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In Richelieu's opinion, as in that of Prince Bismarck, the worst ministers are brilliant and dazzling men, lacking thoroughness, and men of book-learning and of preconceived notions, doctrinaires. Unfortunately, men of these two types easily impose upon the masses. Hence they are usually found in democratic Cabinets. Richelieu thought it most important that Ministers should possess that quiet modesty which is always found in men who thoroughly know their business, in great experts. He wished that Ministers should devote their activities entirely to their office, concentrating all their thoughts and ambitions upon their departments. He thought that the Council of Ministers should be small obviously because only a small council can deliberate in secret and can decide rapidly. He advised that the Cabinet should consist of no more than four men, that one of the four should be given authority above the remaining three, and that these three Ministers should not be the equals of the principal Minister but his assistants, his subordinates. Particular attention should be paid to the fact that Richelieu attached the very highest value to the subordination of the Ministers to a principal Minister, and that he condemned emphatically a Cabinet of Ministers possessing, at least nominally, equal authority such as those who form the British Cabinet. In Richelieu's words: There is nothing more dangerous to a State than to entrust its administration and government to a number of men enjoying equal power and authority.' His arguments in favour of concentrating all ministerial responsibility into the hands of a single presiding and directing Minister are unanswerable. Lastly, Richelieu recommended that the position of principal Minister should be entrusted only to a man most eminent both in ability and in personal character, and that, if possible, a popular man should be chosen. The ideal Prime Minister and his ministerial assistants should not be overburdened with work, but should have sufficient leisure to be able to think ahead, and to prepare for the future, for otherwise he would be worn out with labour, and, being too much occupied with current affairs, would be surprised by the march of events. It will be noticed that government by means of a Cabinet, as practised in this country, is in every particular diametrically opposed to the form of national organisation which the great Cardinal described as the most perfect and the most efficient.
Richelieu lived three centuries ago. Nevertheless, the broad principles of efficient government expounded by him have not been superseded. Experience has proved their worth. Let us now trace the development of modern national organisation in the best organised State, in Germany.
Brandenburg-Prussia has had the rare good fortune of having possessed some most highly gifted rulers endowed with administrative genius and ability of the highest kind : Frederick William the Great Elector, who ruled from 1640 to 1688, Frederick William the First, who ruled from 1713 to 1740, and Frederick the Great who ruled from 1740 to 1786. These three sovereigns, who together ruled during no less than 121 years, raised Brandenburg-Prussia by their personal labours from insignificance to the rank of a prosperous Great Power. They governed the country in person, and directed and controlled themselves the whole administration. They presided over the ministerial councils, heard and weighed the opinions of their counsellors, and then decided. They established the tradition that the ruler of Prussia is his own Prime Minister, a doctrine to which Richelieu was strongly opposed. Capable rulers were followed by lamentably incapable ones. The personal misgovernment of Frederick William the Second and Frederick William the Third brought about Prussia's decline and downfall.
The Napoleonic War had ended in the triumph of Great Britain. At the peace England was richer and more powerful than she was when the war began. Her prestige in Europe was unlimited. All nations desired to copy her political institutions and her economic policy. The British Government was carried on by a Cabinet of jointly responsible Ministers, presided over by a Prime Minister. It was, therefore, only natural that Prussia, in reorganising the country, created a Cabinet of jointly responsible Ministers presided over by a Prime Minister. However, there was a profound difference between the two Cabinets. The Prussian Prime Minister was to be the King's Manager. Bismarck stated on January 24, 1882 :
In Prussia the King himself governs. The ministers may put on paper the orders which the King has given, but they do not govern. In the words of the Prussian Constitution, ' The King alone possesses the power of the executive.' Cabinet Ministers are not mentioned in that document.
The Prussian Ministers are the King's servants, not the country's.
