Очень часто наше понимание вещей вокруг нас, слова, которыми мы эти вещи обозначаем, сохраняя всю внешнюю форму и видимость понимания, являются вместе с тем чем-то в действительности другим, чем понимание. В 1949 году, когда я приехал в Москву, в этот холодный, то мокрый, то ледяной город, со мной вели «общественную работу» не только в стенах университета, но иногда и на улице. И вот однажды идем мы по улице с одним моим сокурсником [Имеется в виду Марлен Гапочка], который тогда был комсоргом группы, и он мне втолковывает что-то такое очень возвышенное, и мы подходим к кинотеатру «Центральный» (которого сейчас уже нет) на площади Пушкина. Был мокрый, склизкий день. В самой середине его возвышенной речи, которую я молча слушал, подходит к нам мальчик лет десяти, оборванный и явно голодный, с очень выразительными глазами, и просит подать ему. Ну, я дал ему какую-то мелочь и говорю моему сокурснику (его, кстати, звали Марлен, согласно женскому немецкому имени, а у него это было новое русское мужское имя [Имя Марлен образовано от двух имен – Маркс, Ленин]): вот, посмотри, пацан то голодный. А он мне что-то о строительстве социализма говорит в это время. Он по смотрел на меня с большим недоумением, и я понял, что его недоумение искреннее, он этого мальчика не видит. В каком смысле не видит? Он видит его физически, но он не может на него реагировать и что-либо переживать по одной простой причине: явление этого мальчика уже занимает место в его системе мысли, то есть оно отобъяснено. Я имею в виду такой способ объяснения, который позволяет нам чего-то не воспринимать и не видеть, позволяет не воспринимать опыт, потому что мы уже заранее якобы понимаем. Марлен заранее понимал нищету и голод. В каком смысле? А вот при социализме, пока еще не построено коммунистическое общество, есть люди более бедные, чем другие (так же как есть более равные, чем другие равные [Аллюзия заповеди «все животные равны, но некоторые животные – равнее других», одной из заповедей кабана Наполеона, персонажа произведения Дж. Оруэлла «Скотный двор»], так есть и бедные, более бедные, чем другие), — естественный недостаток переживаемого периода развития и строительства, это пустяк.
За пассажами наших собственных мелких реакций и актами мысли скрываются иногда подводные части весьма больших айсбергов культуры. За таким отобъяснением не скрывается никакого психологического обмана, бесчувственности в простом психологическом смысле слова. Работает система нашего сознания, в каком-то смысле система нашего спасения и сохранения, эта спасительная система вы строена, и она сохраняет identity, то есть единство, тождество личности, и тем самым она совершает парадоксальную вещь. Ведь ты видишь! Да нет, мы видим не непосредственно, а в терминах чего-то, то есть в терминах семантических и понятийных сегментаций мира, которые, с одной стороны, позволяют нам что-то видеть, а с другой стороны, исключают из нашей возможности восприятия и понимания целые куски действительности.
Я говорил, что в английском языке есть прекрасный словооборот, который я плохо перевожу на русский как «отобъяснять», то есть избавляться путем объяснения. Англичане говорят explain away — «отобъяснить», «отделаться путем объяснения». Сказав это, я тем самым частично описал то, что было одним из основных предметов психоанализа и что получило более широкое хождение (вообще в культуре), частично переплетаясь с мотивами, взятыми у Ницше, а именно так называемый феномен или эффект рационализации. Внутри термина «рационализация» есть какая-то словесная перекличка, игра с другим термином, а именно термином «рациональность». Но все-таки это не «рациональность», а именно «рационализация», то есть в самом термине уже содержится какой-то оценочный и негативный оттенок по отношению к тому явлению, которое этим термином обозначается. Вот, скажем, мой сокурсник явно рационализировал свои переживания, то есть он видел голодного и нищего мальчика, а сознавал обычные ожидаемые недостатки в развитии общества. Следовательно, фраза «недостатки в развитии общества» не есть элемент научного описания общества, хотя внешне построена как таковой, а есть скрытое выражение и рационализация чего-то другого.
В составе нашего сознания, в составе описания мира, на ряду с утверждениями научного, содержательного и поддающегося контролю вида, мы можем встречать утверждения, которые внешне являются научными, или рациональными, или мыслительными, а в действительности они суть не элемент языка науки, а элемент какого-то другого языка, элемент, являющийся рационализацией, состоящей в том, что некоторый опыт переводится в термины другого опыта и тем самым ему придается какое-то не свойственное ему основание (то есть этот опыт выводится из каких-то высших оснований, из норм, из права, из справедливости и так далее).
Скажем, я могу быть подхалимом и подлизываться к начальству, а себе (я подчеркиваю, себе) и другим объяснять это так: мой начальник — прекрасный человек. Обратите внимание, насколько богата наша сознательная жизнь, насколько в разном смысле, на разных уровнях сознания и с разными последствиями могут выступать простейшие мысленные акции и слова, в которые они облекаются. В одном случае я говорю: «добрый человек» — это просто описание. Я могу ошибаться или не ошибаться; во всяком случае, мое описание доброты человека подчиняется каким-то критериям проверки, например, опыта. Если я ошибаюсь, можно на опыте показать, что я ошибся, или, если я прав, это может быть подтверждено на опыте. В другом случае я говорю: «мой начальник — добрый человек», и здесь не имеет значения проверка этого на опыте, если на этом высказывании можно выявить другой процесс и другие свойства человека. Из страха, из разных корыстных интересов человек подлизывается к начальству, а его поведение выражается как следствие из каких-то оснований и принципов, а именно: мой начальник —добрый человек, поэтому я веду себя так. Эти акты нашего мышления и поведения называются рационализацией. Ничего сложного в этом термине, который вы встретите в более сложных, ученых контекстах, в действительности нет, но по ставьте себя экспериментально, мысленно в другую ситуацию: вы не знаете этого термина и не знаете такого процесса, который называется рационализацией, а просто встречаетесь с некими выражениями сознательной и духовной жизни, со словами, и вы можете неправильно ориентироваться. И на оборот, зная, мы можем теперь представить сознательную жизнь человека в более богатом виде.
Раньше мы представляли так, что наша голова как бы состоит из энного, почти что бесконечно большого, неопределенно большого числа мысленных сущностей, ясных на самим, и наша речь и общение с другими состоит в том, что мы их выражаем, или высказываем, или сообщаем их другим. Вот я сказал то-то — значит, это правильно или неправильно, а Фрейд скажет: нет, простите, вы хотели сказать другое, вы хотели сказать и высказалось то, что вы подхалим, а не то, что начальник добрый. Следовательно, здесь есть допущение каких-то участков сознания и переживания, которые не осознаются, а выражаются или сами говорят о чем-то, ускользая из подсознания субъекта или от его само сознания, и могут быть для него недоступными. Тот простой пример, который я привел, может содержать в себе еще оттенок сознательной, что ли, хитрости: само человек от дает себе отчет в том, что он подхалим, а на словах свое подхалимство приписывает каким-то следствиям из высших принципов (скажем, к доброму человеку нужно хорошо от носиться; начальник добр, поэтому я к нему хорошо отношусь). Но дело в том, что эта ложь не сознательная, потому что человек сам в нее верит.
Слои духовной, умственной жизни настолько просе дают под давлением друг друга, что потом расколоть это сознание, в котором человек твердо считает, что начальник добр и поэтому к нему нужно так относиться, в высшем слое почти что уже невозможно. Если вы кому-нибудь, кто на ваших глазах проделал акт, который вам кажется рационализацией, скажете об этом, то он совершенно искренне возмутится и будет это отрицать. Почему? Мы всегда отрицаем то, что нарушает то единство нашего существа, которое мы создали и которое является условием нашей жизни.
Мир, в котором мы живем, должен быть нам понятен, а это значит, что в мире должны выполняться только такие события, последствия которых нас не разрушают в нашем отношении к самим себе, то есть не разрушают в том числе в сохранении какого-то достоинства, уважения к самому себе как понимающему, чувствующему, совершающему поступки существу. И все те представления, выражения, суждения и так далее, которые служат не для того, чтобы понять мир (понять независимо от того, несет он тебе благо или зло, или, как выражались древние, не плакать, не смеяться, а понимать [Спиноза: «Nec ridere, nec lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere» («He смеяться, не плакать и не отворачиваться, но понимать»)]), а для того, чтобы в этом мире я воспроизвелся в качестве сохраняющего единство с самим собой, — все эти суждения поддаются очень сложному и в том числе психоаналитическому исследованию. Не только психоаналитическому.
Я все время стараюсь провести идею некоторого стилистического единства в разных направлениях мысли в XX веке. Так вот, не только психоаналитическая, а совершенно аналогичная этому работа проделана установившейся в XX веке критикой идеологий, или критическим анализом идеологий (проделана, правда, раньше, начиная с Маркса, то есть с XIX века, но тогда это были отдельные явления, а сейчас идеология стала массовым явлением). Обратите внимание, что такого рода мысленные образования, рационализации, существуют не только в нашей личной жизни и обслуживают единство нашего «Я», они существуют и в социальной мысли. В социальной мысли ведь тоже есть что-то о мире, а раз о мире, то и я в этом мире, о котором говорит социальная мысль, должен быть сохранен в качестве достойного и понимающего существа. Скажем, идеология очень часто наполнена тем, что мы называем упрощающими схемами мира, то есть такими схемами, которые не есть продукт исследования мира, а есть просто исполнение желания самосохранения в мире.
Я рассказывал, что однажды я видел фильм одной французской дамы об Анголе времен, когда там были португальцы. Она, конечно, типичный представитель левых французских кругов, и мышление ее, как было видно по фильму, представляет собой классический образец салонного кретинизма. В фильме еще и в цвете совпадает то, что мы обычно делим мир на белое и черное: там тоже мир поделен на белое и черное, поскольку фильм о неграх, но поделен с другим акцентом — это чёрно-белый мир, но только наоборот (черные хорошие, а белые плохие). Местный просветитель, порт ной по профессии (очень часто радикальные революционеры имели такие профессии, особенно в немецкой социал-демократии XIX века), проводит занятие «политпросвета» (знакомая нам сцена) и объясняет другим своим соотечественникам, как устроен мир: мир устроен так, что все беды из-за того, что в мире есть бедные и богатые. Почему в мире есть бедные? Потому что есть богатые. Если не было бы богатых, то не было бы и бедных. Спорить с такого рода описаниями нельзя, потому что такой человек тебе глотку перегрызет, прежде чем позволит проникнуть твоей критике в свою голову, потому что дело не в том, что он что-то хочет понять, дело в том, что он должен уважать себя как понимающего человека. А в современном мире, чтобы уважать себя в качестве понимающего человека, нужно очень много работать, надо трудиться, что человеку лень, как правило. Вкладывать в себя капитал очень трудно, это сложное напряжение, растянутое во времени, и любой студент это знает. Труд понимания — очень большая обуза для человека. Так же как труд свободы очень большая обуза, и люди стараются сбросить это. В зазор между сложностью мира, который требует большого труда, и ленью совершать этот труд вклиниваются блаженные идеологические упрощающие схемы, которые, с одной стороны, позволяют тебе не трудиться (они простые: в мире есть богатые, поэтому есть бедные, и если не будет богатых, то не будет и бедных), а с другой стороны, ты сохраняешь человеческое достоинство, уважение к самому себе: ты понимаешь мир, ты видишь — в мире есть богатые и есть бедные. И такие сцепления обладают очень большой эмоциональной силой, в особенности, когда они воспроизводятся на массах и на массовых движениях.
Очерк современной европейской философии (курс лекций студентам ВГИКа, 1978-79 гг.), Лекция 17, с. 317-323
I doubt that in the whole history of the world there has ever been a murderer whose death was wept over by so many people, and so sincerely, as was Josef Stalin’s 20 years ago. While it may be easy to explain the number of weepers by the size of the population and the power of the communications media (in which case, Mao, if he dies, will hold first place), it is extremely difficult to explain the quality of these tears.
Twenty years ago I was 13. I was in school; they herded us all into the assembly hall, ordered us to get down on our knees, and the Secretary of the Party Organization—a masculine female with cluster of medals on her chest—wrung her hands and screamed to us from the stage, “Weep children, weep! Stalin has died!” And she herself was first to begin wailing in lamentation. There was no way around it—We sniffled our noses, and then, little by little, even began to howl for real. The hall wept, the presidium wept, parents wept, neighbors wept; from the radio came Chopin’s “Marche Funebre” and something from Beethoven. In general, it seems, nothing but funeral music was broadcast on the radio for five days. As for me (then to my shame, now to my pride), I did not weep, although I knelt and sniffled like everyone else. Most likely it was because not long before this I discovered in a German grammar borrowed from a friend that the German for “leader” was fuhrer. A section was even called that: “Unser Fuhrer Stalin”. I would not weep for a Fuhrer.
It is also possible that my family’s preparations to move had an influence. For it had become known that as a result of the Doctors’ Plot (and there was no need for the result to be in doubt), all Jews would be resettled in the Far East, in order to pay with hard labor for the guilt of their fellow people—the wrecker‐doctors—for the good of the Socialist fatherland. We had sold our piano, which I could not play anyhow. It would have been stupid to drag it across a whole country—even if they would allow it; They discharged my father from the army, where he had served all during the war, and they would not hire him for any job anywhere; only my mother was working, but her job hung by a hair too. We lived on her salary and prepared for deportation; from hand to hand passed a letter signed by Ehrenburg, Botvinnik and other notable Soviet Jews, told of the guilt of the Jews before Soviet power, and it was supposed to appear in “Pravda” any day.
But in “Pravda” appeared the communiqué about the death of Stalin and how his death meant grief and woe for all people. And people began to weep. And they wept, I think, not because they wanted to please “Pravda”, but because an entire epoch was tied to Stalin (or, more precisely, because Stalin had tied himself to an entire epoch). Five‐Year Plans, the Constitution, victory in the war, postwar construction, the idea of order — no matter how nightmarish it had been. Russia had lived under Stalin for almost 30 years, his portrait hung in virtually every room, he became a category of consciousness, a part of everyday life, we were used to his mustache, to the profile (considered “aquiline”), to the postwar officer’s jacket he wore (meaning it was neither peacetime nor wartime), and to the patriarchal pipe. We were used to them as people get used to the portrait of a relative or to an old lamp. In our antireligious state the Byzantine idea that all power comes from God was transformed into the idea of the interconnection of power and nature, into a feeling of his power being as inevitable as the four seasons of the year. People grew up, got married, got divorced, had children, got old and all the time the portrait of Stalin hung over their heads. There was some reason to weep.
The question arose of how to live without Stalin. No one knew the answer. It was pointless to expect it from anyone in the Kremlin. For in the Kremlin—it’s that kind of place — they always talk about absoluteness of power, and therefore, for men in the Kremlin Stalin is, if not flesh, at least more than a ghost. We all followed with interest the vicissitudes of his corpse. First the corpse was put in the Mausoleum. After the 20th Congress of the Communist Party in 1956 it was removed, subjected to cremation, and the urn filled with his ashes installed in the Kremlin wall, where it is now located. Then—a comparatively short time ago—they raised a rather modest (judging by the standards of our time) bust alongside the urn. If one seeks the symbolic meaning of all these transformations—and there has to be one; otherwise why did they alt occur?—one might say that at first the intention to preserve the status quo dominated in the Kremlin; next a desire to condemn the status quo (only partly, it is true) became dominant; next it was decided to retract—also, partially—the condemnation; All this created the impression that no one knew what to do with the dead man. Or was he a dead man?
Physically he was, of course; But psychologically? At this point it is quite easy to launch into discussions about how the thing is not Stalin but the system he created or that created him; how although Russia needed her Nuremberg Trial, it is even better that there was none, because forgiveness is higher than the idea of “an eye for an eye” (especially if it is unconscious); how sooner or later technical progress will put everything in its proper place, for even a totalitarian system, if it wants to last, must grow into a technocracy; how a general convergence awaits us. All right. But in the case at hand, it is not archaic or progressive systems and their fates that interest me. The “secrets of the court of Madrid” and the psychology of “the strong of this world” do not interest me either. I am interested in the moral effect of Stalinism, and more precisely in that pogrom it caused in the minds of my fellow countrymen and in the consciousness of this century. For from my point of view Stalinism is above all a system of thinking, and only afterward a technology of power, of methods of ruling. For—I fear—archaic systems of thinking do not exist.
For almost 30 years a country with a population of almost 200 million was ruled by a man whom some considered a criminal, others a paranoiac, others an Eastern despot who in essence might still be re‐educated—but all of these categories of people sat down at the same table to eat with him, conducted talks with him and shook his hand. The man did not know a single foreign language—including Russian, which he wrote with monstrous grammatical errors. But in bookstores virtually all over the world one can find collections of his works written for him by people who were exterminated because they performed this task, or who remained alive for the same reason. This man had the foggiest notions about history (apart from Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” which was his bedside book), geography, physics, chemistry; but his scientists, sitting under lock and key, nevertheless managed to create atomic and hydrogen bombs that in quality were by no means inferior to their sisters born in a place called the free world. This man, who had no experience running corporations, nevertheless created a secret police agency unique in its magnitude, one that terrified equally the schoolboy—who noticed a bedbug crawling across the portrait of the leader hanging above his bed and broke into a cold sweat at the thought that his schoolteacher might see this—and the former Comintern member writing his memoirs somewhere in the back areas of South America. He ruled the country for almost 30 years and all that time he kept murdering. He murdered his helpers (which was not so unjust, for they were murderers themselves), and he murdered those who murdered his helpers. He murdered both the victims and their executioners. Then he began to murder whole categories of people—or, to use his term, classes. Then he devoted himself to genocide. The number of people who perished in his camps cannot be calculated exactly, nor can the number of the camps themselves, but surely the total surpassed the number of camps in the Third Reich by a figure proportionate to the difference in size between the U.S.S.R. and Germany. At the end of the fifties I myself worked in the Far East, and I shot crazed wild bears that had gotten used to feeding on the corpses from labor‐camp graves and were now dying off because they could not return to normal food. And all the time that he was murdering, he was building. Labor camps, hospitals, hydroelectric stations, giant metallurgical complexes, canals, cities, etc., including monuments to himself. And gradually everything got confused in that vast country. One could not comprehend who was murdering and who was building. One could not comprehend whom to love and whom to fear, who was doing evil and who good. One was left to the conclusion that it was all the same. Living was possible, but living became senseless. It was then, from our moral soil, abundantly fertilized by the idea of the ambivalence of everything and everyone, that Doublethink into being.
By Doublethink I do not mean simply “I‐ say‐one-thing‐I‐do‐another” and vice versa. Nor do I mean what Orwell described in “1984.” I mean the rejection of a moral hierarchy, rejection not for the sake of another hierarchy but for the sake of Nothing. I mean that state of mind characterized by the formula “it’s‐bad‐but‐in‐general-it’s‐good” (and, more rarely, vice versa). I mean the loss of not only an absolute but even a relative moral criterion. I mean not the mutual destruction of the two basic human categories—good and evil—as a result of the struggle between them, but their mutual decomposition as a result of coexistence. Putting it more precisely, I mean their convergence. However, it would be going too far to say that this process took place quite consciously. When one is talking about human beings, in general it is better, if possible, to avoid any generalizations, and if I permit myself to use them, it is because at the time in question human destinies were maximally generalized. For the majority the advent of a double mentality occurred not on an abstract level, not on the level of conceptualization, but on the instinctive level, on the level of needle-fine sensations, the kind of guessing that goes on in dreams. For the majority, of course, everything was clear; the poet who fulfilled the social order to glorify the leader thought through his task and picked out the words—therefore he was making a choice. The official whose hide depended on his attitude to things was also making a choice. And so forth. Of course, in order to make the correct choice and create this converged Evil (or Good) an impulse of the will was needed; and to this end official propaganda came to a person’s aid with its positive vocabulary and philosophy of the rightness of the majority; but if he did not believe in it—then simple terror came. What happened on the level of thought was reinforced on the level of instinct, and vice versa.
I think that I understand how all this happened. When God stands behind Good and the Devil behind Evil, there at least exists a purely terminological difference between the two concepts. But in the modern world approximately the same thing stands behind both Good and Evil: matter. Matter, as we know, does not have its own moral categories. In other words, both Good and Evil are in the same state as a stone. The tendency to the embodiment of the ideal, to its materialization, has gone too far—namely, to the idealization of material. This is the story of Pygmalion and Galatea, but from my point of view there is something ominous in animated stone.
Perhaps it can be expressed even more precisely. As a result of the secularization of consciousness that has taken place on a global scale, man’s heritage from the Christianity he has renounced is a vocabulary that he does not know how to use, and therefore he is forced to improvise. Absolute concepts have degenerated simply into words that have become objects of personal interpretation, if not mere questions of pronunciation. In other words, arbitrary categories at best. With the transformation of absolute concepts into arbitrary categories, little by little the idea has taken root in our consciousness. This idea is very dear to human nature, for it excuses everyone and everything from any responsibility whatsoever. In this lies the reason for the success of totalitarian systems: They answer the basic need of the human race to be free of any responsibility. And the fact that in this age of incredible catastrophes we have not been able to find an adequate reaction—for it, too, would have to be incredible — to these catastrophes suggests that we have drawn near to the realization of this utopia.
I think that we live in the post‐Christian age. I don’t know when it began. The Soviet writer Leonid Leonov proposed (as a present for one of Stalin’s birthdays) beginning new system of measuring time: from the day of Dzhugashvili’s (Stalin’s) birth. I don’t know why this proposal was not accepted. Perhaps because Hitler was younger. But he captured the spirit of the time correctly. For precisely these two spawn of hell took the first steps toward the embodiment of the new goal: moral nonexistence. It was not they, of course, who began murdering in order to build and building in order to murder; but precisely they ran this business on such a gigantic scale that they completely overshadowed their predecessors and cut off their followers’—and humanity’s in general—paths of retreat. In a sense they burned all moral bridges. The extermination of 10 million or more is not a reality for human perception, but something relative and arbitrary, just as the goal of this extermination is relative and arbitrary. The maximal reaction possible and desirable (because of the instinct for self‐preservation) to such situation is: shock, a blank mind. Stalin and Hitler conducted the first sessions of this kind of therapy, but just as thieves steal not for yesterday, the tracks of their crimes lead into the future.
I do not want to draw an apocalyptic picture; but if in the future the murders are going to go on and the building be continued, the convergence of moral criteria plus the astronomical quantity of victims will transform us and our descendants, the main thing, into moral corpses from the Christian point of view, and the happiest of mortals from their own. As the philosopher said, they will find themselves on the far side of Good and Evil. But—why make it so complex? Simply on the far side of Good.
In this sense I do not believe in de‐Stalinization. I do believe in it as in a change of methods of ruling—independent of the indubitable circumstance that relapses will occur and one can anticipate not only the restoration of 100‐foot‐high monuments, but even something flashier. To the honor of the current Kremlin administration one can say that it is not too carried away by the idea of Frankensteinian electrification of the corpse. Stalin appears in quasi‐historical films and in the homes of Georgians—who suffered no less, if not more, than any national minority in the U.S.S.R., but who in this way (for lack of a better way) cultivate their nationalism. The retired secret police agent or the former officer, the taxi driver or bureaucrat on pension will tell you, of course, that under Stalin “there was more order.” But they all miss not so much the “iron Ordnung” as their own past youth or maturity. In principle neither the basic mass of the people nor the party utters the leader’s name in vain. There are too many essential problems to spend one’s time in retrospection. The name can still be used as a banner by some right‐wing group inside the party returning to its trough; but I think that even in the event of a successful beginning, this banner will be returned to obscurity rather quickly. Stalinism as a method of governing a state, in my opinion, has no future.
Therefore, it is all the stranger to see these aquiline features in a bookstore window near The London School of Economics, in the Latin Quarter in Paris or in a shop on some American campus, where they decorate the shelves beside Lenin, Trotsky, Che Guevara, Mao, etc.—all the small‐time and big‐time murderers who, apart from the difference of their ideals, have one common characteristic: They all committed murder. No matter what their numerator is, their denominator is common; and the sum of these fractions would produce a number that would confuse even a computer. I don’t know what all the young people are looking for in these books, but if they really can find something there for themselves, it means only one thing: that the process of moral castration of Homo sapiens, begun by force, is continuing voluntarily, and that Stalinism, as a system of thinking, is conquering.
MARCH 4, 1973
ერთ დროს ჩვენი სამშობლო ჯვარედინ გზაზე იდგა. ერთი გზა რომ დასავლეთისაკენ მიდიოდა, მეორე სამხრეთ-აღმოსავლეთისაკენ იყო მიმართული და ევროპიელ ჯვაროსანთა რაზმები თუ არაბ-სპარსელ სოვდაგართა ქარავნები ერთიმეორეს ხვდებოდნენ საქართველოს მიწა-წყალზე. ამ ხშირი მიმოსვლისა და ხანგრძლივი ურთიერთობის კვალი დღესაც ატყვია ჩვენს ქვეყანას. ჩვენი ეროვნული კულტურა დასავლეთ ევროპიული და წინააზიური ელემენტების თავისებური შეუღლებაა. ეს ყველაფერი კარგად ჩანს ხუროთმოძღვრებასა, მხატვრობასა, ლიტერატურასა, ხალხურ ჩვეულებებსა და ზნეობრივ შეხედულებებში. დედამიწის ზურგზე სხვაგან იშვიათად დაიძებნება ასეთი ორიგინალური სინთეზი.
ჩვენ გვაქვს წვეტიანი კოშკები და ციხე-სიმაგრეები, როგორც ევროპიელებს და ჩვენ გვაქვს თაღიანი ქარვასლები, როგორც არაბებს, სპარსელებსა და მცირე აზიელებს. ჩვენი საეკლესიო კედლების მხატვრობა ბიზანტიურ ფრესკებს წააგავს, ჩვენი წიგნების სამკაულები _ სპარსულ-ინდურ მინიატურებს. ჩვენს კულტურას, ევროპული კულტურის მსგავსად, ძველი ბერძნული განათლება უძევს საფუძვლად და ჩვენც ევროპიელებთან ერთად რაინდობისა და ფეოდალური წესწყობილების საფეხური განვვლეთ. მაგრამ ინდოელების სიბრძნესა, სპარსელების პოეზიასა და არაბების ფხიზელ მეცნიერებას სხვებზე ადრე დავეწაფეთ და სხვებზე უფრო ადვილად დავაღწიეთ თავი საშუალო საუკუნეებრივ ვიწროობას. ჩვენი დიდი მწერლები ერთნაირად იცნობდნენ ბერძენ ფილოსოფოსებსა და სპარსელ მგოსნებს და ჩვენი დიდი მთარგმნელები გულმოდგინედ აქართულებდნენ როგორც არისტოტელესა და ნეოპლატონიკოსებს, ისე ფირდოუსისა და ფახრედინის ნაწარმოებებს…
ჩვენი ეროვნული სახე ძალდატანებულად ყოველთვის დასავლეთისა და სამხრეთისაკენ იყო მიმართული. ზურგი, პირიქით, დიდ ბუნებრივ ზღუდეზე გვქონდა მიბჯენილი. ეს იყო მაღალი მთაგრეხილი, რომელსაც ჩრდილოეთით ცივი და ნაკლებ სტუმართმოყვარე ქვეყნები ეკრა. აქ თითქმის დღესაც ყველაფერი უცხოა ქართველებისათვის. ნიადაგის ზედაპირი ჩვენი ქვეყნის ზადაპირს არა ჰგავს, არც ჰავა ჰგავს ჩვენს ჰავას. აქ ცოტაა ისტორიული ნაშთი და მათ შორის არ მოიპოვება არც ჩვენებური მოღუშული ციხეები, არც ჩვენებური ნათელმარმარილოსებური ტაძრები. მკვიდრთათვის გაუგებარია ჩვენი რაინდული და ინდივიდუალისტური შეხედულებები. ჩვენ კიდევ მათი ბუნდოვანი მისტიციზმი და მათი უპიროვნო მორალი გვეუცხოება.
უბედურმა შემთხვევამ დაგვაახლოვა ამ უცხო ქვეყანასთან და ჩვენი სულიერი შეუღლება უკანონოა. მეცამეტე საუკუნეში სპარსეთის კულტურა ველურმა მონგოლებმა დაამხეს, მეთხუთმეტე საუკუნეში ოსმალებმა ბიზანტიის იმპერია დაიპყრეს. ჯვარედინი გზა გადაიჩეხა და საქართველო კულტუროსან კაცობრიობას მოსწყდა. ერთი ბილიკი-ღა დაგვრჩა, კავკასიის მთაგრეხილისაკენ მიმავალი. და საქართველო დიდი ყოყმანის შემდეგ იძულებული გახდა ამ გზისთვის მიემართა, მაგრამ ამ გზით სიარულმა ყველაფერი მოგვიტანა გარდა ბედნიერებისა და კულტურული აყვავებისა.
დღეს მსოფლიო ომის ცეცხლში ხელახლა იცვლება ჩვენი ქვეყნის საერთაშორისო მდგომარეობა. ადვილი შესაძლებელია, რომ ჩვენმა ეროვნულმა კულტურამ ხელახლა თავი დააღწიოს ვიწრო ბილიკებსა და ფართო ჯვარედინ გზაზე გამოვიდეს. როგორც არ უნდა დამთავრდეს დღევანდელი ომი, წინა აზიის გამოღვიძება უეჭველად მოსალოდნელია. რუსეთი და გერმანია ერთგვარი ენერგიით მიისწრაფვიან შუამდინარისაკენ, სადაც ბიბლიური გადმოცემის მიხედვით ერთ დროს ამქვეყნიური სამოთხე იყო. დღეს თუ არა, ხვალ უსათუოდ დამთავრდება ბაღდადის რკინიგზა, რომელსაც გერმანელები აშენებენ და ტრაპიზონისა და ერზრუმის შტოები, რომლებიც რუსებმა დაიწყეს. ჩვენი უახლოესი ევრიპიელი მეზობელი ბალკანეთიც იღვიძებს და ევროპიული პროგრესის გზას ადგება. ეს გარემოება ჩვენს საუკეთესო იმედებს უნდა ასაზრდოებდეს. თუ საქართველოს მოსაზღვრე ქვეყნებში ბარბაროსობის წყვდიადი გაიფანტა, ჩვენს თვალწინ ძველი დიდი გზები გამოჩნდებიან და ხანგრძლივი გათიშვის შემდეგ იმ კულტუროსან ოჯახს დავუბრუნდებით, რომელსაც დიდი ხანია ვეკუთვნით ჩვენის სულითა და ჩვენი წარსულით.
Hoc vero occultum, intestinum, domesticum malum, non modo non existit, verum etiam opprimit, antequam perspicere atque explorare potueris.
[This secret, internal, and domestic evil not only exists, but even overwhelms you before you can foresee it or examine into it.
Oration Against Verres, Second pleading, Book 1.15]
It is an undertaking of some degree of delicacy to examine into the cause of public disorders. If a man happens not to succeed in such an inquiry, he will be thought weak and visionary; if he touches the true grievance, there is a danger that he may come near to persons of weight and consequence, who will rather be exasperated at the discovery of their errors, than thankful for the occasion of correcting them. If he should be obliged to blame the favorites of the people, he will be considered as the tool of power; if he censures those in power, he will be looked on as an instrument of faction. But in all exertions of duty something is to be hazarded. In cases of tumult and disorder, our law has invested every man, in some sort, with the authority of a magistrate. When the affairs of the nation are distracted, private people are, by the spirit of that law, justified in stepping a little out of their ordinary sphere. They enjoy a privilege, of somewhat more dignity and effect, than that of idle lamentation over the calamities of their country. They may look into them narrowly; they may reason upon them liberally; and if they should be so fortunate as to discover the true source of the mischief, and to suggest any probable method of removing it, though they may displease the rulers for the day, they are certainly of service to the cause of government. Government is deeply interested in everything which, even through the medium of some temporary uneasiness, may tend finally to compose the minds of the subject, and to conciliate their affections. I have nothing to do here with the abstract value of the voice of the people. But as long as reputation, the most precious possession of every individual, and as long as opinion, the great support of the state, depend entirely upon that voice, it can never be considered as a thing of little consequence either to individuals or to governments. Nations are not primarily ruled by laws: less by violence. Whatever original energy may be supposed either in force or regulation, the operation of both is, in truth, merely instrumental. Nations are governed by the same methods, and on the same principles, by which an individual without authority is often able to govern those who are his equals or his superiors; by a knowledge of their temper, and by a judicious management of it; I mean,—when public affairs are steadily and quietly conducted; not when government is nothing but a continued scuffle between the magistrate and the multitude; in which sometimes the one and sometimes the other is uppermost; in which they alternately yield and prevail, in a series of contemptible victories, and scandalous submissions. The temper of the people amongst whom he presides ought therefore to be the first study of a statesman. And the knowledge of this temper it is by no means impossible for him to attain, if he has not an interest in being ignorant of what it is his duty to learn.
To complain of the age we live in, to murmur at the present possessors of power, to lament the past, to conceive extravagant hopes of the future, are the common dispositions of the greatest part of mankind; indeed the necessary effects of the ignorance and levity of the vulgar. Such complaints and humors have existed in all times; yet as all times have not been alike, true political sagacity manifests itself in distinguishing that complaint which only characterizes the general infirmity of human nature, from those which are symptoms of the particular distemperature of our own air and season.
Nobody, I believe, will consider it merely as the language of spleen or disappointment, if I say, that there is something particularly alarming in the present conjuncture. There is hardly a man, in or out of power, who holds any other language. That government is at once dreaded and contemned; that the laws are despoiled of all their respected and salutary terrors; that their inaction is a subject of ridicule, and their exertion of abhorrence; that rank, and office and title, and all the solemn plausibilities of the world, have lost their reverence and effect; that our foreign politics are as much deranged as our domestic economy; that our dependencies are slackened in their affection, and loosened from their obedience; that we know neither how to yield nor how to enforce; that hardly anything above or below, abroad or at home, is sound and entire; but that disconnection and confusion, in offices, in parties, in families, in Parliament, in the nation, prevail beyond the disorders of any former time: these are facts universally admitted and lamented.
