Зображення сторінки

Surely it is high time now for the world to learn the lesson that representative institutions, even if they are a reality, and not, as frequently happens, an imposture, can do no more than express the mind of the represented. They are but the instruments and pledges of Liberty; they are not Liberty itself. A very clear and acute thinker, the late Mr. Bagehot, judged their chief advantage over despotism to lie in this, that they compel discussion before action is taken. Unquestionably, discussion is an invaluable security of political freedom, if it be rational, that is, if it recognize those "moral laws of nature and of nations" which afford the only true guarantees of individual right, the only effectual protection for the legitimate employment of the energies of human personality. To the ever-deepening apprehension of those laws, as the primary facts of public and of individual life, should we look for the growth of real freedom. Here, too, it holds good that "you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." "It is not mendacities, conscious or other, that the divine powers will patronize, or even, in the end, put up

with at all On the great scale, and on

the small, and in all seasons, circumstances, scenes, and situations, where a son of Adam finds himself, that is true, and even a sovereign truth. And whoever does not know it, human charity to him (were such always possible) would be that he were ii.] A PLEA FOB HANDCUFFS. 73

furnished with handeuffs as part of his outfit in the world, and put under guidance of those who do. Yes; to him, I should say, a private pair of handcuffs were much usefuller than a ballot-box, wero the times once settled again, which they are far from being!" The intelligent reader, who will give his intelligence fair play, will find deeper meaning in these grim words of Mr. Carlyle than in all the tomes of Parliamentary eloquence ever printed.



The superstition of which I spoke in the last chapter, that political liberty is the inevitable result of government by numbers, has embodied itself in the Shibboleth of The People. I remember that the late M. Scherer once called this phrase "the great enigma of history." Among the many meanings assigned to it, two only, perhaps, need be mentioned for our present purpose. It may mean a nation, as it does when we speak of the English, the French, or the Spanish people. It may mean a particular section of a nation, the most numerous, the least wealthy, and the least cultivated. Used in this latter sense it very commonly becomes a Shibboleth, and an extremely effective one too. Thus was it applied when Mr. Gladstone, after delivering himself of his celebrated rodomontade about "the classes and the masses," was enthusiastically saluted as " The People's William." Thus, when one of his humbler adherents, distinguished, if my memory is not at fault, as an apologist for mob violence, was dubbed, by a in.] A.NEW GOSPEL. 7u

pleasing alliteration, " The People's Pickersgill." In the same spirit, an old woman, on seeing Robespierre carried to execution, exclaimed: "II aimait bien le Peuple, celui-la." And so a certain American demagogue, whose name escapes me, when nearly choked by the fetid atmosphere of a crowded meeting, just managed to gasp out " How I love the smell of the dear People!" A hundred years ago Grattan insisted that " the populace differs much, and should be clearly distinguished, from the people." The tendency of political progress, from his time to ours, has been to ignore the difference and to rub out the distinction. Throughout the civilized world the populace is now, to a very great extent, identified with The People. And no wonder, for political power has everywhere gravitated to the populace. The Abbd Sieyes, in that famous pamphlet of his which so largely influenced the course of the French Revolution, wrote: "What has the third estate been, till now, in the political order? Nothing. What does it want to be? Something. What is it really? Everything." Oracular words, indeed, and truly prosageful of the course of events. What is called democracy, or government by numbers, is an accomplished fact, and equal universal suffrage is its accepted form. "Everyman to count for one, and no man for more than one," was presented to us, a short time ago, by a popular politician as " The People's Gospel." And the claim made for this kind of polity thus succinctly formulated is, not that this is a kind specially suitable for the age, but that it is the sole legitimate kind, the essential and only right constitution of society, the unique and infallible specific for the healing of the nations.

The People's Gospel must, on all hands, be allowed to possess one merit — it is extremely simple. It is not a doctrine laboriously derived from experience and carefully verified by observation. It is in the strictest sense a priori. It postulates that each individual "citizen" is entitled to an equal share of the national sovereignty; and to the majority of "citizens"—that is, to the representatives of the majority—it attributes supreme authority. The popular will, thus expressed by delegation, that is, the will of the most numerous portion of the adult males—I put aside, for the present, the question of Woman's Rights—is, in this new evangel, the source and fount of all power. And political science is held to consist in securing for it free expression and unimpeded effect.

Such are the essential tenets of The People's Gospel. The first thing we naturally ask concerning it is, Where did it come from? There can be no doubt about the answer. We have unquestionably derived it, mainly, from the teachings of JeanJacques Rousseau—though modified, of course, by the conditions of the time—however little many of

« НазадПродовжити »