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Holy Rule of St. Benedict with beautifully illustrated, rare Catholic works of art. The sacred maxims of St. The first stages of this movement were contemplated with doubt and [Pg 36] distrust by many men of Liberal sympathies. The intention was, doubtless, to protect the weaker party, but the method was that of interference with freedom of contract. Now the freedom of the sane adult individual—even such strong individualists as Cobden recognized that the case of children stood apart—carried with it the right of concluding such agreements as seemed best to suit his own interests, and involved both the right and the duty of determining the lines of his life for himself.
Free contract and personal responsibility lay close to the heart of the whole Liberal movement. Hence the doubts felt by so many Liberals as to the regulation of industry by law. None the less, as time has gone on, men of the keenest Liberal sympathies have come not merely to accept but eagerly to advance the extension of public control in the industrial sphere, and of collective responsibility in the matter of the education and even the feeding of children, the housing of the industrial population, the care of the sick and aged, the provision of the means of regular employment.
On this side Liberalism seems definitely to have retraced its steps, and we shall have to [Pg 37] inquire closely into the question whether the reversal is a change of principle or of application. Closely connected with freedom of contract is freedom of association. If men may make any agreement with one another in their mutual interest so long as they do not injure a third party, they may apparently agree to act together permanently for any purposes of common interest on the same conditions.
That is, they may form associations. Yet at bottom the powers of an association are something very different from the powers of the individuals composing it; and it is only by legal pedantry that the attempt can be made to regulate the behaviour of an association on principles derived from and suitable to the relations of individuals. An association might become so powerful as to form a state within the state, and to contend with government on no unequal terms.
The history of some revolutionary societies, of some ecclesiastical organizations, even of some American trusts might be quoted to show that the danger is not imaginary. Short of this, an association may act oppressively towards others and even towards its own members, and the function [Pg 38] of Liberalism may be rather to protect the individual against the power of the association than to protect the right of association against the restriction of the law.
In fact, in this regard, the principle of liberty cuts both ways, and this double application is reflected in history. The emancipation of trade unions, however, extending over the period from to , and perhaps not yet complete, was in the main a liberating movement, because combination was necessary to place the workman on something approaching terms of equality with the employer, and because tacit combinations of employers could never, in fact, be prevented by law.
It was, again, a movement to liberty through equality. On the other hand, the oppressive capacities of a trade union could never be left out of account, while combinations of capital, which might be infinitely more powerful, have justly been regarded with distrust. In this there is no inconsistency of principle, but a just appreciation of a real difference of circumstance. Upon the whole it may be said that the function of Liberalism is not so much to maintain a general right of free association as to define the right in each [Pg 39] case in such terms as make for the maximum of real liberty and equality.
Of all associations within the State, the miniature community of the Family is the most universal and of the strongest independent vitality. The authoritarian state was reflected in the authoritarian family, in which the husband was within wide limits absolute lord of the person and property of wife and children. The movement of liberation consists 1 in rendering the wife a fully responsible individual, capable of holding property, suing and being sued, conducting business on her own account, and enjoying full personal protection against her husband; 2 in establishing marriage as far as the law is concerned on a purely contractual basis, and leaving the sacramental aspect of marriage to the ordinances of the religion professed by the parties; 3 in securing the physical, mental, and moral care of the children, partly by imposing definite responsibilities on the parents and punishing them for neglect, partly by elaborating a public system of education and of hygiene.
The first two movements are sufficiently typical [Pg 40] cases of the interdependence of liberty and equality. The third is more often conceived as a Socialistic than a Liberal tendency, and, in point of fact, the State control of education gives rise to some searching questions of principle, which have not yet been fully solved. If, in general, education is a duty which the State has a right to enforce, there is a countervailing right of choice as to the lines of education which it would be ill to ignore, and the mode of adjustment has not yet been adequately determined either in theory or in practice.
I would, however, strongly maintain that the general conception of the State as Over-parent is quite as truly Liberal as Socialistic. It is the basis of the rights of the child, of his protection against parental neglect, of the equality of opportunity which he may claim as a future citizen, of his training to fill his place as a grown-up person in the social system.
Liberty once more involves control and restraint. From the smallest social unit we pass to the largest. A great part of the liberating movement is occupied with the struggle of entire [Pg 41] nations against alien rule, with the revolt of Europe against Napoleon, with the struggle of Italy for freedom, with the fate of the Christian subjects of Turkey, with the emancipation of the negro, with the national movement in Ireland and in India.