This state of things is the more extraordinary, because the great parties which formerly divided and agitated the kingdom are known to be in a manner entirely dissolved. No great external calamity has visited the nation; no pestilence or famine. We do not labor at present under any scheme of taxation new or oppressive in the quantity or in the mode. Nor are we engaged in unsuccessful war; in which, our misfortunes might easily pervert our judgment; and our minds, sore from the loss of national glory, might feel every blow of fortune as a crime in government.
It is impossible that the cause of this strange distemper should not sometimes become a subject of discourse. It is a compliment due, and which I willingly pay, to those who administer our affairs, to take notice in the first place of their speculation. Our ministers are of opinion, that the increase of our trade and manufactures, that our growth by colonization, and by conquest, have concurred to accumulate immense wealth in the hands of some individuals; and this again being dispersed among the people, has rendered them universally proud, ferocious, and ungovernable; that the insolence of some from their enormous wealth, and the boldness of others from a guilty poverty, have rendered them capable of the most atrocious attempts; so that they have trampled upon all subordination, and violently borne down the unarmed laws of a free government; barriers too feeble against the fury of a populace so fierce and licentious as ours. They contend, that no adequate provocation has been given for so spreading a discontent; our affairs having been conducted throughout with remarkable temper and consummate wisdom. The wicked industry of some libellers, joined to the intrigues of a few disappointed politicians, have, in their opinion, been able to produce this unnatural ferment in the nation.
Nothing indeed can be more unnatural than the present convulsions of this country, if the above account be a true one. I confess I shall assent to it with great reluctance, and only on the compulsion of the clearest and firmest proofs; because their account resolves itself into this short, but discouraging proposition, “That we have a very good ministry, but that we are a very bad people”; that we set ourselves to bite the hand that feeds us; that with a malignant insanity, we oppose the measures, and ungratefully vilify the persons, of those whose sole object is our own peace and prosperity. If a few puny libellers, acting under a knot of factious politicians, without virtue, parts, or character, (such they are constantly represented by these gentlemen,) are sufficient to excite this disturbance, very perverse must be the disposition of that people, amongst whom such a disturbance can be excited by such means. It is besides no small aggravation of the public misfortune, that the disease, on this hypothesis, appears to be without remedy. If the wealth of the nation be the cause of its turbulence, I imagine it is not proposed to introduce poverty, as a constable to keep the peace. If our dominions abroad are the roots which feed all this rank luxuriance of sedition, it is not intended to cut them off in order to famish the fruit. If our liberty has enfeebled the executive power, there is no design, I hope, to call in the aid of despotism, to fill up the deficiencies of law. Whatever may be intended, these things are not yet professed. We seem therefore to be driven to absolute despair; for we have no other materials to work upon, but those out of which God has been pleased to form the inhabitants of this island. If these be radically and essentially vicious, all that can be said is, that those men are very unhappy, to whose fortune or duty it falls to administer the affairs of this untoward people. I hear it indeed sometimes asserted, that a steady perseverance in the present measures, and a rigorous punishment of those who oppose them, will in course of time infallibly put an end to these disorders. But this, in my opinion, is said without much observation of our present disposition, and without any knowledge at all of the general nature of mankind. If the matter of which this nation is composed be so very fermentable as these gentlemen describe it, leaven never will be wanting to work it up, as long as discontent, revenge, and ambition, have existence in the world. Particular punishments are the cure for accidental distempers in the state; they inflame rather than allay those heats which arise from the settled mismanagement of the government, or from a natural indisposition in the people. It is of the utmost moment not to make mistakes in the use of strong measures; and firmness is then only a virtue when it accompanies the most perfect wisdom. In truth, inconstancy is a sort of natural corrective of folly and ignorance.
I am not one of those who think that the people are never in the wrong. They have been so, frequently and outrageously, both in other countries and in this. But I do say, that in all disputes between them and their rulers, the presumption is at least upon a par in favor of the people. Experience may perhaps justify me in going further. When popular discontents have been very prevalent, it may well be affirmed and supported, that there has been generally something found amiss in the constitution, or in the conduct of government. The people have no interest in disorder. When they do wrong, it is their error, and not their crime. But with the governing part of the state, it is for otherwise. They certainly may act ill by design, as well as by mistake. “Les révolutions qui arrivent dans les grands états ne sont point un effect du hazard, ni du caprice des peuples. Rien ne révolte les grands d’un royaume comme un gouvernement foible et dérangé. Pour la populace, ce n’est jamais par envie d’attaquer qu’elle se soulève, mais par impatience de souffrir.“1 These are the words of a great man; of a minister of state; and a zealous assertor of monarchy. They are applied to the system of favoritism which was adopted by Henry the Third of France, and to the dreadful consequences it produced. What he says of revolutions, is equally true of all great disturbances. If this presumption in favor of the subjects against the trustees of power be not the more probable, I am sure it is the more comfortable speculation; because it is more easy to change an administration, than to reform a people.
Upon a supposition, therefore, that, in the opening of the cause, the presumptions stand equally balanced between the parties, there seems sufficient ground to entitle any person to a fair hearing, who attempts some other scheme beside that easy one which is fashionable in some fashionable companies, to account for the present discontents. It is not to be argued that we endure no grievance, because our grievances are not of the same sort with those under which we labored formerly; not precisely those which we bore from the Tudors, or vindicated on the Stuarts. A great change has taken place in the affairs of this country. For in the silent lapse of events as material alterations have been insensibly brought about in the policy and character of governments and nations, as those which have been marked by the tumult of public revolutions.
It is very rare indeed for men to be wrong in their feelings concerning public misconduct; as rare to be right in their speculation upon the cause of it. I have constantly observed, that the generality of people are fifty years, at least, behindhand in their politics. There are but very few who are capable of comparing and digesting what passes before their eyes at different times and occasions, so as to form the whole into a distinct system. But in books everything is settled for them, without the exertion of any considerable diligence or sagacity. For which reason men are wise with but little reflection, and good with little self-denial, in the business of all times except their own. We are very uncorrupt and tolerably enlightened judges of the transactions of past ages; where no passions deceive, and where the whole train of circumstances, from the trifling cause to the tragical event, is set in an orderly series before us. Few are the partisans of departed tyranny; and to be a Whig on the business of an hundred years ago, is very consistent with every advantage of present servility. This retrospective wisdom, and historical patriotism, are things of wonderful convenience, and serve admirably to reconcile the old quarrel between speculation and practice. Many a stern republican, after gorging himself with a full feast of admiration of the Grecian commonwealths and of our true Saxon constitution, and discharging all the splendid bile of his virtuous indignation on King John and King James, sits down perfectly satisfied to the coarsest work and homeliest job of the day he lives in. I believe there was no professed admirer of Henry the Eighth among the instruments of the last King James; nor in the court of Henry the Eighth was there, I dare say, to be found a single advocate for the favorites of Richard the Second.
No complaisance to our court, or to our age, can make me believe nature to be so changed, but that public liberty will be among us as among our ancestors, obnoxious to some person or other; and that opportunities will be furnished for attempting, at least, some alteration to the prejudice of our constitution. These attempts will naturally vary in their mode according to times and circumstances. For ambition, though it has ever the same general views, has not at all times the same means, nor the same particular objects. A great deal of the furniture of ancient tyranny is worn to rags; the rest is entirely out of fashion. Besides, there are few statesmen so very clumsy and awkward in their business, as to fall into the identical snare which has proved fatal to their predecessors. When an arbitrary imposition is attempted upon the subject, undoubtedly it will not bear on its forehead the name of Ship-money. There is no danger that an extension of the Forest laws should be the chosen mode of oppression in this age. And when we hear any instance of ministerial rapacity, to the prejudice of the rights of private life, it will certainly not be the exaction of two hundred pullets, from a woman of fashion, for leave to lie with her own husband.2
Every age has its own manners, and its politics dependent upon them; and the same attempts will not be made against a constitution fully formed and matured, that were used to destroy it in the cradle, or to resist its growth during its infancy.
Against the being of Parliament, I am satisfied, no designs have ever been entertained since the revolution. Every one must perceive, that it is strongly the interest of the court, to have some second cause interposed between the ministers and the people. The gentlemen of the House of Commons have an interest equally strong in sustaining the part of that intermediate cause. However they may hire out the usufruct of their voices, they never will part with the fee and inheritance. Accordingly those who have been of the most known devotion to the will and pleasure of a court have, at the same time, been most forward in asserting a high authority in the House of Commons. When they knew who were to use that authority, and how it was to be employed, they thought it never could be carried too far. It must be always the wish of an unconstitutional statesman, that a House of Commons, who are entirely dependent upon him, should have every right of the people entirely dependent upon their pleasure. It was soon discovered, that the forms of a free, and the ends of an arbitrary government, were things not altogether incompatible.
The power of the crown, almost dead and rotten as Prerogative, has grown up anew, with much more strength, and far less odium, under the name of Influence. An influence, which operated without noise and without violence; an influence, which converted the very antagonist into the instrument of power; which contained in itself a perpetual principle of growth and renovation; and which the distresses and the prosperity of the country equally tended to augment, was an admirable substitute for a prerogative, that, being only the offspring of antiquated prejudices, had moulded in its original stamina irresistible principles of decay and dissolution. The ignorance of the people is a bottom but for a temporary system; the interest of active men in the state is a foundation perpetual and infallible. However, some circumstances, arising, it must be confessed, in a great degree from accident, prevented the effects of this influence for a long time from breaking out in a manner capable of exciting any serious apprehensions. Although government was strong and flourished exceedingly, the court had drawn far less advantage than one would imagine from this great source of power.
At the revolution, the crown, deprived, for the ends of the revolution itself, of many prerogatives, was found too weak to struggle against all the difficulties which pressed so new and unsettled a government. The court was obliged therefore to delegate a part of its powers to men of such interest as could support, and of such fidelity as would adhere to, its establishment. Such men were able to draw in a greater number to a concurrence in the common defence. This connection, necessary at first, continued long after convenient; and properly conducted might indeed, in all situations, be an useful instrument of government. At the same time, through the intervention of men of popular weight and character, the people possessed a security for their just proportion of importance in the state. But as the title to the crown grew stronger by long possession, and by the constant increase of its influence, these helps have of late seemed to certain persons no better than incumbrances. The powerful managers for government were not sufficiently submissive to the pleasure of the possessors of immediate and personal favor, sometimes from a confidence in their own strength, natural and acquired; sometimes from a fear of offending their friends, and weakening that lead in the country which gave them a consideration independent of the court. Men acted as if the court could receive, as well as confer, an obligation. The influence of government, thus divided in appearance between the court and the leaders of parties, became in many cases an accession rather to the popular than to the royal scale; and some part of that influence, which would otherwise have been possessed as in a sort of mortmain and unalienable domain, returned again to the great ocean from whence it arose, and circulated among the people. This method, therefore, of governing by men of great natural interest or great acquired consideration was viewed in a very invidious light by the true lovers of absolute monarchy. It is the nature of despotism to abhor power held by any means but its own momentary pleasure; and to annihilate all intermediate situations between boundless strength on its own part, and total debility on the part of the people.
To get rid of all this intermediate and independent importance, and to secure to the court the unlimited and uncontrolled use of its own vast influence, under the sole direction of its own private favor, has for some years past been the great object of policy. If this were compassed, the influence of the crown must of course produce all the effects which the most sanguine partisans of the court could possibly desire. Government might then be carried on without any concurrence on the part of the people; without any attention to the dignity of the greater, or to the affections of the lower sorts. A new project was therefore devised by a certain set of intriguing men, totally different from the system of administration which had prevailed since the accession of the House of Brunswick. This project, I have heard, was first conceived by some persons in the court of Frederick Prince of Wales.
The earliest attempt in the execution of this design was to set up for minister, a person, in rank indeed respectable, and very ample in fortune; but who, to the moment of this vast and sudden elevation, was little known or considered in the kingdom. To him the whole nation was to yield an immediate and implicit submission. But whether it was from want of firmness to bear up against the first opposition; or that things were not yet fully ripened, or that this method was not found the most eligible; that idea was soon abandoned. The instrumental part of the project was a little altered, to accommodate it to the time and to bring things more gradually and more surely to the one great end proposed.
The first part of the reformed plan was to draw a line which should separate the court from the ministry. Hitherto these names had been looked upon as synonymous; but for the future, court and administration were to be considered as things totally distinct. By this operation, two systems of administration were to be formed; one which should be in the real secret and confidence; the other merely ostensible to perform the official and executory duties of government. The latter were alone to be responsible; whilst the real advisers, who enjoyed all the power, were effectually removed from all the danger.
Secondly, A party under these leaders was to be formed in favor of the court against the ministry: this party was to have a large share in the emoluments of government, and to hold it totally separate from, and independent of, ostensible administration.
The third point, and that on which the success of the whole scheme ultimately depended, was to bring Parliament to an acquiescence in this project. Parliament was therefore to be taught by degrees a total indifference to the persons, rank, influence, abilities, connections, and character of the ministers of the crown. By means of a discipline, on which I shall say more hereafter, that body was to be habituated to the most opposite interests, and the most discordant politics. All connections and dependencies among subjects were to be entirely dissolved. As, hitherto, business had gone through the hands of leaders of Whigs or Tories, men of talents to conciliate the people, and to engage their confidence; now the method was to be altered: and the lead was to be given to men of no sort of consideration or credit in the country. This want of natural importance was to be their very title to delegated power. Members of Parliament were to be hardened into an insensibility to pride as well as to duty. Those high and haughty sentiments, which are the great support of independence, were to be let down gradually. Points of honor and precedence were no more to be regarded in Parliamentary decorum than in a Turkish army. It was to be avowed, as a constitutional maxim, that the king might appoint one of his footmen, or one of your footmen for minister; and that he ought to be, and that he would be, as well followed as the first name for rank or wisdom in the nation. Thus Parliament was to look on as if perfectly unconcerned, while a cabal of the closet and back-stairs was substituted in the place of a national administration.
With such a degree of acquiescence, any measure of any court might well be deemed thoroughly secure. The capital objects, and by much the most flattering characteristics of arbitrary power, would be obtained. Everything would be drawn from its holdings in the country to the personal favor and inclination of the prince. This favor would be the sole introduction to power, and the only tenure by which it was to be held; so that no person looking towards another, and all looking towards the court, it was impossible but that the motive which solely influenced every man’s hopes must come in time to govern every man’s conduct; till at last the servility became universal, in spite of the dead letter of any laws or institutions whatsoever.
How it should happen that any man could be tempted to venture upon such a project of government, may at first view appear surprising. But the fact is that opportunities very inviting to such an attempt have offered; and the scheme itself was not destitute of some arguments, not wholly unplausible, to recommend it. These opportunities and these arguments, the use that has been made of both, the plan for carrying this new scheme of government into execution, and the effects which it has produced, are, in my opinion, worthy of our serious consideration.
His Majesty came to the throne of these kingdoms with more advantages than any of his predecessors since the revolution. Fourth in descent, and third in succession of his royal family, even the zealots of hereditary right, in him, saw something to flatter their favorite prejudices; and to justify a transfer of their attachments, without a change in their principles. The person and cause of the Pretender were become contemptible; his title disowned throughout Europe; his party disbanded in England. His Majesty came, indeed, to the inheritance of a mighty war; but, victorious in every part of the globe, peace was always in his power, not to negotiate, but to dictate. No foreign habitudes or attachments withdrew him from the cultivation of his power at home. His revenue for the civil establishment, fixed (as it was then thought) at a large, but definite sum, was ample without being invidious. His influence, by additions from conquest, by an augmentation of debt, by an increase of military and naval establishment, much strengthened and extended. And coming to the throne in the prime and full vigor of youth, as from affection there was a strong dislike, so from dread there seemed to be a general averseness, from giving anything like offence to a monarch, against whose resentment opposition could not look for a refuge in any sort of reversionary hope.
These singular advantages inspired his Majesty only with a more ardent desire to preserve unimpaired the spirit of that national freedom, to which he owed a situation so full of glory. But to others it suggested sentiments of a very different nature. They thought they now beheld an opportunity (by a certain sort of statesmen never long undiscovered or unemployed) of drawing to themselves by the aggrandizement of a court faction, a degree of power which they could never hope to derive from natural influence or from honorable service; and which it was impossible they could hold with the least security, whilst the system of administration rested upon its former bottom. In order to facilitate the execution of their design, it was necessary to make many alterations in political arrangement, and a signal change in the opinions, habits, and connections of the greatest part of those who at that time acted in public.
In the first place, they proceeded gradually, but not slowly, to destroy everything of strength which did not derive its principal nourishment from the immediate pleasure of the court. The greatest weight of popular opinion and party connection were then with the Duke of Newcastle and Mr. Pitt. Neither of these held their importance by the new tenure of the court; they were not therefore thought to be so proper as others for the services which were required by that tenure. It happened very favorably for the new system, that under a forced coalition there rankled an incurable alienation and disgust between the parties which composed the administration. Mr. Pitt was first attacked. Not satisfied with removing him from power, they endeavored by various artifices to ruin his character. The other party seemed rather pleased to get rid of so oppressive a support; not perceiving, that their own fall was prepared by his, and involved in it. Many other reasons prevented them from daring to look their true situation in the face. To the great Whig families it was extremely disagreeable, and seemed almost unnatural, to oppose the administration of a prince of the House of Brunswick. Day after day they hesitated, and doubted, and lingered, expecting that other counsels would take place; and were slow to be persuaded, that all which had been done by the cabal was the effect not of humor, but of system. It was more strongly and evidently the interest of the new court faction, to get rid of the great Whig connections, than to destroy Mr. Pitt. The power of that gentleman was vast indeed and merited; but it was in a great degree personal, and therefore transient. Theirs was rooted in the country. For, with a good deal less of popularity, they possessed a far more natural and fixed influence. Long possession of government; vast property; obligations of favors given and received; connection of office; ties of blood, of alliance, of friendship (things at that time supposed of some force); the name of Whig, dear to the majority of the people; the zeal early begun and steadily continued to the royal family: all these together formed a body of power in the nation, which was criminal and devoted. The great ruling principle of the cabal, and that which animated and harmonized all their proceedings, how various soever they may have been, was to signify to the world that the court would proceed upon its own proper forces only; and that the pretence of bringing any other into its service was an affront to it, and not a support. Therefore when the chiefs were removed, in order to go to the root, the whole party was put under a proscription, so general and severe, as to take their hard-earned bread from the lowest officers, in a manner which had never been known before, even in general revolutions. But it was thought necessary effectually to destroy all dependencies but one; and to show an example of the firmness and rigor with which the new system was to be supported.
Thus for the time were pulled down, in the persons of the Whig leaders and of Mr. Pitt (in spite of the services of the one at the accession of the royal family, and the recent services of the other in the war), the two only securities for the importance of the people; power arising from popularity; and power arising from connection. Here and there indeed a few individuals were left standing, who gave security for their total estrangement from the odious principles of party connection and personal attachment; and it must be confessed that most of them have religiously kept their faith. Such a change could not however be made without a mighty shock to government.
To reconcile the minds of the people to all these movements, principles correspondent to them had been preached up with great zeal. Every one must remember that the cabal set out with the most astonishing prudery, both moral and political. Those, who in a few months after soused over head and ears into the deepest and dirtiest pits of corruption, cried out violently against the indirect practices in the electing and managing of Parliaments, which had formerly prevailed. This marvellous abhorrence which the court had suddenly taken to all influence, was not only circulated in conversation through the kingdom, but pompously announced to the public, with many other extraordinary things, in a pamphlet3 which had all the appearance of a manifesto preparatory to some considerable enterprise. Throughout it was a satire, though in terms managed and decent enough, on the politics of the former reign. It was indeed written with no small art and address.
In this piece appeared the first dawning of the new system: there first appeared the idea (then only in speculation) of separating the court from the administration; of carrying everything from national connection to personal regards; and of forming a regular party for that purpose, under the name of king’s men.
To recommend this system to the people, a perspective view of the court, gorgeously painted, and finely illuminated from within, was exhibited to the gaping multitude. Party was to be totally done away, with all its evil works. Corruption was to be cast down from court, as Atè was from heaven. Power was thenceforward to be the chosen residence of public spirit; and no one was to be supposed under any sinister influence, except those who had the misfortune to be in disgrace at court, which was to stand in lieu of all vices and all corruptions. A scheme of perfection to be realized in a monarchy far beyond the visionary republic of Plato. The whole scenery was exactly disposed to captivate those good souls, whose credulous morality is so invaluable a treasure to crafty politicians. Indeed there was wherewithal to charm everybody, except those few who are not much pleased with professions of supernatural virtue, who know of what stuff such professions are made, for what purposes they are designed, and in what they are sure constantly to end. Many innocent gentlemen, who had been talking prose all their lives without knowing anything of the matter, began at last to open their eyes upon their own merits, and to attribute their not having been lords of the treasury and lords of trade many years before, merely to the prevalence of party, and to the ministerial power, which had frustrated the good intentions of the court in favor of their abilities. Now was the time to unlock the sealed fountain of royal bounty, which had been infamously monopolized and huckstered, and to let it flow at large upon the whole people. The time was come, to restore royalty to its original splendor. Mettre le Roy hors de page, became a sort of watchword. And it was constantly in the mouths of all the runners of the court, that nothing could preserve the balance of the constitution from being overturned by the rabble, or by a faction of the nobility, but to free the sovereign effectually from that ministerial tyranny under which the royal dignity had been oppressed in the person of his Majesty’s grandfather.
These were some of the many artifices used to reconcile the people to the great change which was made in the persons who composed the ministry, and the still greater which was made and avowed in its constitution. As to individuals, other methods were employed with them; in order so thoroughly to disunite every party, and even every family, that no concert, order, or effect, might appear in any future opposition. And in this manner an administration without connection with the people, or with one another, was first put in possession of government. What good consequences followed from it, we have all seen; whether with regard to virtue, public or private; to the ease and happiness of the sovereign; or to the real strength of government. But as so much stress was then laid on the necessity of this new project, it will not be amiss to take a view of the effects of this royal servitude and vile durance, which was so deplored in the reign of the late monarch, and was so carefully to be avoided in the reign of his successor. The effects were these.
In times full of doubt and danger to his person and family, George II. maintained the dignity of his crown connected with the liberty of his people, not only unimpaired, but improved, for the space of thirty-three years. He overcame a dangerous rebellion, abetted by foreign force, and raging in the heart of his kingdoms; and thereby destroyed the seeds of all future rebellion that could arise upon the same principle. He carried the glory, the power, the commerce of England, to a height unknown even to this renowned nation in the times of its greatest prosperity: and he left his succession resting on the true and only true foundations of all national and all regal greatness; affection at home, reputation abroad, trust in allies, terror in rival nations. The most ardent lover of his country cannot wish for Great Britain a happier fate than to continue as she was then left. A people, emulous as we are in affection to our present sovereign, know not how to form a prayer to heaven for a greater blessing upon his virtues, or a higher state of felicity and glory, than that he should live, and should reign, and when Providence ordains it, should die, exactly like his illustrious predecessor.
A great prince may be obliged (though such a thing cannot happen very often) to sacrifice his private inclination to his public interest. A wise prince will not think that such a restraint implies a condition of servility; and truly, if such was the condition of the last reign, and the effects were also such as we have described, we ought, no less for the sake of the sovereign whom we love, than for our own, to hear arguments convincing indeed, before we depart from the maxims of that reign, or fly in the face of this great body of strong and recent experience.
One of the principal topics which was then, and has been since, much employed by that political4 school, is an affected terror of the growth of an aristocratic power, prejudicial to the rights of the crown, and the balance of the constitution. Any new powers exercised in the House of Lords, or in the House of Commons, or by the crown, ought certainly to excite the vigilant and anxious jealousy of a free people. Even a new and unprecedented course of action in the whole legislature, without great and evident reason, may be a subject of just uneasiness. I will not affirm, that there may not have lately appeared in the House of Lords, a disposition to some attempts derogatory to the legal rights of the subject. If any such have really appeared, they have arisen, not from a power properly aristocratic, but from the same influence which is charged with having excited attempts of a similar nature in the House of Commons; which House, if it should have been betrayed into an unfortunate quarrel with its constituents, and involved in a charge of the very same nature, could have neither power nor inclination to repel such attempts in others. Those attempts in the House of Lords can no more be called aristocratic proceedings, than the proceedings with regard to the county of Middlesex in the House of Commons can with any sense be called democratical.
It is true, that the peers have a great influence in the kingdom, and in every part of the public concerns. While they are men of property, it is impossible to prevent it, except by such means as must prevent all property from its natural operation: an event not easily to be compassed, while property is power; nor by any means to be wished, while the least notion exists of the method by which the spirit of liberty acts, and of the means by which it is preserved. If any particular peers, by their uniform, upright, constitutional conduct, by their public and their private virtues, have acquired an influence in the country; the people, on whose favor that influence depends, and from whom it arose, will never be duped into an opinion, that such greatness in a peer is the despotism of an aristocracy, when they know and feel it to be the effect and pledge of their own importance.
I am no friend to aristocracy, in the sense at least in which that word is usually understood. If it were not a bad habit to moot cases on the supposed ruin of the constitution, I should be free to declare, that if it must perish, I would rather by far see it resolved into any other form, than lost in that austere and insolent domination. But, whatever my dislikes may be, my fears are not upon that quarter. The question, on the influence of a court, and of a peerage, is not, which of the two dangers is the more eligible, but which is the more imminent. He is but a poor observer, who has not seen, that the generality of peers, far from supporting themselves in a state of independent greatness, are but too apt to fall into an oblivion of their proper dignity, and to run headlong into an abject servitude. Would to God it were true, that the fault of our peers were too much spirit. It is worthy of some observation that these gentlemen, so jealous of aristocracy, make no complaints of the power of those peers (neither few nor inconsiderable) who are always in the train of a court, and whose whole weight must be considered as a portion of the settled influence of the crown. This is all safe and right; but if some peers (I am very sorry they are not as many as they ought to be) set themselves, in the great concern of peers and commons, against a back-stairs influence and clandestine government, then the alarm begins; then the constitution is in danger of being forced into an aristocracy.
I rest a little the longer on this court topic, because it was much insisted upon at the time of the great change, and has been since frequently revived by many of the agents of that party; for, whilst they are terrifying the great and opulent with the horrors of mob-government, they are by other managers attempting (though hitherto with little success) to alarm the people with a phantom of tyranny in the nobles. All this is done upon their favorite principle of disunion, of sowing jealousies amongst the different orders of the state, and of disjointing the natural strength of the kingdom; that it may be rendered incapable of resisting the sinister designs of wicked men, who have engrossed the royal power.
Thus much of the topics chosen by the courtiers to recommend their system; it will be necessary to open a little more at large the nature of that party which was formed for its support. Without this, the whole would have been no better than a visionary amusement, like the scheme of Harrington’s political club, and not a business in which the nation had a real concern. As a powerful party, and a party constructed on a new principle, it is a very inviting object of curiosity.
It must be remembered, that since the revolution, until the period we are speaking of, the influence of the crown had been always employed in supporting the ministers of state, and in carrying on the public business according to their opinions. But the party now in question is formed upon a very different idea. It is to intercept the favor, protection, and confidence of the crown in the passage to its ministers; it is to come between them and their importance in Parliament; it is to separate them from all their natural and acquired dependencies; it is intended as the control, not the support, of administration. The machinery of this system is perplexed in its movements, and false in its principle. It is formed on a supposition that the king is something external to his government; and that he may be honored and aggrandized, even by its debility and disgrace. The plan proceeds expressly on the idea of enfeebling the regular executory power. It proceeds on the idea of weakening the state in order to strengthen the court. The scheme depending entirely on distrust, on disconnection, on mutability by principle, on systematic weakness in every particular member; it is impossible that the total result should be substantial strength of any kind.
As a foundation of their scheme, the cabal have established a sort of rota in the court. All sorts of parties, by this means, have been brought into administration; from whence few have had the good fortune to escape without disgrace; none at all without considerable losses. In the beginning of each arrangement no professions of confidence and support are wanting, to induce the leading men to engage. But while the ministers of the day appear in all the pomp and pride of power, while they have all their canvas spread out to the wind, and every sail filled with the fair and prosperous gale of royal favor, in a short time they find, they know not how, a current, which sets directly against them: which prevents all progress; and even drives them backwards. They grow ashamed and mortified in a situation, which, by its vicinity to power, only serves to remind them the more strongly of their insignificance. They are obliged either to execute the orders of their inferiors, or to see themselves opposed by the natural instruments of their office. With the loss of their dignity they lose their temper. In their turn they grow troublesome to that cabal which, whether it supports or opposes, equally disgraces and equally betrays them. It is soon found necessary to get rid of the heads of administration; but it is of the heads only. As there always are many rotten members belonging to the best connections, it is not hard to persuade several to continue in office without their leaders. By this means the party goes out much thinner than it came in; and is only reduced in strength by its temporary possession of power. Besides, if by accident, or in course of changes, that power should be recovered, the junto have thrown up a retrenchment of these carcasses, which may serve to cover themselves in a day of danger. They conclude, not unwisely, that such rotten members will become the first objects of disgust and resentment to their ancient connections.
They contrive to form in the outward administration two parties at the least; which, whilst they are tearing one another to pieces, are both competitors for the favor and protection of the cabal; and, by their emulation, contribute to throw everything more and more into the hands of the interior managers.
A minister of state will sometimes keep himself totally estranged from all his colleagues; will differ from them in their councils, will privately traverse, and publicly oppose, their measures. He will, however, continue in his employment. Instead of suffering any mark of displeasure, he will be distinguished by an unbounded profusion of court rewards and caresses; because he does what is expected, and all that is expected, from men in office. He helps to keep some form of administration in being, and keeps it at the same time as weak and divided as possible.
However, we must take care not to be mistaken, or to imagine that such persons have any weight in their opposition. When, by them, administration is convinced of its insignificancy, they are soon to be convinced of their own. They never are suffered to succeed in their opposition. They and the world are to be satisfied, that neither office, nor authority, nor property, nor ability, eloquence, counsel, skill, or union, are of the least importance; but that the mere influence of the court, naked of all support, and destitute of all management, is abundantly sufficient for all its own purposes.
When any adverse connection is to be destroyed, the cabal seldom appear in the work themselves. They find out some person of whom the party entertains a high opinion. Such a person they endeavor to delude with various pretences. They teach him first to distrust, and then to quarrel with his friends; among whom, by the same arts, they excite a similar diffidence of him; so that in this mutual fear and distrust, he may suffer himself to be employed as the instrument in the change which is brought about. Afterwards they are sure to destroy him in his turn, by setting up in his place some person in whom he had himself reposed the greatest confidence, and who serves to carry off a considerable part of his adherents.
When such a person has broke in this manner with his connections, he is soon compelled to commit some flagrant act of iniquitous, personal hostility against some of them (such as an attempt to strip a particular friend of his family estate), by which the cabal hope to render the parties utterly irreconcilable. In truth, they have so contrived matters, that people have a greater hatred to the subordinate instruments than to the principal movers.
As in destroying their enemies they make use of instruments not immediately belonging to their corps, so in advancing their own friends they pursue exactly the same method. To promote any of them to considerable rank or emolument, they commonly take care that the recommendation shall pass through the hands of the ostensible ministry: such a recommendation might however appear to the world, as some proof of the credit of ministers, and some means of increasing their strength. To prevent this, the persons so advanced are directed, in all companies, industriously to declare, that they are under no obligations whatsoever to administration; that they have received their office from another quarter; that they are totally free and independent.
When the faction has any job of lucre to obtain, or of vengeance to perpetrate, their way is, to select, for the execution, those very persons to whose habits, friendships, principles, and declarations, such proceedings are publicly known to be the most adverse; at once to render the instruments the more odious, and therefore the more dependent, and to prevent the people from ever reposing a confidence in any appearance of private friendship or public principle.
If the administration seem now and then, from remissness, or from fear of making themselves disagreeable, to suffer any popular excesses to go unpunished, the cabal immediately sets up some creature of theirs to raise a clamor against the ministers, as having shamefully betrayed the dignity of government. Then they compel the ministry to become active in conferring rewards and honors on the persons who have been the instruments of their disgrace; and, after having first vilified them with the higher orders for suffering the laws to sleep over the licentiousness of the populace, they drive them (in order to make amends for their former inactivity) to some act of atrocious violence, which renders them completely abhorred by the people. They, who remember the riots which attended the Middlesex election, the opening of the present Parliament, and the transactions relative to Saint George’s Fields, will not be at a loss for an application of these remarks.
That this body may be enabled to compass all the ends of its institution, its members are scarcely ever to aim at the high and responsible offices of the state. They are distributed with art and judgment through all the secondary, but efficient, departments of office, and through the households of all the branches of the royal family: so as on one hand to occupy all the avenues to the throne; and on the other to forward or frustrate the execution of any measure, according to their own interests. For with the credit and support which they are known to have, though for the greater part in places which are only a genteel excuse for salary, they possess all the influence of the highest posts; and they dictate publicly in almost everything, even with a parade of superiority. Whenever they dissent (as it often happens) from their nominal leaders, the trained part of the senate, instinctively in the secret, is sure to follow them: provided the leaders, sensible of their situation, do not of themselves recede in time from their most declared opinions. This latter is generally the case. It will not be conceivable to any one who has not seen it, what pleasure is taken by the cabal in rendering these heads of office thoroughly contemptible and ridiculous. And when they are become so, they have then the best chance for being well supported.
