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nation can wisely dispense with such a safeguard
against its own possible imprudence and precipitancy
as is afforded by the system of two legislative

The Crown has in this country been gradually
stripped of every vestige of the power by which
it can check or control Parliament. There is not
in Britain, as in the United States, a Supreme


Court of Justice independent of the Legislature and
entitled to pronounce null and void any law which
the Legislature may pass if it set aside the obliga-
tions of free contract or contravene any of the rights
guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States
as essential rights of men. We have no written
constitution ; no definite constitution. Mr. Gladstone
has affirmed, without having been, so far as I am
aware, contradicted, that Parliament is omnipotent,
or without limits to its right of action. If so, and I
imagine it is so, we are a free people living under a
theoretically pure despotism. If so. Parliament has
an unlimited right to do wrong. Of course, con-
fronting such a right there is a higher right, however
unconstitutional it may be, the inalienable right of
men to resist unjust laws, and to punish, in accord-
ance with justice, the authors of them. Our jjolitical
constitution, however, being so indeterminate that
the uttermost parliamentary arbitrariness has no
other boundary or barrier than insurrection, there is
all the greater need that our Upper House should
rest on a firmer and broader basis than it does ; and
that in both Houses of Parliament there should be a
greater number of truly wise and eminent men, real
leaders of the people, and fewer ignoble persons,
mere sham leaders.

When the two Chambers or Houses of Parliament
irreconcilably differ in opinion on questions of grave
importance, it seems proper that the nation itself
should decide between them, and that provision
should be made for its doing so otherwise than
through a dissolution of Parliament and a general


election. A general election, indeed, in the present
state of political morality in this country, makes
almost impossible the honest submission of a
special question, however important, to the national
judgment. It gives every opportunity to either
or both of the conflicting political parties to confuse
and pervert public opinion on the question in dispute
by connecting it with other questions, raising side
issues, and appealing to all varieties of prejudice and
of selfishness. The way in which the British people
has been thus befooled in recent years is deplorable.
In certain circumstances a clear and specific referen-
dum to the people would, perhaps, be the best method
of settling a disputed political question ; but recourse
to it in other than rare and very special cases in such
a country as Britain could hardly fail to have harm-
ful consequences.*

To proceed : no form of government can so little
afford to disj^ense with the essential truth of the
theocratic idea as Democracy. The more the
suffrage is extended, the more political power is
diffused, the more necessary it becomes, so far as
the political order and progress, security and wel-
fare, of a nation is concerned, that a sense of re-
sponsibility to God should prevail throughout the
nation. A Democracy in which the masses are
irreligious must be a specially bad government and
is specially likely to destroy itself. If a people be

* The chapter in Laveleye's " Democratie " on " direct government by
the referendum " is valuable owing to the amount of information which it
contains as to its operation in Switzerland. The conditions of Switzerland,
however, as Laveleye himself points out, are exceptionally favourable to
this kind of government.


without faith in an eternal and invisible God, how
can it have a reasonable faith in an eternal and
invisible law of right and duty which is no mere
expression of material fact or creation of human
will ? And if it have not faith in such a law what
rule can it devise as a standard for its own lep'isla-
tion or for its own obedience ? Will it take mig-ht
for right, and bow before accomplished fact, what-
ever it may be ? Surely that would be too mon-
strous. Will it be content with whatever a majority
decides, with whatever is the national will ? But
the mere will of a majority is no more binding on
reason or conscience than that of a minority ; the
mere will of a nation is no more sacred than that of
an individual ; mere will is not righteous will, but
may be either a tyrannical or a slavish will. If a
nation makes laws merely for its own convenience,
why should not any individual break them for his
own convenience ? Will tendency to produce happi-
ness or utility be a sufticient guide as to what laws
should be made and obeyed ? No, for that, too,
leaves conscience untouched, cannot summon to self-
sacrifice, must end in a reign of selfishness. Only the
recosfnition of law as that which has its seat in the
bosom of God can make men at once free from law as
a law of bondage and willingly subject to it as the
law of their own true life, — as the law of order,
justice, and love, which gathers men into societies,
and unites them into one great brotherhood.

The distinctive and favourite principle of Demo-
cracy is Equality. All men are equal and have
equal rights. To the extent of the truth in it this


principle is valuable. Faith in it has achieved great
things ; it has inspired men to assail arbitrary pre-
tensions and privileges, and to put an end to many
unjust and injurious inequalities. Its mission for
good is doubtless far from as yet exhausted. But
no one ought to allow himself to become the slave
even of a great idea, or to follow it a step farther
than reason warrants. And the idea of equality is
very apt to be the object of an exaggerated and
impure passion. In countless instances the desire
for equality is identical with envy ; with the evil eye
and grudging heart which cannot bear to contemplate
the good of others.

The principle of equality is one not of absolute
but of relative truth. It has only a conditioned
and limited validity. There is, indeed, only one
sort of equality which is strictly a right : namely,
civil equality, equality before the law, the equal
right of every man to justice. And it is a right
only because the law must have due respect to cir-
cumstances and conditions ; because justice itself is
not equality but proportion, rewarding or punishing
according to the measure of merit or demerit.
Political equality, equality as to property, and
religious equality, unless simply applications of this
equality, simply forms of justice, are misleading
fictions which make equality what it ought never
to be — a substitute for justice, or the formula of
justice, or the standard of justice. Political equality
affirmed as an absolute principle can only mean that
every man has a right to an equal share in the
government of the country ; in other words, it can


only mean political anarchy. Equality in property,
similarly conceived of, necessarily imj)lies commu-
nism, and a communism as inconsistent with even
the nationalisation of property as with its indi-
vidual appropriation ; in equivalent terms, it is
destructive of the very nation and incompatible
with the very existence of property. Beligious
equality viewed as a separate and independent
right must signify that for the State there is no
diifei^ence between religfion and irreliofion, Chris-
tianity and Atheism ; that for the State religion
has no interest, no being. All such equalities when
presented as additional to civil equality, the equality
of all men before the law, the equal right of all men
to justice, are illusory and pernicious ; they have
worth and sacredness only as included in it.

The arbitrary exclusion, indeed, of any class of
the community from political activity is a wrong to
that class. For every exclusion adequate reasons
ought to be producible, and the sooner the need for
it can be done away with the better. As regards
the suffrage no reason either of expediency or of
principle can now be consistently urged in this
country against extending it to the utmost, as it
has already been granted even to illiterates. Kightly
or wrongly, we have already gone so far as to have
left ourselves hardly any real or even plausible
reason for refusing any serious claim to its fartlier
extension, its virtual universalisation. Resistance
to any such claim can only be based on invidious
grounds, and can have no other effect than to cause
a very natural irritation.



Granting to every person a vote, however, is
by no means to acknowledge that every person
is pohtically equal to every other, and still less
is it actually to create political equality. It
is a concession that the admission of all to the
suftraire is reasonable in the circumstances, not
that it is right in itself. It is quite consistent
w4th a denial of any right of the kind ; quite con-
sistent with the affirmation that no one has any
right to exercise so important a function as the
suffrage if he cannot do it rightly, ^.e., to the benefit
of the nation. A nation which adopts universal
suffrage is perfectly entitled to devise counterpoises
w^hich will remove or lessen any evils incidental to
the system. While leaving universal suffrage
intact, it may quite consistently provide for special
representation of labour, trade, and commerce, of
science, art, and education, and, in a word, of all the
chief institutions and interests of the common-
wealth. It may recognise the importance of the
fullest possible development of the freedom of indi-
viduals ; yet recognise also the folly and falsehood of
the notion that the nation is only the sum of its
individual units ; and may, in consequence, strive so
to combine corporative with individual representa-
tion as will preserve Democracy from rushing into
a ruinous Individualism, or becoming the prey of

There is valid reason for complaint of inequality,
in the sense of partiality and injustice, as regards
property, if all be not alike free to acquire or dispose
of it ; if any exceptional or special impediments be


put in the way of any class of persons either as to
its purchase or sale. This admission, however, is
far from equivalent to the affirmation of that
equality of right as to property which would
logically prevent the profitable use of it by any one.
There is no right to equal participation in property,
but only a right not to be inequitably prevented
from participation in it. The State is consequently
not entitled to enforce or aim at an equal distribu-
tion of property. Its function is to do justice,
neither more nor less ; and the sphere of justice as to
property is merely that of equal freedom to acquire
and to use it.

The State may err and do unjustly by favouring
one class of religious opinions and discouraging
another. In the name of Christianity it may act
in a very unchristian way towards atheists and
other non-christians. It is bound to respect the
conscientious convictions of the least of associations
and of every single individual. It may provide
that no man shall be excluded from Parliament
because of atheism or disbelief in Christianity, and
yet hold that it thereby only shows a just, a
generous, and a Christian spirit. Nothing in what
has just been said implies that for the State ,
religion and irreligion, Christianity and atheism,
are equal ; or is even inconsistent with maintaining
that for the State no difference, no distinction, is
more profound and vital than that between religion
and irreligion ; that the distinction between virtue
and vice is not more so ; that the distinction
between knowledge and ignorance is not so much


so. It is of small importance to the State whether
its citizens are taught algebra or not in comparison
with whether or not they are imbued with the
si)irit and principles of the Gospel. A State cannot
fail to feel itself bound to provide for the teaching
of the religion in which it believes, unless it can
get the duty done for it by the spontaneous zeal of
its members. Were there no separate Christian
Church, a sincerely Christian State would inevit-
ably undertake itself to discharge the duties of a
Church, and so transform itself into a Church-State
or State-Church, in which Church and State would
be only functionally, not substantively distinct.

There is another respect in which every patriotic
man and true friend of Democracy must seek to
guard against the one-sidedness of the especially
democratic principle. He must be careful to dis-
tinguish between arbitrary and artificial inequali-
ties and essential and natural inequalities. The
more ready he may be to assail, to diminish, to cast
down the former, the more anxious should he be to
defend, and to allow free play and full development
to the latter. Equality of conditions is not an end
which ought to be aimed at. It is a low and false
ideal. The realisation of it, were it j)ossible, which
it fortunately is not, would be an immense calamity.
It would bring with it social stagnation and ex-
tinction. Mankind must develop or die, and
development involves differentiation, unlikeness,
inequality. The only equality which can benefit
society is the equality of justice and of liberty.
Let equality be regarded as a truth or good in


itself; let it be divorced from justice and opposed to
liberty ; let the free working of the powers in
regard to which men are unequal be repressed, in
order that those who are of mean natures may have
no reason to be jealous of any of their fellows ; and
society must soon be all a low and level plain, and
one which continually tends to sink instead of to
rise, for it is just through the operation of natural
inequalities that the general level of society is
always being raised in progressive communities.
The material wealth, the intellectual acquisitions,
and the moral gains which constitute the riches of
mankind at the present day would never have been
won and accumulated if the manifold special
energies and aptitudes of individuals, if all natural
inequalities, had not been allowed free scope.

The direst foe of Democracy has been excess of
party spirit. When moderated by, and subordi-
nated to, patriotism, the conflict of parties may be
healthful and stimulating. It has thus been often
largely conducive to the growth and prosperity of
democratic States. But it has generally ruined
them in the end ; and, perhaps, it will always
succeed in ruining them. For it tends to become
increasingly less honest and more selfish ; to grow
keen and embittered as a struggle for power and its
advantages in proportion as it ceases to have mean-
ing and to be ennobled by faith in principles or
generous ideals.

Besides, while in every Democracy there will be
a struggle of political parties, parties will always
feel that they need organisation, and organisation


must be effected and developed through associa-
tions. But unless political intelligence, indepen-
dence, and zeal are general in a community,
political associations may easily become the seats
of wire-pullers, adroit enough to juggle the mass
of the people out of their rights, to dictate to
Parliament what it shall do, and to subject what
ought to be a great and free Democracy to the
sway of a number of petty and mtriguing oli-
garchies. The greatest Democracy on earth — that
of the United States of America — has submitted
to be misrepresented, deceived, and plundered in
the most shameless and humiliating manner by its
political committees. It has known their character ;
it has despised them ; it has groaned over their
doings ; but somehow it has not been able to deliver
itself from them. It has needed for its emancipation
from their power and methods more moral and poli-
tical virtue than it possessed. Only of late years has
it attempted to resist and restrain them.

A great deal of labour, and wisdom, and virtue,
in fact, are needed in order that Democracy may
be a success. Althou^j-h at its conceivable best
Democracy would be the best of all forms of
Government, it may not only be the worst of all
Governments, but is certainly the most difficult
form of Government to maintain p-ood, and still
more to make nearly perfect. It demands intelli-
gence, effort, self-restraint, respect for the rights
and regard for the interest of others, morality,
patriotism, and piety in the community as a whole.
Without the general diffusion of these qualities


among those who share in it, it easily passes into
the most deofenerate sort of Government.

This is why history is the record of so many
Democracies which have deceived all hopes based on
them, and failed ignominiously. It is why they have
so frequently reverted into absolute Monarchies and
Oligarchies. It is why they have so often passed
througfh a state of as^itation and disorder into one
of lethargic subjection to despotic rule.

Democracy can only succeed through the energy,
intelligence, and virtue of the general body of its
members ; throutrh their successful resistance to
temptations, their avoidance of dangers, then- reso-
lute overcoming of difficulties, their self-restraint and
discipline, their moral and religious sincerity and
earnestness. From Plato downwards all who have
intelligently speculated on Democracy have seen
that the problem on the solution of which its des-
tiny depends is essentially an educational j^roblem.
A Democracy can only endure and flourish if the
individuals who compose it are in a healthy
intellectual, moral, and religious condition.

In the foregoing remarks I have insisted mainly
on the limitations of the democratic principle, and
on the dangers to which Democracy is, from its
very nature, exposed. To have dwelt on its strong
points would have been, so far as my present object
is concerned, irrelevant ; and is, besides, work which
is constantly being done, and even overdone, by
gentlemen who are in search of parliamentary
honours, and by many other smooth-tongued flat-
terers of the people. As I have sought, however, to


indicate the limitations, weaknesses, and dangers of
Democracy, I may very possibly be charged with
taking a pessimistic view of its fortunes and future.
I do not admit the applicability of the charge.

History does not present an adequate inductive
basis from which to infer either optimism or
pessimism. Although faith that the course of
humanity is determined by Divine Providence implies
also faith in that course leading to a worthy goal, this
falls short of optimism, while manifestly incompatible
with pessimism. That the democratic ideal of Govern-
ment contains on the whole more truth than any of
its rival ideals, and that it has, for at least two
centuries, been displacing them and realising itself
at their expense in the leading nations of the world,
may warrant in some measure the hope that in the
long run it will universally and definitively prevail,
provided it appropriate and assimilate the truths
which have given to other ideals their vitality and
force ; but between such a vague and modest hope
as this and any attempt at a confident or precise
forecasting of the fate of Democracy there is a vast
distance. Whether it will finally triumph or not,
and, if it do, when, or in what form, or after what
defeats, it is presumption in any man to pretend to
know. No mortal can even approximately tell what
its condition will be in any country of Europe a
thousand, or a hundred, or even fifty years hence.

No one can be certain, for instance, whether its
future in Britain will be prosperous or disastrous,
glorious or the reverse. The future of Britain itself
is too uncertain to allow of any positive forecast in


either direction being reasonable. The ruin of
Britain may be brought about at any time by quite
possible combinations of the other great military
and naval powers. The British people may also
quite possibly so behave as to cause the ruin of
their country. Those who profess unbounded trust
in the British people, or in any people, are the suc-
cessors of the false prophets of Israel, and of the
demagogic deceivers of the people in all lands and
ages. They belong to a species of persons which has
ruined many a Democracy in the past ; and there
is no certainty that they will not destroy Demo-
cracy in Britain or in any other country where it at
present prevails.

On the other hand, there is nothing to forbid the
hope that Democracy in Britain will have a length-
ened, successful, and beneficent career. Why should
it listen to flatterers or believe lies ? Why should it
not, while asserting and obtaining its rights, keejD
within those limits of Nature and of reason which
cannot be disregarded with impunity ? Why should
it not recognise its weaknesses and guard against
them ? Why should it not discern its dangers and
avoid them ? Why should it not be prudent, self-
restrained, just, tolerant, moral, patriotic, and
reverent? Why should it not strive after noble
ends and reach them by the right means and by
well-devised measures ? I know not why it should
not. Therefore I shall not anticipate that it will

This is certain, however, that if Democracy in
Britain or elsewhere is to have a grand career, it


must work for it vigorously and wisely. It will not
become powerful, or prosperous, without toil or
thought ; not through merely wishing to become so,
or even through any amount of striving to become
so, which is not in accordance with economic, moral,
and spiritual laws. It will not become so, if it
adopt the dogmas of Socialism ; for, these are, alike
as regards the conduct and concerns of the material,
moral, and religious life of communities, so false and
pernicious that Democracy by accepting them cannot
fail to injure or destroy itself

The creed of Social Democracy is the only social-
istic creed which requires in this connection to be
considered. It is substantially accepted by the
immense majority of contemporary Socialists. The
really socialistic groups which dissent from it are of
comparatively small dimensions and feeble influence.
Is it, then, the expression of a faith on which
Democracy can be reasonably expected to endure
or prosj)er ?

Certainly not as regards the distinctive economic
tenets which it contains. The views to which Social
Democracy has committed itself on the nature of
economic laws, on value and surplus value, on com-
petition and State-control, on labour and wages, on
capital and interest, on money, on inheritance, on
the nationalisation of land, on the collectivisation of
wealth, and other kindred subjects, are of a kind
which cannot stand examination. Some of them
have been dealt with in previous chapters, and have
been shown to be erroneous and unrealisable. The
others are of a like character.


The economic doctrine of Social Democracy is
thoroughly anti-scientific wherever it is peculiar or
distinctive. It has been widely accepted, but only
by those who were predisposed and anxious to believe
it ; not by impartial and competent economists, or
any other students of it who have made their assent
dependent on proof It owes its success not to the
validity of the reasons advanced for its doctrines, but
to the wide-spread dissatisfaction of the working-
classes with their condition ; or, as Dr. Bonar ex-
presses it, to their " belief that they are now the
tools of the other classes and yet worth all the

This state of feeling, however it may be accounted
for, is of itself a very serious fact, and will be lightly
regarded only by the foolish. Whatever is just and
reasonable in it should find a generous response. For
whatever is pathological in it, an appropriate remedy
should be sought. Its prevalence should produce
general anxiety for the material, intellectual, and
moral amelioration of the classes in which it
threatens to become chronic. But it will never be
either satisfied or cured by concessions to, or applica-
tions of, the economic nostrums of Social Democracy.
To fancy that it will is the same absurdity as to
imagine that a fevered patient may be restored to
restfulness and health by complying with the dis-
tempered cravings and exciting and confirming the

Online LibraryRobert FlintSocialism → online text (page 24 of 38)