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greater happiness; which means that he entered it to obtain fuller exercise of his faculties; which means that he entered it to obtain security for such exercise; which means that he entered it for the guaranteeing of his rights.'” “Wherefore, either way we find that the preservation of rights was the object sought."
“So it would seem.”
“But your hypothesis is that men give up their rights on entering the social state ?"
“See now how you contradict yourself. You assert that on becoming members of a society, men give up what, by your own showing, they joined it the better to obtain !”
Of the many political superstitions, none is so widely diffused as the notion that majorities are omnipotent. Under the impression that the preservation of order will ever require power to be wielded by some party, the moral sense of our time feels that such power cannot rightly be exercised by any but the largest moiety of society. It interprets literally the saying that “the voice of the people is the voice of God;” and, transferring to the one the sacredness attached to the other, it concludes that from the will of the people, that is, of the majority, there can be no appeal. Yet is this belief entirely erroneous.
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that, struck by some Malthusian panic, a legislature duly representing public opinion were to enact that all children born during the next
should be drowned. Does any one think such an enactment would be warrantable? If not, there is evidently a limit to the power of a majority. Suppose, again, that of two races living together-Celts and Saxons, for example, the most numerous determined to make the others their slaves. Would the authority of the greater number be in such case valid? If not, there is something to which its authority must be subordinate. Suppose, once more, that all men having incomes under £50 a year, were to resolve upon reducing every income above that amount to their own standard, and appropriating the excess for public purposes. Could their resolution be justified? If not it must be a third time confessed that there is a law to which the popular voice must defer. What, then, is that law, if not the law of pure equity—the law of equal freedom? These restraints which all would put to the will of the majority, are the restraints set up by that law. We deny the right of a majority to murder, to enslave, or to rob, simply because murder, enslaving, and robbery are violations of that law-violations too gross to be overlooked. But if great violations of it are wrong, so also are smaller ones.
If the will of the many cannot supersede the first principle of morality in these cases, neither can it in any.
THE CONSTITUTION OF THE STATE.
It is a tolerably well-ascertained fact that men are still selfish. And that beings answering to this epithet will employ the power placed in their hands for their own advantage is self-evident. Directly or indirectly, either by hook or by crook, if not openly then in secret, their private ends will be served. Granting the proposition that men are selfish, we cannot avoid the corollary that those who possess authority will, if permitted, use it for selfish purposes.
Should any one need facts in proof of this, he may find them at every page in the nearest volume of history. Under the head “Monarchy,” he will read of insatiable cravings after more territory; of confiscations of the subjects' property; of justice sold to the highest bidder; of continued debasements of coinage; and of a greediness which could even descend to share the gains of prostitutes.
He will find Feudalism exemplifying the same spirit by the cruelties inflicted upon serfs; by the right of private war; by the predatory incursions of borderers; by robberies practised on Jews; and by the extortionate tribute wrung from burghers—all of them illustrations of that motto, so characteristic of the system—“Thou shalt want ere I want."
_ Does he seek like evidence in the conduct of later aristocracies? He may discover it in every state in Europe: in Spain, where the lands of nobles and clergy were long exempted from direct taxation; in Hungary, where, until lately, men of rank were free of all turnpikes, and only the mercantile and working classes paid ; in France, before the first revolution, where the tiers-état had to bear all the State burdens; in Scotland where, less than two centuries ago it was the custom of lairds to kidnap the common people, and export them as slaves; in Ireland where, at the rebellion, a band of usurping landowners hunted and shot the Catholics as they would game, for daring to claim their own.
If more proofs are wanted that power will be made to serve the purposes of its possessors, English legislation can furnish many such. Take, for example, the significantly named “Black Act” (9th of George I.), which declares that any one disguised and in possession of an offensive weapon "appearing in any warren, or place where hares or conies have been, or shall be usually kept, and being thereof duly convicted, shall be adjudged guilty of felony, and shall suffer death, as in cases of felony, without benefit of clergy.” Instance again the Inclosure Laws, by which commons were divided among the neighbouring landowners in the ratios of their holdings, regardless of the claims of the poor cottagers. Notice also the manæuvre by which the land-tax has been kept stationary, or has even decreased, while other taxes have so enormously increased. Add to these the private monopolies (obtained from the King for “a consideration "), the perversion of the funds of public schools, the manufacture of places and pensions.
Nor is the disposition to use power for private ends less manifest in our own day. It shows itself in the assertion that an electoral system should give a preponderance to the landed interest. We see it in the legislation which relieves farmers from sundry assessed taxes, that they may be enabled to pay more rent. It is palpably indicated in the Game Laws. The conduct of the squire, who gets his mansion rated at one-third of its value, bears witness to it. It appears in the law enabling the landlord to anticipate other creditors, and to obtain his rent by immediate seizure of his tenant's property.
We are reminded of it by the often-mentioned legacy and probate
duties. It is implied by the fact that while no one dreams of compensating the discharged workman, gentlemen sinecurists must have their “vested interests” bought up if their offices are abolished. In the tracts of the Anti-Corn Law League it receives abundant illustration. It is seen in the votes of the hundred and fifty military and naval members of Parliament. And lastly, we find this self-seeking of those in authority creeps out even in the doings of the “Right Reverend Fathers in God” forming the Ecclesiastical Commission, who have appropriated, for the embellishment of their own palaces, funds entrusted to them for the benefit of the Church.
But it is needless to accumulate illustrations. Thongh every historian the world has seen should be subpænaed as a witness, the fact could not be rendered one whit more certain than it is already. Why ask whether those in power have songht their own advantage in preference to that of others ? With human nature as we know it, they must have done so. It is this same tendency in men to pursue gratification at the expense of their neighbours which renders government needful. Were we not selfish, legislative restraint would be unnecessary. Evidently, then, the very existence of a Stateauthority proves that irresponsible rulers will sacrifice the public good to their personal benefit: all solemn promises, specious professions, and carefully-arranged checks and safeguards, notwithstanding.
It is a pity that those who speak disparagingly of the masses have not wisdom enough, or candour enough, to make due allowance for the unfavourable circumstances in which the masses are placed. Suppose that, after carefully weighing the evidence, it should turn out that the working men do exhibit greater vices than those more comfortably off ; does it therefore follow that they are morally worse? Are the additional temptations under which they labour to be left out of the estimate? Shall as much be expected at their