Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

intervenes in common life, it does so, they consider, in virtue of the mandate of the sovereign people, and there is no invasion or dereliction of freedom in that people interfering with itself. The French, the Swiss, and all nations who breathe the full atmosphere of the nineteenth century, think so too. The material necessities of this age require a strong executive: a nation destitute of it cannot be clean or healthy or vigorous like a nation possessing it. By definition, a nation calling itself free should have no jealousy of the executive; for freedom means that the nationthe political part of the nation — wields the executive. But our history has reversed the English feeling: our freedom is the result of centuries of resistance, more or less legal or more or less illegal, more or less audacious or more or less timid, to the executive government; we have accordingly inherited the traditions of conflict, and preserve them in the fullness of victory. We look on state action not as our own action, but as alien action; as an imposed tyranny from without, not as the consummated result of our own organized wishes. I remember at the census of 1851 hearing a very sensible old lady say that “the liberties of England were at an end”: if government might be thus inquisitorial,- if they might ask who slept in your house or what your age was, - what, she argued, might they not ask and what might they not do?

The natural impulse of the English people is to resist authority. The introduction of effectual policemen was not liked: I know people - old people, I admit - who to this day consider them an infringement of freedom and an imitation of the gendarmes of France. If the original policemen had been started with the present helmets, the result might have been dubious; there might have been a cry of military tyranny, and the inbred insubordination of the English people might have prevailed over the very modern love of perfect peace and order. The old notion

:

that the government is an extrinsic agency still rules our imaginations, though it is no longer true and though in calm and intellectual moments we well know it is not. Nor is it merely our history which produces this effect, - we might get over that, - but

— the results of that history co-operate. Our double government so acts: when we want to point the antipathy to the executive, we refer to the jealousy of the Crown so deeply imbedded in the very substance of constitutional authority; so many people are loth to admit the Queen, in spite of law and fact, to be the people's appointee and agent, that it is a good rhetorical emphasis to speak of her prerogative as something non-popular and therefore to be distrusted. By the very nature of our government, our executive cannot be liked and trusted as the Swiss or the American is liked and trusted.

Out of the same history and the same results proceeds our tolerance of those “local authorities” which so puzzle many foreigners : in the struggle with the Crown, these local centers served as props and fulcrums. In the early Parliaments it was the local bodies which sent members to Parliament, - the counties and the boroughs, -and in that way and because of their free life the Parliament was free too: if active real bodies had not sent the representatives, they would have been powerless. This is very much the reason why our old rights of suffrage were so various: the government let whatever people happened to be the strongest in each town choose the members. They applied to the electing bodies the test of “natural selection": whatever set of people were locally strong enough to elect, did so. Afterwards, in the Civil War, many of the corporations, like that of London, wero important bases of resistance. The case of London is typical and remarkable. Probably if there is any body more than another which an educated Englishman nowadays regards with little favor, it is the corporation of London: he connects it

:

with hereditary abuses perfectly preserved, with large revenues imperfectly accounted for, with a system which stops the principal city government at an old archway, with the perpetuation of a hundred detestable parishes, with the maintenance of a horde of luxurious and useless bodies. For the want of all which makes Paris nice and splendid we justly reproach the corporation of London; for the existence of much of what makes London mean and squalid we justly reproach it too. Yet the corporation of London was for centuries a bulwark of English liberty: the conscious support of the near and organized capital gave the Long Parliament a vigor and vitality which they could have found nowhere else; their leading patriots took refuge in the City, and the nearest approach to an English “sitting in permanence” is the committee at Guildhall, where all members “that came were to have voices.” Down to George III.'s time the City was a useful center of popular judgment. Here, as elsewhere, we have built into our polity pieces of the scaffolding by which it was erected.

De Tocqueville indeed used to maintain that in this matter the English were not merely historically excusable, but likewise politically judicious; he founded what may be called the culte of corporations. And it was natural that in France, where there is scarcely any power of self-organization in the people, where the préfet must be asked upon every subject and take the initiative in every movement, a solitary thinker should be repelled from the exaggerations of which he knew the evil to the contrary exaggeration of which he did not; but in a country like England, where business is in the air, where we can organize a vigilance committee on every abuse and an executive committee for every remedy, -as a matter of political instruction, which was De Tocqueville's point,

- we need not care how much power is delegated to outlying bodies and how much is kept for the central body. We have had the instruction municipalities could give us; we have been through all that: now we are quite grown up, and can put away childish things. The same

causes account for the innumerable anomalies of our polity. I own that I do not entirely sympathize with the horror of these anomalies which haunts some of our best critics. It is natural that those who by special and admirable culture have come to look at all things upon the artistic side should start back from these queer peculiarities; but it is natural also that persons used to analyze political institutions should look at these anomalies with a little tenderness and a little interest. They may have something to teach us. Political philosophy is still more imperfect: it has been framed from observations taken upon regular specimens of politics and states, as to these its teaching is most valuable, but we must ever remember that its data are imperfect; the lessons are good where its primitive assumptions hold, but may be false where those assumptions fail. A philosophical politician regards a political anomaly as a scientific physician regards a rare disease, it is to him an "interesting case"; there may still be instruction here, though we have worked out the lessons of common cases. I cannot, therefore, join in the full cry against anomalies: in my judgment it may quickly overrun the scent, and so miss what we should be glad to find.

Subject to this saving remark, however, I not only admit but maintain that our Constitution is full of curious oddities, which are impeding and mischievous and ought to be struck out. Our law very often reminds one of those outskirts of cities where you cannot for a long time tell how the streets came to wird about in so capricious and serpent-like a manner: at last it strikes you that they grew up, house by house, on the devious tracks of the old green lanes; and if you follow on to the existing fields, you may often find the change half complete. Just so the lines of our Constitution were framed in old eras of sparse population, few wants, and simple habits; and we adhere in seeming to their shape, though civilization has come with its dangers, complications, and enjoyments. These anomalies in a hundred instances mark the old boundaries of a constitutional struggle: the casual line was traced according to the strength of deceased combatants, succeeding generations fought elsewhere, and the hesitating line of a half-drawn battle was left to stand for a perpetual limit.

I do not count as an anomaly the existence of our double government, with all its infinite accidents, though half the superficial peculiarities that are often complained of arise out of it. The coexistence of a Queen's seeming prerogative and a Downing Street's real government is just suited to such a country as this in such an age as ours.

* So well is our real government concealed that if you tell a cabman to drive to “Downing Street," he most likely will never have heard of it, and will not in the least know where to take you. It is only a “disguised republic” which is suited to such a being as the Englishman in such a century as the nineteenth-B.

VOL. IV. - 19

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »