revenue of the society; a declension, of which the progress must be quicker or slower, according to the degree of this encroachment, according as that natural distribution, which the most perfect liberty would establish, is more or less violated."
Elsewhere the same high authority lays down the broad principles of Liberalism, of which the system of Protection is so clear and distinct a breach. "Every system," he says, "which endeavours, either, by extraordinary encouragements, to draw towards a particular species of industry a greater share of the capital of the society than what would naturally go to it, or, by extraordinary restraints, to force from a particular species of industry some share of the capital which would otherwise be employed in it, is, in reality, subversive of the great purpose which it means to promote. It retards, instead of accelerating, the progress of the society towards real wealth and greatness; and diminishes, instead of increasing, the real value of the annual produce of its land and labour." And, again: "All systems, either of preference or of restraint, being thus completely taken away, the obvious and simple system of natural liberty establishes itself of its own accord. Every man, as long as he does not violate the laws of justice, is left perfectly free to pursue his own interest, in his own way, and to bring both his industry and capital into competition with those of any other man or order of men." Very much the same thing has been said by Mr. Herbert Spencer, though in some-what different words. "In putting a veto," he says, "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 take it away. So that, in enforcing them, the state is transformed from a maintainer of rights into a violator of rights." The system of Protection, therefore, in so far as it trespasses upon the domain of civil liberty for the individual, is subversive of the true principles of Liberalism. In Great Britain, though from time to time there arise local and spasmodic agitations in favour of a return to the old and exploded doctrine, there yet seems little chance of the movement finding favour with the majority: at least for some time. The traditional advantages of Freetrade, as a policy, overwhelm at present the superficial and attractive qualities of the exploded creed; otherwise there is good reason for fearing that by well-organised and cleverly-contrived agitation, the masses could be seduced into a reversal of the true Liberal policy.
Mr. John Bright appears to treat the subject as one which has passed, for all time, out of the domain of debatable questions. Speaking in October, 1885, at Taunton, concerning the Corn Laws of 1845, he said: "I should begin by stating that at that time there was an extraordinary law in this country; a law which you would suppose could not be possible—I will not say among Christian men, but among thinking men—that is, a law which prevented the importation of grain, and especially of wheat, from foreign countries into this country. At that time there were a great many men who thought that law very wicked—a great many more men have come to that conclusion since."
The Times itself treats the subject in much the same manner. In an article upon "Protection in the House of Commons," dealing with certain speeches which had been delivered in that assembly in connection with the subject, the following passage occurs: "The truth is that Protection is dead; and it was only its gibbering ghost that made its appearance for a few brief and uneasy moments in the House of Commons yesterday. It is no longer formidable, even as a ghost." And, again, in the same article: "The Fair Traders have almost disappeared." There can be no doubt that the disciples of this latter and comparatively new school are merely advocates of the exploded policy under another name: a protectionist being an advocate of an import tariff for the purpose of securing an imaginary national benefit in itself; a fair trader being an advocate of an import tariff for the purpose of retaliating upon other nations which refuse to open their ports.
Mr. Chamberlain himself, who has, one would think, given sufficient proof of his sympathy with the masses of the people, has spoken plainly upon this question. Commenting upon the proposal to tax American goods imported into England, he said: "It means that every workman throughout the country should pay more for his loaf, and more for his clothes, and more for every other necessary of his life, in order that great manufacturers might keep up their profits, and in order, above all, that great landlords might maintain and raise their rents." "It would," he says elsewhere, "lessen the total production of the country, diminish the rate of wages, and it would raise the price of every necessary of life." Without, however, going into the economic side of the much disputed question of Freetrade versus Protection, as it has been debated in the United States and in many of the Australian colonies, I must be content here to submit that the policy of Freetrade is the only commercial policy consistent with truly Liberal principles; and at the same time to condemn the policy of Protection as coming most distinctly within the category of "Spurious Liberalism." And it is a sufficient proof of this that, neither in the past, nor in the present, can a single Liberal statesman be named, who for one moment entertains Protection as a correct theory. But, before passing away from the subject, which is a wide one, affording great scope for comment and criticism, I shall deal with some instructive illustrations of the anomalies which a system of protection has developed in Europe and in the Australian colonies. Those illustrations go to show how impossible it is to bring the complicated machinery of government to bear upon any single industry, with a view to conferring benefit upon a class, without, at the same time, giving rise to counter disadvantages, and even great commercial losses, which were probably never anticipated or even thought of at the time the machinery of government was set in motion.
Some months ago, for instance, an influential deputation of farmers of the colony of Victoria waited upon the Commissioner of Customs, introduced and fortified, as usual, by the member for the district, with a view to urge the imposition of an import duty upon oats. The deputation explained that oats were being imported from New Zealand at a lower price than that for which they could be produced in Victoria—hence the necessity for the import duty asked for. It was, in fact, practically admitted that New Zealand was better adapted than Victoria to the cultivation of that grain. Yet, it was asked that the consumers of oats in Victoria should be compelled, by act of parliament, to give a higher price for oats than they could buy them at elsewhere. Why? Simply, in order that certain farmers might be enabled to cultivate and dispose of oats which had cost more to produce than they could be purchased for in New Zealand. The aims of the deputation in question seem to have become known; for immediately, or, at most, shortly after its withdrawal, a second deputation waited upon the same minister. It consisted of cabmen, carriers, and others interested in the keep of horses, who were desirous of pointing out to the government that if this duty were imposed, and oats raised proportionately in price, it would unreasonably handicap them in their respective businesses. In this case the liberty of the cabdriver and others was being sought to be curtailed, in order to benefit a particular industry. That class had, undoubtedly, the right to purchase their oats where they chose, that is to say at the cheapest market (New Zealand), without being compelled to pay a penalty in the shape of duty for the privilege of doing so. The deputation from the farmers was a direct challenge to that principle.
Another somewhat similar illustration can be quoted, in which the same anomaly is presented, and the same breach of principle involved. A deputation of tanners (also of Victoria) waited upon the Minister of Customs, with a view of obtaining an increase of duty upon some finer qualities of leather which were being imported from abroad, and which they could not, they said, under present circumstances, compete with, unless a greater "protection" was afforded them. They told their story, which was identical in principle with that of the farmers—how, do what they would, they found it impossible to produce in the colony the particular classes of leather, the too-easy importation of which was complained of. The effect of granting them what they desired would have been to impose upon every member of the community, who used the particular article, an increased charge, in order to enable the tanners of the leather in question to carry on, with remunerative results, an industry which was obviously unsuitable to the colony; at least at that time. The additional cost to the public would certainly have been so indirect and difficult to observe that probably it would have gone unnoticed and unopposed, but for the fact of another interest which it touched. The boot manufacturers followed the tanners with a deputation. They pointed out that they represented a large and important industry, employing some hundreds of persons; that if the additional duty asked for were conceded, the leathers in question would be so raised in cost that a large part of their industry, consisting of the manufacture of certain qualities of boots and shoes from the class of leather in question, would be destroyed, and a large number of skilled hands thrown out of employment. Thus it will be seen that the first departure from the true principle, asked for by the tanners, would have led to the injury and destruction of a large and important industry; and that, in its turn, would have probably produced further disorganisation in directions not dreamt of. If this instance be analysed by the light of Mr. Stanley Jevons' explanation of the "greatest happiness" principle, it will be seen that the tanners conceived that an additional duty would add to their happiness; but they altogether neglected to consider whether there would not be a corresponding subtraction, at some other time, or from some other class.
Yet a third of these instructive illustrations can be mentioned. For upwards of twenty years various attempts have been made in the colony of Victoria to establish, on a remunerative basis, the woollen industry. The raw material is on the spot; and sanguine protectionists predicted that only a little "fostering" was needed to nurse it into industrial independence. It has had twenty years "nursing"; and, at the end of that time, is not only unable to stand alone (unaided by the artificial support of a tariff), but has actually asked for "more." As in the case of a good many of the other industries which have been reared in the colony referred to, what was asked for, for the purpose of "fostering", settled down to an absolutely permanent system of industrial "wet-nursing." For twenty years the woollens imported from abroad had been subjected to a duty of twenty per cent., yet the local venture did not pay. The proprietary, as also the work-people, waited on the government, and, in so many words, demanded an increase of five per cent. It was admitted that, notwithstanding the advantage of having the raw material on the spot, as also that of a twenty per cent. import duty, they could not compete with the "foreign" article, which they accordingly abused, and alleged to be made of all the refuse of gaols, workhouses, hospitals, and other establishments said to be infected with fever and other diseases. The case was, judged in popular fashion, a strong one; and, as there was added to it the influence of a somewhat threatening tone on the part of the work-people, there seemed for a time a chance of the request being granted, if only to win popular favour for the government. The "fostering" theory was made much of, and the usual ad captandum reasoning was resorted to. Strange to say, notwithstanding its twenty years' existence, there were not wanting advocates who spoke of it as a "new" industry, and on that ground urged a "little more" nursing. The so called "Liberal" press of the colony—which, as I have before mentioned, affords the strange anomaly of championing, at the same time, the "protectionist" cause—advocated the claim of the industry upon the ground that "its being fostered gives remunerative employment to a large amount of labour, which might otherwise languish in idleness;" and it further claimed that "the government may justly interfere to relieve us of the disqualifications which a new industry is always handicapped with," adding that it is "willing that the millowners should receive a little adventitious benefit at the start."
Without spending much time over this very transparent piece of sophistry, it may be observed that "the large amount of labour" alluded to would not be likely to "languish in idleness" for long; or otherwise the work-people would have offered, as an alternative, to suffer a reduction of wages equal to the five per cent. additional duty, required by the proprietors of the industry. This they did not do; possibly on the strength of the following doctrine, as expounded by the protectionist journal before alluded to. Speaking of a well-known freetrader, who had characterised the principle of his school as the "doctrine of common sense," the journal in question observed, "Fortunately the working-classes are not in his power. They will consult their own interests first, before they trouble themselves about his principles." This is, in fact, the bottom principle of most protectionists; though unfortunately the masses fail to discern the fact through the superficial glamour of advantage which the theory presents to the cursory observer. Note, now, the effect of this deputation, which is the most instructive feature of the illustration. The advocates of the desired increase in duty were followed by an equally influential deputation: composed of manufacturers of ready-made clothing. These gentlemen, very pertinently, pointed out that the woollen industry had enjoyed a great many years of state assistance, during which to establish itself; that it had, by its own showing, signally failed; and that in their opinion the additional duty asked for would not have the effect which seemed to be anticipated from it. But, beyond all this, they showed that the industry they represented, viz., that of manufacturing ready-made clothing from imported tweeds, was a successful one, in which some hundreds of men, women, and girls were employed; that the public would not purchase to any extent, neither could they do an export trade in articles of colonial tweed, and that the effect, therefore, of granting the increase in duty asked for would be to destroy an established and flourishing industry, in order to afford additional assistance (which would still be insufficient, under the circumstances), to another industry which was admittedly in a sick and declining condition. The moral of all this is identical with that which is deducible from the previous illustrations. Every citizen is entitled to liberty of choice in the purchase of his clothes, or of the material from which they are made. He should, therefore, be allowed to go where he pleases for them, and to purchase them at the highest or the lowest price for which they are obtainable—as he thinks best. Already parliament has, in the community in question, placed a penalty on the exercise of this freedom, by fixing a duty on every article composed of British, or, as it has been called, for agitative purposes, "foreign" tweed. The first deputation therefore, practically asked the government to impose a further restriction upon the liberty of all citizens, by inflicting an increased penalty upon the purchase of the British article. In attempting this, a government would obviously be acting contrary to true principles, and in the interests of a class. Moreover, in the case in question, it must be seen that, while with one hand parliament would have been subsidising the one industry at the expense of the general public, it would, with the other, have been simultaneously sapping the very foundation of the second and more flourishing industry, and, at the same time, throwing out of employment a large number of persons who had spent their time in learning a particular business. Let me mention another equally instructive instance of popular misconception regarding this first principle of government: this first law of the science of economics. A person, signing himself, rather significantly, "One of the unemployed harness makers," writing to one of the daily papers of the colony of Victoria on the subject of "Duty on Saddlery," complains most bitterly that "a firm—one of the largest in the trade—taking advantage of the bad times in England, has imported harness largely from there, during the past few months, and the consequence is that since it has come to hand they have been able to dispense with the services of about half their workmen." He adds, "The price they paid for it, landed in Melbourne, including 25 per cent. duty, is considerably less than what the leather and mountings would cost here, to say nothing about the cost of making it up." Then the same writer makes the important admission that "anyone, knowing anything about the home trade, can see that it is impossible for the manufacturers here to compete with those in England," and he gives, as reasons for the fact, that "in the first place they (the English manufacturers) pay such small wages to their hands....and not only the small wages, but they keep their hands continually on one class of work until they get very proficient at it. They also work into each other's hands, each making a particular part, which saves considerable time." Yet, after all these unsophistical admissions concerning the "division of labour," and the other advantages which England can offer in the manufacture of saddlery, this would-be economist concludes by thinking "it is high time that a heavier duty than at present exists should be put upon" that class of work. He finally expresses a hope that the matter will be "brought under the notice of the government"! I need point no moral here, nor insult the intelligence of my readers by commenting on the really humorous short-sightedness of such contentions. Yet a letter, occupying about six inches of a newspaper column of such matter, seems to have readily found a place in a recognised protectionist organ. This misconception regarding the policy of buying in the cheapest market—a policy which, it should be observed, every economist of note has advocated—reached its climax, when an ex-minister of the crown, of the colony of New South Wales, lately said: "The introduction of goods, manufactured by cheap labour, should be checked as if it were small-pox."
To turn now from these matters (which, though in themselves small, show the direction of the popular superstition), to those of higher and more serious import—let it be considered what extent of injury the whole civilised world has suffered and is now suffering, in consequence of the misconceived legislation of Germany and France in their short-sighted attempts to monopolise, or at least control an abnormal proportion of the sugar industry.
The principle of the "division of labour" has been rightly classified as one of the first aids to the creation of wealth; for, as has been well said, "a hive of men, harmoniously co-operating, can, without overstrain, produce indefinitely more than their joint requirements; whereas, all the efforts of a solitary individual can scarcely supply his most pressing wants." Now, it is obvious that the fullest application of the principle of "division of labour" can only be reached when there is no isolation: when there is a free and unrestricted intercourse and interchange between all men and all nations, all the world over; for "then does this great wealth-creating agent put forth its full power and efficacy."
It has been conclusively ascertained that the two countries above mentioned, under such a system of "free and unrestricted intercourse and interchange," cannot compete with other parts of the world in the production of one particular article—sugar; that is to say, no person in either of those countries, can, unassisted, render remunerative, the production of that particular article of merchandise. Assuming that those two countries were wisely governed, and that one feature of their good government consisted in the careful recognition of economic principles, such persons would either produce sugar at a loss or abstain from any attempts at its cultivation. Unfortunately these countries (together with a great many more) are not wisely governed; for with some misconceived theory of national progress, their rulers have thought fit to disregard this primary economic law, and offer rewards or bonuses, that is to say, "bounties," out of the national revenue, to such persons as will undertake to produce sugar. The national revenue, of course, belongs to the whole people; so that the principle of bounties amounts to this—that every member of the community is compelled, by act of parliament, to contribute, annually, a sum of money towards compensating certain persons for the loss they sustain in the production of sugar. This touches one of the very first conditions of civilised society, viz., the protection of property. That is one of the fundamental objects of government; yet, in the case of bounties, we find the state actually confiscating portions of its citizens' property in order to subsidise a section of the community which chooses to occupy itself over an industry which could be more successfully prosecuted in other parts of the world. Almost every country is, from various causes—climatic, geological, or otherwise—better adapted than others to the production of some article of human necessity; and, as one of the purposes of the division of labour is that "men in all countries should devote themselves to that particular work for which they have special opportunities or aptitudes," it follows that directly this artificial aid, no matter out of whose pocket it may come, is offered to an otherwise unsuitable industry, a goverment "compels producers to take their labour and capital away from the work which they are doing better than foreigners can, and apply the labour and capital so diverted to work which foreigners can do better than they can.... The wealth-creating power of the world is proportionately impaired." Thus, we find that the system of bounties, as adopted by Germany and France, involves, in those countries themselves, a most distinct breach of the very first duty of government, by confiscating a portion of each citizen's property, which it should be the constant object of the state to protect.
The majority of such citizens may be said to have acquiesced in such a policy through their duly-elected representatives; but what of the minority? They have no remedy under "government by majority." The principle of "might is right" has asserted itself, and the wrong must be endured, or recourse had to physical force. But observe the injurious effect of this economic misconception outside the country itself. In consequence of the system being resorted to in Europe, the same industry which hitherto has been carried on, unaided, in one of the Australian colonies—Queensland—is ruined. Millions of capital have been lost, and thousands of persons of different nationalities, have been deprived of their livelihood by reason of their inability to compete with the artificially-bolstered industries of Europe.
The same principle was adopted for the first time some years ago with regard to the refining of sugar in France; and, in addition to the great wrong which was thereby done to the French citizens themselves, thousands of pounds were lost, and many hundreds of people were thrown out of employment in Bristol and other parts of England, where, previous to such artificial assistance, there had existed a payable and thriving industry, depending on no adventitious aid.
Let me mention one more interesting example of this class of legislative interference. Turning again to colonial instances of this injurious misconception, I find a prominent member of the Council of the Victorian Trades Unionists tabling a resolution to the effect that that body approved any action "to secure a full measure of protection." The mover admitted the "highest regard for German colonists," but "protested against injury which would be done to the trades generally, if they were permitted to enter into unwholesome competition with colonial artisans."
The representative of the brush-makers, sitting as a delegate in the above council, said that "the brush-makers intended shortly waiting upon the ministry, with a view to securing increased protection;" and he gave as a reason that "some of the large firms were importing brush-ware at a large percentage less than it could be turned out in the colony at first cost." All this passes muster as sound and patriotic reasoning. The system of see-saw between wages and duty would, if carried out indefinitely, show its own absurdity; but that extreme would, of course, never be reached. An industry may be established, and a certain rate of duty fixed; then the workmen may demand a higher wage. That being obtained, the manufacturer finds his profits too small. He informs his men, and they may go to the ministry and get what the person, mentioned above, terms "increased protection." In these days, when, unfortunately, colonial governments are frequently governed from outside, the obtaining such an increase is by no means an unlikely event. Indeed, in the case of the woollen industry before mentioned, there was every appearance of the government giving way to the demand, until counter interests of some importance showed themselves. Supposing, therefore, that such an increase is obtained, an opening is at once made for another rise in wages—and so the process might go on until, if it were applied all round, the value of the sovereign might be reduced about one-half, and the cost of living in the colony would be sufficiently high to drive all, who could go, out of it. Little consideration is of course given to the fact that every "increase" of the kind means a further penalty upon the liberty of all citizens consuming the particular goods upon which that increase is sought.
But this system of "self-help"—at other people's expense, is not confined to the working-classes. In November, 1886, a large meeting of saw-millers took place in the colony of Victoria, for the purpose of considering the depression in their trade. The result was a deputation to the government to ask for "an increase of duty on imported timber." The chairman pointed out to the minister that "they had no desire to prohibit the importation of timber, but simply wanted such a duty put on it as would prevent it entering into competition with hardwood. It was admitted that in Tasmania, whence the obnoxious competition came, "the men worked ten hours a day, and the wages were less;" and, further that "the facilities for saw-milling in Tasmania were much greater than in Victoria." The same speaker admitted also that "the Tasmanian timber was better than Victorian." The minister very properly refused to entertain the request, and a resolution was carried unanimously that "an appeal be made to parliament direct." Comment on such a state of things is unnecessary; for it may be added that all the persons who took part in the movement were sufficiently intelligent men—that is to say, in their own interest. That which is more significant, as indicating the bent of public opinion, is the fact that the proceedings elicited no surprise or condemnation from any section of the press, or of the community.
I venture to allude to one more interesting attempt at legislative interference, which fortunately was not realised by its authors.
A resolution was, in May of 1886, moved in the House of Commons, to the effect that it was expedient that the Indian Government should take measures to terminate gradually its direct connection with the culture of the poppy, and the manufacture of, and trade in opium; and that it should use the powers it possesses, to prohibit, in British India, the cultivation of the poppy, except to supply the legitimate demand for opium for medical purposes. In support of the resolution, the mover quoted, from missionaries and others, statements concerning the evils arising from the abuse of opium. It was admitted that such a prohibition as that aimed at in the resolution would entail an annual loss of £3,300,000 upon the Indian Exchequer, while others calculated it at upwards of five millions.
This movement was somewhat on a par with that of the total abstainers, who desire, because of the abuse by a limited number of persons, of the use of intoxicating liquors, to compel the whole world to abstain from the most limited use of them; disregarding the beneficial effect upon many persons which a judicious consumption of such articles may produce. Assuming that the passing of such a resolution would have led to the required action by the Indian Government, and that the prohibition would have put an end to the use of opium; the result would have been that millions of persons who now use opium to a limited extent, with no injurious results, would have been hampered in their liberty of personal action, and ten millions of persons would have been thrown out of employment, merely to satisfy a certain section of the people who were, to please themselves, clamouring to interfere with the private affairs of others with whom they had no concern, either in the matter of race or nationality. As The Times rightly said on that occasion: "If it is fair to suppress an Indian industry upon which ten million of people depend for their daily bread, merely because their product is ultimately misused by a percentage of its consumers, our own exports of small arms and munitions of war for use, in all kinds of unjustifiable enterprises, might surely attract the attention of conscientious philanthropists."
The assumption, however, that if the Indian Government prohibited the growth of opium, its consumption would cease, was truly visionary; for, as The Times said, in the same article on the subject, "The result of prohibiting the growth of the poppy in Bengal would be to increase its growth in the native states, and thus to enable the Indian government to recoup itself indirectly, while leaving our Indian subjects without a remedy for the loss of a lucrative industry." The writer of the same article observes that "opium is merely the stimulant appropriate to certain climates and races, used in moderation by millions, with no worse effects than millions at home experience from the moderate use of beer and tobacco;" and he concludes by observing: "Nothing is more certain than that it is entirely beyond the power of the House of Commons to put down either the use or the abuse of opium in China or San Francisco," and that "in making the attempt it may cover itself with confusion, and deeply injure interests which it is bound to protect;" but that "the average of Chinese vice will continue to be governed by conditions which are far older than the House of Commons, and may even survive, without appreciable alteration, the final extinction of its far-reaching but not always wisely directed activity."
I venture to think that of all the causes which are contributing in democratic communities, in the present day, towards the growth and dissemination of protectionist doctrines, none is more potent than that which results from the fact of workmen looking to the temporary interest of their own industry, and even seeking for it, in ignorance of the ultimate effect of an unwholesome artificial monopoly from the rest of the world. We see the saddler endeavouring to shut out from competition the manufactures of a community with which he admits that, "on level ground," he could not for a moment contend; we see the woollen manufacturer clamouring for an increased state "fostering," after having enjoyed twenty years of artificial bolstering, without yet being any nearer maturity than when the industry was started; we find the tanners equally eager for the exclusion of an article which admittedly they are unable to produce in competition with other countries, thousands of miles away; we see the timber dealer desiring to prevent competition with his own inferior production by an article which he admits to be better and cheaper. Yet, none of these classes, and there are scores of others following the same policy, seem to be aware of the simple fact that, if each industry in the community succeeds ultimately in gaining its point, the only effect will be an enormous waste of national wealth and energy, and in the end nothing gained but the bringing about of an artificial reduction in the value of the sovereign; for though each member of the community may succeed in getting higher wages for his labour, every article of daily use will have been so artificially raised in value that the whole of the increase in the wages will be absorbed in the increased cost of living; besides which, the community as a whole will be paying, in the aggregate, an immensely augmented price for all it consumes.
With these arguments, however, I am not here so much concerned; but rather with those which show that every feature of a protective policy involves a distinct interference, in the form of curtailment, with the liberty of the individual to do as he pleases with his own legally acquired property—that is to say, to expend his money where he chooses so long as, in doing so, he refrains from interfering with the like liberty of his fellow-citizens. It will be easily seen, however, that if each of the innumerable classes comprehended in a mixed community, which conceives itself to be suffering under some public disadvantage, whether of a monetary or other nature, is allowed to call in the assistance of the state to remove that disadvantage, or confer some corresponding benefit at the public expense, instead of being tutored to the principle of self-help; then, by the time each of those classes has established the required restriction, or the necessary imposition—as the case may be—upon the rest of the community, society will find itself hampered by a series of such restrictions and impositions which will render life well-nigh intolerable.
But let me now draw attention to another form which this infringing tendency has taken in the present day; still confining my illustrations to matters of commerce.
In July (1886) the English Foreign Office issued two important parliamentary papers, respecting "the question of diplomatic and consular assistance to British trade abroad." The London Chamber of Commerce had made a series of suggestions to the official head of the Foreign Office, with a view to obtaining "more assistance" to British traders in foreign countries, by British diplomatic and consular officials. It appeared that the Germans and Americans had been securing the bulk of the Chinese trade; and the London Chamber of Commerce had come to the conclusion that the reason was to be found in the fact that "these merchants are assisted in their undertakings by the moral, and frequently by the active personal support of their ministers." The matter had already been alluded to in the House of Commons; and attention was there called to the "successful efforts of the German and other foreign governments, in pushing the trade of their respective countries in foreign markets, in competition with English manufacturers."
The result of the movement was that the English merchants, through the London Chamber of Commerce, requested that the agents of the English government (diplomatic and consular officials), should be instructed to do the same kind of "pushing" for English trade.
Shortly summarised, the English merchants asked that the government should undertake, of course at the expense of the national revenue:—
1. The publication of an official commercial newspaper, giving varied information to the commercial community.
2. The establishment of a commercial news office in London.
3. The establishment of "sample and specimen rooms" in connection with the principal consulates abroad.
4. The establishment of "commercial museums" in various parts of the United Kingdom.
Besides these there were other proposals, with which I need not here deal.
It will be apparent to everybody, who peruses these proposals, that if any government were to accede to them it would be guilty of a most distinct breach of the true principles of government, certainly of true "Liberalism," as I have endeavoured to define it. The public revenue, as I have already observed more than once, is the property of the whole people, and no one person, no government even, would be justified on sound principle, in using any part of that revenue for any purpose but such as comes properly within the functions of government. These proposals clearly aimed at affording facilities to the mercantile class, who carry on their business with no philanthropic motives, but for their own personal gain. To accede to such proposals, therefore, at the expense of the public revenue, would practically mean the compelling every citizen in the kingdom to contribute towards the furtherance of institutions, conceived in the interests, and established for the material benefit of the mercantile classes. This, if understood, would be objected to by every citizen, except those interested; and such an act on the part of any government would, therefore, amount to an infringement of individual freedom in the matter of security to property.
Fortunately this view, which I submit is the correct and scientific one, was adopted by Lord Rosebery, then Foreign Minister, who, in commenting upon the suggestions in their order, observed with regard to No. 2, that "it will be necessary to consider whether effect should be given to it by the government, or whether the commercial community should not themselves take the initiative in creating such an institution."
Regarding proposal No. 3, it was thought by the same authority that, if acceded to, it would "tend to put consuls in the position of commercial agents", and that "the maintenance and management of such rooms...would rather seem to devolve primarily on the commercial community."
Lord Rosebery's comment upon the suggestion that the government should establish commercial museums is even more to the point. "The cost of such museums (he says) ought...to be borne by those for whose benefit they are created."
This, I contend, is the only just and scientific comment which could be passed on any such proposals; and I cannot refrain from adding here a short quotation from an admirable article which appeared in the columns of The Times upon the subject.
"It is not," says that journal, "to the government and its agents that our traders must look for their real support in the struggle against foreign competition. The gigantic fabric of English trade was not built up by governments. It was built up by the enterprise, the energy, the watchfulness, the self-denial, the laborious efforts of individuals. Moreover, if it was built by these, by these it must be sustained."
It is certainly significant of the times in which we live that a body, so influential, and generally so sound in its grasp of broad mercantile principles as the London Chamber of Commerce, should have openly advocated so distinctly "paternal" a policy for the government of the country, of which it is the very central commercial organisation.
One can, from the following incident, obtain some idea how quickly a government which acceded to such proposals would find itself inundated with others of a like character, from different sources. Within two months of the date at which the answers to the previous proposals had been published, attention was called in the House of Commons to "the inadequacy of commercial training" in England, and the minister was actually asked whether he would "enquire into the possibility of establishing some recognised centre of commercial education with proper tests of efficiency." The minister very properly "hesitated to offer any opinion on the matter." The member who asked the question was evidently under the impression that the government would be quite justified in teaching its citizens the principles of commerce, presumably also those of law and medicine.
I turn now to the subject of legislation for the regulation of factories, of which a startling example already exists in the colony of Victoria; having been placed upon the statute-book within the last two years. The provisions of that Act have been conveniently summarised by one of the leading local manufacturing firms, for the ready comprehension of their employés. The following is that summary:—"No one under thirteen can be employed in a factory. No female can work more than forty-eight hours in a week. No male under sixteen can work more than forty-eight hours in a week. No one under sixteen can be employed without an education certificate. No one under sixteen can be employed without a medical certificate. No girl under sixteen can be employed between the hours of six in the evening and six in the morning.No boy under fourteen can be employed between the hours of six in the evening and six in the morning. No boy under sixteen can work as a compositor between the hours of six in the evening and six in the morning. No one under eighteen shall be allowed to clean such parts of the machinery, in a factory, as is mill-gearing, while the same is in motion for the purpose of propelling any part of the manufacturing machinery. No woman shall be allowed to clean such parts of the machinery in a factory as is mill-gearing, while the same is in motion for the purpose of propelling any part of the manufacturing machinery. No one under eighteen shall be allowed to work between the fixed and traversing parts of any self-acting machine, while the machine is in motion by the action of steam, water, or other power. No person, employed in a factory, shall be permitted to take his or her meals in any room therein, in which any manufacturing process or handicraft is then being carried on, or in which persons employed in such factory or workroom are then engaged in their employment." A volume might be written upon the ignorance of the political science, the ignorance of human nature, the misconception of legislative effects, and the indifference to commercial interests, displayed in the measure of which this is but a short summary.
