Saturday, 14 December 2013

MISCELLANIES

 THE BOOK OF THE WEEK.

"Miscellanies" (Fourth Series) By John Morley Macmillan & Co.
These "fugitive pierces," as Lord Morley calls them have all of them more or less to do with the art of government or the psychology of the governed, from the essays on Machiavelli and Guiceiardini, which deal with the immoral, or at best unmoral assumptions and maxims of Italian state-craft in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, to that in which Mr. L. T. Hobhouse's "Democracy and Reaction" is reviewed, and which discusses the ends for which civilised society exists. Between these papers come reflections on Comte's  "New Calendar on Great Men," on John Stuart Mill, and Lecky's "Democracy and Liberty," and Frederick Harrison's  "Theophano." Throughout the "fugitive pieces," there runs what the author calls a "clue," the reference being to his attempt to trace the conflict between the two conceptions of the fundamental principle that should govern human affairs—force or right, reasons of State or maxims of ethics; policy or justice; expediency or truth. In Bismarck we are shown the successor to Machiavelli, who held that the maxims proper in private affairs have nothing to do with public affairs, that right is might, "an affair of blood and iron and guile and management." This view is not peculiar to statesmen, for even in the pulpit war, which is a means of settling disputes by force, has its advocates, who seem to think that killing, though wrong when done by one man or a few men, becomes right when done, so to say, in bulk. Fortunately, the verdict of the world is with the ethical ideal, thanks to the long line of humanists and moralists who have steadily preached it through the ages. "We may be of good cheer about the future of democracy," Lord Morley tells us in his suggestive paper on Mr. Hobhouse's brilliant work:—

If the American and French declarations of the rights of man let loose swollen floods of sophism, fallacy, and cant, they held saving doctrine, vital truths, and quickening fundamentals. Party names fade, forms of words grow hollow, the letter kills; what was true in the spirit lived on, for the world's circumstances needed and demanded it.

"The passions, frailties, and ambitions, which a previous generation hoped would be cured by democracy," continues Lord Morley, held full sway in England during the Boer war. Even to whisper a doubt about the wisdom with which the negotiations (with Mr. Kruger were conducted was to incur the risk of physical injury; and there were exponents of democratic opinion who saw nothing wrong in this, or if they saw anything wrong in punishing freedom of speech they had not courage enough to say so. Mr. Morley is distressed by the thought that bloodshed finds its most ardent friends among the illiterate masses, on whose behalf democracy has always claimed specially to speak. Yet he is hopeful that education will yet do for the lower classed what it has done for their superiors in the way of creating an aversion to violence, and a softening of manners that will enable people to express temperately their views on any public question without having their windows, and possibly their heads, broken. Already there are hopeful signs. For example, it has been observed how reluctant are men who have left the battlefield with bloody hands to refer to their achievements in the way of slaughter, preferring to regard the sacrifice of human life as something which, like the transactions of the shambles, may be necessary, but is not a fit subject for discussion. So, too, if moralists are shocked by the frequency with which the adage, "My country, right or wrong," is heard during war time, they are to some extent consoled by the implied recognition that bloodshed, after all, may be wrong—an admission that would not have been made in bygone ages, and would not be made by the more backward races to-day. How new is the conception of human progress Lord Morley reminds us in a pregnant passage:—

Scouring a library, you come across a little handful of fugitive and dubious sentences in writers of ancient and mediƦval time. Bacon's saying, also to be found a long time earlier in Esdras, about antiquity of time being the world's youth was, as everybody knows, a pregnant hint, but it hardly announced the gospel of progress as now held by most English-speaking persons. Modern belief in human progress had no place among ideals even in the eighteenth century, if we take Voltaire, Montesquieu, Diderot, for their exponents; and Rousseau actually thought the history of civilisation a record of the fall of man.

No one nowadays would deem, in time of peace at all events, that considerations of right and wrong are irrelevant to state craft. Yet this was the gospel of Machiavelli. A man of the Renaissance, imbued with the neo-pagan spirit, he found the Christian virtues not at all to his taste. He despised humility, and regarded Savonarola as a howling lunatic. The antiquaries have proved that his name of Niccolo had nothing to do with "Old Nick," which is derived from a goblin in Norse mythology. But the "erroneous derivation adopted by Butler in "Hudibras" shows clearly enough the popular view of Machiavelli's teaching. It has to be remembered, however, that in his day there was no international law. The authority of the church had been fatally undermined. Petty tyrants and petty republics were laws to themselves. Machiavelli, Lord Morley thinks, preferred free institutions. The old Roman Commonwealth was his model But he was not the man to waste his life in pursuit of an impossible ideal in defiance of accomplished facts. Those days were over for Italy And Florence must be prepared to do the best she could with Lorenzo de Medici. "The Prince" was written to show how that potentate was to do the best he could with Florence; in other words by what means his newly-acquired sovereignty could be most firmly established. But the maxims which Machiavelli held good for a dictatorship he would equally have applied to a republic. Reasons of State were in each case to ride paramount over all other considerations. Political stability was the end to be aimed at, and in pursuit of this no means could be unlawful. "The application of moral standards to this business is as little to the point as it would be in the navigation of a ship." But the instinct of humanity revolted against this notion :—

Mankind, and well they know it, are far too profoundly concerned in right and wrong, in mercy and cruelty, injustice and oppression, to favor a teacher who, even for a scientific purpose of his own, forgets the awful difference.

