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effectually suppresses all political heresy and dissent, it as completely silences all free speech and independent discussion, as the Holy Office ever suppressed religious freedom, and enforced religious uniformity.
On the other hand, the distinctive mark of a free Government is, not so much the mildness, moderation, and equity of its administration (although it in general avoids the measures of harshness and cruelty which occur from time to time in despotic States), as its permission of a free discussion of its measuresof its toleration of adverse criticism in parliament, at public meetings, in newspapers, pamphlets, and books. It is the legal and acknowledged existence of an organised opposition to the Government which is, in these times, the most salient characteristic of a free country, and its principal distinction from despotisms.
If we are right in supposing that the leading characteristic of modern despotism is not the gratification of the caprices and passions of the despot, but an attempt to crush all independent action, to enforce a universal silence, to demand an universal conformity, apparent if not real, to suppress all dissent, to centralise all power, to reduce everything to a simple military subordination of command and obedience; and that the leading characteristic of free countries is not merely a regular administration of the law, but the tolerance of a legal opposition, by argumentative criticism and discussion, to the acts of the Government, we shall do well in devoting some pages to an examination of the nature of this opposition, of the means by which it is conducted, and of the consequences to which it leads.
In a country, which, like England, has long enjoyed freedom of parliamentary debate, the right of meeting in public for purposes of discussion, and an almost unbounded liberty of the press, it is superfluous to dwell on the advantages of these institutions. With whatever abuses their use may sometimes be associated, men of all parties agree in upholding and cherishing them. Every body sees that wholesome political changes are prepared, matured, and promoted by public discussion; that a weak minority, when it has reason on its side, is enabled, by the exercise of this right, to grow in time into a strong minority, and finally to become a majority; that numerous abuses are corrected, in consequence of their exposure, - that public opinion can distinguish between the general utility of Government and he occasional errors and misconduct of its administrators, and that the people can obey the law, while they criticise those who carry it into effect. It would be a waste of words, if we were to set forth in detail the reasons in favour of those institutions by
which an opposition in a free country is conducted. We shall, therefore, assume that the general policy of permitting a free censure of public measures is conceded : and shall try to ascertain how the opposition to a Government is usually conducted, and under what conditions it may be rendered most beneficial to the community. An inquiry of this sort seems to us the more desirable, because the criticism of a Ministry, like all other sorts of criticism, may be unjust as well as just; and because the perversions of the system of political opposition appear to us to furnish the friends of despotism with some of the most specious arguments against free government. In pointing out the abuses of a Parliamentary Opposition, our object will be to show in what its real use and excellence consist.
A Parliamentary Government is a government of political parties — and whenever it exists, the principal executive offices
filled by the members of the party which is in the ascendant. The criticism of the Government and of its acts is, therefore, carried on by the leaders of the less powerful parties, who are, for the time, excluded from office. That exclusion, however, is for the most part, involuntary: it is submitted to reluctantly, and a perpetual struggle is going on, which has for its object the ejection of the actual holders of office, and their replacement by the leaders of Opposition. The more sordid and needy seek office for its pecuniary advantages: the vain desire it for its distinctions and social rank; the ambitious covet it as the instrument of power: the public-spirited and philanthropic regard it as a means of giving practical effect to their opinions, and of promoting the interest of the cominunity. Those who do not seek office for themselves, desire it for their friends and wish that the party to which they belong should have the management of public affairs. Whatever may be the motive, all the members of an Opposition combine in desiring the ejection of the existing Ministry, and the filling of the vacant offices from their own ranks.
Now it is by the leaders of Opposition that the detailed criticism of the measures of the Government is carried on. They are, as it were, the ex-officio judges of the existing administration; and they assume to exercise their judicial functions in an independent and impartial spirit. To the merit of independence they can justly lay claim; but their situation is almost always inconsistent with impartiality. They have too deep an interest in proving that Ministers have acted wrongly, to bring an unbiassed mind to the subject. Hence the imputation to which the leaders of a Parliamentary Opposition are so often exposed, of being actuated by party motives; in other words, of taking a step which has for its object, not the general good of the community, but the special and exclusive advantage of their own party. It is true that this description applies principally to the Opposition leaders in Parliament; there is much criticism in the press, and at public meetings, which proceeds from judges who are not candidates for office, who will derive no appreciable personal benefit from a change of Government, and who, so far as their position is concerned, are impartial as well as independent. The results of this criticism, in fact, determine public opinion, and by public opinion the course of Parliament is ultimately regulated. But the everyday battle of Opposition is carried on in Parliament, and, for a time, the conduct of the parliamentary leaders exercises much influence upon the opinions of their party out-of-doors. Practically, therefore, a minister in a constitutional State has for his judges his personal rivals, as well as his political enemies. Every step which he takes, every word which he utters, is watched by persons who are equally impelled by interest and by feeling, by the prospect of solid advantage, and by the suggestions of spontaneous antipathy, to put the worst construction upon his acts and his language. Suitors for the hand of the same lady, competitors for the same prize, are not likely to be very fair judges of one another's merits; and yet in a Parliamentary Assembly, the character and conduct of the members of the Government, are habitually and professionally judged by their declared
personal rivals. The Opposition leaders constitute the Court of First Instance; from their sentence, which in almost all cases admitting of doubt, is a sentence of condemnation, there is an appeal to the high court of public opinion ; but the Ministers must appear at its bar as appellants, praying that the sentence registered against them by the spokesmen of the Parliamentary Opposition, may be reversed. A Parliamentary Opposition resemble the claimants of a valuable succession, who are to receive it upon some misfeasance of the actual holder, and are themselves the judges of that misfeasance. They are the legatees of a testator whose will they have themselves made in their own favour, and whom they are permitted to strangle in due form of law. Under these circumstances every wellmeaning, honest, and capable Government, in a free country, has a constant and powerful interest in maintaining the freedom of the press, and of discussion at public meetings; and in promoting the activity of the extra-parliamentary organs of opinion. By so doing, they increase the number of their judges who are not interested in condemning their conduct; they throw an additional weight into that scale where they are most likely to
find a fair, unprejudiced, and impartial estimate of their acts; whereas, in proportion as the sentence of the Court of Opposition is final, in the same proportion are they at the mercy of their enemies and rivals,- of the persons whom they have perhaps ejected from office, and who are attempting to eject them from it in turn.
A representative chamber is an admirable institution ; it is by far the best practical solution of the problem of political government, which the wit of man has hitherto been able to devise; but it necessitates the system of party rule, and where this system exists, it is material that the action of the nation upon the chamber should be energetic and constant. The chamber ought to be a heart whose movements correspond with the pulsations at the extremities. Without this sympathy, the representatives run the risk of separating themselves from those whom they represent, and of becoming a distinct oligarchy, with a policy and a system of its own. It is desirable to bring the Opposition, as well as the members of the Government, under the control of public opinion, in order to prevent them from playing a game of their own, at the expense of the national welfare, and to clear from their eyes the mist with which personal interest obscures the vision even of the most clear-sighted. Ultimately the public constitutes itself into a jury to try the question at issue between the Government and the Opposition. It considers them as interested and litigant parties, neither of whom is to be permitted to be judge in his own cause.
For this reason, the reporting of the Parliamentary Debates in the daily press exercises a most important influence upon the character of the debates themselves, and upon the conduct of the speakers. Though formally addressed to the assembly, they are often in reality spoken to the public at large; to a public which does not share in the narrow interests and personal feelings of the chamber itself; and even those speeches, which are designed for the information and conviction of the chamber, are delivered with a consciousness that they are, as it were, overheard by the public out of doors. If the debates of the House of Lords and Commons were now, as in former times, carried on with closed doors, or at least with a strict prohibition of reporting, there would be a much stronger tendency to degenerate into a factious struggle for power between the leaders of opposite parties, with only a partial reference to the public interest. In this manner the invention of printing, combined with the admirable arrangements for accelerating the process of reporting made by modern skill and enterprise, has much facilitated the action of a Parlia
a mentary Government.
The impartiality of Opposition criticism is not only liable to be distorted by interest, it is likewise subject to the corrupting influence of envy. All ambitious men are envious.* The desire of lowering, humbling, mortifying, discrediting, or ruining a successful rival is a perpetual incentive to action in an ambitious man. This is the case even when he is (like Pitt and Fox), ambitious without being vain : but a man who is both ambitious and vain, would, if he were free from envy, be a paragon of human virtue. Envy being a cold passion, which does not betray men into sudden transports of excitement, admits of being concealed, and in politics it is always covered by some pretext of a public nature ; but it is (with its constant associate, the love of detraction,) an active and pervading principle of conduct, and it has, in all free countries, determined the actions of public men to an extent which it is difficult to exaggerate.
Besides the steady promptings of conscious interest, and the more insidious infusions of envy, there is another temptation to which the impartiality of the oppositionist is subject. Accusation is more stimulating than defence: eulogy is flat and uninteresting; whereas grave charges against men in power delivered in a confident tone, or severe censure pronounced with an authoritative air; still more, vehement invective, pointed sarcasm, and brilliant ridicule, will command instant and universal attention from opponents and neutrals, and be received with enthusiastic applause from friends. Praise (snys Tacitus) savours of servility ; but vituperation, though prompted by malice, seems to be the outpouring of honest indignation. Livor et obtrec
• * tatio pronis auribus accipiuntur; quippe adulationi fædum
crimen servitutis, malignitati falsa species libertatis inest.' An authentic anecdote recorded of Sir Philip Francis will illustrate the tendency of the oppositionist in question. A young member of the House of Commons (now a distinguished member of the House of Lords) made a speech, in which he eulogised some person who had taken part in the debate. After he had sat down, Sir Philip Francis lost no time in cautioning him against this dangerous indulgence of candour. 'man,' he said, 'take the advice of an old member: never praise 6 anybody except in odium terti. This counsel was certainly not unworthy of the author of Junius; but it bears witness to the superior pungency of sarcasm and attack, as compared with eulogy and defence. It is likewise easier to attack than to
Nulla ingenia tam prona ad invidiam sunt, quam eorum qui genus ac fortunam suam animis non æquant, quia virtutem et bonum alienum oderunt. (Livy, xxxv. 43.)