23 SEPTEMBER 1882, Page 5


DUMB majorities, guided by instinct rather than reason, are sometimes wiser than the wisest men ; and the conflict which is arising between the French people and. their most prominent leaders may be watched with a historical as well as a political interest. If the leaders are right, the French Republic is in danger ; if the majorities are right, democracy will have evolved, almost without consciousness, an entirely new and most potent form of government. To all human appearance' the majority of Frenchmen have decided that their aggregate Representation, the two-headed Assembly which they use to express their collective will, shall govern France without appeal ; that there shall be no ruling Person, whether called President or Premier ; and no Committee with a recognised right either to an effective initiative, or to a final veto. There shall be no Sovereign of any kind, elective or otherwise, and no Cabinet in any sense that any Constitutional Government has yet sanctioned. The Representatives make and unmake Ministries—hunting always for agents, instead of advisers—dictate policies, foreign, clerical, military, or domestic, for themselves, remodel the bureaucracy, abolish fundamental laws, and interfere at every turn and all day long with the distribution of

patronage. They accept no guidance, adhere to no chiefs, acknowledge no commands. They regard their "Ministers " as servants, and when displeased, dismiss them with a carelessness alike as to consequences and personal feelings which scarcely any Monarch, however de- spotic, has ever ventured to display. Within the last twelve years they have dismissed almost every notable man in France except M. Brisson and M. CWmenceau, and are now not only working through second-rate men, butj intend, it is said, to dismiss them also on the resumption of business, merely for thinking that they are more than clerks. M. Duclerc, we are told, has mortally offended the majority, by threatening to dis- solve unless his Bills are passed. In all this the Representatives are backed by the constituents, who absolutely ref use to interfere, even for favourites, and, so long as the Representatives rule, are content that France should be nominally governed by men whose very names the electors do not know. it is said, and it seems probable, that not one-tenth of the voters know who M. Dueler° is, though he is Premier, and that not five per cent. could give even an approximate list of the names of the new Ministry. Individuals, in fact, have lost for the moment all hold on France, and nothing is powerful except the Assembly, evolved by universal suffrage, and acting as a huge united, yet bisected Corporation.

M. Duclerc, in a letter to a friend, intended, apparently, for publication, affirms that this condition of affairs cannot go on, that " Government " without a solid majority to support the Ministry is impossible ; that, in fact, if one is not formed, the very Republic must go down. That utterance by itself would not, perhaps, matter much, for M. Declare, though an able man, is not a necessary one, and is not credited with any genius for political insight; but then, he is in accord with the ablest politicians alike of France and of Europe at large. The more moderate French leaders, reaching so far down as M. Brisson, notoriously hold this view. M. Olsimenceau, though he would attract his majority rather by acts than opinions, always advises "discipline." M. Gambetta not only believes in a solid majority, but holds it so indispensable, that he broke his career rather than work without such a body behind him, and would have revolutionised the method of election in the effort to obtain one. Prince Bismarck tells his Chamber openly that unless a majority can be formed which shall be permanent, and not composed of shifting groups, he cannot govern with Parliament, and must rule without attend- ing to its votes. The Italian statesmen are so convinced of the necessity, that by a sort of dead-heave, not unaccompanied by veiled menaces, they have carried M. 0 ambetta's proposal, and propose to secure a solid majority through the Scrutin de Lisle, which is now the law of the Peninsula. The Spanish chiefs of both parties, rather than forego the system, pack the Cortes in a way fatal to the true expression of opinion ; and in England we cannot point to a first-class statesman who holds a different view, who does not dread the dissolution of permanent majorities, the rise of shifting groups, in the House of • Commons, or who would consent for a moment that the Ministers should be the more delegates and agents of the Representation. There may be here and there in England a man who has dreamed of a different state of affairs, but in public, at all events, English statesmen are upon this point unanimous. They hold that government through a leaderless, self-guiding, unpunishable Parliament is an impossibility.

