Typos p. 172: succint [= succinct]; p. 173: subsersive [= subversive]; p. 175: tonsilitis [= tonsillitis]; p. 194: fourty [= forty]
Religion and the Constitution
Certainly the lesson of the Middle Ages was to the effect that Church and State were only too frequently in conflict, and unless a European monarch had either come to an agreement with Rome, or had, like the aristocratic rulers of Venice, wisely insisted on controlling ecclesiastical affairs in his own state, his authority was never secure. At any moment the Church, as the spiritual and moral guide of Christendom, might intervene, and champion the cause either of his subjects or of his enemies, against him, and entirely paralyse his government. Thus, to many writers, among whom is Palgrave, the Church is believed to have been "the corner-stone" even of English liberty, by the support which it gave to the people, probably only in its own interest, against the power of the ruling authorities. 2 A recent writer, the Rt. Hon. J. M. Robertson, speaks of the Church as representing "a special source of strife", because it is "a state within the State" 3; and when we remember that the Christian religion, unlike the Jewish, the Greek, the Egyptian and the Roman, is an international or Catholic religion, aiming at universality,
1 The Prince. Chapter III.
2 See his History of the Anglo-Saxons. Chapter III.
3 An Introduction to English Politics, p. 400.
It may seem absurd and pathetically feeble, according to our modern notions, that the Jews and the Egyptians should in their conflicts have appealed to their respective deities for help and succour. But we should remember that the spectacle of the Germans and the English, each claiming that the same God was on their particular side in the Great War, would have seemed equally ridiculous and feeble to the ancient Jews and Egyptians. From the standpoint of nationality, therefore, Christianity, like high finance, is a disturbing force, because it is an international force. And the only way, on the temporal side, to deal satisfactorily with it and the Church which organised it, was either to master its local representatives as the Venetians did, or else to establish a private national branch of it as Henry VIII did.
It may be true, as Cobbett pointed out, that the principal motives of the Reformation in England were greed and wealth-seeking, 1 and certainly in his
1 In writing on this subject he says that the chief motive was "plunder". (See Vol. II of his History of the Reformation in England, published in London in 1829. Introduction.)
At all events, in spite of Henry's and Elizabeth's
1 See A History of the Tory Party, 16401714, by Keith Feiling (Oxford, 1924), pp. 2425: "The Tudors launched their Reformation not according to the pure word of God, or at the inspiration of a Luther, but rather by piecemeal legislation, by preserving all they could of Rome except Roman hegemony, and by binding to this remodelled system their subjects' material interests and their national pride." Only one objection may be raised to this view of Mr. Feiling's, and that is, that the expression, "subjects' material interests", is equivocal. If it means the interests of the most powerful subjects, it is true. If, however, it means the whole nation subject to the monarch it is most decidedly misleading; for the mass of the people did not find their best interests secured by the breach with Rome.
The Tories, as hereditary supporters of the Crown and Church, were, therefore, from the beginning, saddled with a religious institution which, from the standpoint of the Tory belief in authority, subordination and order, was a pure anomaly. While it spent much energy and created much opposition by making rules and establishing doctrine, the source of all strength in religious and every other kind of regulation Authority had been sacrificed by its own deed of separation; and this was to have the most unexpected consequences.
The Lollards and early reformers had been persecuted because it was recognised that their destructive doctrines menaced not only the faith, but also the social order of the nation. 1 They believed in the Bible as the infallible guide to all necessary truth, and would not acknowledge that the right of interpreting it
1 A History of the Church of England (edited by the Very Rev. W. R. W. Stephens, D.D., F.S.A., and the Rev. William Hunt, M.A.). Vol. II, p. 60.
It is obvious, however, that this alleged right of private judgment is a most anarchical doctrine, subversive of all authority and order, and a prescription guaranteeing to incite megalomania all round. Up to the very moment when Henry VIII, by defying the
1 A History of the Church of England. Vol. II, p. 60.
2 A Treatise Touching the Libertie of a Christian, by Martyne Luther (translated from the Latin by James Bell, 1579. Edited by W. Bengo' Collyer, 1817), p. 17.
3 Ibid. p. 31.
4 Collected Writings (A. and C. Black, Vol. VIII, p. 257).
The fact that the anarchical principle of the right of private judgment forms the basis of all the Reformed Churches, is unfortunate from the point of view of the Tory and Conservative position. For while it is quite clear that as a claim it cannot remain confined to religious questions indeed, seeing that it is allowed in religious questions, which are the most important of all, why should it not spread to questions of lesser import, such as politics, ethics, æsthetics, etc.? it must soon become a disruptive and subsersive influence in national life. 3 The ignorant dolt who claims
1 See Lollaray and the Reformation in England. By John Gairdner, C.B. Vol. I, p. 5. "It was only after an able and despotic King had proved himself stronger than the spiritual power of Rome that the people of England were divorced from the Roman allegiance; and there is abundant evidence that they were divorced from it at first against their will. . . . It was a contest, not of the English people, but of the King and his Government, with Rome."
2 A History of the Church of England. Vol. IV, pp. 6061.
3 Nor do Protestants need to seek very far for a justification of this extension of the right of private judgment to other matters. They need only turn to the scriptures which are their guide. In I Corinthians vi. 2, St. Paul says: "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?" No Protestant who was allowed by his Church to learn this inflammatory doctrine ever doubted that he could judge the smallest matters. And St. Paul
Now the national Church of England, which the Tories and Conservatives have always made it their special duty to support and protect, reveals by the very state of wild disorder in its own house, how vicious is the principle on which its schismatic position is based. No two bishops insist on the same dogmas, or profess the same doctrine; and the three hundred and sixty-five dissenting bodies, which, by exercising the right of private judgment in metaphysical and ritualistic matters, have severed themselves from the English branch of the Reformed Church, are only a further proof of the extreme chaos to which the lack of authority and the exaltation of private opinion have led. 1
But all this confusion was inevitable. It would have been, and indeed was, accurately foretold by everyone who, from the beginning, assessed the absurd principle of the right of private judgment at its proper value. And the fact that this principle now occupies a central position in the national ideology,
proceeds: "Know ye not that ye shall judge angels? How much more things that pertain to this life?" There is no limit to the arrogance to which this kind of thing may lead.
1 As A. W. Benn very properly remarks in Modern England (Vol. I, p. 66), in speaking of the Church at the beginning of the nineteenth century. "The Church of England, while remaining nominally orthodox, had in practice become a teacher of what amounted to little more than a purely ethical religion, insisting on no dogmas beyond a personal God, and a future life as sanctions of morality."
The fact that decay, not only of institutions, but also of the national physique, is inevitable, where every nobody can assert his judgment as if he were somebody, I have shown with sufficient detail elsewhere. 1 It follows from the fact that since the majority have not the sound taste to distinguish mere disintegrative change from progress, majority rule must mean disintegration. But. majority rule is implicit in the right of private judgment.
As I have said, for a political party like that of English Conservatism, which professes to be the upholder of authority, subordination and order, it was unfortunate that the national Church should not
1 See my Defence of Aristocracy, where the lethal effect of Democracy on the life of the nation is an essential part of my thesis.
Thus, although it is easy to understand those historians who think Charles II foolish for having clung to Catholicism all his life, and James II and the Pretender quixotic for having lost a throne on account of it for, as they are fond of pointing out, Catholicism always introduced a foreign authority frequently in conflict with the King's it is impossible not to sympathise with Charles II's view, that Catholicism was after all more compatible than Prostestanism with authority in general, if only owing to the fact that it does not admit the right of private judgment nearly as fully as Protestantism does. 1
When we remember that, in addition, many Christian doctrines and valuations, when once they are divorced from the firm and orderly framework of Catholicism and the rest of the Church's teaching, become susceptible of being used for revolutionary purposes such doctrines and valuations as the equality of men; the hostility to riches; the desirability of "unselfishness"; the virtuousness of sacrificing the greater to the less; the notion that there is such a thing as a universal and immanent justice (which in the popular mind appears to be violated when one child is born in a slum and another in Park Lane);
1 In his interesting Essay on Private Judgment (Essays, Critical and Historical, Vol. II, XIV), Cardinal Newman restricts the principle very definitely to the right of selecting a guide or a teacher.
Those anti-Christian and atheistic writers who, while they enthusiastically support and plead the cause either of extreme Liberalism or Socialism, nevertheless miss no opportunity of reviling the clergy and the Church of England, are yet apt to forget how much their cause owes to the steady inculcation upon the masses, by Protestantism and its representatives in England, of the doctrines above mentioned, plus the right of private judgment. And if now they find a ready, almost instinctive response to the subversive cries they so frequently raise, it is to four centuries of Chadband theology that they are indebted. It is no reply to this to point to the extreme Toryism of the Church of England, and to the obscurantism of religious bodies in general. It does not follow, as Mr. Arthur Ponsonby points out, 1 that because the Bishops are too inconsistent to exhort their lay brethren in the Upper House to sell all they have and give to the poor, those whom the Bishops and their clergy are responsible for teaching will therefore be equally inconsistent. And the fact remains that, while we acknowledge the Toryism of the Church as a fact, we still believe that the atheistic and anti-clerical preachers of extreme Liberal and Socialistic ideas are insufficiently grateful to Protestantism for the spade-work it has done for them in establishing their ideology in the minds of the people.
1 See his Religion and Politics.
1 As a single instance of this, let us recall the number of prohibitions of the practice of self-mutilation for holy ends which appear in the canons of the third century, and were calculated to discourage too literal an interpretation by the masses of the sex-phobia to be read in the New Testament, particularly in St. Paul's teaching. (On this point see my Man: An Indictment, Chapter X.)
2 The fact that it also led to Puritanism is another proof of the relationship between Protestantism and primitive Christianity. For the extreme Puritanism of the faithful in the first four centuries of our era was amongst the most alarming consequences of the spread of Christianity.
3 James Gairdner (op. cit. p. 11).
The immediate effect in Germany was, indeed, so. terrifying that Luther himself turned against the wretched peasants whose contumacy he had helped to provoke with his megalomaniac doctrines. And it the effects in England were not so serious, this must be ascribed, in the first place to the slower assimilation of ideas connected with the Protestant Reforms, and possibly, too, to that quality already mentioned, which, on its positive side, consists of character, and therefore of a good resisting front presented to novelty, and on its negative side a certain lack of logic in the English mind which prevents principles
1 Cambridge Modern History. Vol. II. The Reformation, p. 166. "In the Edict of Worms Luther had been branded rather as a revolutionary than as a heretic, and the burden of the complaints preferred against him by the Catholic humanists was that his methods of seeking a reformation would be fatal to all order, political or ecclesiastical."
Nevertheless, the possession of such doctrines as primitive Christianity offers, coupled with the right of private judgment, does not incline the English, or any other Protestant people, to political stability; least of all does it confirm them in their native and instinctive conservatism. It rather leads them to ever greater extremes of democratic restlessness, and the consequence is that, as has already been suggested, the Conservative cause in England cannot be said to find much support from the religious doctrines of its National Church. When we add to this the fact that the National Church itself is founded on the anarchical principle we have been discussing, and is in its own constitution an example of the chaos created by that principle, the position of the Conservative who feels himself traditionally compelled to support this Church, is, to say the least, a most unhappy one. He can only do his duty by his Church by shutting out from his mind all the realistic applications and relations of what he holds and beholds; and although his loyalty frequently enables him to do this with success, it is at the cost of his intellectual clarity and development. The notorious touchiness of English Conservatives on the subject of their religion may possibly be the outcome of the settled conviction at which they have arrived, that loyalty forbids their allowing too close a scrutiny into the consistency of their views; for, seeing that an opinion strongly held covets rather than resents attack, it is otherwise impossible to account for a sensitiveness on this score which must have struck every careful observer of English life.
Long ago Conservatives should have insisted on their Church establishing order at least within her own province. For only when that had been achieved could they consistently uphold her. Attempts to
1 The first Act of Uniformity in 1549 had as its object "that the whole realm should have one use". The second Act in 1552 had the same object, but added, in addition to certain alterations in the Prayer Book, provisions for the punishment of recusants and separatists. The third Act in 1559 made the new Prayer Book of 1559 the. only legal service book, and also contained provisions for the punishment of recusants, as well as separatists. But in 1564, Cecil, reported to Elizabeth the terrible anarchy which again reigned in the Church, and in the hope of remedying this, without offending the Puritan Bishops, a minimum of observance was exacted by the Advertisements of 1566. As Archbishop of Canterbury (16331640) Laud made a further attempt to enforce order in the service. He enjoined the use of the surplice, kneeling at the reception of the Communion, the removal of the Holy Table from the body of the Church to the cast end, and many other observances. But with the triumph of Puritanism anarchy again supervened. In 1662 a fourth Act of uniformity was passed, enforcing a revised Prayer Book upon the Church, and in 1644 the Coventicle Act, in 1665 the Five Mile Act, and in 1673 the Test Act, tended to impose the religion of the Church of England by statute upon the whole nation. But disorder even within the Church continued to be reborn as if by spontaneous generation, and all these acts had attempted rather to regulate forms of worship and ceremonial than articles of belief. For a brief and simple account of this aspect of Church History, see An Introduction to the History of the Church of England, by Henry Offley Wakeman, M.A.
How the reform is to be achieved on the basis of the right of private judgment, it is difficult to say. Nor is it easy to suggest how the right of private judgment itself can now be jettisoned, seeing that it
1 It would also increase the strength of the English Church against Nonconformity, from which at present it is distinguished only by the architectural style of its places of worship, the accent of its divines, and the Establishment.
Merely to preserve the Church in its present condition, which was the implicit object of Disraeli's speech in the House of Commons on June 9th, 1863, and of his other speeches on the same subject in 1862 and 1864, is therefore not enough. It is true that he emphasised the need of avoiding internecine hostility, 2 and drew a terrifying picture of a Church without a precise creed, and a strict article, which he termed "the title deeds of the laity to religion", 3 and thus drew very near to recommending a condition of more seemly order in the house of the Church. But neither he nor the Conservatives as a whole seem to have held steadily before them the urgent need of reconstituting the Church on the basis of a more uniform confession, 4
1 This, as we know, is stoutly denied by a large section of the Church of England. But, whatever the truth may be about this matter, the fact remains that disorder in doctrine and ritual is now the great disgrace of that body, and it is difficult for a layman to understand why this is not corrected, unless the doctrine of the right of private judgment stands as an insuperable obstacle in the way. It would be interesting to hear what those who deny the schismatic nature of the Church of England, and therefore its foundation upon the right of private judgment, believe to be the real obstacle in the way of order and uniformity.
