THE PRINCIPLES OF TRUE LIBERALISM.
An attempt to define, in general terms, the sociological basis of government.
"I should say, in the first place, that what all Liberals most strongly, most ardently desire is that as large an amount as possible of personal freedom and liberty should be secured for every individual, and for every class in the country."—LORD HARTINGTON (Speech at Derby, July 12, 1886).
"The maximum right of the individual to please himself, subject to the minimum right of the community to control him."—The Times, (Oct. 29, 1886.)
"I think that nothing would be more undesirable than that we should remove the stimulus to industry, and thrift, and exertion, which is afforded by the security given to every man in the enjoyment of the fruits of his own individual exertions."—JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN (Speech at Hull, Aug. 5, 1885).
IN order to clearly and correctly comprehend the nature of Liberalism, in its original and scientific meaning, it is, above all things, necessary to recognise that that which is so glibly spoken of in our every-day conversation as "politics," comprehends one of the most profound and complex of sciences. This important fact is, with most people, completely lost sight of, or, to speak more correctly, never actually realised, except by the comparatively few who have made of the subject a close study. There is, in truth, no other topic in which all men alike are called upon to take an interest, which, to be rightly understood, requires so much and so continuous study and concentration; and yet, contradictory though it may be, there is no subject, in connection with which men act with so little real reflection, or concerning which they express settled convictions with so much confidence and self-satisfaction. "Over his pipe in the village ale-house," writes Mr. Herbert Spencer, "the labourer says, very positively, what parliament should do." This confidence, and the widespread ignorance which begets it, are, by no means, confined to the working classes. Among the more educated of society—even among what are termed University men—there is a surprising lack of knowledge concerning the fundamental principles of government. Some of the simplest axioms of political economy are as systematically ignored as if they had never been established; and equal disregard is displayed, in the ordinary political "talk," for some of the first principles of sociology which bear upon the practical government of the day.
As long as this is so, there is little hope that the genuine and scientific meaning of the political term in question will be widely understood, and so made to operate in the formation of public opinion. Milton's well-known line, regarding the "fear of angels," has no apter illustration than that which is afforded by "the people," in their confident treatment of political matters. Political problems are, from time to time, raised for settlement, in these days of "popular government," such as would require, for a correct solution, all the knowledge and concentration of a Mill or a Burke; yet, they are disposed of, for the time being, as if the questions involved were of the very simplest nature. "The enthusiastic philanthropist, urgent for some act of parliament to remedy this evil or secure the other good, thinks it a very trivial and far-fetched objection that the people will be morally injured by doing things for them, instead of leaving them to do things themselves. He vividly realises the benefit he hopes to get achieved, which is a positive and really imaginable thing: he does not realise the diffused, invisible, and slowly accumulating effect wrought on the popular mind, and, so, does not believe in it; or, if he admits it, thinks it beneath consideration. Would he but remember, however, that all national character is gradually produced by the daily action of circumstances, of which each day's result seems so insignificant as not to be worth mentioning, he would see that what is trifling, when viewed in its increments, may be formidable when viewed in its sum total."
In the ordinary way, and more especially at times when party feeling runs high, any appearance of doubt in connection with political matters is immediately interpreted as evidencing want of "back-bone," "shilly-shallying," "sitting-on-a-rail," or some other reprehensible condition of mind. At election time, a voter experiencing such misgivings would, if not abused, certainly be considered a fit subject for sympathy. Yet, if the truth were known, such a man, provided his hesitation were the genuine result of doubt, arising from a recognition of the great difficulties of any particular political question, would be a far safer citizen, in a democracy, than the thousands of confident electors who have, in their own minds, and to their own satisfaction, reduced all the great social problems of our day to a cut-and-dried condition, such as leaves no doubt whatever regarding the course to be pursued. Without, however, dwelling longer upon that point, let me say that, in the opinion of all the greatest thinkers who have dealt with this subject, what we call "politics" or "government" is regarded as a science; and, what is more, as one of the most profound with which the human mind has so far had to deal. And this is a conclusion to which everyone must come, who sets himself to its investigation with any degree of seriousness.
"The constitution of a State," says Edmund Burke, "and the due distribution of its powers, is a matter of the most delicate and complicated skill. It requires a deep knowledge of human nature and human necessities, and of the things which facilitate or obstruct the various ends which are to be pursued by the mechanism of civil institutions." Again, the same writer, says: "The science of government requires experience, and even more experience than any person can gain in his whole life, however sagacious and observing he may be." And further, "The nature of man is intricate, the objects of society are of the greatest possible complexity; and therefore no simple disposition, or direction of power can be suitable either to man's nature, or to the quality of his affairs. When (he adds) I hear the simplicity of contrivance aimed at and boasted of in any new political constitutions, I am at no loss to decide that the artificers are grossly ignorant of their trade, or totally negligent of their duty." A more modern authority has said much the same thing; thus:—"Legislation is so complex, that only those who give themselves wholly to the study can be acquainted with any considerable part of it. The true method of approaching a legislative measure assumes the form of a complicated logical and scientific problem." Unfortunately, the bulk of our fellow-men do not take the same view. Those who have cast upon them the responsibility of electing the politicians or legislators of our day have formed their own opinions; and, what is more, placed their own value upon their own abilities, in calculating the importance and correctness of those opinions.
Representatives for parliament appear to be chosen (if we can judge from the amount of confidence displayed in the operation) upon the assumption that a knowledge of politics, or of the science upon which they are based, is a matter of simple intuition; and that, in fact, the exercise of the franchise, or the correct criticism of a measure, is one of the most easily and lightly discharged of our every-day duties.
"A man," says Mr. Joseph Cowen, "is expected to serve an apprenticeship, or to pass a competitive examination for every profession save criticism and government. Legislators (he adds, somewhat ironically) are ready-made. Politics, however, are not personalities; yet the man who can rattle off a list of names and measures, with the chronological exactness of a sporting prophet, recounting the pedigree of a horse, is deemed a politician.... These personal data may be entertaining enough for gossip, but they are a trumpery contribution to the philosophy of government."
We have heard a good deal from time to time upon the subject of direct representation for the working man, in parliament, a proposal which is, of necessity, based upon the supposition that it is not only possible, but out of the region of doubt that a journeyman could lay aside the tools, with which he has been engaged during the day in constructing a door or laying bricks, and, without any difficulty, take a really useful part in the making of laws for his country.
About two years ago a debate took place upon the question of "Payment of members of parliament," among the delegates present at an Intercolonial Trades' Union Congress held in the colony of Victoria. The proceedings have since been published and are indeed instructive. One member said, that it was necessary to give "an opportunity to men who had every quality necessary to make a good legislator, but had not the means to live without labour, to enter parliament." Another speaker "maintained that there were as good men to be found among the working classes as ever sat in the legislative assemblies." These speeches were both cheered; so that we may infer that the sentiments which they expressed met with general approval.
It would, perhaps, not be very seriously entertained by these gentlemen, if they were told that they, in fact, possessed very few of the requisite qualifications; yet they have been frequently so informed already, and by "Liberals" of considerable authority.
Mr. Frederick Harrison, for instance, in a lecture on the "Political Function of the Working Classes," delivered in March, 1868, to the London Trades' Council, said, in his usual candid manner: "I tell you plainly that, in my opinion, if the people were to manage their own concerns they never would be worse managed. Manage your own concerns for yourselves!" he exclaimed. "Do you ever make your own boots and shoes, or turn your own enginedriver on a railway, or cut off your own leg when amputation is inevitable? If we all managed our own concerns for ourselves, we should be reduced to a state of the merest savages. Civilisation simply means the adjustment of parts to the most efficient hands—putting the round men in the round holes. We get our law done by men trained all their lives to the work. We get taught by professed teachers; we have our armies led by experienced and scientific generals; and if, in all things of life, great and small, we rely on men of special gifts and attainments, and know that even they can do us no good service, unless we entrust them with full freedom of action and concentration of power, how can we venture to dispense with these advantages, in the greatest and most difficult art of all—the art of government? What would be the result if the passengers in a train insisted on turning this or that handle of the engine in the course of the journey; if we insisted on substituting one drug for another in a physician's prescription; if the operations of an army in the field were directed by the votes of the rank and file? Yet (he says) these are comparatively easy to the art of government, especially in these days. Of all quacks (he adds) distrust most those who tell you that it is an easy thing to govern such a country as ours." Sir George Cornewall Lewis, one of the very highest authorities on this and kindred subjects, says: "There is no branch of human knowledge; no art or applied science, which may not be put in requisition for the purposes of civil government."
The truth is that, in addition to government being a science, and an extremely complex one, very little is understood regarding it, even by those who most confidently profess a "practical" knowledge of its principles.
"In the great science of politics," says the Duke of Argyle, "which investigates the complicated forces, whose action and reaction determine the condition of organised societies of men, we are still standing, as it were, only at the break of day." Can we then, in the face of these reflections, fortified, as they are, by endless authorities, resist the conclusion that the position and responsibilities of a law maker, or, as he is glibly called, a "politician," call for a special training, at least as difficult and laborious as that needed in other professions? Mill was of opinion that "there is hardly any kind of intellectual work, which so much needs to be done, not only by experienced and exercised minds, but by minds trained to the task through long and laborious study, as the business of making laws; and Mr. Joseph Cowen is of much the same opinion, as are indeed all writers of eminence on the subject. "If," says Mr. Cowen, "the science of legislation is to be learnt, it must be cultivated. No man can do this in a day. It must be the labour of years, and to that labour must be brought the powers of a mind, prepared by previous training, and strengthened by preliminary discipline."
However government may have been regarded in the past, by students of history and others, who have directed their attention to the theory of the subject, no past governments have thought fit, even if they were so inclined, to be guided by the true principles which underlie it. "If (says Humbolt) we cast a glance at the history of political organizations, we shall find it difficult to decide, in the case of any one of them, the exact limits to which its activity was conformed, because we discover, in none, the systematic working out of any deliberate scheme, grounded on a certain basis of principle." "There is (says Mill) no recognised principle by which the propriety of government interference is customarily tested."
It may fairly be said that these statements regarding the scientific side of politics, and its complexity and profundity as a study, require some support in the nature of facts. One might, to that, reply that such authorities should be conclusive in themselves; but it is unnecessary to take refuge in such an answer, for the same writers have given sound reasons and facts for their conclusions, and some of the latter are indeed somewhat startling. In the first place the effect of measures is, as a rule, quite different to that which has been aimed at and expected. Indeed, it would be an extremely difficult matter to calculate the number of legislative disappointments which have resulted in our own history, by reason of this want of political knowledge; or the amount of harm which has, at different times, been inflicted upon society, as the result of abortive attempts at statesmanship. "Every great reform," says Buckle, "which has been effected, has consisted, not in doing something new, but in undoing something old. The most valuable additions made to legislation have been enactments destructive of preceding legislation, and the best laws which have been passed have been those by which some former laws were repealed.... We owe no thanks to lawgivers as a class; for since the most valuable improvements in legislation are those which subvert preceding legislation, it is clear that the balance of good cannot be on their side. It is clear that the progress of civilisation cannot be due to those who, on the most important subjects, have done so much harm that their successors are considered benefactors, simply because they reverse their policy, and, thus, restore affairs to the state in which they would have remained if politicians had allowed them to run on in the course which the wants of society required." Again, "It is no exaggeration to say that the history of the commercial legislation of Europe presents every possible contrivance for hampering the energies of commerce." "For no government having recognised its proper limits, the result is that every government has inflicted, on its subjects, great injuries, and has done this, nearly always, with the best intentions."
Here is an even stronger piece of evidence. "It would be easy to push the enquiry still further, and to show how legislators, in every attempt they have made to protect some particular interests, and uphold some particular principles, have, not only failed, but have brought about results, diametrically opposite to those which they proposed."
If facts are needed we have not far to go for them. In a paper read to the Statistical Society, in May 1873, Mr. Janson, vice-president of the Law Society, affirmed that, "from the Statute of Merton (20 Henry III.), to the end of 1872, there had been passed 18,110 public acts, of which he estimated that four-fifths had been wholly or partially repealed." Nor is this very strong evidence of the ignorance of legislators confined to remote times. Mr. Spencer has himself ascertained that (speaking of the time at which he wrote) "in the last three sessions of the English parliament there have been totally repealed 650 acts belonging to the present reign alone."
Can one doubt, then, the soundness of the contention that the science of government is not the very simple study which most people imagine, but a science, in the strict sense of the word, involving a knowledge, and a profound knowledge of the laws "of human nature and human necessities," and of whatever other laws may regulate the operations and prospects of the numerous and varied institutions grown and growing up around us as a part of our social organisation? If, then, politics are a science, surely they should be so treated, instead of being dealt with in the haphazard immethodical manner adopted towards them by the bulk of our fellow-men.
Now, true Liberalism, as I understand it, is based on scientific considerations. It has regard for the happiness of all who comprise the state; not only for their immediate happiness, nor for the happiness of the present generation exclusively. It looks rather to the happiness immediate and remote; and of the race rather than of any single generation. Aristotle says: "Since, in every art and science, the end aimed at is always good, the greatest good is particularly the end of that which is the most excellent of all, and this is the political science."
Bentham has defined the object of legislation to be the "greatest happiness of the greatest number," and Mr. Herbert Spencer, in his "Social Statics," has contended that such a definition brings one no nearer than before to the point sought to be defined. The word "happiness" has certainly many objections, for it does not, in the minds of all men, bear the interpretation of the "greatest good." It might, and probably does mean, to many men, a "short life and a merry one," which is certainly not "good" in the sense in which Aristotle used the word. A wise government must, as I have said, have regard to the real good of its subjects, and must not lose sight of the whole race, one generation only of which it is called upon to govern.
How best is that good to be considered? Not, certainly, by "feasting and wine bibbing," nor, indeed, by carelessly expending the wealth of a state over any single generation or age. Every government has entrusted to it the charge of a great inheritance, which has to be handed on, again, to its successors. If we were asked how any individual should live the most worthy and successful life possible, we should all agree tolerably well in our answer; but the multiplication of individuals somewhat complicates the problem.
A government should, no doubt, aim at the ultimate as well as the immediate happiness of the whole people. But how is this to be attained? That is the great problem which, in different forms, every legislator is called upon to assist in solving. Men will of course differ greatly as to the best methods to be adopted, in order to attain success.
At the outset, we find it necessary to resort to human nature in order that we may first ascertain what it is that is to be governed. Man, as an individual, is the real starting-point, and a study of the individual is preliminary to a study of the group, which we call society. "To me," says Mr. Joseph Cowen, "politics are the science of mundane existence. The starting-point is the individual, free and self-centred." Before all things, man must see that he lives, and it therefore becomes necessary that he be allowed to do so, by his fellow-men. His first want, therefore, is security to the person. From this want springs the necessity for the family or tribal combination, by which that security is, to some extent, obtained. It is, next, essential that he shall have food. If he live in any but a tropical climate, he stands in almost equal need of clothing and shelter from the elements. In a primitive state of society, the greater part of a man's time is occupied over these three wants, especially if he have offspring. In primitive society, men are also liable to famine, arising from failure in crops, failure in sport, or from illness and consequent inability to follow the daily calling. Man too, being naturally disinclined to exertion, will not, voluntarily, undergo more toil than is necessary to acquire sufficient to satisfy the wants of himself, and of those who have claims upon him. From this, it follows that, in a primitive state of living, men will not, without good reason, provide for the wants of others, unless such as nature has bound to them by, what we term, "ties of affection," "love," etc. In all communities, men are forced to either make provision for emergencies, or, as an alternative, suffer the consequences. In less civilised communities, where food or material for clothing are obtainable only at certain seasons, the more provident take care, and the less provident are forced to lay by more than sufficient for their immediate wants. Upon those who systematically neglect such providence, the law of "the survival of the fittest" inevitably operates, unless, indeed, as is sometimes the case, now-a-days, society offers encouragement to improvidence. From the above condition of things accumulation results, and, thereupon, a new necessity arises—that of preventing such accumulations from being taken by those who are, either too lazy, or too improvident to adopt similar precautions for themselves.
Here therefore, in the very infancy of society, there arises the necessity (life, even, depending on it), for "security for property." These may, therefore, be rightly termed the first duties of government—"security to the person" and "security for property."
"Without security of property, and freedom to engage in every employment, not hurtful to others, society can make no considerable advances." "Therefore," adds the same writer, "we have, first, to consider the means of obtaining security, and protection." "The great and chief end," says Locke, "of men's uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property."
There is an obvious reason in thus regarding this principle as paramount. The safety of society depends upon accumulation. The uncompromising character of the laws of nature is a principle firmly established in the mind of every observant person; and it is a remarkable and noteworthy fact that, though many of our fellow-beings honestly believe that supernatural interference can be brought to bear upon the natural operation of those laws, in answer to human requests, yet, those very persons neglect no effort to resist or divert the operation of the laws themselves, by natural means. Man, in a primitive condition, is liable to a hundred and one dangers, of which famine is the most terrible. Where any tribe, or larger community of men, is content to depend, for food and clothing, upon that which can be obtained from day to day, its members are in constant danger of this greatest of all calamities, and, while such a possibility is impending, no feeling of safety or security can exist in the minds of those over whom the danger hangs. Hence follows the importance of this particular function of government—the giving security to property; and, up to a certain point, it may be also said that the extent of happiness of a people will be in correspondence with the extent of its accumulation, since it will be, thus, the farther removed from the condition of danger which famine would entail. Accumulation, therefore, and human happiness itself, depend upon security for property.
Having then obtained this security for the person and for whatever food or property may be acquired, and seeing further that, up to a certain point, the greater the accumulation, the greater the happiness, it becomes necessary to enquire what is the next want for which society calls. It is acknowledged to be "freedom." Now, why is freedom, or liberty a necessity among men, and what do we mean by the expression?
Mr. Herbert Spencer answers the question for us from first principles. "Animal life," he says, "involves waste; waste must be met by repair; repair implies nutrition. Again, nutrition pre-supposes obtainment of food; food cannot be got without powers of prehension, and usually of locomotion; and that these powers may achieve their ends, there must be freedom to move about. If you shut up an animal in a small space, or tie its limbs together, or take from it the food it has procured, you eventually, by persistence in one or other of these courses, cause its death. Passing a certain point, hindrance to the fulfilment of these requirements is fatal. And all this, which holds of the higher animals at large, of course, holds of man."
Without freedom, it is obvious that man could not choose the time, place, means, or methods of obtaining the requirements of life; and, as I shall show hereafter, the more crowded a community becomes, and the more artificial the condition of living within it, the greater the necessity for freedom to the individual, upon whom depends the responsibility of a livelihood for himself, and perhaps for others. Therefore, as Locke says, "the end of law is not to abolish, or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom." The argument stands thus: The object of man (upon which all sane people must be agreed) is to be happy. The first essential to that end is that he may live. In order to live, others must be prevented from killing him. Hence the necessity for "security for the person." To maintain life the body must be nourished. Food, therefore, is essential; and inasmuch as the uncertainty of supply of food renders life precarious, it is also essential, to man's continuance of life, that he should accumulate. Security is essential to accumulation, for without it man would have no encouragement to accumulate. Security, however, being obtained by common consent and common assistance, it becomes necessary to offer every additional encouragement to accumulation. A certain amount of freedom is indispensable to that end, and beyond that, the greater the freedom, the greater the chances of accumulation, provided that the freedom be sufficiently limited to enable every member of the community to enjoy the same protection and security; that is to say, "the liberty of each, limited only by the like liberty of all."
Let us pass away now from these considerations regarding a primitive condition of society, to those regarding a more advanced form. In the latter, the necessity for freedom becomes, as I have said, even greater than in the former. With an advanced civilisation comes division of labour, and the much more elaborate requirements of our daily life. It becomes almost a physical impossibility for any individual to live as he might do in a primitive community. All the circumstances which surround him combine to force him into the more artificial and complex mode of existence. He is compelled to devote himself to the acquirement of some special knowledge, possibly very indirectly connected with the production of food, in order that he may obtain the means of livelihood; for, having had afforded to him, by society, some guarantee regarding the safety of his person, he is compelled to effect an exchange, with some other member of society, of his special knowledge for a supply of the necessaries of life, or for some other medium by which those necessaries can be obtained from a third person. On account of the adoption by society of the principle of "division of labour," he finds himself unable to produce these necessaries for himself, and he is thus forced to devote himself to some occupation which will be most valuable for the purposes of exchange with his fellow-citizens. Every individual needs, then, the fullest freedom to choose that occupation for which his nature and abilities best suit him, in order that he may obtain the largest amount of exchangeable value with which to purchase those necessaries of life. Moreover, eating, drinking, sleeping, and generally rendering oneself and one's belongings comfortable in life, are only a small part of man's mission. To have secured such ends is certainly the first duty of every citizen, and security and liberty are absolutely essential in order that they may be attained. But man has other wants besides the mere bodily ones. With leisure, and the opportunities for reflection, such as are, or can be enjoyed by every man in our present civilisation, there come desires, even yearnings, for far higher satisfactions. According to the constitution of our minds, or the nature of the early training which we have undergone, we find ourselves inclining in the direction of certain occupations, accomplishments, or amusements. One discovers, and finds pleasure in cultivating a faculty for painting; another for literature; a third for music. One is led, by the bent of his mind, into the mazes of philosophy and abstract speculation; another finds pleasure in mechanics; while a third is drawn to the study of nature, either in the direction of astronomy, geology, or, may be, natural history. Many are content to concentrate their attention, wholly, upon the happiness and improvement of their fellow-beings, while others prefer to leave the busy haunts of men and lead the life of a recluse, in some occupation of a more primitive character. As Joseph Cowen has said, "Every human being has an organisation peculiar to himself. He has his own life to live, his own work to do, and no one can live the one or do the other for him. It is with man as with nature. Each plant grows by itself, in the sunshine or the shade. The thistle gives no laws to the convolvulus. The oak and the willow have their different growths; the rose and the daisy their different forms and hues. But each has its separate function, and each its distinctive beauty. In humanity there is the same unbounded diversity. So all men, however different their capacity, should have equal liberty of germination. The same sun warms them, and the same wind breathes to them melodiously. Let each have the space and the culture most fitted for the unchecked unfolding of his powers. One man is a heretic; another is orthodox. Give both equal liberty to preach their doctrines." This liberty to open up one's individuality is not for one only, or for any particular class. It is essential to the happiness of all. The race, the nation, the city, the village, are made up of individuals, all, if we could but ascertain, possessing, and desiring the realisation of, some ideal. The liberty to "followup" that ideal is essential to individual happiness and, therefore, to the happiness of the nation, of which the individuals are but the units. "That a good man be 'free,' as we call it—be permitted to unfold himself, in works of goodness and nobleness—is," says Carlyle, "surely a blessing to him, immense and indispensable—to him and to those about him." "Reason cannot desire for man any other condition than that in which each individual, not only enjoys the most absolute freedom of developing himself by his own energies, in his perfect individuality, but in which external nature even is left unfashioned by any human agency, but only receives the impress given to it by each individual, of himself and his own freewill, according to the measure of his wants and instincts, and restricted only by the limits of his powers and his rights." So says the famous Von Humbolt, and he adds that this principle "must, therefore, be the basis of every political system." Such a principle would secure what Joseph Cowen calls "a clear and equal course," so that victory might go "to the wisest and the best." By it, the paths are opened up to wealth, success, honour, fame, everything, in fact, worth man's aspirations. "Personal liberty," says Cowen again, "develops individual energy, and raises the level of human dignity, by inspiring, in it, sentiments of self-reliance." "Every human being," he repeats, "has a quality peculiar to himself, that distinguishes him from every other human being that has been, that is, or will be. Those distinctive qualities constitute his character, and his life. To develop those attributes—moral, intellectual, and physical,—is his mission. To accomplish this mission, he requires freedom, without which there can be no responsibility, and equality, without which, liberty is a deception." Hear, too, what Mr. Bright has said upon the same subject:—"Do you not know that all progress comes from successful and peaceful industry, and that, upon it, is based your superstructure of education, of morals, of self-respect among your people, as well as every measure for extending and consolidating freedom in your institutions." "For liberty," says Burke "is a good to be improved, and not an evil to be lessened. It is not only a private blessing of the first order, but the vital spring and energy of the state itself, which has just so much life and vigour, as there is liberty in it." This principle of liberty is no new doctrine, though it has been preached in vain, in many ages, and in many lands. Aristotle dwelt upon it upwards of two thousand years ago, whilst Eastern nations lay mouldering into oblivion, for want of it.
Having defined a democracy to be "a state where the freemen and the poor, being the majority, are invested with the power of the state," as distinguished from an oligarchy, in which "the rich and those of noble family being few, possess it," he adds: "The very foundation of a democratical state is liberty." And, further, a criterion of that state is "that everyone may live as he likes, for this is a right peculiar to liberty, since he is a slave who must live as he likes not." Just as history, the record of all political experiments, shows what liberty has accomplished for those who enjoyed its many and great blessings, so it discloses the melancholy existence and end of nations, which expired for want of it. "The nations," says Sir Erskine May, "which have enjoyed the highest freedom, have bequeathed to us the rarest treasures of intellectual wealth, and, to them we owe a large measure of our own civilisation. The history of their liberties will be found concurrent with the history of their greatest achievements in oratory, literature, and the arts. In short, the history of civilisation is the history of freedom." But what of the other side of the picture? What is the history of those countries in which this great principle, this great motive power in human nature has been ignored, and, as it were, stifled out of existence? The same authority, whose opinion in the fields of comparative politics and comparative history, is of high value, says, of the Asiatic mind: "It has failed to reach the mental elevation of the West. It has proved itself inferior in religion, in morals, in science, and the arts; and above all, in freedom, and the art of government. Not only has liberty been practically unknown through thousands of years: it has been even ignored in theory. Never did the founders of Eastern religions, or lawgivers, or philosophers, dream of it. Not a word is to be found in the Vedas concerning freedom, or national rights. The Buddhists, indeed, favoured the doctrine that all men are equal; but it was barren, until quickened, a thousand years later, by Christian faith; and wherever Buddhism has flourished, first in India and, afterwards, in China, Japan, and Eastern Asia, liberty has been beyond the conception of the races who have embraced that religion. Not even in Indian poetry or song is utterance given to any sentiment of liberty." Let us now examine the nature of this great national characteristic, concerning which so much has been said. What is liberty? Where does it begin? and what are its limits, if it has any?
The word in its primary signification means "freedom to do as one wishes; freedom from restraint." That is, in fact, the condition of primitive man, before such a thing as "law" is known. It is, in truth, the condition of the animal world, subject, as in the case of primitive man, to one limitation only, viz., physical capability.
It requires no explanation to show that this is not the meaning which attaches to the word, in the sense in which it is being here advocated. Under such conditions, society would be impossible—would become anarchical. We have already seen that one of the indispensable conditions of the happiness and progress of humanity, when raised above the level of the savage, is "security," whether of the person, or of what is termed "property." This security is not compatible with such an extended and unqualified liberty. To be able to "do as one wished"—to be "free from restraint"—would mean to be allowed to injure or destroy others, whose existence or presence was objectionable. It would mean one man being allowed to take the property of another, merely because he enjoyed superior physique. It would, as I have said, mean anarchy, and, if not mutual destruction, certainly mutual injury—social stagnation and disorganisation.
It is evident, then, that the kind or extent of liberty, which is calculated to encourage industry and the accumulation of the necessities and luxuries of life, and which is essential to the mental and moral development of a people, is not that which is signified by the word in its primary meaning. We must look for the true signification in the same source, but subject to certain important limitations. Liberty in the sense in which I understand it, and in which I take it to be used by those writers from whom I have quoted, means "the freedom to do as one wishes; freedom from restraint—subject to the same or equal freedom in our fellows," or, to use the words of Mr. Herbert Spencer, "the liberty of each, limited only by the like liberty of all."
Sir George Cornewall Lewis, in his valuable treatise on "Political Terms," says, "Persons who speak of liberty in general; of the blessings of liberty; of the cause of liberty, may be understood to use the word to denote an immunity or exemption from certain restrictions, which they consider as pernicious to society." Sir James Mackintosh says that liberty is "security against wrong," and Blackstone defines it thus:—"Political or civil liberty...is no other than natural liberty, so far restrained by human laws (and no further), as is necessary and expedient for the general advantage of the public." This definition leaves, unexplained, the extent to which it is "necessary and expedient" to restrain "natural liberty," by human laws, for "the general advantage of the general public." It is sufficiently clear, however, from it, and the preceding observations, that the liberty which men originally possessed should be lessened only so far as to secure equal liberty to all.
This, then, is the conclusion at which I arrive by what I conceive to be a scientific investigation of the conditions of man's progress and development—that in order to obtain for a community the largest aggregate amount of happiness, each member of it should have secured to him the most absolute freedom or liberty; subject only to such limitations as are necessary in order to secure equal freedom or liberty to all other members. And this I contend is the true principle of "Liberalism," whether tested by the light of the sociological science, or by the political history of our race.
Having then ascertained the true principle upon which this particular school of politics is founded, it is necessary to consider, still further, what are its functions in regard to practical legislation. If it were about to be applied to the regulation of a newly constituted society, there would be little difficulty in determining the proper course to be pursued. Seeing that the units of such a community are, in a primitive state, in possession of absolute freedom, limited only by the physical capabilities of each, all that would be necessary would be to enact laws which would prevent any one or more of such units from depriving any other one or more of their fellows of the same amount of liberty enjoyed by himself or themselves. It would be found essential to provide against bodily trespass of all kinds, which would include injury to the person and interference with personal freedom. It would be found essential, also, to provide against the usurpation, by one or more of property, lawfully acquired by others of their fellows.
As the community progressed and developed, and other classes of rights grew up, it would be found necessary to protect them in a similar way. The number, and extent, and nature of such rights would depend upon the stage of civilisation which the community had reached. But, whatever they might be, so soon as all members of the community were, alike, protected from the invasion of their individual freedom, the "home" functions of the governing power (however constituted it might be), would, for the time being, be exhausted, until some new class of rights, not previously dealt with, had been similarly protected.
It would, simultaneously, become necessary for the governing power to take steps for protecting the community, as a whole, from outside, or, as it is termed, foreign aggression, lest, otherwise, the liberty of the whole should be jeopardised; and, with this view, the governing power would be justified in calling upon each member of the community to contribute his proportion of assistance (or some recognised equivalent) towards the general security. This would, in a civilised community, take the form of conscription, or of taxes for the maintenance of land or sea forces, or both. In the same way, with a view to rendering effectual the laws for the security of liberties against internal attack, the governing power would be justified in calling upon each member of the community to contribute his proportion towards the maintenance of the police and the judiciary, with all their necessary and incidental adjuncts.
Having accomplished all this, the governing power would have exercised the whole of its immediate functions, and have merely to watch for the development of new liberties, requiring protection, as also for any threatening dangers from within or without.
With the completion of such a policy, it would be found that each member of the community was in the enjoyment of the most absolute liberty, subject only to such limitations as were necessary, in order to secure equal liberty to all members.
But, with regard to practical legislation, that is to say, legislation applicable to the times in which, and the circumstances under which we now live, the case is quite different. Legislators are not now called upon to arrange a "newly-constituted" community, but, on the contrary, to regulate, and in some cases to reform, a very old and complicated one, interwoven with traditions requiring careful and delicate treatment. We are living in a time which stands many centuries later than the period at which many of the existing laws and customs were originated and enacted. Society is surrounded by legislative restrictions, in the enactment of which the present generation has taken no part; and, as a consequence, those who profess to legislate on true Liberal principles are confronted with a twofold duty. First, to watch over and preserve, in their integrity, the liberty of their fellow-countrymen, subject only to equal liberties for all. Secondly, to examine, closely, the legislation of our ancestors, and, after careful investigation, endeavour to repeal such as they find to have been enacted in contravention of true principles.
Liberalism, in the nineteenth century, therefore, is charged with a second function, which would not pertain to a community newly constituted.
It will be observed that in the definition of Liberalism, at which I have arrived, no provision whatever is made for depriving the stronger, or the more capable, in any way, of the right to enjoy, to the utmost, the fruits of that superiority, so long as he regards the like liberty in others. Under such a principle of government, as practised in a primitive community, the swiftest, or the keenest, or the most ingenious hunter would obtain, and have secured to him, when obtained, the largest amount of sport. If a member of any tribe, more anxious than others in regard to the comfort of his family, chose to spend a greater part of his time in the erection and decoration of a dwelling, he would have secured to him the fullest enjoyment of the result of his labour. If, on the other hand, any member of such a tribe, either from stupidity or laziness, neglected to provide himself with the requirements of existence, he would, nevertheless, be forced to have regard to the rights and liberties of his fellows, and be restrained from helping himself to the fruits of their labour and exertion. Such a person, having failed to display the necessary qualifications of a self-supporting unit of society, would be thrown upon the charity or good nature of his fellows, instead of acquiring a claim to any proportion of their accumulations. In a more advanced society, such as that in which we are now living, citizens, standing in a somewhat analogous position to the community, are fre quently encouraged, rather than discouraged, by reason of the indiscriminate charity of society.
It will be seen at a glance that by such means as those mentioned above, the swift hunter and the keen sportsman would be incited to become still more swift and more keen, while, on the other hand, the stupid member of the tribe would, by force of circumstances, be aroused to a keener condition of mind, and the lazy would be ultimately starved into a condition of physical activity, and thus compelled to exert himself in the chase, as others around him were doing. By the operation of such principles, the whole tendency of a people would be in the direction of a higher development, and an improved method of living. The effects of such principles, upon a people, living in a more advanced state of civilisation, would be the same; though, necessarily, more complex and more subtle in their operation. In both cases, there would be a strong influence in the direction of self-reliance; there would be no tendency towards equalising men, but rather towards rendering more prominent the inequalities in human nature, which operation in its turn would engender emulation, and lead to an uniform progression.
The best, that is to say the most capable in the qualities essential to success in life, would find their reward in that superiority; and by reason of the maximum amount of freedom enjoyed by everyone, there would be no position of honour in the community, and no kind of success in life, which would not be open alike to the humblest and the most pretentious member of it.
Having, then, progressed so far with my chain of reasoning, and in order that I may not be suspected of originality in my theories, (a charge which, if sustained in connection with a subject so time-worn as that with which I am dealing, would be almost inevitably fatal to its acknowledgment or reception), let me show how identical, in every respect, are the conclusions, at which I thus arrive, with those deduced by certain authorities already famous in the "Liberal" cause. "Liberal principles," says Mr. Joseph Cowen, "what are they? The first is equality. I do not mean equality of social condition. That is a speculative chimera that can never be realised. One man owns his clothes, and another owns a county. If they were equal to-day, they would be unequal to-morrow. I mean equality of opportunity—a clear and equal course, and victory to the wisest and the best. That is practicable," he adds, and then, "I would remove all artificial impediments and restraints that make the path of progress tedious and painful." "Liberty," he says, "is the second Liberal principle. By liberty, I mean much more than liberty of locomotion, or liberty to buy in the cheapest or sell in the dearest market. I mean liberty of thought, speech, and development. Physical liberty constitutes us free agents; intellectual liberty gives us the power of acting up to our sense of right and wrong; religious liberty enables us to make the decisions of our consciences our rule of conduct; and civil liberty gives us the unchecked opportunity of growth. The idea running through these definitions is that of self-sovereignty. If our volitions do not originate with ourselves we have not personal freedom; if our convictions are controlled by our prejudices, and our consciences controlled by our passions, we have neither mental nor moral freedom; if we have to practice or pay for modes of worship, imposed by others, we have not religious freedom; and if any power assert the right to inflict upon us laws or taxes without our leave, we have not civil freedom."
Elsewhere the same authority says: "Without physical liberty a man is a machine; without moral liberty, he is the victim of his appetite; without mental liberty, he is a slave; and without political liberty, he is a serf." No practical politician of our time has touched so frequently and so trenchantly upon this important question, and no one has, outside literature, told the masses such home-truths with regard to the modern tendency to ignore these principles.
Mark, now, the definition of Liberalism which has been given by Mr. Henry Broadhurst, and which has, already, more than once, been touched upon. It is, perhaps the most concise and scientific which has yet been offered, with relation to modern tendencies; and, coming as it does, from one who owes his present position in the political world to the freedom which has resulted from Liberalism in the past, it acquires all the more value.
"I am a Liberal," he says, "because the true, full, and free application of Liberal principles is best calculated to promote the highest order of manhood. It teaches self-reliance, and gives the best opportunites to the people to promote their individual, as well as their united and best permanent interest. Liberalism does not seek to make all men equal: nothing can do that. But its object is to remove all obstacles erected by men, which prevent all having equal opportunities. This in its turn promotes industry, and makes the realisation of reasonably ambitious hopes possible to the poorest man amongst us."
To the same effect is a definition by Mr. Burt, equally entitled, from the nature of his political career, to speak with authority upon the beneficial effects of civil freedom. Liberalism, he says, is "the doctrine, not of equality of wealth and position, but the doctrine of equality of all before the law—of equality of opportunity."
Here, again, is the same leading principle, pithily expressed by the editor of a prominent Liberal journal, enjoying one of the largest circulations in England. "I desire," says that authority, "the triumph of the Liberal cause, which means progress, the growth of freedom, and the advancement of the general good." Yet another of those who were interrogated upon this important subject, and whose answers are contained in the volume, to which I have before referred: "Liberal principles develop responsibility; responsibility educates and humanises, and the fully educated man is the most serviceable member of the social organisation." The same subject has been dealt with from another and totally different quarter, but nevertheless with great clearness and force.
The late Rev. F. W. Robertson, of Brighton (England), whose versatility enabled him to throw considerable light on every subject he touched, gave to a body of working men the following good advice:—"Democracy (he said), if it means anything, means goverment by the people. Now let us not endeavour to make it ridiculous. I suppose that a sensible democrat does not mean that all individual men are equal in intelligence and worth. He does not mean that the bushman, or the Australian aboriginal, is equal to the Englishman. But he means this—that the original stuff of which all men are made is equal; that there is no reason why the Hotentot and the Australian may not be cultivated, so that, in the lapse of centuries, they may be equal to Englishmen. I suppose (he adds), that the democrat would say there is no reason why the son of a cobbler should not, by education, become fit to be prime minister of the land, or take his place on the bench of judges; and I suppose that all free institutions mean this. I suppose they are meant to assert:—Let the people be educated; let there be a fair field and no favour; let every man have a fair chance, and then the happiest condition of a nation would be that, when every man had been educated, morally and intellectually, to his very highest capacity, there should, then, be selected, out of men so trained, a government of the wisest and the best."
It will be observed that, in all these definitions, wherever mention is made of the necessity for removing obstacles, care has been taken to distinguish between those which exist in the individual himself, and such as have been placed as obstructions to individual freedom, by human agency. Hobhes puts this in his usual quaint style, in the chapter of his "Leviathan" entitled "Of the Liberty of Subjects:"—"When the impediment of motion is in the constitution of the thing itself, we use not to say it wants the liberty, but the power to move; as when a stone lieth still, or a man is fastened to his bed by sickness."
Mr. Cowen speaks of "artificial impediments and restraints." Mr. Broadhurst speaks of "obstacles erected by men," and elsewhere Mr. Cowen again says, "Health and wealth, industry and thrift, capacity and endurance, are irregularly distributed, and will favourably handicap those endowed with them, in the race of life. These inequalities we cannot obliterate; but all artificial hindrances that stand in the way of individual effort; of free and full mental expansion ought to be cleared away."
All obstacles which "stand in the way" ought, undoubtedly, to be removed—that is to say, obstacles not of nature. Those which are of nature, or, as Hobbes puts it, "in the constitution of the man himself," we cannot and must not obliterate. If we try to do so we shall inevitably fail: we shall simultaneously obliterate our civilisation and our progress. As Sir James Fitzjames Stephen has cleverly put it: "To try to make men equal by altering social arrangements is like trying to make the cards of equal value by shuffling the pack." If we endeavour to keep back the industrious and the thrifty till those, less fortunate, have come up to them, we cannot possibly expect to progress. The able, the industrious, the ingenious, the thrifty, cannot exercise their respective forms of activity if they be retarded for the benefit of the less qualified. Besides, who is to judge between temporary incompetence and incapability, on the one hand, and sheer indolence and absolute indifference on the other?
Liberalism secures to every man the fruit of his labour, or of his ingenuity, and by so securing it to him, encourages improved methods of work and production. It is, in fact, a system of rewards, inasmuch as whoever runs and wins may have that which he has so obtained. If this were not so guaranteed to men, certainly few would compete for the rewards which life offers. If property were not secured, no individual would exert himself to accumulate; there would be little cultivation and refinement—in short, the minimum of civilisation. And if Buckle is right, when he says, "that of all the great social improvements, the accumulation of wealth must be first, because without it there can be neither taste nor leisure for that acquisition of knowledge on which the progress of civilisation depends," then a community in which these principles were ignored would practically stand still. "The man who works has the right, and he alone, to the creation of his work and sacrifice. No confederation or commonwealth has any right to trench upon a man's personal possessions and rob him for the world's benefit. The things that are produced by him, purchased by him, or given to him by others, who fairly own them, are his and no others. But it may be said he has a superfluity, while others want. Possibly. Still the state cannot honestly or wisely sequestrate. If it could, what would follow? The man would cease to labour. He would not work, if the fruits of his toil were to be confiscated. He may give of his free will out of his abundance. That may be a moral obligation, but his obligation to give does not entitle the state to take. The institution of property, and its security are the basis of civilisation and liberty." In order, now, that the practical application of Liberal principles to the past may be clearly comprehended in their two-fold operation, let us turn to history and briefly investigate the part they have played in the principal epochs out of which it is made up.
The early history of England begins (i.e., from the Conquest) in a condition of society under which the king was a veritable despot, and his nobles or co-conquerors had, vested in them, privileges of the most comprehensive nature; a condition of society, in fact, in which (to use the words of Macaulay) "a cruel penal code, cruelly enforced, guarded the privileges, and even the sports of the alien tyrants." It can be readily understood that, under the circumstances of the Norman Conquest, the conqueror himself, and his nobles. should refuse to recognise any laws which might have the effect of restraining their power over the people. If there were any such laws in existence, which, as it were, covered the people from previous kingly abuses, they were all now at an end, and practically a dead letter.
The king ascended the conquered throne as an absolute ruler. Subsequent events show that he claimed, and (by virtue of the physical force of his followers) exercised the power to tax, imprison, and govern, when and how he pleased, the subjects of his newly vanquished realm.
England, as a community, may be said to have started a new period of history under the Plantagenets, with absolutely none of their original liberty preserved to them. They were, as a matter of fact, in a state of bondage, inasmuch as the king could do just as he pleased with them, and their possessions, while the nobles enjoyed almost equal powers with the king himself. So soon as each subject was by that means placed at the mercy of the king, by reason of the royal usurpation of popular freedom, each and every decree, action, and determination, by which the monarch signified the limitation of that freedom, involved the erection of an "artificial restriction," which it thenceforth became one of the functions of Liberalism to remove, as soon as an opportunity offered. Each one of these limitations so imposed, became, in the words of Mr. Broadhurst's definition, an "obstacle erected by men," which prevented each subject of the realm from enjoying "equal opportunities" with the nobles, who, after all, were subjects like themselves, though of a more favoured caste, such as true Liberalism does not, and cannot recognise.
De Lolme, in his "British Constitution," lays down the following classification of "private liberties":—"Private liberty," he says, "according to the division of the English lawyers, consists, first, of the right of property—that is, of the right of enjoying, exclusively, the gifts of fortunes, and all the various fruits of one's industry; secondly, of the right of personal security; thirdly, of the locomotive faculty."
It is needless to say that the inhabitants of England, under William the Conqueror, did not enjoy any of these liberties. Blackstone says: "The spirit of liberty is so deeply implanted in our constitution, and rooted, even in our very soil, that a slave, or a negro, the moment he lands in England falls under the protection of the laws, and, so far, becomes a free man." It is equally certain, however, that such a condition of things did not obtain in the Conqueror's time, and must have dated from a period long subsequent to the accession of that monarch, as I shall now show.
Regarding the first of the three divisions, viz., the "right of property," it is quite evident that no attempt was made to observe it; for, as Macaulay says, "The country was portioned out among the captains of the invader;" and we have seen, elsewhere, that in order to render the confiscation as complete and comprehensive as possible, certain of these "nobles" were granted by their monarch, as many as six, seven, and even eight hundred estates, respectively, belonging to the conquered people. Again, Hume tells us that "ancient and honourable families were reduced to beggary, the nobles themselves (that is the English nobles) were everywhere treated with ignominy and contempt; they had the mortification of seeing their castles and manors possessed by Normans of the meanest birth and lowest station, and found themselves carefully excluded from every road which led either to riches or preferment."
Regarding the second of the three divisions, viz., the right of personal security, equal indifference was displayed. Hume tells us, again, that the English people, who had been deprived of their freeholds by inheritance, and compelled to take up the subordinate positions of under-tenants, were required to swear allegiance to their respective barons in the following words: "Hear, my lord, I become liege man of yours for life and limb and earthly regard, and I will keep faith and loyalty to you for life and death. God help me." Lower still than this class were the ceorls or villeins, with even less liberty and security of life. The feudal system had, in fact, as Hume says, "reduced the whole people to a state of vassalage under the king or barons, and even the greater part of them to a state of real slavery." Thus, it will be seen that the second class of liberties, mentioned by De Lolme, were taken from the English people. The "locomotive faculty," as the third class is called, would follow with the second, inasmuch as it was impossible that the English people could be reduced to such a state of serfdom as is above indicated, and yet retain the liberty to move about at will. Thus, then, as I have said, England, as a community, may be said to have started a new period of history, under the Plantagenets, with absolutely none of their original liberty preserved to them.
While this remained so, those who had liberty, viz., the Normans, enjoyed some degree of prosperity, while those who had been, as I have shown, thrown back to a condition of comparative barbarism, fell, for a time, into a state of absolute stagnation.
But the spirit of freedom, which was implanted in the breast of the English people, could not, for all time, be thus confined and restrained. Discontent and social unrest must have sooner or later shown itself, for the Conqueror himself granted a charter in which it was conceded that "all freemen of our kingdom shall enjoy their land in peace, free from all tillage, and from every unjust exaction." Here, we find the first dawning of Liberalism on the darkened horizon of English subjection and oppression; and, it will be observed that that first symptom took the form of "security for property." It is scarcely to be expected that either a monarch by conquest, or his heirs, would willingly consent to giving up that which they regarded as their spoil—viz., the right to govern how, and with what amount of despotism he or they might think fit. Nor did they. Though much was frequently promised, in moments of pressure and emergency; those promises were, as a rule, more "honoured in the breach than the observance;" yet each confession was a step towards the great goal of Liberalism: and so it seems to have been received.
In 1100 we find Henry I. anxious to ingratiate himself with his people. He promised "the people their liberties," that "the distinction of Englishman and Norman should be heard no more." One of the terms of that monarch's celebrated charter was that the vassals of the barons should enjoy the same privileges which he granted to his own barons. This charter again was not observed with any degree of care by him who had granted it, but it marked "the new relation which was thus brought about between the people and their king."
We pass now to the reign of John, a king who was as impatient of restriction upon his power as any monarch well could be. I need not dwell here, as I have done in a previous chapter, upon the struggles which preceded the granting of Magna Charta; nor need I recapitulate the causes which ultimately led to a coalition between the nobles and the people, in defence of their common liberties. "Hitherto" says May, "the barons had fought for themselves alone; now they became the national leaders, in maintaining the liberties of England." That great Charter secured, as Hume says, "very important liberties and privileges to every order of men in the kingdom—to the clergy, the barons and the people." The Charter, itself, is bristling, from beginning to end, with references to the "liberties" and "rights" of the subject; and a cursory examination of its main provisions, such as I have given in a previous chapter, will show that the spirit of Liberalism was fast blossoming and making itself felt as a power, which nothing could resist. That chapter is of most importance which began: "No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his freehold, or liberties...but by lawful judgment of his peers." Personal freedom and security of property were the two prominent principles which inspired that great bulwark. Hume says: "Men acquired some more security for their properties and their liberties."
Passing from this epoch to that which secured the ratification of the Petition of Right, we find a further concession to the principle of security; for, by that ratification, the king bound himself never again to impose taxes, or, in any way, demand money from his subjects, except by their own free consent, expressed through parliament.
The Habeas Corpus Act, by confirming the sacred principle of personal liberty, which had been clearly laid down by the terms of the Great Charter, made the right more distinct, and more certain for the future. The Revolution, of 1688, practically confirmed all past concessions to the public liberty, and, in a firm and decisive manner, broke the neck of royal despotism in England. The curtailment of popular liberties, by the direct action of royalty, was practically at an end with the Revolution; but the struggle for equal opportunities was by no means completed then; for, with the final disposal of Royal demands, there still remained a condition of things, under which the government, and the consequent inequitable distribution of civil burdens, and civil privileges, was left in the hands of a limited, and, too often, selfishly-motived class, who took care, at all times, and, under all circumstances, to legislate in that manner, best calculated to forward their own interests. I refer generally to the aristocratic and moneyed classes, who, practically, absorbed the legislative power previous to the Reform Bill of 1832. "Look," says a modern writer on Reform, speaking of the treatment of the people by the legislature between 1688 and 1832; "Look," he says, "at the statute-book, and see the long array of revenue laws and game laws. Look at the laws for protection of property; protection against trespass; protection against creditors. Look at the long series of Corn Laws; laws putting down combinations of workmen to protect themselves against the rapacity of their masters; criminal laws against workmen, to compel them to fulfil their engagements; laws to compel men to work at such wages as a magistrate chose to fix. Look at the laws prohibiting public meetings, and the discussion of grievances—at the variety and extent of indirect taxation, that made living, to the poor man, almost impossible—at the frightful punishments for the smallest offences."
An endless array of authorities might, in fact, be quoted to show that, down to a few years ago, whatever class legislation was passed, conferred its advantages always in one direction, that was in favour of the aristocratic and wealthy section of society, who happened to be more fully represented in the legislature. If history is carefully followed, therefore, and attention paid to the principles which underlie it, as it works down to our own time, it will be seen that so soon as that class of liberties, with which royal despotism had persistently interfered, had been rescued, and permanently held by means of a final curtailment of kingly prerogative, Liberalism found a new and extensive field, upon which to exercise its equalising functions. It was gradually, and (as popular power was realised) more vividly realised that society, as a whole, was surrounded by restrictions upon "the people's" liberty. It became more and more apparent that the masses were not in the enjoyment of those "equal opportunities," which it is the function of true Liberalism to secure for all; and an investigation of the greater number of the legislative reforms which have been effected since 1832, will reveal the fact that parliament has been chiefly occupied in securing that "equality of opportunity," which is the chief, and, in truth, the only aim of Liberalism to consummate. This field has been, ever since, the battle ground of Liberalism and Conservatism—the former, as is its function, ever striving to abolish class restrictions of all kinds; the latter ever striving to prevent their destruction or removal, professedly on the ground that "the people" were not competent to wield, and therefore not entitled to possess that equal power which would be thus acquired.
The struggle for, and acquirement of independence, by the Anglo-American colonists, who had migrated from the old to the new world, once for all laid down the principle that, so soon as an offshoot of the mother country became self-supporting, the members of it should become entitled to self-government: that is to say, should be freed from the restrictions which a distant government involved, and from the principle of taxation, which is an exception to the right of security of property, justifiable only when necessary to contribute towards the protection of the liberties of those upon whom the taxes are being imposed.
The oppressive state of the law which led to the great reform known as "Catholic Emancipation" was unworthy of modern times, to which its repeal was delayed. It is, indeed, scarcely credible that, in the nineteenth century, in which we are now living, there should have been, in the parliament of Great Britain a large body of men, so dead to the principles of common justice and liberty, from which they themselves had derived so many blessings, that they should be found willing to continue so long the exclusion from parliament, and from other even more primitive liberties, a large portion of their fellow-countrymen, for no other reason than that of a difference in religious creed. Yet, so it was; and thus it was reserved to our own century, to remove from some millions of our fellow-men a restriction which would have been more in keeping with what are termed "the dark ages." The Reform Bill, of 1832, simply equalised parliamentary representation, by a more equitable distribution of the seats, and the bestowal of a more extended franchise. In the words of Mr. Justin McCarthy, already quoted, it "broke down the monopoly which the aristocracy and landed classes had enjoyed, and admitted the middle classes to a share of the law-making power."
The repeal of the Corn Laws was, in fact, the abolition of a state of things, by which every man, woman, and child in the kingdom, who consumed bread, or any other article of which grain was the primary ingredient, was compelled to contribute to the artificial maintenance of the agricultural industry of Great Britain. Such a restriction upon the subject was an interference with the liberty of the citizen to "buy in the cheapest market." The repeal of those laws set the people free in that direction.
It requires no comment or explanation to prove that there was a distinct bestowal of more equal opportunities effected, in the admission of Jews to parliament; and it is equally unnecessary to show how a like result was obtained, by the passage of the Trades Union Act of 1871, the immediate effect of which was that any person could become a member of one of those combinations, without forfeiting any of his privileges of citizenship.
The Ballot Act, in the same way, gave every subject the liberty to vote as he chose. Inasmuch as many persons, by reason of intimidation being brought to bear upon them, were frequently compelled to vote contrary to their judgment or conviction, it was necessary to prevent any undue pressure from being brought to bear, by giving each elector the right of voting in secret, by ballot, if he thought fit.
Thus, it will be seen that, from the Conquest downwards, freedom has been fought for, and won, by a gradual but sure process of wresting, first from the sovereign, and afterwards from the aristocratic and moneyed classes, the unequal power which they, respectively, had arrogated to themselves, when they had might upon their side.
As each successive stage of progress has been reached, the people have acquired a further share in the deliberations of that body, by which all "rights" and "opportunities" are regulated. Thus, there has at last been reached, a condition of society, under which (with some few exceptions) all men may be said to enjoy the "equal opportunities" for which, and for which alone, true Liberalism contends.
It would be indeed difficult, in our own day, to point to any feature in the laws of England, or of our self-governed colonies, and show that, by reason of that feature, any citizens are deprived of any individual liberty, beyond that which is essential to restrict for the general protection and good of all members of the community; and it would, also, be well to ask ourselves, from time to time, what obstacle, which can be said to have been "erected by men," can be now pointed to, by which any other citizen is suffering a deprivation of "equal opportunities," enjoyed by any other of his fellow-citizens. So soon as that social condition has been reached, by which each member of the community enjoys "equal opportunities," then will have been attained the ideal of true Liberalism; and such a condition of things having been (with some few exceptions) realised, the chief objects of legislation will have been served. Parliament is not an end, but only a means. If "equal opportunities" have been secured by parliament, then the principal functions of that body are, for the time being, at an end.
But in any case, the determination of such a question will at all times require the closest investigation of any supposed restriction; for it will frequently happen, by reason of the great disparities among men, in wealth and social position, that envy and jealousy will be engendered; and the inability of one class to attain to the position and circumstances of another will be hastily attributed to the possession, by that other, of some legal or political advantages over and above those of the class whose envy has been so excited. Upon a closer investigation, supported by a knowledge of sociology, it would be discovered that such differences are really attributable to obstacles of nature, such as want of ability, want of application, improvidence or some other negative quality possessed by the more unsuccessful class. A hungry man is not over nice in his logic, and will readily and confidently attribute his inability to procure a meal, or other necessities, to some conspiracy among capitalists, or to the abuse of some economic laws, with which he is not familiar, or has only the most superficial knowledge.
In the same way, as I shall show hereafter, poverty will exhaust every other means of accounting for itself, before it will consent to refer it to some disqualification for success in those who fail to lift themselves out of such a condition.
Mr. Bright has said, in one of his speeches, that most of the great reforms for which he laid himself out, at the commencement of his political career, have been effected; and there can be no doubt that if a condition of "equal opportunities" is the goal of true Liberalism, as I contend it is, then that condition has (with some few exceptions) been already attained in all English-speaking communities.
It would, as I have already said, be difficult to point to any existing law which upon close and careful investigation will be found to constitute "an obstacle" to any member of the community enjoying "equal opportunities" with any other of his fellow-men. What exceptions there are I shall deal with in a future chapter. The present position of women as members of a commonwealth is certainly open to very much doubt, and I would go so far as to confess that I regard the present numerous restrictions upon that class, in the legal disqualifications for taking their equal part in political matters, as a distinctly neglected feature of true Liberalism.
The fact of being a woman is no protection against the numerous penalties provided under the law for particular offences against society, and it therefore follows that every woman who is not by marriage or otherwise represented in the legislature is simultaneously held amenable to a code of laws in the making of which, and in the reform of which she is debarred from taking part. As it has been tersely but convincingly put: "Women are admitted to the gallows and the gaols, but not to the franchise." The one principle upon which manhood suffrage is justifiable renders female suffrage equally unanswerable.
Beyond this question there are undoubtedly others of less importance, which still offer a field for the efforts of true Liberals. The unnecessary and inconvenient restrictions upon the transfer of landed property are wrong in principle, and were only established for the purpose of preventing estates passing out of the hands of the particular families in whom they were vested. Any such laws are clear interferences with the freedom of the individual, and should be removed, since they are "obstacles erected by men."
But, as I have said, there are not now any "crying" abuses of power, in the shape of class privileges; and, therefore, the (what may be termed) "heroic" days of Liberalism have passed away, at least for a time. Henceforth the more important function of that school of politics will be to watch closely and carefully for the development of new rights and liberties, needing to be protected from invasion, and for fresh attempts on the part of any class, however large, to trespass on old rights which, in the meantime, are being respected. That is, as I shall endeavour to show in the next chapter, the great danger of our time, and the one which it will be an important function of Liberalism to watch in the immediate future.
Inasmuch as, in the past, so much political power has been possessed by monarchs and the aristocratic and wealthy classes, to the detriment of the labouring classes, and, as a consequence, every liberal measure aimed at securing equal opportunities has had the effect of conferring a larger and increasing amount of liberty upon the latter, throughout a period of some centuries, the idea has become almost a cardinal principle with the "working" classes that every measure which has that effect must of necessity be a liberal measure. That has, in fact, with most of the class mentioned, become the only test of Liberalism in any measure, and the danger, to which I refer, consists in the general adoption of such a test, in the future.
If I am right in laying down, as the fundamental principle of Liberalism, that each individual should have secured to him the most absolute liberty, subject to such restrictions only, as are necessary to secure equal liberty to all, then it follows that the state should take no steps to curtail the liberty of any class, merely because it will confer an immediate advantage upon another class, even though that other class happen to be much larger or more influential politically than the former.
Yet sound as this may be as a principle, it is by no means acknowledged. The masses of the people talk glibly of "the majority," and seem to have concluded that so long as that preponderance be secured, anything which it may determine must of necessity be right, and, now that the masses of the people are beginning to realise the enormous political power which the continuing enlargements of the franchise are conferring upon them, they are showing a strong tendency to resort to that identical class of legislation which it has been the traditional aim of true Liberalism (under different names) to counteract and gradually erase from the statute-book. The tendency is, in fact, towards what I should term a democratic Toryism—a school of legislation conceived in the interests of a particular class of society, viz., the masses.
In the published report of "The Second Intercolonial Trades' Union Congress," which was held in the colony of Victoria, I find, under the heading of "Direct Representation of Manual Labour in Parliament," a resolution moved and unanimously carried, urging "upon labour organizations, in the various colonies," to elect a parliamentary committee to assist in framing measures "for the benefit of labour." Under the heading of "Payment of Members," in the same publication, I find it stated, with approval, that "it should be the object of the delegates to break the monopoly of representation down, so as to have direct representation in the interests of the working classes."
This is only an echo of what is apparent on all sides of the political horizon—the test of wisdom or justice in a measure being whether it has a majority in its favour. Now, according to the principle for which I am contending, this kind of test is absolutely fallacious, and, if relied on, and acted upon, calculated to lead to every kind of legislative extravagance.
The Marquis of Lorne, in his answer to the question, "Why am I a Liberal?" said, pertinent to this consideration: "Civil and religious freedom are the fruits of its past victories, and I am a Liberal, in the hope that freedom from tyranny, of mob or monarch, will be the safeguard of its future triumph."
If the function of the state is limited, as Mr. Herbert Spencer puts it, "to preventing the aggressions of individuals on each other, or to the protection of the nation at large against external enemies," then the fact that a majority is to be found in favour of a particular measure should be no guide whatever where its enactment will have the effect of depriving others, even though a smaller number, of their rightful liberties. The majority is, in the estimation of many great authorities, really no criterion of either wisdom or justice. "Why," says the Bishop of Peterborough, "am I to place unlimited confidence in a majority? Are majorities always in the right? Have they never in times past been in the wrong? Have minorities never been in the right? Is it so in private life? Are the majorities of each man's acquaintance persons in whom he reposes unlimited confidence; and, if not, why must it be so in public life?...I hold that there may be as much unwisdom, and what is more, as much injustice and tyranny, where the many govern the few, as where the few govern the many; and, further, that if there be such tyranny, it is the more hopeless and the more universally present tyranny of the two."
"If ever," says De Tocqueville, "liberty is lost in America, the fault will be with the omnipotence of the majority, in driving the minority to despair." And Mill has said, "that the institution of society should make provision for keeping up,...as a shelter for freedom of thought, and individuality of character, a perpetual and standing opposition to the will of the majority."
The truth is, the principle which I have ventured to lay down here will not admit of this appeal to heads, as a test of the propriety of any sort of legislative interference.
Every man and every woman must be allowed to "unfold" as he or she may think fit; and in every branch of life there must be the maximum of freedom of action, limited only by a due regard for the equal liberties of one's fellows. Nature herself teaches us the use and advantages of self-help, and on every side discovers to us what can be done under circumstances which are calculated to encourage or incite feelings of emulation or competition. "The law of nature," says Locke, "stands as an eternal rule to all men, legislators as well as others." "The natural effort," says Adam Smith, "which every man is continually making to better his own condition, is a principle of preservation, capable of preventing and correcting, in many respects, the bad effects of a political economy, in some degrees, both partial and oppressive."
John Stuart Mill goes even further, and points to the inevitable effects of neglecting to regard this law. "A people," he says, "among whom there is no habit of spontaneous action, for a collective interest—who look habitually to their government to command or prompt them in all matters of joint concern—who expect to have everything done for them, except what can be made an affair of mere habit and routine, have their faculties only half developed; their education is defective in one of its most important branches." The same writer elsewhere says: "The cultivation of the active faculties by exercise through the whole community is itself one of the most valuable of national possessions." And again, "In proportion as the people are accustomed to manage their affairs by their own active intervention, instead of leaving them to the government, their desires will turn to repelling tyranny rather than to tyrannising.... Let alone, in short, should be the general practice: every departure from it, unless required by some great good, is a certain evil."
The popular objection, which would be at once offered to these principles, is that they are selfish; and that to put them to practice would in every case allow the strong, physically and mentally, to secure an advantage over the weak. But it must be remembered that the state would always have the right, and be in duty bound, to step in at that point at which the exercise of the principle of "self" involved the curtailment of the "equal liberty" of others. As to the exercise of the principle of self-interest, it would be wrong to regard it otherwise than as the very tap-root of human progress. The Duke of Argyle even, who is one of the keenest opponents of a selfish materialism, has well said, "The interests of self, justly appreciated, and rightly understood, may be, nay indeed must be the interests also of other men—of society—of country—of the Church and of the world."
The same writer, speaking of Adam Smith, and referring to the mass of "meddling" legislation which existed prior to his time, says, "He found positive institutions regulating and restricting natural human action in two different directions. There were laws restricting free interchange in the products of labour itself, and there were other laws restricting the free employment of labour. He denounced both. Labour was deprived of its natural freedom by laws forbidding men from working at any skilled labour unless they had served an apprenticeship of a specified time. It was also deprived of its natural freedom by monopolies, which prevented men from working in any trade, within certain localities, unless allowed to do so by those who had the exclusive privileges. The first mode of restriction prevented labour from passing freely from place to place; the second mode of restriction, from passing freely even in the same trade. Both of these restrictions were as mischievous and as destructive of their own object as restrictions in the free interchange of goods. They both depended on the same vicious principle of attempting to obtain, by legislation, results which would be more surely attained by allowing every man to sell his goods and his labour when, where, and how he pleased. The labour of a poor man was his capital. He had a natural right to employ it as he liked. And, as for protecting the community from bad or imperfect work; that would be best secured by unrestricted competition.... Natural law was the best regulation of both. Such were the doctrines of Adam Smith, then new in the world."
And, again, he says: "It was his (Adam Smith's) labour to prove that in the rude contrivances of legislation, due account had not been taken of the natural forces with which it had to deal. He showed that among the very elements of human character there were instincts and desires and faculties of contrivance, all of which by clumsy machinery had been impeded and obstructed and diverted from the channels in which they ought to work."
I cannot refrain from setting forth here an eloquent and philosophical passage from Macaulay, upon the present branch of my subject, which was quoted in an able article in the Edinburgh Review of October, 1885, entitled "Plain Truths and Popular Fallacies."
"It is not," says Macaulay, "by the intermeddling of the omnipotent and omniscient state, but by the prudence, energy, and foresight of its inhabitants, that England has been hitherto carried forward in civilisation, and it is to the same energy, prudence, and foresight that we shall look forward with comfort and good hope. Our rulers will best promote the improvement of the nation by strictly confining themselves to their own legitimate duties; by leaving capital to find its most lucrative course, commodities their fair price; industry and intelligence their natural reward; idleness and folly their natural punishment; by maintaining peace; by defending property; by diminishing the price of law, and by observing strict economy in every department of the state. Let the government do this and the people will assuredly do the rest."
This passage contains, in a summarized form, the whole duty of the legislator, and the last sentence contains a covert admonition which would be a blessing to impress indelibly upon the mind of every man who takes the humblest part in the government of his country, viz., after attending properly to the duties enumerated above, to "let the people alone" and leave them to manage their own affairs for themselves, so long as they do not unduly interfere with one another, and thus prevent the equally free exercise of faculties, and the equally free use of their possessions, by all members of the community.
Mr. Gladstone, most popular of Liberal statesmen, whose earlier utterances were more in harmony with the true principles of Liberalism than those of later years, wrote to Mr. James Stansfield a letter which has been reprinted in the Contemporary for October, 1885, in an article entitled, "Liberal Programmes." "Liberalism," says Mr. Gladstone, "has ever sought to unite freedom of individual thought and action, to which it so largely owes its healthy atmosphere, with corporate efficiency."
Mr. Stansfield himself, in the same article, adds, "There is one safe test, I think, by which to judge such measures: we should never yield to the temptation of them, unless we can first satisfy ourselves that, if successful, they will not at once or later undermine and sap, but, on the contrary, that they will give new life and vigour to independence of character and habit of mind, and to the spirit and capacity of self-help and self-control."
Again, in an article in the Nineteenth Century, for November, 1885, Professor Edward Dicey makes the following comparative statement of the real Liberalism, and the new creed, as being promulgated by what has been termed the Birmingham school of politicians. "Individual liberty," says Mr. Dicey, "freedom of contract, the superiority of private contract over state action, the right of every man to do what he thinks fit with his own, so long as he does not infringe the liberty of others, open competition as between purchaser and seller, capitalist and labourer—these are the main planks of the old liberal platform in respect of Home politics." In the same article, the writer goes on to say:—"The substitution of state control for individual action, the creation of a new peasant proprietary by the compulsory sale of private lands, a system of graduated taxation by which capital is to be mulcted for the benefit of labour, the introduction of local government boards under which local bodies throughout the United Kingdom are to exercise the functions now discharged by the Imperial parliament—or, in plainer words, the introduction of Home Rule—the providing of gratuitous education for the poor at the cost of the ratepayers, the legislative limitation of the hours of labour—these," says Mr. Dicey, "are only a few of the measures which the Radicals have proclaimed their intention of promoting as soon as they are in a position to do so. These measures are, one and all, based upon the principles which underlie Socialism, as distinguished from Liberalism."
There is a principle in the law of evidence by which a greater value than usual is attached to certain testimony upon the ground that it is "against the interest" of the witness. The principal authority on that subject says: "The ground upon which this evidence is received is the extreme improbability of its falsehood." Having this principle in view, I have endeavoured as much as possible, in the treatment of this subject, to draw as many as possible of my various definitions and illustrations of true Liberalism from the most illustrious Liberals themselves. Regarding this feature of the subject, indeed, my difficulty has been rather to discriminate as to which to choose of the profusion of quotations I have at hand, than to find a sufficiency in support of my contention. There is one which aptly points the moral regarding the danger of legislative interference, as effecting the national character. "We cannot," says Mr. Jefferson Davis, "legislate to destroy the motive of self-interest; for that lies at the foundation of material progress."
Mark, too, the weighty opinions of M. Léon Say, of whom the Times speaks as "the eminent French statesman and economist." Presiding at a meeting of the Liberty and Property Defence League at Westminster, he said in his address: "The functions of government ought to have well-defined limits, and there are limits which could not be transgressed without entailing misfortunes on mankind. Civilisation itself," he added, "would be in peril if governments were allowed to go beyond the limits of their natural functions and attributes." "Liberal economists," he continued, "were determined to take their stand on the solid ground of observation, and not to deviate from the principles of experimental science. Experimental science showed that human society was a natural fact. Society was not the result of a contract; it was the very condition of humanity.... Two principles appeared dominant. They were necessary for society, and were, so to speak, its springs. Those principles were individual energy and personal responsibility. It was impossible to conceive a human society which should not be animated, as it were, by those two principles.... If government did not respect those two principles, it destroyed society, and turned men aside from the paths of progress, to throw them back on their previous course. Governments which respected these principles led humanity in the ways of civilisation, while other governments exposed them to the risk of losing the way and of going back into barbarism." "Every law," he added, "which assailed individual energy, or which diminished individual responsibility, was a law which passed beyond the legitimate powers of the state, and might, according to circumstances, produce decadence, or mark a period of retrogression in the development of civilisation."
The moral to be drawn from all this has been well and succinctly put by M'Culloch, in his treatise on Political Economy. Dealing with the subject of government interference he says:—"It cannot be too strongly impressed upon those in authority that non-interference should be the leading principle of their policy, and interference the exception only; that in all ordinary cases individuals should be left to shape their conduct according to their own judgment and discretion, and that no interference should ever be made on any speculative or doubtful grounds, but only when its necessity is apparent, or when it can be clearly made out that it will be productive of public advantage.... Whenever legislators set about regulating, they are treading a path encompassed with difficulties; and while they advance with caution, they should be ready to stop the moment they do not see the way clearly before them."
It cannot be too carefully remembered that almost every clause of an act of parliament, if it have any force or effect at all, takes away a liberty from somebody, because it must of necessity speak of something which shall or shall not be done where before it was optional.
The utmost care and caution needs, therefore, to be observed in order that it may first be ascertained whether, in so limiting somebody's liberty, a more equal distribution of liberties generally is being brought about. If this is not being done, the measure is not Liberal in the true sense of the word. "It ought," says Burke, "to be the constant aim of every wise public council to find out, by cautious experiments and rational cool endeavours, with how little, not how much of this restraint, the community can subsist; for liberty is a good to be improved and not an evil to be lessened."
Assuming, then, that this advanced state of Liberalism has been reached in any country—that by dint of popular effort, and representative advocacy, the condition of "equal opportunities" has actually been realised—what is the policy of Liberalism? My answer is to preserve that state of things; to watch, as I have already said, for any attempts to encroach upon that domain of freedom or "equal opportunities," and to see that no new rights or liberties, which may be developed in our ever-evolving social organization are left unprotected from aggression by any one, or any number of citizens.
If, therefore, Conservatism be taken in the present day to mean merely a maintenance or preservation of institutions as they are, then society, having reached the desired social condition at which Liberalism aims, we should have the two political schools, Conservatives and Liberals, embracing the same policy; and this reflection appears to have been experienced by Mr. Joseph Cowen when he wrote the following passage:—"Many a man," he says, "inherits his political opinions as he does his property. Political faith is largely a matter of sentiment, disposition, and training. The working classes, up to a certain era in English history, were, as a rule, conservative. They certainly were Conservatives during Mr. Pitt's régime. Since then they have been Liberal, and Liberal because the Conservatives refused to concede them political rights. They have now got those political rights, and stand on the same level as other classes; and no doubt they will be Tory or Liberal, according to circumstances." This was all said at an election meeting in answer to the question, "Why should not a working man be a Tory?" Conservatism is, however, by no means understood or professed according to this interpretation, by all who embrace it as a political title. It too frequently means, in the mouths of its followers, a distinct refusal to recognise the equality of men in their rights and privileges. It is too frequently supposed by the more fortunate, and more delicately nurtured side of society, that the distinction among men in wealth, education, and social position, is of an innate and permanent character; and that what are called the working classes, constitute a distinct species of human nature, designed by Providence for the purpose of doing the rough and objectionable work of the world.
Such persons would debar "the people" from the franchise; from liberty to organize among themselves; from liberty to enter parliament; from liberty to acquire a higher education, and if possible to lift themselves into a higher level of life and a higher sphere of society.
With such doctrines and such desires, true Liberalism has no sympathy. By it, as I have fully shown, all men are equal—not in wealth or position, or ability; but in "the eye of the law." The ideal is, as Mr. Herbert Spencer has put it, "to see that the liberty of each man to pursue the objects of his desires is unrestricted, save by the like liberty of all." Thus will be afforded to every citizen, what Mr. Cowen has called "a clear and equal course," and by such means "the victory" in life will be allowed to go to "the wisest and the best."