Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/460

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444 THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

national life and interests, all must submit under penalty of social disorganization, has a far higher authority over citizens than the government of any private organization can have over its members; then the reply is that, granting the difference, the answer made continues valid. If men use their liberty in such a way as to surrender their liberty, are they thereafter any the less slaves? If people by a plébiscite elect a man despot over them, do they remain free because the despotism was of their own making? Are the coercive edicts issued by him to be regarded as legitimate because they are the ultimate outcome of their own votes? As well might it be argued that the savage who breaks a spear in another's presence that he may so become bondsman to him, still retains his liberty because he freely chose his master.

Finally,if any—not without marks of irritation, as I can imagine—protest against this reasoning, and say that there is no true parallelism between the relation of people to government where an irresponsible single ruler has been permanently elected, and the relation where a responsible representative body is maintained, and from time to time re-elected, then there comes the ultimate reply—an altogether heterodox reply—by which most will be greatly astonished. This reply is, that these multitudinous restraining acts are not defensible on the ground that they proceed from a popularly chosen body; for that the authority of a popularly chosen body is no more to be regarded as an unlimited authority than the authority of a monarch; and that as true Liberalism in the past disputed the assumption of a monarch's unlimited authority, so true Liberalism in the present will dispute the assumption of unlimited parliamentary authority. Of this, however, more anon. Here I merely indicate it as an ultimate answer.

Meanwhile it suffices to point out that until recently, just as of old, true Liberalism was shown by its acts to be moving toward the theory of a limited parliamentary authority. All these abolitions of the restraints over religious beliefs and observances, over exchange and transit, over trade combinations and the traveling of artisans, over the publication of opinions, theological or political, etc., etc., were tacit recognitions of the propriety for limitation. In the same way that the final abandonment of sumptuary laws, of laws forbidding this or that kind of amusement, of laws dictating modes of farming, and many others of like meddling nature, which took place in early days, was an implied admission that the state ought not to interfere in such matters; so were those removals of hindrances to individual activities of one or other kind, which the Liberalism of the last generation effected, practical confessions that in these directions, too, the sphere of governmental action should be narrowed. And this recognition of the propriety of narrowing governmental action was a preparation for narrowing it in theory. One of the most familiar political truths is that, in the course of social evolution, usage precedes law, and that, when