WHY WE DEMAND REFORM.
UR. LOWE and the party of reaction, in all their dealings with Reform, proceed on two fundamentally false assumptions. They assume that the only end of representa- tive institutions is to produce a good governing body, and that the House of Commons fulfils every function which that body could perform. In the interest of all moderate Liberals, of all Liberals, that is, who deprecate class ascendancy, whether the class in the ascendant wear ermine or corduroy, we deny both propositions. The object of every wise system of representa- tion is not single but twofold ; first, to gather together from out the nation the best governing body the nation can produce, and secondly, to ensure a cordial accord, a sensitive, living, respon- sive accord, between that body and the people it represents. This second function of any House of Commons is as impor- tant as the first, is, as it were, the basis of the first ; and it is this which Mr. Lowe and his followers consistently ignore. They refuse to see that if free government has any meaning it means government by the people as well as for the people, that the rule of a class, even if it be the wisest class, is always in principle, and usually in working, as tyrannical as that of a monarch or an army. A monarch may be, and often is, much wiser than his people, an oligarchy has repeatedly proved itself one of the most competent of governments, and the sway of the middle class has in England been just and stable beyond all precedent. But the essence of genuine political freedom is that the nation shall govern itself, that every class, and interest, and want, and variety of thought, and difference of culture, and modification of feeling shall have its " representa- tion," that is, its full influence on the control of the national organism and development of the national life, its share in that right of initiating and guiding the collective action of a people which in Europe is meant by power. So long as this is denied to any class, so long as it is ruled either from above or below without free will of its own, that class is oppressed just as much as if it were governed by divine right, or brute force, or the combination of both which has passed for the last fourteen years under the name of Ca3sarism. The com- parative wisdom of rulers and ruled has little to do with the matter. The basis of argument—which must be admitted unless free government is itself attacked—is that any people educated enough to understand what it wants, can state and fulfil its own wants better than any out- sider, however wise or however well intentioned. The English people, for example, is rather a stupid people, inapt to embrace ideas, heavy in movement, singularly deficient in the faculty of organization, yet it has on the whole managed its own affairs better than peoples managed either by a family like the Austrians, or by a caste like the people of Rome. What is true of the whole people is true of every class within it,— the middle class, for example, securing its own interests more completely and more wisely than the ablest monarch could have secured them, or than the aristocracy who ruled up to 1832 did secure them. Mr. Lowe talks with ill-concealed scorn of beer-shop keepers, and no doubt beer-shop keepers are not very nice people, are usually, if we may judge from their organ, exceedingly silly people. They furnish perhaps the most extreme case which could be quoted, and as such we accept them, and affirm that they who collect a revenue equal to the whole interest on the National Debt have a right to representation, and securing it will, and do, legislate for their own interests better than Mr. Lowe would legislate for them. The perfection of their knowledge of their own affairs compensates for the imperfection of their wisdom. And one reason at least for this paradox is self-evident, for wisdom, and experience, and moderation, and all the qualities Mr. Lowe is so fond of attributing to ten-pounders, are all in- operative without force ; and it is just that force, that link between the wants of the class and the fulfilment of those wants, which representation supplies. Country gentlemen -know no doubt what- is good for country labourers, but if country labourers seated members, the link between that know- ledge and the action which ought to follow it would be indefinitely stronger. Till every class is represented, the representative body is imperfect, and when the class excluded is the one which does the whole work of the country, which fills its armies, builds its ships, mans its navy, constructs its cities, and tills its soil, it is imperfect beyond endurance. No doubt the-workmen have more votes than it was believed they had, but votes are not representation—are not, except when they amount to a majority, the means of representation. The class is practically excluded from all but three or four seats, and is therefore deprived of that share of power essential to true freedom, and therefore, as all Englishmen believe, Mr. Lowe • probably included, to permanent well-being. That freedom— the excluded class possessing all physical power—must in the end be conceded, and it ought to be conceded now, before the aggrieved, stirred by some surge of emotion, become aware that the nation is not represented, and assert—say through an abso- lute refusal to enlist—that the nation shall be supreme, and that the nation means only its numerical majority.
But, says Mr. Lowe, the House of Commons is perfect, and any alteration must deteriorate it ; and Mr. foreman re- peats the sentiment in language which, when an American uses it about his Constitution, seems, and justly seems, so ineffably ridiculous. There is not, follows Mr. Laing, more• precise than his colleagues and as unscrupulous, " a single practical abuse to be removed." Suppose we admit a state- ment, which, in the face of the official admission that one-fifth of the people have not enough to eat, sounds a little like a mockery, and what then? Is the removal of patent abuses the only work of a nation ? Are we always to be clearing sites and never to build Is there no work to be done, no progress to be attempted ? Too many of the middle class, we are aware, weary with thirty years of wise exer- tion, lulled by the comfort that exertion has produced, cheered by the intellectual activity which for them it has developed, exulting in the freedom which for them it has so perfectly won, will answer in the negative. But the truth visible to all men who can look beyond the surface of politics is, that this content has in it much of feebleness, that the House of Commons lacks force and Spirit to deal with the great questions before it, that an infusion of new blood is essential to prevent it from becoming effete. The House of Commons perfect I Why it is afraid of the smallest tasks, barely able to cope with the gas companies of London, afraid to attack a duke, helplessly unable to arrange for the government of its own metropolis.. It shrinks back from every question which demands energy for its settlement with a feebleness which suggests to some minds that the nation itself is feeble, to others that statesmanship is paralyzed, to others, among whom is Mr. Disraeli, that the middle class is " ex- hausted." The House of Commons, seeing that city life in England must be rearranged, stretches its hand only to depre- cate the effort; acknowledging that Ireland must be conciliated, looks only to her depopulation ; believing absolutely that the Church must be made more wide, shivers at the idea of ecclesiastical reform. It had a navy to reorganize, and could only pull out its purse ; has an army to refill, and talks wearily of terms of service ; is called on for a foreign policy., and falls back.on a.resolve that out of England the Devil and the Deity must be- allowed to fight it out. The House of Commons. perfect! Why it has not the energy, while believing that democracy cannot be averted; to educate the people whose ignorance it fears ; to secure that the numerical majority whose opinion it so dreads shall•at least have in the future the means of forming one. The claim of a- great man to be great consists in what he founds, the highest epithet which can be written on his tomb is the single word "Fundator." What is the House of Commons founding or about to found ? Even the work it acknowledges to be its own, that of sweeping away restrictions and impediments, has been done most imper- fectly. It has abolished every vestige of obstacle to the locomotion of its constituents, but till yesterday left the labourer tied to the soil by law, and the artizart at the mercy of the railways. It has swept away every form of cruelty save that which only the pauper feels. It has abolished all privileges against the law, save that under which the labourer is imprisoned for breach of contract, and the employer only fined. It has given all civil office as a prize. to be fought for by the educated, but left privates with only the chance, and seamen without the possibility, of a complete career. It has cleared away every impediment which stood_ between the greengrocer and cheap civil justice, and left the agricultural population at the mercy of accidental magistrates. The House of Commons perfect 1 Why the men who assert- the proposition assert also that four-fifths of the people of England, the people for whom it- exists, and by whom it- is. sustained, are drinking profligates, too ignorant, too vicious, and too sordid to be trusted with political power. And the one great Republican among us who dares face the middle- class in its angriest and most Philistine mood, who had the courage to denounce a just war for which they were ready to spare their sons, is himself compelled to acknowledge that he asks no suffrage for the agriculturists, to admit sadlythat they are below even the democratic standard. The men who till the soil of the country are below the possibility of political trust, and the House of Commons cheer the orators who tell them their duty has been so done that any change must be deterio- ration. It is enough to make men who dislike democracy as cordially as we do, wish that the spectre members are always fearing were really among them for one night, to tell the House, in tones which would dispel even its listless optimism, that. there is work to be done beside which its habitual daily task is as embroidery to the labour of the forge. The House of Commons at this moment is one of the most imperfect bodies- in the world,—wanting in energy, in grasp, in the rough force by which alone great undertakings are accomplished, consider- ing, and hesitating, and doubting till men sigh in impatient scorn for " a few hours of despotism." And all the while it is absolute,—absolute as a deity, absolute beyond Napoleon's. dream of his own function, the one irresistible entity which is beyond even the final restraint of the dagger and the bowl. And it is thus wanting because it fails to represent the nation, because the exquisite mechanism about which the member- for Lord Lansdowne's study talked so well lacks the "strong popular spring. The persistence of the aristocracy, the business sense of the middle class, the useful conservatism of the landowner, the softening culture of the Universities, even the brave audacity of the English sportsman the House df Commons represents, and represents well ; but the rough popular force, the infinitely multiform power of action which lives only in the working multitude,—this, the agent of all other excellencies, it does not represent. It is because it does not, because, too, we believe that a country belongs to the: people in it, that we plead for a Reform Bill which, while refus- ing dominance to any class, to the handicraftsman as much as to the foxhunter, will once more connect the works of- the nation with a new and stronger spring.