The first observation which its provisions, as a whole, provoke, is as to the enormous curtailment of personal liberty which they involve. Shortly re-stated, and further summarised, they are as follow:—"No parent, however poor or dependent, shall be allowed, even under the most favourable circumstances, to derive any monetary assistance from factory work performed by his or her children, unless they are over thirteen years of age."
"Every male or female under sixteen, and in some cases, under eighteen; also every woman who works in a factory of any kind, is assumed incapable of taking care of his or her own body."
The state thus assumes a quasi-parental care of all females, and all males under eighteen; and in so doing, implants, in the minds of these two large classes, the injurious impression that they have a right to look to the state for guidance and assistance in certain matters of personal concern. Moreover, the state, at one blow, handicaps the manufacturers of Victoria against the whole world, by depriving them of the advantages of cheap labour, and of a full use of their property, such as is enjoyed by the manufacturers of many other competing countries.
Every citizen of the colony of Victoria is saddled with a proportion of an enormous expenditure for maintaining a large staff of inspectors to secure a close observance of the provisions of the act.
Lastly, but paramount in importance, every woman, and every male and female under sixteen, is deprived of the liberty of determining for himself or herself the times and extent of work which he or she shall adopt in the pursuit of a livelihood.
The state, it will be seen, determines where every person engaged in a factory shall, or at least shall not, eat his or her meals. This is obviously on the score of health, lest the atmosphere of the factory workroom should become vitiated. Why should the state stop here? Why should it not determine what such persons should eat? This is equally important on the score of health. And if the state is about to prevent injury to health, on the ground that it is to the interest of the community that the bodily condition of its citizens should be supervised by the state, why not provide also for the cure of ill-health in factory people? This would lead to the establishment of national dispensaries and a national medical staff, the members of which would require to periodically visit and report upon the health of factory hands. Why, again, limit this state attention to factory people? What greater right have they to become recipients of state attention than other citizens? Thus a state of absolute socialism would be reached. Who, then, shall draw the line, when once this class of legislation is resorted to? Who shall say where this state-aid shall end? The fact is the true line was overstepped, the moment the state said what males or females should not do in the matter of working hours. Therein consists the fundamental breach of principle. If a parent abuses the helplessness of a child, by forcing it to work at a tender age, the parent might, and should be consistently punished for having denied to the child that liberty which it had every right to enjoy. In the case of women, for whom the state has thus displayed so tender a regard, they can speak for themselves; and they can and do combine for themselves, which they have a perfect right to do. In the case of children of tender age, the state would be justified in assuming that they would object to certain conditions of employment if they could make that objection heard. But, for a state to treat as infants, young persons of sixteen and eighteen years of age, when, at the same moment, they are considered by the same authority to be amenable to the complex provisions of the criminal law, and, three or four years later, subjected to all the duties and responsibilities of citizenship, is indeed inconsistent to a degree. If a youth of seventeen commits a crime, the state says he must be punished. He is considered capable of judging for himself. At the age of twenty-one he is considered an authority on government, and invested with an equal voice with other citizens. But the same wise authority prohibits him from doing certain other and simpler work, because, forsooth, it assumes that he is not capable of judging for himself. Strange to say, the working-classes are apparently pleased with this implied expression of doubt as to their ability to take care of their own bodies.
In England, in 1883, a Factories and Workshops' Amendment Bill was passed, notwithstanding considerable opposition. To such an extent has the state gone in that instance, in looking after the health and comfort of work-people, that it subjects to a fine of £2 any adult male, in a white-lead factory, who refuses or neglects to use any gloves, boots, clothing, respirator, or other appliances, or omits to drink the salts or acidulated or other liquid to be provided by the employers, in accordance with the provisions of the bill. All these precautions are, of course, in the workman's behalf; yet the state, not content even to compel the employer to provide the necessary articles, must resort to the machinery of an act of parliament to compel the workman to "take care of himself." Would it be possible for legislation to be turned to a more absolutely ludicrous purpose?
Intimately connected with this subject of factory legislation is that which deals with the compulsory closing of shops. In the colony of Victoria, where this piece of legislation has first ripened, no other reason was given by the advocates of the measure, beyond what was deemed to be the necessity for "preventing shop assistants from being needlessly overworked." That, indeed, was stated by the "Liberal" press to be the reason for its introduction. The act compels all shops (with a few admittedly necessary exceptions) to close at seven o'clock in the evening—Saturday evening being extended to ten. The practical effect of such a measure is this—that though one citizen may wish to purchase, and another may wish to sell certain articles of trade, the state steps in and says: "No; your business shall be suspended at seven o'clock in the evening, because, by allowing you to carry it on after that time, you may overwork your assistants." The obvious answer to this, if it were colloquialised, would be: "My assistants are free agents, living in a free country; they have freely entered into a contract of service which they may terminate at any time if they so wish, and I shall use only such assistants as are willing to work in the evening." This answer is perfectly and strictly true; yet, for some strange reason, the state, in the colony mentioned, has taken shop assistants "under its wing," though there are scores of other classes in an exactly similar position. Is it right, for instance, that a medical man should be called out of his bed in the early hours? Should the scores of printers, compositors, readers, reporters, editors, and sub-editors, who are engaged upon the preparation of our daily papers, be allowed to undermine their health, when an act of parliament could so easily remedy the matter by prohibiting such work from being continued after, or begun before certain hours? We should certainly not get our newspaper till late in the day, instead of in the early morning; but parliament would have the satisfaction of securing a more comfortable and wholesome night's rest to a large body of citizens! Should the government itself be allowed to run trains late at night, and, in some cases, all through the night, necessitating the work of drivers, stokers, pointsmen, porters, guards, and others? Surely it is thereby committing the same offence which it is legislating against in the shopkeepers! Even more reprehensible is it for the parliament itself to sit into the "small" hours, in many cases doing more harm than good; keeping up numerous reporters, officials, and, in many cases, the anxious wives of honorable members themselves! What, too, of cabmen, omnibus drivers, actors, and others who now work at night; and why should not sailors, and others occupied in seafaring life, be prevented from engaging in night work? An act of parliament would soon remedy the matter, by compelling vessels to anchor or "lay to" at certain hours! But why dwell upon so gross an absurdity? Such legislation is a disgrace to our century. What more hard-worked class, for instance, than the domestic servant, who is (or ought to be) out of her bed in the morning, long before the average shop-assistant has wakened, and who is expected to attend to household matters up to a late hour at night? Yet no regard is had for this class. If parliament should deem it advisable to deal with them, it would be necessary to stop all fires at whatever hour was determined on, and in such case, society would have at once arrived at a condition of things not altogether far removed from that which resulted from the "Curfew Bell" edict. The fact is, such legislation is absolutely indefensible. The public convenience requires many classes of people to be worked at night. There is the most absolute freedom in the matter. If some shopkeepers are willing to keep open for the purpose of selling their goods, and their customers are willing to buy; then, to prevent these parties from dealing together is to subject them to an inconvenience and a distinct curtailment of personal liberty. If shop assistants are willing to work at night, surely, to prevent them, by act of parliament, is to curtail their liberty, though it may increase their leisure at the expense of their pockets. If the public do not desire to shop after seven o'clock, they will not do so; and, so soon as that is the case, the shops would cease to have reason for remaining open.
The more one allows one's mind to dwell upon so short-sighted a measure, the more incomprehensible it appears that a body of even moderately intelligent men should have consented to place such a humiliating and unmeaning piece of legislation upon the statute-book of any free and civilised country. It stands as a permanent disgrace to an otherwise enlightened people.
Is such legislation, I ask, conducive to "more liberty"? Is it calculated to promote "self-reliance"? No doubt the draper's assistant gains his leisure for the evening, but he had already the liberty to take that, inasmuch as he could terminate his engagement and turn to other employment, or be idle, whenever he chose. The public, however, who buy, and the shop-keepers who are ready and anxious to sell, are deprived of their liberty; and they have no such chance of helping themselves, inasmuch as they are placed under a state prohibition. Such legislation is, therefore, nothing more nor less than what Mr. Herbert Spencer has called "legislative tyranny."
Mark now the result of this measure, as indicated by the expressions of public opinion which it has elicited.
A deputation representing the Shopkeepers' Union waited upon the minister to whose department the administration of the measure had been allotted, and presented a carefully conceived, and carefully worded petition, in which the repeal of the objectionable measure was prayed for on the following, among other grounds:—
- 1. That it is a humiliating, and an unbearable deprivation of English freedom.
- 2. That it fails to achieve any object, beneficial either to assistant or employer; and is obnoxious to both.
- 3. That it oppresses, and causes serious (in some cases ruinous) loss to an inoffensive and struggling class, viz., the suburban and young shopkeepers.
- 4. That it diverts and partly destroys trade, benefits nobody, and sets class against class.
- 5. That it is the cause of great inconvenience to the public, especially to the working man.
The petition was signed by 3000 shopkeepers, concerning every signature of which the strictest scrutiny was challenged.
One of the petitioners stated that "absolute ruin had been inflicted in many instances through the enforcement of the law. Many businesses, which had formerly been carried on, principally at night, had been abandoned in consequence, and premises which had formerly let at good rentals had become empty, or the rentals had been reduced—in either case, much to the loss of property-owners and municipal councils."
The minister who received this deputation found it necessary to make the humiliating confession that the petition would be presented to parliament, "because the process of education in the matter, from the shopkeepers' point of view, had to be brought to bear upon honourable members as well as on the government."
There is, indeed, evidence to show that some members of parliament did not require that education, for one of them stated that "The Shops and Factories Act was unworkable. It set the citizens at variance, so that they flew at each other's throats. It was an act which only a despot would attempt." Since that, the leading organ, among those which advocated the measure, has found it necessary to confess that "none of the three great classes of people whom the early closing clause was intended to benefit is satisfied with what has been done to insure early closing as prescribed by law."
Since the greater part of the above was written, this subject has undergone much discussion, and been viewed in the light of much later experience. The following is a short summary of an address delivered within a few weeks of the time at which I am writing, by the President of the Shopkeepers' Union. "We have learned," he says, "at a terrible cost, what it is to endure the plague of over-legislation; and we also know, more than ever, the necessity of uniting with one common object, viz., the repeal of the most atrocious and disastrous law against trade that ever disgraced the statute-book of Victoria. Is there," he said, "any sense in a law which allows drink and tobacco to be sold, but prohibits a man from buying bread and meat? And yet, so it is decreed by the legislators to whom we pay £300 a year to look after our interests, and that of the country in general. I venture to say that if our legislators were unpaid, and not so anxious to retain their seats, even by sacrificing an important interest, the shopkeers of Victoria would never have had to suffer the gross indignity of being harassed and spied upon by the police, whom they support and maintain. One short year has brought painful evidence of the blighting influence of this precious piece of legislation. Shops—previously all occupied, are now empty by scores. Assistants are walking about in scores, if not in hundreds, without occupation. In proof of this, a shopkeeper recently advertised for two, at 30s. a week, of a class to which before this law he was able to pay 50s., and received 300 applications. The more the act is enforced, the more repulsive it becomes. To ensure the repeal of a bad law there is nothing like its strict enforcement." The above is a valuable piece of testimony, the tenor of which has not been contradicted. It is evidence of the annoyance, irritation, and monetary loss which such a piece of legislation is capable of producing on a class; and it is evidence also of the fact that the very class it was intended to benefit, has, instead, been seriously injured. Indeed, as I have shown, the so-called "Liberal" press admitted that "none of the three classes whom it was intended to benefit was satisfied."
The conclusion to which one is forced concerning this matter is that which was arrived at by the late Rev. F. W. Robertson, of Brighton. He said as far back as 1849, when delivering an address on the subject of "Early closing," "This law, like other laws, will be of advantage if it be in accordance with the feeling produced already in society; but if it be super-imposed on society, it must fail. Everything of legislation, coercive, and not expressive of the mind and desire of society, must fail."
Closely connected with this feature of over-legislation, is the demand for a legal recognition of eight hours as a day's work. In the colony of Victoria that recognition has actually been obtained, and, in so many words, placed upon the statute-book of the country. When the matter was being discussed at the Intercolonial Trades' Union Congress of 1884, one delegate, from New South Wales, intelligently and courageously condemned the narrow views of his co-delegates, by observing that it "seemed to him some of the speakers wished to go back to the dark ages, when, at the ringing of the Curfew bell, everybody had to put up his shutters and go to bed." A good deal was said, while the "eight hours" principle had not yet received legal recognition, about the sufficiency of that period of work "for any man or woman," as also regarding the wisdom of dividing the day into "eight hours' work, eight hours' labour, and eight hours' recreation;" yet, now that the legalisation has taken place, it is a matter of notoriety that workmen are willing to go on, much as before, with this slight difference—that after the expiration of the eight hours they expect to be paid overtime! Nor is this the only evidence of disregard for the principle upon which the legal recognition was based; for one of the most prominent of Australian trades' unionists said, at an eight hours demonstration banquet given in Sydney about two years ago, that, now the eight hours system was so widely recognised and acknowledged, it was about time they began agitating for a division of the day into four periods of six hours, one of which should be devoted to work.
The same spirit of legislative interference, which has inspired this confessedly unsuccessful measure in Victoria, has shown itself in the department of commercial shipping in older communities. Mr. Plimsoll, whose name is now known in every English-speaking country, chose for the subject on which he should found his reputation, that of shipowning abuses; and there can be little doubt that his efforts, though, like those of all enthusiasts, extreme and injuriously reactionary, did much good by drawing attention to the condition of some of the inferior and least seaworthy portion of English shipping property, by which the lives of many sailors and others were jeopardised, and in some cases needlessly lost.
Yet this same gentleman has done considerable harm by leading to the belief that matters were much worse than was really the case, and, by so doing, exciting a demand for legislative measures which have effected a good deal of injury to the shipping industry, as a branch of the national commerce of England.
