« ZurückWeiter »
DANGERS AND INCONVENIENCES OF INSTITUTIONAL
INSTITUTIONAL self-government has its dangers and inconveniences, as all human things have, and its success requires the three elements necessary for all true success of human action—common sense, virtue and wisdom; but its danger is not that alone which warns us from the ancient saying—Divide and rule. Divide et impera is true indeed; but it is equally true—Concentrate and rule, as history and our own times abundantly prove.
It has been stated that nothing is more common than governments, which, fearing the united action of the nation, yet being obliged to yield in some manner to the demand for liberty, try to evade the demand, and to deceive the people by granting provincial representations or estates. In these cases division is indeed resorted to for the greater chance of ruling the people, partly because separate, they are weak, and one may be played off against the other, as the marines and sailors neutralize one another on board the men-of-war. In no period probably has this conduct of continental governments more strikingly shown itself than in that which began with the downfall of Napoleon, and ended with the year 1848. But it must not be forgotten that by institutional self-government, a polity has been designated that comprehends institutions of self-government for all the regions of the political actions of a society, and it includes the general and national self-government as well as the minute local self-government.
The self-government of a society, be this a township or a nation, must always be adequate to its highest executive; and when any branch is national, all the three branches must be national. The very nature of civil liberty, as we have found it, demands it. They must work abreast, like the horses of the Grecian chariot, public opinion being the charioteer. Had England, as she has now, a general executive, but not, as now, a general parliament, the self-government of the shires and towns, of courts and companies, would soon be extinguished. Had we a president of the United States and no national legislature, it is evident, that either the president would be useless, and there would be no united country, or if the executive had power, there would be an end to the state self-governments, even if the president were to remain elective. Liberty requires union of the whole, whatever this whole, or Koinon as the Greeks styled it, may be, as has been already mentioned. Wisdom, practice, political forbearance and manly independence, can alone decide the proper degree of union, and the necessary balance.
One of the dangers of a strongly institutional selfgovernment is, that the tendency of localizing may prevail over the equally necessary principle of union, and that thus a disintegrating sejunction may take place, which history shows as a warning example in the United States of the Netherlands. I do not allude to their Pact of Utrecht, which furnished an inadequate government for the confederacy, and upon which the framers of our federal constitution so signally improved, after having tried a copy of it, in the articles of the confederation. I
rather speak of the Netherlandish principle, according to which every limited circle and even most towns did not only enjoy self-government, but were sovereign, and to each of which the stadtholder was obliged to take a separate oath of fidelity. The Netherlands presented the very opposite extreme of French centralism. The consequence has been that the real Netherlandish greatness lasted but a century, and in this respect may almost be compared to the brevity of Portuguese grandeur, though it resulted from the opposite cause.
The former constitution of Hungary, according to which each comitate had the right to vote whether it would accept or not the law passed by the diet,' is an instance of the ruinous effect of purely partial selfgovernment. The nation, as nation, must participate in the self-government; and Hungary lost her liberty, as Spain and all countries have done which have disregarded this part of self-government.
Another danger is that, with reference to the domestic government, the local self-government may impede measures of a general character. Instances and periods of long duration occur, which serve as serious and sometimes as alarming commentaries on the universal adage, that that which is everybody's business is no one's business. The roads, considered by the Romans so important that the road-law found a place on the Twelve Tables, and sanitary regulations frequently suffer in this way. The governments of some of our largest cities furnish us with partial yet striking illustrations.
It might be added that one of the dangers of this government lies in this, that the importance of the institutional character may be forgotten, that their limitations may be considered as fetters, and that thus the people may come to forget that part of self-government which relates to the being governed, and only rememher that part which consists in their governing. If this takes place, popular absolutism begins, and one part rules supreme over the other.
1 The author of the famous Oceana proposed a similar measure for England, as St. Just, “the most advanced” follower of Robespierre, did for France.
We reply to these objections, that it is a characteristic of absolutism that it believes men can be happily ruled by formulas and systems alone. The school of liberty knows that, important as systems and institutions, principles and bills of rights are, they still demand rational and moral beings, for which they are intended, like the revelation itself, which is for conscious man alone. Everything in this world has its dangers. In this lies the fearful responsibility of demagogues. “Take power, bear down limitation,” is their call on the people, as it was the call of the courtiers on Louis the Fourteenth. Their advice resembles in politics that which is given on the tomb of Sardanapalus, regarding bodily intemperance, “ Eat, drink and lust; the rest is nothing."
We must the more energetically cling to our institutional government, and the more attentively avoid extremes. At the same time the question is fair whether other systems either avoid the danger, or do not substitute greater evils for it; and, lastly, we must in this, as in all other cases, while honestly endeavouring to remedy or prevent evil, have an eye to the whole, and see which yields the fairest results. Nothing, moreover, is more dangerous than to take single brilliant facts as represen
? "The epitaph inscribed upon the tomb of Sardanapalus,—Sardanapalus, the son of Anacyndaraxos, built Anchiola and Tarsos in one day: eat, drink and lust; the rest is nothing,'-has been quoted for ages, and its antiquity is generally admitted.”—Layard's Ninevel, vol. ii. p. 478.
tatives of systems. They prove general soundness as little as brilliant deeds necessarily prove their morality,
It is these dangers that give so great a value to constitutions, if conceived in the spirit of liberty. The office of a good constitution, besides that of pronouncing and guaranteeing the rights of the citizen, is that, as a fundamental law of the state, it so defines and limits the chief powers, that, each moving in its own orb without jostling the others, it prevents jarring, and grants harmonious protection to all the minor powers of the state.
A constitution, whether it be an accumulative one as that of Great Britain, or an enacted one as ours is, is always of great importance, as indeed all law is important wherever there is human action ; but, from what has been stated, it will be readily perceived that constitutions are efficient toward the obtaining of their main ends, the liberty of the citizen, only in the same degree as they themselves consist of an aggregate of institutions; as, for instance, that of the United States consists of a distinct number of clearly devised and limited, as well as life-possessing institutions; or as that of England, which consists of the aggregate of institutions considered by him who uses the term British Constitution as of fundamental and vital importance. It will, moreover, have appeared that these constitutions have a real being only if founded upon numerous wide-spread institutions, and feeding, as it were, upon a general institutional spirit. Without this, they will be little more than parchment; and, important as our constitutions are, it has already been seen that the institution of the Common Law, on which all of them are based, is still more important. It cannot be denied that occasional jarring akes place in a strongly institutional government. It is, as we have