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fused; restless, turbulent, and chaotic; refusing to obey the reins, yet unable and afraid to assume them. Under such circumstances we need not wonder that the people, taking their cue from the Opposition which sought only to discredit the Government, and from demagogues who sought to discredit Opposition and Government alike, should have jumped to the menacing and disheartening conclusion, that all Ministers were corrupt, and all their subordinates incapable.
Now, it is because there is so much that is substantially correct mingled with so much that is unsound and exaggerated in this conclusion; because we intend throughout our course to be such earnest reformers of what is wrong, and such zealous defenders of what is calumniated or misjudged; and because, in the movement for “ Administrative Reform" which the recent apocalypse has originated, we recognize so true an instinct in the object aimed at, confused and jeopardised by so damaging an ignorance, so poor an appreciation of difficulties, and so inadequate a choice of means,--that we propose to devote a few pages of this our first Number to a rectification of what we deem a popular mistake.
We heartily rejoice at the direction which public feeling has taken. We congratulate our countrymen on having abandoned or postponed the demand for organic changes in favour of one for Administrative Reform. They are at last on the right scent; they have got hold of the right clue; their face is set in the right direction; and we have no doubt that they will soon work themselves clear of their present errors and misconceptions. At all events their efforts will not now be wasted on unattainable ends, or rendered abortive by inherent misdirection. At the point of national progress at which we are now arrived, administrative are of far more consequence than legislative questions. There may be, and there have been, times when it is otherwise ; when laws are so bad that no executive ability can make them tolerable; when institutions are so imperfect that no administration can remedy their faults; when freedom is so scanty or so ill-secured, and popular action so feeble and so fettered, that organic changes are essential as preliminaries to functional reforms. But in Great Britain this stage is far back in history. We have conquered our liberties, and we have completed our instruments. Self-government is ours whenever we WILL to take it up. Our institutions are effective tools, imperfect still, no doubt, but such as no good workman will quarrel with. A jealous House of Commons and a vigilant and unsparing Press give us the means of exercising whatever control and enforcing whatever improvements we desire. The nation-by which term we mean, not the populace, but that
grand aggregate of the educated and industrial classes which together constitute the British PEOPLE-has only to know its own mind, to determine its object, and be prepared to pay down the appointed purchase-money, in order to obtain its wishes, without a single constitutional innovation, and almost without a single new law. The composition and the action of the Executive is the point to which all our reforming zeal should now be directed.
"Laws (says Burke) reach but a very little way. Constitute government how you please, infinitely the greater part of it must depend upon the exercise of the powers which are left at large to the prudence and uprightness of ministers of state. The due arrangement of men in the active part of the state, so far from being foreign to the purposes of a wise government, ought to be among its very first and dearest objects.
“The far greater proportion of the duties which are performed in the office of a minister (says Henry Taylor), are and must be performed under no effective responsibility. Where politics and parties are not affected by the matter in question, and so long as there is no flagrant neglect or glaring injustice to individuals which a party can take hold of, the responsibility to parliament is merely nominal. By evading decisions whenever they can be evaded; by shifting them on other departments or authorities where by any possibility they can be shifted; by giving decisions upon superficial examinations,-categorically, so as not to expose the superficiality in propounding the reasons; by deferring questions till, as Lord Bacon says, 'they resolve themselves,' by undertaking nothing for the public good which the public voice does not call for; by conciliating loud and energetic individuals at the expense of such public interests as are dumb or do not attract attention ; by sacrificing, everywhere, what is feeble and obscure to what is influential and cognizable ;-by such means and shifts as these the functionary may reduce his business within his powers, and perhaps obtain for himself the most valuable of all reputations in that line of life, that of a 'safe man.'”
Formerly, the cry of “Measures, not Men," had in it a great truth-a truth fragmentary, indeed, but still that special fragment of truth appropriate to the exigencies of the hour. But now that nearly all the great measures for which in those days we clamoured and strove have been carried and borne fruitnot, indeed, all the fruit we looked for from them, but all that such trees could bear; now that “the harvest is reaped, the summer is ended, and we are not saved” (according to the lamentation of Jeremiah),—the time has come when men are of far more consequence than measures. And a few moments' reflection, aided by the testimony of the two high authorities we have just cited, will explain why it must be so. In a great and busy country like this, with its complicated concerns and its
numberless dependencies, every executive functionary at all high in the service every day decides some scores of questions and issues some scores of orders, makes twenty appointments, adopts twenty resolutions, many of which affect world-wide interests, and are felt at the distance of a thousand miles; scarcely one of which comes under public cognizance or is brought under parliamentary discussion. For one act which we hear of there are a hundred we ignore.