In the somewhat heated desire for ensuring the safety and comfort of those who travel by sea, regulations have been made regarding the number of passengers which a ship shall carry; the number of cubic feet which each so carried should occupy; the number and measurement of boats provided for their safety in case of mishap; the number and quality of lifebelts, life-buoys, fire-buckets, fire-hose, and life-rafts, with which each ship should be provided; the position of load-line, down to which and no further than which, a vessel should be submerged, and many other provisions of a similar kind, too numerous to mention; all of which, though in some cases necessary to enforce, have nevertheless, on the whole, imposed upon shipowners an amount of expense in maintenance, in some cases wholly out of proportion to the risks provided against. No one, it is said, who has not had practical experience of the number and detailed expenditure on the almost illimitable requirements of vessels engaged in trade, can form any conception of the hampering effect which such legislation has had upon the commercial side of the shipping industry. A leading London weekly journal lately put the matter very forcibly, in the following somewhat ironical paragraph. "With regard to passenger ships and the boats they carry, what strikes us is this—that if we are to make it a matter of legal obligation that the ship shall carry boats enough to hold all the passengers and crew (and I suppose, something to eat and drink, for even in boats those things are necessary), it would be simpler, and on the whole safer, and infinitely more comfortable to have two ships. Then, if anything happened to the full ship, the passengers could betake themselves to the empty one, if it did not happen to be wrecked first, or simultaneously—a possibility which should not be taken to militate against my suggestion, for even as things are at present, a ship's boats are often lost or rendered useless before she herself comes to grief."
Within the last few months, previous to the date of my writing, an influential deputation of shipowners waited upon the President of the Board of Trade with reference to certain regulations of that body upon the subject of the freeing ports of what are known as well-decked vessels.
The first speaker said "they had been harassed from time to time with Board of Trade regulations, but the last straw that had broken their backs was an order issued in the spring of the year, "compelling certain additional qualifications in well-decked vessels. The north-eastern ports of England," he added, "were largely engaged in the Baltic trade; and they had to compete with the Germans and the Danes, whose vessels, not being under these restrictions, were enabled to carry perhaps 1OO tons more cargo; and this, coupled with the lower wages of foreign sailors, handicapped the English ship-owner to such an extent that it was only a question of time for the trade to pass into the foreigner's hands altogether."
This is an admirably clear illustration of the class of legislation which I have before instanced, in which the immediate effect only is considered by the legislator, and the remote ones ignored or entirely lost sight of. The ignorance of the average legislator on shipping matters is usually accompanied with an amount of confidence correspondingly great. Regulations may be piled up, one upon the other, for all time, each one seeming to benefit the public, who gradually cease to look after themselves or their own safety; but those who are thus contributing to the creation and enforcement of such regulations seldom think of the difficulties and expenses they are at the same time providing for the ship owner; and only the most far-seeing will reflect that, in time, that section of the industry upon which those regulations have legal force may be borne down altogether, and the trade driven into the hands of other persons, whose vessels, by sailing under another flag, are exempted from the paralysing and handicapping restrictions of their less fortunate neighbours.
I have before me some astounding instances of legislative ignorance in matters of the kind.
A few months ago, a fast and tolerably valuable steam vessel was lost upon the Australian coast during her passage from one colony to another. Unfortunately a good many lives were lost, under very painful and distressing circumstances. Public attention was called to the matter, and, for several days the columns of the newspapers were filled with the usual demands for the "most searching enquiry." The mishap was accounted for in various ways, by the more omniscient section of the public; and even parliament took the matter up, though in a somewhat desultory fashion, and said what should be done to prevent a recurrence. Those expressions of opinion are interesting as showing the almost incredible ignorance which ordinary legislators may display; and, moreover, they give one a fair idea of the sort of legislation which might be expected if the desire for some reform had only been sufficiently long-lived.
One member, who has filled the position of a minister of the crown, attributed the breaking-up of the vessel, after she had struck on the rocks, to the fact of her being "old;" and he is reported as having said: "There ought to be a law to prevent old ships from being used for such important work." The author of this safe generalisation might have learned, with a little enquiry, that the vessel in question had, as all other such vessels are compelled to do, been duly submitted, periodically, to a searching survey, provided for by the legislature itself, and that she possessed a certificate of "sea-worthiness," such as parliament itself required. A second law-maker, having satisfied himself that the vessel had chosen a course too near the coast, proposed that "a line might be drawn on the chart, within which no vessel should be allowed to go nearer to the land." He gave as a parallel case the fact that "the steamships of the Cunard line followed regular tracks to and from America," and, in the same easy-going way, advocated that "more stringent regulations were required to ensure greater safety."
The idea of a "line on the chart," or a "line round the coast," was indulged in by other equally original advocates. A third member of the legislature was of opinion that "it would be an easy matter to fix a simple contrivance on all lighthouses, by which a route, at a given distance from the shore, should be defined. The legislature could then provide that any captains or any owners who permitted their vessels to be taken within such a limit should be liable to severe punishment." "They could," added a fourth, "be reported by the lighthouse-keepers."
The member who advocated the "old ship" theory expressed the novel opinion that the vessels were driven at the present dangerously fast rate in order to save coal; and he advocated parliament laying down a minimum time in which the passage should be done, so that if any vessel travelled faster than allowed by act of parliament, she should be compelled to postpone her entrance to the harbour of destination.
The first thought which must occur to anyone, on reading these expressions of opinion, is that a community, in the government of which such men take part, must indeed be in danger of being legislated out of existence. I have already mentioned a minister of the crown who boasted to his constituents of having added so many inches to the statutes of the country. These gentlemen would measure statutes by the yard, and in a short time fill a library. It would certainly be necessary in a community, for which so much was done, that the old maxim that "ignorance of the law is no excuse" should undergo some relaxation; otherwise it would be impossible for the citizens to do aught else but study the latest additions to the statute law.
It would be almost useless to suggest to these gentlemen that, probably, when they had spent some years in attempting to prevent shipwrecks, they would make the melancholy discovery that the rules and regulations, the surveys, and the lines round the coast—as also the "simple apparatus" on the lighthouses—had increased instead of diminished the number of losses.
Mark, in support of this suggestion, the result of all the attempts at preventing shipwrecks in Great Britain—attempts, too, by men possessing a somewhat larger amount of brain-power than those to whom I have just referred. In a minute of the Board of Trade of November, 1883, it is said that since "the Shipwreck Committee of 1836, scarcely a session has passed without some Act being passed, or some step being taken by the legislature or the government, with this object" (prevention of shipwreck); and that "the multiplicity of statutes, which were all consolidated into one Act in 1854, has again become a scandal and a reproach:" each measure being passed because previous ones had failed. Here follows the melancholy but instructive admission that "the loss of life and of ships has been greater since 1876 than it ever was before." The cost of administration, meanwhile, had risen from £17,000 to £73,000 a year. If the colonial legislators, whom I have quoted, could have their way, and get their pet schemes enacted in a short and easy manner, it would probably be open to apply to them, a few years hence, the words which Edmund Burke used in speaking of the Board of Trade of his day:—"Even where they had no ill intentions, trade and manufacture suffered infinitely from their injudicious tamperings." Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, who seems to be deeply impressed with the belief that the state has "maternal" duties towards its citizens, thus explains the functions of the Board of Trade. "They are," he says, "charged to watch over the comfort and security of our seamen and the safety of our ships." This, indeed, is only an illustration of the false theory which runs through the whole of the spurious Liberal legislation of which I have been speaking. However unsophistical and simple-minded the typical sailor may have been in the days of Dibdin, he is now quite capable of taking care of himself: at least as well as thousands of other citizens for whom state sympathy has not yet been excited. "Yet," as Mr. Stanley Jevons has said, "he is treated by the law, as if he were a mere child." Mr. Chamberlain would have his comforts attended to by the Board of Trade, by which means that already cumbersome body would be able to pay less attention to its more legitimate and more necessary functions. It is this craving for distributing comforts, through the state, which is threatening to handicap and paralyse English commerce in every branch. The report of the Royal Commission, which was lately appointed to enquire into the existing depression of trade and industry in Great Britain, contains the following confirmation of my contention. "Our shipowners have an additional ground of complaint in the fact that foreign vessels, loading in our ports, are not subjected to the load-line, and other regulations of the Board of Trade, which, being enforced on British ships, impose additional expense and trouble upon their owners. Owners of foreign ships thus....enjoy in our ports, a latitude in regard to loading, and an exemption from other troublesome regulations which give them an unfair advantage in competition." This is a point of view which the average legislator would probably consider and characterise as "far-fetched" or "theoretical." Within the last few months, numerous other instances have occurred (in connection with this industry) of the same injurious practice of endeavouring to secure, by legislation, that which should be left to the ordinary economic laws of supply and demand. It would be impossible to enumerate them all here; but I venture to set forth a confession which was, not long since, uttered by Mr. Chamberlain himself, in connection with this particular subject of shipping legislation. "I am sorry," he said to a deputation which waited upon him, "that I must tell you that interference has not produced the result it was intended to produce, in the security of the lives for which we are in some degree responsible." He then admits that the loss of life at sea, notwithstanding the net-work of regulations which parliament has woven round the shipping industry, "is an increasing quantity."
Sir Frederick Bramwell, too, learned at Quebec, to which port English ships had been accustomed to be sent for timber, that the trade was being done between that port and England by Swedish ships, the reason being (he says) that "the restrictions upon the working of English ships were such that they could no longer compete with the Swedes."
The subject of licensing houses for the sale of intoxicating liquor is one upon which there has been the most profound misconception regarding the principles of true Liberalism. Legislators seem to have known no limit to the functions of a state, or to the right to interfere with individual liberty, when dealing with this apparently absorbing theme. When an attempt was lately made in the House of Lords by the Bishop of Durham, to secure the passage of an act entitled "The Durham Sunday Closing Bill," Lord Salisbury characterised the measure as an enactment which provided "that on Sunday in every week, a certain portion of the population in the country shall abstain from one of their accustomed articles of diet, because a fraction of the population say that the temptation to consume too much of that article of diet is too strong for them." As the Times said, in criticism of the measure, "His [Lord Salisbury's] opposition was not directed against the advocates of temperance, for whom and for whose work he expressed unbounded admiration. On the contrary, it was directed against those who came to parliament to ask for the secular arm to effect that which they had not done."
In the colony of Victoria, within the last two years, an attempt was made, under this head of "licensing," to still further curtail the already limited chances which women possess of obtaining employment, by the introduction of a clause into a bill, then before parliament, intended to absolutely prevent them from working behind a bar. If ever there was an unjustifiable and cowardly attempt at undue state interference with the liberty of citizens, this was one. To make women as amenable to the law of the land as men, while denying them all right to take part in the making of such laws, is surely inequitable enough; but to say that women, who are obliged to earn their living, shall not get it by following a possibly honest and honourable occupation, is surely a piece of the most glaring despotism. Where could parliament find a justification for such a measure, either among the principles of legislation, or on grounds of the barest justice to our fellow-beings? What sort of reception, let me ask, would have been accorded to such a provision, if, instead of proposing to deal with one of the occupations of women, it had aimed at the prevention of certain work being performed by any particular class of men? Could such a proposal ever be reconciled with the liberal principle of "equal opportunities"? Women are even now debarred from entering many channels of employment, in which they could take part with quite as much, if not more success than is achieved by men. To have passed such a measure would have simply rendered their already "unequal opportunities" still more unequal.
Mr. Joseph Cowen has said, "a clear and equal course, and victory to the wisest and the best." Will anyone venture to say that a proposal to disqualify women from performing work behind a bar was not a most flagrant step towards rendering the "course," over which a woman's as well as a man's life must be run, more unequal than ever. If, as Mr. Broadhurst says, "Liberalism seeks to remove obstacles of human origin which prevent all having equal opportunities," then this proposal was not only lacking in a negative sense, but conceived in the very contrary direction. Such a measure would be a most distinct "obstacle" to prevent women enjoying "equal opportunities" with men; and, instead of being removed it would be erected in the very face of Liberal principles. It has been well said, regarding legislation of the licensing class, that it "rests on the assumption, again and again disproved, that moral effects can be eradicated, or even partially amended by an act of parliament; and upon the want of recognition, or ignorance of the fact, that, wherever the state attempts this task, it either directly increases the evil, or forces it to reappear in another spot in a new form." The following are some significant facts in connection with the Sunday-closing movement. In March, 1884, four Irish judges made the following statements to grand juries at the Irish assizes, in districts where the Sunday-closing movement had been tried:—
- "At Ennis, Lord Justice Fitzgibbon said the cases of intemperance in county Clare had risen from 960 to 1511. At Nenagh, Baron Dowse said drunkenness had increased in the north riding of Tipperary from 512 to 1037 cases, a little over 100 per cent. At Limerick, Judge O'Brien said that intemperance had doubled in that county. At Cavan, Judge Harrison informed the grand jury that drunkennessa had trebled in that county. In all these counties the Sunday Closing Act is in force." It has been shown, by the same authority, that in the town of Cardiff, since the Welsh Sunday Closing Act has been in operation, drunkenness has increased fifty per cent.; and that in Scotland, where the Forbes-Mackenzie Sunday Closing Act has long been in force, the convictions for drunkenness on Sunday have been steadily increasing from 1886 in 1879, to 2530 in 1882. It is also affirmed, on the authority of the police in Glasgow, and other large centres of Scotland, that, "notwithstanding all their exertions, the law has, throughout, been persistently defied by a yearly increasing number of unlicensed drinking-rooms, called 'shebeens'—secret, and therefore badly conducted places, with no character, nor stock-in-trade, but a few barrels of liquor to lose."
The principle of "local option," as it is called, which enables a certain majority, in any district, to prevent the minority from having established, or indeed continuing in existence, in their midst, a place where wines or spirits can be purchased, is an undoubted instance of spurious Liberalism. The majority, it may be assumed, do not want such an establishment, and no one would be justified in attempting to compel them to frequent it; but an attempt to so compel them against their wish would be quite as justifiable as the counter attempt to prevent the minority from so doing. If the establishment of any such place in any district becomes a nuisance to the neighbours, there is, in existence, already, the proper legal machinery for abating it; and no one could, in such a case, raise an objection to the necessary steps being taken to punish the offender; but for a majority to claim the right to curtail the liberties of the minority for an act which, in no way, involves an interference with that majority's liberty, is nothing more than the despotism of the majority, and contrary to all the traditions of the Liberal party under whose banner it is so frequently but improperly classified.
This question of Sunday closing is very nearly allied to that of Sunday observance. The spirit of despotism, which would lead to a revival of the old laws under this head, is by no means so absent from our own time as many people think. There is an old act in the Statute-book, by which citizens could be prosecuted, and fined 5s., for not attending church on Sunday. If only there were some hope of securing a majority, there is every reason to believe an attempt would be made by the more "pious" portion of English-speaking communities to resuscitate and refurbish its rusty provisions. Only as lately as September, 1885, a delegate at a Trades' Union Congress, held at Southport, England, moved: "That, in the opinion of this Congress, all kinds of labour shall be suspended on Sunday; no train shall be permitted to run; no cabs, trams, or breaks shall ply or run for hire; no horses or private carriages shall be permitted to be used; no blast furnace shall be permitted to work; no mechanics do any repairs; nor shall any telegrams or letters be delivered, or any work be done in any printing office; nor any public or refreshment house be permitted to be opened; nor shall any park, museum, art gallery, or reading-room be opened, or any policeman be called upon to do duty on the Sunday." This may seem, to some, too extreme to be seriously regarded, and so it was fortunately viewed by the Congress at which it was moved; but it has been proved before in modern history, that a very short time needs to elapse before what has previously been laughed at may be subsequently adopted in all seriousness. Given a majority, and its virtue being admitted, then we may have any absurdity forced upon us at any moment.
The subject of poor-law legislation would require a treatise in itself, to enable one to comprehensively deal with it and its dangerous surroundings. I shall find occasion, in the next chapter, to discuss fully the principles which are involved in its enactment. I shall show that, in the first place, even supposing it had succeeded in its objects—viz., to alleviate suffering arising from poverty, without at the same time encouraging idleness and offering a premium for improvidence—it involves the transgression of one of the first functions of government, in taking the property of citizens for other purposes than that of maintaining the security of their person and property; and I shall show, also, that according to the conclusions arrived at by the Poor Law Commissioners themselves, they have aggravated rather than prevented, the evils at which they were aimed. I shall then indicate to what extent, and under what circumstances only, it can be wisely continued.
One of the most startling instances of what I have termed "spurious Liberalism" is that which was lately promulgated by Mr. Joseph Chamberlain and his disciple, Mr. Jesse Collings, and now known as the "three acres" or "agricultural allotments" bill. I purpose dealing with this proposal at some length, as well as the various criticisms which have been passed upon it, inasmuch as it marks a distinct epoch in English legislation, and has, in consequence, attracted more attention, and given rise to more careful analysis of political principles, than any other movement of this generation.
The proposal was made by Mr. Chamberlain, during the November (1885) general election in England, and was evidently intended as a sort of political "bunch of carrots" for the two million "agricultural" labourers who had recently been admitted to the franchise.
The proposal really took the form of a promise that, if the Liberal party should again come into power, an act of parliament would be passed, by which municipal councils, or other local bodies, should be empowered to take the land belonging to other people, nolens volens, and at a price not acquiesced in by the seller (as is usual in ordinary sales), but to be determined by such local body. A further feature of the scheme was that such land, when acquired by the local body, should be sold or leased in small allotments, on the "time payment" system, to agricultural labourers. When this political bribe was made for the first time, and, by a man who had already occupied an influential position in an English Cabinet, it naturally caused some uneasiness among thoughtful people. Every student of sociology is familiar with the growing symptoms of Socialism which, within the last few years, have been distinctly observable in several continental countries; and a proposal of the kind I mention, coming from so influential a quarter, was naturally calculated to shake the feelings of security among all who happened to be possessed of property of the class at which such a proposal was aimed. Mr. Chamberlain being at the time recognised as the leader of the Radical party in Great Britain, numbers of his followers were ready to take up any cry which he might start; but there were others among the Liberal party—Liberals of the genuine type—who at once repudiated the proposals, and gave clear reasons for so doing, with which I shall presently deal.
Mr. Gladstone himself, in drawing up the programme of the Liberal party previous to the election, completely ignored the proposal, and confined himself to four other points with which we are not here concerned. Lord Hartington, Mr. Bright, Mr. Goschen, Mr. Wm. E. Forster, and other sound Liberals followed in Mr. Gladstone's course, so far as this scheme was concerned; but, notwithstanding, there can be little doubt that Mr. Chamberlain's allotments proposal seriously injured the Liberal cause, by shaking the confidence of the propertied classes belonging to that party, and causing a large section of them to turn to the Conservative side of politics as a sort of political brake upon the impending excesses of the Radical section.
Some time has now elapsed since the proposal was first made; and, as a result of the very keen criticism which was passed upon it by a certain section of the press, and by many leading Liberal and Conservative statesmen, the authors of the scheme have, as I shall show, considerably modified their original proposals. There is, however, one principle involved in the scheme, which has never been altered or modified; and, as that is the particular one upon which my present objections turn, I need not spend time over other details. The scheme itself is set out at length in the small volume entitled the "Radical Programme," to which I have before referred, and to which a preface has been written by Mr. Chamberlain himself. I shall quote from that volume just so far as to guarantee having fairly represented the principle with which I desire to deal, as illustrating what I have termed "spurious Liberalism."
After setting forth the scheme at length, in its modified form, the writer of the work in question says: "Land should be acquired where necessary, by the authorities, by compulsory purchase, at a fair market value." And again: "Any scheme of this sort should be compulsory." One contention with regard to this feature—the cardinal feature in fact—of the proposal, is that it involves a return to those principles of class legislation which it has been the aim and the province of true Liberalism in the past, to prevent, and, where existing, to put an end to. To compel one citizen to sell to another citizen property which he has legally acquired, is, in the first place, to commit a national breach of faith; since the state of the law practically constituted a guarantee that every form of wealth obtained in conformity with its provisions should be protected and secured to the rightful possessor, and at all times peacefully enjoyed by him. The point upon which this proposal must be excluded from the category of true Liberalism, and classed, instead, with "Toryism" of the democratic order, is this—that it is an infringement of liberty for the benefit of a class. The practice of resuming land nolens volens, for public purposes, is, we are aware, now generally recognised, and acted upon in almost all English-speaking communities, and especially in certain British colonies, where parliament takes upon itself a much greater amount and variety of work than the legitimate functions of government justify—more particularly the construction and management of the system of railways throughout the country, which involve the frequent acquisition of so much land.
The difference between it and the allotments proposal is quite clear, and most important to be observed. In the one case—that of resuming land for government railways or other public purposes, the act of compulsory purchase is directly in the interests of the general public, since the reason for the departure from the ordinary security guaranteed to property, is put upon the ground of its being for "public purposes," that is to say, for purposes which are calculated to directly benefit the whole community. In the other case, however, the benefit sought to be conferred is of a "class" character, and can in no way be justified on grounds of public policy.
It is practically conceived in the interests of the agricultural labourer, at the expense of entrenching upon one of the most valued traditions of the English people, viz., the respect, and security for all kinds of legally acquired property. It is remarkable, too, that if this is said to be conceived indirectly in the public interest, the necessity for such a proposal should, after being overlooked for so many years, be observed and provided for, just at the very moment when the particular class, in whose interests it is conceived, should have acquired political power to the extent of two million votes. This would surely be an unique coincidence! The truth is that, if Mr. Broadhurst's definition of Liberalism be a correct one, Mr. Chamberlain's proposal must be distinctly contrary to the principles of that policy; for the acquirement of property, whether of a real or personal character, is as open to one man as to another—to the peasant as well as to the nobleman; and to clamour for the property itself, in addition to the freedom to acquire it by legal means, is to ask, not merely for "equal opportunities," but for "equal possessions," or for an approximation to that condition of things—in short, it is to cry for a system of Communism in a modified form.
As Mr. Cowen has well said, "Equality of social condition is a speculative chimera that never can be realised."
Men are not and cannot be equal; and, as Mr. Cowen again says, "if they were so to-day, they would not be so to-morrow." Nor, as Mr. Broadhurst's definition says, is Liberalism concerned to attempt to make them so. This proposal, however, does seek to take a step in that direction, by taking from one that which he would not otherwise part with, to give to another that which he would not otherwise be able to obtain.
All the talk in the world about a "fair price" will not improve the aspect of the matter. If the price is less than the owner values his property at, or is willing to part with it for, it is not a fair price but an unfair price. If one man has property which he does not wish to part with; to take it from him at a less price than he is willing to sell it for is practically to rob him of the difference between the so-called "fair" price, and that which he places upon it. It is, as I have said, "class" legislation of the worst kind—a return to Toryism of the most pronounced character, but in the interest of the agricultural labourer, instead of as in days gone by, in the interests of the landowner. If the one is wrong and inequitable, so is the other.
Let me now set forth the most valuable and most influential of the criticisms which were passed upon this scheme in England, and further illustrate Mr. Chamberlain's erroneous notions of Liberalism, as displayed in his answers to those criticisms.
In September (1885) The Times, speaking of the new Radical programme as expounded by Mr. Chamberlain, said: "A leading feature in it is the now familiar scheme for enabling local authorities to buy land, in order to create peasant proprietors, and give allotments to labourers. This he thinks at once so moderate, so just, so experimental, and so conformable to precedent, that he cannot conceive how any Liberal can object to it; and at the same time it is so vast in its scope, and so effectual in giving prosperity to the poor, that he relies upon it to give the needed impetus to the Liberal movement. We are further told that the great aim of the new electorate must be to abolish poverty, to level up, to destroy, by direct legislation, all the differences created among men by centuries of free play for individual qualities. In Mr. Chamberlain's view, the laws of political economy are not the expression of observed fact, and unvarying causation, but arbitrary arrangements for the distribution of wealth, invented by rich men and their selfish satellites for the oppression of the poor. He is going to abolish them. He is going to destroy the checks upon laziness and incompetency, without discouraging industry. He is going to destroy the security of property, without affecting its accumulation and investment. He is going to enrich the poor without impoverishing the rich, to throw a whole set of new and expensive expenditures upon the national purse without affecting the national well-being, and, in fact, to obtain, in defiance of Liberals, Tories, and the laws of the universe, that the three-hooped pot should have ten hoops, and there shall be no more small beer. It is perhaps idle to expect Mr. Chamberlain to understand that men, not less benevolent than himself, have brooded over the painful riddle of the earth for ages, before he saw in it a means of exciting enthusiasm for his return to power. Probably it is equally hopeless to get him to understand that if they have not rushed at his empirical remedies, it is because they know their absolute worthlessness. We can only hope that the sobriety, which has brought Englishmen through so much, will be found to be the heritage of the new electors as well as the old; and that we may be spared experiments which will hurt us all, but none so much as the poor, who are unfortunate enough to be the counters of his game."
The same journal, again referring to other equally impracticable promises made by Mr. Chamberlain in his numerous election addresses, speaks of him and others, as "theorists," who appear utterly "unconscious that such things as invariable sequences of cause and effect exist in the sphere of economics, and are prepared to undertake the summary suppression, by act of parliament, of climate, history, the market, and human nature." Again, on October 16 (1885), the same journal says in one of its leaders: "If every political question were as simple as Mr. Chamberlain makes it out to be; if for every social evil there were a remedy, cut and dried, which needed only to be proposed and adopted in order to bring about a blessed change, his impatient dogmatism, supposing him to be always in the right, would be a potent instrument of reform. But politics and society are full of complications, and the statesman who does not recognise this; who is eager to try experiments in every direction, and who refuses to submit to the obligations of patience, caution, and reserve, will find that a large part of the nation, the soundest, and still perhaps the most influential part, will be slow to give him their implicit confidence."
Mr. John Bright (one of England's greatest Liberals), speaking at Taunton on October 12 (1885), and referring to the same subject of land legislation, said: "There is a danger I should like to point out to you. There is a danger of people coming to the idea that they can pull or drive the government along; that a government can do anything that is wanted; that in fact it is only necessary to pass an act of parliament, with a certain number of clauses, to make anyone well off. There is no more serious mistake than that."
Lord Hartington (another great Liberal statesman), speaking at Rawtenstall, on the 10th October of the same year, and evidently referring, though not directly, to Mr. Chamberlain's proposal, gave utterance to the following sound Liberal opinions: "I have," he said, "no doubt that a parliament largely elected by the labouring classes will find a good deal to revise in legislation, which had been passed by former parliaments, in which the labouring classes were hardly represented at all. But I am not prepared to tell the working-men of this country that I believe that any legislation, which any parliament can effect, will suddenly and immediately improve their condition, except by enabling them, by their own efforts, to improve it themselves. What is it, after all, that the working classes of this country" (England) "stand most in need of? They stand in need of good wages, cheap food, continuous employment, and cheap necessaries and comforts of life. Well, I believe that bad laws, bad legislation can do much to prevent them having these things; but I do not believe any legislation can certainly secure them; and they can only be secured by the state of general prosperity and general activity in trade. I believe, also, that legislation in favour of any particular class is likely to prevent the general prosperity; and I believe that legislation, which is directly applied to the improvement of the condition of the labouring classes, can only be detrimental to other classes, and will be as likely to injure that prosperity as class legislation of any other kind. I desire, therefore, not to attract so much the attention of the labouring classes, by promises of legislation intended for their exclusive benefit, as to ask them to join with us, and with all the other classes of the country, in bringing about that general state of prosperity, which alone, in my opinion, can improve their own condition."
Views very similar to these were expressed some years ago by Mr. Gladstone, at a dinner in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the publication of Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations;" and although these views do not in any way criticise the particular proposal under consideration, they nevertheless lay down general principles which throw light upon it, and upon theories of a similar character.
Mr. Gladstone then said, speaking of this popular fallacy as to benefits derivable from acts of parliament: "With reference to the state of the working classes, I think we have no right to complain of those, who have been so long under the power of those who were commonly called their betters, in respect to the regulation of wages; but I think it is a primary duty to make this allowance, because they, above all others, suffer from their own want of knowledge. I have observed this distinction between the working classes and other classes—that whereas the sins of the other classes were almost entirely in the interests of their class, and against the rest of the entire community, the sins of the working classes, many and great as they are, are almost entirely against themselves."
These words, though uttered many years ago, and, therefore, as I have said, not directly applicable as a criticism on Mr. Chamberlain's proposal, nevertheless express the principle by which it may be criticised. Mr. Goschen, however, who is one of the most able and thoughtful of modern Liberal statesmen, has ventured, in a speech delivered at Edinburgh, to express himself most openly regarding this proposal. "I should like to know," he says, "why it is a sign of strength to rely upon a corporate body to do certain duties, rather than to rely upon the individual himself? I should like to know," he continues, "what there is in this system which so entitles it to the credit of being "advanced." I do not know how far it is a recommendation in its favour, but these new views have the advantage that they lend themselves very considerably to the approbation of Prince Bismarck. The municipal socialism, which has, now, both advocates in this room, and a great body of adherents in many parts of the country, has the approbation of Prince Bismarck. The Iron Chancellor likes these ways well. He likes regulation. He likes that regulation of labour, and of so many interests in individual life, which are involved in all these schemes of socialism—whether municipal socialism, whether state socialism, or socialism of any kind. But the National Liberals of Germany, the Great Liberal party in Germany, were opposed to this socialism, as striking at the freedom of the working classes of the country."
"It is supposed," he goes on, "that it is an advanced view, if you are not sound about the rights of property, but it is very unsound if you are. But that view is not common to the whole of what one may call democratic communities. There are many democratic countries, where it is considered that the sanctity of proprietary rights lies at the bottom of the foundation of society; and it would be a strange thing indeed if, in this country, at this day, we should have to go to the United States for precedents as regards the protection of property. But the fact is, that the constitution of the United States places extraordinary guarantees against any transfer of property by an executive power, from one individual to another."
The same authority, speaking on a subsequent occasion, said: "It has been suggested that, by this system of allotments, you might so raise the whole status of the working classes as effectually to deal with the subject of pauperism. I wish it were so.... I know," he continued, "of no system of the division of land, or different distribution of land, to check a state of things like that, except by doing all you can to raise the self-esteem of the population, and that feeling of charity, and feeling of independence: that family feeling, which would make men and women turn rather to their kith and kin, than to any municipal incorporation."
Thus it will be seen that, quite apart from the thoughtful Conservative utterances by which this Utopian scheme has been condemned, the greatest of English newspapers, and three of the greatest among English Liberal statesmen have characterised it as impracticable and injurious to the very class in whose behalf it has been conceived.
Mr. Gladstone, as I have already stated, absolutely ignored it in his Liberal programme, and has, in the extract quoted above, clearly condemned the principle of legislation upon which it hinges.
Such quotations are rendered more valuable by the fact that they emanate from the very party to which the author of the proposal belongs; and they are of further value, as showing, out of the months of Liberals themselves, that legislation which aims at equalising the conditions of men, almost invariably leads to the injury of the very class whom it has been intended to benefit.
The quotation from Lord Hartington, which was mentioned a few pages back, while admitting that there may be scope for Liberal measures in repealing previous legislation conceived in a partial spirit, when the working classes were not sufficiently represented, nevertheless, lays down the general principle that the only hope for a better condition of the working classes depends upon the general prosperity of the whole community, and the cultivation of feelings of independence, self-reliance, self-respect, and, above all, self-help.
Mr. Chamberlain has, more than once, expressed his adherence to Bentham's somewhat vague phrase—"the greatest happiness of the greatest number;" and has even gone so far as to offer that somewhat inconclusive guage of the political propriety of a measure in support of his allotments scheme: affirming it to be "the foundation of the Liberal party." I presume that he and his followers would be prepared to accept, with an equal degree of respect, Bentham's opinions upon the subject of the security of property. No man, certainly no writer on political matters, regarded the rights of property in a more sacred light. In that writer's treatise "The Theory of Legislation," under the head of "Security," he says "law alone is able to create a fixed and durable possession which merits the name of property.... Nothing but law can encourage men to labours superfluous for the present, and which can be enjoyed only in the future." Sometimes Mr. Chamberlain would appear to be quite in accord with Bentham up to this point, for he has himself said: "nothing would be more undesirable than that we should remove the stimulus to industry, and thrift, and exertion, which is afforded by the security, given to every man, in the enjoyment of the fruits of his own individual exertions." "Law," says Bentham, "does not say to man, labour and I will reward you; but it says: labour, and I will assure to you the enjoyment of the fruits of your labour—that natural and sufficient recompense which, without me, you cannot preserve. I will insure it, by arresting the hand which may seek to ravish it from you." Let us see now what Bentham means when he uses the word "security." In his chapter, entitled "Of Property," he says: "As regards property, security consists in receiving no check, no shock, no derangement to the expectation, founded on the laws, of enjoying such and such a portion of good," and he adds: "the legislator owes the greatest respect to this expectation, which he has himself produced. When he does not contradict it, he does what is essential to the happiness of society; when he disturbs it, he always produces a proportionate amount of evil." To all of this, Mr. Chamberlain and his followers would, doubtless, reply, as in fact the former has done: "It is the duty of the state...to redress the inequalities of our social condition." Bentham, however, has anticipated such a contention, and has thus answered it. "When security and equality are in conflict (he says) it will not do to hesitate a moment. Equality must yield. The first is the foundation of life; subsistence, abundance, happiness, everything depends upon it. Equality produces only a certain portion of good. Besides, whatever we may do, it will never be perfect; it may exist a day; but the revolutions of the morrow will overturn it. The establishment of perfect equality is a chimera. All we can do is to diminish inequality.... If equality ought to prevail to day, it ought to prevail always. Yet it cannot be preserved, except by renewing the violence by which it was established."
In concluding that chapter of his work which is entitled "Means of Uniting Security and Equality," the same writer says: "Security, while preserving its place as the supreme principle, leads indirectly to equality; while equality, if taken as the basis of the social arrangement, will destroy both itself and security at the same time." "The word equality," he says, elsewhere, becomes a mere pretext—a cover to the robbery which idleness perpetrates upon industry."
So much then for the probable effect of this novel piece of legislation on the security of property. There is another feature of the scheme which is equally objectionable, on grounds of principle. It is proposed that the "local authorities," having power to compulsorily purchase this land, shall also have the right to grant these allotments to the agricultural labourers, on a sort of "time-payment" system. The terms of such a system will either be such as could be obtained without its assistance, in the ordinary way of business, or, they will be terms of an easier, and to the purchaser, less expensive nature. If such terms are no better than could be obtained in the ordinary way of business; then, there is no object gained in the authorities burdening themselves with such troublesome duties. It would, in such a case, be far better to leave the purchaser to borrow elsewhere, and thus develop in him the selfrespect which would be generated by the consciousness of having helped himself. But if, on the other hand, the terms are better, that is to say, easier than could be obtained in the ordinary business way; then every taxpayer who may be rendered liable for any loss which may be sustained, is being wronged by the state, to the extent of his liability. "If," said the late Professor 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." That risk of a loss is shifted from the shoulders of those, for whose benefit the state aid is being exerted, and is made to fall, instead, upon those of every honest independent, self-helping citizen who is liable to national taxation.
I pass away now from this proposal, which is sufficiently revolutionary, to another which is more so. The volume entitled "The Radical Programme," to which I have before referred, lays down the following proposal, taken, I believe, verbatim, from one of Mr. Chamberlain's speeches. "When your property has grown to a magnitude that exceeds what, in the opinion of the state, is compatible with the public interest should be possessed by an individual, it will peremptorily discourage you from going farther. There is one way in which the state can execute such a revolution. It can provide for a graduated probate duty upon landed proprietors above a certain size."
This may be taken as a fair sample of the spurious Liberalism with which we should be socially regulated, so soon as men of Mr. Chamberlain's school acquire sufficient power to turn the scale of political institutions. Under such a principle as that which the quotation contains, no member of the community would be allowed to transmit any advantages of his hard-earned and hardly-saved accumulations, unless they amounted to a sum less than what, in the opinion of the state, was comapatible with the public interest; and since "the state" would consist of the majority, that amount would obviously not be fixed very high. Everything beyond the amount limited would, of course, go into the coffers of the state, for the general good; and we should in a very short time find we had brought upon ourselves most of the demoralising effects of "communism," viz., loss of incentive to energy and enterprise, and apathy regarding future provisions; for since the state could claim the surplus, a consequent tendency to idleness or extravagant expenditure would soon display itself, and, as a result, a general degeneration would be produced in the national character.
When Mr. Chamberlain was asked, among the other "reputed Liberals," why he was of that party, he gave as an answer that which I have already mentioned, and which The Times characterised as a "not very new truism." He said, "True Liberalism seeks constantly the greatest happiness of the greatest number."
Mr. Chamberlain has probably read Bentham's "Theory of Legislation," from which I have been quoting, but evidently not with great care; for he has given, as a definition of Liberalism in politics, that which its author only intended as the principle which should uderlie all legislation. They are very different things, and require careful distinction. Bentham has said that the principle which Mr. Chamberlain has given must underlie all legislation; but it by no means follows that all social movements which "seek constantly the greatest happiness of the greatest number" should be brought about by, or would constitute legitimate subjects for legislation.
In fact, Bentham has expressed himself very distinctly upon this point in the opposite direction. "Morality, in general," he says, "is the art of directing the actions of men in such a way as to produce the greatest possible sum of good. Legislation ought to have precisely the same object. But although these two arts, or rather sciences, have the same end, they differ greatly in extent."
"All actions, whether public or private, fall under the jurisdiction of morals. It is a guide which leads the individual, as it were, by the hand, through all the details of his life, all his relations with his fellows. Legislation cannot do this, and if it could, it ought not to exercise a continual interference and dictation over the conduct of men. In a word, legislation has the same centre with morals, but it has not the same circumference."
Can it be doubted that Mr. Chamberlain has seriously misread, and, unconsciously, misrepresented Bentham?
To claim the support of so great an authority, in the advocacy of such proposals, is to do that great writer an injustice, and to give to the proposals, among those who have not read for themselves, a force and influence which they do not merit.
If it were intended, as part of this proposal, to give the owners less than the value of the land, an obvious injustice would be done to them; if, on the other hand, it were intended to give the owners the full value, then legislation were unnecessary, for "men will devote themselves to pursuits in which they can realise the greatest profits for their labour and capital;" and if the agricultural labourers, as a class, really want small holdings, and are willing to pay a full value for them, there would be found no difficulty in effecting the purchase in many parts of Great Britain.
Turning now from this very significant instance of the modern tendency in legislation, let us glance at another phase of the same subject. We have seen that the whole scope of present-day legislation is in direct contravention of the true principles of Liberalism, as scientifically understood. A further examination of what is passing around us will show that legislators themselves have, in one form or another, given up their own freedom of action, and even freedom of expression, in the exercise of their legislative functions. Who can have failed to observe the pitch to which party tactics have been carried in almost all English-speaking communities?
Mr. Joseph Cowen, one of the most scientific and high-principled of Liberals, and one, too, of the most ardent disciples of individual freedom, has been literally driven from public life by the bigotry of party despotism in his constituency. One of that eminent man's ablest addresses to his constituents commences with the following words: "I am indifferent about party; but I try to be true to principles.... I cannot think for anyone.... There is no sacrifice of independence in accepting information or instruction, by whomsoever given; but there is in accepting tutelage." "Principles (he says elsewhere), should govern party, and party should not govern principles." Again, "I would (he says), subordinate the interests of party to that of the nation, the interest of classes to that of justice, the interest of sections to that of liberty, and the interest of all to the elevation of man.... We are witnessing too many of the newly-enfranchised, amidst hurrahing and placarding, hurrying to equip themselves in the prison uniform of party—to speak to their leaders' briefs, rather than by undying principles, and to trust perishable names and interests, rather than realities."
Mr. Joseph Cowen sacrificed himself on the altar of his principles; for, at the subsequent election to that at which these lofty sentiments were uttered, he positively declined to submit himself as a candidate for parliament, on account of the reprehensible extremes to which he had seen party tactics carried in the party organisations of his constituency.
In a touching letter, which he addressed to certain of his constituents, in answer to a request that he should allow himself to be again nominated for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which he had represented for twelve years, he said: "I claimed and exercised the liberty of thinking for myself, and voting as my convictions prompted me, on all matters of principle. I regarded myself as a representative of all the electors, and not a delegate of a faction.... But my procedure has secured for me the unappeasable animosity of our organised Liberals. They required me to blindly follow their leaders, whether I thought them right or wrong. They desired me also to act only as their spokesman; to take my orders from them and communicate with the people of Newcastle through them. I refused. I preferred principle to party, and the constituency to the caucus. And for so doing, they have done their level best to make my position intolerable. The caucus demands unqualified party obsequiousness, and given that, it is indifferent to other services.... What the caucus wants is a machine. I am a man—not a machine."
These extracts, and the freedom and freshness of intellect which they indicate in him who uttered them, are one picture, on which it were pleasurable to dwell. But look now on the reality, as compared with the ideal.
"Some men," says Sir Henry Maine, "are Tories and Whigs by conviction, but thousands upon thousands of electors vote simply for yellow, blue, or purple, caught at most by the appeals of some popular orator." And, again, "Now-a-days, party has become a force, acting with vast energy on multitudinous democracies, and a number of artificial contrivances have been invented for facilitating and stimulating its action."
"The fictitious authority and importance which opinions derive from being the formulas and cries of party, or the dicta of party leaders, is a besetting evil of modern times." But party government, party discipline, party despotism, call it what we will, has not yet run the lengths or reached the extremes which is the case in the United States. Almost everyone who has, in writing, dealt with political matters, as existing in that great democratic community, testifies to the slavish results which have followed upon the party organisation in its intense form as there developed. "It is," says an able writer upon American institutions, "almost impossible for a man of independent opinions to obtain a seat in Congress. He must be 'endorsed' by a party, or it is useless for him to contest an election. Should any accepted member exhibit an opinion of his own in opposition to the general party, he is practically driven out of its ranks; he is assailed on all sides with a virulence and unscrupulousness, unknown elsewhere; he inevitably fails to receive a future nomination, and then he loses the next election. Within the walls of the legislature every voice is raised against him, and, outside, he has to confront the unprincipled assaults of the combined agents of a faction. Few public men in America can long contend in so unequal a struggle. Thus the power of Congress is securely concentrated in the hands of the leaders of the dominant party of the hour, who may be so actuated by personal ambition, or other unworthy motives, as to render them altogether unsafe guides for the nation. The discussions of this conclave are carried on in secret, and the mockery of a deliberative assembly is made complete by the systematic refusal to allow of full debate upon measures of the most momentous description." The same author quotes at length from a report of (what is termed) "the Personal Representation Society of New York" to the Constitutional Convention of 1867. In that report the following passage occurs, with reference to party despotism:—"Under our present system of majority representation, the necessity of unification and consolidation of party, for the purpose of becoming the dominant power, is so urgent, as non-success means non-representation, that party discipline becomes almost as rigorous as that of an army; and all men of independence of thought, who agree with a strong minority of a majority upon some of the party measures, while disagreeing as to others, are either compelled to accept the party yoke, however uncomfortably it may fit, and sink their individual opinions, or abstain from taking part in politics." "Never," says another eminent writer on American democracy, "Never, since our government was formed, has the tyranny of majorities been exercised to the same extent as at present.... The majority in the House are now more enslaved than southern negroes ever were, whose mouths never felt the gag. There will never be real freedom and independence in this country (America) until this tyranny—never attempted against us by the mother country—shall be effectually ended."
The former of these observations, being written by one who has filled several high positions in American politics, should have some authority. English communities have certainly not yet become so degraded; but there are not wanting signs that they are fast tending in that direction. I need scarcely ask here whether it is possible to get freedom of opinion among legislators themselves, under such a state of things; and it would seem to be even more hopeless to expect legislators to get the true principle of individual freedom recognised in legislation, when they openly sacrifice it at the very threshold of the institution where the laws, intended to secure it, are made. The immediate cause of this unfortunate result is to be found in the fact that, instead of "sacrificing party to principle"—as advocated by Mr. Joseph Cowen—principle is hurriedly and thoughtlessly sacrificed to party. "In all parties," says Sir George Cornewall Lewis, "whether political or otherwise, there is a tendency to forget the end for which the combination exists, and to prefer to it the means; to think only of the confederation and the body, and not of the purpose for which the body exists."