Are they csrtainly right ? Be it remembered, the question is

not whether government through an amorphous representative body is the wisest government, but whether it is a possible one ; not whether the Representation in France will govern well, but whether it will govern at all, in any true sense of governing. On the former point, we cannot profess to entertain any serious doubt. It seems to us that a system under which strong men will never govern the Departments of the State, and power is divorced from responsibility, and the men who take the initiative in suggesting policy have nothing to do with carrying it out, can never be a good system. M. Gambetta swaying the Chamber, but not directing the Adminis- tration, seems to us exactly in the position of a despot's favourite, ordering all things, but neither doing anything, nor responsible for anything. He is, in all but the publicity of his advice, the "counsellor behind the throne" who has ruined so many European and Asiatic States. Nor, apart from that radical and almost final objection, can we believe that a huge Council much divided, very emotional, as every crowd is, and in the mass very ignorant, can possibly rule so ably as the winnowed Committee of that Council, selected for varied ability, sitting in secret, and liable to direct and exceedingly unpleasant punishment for any serious blunders, which, under the Cabinet system, exercises power. The unwisdom of the plan is almost patent ; but when we are asked,,as M. Duclerc asks all the world this week, whether it is not an impossible one, we hesitate to reply. Nations so rarely blunder, when they unconsciously adopt new methods of expression. The absence of precedent is not quite so complete as at first appears, and it is not easy to declare straight off either that a crowd cannot govern, or that the kind of crowd must make so enormous a difference. Does election disqualify men for governing ? If it does not, then the Roman Senate is a pre- cedent, and the Roman Senate was a crowd of never less than three hundred, and kept its sovereignty a long while, though changing its Executive as rapidly as France. The Scotch Assemblies,. which are as amorphous as the French Chamber, have governed the Scotch Churches for centuries, not only with vigour and resolution, but with very noteworthy persistence in what may be called their policy. They have no " Ministry " at all. Neither have those elected Councils, the Municipalities of the great European and American cities, which are frequently, highly successful governing bodies. The Birmingham Town Council is a formless body in this sense, and when it decides on any order, its executive agents obey without resign- ing; yet that Coun3i1 is a successful governing body quite as elective as the French Assembly.

Of course, it may be argued that the French Assembly is far more numerous than any Town Council, and is far more weighted with pressing business than any Scotch Assembly, and both arguments are correct ; but then, it is not nearly so numerous or so overpressed with work as that in- formal National Council which we call Public Opinion, which governs many States, and whether we call it wise or unwise, is not always unsuccessful. Certainly, Public Opinion shows no intention either of abdicating or committing suicide. It is• conceivable that we all, being misled by experience of dis- organised crowds, exaggerate the evil effect of numbers in crowds that are organised, and forget that a man can lead two- hundred followers more easily than twenty, because the whims of individuals are so much less important. They are lost in the mass of sentiment. We exaggerate also the possi- ble default of leadership. Clearly, if the French politicians are beaten, and the Assembly continues to govern, which is at least possible, even under Scrutin de Lisle— for the " list ' may be the Assembly's List—the ablest Frenchmen will prefer to govern rather than obey, and seek the lead of groups rather than Ministerial port- folios. They will seek before all things the position which M. Gambetta now holds. There is no absolute reason why, as such leaders, they should not initiate measures, and, in fact, govern, leaving to the Ministers the position which in England is held by the Permanent Under-Secretaries,—men who, what- ever the orders given, faithfully make their execution possible. That such a form of government would be a bad one—that it might lead, for example, to indefinite corruption, each Deputy being quasi-sovereign, yet invisible in the crowd—may be freely conceded ; but we can conceive such a Government lasting for a considerable period of time, and being regarded all over Europe as a very powerful instrument for securing the fruition of Democratic hopes. The Assembly would be Crew, without Camas's ability to resolve quickly ; but then, also without Camas's liability to be put to death.