« AnteriorContinuar »
be expected to possess much of the latter.' About the same time Thucydides stated in his history: It is the custom of mankind, even where their own country is concerned, to acquiesce with complacent credulity in the traditions of former ages without subjecting them to the test of critical examination.' Flattery and misplaced admiration are far more dangerous than honest hostility. The British Constitution has suffered more from its friends than from its enemies. It has been dealt with in innumerable books, but unfortunately most of these are written in a spirit of blind and uncritical admiration. Besides, practically all who have written on the British Constitution treat it as if it were an ancient Gothic cathedral or some other venerable relic of the past. They look upon it with awe from the point of view of the antiquary, the historian, the artist, and true believer. They do not recognise that a constitution is in the first place not a work of art, but an instrument of government. They describe to us in full detail its ancient history, the gradual changes it has undergone, its Gothic intricacies and irregularities, and its present aspects, but they fail as a rule to inquire whether it answers its practical purposes. Walter Bagehot, one of the very few men who endeavoured to consider it from the practical point of view, wrote in his book 'The English Constitution':
The characteristic merit of the English Constitution is that its dignified parts are very complicated and somewhat imposing, very old and rather venerable; while its efficient part, at least when in great and critical action, is decidedly simple and rather modern. We have made, or rather stumbled, on a constitution which—though full of every species of incidental defect, though of the worst workmanship in all out-of-the-way matters of any constitution in the world -yet has two capital merits: it contains a simple efficient part which, on occasion and when wanted, can work more simply and easily, and better, than any instrument of government that has yet been tried; and it contains likewise
historical, complex, august, theatrical parts which it has inherited from a long past-which take the multitudewhich guide by an insensible but an omnipotent influence the associations of its subjects. Its essence is strong with the strength of modern simplicity; its exterior is august with the Gothic grandeur of a more imposing age.
In view of the experience of the World War, or, indeed, of any great war in which this country has been engaged, Bagehot's emphatic assertion that the English Constitution ' in great and critical action is decidedly simple and rather modern,' that when wanted it can work more simply and easily, and better, than any instrument of government that has yet been tried,' can only be described as a ludicrous travesty and perversion of fact. Unfortunately his view is representative of that of most constitutional writers.
Statesmanship is not an abstract science, not a science based upon theory, but an eminently practical science, a science which is based on experience. A serious disease should not be subjected to empiric treatment. A wise physician will carefully diagnose the case submitted to him before considering the remedy. Let us then consult some of the greatest and wisest statesmen of all times. Their opinions, which are based on unrivalled experience, will provide us with invaluable guidance, and the importance of the views given in the following pages will be greatly enhanced by the fact that most of them will be new to British readers.
Aristotle, the friend and teacher of Alexander the Great, whose book' Politics' should be read by every statesman and politician, wrote: An error in the original structure of government often proves ruinous both to republics and to aristocracies,' The ancient Greeks had much experience of the practical working of democracy. They saw their democracies first assailed by the military obligarchy of Sparta and then destroyed by the Macedonian autocracy under King Philip. Their greatest thinkers believed that their
downfall was due not to the chance of war, but to 'a fatal error in the original constitution of their government.' They believed that democracy was, owing to its very nature, a less efficient form of government than monarchy. Aristotle wrote in his book Politics':
That which is a common concern to all is very generally neglected. The energies of man are stimulated by that which depends on himself alone, and of which he only is to reap the whole profit or glory. In concerns common to him with others, he employs with reluctance as much attention and activity as his own interest requires. He neglects that of which he thinks other men will take care, and as other men prove equally negligent, the general interest is universally abandoned. Those families are commonly the worst served in which the domestics are the most
Isocrates, one of the greatest Greek orator-statesmen, whose works are very little known, wrote in his Third Oration':
Democracies honour those who by delusive eloquence govern the multitude, but monarchies those who are most capable in managing the affairs of the nation. Monarchies surpass democratic governments not only in the ordinary routine of administration, but especially in war, for monarchies are more able than are democracies to raise troops, to use them to advantage, to arm in secret, to make military demonstrations, to win over some neighbours, and to overawe others.
All are acquainted with the military events which brought about the downfall of Athens, the wealthiest and most powerful Greek republic, whose fleet ruled the sea, but few know its hidden causes. In the second century before Christ the Greco-Roman Polybius, the most statesman-like historian of antiquity, who was not only a great writer, but a diplomat and general as well, and who wrote history from the point of view of the statesman, stated that Athens fell
because a change in her constitution had deprived her of a single head. He wrote:
Athens, having been raised by the ability of Themistocles to the greatest height of power and glory, shortly afterwards sank into weakness and disgrace. The cause of this sudden change lay in the inappropriate constitution of the Government, for the Athenian State was like a ship without a captain.
His views are confirmed by Thucydides, a contemporary of Pericles, who was an eye-witness of the decline and fall of Athens. Writing in the fourth century before Christ, he tells us that in the time of Pericles, Athens, though a republic in name, was, owing to the great prestige of Pericles, a monarchy in fact, and that her greatness declined when, after his death, the State became a true democracy and a prey to party-political strife. He wrote:
Pericles, a man of acknowledged worth and ability, whose integrity was undoubtedly proof against corruption, kept the people in order by gentle management, and was not directed by them, but was their principal director. He had not wormed himself into power by dubious methods. Therefore he was not obliged to soothe and praise their caprices, but could oppose and disregard their anger with peculiar dignity. Whenever he saw them bent on projects injurious or unreasonable, he terrified them so much by the force of his eloquence that he made them tremble and desist, and when they were disquieted by groundless apprehensions, he animated them afresh into brave resolution. The State, under him, though called a democracy, was in fact a monarchy. His successors were more on a level with one another, and as every one of them aspired to be their leader, they were forced to cajole the people, and so to neglect the concerns of the public. This was the source of many grievous errors of statesmanship, as must unavoidably be the case in any great community which is possessed of large dominions.
Pericles had introduced the pernicious system of con
verting into an object of gain those services rendered to the nation which formerly were rendered gratuitously and which had been considered a trust and an honour. He died, and politicians desirous of power endeavoured to obtain it by cajoling, flattering, and bribing the masses, by outbidding and by attacking one another. Aristotle has told us in his book, 'Politics':
Pericles, by granting fees to the judges and jurymen, and converting a matter of duty into an object of gain, still further debased the composition, and increased the tyranny, of the Athenian tribunals. What Pericles had left imperfect, succeeding demagogues supplied. One democratical regulation followed another, until the government assumed its present form, or rather its present deformity.
Henceforth domestic politics monopolised public attention in Athens. Politicians anxious for power, for votes, filled the ears of the people with promises and with mutual denunciations, and in the heat and passion of the faction fight the national interests were completely neglected. Thucydides informs us :
Engaged in contests for power, the Athenians did not pay sufficient attention to the army abroad and were embroiled in mutual altercations at home. . . . They would not have been conquered, had not their own domestic feuds at last utterly disabled them from resisting their enemies.
Men strongly divided with regard to domestic politics and goaded to passion against one another by their leaders will not easily bury their feuds and act in common if united action is urgently wanted to preserve the State from destruction. Besides men who have become used to hear all sides cannot in any case decide quickly. If opinions differ, influence necessarily takes the place of reason, and if the opposing parties cannot unite on energetic action, a weak, and probably foolish, middle course, acceptable to both parties will be adopted after infinite procrastination and delay. Machiavelli, who, as Secretary of State to the