The caucus is but the engine of despotism by which the party power is screwed up to its highest pitch of force and efficacy. "The caucus," says the same American writer whom I have quoted, "was originally little more important than the preliminary meeting of Conservatives or Liberals, which is held at the opening of the English session, at the houses of their respective leaders. It is now a distinct and important part of the governing power of the country. The whole business of the land, at the opening of a session, is practically at the disposal of a caucus. The deliberations of the body are conducted with closed doors, and the conclusions, which have been arrived at, are alone made known to the public papers, and often even that dole of information is witheld. The caucus cannot indeed make laws; but when it has decided upon a particular course, it has the power to carry it out, and the people do not learn the motives which led to its adoption."
I have before me an excellent illustration of the injurious results which may, and do arise from caucus voting. Government by majority is questionable enough as a means of obtaining wise legislative conclusions; but by adopting the caucus in democratic communities, a very small minority may possibly secure a result which, in open parliament, where men's opinions are not, as it were, "gagged," only an absolute majority could be effectual. About two years ago it became necessary to choose a leader for the so-called Liberal party in the parliament of the colony of Victoria. The "caucus" was utilised with an instructive effect. I shall describe the process in the words of a member of the Victorian parliament, who, personally, took part in it. "After the last parliament was prorogued," he said, "I received two letters inviting me to caucuses of the Liberal party. I could not conveniently attend the first caucus, but was present at the second, which was held for the election of a leader of the party. There were twenty-two members present. When the meeting was constituted, I asked the chairman if it was a meeting of the Liberal party, or only a section of it. The question was objected to, but I insisted upon it. It was never answered. I soon learned that the programme was cut and dried. A leader had already been chosen, before the meeting began. But parliament having been prorogued, with a view to dissolution, the meeting ought to have comprised prominent members of the Liberal party, not only in parliament, but out of it. My advice was contemptuously rejected; and, under the circumstances, I declined to have anything further to do with the meeting. When I left the room twenty-one remained. Out of the twenty-one, eight were expectant ministers, and there were only four vacancies for them in the government. The eight expectant ministers had no business to vote, being interested in the decision. That reduced the number really to thirteen. Out of those thirteen, three violently opposed the then proposed coalition. That reduced the number to ten. Three out of the ten were rejected, so that the position of the leadership of the 'Liberal' party had been decided by seven votes. Such a pyramid, standing on such a base!" adds the speaker, "even in this age of shams, I know," he says, "of no greater sham."
It is certainly significant that a leader of a "Liberal" party should be chosen by a method so absolutely contrary to all principles of Liberalism. "The caucus," says Mr. Cowen, "is anti-democratic. It substitutes fugitiveness for patriotism. It reduces politics to personalities, and agitation to a business. It plants, between the representatives and the people, an intermediary power, whose endeavours either galvanise them into frenzy, or produce an unreal tranquillity—the tranquillity of galley slaves, who row in cadence and in silence." The present English Home Secretary (the Right Hon. Henry Matthews), in addressing the electors of Birmingham, in August of last year, in regard to the party and caucus organisation of that city, told them that they should "rely less upon those political organisations for which their town was so famous. It struck him (he said) that these political organisations were things destructive of all honest, energetic, English opinion. He trusted an honest Englishman to come to the right conclusion, especially upon a great national question, before all the associations and unions in the world.... If they pulled aside the veil, what did they find? Persons whom, in private life, they would not think much of. But when they hid themselves behind the title of an association or a federation, it looked so imposing that they really deluded simple men."
The result of this extreme use of party government, and the constant resort to that terrible engine of despotism—the caucus, is to reduce parliamentary representatives to mere puppets or automata, who are moved, in many instances, at the will of a mere handful of cunning and ambitious organisers. Freedom of opinion and liberty of open expression are stifled out of existence, and political conclusions, affecting a whole nation, are arrived at with as great an insensibility to reason and justice as was ever displayed in the judgments of the historical Star Chamber. The effect of all this has already begun to show itself in the servility and subserviency of many parliamentary representatives, when brought into close contact with those whose interests they have been elected to watch. A candidate may be elected by a body of constituents professing certain party tenets, and, though that party may be led, for reasons of political exigency, to advocate some measure quite contrary to its traditional principles, the representative who ventures to be true to his convictions will, in all probability, suffer the loss of his seat for his consistency. The knowledge of this possibility has led a large number of the members of every representative assembly to completely subordinate their judgment to the popular whim which is expressed by the masses. Thus, such representatives as are willing to sacrifice anything in order to retain their seat become mere delegates for the purpose of registering the wishes of the noisiest of their constituents. Mr. Chamberlain is a strong advocate for the caucus, and for the maximum of what he terms "organisation." "The force of democracy, (he says) to be strong must be concentrated.... It must not be frittered away into numberless units, each of them so preciously independent that no one of them can unite with another, even for a single day." In the same speech in which this truly anti-Liberal sentiment is expressed, he urges this concentration on the ground of his hearers' "eagerness for liberty." Could paradox go further? Elsewhere he urges as "a necessity for future union and future success, that in each district there should be created a numerous, a powerful, a representative district council of the Liberal Association, and that to this district council should be left the duty of selecting the candidates for each of the localities.... Then these district councils might unite to form the United Liberal Association of Birmingham, which would be no longer an Eight Hundred, it would be more likely a Two Thousand, and would alone have the power of collecting and expressing the opinion of the whole town." All this from an apostle of freedom! Did Eastern despotism ever talk more imperiously? Were such words as "freedom" and "liberty" ever more disgracefully prostituted? Did hypocrisy and falsehood ever take a more impudent and audacious form than is involved in the assumption by this man of the title "Liberal?" One is reminded of the high ideal set up before his constituents by Edmund Burke, which offers so striking a contrast to most modern electioneering utterances. "Your representative," he said, "owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion." "You choose a member, indeed," he added, "but when you have chosen him, he is not member for Bristol (that being Burke's constituency), but he is a member of parliament." These words were spoken in 1774, more than a century ago, and things have much changed since then; for now-a-days "the omnipotence of the majority creates a habit of adulation towards the people, which lowers the morality of public men, by rendering them servile and insincere, and, in short, by giving them the character of the mob courtier."
The truth is, at the present day, "Every candidate for parliament is prompted to propose or support some new piece of ad captandum legislation. Nay, even the chiefs of parties—those anxious to retain office, and those to wrest it from them—generally aim to get adherents, by outbidding one another. Each seeks popularity by promising more than his opponent has promised.... Representatives are unconscientious enough to vote for bills which they believe to be wrong in principle, because party needs and regard for the next election, demand it." Note the following instance of this propensity to promise indirect rewards for party support. A minister of the crown of one of the Australian colonies, a short time since, in an address to his constituents, made the following bid for public favour: "The irrigation question," he said, "is one of the most important that could engage public attention. My colleagues agree with me in the matter, and they have placed before the public a proposal, which for liberality and justice could neither be equalled nor surpassed.... Under the existing law the Government could advance moneys to trusts, and postpone the payment of interest until the works were completed." This offer may have been very liberal to the farming community, in the sense of foregoing interest to state debtors at the expense of the general public; but, whether it is, at the same time, capable of being "equalled or surpassed," in "justice" to the rest of the community, is, I venture to think, quite a different question. I am inclined to view it as a very unjust method of purchasing political popularity and support, by offering money concessions to one class at the expense of the whole community.
Almost while I write, another instance is afforded in the same colony. A deputation waited upon a minister of the crown, with a view to acquaint him with the numerous proposals for celebrating Her Majesty's Jubilee. In the course of a somewhat desultory conversation which took place upon the subject, the minister in question himself proposed and pledged the support of his government to a vote of £20,000, to provide an endowment for a workingmen's college. The minister is of opinion that "it would not be an unwise movement;" it would be "a very good thing to do;" it would "commemorate the Queen's Jubilee in a practical manner." I venture to characterise this as one of the most bare-faced breaches of the principles of good government which could well be conceived. The working classes are a large and powerful body in the colony alluded to. They are as well off, comparatively speaking, as any section of society, and certainly as prosperous as, if not more so than, their own class in any other part of the world. That being the case, we find a minister of the crown, whose first duty it is to look to the interests of every class of citizens, proposing, and deliberately pledging his government to support a movement in parliament, which would have no other effect than that of taking £20,000 out of the public revenue, which belongs to all citizens alike, and using it for the purpose of endowing an advanced educational establishment for a particular class in the community. This is indeed a most loyal act on the part of a minister! To perform it involves no personal sacrifice. It would doubtless add greatly to the popularity of his ministry; but it means taking out of the pocket of every citizen a certain sum of money, in order to bestow the aggregate amount so taken upon a particular class in the community. And this breach of political principle is—to make the farce more complete—proposed to be done to commemorate the Queen's Jubilee. It would, I venture to think, be a greater compliment to Her Majesty to celebrate her jubilee by a sounder observance, rather than by so glaring a breach, of the true principles of good and equitable government. If the minister in question had read Mr. Gladstone's Nineteenth Century article on "Locksley Hall and the Jubilee," he would have found that statesman speaking of the legislation of the last fifty years as "a process of setting free the individual man, that he may work out his own vocation without wanton hindrance;" and he would have found, as part of the context of those words, the following significant observation:—"If, instead of this, government is to work out his vocation for him, I, for one, am not sanguine as to the result." Under such circumstances, is there much hope of sounder principles prevailing in democratic communities?
Another instance of the onward march of this spurious school of political thought is the attempt lately made in England to prevent freedom of contract between employers and employed on the subject of compensation for injuries. The law already provides that if an employé is injured in his master's service, through the negligence of his fellow-servant, the master shall, under certain circumstances, be as liable to that injured servant as if he were a perfect stranger. To avoid this liability, and the great and indefinite obligations under which it places employers, that class has sought in many cases to avoid it, though by perfectly legitimate means. They have given a preference to those employés who were willing to exempt them from that liability in the drafting of their contract of service. In the competition for employment it has not always been difficult to make this arrangement, nor has it been unjust; for, with the wonderful growth of the institution of insurance, it is an easy matter for an employé to secure his family against any such contingency. Where this element has been introduced into a contract of service it has been a purely voluntary matter. Moreover, if the employé refused, he would either suffer a reduction of wages sufficient to enable the employer to secure himself against loss, or he would have to give place to those who would consent. Bearing this in view, an attempt has been made to introduce a measure to prohibit an employé from contracting himself out of the act; that is to say, an attempt has been made, by act of parliament, to prevent an employé from entering into such a contract of service as he may be anxious and willing to do. This I need scarcely say is a distinct breach of civil liberty. In 1884, when Mr. Thomas Burt endeavoured to pass the Bill through the Commons, a petition was presented from 1219 adult working miners, all being voters in that member's constituency. "They objected to their freedom of contract being taken from them." The bill was defeated, and the defeat attributed to the petition mentioned. In 1886 the measure was again brought forward, but so much opposition was offered by various organisations that it was again dropped.
Here is another form which this socialistic movement is taking. Mr. Hyndman, Grand Master of the Social Democratic Federation, writes in The Times, "I hope that steps will at once be taken to meet the demands of the most important portion of our population, for the organisation of labour upon the land, for the erection of artisans' dwellings, baths, washhouses, etc., in our great industrial centres; for the reduction of the hours of labour in all government departments and in all monopolies; and, in the meantime, for the extension of out-door relief and temporary employment, until arrangements have been made for this re-organisation." Turn from this to another feature, in which Liberalism is drifting from its old moorings and forgetting its old traditions. No political party has ever shown greater intolerance for independence of political thought than the Liberal party of the present day, in Great Britain. Simply because a section of that party has differed in opinion, on the Irish question, with the bulk of the party following Mr. Gladstone, it has been subjected to an amount of bitter and offensive ridicule which would have been more in keeping with the treatment of opponents in a theological controversy of the middle ages. Sir Henry James, who has shown a constant and consistent regard for the true principles of the Liberal school, has commented severely on that intolerance. Speaking of the threat which had been made that the Unionist section was to be "drummed out" of the Liberal party, he said: "it meant that for the first time in this country, an arbitrary power was to be applied to men's judgments, and applied in a manner and method, contrary to all the instincts and the very faith of the Liberal party. And," (he added) "this must and will bring upon this country great and serious political disaster." In the reported proceedings of a Trades' Union Congress, held at Hull, in September of 1886, an attempt was made to affirm the principle of having a minimum rate of wages established by the state, "which" (added the mover) "will enable workmen to live decently and rear their families." It is but fair to add that, though the resolution was much discussed, its wisdom was on the whole doubted, and the matter allowed to stand over; but, at the same Congress, it was resolved and carried "that a bureau of labour should be established in connection with the government."
Not many months ago a deputation of trades-unionists waited upon the Premier of the colony of South Australia, asking that his government would "grant a block of land, on which to erect a Trades Hall," or that, instead, they would "place a sum of money on the estimates for the purpose." These alternative proposals meant, practically, that a site for a Trades Hall, that is to say, a site for a building in which trades-unionists might more easily and more comfortably perfect their organisation, should be paid for out of the public revenue, or taken out of the public estate, in which every man, woman, and child in that colony has an interest. The effect would be to take from everybody in the community to give to a class. It is somewhat refreshing to find that the Premier of that colony knew something of political principles, and what is more rare, now-a-days, had the moral courage to say what he thought and felt upon the subject. "This is (he said) a new idea—coming to government for every requirement." The leader of the deputation interjected that "though it was a new idea, it was a growing one," to which the Premier replied, "Yes, and I deeply regret the tendency to make the government a milch cow," adding that it was "a curse which was sapping the manhood of every country which practised it." It may be worth remarking that in the colony of Victoria, where politicians seem less capable of courageous public conduct of this kind, a large and valuable piece of ground has been already granted to the working-classes for a similar purpose. Events point to the conclusion that there is very little which they could, as a class, ask for in the latter colony, that the average run of that colony's legislators would have the courage to refuse. The working-classes number many thousands, at election time, and no government has appeared, during the last few years, possessing sufficient manly independence to treat them with the same courage and candour which is adopted towards other and less numerous classes of the community.
In the same colony (Victoria), only a short time ago, a prominent member of the Legislative Assembly asked the Postmaster-General to "engage the services of a sporting agent, for the purpose of ascertaining the names of the first, second and third horses" in a certain race, "in order that telegrams announcing the result might be delivered as soon as possible after the race was run, at any telegraph office in the colony." The request was at once acceded to. The effect of this extraordinary action on the part of a government was that that portion of the population who take an interest in horse-racing was supplied with the latest "sporting news"; but, at the expense of the whole community, including those who take no such interest in that subject. The injustice of this is obvious, and would become even more so, if every section of the community claimed the right to use state-property (such as the telegraphic system) for its own class purposes. I might, indeed, mention a score of such departures into fields of enterprise, wholly foreign to the true functions of government.