The minister passes one measure through the House of Commons deliberately, with difficulty, and with noise; at the same time he transacts a hundred in the privacy and silence of his office, after an hour's consideration, and by a single stroke of his pen. Every minister is virtually an irresponsible autocrat for nineteen hours out of the four-and-twenty. On the arbitrary decisions of the Home Office depend the welfare, the comfort, the virtue of more fellow-creatures than we should like to enumerate. On the sic volo, sic jubeo fiats which issue from the Horse Guards or the War Office, hang the fate of officers, the safety of men, the failure or success of an expedition, the issue of a campaign, the lives of thousands, the expenditure of millions. Bad judgment, treacherous memory, flippant haste, want of knowledge or want of sense in a secretary or under-secretary, may dress soldiers so that they cannot march, or arm them so that they cannot fight, or locate them in pestilential quarters, or confide them to incompetent leaders and to unqualified surgeons. Every error and every oversight has a frightfully extensive echo and reverberation. A despatch of the Foreign Secretary may irritate a jealous enemy, or give umbrage to a sensitive ally-may kindle a European war, or close the door against a healing peace,—and yet never be heard of at home till the mischief is irreparably done. Or a missive from the Colonial Office-perhaps the outbreak of an imperious temper, perhaps the expression of a pet crotchet or an eccentric theory —may lay the train for a series of blunders and disputes which affect the prosperity of a dependency for years, and its loyalty possibly for generations yet unborn. Nor is this all. The mode of carrying out decisions is sometimes as important as the decisions themselves; and for this the chief ministers must be dependent upon their principal subordinates. The one prominent lesson taught by the recent disclosures is the incalculable consequence of skilful and competent men in every grade of every executive department. Nor is this all. Ministers-inchief cannot know all, nor be capable of deciding all; in a thousand cases they must necessarily ask information and take advice from those immediately around them and below them; in a thousand cases they must delegate to their underlings
decisions and arrangements which exceed any one man's time or strength. Of what deep significance, then, becomes the choice of these secondary powers! Therefore, we fear no dissentient murmurs when we say that the selection of ministers by the Parliament, and the distribution of civil and military appointments by the ministers, is the highest and most solemn function which either has to perform, and demands knowledge, judgment, care, and conscientiousness, all in the superlative degree.
Thus far we agree with Lord Ellenborough, Mr. Layard, and the Administrative Reform Association. But we do not conceive, with the former, that all would be set right by transferring the government into Tory hands; nor can we admit, with the latter, that a certain cure is to be found by an assignment of public functions to "the middle classes," or that corruption and incapacity reign as supreme as is supposed among the present or the habitual possessors of official power.
The charge of jobbing and corruption so lavishly and recklessly brought against ministers as a class is, we are satisfied, a false, inconsiderate, and vulgar cry. With some, it is a mere hereditary shibboleth, handed down to them from times when it had its justification and significance,-times to which the present bears only a faint resemblance. With others, it is a thoughtless echo of the clamour they hear around them, which their acquaintance with the facts of the case does not enable them to correct. With a third class, again, it is the dictate of minds intrinsically suspicious, envious and low, prone to surmise evil, slow to believe in any virtue greater than their own, and instinctively predisposed to find the basest motives the most natural and the worst actions the most probable. Of political and personal favouritism there is no doubt much- far too much-permitted and practised among our public men. Cæteris paribus—i.e., where equal or nearly equal qualifications are assumed-it is customary, and it is not considered culpable, to distribute public appointments by preference among personal connections. It is natural that these should be better known, more highly estimated, possibly more correctly judged, than comparative strangers. We all, as well as ministers, think more highly of our own sons and brothers than of the sons and brothers of our antagonists or our neighbours. Imperfectlyqualified men are thus often appointed and promoted; men known or believed to be disqualified rarely indeed-at least, to any office of consequence. Cæteris paribus aside, the minor places in the civil service, such as those of tide-waiters, policemen, custom-house clerks, and letter-carriers, are habitually given away, not to the friends or dependents of the ministers themselves, but to the nominees of those members of Parliament who support the government of the day, — these nominees being almost invariably their constituents. It is a means, and a recognized means of supporting a parliamentary majority,– undesirable no doubt, but not very heinous, and scarcely meriting the harsh name of corruption. It is understood that the duties of these posts are such as can be adequately discharged by ordinary ability and character, and that such only will be recommended for them; and now it is usual, and will, we believe, speedily become universal, to test the capacity of these nominees before confirming their appointment.
Thus far, unquestionably, the system of distributing public employments otherwise than with a sole regard to superior merit, habitually extends; but corrupt or unjust appointments, i.e., appointments of individuals to important offices to which others were entitled, or which they are manifestly unfit to fill, for no reason but because they are relatives or friends of the ministers of the day, are far more rare than is at present fancied by an irritated and suspicious public. We need only allude to three reasons why they must be rare, both in civil and military departments.
In the first place, it is general with Englishmen in every class to feel strongly the obligations of their post, and to recognize the claims of responsibility the moment it is thrown upon them. The sense of duty is inherent in us all. Of all classes of students, medical students are notoriously the coarsest and least reputable; and their constant and nearly invariable transformation, after a year or two of practice, into the honourable, delicate, steady, conscientious, and kind-hearted men that our surgeons and physicians by general admission are, is a ceaseless mystery to those who have known them in their unofficial days. The young men who enter the army-wild, thoughtless, extravagant and reckless, fond of pleasure, revelling in life, averse to restraint-no sooner have duties thrown upon them, and the lives of others and the honour of their country placed in their keeping, than they become, as by magic, vigilant, magnanimous, and self-devoted, abounding in the lofty virtues of which their youthful folly gave the scantiest promise. Is it probable that the highest rank will be insensible to the influence that thus metamorphoses all others—that the solemnizing and purifying effect of official responsibility will be unfelt precisely where that responsibility is the gravest, and where education has been the most complete ?
In the second place, it is by no means so easy to “do a job” as is commonly supposed. Routine forms and established precedent, in most cases, oppose an all but insuperable barrier to