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DISTRUST OF OUR OPINIONS.
inability to think we are in error. Is it not then foolish thus to trust myself? When I look back into the past, I find nations, sects, philosophers, cherishing beliefs in science, morals, politics, and religion, which we décisively reject. Yet they held them with a faith quite as strong as ours: nay—stronger, if their intolerance of dissent is any criterion. Of what little worth, therefore, seems this strength of my conviction that I am right! A like warrant has been felt by men all the world through; and, in nine cases out of ten, has proved a delusive warrant. Is it not then absurd in me to put so much faith in my judgments ?”
Barren of practical results as this reflection at first sight appears, it may, and indeed should, influence some of our most important proceedings. Though in daily life we are constantly obliged to act out our inferences, trustless as they may be—though in the house, in the office, in the street, there hourly arise occasions on which we may not hesitate; seeing that if to act is dangerous, never to act at all is fatal—and though, consequently, on our private conduct, this abstract doubt as to the worth of our judgments, must remain inoperative; yet, in our public conduct, we may properly allow it to weigh with us. Here decision is no longer imperative; while the difficulty of deciding aright is incalculably greater.. Clearly as we may think we see how a given measure will work, we may infer, drawing the above induction from human experience, that the chances are many against the truth of our anticipations. Whether in most cases it is not wiser to do nothing, becomes now a rational question.
Continuing his self-criticism, the cautious thinker may reason:-“If in these personal transactions, where all the conditions of the case were known to me, I have so often miscalculated, how much oftener shall I miscalculate in political ones, where the conditions are too numerous, too wide-spread, too complex, too obscure to be understood. Here, doubtless, is a social evil and there a desideratum; and were I sure of doing no mischief I would forthwith try to cure the one and achieve the other. But when I remember how many of my private schemes have miscarried—how speculations have failed, agents proved dishonest, marriage been a disappointment—how I did but puaperize the relative I sought to help-how my carefullygoverned son has turned out worse than most childrenhow the thing I desperately strove against as a misfortune did me immense good—how while the objects I ardently pursued brought me little happiness when gained, most of my pleasures have come from unexpected sources; when I recall these and hosts of like facts, I am struck with the utter incompetence of my intellect to prescribe for society. And as the evil is one under which society has not only lived but grown, while the desideratum is one it may spontaneously secure, as it has most others, in some unforeseen way, I question the propriety of meddling."
There is a great want of this practical humility in our political conduct. Though we have less self-confidence than our ancestors, who did not hesitate to organize in law their judgments on all subjects whatever, we have yet far too much. Though we have ceased to assume the infallibility of our theological beliefs, and so ceased to enact them, we have not ceased to enact hosts of other beliefs of an equally doubtful kind. Though we no longer presume to coerce men for their spiritual good, we still think ourselves called upon to coerce them for their material good—not seeing that the one is as useless and as unwarrantable as the other. Innumerable failures seem, so far, powerless to teach this. Take up a daily paper and you will probably find a leader exposing the corruption, negligence, or mismanagement of some State
BLIND FAITH IN ENACTMENTS.
department. Cast your eye down the next column, and it is not unlikely that you will read proposals for an extension of State-supervision. Yesterday came a charge gross carelessness against the Colonial office: to-day Admiralty bunglings are burlesqued: to-morrow brings the question—“Should there not be more coal-mine inspectors ?"
Now there is a complaint that the Board of Health is useless; and now an outcry for more railway regulation.
While your ears are still ringing with denunciations of Chancery abuses, or your cheeks still glowing with indignation at some well-exposed iniquity of the Ecclesiastical Courts, you suddenly come upon suggestions for organizing “a priesthood of science.” Here is a vehement condemnation of the police for stupidly allowing sight-seers to crush each other to death: you look for the corollary that official regulation is not to be trusted: when instead, apropos of a shipwreck, you read an urgent demand for government-inspectors to see that ships always have their boats ready for launching. Thus, while every day chronicles à failure, there every day reappears the belief that it needs but an Act of Parliament and a staff of officers, to effect any end desired. Nowhere is the perennial faith of mankind better seen. Ever since society existed Disappointment has been preaching—“Put not your trust in legislation;" and yet the trust in legislation seems scarcely diminished.
Did the State fulfil efficiently its unquestionable duties, there would be some excuse for this eagerness to assign it further ones. Were there no complaints of its faulty administration of justice; of its endless delays and untold expenses; of its bringing ruin in place of restitution; of its playing the tyrant where it should have been the protector—did we never hear of its complicated stupidities; its 20,000 statutes, which it assumes all Englishmen to know, and which not one Englishmen does know; its
multiplied forms, which, in the effort to meet every contingency, open far more loopholes than they provide against—had it not shown its folly in the system of making every petty alteration by a new act, variously affecting innumerable preceding acts; or in its score of successive sets of Chancery rules, which so modify, and limit, and extend, and abolish, and alter each other, that not even Chancery lawyers know what the rules are—were we never astounded by such a fact as that, under the system of land registration in Ireland, 6,000l. have been spent in a “negative search” to establish the title of an estate -did we find in its doings no such terrible incongruity as the imprisonment of a hungry vagrant for stealing a turnip, while for the gigantic embezzlements of a railway director it inflicts no punishment;—had we, in short, proved its efficiency as judge and defender, instead of having found it treacherous, cruel, and anxiously to be shunned, there would be some encouragement to hope other benefits at its hands.
Or if, while failing in its judicial functions, the State had proved itself a capable agent in some other department—the military for example—there would have been some show of reason for extending its sphere of action. Suppose that it had rationally equipped its troops, instead of giving them cumbrous and ineffective muskets, barbarous grenadier caps, absurdly heavy knapsacks and cartouche-boxes, and clothing coloured so as admirably to help the enemy's marksmen-suppose that it organized well and economically, instead of salarying an immense superfluity of officers, creating sinecure colonelcies of 4,0001. a year, neglecting the meritorious, and promoting .incapables—suppose that its soldiers were always well housed instead of being thrust into barracks that invalid hundreds, as at Aden, or that fall on their occupants, as at Loodianah, where ninety-five were thus killed-suppose
MILITARY AND NAVAL MISMANAGEMENT.
that, in actual war, it had shown due administrative ability, instead of occasionally leaving its regiments to march barefoot, to dress in patches, to capture their own engineering tools, and to fight on empty stomachs, as during the Peninsular campaign ;-suppose all this, and the wish for more State-control might still have had some warrant.
Even though it had bungled in every thing else, yet had it in one case done well—had its naval management alone been efficient—the sanguine would have had a colourable excuse for expecting success in a new field. Grant that the reports about bad ships, ships that will not sail, ships that have to be lengthened, ships with unfit engines, ships that will not carry their guns, ships without stowage, and ships that have to be broken up, are all untrueassume those to be mere slanderers who say that the Megæra took .double the time taken by a commercial steamer to reach the Cape; that during the same voyage the Hydra was three times on fire, and needed the pumps kept going day and night; that the Charlotte troop-ship set out with 75 days' provisions on board, and was three months in reaching her destination; that the Harpy, at an imminent risk of life, got home in 110 days from Riodisregard as calumnies the statements about septuagenarian admirals, dilettante ship building, and “cooked” dockyard accounts—set down the affair of the Goldner preserved meats as a myth, and consider Professor Barlow mistaken when he reported of the Admiralty compasses in store, that “at least one-half were mere lumber;"_let all these, we say, be held groundless charges, and there would remain for the advocates of much government some basis for their political air-castles, spite of military and judicial mismanagement.
As it is, however, they seem to have read backwards the parable of the talents. Not to the agent of proved