« AnteriorContinuar »
for the chapter; and the archbishop came near to speaking in the name of the province of Canterbury. It may even be said that the abbot, dean, or archbishop, in such cases, was the majority'—the major pars of the whole, though not the most numerous part.
It is instructive to remark that, where the doctrine of equality has been most completely accepted among English-speaking people, i.e. in the United States of America, the word 'majority' has disappeared and has been replaced by the term plurality,' which is clearly indicative of mathematical numeration. In the United States, however, the consequences of maintaining the principle of equality, and at the same time discarding the principle of unanimity, are masked and countervailed by the system according to which it is next to impossible for the people as a whole to vote on a single question. The division into forty-seven States, many of which contain a comparatively homogeneous population, is one factor in the system. It is impossible for Massachusetts to vote down South Carolina, because Massachusetts has nothing to do with South Carolina's affairs. A more often recognised countervailing factor is found in the difficulties with which legislation on important subjects is hedged round. It may be true that a universal assembly of the 'plurality' of the residents in any State might, on the principles on which the Constitution is based, be legally entitled to adopt any measure they pleased, within the competence of the State. Needless to say, no such gathering could ever be convoked. And, to effect an alteration in the State constitution, a very formidable procedure has usually to be faced.
Shall we say, then, that the majority do not rule in the United States ? Certainly, a bare majority of a few thousands or tens of thousands thoughout the Union would find enormous difficulty in carrying any important measure, excepting the election of a president. But if we listen to a Mississippi statesman who was also a political thinker of commanding intellect, we shall find him reproducing in terms the old theory of common consent, and asserting that the majority does rule in the Union, and that it is precisely to secure that the majority shall rule, that plurality legislation is hedged about with such restrictions. We refer to J. C. Calhoun.
Calhoun was born in 1782, and died in 1850, ten years before the Civil War. He left a volume called 'A Disquisition on Government, and a Discourse on the Constitution of the United States,' in which he discusses the politics and constitution of the American Union with direct reference to the problems which culminated in that aimed conflict, and found in it a Gordian solution. Broadly speaking, it was in the tendency of the United States to a unitary form of government that Calhoun saw the principal danger. He recognised that the practical guarantee of liberty is the splitting-up of power.
Once let power become concentrated in theory, and it will become uncontrolled in fact. The sole depositaries of power, with their hands on the power-machine, will soon get rid of the restrictions which theory imposes upon them. Therefore in the splitting-up of political power Calhoun saw the true security that the will of the people should prevail, and not the will of factions speaking in their name.
Calhoun found evidence of that danger in the threatened overwhelming of the constitution by unitary government concentrated in the hands of a few influential politicians at Washington, backed by a party dependent upon them for success and its rewards. He knew he would be met by the cant phrase, “But the majority must rule'; the concentration of power in the hands of the representatives of the majority is inevitable. He denies the inference. He denies that a plurality is a majority. A plurality, which he terms a numerical majority,' has, he says, no right whatever to rule. The majority which has the right to rule is the concurrent majority'—that is, the bulk, the great concurrent mass of the nation; and that just so far as it is concurrent. Neglecting the eccentricities of individuals, he recognises the general legislative right of the vast mass of the nation. How is that will to be ascertained ? It is inarticulate, in the nature of things inarticulable, deep, silent, obscure to advertising politicians, surprising in its patience of arbitrary dictation. It is impossible to measure it by votes or plebiscites. The only thing to be done, concludes Calhoun, is to split up the arbitrary forces which may work against it, and so to neutralise their power for evil. Organise every separate interest. Let the
tropic south, the eager north, the agricultural west, have their separate communities, with their jealously-guarded rights which the central power, as it did not give them, cannot abrogate or destroy. Or, as Prof. Flinders Petrie has urged, let the consent of the propertied, the educated, the labouring and the landed classes be severally given for all changes in the law. By some such distribution of power, and so only, will security be afforded that it is the 'concurrent majority' of the people which legislates, and that one section of the nation is not speaking in the name of the whole.
Calhoun did not shrink from the extreme consequences of the position. The liberum veto' of Poland, which has
' been the butt of much misplaced ridicule on the part of superior persons, was justified by him as having given to Poland those two centuries of magnificence which culminated in the Relief of Vienna. . The Comitia Centuriata at Rome were framed on the same theory ; and, when the Comitia Tributa displaced them, the times were ripe for the decay of free institutions. It is surely remarkable, he adds, that at Rome popular liberties were preserved by a right of veto—that of the tribunes.
It will be seen that the system so developed is negative. It entrusts separate interests with a veto. This is inherent in the necessities of the case. . As we said, the common consciousness of the people is inarticulate, and difficult to plumb. It can only be predicated that, if an important section of the nation is against a particular scheme, that proposal cannot be accepted as in accordance with the national will. It is almost startling at the present day to see with what accuracy Calhoun points out the dangers of an easily-wielded numerical majority. If such a majority is carelessly confused with the .concurrent 'majority, constitutional government slides, first into the government of the numerical' majority, and finally into absolute government of some other form. It leads, not to government of the people by the people for the people,' but to government of a part of the people by a part of the people.' It leads to restrictions on the power of a plurality being regarded with virtuous horror as restrictions on the will of the nation.
Calhoun's words of warning fell on deaf ears. State rights could not be abolished by law; they were abolished
by force. The United States emerged from the Civil War strong, but less free. They have been drifting, since, towards dictatorship; how rapidly, may be judged from the events of the last ten years. We may not absolutely accept Calhoun's teaching. Some would say that, while it prevents class legislation, it affords no check upon national aberrations; though it may be questioned whether anything would. Others might venture to enquire whether the formula of the supreme value of liberty is not susceptible of analysis; whether it may not in the ultimate analysis be found that the true objective is not to diminish the power of rulers, but to secure that all power shall be commensurate with ability and sympathy, or in Ruskin's simpler language, that the wise and kind shall rule over the unwise and unkind.' That, however, would be to enter upon a wider question. We are concerned at present with the right of a bare majority to pose as dictators.
Calhoun's remedy, the splitting-up of power, has been carried very much further by some Continental thinkers. In Denmark, where agricultural co-operation has proved so successful, Dr Torböl of Norre Nebel is urging the grant of the greatest possible share of political power to the smallest possible units of population. Supervision by successively wider and wider areas, with gradually diminishing powers, would guard the fundamental rights of individuals. One object is common
to Torböl's proposals and Calhoun's. They aim at eliminating the dictation of centralised cliques backed by the support of a numerical majority. They desire to establish that unanimous concurrence in national affairs which alone can make a nation strong and fortunate. Without some such vivid local and personal interest in politics which a system like Torböl's would afford-he terms it ‘Localism' -it may seriously be doubted whether safety is to be found in the Referendum. In a huge mass of voters like the British, with the organised forces of party politics and trades unionism at work, nothing could be easier than to secure a bare Referendum majority for any attractive project of spoliation. It is to be hoped that Mr Balfour's plan may ultimately provide that a twothirds majority, at any rate, should be requisite. It is inconceivable that half the nation should be the serfs of the other half. Even the safeguard of a two-thirds majority is efficacious only so long as the Conservative party retains a sentimental hold upon a certain proportion of the artisan class. This is not the place to discuss the Referendum. It is not, however, inappropriate to point out that it is open to the same objections, and may be quite as thoroughly unjust, as any other mode of dictation by a bare majority.
How is it that the superstition of the numerical majority has arisen? It has generally been copied from English parliamentary practice. The problem is therefore to discover how it arose there. Much has been written of late, by Gierke and others, concerning the true nature of a corporation or fictitious person. In the course of the investigation, the question of how the will of the corporation is to be manifested necessarily arises. We may find a very practical illustration of this in the current Irish Reports,* which carry us back to Cardinal Jacobatius' discussion (1584) of how far the corporation can deprive its members of their corporate rights. The Corporation of Trinity College, Dublin, by a majority, proposed to consent to an alteration by the Crown of the constitution of that University. It was argued that the consent of every member was necessary; on the other hand, it was maintained that the act of the majority is, by the common law, the act of the corporation. Mr Justice Ross, though allowing that the changes were of a drastic nature, declined to restrain the majority from consenting to them in the name of the whole corporation, on the ground that the pecuniary interest of the dissentients was not affected. He thus got rid of the authority of Ward v. Society of Attorneys, in which Lord Justice Knight Bruce had protected the minority.
We see at once the necessity of determining rationally what persons are entitled to speak in vital matters in the name of the whole body, and of enquiring by what means the corporation can make known its will. • By affixing its common seal,' says English law ; but, then, who is to have the power of lawfully affixing the seal ? In old days the question was readily answered: ‘anyone who
* Gray v. Trinity College, Dublin, 1910, 1 I.R., 370,