[First published in The Westminster Review for April 1860.]
Thirty years ago, the dread of impending evils agitated not a few breasts throughout England. Instinctive fear of change, justified as it seemed by outbursts of popular violence, conjured up visions of the anarchy which would follow the passing of a Reform Bill. In scattered farm-houses there was chronic terror, lest those newly endowed with political power should in some way filch all the profits obtained by rearing cattle and growing corn. The occupants of halls and manors spoke of ten-pound householders almost as though they formed an army of spoilers, threatening to overrun and devastate the property of landholders. Among townspeople there were some who interpreted the abolition of old corruptions into the establishment of mob-government; which they thought equivalent to spoliation. And even in Parliament, such alarms found occasional utterance: as, for instance, through the mouth of Sir Robert Inglis, who hinted that the national debt would not improbably be repudiated if the proposed measure became law.
There may perhaps be a few who regard the now pending change in the representation with similar dread—who think that artizans and others of their grade are prepared, when the power is given to them, to lay hands on property. We presume, however, that such irrational alarmists form but a small percentage of the nation. Not only throughout the Liberal party, but among the Conservatives, there exists a much fairer estimate of the popular character than is implied by anticipations of so gloomy a kind. Many of the upper and middle classes are conscious of the fact that, if critically compared, the average conduct of the wealthy would not be found to differ very widely in rectitude from that of the poor. Making due allowance for differences in the kinds and degrees of temptations to which they are exposed, the respective grades of society are tolerably uniform in their morals. That disregard of the rights of property which, among the people at large, shows itself in the direct form of petty thefts, shows itself among their richer neighbours in various indirect forms, which are scarcely less flagitious and often much more detrimental to fellow-citizens. Traders, wholesale and retail, commit countless dishonesties, ranging from adulteration and short measure up to fraudulent bankruptcy—dishonesties of which we sketched out some of the ramifications in a late article on “The Morals of Trade.” The trickeries of the turf; the bribery of electors; the non-payment of tradesmen’s bills; the jobbing in railway-shares; the obtainment of exorbitant prices for land from railway-companies; the corruption that attends the getting of private bills through Parliament—these, and other such illustrations, show that the unconscientiousness of the upper class, manifested though it is in different forms, is not less than that of the lower class: bears as great a ratio to the size of the class, and, if traced to its ultimate results, produces evils as great if not greater.
And if the facts prove that in uprightness of intentions there is little to choose between one class of the community and another, an extension of the franchise cannot rationally be opposed on the ground that property would be directly endangered. There is no more reason to suppose that the mass of artizans and labourers would use political power with conscious injustice to their richer neighbours, than there is reason to suppose that their richer neighbours now consciously commit legal injustices against artizans and labourers.
What, then, is the danger to be apprehended? If land, and houses, and railways, and funds, and property of all other kinds, would be held with no less security than now, why need there be any fears that the franchise would be misused? What are the misuses of it which are rationally to be anticipated?
The ways in which those to be endowed with political power are likely to abuse it, may be inferred from the ways in which political power has been abused by those who have possessed it.
What general trait has characterized the rule of the classes hitherto dominant? These classes have not habitually sought their own direct advantage at the expense of other classes; but their measures have nevertheless frequently been such as were indirectly advantageous to themselves. Voluntary self-sacrifice has been the exception. The rule has been so to legislate as to preserve private interests from injury; whether public interests were injured or not. Though, in equity, a landlord has no greater claim on a defaulting tenant than any other creditor; yet landlords, having formed the majority of the legislature, have made laws giving them power to recover rent in anticipation of other creditors. Though the duties payable to government on the transfer of property to heirs and legatees, might justly have been made to fall more heavily on the wealthy than on the comparatively poor, and on real property rather than on personal property; yet the reverse arrangement was enacted and long maintained, and is even still partially in force. Rights of presentation to places in the Church, obtained however completely in violation of the spirit of the law, are yet tenaciously defended, with little or no regard to the welfare of those for whom the Church ostensibly exists. Were it not accounted for by the bias of personal interests, it would be impossible to explain the fact that, on the question of protection to agriculture, the landed classes and their dependents were ranged against the other classes: the same evidence being open to both. And if there needs a still stronger illustration, we have it in the opposition made to the repeal of the Corn-Laws by the established clergy. Though, by their office, preachers of justice and mercy—though constantly occupied in condemning selfishness and holding up a supreme example of self-sacrifice; yet so swayed were they by those temporal interests which they thought endangered, that they offered to this proposed change an almost uniform resistance. Out of some ten thousand ex officio friends of the poor and needy, there was but one (the Rev. Thomas Spencer), who took an active part in abolishing this tax imposed on the people’s bread for the maintenance of landlords’ rents.
Such are a few of the ways in which, in modern times, those who have the power seek their own benefit at the expense of the rest. It is in analogous ways that we must expect any section of the community which may be made predominant by a political change, to sacrifice the welfare of other sections to its own. While we do not see reason to think that the lower classes are intrinsically less conscientious than the upper classes, we do not see reason to think that they are more conscientious. Holding, as we do, that in each society and in each age, the morality is, on the average, the same throughout all ranks; it seems to us clear that if the rich, when they have the opportunity, make laws which unduly favour themselves, the poor, if their power was in excess, will do the like in similar ways and to a similar extent. Without knowingly enacting injustice, they will be unconsciously biased by personal considerations; and our legislation will err as much in a new direction as it has hitherto done in the old.
This abstract conclusion we shall find confirmed on contemplating the feelings and opinions current among artizans and labourers. What the working classes now wish done, indicates what they would be likely to do, if a reform in the representation made them preponderate. Judging from their prevailing sentiments, they would doubtless do, or aid in doing, many things which it is desirable to have done. Such a question as that of Church-rates would have been settled long ago had the franchise been wider. Any great increase of popular influence, would go far to rectify the present inequitable relation of the established religious sect to the rest of the community. And other remnants of class-legislation would be swept away. But besides ideas likely to eventuate in changes which we should regard as beneficial, the working classes entertain ideas that could not be realized without gross injustice to other classes and ultimate injury to themselves. There is among them a prevailing enmity towards capitalists. The fallacy that machinery acts to their damage, is still widely spread, both among rural labourers and the inhabitants of towns. And they show a wish, not only to dictate how long per day men shall work, but to regulate all the relations between employers and employed. Let us briefly consider the evidence of this.
When, adding another to the countless errors which it has taught the people, the Legislature, by passing the Ten-Hours-Bill, asserted that it is the duty of the State to limit the duration of labour, there naturally arose among the working classes the desire for further ameliorations to be secured in the same way. First came the formidable strike of the Amalgamated Engineers. The rules of this body aim to restrict the supply of labour in various ways. No member is allowed to work more than a fixed number of hours per week; nor for less than a fixed rate of wages. No man is admitted into the trade who has not “earned a right by probationary servitude.” There is a strict registration; which is secured by fines on any one who neglects to notify his marriage, removal, or change of service. The council decides, without appeal, on all the affairs, individual and general, of the body. How tyrannical are the regulations may be judged from the fact, that members are punished for divulging anything concerning the society’s business; for censuring one another; for vindicating the conduct of those fined, etc. And their own unity of action having been secured by these coercive measures, the Amalgamated Engineers made a prolonged effort to impose on their employers, sundry restrictions which they supposed would be beneficial to themselves. More recently, we have seen similar objects worked for by similar means during the strike of the Operative Builders. In one of their early manifestoes, this body of men contended that they had “an equal right to share with other workers, that large amount of public sympathy which is now being so widely extended in the direction of shortening the hours of labour:” thus showing at once their delusion and its source. Believing, as they had been taught by an Act of Parliament to believe, that the relation between the quantity of labour given and the wages received, is not a natural but an artificial one; they demanded that while the wages remained the same, the hours should be reduced from ten to nine. They recommended their employers so to make their future contracts, as to allow for this diminished day’s work: saying they were “so sanguine as to consider the consummation of their desire inevitable:” a polite way of hinting that their employers must succumb to the irresistible power of their organization. Referring to the threat of the master-builders to close their works, they warned them against “the responsibility of causing the public disaster” thus indicated. And when the breach finally took place, the Unionists set in action the approved appliances for bringing masters to terms; and would have succeeded had it not been that their antagonists, believing that concessions would be ruinous, made a united resistance. During several previous years, master-builders had been yielding to various extravagant demands, of which those recently made were a further development. Had they assented to the diminished day’s work, and abolished systematic overtime, as they were required to do, there is no reason to suppose the dictation would have ended. Success would have presently led to still more exacting requirements; and future years would have witnessed further extensions of this mischievous meddling between capital and labour.
Perhaps the completest illustration of the industrial regulations which find favour with artizans, is supplied by the Printers’ Union. With the exception of those engaged in The Times office, and in one other large establishment, the proprietors of which successfully resisted the combination, the compositors, pressmen, etc., throughout the kingdom, form a society which controls all the relations between employers and employed. There is a fixed price for setting up type—so much per thousand letters: no master can give less; no compositor being allowed by the Union to work for less. There are established rates for press-work; and established numbers less than which you cannot have printed without paying for work that is not done. The scale rises by what are called “tokens” of 250; and if but 50 copies are required, the charge is the same as for printing 250; or if 300 are wanted, payment must be made for 500. Besides regulating prices and modes of charging to their own advantage, in these and other ways, the members of the Union restrict competition by limiting the number of apprentices brought into the business. So well organized is this combination that the masters are obliged to succumb. An infraction of the rules in any printing-office leads to a strike of the men; and as this is supported by the Union at large, the employer has to yield.
That in other trades artizans would, if they could, establish restrictive systems equally complete with this, we take to be sufficiently proved by their often-repeated attempts. The Tin-plate-Workers’ strike, the Coventry-Weavers’ strikes, the Engineers’ strike, the Shoemakers’ strike, the Builders’ strike, all show a most decided leaning towards a despotic regulation of trade-prices, hours, and arrangements—towards an abolition of free trade between employers and employed. Should the men engaged in our various industries succeed in their aims, each industry would be so shackled as seriously to raise the cost of production. The chief penalty would thus fall on the working classes themselves. Each producer, while protected in the exercise of his own occupation, would on every commodity he bought have to pay an extra price, consequent on the protection of other producers. In short, there would be established, under a new form, the old mischievous system of mutual taxation. And a final result would be such a diminished ability to compete with other nations as to destroy our foreign trade.