2 Selected Speeches. Vol. II, p 573.
3 Selected Speeches. Vol. II, pp. 606608.
4 In his speech on Conservative Principles, indeed, in 1872, Disraeli so far from desiring a more uniform confession in the Church
It is among the chief duties of the Conservative Party to preserve what is termed the Constitution in Church and State, and we must now turn to that portion of their trust which is included under the latter heading. This consists of the Government of the country which is vested in the Sovereign and the two Houses of Parliament. The frequently vaunted prescience of the English nation which is supposed to have led to this ideal and composite character of the British Constitution, its forms and usages, must be regarded as mythical. Truth to tell, the triple-headed State was the outcome of a series of events and innovations, many of which have been due to no deliberation or forethought whatsoever. The stubborn resolve of one monarch to regard the Tories as his enemies, the inability of another to speak the English language, the profligacy of a third, the fluctuating power of either the nobility, the Church, or the people, the exigencies of fierce party strife, are the
of England, applauded the existence of parties in the Church (Selected Speeches. Vol. II, p. 503); but in 1874 he certainly assisted Archbishop Tait in passing the Public Worship Regulation Act, which was directed against "Ritualism". The object of this act was no doubt mistaken, for it assumed a position which history did not justify. But although it was wrong and ultimately failed, its existence is a proof of how much the need of uniformity in the Church was felt at the time.
1 For an interesting discussion, from a different standpoint, of the difficult position of Tories relative to the Church which they were pledged to uphold, see Keith Feiling (op. cit. Part III, Chapter XVII, pp. 489493).
The particularist character of Englishmen is essentially opposed to all strong centralised government. For that the native of this country is too independent and self-reliant. That is why, as I have shown elsewhere, it amounts to a slander of the English people to call England the Mother of Parliaments. 1 The very word denotes the foreign origin of the institution, and its first introduction into this country was the work of a foreigner. The fact that the earliest Parliaments were hated by everybody who had anything to do with them, and that it was only by the persevering exercise of the King's authority that they could be made to meet, is the best proof of this assertion.
When once Parliament was established, however, and the balance of power in the nation began to be a three-cornered fight between King, Lords and Commons, it was natural, and in keeping with the English character, that that part of the Government which had most power, the King, should be the first to be assailed. Englishmen, who throughout their history, have strongly suspected all the Governments of their day of being merely legalised tyranny, have always tended to regard with particular aversion that element in the Government which for better or for worse, enjoyed the greatest share of prerogatives, for there they have always felt the greatest villainy to reside.
The history of the monarchy in England, therefore,
1 See Man: An Indictment. Chapter VIII.
And yet there is all the difference in the world between the Constitution as a compound of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, and this compound as we now find it. Its original pattern may, and certainly appears to have exemplified these components in full and active vigour. But it is useless now to argue as if its strength still lay in the possession of these components, for it no longer resembles its original pattern except in the retention of a few names, ceremonies, and formulas. Even the present King's limited power to make war and peace, to pardon a
1 The period of mediæval constitutionalism, which dated from 1404 to 1437, and during which the Commons acquired a strength they were not to recover for over two hundred years, should not be forgotten; but it was premature; it did not endure, and the acquisition of strength was really only continuous from the time of the Tudors. For an interesting discussion of the question see Essays Introductory to the Study of English Constitutional History. Edited by H. O. Wakeman, M.A., and Arthur Hassall, M.A. (London, 1896), Chapter V, by Arthur Hassall.
Thus there may be, and usually is, a good deal of humbug in a public speech supporting the Constitution, and when in the days before the Great War I used to pay occasional visits to that delightful old house in Pickering Place, which was the home of the 1900 Club, I was always conscious of feelings of acute discomfort when one of the noble members of the Club used to address us on the virtues of our Constitution. It always seemed to me that the part about the King suffered from an inherent feebleness, inevitable in the circumstances, and I remember on more than one occasion arguing the matter out with the late Lord Willoughby de Broke, in the hope of inducing him to say either much less or much more whenever he spoke on this subject.
To desire to preserve a Constitution, a portion of which is an undoubted sham, seemed to me incomprehensible. Nor is this merely a matter of opinion. For an essential part of the art of preservation is to protect from ignominy and contempt. Now how can a very high rank the highest in fact be protected from ignominy and contempt if it is treated with less consideration than that of an artillery bombardier? The officer, who gives a man a bombardier's stripe without at the same time adding to the responsibilities and functions which belonged to him as a private gunner, makes him the laughing stock of the battery. Rank devoid of function and responsibility, no matter how thorough may be the artifices employed to
1 No Sovereign has ventured to exercise the right of veto, that is, of withholding the royal assent, since 1707.
To scoff at Disraeli, therefore, as many a Liberal writer has done, because he wished to increase the power of the Crown, is to confess oneself quite incapable of understanding what is meant by the duty of preserving the Crown as part of the Constitution. This is either desirable or not desirable. If, however, as an end it is desired, then the means of achieving it must be desired as well, and the Conservative is committed to the duty of increasing the present responsibilities of the Crown. For nothing else will achieve the object he has in view.
Continue to preserve the Crown for very much longer as a merely theatrical imitation of what was once the highest rank in the Kingdom (rank always being understood to have no meaning apart from function), and to withhold it from every function except that of leading fashionable society, and it requires no very marvellous gifts of prophecy to predict the Crown's complete demise in the proximate future. This is not merely possible, it is inevitable. And the more tasteful and intelligent the people of England become, the more inevitable this end will be. This unravelment may or may not be a good thing. But, if it is not a good thing and Conservatives certainly ought not to consider it a good thing then the Conservative Party is necessarily pledged to a revival of the functions and responsibilities of the King.
"If you do this, however," cry the Liberals, "you must remove from the Crown its character of an hereditary office."
The Conservative's duty to preserve the Constitution, therefore involves the further duty of preserving the Crown; and the only means of achieving that end is to restore to it its functions and responsibilities. In the Whig and Liberal policy of preserving the
1 For a full and detailed discussion of this subject in its relation to rulership see my Defence of Aristocracy. But since the publication of this book, science has brought many new facts to light, which make the case for heredity very much stronger than I have stated it.
Turning now to the House of Lords, we find that its position is such that, at the present moment, it is almost as much bereft of effective power as the Crown and forms a much less essential part of the Constitution than it did even as late as the year 1910. Thus, in consequence of the Parliament Act of 1911, the Lords cannot now hold up any Money Bill for more than a month, and if at the end of that time they do not pass it unamended, the Bill becomes law after it has received the assent of the Crown. Any public bill other than a Money Bill becomes law without the Lords' consenting to it, if it is passed by the Commons and sent up to the Lords in three successive sessions; but two years must elapse between the second reading of the Bill in the Commons in the first session, and the passing of the Bill by the Lower House in the third session. Unless the Commons approve of them, all amendments made by the Lords in passing a Bill, amount to the rejection of that Bill.
It will be seen that these powers are exceedingly limited; so limited indeed, that one wonders what is now meant by the "Constitution" in its composite character of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy; and, what is more, the lay student of history, who knows this extreme limitation of the Lords' powers which was effected by the Commons, cannot help wondering by what right one section of the executive could thus curtail and almost destroy the functional importance of another section. 1
1 This would evidently have been the attitude of Nathaniel Bacon, the eminent lawyer of the seventeenth century, and the author of a sort of Constitutional history entitled An Historical Discovery of the Uniformity of the Government of England (1647). Addressing
When we remember, moreover, that all the machinery of the official Unionist organisation was utilised at the time in order to induce certain protesting Unionist peers to vote for the Bill which destroyed their own constitutional significance, history becomes mystery and our understanding confusion
The Parliament Act of 1911 made the Commons the only effective element in the Constitution. In tact, with the King a mere figurehead, and the House of Lords a mere form, the Constitution as Montesquieu wrote about it, as Disraeli praised it, and as Continentals for two centuries have envied it, ceased to exist in 1911.
Unless, therefore, we are to continue to be led by the nose by mere words and symbols why talk about it? Why pretend to preserve or uphold it? What does the average Conservative mean when he speaks about the present Constitution? The late Lord Willoughby de Broke was at least consistent, for, when he used to refer rapturously to our Constitution he spoke of it as something he remembered and wished to restore (at least as far as the House of Lords was concerned) to the form it had borne when he first became acquainted with it. He said that "the
Richard Cromwell's Parliament in 1659, he said: "Bicameral Government was the people's right: long usage hath so settled it, as acts of Parliament cannot alter it." (See Keith Feiling. Op. cit. p 33.)
I have already hinted in this chapter that the peaceable manner in which startling and often regrettable reforms are allowed to pass nowadays without violent or desperate opposition is not as creditable to the nation as it might appear. Behind it all there is a lethargy, an unwillingness to "create bother", which is not the best of signs, although it has been the subject of much recent self-congratulation and applause. And the silent almost imperceptible decay which is going on all round, is more due to the indifference and boredom of nervous exhaustion than to the control of conscious restraint.
The peaceful revolution which marked the passage of the Parliament Act, therefore, and which left Englishmen more or less unperturbed, was nothing to be proud of, and the way the die-hard peers were abandoned to their fate by their own political friends is not the least ugly incident in recent history. The leaders who were responsible for this attitude seem completely to have forgotten that their chief ally in such disputes about principle is really the character of the population at large. Nothing is more genuinely appreciated by the English character than the ability to show a fighting spirit. And nothing, therefore, was better calculated to alienate sympathy and create contempt than the unaccountable weakness shown by the Lords in this struggle.
For much more was at stake than the prestige of a Liberal Government and the dignity of a Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer. As a matter of fact, not only the Constitution, but Parliamentary government as well, lay in the balance. And seeing that, as a deliberative chamber, in which the highest ability
1 National Review, October, 1911, p. 208.
1 This was increased after 1911, for, after that date, members of the House of Commons, in addition to depending as of yore on the caprice of the electorate, also received £400 a year in wages.
2 This was relatively increased in 1911 because the Parliament Act, among other changes, also restricted the duration of Parliament from seven to five years, which meant that no member of the Commons, or Minister for that matter, need ever necessarily look more than five years ahead. Seven years had been the rule since the passing of the Septennial Act by the Whigs in 1717.
To argue that the hereditary nature of the House of Lords made it effete and merely obstructive with the senile stubbornness of doddering old age, is simply to throw dust in the eyes of the ignorant. As I have shown in my Defence of Aristocracy, even if the charge based on the vice of hereditary power were valid, it is not candid to advance it as an objection to the House of Lords, which is so largely elective in character.
When we bear in mind that since 1760 over six hundred new peers (i.e. more than nine tenths of the whole House), and that since 1830 at least three quarters of the total members of the House of Lords have been created; when, moreover, we remember that there are twenty-four Bishops and fourty four Irish and Scottish peers, all elected, the hereditary character of the peerage begins to acquire less significance; and if incompetence and misrule are noticeable in it, these failings must surely be traced to some other source than to the alleged effeteness of its members, or the supposed evil consequences of inbreeding and the hereditary principle.
In my examination of the history of the peers of England, and of their influence on the life of. the country, I did not by any means come to the conclusion either that they had been guiltless of the most
It was a piece of fantastic arrogance on the part of the Liberal administration of 1911 to suppose that the Commons could dispense with the co operation of the House of Lords in discharging its legislative duties, and by that one act it probably doomed the House of Commons itself to extinction.
But let us not in our censure of the Liberals before the Great War, entirely forget the hidden part the Tories played in helping to pass the Parliament Act, for politically and historically it is important. The Parliament Act was passed through the Lords under the threat of a wholesale creation of peers. Who, however, had been the first to use this weapon in party strife? It was Harley's Tory administration in 1711 which, in order to defeat an overwhelming hostile majority in the Lords, persuaded Queen Anne to create twelve new Tory peers. It is true that for nearly a century the Whigs expostulated against the unconstitutional nature of this use of the prerogative, but that did not prevent them from using the same weapon when the opportunity arose. And in 1832 it was only William IV's fear of the turmoil in the country that made him refuse to create fifty new Whig peers in order to carry the Reform Bill through the House of Lords.
The threat made by Mr. Asquith in 1910, therefore, was in pursuance of a Tory precedent. And, whatever
1 See my Defence of Aristocracy, Chapters II, III, VI, VII and VIII.
As the result of a campaign of misrepresentation and the grossest abuse, in which, as most of us remember, Mr. Lloyd George surpassed himself, and in the course of which the Peers and Tories were falsely identified with the capitalists as the traditional oppressors of the people, and vulgarly vilified by thousands of glaring posters plastered all over the country, the Liberals in the General Election of January-February, 1910, were returned with a narrow majority of two over the Unionists; and, as the fight had been waged over Mr. Lloyd George's Finance Bill, which itself had led to the Parliament Act, it may be assumed that the result of the election led the King to conclude that the country was in favour of the Liberal policy, and that it would be unwise to follow the example of William IV. When, however, we remember the means by which that election was won, and the absurdly narrow majority the Liberals gained, we have, we must confess, some difficulty in sympathising with any scruples whatsoever which could have facilitated so momentous and undesirable an achievement as the destruction of the Constitution. It seems to us that had the lead of the die-hard peers been followed, a very different result might have been achieved. And it is impossible not to suspect that
But this is not the only respect in which Conservatives were implicated in the crime of 1911. They were also implicated (a) through the countenance their party had once given to that use of the royal prerogative, by which a hostile majority in the House of Lords could be swept away, and according to which we may say that the Lords' part in the Constitution had ceased to be vital ever since 1711; and (b) through their lack of political acumen and historical knowledge, which allowed them to look on more or less cowed and helpless while they were being identified with the Gradgrinds of the Liberal Party and the Whig chauffeurs of the Capitalistic Juggernaut whose car had flattened out the working-classes in the nineteenth century.
The contribution of the British public to this act of Vandalism, by which an essential limb of the Constitution was finally lopped off, was (a) their resolute ignorance of political affairs despite their boast of being the leading Parliamentary nation an ignorance so profound that men like Lloyd George, who make it their business to keep a sort of desert chart of it, know exactly how far they can go in inflammatory hyperbole and in offensive slander of any minority in the community in order to achieve a political end 1; and (b) their only half-concealed
1 One of the most convincing proofs of the shallowness of modern political parties and politicians was the speed with which Mr. Lloyd George's campaign of slander was forgiven and forgotten by the slandered during the late war. Such was the enthusiasm of all old and safely-placed people for a prolongation of the war at all costs, that the man who saw his best opportunity for power in meeting this wish of the stay-at-homes, completely won their hearts in spite of his previous unscrupulous vilification of them.
