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Second Edition. In One Volume, crown 8vo, pp. 500, handsomely
bound in cloth, price 12s.,

LITERARY AND SOCIAL JUDGMENTS.



CONTENTS.



I. Madame de Stael.
II. British and Foreign Charac-
teristics.

III. False Morality of Lady

Novelists.

IV. Kingsley and Carlyle.

V. French Fiction : The Lowest
Deep.



VI. Chateaubriand.
VII. M. D. Tocqueville.
VIII. Why are Women Redun-
dant?

IX. Truth versus Edification.
X. The Doom of the Negro Race.
XI. Time.
XII. Good People.



Second Edition. In One Volume, crown 8vo, pp. xx. and 280, price 6s.,

THE CREED OF CHRISTENDOM;

ITS FOUNDATION AND SUPERSTRUCTURE.

" We do not hesitate to say, that for a man of sound mind to read this
book through slowly, and to retain his belief in the verbal inspiration of the
Mosaic Record, is a moral impossibility." Spectator.



Crown 8vo, pp. 32, cloth limp, is.,

TRUTH versus EDIFICATION.



Crown 8vo, pp. 40, cloth limp, is.,

WHY ARE WOMEN REDUNDANT?



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POLITICAL PROBLEMS.



PRINTED BY BALLANTYNK AND COMPANY
EDINBURGH AND LONDON



POLITICAL PROBLEMS



OUR AGE AND COUNTRY.



W. R. GREG.



-'' \



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TRUBNER & CO., 60 PATERNOSTER ROW.

1870.

[All rights reserved.']



Stack
Annex

5



CONTENTS.



2015147



PAGE

I. CONSTITUTIONAL AND AUTOCRATIC STATESMANSHIP, I

ii. ENGLAND'S FUTURE ATTITUDE AND MISSION, . . 27

III. DISPOSAL OF THE CRIMINAL CLASSES, . . ?O

IV. RECENT CHANGE IN THE CHARACTER OF ENGLISH

CRIME, ..." 99

V. THE INTRINSIC VICE OF TRADE UNIONS, . . . I IO

VI. TRADE UNIONS AND PARTNERSHIPS, . . . 132

VII. THE ECONOMIC PROBLEM, . . ' '. . . I$J

VIII. POLITICAL CONSISTENCY, 172

IX. THE PARLIAMENTARY CAREER, . . . . 187

X. THE PRICE WE PAY FOR SELF-GOVERNMENT, . . 21$

XI. VESTRYISM, 252

XII. DIRECT VerSUS INDIRECT TAXATION, '. . .-~V ' 2 9 !

XIII. THE NEW REGIME, AND HOW TO MEET IT, '. 31 1



POLITICAL PROBLEMS



OUR AGE AND COUNTRY.



I.



CONSTITUTIONAL AND AUTOCRATIC
STATESMANSHIP.

T T has long been a common complaint that
-"- STATESMANSHIP is at a low ebb in England.
What we have is of a poor kind, and there is very
little of it. Among our public men there is abund-
ance of political ability, of clever parliamentary
strategy, of practical knowledge, of debating skill
and eloquence, and a fair amount of administrative
capacity. But the views and action of our public
men, even the best of them, lack width, steadiness,
and persistent harmony ; and it is the union of
these three characteristics in an adequate degree
that gives to politics the quality and dignity of
statesmanship. We miss men gifted with the
faculty of taking a wide survey of the present or the
future, a true perception of the enduring elements
of a nation's greatness, a clear comprehension and
an unswerving pursuit of those measures by which



2 POLITICAL PROBLEMS

the objects thus distinctly seen can be as certainly
attained. In place of such men we have two distinct
classes, who rather caricature true statesmanship
than imitate or approach it. There are some who
have wonderful skill in gaining party victories
that is, in adapting immediate means to immediate
ends ; and there are others who are fanatically
devoted to one object or one principle, and who
pursue it as persistently as any statesman of any
country ; but they are doctrinaires, not statesmen.
They are irrational devotees. They are not so
much thinkers, as men possessed with an idea. We
have two admirable illustrations of this in our recent
history, in the case of two men, of whom it is as
impossible to speak without respect and gratitude as
without regret and censure. Lord John Russell
became eminent and powerful by identifying him-
self with the cause of parliamentary reform at a
time when reform was, of all measures, perhaps the
one most essential to the well-being and progress of
the country. He adhered to his object through long,
disastrous, and disheartening years ; and when the
tide turned and the victory was at last won, he rode
into power with the flowing wave of popular strength,
and as a just and appropriate reward became the
prominent idol of the hour. His name was for ever
associated with his cause, not only in the minds of
the people, but, unfortunately, in his own too. The
question became in a manner his possession, his
hobby, his fixed idea. It haunted him, so to speak.
He grew to feel that he owed it the homage of
constant attention perpetual, fidgety, fussy petits
soins. From being the aim of a sound mind, it grew



FOR OUR AGE AND COUNTRY. 3

to be the crotchet of an infirm one. He seemed to
be startled from his sounder condition by the clam-
our which greeted some unfortunate remarks which
he once made about " finality." He took an oppor-
tunity not long afterwards of astonishing the soberer
portion of the nation by announcing that he had
been an advocate of parliamentary reform when he
entered public life, that he was its advocate still, and
that he trusted he should always remain so ; in
fact, that at one time before dinner he had felt very
hungry, which was natural enough ; that he had had
a plentiful dinner, of his own ordering, and that now
he felt more hungry than before, which did not
sound very natural or healthy ; and that he trusted his
appetite would always continue as robust and insa-
tiable as ever, which sounded hardly like good sense
or sound morality. Since that memorable declara-
tion he kept on pertinaciously waving the old banner,
and crying the old watchword, without perceiving
that his face was set in a precisely opposite direction,
and that he was confronting an entirely different set
of antagonists from those whom he routed in his
youth ; and has, in fact, steadily endeavoured to
undo his own work, under the delusion that he was
completing it. At first he toiled to transfer political
preponderance from the aristocratic to the middle
classes i.e., from a fraction of the propertied and
educated classes to the whole of them. Subse-
quently he laboured, only too successfully, to transfer
political preponderance from the middle classes to
the ignorant and the working classes, and he
called the two opposite proceedings by the same
name of " Parliamentary Reform."



4 POLITICAL PROBLEMS

Our other persistent politician was Mr Cobden.
His consistency was far more real than Earl
Russell's, 'and his errors and deficiencies were of a
different order. It was given to him to gain a
victory, perhaps even greater than that of parlia-
mentary reform, and against a phalanx of foes even
more formidable to begin with. He stood upon a
simple truth, he fought for a distinct and definable
purpose, he conquered by the pure force of demon-
stration. He was truly grand when he was fighting
that battle ; he never was truly grand afterwards.
He saw that peace, the wealth and prosperity of the
country, and the physical welfare of the masses,
depended on liberating trade and industry from the
shackles with which selfish aims and unwise fond-
ness had bound them. He succeeded. The com-
mercial, financial, and industrial results of the free
commercial policy which he persuaded the country
to adopt, have not only justified, but far surpassed,
not only his, but all other anticipations. No wonder
that he should have felt that it was impossible to
exaggerate the value of the principle he had pro-
claimed. His error lay in seeing it alone, or in
looking at it so exclusively and so intently as to see
it out of its due proportions ; in deeming that free
trade would inevitably entail all other political bless-
ings ; in judging men and sovereigns according to
their faith in his own creed. His intellect was a
clear and powerful, but not a wide or philosophic
one. He saw one side of human nature so vividly,
that he forgot it was only one side. He would
have sacrificed, or risked sacrificing, every other
public aim to freedom of commerce, believing, we



FOR OUR AGE AND COUNTRY. 5

doubt not, in his heart, that all other things would
inevitably follow in its train. In his exclusive
devotion to one object he endangered many bless-
ings and outraged many cherished sentiments. He
was blinded by the very concentration of his vision.
He forgot, too, sometimes, that there are national
objects nobler and dearer than peace, richer and
more prolific than commercial wealth, more essential
even at times than cheap food or light taxation
for the poor. Hence, though about the most acute,
vigorous, and honest intellect among the public men
of our day, he was perhaps the least statesmanlike
of them all ; because width and mellowness of mind,
as well as consistency and force, are needed to con-
stitute a statesman.

The fact is undeniable : whether we look to other
countries or to other times, whether we compare
France with England, ancient with modern days, the
reign of Victoria with the reign of Elizabeth, the race
of statesmen seems to have died out among us, and
we have seldom been more painfully reminded of it
than of late. " There were giants in those days ; "
there are none now. Not only can we find no Pericles
in this age ; not only do we see no one like Ximenes
or Alberoni, who governed Spain so long, or like
Richelieu or Sully who ruled France for half a life
time, and through her ruled Europe, or like Barne-
velt or De Witt, who for years contrived to govern
and make great even their turbulent republic ; but
we see no analogies to Cecil and Walsingham, who
held power through a whole reign, under a most
capricious and unworthy mistress. Our modern his-
tory can offer no rivals to such men as Napoleon I.



6 POLITICAL PROBLEMS >

or Frederick the Great, scarcely even to such men
as Metternich or Nesselrode, or Cavour, or Napoleon
III. The only ministers who could pretend to the
name of statesmen in recent days in England, were
Walpole, Pitt, and Canning, and the last died up-
wards of a generation since.

Granted, however, the fact, two questions at once
suggest themselves for consideration : why we have
now no such statesmen as those of other countries
and of former days ; and how far their absence is to
be deplored.

Now, in reference to the first point, a little reflec-
tion will serve to show that th'e current ideas on the
subject are of a nature to render us habitually, though
unconsciously, unjust to the public men of England :
not that we under-estimate their actual capacity and
merits, but that, in mentally measuring them with the
Richelieus, Cecils, De Witts, and Napoleons, we are
trying them by a standard which it is simply impos-
sible they should ever reach. We complain, and
with perfect truth, that their political ability never
attains, and seldom approaches, to the height of
statesmanship, without pausing to inquire whether,
under a parliamentary system of government, there is
any scope or field for the development of statesman-
ship, properly so called. In comparing the ministers
and politicians of constitutional England with those
of despotic France, Austria, and Russia as in com-
paring the ministers and politicians of the England
of Queen Victoria with those of the England of
Queen Elizabeth we lose sight of the consideration
that the conditions, and therefore the possibilities, of
the several ages and countries are altogether dis-



FOR OUR AGE AND COUNTRY, 7

similar. We lament over the fancied dwarfing and
degeneracy of our statesmen : the fact being, not
perhaps that the dwarfing and degeneracy alleged
are not in a measure true, but that they are the
natural growth, the inevitable outcome, of that con-
stitutional regime, of the reality of that self-govern-
ment, of that increase of the popular ingredient in
our complicated system for which we have been con-
stantly contending, and on which we especially felici-
tate and pride ourselves. It is true, and may readily
be conceded, that we no longer produce statesmen
like those feared and venerated names we have
enumerated a page or two since ; but it is because
we should not know what to do with them if we had
them, because they would find no fitting place among
us, because they would disturb our polity, and we
should hamper their action and paralyse their genius.
The position of a statesman in a free country is
altogether different from that which he occupies in
a despotic one ; the conditions of his tenure and the
character of his functions are not the same ; the
ability required from him is of a different order;
the power which he wields is different, the means he
must make use of for gaining his influence and
obtaining his ends are different. Under a despot
he has to govern the nation ; he has sometimes to
govern the despot : he may sometimes be the despot.
He has to think and act for a whole people ; he is
therefore under an awful obligation to think and act
soundly; and we all know how rapidly and enor-
mously such responsibility ripens and strengthens
an intellect which it does not paralyse. He can do
what he wishes ; he is invested with real power ; he



8 POLITICAL PROBLEMS

may often retain that power for a whole generation
or for half a lifetime. It is worth his while to lay
deep and self-consistent plans, for he may feel con-
fident that he will be suffered to work them out.
It is worth his while to trust to the future and to
prepare for the future, for he is not necessarily the
mere transient creature of an hour. It is worth his
while to sow slow-growing seeds of good and
grandeur, for it is not irrational to hope, certainly,
that they will be allowed to ripen, and possibly that
he may himself last long enough to reap the harvest.
He has only to consider two things : first, whether
his views of policy are feasible, beneficent, and wise ;
secondly, whether he can induce his sovereign to
adopt them and to confide in him.

In a free state, with parliamentary institutions,
where the people, or a section and selection of the
people, really guide and govern the political machine
as in England, Italy, America, Switzerland, Bel-
gium, Holland, France occasionally, and some other
lands the case is widely different. Here, a min-
ister may have great influence, but he can scarcely
flatter himself that he has any power. He can do
much in diffusing correct information, in dissemi-
nating sound views, in upholding great principles and
fertile maxims of wise policy in appointing right
men, in exercising a sound strategic instinct as to
when to fight and when to yield, in resigning his
post when needful rather than surrender too much
or compromise too far, but he can do little more.
It is seldom worth his while to be at the labour of
elaborating any grand or consistent scheme of
national action ; for he may be quite certain that he



FOR OUR AGE AND COUNTRY. 9

will not be allowed to carry it out in its integrity,
and he must be very doubtful whether he will re-
main long enough in office to carry it out at all. In
fact, it is not for him to say what shall or shall not
be done, what principles shall prevail, what objects
shall be perseveringly followed up. It is for the
aggregate mind of the nation, for the popular voice,
for the slowly maturing and often vacillating public
opinion of the country, and not for him or for his
sovereign, to decide what the policy of the state
shall be both at home and abroad. He can never
direct or command. He can orky persuade ; and he
has to persuade an assembly singularly complex in
its structure, often varying in its composition, de-
plorably incapable of rising to the height of a great
principle, and rootedly intolerant of philosophical
and far-reaching views. He has to persuade, more-
over, or to indoctrinate a people peculiarly fitful in
its action, now waywardly torpid, now waywardly
emotional, often instinctively sagacious, usually
correct in feeling, but incurably illogical to the very
core, and ignorantly suspicious of everything that
bears the appearance of scientific consistency or
system. On all occasions he has to feel the pulse of
the country ; and he must not only be sure that he
interprets its beating aright, but that he can form a
sagacious guess as to what its beatings will be a few
months ahead. He can only be tolerably certain of
two conclusions : -first, that in order to pass any
measure, however great, however essential, however
salutary, he will have to consent to let it be so
cobbled, emasculated and adulterated, that all its
grandeur and much of its value are sure to have



io POLITICAL PROBLEMS

evaporated in the process. Secondly, that even if
he can induce the country to commit itself to some
important and characteristic line of action abroad,
the time must come when his antagonist will succeed
to office, and will induce the country to neutralise,
or to paralyse, his inaugurated policy. Everything
with us is in truth everything in a parliamentary
nation must be compromise; and compromise is
not a soil in which the higher qualities of statesman-
ship can take root, or flourish.

It was not always so. It was not so in Pitt's
days ; it was not so to anything like the same
extent even in the days of Wellington and Canning,
or in the earlier days of Peel. Before the great
year of change, 1832, so long as a minister was a
favourite with his sovereign, moderately popular
with the nation at large, and the recognised leader
of his party, he really did possess a considerable
amount of positive power, and that power could
fairly count upon a reasonable term of duration.
The sovereign might to a certain extent be capri-
cious and unreliable ; but princely instability and per-
fidy are political dangers to be guarded against in
despotic as well as in limited monarchies. The
party would, of course, have in some measure to be
managed and consulted, and its wishes and suscepti-
bilities to be humoured ; but a minister who really
belonged to it, and represented, its views, was certain
of zealous, unswerving, and almost unquestioning
and blind support. Popular feeling, if very pas-
sionate and strong, needed then, as now, to be
watched and guided, and if resolute and pertina-
cious, to be yielded to for a time ; but this is more



FOR OUR AGE AND CO UNTR Y. 1 1

or less the case in all polities, and in the early part
of this century the electing- power was centred in
so few hands, and those hands were subjected to
such potent influences, that the mere popular voice
had little weight except in periods of rare and ex-
ceptional excitement. The Tories had so large and
steady a majority in both Houses ; the preponder-
ance of all political and social influences lay so
clearly with them, that Pitt or Liverpool or Peel,
unless they had attempted something desperately
unwise, or unpopular, or premature, or had mortally
offended their habitual supporters, were pretty sure
of carrying any measures on which they were reso-
lutely bent. They had to defeat the adversaries in
their front ; but they could always do this with ease
and certainty in a pitched battle ; and, this done,
they had no reserve of enemies to encounter, no
ulterior opposition to overcome.

But it is since the first Reform Act that the com-
bination of political conditions which renders states-
manship so hopeless, has arisen, or at least has
attained its complete development. In fact it be-
longs to, and springs from, and ripens with, the
growing preponderance of the popular or democratic
element in the State. The degree in which a min-
ister can hope to carry out his own measures, to lay
down and adhere to a special, distinct, and con-
sistent line of policy the degree, that is, in which
he can approximate to statesmanship depends on
three conditions : the balance of parties, the degree
to which the question interests the masses, and the
line taken by the press. Before the Reform Act
there may be said to have been only two political



12 POLITICAL PROBLEMS

parties, and from 1790 till 1825, or perhaps later,
one of them was so unquestionably predominant in
both Houses of Parliament, and in the support
and sympathy of the Crown, that it was under no
necessity of making any great concessions to its op-
ponents, nor had it much reason to cower before the
possible action of the people or the press. Since the
Reform Act, not only have the relative weight and
numbers of the two great parties in the State been
far more equally balanced than of yore, so that only
on rare occasions could either hope \.Q force a mea-
sure down the throats of its antagonists, if their
opposition were sufficiently desperate and deter-
mined ; but a third party has arisen and attained a
distinct and most formidable position, numerous and
energetic enough in most cases to turn the scale of
victory between the two great rivals, and indepen-
dent enough to make it impossible to count upon
their assistance either confidently, steadily, or long
beforehand. This third party, moreover, is not a
compact and unvarying body, having a common
interest, and a common policy, and a calculable line
of tactics ; it comprises several sections who agree
only in -belonging to neither of the principal armies,
and in impartially and alternately embarrassing and
paralysing both. They all sit below the gangway,
though they sit on both sides of the House, and are
alike erratic and unaccountable. But whether they
be Irish members who require to be kept in the
ranks by jobs at home or by concessions to ultra-
montane predilections, or advanced Liberals who
have their own special aims and creeds to which
they will never be unfaithful, and which they will



FOR OUR AGE AND COUNTRY. 13

never compromise or postpone, their existence in
their actual strength is alike fatal to the growth of
all persistent or forecasting statesmanship. Nay,
more ; they are, in a manner, false and hostile to
one of their own recognised doctrines. They hold
that the majority ought to govern, or at least that
the will of the majority should prevail ; but by their
singularly arthritic position, and the singularly skil-
ful, and sometimes unscrupulous use they make of
it, they are, day after day, practically enabling a
minority, and sometimes a small one, to have its
way, by taking advantage of the emergencies and
bargaining with the necessities of the mightier con-
tending factions.

The periodical press was always a great power ;
but in recent years it has grown to be incomparably
greater than of yore, as well as far prompter in its
operation. It is, in fact, the organ through which
the more highly educated classes who are strong
neither in property nor rank, and who are often too
indolent to take much part in ordinary party and
electioneering struggles assert their right to politi-
cal influence, and make that influence felt. It is
also the organ through which that public opinion
which speaks by general elections once in every four
or five years, contrives to speak from day to day.
It is a power which no minister, however strong or
self-reliant, can afford to ignore or to pass by with
conscientious or supercilious indifference. It is, more-
over, a power in the face of which it is especially
difficult for any minister to lay far-sighted plans, to
sow seeds for distant harvests, to adopt a line of
policy of which the cost and the drawbacks are



i 4 POLITICAL PROBLEMS

obvious and immediate, and the advantages below the
surface and remote of which the price must be paid
down at once, and the return must be claimed (how-
ever certainly) hereafter. For it insists upon esti-
mating every measure or course of action in its in-
choate and imperfect stage, in sitting in judgment
on it from day to day, when perhaps only a little of
it can be seen, and when that little is far the least
prepossessing portion. It insists, too, upon "the
reason why," with an imperious wilfulness particularly
embarrassing and disadvantageous to the authors of
political schemes to which the strongest motives,
of which the most invaluable consequences, for which
the most convincing arguments, are often precisely
those which cannot be alleged in public without risk-
ing the success or the achievement aimed at. The
statesman, in fact, has both to concoct and to defend
his plans in the face of an audience which is too half-
trained to think profoundly, which is too impatient to
wait long, which is too shallow to look deep or far
which, as a rule, to use the phrase of Dr Johnson, is
not sufficiently " raised in the dignity of thinking
beings to allow the past, the distant, or the future to
predominate over the present." The extent to



Online LibraryWilliam R. (William Rathbone) GregPolitical problems for our age and country → online text (page 1 of 24)