The members of the court faction are fully indemnified for not holding places on the slippery heights of the kingdom, not only by the lead in all affairs, but also by the perfect security in which they enjoy less conspicuous, but very advantageous situations. Their places are in express legal tenure, or, in effect, all of them for life. Whilst the first and most respectable persons in the kingdom are tossed about like tennis-balls, the sport of a blind and insolent caprice, no minister dares even to cast an oblique glance at the lowest of their body. If an attempt be made upon one of this corps, immediately he flies to sanctuary, and pretends to the most inviolable of all promises. No conveniency of public arrangement is available to remove any one of them from the specific situation he holds; and the slightest attempt upon one of them, by the most powerful minister, is a certain preliminary to his own destruction.
Conscious of their independence, they bear themselves with a lofty air to the exterior ministers. Like janissaries, they derive a kind of freedom from the very condition of their servitude. They may act just as they please; provided they are true to the great ruling principle of their institution. It is, therefore, not at all wonderful, that people should be so desirous of adding themselves to that body, in which they may possess and reconcile satisfactions the most alluring, and seemingly the most contradictory; enjoying at once all the spirited pleasure of independence, and all the gross lucre and fat emoluments of servitude.
Here is a sketch, though a slight one, of the constitution, laws, and policy of this new court corporation. The name by which they choose to distinguish themselves, is that of king’s men or the king’s friends, by an invidious exclusion of the rest of his Majesty’s most loyal and affectionate subjects. The whole system, comprehending the exterior and interior administrations, is commonly called, in the technical language of the court, double cabinet; in French or English, as you choose to pronounce it.
Whether all this be a vision of a distracted brain, or the invention of a malicious heart, or a real faction in the country, must be judged by the appearances which things have worn for eight years past. Thus far I am certain, that there is not a single public man, in or out of office, who has not, at some time or other, borne testimony to the truth of what I have now related. In particular, no persons have been more strong in their assertions, and louder and more indecent in their complaints, than those who compose all the exterior part of the present administration; in whose time that faction has arrived at such an height of power, and of boldness in the use of it, as may, in the end, perhaps bring about its total destruction.
It is true, that about four years ago, during the administration of the Marquis of Rockingham, an attempt was made to carry on government without their concurrence. However, this was only a transient cloud; they were hid but for a moment; and their constellation blazed out with greater brightness, and a far more vigorous influence, some time after it was blown over. An attempt was at that time made (but without any idea of proscription) to break their corps, to discountenance their doctrines, to revive connections of a different kind, to restore the principles and policy of the Whigs, to reanimate the cause of liberty by ministerial countenance; and then for the first time were men seen attached in office to every principle they had maintained in opposition. No one will doubt, that such men were abhorred and violently opposed by the court faction, and that such a system could have but a short duration.
It may appear somewhat affected, that in so much discourse upon this extraordinary party, I should say so little of the Earl of Bute, who is the supposed head of it. But this was neither owing to affectation nor inadvertence. I have carefully avoided the introduction of personal reflections of any kind. Much the greater part of the topics which have been used to blacken this nobleman are either unjust or frivolous. At best, they have a tendency to give the resentment of this bitter calamity a wrong direction, and to turn a public grievance into a mean, personal, or a dangerous national quarrel. Where there is a regular scheme of operations carried on, it is the system, and not any individual person who acts in it, that is truly dangerous. This system has not arisen solely from the ambition of Lord Bute, but from the circumstances which favored it, and from an indifference to the constitution which had been for some time growing among our gentry. We should have been tried with it, if the Earl of Bute had never existed; and it will want neither a contriving head nor active members, when the Earl of Bute exists no longer. It is not, therefore, to rail at Lord Bute, but firmly to embody against this court party and its practices, which can afford us any prospect of relief in our present condition.
Another motive induces me to put the personal consideration of Lord Bute wholly out of the question. He communicates very little in a direct manner with the greater part of our men of business. This has never been his custom. It is enough for him that he surrounds them with his creatures. Several imagine, therefore, that they have a very good excuse for doing all the work of this faction, when they have no personal connection with Lord Bute. But whoever becomes a party to an administration, composed of insulated individuals, without faith plighted, tie, or common principle; an administration constitutionally impotent, because supported by no party in the nation; he who contributes to destroy the connections of men and their trust in one another, or in any sort to throw the dependence of public counsels upon private will and favor, possibly may have nothing to do with the Earl of Bute. It matters little whether he be the friend or the enemy of that particular person. But let him be who or what he will, he abets a faction that is driving hard to the ruin of his country. He is sapping the foundation of its liberty, disturbing the sources of its domestic tranquillity, weakening its government over its dependencies, degrading it from all its importance in the system of Europe.
It is this unnatural infusion of a system of favoritism into a government which in a great part of its constitution is popular, that has raised the present ferment in the nation. The people, without entering deeply into its principles, could plainly perceive its effects, in much violence, in a great spirit of innovation, and a general disorder in all the functions of government. I keep my eye solely on this system; if I speak of those measures which have arisen from it, it will be so far only as they illustrate the general scheme. This is the fountain of all those bitter waters of which, through an hundred different conduits, we have drunk until we are ready to burst. The discretionary power of the crown in the formation of ministry, abused by bad or weak men, has given rise to a system, which, without directly violating the letter of any law, operates against the spirit of the whole constitution.
A plan of favoritism for our executory government is essentially at variance with the plan of our legislature. One great end undoubtedly of a mixed government like ours, composed of monarchy, and of controls, on the part of the higher people and the lower, is that the prince shall not be able to violate the laws. This is useful indeed and fundamental. But this, even at first view, is no more than a negative advantage; an armor merely defensive. It is therefore next in order, and equal in importance, that the discretionary powers which are necessarily vested in themonarch, whether for the execution of the laws, or for the nomination to magistracy and office, or for conducting the affairs of peace and war, or for ordering the revenue, should all be exercised upon public principles and national grounds, and, not on the likings or prejudices, the intrigues or policies, of a court. This, I said, is equal in importance to the securing a government according to law. The laws reach but a very little way. Constitute government how you please, infinitely the greater part of it must depend upon the exercise of the powers which are left at large to the prudence and uprightness of ministers of state. Even all the use and potency of the laws depends upon them. Without them, your commonwealth is no better than a scheme upon paper; and not a living, active, effective constitution. It is possible that through negligence, or ignorance, or design artfully conducted, ministers may suffer one part of government to languish, another to be perverted from its purposes, and every valuable interest of the country to fall into ruin and decay, without possibility of fixing any single act on which a criminal prosecution can be justly grounded. The due arrangement of men in the active part of the state, far from being foreign to the purposes of a wise government, ought to be among its very first and dearest objects. When, therefore, the abettors of the new system tell us, that between them and their opposers there is nothing but a struggle for power, and that therefore we are no ways concerned in it; we must tell those who have the impudence to insult us in this manner, that, of all things, we ought to be the most concerned who, and what sort of men they are that hold the trust of everything that is dear to us. Nothing can render this a point of indifference to the nation, but what must either render us totally desperate, or soothe us into the security of idiots. We must soften into a credulity below the milkiness of infancy to think all men virtuous. We must be tainted with a malignity truly diabolical to believe all the world to be equally wicked and corrupt. Men are in public life as in private, some good, some evil. The elevation of the one, and the depression of the other, are the first objects of all true policy. But that form of government, which, neither in its direct institutions, nor in their immediate tendency, has contrived to throw its affairs into the most trustworthy hands, but has left its whole executory system to be disposed of agreeably to the uncontrolled pleasure of any one man, however excellent or virtuous, is a plan of polity defective not only in that member, but consequentially erroneous in every part of it.
In arbitrary governments, the constitution of the ministry follows the constitution of the legislature. Both the law and the magistrate are the creatures of will. It must be so. Nothing, indeed, will appear more certain, on any tolerable consideration of this matter, than that every sort of government ought to have its administration correspondent to its legislature. If it should be otherwise, things must fall into an hideous disorder. The people of a free commonwealth, who have taken such care that their laws should be the result of general consent, cannot be so senseless as to suffer their executory system to be composed of persons on whom they have no dependence, and whom no proofs of the public love and confidence have recommended to those powers, upon the use of which the very being of the state depends.
The popular election of magistrates, and popular disposition of rewards and honors, is one of the first advantages of a free state. Without it, or something equivalent to it, perhaps the people cannot long enjoy the substance of freedom; certainly none of the vivifying energy of good government. The frame of our commonwealth did not admit of such an actual election: but it provided as well, and (while the spirit of the constitution is preserved) better for all the effects of it than by the method of suffrage in any democratic state whatsoever. It had always, until of late, been held the first duty of Parliament to refuse to support government, until power was in the hands of persons who were acceptable to the people, or while factions predominated in the court in which the nation had no confidence. Thus all the good effects of popular election were supposed to be secured to us, without the mischiefs attending on perpetual intrigue, and a distinct canvass for every particular office throughout the body of the people. This was the most noble and refined part of our constitution. The people, by their representatives and grandees, were intrusted with a deliberative power in making laws; the king with the control of his negative. The king was intrusted with the deliberative choice and the election to office; the people had the negative in a Parliamentary refusal to support. Formerly this power of control was what kept ministers in awe of Parliaments, and Parliaments in reverence with the people. If the use of this power of control on the system and persons of administration is gone, everything is lost, Parliament and all. We may assure ourselves, that if Parliament will tamely see evil men take possession of all the strongholds of their country, and allow them timeand means to fortify themselves, under a pretence of giving them a fair trial, and upon a hope of discovering, whether they will not be reformed by power, and whether their measures will not be better than their morals; such a Parliament will give countenance to their measures also, whatever that Parliament may pretend, and whatever those measures may be.
Every good political institution must have a preventive operation as well as a remedial. It ought to have a natural tendency to exclude bad men from government, and not to trust for the safety of the state to subsequent punishment alone; punishment, which has ever been tardy and uncertain; and which, when power is suffered in bad hands, may chance to fall rather on the injured than the criminal.
Before men are put forward into the great trusts of the state, they ought by their conduct to have obtained such a degree of estimation in their country, as may be some sort of pledge and security to the public, that they will not abuse those trusts. It is no mean security for a proper use of power, that a man has shown by the general tenor of his actions, that the affection, the good opinion, the confidence of his fellow-citizens have been among the principal objects of his life; and that he has owed none of the gradations of his power or fortune to a settled contempt, or occasional forfeiture of their esteem.
That man who before he comes into power has no friends, or who coming into power is obliged to desert his friends, or who losing it has no friends to sympathize with him; he who has no sway among any part of the landed or commercial interest, but whose whole importance has begun with his office, and is sure to end with it, is a person who ought never to be suffered by a controlling Parliament to continue in any of those situations which confer the lead and direction of all our public affairs; because such a man has no connection with the interest of the people.
Those knots or cabals of men who have got together, avowedly without any public principle, in order to sell their conjunct iniquity at the higher rate, and are therefore universally odious, ought never to be suffered to domineer in the state; because they have no connection with the sentiments and opinions of the people.
These are considerations which in my opinion enforce the necessity of having some better reason, in a free country, and a free Parliament, for supporting the ministers of the crown, than that short one, That the king has thought proper to appoint them. There is something very courtly in this. But it is a principle pregnant with all sorts of mischief, in a constitution like ours, to turn the views of active men from the country to the court. Whatever be the road to power, that is the road which will be trod. If the opinion of the country be of no use as a means of power or consideration, the qualities which usually procure that opinion will be no longer cultivated. And whether it will be right, in a state so popular in its constitution as ours, to leave ambition without popular motives, and to trust all to the operation of pure virtue in the minds of kings, and ministers, and public men, must be submitted to the judgment and good sense of the people of England.
Cunning men are here apt to break in, and, without directly controverting the principle, to raise objections from the difficulty under which the sovereign labors, to distinguish the genuine voice and sentiments of his people, from the clamor of a faction, by which it is so easily counterfeited. The nation, they say, is generally divided into parties, with views and passions utterly irreconcilable. If the king should put his affairs into the hands of any one of them, he is sure to disgust the rest; if he select particular men from among them all, it is a hazard that he disgusts them all. Those who are left out, however divided before, will soon run into a body of opposition; which, being a collection of many discontents into one focus, will without doubt be hot and violent enough. Faction will make its cries resound through the nation, as if the whole were in an uproar, when by far the majority, and much the better part, will seem for a while as it were annihilated by the quiet in which their virtue and moderation incline them to enjoy the blessings of government. Besides that the opinion of the mere vulgar is a miserable rule even with regard to themselves, on account of their violence and instability. So that if you were to gratify them in their humor to-day, that very gratification would be a ground of their dissatisfaction on the next. Now as all these rules of public opinion are to be collected with great difficulty, and to be applied with equal uncertainty as to the effect, what better can a king of England do, than to employ such men as he finds to have views and inclinations most conformable to his own; who are least infected with pride and self-will; and who are least moved by such popular humors as are perpetually traversing his designs, and disturbing his service; trusting that, when he means no ill to his people, he will be supported in his appointments, whether he chooses to keep or to change, as his private judgment or his pleasure leads him? He will find a sure resource in the real weight and influence of the crown, when it is not suffered to become an instrument in the hands of a faction.
I will not pretend to say, that there is nothing at all in this mode of reasoning; because I will not assert that there is no difficulty in the art of government. Undoubtedly the very best administration must encounter a great deal of opposition; and the very worst will find more support than it deserves. Sufficient appearances will never be wanting to those who have a mind to deceive themselves. It is a fallacy in constant use with those who would level all things, and confound right with wrong, to insist upon the inconveniences which are attached to every choice, without taking into consideration the different weight and consequence of those inconveniences. The question is not concerning absolute discontent or perfect satisfaction in government; neither of which can be pure and unmixed at any time, or upon any system. The controversy is about that degree of good humor in the people, which may possibly be attained, and ought certainly to be looked for. While some politicians may be waiting to know whether the sense of every individual be against them, accurately distinguishing the vulgar from the better sort, drawing lines between the enterprises of a faction and the efforts of a people, they may chance to see the government, which they are so nicely weighing, and dividing, and distinguishing, tumble to the ground in the midst of their wise deliberation. Prudent men, when so great an object as the security of government, or even its peace, is at stake, will not run the risk of a decision which may be fatal to it. They who can read the political sky will see a hurricane in a cloud no bigger than a hand at the very edge of the horizon, and will run into the first harbor. No lines can be laid down for civil or political wisdom. They are a matter incapable of exact definition. But, though no man can draw a stroke between the confines of day and night, yet light and darkness are upon the whole tolerably distinguishable. Nor will it be impossible for a prince to find out such a mode of government, and such persons to administer it, as will give a great degree of content to his people; without any curious and anxious research for that abstract, universal, perfect harmony, which while he is seeking, he abandons those means of ordinary tranquillity which are in his power without any research at all.
It is not more the duty than it is the interest of a prince, to aim at giving tranquillity to his government. But those who advise him may have an interest in disorder and confusion. If the opinion of the people is against them, they will naturally wish that it should have no prevalence. Here it is that the people must on their part show themselves sensible of their own value. Their whole importance, in the first instance, and afterwards their whole freedom, is at stake. Their freedom cannot long survive their importance. Here it is that the natural strength of the kingdom, the great peers, the leading landed gentlemen, the opulent merchants and manufacturers, the substantial yeomanry, must interpose, to rescue their prince, themselves, and their posterity.
We are at present at issue upon this point. We are in the great crisis of this contention; and the part which men take, one way or other, will serve to discriminate their characters and their principles. Until the matter is decided, the country will remain in its present confusion. For while a system of administration is attempted, entirely repugnant to the genius of the people, and not conformable to the plan of their government, everything must necessarily be disordered for a time, until this system destroys the constitution, or the constitution gets the better of this system.
There is, in my opinion, a peculiar venom and malignity in this political distemper beyond any that I have heard or read of. In former times the projectors of arbitrary government attacked only the liberties of their country; a design surely mischievous enough to have satisfied a mind of the most unruly ambition. But a system unfavorable to freedom may be so formed, as considerably to exalt the grandeur of the state; and men may find, in the pride and splendor of that prosperity, some sort of consolation for the loss of their solid privileges. Indeed the increase of the power of the state has often been urged by artful men, as a pretext for some abridgment of the public liberty. But the scheme of the junto under consideration, not only strikes a palsy into every nerve of our free constitution, but in the same degree benumbs and stupefies the whole executive power: rendering government in all its grand operations languid, uncertain, ineffective; making ministers fearful of attempting, and incapable of executing any useful plan of domestic arrangement, or of foreign politics. It tends to produce neither the security of a free government, nor the energy of a monarchy that is absolute. Accordingly the crown has dwindled away, in proportion to the unnatural and turgid growth of this excrescence on the court.
The interior ministry are sensible, that war is a situation which sets in its full light the value of the hearts of a people; and they well know, that the beginning of the importance of the people must be the end of theirs. For this reason they discover upon all occasions the utmost fear of everything, which by possibility may lead to such an event. I do not mean that they manifest any of that pious fear which is backward to commit the safety of the country to the dubious experiment of war. Such a fear, being the tender sensation of virtue, excited, as it is regulated, by reason, frequently shows itself in a seasonable boldness, which keeps danger at a distance, by seeming to despise it. Their fear betrays to the first glance of the eye, its true cause, and its real object. Foreign powers, confident in the knowledge of their character, have not scrupled to violate the most solemn treaties; and, in defiance of them, to make conquests in the midst of a general peace, and in the heart of Europe. Such was the conquest of Corsica, by the professed enemies of the freedom of mankind, in defiance of those who were formerly its professed defenders. We have had just claims upon the same powers: rights which ought to have been sacred to them as well as to us, as they had their origin in our lenity and generosity towards France and Spain in the day of their great humiliation. Such I call the ransom of Manilla, and the demand on France for the East India prisoners. But these powers put a just confidence in their resource of the double cabinet. These demands (one of them at least) are hastening fast towards an acquittal by prescription. Oblivion begins to spread her cobwebs over all our spirited remonstrances. Some of the most valuable branches of our trade are also on the point of perishing from the same cause. I do not mean those branches which bear without the hand of the vine-dresser; I mean those which the policy of treaties had formerly secured to us; I mean to mark and distinguish the trade of Portugal, the loss of which, and the power of the cabal, have one and the same era.
If by any chance, the ministers who stand before the curtain possess or affect any spirit, it makes little or no impression. Foreign courts and ministers, who were among the first to discover and to profit by this invention of the double cabinet, attend very little to their remonstrances. They know that those shadows of ministers have nothing to do in the ultimate disposal of things. Jealousies and animosities are sedulously nourished in the outward administration, and have been even considered as a causa sine qua non in its constitution: thence foreign courts have a certainty, that nothing can be done by common counsel in this nation. If one of those ministers officially takes up a business with spirit, it serves only the better to signalize the meanness of the rest, and the discord of them all. His colleagues in office are in haste to shake him off, and to disclaim the whole of his proceedings. Of this nature was that astonishing transaction, in which Lord Rochford, our ambassador at Paris, remonstrated against the attempt upon Corsica, in consequence of a direct authority from Lord Shelburne. This remonstrance the French minister treated with the contempt that was natural: as he was assured, from the ambassador of his court to ours, that these orders of Lord Shelburne were not supported by the rest of the (I had like to have said British) administration. Lord Rochford, a man of spirit, could not endure this situation. The consequences were, however, curious. He returns from Paris, and comes home full of anger. Lord Shelburne, who gave the orders, is obliged to give up the seals. Lord Rochford, who obeyed these orders, receives them. He goes, however, into another department of the same office, that he might not be obliged officially to acquiesce, in one situation, under what he had officially remonstrated against, in another. At Paris, the Duke of Choiseul considered this office arrangement as a compliment to him: here it was spoken of as an attention to the delicacy of Lord Rochford. But whether the compliment was to one or both, to this nation it was the same. By this transaction the condition of our court lay exposed in all its nakedness. Our office correspondence has lost all pretence to authenticity: British policy is brought into derision in those nations, that a while ago trembled at the power of our arms, whilst they looked up with confidence to the equity, firmness, and candor, which shone in all our negotiations. I represent this matter exactly in the light in which it has been universally received.
Such has been the aspect of our foreign politics, under the influence of a double cabinet. With such an arrangement at court, it is impossible it should have been otherwise. Nor is it possible that this scheme should have a better effect upon the government of our dependencies, the first, the dearest, and most delicate objects, of the interior policy of this empire. The colonies know, that administration is separated from the court, divided within itself, and detested by the nation. The double cabinet has, in both the parts of it, shown the most malignant dispositions towards them, without being able to do them the smallest mischief.
They are convinced, by sufficient experience, that no plan, either of lenity, or rigor, can be pursued with uniformity and perseverance. Therefore they turn their eyes entirely from Great Britain, where they have neither dependence on friendship, nor apprehension from enmity. They look to themselves, and their own arrangements. They grow every day into alienation from this country; and whilst they are becoming disconnected with our government, we have not the consolation to find, that they are even friendly in their new independence. Nothing can equal the futility, the weakness, the rashness, the timidity, the perpetual contradiction in the management of our affairs in that part of the world. A volume might be written on this melancholy subject; but it were better to leave it entirely to the reflections of the reader himself, than not to treat it in the extent it deserves.
In what manner our domestic economy is affected by this system, it is needless to explain. It is the perpetual subject of their own complaints.
The court party resolve the whole into faction Having said something before upon this subject, I shall only observe here, that, when they give this account of the prevalence of faction, they present no very favorable aspect of the confidence of the people in their own government. They may be assured, that however they amuse themselves with a variety of projects for substituting something else in the place of that great and only foundation of government, the confidence of the people, every attempt will but make their condition worse. When men imagine that their food is only a cover for poison, and when they neither love nor trust the hand that serves it, it is not the name of the roast beef of Old England, that will persuade them to sit down to the table that is spread for them. When the people conceive that laws, and tribunals, and even popular assemblies, are perverted from the ends of their institution, they find in those names of degenerated establishments only new motives to discontent. Those bodies, which, when full of life and beauty, lay in their arms, and were their joy and comfort, when dead and putrid, become but the more loathsome from remembrance of former endearments. A sullen gloom and furious disorder prevail by fits; the nation loses its relish for peace and prosperity; as it did in that season of fulness which opened our troubles in the time of Charles the First. A species of men to whom a state of order would become a sentence of obscurity are nourished into a dangerous magnitude by the heat of intestine disturbances; and it is no wonder that, by a sort of sinister piety, they cherish, in their turn, the disorders which are the parents of all their consequence. Superficial observers consider such persons as the cause of the public uneasiness, when, in truth, they are nothing more than the effect of it. Good men look upon this distracted scene with sorrow and indignation. Their hands are tied behind them. They are despoiled of all the power which might enable them to reconcile the strength of government with the rights of the people. They stand in a most distressing alternative. But in the election among evils they hope better things from temporary confusion, than from established servitude. In the mean time, the voice of law is not to be heard. Fierce licentiousness begets violent restraints. The military arm is the sole reliance; and then, call your constitution what you please, it is the sword that governs. The civil power, like every other that calls in the aid of an ally stronger than itself, perishes by the assistance it receives. But the contrivers of this scheme of government will not trust solely to the military power; because they are cunning men. Their restless and crooked spirit drives them to rake in the dirt of every kind of expedient. Unable to rule the multitude, they endeavor to raise divisions amongst them. One mob is hired to destroy another; a procedure which at once encourages the boldness of the populace, and justly increases their discontent. Men become pensioners of state on account of their abilities in the array of riot, and the discipline of confusion. Government is put under the disgraceful necessity of protecting from the severity of the laws that very licentiousness, which the laws had been before violated to repress. Everything partakes of the original disorder. Anarchy predominates without freedom, and servitude without submission or subordination. These are the consequences inevitable to our public peace, from the scheme of rendering the executory government at once odious and feeble; of freeing administration from the constitutional and salutary control of Parliament, and inventing for it a new control, unknown to the constitution, an interior cabinet; which brings the whole body of government into confusion and contempt.
After having stated, as shortly as I am able, the effects of this system on our foreign affairs, on the policy of our government with regard to our dependencies, and on the interior economy of the commonwealth; there remains only, in this part of my design, to say something of the grand principle which first recommended this system at court. The pretence was, to prevent the king from being enslaved by a faction, and made a prisoner in his closet. This scheme might have been expected to answer at least its own end, and to indemnify the king, in his personal capacity, for all the confusion into which it has thrown his government. But has it in reality answered this purpose? I am sure, if it had, every affectionate subject would have one motive for enduring with patience all the evils which attend it.
In order to come at the truth in this matter, it may not be amiss to consider it somewhat in detail. I speak here of the king, and not of the crown; the interests of which we have already touched. Independent of that greatness which a king possesses merely by being a representative of the national dignity, the things in which he may have an individual interest seem to be these:—wealth accumulated; wealth spent in magnificence, pleasure, or beneficence; personal respect and attention; and, above all, private ease and repose of mind. These compose the inventory of prosperous circumstances, whether they regard a prince or a subject; their enjoyments differing only in the scale upon which they are formed.
Suppose then we were to ask, whether the king has been richer than his predecessors in accumulated wealth, since the establishment of the plan of favoritism? I believe it will be found that the picture of royal indigence, which our court has presented until this year, has been truly humiliating. Nor has it been relieved from this unseemly distress, but by means which have hazarded the affection of the people, and shaken their confidence in Parliament. If the public treasures had been exhausted in magnificence and splendor, this distress would have been accounted for, and in some measure justified. Nothing would be more unworthy of this nation, than with a mean and mechanical rule, to mete out the splendor of the crown. Indeed I have found very few persons disposed to so ungenerous a procedure. But the generality of people, it must be confessed, do feel a good deal mortified, when they compare the wants of the court with its expenses. They do not behold the cause of this distress in any part of the apparatus of royal magnificence. In all this, they see nothing but the operations of parsimony, attended with all the consequences of profusion. Nothing expended, nothing saved. Their wonder is increased by their knowledge, that besides the revenue settled on his Majesty’s civil list to the amount of 800,000l. a year, he has a farther aid from a large pension list, near 90,000l. a year, in Ireland; from the produce of the duchy of Lancaster (which we are told has been greatly improved); from the revenue of the duchy of Cornwall; from the American quit-rents; from the four and a half per cent duty in the Leeward Islands; this last worth to be sure considerably more than 40,000l. a year. The whole is certainly not much short of a million annually.
These are revenues within the knowledge and cognizance of our national councils. We have no direct right to examine into the receipts from his Majesty’s German dominions, and the bishopric of Osnaburg. This is unquestionably true. But that which is not within the province of Parliament, is yet within the sphere of every man’s own reflection. If a foreign prince resided amongst us, the state of his revenues could not fail of becoming the subject of our speculation. Filled with an anxious concern for whatever regards the welfare of our sovereign, it is impossible, in considering the miserable circumstances into which he has been brought, that this obvious topic should be entirely passed over. There is an opinion universal, that these revenues produce something not inconsiderable, clear of all charges and establishments. This produce the people do not believe to be hoarded, nor perceive to be spent. It is accounted for in the only manner it can, by supposing that it is drawn away, for the support of that court faction, which, whilst it distresses the nation, impoverishes the prince in every one of his resources. I once more caution the reader, that I do not urge this consideration concerning the foreign revenue, as if I supposed we had a direct right to examine into the expenditure of any part of it; but solely for the purpose of showing how little this system of favoritism has been advantageous to the monarch himself; which, without magnificence, has sunk him into a state of unnatural poverty; at the same time that he possessed every means of affluence, from ample revenues, both in this country, and in other parts of his dominions.
Has this system provided better for the treatment becoming his high and sacred character, and secured the king from those disgusts attached to the necessity of employing men who are not personally agreeable? This is a topic upon which for many reasons I could wish to be silent; but the pretence of securing against such causes of uneasiness, is the corner-stone of the court-party. It has however so happened, that if I were to fix upon any one point, in which this system has been more particularly and shamefully blamable, the effects which it has produced would justify me in choosing for that point its tendency to degrade the personal dignity of the sovereign, and to expose him to a thousand contradictions and mortifications. It is but too evident in what manner these projectors of royal greatness have fulfilled all their magnificent promises. Without recapitulating all the circumstances of the reign, every one of which is, more or less, a melancholy proof of the truth of what I have advanced, let us consider the language of the court but a few years ago, concerning most of the persons now in the external administration: let me ask, whether any enemy to the personal feelings of the sovereign could possibly contrive a keener instrument of mortification, and degradation of all dignity, than almost every part and member of the present arrangement? Nor, in the whole course of our history, has any compliance with the will of the people ever been known to extort from any prince a greater contradiction to all his own declared affections and dislikes, than that which is now adopted, in direct opposition to everything the people approve and desire.
An opinion prevails, that greatness has been more than once advised to submit to certain condescensions towards individuals, which have been denied to the entreaties of a nation. For the meanest and most dependent instrument of this system knows, that there are hours when its existence may depend upon his adherence to it; and he takes his advantage accordingly. Indeed it is a law of nature, that whoever is necessary to what we have made our object is sure, in some way, or in some time or other, to become our master. All this however is submitted to, in order to avoid that monstrous evil of governing in concurrence with the opinion of the people. For it seems to be laid down as a maxim, that a king has some sort of interest in giving uneasiness to his subjects: that all who are pleasing to them, are to be of course disagreeable to him: that as soon as the persons who are odious at court are known to be odious to the people, it is snatched at as a lucky occasion of showering down upon them all kinds of emoluments and honors. None are considered as well-wishers to the crown, but those who advise to some unpopular course of action; none capable of serving it, but those who are obliged to call at every instant upon all its power for the safety of their lives. None are supposed to be fit priests in the temple of government, but the persons who are compelled to fly into it for sanctuary. Such is the effect of this refined project; such is ever the result of all the contrivances, which are used to free men from the servitude of their reason, and from the necessity of ordering their affairs according to their evident interests. These contrivances oblige them to run into a real and ruinous servitude, in order to avoid a supposed restraint, that might be attended with advantage.
If therefore this system has so ill answered its own grand pretence of saving the king from the necessity of employing persons disagreeable to him, has it given more peace and tranquillity to his Majesty’s private hours? No, most certainly. The father of his people cannot possibly enjoy repose, while his family is in such a state of distraction. Then what has the crown or the king profited by all this fine-wrought scheme? Is he more rich, or more splendid, or more powerful, or more at his ease, by so many labors and contrivances? Have they not beggared his exchequer, tarnished the splendor of his court, sunk his dignity, galled his feelings, discomposed the whole order and happiness of his private life?
It will be very hard, I believe, to state in what respect the king has profited by that faction which presumptuously choose to call themselves his friends.
If particular men had grown into an attachment, by the distinguished honor of the society of their sovereign; and, by being the partakers of his amusements, came sometimes to prefer the gratification of his personal inclinations to the support of his high character, the thing would be very natural, and it would be excusable enough. But the pleasant part of the story is, that these king’s friends have no more ground for usurping such a title, than a resident freeholder in Cumberland or in Cornwall. They are only known to their sovereign by kissing his hand, for the offices, pensions, and grants, into which they have deceived his benignity. May no storm ever come, which will put the firmness of their attachment to the proof; and which, in the midst of confusions, and terrors, and sufferings, may demonstrate the eternal difference between a true and severe friend to the monarchy, and a slippery sycophant of the court! Quantum infido scurræ distabit amicus.
So far I have considered the effect of the court system, chiefly as it operates upon the executive government, on the temper of the people, and on the happiness of the sovereign. It remains that we should consider, with a little attention, its operation upon Parliament.
Parliament was indeed the great object of all these politics, the end at which they aimed, as well as the instrument by which they were to operate. But, before Parliament could be made subservient to a system, by which it was to be degraded from the dignity of a national council into a mere member of the court, it must be greatly changed from its original character.
In speaking of this body, I have my eye chiefly on the House of Commons. I hope I shall be indulged in a few observations on the nature and character of that assembly; not with regard to its legal form and power, but to its spirit, and to the purposes it is meant to answer in the constitution.
The House of Commons was supposed originally to be no part of the standing government of this country. It was considered as a control issuing immediately from the people, and speedily to be resolved into the mass from whence it arose. In this respect it was in the higher part of government what juries are in the lower. The capacity of a magistrate being transitory, and that of a citizen permanent, the latter capacity it was hoped would of course preponderate in all discussions, not only between the people and the standing authority of the crown, but between the people and the fleeting authority of the House of Commons itself. It was hoped that, being of a middle nature between subject and government, they would feel with a more tender and a nearer interest everything that concerned the people, than the other remoter and more permanent parts of legislature.
Whatever alterations time and the necessary accommodation of business may have introduced, this character can never be sustained, unless the House of Commons shall be made to bear some stamp of the actual disposition of the people at large. It would (among public misfortunes) be an evil more natural and tolerable, that the House of Commons should be infected with every epidemical frenzy of the people, as this would indicate some consanguinity, some sympathy of nature with their constituents, than that they should in all cases be wholly untouched by the opinions and feelings of the people out of doors. By this want of sympathy they would cease to be a House of Commons. For it is not the derivation of the power of that House from the people, which makes it in a distinct sense their representative. The king is the representative of the people; so are the lords; so are the judges. They all are trustees for the people, as well as the commons; because no power is given for the sole sake of the holder; and although government certainly is an institution of divine authority, yet its forms, and the persons who administer it, all originate from the people.
A popular origin cannot therefore be the characteristical distinction of a popular representative. This belongs equally to all parts of government and in all forms. The virtue, spirit, and essence of a House of Commons consists in its being the express image of the feelings of the nation. It was not instituted to be a control upon the people, as of late it has been taught, by a doctrine of the most pernicious tendency. It was designed as a control forthe people. Other institutions have been formed for the purpose of checking popular excesses; and they are, I apprehend, fully adequate to their object. If not, they ought to be made so. The House of Commons, as it was never intended for the support of peace and subordination, is miserably appointed for that service; having no stronger weapon than its mace, and no better officer than its serjeant-at-arms, which it can command of its own proper authority. A vigilant and jealous eye over executory and judicial magistracy; an anxious care of public money; an openness, approaching towards facility, to public complaint: these seem to be the true characteristics of a House of Commons. But an addressing House of Commons, and a petitioning nation; a House of Commons full of confidence, when the nation is plunged in despair; in the utmost harmony with ministers, whom the people regard with the utmost abhorrence; who vote thanks, when the public opinion calls upon them for impeachments; who are eager to grant, when the general voice demands account; who, in all disputes between the people and administration, presume against the people; who punish their disorders, but refuse even to inquire into the provocations to them; this is an unnatural, a monstrous state of things in this constitution. Such an assembly may be a great, wise, awful senate; but it is not, to any popular purpose, a House of Commons. This change from an immediate state of procuration and delegation to a course of acting as from original power, is the way in which all the popular magistracies in the world have been perverted from their purposes. It is indeed their greatest and sometimes their incurable corruption. For there is a material distinction between that corruption by which particular points are carried against reason, (this is a thing which cannot be prevented by human wisdom, and is of loss consequence,) and the corruption of the principle itself For then the evil is not accidental, but settled. The distemper becomes the natural habit.
For my part, I shall be compelled to conclude the principle of Parliament to be totally corrupted, and therefore its ends entirely defeated, when I see two symptoms: first, a rule of indiscriminate support to all ministers; because this destroys the very end of Parliament as a control, and is a general, previous sanction to misgovernment: and secondly, the setting up any claims adverse to the right of free election; for this tends to subvert the legal authority by which the House of Commons sits.
I know that, since the Revolution, along with many dangerous, many useful powers of government have been weakened. It is absolutely necessary to have frequent recourse to the legislature. Parliaments must therefore sit every year, and for great part of the year. The dreadful disorders of frequent elections have also necessitated a septennial instead of a triennial duration. These circumstances, I mean the constant habit of authority, and the unfrequency of elections, have tended very much to draw the House of Commons towards the character of a standing senate. It is a disorder which has arisen from the cure of greater disorders; it has arisen from the extreme difficulty of reconciling liberty under a monarchical government, with external strength and with internal tranquillity.
It is very clear that we cannot free ourselves entirely from this great inconvenience; but I would not increase an evil, because I was not able to remove it; and because it was not in my power to keep the House of Commons religiously true to its first principles, I would not argue for carrying it to a total oblivion of them. This has been the great scheme of power in our time. They, who will not conform their conduct to the public good, and cannot support it by the prerogative of the crown, have adopted a new plan. They have totally abandoned the shattered and old-fashioned fortress of prerogative, and made a lodgment in the stronghold of Parliament itself. If they have any evil design to which there is no ordinary legal power commensurate, they bring it into Parliament. In Parliament the whole is executed from the beginning to the end. In Parliament the power of obtaining their object is absolute; and the safety in the proceeding perfect: no rules to confine, no after-reckonings to terrify. Parliament cannot, with any great propriety, punish others for things in which they themselves have been accomplices. Thus the control of Parliament upon the executory power is lost; because Parliament is made to partake in every considerable act of government. Impeachment, that great guardian of the purity of the constitution, is in danger of being lost, even to the idea of it.
By this plan several important ends are answered to the cabal. If the authority of Parliament supports itself, the credit of every act of government, which they contrive, is saved; but if the act be so very odious that the whole strength of Parliament is insufficient to recommend it, then Parliament is itself discredited; and this discredit increases more and more that indifference to the constitution, which it is the constant aim of its enemies, by their abuse of Parliamentary powers, to render general among the people. Whenever Parliament is persuaded to assume the offices of executive government, it will lose all the confidence, love, and veneration, which it has ever enjoyed whilst it was supposed the corrective and control of the acting powers of the state. This would be the event,though its conduct in such a perversion of its functions should be tolerably just and moderate; but if it should be iniquitous, violent, full of passion, and full of faction, it would be considered as the most intolerable of all the modes of tyranny.
For a considerable time this separation of the representatives from their constituents went on with a silent progress; and had those, who conducted the plan for their total separation, been persons of temper and abilities any way equal to the magnitude of their design, the success would have been infallible: but by their precipitancy they have laid it open in all its nakedness; the nation is alarmed at it: and the event may not be pleasant to the contrivers of the scheme. In the last session, the corps called the king’s friends made a hardy attempt, all at once, to alter the right of election itself; to put it into the power of the House of Commons to disable any person disagreeable to them from sitting in Parliament, without any other rule than their own pleasure; to make incapacities, either general for descriptions of men, or particular for individuals; and to take into their body, persons who avowedly had never been chosen by the majority of legal electors, nor agreeably to any known rule of law.
The arguments upon which this claim was founded and combated, are not my business here. Never has a subject been more amply and more learnedly handled, nor upon one side, in my opinion, more satisfactorily; they who are not convinced by what is already written would not receive conviction though, one arose from the dead.
I too have thought on this subject: but my purpose here, is only to consider it as a part of the favorite project of government; to observe on the motives which led to it; and to trace its political consequences.
A violent rage for the punishment of Mr. Wilkes was the pretence of the whole. This gentleman, by setting himself strongly in opposition to the court cabal, had become at once an object of their persecution, and of the popular favor. The hatred of the court party pursuing, and the countenance of the people protecting him, it very soon became not at all a question on the man, but a trial of strength between the two parties. The advantage of the victory in this particular contest was the present, but not the only, nor by any means the principal object. Its operation upon the character of the House of Commons was the great point in view. The point to be gained by the cabal was this; that a precedent should be established, tending to show, That the favor of the people was not so sure a road as the favor of the court even to popular honors and popular trusts. A strenuous resistance to every appearance of lawless power; a spirit of independence carried to some degree of enthusiasm; an inquisitive character to discover, and a bold one to display, every corruption and every error of government; these are the qualities which recommend a man to a seat in the House of Commons, in open and merely popular elections. An indolent and submissive disposition; a disposition to think charitably of all the actions of men in power, and to live in a mutual intercourse of favors with them; an inclination rather to countenance a strong use of authority, than to bear any sort of licentiousness on the part of the people; these are unfavorable qualities in an open election for members of Parliament.
The instinct which carries the people towards the choice of the former, is justified by reason; because a man of such a character, even in its exorbitances, does not directly contradict the purposes of a trust, the end of which is a control on power. The latter character, even when it is not in its extreme, will execute this trust but very imperfectly; and, if deviating to the least excess, will certainly frustrate instead of forwarding the purposes of a control on government. But when the House of Commons was to be new modelled, this principle was not only to be changed but reversed. Whilst any errors committed in support of power were left to the law, with every advantage of favorable construction, of mitigation, and finally of pardon; all excesses on the side of liberty, or in pursuit of popular favor, or in defence of popular rights and privileges, were not only to be punished by the rigor of the known law, but by a discretionary proceeding, which brought on the loss of the popular object itself. Popularity was to be rendered, if not directly penal, at least highly dangerous. The favor of the people might lead even to a disqualification of representing them. Their odium might become, strained through the medium of two or three constructions, the means of sitting as the trustee of all that was dear to them. This is punishing the offence in the offending part. Until this time, the opinion of the people, through the power of an assembly, still in some sort popular, led to the greatest honors and emoluments in the gift of the crown. Now the principle is reversed; and the favor of the court is the only sure way of obtaining and holding those honors which ought to be in the disposal of the people.
It signifies very little how this matter may be quibbled away. Example, the only argument of effect in civil life, demonstrates the truth of my proposition. Nothing can alter my opinion concerting the pernicious tendency of this example, until I see some man for his indiscretion in the support of power, for his violent and intemperate servility, rendered incapable of sitting in Parliament. For as it now stands, the fault of overstraining popular qualities, and, irregularly if you please, asserting popular privileges, has led to disqualification; the opposite fault never has produced the slightest punishment. Resistance to power has shut the door of the House of Commons to one man; obsequiousness and servility, to none.
Not that I would encourage popular disorder, or any disorder. But I would leave such offences to the law, to be punished in measure and proportion. The laws of this country are for the most part constituted, and wisely so, for the general ends of government, rather than for the preservation of our particular liberties. Whatever therefore is done in support of liberty, by persons not in public trust, or not acting merely in that trust, is liable to be more or less out of the ordinary course of the law; and the law itself is sufficient to animadvert upon it with great severity. Nothing indeed can hinder that severe letter from crushing us, except the temperaments it may receive from a trial by jury. But if the habit prevails of going beyond the law, and superseding this judicature, of carrying offences, real or supposed, into the legislative bodies, who shall establish themselves into courts of criminal equity (so the Star Chamber has been called by Lord Bacon), all the evils of the Star Chamber are revived. A large and liberal construction in ascertaining offences, and a discretionary power in punishing them, is the idea of criminal equity; which is in truth a monster in jurisprudence. It signifies nothing whether a court for this purpose be a committee of council, or a House of Commons, or a House of Lords; the liberty of the subject will be equally subverted by it. The true end and purpose of that House of Parliament, which entertains such a jurisdiction, will be destroyed by it.
I will not believe, what no other man living believes, that Mr. Wilkes was punished for the indecency of his publications, or the impiety of his ransacked closet. If he had fallen in a common slaughter of libellers and blasphemers, I could well believe that nothing more was meant than was pretended. But when I see, that, for years together, full as impious, and perhaps more dangerous writings to religion, and virtue, and order, have not been punished, nor their authors discountenanced; that the most audacious libels on royal majesty have passed without notice; that the most treasonable invectives against the laws, liberties, and constitution of the country, have not met with the slightest animadversion; I must consider this as a shocking and shameless pretence. Never did an envenomed scurrility against everything sacred and civil, public and private, rage through the kingdom with such a furious and unbridled license. All this while the peace of the nation must be shaken, to ruin one libeller, and to tear from the populace a single favorite.
Nor is it that vice merely skulks in an obscure and contemptible impunity. Does not the public behold with indignation, persons not only generally scandalous in their lives, but the identical persons who, by their society, their instruction, their example, their encouragement, have drawn this man into the very faults which have furnished the cabal with a pretence for his persecution, loaded with every kind of favor, honor, and distinction, which a court can bestow? Add but the crime of servility (the foedum crimen servitutis) to every other crime, and the whole mass is immediately transmuted into virtue, and becomes the just subject of reward and honor. When therefore I reflect upon this method pursued by the cabal in distributing rewards and punishments, I must conclude that Mr. Wilkes is the object of persecution, not on account of what he has done in common with others who are the objects of reward, but for that in which he differs from many of them: that he is pursued for the spirited dispositions which are blended with his vices; for his unconquerable firmness, for his resolute, indefatigable, strenuous resistance against oppression.
In this case, therefore, it was not the man that was to be punished, nor his faults that were to be discountenanced. Opposition to acts of power was to be marked by a kind of civil proscription. The popularity which should arise from such an opposition was to be shown unable to protect it. The qualities by which court is made to the people, were to render every fault inexpiable, and every error irretrievable. The qualities by which court is made to power, were to cover and to sanctify everything. He that will have a sure and honorable seat in the House of Commons must take care how he adventures to cultivate popular qualities; otherwise he may remember the old maxim, Breves et infaustos populi Romani amores. If, therefore, a pursuit of popularity expose a man to greater dangers than a disposition to servility, the principle which is the life and soul of popular elections will perish out of the constitution.
It behoves the people of England to consider how the House of Commons, under the operation of these examples, must of necessity be constituted. On the side of the court will be, all honors, offices, emoluments; every sort of personal gratification to avarice or vanity; and, what is of more moment to most gentlemen, the means of growing, by innumerable petty services to individuals, into a spreading interest in their country. On the other hand, let us suppose a person unconnected with the court, and in opposition to its system. For his own person, no office, or emolument, or title; no promotion, ecclesiastical, or civil, or military, or naval, for children, or brothers, or kindred. In vain an expiring interest in a borough calls for offices, or small livings, for the children of mayors, and aldermen, and capital burgesses. His court rival has them all. He can do an infinite number of acts of generosity and kindness, and even of public spirit. He can procure indemnity from quarters. He can procure advantages in trade. He can get pardons for offences. He can obtain a thousand favors, and avert a thousand evils. He may, while he betrays every valuable interest of the kingdom, be a benefactor, a patron, a father, a guardian angel to his borough. The unfortunate independent member has nothing to offer, but harsh refusal, or pitiful excuse, or despondent representation of a hopeless interest. Except from his private fortune, in which he may be equalled, perhaps exceeded, by his court competitor, he has no way of showing any one good quality, or of making a single friend. In the House, he votes forever in a dispirited minority. If he speaks, the doors are locked. A body of loquacious placemen go out to tell the world that all he aims at is to get into office. If he has not the talent of elocution, which is the case of many as wise and knowing men as any in the House, he is liable to all these inconveniences, without the éclat which attends upon any tolerably successful exertion of eloquence. Can we conceive a more discouraging post of duty than this? Strip it of the poor reward of popularity; suffer even the excesses committed in defence of the popular interest to become a ground for the majority of that House to form a disqualification out of the line of the law, and at their pleasure, attended not only with the loss of the franchise, but with every kind of personal disgrace.—If this shall happen, the people of this kingdom may be assured that they cannot be firmly or faithfully served by any man. It is out of the nature of men and things that they should; and their presumption will be equal to their folly if they expect it. The power of the people, within the laws, must show itself sufficient to protect every representative in the animated performance of his duty, or that duty cannot be performed. The House of Commons can never be a control on other parts of government, unless they are controlled themselves by their constituents; and unless those constituents possess some right in the choice of that House, which it is not in the power of that House to take away. If they suffer this power of arbitrary incapacitation to stand, they have utterly perverted every other power of the House of Commons. The late proceeding I will not say is contrary to law; it must be so; for the power which is claimed cannot, by any possibility, be a legal power in any limited member of government.
The power which they claim, of declaring incapacities, would not be above the just claims of a final judicature, if they had not laid it down as a leading principle, that they had no rule in the exercise of this claim, but their own discretion. Not one of their abettors has ever undertaken to assign the principle of unfitness, the species or degree of delinquency, on which the House of Commons will expel, nor the mode of proceeding upon it, nor the evidence upon which it is established. The direct consequence of which is, that the first franchise of an Englishman, and that on which all the rest vitally depend, is to be forfeited for some offence which no man knows, and which is to be proved by no known rule whatsoever of legal evidence. This is so anomalous to our whole constitution, that I will venture to say, the most trivial right, which the subject claims, never was, nor can be, forfeited in such a manner.
The whole of their usurpation is established upon this method of arguing. We do not make laws. No; we do not contend for this power. We only declare law; and as we are a tribunal both competent and supreme, what we declare to be law becomes law, although it should not have been so before. Thus the circumstance of having no appeal from their jurisdiction is made to imply that they have no rule in the exercise of it: the judgment does not derive its validity from its conformity to the law; but preposterously the law is made to attend on the judgment; and the rule of the judgment is no other than the occasional will of the House. An arbitrary discretion leads, legality follows; which is just the very nature and description of a legislative act.
This claim in their hands was no barren theory. It was pursued into its utmost consequences; and a dangerous principle has begot a correspondent practice. A systematic spirit has been shown upon both sides. The electors of Middlesex chose a person whom the House of Commons had voted incapable; and the House of Commons has taken in a member whom the electors of Middlesex had not chosen. By a construction on that legislative power which had been assumed, they declared that the true legal sense of the country was contained in the minority, on that occasion; and might, on a resistance to a vote of incapacity, be contained in any minority.
When any construction of law goes against the spirit of the privilege it was meant to support, it is a vicious construction. It is material to us to be represented really and bonâ fide, and not in forms, in types, and shadows, and fictions of law. The right of election was not established merely as a matter of form, to satisfy some method and rule of technical reasoning; it was not a principle which might substitute a Titius or a Mævius, a John Doe or Richard Roe, in the place of a man specially chosen; not a principle which was just as well satisfied with one man as with another. It is a right, the effect of which is to give to the people that man, and that man only, whom, by their voices actually, not constructively given, they declare that they know, esteem, love, and trust. This right is a matter within their own power of judging and feeling; not an ens rationis and creature of law: nor can those devices, by which anything else is substituted in the place of such an actual choice, answer in the least degree the end of representation.
I know that the courts of law have made as strained constructions in other cases. Such is the construction in common recoveries. The method of construction which in that case gives to the persons in remainder, for their security and representative, the door-keeper, crier, or sweeper of the court, or some other shadowy being without substance or effect, is a fiction of a very coarse texture. This was however suffered by the acquiescence of the whole kingdom, for ages; because the evasion of the old statute of Westminster, which authorized perpetuities, had more sense and utility than the law which was evaded. But an attempt to turn the right of election into such a farce and mockery as a fictitious fine and recovery, will, I hope, have another fate; because the laws which give it are infinitely dear to us, and the evasion is infinitely contemptible.
The people indeed have been told, that this power of discretionary disqualification is vested in hands that they may trust, and who will be sure not to abuse it to their prejudice. Until I find something in this argument differing from that on which every mode of despotism has been defended, I shall not be inclined to pay it any great compliment. The people are satisfied to trust themselves with the exercise of their own privileges, and do not desire this kind intervention of the House of Commons to free them from the burden. They are certainly in the right. They ought not to trust the House of Commons with a power over their franchises; because the constitution, which placed two other co-ordinate powers to control it, reposed no such confidence in that body. It were a folly well deserving servitude for its punishment, to be full of confidence where the laws are full of distrust; and to give to a House of Commons, arrogating to its sole resolution the most harsh and odious part of legislative authority, that degree of submission which is due only to the legislature itself.
When the House of Commons, in an endeavor to obtain new advantages at the expense of the other orders of the state, for the benefit of the commons at large, have pursued strong measures; if it were not just, it was at least natural, that the constituents should connive at all their proceedings; because we were ourselves ultimately to profit. But when this submission is urged to us, in a contest between the representatives and ourselves, and where nothing can be put into their scale which is not taken from ours, they fancy us to be children when they tell us they are our representatives, our own flesh and blood, and that all the stripes they give us are for our good. The very desire of that body to have such a trust contrary to law reposed in them, shows that they are not worthy of it. They certainly will abuse it; because all men possessed of an uncontrolled discretionary power leading to the aggrandizement and profit of their own body have always abused it: and I see no particular sanctity in our times, that is at all likely, by a miraculous operation, to overrule the course of nature.
But we must purposely shut our eyes, if we consider this matter merely as a contest between the House of Commons and the electors. The true contest is between the electors of the kingdom and the crown; the crown acting by an instrumental House of Commons. It is precisely the same, whether the ministers of the crown can disqualify by a dependent House of Commons, or by a dependent Court of Star Chamber, or by a dependent Court of King’s Bench If once members of Parliament can be practically convinced that they do not depend on the affection or opinion of the people for their political being, they will give themselves over, without even an appearance of reserve, to the influence of the court.
Indeed a Parliament unconnected with the people is essential to a ministry unconnected with the people; and therefore those who saw through what mighty difficulties the interior ministry waded, and the exterior were dragged, in this business, will conceive of what prodigious importance, the new corps of king’s men held this principle of occasional and personal incapacitation, to the whole body of their design.
When the House of Commons was thus made to consider itself as the master of its constituents, there wanted but one thing to secure that House against all possible future deviation towards popularity: an unlimited fund of money to be laid out according to the pleasure of the court.
To complete the scheme of bringing our court to a resemblance to the neighboring monarchies, it was necessary, in effect, to destroy those appropriations of revenue, which seem to limit the property, as the other laws had done the powers, of the crown. An opportunity for this purpose was taken, upon an application to Parliament for payment of the debts of the civil list; which in 1769 had amounted to 513,000l. Such application had been made upon former occasions; but to do it in the former manner would by no means answer the present purpose.
Whenever the crown had come to the commons to desire a supply for the discharging of debts due on the civil list, it was always asked and granted with one of the three following qualifications; sometimes with all of them. Either it was stated, that the revenue had been diverted from its purposes by Parliament; or that those duties had fallen short of the sum for which they were given by Parliament, and that the intention of the legislature had not been fulfilled; or that the money required to discharge the civil list debt was to be raised chargeable on the civil list duties. In the reign of Queen Anne, the crown was found in debt. The lessening and granting away some part of her revenue by Parliament was alleged as the cause of that debt, and pleaded as an equitable ground, such it certainly was, for discharging it. It does not appear that the duties which were then applied to the ordinary government produced clear above 580,000l. a year; because, when they were afterwards granted to George the First, 120,000l. was added to complete the whole to 700,000l. a year. Indeed it was then asserted, and, I have no doubt, truly, that for many years the net produce did not amount to above 550,000l. The queen’s extraordinary charges were besides very considerable; equal, at least, to any we have known in our time. The application to Parliament was not for an absolute grant of money; but to empower the queen to raise it by borrowing upon the civil list funds.
The civil list debt was twice paid in the reign of George the First. The money was granted upon the same plan which had been followed in the reign of Queen Anne. The civil list revenues were then mortgaged for the sum to be raised, and stood charged with the ransom of their own deliverance.
George the Second received an addition to his civil list. Duties were granted for the purpose of raising 800,000l.a year. It was not until he had reigned nineteen years, and after the last rebellion, that he called upon Parliament for a discharge of the civil list debt. The extraordinary charges brought on by the rebellion, account fully for the necessities of the crown. However, the extraordinary charges of government were not thought a ground fit to be relied on.
A deficiency of the civil list duties for several years before was stated as the principal, if not the sole ground on which an application to Parliament could be justified. About this time the produce of these duties had fallen pretty low; and even upon an average of the whole reign they never produced 800,000l. a year clear to the treasury.
That prince reigned fourteen years afterwards: not only no new demands were made; but with so much good order were his revenues and expenses regulated, that, although many parts of the establishment of the court were upon a larger and more liberal scale than they have been since, there was a considerable sum in hand, on his decease, amounting to about 170,000l. applicable to the service of the civil list of his present Majesty. So that, if this reign commenced with a greater charge than usual, there was enough and more than enough, abundantly to supply all the extraordinary expense. That the civil list should have been exceeded in the two former reigns, especially in the reign of George the First, was not at all surprising. His revenue was but 700,000l. annually; if it ever produced so much clear. The prodigious and dangerous disaffection to the very being of the establishment, and the cause of a pretender then powerfully abetted from abroad, produced many demands of an extraordinary nature both abroad and at home. Much management and great expenses were necessary. But the throne of no prince has stood upon more unshaken foundations than that of his present Majesty.
To have exceeded the sum given for the civil list, and to have incurred a debt without special authority of Parliament, was prima facie, a criminal act: as such, ministers ought naturally rather to have withdrawn it from the inspection, than to have exposed it to the scrutiny of Parliament. Certainly they ought, of themselves, officially to have come armed with every sort of argument, which, by explaining, could excuse, a matter in itself of presumptive guilt. But the terrors of the House of Commons are no longer for ministers.
On the other hand, the peculiar character of the House of Commons, as trustee of the public purse, would have led them to call with a punctilious solicitude for every public account, and to have examined into them with the most rigorous accuracy.
The capital use of an account is, that the reality of the charge, the reason of incurring it, and the justice and necessity of discharging it, should all appear antecedent to the payment. No man ever pays first, and calls for his account afterwards; because he would thereby let out of his hands the principal, and indeed only effectual, means of compelling a full and fair one. But, in national business, there is an additional reason for a previous production of every account. It is a check, perhaps the only one, upon a corrupt and prodigal use of public money. An account after payment is to no rational purpose an account. However, the House of Commons thought all these to be antiquated principles: they were of opinion, that the most Parliamentary way of proceeding was, to pay first what the court thought proper to demand, and to take its chance for an examination into accounts at some time of greater leisure.
The nation had settled 800,000l. a year on the crown, as sufficient for the support of its dignity, upon the estimate of its own ministers. When ministers came to Parliament, and said that this allowance had not been sufficient for the purpose, and that they had incurred a debt of 500,000l., would it not have been natural for Parliament first to have asked how, and by what means, their appropriated allowance came to be insufficient? Would it not have savored of some attention to justice, to have seen in what periods of administration this debt had been originally incurred; that they might discover, and if need were, animadvert on the persons who were found the most culpable? To put their hands upon such articles of expenditure as they thought improper or excessive, and to secure, in future, against such misapplication or exceeding? Accounts for any other purposes are but a matter of curiosity, and no genuine Parliamentary object. All the accounts which could answer any Parliamentary end were refused, or postponed by previous questions. Every idea of prevention was rejected, as conveying an improper suspicion of the ministers of the crown.
When every loading account had been refused, many others were granted with sufficient facility.
But with great candor also, the House was informed, that hardly any of them could be ready until the next session; some of them perhaps not so soon. But, in order firmly to establish the precedent of payment previous to account, and to form it into a settled rule of the House, the god in the machine was brought down, nothing less than the wonder-working law of Parliament. It was alleged, that it is the law of Parliament, when any demand comes from the crown, that the House must go immediately into the committee of supply; in which committee it was allowed, that the production and examination of accounts would be quite proper and regular. It was therefore carried, that they should go into the committee without delay, and without accounts, in order to examine with great order and regularity things that could not possibly come before them. After this stroke of orderly and Parliamentary wit and humor, they went into the committee; and very generously voted the payment.
There was a circumstance in that debate too remarkable to be overlooked. This debt of the civil list was all along argued upon the same footing as a debt of the state, contracted upon national authority. Its payment was urged as equally pressing upon the public faith and honor; and when the whole year’s account was stated, in what is called the budget, the ministry valued themselves on the payment of so much public debt, just as if they had discharged 500,000l. of navy or exchequer bills. Though, in truth, their payment, from the sinking fund, of debt which was never contracted by Parliamentary authority, was, to all intents and purposes, so much debt incurred. But such is the present notion of public credit, and payment of debt. No wonder that it produces such effects.
Nor was the House at all more attentive to a provident security against future, than it had been to a vindictive retrospect to past mismanagements. I should have thought indeed that a ministerial promise, during their own continuance in office, might have been given, though this would have been but a poor security for the public. Mr. Pelham gave such an assurance, and he kept his word. But nothing was capable of extorting from our ministers anything which had the least resemblance to a promise of confining the expenses of the civil list within the limits which had been settled by Parliament. This reserve of theirs I look upon to be equivalent to the clearest declaration, that they were resolved upon a contrary course.
However, to put the matter beyond all doubt, in the speech from the throne, after thanking Parliament for the relief so liberally granted, the ministers inform the two Houses, that they will endeavor to confine the expenses of the civil government—within what limits, think you? those which the law had prescribed? Not in the least—”such limits as the honor of the crown can possibly admit.”
Thus they established an arbitrary standard for that dignity which Parliament had defined and limited to a legalstandard. They gave themselves, under the lax and indeterminate idea of the honor of the crown, a full loose for all manner of dissipation, and all manner of corruption. This arbitrary standard they were not afraid to hold out to both Houses; while an idle and unoperative act of Parliament, estimating the dignity of the crown at 800,000l. and confining it to that sum, adds to the number of obsolete statutes which load the shelves of libraries, without any sort of advantage to the people.
After this proceeding, I suppose that no man can be so weak as to think that the crown is limited to any settled allowance whatsoever. For if the ministry has 800,000l. a year by the law of the land; and if by the law of Parliament all the debts which exceed it are to be paid previously to the production of any account; I presume that this is equivalent to an income with no other limits than the abilities of the subject and the moderation of the court; that is to say, it is such an income as is possessed by every absolute monarch in Europe. It amounts, as a person of great ability said in the debate, to an unlimited power of drawing upon the sinking fund. Its effect on the public credit of this kingdom must be obvious; for in vain is the sinking fund the great buttress of all the rest, if it be in the power of the ministry to resort to it for the payment of any debts which they may choose to incur, under the name of the civil list, and through the medium of a committee, which thinks itself obliged by law to vote supplies without any other account than that of the mere existence of the debt.
Five hundred thousand pounds is a serious sum. But it is nothing to the prolific principle upon which the sum was voted: a principle that may be well called, the fruitful mother of an hundred more. Neither is the damage to public credit of very great consequence, when compared with that which results to public morals and to the safety of the constitution, from the exhaustless mine of corruption opened by the precedent, and to be wrought by the principle, of the late payment of the debts of the civil list. The power of discretionary disqualification by one law of Parliament, and the necessity of paying every debt of the civil list by another law of Parliament, if suffered to pass unnoticed, must establish such a fund of rewards and terrors as will make Parliament the best appendage and support of arbitrary power that ever was invented by the wit of man. This is felt. The quarrel is begun between the representatives and the people. The court faction have at length committed them.
In such a strait the wisest may well be perplexed, and the boldest staggered. The circumstances are in a great measure new. We have hardly any landmarks from the wisdom of our ancestors, to guide us. At best we can only follow the spirit of their proceeding in other cases. I know the diligence with which my observations on our public disorders have been made; I am very sure of the integrity of the motives on which they are published; I cannot be equally confident in any plan for the absolute cure of those disorders, or for their certain future prevention. My aim is to bring this matter into more public discussion. Let the sagacity of others work upon it. It is not uncommon for medical writers to describe histories of diseases very accurately, on whose cure they can say but very little.
The first ideas which generally suggest themselves, for the cure of Parliamentary disorders, are, to shorten the duration of Parliaments; and to disqualify all, or a great number of placemen, from a seat in the House of Commons. Whatever efficacy there may be in those remedies, I am sure in the present state of things it is impossible to apply them. A restoration of the right of free election is a preliminary indispensable to every other reformation. What alterations ought afterwards to be made in the constitution, is a matter of deep and difficult research.
If I wrote merely to please the popular palate, it would indeed be as little troublesome to me as to another, to extol these remedies, so famous in speculation, but to which their greatest admirers have never attempted seriously to resort in practice. I confess then, that I have no sort of reliance upon either a triennial Parliament, or a place-bill. With regard to the former, perhaps it might rather serve to counteract, than to promote the ends that are proposed by it. To say nothing of the horrible disorders among the people attending frequent elections, I should be fearful of committing, every three years, the independent gentlemen of the country into a contest with the treasury. It is easy to see which of the contending parties would be ruined first. Whoever has taken a careful view of public proceedings, so as to endeavor to ground his speculations on his experience, must have observed how prodigiously greater the power of ministry is in the first and last session of a Parliament, than it is in the intermediate period, when members sit a little firm on their seats. The persons of the greatest Parliamentary experience, with whom I have conversed, did constantly, in canvassing the fate of questions, allow something to the court side, upon account of the elections depending or imminent. The evil complained of, if it exists in the present state of things, would hardly be removed by a triennial Parliament: for, unless the influence of government in elections can be entirely taken away, the more frequently they return, the more they will harass private independence; the more generally men will be compelled to fly to the settled systematic interest of government, and to the resources of a boundless civil list. Certainly something may be done, and ought to be done, towards lessening that influence in elections; and this will be necessary upon a plan either of longer or shorter duration of Parliament. But nothing can so perfectly remove the evil, as not to render such contentions, too frequently repeated, utterly ruinous, first to independence of fortune, and then to independence of spirit. As I am only giving an opinion on this point, and not at all debating it in an adverse line, I hope I may be excused in another observation. With great truth I may aver, that I never remember to have talked on this subject with any man much conversant with public business, who considered short Parliaments as a real improvement of the constitution. Gentlemen, warm in a popular cause, are ready enough to attribute all the declarations of such persons to corrupt motives. But the habit of affairs, if, on one hand, it tends to corrupt the mind, furnishes it, on the other, with the means of better information. The authority of such persons will always have some weight. It may stand upon a par with the speculations of those who are less practised in business; and who, with perhaps purer intentions, have not so effectual means of judging. It is besides an effect of vulgar and puerile malignity to imagine, that every statesman is of course corrupt; and that his opinion, upon every constitutional point, is solely formed upon some sinister interest.
The next favorite remedy is a place-bill. The same principle guides in both; I mean, the opinion which is entertained by many, of the infallibility of laws and regulations, in the cure of public distempers. Without being as unreasonably doubtful as many are unwisely confident, I will only say, that this also is a matter very well worthy of serious and mature reflection. It is not easy to foresee, what the effect would be, of disconnecting with Parliament the greatest part of those who hold civil employments, and of such mighty and important bodies as the military and naval establishments. It were better, perhaps, that they should have a corrupt interest in the forms of the constitution, than that they should have none at all. This is a question altogether different from the disqualification of a particular description of revenue-officers from seats in Parliament; or, perhaps, of all the lower sorts of them from votes in elections. In the former case, only the few are affected; in the latter, only the inconsiderable. But a great official, a great professional, a great military and naval interest, all necessarily comprehending many people of the first weight, ability, wealth, and spirit, has been gradually formed in the kingdom. These new interests must be let into a share of representation, else possibly they may be inclined to destroy those institutions of which they are not permitted to partake. This is not a thing to be trifled with; nor is it every well-meaning man that is fit to put his hands to it. Many other serious considerations occur. I do not open them here, because they are not directly to my purpose; proposing only to give the reader some taste of the difficulties that attend all capital changes in the constitution; just to hint the uncertainty, to say no worse, of being able to prevent the court, as long as it has the means of influence abundantly in its power, of applying that influence to Parliament; and perhaps, if the public method were precluded, of doing it in some worse and more dangerous method. Underhand and oblique ways would be studied. The science of evasion, already tolerably understood, would then be brought to the greatest perfection. It is no inconsiderable part of wisdom, to know how much of an evil ought to be tolerated; lest, by attempting a degree of purity impracticable in degenerate times and manners, instead of cutting off the subsisting ill-practices, new corruptions might be produced for the concealment and security of the old. It were better, undoubtedly, that no influence at all could affect the mind of a member of Parliament. But of all modes of influence, in my opinion, a place under the government is the least disgraceful to the man who holds it, and by far the most safe to the country. I would not shut out that sort of influence which is open and visible, which is connected with the dignity and the service of the state, when it is not in my power to prevent the influence of contracts, of subscriptions, of direct bribery, and those innumerable methods of clandestine corruption, which are abundantly in the hands of the court, and which will be applied as long as these means of corruption, and the disposition to be corrupted, have existence amongst us. Our constitution stands on a nice equipoise, with steep precipices and deep waters upon all sides of it. In removing it from a dangerous leaning towards one side, there may be a risk of oversetting it on the other. Every project of a material change in a government so complicated as ours, combined at the same time with external circumstances still more complicated, is a matter full of difficulties: in which a considerate man will not be too ready to decide; a prudent man too ready to undertake; or an honest man too ready to promise. They do not respect the public nor themselves, who engage for more than they are sure that they ought to attempt, or that they are able to perform. These are my sentiments, weak perhaps, but honest and unbiassed; and submitted entirely to the opinion of grave men, well-affected to the constitution of their country, and of experience in what may best promote or hurt it.
Indeed, in the situation in which we stand, with an immense revenue, an enormous debt, mighty establishments, government itself a great banker and a great merchant, I see no other way for the preservation of a decent attention to public interest in the representatives, but the interposition of the body of the people itself, whenever it shall appear, by some flagrant and notorious act, by some capital innovation, that these representatives are going to overleap the fences of the law, and to introduce an arbitrary power. This interposition is a most unpleasant remedy. But, if it be a legal remedy, it is intended on some occasion to be used; to be used then only, when it is evident that nothing else can hold the constitution to its true principles.
The distempers of monarchy were the great subjects of apprehension and redress, in the last century; in this the distempers of Parliament. It is not in Parliament alone that the remedy for Parliamentary disorders can be completed; hardly indeed can it begin there. Until a confidence in government is re-established, the people ought to be excited to a more strict and detailed attention to the conduct of their representatives. Standards for judging more systematically upon their conduct ought to be settled in the meetings of counties and corporations. Frequent and correct lists of the voters in all important questions ought to be procured.
By such means something may be done. By such means it may appear who those are, that, by an indiscriminate support of all administrations, have totally banished all integrity and confidence out of public proceedings; have confounded the best men with the worst; and weakened and dissolved, instead of strengthening and compacting, the general frame of government. If any person is more concerned for government and order, than for the liberties of his country; even he is equally concerned to put an end to this course of indiscriminate support. It is this blind and undistinguishing support, that feeds the spring of those very disorders, by which he is frightened into the arms of the faction which contains in itself the source of all disorders, by enfeebling all the visible and regular authority of the state. The distemper is increased by his injudicious and preposterous endeavors, or pretences, for the cure of it.
An exterior administration, chosen for its impotency, or after it is chosen purposely rendered impotent, in order to be rendered subservient, will not be obeyed. The laws themselves will not be respected, when those who execute them are despised: and they will be despised, when their power is not immediate from the crown, or natural in the kingdom. Never were ministers better supported in Parliament. Parliamentary support comes and goes with office, totally regardless of the man, or the merit. Is government strengthened? It grows weaker and weaker. The popular torrent gains upon it every hour. Let us learn from our experience. It is not support that is wanting to government, but reformation. When ministry rests upon public opinion, it is not indeed built upon a rock of adamant; it has, however, some stability. But when it stands upon private humor, its structure is of stubble, and its foundation is on quicksand. I repeat it again,—He that supports every administration subverts all government. The reason is this: The whole business in which a court usually takes an interest goes on at present equally well, in whatever hands, whether high or low, wise or foolish, scandalous or reputable; there is nothing therefore to hold it firm to any one body of men, or to any one consistent scheme of politics. Nothing interposes, to prevent the full operation of all the caprices and all the passions of a court upon the servants of the public. The system of administration is open to continual shocks and changes, upon the principles of the meanest cabal, and the most contemptible intrigue. Nothing can be solid and permanent. All good men at length fly with horror from such a service. Men of rank and ability, with the spirit which ought to animate such men in a free state, while they decline the jurisdiction of dark cabal on their actions and their fortunes, will, for both, cheerfully put themselves upon their country. They will trust an inquisitive and distinguishing Parliament; because it does inquire, and does distinguish. If they act well, they know, that, in such a Parliament they will be supported against any intrigue; if they act ill, they know that no intrigue can protect them. This situation, however awful, is honorable. But in one hour, and in the self-same assembly, without any assigned or assignable cause, to be precipitated from the highest authority to the most marked neglect, possibly into the greatest peril of life and reputation, is a situation full of danger, and destitute of honor. It will be shunned equally by every man of prudence, and every man of spirit.
Such are the consequences of the division of court from the administration; and of the division of public men among themselves. By the former of these, lawful government is undone; by the latter, all opposition to lawless power is rendered impotent. Government may in a great measure be restored, if any considerable bodies of men have honesty and resolution enough never to accept administration, unless this garrison of king’s men, which is stationed, as in a citadel, to control and enslave it, be entirely broken and disbanded, and every work they have thrown up be levelled with the ground. The disposition of public men to keep this corps together, and to act under it, or to co-operate with it, is a touchstone by which every administration ought in future to be tried. There has not been one which has not sufficiently experienced the utter incompatibility of that faction with the public peace, and with all the ends of good government: since, if they opposed it, they soon lost every power of serving the crown; if they submitted to it, they lost all the esteem of their country. Until ministers give to the public a full proof of their entire alienation from that system, however plausible their pretences, we may be sure they are more intent on the emoluments than the duties of office. If they refuse to give this proof, we know of what stuff they are made. In this particular, it ought to be the electors’ business to look to their representatives. The electors ought to esteem it no less culpable in their member to give a single vote in Parliament to such an administration, than to take an office under it; to endure it, than to act in it. The notorious infidelity and versatility of members of Parliament, in their opinions of men and things, ought in a particular manner to be considered by the electors in the inquiry which is recommended to them. This is one of the principal holdings of that destructive system, which has endeavored to unhinge all the virtuous, honorable, and useful connections in the kingdom.
This cabal has, with great success, propagated a doctrine which serves for a color to those acts of treachery; and whilst it receives any degree of countenance it will be utterly senseless to look for a vigorous opposition to the court party. The doctrine is this: That all political connections are in their nature factious, and as such ought to be dissipated and destroyed; and that the rule for forming administrations is more personal ability, rated by the judgment of this cabal upon it, and taken by draughts from every division and denomination of public men. This decree was solemnly promulgated by the head of the court corps, the Earl of Bute himself, in a speech which he made, in the year 1766, against the then administration, the only administration which he has ever been known directly and publicly to oppose.
It is indeed in no way wonderful, that such persons should make such declarations. That connection and faction are equivalent terms, is an opinion which has been carefully inculcated at all times by unconstitutional statesmen. The reason is evident. Whilst men are linked together, they easily and speedily communicate the alarm of any evil design. They are enabled to fathom it with common counsel, and to oppose it with united strength. Whereas, when they lie dispersed, without concert, order, or discipline, communication is uncertain, counsel difficult, and resistance impracticable. Where men are not acquainted with each other’s principles, nor experienced in each other’s talents, nor at all practised in their mutual habitudes and dispositions by joint efforts in business; no personal confidence, no friendship, no common interest, subsisting among them; it is evidently impossible that they can act a public part with uniformity, perseverance, or efficacy. In a connection, the most inconsiderable man, by adding to the weight of the whole, has his value, and his use; out of it, the greatest talents are wholly unserviceable to the public. No man, who is not inflamed by vainglory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavors are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.
It is not enough in a situation of trust in the commonwealth, that a man means well to his country; it is not enough that in his single person he never did an evil act, but always voted according to his conscience, and even harangued against every design which he apprehended to be prejudicial to the interests of his country. This innoxious and ineffectual character, that seems formed upon a plan of apology and disculpation, falls miserably short of the mark of public duty. That duty demands and requires, that what is right should not only be made known, but made prevalent; that what is evil should not only be detected, but defeated. When the public man omits to put himself in a situation of doing his duty with effect, it is an omission that frustrates the purposes of his trust almost as much as if he had formally betrayed it. It is surely no very rational account of a man’s life, that he has always acted right; but has taken special care, to act in such a manner that his endeavors could not possibly be productive of any consequence.
I do not wonder that the behavior of many parties should have made persons of tender and scrupulous virtue somewhat out of humor with all sorts of connection in politics. I admit that people frequently acquire in such confederacies a narrow, bigoted, and prescriptive spirit; that they are apt to sink the idea of the general good in this circumscribed and partial interest. But, where duty renders a critical situation a necessary one, it is our business to keep free from the evils attendant upon it; and not to fly from the situation itself. If a fortress is seated in an unwholesome air, an officer of the garrison is obliged to be attentive to his health, but he must not desert his station. Every profession, not excepting the glorious one of a soldier, or the sacred one of a priest, is liable to its own particular vices; which, however, form no argument against those ways of life; nor are the vices themselves inevitable to every individual in those professions. Of such a nature are connections in politics; essentially necessary for the full performance of our public duty, accidentally liable to degenerate into faction. Commonwealths are made of families, free commonwealths of parties also; and we may as well affirm, that our natural regards and ties of blood tend inevitably to make men bad citizens, as that the bonds of our party weaken those by which we are held to our country.
Some legislators went so far as to make neutrality in party a crime against the state. I do not know whether this might not have been rather to overstrain the principle. Certain it is, the best patriots in the greatest commonwealths have always commended and promoted such connections. Idem sentire de republica, was with them a principal ground of friendship and attachment; nor do I know any other capable of forming firmer, dearer, more pleasing, more honorable, and more virtuous habitudes. The Romans carried this principle a great way. Even the holding of offices together, the disposition of which arose from chance, not selection, gave rise to a relation which continued for life. It was called necessitudo sortis; and it was looked upon with a sacred reverence. Breaches of any of these kinds of civil relation were considered as acts of the most distinguished turpitude. The whole people was distributed into political societies, in which they acted in support of such interests in the state as they severally affected. For it was then thought no crime to endeavor by every honest means to advance to superiority and power those of your own sentiments and opinions. This wise people was far from imagining that those connections had no tie, and obliged to no duty; but that men might quit them without shame, upon every call of interest. They believed private honor to be the great foundation of public trust; that friendship was no mean step towards patriotism; that he who, in the common intercourse of life, showed he regarded somebody besides himself, when he came to act in a public situation, might probably consult some other interest than his own. Never may we become plus sages que les sages, as the French comedian has happily expressed it, wiser than all the wise and good men who have lived before us. It was their wish, to see public and private virtues, not dissonant and jarring, and mutually destructive, but harmoniously combined, growing out of one another in a noble and orderly gradation, reciprocally supporting and supported. In one of the most fortunate periods of our history this country was governed by a connection; I mean, the great connection of Whigs in the reign of Queen Anne. They were complimented upon the principle of this connection by a poet who was in high esteem with them. Addison, who knew their sentiments, could not praise them for what they considered as no proper subject of commendation. As a poet who knew his business, he could not applaud them for a thing which in general estimation was not highly reputable. Addressing himself to Britain,—
“Thy favorites grow not up by fortune’s sport,
Or from the crimes or follies of a court.
On the firm basis of desert they rise,
From long-tried faith, and friendship’s holy ties.”
The Whigs of those days believed that the only proper method of rising into power was through hard essays of practised friendship and experimented fidelity. At that time it was not imagined, that patriotism was a bloody idol, which required the sacrifice of children and parents, or dearest connections in private life, and of all the virtues that rise from those relations. They were not of that ingenious paradoxical morality, to imagine that a spirit of moderation was properly shown in patiently bearing the sufferings of your friends; or that disinterestedness was clearly manifested at the expense of other people’s fortune. They believed that no men could act with effect, who did not act in concert; that no men could act in concert, who did not act with confidence; that no men could act with confidence, who were not bound together by common opinions, common affections, and common interests.
These wise men, for such I must call Lord Sunderland, Lord Godolphin, Lord Somers, and Lord Marlborough, were too well principled in these maxims upon which the whole fabric of public strength is built, to be blown off their ground by the breath of every childish talker. They were not afraid that they should be called an ambitious junto; or that their resolution to stand or fall together should, by placemen, be interpreted into a scuffle for places.
Party is a body of men united for promoting by their joint endeavors the national interest upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed. For my part, I find it impossible to conceive, that any one believes in his own politics, or thinks them to be of any weight, who refuses to adopt the means of having them reduced into practice. It is the business of the speculative philosopher to mark the proper ends of government. It is the business of the politician, who is the philosopher in action, to find out proper means towards those ends, and to employ them with effect. Therefore every honorable connection will avow it is their first purpose, to pursue every just method to put the men who hold their opinions into such a condition as may enable them to carry their common plans into execution, with all the power and authority of the state. As this power is attached to certain situations, it is their duty to contend for these situations. Without a proscription of others, they are bound to give to their own party the preference in all things; and by no means, for private considerations, to accept any offers of power in which the whole body is not included; nor to suffer themselves to be led, or to be controlled, or to be overbalanced, in office or in council, by those who contradict the very fundamental principles on which their party is formed, and even those upon which every fair connection must stand. Such a generous contention for power, on such manly and honorable maxims, will easily be distinguished from the mean and interested struggle for place and emolument. The very style of such persons will serve to discriminate them from those numberless impostors, who have deluded the ignorant with professions incompatible with human practice, and have afterwards incensed them by practices below the level of vulgar rectitude.
It is an advantage to all narrow wisdom and narrow morals, that their maxims have a plausible air: and, on a cursory view, appear equal to first principles. They are light and portable. They are as current as copper coin; and about as valuable. They serve equally the first capacities and the lowest; and they are, at least, as useful to the worst men as to the best. Of this stamp is the cant of Not men, but measures; a sort of charm by which many people get loose from every honorable engagement. When I see a man acting this desultory and disconnected part, with as much detriment to his own fortune as prejudice to the cause of any party, I am not persuaded that he is right; but I am ready to believe he is in earnest. I respect virtue in all its situations; even when it is found in the unsuitable company of weakness. I lament to see qualities, rare and valuable, squandered away without any public utility. But when a gentleman with great visible emoluments abandons the party in which he has long acted, and tells you, it is because he proceeds upon his own judgment; that he acts on the merits of the several measures as they arise; and that he is obliged to follow his own conscience, and not that of others; he gives reasons which it is impossible to controvert, and discovers a character which it is impossible to mistake. What shall we think of him who never differed from a certain set of men until the moment they lost their power, and who never agreed with them in a single instance afterwards? Would not such a coincidence of interest and opinion be rather fortunate? Would it not be an extraordinary cast upon the dice, that a man’s connections should degenerate into faction, precisely at the critical moment when they lose their power, or he accepts a place? When people desert their connections, the desertion is a manifest fact, upon which a direct simple issue lies, triable by plain men. Whether a measure of government be right or wrong, is no matter of fact, but a mere affair of opinion, on which men may, as they do, dispute and wrangle without end. But whether the individual thinks the measure right or wrong, is a point at still a greater distance from the reach of all human decision. It is therefore very convenient to politicians, not to put the judgment of their conduct on overt acts, cognizable in any ordinary court, but upon such matter as can be triable only in that secret tribunal, where they are sure of being heard with favor, or where at worst the sentence will be only private whipping.
I believe the reader would wish to find no substance in a doctrine which has a tendency to destroy all test of character as deduced from conduct. He will therefore excuse my adding something more, towards the further clearing up a point, which the great convenience of obscurity to dishonesty has been able to cover with some degree of darkness and doubt.
In order to throw an odium on political connection, those politicians suppose it a necessary incident to it, that you are blindly to follow the opinions of your party, when in direct opposition to your own clear ideas; a degree of servitude that no worthy man could bear the thought of submitting to; and such as, I believe, no connections (except some court factions) ever could be so senselessly tyrannical as to impose. Men thinking freely, will, in particular instances, think differently. But still as the greater part of the measures which arise in the course of public business are related to, or dependent on, some great, leading, general principles in government, a man must be peculiarly unfortunate in the choice of his political company, if he does not agree with them at least nine times in ten. If he does not concur in these general principles upon which the party is founded, and which necessarily draw on a concurrence in their application, he ought from the beginning to have chosen some other, more conformable to his opinions. When the question is in its nature doubtful, or not very material, the modesty which becomes an individual, and, (in spite of our court moralists) that partiality which becomes a well-chosen friendship, will frequently bring on an acquiescence in the general sentiment. Thus the disagreement will naturally be rare; it will be only enough to indulge freedom, without violating concord, or disturbing arrangement. And this is all that ever was required for a character of the greatest uniformity and steadiness in connection. How men can proceed without any connection at all, is to me utterly incomprehensible. Of what sort of materials must that man be made, how must he be tempered and put together, who can sit whole years in Parliament, with five hundred and fifty of his fellow-citizens, amidst the storm of such tempestuous passions, in the sharp conflict of so many wits, and tempers, and characters, in the agitation of such mighty questions, in the discussion of such vast and ponderous interests, without seeing any one sort of men, whose character, conduct, or disposition, would lead him to associate himself with them, to aid and be aided, in any one system of public utility?
I remember an old scholastic aphorism, which says, “that the man who lives wholly detached from others, must be either an angel or a devil.” When I see in any of these detached gentlemen of our times the angelic purity, power, and beneficence, I shall admit them to be angels. In the mean time we are born only to be men. We shall do enough if we form ourselves to be good ones. It is therefore our business carefully to cultivate in our minds, to rear to the most perfect vigor and maturity, every sort of generous and honest feeling, that belongs to our nature. To bring the dispositions that are lovely in private life into the service and conduct of the commonwealth; so to be patriots, as not to forget we are gentlemen. To cultivate friendships, and to incur enmities. To have both strong, but both selected: in the one, to be placable; in the other immovable. To model our principles to our duties and our situation. To be fully persuaded, that all virtue which is impracticable is spurious; and rather to run the risk of falling into faults in a course which leads us to act with effect and energy, than to loiter out our days without blame, and without use. Public life is a situation of power and energy; he trespasses against his duty who sleeps upon his watch, as well as he that goes over to the enemy.
There is, however, a time for all things. It is not every conjuncture which calls with equal force upon the activity of honest men; but critical exigencies now and then arise; and I am mistaken, if this be not one of them. Men will see the necessity of honest combination; but they may see it when it is too late. They may embody, when it will be ruinous to themselves, and of no advantage to the country; when, for want of such a timely union as may enable them to oppose in favor of the laws, with the laws on their side, they may at length find themselves under the necessity of conspiring, instead of consulting. The law, for which they stand, may become a weapon in the hands of its bitterest enemies; and they will be cast, at length, into that miserable alternative between slavery and civil confusion, which no good man can look upon without horror; an alternative in which it is impossible he should take either part, with a conscience perfectly at repose. To keep that situation of guilt and remorse at the utmost distance is, therefore, our first obligation. Early activity may prevent late and fruitless violence. As yet we work in the light. The scheme of the enemies of public tranquillity has disarranged, it has not destroyed us.
If the reader believes that there really exists such a faction as I have described; a faction ruling by the private inclinations of a court, against the general sense of the people; and that this faction, whilst it pursues a scheme for undermining all the foundations of our freedom, weakens (for the present at least) all the powers of executory government, rendering us abroad contemptible, and at home distracted; he will believe also, that nothing but a firm combination of public men against this body, and that, too, supported by the hearty concurrence of the people at large, can possibly get the better of it. The people will see the necessity of restoring public men to an attention to the public opinion, and of restoring the constitution to its original principles. Above all, they will endeavor to keep the House of Commons from assuming a character which does not belong to it. They will endeavor to keep that House, for its existence, for its powers, and its privileges, as independent of every other, and as dependent upon themselves, as possible. This servitude is to a House of Commons (like obedience to the Divine law) “perfect freedom.” For if they once quit this natural, rational, and liberal obedience, having deserted the only proper foundation of their power, they must seek a support in an abject and unnatural dependence somewhere else. When, through the medium of this just connection with their constituents, the genuine dignity of the House of Commons is restored, it will begin to think of casting from it, with scorn, as badges of servility, all the false ornaments of illegal power, with which it has been, for some time, disgraced. It will begin to think of its old office of CONTROL. It will not suffer that last of evils to predominate in the country: men without popular confidence, public opinion, natural connection, or mutual trust, invested with all the powers of government.
When they have learned this lesson themselves, they will be willing and able to teach the court, that it is the true interest of the prince to have but one administration; and that one composed of those who recommend themselves to their sovereign through the opinion of their country, and not by their obsequiousness to a favorite. Such men will serve their sovereign with affection and fidelity; because his choice of them, upon such principles, is a compliment to their virtue. They will be able to serve him effectually; because they will add the weight of the country to the force of the executory power. They will be able to serve their king with dignity; because they will never abuse his name to the gratification of their private spleen or avarice. This, with allowances for human frailty, may probably be the general character of a ministry, which thinks itself accountable to the House of Commons; when the House of Commons thinks itself accountable to its constituents. If other ideas should prevail, things must remain in their present confusion, until they are hurried into all the rage of civil violence, or until they sink into the dead repose of despotism.
1 Memoirs of the Duke of Sully, prime-minister to Henry the Great, tom. i. p. 133.
2 “Uxor Hugonis de Nevill dat Domino Regi ducentas Gallinas, eo quod possit jacere una nocte cum Domino suo Hugone de Nevill.”—Thomas Madox, The history and antiquities of the Exchequer of the kings of England, in two periods: to wit, from the Norman conquest, to the end of the reign of K. John; and from the end of the reign of K. John, to the end of the reign of K. Edward II., c. xiii. p. 326.
3 Sentiments of an Honest Man.
4 See the political writings of the late Dr. Brown, and many others.
Politicians of all parties take it for granted today that they must promise changes—naturally, changes for the better. The once mythical radiance of the word “revolution” has faded in our days, but far-reaching reforms are demanded and promised all the more insistently. This must surely mean that there exists in modern society a deep and prevailing sense of dissatisfaction precisely in those places where prosperity and freedom have attained hitherto unknown heights. The world is experienced as hard to bear. It must become better. And it seems that the task of politics is to bring this about. So since the general consensus is that the essential task of politics is to improve the world, indeed to usher in a new world, it is easy to understand why the word “conservative” has become disreputable and why scarcely anyone views lightly the prospect of being called conservative, for it appears that what we must do is not preserve the status quo but overcome it.
TWO VISIONS OF THE POLITICAL TASK: THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE WORLD OR THE PRESERVATION OF ITS ORDER
This fundamental orientation in the modern conception of politics (indeed, of life in general) is in clear contrast to the views of earlier periods, which considered the great task of political activity to be precisely the preservation and defense of the existing order, warding off threats against it. Here, a small linguistic observation may shed light on this matter.
When Christians in the Roman world were looking for a word that could express succinctly and comprehensibly what Jesus Christ meant to them, they discounted the phrase conservator mundi (“conserver of the world”), used in Rome to indicate the essential task and highest service performed in human society. The Christians could not apply this exact title to their Redeemer, nor did they wish to do so, since it was inappropriate as a translation of the words “Messiah / Christ” or as a designation of the Savior of the world. From the perspective of the Roman Empire, the preservation of the ordered structure of the empire against all dangers from within and without had to necessarily be regarded as the most important task of all, because this empire embodied a sphere of peace and law in which it was possible for people to live in security and dignity. And, as a matter of fact, Christians—even as early as the apostolic generation—were aware of the high value of this guarantee of law and peace that the Roman Empire gave them. In view of the looming chaos heralded by the mass migration of peoples, the Church Fathers too were most certainly interested in the survival of the empire, its legal guarantees, and its, peaceful order.
Nevertheless, Christians could not simply want everything to remain exactly as it was. The book of Revelation, which certainly stands on the periphery of the New Testament with its view of the empire, nevertheless made it clear to everyone that there were things that must not be preserved, things that had to be changed. When Christ was called salvator rather than conservator, this had nothing to do with revolutionary political ideas. Yet it did point to the limitations of a mere praxis of preservation and showed a dimension of human existence that went beyond the political functions of maintaining peace and social order.
Let us attempt to move from this snapshot of one way of understanding the essential task of politics onto a rather more fundamental level. Behind the alternative that we have glimpsed somewhat unclearly in the antithesis between the titles conservator and salvator, we can in fact discern two different visions of what political and ethical conduct can and ought to do. Here it is not only the relationship between politics and morality that is viewed differently but also the interlocking of politics, religion, and morality.
On the one hand, we have the static vision that aims to conserve. It is seen perhaps most clearly in the Chinese understanding of the universe: the ordering of heaven, which always remains the same, prescribes the standards for behavior on earth too. This is the Tao, the law of existence and reality that human beings must recognize and that must govern their conduct. The Tao is both a cosmic and an ethical law. It guarantees the harmony between heaven and earth and, thus, also harmony in political and social life. Disorder, the disturbance of peace, and chaos arise where people resist the Tao, living in disregard of it or even opposition to it. In response to such disturbances and destructions of societal life, the Tao must be reestablished so that the world can once again be livable. The vital issue is to remain aware of the constant ordering of things or to return to it if it has been abandoned.
The Indian concept of dharma expresses something similar. This term designates cosmic as well as ethical and social ordering to which human beings must adapt if life is to be led aright. Buddhism relativized this vision—which is at the same time cosmic, political, and religious—by declaring the entire world to be a cycle of suffering; salvation is not to be sought in the cosmos but by departing from it. But Buddhism did not create any new political vision, since the endeavor to attain salvation is nonworldly, orientated to nirvana. No new models are proposed for the world as such.
The faith of Israel takes a different path. In the covenant with Noah it does indeed recognize something akin to a cosmic ordering and the promise that this will be maintained. But for the faith of Israel itself, the orientation to the future becomes ever clearer. It is not that which abides perpetually, a “today” that is always the same, that is seen as the sphere of salvation, but rather a “tomorrow,” the future that has not yet arrived. The book of Daniel, probably written in the course of the second century before Christ, presents two great theological visions of history that were to play a very significant role in the further development of political and religious thinking. In the second chapter, we have the vision of the statue that is part gold, part silver, part iron, and, finally, part clay. These four elements symbolize a succession of four kingdoms, all of which are ultimately crushed by a stone that, untouched by human hands, breaks off from a mountain and grinds everything completely to dust so that the wind carries off all that remains, and no trace of the kingdoms can be found. The stone now becomes a high mountain and fills all the earth—the symbol of a kingdom that the God of heaven and earth will establish and that will never pass away (2:44). In the seventh chapter of the same book, the sequence of the kingdoms is depicted in a perhaps even more impressive image as the succession of four animals who are finally judged by God, portrayed as the “Ancient of Days.” The four animals—the four mighty empires of world history—had emerged from the sea, which is a metaphor for the power of death to pose a forceful threat to life. But after the judgment comes the human being (the “son of man”) from heaven, to whom all peoples, nations, and languages will be handed over to form a kingdom that is eternal and imperishable, never to pass.
While the eternal orderings of the cosmos play a role in the conceptions of the Tao and dharma, the idea of “history” is wholly absent. In the here and now, however, “history” is perceived as a genuine reality that is not reducible to the cosmos. With this anthropological and dynamic reality, which had never been glimpsed in an earlier period, “history” offers a completely different vision. It is clear that such an idea of a historical sequence of kingdoms as gluttonous animals in more and more terrible forms could not have developed in one of the dominant peoples. Rather, it presupposes for its sociological driving force a people that is itself threatened by the greed of these animals and that has also experienced a succession of powers that called into question its very right to existence. This vision belongs to the oppressed, who are on the lookout for a turning point in history and cannot have any desire for the preservation of the status quo. In Daniel’s vision, the turning point of history is not the work of political or military activity, for the quite simple reason that the human forces necessary for the task do not exist. It is only through God’s intervention that things are changed: the stone that destroys the kingdoms is detached from a mountain “by no human hand” (2:34). The Church Fathers read this as a mysterious prediction of the birth of Jesus from the Virgin, which was the work of God’s power alone. In Christ they see the stone that ultimately becomes a mountain and fills the whole earth.
The cosmic visions simply see the Tao or dharma as the power of the divine, as the “divine” itself. But the new element now is not only the appearance of the reality of a “history” that is not reducible to the cosmos, but also this third element—which is also the first, namely, an active God in whom the oppressed put their hope. We see as early as the books of Maccabees, roughly datable to the same period as Daniel’s visions, that the human person must also take God’s cause into his own hand by means of political and military action. In parts of the Qumran literature the merging of theological hope and human action becomes even clearer. Later on, the struggle of Bar Kochba signifies an unambiguous politicization of messianism: to bring about the turning point in history, God makes use of a “messiah” whom he commissions and empowers to bring in the new order of things by means of active political and military conduct. The “sacred empire” of the Christians, in both its Byzantine and its Latin variants, could not adopt such ideas, nor did it wish to do so. Rather, the primary aim was, again, the preservation of the order of the world, now explained in Christian terms. At the same time, they believed that they were now living in the sixth age of the world, its old age, and that one day the other world would come. This, God’s eighth day, was already running alongside history and would one day definitively replace it.
THE REBIRTH OF APOCALYPTICISM IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
Apocalypticism—with its refusal to accept the dominant powers of the world and its hope for healing through the overthrow of those powers—never disappeared completely. It reemerged, independent from religion or in opposition to it, from the eighteenth century onward. We encounter its radical form in Marxism, which can be said to follow Daniel to the extent that it offers a negative evaluation of all previous history as a story of oppression and presupposes as its sociological subjects the class of the exploited, both the industrial workers who long enjoyed very few rights and the dependent agricultural laborers. In a remarkable transposition, the reasons for which have not yet been sufficiently reflected on, Marxism became increasingly the religion of the intellectuals, while reforms gave the workers rights that made revolution—that great breaking away from the contemporary form of history—irrelevant. Workers no longer needed the stone that would destroy the kingdoms; they set their hopes rather on Daniel’s other image, that of the lion that was set upright on its feet like a human being and received a human heart (7:4). Reform replaced revolution: if the lion has been given a human heart and has laid aside its feral character, then one can live with it. In the world of the intellectuals, most of whom were well off, the rejection of reform became all the louder, and revolution increasingly took on a divine quality. They demanded something completely new; reality as it was evoked a strange feeling of surfeit (and here too we might profitably reflect on the reasons for this feeling).
After all the disappointments prompted in recent years by the collapse of “real socialism,” positivism and relativism have now undeniably gained the upper hand. In place of Utopian dreams and ideals, today we find a pragmatism that is determined to extract from the world the maximum satisfaction possible. This, however, does not make it pointless to consider once again the characteristics of the secular messianism that appeared on the world stage in Marxism, because it still leads a ghostly existence deep in the souls of many people, and it has the potential to emerge again and again in new forms.
The foundation of this new conception of history rests, on the one hand, on the doctrine of evolution, transferred to the historical sphere, and, on the other hand (linked with that), on a Hegelian belief in progress. The connection to the doctrine of evolution means that history is seen in biologic, indeed in materialistic and deterministic terms: it has its laws and its course, which can be resisted but not ultimately thwarted. Evolution has replaced God here. “God” now means development, progress. But this progress—here Hegel makes his appearance—is realized in dialectical changes; in the last analysis, it too is understood in deterministic terms. The final dialectical move is the leap from the history of oppression into the definitive history of salvation—to employ Daniel’s language, we might call this the step from the animals to the “son of man.” The kingdom of the “son of man” is now called the “classless society.” Although the dialectical leaps occur of necessity, like events in nature, they are made concrete through political means. The political equivalent to the dialectical leap is revolution, which is a concept antithetical to that of reform. One must reject the idea of reform, because it suggests that the animal has been given a human heart, and one need no longer fight against it. Reforms destroy revolutionary enthusiasm, and this is why they are opposed to the inherent logic of history. They are “involution” instead of evolution and, hence, ultimately the enemies of progress. Revolution and Utopia—the anticipation that reaches out to grasp the perfect world—belong together. They are the concrete form taken by this new political and secular messianism. The future is an idol that devours the present; revolution is an idol that obstructs all rational political activity aimed at the genuine amelioration of the world. The theological vision of Daniel, indeed of apocalypticism in general, has been transmuted into something at once secular and mythical, since these two fundamental political ideas—revolution and Utopia—present a thoroughly antirational myth when they are combined with evolution and dialectics. Demythologization is urgently needed so that politics can carry on its business in a genuinely rational way.
THE POSITION TAKEN BY THE NEW TESTAMENT WRITINGS
In relation to the perspective of Daniel and of political messianisms, what position is taken by Christian faith? What is its vision of history, or its vision for our historical activity? Before I attempt to formulate a brief evaluation, we must look at the most important texts in the New Testament. No great analytical gifts are required to distinguish two groups of texts. On the one hand, we have the texts of the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, which display the most distant connections with apocalypticism. On the other hand, we have the Revelation of John, which—as its very name, Apokalypsis, shows—belongs to the apocalyptic trajectory. It is well known that the texts of the apostolic letters, in agreement with the view proposed in the Gospels, are utterly free from any trace of revolutionary fervor. Indeed, they are clearly opposed to this: the two fundamental texts, Romans 13:1-6 and 1 Peter 2:13-17, are completely unambiguous, and this has made them offensive to all revolutionaries. Romans 13 demands that everyone (literally, “every soul”) submit to the existing authorities, since “there is no authority except from God.” This makes resistance to worldly authority a resistance to something God has ordained. Hence, it is not only because of external coercion that one must submit but also “for the sake of one’s conscience.” In very similar terms, 1 Peter demands submission to the legitimate authorities “for the Lord’s sake. . . . For it is God’s will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil.” Neither Paul nor Peter expresses an uncritical glorification of the Roman state. While they do insist strongly on the divine origin of the legal ordering of the state, they are far from divinizing the state itself. It is precisely because they see the limits on the state, which is not God and may not behave as if it were God, that they acknowledge its ordering function and its ethical character.
These texts are in a good biblical tradition. We may think here of Jeremiah, who exhorts the exiled Israelites to be loyal to the state of Babylon, which is their oppressor, since this state guarantees law and peace and, thereby, also the relative welfare of Israel—a welfare that is necessary if it is one day to be restored as a people. We may think of Second Isaiah, who does not disdain to call Cyrus God’s “anointed.” The king of the Persians, who does not know the God of Israel and who is prompted by purely pragmatic political considerations when he sends the people back to their native land, is acting as God’s instrument, since he is endeavoring to establish the correct state of affairs. It is on these lines that Jesus answers the Pharisees and the Herodians when they pose the controversial question of paying taxes: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Mark 12:13-17). Since the Roman emperor is the guarantor of law, he has a claim to obedience, though of course Jesus at once specifies the boundaries of the sphere in which one is obliged to obey: there are things that belong to Caesar and things that belong to God. If the emperor exalts himself to a divine position, he has gone beyond his proper limits, and obedience would then amount to a denial of God. Finally, Jesus’ reply to Pilate belongs here too. The Lord acknowledges in his words to this unjust judge that the authority to exercise the judicial office, which is at the service of the law, can be bestowed only from above (John 19:11).
