M. GAMBETT.A'S CONSTITUTION.
THE form of Constitution for France, which a correspondent of the New York Herald ascribes at all events to M. Gambetta, and the conversation in which he is said to have delineated his views, show conclusively, if they be genuine, that M. Gambetta is, as we have always asserted, one of the most Conservative statesmen in France, and by no means one of the most Radical. We do not believe that the Consti- tution would answer its purpose ; we doubt if it would work at all ; and we feel pretty sure it would not succeed in the great object to be aimed at,—the successful embodiment and regulation of popular wishes by statesmen who had the respect and confidence of the country. But whatever be the faults of the scheme, this at least is evident, that M. Gambetta either really is, or at all events sincerely wishes to be thought, or both is and wishes to be thought, one of the most Conservative of progressive statesmen,— a mouthpiece not of the discontented proletariat, but of the Liberal middle-class. The language, if it be genuine, in which he spoke of his relation to the Commune, would alone prove this. "The Communists," he said, " made war upon me in my day of power. During the war they had demonstrations and incipient rebellions at Marseilles and Lyons. But in spite of the troubles that rested upon France, and made any administration of affairs difficult, the Government controlled them easily enough. If the responsibility came again, I should take my precautions. You know, of course, that I am detested by the Commune. I am well aware of it. Were they in power they would shoot me. I was in Spain during the Commune, and I am sure, had I returned, I should have been shot more eagerly and with more satisfaction than the Archbishop of Paris. They have an absurd and astonishing theory that I 21132 in some vray a deserter front their cause. As I have said, as my speeches and every act of my public life show, I am a Conservative. And yet, while the Com- mune call me a deserter, French reactionists regard me as an enemy of all society and order. When I said, for instance, that there were no civil questions in France, that France re- quired political not civil change, I enraged the Communists. Now, what I meant in that much-discussed phrase was, that with political reorganisation in France all the rest, would come naturally ; and yet the Socialists hate me for saying this. I want order and peace, and have no fancy for disorder or chaos." Nothing could prove more explicitly than these words that M. Gambetta courts the reputation of a Conservative-Liberal, and as we believe, because he really is a Conservative-Liberal, without the slightest sympathy with anarchy or any of the revolutionary ideas which aim at a socialistic reconstruction. But the plan of Constitution he sketched out to his interlocu- tor is in its way quite as expressive of his real bias. Its aim evidently,—whether it would attain that aim is quite another matter,—is administrative energy and security. His plan is as follows :—A Legislative Assembly elected for two years only, by universal suffrage, and very much reduced in numbers,—not to exceed, indeed, 400, instead of its present unwieldy number of 750; a President elected every five years by the Assembly, not directly by the people ; a Council of State or Second Chamber consisting of 80 members, not renewed so often as the Assembly,—i.e., holding office for longer periods than two years,—half elected by the Assembly, but not out of the mem- bers of the Assembly, and half nominated by the President. The Assembly M. Gambetta would apparently confine exclusively to its legislative and electoral functions. It would have no power to dismiss the President, once chosen, till his term of five years had. expired. It would have no power at all even to dismiss the President's Ministers, who would have seats in the Council of Eighty, but not seats in the Assembly, and would not even have the right of entering and addressing the Assembly. Apparently the Assembly would not even have the right of renewing the elective part of the Council as often as it was renewed itself. A new Assembly would, for a year or two at least, often have to tolerate a Council the elec- tive half of whose members had been chosen by the preceding Assembly, and not by itself. The Assembly would express the wishes of France, but except by legislation, would have no power to execute those wishes. And even as to legislation we assume that the consent of the Council of Eighty, if not of the President, would be essential. So that the Assembly, under M. Gambetta's scheme, would have much more moral influence than direct power, and might be thwarted at all points for four or five years by the President acting in concert with the Council of Eighty. M. Gambetta would say, no doubt, that the power given to the Assembly of selecting half the Council would ensure a Council in sympathy with the Assembly. But, in the first place, that would apply only to the case of a Council which had been half selected by the existing Assembly, and not to that which had been half selected by the previous Assembly. And in the next place, a President with any ability and the power of
nominating half the Council, would be sure to gain a com- plete command of the majority,—considering that these elec- tions by a popular body must always be made more or less in the dark as to the character of the man chosen, and much more in the dark than the President need be as to the character of his own nominees. When we add that M. Gam- betta proposes to give a great deal of Executive power to this Council,—lo give it the judicial and diplomatic nominations and the more important military nominations, or at all events such a veto on them as the United States' Senate possesses in relation to the official appointments of the American Presi- dent,.—it will be clear enough that what he aims at is not so much a popular form of government, as a strong form of government with popular feeling for its regulative influence rather than for its mainspring,—that, in fact, he would wish to reduce the representative body to an important political influ- ence, instead of giving into its hands the final authority.
The objections to this scheme seem to us exceedingly strong. Our first and gravest objection is that, as all modern history shows, the representative Assembly must attract to itself an ever-increasing share of power, simply because it represents the feeling and will of the nation, and that, there- fore, all true political wisdom should devote itself to temper- ing and improving the tone of its discussions and expressions of feeling, rather than to checking and neutralising from out- side the political forces it may develop. In mechanical applica- tions of steam, the true principle of safety has always been to prevent any dangerous steam-force from getting into the boiler, rather than to clap on external coats of strong metal and counteracting pressure on the sides of the boiler itself, with the view of preventing it from bursting when too great a force of steam is generated there. The latter mode of meet- ing the danger is expensive, cumbrous, and ineffective. It adds far too much to the complexity and weight of the whole machinery ; and it does not answer the purpose, because when once a very high steam-force is generated, the explosive power in- creases so rapidly that no external checks, however cumbrous, will stand the strain ; and when they give way, the very weight of the materials by which you had tried to secure yourself from danger, is so much artillery added to the destructive force of the explosion. Well, so exactly it seems to us to be with attempts to check and counteract from outside the dangerously explosive forces inherent in every truly representative national Assembly. The whole mind of the nation recognises at once that there, if anywhere, is the true expression of the national will ; and if that national will, as so expressed, be continu- ally and systematically thwarted, the violence generated is soon found to be in direct proportion to the elaborateness of the machinery by which it is thwarted. The storm broods, and, when the outbreak comes, the violence and danger are absolutely and very greatly heightened by the apparatus of resisting and controlling forces so carefully prepared. On the other hand, all the composing influences which really act on the representative Assembly itself, act at once, through it, upon the nation ; and it is precisely by availing himself of this principle that M. Thiers has succeeded so well in keeping France quiet. - He has con- trolled the Assembly ; and the subsidence of a storm in the Assembly has ensured the subsidence of the storm in the nation. It is only by giving self-control and self-possession to the representative body of a nation that you can hope to give self-control and self-possession to the nation itself. The nation is only irritated afresh by attempts to override the wishes of ita representative body ; but he who can modify and alter the wishes of its representative body, can exercise a real and powerful influence on the nation itself. We hold, then, M. Gambetta to be making a most serious mistake if he really wishes to separate the Executive Government from the Assembly. The Executive Government must always be in possession of the best and most authentic political knowledge, and also must have the strongest motives for making the principle of authority respected. If any one can show a representative Assembly the true reasons for caution and moderation, it is the Administration actually in possession of power, and to separate it by an impassable gulf from that Assembly, and prevent it from coming to any real understanding with it, seems to be a mere mode of preparing disaster and sowing the seeds of revolution. Such is our most serious and most radical objection to the Con- stitutional plan attributed to .21. Gambetta. It seems to us a plan for mortifying the one body which, plan it how you will, must be the principal and most important body in France. Now we regard it as a matter of the first moment that that
body, instead of being made to feel its chronic impotence and submitted to constant mortification, should be made to feel constantly its grave responsibility, but submitted to all the influences which will persuade it to use that responsibility not rashly but cautiously, for the nation's welfare.
But, in the second place, we should fear very much the scheme of lodging functions so important as M. Gambetta pro- poses in such a body as his Council of Eighty,—a body that would evidently be liable to all those sinister influences which at present, for instance, taint the purity of the American Senate, without being directly responsible or amenable to the people. The irritation felt against a corrupt popular Assembly can always be expressed in a perfectly legitimate and con- stitutional fashion, by turning out the electors suspected of corruption ; and this is a safety-valve for popular irritation which prevents its taking violent forma. But the irritation felt against the corruption of a body which is not to be reached, constitutionally, by the people, is very apt indeed to express itself in revolutionary forms, and this is the form in which we suspect such a Council as M. Ganabetta's would be attacked. The argument against Louis Philippe's curiously restricted suffrage, was that the people could not express their disgust with the parliament of that day, because- they did not elect the parliament, but only saw it elected by
a small minority of their own number. This is at the
moment the objection urged by the Left, and we believe by M. Gambetta, against the proposed limitations of the suffrage through conditions of residence. But the objec- tion, if sound at all,—and we think it is sound,—applies with far more strength to a body such as this proposed Council of Eighty with its very important executive preroga- tives, than it would to any representative Assembly, however restricted its electorate might be.
In a word, we think M. Gambetta's Conservatism begins at the wrong end. He should look not to getting immovable points outside the popular will, whence he might counteract and restrain it, but at organising the best possible persuasions for making the popular will itself cautious, conservative, and firm.