TOPICS OF THE DAY.
SIR C. DILKE AND THE NEW CONSERVATISM.
SIR C. DILKE opened-up a fruitful subject in his speech on Tuesday, in North Kensington, when he remarked that, after the Redistribution Bill has been passed, Conservatism must suffer a very great transformation, and accommodate itself, in some fonm or other, to Democratic aspirations. It is quite certain that it will be as impossible for the Conservatives of the future to cling with any hope of success to the landlord interest, so far as it comes into collision with the interests of the farmers, the labourers, or the people, as it is certain that the Conservatives of the past have been unable to cling to the manufacturers' interest, so far as that has come into collision with the interests of the artisans and the consumers. Conservatives may still incline to prefer a popular view of a land question which is favoured by the leading landlords and farmers, to a still more popular view which is favoured by labourers only. But whatever the view may he which the Conservatives of the future favour, it must be a more or less popular view, and its political chance must eventually depend ultimately on that popularity. This being so, it stands to reason that the new county elections will no longer be fought out on any issue taken between the landlords and farmers on the one side, and the labourers on the other. They will, for the most part, be fought out on some issue between a view popular with a considerable portion of the labouring class and favoured by the landlords and farmers on the one side, and a view preferred by a still larger portion of the labouring class, but discouraged by the landlords and farmers on the other. The key to the new situation will be that both parties will take up the cause of the people, but that the one party will incline to any popular solution which leaves the landlords and farmers the leaders of the labourers, while the other will incline to that popular solution which is preferred by those amongst the labourers who think first for the interest of their own class, and regard as only secondary the advantage that the reform proposed is not disagreeable to the great personages of agricultural life. Of course, it may happen, and will happen, if the landlords as a class are as sagacious as some of them certainly are, that the policy advocated by the richer agricultural classes will sometimes be more welcome to the poorest agricultural class than any rival policy. Where that happens, there will be no division ; but then, where that happens, we may be sure that the Democratic policy will be already victorious. Wherever the richer agricultural classes hope, under whatever disguise, to retain substantial power in their own hands, the poorer classes are quite sure to find exponents who will resist any such attempt. We may be sure that the Conservatism of the future, in the counties no less than in the towns, will be a popular Conservatism, and will favour a policy by which the people expect to gain much, even though there be some other policy by which a considerable number of the people expect to gain even more.
But in what direction will the line of division between Conservatives and Liberals tend to reopen itself, so soon as the great prevailing electoral questions are, once for all, fairly settled in a Democratic sense ? We should expect to find that the new line of division will be very much what it has been in other countries where Democracy has long been established that it will turn upon the question how much power the localities are to retain as against the nation ; how much power the nation is to wield as against the localities. In the United States, of course, as every one knows, the Conservative Party has been the State-Rights Party, while the Liberal Party has been the Federal or, as it has called itself, the Republican Party. The former has advocated a strenuous jealousy of the central power ; the latter, an enlightened !subordination to the central power. There is a real foundation for this in the heart of man. The first Conservatism is local. It resists the invasion of new and strange influences from without by the mere instinctive force of attachment to the usual and the habitual. Liberalism always takes an effort ; it implies a solvent influence exerted by reflection on the instincts bred by circumstance and custom. Hence it is by no means unnatural that Conservatism should take up the local aspect of popular wishes, while Liberalism takes up that aspect of popular wishes which arises when the claims of a larger area, and of conflicting popular desires, are taken fully into account. Well, if this view be more or less true, as we strongly believe, we think Sir Charles Dilke's suggested question as to the aspect of the new Conservatism may be answered in this way :—The very first work of the next Parliament will probably be to give a great Local Government Act to the United Kingdom. In the discussions on that Bill the Conservatives will .probably lean to the side of local power, will be disposed to leave a larger number of questions to the final decision of the local authority, and to embarrass that local authority less with general restraining principles. To give an illustration of what we mean, we should say that Sir Wilfrid Lawson—at least as regards his chief subject, the sale of intoxicating liquors —will probably obtain more support from the Conservatives than from the Liberals for his Local Option, because he will find the new Conservatives more inclined than the new Liberals to leave important questions to the arbitrament of local prepossessions. For the same reason we should expect the Conservatives to be inclined to delegate a greater power to the county governments generally, and to hamper them less by necessary deference to central authority, than the Liberals. The cry of the Liberals will be that you must impose a certain number of common principles on these county governments in order to save them against their own local prepossessions, and to bring them into harmony with the system pursued in England at large. The cry of the Conservatives will be that you must not outrage local feelings and prepossessions simply in order to make all English institutions on the same scientific pattern, in spite of the profound differences in feeling between town and town, county and county.
It may be said, in reply to all this, that the Conservative Party have recently been qua• excellence the National Party ; that, so far from making light of the national position, they have always taken great pride in magnifying the national position, and in insisting that the national will shall be respected. But this apparent objection is in reality part of our case. The Conservatives have always magnified the nation in the face of the rest of the world ; but in the face of the rest of the world, nationalism is localism. Mr. Disraeli used to nickname the Liberals the Cosmopolitan Party, and to claim for the Tories the position of the National Party. But then nationalism bears to cosmopolitanism just the same relation which localism bears to nationalism. It is because the Conservatives think it almost wrong to regard the significance of any other country's wishes when those wishes are in collision with English wishes and prepossessions, that they call themselves the National Party. And it stands to reason that those who emphasise localism of feeling on behalf of England against the world, will also incline to emphasise localism of feeling on behalf of the parish, or the town, or the county against the comparatively colourless judgment of the central Legislature. Conservatism will always, no doubt, lean to the side of national interests where the issue is between our own country and foreign States ; but for the very same reason it will lean to the side of the parish, town, or county where the issue is between the narrower local feeling and the wider. We conjecture with some confidence, looking to the analogies of other Democratic countries, that this is the direction which the new Conservatism will take ; but of Sir Charles Dilke's doctrine that it must take some popular direction, and cannot possibly with any hope remain wedded to caste privileges, there can, we think, be no manner of reasonable doubt.