Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

ical evil. The current faith in Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic, as fitting men for citizenship, seems to us quite unwarranted : as are, indeed, most other anticipations of the benefits to be derived from learning lessons.

There is no connection between the ability to parse a sentence, and a clear understanding of the causes that determine the rate of wages. The multiplication-table affords no aid in seeing through the fallacy that the destruction of property is good for trade. Long practice may have produced extremely good penmanship without having given the least power to understand the paradox, that machinery eventually increases the number of persons employed in the trades into which it is introduced. Nor is it proved that smatterings of mensuration, astronomy, or geography, fit men for estimating the characters and motives of Parliamentary candidates. Indeed we have only thus to bring together the antecedents and the anticipated consequents, to see how untenable is the belief in a relation between them. When we wish a girl to become a good musician, we seat her before the piano: we do not put drawing implements into her hands, and expect music to come along with skill in the use of pencils and colourbrushes. Sending a boy to pore over law-books, would be thought an extremely irrational way of preparing him for civil engineering. And if in these and all other cases, we do not expect fitness for any function except through instruction and exercise in that function; why do we expect fitness for citizenship to be produced by a discipline which has no relation to the duties of the citizen?

Probably it will be replied that by making the working man a good reader, we give him access to sources of information from which he may learn how to use his electoral power; and that other studies sharpen his faculties and make him a better judge of political questions. This is true; and the eventual tendency is unquestionably good.

a

EDUCATION OF POLITICIANS.

373

But what if for a long time to come he reads only to obtain confirmation of his errors ? What if there exists a literature appealing to his prejudices, and supplying him with fallacious arguments for the mistaken beliefs which he naturally takes up ? What if he rejects all teaching that aims to disabuse him of cherished delusions ? Must we not say that the culture which thus merely helps the workman to establish himself in error, rather unfits than fits him for citizenship? And do not the trades'unions furnish us with evidence of this ?

How little that which people commonly call education prepares them for the use of political power, may be judged from the incompetency of those who have received the highest education the country affords. Glance back at the blunders of our legislation, and then remember that the men who committed them had mostly taken University-degrees, and you must admit that the profoundest ignorance of Social Science may accompany intimate acquaintance with all that our cultivated classes regard as valuable knowledge. Do but take a young member of Parliament, fresh from Oxford or Cambridge, and ask him what he thinks Law should do, and why? or what it should not do, and why? and it will become manifest that neither his familiarity with Aristotle nor his readings in Thucydides, have prepared him to answer the very first question a legislator ought to solve. A single illustration will suffice to show how different an education from that usually given, is required by legislators, and consequently by those who elect them: we mean the illustration which the Free-trade agitation supplies. By kings, peers, and members of Parliament, mostly brought up at universities, trade had been hampered by protections, prohibitions, and bounties. For centuries had been maintained these legislative appliances which a very moderate insight shows to be detrimental. Yet, of all the highlyeducated throughout the nation during these centuries, scarcely a man saw how mischievous such appliances were. Not from one who devoted himself to the most approved studies, came the work which set politicians right on these points; but from one who left college without a degree, and prosecuted inquiries which the established education ignored. Adam Smith examined for himself the industrial phenomena of societies; contem

s; plated the productive and distributive activities going on around him; traced out their complicated mutual dependences; and thus reached general principles for political guidance. In recent days, those who have most clearly understood the truths he enunciated, and by persevering exposition have converted the nation to their views, have not been graduates of universities. While, contrariwise, those who have passed through the prescribed curriculum, have commonly been the most bitter and obstinate opponents of the changes dictated by politico-economical sci

In this all-important direction, right legislation was urged by men deficient in the so-called best education;

and was resisted by the great majority of men who had received this so-called best education !

The truth for which we contend, and which is so strangely overlooked, is, indeed, almost a truism. Does not our whole theory of training imply that the right preparation for political power is political cultivation ? Must not that teaching which can alone guide the citizen in the fulfilment of his public actions, be a teaching that acquaints him with the effects of public actions ?

The second chief safeguard to which we must trust is, then, the spread, not of that mere technical and miscellaneous knowledge which men are so eagerly propagating, but of political knowledge; or, to speak more accuratelyknowledge of Social Science. Above all, the essential thing is, the establishment of a true theory of government

ence,

[ocr errors]

THE SUPREME QUESTION FOR POLITICIANS.

375

-a true conception of what legislation is for, and what are its proper limits. This question which our political discussions habitually ignore, is a question of greater moment than any other. Inquiries which statesmen deride as speculative and unpractical, will one day be found infinitely more practical than those which they wade through Blue Books to master, and nightly spend many hours in debating. The considerations that every morning fill a dozen columns of The Times, are mere frivolities when compared with the fundamental consideration-What is the proper sphere of government ? Before discussing the way in which law should regulate some particular thing, would it not be wise to put the previous questionWhether law ought or ought not to meddle with that thing? and before answering this, to put the more general question- What law should do, and what it should leave undone ? Surely, if there are any limits at all to legislation, the settlement of these limits must have effects far more profound than any particular Act of Parliament can have; and must be by so much the more momentous. Surely, if there is danger that the people may misuse political power, it is of supreme importance that they should

, be taught for what purpose political power ought alone to be used.

Did the upper classes understand their position, they would, we think, see that the diffusion of sound views on this matter more nearly concerns their own welfare and that of the nation at large, than any other thing whatever. Popular influence will inevitably go on increasing. Should the masses gain a predominant power while their ideas of social arrangements and legislative action remain as crude as at present, there will certainly result disastrous meddlings with the relations of capital and labour, as well as a disastrous extension of State-administrations. Immense damage will be inflicted: primarily on employers; secondarily on the employed; and eventually on the nation as a whole. These evils can be prevented, only by establishing in the public mind a profound conviction that there are certain comparatively narrow limits to the functions of the State; and that these limits ought on no account to be transgressed. Having first learned what these limits are, the upper classes ought energetically to use all

, means of teaching them to the people.

In No. XXIV. of this journal, for October, 1857, we endeavoured to show, that while representative government is, by its intrinsic nature, better than any other for administering justice or insuring equitable relations of citizens to each other, it is, by its intrinsic nature, worse than any other for all the various additional functions which governments commonly undertake. To the ques. tion-What is representative government good for? our reply was—“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."

To this truth we may here add a correlative one. As fast as a government, by becoming representative, grows better fitted for maintaining the rights of citizens, it grows not only unfitted for other purposes, but dangerous for other purposes. In gaining adaptation for the essential function of a government, it loses such adaptation as it had for other functions; not only because its complexity is a hindrance to administrative action, but also because in discharging other functions it must be mischievously influenced by class bias. So long as it is confined to the duty of preventing the aggressions of individuals on each other, and protecting the nation at large against external enemies, the wider its basis the better; for all men are similarly interested in the security of life, prop

« AnteriorContinuar »