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will meet representatives from other counties, from cities and boroughs, and proceed to choose our rulers.” Such bald exposition would have been impossible in old times; it would be considered queer, eccentric, if it were used now. Happily, the process of election is so indirect and hidden, and the introduction of that process was so gradual and latent, that we scarcely perceive the immense political trust we repose in each other. The best mercantile credit seems, to those who give it, natural, simple, obvious; they do not argue about it or think about it. The best political credit is analogous: we trust our countrymen without remembering that we trust them.
A second and very rare condition of an elective government is a calm national mind,-a tone of mind sufficiently stable to bear the necessary excitement of conspicuous revolutions. No barbarous, no semi-civilized nation has ever possessed this. The mass of uneducated men could not now in England be told, “Go to, choose your rulers :" they would go wild; their imaginations would fancy unreal dangers, and the attempt at election would issue in some forcible usurpation. The incalculable advantage of august institutions in a free state is, that they prevent this collapse; the excitement of choosing our rulers is prevented by the apparent existence of an unchosen ruler. The poorer and more ignorant classes – those who would most feel excitement, who would most be misled by excitement - really believe that the Queen governs. You could not explain to them the recondite difference between “reigning” and “governing”: the words necessary to express it do not exist in their dialect, the ideas necessary to comprehend it do not exist in their minds. The separation of principal power from principal station is a refinement which they could not even conceive. They fancy they are governed by a hereditary Queen, a Queen by the grace of God, when they are really governed by a Cabinet and a Parliament, - men like themselves, chosen by themselves. The conspicuous dignity awakens the sentiment of reverence, and men often very undignified seize the occasion to govern by means of it.
Lastly, the third condition of all elective government is what I may call rationality; by which I mean a power involving intelligence, but yet distinct from it. A whole people electing its rulers must be able to form a distinct conception of distant objects. Mostly, the “divinity” that surrounds a king altogether prevents anything like a steady conception of him: you fancy that the object of your loyalty is as much elevated above you by intrinsic nature as he is by extrinsic position; you deify him in sentiment as once men deified him in doctrine. This illusion has been and still is of incalculable benefit to the human race. It prevents, indeed, men from choosing their rulers : you cannot invest with that loyal illusion a man who was yesterday what you are, who to-morrow may be so again, whom you chose to be what he is. But though this superstition prevents the election of rulers, it renders possible the existence of unelected rulers. Untaught people fancy that their king, crowned with the holy crown, anointed with the oil of Rheims, descended of the house of Plantagenet, is a different sort of being from any one not descended of the royal house, not crowned, not anointed. They believe that there is one man whom by mystic right they should obey, and therefore they do obey him. It is only in later times, when the world is wider, its experience larger, and its thought colder, that the plain rule of a palpably chosen ruler is even possible.
These conditions narrowly restrict elective government. But the prerequisites of a cabinet government are rarer still: it demands not only the conditions I have mentioned, but the possibility likewise of a good legislature,-a legislature competent to elect a sufficient administration.
Now, a competent legislature is very rare. Any permanent legislature at all, any constantly acting mechanism for enacting and repealing laws, is, though it seems to us so natural, quite contrary to the inveterate conceptions of mankind. The great majority of nations conceive of their law, either as something divinely given and therefore unalterable, or as a fundamental habit inherited from the past to be transmitted to the future. The English Parliament, of which the prominent functions are now legislative, was not [at] all so once: it was rather a preservative body. The custom of the realm, the aboriginal transmitted law, the law which was in the breast of the judges, could not be altered without the consent of Parliament, and therefore everybody felt sure it would not be altered except in grave, peculiar, and anomalous cases; the valued use of Parliament was not half so much to alter the law as to prevent the laws being altered. And such too was its real use : in early societies it matters much more that the law should be
ed than that it should be good. Any law which the people of ignorant times enact is sure to involve many misconceptions and to cause many evils; perfection in legislation is not to be looked for, and is not indeed much wanted, in a rude, painful, confined life: but such an age covets fixity ; that men should enjoy the fruits of their labor, that the law of property should be known, that the law of marriage should be known that the whole course of life should be kept in a calculable track is the summum bonum of early ages, the first desire of semi-civilized mankind. In that age men do not want to have their laws adapted, but to have their laws steady: the passions are so powerful, force so eager, the social bond so weak, that the august spectacle of an all but unalterable law is necessary to preserve society. In the early stages of human society all change is thought an evil, and most change is an evil: the conditions of life are so simple and so unvarying that any decent sort of rules suffice, so long as men know what they
Custom is the first check on tyranny; that fixed routine of social life at which modern innovations chafe, and by which modern improvement is impeded, is the primitive check on base power. The perception of political expediency has then hardly begun; the sense of abstract justice is weak and vague: and a rigid adherence to the fixed mold of transmitted usage is essential to an unmarred, unspoiled, unbroken life.
In such an age, a legislature continuously sitting, always making laws, always repealing laws, would have been both an anomaly and a nuisance; but in the present state of the civilized part of the world such difficulties are obsolete. There is a diffused desire in civilized communities for an adjusting legislation; for a legislation which shall adapt the inherited laws to the new wants of a world which now changes every day. It has ceased to be necessary to maintain bad laws because it is necessary to have some laws: civilization is robust enough to bear the incision of legal improvements. But taking history at large, the rarity of cabinets is mostly due to the greater rarity of continuous legislatures.
Other conditions, however, limit even at the present day the area of a cabinet government. It must be possible to have not only a legislature, but to have a competent legislature,-a legislature willing to elect and willing to maintain an efficient executive. And this is no easy matter. It is indeed true that we need not trouble ourselves to look for that elaborate and complicated organization which partially exists in the House of Commons, and which is more fully and freely expanded in plans for improving the House of Commons: we are not now concerned with perfection or excellence, we seek only for simple fitness and bare competency.
The conditions of fitness are two: first, you must get a good legislature; and next, you must keep it good. And these are by no means so nearly connected as might be thought at first sight. To keep a legislature efficient, it must have a sufficient supply of substantial business : if you employ the best set of men to do nearly nothing, they will quarrel with each other about that nothing; where great questions end, little parties begin. And a very happy community, with few new laws to make, few old bad laws to repeal, and but simple foreign relations to adjust, has great difficulty in employing a legislature, - there is nothing for it to enact and nothing for it to settle: accordingly, there is great danger that the legislature, being debarred from all other kind[s] of business, may take to quarreling about its elective business; that controversies as to ministries may occupy all its time, and yet that time be perniciously employed; that a constant succession of feeble administrations, unable to govern and unfit to govern, may be substituted for the proper result of cabinet government, a sufficient body of men long enough in power to evince their sufficiency. The exact amount of non-elective business necessary for a parliament which is to elect the executive cannot, of course, be formally stated, -there are no numbers and no statistics in the theory of constitutions; all we can say is, that a parliament with little business, which is to be as efficient as a parliament with much business, must be in all other respects much better. An indifferent parliament may be much improved by the steadying effect of grave affairs; but a parliament which has no such affairs must be intrinsically excellent, or it will fail utterly.
But the difficulty of keeping a good legislature is evidently secondary to the difficulty of first getting it. There are two kinds of nations which can elect a good parliament. The first is a nation in which the mass of the people are intelligent, and in which they are comfortable. Where there is no honest poverty, where education is diffused and political intelligence is common, it is easy for the mass of the people to elect a fair legislature. The ideal is roughly realized in the North American colonies of England, and in