22 APRIL 1882, Page 4



THE speech which Lord Salisbury delivered at Liverpool on the last day of the Conservative festivities,—the speech, we mean, in which he declared that if his audience would sub- tract from the complete voicelessness with which he began, the voice required to address two public meetings, they would be able to compute the exact numerical value of his voice at that moment,—was, whether audible or not, the best worth hearing of any. In it he laid down the grounds on which he looked with some confidence to the future of Conservatism in England, and though we are by no means agreed with him as to the bearing of the considerations which he put forward, we are entirely agreed with him that all the considerations which he put forward were weighty, and we are agreed also as to the general result that Conservatism in England will always have a great force behind it, and that that force will always be exerted in the direction diametrically opposed to Liberal- ism, whatever form Liberalism may from time to time be compelled to take. In England at least, whatever be the preponderating political creed, there will always be a very strong party which is repelled by that creed, in a great mea- sure because it preponderates. We have heard it said that an electric current running in one direction, always tends to set up in its neighbourhood a parallel electric current running in the opposite direction. Whether that be so or not, there can be no doubt at all that it is absolutely true of political opinion. Even after the great Reform Act, when the Conservative benches seemed almost deserted, while the Liberal benches were so crowded that it was impossible for the parties to be separated by the floor of the House, the principle of action and reaction soon reasserted itself, and restored something very like the usual party equilibrium. So it will always be. Even though the popular party, as it is called, should retain the upper hand for five years out of every six, there will always be enough of involuntary repulsion excited by its creed, to prevent the opposite party from losing hope of a speedy victory. There are always, of Englishmen who wish to turn the scales, a number quite large enough to warn the party in the ascendant,—which- ever party that may be,—that a very little blundering, or even a very little failure in conveying the impression of commanding ability, will suffice to transform the lighter into the heavier scale, whenever the next opportunity occurs. And if this were our only reason,—and it is only one of many reasons for the same conclusion,—we should quite agree with Lord Salisbury that the Conservative Party need never despair of victory, and might, indeed, with but a very moderate accession of skill or fortune, hope to secure it.

But we agree much less with the grounds advanced by Lord Salisbury for the belief that the Conservatives represent a very large amount of national feeling. The first of these grounds is that the great battle of the creeds of Supernaturalism and Naturalism has still to be fought out, and that the friends of the latter creed turn, " as bare matter of fact," to the Liberals for their countenance. We do not, for a moment, deny that the Liberals, having learned the religious mischief and the moral injustice of qualifying political rights by theological tests, do defend, and are likely always to defend, the full privilege of constituencies to choose whom they please as a re- presentative, so long as their representative's general behaviour as a decent citizen has not disqualified him for a seat in the House of Commons. But that is very far indeed from ad- mitting that negative religious opinions find more sympathy from the Liberal party than from the Conservative party. The great literary sceptics have indeed oftenest been Con- servatives. Hobbes, Shaftesbury, Bolingbroke, Gibbon,—and there are a dozen others,—are names quite eminent enough to remind us that in no political age has an utterly solvent creed been at all intolerant of political Conservatism ; indeed, the shoulder-shrugging scepticism of mere culture has a marked affinity with Conservatism, just as the defiant rage of active revolt has a marked affinity, not, indeed, with Liberalism, but with revolution. And to look at recent phases of the two parties only, no one in his senses could doubt that the marvellous influence of Mr. Gladstone is in large part due to his being a man of faith, and not of scepti- cism ; while the Conservatism of Lord Beaconsfield, on the other hand, was rooted in his thoroughgoing scepticism. Moreover, look at the elements of either party. The orthodox Nonconformists are the subaltern officers of the Liberal party, and their strength at least consists in the earnestness of their supernatural beliefs. It is true that high-and-dry clergymen are often the subaltern officers of the Conservative party ; but, then, their anxiety for the " Establishment " would alone be almost sufficient to explain their bias. For though we are far from attributing their Conservatism to self-interest, it is nearly inevitable that a hierarchy whose social rank de- pends in great measure on the conservation of the status qua should almost involuntarily range themselves with Con- servatives. And yet, even among the Clergy, we should say that the most hearty and genuine supernaturalista —those who are supernaturalist in the whole temper and spirit of theirlives—number many more Liberals amongst them, than the jog-trotting, easy-going clergy, to whom supernaturalism is more or less of an accepted tradition. Finally, of genuine sceptics—of people, that is, with suspended judgments, who think that no positive creed as to the invisible world is pos- sible, or, perhaps, desirable,—we should suppose that some ninety per cent. at least are usually Conservatives, and not Liberals.