Many of these struggles present the problem of liberty in its simplest form. It has been and is too often a question of securing the most elementary rights for the weaker party; and those who are not touched by the appeal are deficient rather in imagination than in logic or ethics. But at the back of national movements very difficult questions do arise.
What is a nation as distinct from a state? What sort of unity does it constitute, and what are its rights? If Ireland is a nation, is Ulster one? History has in some cases given us a practical answer. Thus, it has shown that, enjoying the gift of responsible government, French and British, despite all historical quarrels and all differences of religious belief, language, and social structure, have fused into the nation of Canada.
History has justified the conviction that Germany was a nation, and thrown ridicule [Pg 42] on the contemptuous saying of Metternich that Italy was a geographical expression. But how to anticipate history, what rights to concede to a people that claims to be a self-determining unit, is less easy to decide. There is no doubt that the general tendency of Liberalism is to favour autonomy, but, faced as it is with the problems of subdivision and the complexity of group with group, it has to rely on the concrete teaching of history and the practical insight of statesmanship to determine how the lines of autonomy are to be drawn.
There is, however, one empirical test which seems generally applicable. Where a weaker nation incorporated with a larger or stronger one can be governed by ordinary law applicable to both parties to the union, and fulfilling all the ordinary principles of liberty, the arrangement may be the best for both parties.
But where this system fails, where the government is constantly forced to resort to exceptional legislation or perhaps to de-liberalize its own institutions, the case becomes urgent. Under such conditions the most liberally-minded democracy is maintaining a system which must undermine its own principles. The Assyrian conqueror, Mr. He forfeits his liberty as long as he retains his power. Somewhat similar questions arise about race, which many people wrongly confuse with nationality. So far as elementary rights are concerned there can be no question as to the attitude of Liberalism.
When the political power which should guarantee such rights is brought into view, questions of fact arise. Is the Negro or the Kaffir mentally and morally capable of self-government or of taking part in a self-governing State? The experience of Cape Colony tends to the affirmative view. American experience of the negro gives, I take it, a more doubtful answer. A specious extension of the white man's rights to the black may be the best way of ruining the black.
To destroy tribal custom by introducing conceptions of individual property, the free disposal of land, and the free purchase of gin may be the handiest method for the expropriator. In all relations with weaker peoples we move in an atmosphere vitiated by the insincere use of high-sounding words. If men say equality, they mean oppression by forms [Pg 44] of justice. If they say tutelage, they appear to mean the kind of tutelage extended to the fattened goose. In such an atmosphere, perhaps, our safest course, so far as principles and deductions avail at all, is to fix our eyes on the elements of the matter, and in any part of the world to support whatever method succeeds in securing the "coloured" man from personal violence, from the lash, from expropriation, and from gin; above all, so far as it may yet be, from the white man himself.
Until the white man has fully learnt to rule his own life, the best of all things that he can do with the dark man is to do nothing with him. In this relation, the day of a more constructive Liberalism is yet to come. If non-interference is the best thing for the barbarian many Liberals have thought it to be the supreme wisdom in international affairs generally.
I shall examine this view later. Here I merely remark: 1 It is of the essence of Liberalism to oppose the use of force, the basis of all tyranny. Not only may the military force be directly turned against liberty, as in Russia, but there are more subtle ways, as in Western Europe, in which the military spirit eats into free institutions and absorbs the public resources which might go to the advancement of civilization.
There is no purpose in aggression if it is not to issue in one form or another of national subjection. Underlying all these questions of right is the question how they are to be secured and maintained. By enforcing the responsibility of the executive and legislature to the community as a whole? Such is the general answer, and it indicates one of the lines of connection between the general theory of liberty and the doctrine of universal suffrage and the sovereignty of the people.
The answer, however, does not meet all the possibilities of the case. The people as a whole might be careless of their rights and incapable of managing them. They might be set on the conquest of others, [Pg 46] the expropriation of the rich, or on any form of collective tyranny or folly. It is perfectly possible that from the point of view of general liberty and social progress a limited franchise might give better results than one that is more extended. Even in this country it is a tenable view that the extension of the suffrage in tended for some years to arrest the development of liberty in various directions.
On what theory does the principle of popular sovereignty rest, and within what limits does it hold good? Is it a part of the general principles of liberty and equality, or are other ideas involved? These are among the questions which we shall have to examine. We have now passed the main phases of the Liberal movement in very summary review, and we have noted, first, that it is co-extensive with life.
It is concerned with the individual, the family, the State. It touches industry, law, religion, ethics. It would not be difficult, if space allowed, to illustrate its influence in literature and art, to describe the war with convention, insincerity, and patronage, and the struggle for free self-expression, for reality, for the artist's soul. Liberalism is an all-penetrating element of the life-structure of the [Pg 47] modern world. Secondly, it is an effective historical force.
If its work is nowhere complete, it is almost everywhere in progress. The modern State as we see it in Europe outside Russia, in the British colonies, in North and South America, as we begin to see it in the Russian empire and throughout the vast continent of Asia, is the old authoritarian society modified in greater or less degree by the absorption of Liberal principles.
Turning, thirdly, to those principles themselves, we have recognized Liberalism in every department as a movement fairly denoted by the name—a movement of liberation, a clearance of obstructions, an opening of channels for the flow of free spontaneous vital activity.
Fourthly, we have seen that in a large number of cases what is under one aspect a movement for liberty is on another side a movement towards equality, and the habitual association of these principles is so far confirmed. On the other hand, lastly, we have seen numerous cases in which the exacter definition of liberty and the precise meaning of equality remain obscure, and to discuss these will be our task.
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We have, moreover, admittedly regarded Liberalism mainly in its earlier and more [Pg 48] negative aspect. We have seen it as a force working within an old society and modifying it by the loosening of the bonds which its structure imposed on human activity. We have yet to ask what constructive social scheme, if any, could be formed on Liberal principles; and it is here, if at all, that the fuller meaning of the principles of Liberty and Equality should appear, and the methods of applying them be made out.
The problem of popular sovereignty pointed to the same need. Thus the lines of the remainder of our task are clearly laid down. We have to get at the fundamentals of Liberalism, and to consider what kind of structure can be raised upon the basis which they offer. We will approach the question by tracing the historic movement of Liberal thought through certain well-marked phases.
We shall see how the problems which have been indicated were attacked by successive thinkers, and how partial solutions gave occasion for deeper probings. Following the guidance of the actual movement of ideas, we shall reach the centre and heart of Liberalism, and we shall try to form a conception of the essentials of the Liberal creed as a constructive theory of society.
This conception [Pg 49] we shall then apply to the greater questions, political and economic, of our own day; and this will enable us finally to estimate the present position of Liberalism as a living force in the modern world and the prospect of transforming its ideals into actualities. At that time all who could read could claim benefit, which was therefore of the nature of a privilege for the educated class.
The requirement of reading, which had become a form, was abolished in , but peers and clerks in holy orders could still plead their clergy in the eighteenth century, and the last relics of the privilege were not finally abolished till the nineteenth century. Great changes are not caused by ideas alone; but they are not effected without ideas. The passions of men must be aroused if the frost of custom is to be broken or the chains of authority burst; but passion of itself is blind and its world is chaotic. To be effective men must act together, and to act together they must have a common understanding and a common object.
When it comes to be a question of any far-reaching change, they must not merely conceive their own immediate end with clearness. They must convert others, they must communicate sympathy and win over the unconvinced. Upon the whole, they must show that their object is possible, that it is compatible with existing institutions, or at any rate with some workable form of social life. They are, in fact, driven on by the requirements of their position to [Pg 51] the elaboration of ideas, and in the end to some sort of social philosophy; and the philosophies that have driving force behind them are those which arise after this fashion out of the practical demands of human feeling.
The philosophies that remain ineffectual and academic are those that are formed by abstract reflection without relation to the thirsty souls of human kind. In England, it is true, where men are apt to be shy and unhandy in the region of theory, the Liberal movement has often sought to dispense with general principles. In its early days and in its more moderate forms, it sought its ends under the guise of constitutionalism.
As against the claims of the Stuart monarchy, there was a historic case as well as a philosophic argument, and the earlier leaders of the Parliament relied more on precedent than on principle. This method was embodied in the Whig tradition, and runs on to our own time, as one of the elements that go to make up the working constitution of the Liberal mind. It is, so to say, the Conservative element in Liberalism, valuable in resistance to encroachments, valuable in securing continuity of [Pg 52] development, for purposes of re-construction insufficient.
To maintain the old order under changed circumstances may be, in fact, to initiate a revolution. It was so in the seventeenth century. Pym and his followers could find justification for their contentions in our constitutional history, but to do so they had to go behind both the Stuarts and the Tudors; and to apply the principles of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in was, in effect, to institute a revolution. In our own time, to maintain the right of the Commons against the Lords is, on the face of it, to adhere to old constitutional right, but to do so under the new circumstances which have made the Commons representative of the nation as a whole is, in reality, to establish democracy for the first time on a firm footing, and this, again, is to accomplish a revolution.
Now, those who effect a revolution ought to know whither they are leading the world. They have need of a social theory—and in point of fact the more thorough-going apostles of movement always have such a theory; and though, as we have remarked, the theory emerges from the practical needs which they feel, and is therefore apt to invest ideas of [Pg 53] merely temporary value with the character of eternal truths, it is not on this account to be dismissed as of secondary importance.
Once formed, it reacts upon the minds of its adherents, and gives direction and unity to their efforts. It becomes, in its turn, a real historic force, and the degree of its coherence and adequacy is matter, not merely of academic interest, but of practical moment. Moreover, the onward course of a movement is more clearly understood by appreciating the successive points of view which its thinkers and statesmen have occupied than by following the devious turnings of political events and the tangle of party controversy.
The point of view naturally affects the whole method of handling problems, whether speculative or practical, and to the historian it serves as a centre around which ideas and policies that perhaps differ, and even conflict with one another, may be so grouped as to show their underlying affinities. Let us then seek to determine the principal points of view which the Liberal movement has occupied, and distinguish the main types of theory in which the passion for freedom has sought to express itself. The earlier Liberalism had to deal with authoritarian government in church and state. It had to vindicate the elements of personal, civil, and economic freedom; and in so doing it took its stand on the rights of man, and, in proportion as it was forced to be constructive, on the supposed harmony of the natural order.
Government claimed supernatural sanction and divine ordinance. Liberal theory replied in effect that the rights of man rested on the law of Nature, and those of government on human institution. The oldest "institution" in this view was the individual, and the primordial society the natural grouping of human beings under the influence of family affection, and for the sake of mutual aid. Political society was a more artificial arrangement, a convention arrived at for the specific purpose of securing a better order and maintaining the common safety.
It was, perhaps, as Locke held, founded on a contract between king and people, a contract which was brought to an end if either party violated its terms. Or, as in Rousseau's view, it was essentially a contract of the people with one another, an [Pg 55] arrangement by means of which, out of many conflicting individual wills, a common or general will could be formed.
A government might be instituted as the organ of this will, but it would, from the nature of the case, be subordinate to the people from whom it derived authority. The people were sovereign. The government was their delegate.
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Whatever the differences of outlook that divide these theories, those who from Locke to Rousseau and Paine worked with this order of ideas agreed in conceiving political society as a restraint to which men voluntarily submitted themselves for specific purposes. Political institutions were the source of subjection and inequality. Before and behind them stood the assemblage of free and equal individuals. But the isolated individual was powerless.
He had rights which were limited only by the corresponding rights of others, but he could not, unless chance gave him the upper hand, enforce them. Accordingly, he found it best to enter into an arrangement with others for the mutual respect of rights; and for this purpose he instituted a government to maintain his rights within the community and to guard the community from assault [Pg 56] from without. It followed that the function of government was limited and definable. It was to maintain the natural rights of man as accurately as the conditions of society allowed, and to do naught beside.
Any further action employing the compulsory power of the State was of the nature of an infringement of the understanding on which government rested. In entering into the compact, the individual gave up so much of his rights as was necessitated by the condition of submitting to a common rule—so much, and no more. He gave up his natural rights and received in return civil rights, something less complete, perhaps, but more effective as resting on the guarantee of the collective power.
If you would discover, then, what the civil rights of man in society should be, you must inquire what are the natural rights of man,  and how far they are unavoidably modified in accommodating the conflicting [Pg 57] claims of men with one another. Any interference that goes beyond this necessary accommodation is oppression.
Civil rights should agree as nearly as possible with natural rights, or, as Paine says, a civil right is a natural right exchanged. This conception of the relations of the State and the individual long outlived the theory on which it rested. It underlies the entire teaching of the Manchester school. Its spirit was absorbed, as we shall see, by many of the Utilitarians. It operated, though in diminishing force, throughout the nineteenth century; and it is strongly held by contemporary Liberals like M.
Faguet, who frankly abrogate its speculative foundations and rest their case on social utility. Its strength is, in effect, not in its logical principles, but in the compactness and consistency which it gives to a view of the functions of the State which responds to certain needs of modern society. As long as those needs were uppermost, the theory was of living value. In proportion as they have been satisfied and other needs have emerged, the requirement has arisen for a fuller and sounder principle. But there was another side to the theory [Pg 58] of nature which we must not ignore.
If in this theory government is the marplot and authority the source of oppression and stagnation, where are the springs of progress and civilization? Clearly, in the action of individuals. The more the individual receives free scope for the play of his faculties, the more rapidly will society as a whole advance. There are here the elements of an important truth, but what is the implication? If the individual is free, any two individuals, each pursuing his own ends, may find themselves in conflict. It was, in fact, the possibility of such conflict which was recognized by our theory as the origin and foundation of society.
Men had to agree to some measure of mutual restraint in order that their liberty might be effective. But in the course of the eighteenth century, and particularly in the economic sphere, there arose a view that the conflict of wills is based on misunderstanding and ignorance, and that its mischiefs are accentuated by governmental repression. At bottom there is a natural harmony of interests. Maintain external order, suppress violence, assure men in the possession of their property, and enforce the fulfilment of contracts, and the rest will go [Pg 59] of itself.
Each man will be guided by self-interest, but interest will lead him along the lines of greatest productivity. If all artificial barriers are removed, he will find the occupation which best suits his capacities, and this will be the occupation in which he will be most productive, and therefore, socially, most valuable. He will have to sell his goods to a willing purchaser, therefore he must devote himself to the production of things which others need, things, therefore, of social value. He will, by preference, make that for which he can obtain the highest price, and this will be that for which, at the particular time and place and in relation to his particular capacities, there is the greatest need.
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He will, again, find the employer who will pay him best, and that will be the employer to whom he can do the best service. Self-interest, if enlightened and unfettered, will, in short, lead him to conduct coincident with public interest. There is, in this sense, a natural harmony between the individual and society.
True, this harmony might require a certain amount of education and enlightenment to make it effective. What it did not require was governmental "interference," which would always hamper the [Pg 60] causes making for its smooth and effectual operation. Government must keep the ring, and leave it for individuals to play out the game. On both sides, however, the theory exhibits, under criticism, fundamental weaknesses which have both a historical and a speculative significance.
Let us first consider the conception of natural rights. What were these rights, and on what did they rest? On the first point men sought to be explicit. By way of illustration we cannot do better than quote the leading clauses of the Declaration of Article I. Social distinctions can only be founded on common utility. Article II. Article IV. These limits can only be determined by law. Article VI. All citizens have a right to take part concourir , personally or by their representatives, in its formation. The remainder of this article insists on the impartiality of law and the equal admission of all citizens to office.
The Declaration of [Pg 62] is more emphatic about equality, and more rhetorical. Article III reads, "All men are equal by nature and before the law. It is easy to subject these articles to a niggling form of criticism in which their spirit is altogether missed.
I would ask attention only to one or two points of principle. The meaning at bottom is "Security for liberty in respect of his person and property is the right of every man. The right of the individual, then, is not something independent of society, but one of the principles which a good social order must recognize. There are, moreover, [Pg 63] two definitions of liberty. It is important to bear in mind that these two definitions are highly discrepant. If my right to knock a man down is only limited by his equal right to knock me down, the law has no business to interfere when we take to our fists.
If, on the other hand, I have no right to injure another, the law should interfere. Very little reflection suffices to show that this is the sounder principle, and that respect for the equal liberty of another is not an adequate definition of liberty. My right to keep my neighbour awake by playing the piano all night is not satisfactorily counterbalanced by his right to keep a dog which howls all the time the piano is being played.
The right of a "sweater" to pay starvation wages is not satisfactorily limited by the corresponding right which his employee would enjoy if he were in a position to impose the same terms on some one else. Generally, the right to injure or take advantage of another is not sufficiently limited by the right of that other if he should have the power to retaliate in kind. There is [Pg 64] no right to injure another; and if we ask what is injury we are again thrown back on some general principle which will override the individual claim to do what one will.
Law is the expression of the general will. Here the "nation" is conceived as a collective whole, as a unit. Here the question is one of individual right. Which is the real ground of democratic representation—the unity of the national life, or the inherent right of the individual to be consulted about that which concerns himself?
Further, and this is a very serious question, which is the ultimate authority—the will of the nation, or the rights of the individual? Suppose the nation deliberately decides on laws which deny the rights of the individual, ought such laws to be obeyed in the name of popular sovereignty, or to be disobeyed in the name of natural rights? It is a real issue, and on these lines it is unfortunately quite insoluble.
These difficulties were among the [Pg 65] considerations which led to the formation of the second type of Liberal theory, and what has to be said about the harmony of the natural order may be taken in conjunction with this second theory to which we may now pass, and which is famous as The Greatest Happiness Principle. Bentham, who spent the greater part of his life in elaborating the greatest happiness principle as a basis of social reconstruction, was fully alive to the difficulties which we have found in the theory of natural rights.
The alleged rights of man were for him so many anarchical fallacies. They were founded on no clearly assignable principle, and admitted of no demonstration. What was the supposed law of nature? When was it written, and by whose authority? On what ground do we maintain that men are free or equal? On what principle and within what limits do we or can we maintain the right of property? There were points on which, by universal admission, all these rights have to give way.
What is the right of property worth in times [Pg 66] of war or of any overwhelming general need? The Declaration itself recognized the need of appeal to common utility or to the law to define the limits of individual right. Bentham would frankly make all rights dependent on common utility, and therewith he would make it possible to examine all conflicting claims in the light of a general principle. He would measure them all by a common standard. Has a man the right to express his opinion freely? To determine the question on Bentham's lines we must ask whether it is, on the whole, useful to society that the free expression of opinion should be allowed, and this, he would say, is a question which may be decided by general reasoning and by experience of results.
Of course, we must take the rough with the smooth. If the free expression of opinion is allowed, false opinion will find utterance and will mislead many. The question would be, does the loss involved in the promulgation of error counterbalance the gain to be derived from unfettered discussion? Should the State maintain the rights of private property? Yes, if the admission of those rights is useful to the community as a whole. Some rights of property, again, may be advantageous, others disadvantageous. The community is free to make a selection. If it finds that certain forms of property are working to the exclusive benefit of individuals and the prejudice of the common weal, it has good ground for the suppression of those forms of property, while it may, with equal justice, maintain other forms of property which it holds sound as judged by the effect on the common welfare.
It is limited by no "imprescriptible" right of the individual. It may do with the individual what it pleases provided that it has the good of the whole in view. So far as the question of right is concerned the Benthamite principle might be regarded as decidedly socialistic or even authoritarian. It contemplates, at least as a possibility, the complete subordination of individual to social claims. There is, however, another side to the Benthamite principle, to understand which we must state the heads of the theory itself as a positive doctrine. What is this social utility of which we have spoken?
In what does it consist? What is useful to society, and what harmful? The answer has the [Pg 68] merit of great clearness and simplicity. An action is good which tends to promote the greatest possible happiness of the greatest possible number of those affected by it. As with an action, so, of course, with an institution or a social system. That is useful which conforms to this principle.
That is harmful which conflicts with it. That is right which conforms to it, that is wrong which conflicts with it. The greatest happiness principle is the one and supreme principle of conduct. Observe that it imposes on us two considerations. One is the greatest happiness. Now happiness is defined as consisting positively in the presence of pleasure, negatively in the absence of pain. A greater pleasure is then preferable to a lesser, a pleasure unaccompanied by pain to one involving pain.
Conceiving pain as a minus quantity of pleasure, we may say that the principle requires us always to take quantity and pleasure into account, and nothing else.
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But, secondly, the number of individuals affected is material. An act might cause pleasure to one and pain to two. Then it is wrong, unless, indeed, the pleasure were very great and the pain in each case small. We must balance the consequences, taking all individuals [Pg 69] affected into account, and "everybody must count for one and nobody for more than one.
As between the happiness of his father, his child, or himself, and the happiness of a stranger, a man must be impartial. He must only consider the quantity of pleasure secured or pain inflicted. Now, in this conception of measurable quantities of pleasure and pain there is, as many critics have insisted, something unreal and academic.
We shall have to return to the point, but let us first endeavour to understand the bearing of Bentham's teaching on the problems of his own time and on the subsequent development of Liberal thought. For this purpose we will keep to what is real in his doctrine, even if it is not always defined with academic precision. The salient points that we note, then, are 1 the subordination of all considerations of right to the considerations of happiness, 2 the importance of number, and 3 as the other side of the same doctrine, the insistence on equality or impartiality between man and man.
The common utility which Bentham considers is the happiness experienced by a number of [Pg 70] individuals, all of whom are reckoned for this purpose as of equal value. This is the radical individualism of the Benthamite creed, to be set against that socialistic tendency which struck us in our preliminary account. In this individualism, equality is fundamental. Everybody is to count for one, nobody for more than one, for every one can feel pain and pleasure. Liberty, on the other hand, is not fundamental, it is a means to an end.
Popular sovereignty is not fundamental, for all government is a means to an end. Nevertheless, the school of Bentham, upon the whole, stood by both liberty and democracy. Let us consider their attitude. As to popular government, Bentham and James Mill reasoned after this fashion. Men, if left to themselves, that is to say, if neither trained by an educational discipline nor checked by responsibility, do not consider the good of the greatest number. They consider their own good. A king, if his power is unchecked, will rule in his own interest.
Are Liberals on the Wrong Side of History?
A class, if its power is unchecked, will rule in its own interest. The only way to secure fair consideration for the happiness of all is to allow to all an equal share of power. True, if there [Pg 71] is a conflict the majority will prevail, but they will be moved each by consideration of his own happiness, and the majority as a whole, therefore, by the happiness of the greater number. There is no inherent right in the individual to take a part in government.
There is a claim to be considered in the distribution of the means of happiness, and to share in the work of government as a means to this end. It would follow, among other things, that if one man or one class could be shown to be so much wiser and better than others that his or their rule would, in fact, conduce more to the happiness of the greater number than a popular system, then the business of government ought to be entrusted to that man or that class and no one else ought to interfere with it. The whole argument, however, implies a crude view of the problem of government.
It is, of course, theoretically possible that a question should present itself, detached from other questions, in which a definite measurable interest of each of the seven millions or more of voters is at stake. For example, the great majority of English people drink tea.
Comparatively few drink wine. Should a particular [Pg 72] sum be raised by a duty on tea or on wine? Here the majority of tea-drinkers have a measurable interest, the same in kind and roughly the same in degree for each; and the vote of the majority, if it could be taken on this question alone and based on self-interest alone, might be conceived without absurdity as representing a sum of individual interests.
Even here, however, observe that, though the greatest number is considered, the greatest happiness does not fare so well. For to raise the same sum the tax on wine will, as less is drunk, have to be much larger than the tax on tea, so that a little gain to many tea-drinkers might inflict a heavy loss on the few wine-drinkers, and on the Benthamite principle it is not clear that this would be just.
In point of fact it is possible for a majority to act tyrannically, by insisting on a slight convenience to itself at the expense, perhaps, of real suffering to a minority. Now the Utilitarian principle by no means justifies such tyranny, but it does seem to contemplate the weighing of one man's loss against another's gain, and such a method of balancing does not at bottom commend itself to our sense of justice.
We may lay down that if there is a [Pg 73] rational social order at all it must be one which never rests the essential indispensable condition of the happiness of one man on the unavoidable misery of another, nor the happiness of forty millions of men on the misery of one. It may be temporarily expedient, but it is eternally unjust, that one man should die for the people.
We may go further. The case of the contemplated tax is, as applied to the politics of a modern State, an unreal one. Political questions cannot be thus isolated. Even if we could vote by referendum on a special tax, the question which voters would have to consider would never be the revenue from and the incidence of that tax alone. All the indirect social and economic bearings of the tax would come up for consideration, and in the illustration chosen people would be swayed, and rightly swayed, by their opinion, for example, of the comparative effects of tea-drinking and wine-drinking.
No one element of the social life stands separate from the rest, any more than any one element of the animal body stands separate from the rest. In this sense the life of society is rightly held to be organic, and all considered public policy [Pg 74] must be conceived in its bearing on the life of society as a whole.
But the moment that we apply this view to politics, the Benthamite mode of stating the case for democracy is seen to be insufficient. The interests of every man are no doubt in the end bound up with the welfare of the whole community, but the relation is infinitely subtle and indirect. Moreover, it takes time to work itself out, and the evil that is done in the present day may only bear fruit when the generation that has done it has passed away.
Thus, the direct and calculable benefit of the majority may by no means coincide with the ultimate good of society as a whole; and to suppose that the majority must, on grounds of self-interest, govern in the interests of the community as a whole is in reality to attribute to the mass of men full insight into problems which tax the highest efforts of science and of statesmanship.
Lastly, to suppose that men are governed entirely by a sense of their interests is a many-sided fallacy. Men are neither so intelligent nor so selfish. They are swayed by emotion and by impulse, and both for good and for evil they will lend enthusiastic support to courses of public policy from which, [Pg 75] as individuals, they have nothing to gain. To understand the real value of democratic government, we shall have to probe far deeper into the relations of the individual and society.
I turn lastly to the question of liberty. On Benthamite principles there could be no question here of indefeasible individual right. There were even, as we saw, possibilities of a thorough-going Socialism or of an authoritarian paternalism in the Benthamite principle. But two great considerations told in the opposite direction.
One arose from the circumstances of the day. Bentham, originally a man of somewhat conservative temper, was driven into Radicalism comparatively late in life by the indifference or hostility of the governing classes to his schemes of reform. Government, as he saw it, was of the nature of a close corporation with a vested interest hostile to the public weal, and his work is penetrated by distrust of power as such. There was much in the history of the time to justify his attitude.
It was difficult at that time to believe in an honest officialdom putting the commonwealth above every personal or corporate interest, and reformers naturally looked [Pg 76] to individual initiative as the source of progress. Secondly, and this was a more philosophic argument, the individual was supposed to understand his own interest best, and as the common good was the sum of individual interests, it followed that so far as every man was free to seek his own good, the good of the greatest number would be most effectually realized by general freedom of choice.
Three new books interrogate the premises of the Enlightenment.
That there were difficulties in reconciling self-interest with the general good was not denied. But men like James Mill, who especially worked at this side of the problem, held that they could be overcome by moral education. Trained from childhood to associate the good of others with his own, a man would come, he thought, to care for the happiness of others as for the happiness of self.
For, in the long run, the two things were coincident. Particularly in a free economic system, as remarked above, each individual, moving along the line of greatest personal profit, would be found to fulfil the function of greatest profit to society. Let this be understood, and we should have true social harmony based on the spontaneous operation of personal interest enlightened by intelligence [Pg 77] and chastened by the discipline of unruly instinct. Thus, though their starting-point was different, the Benthamites arrived at practical results not notably divergent from those of the doctrine of natural liberty; and, on the whole, the two influences worked together in the formation of that school who in the reform period exercised so notable an influence on English Liberalism, and to whose work we must now turn.
The Assembly lays down "the natural, inalienable, and sacred rights of man," in order, among other things, "that the acts of the legislative power and those of the executive power, being capable of being at every instant compared with the end of every political institution, may be more respected accordingly. I note one or two points in passing. I: "The end of society is the common happiness. Government is instituted to guarantee to man the enjoyment of his natural and imprescriptible rights.
The school of Cobden is affiliated in general outlook both to the doctrine of natural liberty and to the discipline of Bentham. It shared with the Benthamites the thoroughly practical attitude dear to the English mind. It has much less to say of natural rights than the French theorists. On the other hand, it is saturated with the conviction that the unfettered action of the individual is the mainspring of all progress.
Trade is still in fetters. The worst of the archaic internal restrictions have, [Pg 79] indeed, been thrown off. But even here Cobden is active in the work of finally emancipating Manchester from manorial rights that have no place in the nineteenth century. The main work, however, is the liberation of foreign trade. The Corn Laws, as even the tariff reformers of our own day admit, were conceived in the interest of the governing classes.
They frankly imposed a tax on the food of the masses for the benefit of the landlords, and as the result of the agricultural and industrial revolutions which had been in progress since , the masses had been brought to the lowest point of economic misery. Give to every man the right to buy in the cheapest and sell in the dearest market, urged the Cobdenite, and trade would automatically expand. The business career would be open to the talents.
The good workman would command the full money's worth of his work, and his money would buy him food and clothing at the lowest rate in the world's market. Only so would he get the full value of his work, paying toll to none. Taxes there must be to carry on government, but if we looked into the cost of government we found that it depended mostly on [Pg 80] armaments.
Why did we need armaments? First, because of the national antagonisms aroused and maintained by a protective system. Free commercial intercourse between nations would engender mutual knowledge, and knit the severed peoples by countless ties of business interests. Free Trade meant peace, and once taught by the example of Great Britain's prosperity, other nations would follow suit, and Free Trade would be universal. The other root of national danger was the principle of intervention. We took it on ourselves to set other nations right. How could we judge for other nations?
Force was no remedy. Let every people be free to work out its own salvation. Things were not so perfect with us that we need go about setting the houses of other people in order. To complete personal freedom, there must be national freedom. There must also be colonial freedom. The colonies could no longer be governed in the interests of the mother country, nor ought they to require standing garrisons maintained by the mother country. They were distant lands, each, if we gave it freedom, with a great future of its own, capable of protecting itself, and developing with freedom into true nationhood.
Non-intervention, peace, restriction of armaments, retrenchment of expenditure, reduction of taxation, were the connected series of practical consequences. The money retrenched from wasteful military expenditure need not all be remitted to the taxpayer. A fraction of it devoted to education—free, secular, and universal—would do as much good as when spent on guns and ships it did harm. For education was necessary to raise the standard of intelligence, and provide the substantial equality of opportunity at the start without which the mass of men could not make use of the freedom given by the removal of legislative restrictions.
There were here elements of a more constructive view for which Cobden and his friends have not always received sufficient credit. In the main, however, the teaching of the Manchester school tended both in external and in internal affairs to a restricted view of the function of government. Government had to maintain order, to restrain men from violence and fraud, to hold them secure in person and property against foreign and domestic enemies [Pg 82] , to give them redress against injury, that so they may rely on reaping where they have sown, may enjoy the fruits of their industry, may enter unimpeded into what arrangements they will with one another for their mutual benefit.
Let us see what criticism was passed on this view by the contemporaries of Cobden and by the loud voice of the facts themselves. The divorce of the labourer from the land was complete at the time when the Anti-Corn Law League was formed.