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be provided to obstruct and prevent these great aggregations of property. Few things certainly are less likely than a violent tempest like this to destroy large and hereditary estates. But then, too, few things are less likely than an outbreak to destroy the House of Lordsmy point is, that a catastrophe which levels one will not
spare the other.
I conceive, therefore, that the great power of the House of Lords should be exercised very timidly and very cautiously. For the sake of keeping the headship of the plutocracy, and through that of the nation, they should not offend the plutocracy; the points upon which they have to yield are mostly very minor ones, and they should yield many great points rather than risk the bottom of their power. They should give large donations out of income, if by so doing they keep, as they would keer, their capital intact. The Duke of Wellington guided the House of Lords in this manner for years, and nothing could prosper better for them or for the country, and the Lords have only to go back to the good path in which he directed them.
The events of 1870 caused much discussion upon life pecrages, and we have gained this great step, that whereas the former leader of the Tory party in the Lords--Lord Lyndhurst-defeated the last proposal to make life peers, Lord Derby, when leader of that party, desired to create them. As I have given in this book what seemed to me good reasons for making them, I need not repeat those reasons here; I need only say how the notion stands in my judgment now.
I cannot look on life peerages in the way in which some of their strongest advocates regard them; I cannot think of them as a mode in which a permanent opposition or a contrast between the Houses of Lords and Commons is to be remedied. To be effectual in that way, life peerages must be very numerous. Now the House of Lords will never consent to a very numerous life peerage without a storm; they must be in terror to do it, or they will not do it. And if the storm blows strongly enough to do so much, in all likelihood it will blow strongly enough to do much more. If the revolution is powerful enough and eager enough to make an immense number of life peers, probably it will sweep away the hereditary principle in the Upper Chamber entirely. Of course one may fancy it to be otherwise; we may conceive of a political storm just going to a life peerage limit, and then stopping suddenly. But in politics we must not trouble ourselves with exceedingly exceptional accidents; it is quite difficult enough to count on and provide for the regular and plain probabilities. To speak mathematically, we may easily miss the permanent course of the political curve if we engross our minds with its cusps and conjugate points.
Nor, on the other hand, can I sympathise with the objection to life peerages which some of the Radical party take and feel. They think it will strengthen the Lords, and so make them better able to oppose the Commons; they think, if they do not say, “The House of Lords is our enemy and that of all Liberals; happily the mass of it is not intellectual; a few clever men are born there which we cannot help, but we will not vaccinate’ it with genius; we will not put in a set of clever men for their lives who may as likely as not turn against us." This objection assumes that clever peers are just as likely to oppose the Commons as stupid peers. But this I deny. Most clever men who are in such a good place as the House of Lords plainly is, will be very unwilling to lose it if they can help it; at the clear call of a great duty they might lose it, but only at such a call. And it does not take a clever man to see that systematic opposition of the Commons is the only thing which can endanger the Lords, or which will make an individual peer cease to be a peer. The greater you make the sense of the Lords, the more they will see that their plain interest is to make friends of the plutocracy, and to be the chiefs of it, and not to wish to oppose the Commons where that plutocracy rules.
It is true that a completely new House of Lords, mainly composed of men of ability, selected because they were able, might very likely attempt to make ability the predominant power in the State, and to rival, if not conquer, the House of Commons, where the standard of intelligence is not much above the common English average. But in the present English world such a House of Lords would soon lose all influence. People would say, “it was too clever by half,” and in an Englishman's. mouth that means a very severe censure. The English people would think it grossly anomalous if their elected assembly of rich men were thwarted by a nominated assembly of talkers and writers. Sensible men of substantial means are what we wish to be ruled by, and a peerage of genius would not compare with it in power.
It is true, too, that at present some of the cleverest peers are not so ready as some others to agree with the Commons. But it is not unnatural that persons of high rank and of great ability should be unwilling to bend to persons of lower rank, and of certainly not greater ability. A few of such peers (for they are very few) might say, “We had rather not have our peerage if we are to buy it at the price of yielding." But a life peer who had fought his way up to the peers, would never think so. Young men who are born to rank may risk it, not middle-aged or old men who have earned their rank. A moderate number of life peers would almost always counsel moderation to the Lords, and would almost always be right in counselling it.
Recent discussions have also brought into curious prominence another part of the Constitution. I said in
this book that it would very much surprise people if they were only told how many things the Queen could do without consulting Parliament, and it certainly has so proved, for when the Queen abolished Purchase in the Army by an act of prerogative (after the Lords had rejected the bill for doing so), there was a great and general astonishment.
But this is nothing to what the Queen can by law do without consulting Parliament. Not to mention other things, she could disband the army (by law she cannot engage more than a certain number of men, but she is not obliged to engage any men); she could dismiss all the officers, from the General Commanding-in-Chief downwards; she could dismiss all the sailors too; she could sell off all our ships of war and all our naval stores; she could make a peace by the sacrifice of Cornwall, and begin a war for the conquest of Brittany. She could make every citizen in the United Kingdom, male or female, a peer; she could make every parish in the United Kingdom a “university;" she could dismiss most of the civil servants; she could pardon all offenders. In a word, the Queen could by prerogative upset all the action of civil government within the government, could disgrace the nation by a bad war or peace, and could, by disbanding our forces, whether land or sea, leave us defenceless against foreign nations. Why do we not fear that she would do this, or any approach to it?