Machiavelli, not probing things to the bottom, and not being much concerned with ultimate subjects, overlooked the inherent tendency of the human mind to adopt a just course when there is no counteracting tendency in self-interest. Nowadays the world, while still acclaiming the frequent resort to bloodshed and violence, requires that statesmen shall find moral reasons for primitive instincts and ambitions. Even those whose cry was "our country right or wrong" would have been amazed had Mr. Chamberlain confessed at the time that his South African policy was wrong, and that he was asking support for an unjust war. People do not mind saying themselves that they are indifferent whether their country is right or wrong, but they would object very strongly if the right to express the same sentiment were claimed by their political leaders :—

Imperialists and anti-Imperialists may differ about the South African war, but they both seek to find moral reasons, the one for pursuing it, and the other for opposing it. The war, says the Imperialist, is just and necessary, its object is to spread freedom and remedy injustice. We may agree or disagree, but the point for present purposes is that the Imperialist finds it is as necessary as his opponent to render an account to the conscience of the public. State-craft is driven to many shifts and sophistries in its endeavor to make up this account, but the mere fact that it acknowledges its obligation is witness to the growth of the moral law in the physical world.

Eloquent, indeed, is the tribute to John Stuart Mill, whose influence over his own life Lord Morley enthusiastically avows, and whose name occurs more than once in every essay in the volume. Stress is laid on Mill's frequent attempts to "set democracy on guard against itself," and the claim is made for the philosopher that his life "was not stimulated by mere intellectual curiosity, but by the more resolute purpose of furthering human improvement."   Was ever warmer tribute paid to the moral influence of Christianity than by Mill when though unable to accept the dogmas incorporated with it, he was able to write :—

"The most valuable part of the effect on the character which Christianity has produced by holding up in a Divine Person a standard of excellence and a model for imitation is available even to the absolute unbeliever, and can never more be lost to humanity. For it is Christ rather than God whom Christianity has held up to believers as the pattern of perfection for humanity. It is the God Incarnate, who being idealised has taken so great and salutary hold on the modern mind. And whatever else may be taken away from us by rational criticism, Christ is still left, a unique figure, not more unlike all His precursors than all His followers even those who had the direct benefit of His teaching."

Lord Morley energetically repudiates Lecky's idea as to the degeneration of the British House of Commons. He says :—

For my own part, after five-and twenty years of experience my strong impression is that in all the elements that go to compose what we may take Mr Lecky to mean by tone—respect for sincerity, free tolerance of unpopular opinion, manly considerateness, quick and sure response to high appeal in public duty and moral feeling, a strong spirit of fairplay (now at last extended bon gre mal gre even to members from Ireland)—that in these and the like things the House of Commons has not deteriorated, but, on the contrary, has markedly improved. Moral elements have come forward into greater consideration, they have not fallen back into less. It is well to remember that, though the House of Commons is a council met to deliberate, the deliberation is for the most part by way of contention and conflict. This may or may not be the best way of getting the national business done, and of course it is accompanied all day long by a vast abundance of underlying co-operation. But contention is what engages most interest, kindles most energy, brings into play most force, is the centre of most effort. It may not be the most beautiful spectacle in the world —ceaseless contention never can be; it is not always favorable to the Christian graces; there is more serenity in a library, though for that matter books and bookmen have been ablaze with a furious contention before now; there is more stillness in a cloister, though all is not sanctity, all is not exemption from strife and rivalry, even in a cloister. In the arena where material interests are touched, where deep political passions are stirred where coveted prizes are lost and won, where power and the fleeting breath of a day's fame are at stake, where under the rules and semblance of a tournament men are fighting what is in truth a keen and not an ignoble battle it is childish to apply the tests of scholastic fastidiousness. We have to take the process as it is, and I very confidently submit that it is now conducted, not with less right feeling, considerateness, elevation, talent, knowledge, and respect for talent and knowledge, than was the case in the memory of living men, but with very much more of all these things. 

With regard to the relation of Socialism to Liberalism Lord Morley considers Mr. Hobhouse's attempt to reconcile them as "an eirenicon clever in analysis, as it is laudable in purpose." But the "real issue" between the two, he tells us, is not merely the more or less of State action, but the substitution of a new economic system for the old one that was long deemed incontestable :—

It points to revolution in the relations of workman and capitalist. It tests the foundations of two such venerable pillars of our economic fabric as rent and interest. It suggests that the problem of to-day is not production but distribution—a specious form of words that hides a whole crop of fallacies. It involves vital changes in the institution of private property, and in all that enormous and absorbing volume of human thoughts, passions, habits, and aims in life, with which the institution of private property is and has been for centuries, inextricably associated. It is unhistoric and even anti-historic, and hints that each generation is a law to itself—with some awkward implications for the fundholder who makes the taxpayer of to-day ruefully provide money for the "old unhappy far-off things and battles long ago." All this stands equally good (or equally evil if the reader chooses), whether the old view of property be invaded by the wild storm of social revolution, or more insidiously by the mailed fist of the tax-gatherer and the rate collector.

 The Advertiser 24 October 1908,

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