Against results like these it behoves us to guard. It becomes a grave question how far we may safely give political power to those who entertain views so erroneous respecting fundamental social relations; and who so pertinaciously struggle to enforce these erroneous views. Men who render up their private liberties to the despotic rulers of trades-unions, seem scarcely independent enough rightly to exercise political liberties. Those who so ill understand the nature of freedom, as to think that any man or body of men has a right to prevent employer and employed from making any contract they please, would almost appear to be incapacitated for the guardianship of their own freedom and that of their fellow-citizens. When their notions of rectitude are so confused, that they think it a duty to obey the arbitrary commands of their union-authorities, and to abandon the right of individually disposing of their labour on their own terms—when, in conformity with this inverted sense of duty, they even risk the starvation of their families—when they call that an “odious document” which simply demands that master and man shall be free to make their own bargains—when their sense of justice is so obtuse that they are ready to bully, to deprive of work, to starve, and even to kill, members of their own class who rebel against dictation, and assert their rights to sell their labour at such rates and to such persons as they think fit—when in short they prove themselves ready to become alike slaves and tyrants, we may well pause before giving them the franchise.
The objects which artizans have long sought to achieve by their private organizations, they would, had they adequate political power, seek to achieve by public enactments. If, on points like those instanced, their convictions are so strong and their determination so great, that they will time after time submit to extreme privations in the effort to carry them; it is a reasonable expectation that these convictions, pushed with this determination, would soon be expressed in law, if those who held them had predominant power. With working men, questions concerning the regulation of labour are of the highest interest. Candidates for Parliament would be more likely to obtain their suffrages by pandering to their prejudices on such questions, than in any other way. Should it be said that no evil need be feared unless the artizan-class numerically preponderated in the constituencies; it may be rejoined that not unfrequently, where two chief political parties are nearly balanced, some other party, though much smaller, determines the election. When we bear in mind that the trades-unions throughout the kingdom number 600,000 members, and command a fund of £300,000—when we remember that these trades-unions are in the habit of aiding each other, and have even been incorporated into one national association—when we also remember that their organization is very complete, and their power over their members mercilessly exercised; it seems likely that at a general election their combined action would decide the result in many towns: even though the artizans in each case formed but a moderate portion of the constituency. How influential small but combined bodies are, the Irish Members of our House of Commons prove to us; and still more clearly the Irish emigrants in America. Certainly these trade-combinations are not less perfectly organized; nor are the motives of their members less strong. Judge then how efficient their political action would be.
It is true that in county-constituencies and rural towns, the artizan class have no power; and that in the antagonism of agriculturists there would be a restraint on their projects. But, on the other hand, the artizans would, on these questions, have the sympathy of many not belonging to their own body. Numerous small shopkeepers and others who are in point of means about on their level, would go with them in their efforts to regulate the relations of capital and labour. Among the middle classes, too, there are not a few kindly-disposed men who are so ignorant of political economy as to think the artizans justified in their aims. Even among the landed class they might find supporters. We have but to recollect the antipathy shown by landowners in Parliament to the manufacturing interest, during the ten-hours’ agitation, to see that it is quite possible for country squires to join the working men in imposing restrictions unfavourable to employers. True, the angry feeling which then prompted them has in some measure died away. It is to be hoped, too, that they have gained wisdom. But still, remembering the past, we must take this contingency into account.
Here, then, is one of the dangers to which an extension of the franchise opens the door. While the fear that the rights of property may be directly interfered with, is absurd, it is a very rational fear that the rights of property may be indirectly interfered with—that, by cramping laws, the capitalist may be prevented from using his money as he finds best, and the workman from selling his labour as he pleases. We are not prepared to say what widening of the representation would bring about such results. We profess neither to estimate what amount of artizan-power a £6 or a £5 borough-franchise would give; nor to determine whether the opposing powers would suffice to keep it in check. Our purpose here is simply to indicate this establishment of injurious industrial regulations, as one of the dangers to be kept in view.
Turn we now to another danger, distinct from the foregoing though near akin to it. Next after the evils of that over-legislation which restricts the exchange of capital and labour, come the evils of that over-legislation which provides for the community, by State-agency, benefits which capital and labour should be left spontaneously to provide. And it naturally, though unfortunately, happens, that those who lean to the one kind of over-legislation, lean also to the other kind. Men leading laborious lives, relieved by little in the shape of enjoyment, give willing ears to the doctrine that the State should provide them with various positive advantages and gratifications. The much-enduring poor cannot be expected to deal very critically with those who promise them gratis pleasures. As a drowning man catches at a straw, so will one whose existence is burdensome catch at anything, no matter how unsubstantial, which holds out the slightest hope of a little happiness. We must not, therefore, blame the working-classes for being ready converts to socialistic schemes, or to a belief in “the sovereign power of political machinery.”
Not that the working-classes alone fall into these delusions. Unfortunately they are countenanced, and have been in part misled, by those above them. In Parliament and out of Parliament, well-meaning men among the upper and middle ranks, have been active apostles of these false doctrines. There has ever been, and continues to be, much law-making based on the assumption, that it is the duty of the State, not simply to insure each citizen fair play in the battle of life, but to help him in fighting the battle of life: having previously taken money from his, or some one else’s, pocket to pay the cost of doing this. And we cannot glance over the papers without seeing how active are the agitations carried on out of doors in furtherance of this policy; and how they threaten to become daily more active. The doings of the Chadwick-school furnish one set of illustrations. From those of the Shaftesbury-school other illustrations may be gathered. And in the transactions of the body, absurdly self-entitled “The National Association for the Promotion of Social Science,” we find still more numerous developments of this mischievous error.
When we say that the working-classes, and more especially the artizan-classes, have strong leanings towards these Utopianisms which they have unhappily been encouraged to entertain by many who should have known better, we do not speak at random. We are not drawing an a priori inference as to the doctrines likely to find favour with men in their position. Nor are we guided merely by evidence to be gathered from newspapers. We have a basis of definite fact in the proceedings of reformed municipal governments. These bodies have from year to year extended their functions; and so heavy has in some cases become the consequent local taxation, as to have caused a reaction against the political party which was responsible. Town-councils almost exclusively Whig, have of late been made comparatively Conservative, by the efforts of those richer classes who suffer most from municipal extravagance. With whom, then, has this extravagance been popular? With the poorer members of the constituencies. Candidates for town-councillorships have found no better means of obtaining the suffrages of the mass, than the advocacy of this or the other local undertaking. To build baths and wash-houses at the expense of the town, has proved a popular proposal. The support of public gardens out of funds raised by local rates, has been applauded by the majority. So, too, with the establishment of free libraries, which has, of course, met with encouragement from working-men, and from those who wish to find favour with them. Should some one, taking a hint from the cheap concerts now common in our manufacturing towns, propose to supply music at the public cost, we doubt not he would be hailed as a friend of the people. And similarly with countless socialistic schemes, of which, when once commenced, there is no end.
Such being the demonstrated tendencies of municipal governments, with their extended bases of representation, is it not a fair inference that a Central Government having a base of representation much wider than the present, would manifest like tendencies? We shall see the more reason for fearing this, when we remember that those who approve of multiplied State-agencies, would generally ally themselves with those who seek for the legislative regulation of labour. The doctrines are near akin; and they are, to a considerable extent, held by the same persons. If united the two bodies would have a formidable power; and, appealed to, as they would often be, by candidates expressing agreement on both these points, they might, even though a minority, get unduly represented in the legislature. Such, at least, seems to us a further danger. Led by philanthropists having sympathies stronger than their intellects, the working-classes are very likely to employ their influence in increasing over-legislation: not only by agitating for industrial regulations, but in various other ways. What extension of franchise would make this danger a serious one, we do not pretend to say. Here, as before, we would simply indicate a probable source of mischief.
And now what are the safeguards? Not such as we believe will be adopted. To meet evils like those which threaten to follow the impending political change, the common plan is to devise special checks—minor limitations and qualifications. Not to dry up the evil at its source but to dam it out, is, in analogous cases, the usual aim. We have no faith in such methods. The only efficient safeguard lies in a change of convictions and motives. And, to work a change of this kind, there is no certain way but that of letting men directly feel the penalties which mistaken legislation brings on them. “How is this to be done?” the reader will doubtless ask. Simply by letting causes and effects stand in their natural relations. Simply by taking away those vicious arrangements which now mostly prevent men from seeing the reactions that follow legislative actions.
At present the extension of public administrations is popular, mainly because there has not been established in the minds of the people, any distinct connexion between the benefits to be gained and the expenses to be paid. Of the conveniences or gratifications secured to them by some new body of officials with a fund at its disposal, they have immediate experience; but of the way in which the costs fall on the nation, and ultimately on themselves, they have no immediate experience. Our fiscal arrangements dissociate the ideas of increased public expenditure and increased burdens on all who labour; and thus encourage the superstition that law can give gratis benefits. This is clearly the chief cause of that municipal extravagance to which we have above adverted. The working men of our towns possess public power, while most of them do not directly bear public burdens. On small houses the taxes for borough-purposes are usually paid by the landlords; and of late years, for the sake of convenience and economy, there has grown up a system of compounding with landlords of small houses even for the poor-rates chargeable to their tenants. Under this arrangement, at first voluntary but now compulsory, a certain discount off the total rates due from a number of houses is allowed to the owner, in consideration of his paying the rates, and thus saving the authorities trouble and loss in collection. And he is supposed to raise his rents by the full amount of the rates charged. Thus, most municipal electors, not paying local taxes in a separate form, are not constantly reminded of the connexion between public expenditure and personal costs; and hence it happens that any outlay made for local purposes, no matter how extravagant and unreasonable, which brings to them some kind of advantage, is regarded as pure gain. If the corporation resolves, quite unnecessarily, to rebuild a town-hall, the resolution is of course approved by the majority. “It is good for trade and it costs us nothing,” is the argument which passes vaguely through their minds. If some one proposes to buy an adjoining estate and turn it into a public park, the working classes naturally give their support to the proposal; for ornamental grounds cannot but be an advantage, and though the rates may be increased that will be no affair of theirs. Thus necessarily arises a tendency to multiply public agencies and increase public outlay. It becomes an established policy with popularity-hunters to advocate new works to be executed by the town. Those who disapprove this course are in fear that their seats may be jeopardized at the next election, should they make a vigorous opposition. And thus do these local administrations inevitably lean towards abnormal developments.
