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THE CULT OF INCOMPETENCE




FIRST EDITION November, 1911.
SECOND EDITION July, 1912.




THE CULT OF INCOMPETENCE


By EMILE FAGUET

_Of the French Academy_

TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH BY
BEATRICE BARSTOW

WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY
THOMAS MACKAY

NEW YORK:
E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY
1912




CONTENTS.



PAGE

INTRODUCTION 1

CHAPTER

I. THE PRINCIPLES OF FORMS OF GOVERNMENT 12

II. CONFUSION OF FUNCTIONS 37

III. THE REFUGES OF EFFICIENCY 59

IV. THE COMPETENT LEGISLATOR 66

V. LAWS UNDER DEMOCRACY 82

VI. THE INCOMPETENCE OF GOVERNMENT 92

VII. JUDICIAL INCOMPETENCE 96

VIII. EXAMPLES OF INCOMPETENCE 123

IX. MANNERS 156

X. PROFESSIONAL CUSTOMS 162

XI. ATTEMPTED REMEDIES 172

XII. THE DREAM 216

INDEX 237




THE CULT OF INCOMPETENCE.

INTRODUCTION.


Though it may not have been possible in the following pages to reproduce
the elegant and incisive style of a master of French prose, not even the
inadequacies of a translation can obscure the force of his argument. The
only introduction, therefore, that seems possible must take the form of
a request to the reader to study M. Faguet's criticism of modern
democracy with the daily paper in his hand. He will then see, taking
chapter by chapter, how in some aspects the phenomena of English
democracy are identical with those described in the text, and how in
others our English worship of incompetence, moral and technical, differs
considerably from that which prevails in France. It might have been
possible, as a part of the scheme of this volume, to note on each page,
by way of illustration, instances from contemporary English practice,
but an adequate execution of this plan would have overloaded the text,
or even required an additional volume. Such a volume, impartially worked
out with instances drawn from the programme of all political parties,
would be an interesting commentary on current political controversy, and
it is to be hoped that M. Faguet's suggestive pages will inspire some
competent hand to undertake the task.

If M. Faguet had chosen to refer to England, he might, perhaps, have
cited the constitution of this country, as it existed some seventy years
ago, as an example of a "demophil aristocracy," raised to power by an
"aristocracy-respecting democracy." It is not perhaps wise in political
controversy to compromise our liberty of action in respect of the
problems of the present time, by too deferential a reference to a golden
age which probably, like Lycurgus in the text, p. 73, never existed at
all, but it has been often stated, and undoubtedly with a certain amount
of truth, that the years between 1832 and 1866 were the only period in
English history during which philosophical principles were allowed an
important, we cannot say a paramount, authority over English
legislation. The characteristic features of the period were a
determination to abolish the privileges of the few, which, however,
involved no desire to embark on the impossible and inequitable task of
creating privileges for the many; a deliberate attempt to extirpate the
servile dependence of the old poor law, and a definite abandonment of
the plan of distributing economic advantages by eleemosynary state
action. This policy was based on the conviction that personal liberty
and freedom of private enterprise were the adequate, constructive
influences of a progressive civilisation. Too much importance has
perhaps been attached to the relatively unimportant question of the
freedom of international trade, for this was only part of a general
policy of emancipation which had a much more far-reaching scope. Rightly
understood the political philosophy of that time, put forward by the
competent statesmen who were then trusted by the democracy, proclaimed
the principle of liberty and freedom of exchange as the true solvents of
the economic problems of the day. This policy remained in force during
the ministry of Sir R. Peel and lasted right down to the time of the
great budgets of Mr. Gladstone.

If we might venture, therefore, to add another to the definitions of
Montesquieu, we might say that the principle animating a liberal
constitutional government was liberty, and that this involved a definite
plan for enlarging the sphere of liberty as the organising principle of
civil society. To what then are we to impute the decadence from this
type into which parliamentary government seems now to have fallen? Can
we attribute this to neglect or to exaggeration of its animating
principle, as suggested in the formula of Montesquieu? It is a question
which the reader may find leisure to investigate; we confine ourselves
to marking what seem to be some of the stages of decay.

When the forces of destructive radicalism had done their legitimate
work, it seemed a time for rest and patience, for administration rather
than for fresh legislation and for a pause during which the principles
of liberty and free exchange might have been left to organise the
equitable distribution of the inevitably increasing wealth of the
country. The patience and the conviction which were needed to allow of
such a development, rightly or wrongly, were not forthcoming, and
politicians and parties have not been wanting to give effect to
remedies hastily suggested to and adopted by the people. Political
leaders soon came to realise that recent enfranchisements had added a
new electorate for whom philosophical principles had no charm. At a
later date also, Mr. Gladstone, yielding to a powerful and not
over-scrupulous political agitation, suddenly determined to attempt a
great constitutional change in the relations between the United Kingdom
and Ireland. Whether the transference of the misgovernment of Ireland
from London to Dublin would have had results as disastrous or as
beneficial as disputants have asserted, may be matter for doubt, but the
manner in which the proposal was made certainly had one unfortunate
consequence. Mr. Gladstone's action struck a blow at the independence
and self-respect, or as M. Faguet terms it, the moral competence of our
parliamentary representation from which it has never recovered. Men were
called on to abandon, in the course of a few hours, opinions which they
had professed for a lifetime and this not as the result of conviction
but on the pressure of party discipline. Political feeling ran high.
The "Caucus" was called into more active operation. Political parties
began to invent programmes to capture the groundlings. The conservative
party, relinquishing its useful function of critic, revived the old
policy of eleemosynary doles, and, in an unlucky moment for its future,
has encumbered itself with an advocacy of the policy of protection. For
strangely enough the democracy, the bestower of power, though developing
symptoms of fiscal tyranny and a hatred of liberty in other directions
clings tenaciously to freedom of international trade - for the present at
least - and it would seem that the electioneering caucus has, in this
instance, failed to understand its own business. The doles of the new
State-charity were to be given to meet contributions from the
beneficiaries, but as the class which for one reason or another is ever
in a destitute condition, could not or would not contribute, the only
way in which the benevolent purpose of the agitation could be carried
out was by bestowing the dole gratuitously. The flood gates, therefore,
had to be opened wider, and we have been and still are exposed to a rush
of philanthropic legislation which is gradually transferring all the
responsibilities of life from the individual to the state. Free trade
for the moment remains, and it is supposed to be strongly entrenched in
the convictions of the liberal party. Its position, however, is
obviously very precarious in view of the demands made by the militant
trade unions. These, in their various spheres, claim a monopoly of
employment for their members, to the exclusion of those who do not
belong to their associations. Logic has something, perhaps not much, to
do with political action, and it is almost inconceivable that a party
can go on for long holding these two contradictory opinions. Which of
them will be abandoned, the future only can tell.

The result of all this is a growing disinclination on the part of the
people to limit their responsibilities to their means of discharging
them, the creation of a proletariate which in search of maintenance
drifts along the line of least resistance, dependence on the government
dole. In the end too it must bring about the impoverishment of the
state, which is ever being called on to undertake new burdens; for the
individual, thus released from obligation to discharge, is still left
free to create responsibilities, for which it is now the business of the
State to make provision. Under such a system the ability to pay as well
as the number of the solvent citizens must continuously decline.

The proper reply to this legislation which we describe as predatory in
the sense that we describe the benevolent habits of Robin Hood as
predatory, cannot be made by the official opposition which was itself
the first to step on the down grade, and which only waits the chances of
party warfare to take its turn in providing _panem et circenses_ at the
charge of the public exchequer. In this way, progress is brought to a
standstill by the chronic unwillingness of the rate- and tax-payers
to find the money. A truer policy, based on the voluntary action of
citizens and capable of indefinite and continuous expansion, finds no
support among politicians, for all political parties seem to be held in
the grip of the moral and technical incompetence which M. Faguet has so
wittily described. The only reply to a government bent on such courses
is that which above has been imputed - perhaps without sufficient
justification - to the governments of the period 1832-1866; and that
reply democracy, as at present advised, will allow no political party to
make.

There does not appear, therefore, to be much difference between the
situation here and in France, and it is very interesting to notice how
in various details there is a very close parallelism between events in
this country and those which M. Faguet has described. The position of
our Lord Chancellor, who has been bitterly attacked by his own party, in
respect of his appointment of magistrates, is very similar to that of M.
Barthou, quoted on p. 118. Our judicial system has hitherto been
considered free from political partisanship, but very recently and for
the first time a minister in his place in parliament, has rightly or
wrongly seen fit to call in question the impartiality of our judicial
bench, and the suspicion, if, as appears to be the case, it is widely
entertained by persons heated in political strife, will probably lead to
appointments calculated to ensure reprisals. Astute politicians do not
commit themselves to an attack on a venerated institution, till they
think they know that that institution is becoming unpopular with the
followers who direct their policy. Criminal verdicts also, especially
on the eve of an election, are now made liable to revision by ministers
scouring the gaols of the country in search of picturesque malefactors
whom, with an accompaniment of much philanthropic speech, they proceed
to set at liberty. Even the first principles of equity, as ordinarily
understood, seem to have lost their authority, when weighed in the
balance against the vote of the majority. Very recently the members of
an honourable and useful profession represented to a minister that his
extension of a scheme of more or less gratuitous relief to a class which
hitherto had been able and willing to pay its way, was likely to deprive
them of their livelihood. His reply, _inter alia_, contained the
argument that the class in question was very numerous and had many
votes, and that he doubted whether any one would venture to propose its
exclusion except perhaps a member for a university; as a matter of fact
some such proposal had been made by one of the university members whose
constituents were affected by the proposal. The minister further
declared that he did not think that such an amendment could obtain a
seconder. The argument seems to impute to our national representatives a
cynical disregard of equity, and a blind worship of numbers, which if
true, is an instance of moral incompetence quite as remarkable as
anything contained in M. Faguet's narrative.

If readers of this volume will take the trouble to annotate their copies
with a record of the relevant incidents which meet them every day of
their lives, they cannot fail to acknowledge how terribly inevitable is
the rise of incompetence to political power. The tragedy is all the more
dreadful, when we recognise, as we all must, the high character and
ability of the statesmen and politicians who lie under the thrall of
this compelling necessity.

This systematic corruption of the best threatens to assume the
proportions of a national disaster. It is the system, not the actors in
it, which M. Faguet analyses and invites us to deplore.

T. MACKAY.




CHAPTER I.

THE PRINCIPLES OF FORMS OF GOVERNMENT.


The question has often been asked, what is the animating principle of
different forms of government, for each, it is assumed, has its own
principle. In other words, what is the general idea which inspires each
political system?

Montesquieu, for instance, proved that the _principle_ of monarchy is
_honour_, the principle of despotism _fear_, the principle of a republic
_virtue_ or patriotism, and he added with much justice that governments
decline and fall as often by carrying their principle to excess, as by
neglecting it altogether.

And this, though a paradox, is true. At first sight it may not be
obvious how a despotism can fall by inspiring too much fear, or a
constitutional monarchy by developing too highly the sentiment of
honour, or a republic by having too much virtue. It is nevertheless
true.

To make too common a use of fear is to destroy its efficacy. As Edgar
Quinet happily puts it: "If we want to make use of fear we must be
certain that we can use it always." We cannot have too much honour, but
when we can appeal to this sentiment only and when distinctions,
decorations, orders, ribbons - in a word _honours_ - are multiplied,
inasmuch as we cannot increase such things indefinitely, those who have
none become as discontented as those who, having some, want more.

Finally we cannot, of course, have too much virtue, and naturally here
governments will fall not by exaggerating but by abandoning their
guiding principle. Yet is it not sometimes true that by demanding from
citizens too great a devotion to their country, we end by exhausting
human powers of endurance and sacrifice? This is what happened in the
case of Napoleon, who, perhaps unwittingly, required too much from
France, for the building up of a 'Greater France.'

But that, some one will object, was not a republic!

From the point of view of the sacrifices required from the citizen, it
was a republic, similar to the Roman Republic and to the French Republic
of 1792. All the talk was 'for the glory of our country,' 'heroism,
heroism, nothing but heroism'! If too much is required of it, civic
virtue can be exhausted.

It is, then, very true that governments perish just as much from an
excess as from a neglect of their appropriate principle. Montesquieu
without doubt borrowed his general idea from Aristotle, who remarks not
without humour, "Those, who think that they have discovered the basis of
good government, are apt to push the consequences of their new found
principle too far. They do not remember that disproportion in such
matters is fatal. They forget that a nose which varies slightly from the
ideal line of beauty appropriate for noses, tending slightly towards
becoming a hook or a snub, may still be of fair shape and not
disagreeable to the eye, but if the excess be very great, all symmetry
is lost, and the nose at last ceases to be a nose at all." This law of
proportion holds good with regard to every form of government.

* * * * *

Starting from these general ideas, I have often wondered what principle
democrats have adopted for the form of government which they favour,
and it has not required a great effort on my part to arrive at the
conclusion that the principle in question is the worship and
cultivation, or, briefly 'the cult' of incompetence or inefficiency.

Let us examine any well-managed and successful business firm or factory.
Every employee does the work he knows and does best, the skilled
workman, the accountant, the manager and the secretary, each in his
place. No one would dream of making the accountant change places with a
commercial traveller or a mechanic.

Look too at the animal world. The higher we go in the scale of organic
existence, the greater the division of labour, the more marked the
specialisation of physiological function. One organ thinks, another
acts, one digests, another breathes. Now is there such a thing as an
animal with only one organ, or rather is there any animal, consisting of
only one organ, which breathes and thinks and digests all at the same
time? Yes, there is. It is called the amoeba, and the amoeba is the
very lowest thing in the animal world, very inferior even to a
vegetable.

In the same way, without doubt, in a well constituted society, each
organ has its definite function, that is to say, administration is
carried on by those who have learnt how to administer, legislation and
the amendment of laws by those who have learnt how to legislate, justice
by those who have studied jurisprudence, and the functions of a country
postman are not given to a paralytic. Society should model itself on
nature, whose plan is specialisation. "For," as Aristotle says, "she is
not niggardly, like the Delphian smiths whose knives have to serve for
many purposes, she makes each thing for a single purpose, and the best
instrument is that which serves one and not many uses." Elsewhere he
says, "At Carthage it is thought an honour to hold many offices, but a
man only does one thing well. The legislator should see to this, and
prevent the same man from being set to make shoes and play the flute." A
well-constituted society, we may sum up, is one where every function is
not confided to every one, where the crowd itself, the whole body
social, is not told: "It is your business to govern, to administer, to
make the laws, &c." A society, where things are so arranged, is an
amoebic society.

That society, therefore, stands highest in the scale, where the division
of labour is greatest, where specialisation is most definite, and where
the distribution of functions according to efficiency is most thoroughly
carried out.

* * * * *

Now democracies, far from sharing this view, are inclined to take the
opposite view. At Athens there was a great tribunal composed of men
learned in, and competent to interpret, the law. The people could not
tolerate such an institution, so laboured to destroy it and to usurp its
functions. The crowd reasoned thus. "We can interpret and carry out
laws, because we make them." The conclusion was right, but the minor
premise was disputable. The retort can be made: "True, you can interpret
and carry out laws because you make them, but perhaps you have no
business to be making laws." Be that as it may, the Athenian people not
only interpreted and applied its own laws, but it insisted on being paid
for so doing. The result was that the poorest citizens sat judging all
day long, as all others were unwilling to sacrifice their whole time for
a payment of six drachmas. This plebeian tribunal continued for many
years. Its most celebrated feat was the judgment which condemned
Socrates to death. This was perhaps matter for regret, but the great
principle, the sovereignty of incompetence, was vindicated.

Modern democracies seem to have adopted the same principle, in form they
are essentially amoebic. A democracy, well-known to us all, has been
evolved in the following manner.

It began with this idea; king and people, democratic royalty, royal
democracy. The people makes, the king carries out, the law; the people
legislates, the king governs, retaining, however, a certain control over
the law, for he can suspend the carrying out of a new law when he
considers that it tends to obstruct the function of government. Here
then was a sort of specialisation of functions. The same person, or
collective body of persons, did not both legislate and govern.

This did not last long. The king was suppressed. Democracy remained, but
a certain amount of respect for efficiency remained too. The people, the
masses, did not, every single man of them, claim the right to govern and
to legislate directly.

It did not even claim the right to nominate the legislature directly. It
adopted indirect election, _à deux degrés_, that is, it nominated
electors who in turn nominated the legislature. It thus left two
aristocracies above itself, the first electors and the elected
legislature. This was still far removed from democracy on the Athenian
model which did everything itself.

This does not mean that much attention was paid to efficiency. The
electors were not chosen because they were particularly fitted to elect
a legislature, nor was the legislature itself elected with any reference
to its legislative capacity. Still there was a certain pretence of a
desire for efficiency, a double pseudo-efficiency. The crowd, or rather
the constitution, assumed that legislators elected by the delegates of
the crowd were more competent to make laws than the crowd itself.

This somewhat curious form of efficiency I have called _compétence par
collation_, efficiency or competence conferred by this form of
selection. There is absolutely nothing to show that so-and-so has the
slightest legislative or juridical faculty, so I confer on him a
certificate of efficiency by the confidence I repose in him when
nominating him for the office, or rather I show my confidence in the
electors and they confer a certificate of efficiency on those whom they
nominate for the legislature.

This, of course, is devoid of all common sense, but appearances, and
even something more, are in its favour.

It is not common sense for it involves something being made out of
nothing, inefficiency producing efficiency and zero extracting 'one' out
of itself. This form of selection, though it does not appeal to me under
any circumstances, is legitimate enough when it is exercised by a
competent body. A university can confer a degree upon a distinguished
man because it can judge whether his degreeless condition is due to
accident or not. It would, however, be highly ridiculous and paradoxical
if the general public were to confer mathematical degrees. A degree of
efficiency conferred by an inefficient body is contrary to common sense.

There is, however, some plausibility and indeed a little more than
plausibility in favour of this plan. Degrees in literature and in
dramatic art are conferred, given by 'collation,' by incompetent people,


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