The great characteristic of Bismarck was his clear critical faculty. He refused to believe that a form of government or an economic policy was best because it existed in England. He thought government by means of a jointly responsible Cabinet an evil, even if it were directed, or presided over, by the King who was able to order the Ministers whom he had appointed to do this or that, whether they approved or disapproved. He shared Richelieu's opinion that there is nothing more dangerous to a State than to entrust its administration and government to a number of men enjoying equal power and authority.' He considered that joint responsibility meant irresponsibility, friction, delay, inefficiency. Therefore, when he created in 1866 the North German Federation, the forerunner of the German Empire, he concentrated all power into the hands of a single principal Minister, giving him sole responsibility and making the other Ministers his subordinates. This organisation was later on taken over by the German Empire. The Empire has only a single responsible Minister, the Imperial Chancellor, and the subordination of his ministerial assistants has been emphasised in their very title. While Prussia has a number of Ministers and a Prime Minister the
German Empire has a Chancellor supported by a number of Secretaries of State.'
As the German Liberals, who loudly advocated Free Trade and Cabinet Government 'as in England
as in England' for the North German Federation and the German Empire, were opposed to the absolute supremacy of a single Minister, Bismarck had to defend this form of government on numerous occasions. He stated, for instance, in the Reichstag of the North German Federation, on April 16, 1869 :
A strong, active, and progressive Government is required. Yet it is desired that for every decision several Ministers of equal authority should be responsible. It is believed that by their appointment all the evils of this world may be cured. A man who has been at the head of a Cabinet and who has been forced to form decisions on his own responsibility is not afraid to act, though he alone is responsible, but he shrinks from the necessity of convincing seven people that his measures are really the best. That task is more difficult than that of governing a State. All members of a Cabinet have an honest and firm conviction. The more honest and the more capable Ministers are, the more difficult they will find it to give way to any other man. Every one of the Ministers is surrounded by a number of pugnacious permanent officials, who also have convictions of their own. In any case it is difficult to convince a man. One persuades a man occasionally, or gains him over through courtesy, but one has to do this seven times. I am firmly convinced, and my opinion has been created by practical experience, that government by means of a Cabinet, by means of a board, is a constitutional error and mistake which every State should endeavour to get rid of as soon as possible. I would not lend a hand to impose that mistaken institution of a Cabinet upon the North German Federation. I believe that Prussia would make an immense step forward if she would adopt the principle of the North German Federation, according to which only a single Minister is responsible.
Responsibility is possible only in the case of a single individual who in his person can be held responsible for his action. If the same individual is member of a Cabinet, he
may answer that he has been outvoted by his colleagues, or he may say that the opposition he experienced made his intended measures impracticable, that a bill he intended to bring in has been delayed for seven years because seven honest men could not agree on its text. Besides, in every board discussion the moment arrives at last when the decision has to be left to chance, to the toss of a coin.
He said in the Reichstag on December 1, 1874 :
What guarantee of moral responsibility have you in the case of any institution unless responsibility is borne by a single person? Absolutely none. Who is responsible in a Cabinet, consisting of eight or ten independent Ministers, none of whom can take an important measure unless the majority of his colleagues support it? Who is responsible for the resolutions of a parliamentary majority? It is clear that it cannot be sought for in any individual, because in the case of a majority vote everybody is entitled to say that he was not in favour of the measure taken, but that others were opposed to him. ...
I believe that national affairs can be conducted in a spirit of unity only if the Government is presided over by a man who is able to give orders. I should, of course, raise difficulties to myself if I should frivolously or too easily make use of that power. On the other hand, the ability to give orders is a weapon, the possession of which is known to all, and therefore it becomes rarely necessary to use it.
He stated in the Reichstag on November 22, 1875:
The position of a Prime Minister of Prussia is ungrateful because of his powerlessness. One can be responsible only for that which one does with one's own free will. A board is irresponsible, for later on it is impossible to discover the men who formed the majority which passed this or that measure. Joint responsibility is a fiction. It may be very convenient to leave resolutions to a Cabinet and to say the Cabinet has resolved to do this or that. However, if you inquire how the resolution was arrived at, every Minister will shrug his shoulders and tell a different tale, for if there has been failure no one cares to assume responsibility.