No one can, we think, doubt that were the rates levied directly on all electors, a check would be given to this municipal communism. If each small occupier found that every new work undertaken by the authorities cost him so many pence extra in the pound, he would begin to consider with himself whether the advantage gained was equivalent to the price paid; and would often reach a negative conclusion. It would become a question with him whether, instead of letting the local government provide him with certain remote advantages in return for certain moneys, he might not himself purchase with such moneys immediate advantages of greater worth; and, generally, he would decide that he could do this. Without saying to what extent such a restraint would act, we may safely say that it would be beneficial. Every one must admit that each inhabitant of a town ought constantly to be reminded of the relation between the work performed for him by the corporation and the sum he pays for it. No one can deny that the habitual experience of this relation would tend to keep the action of local governments within proper bounds.
Similarly with the Central Government. Here the effects wrought by public agencies are still more dissociated from the costs they entail on each citizen. The bulk of the taxes being raised in so unobtrusive a way, and affecting the masses in modes so difficult to trace, it is scarcely possible for the masses to realize the fact that the sums paid by Government for supporting schools, for facilitating emigration, for inspecting mines, factories, railways, ships, etc., have been in great part taken from their own pockets. The more intelligent of them understand this as an abstract truth; but it is not a truth present to their minds in such a definite shape as to influence their actions. Quite otherwise, however, would it be if taxation were direct; and the expense of every new State-agency were felt by each citizen as an additional demand made on him by the tax-gatherer. Then would there be a clear, constantly-recurring experience of the truth, that for everything which the State gives with one hand it takes away something with the other; and then would it be less easy to propagate absurd delusions about the powers and duties of Governments. No one can question this conclusion who calls to mind the reason currently given for maintaining indirect taxation; namely, that the required revenue could not otherwise be raised. Statesmen see that if instead of taking from the citizen here a little and there a little, in ways that he does not know or constantly forgets, the whole amount were demanded in a lump sum, it would scarcely be possible to get it paid. Grumbling and resistance would rise probably to disaffection. Coercion would in hosts of cases be needed to obtain this large total tax; which, indeed, even with this aid, could not be obtained from the majority of the people, whose improvident habits prevent the accumulation of considerable sums. And so the revenue would fall immensely short of that expenditure which is supposed necessary. This being assented to, it must perforce be admitted that under a system of direct taxation, further extension of public administrations, entailing further costs, would meet with general opposition. Instead of multiplying the functions of the State, the tendency would obviously be to reduce their number.
Here, then, is one of the safeguards. The incidence of taxation must be made more direct in proportion as the franchise is extended. Our changes ought not to be in the direction of the Compound-Householders-Act of 1851, which makes it no longer needful for a Parliamentary elector to have paid poor-rates before giving a vote; but they ought to be in the opposite direction. The exercise of power over the national revenue, should be indissolubly associated with the conscious payment of contributions to that revenue. Direct taxation instead of being limited, as many wish, must be extended to lower and wider classes, as fast as these classes are endowed with political power.
Probably this proposal will be regarded with small favour by statesmen. It is not in the nature of things for men to approve a system which tends to restrict their powers. We know, too, that any great extension of direct taxation will be held at present impossible; and we are not prepared to assert the contrary. This, however, is no reason against reducing the indirect taxation and augmenting the direct taxation as far as circumstances allow. And if when the last had been increased and the first decreased to the greatest extent now practicable, it were made an established principle that any additional revenue must be raised by direct taxes, there would be an efficient check to one of the evils likely to follow from further political enfranchisement.
The other evil which we have pointed out as rationally to be feared, cannot be thus met, however. Though an ever-recurring experience of the relation between State-action and its cost, would hinder the growth of those State-agencies which undertake to supply citizens with positive conveniences and gratifications; it would be no restraint on that negative and inexpensive over-legislation which trespasses on individual freedom—it would not prevent mischievous meddling with the relations between labour and capital. Against this danger the only safeguards appear to be, the spread of sounder views among the working classes, and the moral advance which such sounder views imply.