One of the most serious aspects of this already sufficiently serious subject is the popular belief that municipalities can undertake many functions which it would be improper for parliament to undertake, and that, too, without any of the injurious results which might follow when the matter is undertaken by the legislature. This is a grievous error; for inasmuch as all municipal regulations, duly made in pursuance of an act of parliament, acquire the force of law; and inasmuch as some are actually so passed, those innumerable small bodies called municipal councils may be rendered capable of inflicting inestimable injury by means of a system of silent and unobserved overlegislation. The extent to which municipalities in Great Britain and elsewhere are widening their functions, in the present day, is becoming a matter for grave attention. I have before me particulars of a bill called the "Hastings Improvement Bill." The object of the measure is "to confer additional powers" on the corporation named. It consists of 262 pages, containing 484 sections; and, in the words of a competent critic, "it deals with every conceivable department of human activity." This bill is only one of a type which is being sought for by all the principal municipalities of Great Britain; and I shall therefore venture to go somewhat into detail over it, in order that I may give the reader even a vague idea of the rage which it indicates for "regulating" society into "good and proper behaviour."
I need scarcely explain that the class of men who fill the positions of town councillors in many of the less important English provincial towns, are usually small tradesmen of the busy-body type, who have lived for the greater part of their lives in a narrow groove, and whose knowledge of men and of the world is, as a consequence, almost invariably in an inverse ratio to their confidence in their own capacity. Their knowledge of the political science itself is an "unknown quantity." Observe now the duties which these persons would place upon their own shoulders. Take, as an instance, the town of Hastings, which I have mentioned. "As traders, or regulators of trade, they will provide public weighing machines and measuring apparatus, with weights and measures, and appoint official weighers; they will erect, at a cost of £10,000, and maintain, public slaughter-houses. The costermonger or fish-wife will not be allowed to sell any commodities, from door to door, without their licenses. A license will have to be procured by the payment of an annual fee, before the marine-store dealer, the itinerant rag and bone merchant, the bottle-collector, shoe-black, flower-girl, bill-sticker, bathing-machine proprietor, porter, messenger, commissionaire, or cats'-meat man, can enter upon their respective callings.... The conduct of the porter, the messenger, the commissionaire, and the shoeblack will be regulated, and appropriate badges will be assigned to them.... They (the councillors) will prescribe the times for the collection and removal of 'hogwash,' and will erect an engine...'for the treatment by fire or otherwise,' of such of this commodity as goes begging, and of waste refuse of all kinds. They will fix the fares and prescribe the routes of omnibuses, and will supervise the conduct of the drivers, and the quantity and quality of their horses. They will see that the cranes, ropes, and tackle of merchants and tradesmen are 'proper and sufficient.' They will regulate the size, construction, and use of advertising vans, and the loading and unloading of goods in the street, as well as prohibit 'the practice of touting' for hotels, lodging-houses, carriages, or pleasure-boats. They will exercise special supervision over architects, builders, and contractors. The height of houses, and the manner of their foundations; the construction of cellars and chimney-flues, the size of timbers, the thickness of the inner and outer walls, the height of rooms and chimneys, be dimensions of hearth-stones, the ingredients of the mortar, and the quality of materials and workmanship generally, must all conform to the standard fixed by the municipal authorities; and they will superintend the erection of gipsies' tents and vans. A license will be required by any one who opens a bowling-green or skittle-alley, or who provides facilities for the games of bagatelle, dominoes, quoits, or brasses; and the hours of play will be fixed by the authorities. Similar conditions will be imposed upon any person who shall play for 'reward on any musical instrument'—the latter term including any barrel-organ, punch-and-judy show, marionettes, or performing animals. The corporation will appoint and regulate the number of oars and sails in pleasure-boats, and the places and times for the hiring of mules, donkeys, and bathing-machines; and, as regards the latter, will see that they are safe, and duly fitted with hand-lines and clothes-hooks." It would be impossible for me to go through the thousand-and-one trivial details into which it is provided that this omniscient and omnipresent corporation shall enter. But I should fail to give an adequate idea of the extent to which human folly may go, when no limit is known or recognised to parliamentary or municipal interference with personal liberty, unless I were to add a few more of them. The municipality in question has, besides those duties above enumerated, these others following: The regulation of infectious diseases, local hospitals and dispensaries; processions; the speed of carts and carriages; and the hours for driving sheep through the streets. On Sunday "processions and parades," excepting funerals and religious processions, are absolutely forbidden, and, in the cases allowed, there must not be "any music, fireworks, discharge of cannon or firearms, or other disturbing noise." Penalties are inflicted for throwing orange-peel on the pavement, or allowing one's servant to stand on the sill of a window for the purpose of cleaning it; for blowing any horn, ringing any bell, or using any other noisy instrument, or shouting or singing for the purpose of announcing or attracting persons to any sale, show, or entertainment; or "for the purpose of hawking, selling, or collecting any article whatever." The town council will inflict punishment for drowning cats and dogs; will buy and lay out recreation grounds, with refreshment sheds, and "apparatus for games" and gymnastics. They will erect suitable statues and keep them "in good order." They will provide conservatories, cabmen's shelters, public libraries, and reading-rooms, baths, and wash-houses, illuminated clocks, museums, and picture galleries, stands for meteorological instruments, public bands of music, flag-staffs and weather charts, etc., etc. They will prohibit "dangerous whirligigs and swings," and will control the speed of such as are permitted. They will prescribe the opening and closing hours for entertainments, and punish anyone who "discharges" a snowball, stone, or other missle, or who makes a bonfire or "sets fire to fireworks." Anyone who collects a crowd by flying pigeons, foot-racing, or singing, or "who flies a kite, or uses a slide on ice or snow, or plays at pitch-and-toss, or other description of gaming, or trundles a wheel, hoop, or girth, or plays at football, quoits, pig, or other game or pastime, whether in the street or elsewhere, will only do so on sufferance. To complete this veritable reductio ad absurdum the corporation in question has taken powers in its act "to maintain, at railway stations and other public places in the United Kingdom and France, advertisements, stating the attractions and amusements of the town"! As I have already said, this is no isolated instance of the extremes which are above enumerated. The measure is only a typical one, and it really contains a large number of other equally ridiculous provisions, which I cannot find space for here.
Turning again from municipal socialism to that of the state, let me enumerate some of the most modern instances which have attracted attention in Great Britain. During the 1886 session of the House of Commons, a bill was introduced to enable the tenant, under certain conditions, to force the owner to sell the freehold. After considerable opposition had been excited through the powerful influence of the English Liberty and Property Defence League, the bill was dropped. Two game bills and two land bills were likewise proposed. They have been aptly described as "bills for legalising trespass, and for transferring to tenants the rights of the owners, without compensation, any agreement to the contrary notwithstanding." These also were ultimately dropped.
A bill was introduced (Places of Worship Sites Bill), which, if passed, would have had the effect of enabling any twenty householders to compel an owner to sell a site for a religious place of worship. Another bill (Crofters No. 2), which actually passed in a modified form, had the effect of enabling tenants, in league with the Land Commission, to extort from the owner fixity of tenure, and additional land at "regulation" rents. Seven other bills, all relating to land, were prepared for enactment, all tending in a greater or less degree to the suppression of freedom of contract, and to the substitution of state regulation in the management and transfer of land—steps in the direction of absolute "land nationalisation," in the place of qualified individual ownership. A Coal Mines Regulation Bill was also introduced, the effect of which was to subject the coal mining industry to increased state regulation. Four other mining bills were prepared, but ultimately abandoned: all of them being measures in various degrees and particulars exhibiting the same general tendency to the nationalisation of the mining industry. A Railway and Canal Traffic Bill was introduced, but ultimately withdrawn, the effect of which was to enable that already over-weighted body—the Board of Trade—by means of a Court of Railway Commissioners, to obtain official control over the financial arrangements of the various public railway companies. And a second bill, called the Railway Regulation Bill, was prepared, though ultimately abandoned, the effect of which would have been to enable the Board of Trade to acquire additional control over the practical working of railways. In the direction of shipping, a bill was introduced, though ultimately withdrawn, having for its object to enable the Board of Trade to enforce more stringent regulations on the sea-fishing service; and a further attempt was made at merchant shipping legislation, for the purpose of empowering the Board of Trade to prescribe for the merchant service a code of regulations, for the internal arrangement of the vessels, and for the management of the crews. Under the head of Manufactures and Trades, a Steam Engines and Boilers Bill was introduced, but ultimately dropped, which would, if passed, have empowered the Board of Trade to forbid the management of steam boilers on land by any person not holding a certificate. A Lunacy Acts Amendment Bill was introduced and also abandoned, by which it was proposed to close pauper private asylums without compensation. No less than six bills were introduced and ultimately withdrawn—all dealing with the subject of intoxicating liquors, and all of them being attempts on the part of the State to control the dealings and habits of buyers and sellers of alcoholic drink.
These are only a portion of the attempts at socialistic legislation which were made during the sessions of 1886. They should sufficiently point to the overwhelming flood of socialism which is gradually gathering around us, and by which sooner or later our individual rights and liberties as citizens seem likely to be swept out of existence. There is, as Mr. Herbert Spencer says, a widespread assumption "that it is the duty of the state, not simply to insure each citizen fair play in the battle of life, but to help him in fighting that battle, having previously taken money from his or some one else's pocket to pay the cost of doing it." It is, in fact, expected that the state should not only "guarantee men in the unmolested pursuit of happiness, but should provide the happiness for them and deliver it at the doors."
Now, it is very necessary to remark that, in proportion as the state is more and more burdened with duties and functions, which do not properly belong to it, it will cease to carry out with the necessary degree of thoroughness, those which properly fall within its province. To be constantly watching the development of new classes of rights, in the increasingly rapid changes of modern times, and amid the increasingly complex ramifications of our highly artificial society—to provide sufficient and scientifically conceived checks to prevent those rights being ignored and abused, might, as an individual function, well occupy the time and attention of the most competent parliament. If, in addition to this, such a body is obliged to keep a watchful eye upon the outside world, and to be ever ready to meet the possible aggression of other nations, a parliament would find the fullest occupation for its deliberations. But when, in addition to these all-important duties, the parliament is called upon to supervise the management of an immense public estate, an equally immense system of public railways, a gigantic organisation for the collection of duties on imported goods, and for the payment of drawbacks on those which are exported, a national postal and telegraphic system, a national savings bank, public picture galleries and museums, the inspection of factories, of boilers, of vessels, of stock, of vineyards, of distilleries; the licensing of public-houses, and the regulation of their accommodation, an immense educational system comprehending hundreds of schools and their respective staffs, a gigantic water supply, all the necessary administration of a comprehensive irrigation scheme, and the maintenance of a large group of public charitable institutions, all of which parliament, as a body, is expected to be watching and scrutinising from time to time on the score of administration and expenditure, how is it to be expected the two first-named and only true functions can be properly or satisfactorily fulfilled? Nor are these all of the duties which modern colonial parliaments are being called upon to fulfil. Every day sees some new duty attempted to be cast upon the state—some duty, too, which could be much more perfectly and economically performed, and the expenditure of which would be more equitably distributed by means of private enterprise.
I have now spoken at length regarding the difficulties of the political science, of the social miscarriages which must and do inevitably result from its being so imperfectly understood; also of the injuries and injustices which are inflicted upon society as consequences of such want of knowledge. Most thoughful men fully recognise all this, but answer that it is useless to attempt to stem the current of popular self-confidence. On the other hand, many intelligent—even some eminent men—follow the masses in their confident treatment of political matters, and rather encourage than otherwise, this state tampering, on the ground that it can "do no harm," and can be repealed if found unsuccessful.
They would seem to be under the impression that an act of parliament is a harmless sort of institution, that can be brought into existence as a mere experiment, and if discovered to be useless or injurious immediately repealed. This, as I have already pointed out, is not the case; for while it may take years to repeal, its influence, meanwhile, will be found to have worked incalculable injury, in directions which it is impossible to trace.
It is only about two years ago that Mr. Chamberlain advocated in the plainest terms this "experimental" doctrine. "Now," he said, "that we have at last the government of the people by the people, we will go on, and we will make it government for the people, in which all shall co-operate to secure to every man his natural rights, his right of existence, and the fair enjoyment of life.... For such a purpose I do not pretend any one specific will be found. We must try experiments; we are bound to do it. Let us keep fast hold of the object in view and let us try and try again till we succeed." That this view of political matters is erroneous, and most injurious to society, I find a host of authorities to testify. Lord Hartington, for instance, touched the core of the matter when he said, "I believe that legislation in favour of any particular class is likely to prevent the general prosperity, and I believe that legislation which is directly applied to the improvement of the condition of the labouring classes can only be detrimental to other classes, and will be as likely to injure that prosperity as class legislation of any kind." It must be remembered that experiments with legislation involve frequent repeals of acts of parliament which have failed to effect their intended purposes; and the future results are incalculable. Mr. Justice Kent, one of America's most eminent jurists, has commented strongly upon this propensity to deal lightly with legislation, as if it were a matter which could be changed from time to time without effecting any injurious results. "A mutable legislation," he says, "is attended with a formidable train of mischiefs to the community. It weakens the government and increases the intricacy of the laws, hurts credit, lessens the value of property. It is an infirmity very incident to republican establishments, and has been a constant source of anxiety and concern to their most enlightened admirers. A disposition to multiply and change laws upon the spur of the occasion, and to be making constant and restless experiments with the statute code, seems to be a natural disease of popular assemblies." The evil results of this disposition have been well elaborated by Mr. Herbert Spencer. "We talk glibly," he says, "of such changes: we think of cancelled legislation with indifference. We forget that before laws are abolished they have generally been inflicting evils more or less serious: some for a few years, some for tens of years, some for centuries.... Even to say that a law has been simply a hindrance is to say that it has caused needless waste of time, extra trouble, and additional worry; and among over-burdened people extra trouble and worry imply, here and there, breaks-down in health, with their entailed direct and indirect sufferings. Seeing, then, that bad legislation means injury to men's lives; judge what must be the total amount of mental distress, physical pain, and raised mortality which...repealed acts of parliament represent."
Thus it will be seen that the more one knows of legislation, the less it will be believed capable of actually producing happiness for the people, that is to say, happiness of a positive nature. It can prevent aggression and abuse by one citizen over another. It can guarantee to every citizen the freedom to do his very best for himself. But parliament possesses no mysterious power. It is nothing more than the whole people, concentrated, for purposes of practical debate. It can no more make wealth, or the comforts of life, than any other body of mere debaters. It cannot bestow comforts or luxuries on any one class, without taking them from some other class. Directly it commences such a process, it strikes a blow at the very tap-root of our social system; at the peace and good-will which is even now maintained in the face of all the inevitable pains and anxieties of life; at that confidence in the security of property which constitutes the main incentive to work and accumulation. And, if it goes further, and inaugurates a permanent system of state interference with individual rights and liberties, upon which our civilisation has been reared, that too will inevitably fall, and with it will disappear all the motives of self-interest and self-help, the temperately restricted exercise of which has made the English the first and the greatest people in the world.