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THE PURE SCIENCE OF THE SUBJECT.
What is representative government good for? our reply is—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.
One point remains. We said, some distance back, that not only may representative government be the best, notwithstanding its many conspicuous deficiencies; but that it is even possible to discern in these very deficiencies further proofs of its superiority. The conclusion just arrived at, implying, as it does, that these deficiencies tend to hinder it from doing the things which no government should do, has already furnished a key to this strangelooking assertion. But it will be well here to make a more specific justification of it. This brings us to the pure science of the matter.
The ever-increasing complexity which characterizes advancing societies, is a complexity that results from the multiplication of different parts performing different duties. The doctrine of the division of labour, is now-a-days understood by most to some extent; and most know that by this division of labour, each operative, each manufacturer, each town, each district, is constantly more and more restricted to one kind of work. Those who study the organization of living bodies, find the uniform process of development to be, that each organ gradually acquires a definite and limited function: there arises, step by step, a more perfect “physiological division of labour.” And in an article on “Progress : its Law and Cause," published in our April number, we pointed out that this increasing specialization of functions which goes on in all organized bodies, social as well as individual, is one of the manifestations of a still more general process pervading creation, inorganic as well as organic.
Now this specialization of functions, which is the law of all organization, has a twofold implication. At the same time that each part grows adapted to the particular duty it has to discharge, it grows unadapted to all other duties. The becoming especially fit for one thing, is a becoming less fit than before for every thing else. We have not space here to exemplify this truth. Any modern work on physiology, however, will furnish the reader with abundant illustrations of it, as exhibited in the evolution of living creatures; and as exhibited in the evolution of societies, it may be studied in the writings of political economists. All which we wish here to point out is, that the governmental part of the body politic exemplifies this truth equally with its other parts. In virtue of this universal law, a government cannot gain ability to perform its special work, without losing such ability as it had to perform other work, This then is, as we say,
science of the matter. The original and essential office of a government is that of protecting its subjects against aggression. In low, undeveloped forms of society, where yet there is but little differentiation of parts, and little specialization of functions, this essential work, discharged with extreme imperfection, is joined with endless other work: the government has a controlling action over all conduct, individual and socialregulates dress, food, ablutions, prices, trade, religionexercises unbounded power. In becoming so constituted as to discharge better its essential function, the government becomes more limited alike in the power and the habit of doing other things. Increasing ability to perform its true duty, involves increasing inability to perform all other kinds of action. And this conclusion, deducible from the universal law of organization, is the conclusion to which inductive reasoning has already led us. We have seen that, whether considered in theory or practice,
PHILOSOPHIC CLAIMS OF THE DISCUSSION.
representative government is the best for securing justice. We have also seen that, whether considered in theory or practice, it is the worst for all other purposes. And here we find that this last characteristic is a necessary accom paniment of the first. These various incapacities, which seem to tell so seriously against the goodness of representative government, are but the inevitable consequences of its more complete adaptation to its proper work; and, so understood, are themselves indications that it is the form of government natural to a more highly-organized and advanced social state.
We do not expect this consideration to weigh much with those whom it most concerns. Truths of so abstract a character find no favour with senates. The metamorphosis we have described is not mentioned in Ovid. History as at present written, makes no comments on it. There is nothing about it to be found in blue-books and committee-reports. Neither is it proved by statistics. Evidently, then, it has but small chance of recognition by the practical" legislator. But to the select few who study the Social Science, properly so called, we commend this general fact as one of the highest significance. Those who know something of the general laws of life, and who perceive that these general laws of life underlie all social phenomena, will see that this dual change in the character of advanced governments, involves an answer to the first of all political questions. They will see that this specialization in virtue of which an advanced government gains power to perform one function, while it loses power to perform others, clearly indicates the true limitations of State-duty. They will see that, even leaving out all other evidence, this fact alone shows conclusively what is the proper sphere of legislation.
HE two antagonist theories of morals, like many
other antagonist theories, are both right and both wrong. The à priori school has its truth; the à posteriori school has its truth; and for the proper guidance of conduct, there must be due recognition of both. On the one hand, it is asserted that there is an absolute standard of rectitude; and, respecting certain classes of actions, it is rightly so asserted. From the fundamental laws of life and the conditions of social existence, are deducible certain imperative limitations to individual action
limitations which are essential to a perfect life, individual and social; or, in other words, essential to the greatest possible happiness. And these limitations, following inevitably as they do from undeniable first principles, deep as the nature of life itself, constitute what we may distinguish as absolute morality.
On the other hand, it is contended, and in a sense rightly contended, that with men as they are, and society as it is, the dictates of absolute morality are impracticable. Legal control, which involves the infliction of pain, alike on those who are restrained and on those who pay the tost of restraining them, is proved by this fact to be not
RELATIVE AND ABSOLUTE RIGHT.
absolutely moral; seeing that absolute morality is the regulation of conduct in such way that pain shall not be inflicted. Wherefore, if it be admitted that legal control is at present indispensable, it must be admitted that these à priori rules cannot be immediately carried out. And hence it follows that we must adapt our laws and actions to the existing character of mankind—that we must estimate the good or evil resulting from this or that arrangement, and so reach, a posteriori, a code fitted for the time being. In short, we must fall back on expediency. Now, each of these positions being valid, it is a grave mistake to adopt either to the exclusion of the other. They should be respectively appealed to for mutual qualification. Progressing civilization, which is of necessity a succession of compromises between old and new, requires a perpetual readjustment of the compromise between the ideal and the practicable in social arrangements : to which end both elements of the compromise must be kept in view. If it is true that pure rectitude prescribes a system of things far too good for men as they are; it is not less true that mere expediency does not of itself tend to establish a system of things any better than that which exists. While absolute morality owes to expediency the checks which prevent it from rushing into utopian absurdities; expediency is indebted to absolute morality for all stimulus to improvement.
Granted that we are chiefly interested in ascertaining what is relatively right; it still follows that we must first consider what is absolutely right ; since the one conception presupposes the other. That is to say, though we must ever aim to do what is best for the present times, yet we must ever bear in mind what is abstractedly best ; so that the changes we make may be towards it, and not away from it. Unattainable as pure rectitude is, and may long continue to be, we must keep an eye on the compass which