Изображения страниц

Powers outside Parliament.


as it were, incorporated into a potent political organ, which not only competes with the recognised Legislature, but threatens at times,—even when there is no immediate prospect of an appeal to the Constituencies,-.. to overpower and drown its voice. The more normal operation of this popular factor is to give increased weight to the mere fact of debate and discussion in the Houses of Parliament, as compared with the weight due to a preponderance of voting power. It has been noticed of late that, though a debate in either House of Parliament seldom alters a vote,—the vote of every member having been accurately discounted beforehand,—yet the discussion, when happily raised on a true issue, and kept free from intruding personalities or accidental distractions, has such an effect on the public mind that a policy formally approved by the vote of a large majority is often condemned to practical nullity. This nullity is sometimes expressed by a counter vote in the other House of Parliament; and in this way the bifurcation of the Legislature into two Houses rather has the effect of fortifying the popular will than of checking an inconsiderate acquiescence in the claims of an uninformed popular enthusiasm. In a recent paper on Modern Parliaments,' Professor Pearson, of Melbourne, has drawn attention to other consequences of the same general tendency. He has shown that not only,—as above indicated,—is the aggregate popular force outside Parliament being increased at the expense of the Legislature properly so called, but that in democratically constituted communities, to the type of which all progressive communities must approach, some of the most influential politicians, and the most skilled specialists in different departments of political science, must, by the pature of the case, be outside the walls of Parliament, and yet none the less exercise the strongest direct influence on its counsels and resolutions. The conclusion from these remarks is one which has been already anticipated in the practice of the United States of America. Dr. Joseph P. Thompson, of Berlin,' says, “I have alluded ' to the provision for popular education made by the • State Governments, in part by general funds, in part • by yearly taxes levied upon school districts. This the · State does of right and of necessity, since the safety • of political society in a free State binges upon the • intelligence and virtue of its citizens. As a rule, • knowledge favours virtue and order. As Rousseau said, 6" To open the schools is to shut the prisons ;" hence • the State must require and provide that every citizen • shall have knowledge of his duties as a member of • civil society. The lesson in fact is, that the defence of the Constitution must be increasingly sought in the spirit and the informed intelligence of the people; and that no vaunted legal securities or historical facts in the past will be of the slightest service to keep at a distance either despotism or anarchy, if the people as a whole are not awake to the value of what they have, and morally determined, on behalf of themselves and their posterity, to preserve it.

| Fortnightly Review, July 1879.


ii. A large portion of the history passed in review in the preceding pages has been concerned with what may be called the artificial mechanism of government. To this head belongs all the manipulation of work con

· Lectures on the Centennial of American Independence, Boston,

[ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors]

ducted by Parliamentary committees; the peculiar arraugements for reconciling local government with central control,-especially as affecting the municipalities of the country; the government of dependencies ; and the supervision of large State departments, such as those of the Civil Service, the Post Office, the Revenue, the Police, and the Army and Navy. It has been seen that, whereas deep constitutional principles are really involved in each one of the appropriate arrangements which have been resorted to, yet, besides the issues which are political or ethical in their character, the mere practical contrivances which have been necessitated have called for no small amount of organising skill. There is indeed a danger, such as has been experienced in France, and to some extent in Germany, that the very elaborateness of the mechanism may become itself an avenue for encroachment on the principles of the Constitution. Every great public department,—by its special knowledge, by the mutual and reciprocal confidence which pervades its members, by tried habits of co-operation and even mutual courtesy, --becomes a centre of force and influence which may rival all the more desultory forces of public opinion, and even the casually recollected maxims of public policy and morality, which may be ranged against it by way of check, if not of resistance. Even municipalities and charitable institutions have innate powers of action in a way counter to the public interest as largely understood, which no central control can effectually keep pace with. It is sufficient here to point out the general character of these dangers. The last fifty years have been rather occupied with inventing the complicated mechanism which has been called for, than with providing against its contingent dangers. It may be that the next generation will be concerned with discovering in the essential principles of the English Constitution the appropriate checks and remedies against either an imperious officialism or an unscrupulous and selfish abuse of local trusts,

iii. It is scarcely worth while saying more than has been already intimated of the advance which recent times have witnessed in the strengthening and organisation of the Executive Government. Some of the dangers concealed in this development have made themselves specially apparent of very late years; and it has therefore been thought worth while to give in almost redundant detail an account of the movements of Lord Beaconsfield's Government which have recently excited the solicitude of those who have most admired and best understood the established principles of the English Constitution. The doctrine has been almost openly advocated that the Ministry of the day, with a large Parliamentary majority, are, for all purposes for which they can succeed in obtaining the ex post facto ratification of their supporters, omnipotent. The doctrine of the 'omnipotence of Parliament' has always been held to imply constitutional suicide ; and surely a like implication is conveyed by the notion of the omnipotence of the Cabinet. It would rather seem that the very purpose of a Constitution was to impose limits and barriers to the accidental excesses both of Parliaments and Governments.

The study of a modern Constitution according to the historical method here pursued suffers in interest

[merged small][ocr errors]

from a want of the element of antiquity, which lends much of its charm to what is usually known as historical research, and of the dramatic element, which rouses zeal and curiosity in the observer of the incidents of mere political change. Constitutional life is longer than political life, but shorter than historical life. There are many readers who can stand the strain of a lengthened antiquarian investigation, and there are many who can eagerly devour the recent anecdotes of political vicissitude. But it is only a limited class of students who can find mental sustenance and moral stimulus in tracking out the slow, patient, oscillating story of constitutional change. The story is perhaps rather less than more attractive when it is the story of modern life, and therefore implicated in the often repulsive annals of party discord, and in the biographies of persons only too familiarly known in their private capacities. Nevertheless, this detailed and modern history of the Government in relation to the people and the people in relation to the Government, when deeply studied and accurately scrutinised, presents the truest of all aspects of the national life and character. It is not in the individual life, or even in the family or social life, that the last and most precious products of character are elicited or can be exhibited. Nor, again, is it either in the mere sufferance of political wrong, or the noble reaction against such wrong, that the whole temperament and real proclivities of a people can be manifested. The people can be best studied in their attitude towards what may be called the chronic and necessary conditions of national existence. These conditions,—which are, in fact, the essential or juridical elements of the Constitution,-are not in themselves

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »