Edmond Henri Adolphe Scherer.

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across the various systems of Socialism, or, to


speak more exactly, Communism, since the question
is of a state of things in which collective is to take
the place of individual property. Mr. Mill calls a
halt at this subject and discusses it. Nay, he does
more, he declares that, if the choice between Com-
munism and the suffering and injustice which
private property involves at the present time were
necessary, it could not be doubtful. Indeed he is
not quite sure that Communism is not the best
form, and the final form, of society. And so, as I
have said, the influence of yet another French
school has added itself in Mr. Mill's case to the
influence which Auguste Comte had already exer-
cised over him.

There is a real analogy between these two doc-
trines as well as between both and our author's cast
of mind. He is as a thinker bold rather than pro-
found : he possesses ingenuity, sagacity, precision,
but no great suppleness. With all his cleverness
in analyzing and expounding, discussing and sur-
veying a subject at its origins, and in pursuing its
applications with all his logical and investigating
strength, he is lacking in the gift of original crear
tion, and even in that of intuitive perception. He
fails in finesse. He does not entirely understand
anything but what is measured and numbered.
Imponderable elements, spiritual influences, escape
him. He ignores the play of passion, the part
borne by moral forces. In short, look at Mr. Mill
from what side you like, and you will always recog-
nize the Positive philosopher.


This should make it clear how he was of neces-
sity exposed to the blandishments of which I have
spoken, for Socialist theories naturally serve as
the politics of Positivism ; and there is a kinship
between the two systems. We must take good care,
moreover, to recognize that in itself, and as a mere
theory, Communism is invulnerable. The society
which it offers us is perfectly organized, regular,
logical, symmetrical. It has but one fault, and that
is that it is ideal, or, in other words, impossible.
It does not take man as he is, with his foibles, his
tendencies, his caprices. It sees in him only a fixed
quantity, a product, a machine. And for this same
reason it takes no account of his needs of develop-
ment and of liberty. I know, of course, that there
are very liberal Communists ; but I cannot help
thinking that they are so only by virtue of a con-
tradiction. Laissez-faire has no real place in their
conception of society.

Now Mr. Mill must needs have fallen more easily
than another into this contradiction. There are
indeed two men in him. There is the systematic
thinker, and the Englishman accustomed to the
exercise of liberty and the enjoyment of the advan-
tages resulting from it. There is the savant for
whom individual and society both are the results of
certain forces, the action of certain machinery ; and
there is the manly spirit which cannot endure the
placing of fetters on independence of opinion.
There is the Benthamite who looks at institutions


from the point of view of utility (that is to say, as
a result or quotient) , the " scientist " who con-
templates the fated laws followed by humanity;
and there is the citizen who has learnt to esteem
these same institutions in accordance with their
influence on the development of man and the for-
mation of character.

This last aim is that which dominates in the lit-
tle book '' On Liberty," while both are found in the
volume on '' Eepresentative Government." I can-
not here dwell on the elder of these two works, but
I must express my admiration of the inspiration
under which it was written. Nowhere is there to
be read a more eloquent defence of the rights of
individualism, a more generous protest against the
tyranny of governments, and still more against that
of custom and opinion. It is in this religious re-
spect for the liberty of all, this tolerance for every
idea, this confidence in the final results of the
struggle, that we recognize true Liberalism. The
author's notions have not always equal solidity, but
his instincts are always lofty. We see on every
page the man whose own independence has set him
at odds with prejudice. "Despotism itself does not
produce its worst effects so long as individuality
subsists by its side ; and everything that crushes
individuality is despotism by whatever name it is
called, and with whatever disguise it adorns itself."
These words of the author might serve as a motto
for the volume.


In his work on " Representative Government,"
Mr. Mill begins by determining what the end of
all government is. It is a double end. A govern-
ment has functions, it exists for the management of
interests, and it ought to manage them as well as
possible ; but it must at the same time contribute
to the people's moral progress, and help to raise
the national character. This last task is, indeed,
the more important of the two ; and if it could be
separated from the other, it would have to be at-
tended to first. Who has not heard the benefits of a
wise despotism extolled among ourselves ? Who
has not heard set against the inconveniences of free
governments the superior manner in which absolute
governments accomplish the material part of their
task, the success with which they make war, the
secrecy with which they negotiate, the swiftness
with which they hurry on public works ? This is
the talk that we are condemned to listen to every
day ; and the answer, alas ! is but too easy. The
machine works admirably, but it is only a machine.
And what good is the greatness of a State if society
goes from bad to worse ? What good is adminis-
trative perfection if this perfection is compatible
with the moral degradation of the people ?

Moreover, Mr. Mill is by no means disposed to
allow to absolute power the privilege of discharg-
ing the special functions of government. Self-
government has in his eyes two advantages, not
merely that of accustoming citizens to the exercise


of civic virtues, but also that of assuring the well-
being of the people by a thorough control. For no
one is ignorant that rights and interests are never
better secured than when those interested in them
are responsible for their defence.

So, then, popular government is that which best
attains the divers ends of governing. Yet it can
only be directly exercised in very small States,
such as the Greek republics, or certain Swiss
cantons, where the whole assembly of the people
can find room in the market-place. In our great
modern States it is unworkable. Hence came a
device, familial- to us, but unknown to antiquity —
the device by which the people delegates its powers
to deputies, by which the nation governs itself
through representatives elected for that purpose.

Yet we must not deceive ourselves as to the apti-
tudes of representative government. Bring the
numbers of a chamber of deputies as low as you
will, it will always be unfit for the direct manage-
ment of public affairs. It cannot administer, it
cannot even, in Mr. Mill's judgment, draft the laws
which it discusses. Its business is to be not so
much a government as the check and overseer of a
government. Its principal function, in our author's
phrase, is to be a committee of grievances and a
congress of opinion.

Nor does Mr. Mill deceive himself any the more
as to the conditions which are indispensable to the
establishment and the prosperity of the government


of which we speak. That it may work, the people
must have at once an independence which cannot
endure tyranny, and a respect for law without
which all free governments end by succumbing to
disorder. There must be in the nation neither the
ambition of command, which urges the individual
to enterprises against the liberty of his fellow-citi-
zens, nor the reluctance to obey which cannot bring
itself to yield to the yoke of law. I hasten to add
that in my opinion the benefits of representative
government are so great that it remains the best —
I will go further, the only one desirable — even
when the national character seems least to endure
it. The school of liberty is liberty itself.

If we pass from general considerations on repre-
sentative government to the application of them,
we shall meet, first of all, two capital questions to
which Mr. Mill has the merit of having invited our
utmost attention, I refer to the distribution of
the suffrage among the electors, and the distribu-
tion of votes among the deputies to be elected.

Mr. Mill is a partisan of universal suffrage.
Without exactly relying on the abstract rights of
man, he regards as false and dangerous all arbitrary
limitation applied to the exercise of civic functions.
In a full-grown and civilized nation there should be
no pariahs. The only exclusions which he proposes
are drawn from the nature of the duty to be ful-
filled. Thus he would have the electors possess
elementary instruction ; and universal education in


his view ought to precede universal suffrage. He
is also of opinion that only the man who pays a
certain proportion of taxes can be admitted to the
nomination of an assembly by which taxes will be
voted. On the other hand, our author demands
the extension of electoral rights to women — the
difference of sex in such a matter seems to him to
weigh no more than difference in height or differ-
ent-colored hair. Mr. Mill does not seem to have
reflected that from the woman-voter to the woman-
candidate there is but a step, or rather that there
is not even that. However, these are things not to
be argued about ; for the question becomes too deli-
cate. But was I not thoroughly right in saying
above that Mr. Mill is lacking in finesse 9

I prefer, I must say, another notion of our
author's on the suffrage — a notion which he has
worked out under the title of the "plural vote."
When the institution of universal suffrage is sub-
jected to unprejudiced examination, objections of
incontestable gravity present themselves ; for uni-
versal suffrage reposes first of all on a right, and
if France has adopted it, it is, no doubt, a result
of that care for natural right which forms one of
the features of our national spirit. Enamoured of
simple ideas, and especially of the ideas of equality
and of justice, we thought that the generic charac-
ter of mankind is its predominating feature, that
one man is literally as good as another : that the
fundamental likeness outweighs all differences in


talent, in culture, and in social position. We
thought so ; and this led us to equal and universal

The argument would be as invulnerable as it is
simple if the suffrage were merely a right. Now
it certainly is this ; but it is also a trust. When
he gives his vote to a representative the elector
takes an influential part in public affairs. Now
from this point of view, which is that of personal
qualification, it is clear that equality no longer
exists. One human being, as a general thesis, may
be the equal of another man ; the ignorant of the
learned, the vicious of the virtuous, the negro of
the white, the woman of her husband. We may,
on the strength of an ideal principle, abstract all
differences so as to leave nothing but the identity
of species remaining. But so soon as there is any
function to discharge, we shall be obliged to put
these abstractions on one side and inquire into
capacity; and as soon as capacity comes to the
fore, all the natural inequalities which had been
held so cheap will reappear.

How are we to get out of this difficulty ? How
reconcile the rights which are equal and the capac-
ities which are not ? This is the true statement of
the problem, and I do not think anyone can deny
that it is a pressing one, or that the future of
democracy is directly concerned in it.

The solution which Mr. Mill proposes has the
advantage of simplicity. Starting from the distinc-


tion we have just drawn, we may thus express it.
Rights being equal, each citizen shall have a vote ;
but capacities being at the same time unequal, one
elector may have more votes than another. As to
the way of settling the number to which each is
entitled, we must lay stress on the nature of their
occupations, and on the social distinctions which
carry with them, or suppose, superior intelligence
and information. Thus, if a workman has one
vote, his master will have two, and the practitioner
of a liberal profession three. The important thing
is that the proportion shall be clearly enough
founded on facts to be accepted by the public con-
science. Such is the system which Mr. Mill calls
the plural vote. He is not afraid to add that, with
this organization of voting excluded, universal suf-
frage may perhaps be preferable to other forms of
government ; but that it remains false in principle,
and that the evils by which it is accompanied will
always get the better of its advantages.

The criticism is just, and the remedy is ingeni-
ous. We have still to discover whether it is prac-
ticable. Universal suffrage is not only, as I have
said, a right and a trust : it is something more, or
(if anyone likes) something less ; in plain words, it
is a pis-aller. It has its roots in the principle of
equality ; but the force with which it thrusts itself
on modern societies comes still more perhaps from
the difficulty experienced by the mind in finding a
middle term between the narrowest oligarchy and


the most unbridled democracy. Electoral qualifi-
cations, wherever they exist, have a tendency to be
lowered; and they seem likely to be abolished
everywhere for want of a sufficient raison d'itre.
Nobody can deny that the Haves have more at
stake in the commonweal than the Have-nots ; nor
can anyone deny that distinctions of fortune do, in
a general way, correspond to differences of educa-
tion and intelligence. But at the same time it is
impossible to settle exactly the relations between
these differences and political capacity. This is
what helps to make classification odious by mak-
ing it arbitrary. Now I ask myself whether it
would not be the same with Mr. Mill's plan. Theo-
retically irreproachable, specious in general appear-
ance, it could hardly fail to meet with difficulties
in execution. Public opinion might no doubt acqui-
esce in giving more votes to a Marshal of France, a
judge of the Court of Appeal, or a member of the
Institute, than to an ordinary person — even in
giving more to a master than to a man. But the
system could not be applied as a whole. The dif-
ferent categories could not be drawn up without
the reappearance of the struggles of the principle
of equality against distinctions which do not rest
with sufficient evidence on the nature of things.

The system set forth by Mr. Mill is, however,
none the less worthy of attention. If the need of
organizing universal suffrage is ever felt, it is as-
suredly in this direction that the solution of a


singularly thorny problem must be sought. The
plural vote seems at all events preferable to the
expedient of indirect election, and the reader will
find in the work under notice some very just re-
marks on the faults of this latter kind of suffrage.

The second question raised by representative
government and suffrage-organization is that of the
manner of electing. Nor let anyone think that
nothing but a mere working detail is here at stake.
Now or never we may say that the way of doing
the thing is more important than the doing of it.
" Two very different ideas/' says Mr. Mill excel-
lently, "are usually confounded under the name
democracy. The pure idea of democracy, accord-
ing to its definition, is the government of the whole
people by the whole people equally represented.
Democracy as commonly conceived and hitherto
practised is the government of the whole people by
a mere majority of the people exclusively repre-
sented. The former is synonymous with the
equality of all citizens ; in the second (strangely
confounded with it) is a government of privilege
in favor of the numerical majority, who alone
possess practically any voice in the State. This is
the inevitable consequence of the manner in which
votes are now taken, to the complete disfranchise-
ment of minorities."

And further : — "In a representative body the
minority must of course be overriiled : and in an
equal democracy the majority of the people, through


their representatives, will out-vote and prevail over
the minority and their representatives. But does it
follow that the minority should have no represen-
tatives at all ? Because the majority ought to pre-
vail, must the majority have all the votes, the
minority none ? The injustice and the violation
of principle," adds our author, "are not less fla-
grant because it is a minority which suffers from
them. For there is not equal suffrage where each
individual does not count for as much as any other
single individual in the community."

I shall also quote the following reflection, which
adds the last touch to the full picture of the
danger which democracy should try to avert : —
" The great difiiculty of democratic government has
hitherto seemed to be how to provide in a demo-
cratic society what circumstances have hitherto
provided in all societies which have maintained
themselves ahead of others — a social support — a
point d'appui for individual resistance to the ten-
dencies of the ruling power, a protection and a
rallying point for the opinions and the interests
which the ascendent public opinion views with dis-
favor. For want of such a point d'appui, ancient
societies, and all but a few modern ones, either fell
into dissolution or became stationary (which means
slow deterioration) because of the exclusive pre-
dominance of a part only of the conditions of social
and mental well-being."

There is but one means of curing these vices of


democracy, which is to organize minorities. But
how are we to set about doing this? Here our
author adopts and warmly defends a plan proposed
in 1829 by Mr, Hare/ the chief features of which I
may sum up as follows : —

(1) Eepresentation is no longer linked to a town,
an arrondissement, or any territorial circumscrip-
tion. It ceases to be local. All the deputies are
elected by votes collected throughout the country.
Every representative represents all the citizens
who at any place have voted for him ; in other
words, the people votes by scrutin de liste and for
candidates who stand for the whole nation.

(2) Each elector's voting-ticket is a graduated
list, on which the candidates he chooses figure in
the order of his preference for them.

(3) Each elector shares in the nomination of
one candidate only ; but if the candidate he has put
first fails, his second vote, his third, and so on may
rank for another.

(4) The number of votes necessary to seat a

1 [It was not quite so early, I think (1829 is either a slip of
memory or a misprint for 1859). M. Scherer is not entirely just
to the plan of Mr. Hare, who died recently, with less public
notice than might have been expected. His scheme, which was
favored by many able men of all political parties, had, as far as
general elections go, perhaps only the drawback of apparent
complexity. A party list cannot be more dangerous to electoral
independence than a single party candidate : and M. Scherer
does not seem to have realized that no party could possibly be
over-represented except by falsification of the tickets. — Trans.^


deputy is determined by the number of voters
divided by that of the seats to be filled. However,
that no votes may be lost, those which are obtained
by any candidate over and above the necessary pro-
portion are no longer set to his credit, and are on
each ticket carried to the credit of the candidate
who comes next.

(5) The complete examination of the votes
lodged thus supplies a list from which are taken
the number of members required to make up the
chamber of representatives.

I must refer the reader for more details to Mr.
Mill, who himself refers to Mr. Hare's own book.
But I confess that I feel some surprise at the eager
welcome with which our author greets these pro-
posals, for the objections they arouse are evident.
Thus one does not see how the desired number of
representatives can be assured, unless each ticket
bears a number of names equal to the total number
of deputies — which in the case of a large assem-
bly would lead us straight to the absurd. Besides,
if the number of names to be inscribed were re-
duced to a much smaller figure — fifty, thirty, even
twenty — it would be impossible for the electors,
especially those of the lower classes, to know the
titles and deserts of so great a number of candi-
dates. They would therefore be driven, in order
to fill up their tickets, to follow party directions ;
and this brings us to a still more serious objection.
Mr. Hare's plan would not prevent the country


from splitting up into several great parties, as
happens in the United States ; nor would it prevent
these parties from drawing up lists, and from get-
ting them adopted by their adherents. Far from
attaining the end it proposes, I incline to think
that the project in question would give to party a
still more powerful organization, and would thus
tend to diminish instead of to increase the actual
part played by minorities. In this discussion, as in
many others, Mr. Mill's merit will be seen to lie
less in having solved the problem than in having
stated it — stated it, I may add, with the clearness
of a thought which is always exact, of a logic which
is always rigorous.

It is no small advantage to survey a subject
under the conduct of a guide who knows its by-
ways, who is acquainted with what has been said
on every point, who has perfect information and
direction ready for the reader, who presents ques-
tions under all their aspects, who discusses them
with sagacity and good faith, who brings to the
argument no prejudice and no passion. Led by
such a guide, we feel ourselves advancing with a
steadier step ; and we find that we have explored
not a few scantily known regions. True, there is
something higher, something more precious still.
There are writers who have the eye of the diviner ;
who surprise us by unforeseen discoveries and strik-
ing remarks ; who unite originality with exactness,
depth with sagacity, genius with talent. These


men we meet, few and far between in history ; and
they mark eras in the annals of the human mind.
Mr. Mill, doubtless, is not of this number, but he
ranks immediately below them, among those who,
taking to be their province the whole knowledge
of a period, and carrying into it complete probity
of criticism, themselves shed on many points an
unexpected illumination.



Most of the books written on Shakespeare be-
long to one or other of two classes : they are either
panegyrics which do not tell us much that is new,
or commentaries which are certainly useful, but
which do not suflB.ce for the understanding of the
poet. There is no reader of the great dramatist
who must not have wished to have at hand some
substantive work in which he might find informa-
tion on the life of Shakespeare, on the date and
order of his pieces, on the condition in which they
have been preserved, on the interpretation which
has been put upon them, and on the distinctive
characteristics of their writer's genius. Such a
book would make use of the labors of scholars
without losing itself in detail, and would endeavor
to please men of taste without plunging into vague
aesthetic speculation. But I am wrong in speaking
of this desire as if nothing had been done to satisfy
it. Long ago M. Mezieres conceived the plan of
such a book as that whose programme I have been

1 Pred^cesseurs et contemporains de Shakspeare. Shak-
speare, ses ceuvres et ses critiques. Contemporains et succes-
seurs de Shakspeare. Par A. Mezieres. 2 edition. 3 vols.


sketching, and carried it out with much erudition
and much taste. His volume on Shakespeare is
certainly the best hand-book that one can recom-
mend to readers who wish to devote to the English

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Online LibraryEdmond Henri Adolphe SchererEssays on English literature; → online text (page 4 of 21)