Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 25.djvu/155

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY.



JUNE, 1884.




THE SINS OF LEGISLATORS.

By HERBERT SPENCER.

II.

THE reply to all this will doubtless be that nothing better than guidance by "collective wisdom" can be had—that the select men of the nation, led by a reselected few, bring their best powers, enlightened by all the knowledge of the time, to bear on the matters before them. "What more would you have?" will be the question asked by most.

My answer is that this best knowledge of the time with which legislators are said to come prepared for their duties is a knowledge of which the greater part is obviously irrelevant, and that they are blame-worthy for not seeing what is the relevant knowledge. No amount of the linguistic acquirements by which many of them are distinguished will help their judgments in the least; nor will they be appreciably helped by the literatures these acquirements open to them. Neither the history of Thucydides, nor the biographies of Plutarch, nor the dialogues of Plato, will in any considerable degree prepare them for judging how this or that measure will operate on social life. Not even Aristotle's "Politics" will give them much help in judging how acts of Parliament are likely to work. They may ponder on the doings of all the great men by whom, according to the Carlylean theory, society is framed, and they may spend years over those accounts of international conflicts, and treacheries, and intrigues, and treaties, which fill historical works, without being much nearer understanding the how and the why of social structures and actions, and the ways in which laws affect them. Nor does such information as is picked up in the