“That is to say, the people must be educated,” responds the reader. Yes, education is the thing wanted; but not the education for which most men agitate. Ordinary school-training is not a preparation for the right exercise of political power. Conclusive proof of this is given by the fact that the artizans, from whose mistaken ideas the most danger is to be feared, are the best informed of the working classes. Far from promising to be a safeguard, the spread of such education as is commonly given appears more likely to increase the danger. Raising the working classes in general to the artizan-level of culture, threatens to augment, rather than to diminish, their power of working political evil. The current faith in Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic, as fitting men for citizenship, seems to us quite unwarranted; as are, indeed, most other anticipations of the benefits to be derived from learning lessons. There is no connexion between the ability to parse a sentence, and a clear understanding of the causes which determine the rate of wages. The multiplication-table affords no aid in seeing through the fallacy that the destruction of property is good for trade. Long practice may have produced extremely good penmanship without having given the least power to understand the paradox that machinery eventually increases the number of persons employed in the trades into which it is introduced. Nor is it proved that smatterings of mensuration, astronomy, or geography, fit men for estimating the characters and motives of Parliamentary candidates. Indeed we have only thus to bring together the antecedents and the anticipated consequents, to see how untenable is the belief in a relation between them. When we wish a girl to become a good musician, we seat her before the piano: we do not put drawing implements into her hands, and expect music to come along with skill in the use of pencils and colour-brushes. Sending a boy to pore over law-books would be thought an extremely irrational way of preparing him for civil engineering. And if in these and all other cases, we do not expect fitness for any function except through instruction and exercise in that function; why do we expect fitness for citizenship to be produced by a discipline which has no relation to the duties of the citizen? Probably it will be replied that by making the working man a good reader, we give him access to sources of information from which he may learn how to use his electoral power; and that other studies sharpen his faculties and make him a better judge of political questions. This is true; and the eventual tendency is unquestionably good. But what if for a long time to come he reads only to obtain confirmation of his errors? What if there exists a literature appealing to his prejudices, and supplying him with fallacious arguments for the mistaken beliefs which he naturally takes up? What if he rejects all teaching that aims to disabuse him of cherished delusions? Must we not say that the culture which thus merely helps the workman to establish himself in error, rather unfits than fits him for citizenship? And do not the trades’-unions furnish evidence of this?
How little that which people commonly call education prepares them for the use of political power, may be judged from the incompetency of those who have received the highest education the country affords. Glance back at the blunders of our legislation, and then remember that the men who committed them had mostly taken University-degrees; and you must admit that the profoundest ignorance of Social Science may accompany intimate acquaintance with all which our cultivated classes regard as valuable knowledge. Do but take a young member of Parliament, fresh from Oxford or Cambridge, and ask him what he thinks Law should do, and why? or what it should not do, and why? and it will become manifest that neither his familiarity with Aristotle nor his readings in Thucydides, have prepared him to answer the very first question a legislator ought to solve. A single illustration will suffice to show how different an education from that usually given, is required by legislators, and consequently by those who elect them: we mean the illustration which the Free-trade agitation supplies. By kings, peers, and members of Parliament, mostly brought up at universities, trade had been hampered by protections, prohibitions, and bounties. For centuries had been maintained these legislative appliances which a very moderate insight shows to be detrimental. Yet, of all the highly-educated throughout the nation during these centuries, scarcely a man saw how mischievous such appliances were. Not from one who devoted himself to the most approved studies, came the work which set politicians right on these points; but from one who left college without a degree, and prosecuted inquiries which the established education ignored. Adam Smith examined for himself the industrial phenomena of societies; contemplated the productive and distributive activities going on around him; traced out their complicated mutual dependences; and thus reached general principles for political guidance. In recent days, those who have most clearly understood the truths he enunciated, and by persevering exposition have converted the nation to their views, have not been graduates of universities. While, contrariwise, those who have passed through the prescribed curriculum, have commonly been the most bitter and obstinate opponents of the changes dictated by politico-economical science. In this all-important direction, right legislation was urged by men deficient in the so-called best education, and was resisted by the great majority of men who had received this so-called best education!
The truth for which we contend, and which is so strangely overlooked, is, indeed, almost a truism. Does not our whole theory of training imply that the right preparation for political power is political cultivation? Must not that teaching which can alone guide the citizen in the fulfilment of his public actions, be a teaching that acquaints him with the effects of his public actions?
The second chief safeguard to which we must trust is, then, the spread, not of that mere technical and miscellaneous knowledge which men are so eagerly propagating, but of political knowledge; or, to speak more accurately—knowledge of Social Science. Above all, the essential thing is the establishment of a true theory of government—a true conception of what legislation is for, and what are its proper limits. This question which our political discussions habitually ignore, is a question of greater moment than any other. Inquiries which statesmen deride as speculative and unpractical, will one day be found infinitely more practical than those which they wade through Blue Books to master, and nightly spend many hours in debating. The considerations that every morning fill a dozen columns of The Times, are mere frivolities when compared with the fundamental consideration—What is the proper sphere of government? Before discussing the way in which law should regulate some particular thing, would it not be wise to put the previous question—Whether law ought or ought not to meddle with that thing? and before answering this, to put the more general questions—What law should do? and what it should leave undone? Surely, if there are any limits at all to legislation, the settlement of these limits must have effects far more profound than any particular Act of Parliament can have; and must be by so much the more momentous. Surely, if there is danger that the people may misuse political power, it is of supreme importance that they should be taught for what purpose political power ought alone to be used.
Did the upper classes understand their position they would, we think, see that the diffusion of sound views on this matter more nearly concerns their own welfare and that of the nation at large, than any other thing whatever. Popular influence will inevitably go on increasing. Should the masses gain a predominant power while their ideas of social arrangements and legislative action remain as crude as at present, there will certainly result disastrous meddlings with the relations of capital and labour, as well as a disastrous extension of State-administrations. Immense damage will be inflicted: primarily on employers; secondarily on the employed; and eventually on the nation as a whole. If these evils can be prevented at all, they can be prevented only by establishing in the public mind a profound conviction that there are certain definite limits to the functions of the State; and that these limits ought on no account to be transgressed. Having learned what these limits are, the upper classes ought to use all means of making them clear to the people.
In No. XXIV. of this Review, for October, 1857, we endeavoured to show that while representative government is, by its intrinsic nature, better than any other for administering justice or insuring equitable relations among citizens, it is, by its intrinsic nature, worse than any other for all the various additional functions which governments commonly undertake. To the question—What is representative government good for? our reply was—“It is good, especially good, good above all others, for doing the thing which a government should do. It is bad, especially bad, bad above all others, for doing the things which a government should not do.”
To this truth we may here add a correlative one. As fast as a government, by becoming representative, grows better fitted for maintaining the rights of citizens, it grows not only unfitted for other purposes, but dangerous for other purposes. In gaining adaptation for the essential function of a government, it loses such adaptation as it had for other functions; not only because its complexity is a hindrance to administrative action, but also because in discharging other functions it must be mischievously influenced by class bias. So long as it is confined to the duty of preventing the aggressions of individuals on one another, and protecting the nation at large against external enemies, the wider its basis the better; for all men are similarly interested in the security of life, property, and freedom to exercise the faculties. But let it undertake to bring home positive benefits to citizens, or to interfere with any of the special relations between class and class, and there necessarily enters an incentive to injustice. For in no such cases can the immediate interests of all classes be alike. Therefore do we say that as fast as representation is extended, the sphere of government must be contracted.
POSTSCRIPT.—Since the foregoing pages were written, Lord John Russell has introduced his Reform Bill; and in application of the general principles we contend for, a few words may fitly be added respecting it.
Of the extended county-franchise most will approve, save those whose illegitimate influence is diminished by it. Adding to the rural constituencies a class less directly dependent on large landowners, can scarcely fail to be beneficial. Even should it not at first perceptibly affect the choice of representatives, it will still be a good stimulus to political education and to consequent future benefits. Of the re-distribution of seats little is to be said, further than that, however far short it may fall of an equitable arrangement, it is perhaps as much as can at present be obtained.
Whether the right limit for the borough-franchise has been chosen is, on the other hand, a question that admits of much discussion. Some hesitation will probably be felt by all who duly weigh the evidence on both sides. Believing, as we do, that the guidance of abstract equity, however much it may need qualification, must never be ignored, we should be glad were it at once practicable more nearly to follow it; since it is certain that only as fast as the injustice of political exclusion is brought to an end, will the many political injustices which grow out of it disappear. Nevertheless, we are convinced that the forms which freedom requires will not of themselves produce the reality of freedom, in the absence of an appropriate national character; any more than the most perfect mechanism will do its work in the absence of a motive power. There seems reason to think that the degree of liberty a people is capable of in any given age, is a fixed quantity; and that any artificial extension of it in one direction brings about an equivalent limitation in some other direction. French republics show scarcely any more respect for individual rights than the despotisms they supplant; and French electors use their freedom to put themselves again in slavery. In America the feeble restraints imposed by the State are supplemented by the strong restraints of a public opinion which, in many respects, holds the citizens in greater bondage than here. And if there needs a demonstration that representative equality is an insufficient safeguard for freedom, we have it in the trades’-unions already referred to; which, purely democratic as are their organizations, yet exercise over their members a tyranny almost Neapolitan in its rigour and unscrupulousness. The greatest attainable amount of individual liberty being the true end; and the diffusion of political power being regarded mainly as a means to this end; the real question when considering further extensions of the franchise, is—whether the average freedom of action of citizens will be increased?—whether men will be severally freer than before to pursue the objects of life in their own way? Or, in the present case, the question is—whether the good which £7, £6, or £5 householders would do in helping to abolish existing injustices, will be partly or wholly neutralized by the evil they may do in establishing other injustices? The desideratum is as large an increase in the electorate as can be made without enabling the people to carry out their delusive schemes of over-legislation. Whether the increase proposed is greater or less than this, is the essential point. Let us briefly consider the evidence on each side.
As shown by Lord J. Russell’s figures, the new borough-electors will consist mainly of artizans; and these, as we have seen, are in great part banded together by a common wish to regulate the relations of capital and labour. As a class, they are not as Lord J. Russell describes them, “fitted to exercise the franchise freely and independently.” On the contrary, there are no men in the community so shackled. They are the slaves of the authorities they have themselves set up. The dependence of farmers on landlords, or of operatives on employers, is much less servile; for they can carry their capital or labour elsewhere. But the penalty for disobedience to trades-union dictates, pursues the rebel throughout the kingdom. Hence the great mass of the new borough-electors must be expected to act simultaneously, on the word of command being issued from a central council of united trades. Even while we write we meet with fresh reason for anticipating this result. An address from the Conference of the Building Trades to the working classes throughout the kingdom, has just been published; thanking them for their support; advising the maintenance of the organization; anticipating future success in their aims; and intimating the propriety of recommencing the nine-hours’ agitation. We must, then, be prepared to see these industrial questions made leading questions; for artizans have a much keener interest in them than in any others. And we may feel certain that many elections will turn upon them.
How many? There are some thirty boroughs in which the newly-enfranchised will form an actual majority—will, if they act together, be able to outvote the existing electors; even supposing the parties into which they are now divided were to unite. In half-a-dozen other boroughs the newly-enfranchised will form a virtual majority—will preponderate unless the present liberal and conservative voters co-operate with great unanimity, which they will be unlikely to do. And the number proposed to be added to the constituency, is one-half or more in nearly fifty other boroughs: that is, in nearly fifty other boroughs, the new party will be able to arbitrate between the two existing parties; and will give its support to whichever of these promises most aid to artizan-schemes. It maybe said that in this estimate we assume the whole of the new borough-electors to belong to the artizan-class, which they do not. This is true. But, on the other hand, it must be remembered that among the £10 householders there is a very considerable sprinkling of this class, while the freemen chiefly consist of it; and hence the whole artizan body in each constituency will probably be not smaller than we have assumed. If so, it follows that should the trades-union organization be brought to bear on borough-elections, as it is pretty certain to be, it may prevail in some eighty or ninety places, and sway the votes of representatives in from 100 to 150 seats—supposing, that is, that it can obtain as many eligible candidates.
Meanwhile, the county-constituencies in their proposed state, as much as in their existing state, not being under trades-union influence, may be expected to stand in antagonism to the artizan-constituencies; as may also the small boroughs. It is just possible, indeed, that irritated by the ever-growing power of a rich mercantile class, continually treading closer on their heels, the landowners, carrying with them their dependents, might join the employed in their dictation to employers; just as, in past times, the nobles joined the commonalty against the kings, or the kings joined the commonalty against the nobles. But leaving out this remote contingency, we may fairly expect the rural constituencies to oppose the large urban ones on these industrial questions. Thus, then, the point to be decided is, whether the benefits that will result from this extended suffrage—benefits which we doubt not will be great—may not be secured while the accompanying evil tendencies are kept in check. It may be that these new artizan-electors will be powerful for good, while their power to work evil will be in a great degree neutralized. But this we should like to see well discussed.
On one question, however, we feel no hesitation; namely, the question of a ratepaying-qualification. From Lord John Russell’s answer to Mr. Bright, and more recently from his answer to Mr. Steel, we gather that on this point there is to be no alteration—that £6 householders will stand on the same footing that £10 householders do at present. Now by the Compound-Householders-Act of 1851, to which we have already referred, it is provided that tenants of £10 houses whose rates are paid by their landlords, shall, after having once tendered payment of rates to the authorities, be thereafter considered as ratepayers, and have votes accordingly. That is to say, the ratepaying-qualification is made nominal; and that in practice it has become so, is proved by the fact that under this Act, 4000 electors were suddenly added to the constituency of Manchester.
The continuance and extension of this arrangement we conceive to be wholly vicious. Already we have shown that the incidence of taxation ought to be made more direct as fast as popular power is increased, and that, as diminishing the elector’s personal experience of the costs of public administration, this abolition of a ratepaying-qualification is a retrograde step. But this is by no means the sole ground for disapproval. The ratepaying-qualification is a valuable test—a test which tends to separate the more worthy of the working classes from the less worthy. Nay more, it tends to select for enfranchisement, those who have the moral and intellectual qualities especially required for judicious political conduct. For what general mental characteristic does judicious political conduct presuppose? The power of realizing remote consequences. People who are misled by demagogues, are those who are impressed with the proximate results set forth to them but are not impressed by the distant results, even when these are explained—regard them as vague, shadowy, theoretical, and are not to be deterred by them from clutching at a promised boon. Conversely, the wise citizen is the one who conceives the distant evils so clearly that they are practically present to him, and thus outweigh the immediate temptation. Now these are just the respective characteristics of the two classes of tenants whom a ratepaying-qualification separates:—the one having their rates paid by their landlords and so losing their votes; the other paying their own rates that they may get votes:—the one unable to resist present temptations, unable to save money, and therefore so inconvenienced by the payment of rates as to be disfranchised rather than pay them; the other resisting present temptations and saving money, with the view, among other ends, of paying rates and becoming electors. Trace these respective traits to their sources, and it becomes manifest that, on the average, the pecuniarily improvident must be also the politically improvident; and that the politically provident must be far more numerous among those who are pecuniarily provident. Hence, it is folly to throw aside a regulation under which these spontaneously separate themselves—severally disfranchise themselves and enfranchise themselves.