There can be no doubt that the late Lord Willoughby de Broke was right when he said that "the repeal of the Parliament Act was the first duty of the Unionist Party when returned to power"; and this is necessary, not so much as a means of restoring the Lords to their proper place in the Constitution, but now as a means of saving the House of Commons itself. 1 As a single chamber possessed of all power, the House of Commons is now as certainly doomed as were Charles I at the end of his spell of personal government, and the House of Lords after its rejection of Mr. Lloyd George's revolutionary Budget of 1909. For, as we have pointed out, the Englishman in his heart detests all government, and regards with particular aversion that portion of the legislature which, whether for better or for worse, appears to wield the most power.
If, therefore, Parliamentary institutions are worth preserving, and if, above all, we as Conservatives are any longer to uphold our Constitution, we are committed to two pressing and ineluctable duties. We must reconstitute the monarchy so as to make the Crown a functioning office with responsibilities, and we must restore to the House of Lords its effective
1 The common objection raised by Liberals and revolutionaries to the effect that "you cannot set the clock back" is claptrap. Did they not set the clock back when they voted themselves £400 a year in 1911? Members had not been paid since the seventeenth century, the last instance being about 1680. For a general discussion of the jejuneness of the argument based upon the impossibility of setting the clock back see my Man's Descent from the Gods, Chapter IX.
Turning now to the House of Commons, which, despite the light which has been thrown upon it by men like Belloc, Chesterton, Haynes, etc., still appears to many minds to be the stronghold of democratic control, we are again confronted by an institution which is also in many respects a sham. It is one of the most tragic circumstances of the Age that, whereas the Great War was fought to make the world "safe for democracy", it is precisely democracy which to-day stands most discredited and most severely threatened with annihilation. In Russia, Italy, Greece and Spain, it is more or less defunct; in France it is openly detested, and no cultivated Frenchman considers it as any longer decent to be actively connected with the democratic institutions of his country. In Germany, where it is more or less of a novelty, it is rapidly losing its hold on the people, and becoming more and more the means and the instrument of a
1 No steps taken to effect this end, however, can be considered satisfactory, which do not include some scheme for making the repetition of the action of 1711 and of the threat of 1832 and 1910 impossible. A certain section of the Whigs in 1717 tried to prevent the royal prerogative from ever again being used in this way, and the Conservatives must follow their example and this time try to carry the plan through successfully.
In England, the power of the Caucus, and of the party leaders over the body of the back-benchers in the House, to which reference has already been made, and the delusive character of the democratic control secured by Parliamentary representatives, have also greatly shaken the faith of the population in democratic institutions, and no class in the community feels its interests satisfactorily secured by the present organisation of our political life.
The middle and professional classes, which are badly organised for exerting political influence, find themselves constantly sacrificed for vote catching purposes, without being able to raise any effective protest; and they share with inadequately organised industries the unhappy position of being able to oppose no united front to that part of the community which unites for purposes of political power. If representation were a reality this disadvantage should not be felt. 1
The working-classes long ago learnt this lesson, and the presence of Labour members in the House, originally supported out of Labour funds, is the best demonstration that could be found of the imperfect nature of the representation secured by the former "Party" M.P. And even now, with their own
1 Cf. Life of Disraeli. By Monypenny and Buckle. Vol. III, p. 38. "In this age," said Disraeli, "it is not Parliament that does the real work. It does not govern Ireland, for example. If the manufacturers want to change a tariff, they form a commercial league, and they effect their purpose. It is the same with the abolition of slavery and all our great revolutions. Parliament has become as really insignificant as for two centuries it has kept the monarch." As these words are to be found in Tancred, this means that the condition described above was already apparent in 1847.
1 Although the statistics of the years before the war do, on the whole, confirm this statement, there were of course periods of relative improvement, in which the strikes and the number of workpeople involved show a decided decrease. For instance, in 1899, the total strikes and lockouts numbered 719, with 138,057 workpeople directly involved, while the duration in working days was 2,516,416. There was a drop to 355 strikes in 1905, with 56,380 workpeople involved, and a duration of 1,484,220 days. Then, however, the rise was steady, until in 1913 the number of strikes became 1,459, the number of workpeople involved 516,037 and the duration in working days 9,805,000. After the outbreak of the war there was a steady rise from 672 strikes in 1915 with a duration of 2,920,000 working days, to 1,605 strikes in 1920 with a duration of 26,535,000 working days; whereupon there was a drop and the figures remained for five years more or less steadily in the region of 650 strikes a year with an average duration of 26,000,000 working days, until in 1926 there occurred the greatest strike in history.
With the present isolated position of the Commons, as the only repository of legislative power in the nation, this attitude of popular suspicion and disfavour towards it is not likely to diminish, and unless something is done to restore both to Parliament and the Constitution the confidence of the people at large, it looks very much as if we must drift, like other nations, ever nearer and nearer to a dictatorship.
There are various influences directing modern England that way. The first and strongest of these is undoubtedly the discovery of the hollowness of the romantic ideals behind democratic theory, which tends to be revealed the moment the people begin to get into direct touch with the realities of State problems and State regulation. The great promised rewards of democratic control are then seen to be illusory, and the millennium prophesied by the idealistic philosophers and reformers of two centuries is known to be no nearer than it ever has been in the history of mankind. With the development of popular government, hard facts tend to be learned at first hand, and it is discovered that, after all, the inequality which is denied by democratic teachers is a very real and natural thing; that it does more than anything else to
1 The figures for 1892 were 5; for 1895, 12; for 1900, 11; and for 1906, 52.
The influence that comes second in importance is the lesson, which apparently can also be taught to the masses only by experience, that political problems are after all highly specialised problems, and that the mass of the people, immersed in their own private and daily interests, cannot usefully apply their minds to the solution of such problems without either devoting much more time than they can spare to special studies, or complicating the problems themselves by inexpert and conflicting judgments. Thus the conclusion gradually arrived at, after all the noise of popular strife has died down, is that reached long ago by thinkers as widely divergent as Mencius and St. Thomas Aquinas, that the most a people can do in self-government is to assent to a body of rulers and not to a specific political programme or line of policy. 1 The fact that this involves the people's right to get rid of rulers who destroy or jeopardise their happiness, is granted by both Mencius and St. Thomas. Thus the utmost a people can usefully do is to acquiesce in rulers; they cannot choose rulers. The difference, though not glaring, is really very great. The first act is an act of judgment in terms of happiness, of which the simplest human being is capable. The second act is one which involves great knowledge and dis-
1 This seems to be in keeping with Newman's view to the effect that the majority of men can usefully exercise their private judgment only in order to select teachers and guides.
The influence that comes third in importance, is the gradual recognition of the fact that representation on the basis of a programme or a policy (which is the present form) is much less desirable and much less conducive to a sound and protective system of government, than representation on the basis of a known and local relation of confidence to the representative chosen. I have no doubt myself that the latter was the original idea underlying Parliamentary representation, and the fact that in 1413, during the period of mediæval constitutionalism already mentioned, when the Government of England was both sound and wise, special notice was taken of this matter, and members of Parliament were obliged to reside at places they represented, points to the conclusion that, at this early date, it was the confidence of the electors in an individual known to them and recognised as knowledgeable in their local problems and requirements, and even sharing their interests and requirements, that made him their representative elect. And William Pitt the younger seems certainly to have held this view of the matter; for, on May 7th, 1783, in addressing the House on the Reform of Parliamentary Representation he let fall these significant words: "The representation of the people could not be
It may be objected that voting on a programme or on a definite policy which is the rule to-day secures the identity of interest between the represented and their representative. But, truth to tell, it does no such thing, because in the first place, voting on a programme or a policy presupposes knowledge and understanding which the electorate cannot possess, and secondly, the programme and policy frequently have nothing in them which necessarily binds the representative locally to his constituents. If, on the other hand, the representative is a local man, who has the confidence of his constituents, and who is chosen as their leader and representative, because he has shown himself articulate and intelligent and capable of defending their interests and his own in any emergency, they need not trouble to try to master problems which they cannot understand, but need only trust him to safeguard their interests and their happiness in a manner they could not possibly safeguard them themselves. Thus Parliamentary representation placed on a sound basis would lead back to a sort of aristocracy, in which the Lower House of representatives would be the best of the people, and the Upper House the highest in the land; and, in
1 The Speeches of the Rt. Hon. William Pitt (3rd Ed., Vol. I, pp. 4849).
Whether it is possible so to reform the present representative system, as to achieve the desirable conditions hinted at above, may be a matter of the gravest doubt. If, however. Parliamentary institutions are to be saved, and it is desirable to save them, some such changes as are suggested in the above paragraphs will have to be seriously considered; for to allow the present system to continue will bring total discredit on the one remaining active limb of the Constitution, and then who can tell what will take its place?
The fact that the reforms suggested above involve the introduction of a more aristocratic organisation of our system of self-government, can only terrify those who are satisfied that democratic institutions have proved and are proving their worth. Seeing, however, that everything points if not to the present, at least to the very proximate total discredit of these institutions, we must resolutely set our face to some other solution of our national problem, and the first step to such a solution is to reform our House of Commons. To do this we must make it (a) more genuinely representative; (b) freer and more independent of party organisation; and (c) composed of men who are returned by their constituents as local men
1 This also seems to have been the view of William Pitt the younger, for, in the same speech as that quoted above, he said his opinion was that "the members once chosen and returned to Parliament, were, in effect, the representatives of the people at large, as well of those who did not vote at all, or who, having voted, gave their vote against them, as of those by whose suffrages they were actually in the House". (Op. cit. p. 48.)
Finally, since we cannot restore the House of Commons to its former position in the Constitution without restoring the other constitutional components to theirs, we must regard its reform as inseparable from a programme which will provide for the increase of the responsibilities and functions of the Crown, and the reconstitution of the House of Lords on the basis of the status quo previous to 1911, and minus the Commons' right to use the royal prerogative as a coercive measure against it. Only thus can Conservatives hope to repair what damage has been done, and to preserve the identity of the nation. And, since the wrecking of our political institutions has not been directly the work of the Conservative Party, or of their ideology, they need be committed to no inconsistencies in restoring them to their original form.