Again, we cannot agree with Lord Salisbury that one of the encouraging signs for the Conservatives is that they are forced more and more to become the partisans of individual liberty, while leaving to the party of so-called " progress "the advocacy of "equality,"—the French (igalite and fraternit6,—and the ad- vocacy of the right of the great majority of the people to lay down. the law for the action of the minority. It is obvious that what Lord Salisbury is thinking of when he makes this charge, is such matters as compulsory education, compulsory sanitary policies, compulsory vaccination, closure of debate by a majority, and so. forth. But in all these cases, what the Liberals demand is, either the protection of the helpless,—children, for instance, and people exposed to needless danger from which they have absolutely no means of defending themselves if the State will not defend them,. —against the arbitrary selfishness of individuals, or else the safeguarding of the practical self-government of the many against the aggressive verbosity of the few ; and in neither case is there half so much sympathy with true liberty on what is called, the Conservative side, as there is on the Liberal. Compare the individual liberties which the English people en- joy in 1882 with those enjoyed some thirty years ago, and we shall be amazed at their rapid increase. Not merely can hun- dreds of thousands take part in political life who could not then take part in it at all, and not only can they take a secret or an open part (a liberty which we heartily regret) at their own pleasure, but at least a million more of our fellow-citizens have the liberty to educate themselves who never had that liberty before, while scores of careers are thrown open to them which were absolutely closed against them before. Of course ithappens,—and this is, perhaps, what Lord Salisbury v.as thinking of, when he talked of the spreading of State inspection over the whole area of our life, —that in the very process of securing liberties for the many which they never before enjoyed, you necessarily hamper and attenuate the privileges of the few, and so give them the sense of less choice and harsher conditions. We should be quite willing to admit that in a Society packed as closely as ours, it is simply impossible to improve considerably the prospects of the great majority, without prejudicing greatly the prospects of a small minority. That we admit. But we maintain that the Liberal party is still the party which steadily defends the cause of liberty, if, by the cause of liberty, we are to mean the greatest possible liberty for all alike, and not the greatest possible liberty which a small class may enjoy, at the expense of the much greater class beneath. Lord Salis- bury chooses to represent this securing of the liberties of the many, as the desertion of the cause of liberty by Liberals for the sake of equality. But the truth is that the equality for which Liberals contend, that is, the equal opportunity for the exercise of liberty by all,— is liberty for the many, in the truest and greatest sense of the word ; though it cannot for a moment be denied that the extension of the liberties of the many, the increasing liberty of " the dim, common populations," does involve, and in a finite world always must involve, a distinct consciousness of straiter limits, of less mental and physical elbow-room, on the part of that select and privileged class which once kept down those " dim, common populations" under its feet. To our minds, this is all that Lord Salisbury is really railing at, when he complains of Liberalism for taking up with "authoritative Democracy ;" and we are rather surprised, of ter reading his speech of the previous day on the growing necessity for checking the House of Commons, either by the House of Lords, or by con- stant appeals to the people,—annual or triennial Parliaments

were what he suggested,—that he should have accused the Liberals specially of approving "authoritative Democracy." So far as we understand the present attitude of the Tory leaders, the very thing they desire to see is " authoritative Democracy," if it could but be persuaded to exert itself on the Conservative side. They cry out against caucuses, only because, in the unbroken discip- line of the Tory party, they have the advantage of the very best caucus in the world, without its name. They talk of Conservatives defending the liberty of individuals, when they mean only defending the liberty of Liberals to turn Conservative, without suffering for it, and the liberty of Con- servatives to talk out Liberal measures, without suffering for it, or finally, the liberty of the House of Lords to defy the re- presentatives of the people, without suffering for it. But none of these are liberties which any true Liberal can claim.