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almost es believe it the frame formation et tutions
existence - progress towards good - it is to be attributed far more to our national character than to our national institutions; and perhaps more to the suitability of the two to each other, than to the peculiar excellence of either; — that if these institutions have worked well, and borne rich fruit here, thanks are due less to any inherent perfection of their own than to that sterling good sense and good feeling which so incessantly, habitually, and almost unconsciously, interfere to prevent them from working ill. We believe it may be shown, in the first place, that we have materials, in the frame-work of our society and in our national character, for the formation and management of the Representative system, and of free institutions generally, such as no other people is blessed with; and, in the second place, that that system and those institutions could only bring out satisfactory results — could, in fact, only subsist at all — among a people who need as little government as the Americans and the English. The price which even we ourselves have paid and are still paying for the proud distinction of parliamentary government, in the shape of defective administration, expense, blunders, and neglects; and the extent to which individual wisdom and collective reasonableness and energy are hourly called in to counteract the perils and remedy the mischiefs resulting from this form of government; these are points which foreigners can never know — which Englishmen themselves are seldom fully aware of — and of the tendency of which no one can form an adequate conception, who has not watched the working of English institutions in Irish hands, and thence gained a glimpse of what in such a case would happen, were England not at hand to interpose a corrective and restraining power.
The English constitution is full of theoretical defects. It contains at least half a dozen indefensible provisions, any one of which would, at first sight, appear sufficient to vitiate all its excellences, and to bring it to a dead-lock in a month. Yet not only has it continued (with some variety of form) to work for centuries; but under it, and in spite of its manifest imperfections, Englishmen have enjoyed a greater degree of practical and sober liberty than any nation in the world. Its faults are neutralised, and its contradictions have become reconciled or hidden. Mindful that a mixed government can exist only by compromise, we have always prevented the extreme cases of the constitution from occurring, and taken care not to strain our, conflicting rights till they give way. For instance, our monarch has an absolute veto, which has not been exercised since the days of William of Orange; and which, though the unquestioned prerogative of the Crown, never is and never will again be exercised; because its exercise would practically
1850. English Constitution theoretically defective. 509 bring the entire political machine to a stand. Our House of Commons has the power, when it differs in opinion from the Crown and the House of Peers, of stopping the supplies, and so starving them into a surrender. But the power is never exercised, — rarely even threatened or hinted at, - because the tyranny of the proceeding would be repugnant to the general feelings of the country, save in those ultimate emergencies which are never permitted to occur. The monarch, when the House of Lords thwarts his wishes, has the power of controlling its opposition within itself and reducing it to obedience by swamping it with new creations; but his subjects and himself alike shrink from such a violent enforcement of the Prerogative. In like manner the House of Peers, by obstinate resistance to the will of the Commons and the Crown, may effectually stop legislation altogether; but prudential considerations have always come in aid and held them back, before they had carried this privilege too far. Thus, any one of the three constituent elements of our government may, by the theory of the constitution, tyrannise over the others : yet they never do so; or if they do, the oppression is covered by a decent and courteous veil. Nay, more; any two or three factious members of the House of Commons have the power of arresting all the business of the country, stopping the supplies, paralysing the government, and checkmating the parliament, by putting in practice their undoubted right of incessantly moving the adjournment of the House. Yet the propriety of such a power, when exercised moderately, and its utter inadmissibility when carried to excess, are found practically to be a guarantee against both its abolition and its abuse. In the same way, the unanimity required from juries would habitually defeat the ends of justice and abet the escape of criminals, did not the common sense and mutual forbearance, characteristic of our countrymen, practically convert this unanimity into the opinion of the majority, except in the very rarest instances; so that, in reality, it only operates as a security for more careful and deliberate decision. In the Sister Island these salutary counteractions have been found wanting; and the whole history of the Irish parliament and the Irish courts of law is a practical comment, of the most convincing kind, of the great truth on which we are now dwelling:-- how necessary is an approach to English steadiness and English principle to make English institutions work. It is to the national schools and the municipal corporations of Ireland, that we must look for the education which shall teach the means of self-government, and the practice which shall make perfect.
For the last sixty years the idolators of free institutions and of the representative system have been grievously disappointed
the sighing Chaos hon her erestecumbing of this
and disgusted by observing how ill these worked in France: how deplorably they were mismanaged; and how small a measure of public good or real liberty were the fruits they bore. In the first Revolution, many of our purest English sympathisers were staggered in their adherence to the principles of constitutional freedom in consequence of what they witnessed in France Traces of this may be found in the writings of the staunchest Whigs of the period, such as Romilly and Mackintosh. They were horror-struck at seeing what mischief might be wronght by forms of government which they had been accustomed to look up to as only instruments of good. We can all of me remember how bitter was our mortification after the second Revolution, when, under a far soberer movement, the dangers of a violent and destructive despotism appeared to be exchanged for a scarce less damaging and discreditable corruption. And now, after a third experiment, how many real lovers of the public good are sighing for a military autocrat to educe some thing like order out of chaos! how few venture to hope that France can extricate herself from her present dismal and almost desperate condition, without either succumbing to a tyranny, or undergoing a fourth convulsion! Much of this disappointment might have been spared, much of this infidelito to the worship of liberty might have been avoided, had we reflected that sufficiently free institutions need certain national qualities for their success, - that they have no patent for conferring wisdom and virtue, but are simply instruments by which wisdom and virtue may work out infinite good; but which in the hands of violence, selfishness, or folly, may be turned to immeasurable evil.
It was observed long ago that, while a monarchy may consist of one principal character and dependents, republics are the creations of art and time. Of the ability of the countrymen of the Abbè Siéyes to manufacture the mere machine, there can be no doubt; but the question is, whether they are in a state to comply with the conditions, on which alone it can do its work sc. cessfully. We waive for the moment any uncertainty concerning the fact of the French people having a real preference for a re publican form of government: though there are suspicious cir. cumstances to the contrary. On the first Revolution, we have heard, that a popular election of the Executive was objected to in some quarters, lest the choice might fall upon a Bourbon: and M. Sarrans, in his History of La Fayette, and the Revolution of 1830, was ashamed to confess that the excesses of the first Re volution had left behind such a decided aversion for a republican form of government, that the proclaiming of one would have given rise to almost universal alarm and opposition. We will
National Freedom demands National Virtues.
suppose, however, the government of Louis Philippe to have succeeded in dispelling that aversion and alarm. The serious question still remains, --whether a republic, to be successful, does not require conditions, with which France as yet is unable or unwilling to comply ?
In a review of M. Sarrans work, as far back as Jan. 1833, we remarked on the involuntary testimony it contained of the difficulty of naturalising such a form of government in that country: and as an authority to the same effect, we produced no less a person than that stoutest of all republicans, Jefferson himself. No man was ever more convinced of the necessity of adapting forms of government to the character and circumstances of the governed. We refer our readers to that paper (vol. lvi. p. 493.) for evidence of his loss of confidence even in the future of the United States, and for his solemn warning to the populations of Europe, who might think that they had nothing more to do to secure liberty than follow the example of America. One sentence from Jefferson's last letter to La Fayette is all we can quote here. A full measure of liberty is not now perhaps ' to be expected by your nation: nor am I confident they are • prepared to preserve it. . . . Instead of that liberty, which • takes root and growth in the progress of reason, if recovered .by mere force or accident, it becomes, with an unprepared people, a tyranny still of the many, the few, or the one.'
In order to bring out our views more clearly, we will endeavour succinctly to point out, first, a few of those qualities in a people which are indispensable to the successful working of self-government, or a parliamentary government like ours; and, secondly, some of the unavoidable mischiefs which such a government entails even among ourselves, - mischiefs, however, which we gladly submit to as the needful price for a most precious good, and which we meet and neutralise as best we may.
The very first requisite is a sense of truth and justice, widely diffused and deeply engrained in the heart of the people. It must be borne in mind that he who takes a share in the direction of the community, is called upon to govern others. It is not merely his own interests that he has to consider, but the interests of his country and his fellow-citizens, even where these clash, or appear to clash, with his own. It is not only what is due to himself, but what is due to all other members of the Commonwealth, that he is under a solemn obligation to regard. Conceive what a community that would be, of which simple selfishness, unchecked by conscience, unenlightened by clearsighted wisdom, should be the motive impulse and the guiding star! All history has shown that real freedom can only be maintained where genuine patriotism pervades the nation,-and the very essence of patriotism is an unselfish, though a partial, love of justice. Amid a people wanting in real public spirit, the representative system must soon degenerate into a deceptive form, and may then become one of the most fearful phases and instruments of misrule. The secret history of the Irish Parliament and of the French Chambers proclaims this lesson with alarming vividness. The very safety of a nation, as well as its interest and its honour, depend upon having just men carried to the head of affairs, and maintained there, but where, - when the population has been made a prey to ignorant, greedy, tenacious self-seeking, - where is to be found the sense or the principle, either to choose such, or to tolerate their rule when chosen ? A government selected from and by the people can only reflect the qualities of that people; if the mass of the nation be wise, just, and true, the rulers will be not only the embodiment, but the élite, the filtered essence, of that wisdom, that justice, that truth; if the mass be corrupted, grasping, and regardless of the rights of others, the concentration and aggravation of all these disqualifying elements is certain to be found, sooner or later, in the high places of the State.
The entire absence of a due regard for the rights of others almost of a perception that such rights exist – which has been manifested by nearly all classes in France, both during and since the convulsion of 1848, will go far to illustrate our meaning. Liberty - equality – fraternity — were the watchwords of the last revolution, as of the first. The Provisional Government announced them at its first sitting in the Hôtel de Ville, and all their decrees were headed with the magical syllables. Every man was to have a share, an equal share, in the choice of rulers and the decision of the form of government. Nothing could be fairer than the promise; and, if the old system of things was to be considered entirely swept away, nothing could be juster than the principle. But it soon appeared that neither the Provisional Government nor their supporters had any idea of adhering to it. Their profession, as well as their duty, clearly was, to ascertain as soon as might be by universal suffrage, the real wishes of the country on the nature of their government, and then promptly and unmurmuringly to carry them into effect. But it early became evident that nothing could be further from their thoughts than either to obey these wishes when ascertained, or even to wait for their expression. They proclaimed a Republic at once; alike ignorant and careless whether France, when consulted, would not prefer a monarchy or an empire. They issued decrees after decrees with greater recklessness, greater indifference to the feelings, greater contempt