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that is by the public. We can say to the public: "You know nothing of
literary and dramatic art." It will retort: "True, I know nothing, but
certain things move me and I confer the degree on those who evoke my
emotions." In this it is not altogether wrong. In the same way the
degree of doctor of political science is conferred by the people on
those who stir its emotions and who express most forcibly its own
passions. These doctors of political science are the empassioned
representatives of its own passions.

- In other words, the worst legislators! -

Yes, very nearly so, but not quite. It is very useful that we should
have an exponent of popular passion at the crest of the social wave, to
tell us not indeed what the crowd is thinking, for the crowd never
thinks, but what the crowd is feeling, in order that we may not cross it
too violently or obey it too obsequiously. An engineer would call it the
science of the strength of materials.

A medium assures me that he had a conversation with Louis XIV, who said
to him: "Universal suffrage is an excellent thing in a monarchy. It is a
source of information. When it recommends a certain course of action it
shows us that this is a thing which we must not do. If I could have
consulted it over the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, it would have
given me a clear mandate for that Revocation and I should have known
what to do, and that Edict would not have been revoked. I acted as I
did, because I was advised by ministers whom I considered experienced
statesmen. Had I been aware of the state of public opinion I should have
known that France was tired of wars and new palaces and extravagance.
But this was not an expression of passion and prejudice, but a cry of
suffering. As far as passion and prejudice are concerned we must go
right in the teeth of public opinion, and universal suffrage will tell
you what that is. On the other hand we must pay heed, serious heed to
every cry of pain, and here too universal suffrage will come to our aid.
Universal suffrage is necessary to a monarchy as a source of

This, I am told, is Louis XIV's present opinion on the subject.

As far as legislation therefore is concerned, the attempt to secure
competence by 'collation' is an absurdity. Yet it is an inverted sort
of competence useful for indicating the state of a nation's temper. From
this it follows that this system is as mischievous in a republic as it
would be wholesome in a monarchy. It is not therefore altogether bad.

The democracy which we have in view, after having been governed by the
representatives of its representatives for ten years, submitted for the
next fifteen years to the rule of one representative and took no
particular advantage therefrom.

Then for thirty years it adopted a scheme which aimed at a certain
measure of efficiency. It assumed that the electors of the legislature
ought not to be nominated, but marked out by their social position, that
is their fortune. Those who possessed so many drachmas were to be

What sort of a basis for efficiency is this? It is a basis but certainly
a somewhat narrow one.

It is a basis, first, because a man who owns a certain fortune has a
greater interest than others in a sound management of public business,
and self-interest opens and quickens the eye; and again a man who has
money and does not lose it cannot be altogether a fool.

On the other hand it is a narrow basis, because the possession of money
is of itself no guarantee of political ability, and the system leads to
the very questionable proposition that every rich man is a competent
social reformer. It is, however, a sort of competence, but a competence
very precariously established and on a very narrow basis.

This system disappeared and our democracy, after a short interregnum,
repeated its previous experiment and submitted for eighteen years to the
rule of one delegate with no great cause to congratulate itself on the

It then adopted democracy in a form almost pure and simple. I say
almost, for the democratic system pure and simple involves the direct
government of the people without any intervening representatives, by
means of a continuous plebiscite. Our democracy then set up and still
maintains a democratic system almost pure and simple, that is to say, it
established government of the nation by delegates whom it itself elected
and by these delegates strictly and exclusively. This time we have
reached an apotheosis of incompetence that is well nigh absolute.

This, our present system, purports to be the rule of efficiency chosen
by the arbitrary form of selection which has been described. Just as the
bishop in the story, addressing a haunch of venison, exclaimed: "I
baptise thee carp," so the people says to its representatives: "I
baptise you masters of law, I baptise you statesmen, I baptise you
social reformers." We shall see later on that this baptism goes very
much further than this.

If the people were capable of judging of the legal and psychological
knowledge possessed by those who present themselves for election, this
form of selection need not be prohibitive of efficiency and might even
be satisfactory; but in the first place, the electors are not capable of
judging, and secondly, even if they were, nothing would be gained.

Nothing would be gained, because the people never places itself at this
point of view. Emphatically never! It looks at the qualifications of the
candidate not from a scientific but from a moral point of view.

- Well that surely is something, and, in a way, a guarantee of
efficiency. The legislators are not capable of making laws, it is true;
but at least they are honest men. This guarantee of moral efficiency,
some critic will say, gives me much satisfaction.

Please be careful, I reply, we should never think of giving the
management of a railway station to the most honest man, but to an honest
man who, besides, understood thoroughly railway administration. So we
must put into our laws not only honest intentions, but just principles
of law, politics, and society.

Secondly, if the candidates are considered from the point of view of
their moral worth it is in a peculiar fashion. High morality is imputed
to those who share the dominant passions of the people and who express
themselves thereon more violently than others. Ah! these are our honest
men, it cries, and I do not say that the men of its choice are
dishonest, I only say that by this criterion they are not infallibly
marked out even as honest.

- Still, some one replies, they are probably disinterested, for they
follow popular prejudices, and not their own particular, individual

Yes, that is just what the masses believe, while they forget that there
is nothing easier than to simulate popular passion in order to win
popular confidence and become a political personage. If
disinterestedness is really so essential to the people, only those
should be elected who oppose the popular will and who show thereby that
they do not want to be elected. Or better still only those who do not
stand for election should be elected, since not to stand is the
undeniable sign of disinterestedness. But this is never done. That which
should always be done is never done.

- But, some one will say, your public bodies which recruit their numbers
by co-optation, Academies and learned societies, do not elect their
members in this way. -

Quite so, and they are right. Such bodies do not want their members to
be disinterested but scientific. They have no reason to prefer an
unwilling member to one who is eager to be elected. Their point of view
is entirely different. The people, which pretends to set store by high
moral character, should exclude from power those who are ambitious of
power, or at least those who covet it with a keenness that suggests
other than disinterested motives.

These considerations show us what the crowd understands by the moral
worth of a man. The moral worth of a man consists, as far as the crowd
is concerned, in his entertaining or pretending to entertain the same
sentiments as itself, and it is just for this reason that the
representatives of the multitude are excellent as documents for
information, but detestable, or at least, useless, and therefore
detestable, as legislators.

Montesquieu, who is seldom wrong, errs in my opinion when he says, "The
people is well-fitted to choose its own magistrates." He, it is true,
did not live under a democracy. For consider, how could the people be
fitted to choose its own magistrates and legislators, when Montesquieu
himself, this time with ample justification, lays down as one of his
principles that morals should correct climate, and that law should
correct morals, and the people, as we know, only thinks of choosing as
its delegates men who share, in every particular, its own manner of
thinking? Climate can be partially resisted by the people; but if the
law should correct morals, legislators should be chosen who have taken
up an attitude of reaction against current morality. It would be very
curious if such a choice were ever made, and not only is it never made
but the contrary invariably happens.

To sum it all up, it is intellectual incompetence, nay moral
incompetence which is sought instinctively in the people's choice.

* * * * *

If possible, it is more than this. The people favours incompetence, not
only because it is no judge of intellectual competence and because it
looks on moral competence from a wrong point of view, but because it
desires before everything, as indeed is very natural, that its
representatives should resemble itself. This it does for two reasons.

First, as a matter of sentiment, the people desires, as we have seen,
that its representatives should share its feelings and prejudices. These
representatives can share its prejudices and yet not absolutely resemble
it in morals, habits, manners and appearance; but naturally the people
never feels so certain that a man shares its prejudices and is not
merely pretending to do so, as when the man resembles it feature by
feature. It is a sign and a guarantee. The people is instinctively
impelled therefore to elect men of the same habits, manners and even
education as itself, or shall we say of an education slightly superior,
the education of a man who can talk, but only superior in a very slight

In addition to this sentimental reason, there is another, which is
extremely important, for it goes to the very root of the democratic
idea. What is the people's one desire, when once it has been stung by
the democratic tarantula? It is that all men should be equal, and in
consequence that all inequalities natural as well as artificial should
disappear. It will not have artificial inequalities, nobility of birth,
royal favours, inherited wealth, and so it is ready to abolish nobility,
royalty, and inheritance. Nor does it like natural inequalities, that is
to say a man more intelligent, more active, more courageous, more
skilful than his neighbours. It cannot destroy these inequalities, for
they are natural, but it can neutralise them, strike them with impotence
by excluding them from the employments under its control. Democracy is
thus led quite naturally, irresistibly one may say, to exclude the
competent precisely because they are competent, or if the phrase
pleases better and as the popular advocate would put it, not because
they are competent but because they are unequal, or, as he would
probably go on to say, if he wished to excuse such action, not because
they are unequal, but because being unequal they are suspected of being
opponents of equality. So it all comes to the same thing. This it is
that made Aristotle say that where merit is despised, there is
democracy. He does not say so in so many words, but he wrote: "Where
merit is not esteemed before everything else, it is not possible to have
a firmly established aristocracy," and that amounts to saying that where
merit is not esteemed, we enter at once on a democratic regime and never
escape from it.

The chance, then, of efficiency coming to the front in this state of
affairs is indeed deplorable.

First and last, democracy - and it is natural enough - _wishes to do
everything itself_, it is the enemy of all specialisation of functions,
particularly it wishes to govern, without delegates or intermediaries.
Its ideal is direct government as it existed at Athens, its ideal is
"democracy," in the terminology of Rousseau, who applied the word to
direct government and to direct government only.

Forced by historical events and perhaps by necessity to govern by
delegates, how could democracy still contrive to govern directly or
nearly so, although continuing to govern through delegates?

Its first alternative is, perhaps, to impose on its delegates an
imperative mandate. Delegates under this condition become mere agents of
the people. They attend the legislative assembly to register the will of
the people just as they receive it, and the people in reality governs
directly. This is what is meant by the imperative mandate.

Democracy has often considered it, but never with persistence. Herein it
shows good sense. It has a shrewd suspicion that the imperative mandate
is never more than a snare and a delusion. Representatives of the people
meet and discuss, the interests of party become defined. Henceforward
they are the prey of the goddess Opportunity, the Greek {Kairos}.
Then it happens one day that to vote according to their mandate would be
very unfavourable to the interest of their party. They are therefore
obliged to be faithless to their party by reason of their fidelity to
their mandate, or disobedient to their mandate by reason of their
obedience to their party; and in any case to have betrayed their mandate
with this very praiseworthy and excellent intention is a thing for which
they can take credit or at least obtain excuse with the electors - and on
such a matter it will be very difficult to refute them.

The imperative mandate is therefore a very clumsy instrument for work of
a very delicate character. The democracy, instinctively, knows this very
well, and sets no great store by the imperative mandate.

What other alternative is there for it? Something very much finer, the
substance instead of the shadow. It can elect men who resemble it
closely, who follow its sentiments closely, who are in fact so nearly
identical with itself that they may be trusted to do surely,
instinctively, almost mechanically that which it would itself do, if it
were itself an immense legislative assembly. They would vote, without
doubt, according to circumstances, but also as their electors would vote
if they were governing directly. In this way democracy preserves its
legislative power. It makes the law, and this is the only way it can
make it.

Democracy, therefore, has the greatest inducement to elect
representatives who are representative, who, in the first place,
resemble it as closely as possible, who, in the second place, have no
individuality of their own, who finally, having no fortune of their own,
have no sort of independence.

We deplore that democracy surrenders itself to politicians, but from its
own point of view, a point of view which it cannot avoid taking up, it
is absolutely right. What is a politician? He is a man who, in respect
of his personal opinions, is a nullity, in respect of education, a
mediocrity, he shares the general sentiments and passions of the crowd,
his sole occupation is politics, and if that career were closed to him,
he would die of starvation.

He is precisely the thing of which the democracy has need.

He will never be led away by his education to develop ideas of his own;
and having no ideas of his own, he will not allow them to enter into
conflict with his prejudices. His prejudices will be, at first by a
feeble sort of conviction, afterwards by reason of his own interest,
identical with those of the crowd; and lastly, his poverty and the
impossibility of his getting a living outside of politics make it
certain that he will never break out of the narrow circle where his
political employers have confined him; his imperative mandate is the
material necessity which obliges him to obey; his imperative mandate is
his inability to quarrel with his bread and butter.

Democracy obviously has need of politicians, has need of nothing else
but politicians, and has need indeed that there shall be in politics
nothing else but politicians.

Its enemy, or rather the man whom democracy dreads because he means to
govern and does not intend to allow the mob to govern through him, is
the man who succeeds in getting elected for some constituency or other,
either by the influence of his wealth or by the prestige of his talent
and notoriety. Such a man is not dependent on democracy. If a
legislative assembly were entirely or by a majority composed of rich
men, men of superior intelligence, men who had an interest in attending
to the trades or professions in which they had succeeded rather than in
playing at politics, they would vote according to their own ideas, and
then - what would happen? Why then democracy would be simply suppressed.
It would no longer legislate and govern; there would be, to speak
exactly, an aristocracy, not very permanently established perhaps, but
still an aristocracy which would eliminate the influence of the people
from public affairs.

Clearly it is almost impossible for the democracy, if it means to
survive, to encourage efficiency, nay it is almost impossible for it to
refrain from attempting to destroy efficiency.

Thus, we may sum up, only those are elected as the representatives of
the people, who are its exact counterparts and constant dependents.



And what is the result of all this? The result, which is very logical,
very just from the democratic point of view, and precisely that which
the democracy desires and cannot do otherwise than desire, is that the
national representatives do exactly what the people would wish them to
do, and what the people would do itself if it undertook to govern
directly itself. _The representative government wishes to do everything
itself_, just as the people would like to do, if it were itself
exercising the functions of government directly, just as it did in olden
times on the Pnyx at Athens.

Montesquieu realised this fully, though naturally he had no experience
of how the theory worked under a representative and parliamentary
system. The principle of it all is at bottom the same, and only the
change of a single phrase is needed to make the following quotation
strictly applicable. "The principle of democracy," he says, "is
perverted not only when it loses the spirit of equality, but still more
_when it carries the spirit of equality to an extreme, and when every
one wishes to be the equal of those whom he chooses to govern him_. For
then the people, not being able to tolerate the authority which it has
created, _wishes to do everything itself_, to deliberate for the Senate,
to act for the magistrates, and to usurp the functions of the judges.
The people wishes to exclude the magistrates from their functions, and
the magistrates naturally are no longer respected. The deliberations of
the Senate are allowed to have no weight, and senators naturally fall
into contempt."

Let us translate the foregoing passage into the language of to-day.
Under democratic parliamentary government the representatives of the
people are determined to do everything themselves. They must be equal to
those whom they choose for their rulers. They cannot tolerate the
authority which they have entrusted to the Government. They must
themselves govern in the place of the Government, administer in the
place of the executive staff, substitute their own authority for that
of all the bench of judges, perform the duties of magistrates, and, in a
word, throw off all regard and respect for persons and things.

This is the true inwardness of the popular spirit, the will of the
people which wishes to do everything itself, or what is the same thing,
through its representatives, its faithful and servile creatures.

From this point onwards efficiency is hunted and exterminated in every
direction; just as it was excluded in the election of representatives,
so the representatives laboriously and continuously exclude it from
every sort of office and employment under the public service.

The Government, to begin our analysis of functional confusion at the
top, ought to be watched and advised by the national representatives,
but it ought to be independent of the national representatives, at least
it ought not to be inextricably mixed up with them, in other words the
national representatives ought not to govern. Under democracy this is
precisely what they want to do. They elect the Government, a privilege
which need not be denied them; but, "not being able to tolerate the
authority which they have created," as soon as they have set it up, they
put pressure on it and insist on governing continuously in its place.
The assembly of national representatives is not a body which makes laws,
but a body which, by a never ending string of questions and
interruptions, _dictates_ from day to day to the Government what it
ought to do, that is to say, it is a body which governs.

The country is governed, literally, by the Chamber of Deputies. _This is
absolutely necessary_ if, as the true spirit of the system requires, the
people is to be governed by no one but itself, if there is to be no will
at work other than the will of the people, emanating from itself and
bringing back a sort of harvest of executive acts. Again, I repeat, this
is absolutely necessary, in order that there shall be nothing, not even
originating with the people, which, for a single moment and within the
most narrowly defined limits, shall exercise the functions of
sovereignty over the sovereign people.

This is all very well, but government is an art and we assume that there
is a science of government, and here we have the people governed by
persons who have neither science nor art, and who are chosen precisely
because they have not these qualifications and on the guarantee that
they have none of them!

Again, in a democracy of this kind, if there exist, as a result of
tradition or of some necessity arising out of foreign relations, an
authority, independent for a certain term of years of the legislative
assembly, which has no accounts to render to it and which cannot be
questioned or constitutionally overthrown, that authority is so strange,
and, if the phrase may pass, so monstrous an anomaly, that it dares not
exercise its power, and dreads the scandal which it would raise by
acting on its rights, and seems as it were paralysed with terror at the
very thought of its own existence.

And its attitude is right; for if it exercised its powers, or even lent
itself to any appearance of so doing, there at once would be an act of
will which was not an act of the popular will, a theory altogether
contrary to the spirit of this system. For in this system the chief of
the state can only be the nominal chief of the state. A will of his own
would be an abuse of power, an idea of his own would be an
encroachment, and a word of his own would be an act of high treason.

It follows that, if the constitution has formally conferred these
powers, the constitution on these points is a dead letter, because it
contravenes an unwritten constitution of higher authority, viz., the
inner inspiration of the political institution.

One of these honorary chiefs of the state has said: "During all my term
as president, I was constitutionally silent." This is not correct, for
the constitution gave him leave to speak and even to act. At bottom it
was true, for the constitution, in allowing him to act and speak, was
acting unconstitutionally. In speaking he would have been
constitutional, in holding his tongue he was _institutional_. He had
been in fact _institutionally_ silent. He disobeyed the letter of the
constitution, but he had admirably extracted its meaning from it, and
understood and respected its spirit.

Under democracy, then, the national representatives govern as directly
and as really as possible, dictating a policy to the executive and
neutralising the supreme chief of the executive to whom it is not able
to dictate.

The national representatives are not content with governing, they wish
to administer. Now consider how it would be if the permanent officials

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Online LibraryÉmile FaguetThe cult of incompetence → online text (page 2 of 12)