The Cult of Incompetence
by Emile Faguet
1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

- Transcriber's Note: All Greek words have been transliterated into English, and are contained within { } brackets. -


FIRST EDITION November, 1911. SECOND EDITION July, 1912.



Of the French Academy























Though it may not have been possible in the following pages to reproduce the elegant and incisive style of a master of French prose, not even the inadequacies of a translation can obscure the force of his argument. The only introduction, therefore, that seems possible must take the form of a request to the reader to study M. Faguet's criticism of modern democracy with the daily paper in his hand. He will then see, taking chapter by chapter, how in some aspects the phenomena of English democracy are identical with those described in the text, and how in others our English worship of incompetence, moral and technical, differs considerably from that which prevails in France. It might have been possible, as a part of the scheme of this volume, to note on each page, by way of illustration, instances from contemporary English practice, but an adequate execution of this plan would have overloaded the text, or even required an additional volume. Such a volume, impartially worked out with instances drawn from the programme of all political parties, would be an interesting commentary on current political controversy, and it is to be hoped that M. Faguet's suggestive pages will inspire some competent hand to undertake the task.

If M. Faguet had chosen to refer to England, he might, perhaps, have cited the constitution of this country, as it existed some seventy years ago, as an example of a "demophil aristocracy," raised to power by an "aristocracy-respecting democracy." It is not perhaps wise in political controversy to compromise our liberty of action in respect of the problems of the present time, by too deferential a reference to a golden age which probably, like Lycurgus in the text, p. 73, never existed at all, but it has been often stated, and undoubtedly with a certain amount of truth, that the years between 1832 and 1866 were the only period in English history during which philosophical principles were allowed an important, we cannot say a paramount, authority over English legislation. The characteristic features of the period were a determination to abolish the privileges of the few, which, however, involved no desire to embark on the impossible and inequitable task of creating privileges for the many; a deliberate attempt to extirpate the servile dependence of the old poor law, and a definite abandonment of the plan of distributing economic advantages by eleemosynary state action. This policy was based on the conviction that personal liberty and freedom of private enterprise were the adequate, constructive influences of a progressive civilisation. Too much importance has perhaps been attached to the relatively unimportant question of the freedom of international trade, for this was only part of a general policy of emancipation which had a much more far-reaching scope. Rightly understood the political philosophy of that time, put forward by the competent statesmen who were then trusted by the democracy, proclaimed the principle of liberty and freedom of exchange as the true solvents of the economic problems of the day. This policy remained in force during the ministry of Sir R. Peel and lasted right down to the time of the great budgets of Mr. Gladstone.

If we might venture, therefore, to add another to the definitions of Montesquieu, we might say that the principle animating a liberal constitutional government was liberty, and that this involved a definite plan for enlarging the sphere of liberty as the organising principle of civil society. To what then are we to impute the decadence from this type into which parliamentary government seems now to have fallen? Can we attribute this to neglect or to exaggeration of its animating principle, as suggested in the formula of Montesquieu? It is a question which the reader may find leisure to investigate; we confine ourselves to marking what seem to be some of the stages of decay.

When the forces of destructive radicalism had done their legitimate work, it seemed a time for rest and patience, for administration rather than for fresh legislation and for a pause during which the principles of liberty and free exchange might have been left to organise the equitable distribution of the inevitably increasing wealth of the country. The patience and the conviction which were needed to allow of such a development, rightly or wrongly, were not forthcoming, and politicians and parties have not been wanting to give effect to remedies hastily suggested to and adopted by the people. Political leaders soon came to realise that recent enfranchisements had added a new electorate for whom philosophical principles had no charm. At a later date also, Mr. Gladstone, yielding to a powerful and not over-scrupulous political agitation, suddenly determined to attempt a great constitutional change in the relations between the United Kingdom and Ireland. Whether the transference of the misgovernment of Ireland from London to Dublin would have had results as disastrous or as beneficial as disputants have asserted, may be matter for doubt, but the manner in which the proposal was made certainly had one unfortunate consequence. Mr. Gladstone's action struck a blow at the independence and self-respect, or as M. Faguet terms it, the moral competence of our parliamentary representation from which it has never recovered. Men were called on to abandon, in the course of a few hours, opinions which they had professed for a lifetime and this not as the result of conviction but on the pressure of party discipline. Political feeling ran high. The "Caucus" was called into more active operation. Political parties began to invent programmes to capture the groundlings. The conservative party, relinquishing its useful function of critic, revived the old policy of eleemosynary doles, and, in an unlucky moment for its future, has encumbered itself with an advocacy of the policy of protection. For strangely enough the democracy, the bestower of power, though developing symptoms of fiscal tyranny and a hatred of liberty in other directions clings tenaciously to freedom of international trade—for the present at least—and it would seem that the electioneering caucus has, in this instance, failed to understand its own business. The doles of the new State-charity were to be given to meet contributions from the beneficiaries, but as the class which for one reason or another is ever in a destitute condition, could not or would not contribute, the only way in which the benevolent purpose of the agitation could be carried out was by bestowing the dole gratuitously. The flood gates, therefore, had to be opened wider, and we have been and still are exposed to a rush of philanthropic legislation which is gradually transferring all the responsibilities of life from the individual to the state. Free trade for the moment remains, and it is supposed to be strongly entrenched in the convictions of the liberal party. Its position, however, is obviously very precarious in view of the demands made by the militant trade unions. These, in their various spheres, claim a monopoly of employment for their members, to the exclusion of those who do not belong to their associations. Logic has something, perhaps not much, to do with political action, and it is almost inconceivable that a party can go on for long holding these two contradictory opinions. Which of them will be abandoned, the future only can tell.

The result of all this is a growing disinclination on the part of the people to limit their responsibilities to their means of discharging them, the creation of a proletariate which in search of maintenance drifts along the line of least resistance, dependence on the government dole. In the end too it must bring about the impoverishment of the state, which is ever being called on to undertake new burdens; for the individual, thus released from obligation to discharge, is still left free to create responsibilities, for which it is now the business of the State to make provision. Under such a system the ability to pay as well as the number of the solvent citizens must continuously decline.

The proper reply to this legislation which we describe as predatory in the sense that we describe the benevolent habits of Robin Hood as predatory, cannot be made by the official opposition which was itself the first to step on the down grade, and which only waits the chances of party warfare to take its turn in providing panem et circenses at the charge of the public exchequer. In this way, progress is brought to a standstill by the chronic unwillingness of the rate- and tax-payers to find the money. A truer policy, based on the voluntary action of citizens and capable of indefinite and continuous expansion, finds no support among politicians, for all political parties seem to be held in the grip of the moral and technical incompetence which M. Faguet has so wittily described. The only reply to a government bent on such courses is that which above has been imputed—perhaps without sufficient justification—to the governments of the period 1832-1866; and that reply democracy, as at present advised, will allow no political party to make.

There does not appear, therefore, to be much difference between the situation here and in France, and it is very interesting to notice how in various details there is a very close parallelism between events in this country and those which M. Faguet has described. The position of our Lord Chancellor, who has been bitterly attacked by his own party, in respect of his appointment of magistrates, is very similar to that of M. Barthou, quoted on p. 118. Our judicial system has hitherto been considered free from political partisanship, but very recently and for the first time a minister in his place in parliament, has rightly or wrongly seen fit to call in question the impartiality of our judicial bench, and the suspicion, if, as appears to be the case, it is widely entertained by persons heated in political strife, will probably lead to appointments calculated to ensure reprisals. Astute politicians do not commit themselves to an attack on a venerated institution, till they think they know that that institution is becoming unpopular with the followers who direct their policy. Criminal verdicts also, especially on the eve of an election, are now made liable to revision by ministers scouring the gaols of the country in search of picturesque malefactors whom, with an accompaniment of much philanthropic speech, they proceed to set at liberty. Even the first principles of equity, as ordinarily understood, seem to have lost their authority, when weighed in the balance against the vote of the majority. Very recently the members of an honourable and useful profession represented to a minister that his extension of a scheme of more or less gratuitous relief to a class which hitherto had been able and willing to pay its way, was likely to deprive them of their livelihood. His reply, inter alia, contained the argument that the class in question was very numerous and had many votes, and that he doubted whether any one would venture to propose its exclusion except perhaps a member for a university; as a matter of fact some such proposal had been made by one of the university members whose constituents were affected by the proposal. The minister further declared that he did not think that such an amendment could obtain a seconder. The argument seems to impute to our national representatives a cynical disregard of equity, and a blind worship of numbers, which if true, is an instance of moral incompetence quite as remarkable as anything contained in M. Faguet's narrative.

If readers of this volume will take the trouble to annotate their copies with a record of the relevant incidents which meet them every day of their lives, they cannot fail to acknowledge how terribly inevitable is the rise of incompetence to political power. The tragedy is all the more dreadful, when we recognise, as we all must, the high character and ability of the statesmen and politicians who lie under the thrall of this compelling necessity.

This systematic corruption of the best threatens to assume the proportions of a national disaster. It is the system, not the actors in it, which M. Faguet analyses and invites us to deplore.




The question has often been asked, what is the animating principle of different forms of government, for each, it is assumed, has its own principle. In other words, what is the general idea which inspires each political system?

Montesquieu, for instance, proved that the principle of monarchy is honour, the principle of despotism fear, the principle of a republic virtue or patriotism, and he added with much justice that governments decline and fall as often by carrying their principle to excess, as by neglecting it altogether.

And this, though a paradox, is true. At first sight it may not be obvious how a despotism can fall by inspiring too much fear, or a constitutional monarchy by developing too highly the sentiment of honour, or a republic by having too much virtue. It is nevertheless true.

To make too common a use of fear is to destroy its efficacy. As Edgar Quinet happily puts it: "If we want to make use of fear we must be certain that we can use it always." We cannot have too much honour, but when we can appeal to this sentiment only and when distinctions, decorations, orders, ribbons—in a word honours—are multiplied, inasmuch as we cannot increase such things indefinitely, those who have none become as discontented as those who, having some, want more.

Finally we cannot, of course, have too much virtue, and naturally here governments will fall not by exaggerating but by abandoning their guiding principle. Yet is it not sometimes true that by demanding from citizens too great a devotion to their country, we end by exhausting human powers of endurance and sacrifice? This is what happened in the case of Napoleon, who, perhaps unwittingly, required too much from France, for the building up of a 'Greater France.'

But that, some one will object, was not a republic!

From the point of view of the sacrifices required from the citizen, it was a republic, similar to the Roman Republic and to the French Republic of 1792. All the talk was 'for the glory of our country,' 'heroism, heroism, nothing but heroism'! If too much is required of it, civic virtue can be exhausted.

It is, then, very true that governments perish just as much from an excess as from a neglect of their appropriate principle. Montesquieu without doubt borrowed his general idea from Aristotle, who remarks not without humour, "Those, who think that they have discovered the basis of good government, are apt to push the consequences of their new found principle too far. They do not remember that disproportion in such matters is fatal. They forget that a nose which varies slightly from the ideal line of beauty appropriate for noses, tending slightly towards becoming a hook or a snub, may still be of fair shape and not disagreeable to the eye, but if the excess be very great, all symmetry is lost, and the nose at last ceases to be a nose at all." This law of proportion holds good with regard to every form of government.

* * * * *

Starting from these general ideas, I have often wondered what principle democrats have adopted for the form of government which they favour, and it has not required a great effort on my part to arrive at the conclusion that the principle in question is the worship and cultivation, or, briefly 'the cult' of incompetence or inefficiency.

Let us examine any well-managed and successful business firm or factory. Every employee does the work he knows and does best, the skilled workman, the accountant, the manager and the secretary, each in his place. No one would dream of making the accountant change places with a commercial traveller or a mechanic.

Look too at the animal world. The higher we go in the scale of organic existence, the greater the division of labour, the more marked the specialisation of physiological function. One organ thinks, another acts, one digests, another breathes. Now is there such a thing as an animal with only one organ, or rather is there any animal, consisting of only one organ, which breathes and thinks and digests all at the same time? Yes, there is. It is called the amoeba, and the amoeba is the very lowest thing in the animal world, very inferior even to a vegetable.

In the same way, without doubt, in a well constituted society, each organ has its definite function, that is to say, administration is carried on by those who have learnt how to administer, legislation and the amendment of laws by those who have learnt how to legislate, justice by those who have studied jurisprudence, and the functions of a country postman are not given to a paralytic. Society should model itself on nature, whose plan is specialisation. "For," as Aristotle says, "she is not niggardly, like the Delphian smiths whose knives have to serve for many purposes, she makes each thing for a single purpose, and the best instrument is that which serves one and not many uses." Elsewhere he says, "At Carthage it is thought an honour to hold many offices, but a man only does one thing well. The legislator should see to this, and prevent the same man from being set to make shoes and play the flute." A well-constituted society, we may sum up, is one where every function is not confided to every one, where the crowd itself, the whole body social, is not told: "It is your business to govern, to administer, to make the laws, &c." A society, where things are so arranged, is an amoebic society.

That society, therefore, stands highest in the scale, where the division of labour is greatest, where specialisation is most definite, and where the distribution of functions according to efficiency is most thoroughly carried out.

* * * * *

Now democracies, far from sharing this view, are inclined to take the opposite view. At Athens there was a great tribunal composed of men learned in, and competent to interpret, the law. The people could not tolerate such an institution, so laboured to destroy it and to usurp its functions. The crowd reasoned thus. "We can interpret and carry out laws, because we make them." The conclusion was right, but the minor premise was disputable. The retort can be made: "True, you can interpret and carry out laws because you make them, but perhaps you have no business to be making laws." Be that as it may, the Athenian people not only interpreted and applied its own laws, but it insisted on being paid for so doing. The result was that the poorest citizens sat judging all day long, as all others were unwilling to sacrifice their whole time for a payment of six drachmas. This plebeian tribunal continued for many years. Its most celebrated feat was the judgment which condemned Socrates to death. This was perhaps matter for regret, but the great principle, the sovereignty of incompetence, was vindicated.

Modern democracies seem to have adopted the same principle, in form they are essentially amoebic. A democracy, well-known to us all, has been evolved in the following manner.

It began with this idea; king and people, democratic royalty, royal democracy. The people makes, the king carries out, the law; the people legislates, the king governs, retaining, however, a certain control over the law, for he can suspend the carrying out of a new law when he considers that it tends to obstruct the function of government. Here then was a sort of specialisation of functions. The same person, or collective body of persons, did not both legislate and govern.

This did not last long. The king was suppressed. Democracy remained, but a certain amount of respect for efficiency remained too. The people, the masses, did not, every single man of them, claim the right to govern and to legislate directly.

It did not even claim the right to nominate the legislature directly. It adopted indirect election, a deux degres, that is, it nominated electors who in turn nominated the legislature. It thus left two aristocracies above itself, the first electors and the elected legislature. This was still far removed from democracy on the Athenian model which did everything itself.

This does not mean that much attention was paid to efficiency. The electors were not chosen because they were particularly fitted to elect a legislature, nor was the legislature itself elected with any reference to its legislative capacity. Still there was a certain pretence of a desire for efficiency, a double pseudo-efficiency. The crowd, or rather the constitution, assumed that legislators elected by the delegates of the crowd were more competent to make laws than the crowd itself.

This somewhat curious form of efficiency I have called competence par collation, efficiency or competence conferred by this form of selection. There is absolutely nothing to show that so-and-so has the slightest legislative or juridical faculty, so I confer on him a certificate of efficiency by the confidence I repose in him when nominating him for the office, or rather I show my confidence in the electors and they confer a certificate of efficiency on those whom they nominate for the legislature.

This, of course, is devoid of all common sense, but appearances, and even something more, are in its favour.

It is not common sense for it involves something being made out of nothing, inefficiency producing efficiency and zero extracting 'one' out of itself. This form of selection, though it does not appeal to me under any circumstances, is legitimate enough when it is exercised by a competent body. A university can confer a degree upon a distinguished man because it can judge whether his degreeless condition is due to accident or not. It would, however, be highly ridiculous and paradoxical if the general public were to confer mathematical degrees. A degree of efficiency conferred by an inefficient body is contrary to common sense.

There is, however, some plausibility and indeed a little more than plausibility in favour of this plan. Degrees in literature and in dramatic art are conferred, given by 'collation,' by incompetent people, that is by the public. We can say to the public: "You know nothing of literary and dramatic art." It will retort: "True, I know nothing, but certain things move me and I confer the degree on those who evoke my emotions." In this it is not altogether wrong. In the same way the degree of doctor of political science is conferred by the people on those who stir its emotions and who express most forcibly its own passions. These doctors of political science are the empassioned representatives of its own passions.

—In other words, the worst legislators!—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The national representatives are not content with governing, they wish to administer. Now consider how it would be if the permanent officials of finance, justice and police, etc., depended solely on their parliamentary chiefs, who are ministers only because they are the creatures of the popular assembly, liable to instant and frequent dismissal; surely then, these officials, more permanent than their chiefs, would form an aristocracy, and would administer the state independently of the popular will and according to their own ideas.

This, of course, must not be allowed to happen. There must not be any will but the people's will, no other power, however limited, but its own.

This causes a dilemma which is sufficiently remarkable. Here we seem to have contrary results from the same cause. Since the popular assembly governs ministers, and frequently dismisses them, they are not able to govern their subordinates as did Colbert and Louvois, and these subordinates accordingly are very independent; so it comes about that the greater the authority which the popular assembly wields over ministers, the more it is likely to lose in its control over the subordinates of ministers, and in destroying one rival power it creates another.

The dilemma, however, is avoided easily enough. No public official is appointed without receiving its visa, and it contrives even to elect the administrative officials. In the first place, the national representatives, in their corporate capacity, and in the central offices of government, watch most attentively the appointment of the permanent staff, and further each single member of the representative government in his province, in his department, in his arrondissement picks and chooses the candidates and really appoints the permanent staff. This is, of course, necessary, if the national will is to be paramount here as well as elsewhere, and if the people is to secure servants of its own type, if it is "to choose its own magistrates," as Montesquieu said.

The people, then, chooses its servants through the intervention of its representatives; and consider, to return to our point, how absolutely necessary it is for it to secure representatives who are intellectually the exact image and imitation of itself. Everything dovetails neatly together.

Here then we have the people interfering influentially in the appointment of the civil service. It continues "to do everything itself." Complaints are raised on all sides of this confusion of politics with the business of administration, and indeed we hear continually that politics pervade everything. But what is the reason of this? It is the principle of the national sovereignty asserting itself. Politics, political power, means the will of the majority of the nation, and is it not fitting that the will of the majority should make itself felt—indeed need we be surprised that it insists on making itself felt—in the details of public business, as administered by the permanent staff, as well as elsewhere? The ideal of democracy is that the people should elect its own rulers, or, if this is not its ideal, it is its idea, and this is what it does under a parliamentary democracy through the intervention of its representatives.

This is all very well, but efficiency has been dealt another blow. For how is a candidate to recommend himself for an office to which appointment is made by the people and its representatives? By his merit? His chiefs and his fellow civil servants might be good judges of that; but the people or its representatives are much less capable of judging.

"The people is admirably fitted to choose those to whom it has to entrust some part of its authority"; so Montesquieu; we must now examine this saying a little more closely. What reasons does the philosopher give? "The people can only be guided by things of which it cannot be ignorant, and which fall, so to speak, within its own observation. It knows very well that a man has experience in war, and that he has had such and such successes; it is therefore quite capable of electing a general. It knows that a judge is industrious, that many of those who are litigants in his court go away satisfied, and that he has never been convicted of bribery, and this is enough to warrant it in appointing to any judicial office. It has been impressed by the magnificence or riches of some citizen, and this fits it for appointing an aedile. All these things are matters of fact about which the man in the street has better knowledge than the king in his palace."

This passage, I confess, does not appear to be convincing. Why should not a king in his palace know of the riches of a financier, the reputation of a judge or the success of a colonel just as well as the man in the street? There is no difficulty in getting information about such things. The people knows that such an one was always a good judge and such another always an excellent officer. Therefore it is qualified to appoint a general or a high-court judge or other officer of the law. So be it, but for the selection of a young judge or a young and untried officer what special source of information has the people? I cannot find that it has any. In this very argument, Montesquieu limits the competence of the people to the election of the great chiefs, and of the most exalted magistrates, and indeed further confines the popular prerogative in this matter to assigning an office and career to one who has already given proof of his capacity. But for putting the competent man for the first time in the place where he is wanted, how has the people any special instinct or information? Montesquieu shows that the people can recognise ability when it has been proved, but he says nothing to show that it recognises readily nascent, unproved talent. The argument of Montesquieu is not here conclusive.

He has been led astray, it seems to me, by his desire to present his argument antithetically (using the term in its logical sense). What he really wished to prove was not so much the truth of the proposition that he was then advancing, but the falsity of quite another proposition. The question for him, the question which he had in his mind, was as follows: Is the people capable of governing the state, of taking measures beforehand, and of understanding and solving the difficulties of home and foreign affairs? By no means. Then is it fit to elect its own magistrates? Well, it might do that. Thus he had been led away by this antithesis so far as to say: Able to govern?—Certainly not! Able to elect its own magistrates? Admirably! The explanation of the whole paragraph which I have just quoted lies in the conclusion, which runs as follows: "All these things are matters of fact about which the man in the street has better knowledge than the king in his palace. But can the people pursue a policy and know how to avail itself of the places, occasions, and times when action will be profitable? No! certainly not."

The truth is that the people is a little better fitted to choose a magistrate than to undertake a policy for the gradual humbling of the House of Austria. But not very much so, as it is only a little more difficult to humble the House of Austria, than it is to discover the man who is able to do it.

The masses are particularly incapable of making initial appointments and of giving promotion in the early stages of a career to those who deserve it. Yet in a democracy this is what they are constantly doing.

Again, by what means has the candidate for civil service employment, who is favoured by the people and its representatives, earned their approval? By his merit, of which the people and its representatives are very bad judges? No! By what then? By his conformity to the general views of the people; that is, by the subserviency of his political opinions. The political opinions of a candidate for civil service employment are the only things which mark him out to the popular choice because they are the only subjects on which the people is a good judge.

Yes, but the subserviency of his political opinions may be combined with real merit. True, but this is a mere matter of chance. The people is not, perhaps, in this particular matter consciously hostile to efficiency, rather it is indifferent, or ignores the qualification altogether. Indeed, there is no great compliment paid to efficiency in such transactions.

Here is what inevitably happens. The candidate for a permanent appointment who is not conscious of possessing any particular merit is not slow to realise that it is by his political opinions that he will succeed, and he naturally professes those which are wanted. The candidate who is conscious of merit, very often knowing very well what less meritorious competitors are about, and not wishing to be beaten, also professes the same useful opinions. There we have that "infection of evil," which M. Renouvier has explained so admirably in his Science de la Morale.

First, then, we see how most of the candidates chosen by the mandatories of the people are incapable; others who are chosen in spite of their capacity are men of indifferent character; and character, we must admit, in all or nearly all public careers is a necessary part of efficiency.

There remains a small number of meritorious persons who have never identified themselves with current political opinions, and who have slipped into public employment, thanks to some brief moment of inattention on the part of the politicians. These intruders sometimes get on by the mere force of circumstances, but they never reach the highest posts which are always reserved, as indeed is proper and fitting, for those in whom the people has put its trust.

This is how the people administers as well as governs through the intervention of the representative system, dictating to ministers the policy and the details of government.

—I realise, some one here will object, that administrators are nominated by the people, but I do not see how the affairs of the country are actually administered by the people.—

Well, I will tell you. In the first place, by nominating officials it is already far on the road to controlling them, for it infuses into the body of the permanent civil service the spirit of the people to the exclusion of every other source of inspiration, and effectually prevents the civil service from becoming an aristocracy as otherwise it has always a tendency to do. Next, the people does not confine itself to electing its administrators, it watches and spies on them, keeps them in leading strings, and just as the popular representatives dictate to ministers the details of government, so also they dictate to administrators the details of administration.

A prefet, a procureur-general, an engineer-in-chief under democratic rule is a much harassed man. He has to play his own hand against his ministerial chief and the deputies of his district. He ought to obey the minister, but he has also to obey the deputies of the district which he administers. In this connection curious points arise and situations not a little complicated. The prefet owes obedience to the deputies and to the minister, and the minister obeys the deputies, and it might therefore have been supposed that there was only one will, the will which the prefet obeyed. But what the minister has to obey is the general will of the popular representatives, and it is this will that he transmits for the allegiance of the prefet; but then the prefet finds himself colliding against the individual wills of the deputies of his district. The result is what we may call conflicts of obedience which have extraordinary interest for the psychologist, but which are less agreeable for the prefet, the engineer-in-chief, or the procureur-general.

We note then, in the first place, how everything concurs to make the representative of the popular will as incompetent as he is omnipotent. Incompetent he undoubtedly is, as we have already seen, to start with, and if he were not so already, he would certainly become so by reason of the trade or rather of the miscellaneous assortment of trades which are thrust upon him. The surest way of making a man incompetent is to make him Jack-of-all-trades, for then he will be master of none. In the next place, the representative of the popular will and spirit, besides his trade of legislator, has to cross-examine ministers and to dictate to them the details of their duty, that is to say, he has to busy himself in all home and foreign politics. He has also to administer, by choosing and watching administrators and by controlling and inspiring their actions. Without saying anything of the small individual services which it is his interest to render to his constituents and which his constituents are by no means backward in demanding, he looks on himself as responsible for the conduct of things in general. He becomes a sort of universal foreman, not a man, but a man-orchestra, a busybody, so busy that he can apply himself to nothing. He cannot study, or think, or investigate, or, to speak accurately, acquire any sense at all.

If he be efficient in some particular subject, when he enters on his public career, he becomes hopelessly inefficient in all subjects after a few years of public life, and then, void of all individuality, he remains nothing but a public man, that is, a man representing the popular will and never thinking, or able to think, of anything but how to make that will prevail.

And, to press the point again, this is all that is wanted of him; for can you conceive a representative of the popular will, who had somehow preserved a measure of competence in financial or judicial administration, who would prefer, before other candidates, not a political partisan but a man of merit, knowledge and aptitude, and who would even approve in an administrator not acts of political partiality but acts that are just and in conformity with the interests of the state? Why! Such a man would be a detestable servant in the eyes of democracy.

Yes, and I have known such a man. He was not wanting in intelligence or wit and he was honest. A lawyer, he was naturally interested in politics. For local reasons he had failed to be elected as deputy or as senator. Tired of fighting, he obtained a judicial appointment by the influence of his political friends. He became president of court. A case was brought before him where the accused, a person not perhaps of altogether blameless life, was clearly not guilty of any indictable offence. The accused, however, a former prefet, appointed by a government now become very unpopular, and known as a reactionary and an aristocrat, was pursued by the animosity of the whole democratic population of the town and province. The president, in the face of openly expressed hostility in court, acquitted him. In the evening the president remarked, not without a touch of humour: "There, that serves them right for not making me a senator!" In other words: "If they had accepted me as a politician, they would have made me a fool, or at least paralysed my efficiency. But they would not have it; so here I am, a man who knows the law and applies it. So much the worse for them!"

"By making a man a slave Zeus took from him half his soul." So Homer. By making a man a politician, Demos takes from him his whole soul, and in omitting to make him a politician, it is foolish enough to leave him his soul.

This is why Demos hates a permanent civil service. An irremovable magistrate or functionary is a man whom the constitution sets free from the grip of the populace. An irremovable official is a man enfranchised, a free man. Demos does not love free men.

This will explain why in every nation where it is paramount, democracy suspends from time to time the irremovable independent official element wherever it is found. The object is nominally to clarify and filter the personnel of the official world; but really it is intended to teach the officials whom it spares, that their permanence is only very relative and that, like every one else, they have to reckon with the sovereignty of the people which will turn and rend them if they venture to be too independent.

According to the constitution of 1873 there were irremovable senators in France. In the interest of good government, this was perhaps a sound arrangement. The irremovable senators, in the scheme of the constitution, were intended to be, and in fact were, political and administrative veterans from whose knowledge, efficiency and experience their colleagues were to profit. The plan, from this point of view, might have worked well if the irremovable senators had not been elected by their colleagues but had become so by right; for example every former President of the Republic, every former president of the Cour de Cassation, every former president of the Court of Appeal, every admiral, every archbishop might ex officio have been raised to the rank of senator for life. From the democratic point of view, however, it was regarded as a positive outrage that there should exist a representative of the people who had not to render account to the people, a representative of the people who had nothing to fear from the accidents of re-election, no risk of failing to secure re-election, in other words that a man should be elected for his supposed efficiency, in no sense representing the people but himself alone.

Permanent senators were abolished. Obviously they constituted a political aristocracy, founded on the pretence of services rendered, and the Senate which elected them also fell under the taint of aristocratic leanings since at that time it recruited its members by co-optation. This of course could not be tolerated.



Will efficiency then, you may well ask, when driven out of all public employment, find refuge somewhere? Certainly it will. In private employments and in employments paid by public companies. Barristers, solicitors, doctors, business men, manufacturers and authors are not paid by the state, nor are engineers, mechanics, railway employees; and so far from their efficiency being a bar to their employment, it is their most valuable asset. When a man consults his lawyer or his medical adviser he obviously has no interest in their politics, and when a railway company chooses an engineer, it enquires into his qualifications and ability and is quite indifferent as to whether his political views coincide with the general mentality of the people.

It is for this reason, or at least partly for this reason, that democracy tries to nationalise all employment, as a step in the direction of the nationalisation of everything. For instance it can partly nationalise the medical profession by establishing appointments for doctors, at relief offices, schools, and lycees. It can also partly nationalise the legal profession by appointing state-paid professors of law.

Already the State has considerable control over this class of person, for most of them have relations in government employment, whom they do not wish to bring into bad odour by seeming hostile to the opinions of the majority. The State, however, wants to hold them in still tighter control by seizing every opportunity of nationalising and socialising them more completely.

The State wants also to destroy all large associations, and to absorb their activities. The state purchase of a railway, for instance, is, in the first place, a means of exploiting the company; for there is always a hope that the State will be able to filch something out of the transaction; but its chief recommendation lies in the fact that it suppresses a whole army of the company's officials and employees, who were under no obligation to please the Government, and who had no other interest but to do their work properly. The State will thus transform this free population into government employees, whose primary duty is to be docile and subservient.

Under the extreme form and under the complete form of this regime, that is to say under socialism, everyone will be a government official.

Consequently, say the Socialist theorists, all the alleged drawbacks above mentioned will disappear. The State, the democracy, the dominant party, whatever you choose to call it, will no longer be obliged to select its servants, as you say it does, by reason of their subservience and their incompetence, because every citizen will be an official. Thus too will disappear that dual social system, under which half the population lives on the State, while the other half is independent, and prides itself on its superiority in character, in intelligence and in efficiency. Socialism solves the problem.

I do not agree. Under socialism, the electoral system, and, therefore, the party system will still exist. The citizens will choose the legislators, the legislators will choose the Government, and the Government will choose the directors of labour and the distributors of the means of subsistence. Parties, that is, combinations of interests, will still exist, and each party will want to capture the legislature in order to secure the election, from its own number, of the directors of labour and the distributors of the means of subsistence. These directors and distributors will be the new aristocrats of socialism, and they will be expected to arrange "soft jobs" and ampler rations for the members of their own group or party.

Except that wealth and the last vestiges of liberty have been suppressed, nothing has been changed, and all the objections above mentioned still hold. There is no solution here.

If it were a solution, then the socialist government could not long remain elective. It would have to reign by divine right, like the Jesuits in Paraguay. It would have to be a despotism, not only in its policy but in its origin, in fact a monarchy. No intelligent king has any inducement to choose incompetent men as his officials. His interest would lead him to do exactly the opposite. You will say that an intelligent king is a very rare, even an abnormal thing. I readily agree. Except in a very few instances, which history records with amazement, a king has exactly the same reasons as the people for selecting as his favourites men who will not eclipse nor contradict him, and who consequently seldom turn out to be the best of citizens either in respect of intelligence or character. Elective socialism and despotic socialism have the same faults as democracy as we understand the term.

Besides, in truth, the drift of democracy towards socialism is nothing but a reversion to despotism. If socialism were established, it would begin by being elective, and as every elective system lives and breathes and has its being in the party system, the dominant party would elect the legislature, consequently it would constitute the Government and would extort from that Government, simply because it has the power to extort it, every conceivable form of privilege. Exploitation of the country by the majority would result, as in every country where elective government prevails.

A socialist government therefore is primarily an oligarchy of directors of labour and distributors of subsistence. It is a very close oligarchy, for those beneath it are quite defenceless, levelled down to an equality of poverty and misery. It is a form of government very difficult to replace, for it holds in its hands the threads of such an intricate organisation that it must be protected against crude attempts to change it, and so it tends to be a permanent oligarchy. It would therefore concentrate very quickly round a leader, or at any rate, relegate to the second rank the national representatives and the electorate.

Such a course of events would be very similar to what occurred under the First Empire in France, when the military caste eclipsed and domineered over everything. It became continuously necessary to the State, and though that necessity passed away, it was soon recalled. The caste then closed its ranks round the leader who gave it unity, and the strength of unity.

* * * * *

So under socialism, more slowly and perhaps after the lapse of a generation, the directors of labour and the distributors of food, peaceful Janissaries of the new order, would form themselves into a caste, very close, very coherent, and (unlike legislators for whom an executive council can always be substituted), quite indispensable, and would close their ranks round a chief who would give them unity and the strength of unity.

Before we knew socialism, we used to say that democracy tended naturally to despotism. The situation seems somewhat changed, and we might now say that it tends to socialism: really nothing has changed. For in tending towards socialism it is towards despotism that it tends. Socialism is not conscious of this, for it imagines that it is journeying towards equality, but out of these utopias of equality it is ever despotism that emerges.

But this is a digression which refers to the future; let us return to the matter in hand.



Democracy, in its modern form, encroaches first upon the executive and then upon the administrative authorities, and reduces them to subjection by means of its delegates, the legislators, whom it chooses in its own image, that is to say, because they are incompetent and governed by passion, just as in the words of Montesquieu, though he perhaps contradicts himself a little: "The people is moved only by its passions."

What ought then the character of the legislator to be? The very opposite, it seems to me, of the democratic legislator, for he ought to be well informed and entirely devoid of prejudice.

He ought to be well informed, but his information should not consist only of book learning, although an extensive legal knowledge is of the greatest use, as it will prevent him from doing, as so often happens, the exact opposite of what he intends to do. He should also understand intimately the temperament and character of the people for whom he legislates.

For a nation should only be given the laws and commandments that it can tolerate, as Solon said: "I have given them the best laws that they could endure," and the God of Israel said to the Jews: "I have given you precepts which are not good," that is to say, they have only the goodness which your wickedness will tolerate. "This is the sponge," says Montesquieu, "which wipes out all the difficulties that can be raised against the laws of Moses."

The legislator, then, ought to understand the temperament and genius of the people because he has to frame its laws. As the Germans say, he ought to be an expert on the psychology of races. Further, he ought to understand the temperament, peculiarities and character of the people, without sharing its temperament himself. For where the passions and inclinations are concerned, experience is not knowledge. On the contrary, experience prevents us from really knowing; and indeed one of the conditions of knowledge is absence of an experience which may be another word for bias.

The ideal legislator, or indeed any legislator worthy of the name, ought to understand the general tendencies of his people, but he ought to be able to view them from a position of detachment and to be able to control them, because it is his business partly to satisfy and partly to combat these tendencies.

He has partly to satisfy them, or at least, to consider them, because a law which outraged the national temperament would be like Roland's mare, which had every conceivable good quality with this one serious defect, that she was dead, and born dead. Suppose the Romans had been given an international law decreeing respect for conquered peoples, it would have been a dead letter, and by a sort of contagion it would have led to the neglect of other laws. Suppose the French were given a liberal law, a law prescribing respect for the individual rights of the man and the citizen. Liberty, the object of such a law, is for the French, as Baron Joannes has remarked: "The right of each man to do what he likes and to prevent other men from doing what they like." In France such a law would never obtain any but a very grudging allegiance, and it would certainly lead to the neglect of other laws.

The legislator ought therefore to understand the natural idiosyncrasies of his people in order to know how far he dare venture to oppose them.

Partly he must combat them, because law should be to a nation, or otherwise it is merely a police regulation, what the moral law is to an individual. Law should be a restraint imposed continuously in the hope of future improvements. It should be a curb on dangerous passions and injurious desires. It should aid the warfare of enlightened selfishness against the selfishness of which all are ashamed. That is what Montesquieu meant when he said that morals should correct climate, and laws should correct morals.

The law, therefore, to a certain extent should correct national tendencies, it should be loved a little because it is felt to be just, feared a little because it is severe, hated a little because it is to a certain degree out of sympathy with the prevalent temper of the day, and respected because it is felt to be necessary.

This is the law that the legislator has to frame, and therefore he ought to have expert knowledge of the genius of the people for whom he legislates. He must understand both those tendencies which will resist and those which will welcome him. He must know how far he can go unopposed and how much he can venture without forfeiting his authority.

This is the principal and essential qualification for the legislator.

The second, as we said before, is that he must be impartial. The very essence of the legislator is that he should have moderation, that virtue on which Cicero set so high a value, which is so rare, if we look to its real meaning, the perfect balance of soul and mind. "It seems to me," said Montesquieu: "and I have written this book solely to prove it, that the spirit of moderation is essential in a legislator, for political, as well as moral right, lies between two extremes."

Nothing is more difficult for a man than to control his passions, or more difficult for a legislator than to control the passions of the people of whom he forms a part, to say nothing of his own. "Aristotle," says Montesquieu, "wanted to gratify, first, his jealousy of Plato and then his love for Alexander. Plato was horrified at the tyranny of the Athenians. Machiavel was full of his idol, the Duke of Valentinois. Thomas More, who was wont to speak of what he had read rather than of what he had thought, wanted to govern every state upon the model of a Greek city. Harrington could think of nothing but an English republic, while hosts of writers thought confusion must reign wherever there was no monarchy. Laws are always in contact with the passions and prejudices of the legislator, whether these are his alone, or common to him and to his people. Sometimes they pass through and merely take colour from the prejudice of the day, sometimes they succumb to it and make it part of themselves."

This is just the opposite of what should be. The legislator should be to the people what conscience is to the heart of the individual. He should understand its besetting passions in all their bearings and not be deceived by subterfuge or hypocrisy. Sometimes he must attack them boldly, sometimes play off one against another, or favour one at the expense of another which is less influential, now yielding ground, now recovering it, but he must ever be skilful and impartial and never be intimidated, diverted from his purpose, nor deceived by his natural enemies.

He should be, so to speak, more conscientious than conscience itself, because he must never forget that he has to obey to-morrow the law which he makes to-day—semel jussit semper paruit. He must, therefore, be absolutely disinterested, a thing most difficult for him, but for which conscience requires no effort.

Not only must he be without passion, but he must have trained himself to be impervious to passion, which is much more. We must conceive of him as a conscience that has risen from the ashes of passion.

As Rousseau said, "to discover the perfect ruler for human society we must find a superior intelligence who has seen all the passions of man but has experienced none of them, who has had no sort of relations with our nature but who knows it to the core, whose happiness is not dependent on us, but who wishes to promote our welfare, in a word, one who aims at a distant renown, in a remote future, and who is content to labour in one age and to enjoy in another."

This is why the ingenious Greeks imagined certain legislators going into exile to some remote and unknown retreat, as soon as they had made the people adopt and swear obedience to their laws until their return. It may have been to bind the citizens by this oath, but is it not equally probable that they wished to escape from the laws which they themselves had made? Possibly they felt that they could make them all the stricter with the prospect of being able to evade obedience of them by flight.

Proudhon said: "I dream of a republic so liberal that in it I shall be guillotined as a reactionary." Lycurgus was perhaps like Proudhon, in that he founded so severe a republic that he knew he could not live under it and resolved to leave it as soon as it was established. Solon and Sylla remained in the states to which they had given laws; we must therefore place them higher than Lycurgus who has perhaps this excuse for himself that in all probability he never existed at all.

But the legend remains to show that the legislator should be so superior to his own passions and to the passions of his people, that, as legislator, he should make laws before which, as a man, he should stand in awe.

This moderation, in the sense in which we use the term, has sometimes led the legislator to suggest or insinuate laws rather than impose them. This is not always possible, but it is so occasionally. Montesquieu tells us the following of St. Louis: "Seeing the manifold abuses of justice in his time he endeavoured to make them unpopular. He made many regulations for the courts in his own domain, and in those of his barons, and he was so successful, that only a short time after his death his methods were adopted in the courts by many of his nobles. Thus this prince attained his object, although his regulations were not promulgated as a general law for the whole kingdom, but merely as an example which any one might follow in his own interest. He got rid of an evil by making patent the better way. When men saw in his courts and in those of his nobles more reasonable and natural forms of procedure, more conformable to religion and morality, more favourable to public tranquillity and to the security of persons and property, they adopted the substance and abandoned the shadow. To suggest where you cannot compel, to guide where you cannot demand, that is the supreme form of skill."

Montesquieu adds with some optimism though no doubt the idea is encouraging: "Reason has a natural empire, we resist it, but it triumphs over our resistance; we persist in error for a time but we always have to return to it."

The instance above quoted is very remote, and can hardly be applied to anything in our day. But consider, for instance, the law of Sunday observance which has been revived from the ecclesiastical law. It was a mistake to include it in the Code because it was antagonistic to many French customs, and, in many ways, to the national temperament. The result is what might have been expected, namely, that it has only been carried out in rare instances, and with an infinity of trouble. It might have been made the subject of an edict without being included in the Code. The State might have given a holiday on Sunday to all its officials, employees and workmen. It might have been made quite clear simply by a circular from the Minister of Justice that a workman would not be punished for breach of contract by refusing to work on a Sunday. The law of a weekly day of rest would then have existed, without being formally promulgated, and would have been limited precisely where it should be, by agreement between masters and men who would submit to working on Sundays when they saw that it was necessary and inevitable. Moreover this law would be strong enough to modify without destroying the ancient customs of the people.

Here is another instance which occurs within the law laid down by the Code, where the legislator makes use of a method of suggestion and recommendation. Early in the nineteenth century the legislator considered that it was seemly for a husband who surprised his wife in adultery to kill both her and her accomplice. The sentiment is perhaps questionable, but at all events, it was current. Was it given legal sanction? No, not precisely. It is inserted in the law in the form of an insinuation, a discreet recommendation and affectionate encouragement. The legislator wrote these words: "In flagrante delicto murder is excusable." I am not approving the sentiment, but only this manner of indicating rather than enforcing the law and what is thought to be a wholesome practice, and in other instances I should think it excellent.

Finally, one of the essential qualities of the legislator is to show discretion in changing existing laws, and for this purpose he should be immune from the passions of men or at all events complete master of those which beset him. For law has no real authority unless it is ancient. Where a law is merely a custom which has become law, it is invested with considerable authority from the first, because it gains strength by the antiquity of the original custom. When on the other hand a law is not an old custom but runs counter to custom, then, before it can have any authority, it must grow old and become a custom itself.

In both cases it is on its antiquity that the law must depend for its strength. The law is like a tree, at first it is a tender sapling, then it grows up, its bark hardens, and its roots go deep into the ground and cling to the rock.

We ought to consider carefully before we venture to replace the forest tree by the young sapling. "Most legislators," said Usbek to Rhedi,[A] "have been men of limited abilities, owing their position to a stroke of fortune, and consulting nothing but their own whims and prejudices. They have often abolished established laws quite unnecessarily, and plunged nations into the chaos that is inseparable from change. It is true that, owing to some odd chance arising out of the nature rather than out of the intelligence of mankind, it is sometimes necessary to alter laws, but the case is very rare and when it does arise it should be handled with a reverent touch. When it is a question of changing the law, much ceremony should be observed, and many precautions taken, in order that the people may be naturally persuaded that laws are sacred things, and that many formalities must precede any attempt to alter them."

In this passage, as so often elsewhere, Montesquieu is quite Aristotelian, for Aristotle wrote: "It is evident that at times certain laws must be changed, but this requires great circumspection for, when there is little to be gained thereby, inasmuch as it is dangerous that citizens should be accustomed to find it easy to change the law, it is better to leave a few errors in our magisterial and legislative arrangements than to accustom the people to constant change. The disadvantage of having constant changes in the law is greater than any risk that we run of contracting a habit of disobedience to the law." For the law assuredly will be disobeyed, if we regard it as ephemeral, unstable, and always on the point of being changed.

Some knowledge of the laws of the most important nations, a profound knowledge of the temperament, character, sentiments, passions, opinions, prejudices and customs of the nation to which he belongs, moderation of heart and mind, judgment, impartiality, coolness, nay even a measure of stolidity, these are the attributes of the ideal legislator. Rather they are the necessary qualifications of every man who purposes to frame a good law; they are, indeed, the elementary attributes of a legislator.

We have seen that it is the very opposite quality that democracy likes and expects of its legislators. It selects incompetent and almost invariably ignorant men, I have explained why; and its nominees are of a double distilled incompetence in that their passions would certainly neutralise their efficiency if they possessed any.

Further we have to observe this curious fact. So entirely does democracy choose its legislators, because they are dominated by passion, and not in spite of the fact, chooses them indeed precisely for the reasons for which it ought to reject them, that any moderate, clear-headed, practical man who wants to be elected and make use of his powers, has to start by dissembling his moderation, and by making a noisy display of factious violence. If he wants to be nominated to a post where it will be his business to defend and guarantee public security, he has to begin by advocating civil war: to become a peacemaker he must first pose as a rebel.

Every popular favourite passes through these two phases, and has to complete one stage before he starts on the next. Is it not better, you will ask, that a man's whole career should be spent in defence of law and order rather than the latter part of it? Not at all, because you cannot exercise any influence as a friend of law and order unless you have begun as an anarchist.

These changes of opinion occur so frequently that they merely raise a smile. They have, however, this drawback, that the friend of law and order, with a seditious past, never has an undisputed authority, and he spends half his time explaining the reasons for his defection, and this is a sore let and hindrance to his subsequent career.

The people always elects men swayed by real or simulated passion. These will either always remain in a state of frenzied excitement, and they are the great majority, or they will become moderate men, largely disqualified and handicapped, as we have above shown, for their new career. The vast majority of these sentimentalists rush into politics instead of studying them with deliberation, judgment and wisdom. The canons of good government as above set out are entirely subverted. The law does not control and restrain the passions of the populace. Legislation becomes little more than an expression of their frenzy, a series of party measures levelled by one faction against the other. The introduction of a bill is a challenge; the passing of an act is a victory; definitions which at once damn the legislator, and convict the system.

[A] Characters in Montesquieu's Lettres Persanes. Letter cxxix.



The truth of my contention is proved by the fact that nowadays all our laws are emergency laws, a thing that no law should ever be. Montesquieu advised people to be very chary and to think twice before they destroyed old laws or pulled down an old house to run up a tent, but his advice is completely ignored. New laws are made for every change in the weather, for every little daily incident in politics. We are getting used to this hand-to-mouth legislation. Like the barbarian warrior, of whom Demosthenes tells us, who always protected that portion of his person which had just received a blow, holding his shield up to his shoulder, when his shoulder had been struck, down again to his thigh when the blow fell there, the dominant faction only makes laws to protect itself against an adversary who is, or is thought to be, already in the field, or it introduces a hurried, ill-digested reform under the pressure of an alleged scandal.

If an aspirant to the tyranny, as they used to say in Athens, is nominated deputy in too many constituencies, instantly a law is passed prohibiting multiple candidatures. For the same reason, for fear of the same man, scrutin de liste is hurriedly replaced by scrutin d'arrondissement.[B]

If an accused woman is supposed to have been ill-treated at her examination, taken too abruptly before the interrogatory of the president, or if the counts are ineptly set out by the public prosecutor, instantly the whole of the criminal procedure is radically reformed.

It is the same everywhere. The legislative workshops turn out only "the latest novelties" of the season. Or perhaps a newspaper would be a still better simile. First there is the 'interpellation,'[C] once at least every day; that corresponds to the leading article. Then there are questions for ministers on this, that and the other trivial occurrence; that is the serial or short story. Then there is a bill brought in about something that happened the night before, that is the special article. Then some deputy assaults his neighbour, this is the general news column.

You could not have a more faithful representation of the country. Everything that happens in the morning is dealt with in the evening as it might be in the village pot-house. The legislative chamber is an exaggerated reflection of the gossiping public. Now it ought not to be a copy of the country, it ought to be its soul and brain. But when a national representative assembly represents only the passions of the populace it cannot be otherwise than what it is.

In other words modern democracy is not governed by laws but by decrees, for emergency laws are no better than decrees. A law is an ancient heritage, consecrated by long usage, which men obey without stopping to think whether it be law or custom. It forms part of a coherent, harmonious and logical whole. A law improvised for an emergency is merely a decree. This is one of the things that Aristotle saw better than any one. He comments frequently upon the essential and fundamental distinction between the two, and explains how it is as dangerous to misunderstand as to ignore it. I quote the passage in which he brings this out most forcibly: "A fifth form of democracy is that in which not the law but the multitude has the supreme power, and supersedes the law by its decrees. This is a state of affairs brought about by the demagogues. For in democracies which are subject to the law, the best citizens hold the first place and there are no demagogues; but where the laws are not supreme, there demagogues spring up. For the people becomes a monarch and is many in one; and the many have the power in their hands, not as individuals but collectively.... And the people, who is now a monarch, and no longer under the control of law, seeks to exercise monarchical sway, and grows into a despot; the flatterer is held in honour; this sort of democracy being relatively to other democracies what tyranny is to other forms of monarchy.

"The spirit of both is the same, and they alike exercise a despotic rule over the better citizens. The decrees of the Demos correspond to the edicts of the tyrant, and the demagogue is to the one what the flatterer is to the other. Both have great power—the flatterer with the tyrant, the demagogue with democracies of the kind which we are describing. The demagogues make the decrees of the people override the laws, and refer all things to the popular assembly. And therefore they grow great, because the people has all things in its hands and they hold in their hands the votes of the people, who is too ready to listen to them. Such a democracy is fairly open to the objection that it is not a constitution at all; for where the laws have no authority there is no constitution. The law ought to be supreme over all. So that if democracy be a real form of government, the sort of constitution in which all things are regulated by decrees is clearly not a democracy in the true sense of the word, for decrees relate only to particulars."

This distinction between true law, that is to say, venerable law, framed to endure, part of a co-ordinate scheme of legislation, and an emergency law which is merely a decree like the wishes of a tyrant, constitutes the whole difference, if we could realise it, between the sociologists of antiquity and those of to-day. By the term Law, the ancient and the modern sociologists mean two different things and this is the reason for so many misunderstandings. When he speaks of law, the modern sociologist means the expression of the general will at such and such a date, 1910 for instance. The ancient sociologist would consider that the expression of the general will in the second year of the 73rd Olympiad was not law at all, but a decree. A law to him would be a paragraph of the legislation of Solon, Lycurgus or Charondas. Whenever in a Greek or Roman political treatise we meet the expression—"a State governed by laws," the only way to translate it is—"a State governed by a very ancient and immutable legislation." This gives the true meaning to the famous personification of laws in the Phaedo, which would be quite meaningless if the Greeks had understood what we do by the term. Are laws the expression of the general will of the people? If so why should Socrates have respected them, he who despised the people to the day he was condemned? It would be absurd. These laws which Socrates respected were not the decrees of the people contemporary with Socrates; they were the ancient gods of the city, which had protected it from the earliest days.

1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse