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question, it is necessary to consider what are the claims to exclusive representation, which a majority in a particular place represented may he held to possess. Of course there may be true majorities and false majorities. A false majority exists where—owing either to dormant political activity, or ignorance, or slavish subservience to discreditable influences—a small minority chances to acquire at election time the power of converting to its own uses the numerical majority of the voters. A true majority is where every voter who goes to constitute the majority acts as a free and independent citizen, with a competent knowledge of the issues at stake, and with a fixed determination to give effect to the promptings of his reason and conscience. Where such a true majority exists, and is, as it must be by the hypothesis, unanimous in support of a candidate, the only reasons why its vote should not be either counteracted or modified in effect by the presence of an equally true minority are, (1) the advantage to the country generally of obliging every class of opinions to be submitted to the somewhat rough test of popularity before they become the basis of legislation, and (2) the advantage to the House of Commons of having a distinct and uniform direction given to its counsels by what is taken to be,—say, for purposes of public convenience only,—the undivided popular voice. It is sometimes held that there is some inscrutable virtue in the decisions of a majority, however small, and that it has a moral right, even if it should not have the physical force, to assert an uncontrolled ascendency. Whether these beliefs are held to be democratic, republican, or anything else, they are most unsafe foundations on which to build any cogent political argument. It is impossible to say too much—and much has been said—
on the necessity, in the most democratically constituted societies, of favouring the growth of new and varied opinions,—to be held for a long time, it may be, by very narrow sections of the community; and political, religious, and social freedom would become impossible, and truth extinct, if the idea ever gained ground that the political or other beliefs of a numerical majority afforded any test of their inherent value, or could found a claim for undisputed supremacy.
In spite, however, of these salutary deductions from the conceit of those who panegyrise the merits of popular majorities, plebiscites, and the like, a sound and popular form of government presupposes that Government shall in its main acts and policy not only follow a uniform and decided course, but that that course shall commend itself to at least a considerable portion of the population; and if two or more decided and uniform courses present themselves, the only mode of choosing between them is that of ascertaining which is acceptable to the greater number of people.
The claims of a majority to decide elections being thus found to rest solely upon the convenience of a uniform administration, and the imperious necessity of making an absolute choice between the wishes of one set of persons and those of another, the limitations to these claims are at once indicated; and it is in these limitations that the claims to representation on the part of minorities can alone be discovered. The fact is, that the assertion of the political claims of minorities is just so far out of harmony with the working of popular institutions as the area over which a particular election extends is small, and may be consistent with them as the area becomes very large. Thus, in very small boroughs, the result of representing minorities must be purely anarchical. In the largest boroughs, the results are perhaps more doubtful, but still very questionable so far as the interests of true popular government are at stake, and may tend to weaken or paralyse political activity of the broadest and healthiest kind. The most hopeful, or perhaps the only hopeful circumstances in which the so-called representation of minorities can be carried out are, in case of such a complete reconstruction of the constituencies and of the modes of eliciting the judgment of voters as is contemplated in the schemes of Mr. Hare and Mr. Mill, and in the vast extension of the area of every election which these schemes suppose.
Closely akin to this subject is another to which much attention has been lately called, and which seems likely to bring about important results in the practical working of the Constitution. It has been already seen that the displacement of the more primitive classification of English society is being succeeded by voluntary political organisations of a variety of kinds, and possessing various degrees of publicity. Among these organisations the most recent growth is that of large groups of electors, who voluntarily connect themselves together for the purpose of establishing the principles upon which they shall select a candidate, and of giving effect to their determinations. Such associations naturally invite public attention and criticism; and, according as they are constructed in favour of one set of principles or another, are likely to meet with vituperation at the hands of the advocates of a different set of principles. In England, indeed, such vituperation has become of late matter of common notoriety; and the worst names,
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