Our overview of these texts shows that they hold a very sober view of the state. The personal faith or the subjective good intentions of the organs of the state are not what count. To the extent that they guarantee peace and the rule of law they are in accordance with divine ordinance. In today’s terminology, we would say that they represent an ordinance of Creation. It is precisely in its profane character that the state must be respected; it is required by the fact that man is essentially a social and political being. This idea has its basis in the essence of man and hence is in keeping with Creation. At the same time, this entails a limitation on the state. The state has its own sphere, within which it must remain; it must respect the higher law of God. The refusal to adore the emperor and the refusal in general to worship the state are on the most fundamental level simply a rejection of the totalitarian state.
This distinction is made with particular clarity in 1 Peter, when the apostle says: “Let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker; yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God” (4:15-16). The Christian is obligated to the legal order of the state, since this is an ethical ordering. To suffer “as a Christian” is a different matter: where the state imposes penalties on the Christian simply for being a Christian, it rules no longer as a preserver of the law but as its destroyer. And then it is no disgrace to be punished, but rather an honor. One who suffers in this manner is following Christ precisely in his suffering. The crucified Christ indicates the boundaries to the power of the state and shows where its rights terminate and resistance in the form of suffering becomes a necessity. The faith of the New Testament acknowledges not the revolutionary but the martyr who recognizes both the authority of the state and also its limits. His resistance consists in doing everything that serves to promote law and an ordered life in society, even when this means obeying authorities who are indifferent or hostile to his faith; but he will not obey when he is commanded to do what is evil, that is, to oppose the will of God. His is not the resistance of active force, but the resistance of the one who is willing to suffer for the will of God. The resistance fighter who dies with his weapon in his hand is not a martyr in the New Testament sense.
We find the same position when we study other texts of the New Testament that deal with the problem of the Christian attitude toward the state. Titus 3:1 says, “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for any honest work.” An especially significant text is 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12, where the apostle warns against those who—no doubt under the pretext that as Christians they were awaiting the return of the Lord—were unwilling to work or do anything useful. He exhorts them “to do their work in quietness,” for: “If any one will not work, let him not eat.” An excessively enthusiastic eschatology is soberly cut down to size. An important aspect is also mentioned in 1 Timothy 2:2, where Christians are admonished to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life.”
Two things are made clear here: First, Christians pray for kings and other persons in authority, but they do not pray to the king. If this text is from Paul himself, it comes from the reign of Nero; if it is dated later, it may be from the reign of Domitian. Both these emperors were tyrants who hated the Christians, and yet Christians pray for the ruler so that he may be able to fulfill his task. Naturally, they refuse to obey him if he makes himself a god. Second, the task of the state is formulated in an exceptionally sober, indeed almost banal, manner: it must ensure peace at home and abroad. As I have said, this may sound somewhat banal, and yet it articulates an essential moral demand: peace at home and abroad is possible only when the fundamental legal rights of the individual and of society are guaranteed.
Let us now attempt to see how these biblical affirmations are related to the perspective that we have encountered above. I believe that we can say two things here. We find only indirectly the dynamic view of history held by apocalyptic literature and the messianic hopes. Messianism is fundamentally modified by the figure of Jesus. It remains politically relevant, because it marks the point at which martyrdom becomes necessary and a limit is set to the claims that the state is entitled to make. Every martyrdom, however, is subject to the promise made by the risen Christ, who will come again in glory, and this means that martyrdom points beyond the existing world to a new, definitive fellowship that men will enjoy with God and with one another. This limitation of the power of the state and the opening of the horizon onto a future new world do not, however, abolish the existing order of the state, which must continue to govern on the basis of natural reason and of its own logic. This order is valid as long as history lasts. The enthusiastic messianism of an eschatological and revolutionary character is absolutely foreign to the New Testament. History is, so to speak, the kingdom where reason rules. Although politics does not bring about the kingdom of God, it must be concerned for the right kingdom of human beings, that is, it must create the preconditions for peace at home and abroad and for a rule of law that will permit everyone to “lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way” (1 Tim. 2:2). One could say that this also implies the demand of religious freedom. Similarly, the text is confident that reason can recognize the essential moral foundations of human existence and can implement these in the political domain. Here we see a point of contact with the positions that declare the Tao or dharma to be the foundation of the state, and this made it possible for Christians to adopt the Stoic idea of an ethical natural law, which won acceptance for similar ideas in the context of Greek philosophy. The dynamic quality attributed to history that becomes particularly visible in the book of Daniel does not see history in simple cosmic terms but interprets it as a dynamic of good and evil in an advancing movement. This remains present, thanks to the messianic hope. It clarifies the ethical criteria of politics and indicates the boundaries of political power. Through the horizon of hope, which it makes visible both beyond and in history, it gives the courage needed for right action and for right suffering. Thus we can speak here of a synthesis of the cosmic and the historical view.
I believe that this allows us to make a precise definition of the boundary between Christian apocalypticism and non-Christian, gnostic apocalypticism. Apocalypticism is Christian if it preserves the connection with Creation faith. Where Creation faith, with its consistency and its trust in reason, is abandoned, Christian faith is transformed into gnosis. Given this fundamental decision, we no doubt find a vast spectrum of variations, but the basic option is the same. I cannot offer an analysis of all the texts of the Revelation of John here, but I would argue that although the vigor of its call to resistance differentiates it from the apostolic letters, nevertheless it remains very clearly within the Christian option.
CONSEQUENCES FOR CHRISTIAN INVOLVEMENT IN POLITICS
What consequences may we infer from this for the connection between political vision and political praxis today? One might no doubt write an immensely long monograph on this topic, but I do not feel that that is my task. I would like to offer two theses, indicating as briefly as possible how the consequences of what I have written might be translated into action today.
- Politics is the realm of reason—not of a merely technological, calculating reason, but of moral reason, since the goal of the state, and hence the ultimate goal of all politics, has a moral nature, namely, peace and justice. This means that moral reason (or, perhaps better, the rational insight into what serves justice and peace, i.e., what is moral) must be activated ever anew and defended against anything that might lend obscurity and thus paralyze the capacity for moral insight. One-sided interests form alliances with power and generate myths in various forms that present themselves as the true path to the moral dimension in politics. But in reality, these are blind spots of those who exercise power—and they make other people blind too.
In the twentieth century, we experienced the formation of two great myths with terrible consequences: racism, with its lying promise of salvation, propagated by National Socialism, and the divinization of revolution against the background of dialectical historical evolutionism. In both cases, the primal moral insights of man into good and evil were dismissed. We were told that whatever served the superiority of the race, or anything that served to bring about the future world, was “good,” even if the previous insights of mankind would have called it “bad.”
After the disappearance of the great ideologies from the world stage, today’s political myths are less clearly defined. But even now there exist mythical forms of genuine values that appear credible precisely because their starting point is these values. They are dangerous because they offer a onesided version of these values in a way that can only be termed mythical. I would say that in people’s general consciousness today, there are three dominant values that are presented in a mythical one-sidedness that puts moral reason at risk. These three are progress, science, and freedom.
Progress has always been a word with a mythical ring. It continues to be portrayed insistently as the norm of political activity and of human behavior in general and as their highest moral qualification. Anyone who looks even at only the last hundred years cannot deny that immense progress has been made in medicine, in technology, and in the understanding and harnessing of the forces of nature, and one may hope for further progress. At the same time, however, the ambivalence of this progress is obvious. Progress is beginning to put Creation—the basis of our existence—at risk; it creates inequality among human beings, and it generates ever new threats to the world and humanity. This makes moral controls of progress indispensable. But what are the criteria here?
That is the question. In the first place, we must recognize that progress concerns the dealings of man with the material world. As such, it does not bring forth the new man or the new society, as Marxism and liberalism taught. Man, precisely as man, remains the same both in primitive and in technologically developed situations. He does not stand on a higher level merely because he has learned to use more highly developed tools. Mankind begins anew in every single individual. This is why it is not possible for the definitively new, ideal society to exist—that society built on progress, which not only was the hope of the great ideologies, but increasingly became the general object of human hope once hope in a life after death had been dismantled. A definitively ideal society presupposes the end of freedom. But since man always remains free and begins anew in every generation, we have to struggle in each new situation to establish the right societal form. This is why the realm of politics is concerned with the present, not with the future. It touches on the future only to the extent that today’s politics attempts to create forms of law and of peace that can also survive tomorrow and will invite people to similar new elaborations that pick up and carry on the achievements that have been made. But we cannot guarantee this. I believe that it is essential to call to mind these limits on progress and to close the door to a false escape into the future.
The second concept I would like to mention here is science. Science is an immensely good thing precisely because it is a controlled form of rationality that is confirmed by experience. But there exist also pathological forms of science that deprive man of all honor, when scientific capabilities are put at the service of power. Science can also serve inhumanity! Here we may recall the weapons of mass destruction, medical experiments on human beings, or the treatment of a person merely as a store of usable organs. Accordingly, it must be clear that science too is subject to moral criteria and that its true nature is lost wherever the only criterion to which it adheres is power or commerce—or even merely success—instead of human dignity.
Third, we have the concept of freedom. It too has often taken on mythical traits in the modern period. Freedom is often thought of as something anarchical, something simply opposed to institutions. This makes it an idol, since human freedom can never be anything other than a freedom expressed in the right way of living in common—freedom in justice. Otherwise, it becomes a lie and leads to slavery.
- We are continually obliged to undertake new demythologizing in order that reason may truly come into its own. Yet here again is another myth that must be unmasked, one that confronts us with the ultimately decisive question of rational politics. In many cases, perhaps in virtually all cases, a majority decision is the “most rational” way to achieve common solutions. But the majority cannot be an ultimate principle, since there are values that no majority is entitled to annul. It can never be right to kill innocent persons, and no power can make this legitimate. Here too, what is ultimately at stake is the defense of reason. Reason—that is, moral reason—is above the majority. But how is it possible to discern these ultimate values that are the basis of all “rational” and morally correct politics and are therefore binding on every person, irrespective of how majorities may shift and change? What are these values?
Constitutional theory in classical antiquity, in the Middle Ages, and even in the conflicts of the modern period, has appealed to the natural law that can be known by “right reason” (ratio recta). Today, however, this “right reason” seems to have ceased delivering answers to our questions, and natural law is considered, no longer as accessible to the insight of all persons, but rather as a specifically Catholic doctrine. This signifies a crisis of political reason, which is a crisis of politics as such. It seems that all that exists today is partisan reason, no longer a reason common to all men, at least as far as the great fundamental structures of values are concerned. All who bear responsibility for peace and justice in the world—and in the last analysis, that means all of us—have the urgent task of working to overcome this state of affairs. This endeavor is by no means hopeless, since reason itself will always make its voice heard against the abuse of power and one-sided partisanship.
There exists today an altered canon of values, which in practice is not called into question but which remains too imprecise and has its blind spots. The triad “peace, justice, and preservation of Creation” is universally recognized, but its contents remain completely vague. What serves the cause of peace? What is justice? How are we to preserve Creation in the best possible way? Other values acknowledged by virtually everyone are the equality of men regardless of race, the equal dignity of the sexes, and freedom of thought and belief. Here, too, the substance of these values is not always clear, and this could come to pose a threat to the freedom of thought and faith. Nevertheless, the fundamental tendencies here are important and deserve our approval.
One essential point remains controversial, namely, the right to life for every person, the inviolability of human life in all its phases. In the name of freedom and in the name of science, increasingly serious holes are being torn in this right. Where abortion is considered a right inherent in human freedom, this means that the freedom of one person is given priority over the other’s right to life. Where experiments on unborn human beings are demanded in the name of science, the dignity of man is denied and trampled on precisely in those who are most defenseless. It is here that the concepts of freedom and science must be demythologized if we are not to lose the foundations of all law, respect for man and for his dignity.
A second blind spot is the freedom to scorn what other people regard as holy. We can be very grateful that no one in our country can permit himself to mock that which is holy to Jews or Muslims. But many seem to view as one of the basic rights of human freedom the right to pull down from its pedestal what Christians regard as holy and to heap it with ridicule. And there is yet another blind spot: marriage and family no longer seem to be fundamental values of a modern society. It is urgently necessary to fill in the gaps in the list of values that our society appreciates and to demythologize those values that have undergone a mythical distortion.
In my debate with the philosopher Arcais de Flores, we touched precisely on this point: the limitations of the principle of consensus. The philosopher could not deny that there exist values that even a majority must simply accept. But what are these values? Confronted with this problem, the moderator of the debate, Gad Lerner, asked, “Why not take the Ten Commandments as a criterion?” It is perfectly correct to point out that the Decalogue is not the private property of Christians or Jews: it is a sublime expression of moral reason, and as such it finds echoes in the wisdom of the other great cultures. To take the Ten Commandments as our criterion might be a tremendous help in healing reason so that “right reason” may once again get to work.
This also makes clear what faith can contribute to correct politics. Faith does not make reason superfluous, but it can contribute evidence of essential values. Through the experiment of a life in faith, these values acquire a credibility that also illuminates and heals reason. In the last century (as in every century), it was in fact the testimony of the martyrs that limited the excesses of power, thus making a decisive contribution to what we might call the convalescence of reason.
From Values in a Time of Upheaval: Meeting the Challenges of the Future
Excerpt from Politics as a Vocation
One can say that three pre-eminent qualities are decisive for the politician: passion, a feeling of responsibility, and a sense of proportion.
This means passion in the sense of matter-of-factness, of passionate devotion to a ‘cause,’ to the god or demon who is its overlord. It is not passion in the sense of that inner bearing which my late friend, Georg Simmel, used to designate as ‘sterile excitation,’ and which was peculiar especially to a certain type of Russian intellectual (by no means all of them!). It is an excitation that plays so great a part with our intellectuals in this carnival we decorate with the proud name of ‘revolution.’ It is a ‘romanticism of the intellectually interesting,’ running into emptiness devoid of all feeling of objective responsibility.
To be sure, mere passion, however genuinely felt, is not enough. It does not make a politician, unless passion as devotion to a ‘cause’ also makes responsibility to this cause the guiding star of action. And for this, a sense of proportion is needed. This is the decisive psychological quality of the politician: his ability to let realities work upon him with inner concentration and calmness. Hence his distance to things and men. ‘Lack of distance’ per se is one of the deadly sins of every politician. It is one of those qualities the breeding of which will condemn the progeny of our intellectuals to political incapacity. For the problem is simply how can warm passion and a cool sense of proportion be forged together in one and the same soul? Politics is made with the head, not with other parts of the body or soul. And yet devotion to politics, if it is not to be frivolous intellectual play but rather genuinely human conduct, can be born and nourished from passion alone. However, that firm taming of the soul, which distinguishes the passionate politician and differentiates him from the ‘sterilely excited’ and mere political dilettante, is possible only through habituation to detachment in every sense of the word. The ‘strength’ of a political ‘personality’ means, in the first place, the possession of these qualities of passion, responsibility, and proportion.
Therefore, daily and hourly, the politician inwardly has to overcome a quite trivial and all-too-human enemy: a quite vulgar vanity, the deadly enemy of all matter of-fact devotion to a cause, and of all distance, in this case, of distance towards one’s self.
Vanity is a very widespread quality and perhaps nobody is entirely free from it. In academic and scholarly circles, vanity is a sort of occupational disease, but precisely with the scholar, vanity–however disagreeably it may express itself–is relatively harmless; in the sense that as a rule it does not disturb scientific enterprise. With the politician the case is quite different. He works with the striving for power as an unavoidable means. Therefore, ‘power instinct,’ as is usually said, belongs indeed to his normal qualities. The sin against the lofty spirit of his vocation, however, begins where this striving for power ceases to be objective and becomes purely personal self-intoxication, instead of exclusively entering the service of ‘the cause.’ For ultimately there are only two kinds of deadly sins in the field of politics: lack of objectivity and–often but not always identical with it–irresponsibility. Vanity, the need personally to stand in the foreground as clearly as possible, strongly tempts the politician to commit one or both of these sins. This is more truly the case as the demagogue is compelled to count upon ‘effect.’ He therefore is constantly in danger of becoming an actor as well as taking lightly the responsibility for the outcome of his actions and of being concerned merely with the ‘impression’ he makes. His lack of objectivity tempts him to strive for the glamorous semblance of power rather than for actual power. His irresponsibility, however, suggests that he enjoy power merely for power’s sake without a substantive purpose. Although, or rather just because, power is the unavoidable means, and striving for power is one of the driving forces of all politics, there is no more harmful distortion of political force than the parvenu-like braggart with power, and the vain self-reflection in the feeling of power, and in general every worship of power per se. The mere ‘power politician’ may get strong effects, but actually his work leads nowhere and is senseless. (Among us, too, an ardently promoted cult seeks to glorify him.) In this, the critics of ‘power politics’ are absolutely right. From the sudden inner collapse of typical representatives of this mentality, we can see what inner weakness and impotence hides behind this boastful but entirely empty gesture. It is a product of a shoddy and superficially blase attitude towards the meaning of human conduct; and it has no relation whatsoever to the knowledge of tragedy with which all action, but especially political action, is truly interwoven.
The final result of political action often, no, even regularly, stands in completely inadequate and often even paradoxical relation to its original meaning. This is fundamental to all history, a point not to be proved in detail here. But because of this fact, the serving of a cause must not be absent if action is to have inner strength. Exactly what the cause, in the service of which the politician strives for power and uses power, looks like is a matter of faith. The politician may serve national, humanitarian, social, ethical, cultural, worldly, or religious ends. The politician may be sustained by a strong belief in ‘progress’–no matter in which sense–or he may coolly reject this kind of belief. He may claim to stand in the service of an ‘idea’ or, rejecting this in principle, he may want to serve external ends of everyday life. However, some kind of faith must always exist. Otherwise, it is absolutely true that the curse of the creature’s worthlessness overshadows even the externally strongest political successes.
With the statement above we are already engaged in discussing the last problem that concerns us tonight: the ethos of politics as a ‘cause.’ What calling can politics fulfil quite independently of its goals within the total ethical economy of human conduct–which is, so to speak, the ethical locus where politics is at home? Here, to be sure, ultimate Weltanschauungen clash, world views among which in the end one has to make a choice. Let us resolutely tackle this problem, which recently has been opened again, in my view in a very wrong way.
But first, let us free ourselves from a quite trivial falsification: namely, that ethics may first appear in a morally highly compromised role. Let us consider examples. Rarely will you find that a man whose love turns from one woman to another feels no need to legitimate this before himself by saying: she was not worthy of my love, or, she has disappointed me, or whatever other like ‘reasons’ exist. This is an attitude that, with a profound lack of chivalry, adds a fancied ‘legitimacy’ to the plain fact that he no longer loves her and that the woman has to bear it. By virtue of this ‘legitimation,’ the man claims a right for himself and besides causing the misfortune seeks to put her in the wrong. The successful amatory competitor proceeds exactly in the same way: namely, the opponent must be less worthy, otherwise he would not have lost out. It is no different, of course, if after a victorious war the victor in undignified self-righteousness claims, ‘I have won because I was right.’ Or, if somebody under the frightfulness of war collapses psychologically, and instead of simply saying it was just too much, he feels the need of legitimizing his war weariness to himself by substituting the feeling, ‘I could not bear it because I had to fight for a morally bad cause.’ And likewise with the defeated in war. Instead of searching like old women for the ‘guilty one’ after the war–in a situation in which the structure of society produced the war–everyone with a manly and controlled attitude would tell the enemy, ‘We lost the war. You have won it. That is now all over. Now let us discuss what conclusions must be drawn according to the objective interests that came into play and what is the main thing in view of the responsibility towards the future which above all burdens the victor.’ Anything else is undignified and will become a boomerang. A nation forgives if its interests have been damaged, but no nation forgives if its honor has been offended, especially by a bigoted self-righteousness. Every new document that comes to light after decades revives the undignified lamentations, the hatred and scorn, instead of allowing the war at its end to be buried, at least morally. This is possible only through objectivity and chivalry and above all only through dignity. But never is it possible through an ‘ethic,’ which in truth signifies a lack of dignity on both sides. Instead of being concerned about what the politician is interested in, the future and the responsibility towards the future, this ethic is concerned about politically sterile questions of past guilt, which are not to be settled politically. To act in this way is politically guilty, if such guilt exists at all. And it overlooks the unavoidable falsification of the whole problem, through very material interests: namely, the victor’s interest in the greatest possible moral and material gain; the hopes of the defeated to trade in advantages through confessions of guilt. If anything is ‘vulgar,’ then, this is, and it is the result of this fashion of exploiting ‘ethics’ as a means of ‘being in the right.’
Now then, what relations do ethics and politics actually have? Have the two nothing whatever to do with one another, as has occasionally been said? Or, is the reverse true: that the ethic of political conduct is identical with that of any other conduct ? Occasionally an exclusive choice has been believed to exist between the two propositions–either the one or the other proposition must be correct. But is it true that any ethic of the world could establish commandments of identical content for erotic, business, familial, and official relations; for the relations to one’s wife, to the greengrocer, the son, the competitor, the friend, the defendant? Should it really matter so little for the ethical demands on politics that politics operates with very special means, namely, power backed up by violence? Do we not see that the Bolshevik and the Spartacist ideologists bring about exactly the same results as any militaristic dictator just because they use this political means? In what but the persons of the power-holders and their dilettantism does the rule of the workers’ and soldiers’ councils differ from the rule of any power-holder of the old regime? In what way does the polemic of most representatives of the presumably new ethic differ from that of the opponents which they criticized, or the ethic of any other demagogues ? In their noble intention, people will say. Good! But it is the means about which we speak here, and the adversaries, in complete subjective sincerity, claim, in the very same way, that their ultimate intentions are of lofty character. ‘All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword’ and fighting is everywhere fighting. Hence, the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount.
By the Sermon on the Mount, we mean the absolute ethic of the gospel, which is a more serious matter than those who are fond of quoting these commandments today believe. This ethic is no joking matter. The same holds for this ethic as has been said of causality in science: it is not a cab, which one can have stopped at one’s pleasure; it is all or nothing. This is precisely the meaning of the gospel, if trivialities are not to result. Hence, for instance, it was said of the wealthy young man, ‘He went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.’ The evangelist commandment, however, is unconditional and unambiguous: give what thou hast–absolutely everything. The politician will say that this is a socially senseless imposition as long as it is not carried out everywhere. Thus the politician upholds taxation, confiscatory taxation, out-right confiscation; in a word, compulsion and regulation for all. The ethical commandment, however, is not at all concerned about that, and this unconcern is its essence. Or, take the example, ‘turn the other cheek’: This command is unconditional and does not question the source of the other’s authority to strike. Except for a saint it is an ethic of indignity. This is it: one must be saintly in everything; at least in intention, one must live like Jesus, the apostles, St. Francis, and their like. Then this ethic makes sense and expresses a kind of dignity; otherwise it does not. For if it is said, in line with the acosmic ethic of love, ‘Resist not him that is evil with force,’ for the politician the reverse proposition holds, ‘thou shalt resist evil by force,’ or else you are responsible for the evil winning out. He who wishes to follow the ethic of the gospel should abstain from strikes, for strikes mean compulsion; he may join the company unions. Above all things, he should not talk of ‘revolution.’ After all, the ethic of the gospel does not wish to teach that civil war is the only legitimate war. The pacifist who follows the gospel will refuse to bear arms or will throw them down; in Germany this was the recommended ethical duty to end the war and therewith all wars. The politician would say the only sure means to discredit the war for all foreseeable time would have been a status quo peace. Then the nations would have questioned, what was this war for? And then the war would have been argued ad absurdum, which is now impossible. For the victors, at least for part of them, the war will have been politically profitable. And the responsibility for this rests on behavior that made all resistance impossible for us. Now, as a result of the ethics of absolutism, when the period of exhaustion will have passed, the peace will be discredited, not the war.
Finally, let us consider the duty of truthfulness. For the absolute ethic it holds unconditionally. Hence the conclusion was reached to publish all documents, especially those placing blame on one’s own country. On the basis of these one-sided publications the confessions of guilt followed–and they were one-sided, unconditional, and without regard to consequences. The politician will find that as a result truth will not be furthered but certainly obscured through abuse and unleashing of passion; only an all-round methodical investigation by non-partisans could bear fruit; any other procedure may have consequences for a nation that cannot be remedied for decades. But the absolute ethic just does not ask for ‘consequences.’ That is the decisive point.
We must be clear about the fact that all ethically oriented conduct may be guided by one of two fundamentally differing and irreconcilably opposed maxims: conduct can be oriented to an ‘ethic of ultimate ends’ or to an ‘ethic of responsibility.’ This is not to say that an ethic of ultimate ends is identical with irresponsibility, or that an ethic of responsibility is identical with unprincipled opportunism. Naturally nobody says that. However, there is an abysmal contrast between conduct that follows the maxim of an ethic of ultimate ends–that is, in religious terms, ‘The Christian does rightly and leaves the results with the Lord’–and conduct that follows the maxim of an ethic of responsibility, in which case one has to give an account of the foreseeable results of one’s action.
You may demonstrate to a convinced syndicalist, believing in an ethic of ultimate ends, that his action will result in increasing the opportunities of reaction, in increasing the oppression of his class, and obstructing its ascent–and you will not make the slightest impression upon him. If an action of good intent leads to bad results, then, in the actor’s eyes, not he but the world, or the stupidity of other men, or God’s will who made them thus, is responsible for the evil. However a man who believes in an ethic of responsibility takes account of precisely the average deficiencies of people; as Fichte has correctly said, he does not even have the right to presuppose their goodness and perfection. He does not feel in a position to burden others with the results of his own actions so far as he was able to foresee them; he will say: these results are ascribed to my action. The believer in an ethic of ultimate ends feels ‘responsible’ only for seeing to it that the flame of pure intentions is not quelched: for example, the flame of protesting against the injustice of the social order. To rekindle the flame ever anew is the purpose of his quite irrational deeds, judged in view of their possible success. They are acts that can and shall have only exemplary value.
But even herewith the problem is not yet exhausted. No ethics in the world can dodge the fact that in numerous instances the attainment of ‘good’ ends is bound to the fact that one must be willing to pay the price of using morally dubious means or at least dangerous ones –and facing the possibility or even the probability of evil ramifications. From no ethics in the world can it be concluded when and to what extent the ethically good purpose ‘justifies’ the ethically dangerous means and ramifications.
The decisive means for politics is violence. You may see the extent of the tension between means and ends, when viewed ethically, from the following: as is generally known, even during the war the revolutionary socialists (Zimmerwald faction) professed a principle that one might strikingly formulate: ‘If we face the choice either of some more years of war and then revolution, or peace now and no revolution, we choose–some more years of war!’ Upon the further question: ‘What can this revolution bring about?’ every scientifically trained socialist would have had the answer: One cannot speak of a transition to an economy that in our sense could be called socialist; a bourgeois economy will re-emerge, merely stripped of the feudal elements and the dynastic vestiges. For this very modest result, they are willing to face ‘some more years of war.’ One may well say that even with a very robust socialist conviction one might reject a purpose that demands such means. With Bolshevism and Spartacism, and, in general, with any kind of revolutionary socialism, it is precisely the same thing. It is of course utterly ridiculous if the power politicians of the old regime are morally denounced for their use of the same means, however justified the rejection of their aims may be.
The ethic of ultimate ends apparently must go to pieces on the problem of the justification of means by ends. As a matter of fact, logically it has only the possibility of rejecting all action that employs morally dangerous means–in theory! In the world of realities, as a rule, we encounter the ever-renewed experience that the adherent of an ethic of ultimate ends suddenly turns into a chiliastic prophet. Those, for example, who have just preached ‘love against violence’ now call for the use of force for the last violent deed, which would then lead to a state of affairs in which all violence is annihilated. In the same manner, our officers told the soldiers before every offensive: ‘This will be the last one; this one will bring victory and therewith peace.’ The proponent of an ethic of absolute ends cannot stand up under the ethical irrationality of the world. He is a cosmic-ethical ‘rationalist.’ Those of you who know Dostoievski will remember the scene of the ‘Grand Inquisitor,’ where the problem is poignantly unfolded. If one makes any concessions at all to the principle that the end justifies the means, it is not possible to bring an ethic of ultimate ends and an ethic of responsibility under one roof or to decree ethically which end should justify which means.
My colleague, Mr. F. W. Forster, whom personally I highly esteem for his undoubted sincerity, but whom I reject unreservedly as a politician, believes it is possible to get around this difficulty by the simple thesis: ‘from good comes only good; but from evil only evil follows.’ In that case this whole complex of questions would not exist. But it is rather astonishing that such a thesis could come to light two thousand five hundred years after the Upanishads. Not only the whole course of world history, but every frank examination of everyday experience points to the very opposite. The development of religions all over the world is determined by the fact that the opposite is true. The age-old problem of theodicy consists of the very question of how it is that a power which is said to be at once omnipotent and kind could have created such an irrational world of undeserved suffering, unpunished injustice, and hopeless stupidity. Either this power is not omnipotent or not kind, or, entirely different principles of compensation and reward govern our life–principles we may interpret metaphysically, or even principles that forever escape our comprehension.
This problem–the experience of the irrationality of the world–has been the driving force of all religious evolution. The Indian doctrine of karma, Persian dualism, the doctrine of original sin, predestination and the deus absconditus, all these have grown out of this experience. Also the early Christians knew full well the world is governed by demons and that he who lets himself in for politics, that is, for power and force as means, contracts with diabolical powers and for his action it is not true that good can follow only from good and evil only from evil, but that often the opposite is true. Anyone who fails to see this is, indeed, a political infant.
We are placed into various life-spheres, each of which is governed by different laws. Religious ethics have settled with this fact in different ways. Hellenic polytheism made sacrifices to Aphrodite and Hera alike, to Dionysus and to Apollo, and knew these gods were frequently in conflict with one another. The Hindu order of life made each of the different occupations an object of a specific ethical code, a Dharma, and forever segregated one from the other as castes, thereby placing them into a fixed hierarchy of rank. For the man born into it, there was no escape from it, lest he be twice-born in another life. The occupations were thus placed at varying distances from the highest religious goods of salvation. In this way, the caste order allowed for the possibility of fashioning the Dharma of each single caste, from those of the ascetics and Brahmins to those of the rogues and harlots, in accordance with the immanent and autonomous laws of their respective occupations. War and politics were also included. You will find war integrated into the totality of life-spheres in the Bhagavad-Gita, in the conversation between Krishna and Arduna. ‘Do what must be done,’ i.e. do that work which, according to the Dharma of the warrior caste and its rules, is obligatory and which, according to the purpose of the war, is objectively necessary. Hinduism believes that such conduct does not damage religious salvation but, rather, promotes it. When he faced the hero’s death, the Indian warrior was always sure of Indra’s heaven, just as was the Teuton warrior of Valhalla. The Indian hero would have despised Nirvana just as much as the Teuton would have sneered at the Christian paradise with its angels’ choirs. This specialization of ethics allowed for the Indian ethic’s quite unbroken treatment of politics by following politics’ own laws and even radically enhancing this royal art.
A really radical ‘Machiavellianism,’ in the popular sense of this word, is classically represented in Indian literature, in the Kautaliya Arthasastra (long before Christ, allegedly dating from Chandragupta’s time). In contrast with this document Machiavelli’s Principe is harmless. As is known in Catholic ethics–to which otherwise Professor Forster stands close–the consilia evangelica are a special ethic for those endowed with the charisma of a holy life. There stands the monk who must not shed blood or strive for gain, and beside him stand the pious knight and the burgher, who are allowed to do so, the one to shed blood, the other to pursue gain. The gradation of ethics and its organic integration into the doctrine of salvation is less consistent than in India. According to the presuppositions of Christian faith, this could and had to be the case. The wickedness of the world stemming from original sin allowed with relative ease the integration of violence into ethics as a disciplinary means against sin and against the heretics who endangered the soul. However, the demands of the Sermon on the Mount, an acosmic ethic of ultimate ends, implied a natural law of absolute imperatives based upon religion. These absolute imperatives retained their revolutionizing force and they came upon the scene with elemental vigor during almost all periods of social upheaval. They produced especially the radical pacifist sects, one of which in Pennsylvania experimented in establishing a polity that renounced violence towards the outside. This experiment took a tragic course, inasmuch as with the outbreak of the War of Independence the Quakers could not stand up arms-in-hand for their ideals, which were those of the war.
Normally, Protestantism, however, absolutely legitimated the state as a divine institution and hence violence as a means. Protestantism, especially, legitimated the authoritarian state. Luther relieved the individual of the ethical responsibility for war and transferred it to the authorities. To obey the authorities in matters other than those of faith could never constitute guilt. Calvinism in turn knew principled violence as a means of defending the faith; thus Calvinism knew the crusade, which was for Islam an element of life from the beginning. One sees that it is by no means a modern disbelief born from the hero worship of the Renaissance which poses the problem of political ethics. All religions have wrestled with it, with highly differing success, and after what has been said it could not be otherwise. It is the specific means of legitimate violence as such in the hand of human associations which determines the peculiarity of all ethical problems of politics.
Whosoever contracts with violent means for whatever ends–and every politician does–is exposed to its specific consequences. This holds especially for the crusader, religious and revolutionary alike. Let us confidently take the present as an example. He who wants to establish absolute justice on earth by force requires a following, a human ‘machine.’ He must hold out the necessary internal and external premiums, heavenly or worldly reward, to this ‘machine’ or else the machine will not function. Under the conditions of the modern class struggle, the internal premiums consist of the satisfying of hatred and the craving for revenge; above all, resentment and the need for pseudo-ethical self-right-eousness: the opponents must be slandered and accused of heresy. The external rewards are adventure, victory, booty, power, and spoils. The leader and his success are completely dependent upon the functioning of his machine and hence not on his own motives. Therefore he also depends upon whether or not the premiums can be permanently granted to the following, that is, to the Red Guard, the informers, the agitators, whom he needs. What he actually attains under the conditions of his work is therefore not in his hand, but is prescribed to him by the following’s motives, which, if viewed ethically, are predominantly base. The following can be harnessed only so long as an honest belief in his person and his cause inspires at least part of the following, probably never on earth even the majority. This belief, even when subjectively sincere, is in a very great number of cases really no more than an ethical ‘legitimation’ of cravings for revenge, power, booty, and spoils. We shall not be deceived about this by verbiage; the materialist interpretation of history is no cab to be taken at will; it does not stop short of the promoters of revolutions. Emotional revolutionism is followed by the traditionalist routine of everyday life; the crusading leader and the faith itself fade away, or, what is even more effective, the faith becomes part of the conventional phraseology of political Philistines and banausic technicians. This development is especially rapid with struggles of faith because they are usually led or inspired by genuine leaders, that is, prophets of revolution. For here, as with every leader’s machine, one of the conditions for success is the depersonalization and routinization, in short, the psychic proletarianization, in the interests of discipline. After coming to power the following of a crusader usually degenerates very easily into a quite common stratum of spoilsmen.
Whoever wants to engage in politics at all, and especially in politics as a vocation, has to realize these ethical paradoxes. He must know that he is responsible for what may become of himself under the impact of these paradoxes. I repeat, he lets himself in for the diabolic forces lurking in all violence. The great virtuosi of acosmic love of humanity and goodness, whether stemming from Nazareth or Assisi or from Indian royal castles, have not operated with the political means of violence. Their kingdom was ‘not of this world’ and yet they worked and still work in this world. The figures of Platon Karatajev and the saints of Dostoievski still remain their most adequate reconstructions. He who seeks the salvation of the soul, of his own and of others, should not seek it along the avenue of politics, for the quite different tasks of politics can only be solved by violence. The genius or demon of politics lives in an inner tension with the god of love, as well as with the Christian God as expressed by the church. This tension can at any time lead to an irreconcilable conflict. Men knew this even in the times of church rule. Time and again the papal interdict was placed upon Florence and at the time it meant a far more robust power for men and their salvation of soul than (to speak with Fichte) the ‘cool approbation’ of the Kantian ethical judgment. The burghers, however, fought the church-state. And it is with reference to such situations that Machiavelli in a beautiful passage, if I am not mistaken, of the History of Florence, has one of his heroes praise those citizens who deemed the greatness of their native city higher than the salvation of their souls.
If one says ‘the future of socialism’ or ‘international peace,’ instead of native city or ‘fatherland’ (which at present may be a dubious value to some), then you face the problem as it stands now. Everything that is striven for through political action operating with violent means and following an ethic of responsibility endangers the ‘salvation of the soul.’ If, however, one chases after the ultimate good in a war of beliefs, following a pure ethic of absolute ends, then the goals may be damaged and discredited for generations, because responsibility for consequences is lacking, and two diabolic forces which enter the play remain unknown to the actor. These are inexorable and produce consequences for his action and even for his inner self, to which he must helplessly submit, unless he perceives them. The sentence: ‘The devil is old; grow old to understand him!’ does not refer to age in terms of chronological years. I have never permitted myself to lose out in a discussion through a reference to a date registered on a birth certificate; but the mere fact that someone is twenty years of age and that I am over fifty is no cause for me to think that this alone is an achievement before which I am overawed. Age is not decisive; what is decisive is the trained relentlessness in viewing the realities of life, and the ability to face such realities and to measure up to them inwardly.
Surely, politics is made with the head, but it is certainly not made with the head alone. In this the proponents of an ethic of ultimate ends are right. One cannot prescribe to anyone whether he should follow an ethic of absolute ends or an ethic of responsibility, or when the one and when the other. One can say only this much: If in these times, which, in your opinion, are not times of ‘sterile’ excitation–excitation is not, after all, genuine passion–if now suddenly the Weltanschauungs-politicians crop up en masse and pass the watchword, ‘The world is stupid and base, not I,’ ‘The responsibility for the consequences does not fall upon me but upon the others whom I serve and whose stupidity or baseness I shall eradicate,’ then I declare frankly that I would first inquire into the degree of inner poise backing this ethic of ultimate ends. I am under the impression that in nine out of ten cases I deal with windbags who do not fully realize what they take upon themselves but who intoxicate themselves with romantic sensations. From a human point of view this is not very interesting to me, nor does it move me profoundly. However, it is immensely moving when a mature man–no matter whether old or young in years–is aware of a responsibility for the consequences of his conduct and really feels such responsibility with heart and soul. He then acts by following an ethic of responsibility and somewhere he reaches the point where he says: ‘Here I stand; I can do no other.’ That is something genuinely human and moving. And every one of us who is not spiritually dead must realize the possibility of finding himself at some time in that position. In so far as this is true, an ethic of ultimate ends and an ethic of responsibility are not absolute contrasts but rather supplements, which only in unison constitute a genuine man–a man who can have the ‘calling for politics.’
Now then, ladies and gentlemen, let us debate this matter once more ten years from now. Unfortunately, for a whole series of reasons, I fear that by then the period of reaction will have long since broken over us. It is very probable that little of what many of you, and (I candidly confess) I too, have wished and hoped for will be fulfilled; little-perhaps not exactly nothing, but what to us at least seems little. This will not crush me, but surely it is an inner burden to realize it. Then, I wish I could see what has become of those of you who now feel yourselves to be genuinely ‘principled’ politicians and who share in the intoxication signified by this revolution. It would be nice if matters turned out in such a way that Shakespeare’s Sonnet 102 should hold true:
Our love was new, and then but in the spring,
When I was wont to greet it with my lays;
As Philomel in summer’s front doth sing,
And stops her pipe in growth of riper days.
But such is not the case. Not summer’s bloom lies ahead of us, but rather a polar night of icy darkness and hardness, no matter which group may triumph externally now. Where there is nothing, not only the Kaiser but also the proletarian has lost his rights. When this night shall have slowly receded, who of those for whom spring apparently has bloomed so luxuriously will be alive? And what will have become of all of you by then ? Will you be bitter or banausic ? Will you simply and dully accept world and occupation? Or will the third and by no means the least frequent possibility be your lot: mystic flight from reality for those who are gifted for it, or–as is both frequent and unpleasant–for those who belabor themselves to follow this fashion? In every one of such cases, I shall draw the conclusion that they have not measured up to their own doings. They have not measured up to the world as it really is in its everyday routine. Objectively and actually, they have not experienced the vocation for politics in its deepest meaning, which they thought they had. They would have done better in simply cultivating plain brotherliness in personal relations. And for the rest–they should have gone soberly about their daily work.
Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective. Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth–that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible. But to do that a man must be a leader, and not only a leader but a hero as well, in a very sober sense of the word. And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes. This is necessary right now, or else men will not be able to attain even that which is possible today. Only he has the calling for politics who is sure that he shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants to offer. Only he who in the face of all this can say ‘In spite of all!’ has the calling for politics.
From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, Translated and edited with an introduction by H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, pp. 77-128, New York: Oxford University Press, 1946.
27 April 1923, Page 6
THE fate of Conservatism and Unionism hangs in the balance. It must lead or perish. The issue is quite plain: is the body of political principle inherent in the words Conservatism and Unionism to be the main creative and moulding influence in the new era we are entering today? A moulding and creative force in politics there must he. Free nations do not live by caretakers and policemen alone ; and if the Conservative Party were to confine itself to a caretaker’s job and make per viltate it gran riftuto when faced with the architect’s, it would itself be the bar to its principles—principles which are the point of attraction for all those better and braver elements of the nation that instinctively abhor the political mentality and morality of the Socialist. If so, it will have no second chance in our generation; but in its place will arise a hybrid organization of opinion, with compromise at the root of its thought, and for that season presenting, in place of the massive and impressive simplicity of a homogeneous structure, the blurred and meaningless outlines of a composite photograph. Such a hybrid organization will neither have the will nor the power to apply the principles nor expound the =faith which, despite much neglect and some misuse, still animate the Conservatism of the people.
Every practical man knows, of course, that between the pure political principle which lies at the core of any living Party and the expression of it in legislation or otherwise by a Government there must be some loss of quality. The wine cannot be poured from’ the golden to the silver cup without parting with some of its fragrance. That is one of the inevitable features of the translation of thought into action, and only .a pedant would deny that if compromise has any legitimate place in men’s affairs it is there. But the compromise of thought, the hybridization of underlying principles, is in quite another category. It produces sterility of action; it turns the organic into the mechanical.
Failure of the Conservative Party to realize and express the vital elements in its ‘faith would produce a wave of disillusionment and disgust sufficient to overwhelm utterly the ship and its precious cargo. It does not help at all to recall how often, in the past, the Conservative Party has failed, when in power, to realize and express its principles, has mumbled instead of speaking out, has drawn back instead of moving on, and how, -despite it all, confidence in the essential truth of these principles remains one of the deepest-rooted political instincts of Britain. But let there-beano such failure this time; for one of these opportunities has arisen, for which a Party has often to wait for a generation, – when the whole set and habit of its principles seem to “jump” with the .dangers and the special requirements of the time. Today Conservatism, rightly understood and wisely applied, can bring something like a. real solution of our problems. It is, most certainly, more fitted to express the hopes and aims of the British people than any other set of political principles. It is only when we try to analyse the opportunity, the situation and the problem that we can realize how deep would be the ignominy and how poignant the irony of a Conservative failure. What then is the opportunity, the situation, the problem? The opportunity is this: Conservatism is in control of the national destiny at the very beginning of a new political era. For a new era it is; one of these times when old values have lost their meaning, old prejudices their force, old axioms their sanctity; when opinion, ideas, the minds of men are plastic. Nor is that all. Conservatism is a control by the people’s choice—a highly significant fact. All beginnings are moments of instinct, and the election of November, 1922 (that national miracle which turned the water of the Carlton Club meeting into wine), was, in essence, an instinctive gesture on the part of the nation, an intuitive, subconscious recognition and reaffirmation of its trust and confidence in Conservatism.
On the writer recently expressing this view to a political friend he was met with the reply: ” But the Coalitionists thought in November, 1918, that they were the accepted heirs of the new era.” No doubt they did so think; but only because they never understood the character of their own election. They hoped it was a prologue: it was really an epilogue. The Coalition was, in fact, a War product. It could never rid itself of the smell of blood and antiseptics. It had a hospital outlook, and, regarding the nation as its patient, characteristically spent its last breath in urging it to remain ” under treatment.” But, with the callous ingratitude of. the convalescent:— ” The boy his nurse forgot And bore a mortal lot,” preferring to shut the hospital doors behind him and to look the new era in the face. And the election bore the characteristic marks of a new era. The curiously simple outlook, the absence of elaborate views, the obsoleteness of old methods of controversy, the reliance on first instincts were all visible there, as they are in any form of intellectual or emotional renaissance. But the Conservative opportunity does not consist merely in being the party in power at the opening of this new era. It has, in a very special- sense, a fair field.
On only one great branch of political thought and action has the country, from time to time, felt doubtful of the wisdom of the Conservative attitude. No franchise question can now arise to bring with it the risk that the country may suspect Conservatism of being the foe of popular political rights. A real danger is thus eliminated, and what has proved, again- and again, the easiest avenue of attack upon- Conservatism is- closed. It is a remarkable paradox, of course, that the party which is instinctively trusted and understood by the people should at times, it would seem, have feared the people and therefore misunderstood them. And naturally enough, – conversely, the period when the people’s instinctive confidence became a deeply-reasoned and strongly-felt support was really ushered in by the Conservative Reform Act of 1867, that great act of faith in the people of this country to which the Conservative Party was led by Disraeli. It is perhaps not irrelevant to recall that the At of 1918, which has produced a similar freedom from purely franchise questions, was passed with the support of the Conservative and Unionist Party led by a Cabinet predominantly Unionist.
So much, then, for the opportunity. It is unique: that Conservatism should have been thus preserved and approved by the people at the opening of a new era, that it should have been given the opportunity of drawing the plans and laying the foundations, that at such a moment the Conservative Party can speak as one having authority, and have a fair field for the exposition and application of its principles should surely, if anything can, fire the imagination and mobilize the best qualities of any political organism. Has the Conservative Party the imagination, the will, the courage to seize the opportunity and do an architect’s work?
4 May 1923, Page 5
AND now what, in barest outline, are the main, the special features of the new era, in which Conservatism must play a constructive part or perish? There are two on which attention must be concentrated, because in importance, in their reach and power, they stand in a class by themselves. First, Britain is now, electorally, a complete democracy. A new and tremendous element in the situation, particularly because the acquisition of political rights by women has flung into the seething pot of our political life a fresh and distinctive ingredient, has brought into the general pool, and given opportunity for their expression, a mental and moral outlook, “a temperament and ‘a tradition, which are different (though to what extent and even in what respects might be matter of controversy) from those of the previous exclusively male electorate. However that may be, Conservatism, now and for the future, is face to face with democracy. Democratic electoral rights are, in a word, no longer a plank in political programmes, they are the medium in which the statesman- ship of the future must work. This feature of the new era at last opens the way to the full operation of Conservative principles and, incidentally, makes it un- necessary even to mention Liberalism as a school of thought: for Liberalism, which had in the past so much to say about political freedom, has nothing to do in our era, when complete political freedom has been attained.
Secondly, the new era is one not merely of democracy, but of an educated democracy. Education is so gradual a process that its growth is easily overlooked. Yet, as in all continuous processes of growth, there are decisive moments when change is apparent. Last week the cherry was in bud, to-day it is “hung with snow.”
Such a decisive moment was the War. In a flash, the distance which Britain had gone along the road of education was revealed. The technical ability, the rapidity in acquiring new kinds of knowledge and in mastering new duties, the self-reliance, the self-respect, the power to accept responsibility, the spontaneous facing of sacrifice, the large grasp of the issues at stake, the firmness and fineness of temper, the general spaciousness of character and outlook displayed by the men and women of Britain meant, and could only mean, that the influences of education had penetrated deeply and strongly into their minds and character. The present writer, who on four fronts saw men under the most varying conditions of danger and of dullness, has never wavered in his conviction that it was largely to the extent to which the mass of the people had absorbed the benefits of some thirty years of strenuous education that we owed our achievements in the War.
And the more the temper and psychology of our people are seen and studied the more apparent becomes the fact that ours is an educated democracy. A habit of mind, alert, sensitive, receptive, has replaced one traditionally prone to be sluggish and prejudiced. And if alertness has brought with it a wholesome inquisitiveness into the validity of traditional points of view, sensitiveness has produced a rapid appreciation of principle, and receptiveness, particularly marked in all the qualities which may be grouped under the phrase “the social conscience,” has given a remarkable power of appreciating what lawyers call “the merits” of a question.
The change is so profound that only by a severe mental effort can the new situation it has produced be envisaged. Is the Conservative Party making that mental effort, and the even greater one necessary to think out all the reactions which must follow in the political life of the people? If it is not, how can it meet the instinctive trust of the people with a view of politics fitted for the new era?
Meantime, upon this educated democracy—alert, sensitive, receptive, plastic—another Party in the State plays unceasingly, feeding the newly-aroused intellectual appetites, the highly-responsive social conscience, with wide and glowing general principles—comprehensive, challenging, alluring. It is to no purpose to reply that Socialism finds its strength in appeals to cupidity, envy and hatred. That may be true also: but it is the least part of the truth, and to emphasize it—much more, to treat it as fundamental—is entirely to misread the true appeal of Socialism. For the real strength of Socialism lies in the fact that it is making an intellectual appeal at the very moment when the craving for mental nourishment is so universal. It is presenting .a “view of life” to the nation in a method admirably suited to the mood and atmosphere of the new era. The Socialist finds a welcome because he comes disguised as an educator and teacher.
And just because it is presenting a comprehensive view of life Socialism has very greatly extended the boundaries of politics. It is, of course, easy for Socialism to draw into the traditional territory of politics the whole structure of national life, for politics in its accepted meaning deals with the actions of the State and, in the Socialist ideal, the action of the State is co-extensive with the life of the nation. This widening of the territory of politics is, indeed, a reaction of the new situation, which even in the most general survey cannot be passed by – unnoticed.
The battles between Whig and Tory, Unionist and Liberal, were, like those of an earlier stage of armed warfare, fought on a narrow front and by small armies of professionals, whose passage through the life of the nation affected it hardly more than a charabanc disturbs the countryside to-day–some vapour and much noise, a rut left in the highway, a film of dust on the hedgerow.
But Socialism fights on the broadest of fronts, and this breadth of front must dominate the strategy and tactics of the new era; for envelopment and the crushing defeat which successful envelopment achieves form the danger against which Conservatism must guard in the great battles ahead.
A view of life, a statement of fundamental principles, can only be met by the presentation of a truer view and of principles more fundamental. If Conservatives are not to fight with one hand tied behind their backs, the active principles of Conservatism must be felt anew, thought anew, promulgated anew. The whole intellectual content of Conservatism, its moral and economic foundations, its practical applications, must, whatever “the mental strife” involved, be made plain to educated democracy. Conservatism must expound its “view of life.”
Clearly this implies an extension of the functions of the Conservative politician, a new meaning, so far as he is concerned, of the word “politics.” Conservatism believes in a restricted field for the action of the State and most emphatically the view of life, the ideal of advance, it must present to the nation cannot be exhaustively embodied m Acts of Parliament. In the new era we must step outside the old limits and depart from the view that politics mean only public affairs and that public affairs mean only public business. No doubt this makes politics more difficult, for it is easier to explain the provisions of a Bill than to present a ” view of life.”
But the older, narrower view is a caretaker’s only: it confuses the function of the politician with that of the policeman. Historically, it is the survival into the era of educated democracy of methods which were success- fully practised in the period of the triumphant bourgeoisie. But in the new era it will not serve: for it is to abandon the intellectual and moral leadership of the community: it is to withdraw from the duty of moulding and shaping public opinion. It may look like ruling: it is really abdicating.
One further word must be added. The prosperous, peach-fed classes do not readily understand the importance which the mass. of the people attach to political life. To the former, politics is not a medium of education, of general culture. That side of life they have an infinite number of other means of enjoying—fastidious living, beautiful homes, the enjoyment of literature, art, travel, the closeness and variety of their points of contact with human culture and civilization. Because their general interests are wider, the intellectual area they allot to politics is correspondingly narrower. And for .those who are the heirs of “the governing classes” of the past, politics naturally means, above all, administration.
To the mass of the people the opposite is the case. Polities is their main point of contact with general ideas; the paramount expression of the life of the community: the chief, if not the only means of satisfying their goat des grandes choses. But. their attitude towards politics it is which makes true the definition of man as “a political animal”; for the mass of the people feel the reality, the life, the organic, as opposed to the mechanical, quality of politics. To them political deliberation is a high function, as the gravity and sincerity of a “popular audience” testify. If the British people do not now take their pleasures sadly, they certainly take their politics seriously.
Such, then, is the situation. A people at the dawn of a new era, equipped with -full political power, educated, and still more, highly sensitive to educative influences, presented by a powerful and devoted Socialist Party with a view of politics which is really a comprehensive “view of life,” and yet instinctively trusting to their natural Conservative instincts : a Conservative Government, obviously charged, so far as the immediate day’s work is concerned, with a caretaker’s task : and yet, as obviously, from the wider point of view charged with the duty of expounding the Conservative “view of life” since in it lies embedded the true solution of the fundamental problem the new era presents.
11 May 1923, Page 5
AND the fundamental problem of this new era— what of it? Beneath the tangle of immediate anxieties—unemployment, the housing of the people, the agricultural emergency, the financial burdens of the State=is it possible to detect a master-problem which, while • it remains unsolved, exercises a profound ‘and malign influence upon the mental outlook and the material condition of the people? If the analysis of the new era which has been attempted is in any degree correct, such a master-problem is not far to seek. For the mass of the people—those who mainly live by the wages of industry—political status and educational status have outstripped economic status. The structure has become lopsided. It is therefore unstable. Until our educated and politically minded democracy has become predominantly a property-owning democracy, neither the national equilibrium nor the balance of the life of the individual will be restored.
To restore that balance is the master-problem of the new era. The wage-earner has for long been attempting to solve the problem for himself. In the Co-operative movement, the friendly societies, the savings banks, and on their benefits side the trade unions, he has made a most determined effort to build up for himself either by way of income to meet illness, unemployment, old age, or by way of capital, something of his own behind him, and the large amounts of wealth held by those organizations show how strong and persistent the impulse has been. These organizations are, indeed, the outstanding economic and social achievement of the wage-earner ; they have at once exhibited, developed and tested his business capacity and his social sense, and in the steady devotion, hard work and unostentatious self-sacrifice shown in their management they have made a splendid contribution to the public life of the community. But the most remarkable proof of the wage-earner’s determination to become a property owner is to be found in the success of the War Savings Certificates scheme. Despite the fact that unemployment insurance, health insurance, and old-age pensions were in either partial or full operation when it was introduced, the steady flow of his savings, in good times and bad, into War Savings Certificates shows how fully the wage-earner appreciates the security and economic freedom which the possession of private property gives.
Yet the effort, large and fruitful as it has been, has not in itself solved the problem. And it is not difficult to see why. In the first place, it has been made by the wage-earners as a separate, isolated class. Its national importance has been overlooked. The Liberal, concentrating his attention on political rights, has passed it by. The Conservative, though he has aided it, has certainly not considered it in its full bearing upon the social structure ; while the Socialist has seized the opportunity thus given him to pervert the impulse behind it into an element in the view of life which he presents ; he declares, that is, that ownership by the State is ownership by the people, implying that that means a property-owning democracy. In fact, of course, it does not. What everybody owns, nobody owns; and far from expressing the wage-earner’s ideal, Socialism makes it unattainable, while communal ownership, when obtained, neither interests nor influences a single human being. We have yet to hear of the man who, in the Great War, rushed to arms to preserve his share in the London County Council Tramways or in Battersea Park.
And the effort has been isolated in another sense. It has had no direct relation with the wage-earner’s life as a worker. It has had nothing to do with his work. His thrift effort and his work have, moreover, not only been carried on independently, but in two opposite moods. His mood is ” Capitalist ” when he saves; it is “Labour” while he works. And the mental confusion resulting from that opposition of moods has had startling results, of which the most amazing example is the large application of the funds of the Co-operative Societies to assist and support the Socialist movement. But most vital of all, these intense and prolonged efforts have not altered the industrial status of the wage-earner. Whatever his savings may be in the Co-operative Society, or in War Savings Certificates, the wage-earner, as industrialist, has only the economic status of a machine ; for his wages, as such, are, and can only be, part of the costs of production, occupying the same position as the expenses of running the machines of the factory or workshop in which he is employed. Small wonder, then, if the wage-earner’s isolated and barely-recognized effort to become a property owner has left, at the beginning of the new era, his own life and the whole social structure lopsided and unstable. But it is these very efforts which are largely responsible for the instinctive sympathy between the mass of the people and Conservatism. Can it be doubted that the mass of the people feel that the only school of political thought which understands and is capable of solving the problem is the Conservative, and that it is for this very purpose (intuitively felt, indeed, rather than logically reasoned out) that the country has preserved and approved Conservatism to-day ?
For what are the principles of Conservatism, these leading ideas and ideals which are the essence of its view of life?
The first of these is the stability of the social structure. A stable condition of society is the main pre-occupation of Conservatism. This is the real clue to its whole political philosophy. If change has been resisted, it has been because the Conservative has feared that it would produce confusion and instability. When it has been clear that only by change can stability be re-established, no party has been more fearless in making the most drastic changes. And similarly, the situations which have given to Conservatism its moments of torturing anxiety have been those when ” marginal cases ” have arisen in which the problem has been whether stability is best secured by the existing conditions or by the proposed change. And this insistence upon stability is no fad or catchword, for, as the generations come and go, the opportunity offered for full enjoyment and full development to each individual during his little span of consciousness depends upon the society and community which surrounds -and contains him being stable: at peace with itself, not at war.
But stability is not stagnation. Stability is as much the condition of steady progress for a society as it is for a ship. Stagnation, since life is movement, means necessarily that atrophy is at work; that tissues are dying which should be living; that dead matter is accumulating which must, by more or less violent means, be cast out. To confuse stability with stagnation is, however, from the nature of things, a special danger for Conservatism, for it is the natural defect of its virtue. And just because Conservatism is the real guardian of stability in the community—the school of thought which alone gives stable conditions their just valuation—it has a special duty constantly to search out the means by which stability threatened can be saved, stability lost can be recovered.
The second fundamental Conservative principle is that the character of the individual citizen being the greatest asset of the State, the primary object and best test of .all legislation which deals with the individual is its influence upon his character. Everything that weakens individual character and lessens individual effort and initiative is anathema to the Conservative. Everything that strengthens and increases these is very near to his heart. The consequences flowing from this principle need no elaboration here. Enough to say that the main and most essential one is the insistence by Conservatism on the necessity of limiting the action of the State to “helping the individual to help himself.” These two leading ideas, however, are what give to ‘the permanent relations existing between the British people and Conservatism their specially intimate quality; for the stability of the State and the value of character are not only the fundamental beliefs of Conservatism: they are the fundamental beliefs of the rave. And these fundamental principles of Conservatism, which form the basis of its whole view of life, lead inevitably to the development of the political, the educated democracy into a property-owning democracy.
The beneficent effect upon human character both of the effort to acquire private property and of the opportunity, after it has been acquired, for its wise or foolish use, can hardly be over-estimated. For what is the effect of property, its proverbial ” magic”? In the getting, the exercise of thrift, of control, of all the qualities which “the rolling-stone” knows nothing of; in its use, an increased- sense of responsibility, a wider economic outlook, a practical medium for the expression of moral and intellectual qualities. It is for Conservatism to see to it that this pathway to the development of character is opened wide to the people; and to expound to the nation—what no one else apparently dares or cares to—the vital inter-relation between character and private possessions. Equally clear, equally fundamental, is the relation between the possession of private property by the people and the stability of the State. This, too, has been left for the Conservative to expound. So deeply, indeed, has Conservatism felt the importance of this relation that in the past it was wont to maintain that only those who possessed private property should exercise political functions. That doctrine has now this new and pregnant application—that since, to-day, practically all citizens have political rights, all should possess some- thing of their own. Mocked and jeered at in the past as ” the Party of Property,” it is precisely as such, now that the wheel has turned full circle, that Conservatism in the new era holds in its keeping the key to the problem.
To make democracy stable and four-square ; to give the wage-earner property and status ; to bridge the gulf set between Labour and Capital; to present a view of life in which private property, instead of being reckoned, as the Socialist reckons it, a shameful thing, shall be recognized to be an essential vehicle for the moral and economic progress of the individual ; these are the tasks to which the opportunity, the problem, and their own principles alike call Conservatism to perform in the new era. It remains, in these notes, only to indicate and suggest the lines along which this work for the nation may be done.
18 May 1923, Page 5
IN the three preceding articles an attempt has been made to sketch the main features of the new era and to indicate the opportunity which opens to a constructive Conservatism to solve the problem it presents. It remains to state as clearly as may be what means lie ready to develop a property-owning democracy, to bring the industrial and economic status of the wage-earner abreast of his political and educational, to make democracy stable and four-square.
These (to mention only subjects of the widest importance) are, it is submitted, four: — (1) for the wage- earner, whether in factory or in field, industrial co-partnery, or its halfway house, profit-sharing ; (2) for the agriculturist, who seeks to become completely his own master, small ownership; (3) for the rural world, as a whole, agricultural co-operation; (4) for the community, to secure it against sudden assault, the Referendum.
One common principle underlies these proposals, making them a practical and accurate expression of the Conservative “view of life,” for each, in its own way and in its own sphere, at once develops the character of the individual and the stability of the social structure. It may be objected that of these neither co-partnery and profit-sharing nor agricultural co-operation can success- fully be brought into operation by Act of Parliament, but must grow as the nation’s understanding of them grows. So be it—all the more natural and essential it is that Conservatism should make these great topics its own: for they offer a means of economic, social and national progress which the State cannot dole out with a spoon. And if Conservatism fails to show the nation an alternative line of advance, it would have to bear the blame should the people come to the conclusion that the only way forward lay along the Socialist path, however desperate and perilous that might be.
(1) First, then, as to industrial co-partnery. It rests on a firm basis of principle. Capital and Labour by it are to the full recognized as partners in the work of the production of wealth, for each shares in the true profits of that production, arrived at after each, the one by way of a fair rate of interest, the other by way of a fair wage, have been paid the price for its services in the common work. And further, the wage-earner’s proportion of the profits is paid to him partly in cash, partly invested for him in the concern, while, as the workers become capitalists, ” seats on the Board,” either for the domestic internal government of the concern, or for its general direction, very naturally follow.
Thus status and property-owning grow together; the wage-earner, as industrialist, from a machine becomes a man. Nor is this all. To the wage-earner, co-partnery brings a new incentive and a new kind of interest in his work, arising out of his new relation to it ; a union of his thrift effort and his work effort; a wider industrial out- look, since, as his savings in the business increase, so does his interest in its general prosperity, for that prosperity affects him directly as a shareholder.
To the community it brings all the results that flow from a real identification of interest between Capital and Labour—reduction of the number of strikes, with their waste of the national wealth and dislocation of the national life ; the elimination of such crazy doctrines as that of ” ca’ canny” ; improvement in the standard of both management and work, since the wage-earner will not readily submit to his own good work being neutralized by the slackness of his neighbour or the incompetence of his manager.
Yet there are objections, it is said. ” Some industries. are not suited to the system.” Possibly not. But has there yet been any determined effort to work out in practice the modifications necessary to make it suit the special circumstances of particular trades? The over- coming of practical difficulties is a matter for resource and will-power, once the value of the underlying principle is realized. Conservatism in the new era must refute Anatole France’s mocking remark that moderate men are those who have only a moderate belief in moderate opinions.
And again, “The Trade Unions are against it”. Perhaps their Socialist leaders are, but battle has to be joined with them in any ease. That the great mass of the wage-earners is hostile can hardly be maintained, since the fact is that no political party has yet seriously addressed itself to the exposition of co-partnery in all its bearings. In any case, co-partnery is the ideal ground on which to fight Socialism, for it emphasizes the distinction, fundamental but neglected, between a property-owning democracy and the Socialist ideal, and if the Trade Union leaders hide from their followers the more excellent way, so much the worse, when the truth is discovered, for them and for their leadership.
(2) Of small ownership in land, only a word can be said. In principle, generally recognized to be a most powerful factor in the stability of the State and in the development of a democracy of character and intelligence, the policy of small holdings has greatly suffered in Great Britain from the methods which have been adopted. Extravagant expenditure on equipment and administration by Government departments or County Councils has been combined with demands for payments from the holder based upon the principle of making him pay rent for the land and in addition interest on the full cost of erecting the buildings. No private landowner gets an annual return if he lets his land, or a purchase price if he sells it, calculated in this way. The result has been that our State-constituted holdings have imposed on their cultivators burdens which no other agriculturists. in Britain have to bear. The re-settlement of the land of England, the development of intensive cultivation, the reconstitution of the rural community are matters so vital that every effort to devise sounder methods than those presently in operation must be made by Conservatism. And this is pre-eminently a problem which Conservative knowledge and resource can solve. Let it not be forgotten that the Wyndham Land Act was the last and greatest constructive work which Unionism did for Ireland.
(3) And agricultural co-operation. The foundation of modern agriculture throughout the world, the way to prosperity for the small cultivator and large farmer alike, it is inextricably bound up with the Conservative view of life, because it is essentially the means whereby in the cultivation of the soil the individual can be helped to help himself. On this there can safely be neither silence nor indifference. All that the State can do, all that the politician can say, should be said and done to spread a knowledge and assist the development of agricultural co-operation if in the new era Conservatism is prepared to give of its best to the nation.
Of more limited and special expressions of Conservative principle one alone can be mentioned here. The present method of assessing the income of the old-age pensioner, which penalizes the thrift he exercised in the days of his working-life, is the antithesis of Conservatism, and, while it endures, gives excuse for the adoption of the Socialist view that every citizen of pensionable age, whatever his private fortune may be, should have squandered on him the resources of the nation.
(4) But to pass to the Referendum — crown and apex of a constructive Conservatism in the new era. Accepted by Conservatives in the. Constitutional crisis of 1910-1911, its value and necessity is infinitely more obvious now. It was called for then to save the House of Lords, it is needed now to protect democracy. For if democracy, faced in the new era by Socialism as its scarcely-disguised enemy is, from a Constitutional point of view, to be made stable and safe, if its property and liberty is to be preserved, the people, in the last resort, must directly and for themselves decide their own fate. And for this duty they are ripe. Meantime, it needs only a blunder or two on the part of a Cabinet, a General Election dominated by passion or prejudice, and the flank of the Constitution is turned. The t9S1r of Conservatism in the new era would be only half done if the British democracy were to be denied a means of protection the value of which, even within the last few months, has been amply proved elsewhere.
And, in conclusion, whatever means be taken to stabilize democracy, this much is clear—that the Conservative Party cannot leave it a matter of guesswork what its outlook is “Democracy,” Lord Balfour once said, ” is government by explanation.” The mass of the people are profoundly perplexed by the paradox that Conservatism, in which they have so deep an instinctive belief, is apparently content to leave its view of life unexplained, its principles unstated, while Socialism, which they distrust exceedingly, is fearless and untiring in setting out its aims and ideals. For the moment instinct has won: but what will that avail unless Conservatism breaks its silence and makes clear to the nation that it, too, has a vision of the future—of a property-owning democracy, master of its own life, made four-square and secure and able therefore to withstand the shrill and angry gales which, in the new era’s uneasy dawn, sweep across the world of men?
By Noel Skelton
2 May 1924, Page 6
In past issues of the Spectator, Mr. Strachey has expressed fears, obviously deep and sincere, as to the future of Unionism. It may be doubted whether his views are justified by the situation. They certainly do not express the mood or- the reasonable hopes of the rank and file of the party. Among these, indeed, there is a striking increase of interest and energy in the constituencies. It would be difficult to recall a defeat which has produced less depression. And it is not irrelevant to mention this, for the spirit of a party is an essential factor in its prospects.
Mr. Strachey’s argument — especially in his leading article, “The Unionist Party,” published on February 16th — proceeds upon the line that, whereas a general Tariff has been “dropped,” the continuance of Mr. Baldwin as leader and the return of Mr. Austen Chamberlain and Lord Birkenhead — Protectionists both — to the counsels of the party will make the electorate feel that “Protection” is still the leading object of Unionism; that therefore “the left-centre voter,” whose defection is assumed to have caused his defeat of last December, will remain hostile, and that, in consequence, Socialism, will triumph at the next General Election. But it is safe to say that the next election will find the country in a very different mood than the last did. The actual formation of a Labour Government will make, indeed is making, if it has not already made, a strong revulsion of feeling in the left-centre voter—and in many other voters, too. The subsidy to agriculture—that brilliant improvization of the National Farmers’ Union—has received its quietus, and the underlying hostility to the’ farmer of the county towns has satisfied itself by success But was it the left-centre voter who voted against’- a Tariff, and will the restricted’ policy now adopted induce him to vote Socialist or crypto-Socialist? The section of the community who apparently: most feared a Tariff was one – whose general loyalty to Conservatism in England ‘is of king standing and in Scotland is constantly increasing. The small rentier, the shopkeeper, the merchant (and their wives) are natural Conservatives; but they were swept off their feet by fear of increased prices. Their scant appreciation of the national danger and ‘ personal distress and demoralization caused by widespread unemployment was the most tragic feature of the election. They fear now, however, something else, which they fear much more intensely and much more legitimately and they are determined to have nothing to do with Socialism or with any party which, for any reason, traffics with Socialist politicians. In fact, they have already returned to their allegiance, bringing with them many of their kind who up till now had remained Liberals. And, moreover, they have returned in a mood such as to make the Unionist path much more easy for the future. For these voters, far from being “left-centre,” are perhaps the most inclined to be stationary, if not reactionary, in their political outlook, and their new mood will enable Unionism to advance with more boldness than seemed possible to many when a stagnant, rigid Liberalism stood ready as a harbor of refuge to the backsliders. For middle-class Liberalism, of all ‘political creeds, has been the narrowest and least enlightened. But this port is closed to them: for they feel now that Liberalism is no protection against Socialism — a lesson which Mr. Lloyd George’s pre-War Socialism and-water might have already taught. No one would deny that amongst Conservatives there tends to be a section which dislikes change for its own sake—as well as a large non-party body of similar opinion.
But that body of opinion is alive now to the impracticability and folly of standing still, and when it moves — as move it is now prepared to—it will prefer to move with progressive Conservatism towards a property- owning democracy rather than towards the Sturm und Drang of Socialism of the maneuvers of a suspect Liberalism. And it is not the safeguarding of industries, or perhaps even a “general” Tariff, which will alter their new determination.
The real danger to Unionist prospects comes not from fear of Protection, but from the doubt lest the party should not be in earnest about social reforms: But that ‘ danger has been greatly reduced by the return of such statesmen as, for example, Sir Robert Home, to full participation in Unionist counsels.
Not, indeed, that it is a case of one or two individuals. The future depends upon Unionism as a whole being able to show a line of advance to the great body of wage-earners. Britain, unlike France; passed from political aristocracy to political democracy without the “disaster of revolution”. Can we make a similar advance in the economic sphere? It depends entirely upon Conservatism.
For in its principles, Conservatism holds the key of the situation. – It was not for nothing that the Conservative Party used to be called the “Party of Property.”
Private property is, so far as history gives us a clue, the foundation and sine qua non of all progressive civilizations. It follows that the extent -of the distribution of private property is the measure, on its economic side, of a civilization’s stability and success. Similarly, character and a sense of responsibility are rooted in a man’s possession of “something of his own”. A democracy without scope for the development of economic character and responsibility, cut off from private ownership, cannot be expected to understand the material ‘foundations of civilization. Moreover, it cannot stand. ‘Unless, then, by such means as profit-sharing – and industrial co-partnery and the wider distribution of the small ownership of land the Unionist Party can make property-owners of the present wage-earning classes, no hope can be given to the mass of the people that their economic status can be brought abreast of their political and their educational status. It will perhaps be a slow process; but great parties must take a long view, and if an objective is sufficiently important must not fear the toils of the march.
A property-owning democracy is, at any rate, a truly Conservative objective, and the Conservative Party will never fight for any policy out of harmony with its foundation principles. And such an objective once settled, and approved, the fears expressed by Mr. Strachey that any taint of Protection will sterilize Unionism lose, in the opinion of the present writer at least, much of their force. For it has told against Tariff Reform that it has seemed to many voters to be the sole constructive suggestion which Unionists had to make, and has, perhaps in consequence, acquired almost the character of a substitute for, instead of a part of, a general policy of improving the status of the wage- earner. Certainly many opponents have made haste to point out to the working classes that in the existing industrial system the lion’s share of any advantage would, in their opinion, fall to Capital rather than Labour.
But let the Unionist Party once make it clear that the elevation of the status of the wage-earner to that of a property-owner lies at the root of its social policy and a Tariff, whether general or by way of safeguarding threatened industries, will fall automatically into its place as one of the means—perhaps an essential condition precedent —to that end. “The State helps the citizen to help himself ” is the Unionists’ answer to ” The Socialist State must put the citizen in leading strings.” “Extend the distribution of private property and of the industrial wealth to be produced in the future ” is equally his reply to the Socialist order, ” Sap, weaken, tax, nationalize private property.” It is with the Conservative reply that the character and hopes of the British wage-earner are in consonance.
The hour indeed is struck for the advance of a democratic constructive progressive Conservatism. 1922 preserved Conservatism, 1928 opened its eyes, 1924 will give it at once the desire and the opportunity to do its much-needed work.
Whenever I hear my checkered past recalled to me, I can’t decide whether I’m a retired physician or ex-psychiatrist. I’ve decided I’m a psychiatrist in remission and I’ve been doing extremely well — and haven’t had a relapse in 20 years.
I’m sometimes asked what the difference is between what I do today and what I did in my psychiatric days, and I tell people that in both professions I deal all the time with people who suffer from delusions of grandeur with the exception that the people I deal with have access to nuclear weapons. It makes the stakes a little higher and the work a lot more interesting.
I’ve been asked to talk to you a little bit about the reaction in the journalistic world to the Westminster Address and also to relate it to the Reagan Doctrine. As I recall, the response to the Westminster address was fairly restrained. There was the usual flurry of activity in the press in Washington — it did not last terribly long.
The general flavor was the usual left-right split with the left rather apoplectic about the President’s aggressiveness, with a tone of “there he goes again.” And there were the more alarmist commentators who said he really does believe it and that, of course, really was alarming for people living in Washington who found it very hard, particularly in the early years of Reagan, to believe that there were politicians and leaders who truly did have a belief system that they would act upon and not skip to the political necessities of the day.
I agree with Dr. Spalding that the Westminster speech may have received less reaction than the evil empire speech, “evil empire,” as she indicated, being the phrase that stuck rather than “ash heap of history.” And my explanation for why “evil empire” stuck more in the journalistic world is that it’s shorter, and this is, by the way, a rule that you can apply to all slogans. The shorter last because they’re easier to put in headlines. Which is, incidentally, why “axis of evil” is a brilliant turn of phrase, ten letters to encompass a lot of bad people, extremely economical.
As to what was important about the Westminster speech, many reasons have been elaborated, but I think the one thing that was so stunning about it was its optimism. It’s hard for us living 10 years after the utter eradication of communism to put ourselves back 20 years ago and to think about what it was like, particularly in the early ’80s.
Some of us think of 1975 as the nadir of the United States in the Cold War era with the collapse of Saigon. I think that’s wrong. I think it was 1979. 1979 really was the annus mirabilis. It was the lowest point of the Cold War. It was the year in which Nicaragua fell, Afghanistan was invaded, Cambodia was invaded by the Vietnamese, Iran collapsed, and just as a kind of footnote, which was entirely unnoted at the time, Grenada was taken over by Bishop and Company, something that we didn’t really notice until a little bit later. But it was all part of this pattern in which it appeared as if the policy of containment itself was in collapse.
That’s where we were starting from psychologically in the late 1970s. And here was a president who not only said this was not the way that things would have to be — we would not always be in retreat — but was confidently predicting what none of us imagined, that this rock of the Soviet Union and of communism that we had always imagined and still imagined at the time would always be with us in our lifetime would actually be destroyed and would disappear.
That I think was shocking — that psychological optimism. The idea that communism was a passing phase was the truly revolutionary idea. It took us from containment and at a time when it was a question of whether containment itself could be sustained and began speaking about rollback. That was revolutionary, that was shocking, and it spoke not only of rollback in the periphery, not only of rollback as understood in the Dulles years, meaning Eastern Europe, but Reagan essentially was saying that the rollback would go all the way to Moscow and it would end in Moscow itself.
Interestingly, however, his optimism did have a limit. It was somewhat projected into the future. There is a line in the speech where he says, “The task I have set forth will long outlive our own generation.” In fact it didn’t. It came shockingly early.
Part of the reason it came early is because of a policy that was articulated officially a few years later but that on the ground was begun to be implemented and that is the Reagan Doctrine. It was revolutionary in the sense that Reagan would not accept the premises of the past in the same way that he went from SALT to START in negotiations, from Strategic Arms Limitation to Strategic Arms Reduction, which was, again, revolutionary, in the same way that he went from Mutual Assured Destruction to SDI in nuclear theology, believing we can go beyond deterrents to defenses.
In the same way he brought this revolutionary idea that we could implement a policy that brought us from containment to rollback — but not rollback as we had imagined it in the ’50s in Eastern Europe. We would not only support Solidarity and try to assist the indigenous forces there in a peaceful revolution, but provide actual military aid to indigenous revolutionaries in the Communist outposts of the empire, that is in the Third World.
This was articulated officially in his State of the Union Address on the 6th of February 1985, almost three years after the Westminster Speech, in which he said, “We must not break faith with those who are risking their lives in every continent from Afghanistan to Nicaragua to defy Soviet-supported aggression and secure rights which have been ours since birth. Support of freedom fighters is self-defense.”
Now, I must admit that in the history of doctrines they’re generally rolled out with more fanfare. Truman delivered his in the famous address to a special session of Congress, in which he outlined the policy of containment. Nixon didn’t make a speech, but he was very interested in having the idea of the Nixon Doctrine understood and elaborated and propagated. The Reagan Doctrine was something that was, one might say, mischievously invented. I had a part in that. I saw that brazen speech and decided that it was, whether they meant it or not, an articulation of a very important principle of the foreign policy of the Reagan Administration, and that something new in the world had happened.
For 50 years, had been used to seeing pro-Western regimes under assault from communist guerillas in China, in Vietnam, Malaysia, in El Salvador, in Cuba. Just about everywhere our entire experience had been that. And here all of a sudden and rather unnoticed was a new phenomenon. There were guerillas fighting against communist regimes in Nicaragua, Angola, Afghanistan, and Cambodia. They hadn’t been connected and here they came together in the idea of the Reagan Doctrine, which was that we would support these guerillas in the fight to overthrow proxy Soviets regimes or in the case of Afghanistan an actual Soviet-imposed regime.
What was important about the Reagan Doctrine is until then we had done it quietly and clandestinely. The Reagan Doctrine said overtly we are doing this, we are proud of this, and we’re not going to hide this. What Reagan began was the vigorous defense of the idea of democratic revolution, not just in theory, not just as a spiritual or a political movement, but an actual revolution by democrats against the Soviet empire.
And he argued, first of all, in the justice of the cause, which I think is self-evident but at the time was revolutionary. Because we had this notion of state sovereignty, that somehow we were not permitted to overthrow the regimes that had a seat in the UN or other official status. Reagan argued that that was not a correct criterion. The correct criteria were justice, human rights, democracy, and if they were regimes that were oppressing their people, acting in the name of a tyranny, we had the right and the moral duty to support those who were going to overthrow it.
The other part of this strategy which went more unstated was that it served our larger purposes of engaging in the fight against the Soviet empire by bleeding it at the periphery, and bleed it did. The fact that the Soviets had almost without cost was an important factor in their expansion. Yes, it cost them to subsidize basket cases like Cuba, but in terms of their geopolitical position, the deployment of the military, and also the prestige of an expanding communism, it was worth it.
But with the Reagan Doctrine they ran up not just against a wall, but against opposition. They ran up against real armies supported by the United States that made them spend blood and treasure in defense of these outposts and it led to a radical reconsideration in Moscow about the cost of empire.
Statements were made in the late ’80s by high members of the Soviet foreign ministry in which they explicitly questioned whether the empire which was costing them so much was more a burden than a benefit. I think the Reagan Doctrine had a very important effect in helping change the mind of the Soviets as to whether acting as an empire was really in their interest.
Now, it is true that the Reagan Doctrine and support for some of these insurgencies did not begin with the Reagan Administration. It’s true that Carter sent arms to the Afghan rebels and Congress concurred. Congress also went along with economic aid to communist resistance in Cambodia. But since the Clark Amendment in 1976, aid was prohibited to the anti-Marxist guerillas in Angola, and Congress refused to support the war against indigenous communist dictatorships no matter how heavily supported by the Soviet Union.
Reagan’s program of CIA support for the Contras, who were fighting indigenous and not overtly foreign occupation, as were the Afghans, broke post-Vietnam precedent. Interestingly, at first and for the first three years of the Reagan Administration, the policy received the flimsiest of justifications. It was officially defended as a way to interdict supplies to the Salvadoran guerillas. What was interesting and important about the State of the Union Address in 1985 was that Reagan dropped the fig leaf and made an overt statement that we would now unashamedly and, without resort to some kind of cover, support a revolution against communist regimes. What the doctrine did was to establish a new, firmer doctrinal foundation for such support by declaring equally worthy armed resistance to communism whether imposed by foreign or indigenous tyrants.
Now, at the time many tried to interpret the Reagan Doctrine as a puffed-up rationale for the support of the Contras, but I believe that that is a lot like justifying the Truman Doctrine as a puffed-up reason to support the Greeks and the Turks in the late 1940s. It was in fact much more, and in the same way that the Truman Doctrine established the basis for containment, the Reagan Doctrine established the basis for a rollback.
In a sense it was a successor to earlier doctrines. The Truman Doctrine was a doctrine of containment that had its internal political collapse in the United States as a result of the Vietnam War and the divisions over Vietnam. The first attempt to patch it up was the Nixon Doctrine, which would rely on foreign, local powers to defend our interests.
The Carter Doctrine set forth that we would intervene unilaterally by means of a rapid deployment force in defense of our interests rather than relying on proxies as the Nixon Doctrine did. But that was never a serious attempt. It was a theoretical idea. There was never, I think, any attempt either to build a military force or to actually employ it.
The Reagan Doctrine relied not on friendly regimes but on guerillas. I’m not sure in the long view of history how decisive it was. I think it was a part of several other revolutionary policies, some of which have been mentioned here, being steadfast on the deployment of the Euro missiles, the insistence on SDI, the huge buildup in defenses, that added to the pressure that we placed on the Soviet periphery, particularly in Afghanistan that I think had a decisive effect in convincing the Soviets they could not continue in the Cold War.
There’s one interesting corollary to the Reagan Doctrine, which I think ought to be mentioned. It was originally intended to justify supporting anti-communist revolutions, but it was a deeper idea than that. It really was a proclamation of democratic revolution and it saw a corollary in two events which occurred later in the 1980s.
The first was in the Philippines and the second was in Chile. The Reagan Doctrine was not invoked, but you might call it a corollary, for in both cases — particularly in the Philippines — we supported indigenous democrats overthrowing non-communist dictators as a way to bring democracy to their countries. In that sense I think it was a glorious vindication of the Reagan Doctrine because it refuted the critics who said we had a double standard. In fact, Reagan — and the Reagan — idea was dedicated to universal application of democracy and freedom.
I think it was most effective in fighting the Communist regimes, but it helped remove Marcos in the Philippines and helped bring about the ultimate change in power in Chile. Under pressure for the Reagan Administration, and later the Bush Administration, there was a democratic transition that I think spoke to a much wider and deeper idea — our support for democratic revolution.
Let me end by mentioning an incident which I think was indicative of the radicalism of what Reagan did. A few months before the Reagan Doctrine was proposed, I was speaking with a Nicaraguan friend who had been an ex-Sandinista and was here in Washington in exile. He was supporting the Contras and rather in despair for the lack of progress and support that he saw in Washington. He was saying that the struggle of democrats around the world was doomed because of an absence in the West of what he called democratic militance, speaking in the terms of the man of the left he once was.
The Reagan Doctrine was the first step in the restoration of the democratic militance. The Westminster Address was the great herald of that idea. The Reagan Doctrine was one of the many policies implemented to bring it to a reality. All of us are blessed by having lived to see it vindicate itself and win the great victory on behalf of democracy that even Reagan in Westminster never imagined would have happened in our lifetime.
Remarks at panel discussion held at The Heritage Foundation
June 3, 2002
Translated by Ronald Hamowy
In February, 1848, the July Monarchy of Louis Philippe was overthrown, and the Second French Republic established. The new republic believed that the unemployment problem which was plaguing Paris could be solved by setting up government work-projects, guaranteeing employment at a certain wage rate for all who desired it. On September 12th, the Constituent Assembly debated the continuance of this arrangement and Tocqueville rose to speak against it. In the course of his speech he entered onto the subject of socialism, which he considered the logical consequence of recognizing the “right to work,” and devoted most of his time to a discussion of the socialist position.
NOTHING CAN be gained by not discussing issues which call into question the very roots of our society and which, sooner or later, must be faced. At the bottom of the amendment which is under consideration, perhaps unknown to its author but for me as clear as day, is the question of socialism. [Prolonged Sensation—Murmurs from the Left.]
Yes, gentlemen, sooner or later, the question of socialism, which everyone seems to fear and which no one, up to now, has dared treat of, must be brought into the open, and this Assembly must decide it. We are duty-bound to clear up this issue, which lies heavy upon the breast of France. I confess that it is principally because of this that I mount the podium today, that the question of socialism might finally be settled. I must know, the National Assembly must know, all of France must know—is the February Revolution a socialist revolution or is it not? [“Excellent!”]
It is not my intention to examine here the different systems which can all be categorized as socialist. I want only to attempt to uncover those characteristics which are common to all of them and to see if the February Revolution can be said to have exhibited those traits.
Now, the first characteristic of all socialist ideologies is, I believe, an incessant, vigorous and extreme appeal to the material passions of man. [Signs of approval.]
Thus, some have said: “Let us rehabilitate the body”; others, that “work, even of the hardest kind, must be not only useful, but agreeable”; still others, that “man must be paid, not according to his merit, but according to his need”; while, finally, they have told us here that the object of the February Revolution, of socialism, is to procure unlimited wealth for all.
A second trait, always present, is an attack, either direct or indirect, on the principle of private property. From the first socialist who said, fifty years ago, that “property is the origin of all the ills of the world,” to the socialist who spoke from this podium and who, less charitable than the first, passing from property to the property-holder, exclaimed that “property is theft,” all socialists, all, I insist, attack, either in a direct or indirect manner, private property. [“True, true.”] I do not pretend to hold that all who do so, assault it in the frank and brutal manner which one of our colleagues has adopted. But I say that all socialists, by more or less roundabout means, if they do not destroy the principle upon which it is based, transform it, diminish it, obstruct it, limit it, and mold it into something completely foreign to what we know and have been familiar with since the beginning of time as private property. [Excited signs of assent.]
Now, a third and final trait, one which, in my eyes, best describes socialists of all schools and shades, is a profound opposition to personal liberty and scorn for individual reason, a complete contempt for the individual. They unceasingly attempt to mutilate, to curtail, to obstruct personal freedom in any and all ways. They hold that the State must not only act as the director of society, but must further be master of each man, and not only master, but keeper and trainer. [“Excellent.”] For fear of allowing him to err, the State must place itself forever by his side, above him, around him, better to guide him, to maintain him, in a word, to confine him. They call, in fact, for the forfeiture, to a greater or less degree, of human liberty, [Further signs of assent.] to the point where, were I to attempt to sum up what socialism is, I would say that it was simply a new system of serfdom. [Lively assent.]
I have not entered into a discussion of the details of these systems. I have indicated what socialism is by pointing out its universal characteristics. They suffice to allow an understanding of it. Everywhere you might find them, you will be sure to find socialism, and wherever socialism is, these characteristics are met.
IS SOCIALISM, gentlemen, as so many have told us, the continuation, the legitimate completion, the perfecting of the French Revolution? Is it, as it has been pretended to be, the natural development of democracy? No, neither one or the other. Remember the Revolution! Re-examine the awesome and glorious origin of our modern history. Was it by appealing to the material needs of man, as a speaker of yesterday insisted, that the French Revolution accomplished those great deeds that the whole world marvelled at? Do you believe that it spoke of wages, of well-being, of unlimited wealth, of the satisfaction of physical needs?
Citizen Mathieu: I said nothing of the kind.
Citizen de Tocqueville: Do you believe that by speaking of such things it could have aroused a whole generation of men to fight for it at its borders, to risk the hazards of war, to face death? No, gentlemen, it was by speaking of greater things, of love of country, of the honor of France, of virtue, generosity, selflessness, glory, that it accomplished what it did. Be certain, gentlemen, that it is only by appealing to man’s noblest sentiments that one can move them to attain such heights. [“Excellent, excellent.”]
And as for property, gentlemen: it is true that the French Revolution resulted in a hard and cruel war against certain property-holders. But, concerning the very principle of private property, the Revolution always respected it. It placed it in its constitutions at the top of the list. No people treated this principle with greater respect. It was engraved on the very frontispiece of its laws.
The French Revolution did more. Not only did it consecrate private property, it universalized it. It saw that still a greater number of citizens participated in it. [Varied exclamations. “Exactly what we want!”]It is thanks to this, gentlemen, that today we need not fear the deadly consequences of socialist ideas which are spread throughout the land. It is because the French Revolution peopled the land of France with ten million property-owners that we can, without danger, allow these doctrines to appear before us. They can, without
It is thanks to this, gentlemen, that today we need not fear the deadly consequences of socialist ideas which are spread throughout the land. It is because the French Revolution peopled the land of France with ten million property-owners that we can, without danger, allow these doctrines to appear before us. They can, without doubt, destroy society, but thanks to the French Revolution, they will not prevail against it and will not harm us. [“Excellent.”]
And finally, gentlemen, liberty. There is one thing which strikes me above all. It is that the Old Regime, which doubtless differed in many respects from that system of government which the socialists call for (and we must realize this) was, in its political philosophy, far less distant from socialism than we had believed. It is far closer to that system than we. The Old Regime, in fact, held that wisdom lay only in the State and that the citizens were weak and feeble beings who must forever be guided by the hand, for fear they harm themselves. It held that it was necessary to obstruct, thwart, restrain individual freedom, that to secure an abundance of material goods it was imperative to regiment industry and impede free competition. The Old Regime believed, on this point, exactly as the socialists of today do. It was the French Revolution which denied this.
Gentlemen, what is it that has broken the fetters which, from all sides, had arrested the free movement of men, goods and ideas? What has restored to man his individuality, which is his real greatness? The French Revolution! [Approval and clamor.] It was the French Revolution which abolished all those impediments, which broke the chains which you would refashion under a different name. And it is not only the members of that immortal assembly—the Constituent Assembly, that assembly which founded liberty not only in France but throughout the world—which rejected the ideas of the Old Regime. It is the eminent men of all the assemblies which followed it!
AND AFTER this great Revolution, is the result to be that society which the socialists offer us, a formal, regimented and closed society where the State has charge of all, where the individual counts for nothing, where the community masses to itself all power, all life, where the end assigned to man is solely his material welfare—this society where the very air is stifling and where light barely penetrates? Is it to be for this society of bees and beavers, for this society, more for skilled animals than for free and civilized men, that the French Revolution took place? Is it for this that so many great men died on the field of battle and on the gallows, that so much noble blood watered the earth? Is it for this that so many passions were inflamed, that so much genius, so much virtue walked the earth?
No! I swear it by those men who died for this great cause! It is not for this that they died. It is for something far greater, far more sacred, far more deserving of them and of humanity. [“Excellent.”] If it had been but to create such a system, the Revolution was a horrible waste. A perfected Old Regime would have served adequately. [Prolonged clamor.]
I mentioned a while ago that socialism pretended to be the legitimate continuation of democracy. I myself will not search, as some of my colleagues have done, for the real etymology of this word, democracy. I will not, as was done yesterday, rummage around in the garden of Greek roots to find from whence comes this word. [Laughter.] I look for democracy where I have seen it, alive, active, triumphant, in the only country on earth where it exists, where it could possibly have been established as something durable in the modern world—in America. [Whispers.]
There you will find a society where social conditions are even more equal than among us; where the social order, the customs, the laws are all democratic; where all varieties of people have entered, and where each individual still has complete independence, more freedom than has been known in any other time or place; a country essentially democratic, the only completely democratic republics the world has ever known. And in these republics you will search in vain for socialism. Not only have socialist theories not captured public opinion there, but they play such an insignificant role in the intellectual and political life of this great nation that they cannot even rightfully boast that people fear them.
America today is the one country in the world where democracy is totally sovereign. It is, besides, a country where socialist ideas, which you presume to be in accord with democracy, have held least sway, the country where those who support the socialist cause are certainly in the worst position to advance them I personally would not find it inconvenient if they were to go there and propagate their philosophy, but in their own interests, I would advise them not to. [Laughter.]
A Member: Their goods are being sold right now.
Citizen de Tocqueville: No, gentlemen. Democracy and socialism are not interdependent concepts. They are not only different, but opposing philosophies. Is it consistent with democracy to institute the most meddlesome, all-encompassing and restrictive government, provided that it be publicly chosen and that it act in the name of the people? Would the result not be tyranny, under the guise of legitimate government and, by appropriating this legitimacy assuring to itself the power and omnipotence which it would otherwise assuredly lack? Democracy extends the sphere of personal independence; socialism confines it. Democracy values each man at his highest; socialism makes of each man an agent, an instrument, a number. Democracy and socialism have but one thing in common—equality. But note well the difference. Democracy aims at equality in liberty. Socialism desires equality in constraint and in servitude. [“Excellent, excellent.”]
THE FEBRUARY REVOLUTION, accordingly, must not be a “social” one, and if it must not be then we must have the courage to say so. If it must not be then we must have the energy to loudly proclaim that it should not be, as I am doing here. When one is opposed to the ends, he must be opposed to the means by which one arrives at those ends. When one has no desire for the goal he must not enter onto the path which necessarily leads him there. It has been proposed today that we enter down that very path.
We must not follow that political philosophy which Baboeuf so ardently embraced [cries of approval]—Baboeuf, the grand-father of all modern socialists. We must not fall into the trap he himself indicated, or, better, suggested by his friend, pupil and biographer, Buonarotti. Listen to Buonarotti’s words. They merit attention, even after fifty years.
A Member: There are no Babovists here.
Citizen de Tocqueville: “The abolition of individual property and the establishment of the Great National Economy was the final goal of his (Baboeuf’s) labors. But he well realized that such an order could not be established immediately following victory. He thought it essential that [the State] conduct itself in such manner that the whole people would do away with private property through a realization of their own needs and interests.” Here are the principal methods by which he thought to realize his dream. (Mind you, it is his own panegyrist I am quoting.) “To establish, by laws, a public order in which property-holders, provisionally allowed to keep their goods, would find that they possessed neither wealth, pleasure, or consideration, where, forced to spend the greater part of their income on investment or taxes, crushed under the weight of a progressive tax, removed from public affairs, deprived of all influence, forming, within the State, nothing but a class of suspect foreigners, they would be forced to leave the country, abandoning their goods, or reduced to accepting the establishment of the Universal Economy.”
A Representative: We’re there already!
Citizen de Tocqueville: There, gentlemen, is Baboeuf’s program. I sincerely hope that it is not that of the February republic. No, the February republic must be democratic, but it must not be socialist—
A Voice from the Left: Yes! [“No! No!” (interruption)]
Citizen de Tocqueville: And if it is not to be socialist, what then will it be?
A Member from the Left: Royalist!
Citizen de Tocqueville (turning toward the left): It might, perhaps become so, if you allow it to happen, [much approval] but it will not.
If the February Revolution is not socialist, what, then, is it? Is it, as many people say and believe, a mere accident? Does it not necessarily entail a complete change of government and laws? I don’t think so.
When, last January, I spoke in the Chamber of Deputies, in the presence of most of the delegates, who murmured at their desks, albeit because of different reasons, but in the same manner in which you murmured at yours a while ago—[“Excellent, excellent.”]
(The speaker turns towards the left)
—I told them: Take care. Revolution is in the air. Can’t you feel it? Revolution is approaching. Don’t you see it? We are sitting on a volcano. The record will bear out that I said this. And why?—[Interruption from the left.]
Did I have the weakness of mind to suppose that revolution was coming because this or that man was in power, or because this or that incident excited the political anger of the nation? No, gentlemen. What made me believe that revolution was approaching, what actually produced the revolution, was this: I saw a basic denial of the most sacred principles which the French Revolution had spread throughout the world. Power, influence, honors, one might say, life itself, were being confined to the narrow limits of one class, such that no country in the world presented a like example.
That is what made me believe that revolution was at our door. I saw what would happen to this privileged class, that which always happens when there exists small, exclusive aristocracies. The role of the statesman no longer existed. Corruption increased every day. Intrigue took the place of public virtue, and all deteriorated.
Thus, the upper class.
And among the lower classes, what was happening? Increasingly detaching themselves both intellectually and emotionally from those whose function it was to lead them, the people at large found themselves naturally inclining towards those who were well-disposed towards them, among whom were dangerous demagogues and ineffectual utopians of the type we ourselves have been occupied with here.
Because I saw these two classes, one small, the other numerous, separating themselves little by little from each other, the one reckless, insensible and selfish, the other filled with jealousy, defiance and anger, because I saw these two classes isolated and proceeding in opposite directions, I said—and was justified in saying—that revolution was rearing its head and would soon be upon us. [“Excellent.”]
Was it to establish something similar to this that the February Revolution took place? No, gentlemen, I refuse to believe it. As much as any of you, I believe the opposite. I want the opposite, not only in the interests of liberty but also for the sake of public security.
I ADMIT that I did not work for the February Revolution, but, given it, I want it to be a dedicated and earnest revolution because I want it to be the last. I know that only dedicated revolutions endure. A revolution which stands for nothing, which is stricken with sterility from its birth, which destroys without building, does nothing but give birth to subsequent revolutions. [Approval.]
I wish, then, that the February revolution have a meaning, clear, precise and great enough for all to see.
And what is this meaning? In brief, the February Revolution must be the real continuation, the honest and sincere execution of that which the French Revolution stood for, it must be the actualization of that which our fathers dared but dream of. [Much assent.]
Citizen Ledru-Rollin: I demand the floor.
Citizen de Tocqueville: That is what the February Revolution must be, neither more nor less. The French Revolution stood for the idea that, in the social order, there might be no classes. It never sanctioned the categorizing of citizens into property-holders and proletarians. You will find these words, charged with hate and war, in none of the great documents of the French Revolution. On the contrary, it was grounded in the philosophy that, politically, no classes must exist; the Restoration, the July Monarchy, stood for the opposite. We must stand with our fathers.
The French Revolution, as I have already said, did not have the absurd pretension of creating a social order which placed into the hands of the State control over the fortunes, the well-being, the affluence of each citizen, which substituted the highly questionable “wisdom” of the State for the practical and interested wisdom of the governed. It believed that its task was big enough, to grant to each citizen enlightenment and liberty. [“Excellent.”]
The Revolution had this firm, this noble, this proud belief which you seem to lack, that it sufficed for a courageous and honest man to have these two things, enlightenment and liberty, and to ask nothing more from those who govern him.
The Revolution was founded in this belief. It had neither the time nor the means to bring it about. It is our duty to stand with it and, this time, to see that it is accomplished.
Finally, the French Revolution wished—and it is this which made it not only beatified but sainted in the eyes of the people—to introduce charity into politics. It conceived the notion of duty towards the poor, towards the suffering, something more extended, more universal than had ever preceded it. It is this idea that must be recaptured, not, I repeat, by substituting the prudence of the State for individual wisdom, but by effectively coming to the aid of those in need, to those who, after having exhausted their resources, would be reduced to misery if not offered help, through those means which the State already has at its disposal.
That is essentially what the French Revolution aimed at, and that is what we ourselves must do.
I ask, is that socialism?
From the Left: Yes! Yes, exactly what socialism is.
Citizen de Tocqueville: Not at all!
No, that is not socialism but Christian charity applied to politics. There is nothing in it . . .
Citizen President: You cannot be heard. It is obvious that you do not hold the same opinion. You will get your chance to speak from the podium, but do not interrupt.
Citizen de Tocqueville: There is nothing there which gives to workers a claim on the State. There is nothing in the Revolution which forces the State to substitute itself in the place of the individual foresight and caution, in the place of the market, of individual integrity. There is nothing in it which authorizes the State to meddle in the affairs of industry or to impose its rules on it, to tyrannize over the individual in order to better govern him, or, as it is insolently claimed, to save him from himself. There is nothing in it but Christianity applied to politics.
Yes, the February Revolution must be Christian and democratic, but it must on no account be socialist. These words sum up all my thinking and I leave you with them.