« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
borrowed from the most abused or misunderstood institutions of other countries, have been used for the purpose of discrediting them. The truth is, that no general propositions whatever can be framed as to the common policy, expediency, or virtue, of any such associations. These associations may be either of the worst and narrowest sort, chosen, if chosen at all, by a mere plausible show of popular selection, and dominated by influences of the most pernicious or intolerant sort, whether aristocratic, plutocratic, or demagogic in the most objectionable sense. Or, on the other hand, these associations may be the natural outcome of a vigorous political life, and of a general resolve in the constituency to subordinate the casual wishes or caprices of smaller sections within it to the general good of the whole, or to the service of the State. They may be elected by the most stringent method which has ever been devised for recording a popular choice; the association may be large in numbers, and every member of it may be competently instructed and free to act on his independent judgment, saving always his loyal recognition of the distinct objects for which the association is created; the meetings may be in public and the discussions enlightened and checked by concurrent controversies in the local newspapers ; and the true political relationships between such an association and its own constituency on the one hand, and the candidates whose claims come before it for consideration on the other, may be unerringly and delicately appreciated. It is impossible not to see, in such an association as this, and in the multiplication of such associations, the best possible hope which in this country can for some time be entertained for the establishment or renovation of popular government of the truest sort.
The task of such voluntary associations as these, whether of the better or the worse kind, is simplified, and the character and direction of their work determined, by the existence of what is called 'government by party,'—a subject which in its recent aspects requires independent investigation. It is a matter of the utmost consequence to ascertain what are the real nature and advantages of party government as now existing in England, and to discover what are the prospects of its development, or of any substitute for it being found. There is no doubt that, on the face of it, government by party presents many stumbling-blocks to the scrupulous observer of parliamentary institutions. He is apt, on a superficial glance at them, to see in the contests of party a sort of fictitious battle-field, in which the rival hosts have assorted themselves only for the purpose of playing a gigantic game. In the spurious struggles which are exhibited, all independent and conscientious convictions seem to be treated as matters of indifference if not of scorn, while the party-cries which for the moment rally the combatants on one side or the other owe their origin to the purest accidents, or, what is still worse, to nothing better than astute contrivance.
This view, which undoubtedly points to some of the extravagant abuses to which party government often gives rise, has been resisted by all the ablest modern speculators on constitutional government, commencing with Edmund Burke, in the familiar passage contained in his' Thoughts on the Causes of the Present Discontents.' The following is part of the passage alluded to :—' Men 'thinking freely will, in particular instances, think 'differently. But still, as the greater part of the 'measures which arise in the course of public business
'are related to, or dependent on some great, leading, 'general principles of government, a man must be 'peculiarly unfortunate in the choice of his political 'company, if he does not agree with them nine times 'in ten. If he does not concur in the general principles 'upon which the party is founded, and which necessarily 'draw on a concurrence in their application, he ought 'to have chosen some other, more conformable to his 'opinions. When the question is in its nature doubtful, 'or not very material, the modesty which becomes an 'individual, and (in spite of our court moralists) that 'partiality which becomes a well-chosen friendship, will 'frequently bring on an acquiescence in the general 'sentiment. Thus the disagreement will naturally be 'rare; and it will only be enough to indulge freedom 'without violating concord or disturbing arrangement.'
Leaving, however, on one side, as the limits of the present treatise demand, the general explanation and defence of government by party, it is sufficient to examine the grounds on which the institution may be held to rest in England at the present time.
Party government in England rests upon three foundations, which may be conveniently designated as (1) historical, (2) natural, and (3) artificial.
1. The historical foundation of modern parties is undoubtedly the division of sentiment and action which took place between the times of the abdication of James II., and of the firm establishment of the House of Hanover about the time of the accession of George III., —a period of about seventy years. No doubt, for the purposes of finer philosophical and historical analysis, the origin of existing political parties might properly be attributed to times, events, and political or religious divisions far earlier than the period of what is known as the Revolution. But it seems to have been the broad division of opinion in respect of the paramount authority of Parliament over the very sources of regality, long expressed in the opposed titles of Whig and Tory, which, under all the changes since experienced, whether overt or latent, is still reproduced and indeed emphasized in the great rival parties of the present reign. Whether or not the terms Liberal and Conservative square with the older terms, or what relation the new terms have to the old, is a question which belongs more to the political historian than to the constitutional critic. It is, however, a matter of some constitutional importance to notice that party government in England is not the growth of a day, or even of a hundred years, but that it is almost as firmly impressed on the character of English institutions as the modern conception of representative government itself.
2. But government by party has perhaps a still more indisputable origin and justification in certain antithetical forms in which the human mind seems to l>e cast, and in which, when addressing itself to political affairs, it seems spontaneously to operate. It is not the case that at any given moment a large mass of mankind are specially indifferent to the political progress of the country, or are inordinately stupid, ignorant, selfish, or timid, while the rest of mankind have a firm faith in the prospects of political improvement, and an unflinching courage in venturing on any amount of change which seems fairly calculated to bring it about. The truth in this respect would rather be, that all persons whatsoever, while unthinking, insulated, and iuexperienced, are disposed to flinch from taking any Its Foundation in Nature. 69
further step in politics than holding firmly on to all which is familiar and seems at least secure. All political action, when it is anything else than a mere grasping after personal or selfish ends, implies a certain amount of confidence in the result of a yet untried experiment. It has well been pointed out by the best political logicians that politics, in truth, admit of no tentative experiments. No concurrence of political circumstances, personages, and events can ever be reproduced a second time; nor has the political inquirer any but the most limited power to control, for the purpose of ascertaining the true relations of cause and effect, the arrangement of the materials in his hands, nor any method but that of the loosest historical analogy, or contemporaneous observation of other countries, to remedy the inherent defects of the experimental method when applied in this field. While, on the one hand, the politician, no less than the physical experimentalist, is bound to take the utmost pains to master every one of the relevant facts accessible to him, he can at the best only use them for the purpose of conjecturing the sort of modifications which may and ought to qualify the application of principles which are purely deductive. It is by his deductive method, and by his confident attachment to the conclusions which that method has taught him, that the politician attains the elevation of a scientific prophet. This method not only teaches him how to form sound intellectual judgments, but informs his moral insight, and suffuses his whole nature with the glow of unalterable convictions. Thus it comes about that the science and art of politics can for practical purposes be beneficially studied only by those who either themselves have the capacity of forming in this way political