Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

prospects of a form of government. Sir Henry Maine, however, makes the most of it. Curiously enough, England furnishes him, apparently, with no materials at all. His reasons for believing Popular Government to be fragile he finds in the experience of the French with it, since 1789; of the Spaniards since 1812, and of the South American Republics since 1820. Having given some account of the frequent violent political changes which have occurred in these countries respectively within the above periods, he says:

The true reason why the extremely accessible facts which I have noticed are so seldom observed and put together is that the enthusiasts for Popular Government, particularly when it reposes on a wide basis of suffrage, are actuated by much the same spirit as the zealots of Legitimism. They assumed their principle to have a sanction antecedent to fact. It is not thought to be in any way invalidated by practical violations of it, which merely constitute so many more sins against imprescriptible right (p. 20).

Now I am not an enthusiast for Popular Government, or for any other form of government. I believe politics to be an extremely practical kind of business, and that the communities which succeed best in it are those which bring least enthusiasm to the conduct of their affairs. Nevertheless, I think I may so far speak for the enthusiasts as to suggest that the reason why they do not give more attention to Sir Henry Maine's 'extremely accessible facts,' and are not more troubled by them, is that they soberly and sincerely believe that these facts are irrelevant: that is, that they throw no light whatever on the nature or prospects of Popular Government.

The facts are simply that in two or three countries which have within the present century set up, or attempted to set up, representative institutions, frequent changes in the executive power have been wrought by violence. To make this bear directly on the question of fragility we should have to be sure that the state of mind which Sir Henry makes the first condition of Popular Government—that is, the belief that the rulers are and ought to be the servants of the ruled— prevailed in the countries which he cites as examples; that, in short, the setting up and casting down of governments which constitute his 'extremely accessible facts' were the efforts of a community to carry out a political theory. We cannot judge of the working of any institution, whether monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy, unless it has its roots in popular approval. How monarchy works can only be known by seeing it in a community which believes in kings. How aristocracy works can only be known by seeing it in a community which believes in noblemen. How Popular Government works can, in like manner, only be known by seeing it in a community in which the doctrine on which it is based is fully and intelligently held by the bulk of the people.

To make France and Spain and the Spanish-American Republics good examples of the instability of Popular Government, Sir Henry

Maine has to assume that the state of popular opinion and feeling which produced and sustains this form of government in England or America really exists, or has existed during the last half-century, in the Latin countries; and he does assume it tacitly, but very tacitly indeed. He is almost out of sight in his argument before one perceives what a monstrous assumption it is. There is neither in Spain nor in Spanish America any dominating political theory held by the mass of the people; in fact, there is nothing which a political philosopher can call a people. There are great landed proprietors; there is a powerful clergy; there is a standing army; there is an ignorant peasantry. There arise naturally in this state of things frequent disputes over the possession of the sovereignty, but they are disputes like the War of the Roses, or the Seven Years' War, between those who have and those who have not. They illustrate human nature in certain conditions of culture, as do most of the disorders of history, but they do not illustrate any theory of government any more than a fight over a captive's ransom in the cave of Greek brigands. In France, too, it is only since 1870 that the view of relations of the government of the people on which Sir Henry Maine bases Popular Government can be said to have really existed among the mass of the people. There have been since 1789 disciples of Rousseau and believers in the social contract-both of them great bugbears to Sir Henry Maine-in Paris and the other great cities, but until the present Republic was set up the peasantry never thought of controlling the government, or of treating its members as their servants. No matter what its form was, whether Constitutional Monarchy, Empire, or Republic, it was, in the eyes of provincials, the master of France, whose edicts, if they came from the proper office, nobody thought of disputing.

Next let me say that in assuming that the instability of government in a given country has and can have only one cause—namely, the view which the ruled take of their relation to the rulers-Sir Henry Maine seems to give countenance to a fallacy which is one of the great difficulties of modern politics, and which Mr. Mill has lucidly exposed as the 'Chemical Method' of reasoning about political phenomena. Surely the following has an important bearing on the value of Sir Henry Maine's specific instances, or, as he calls them, 'extremely accessible facts: '

In social phenomena the Composition of Causes is the Universal Law. Now, the method of philosophising which may be termed chemical overlooks this fact, and proceeds as if the nature of man as an individual were not concerned at all, or concerned in a very inferior degree, in the operations of human beings in society. All reasoning in politics or social affairs, grounded on principles of human nature, is objected to by reasoners of this sort, under such names as 'abstract theory.' For the direction of their opinions and conduct, they profess to demand, in all cases without exception, specific experience. This mode of thinking is not only general with practitioners in politics, and with that very numerous class who (on a subject

which no one, however ignorant, thinks himself incompetent to discuss) profess to guide themselves by common sense rather than by science; but is often countenanced by persons with greater pretensions to instruction; persons who, having sufficient acquaintance with books and with the current ideas to have heard that Bacon taught mankind to follow experience, and to ground their conclusions on facts instead of metaphysical dogmas, think that by treating political facts in as directly experimental a method as chemical facts, they are showing themselves true Baconians, and proving their adversaries to be mere syllogisers and schoolmen. As, however, the notion of the applicability of experimental methods to political philosophy cannot coexist with any just conception of these methods themselves, the kind of arguments from experience which the chemical theory brings forth as its fruits (and which form the staple, in this country especially, of Parliamentary and hustings oratory) are such as, at no time since Bacon, would have been admitted to be valid in chemistry itself, or in any other branch of experimental science. They are such as these: that the prohibition of foreign commodities must conduce to national wealth, because England has flourished under it, or because countries in general which have adopted it have flourished; that our laws, or our internal administration, or our constitution, are excellent for a similar reason: and the eternal arguments from historical examples, from Athens or Rome, from the fires in Smithfield or the French Revolution. I will not waste time in contending against modes of argumentation which no person, with the smallest practice in estimating evidence, could possibly be betrayed into; which draw conclusions of general appreciation from a single unanalysed instance, or arbitrarily refer an effect to some one among its antecedents, without any process of elimination or comparison of instances. Logic, p. 458-9.

I call this fallacy one of the greatest difficulties of modern politics because it is the readiest tool of demagogues, and to the popular eye the most attractive because the easiest solution of pending troubles. The most effective argument of the American protectionists is, that as the United States have prospered under protection, the tariff must be the one cause of the prosperity; that as Ireland and Turkey are poor under free trade, their condition shows the danger of throwing open home markets to foreign producers. So, also, we are now afflicted with tons of useless silver coin owing to the popular belief that the slowness of our recovery from the crisis of 1873 was simply and solely the demonetisation of silver in the same year. France and Spain and the Spanish-American Republics, says Sir Henry Maine, have popular governments that is, parliaments elected by a widely extended suffrage. But they have also frequent rebellions; therefore Popular Government is both unstable, and the cause of its instability. It may be that Popular Government in a given country is fragile, but surely we are not justified in assuming that the character, the religion, the culture, the manners, the history, and the material surroundings of the people have nothing to do with the security of their political institutions; or that, in considering whether a new form of government will suit them, we are not called upon to ask how they got on under the old one; whether, for instance, the French were happy and content under absolute monarchy, and the Spanish-Americans peaceful and industrious under the Viceroys and the Bishops.

So completely does Sir Henry Maine commit himself to the Chemical Method that he boldly declares that the inferences which might be drawn from the stability of the government of the United States are much weakened, if not destroyed, by the remarkable spectacle furnished by the numerous Republics set up from the Mexican border-line to the Straits of Magellan.' He notices, it is true, the objection to his theory drawn from the fact that the inhabitants of the Spanish-American Republics are to a great extent of Indian blood and have been trained in Roman Catholicism, but he gets over it by announcing that such arguments would be intelligible if they were used by persons who maintain that a highly special and exceptional political education is essential to the successful practice of Popular Government; but they proceed from those who believe that there is at least a strong presumption in favour of democratic institutions everywhere.'

But why must this argument be used only by persons who believe that a highly specialised and exceptional political education is necessary for the successful practice of Popular Government? Why is it not good in the mouths of those who believe simply that Indian blood and Roman Catholic training are serious obstacles to the practice of Popular Government? Why may it not be used by those who believe that the United States Government is largely indebted for its stability, not to the fact that the American people have had a highly special and exceptional political education, but to the fact that they are mainly of Anglo-Saxon blood, and have been trained in Protestantism? And why, in the name of Aristotle, is an argument made unintelligible by the fact that some of those who use it also use other arguments which are feeble? Surely, if I sometimes reason à priori about politics, that does not make my inductive reasoning worthless.

For my part, I think the example of the United States all important, even from Sir Henry Maine's point of view, for they are the one country in the world in which Popular Government, as he defines it, really exists. They are the one country, that is to say, governed by universal suffrage in which the great mass of the voters have a realising sense of the fact that the government is their servant and not their master, and that it exists simply to carry out the ideas of the 'plain people' who compose the bulk of the community, and not those of a small but more cultivated and more enlightened class; a government, in short, as Lincoln expressed it, 'of the people, by the people, for the people.' It may be that their example is sometimes cited by disputants whom consistency or some other obligation forbids to cite it. It may be, too, that inferences drawn from it would not be good against every assailant of Popular Government; but as against Sir Henry Maine they are, as it seems to me, good in anybody's hands. He is, in fact, estopped by his refusal

to take into account anything but the instability of the government in France and Spain and the South American Republics, from taking into account anything but the stability of the government in the case of the United States. If the Chemical Method be good for one, it is good for the other.

Sir Henry Maine's manner of elucidating the effects of universal suffrage controlled by wirepullers on social and intellectual progress is even more remarkable than his manner of proving the fragility of Popular Government. He says:—

Such a suffrage (a widely extended and universal suffrage) is commonly associated with Radicalism; no doubt amid its most certain effects would be the extensive destruction of the existing institutions; but the chances are that in the long run it would produce a mischievous form of Conservatism, and drug society with a potion compared with which Eldonine would be a salutary draught. For to what end, towards what ideal state, is the process of stamping upon law the average opinion of an entire community directed? The end arrived at is identical with that of the Roman Catholic Church, which attributes a similar sacredness to the average opinion of the Christian world. Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus' was the canon of Vincent of Lerins. Securus judicat orbis terrarum' were the words which rang in the ears of Newman, and produced such marvellous effects on him. But did any one in his senses ever suppose that these were maxims of progress? The principles of legislation at which they point would put an end to all social and political activities, and arrest everything which has ever been associated with Liberalism. A moment's reflection will satisfy any competently instructed person that this is not too broad a proposition. Let him turn over in his mind the great epochs of scientific invention and social change during the last two centuries, and consider what would have occurred if universal suffrage had been established at any one of them. Universal suffrage which to-day excludes free-trade from the United States would certainly have prohibited the spinning-jenny and the powerloom. It would certainly have forbidden the thrashing-machine. It would have forbidden the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar, and would have restored the Stuarts (p. 36).

A few sentences before this he has acknowledged that the world has had only a very brief experience of wide suffrage—that is, about fifty years in the United States and about twenty in France-but, brief as it is, it ought to have furnished him with specific instances in support of this very dark view of the future of West European society. He was able to infer from the example of France and Spain and the Spanish-American Republics that Popular Government would be fragile. It seems to me that he ought to have been able to infer from the same source that it would be hostile to civilisation. Strange to say, however, on this point he does not argue; he contents himself with prophesying, and it is one of the commonplaces of rhetoric that you cannot refute a prophet. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he guesses, using the word in its English rather than in its American sense. For what other name can we give to an assertion that 'the chances are' that, if a certain thing had happened long before it did happen, a certain other thing would have happened, which, as a matter of fact, has never happened at all?

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »