Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Government

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

GOVERNMENT. Without attempting to discriminate by verbal definitions the various shades of meaning which this word assumes, we shall use it in this article in its widest sense that of the ruling power in a political society. The conception of society which this use of the word implies may be illustrated by two well-known theories. In John Austin's celebrated analysis of law, the first step is the proposition that a law is a command issued by a superior to a subject and enforced by a sanction or penalty. The laws of God with reference to the conduct of men, the laws of a private club or association of men with reference to the conduct of its members, and the laws of a political society, are all, according to Austin's definition, laws properly so called. The laws of nature are laws not properly so called. They are generalizations as to the uniform course of nature, and have no analogy to laws properly so called except in point of uniformity. Positive law, again, is distinguished from other laws, properly so called, as the command of the sovereign of an independent political community. A sovereign is a person, or a determinate body of persons, to whom the bulk of the community is habitually obedient. Every word in this definition has its precise meaning, which is developed by Austin with admirable clearness. The faculty " of untying knots " on which he prided himself is nowhere more conspicuously manifested than in the analysis which lays bare the real meaning of the common phrases used to describe the fundamental parts of society. It is not our purpose to examine the value of this analysis here, but simply to call attention to the assumption that in every society of men there is a determinate body (whether consisting of one individual, or a few or many individuals) whose commands the rest of the community obey. This sovereign body is what in more popular phrase is termed the Government of the country, and the varieties which may exist in its constitution are known as forms of government.

Mr Herbert Spencer, approaching the study of society under the influence of conceptions derived from the study of physical organisms, brings us to very much the same result. The union of men in society is itself an organic structure, having parts and functions corresponding to the parts and functions of an animal or a plant. Mr Spencer pursues this analogy so fully and minutely as to leave the impression that he believes it to be something more than an analogy, that it is a general law from which true deductions regarding society may be drawn. The veins and arteries correspond to our railroads and highways ; the nerves, communicating intelligence to the brain, are paralleled by the telegraph wires; the centralized action of society at the seat of government is the same thing as the regulative activity of the brain. Government is here represented by the regulative functions of a living organism, and forms of government are so many varieties in the structure. Austin, for the purposes of jurisprudence, finds it convenient to regard society as moulded by the will of a dominant body. Spencer exhibits the regulative parts of society as bound up with the rest in one organism. With both the existence of a government is necessary to the conception of society. In the one theory the element of command, in the other that of regulation, is conspicuous. If to these we add a third, that of simple agency, we shall have a tolerably complete view of the relations between Government and society. Besides commanding the conduct of individuals, besides regulating the relations of the various members of society, Government may be conceived of as merely the instrument of society. Where men are united in groups there arises from their union the necessity of action on behalf of the group. That part of society which attends to the business of the whole is the Government. Two main lines of inquiry divide the subject. The first relates to varieties in the structure of the governing body forms of government. The second relates to the functions of the governing body, the sphere of government, the things which fall within the province of state action. In both lines we have to deal with the ascertained facts of the past history and present condition of human societies. In both we have also to notice the speculative opinions of political thinkers. Notwithstanding the apparent confusion it will probably be found more convenient not to separate the historical from the speculative treatment of the subject. What is the best form of government 1 is not quite the same question as What was the constitution of Athens or Rome 1 What are the proper limits of state interference 1 is not the same question as What are the functions of the state in France or England 1 And yet the same answer may often serve for both sets of questions. Ideal constitutions have a suspicious resemblance to the constitutions with which their authors are most familiar. The political speculations of Plato and of Cicero are based on the state systems of Greece and Italy. Cicero's ideal code in the treatise De Legibus is simply an adaptation of the Twelve Tables. On the other hand, the form of political speculation is often determined by, and in turn determines, the practical politics of the time. The intimate connexion between speculation and practice in politics is strikingly illustrated in the period of controversy which culminated in the Revolution of 1688. The irreconcilable claims of crown and parliament threw the mind back on first principles. Never had theorists a better chance. Popular government and absolute government each sought to establish itself on a basis of reason and nature. Filmer founds kingly authority on the natural subjection of mankind and the lineal succession of the king to Adam, the first and divinely appointed head of mankind. Locke's general theories of civil government were, in his own opinion, sufficient "to establish the throne of our great restorer or present king, William, to make good his title in the consent of the people, which, being the only one of all lawful governments, he has more fully and clearly than any prince in Christendom." We all know how the political issue was decided. The practical was not more complete than the speculative victory. For two centuries the speculations invented to support the popular cause against absolutism have been the accepted commonplaces of Englishmen on the constitution of civil society. A more recent example may be given from modern politics. During the discussions which preceded the passing of the Reform Act of 1867, no question was more hotly disputed than that of the real nature of the franchise. Was it a right or was it a privilege ] In form this is a scientific or, if we like, a metaphysical question But the answer to it depended on another question altogether whether you wished the franchise to be extended to a larger class or not.

Origin of Government.—A preliminary question, formerly of vast theoretical importance, would be, What is the origin of government 1 How did government come into existence 1 As a question of historical fact, it demands for its solution a knowledge of the whole past of the human race. It has been answered over and over again in times when historical knowledge could hardly be said to exist, and it has therefore been answered without any refer ence to history. The answers which have satisfied the minds of men may be distinguished broadly into three classes. The first class would comprehend the legendary accounts which nations have given in primitive times of their own forms of government. These are always attri buted to the mind of a single lawgiver. The government of Sparta was the invention of Lycurgus. Solon, Moses, Xuma, and Alfred in like manner shaped the government of their respective nations. There was no curiosity about the institutions of other nations, about the origin of governments in general ; and each nation was perfectly ready to accept the traditional [Greek] of any other. The second may be called the logical or metaphysical account of the origin of government. It contained no overt reference to any particular form of government, what ever its covert references may have been. It answered the question, How government in general came into existence ; and it answered it by a logical analysis of the elements of society. The phenomenon to be accounted for being govern ment and laws, it abstracted government and laws, and con templated mankind as existing without them. The charac teristic feature of this kind of speculation is that it reflects how contemporary men would behave if all government were removed, and infers that men must have behaved so before government came into existence. Society without government resolves itself into a number of individuals each following his own aims, and therefore, in the days before government, each man followed his own aims. It is easy to see how this kind of reasoning should lead to very different views of the nature of the supposed original state. With Hobbes, it is a state of war, and government is the result of an agreement among men to keep the peace. With Locke, it is a state of liberty and equality, it is not a state of war ; it is governed by its own law, the law of nature, which is the same thing as the law of reason. The state of nature is brought to an end by the voluntary agree ment of individuals to surrender their natural liberty, and submit themselves to one supreme Government. In the words of Locke, " Men being by nature all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate and sub jected to the political power of another without his own consent. The only way whereby any one divests himself of his natural liberty, and puts on the bonds of civil society, is by agreeing with other men to join and unite into a com munity " (On Civil Government, c. viii.). Locke boldly defends his theory as founded on historical fact, and it is amusing to compare his demonstration of the baselessness of Filmer s speculations with the scanty and doubtful ex amples which he accepts as the foundation of his own. But in general the various forms of the hypothesis eliminate the question of time altogether. The original contract from which government sprung is likewise the subsisting contract on which civil society continues to be based. The histori cal weakness of the theory was probably always recognized. Its logical inadequacy was conclusively demonstrated by Austin. But it still clings to speculations on the principles of government. The " social compact " is the most famous of the metaphy sical explanations of government. It has had the largest history, the widest influence, and the most complete develop ment. To the same class belong the various forms of the theory that governments exist by divine appointment. Of all that has been written about the divine right of kings, a great deal must be set down to the mere flatteries of courtiers and ecclesiastics. But there remains a genuine belief that men are bound to obey their rulers because their rulers have been appointed by God. Like the social compact, the theory of divine appointment avoided the question of historical fact. The application of the historical method to the phenomena of society has changed the aspect of the question and robbed it of its political interest. The student of the history of society has no formula to express the law by which govern ment is born. All that he can do is to trace governmental forms through various stages of social development. The more complex and the larger the society, the more distinct is the separation between the governing part and the rest, and the more elaborate is the subdivision of functions in the government. The primitive type of ruler is king, judge, priest, and general. At the same time, his way of life differs little from that of his followers and subjects. The metaphysical theories were so far right in imputing greater equality of social conditions to more primitive times. In crease of bulk brings with it a more complex social organ ization. War tends to develop the strength of the govern mental organization ; peace relaxes it. All societies of men exhibit the germs of government ; but there would appear to be races of men so low that they cannot be said to live together in society at all. Recent investigations have illustrated very fully the importance of the family in primitive societies, and the belief in a common descent has much to do with the social cohesion of a tribe. The govern ment of a tribe resembles the government of a household ; the head of the family is the ruler. But we cannot affirm that political government has its origin in family govern ment, or that there may not have been states of society in which government of some sort existed while the family did not.


I. Forms of Government.
Three Standard FormsGreek PoliticsThe Government of RomeModern Governments—FeudalismParliamentary Government—The English SystemLeading Features of Parliamentary GovernmentThe Two ChambersCabinet GovernmentChange of Power in the English SystemChange of Power in the United StatesChange of Power in FranceRepresentationThe Relation between Government and Laws
II. Sphere of Government.
JudicatureLimits of State Interference in Legislation and AdministrationImportance of this Question in English PoliticsState and ChurchThe Laissez-faire Theory—MillHerbert SpencerTendency of recent LegislationReduction of State Action—ReligionContractIncrease of State ActionEducation of ChildrenRegulation of the Labour of Children and WomenRegulation of Dangerous EmploymentsPublic HealthPublic ConvenienceEndowmentsProfessionsProtection of things from Excessive ConsumptionCoercion for Moral Purposes

We have hitherto confined our attention to simple as opposed to compound forms of government, and to the supreme as opposed to the subordinate functions of govern ment. The complete treatment of the subject would require us to take some notice of the (1) association of several com- m .mities, with separate governments under one sovereignty, and (2) of the subordinate organizations for carrying on the governme.it of localities, under the supreme government.

1. Federal Government.—As this is the subject of a separate article (vol. ix. p. Gl), we need only notice here the case in which one of the associated Governments is the ultimate seat of sovereign power the others being its colonies or dependencies. England is, of course, by far the most illustrious example of a country so situated, and her relations with the subordinate communities exhibit much variety of form. One leading distinction may be drawn, namely, between the communities which are allowed to govern themselves and those which, either as being unfit for self-government, like India and Fiji, or on account of the military necessities of the situation, as Malta and Gibraltar, are governed by the officers of the English Government. In the subject dependencies, as the latter may be called, the government is usually carried on by a governor and council, nominated by the crown, and holding office for various terms of- years. The council, as a general rule, consists of the higher officers of the dependency, such as the chief-justice or the attorney- general. The governor and council are strictly the delegates of the home Go em inent and have no legal or constitutional status of their own. The recently acquired island of Cyprus occupies an anomalous position in the British state system. The English Government holds it, not as sovereign, but as lieutenant-general of the sovereign, the sultan of Turkey. The government of the island is vested in a commissioner who takes his orders, not from the colonial, but from the foreign office. As a general rule the relations between the mother country and her dependencies are under the charge- of a special department of state the colonial office. In free dependencies the alternative is between some kind of confederation with the mother country, whereby the dependency shall have a representative voice in the supreme government, and the practical independence of the dependency in all but international affairs. In the French system the deputies of Algiers and other colonies sit in the supreme legislature along with the other representatives of France. In the English system distance alone would render sucha scheme impracticable; and, even where distance would be little or no hindrance, there has been no desire en either side for any such connexion. Dependencies like the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are as completely sepa rated from England as New Zealand and Canada. The free dependencies have local constitutions framed on the model of the home Government two chambers of legis lature, a governor nominated by the crown, and a ministry dependent on parliament. The governor is supposed to stand to the ministry and parliament as the crown to the ministry and parliament at home ; but it is to be remem bered that the governor is, properly speaking, the representa tive not of the English crown but of the English Govern ment. It is from the colonial secretary that the governor takes his instructions, and the colonial secretary and his colleagues take their instructions from the House of Commons. And, just as the practice of the constitution has made it impossible for the monarch to resist the wishes of parliament, so it is established that the governor, ns representing England, shall not veto enactments of the colonial legislature. Just as in England the House of Commons invariably determines the fate of a ministry, so does the lower or popular house in a colonial legislature. It is needless to say that this is a very great advance on the old theory of colonial relations. Beginning in special grants or charters granted to individuals or corporations, the English colonies in North America held their liberties by the grace of the crown. The successful revolt of the colonies taught the mother country the folly of supposing that Englishmen in America would consent to be governed by Englishmen at home. Although colonial institutions are modelled as nearly as may be after the original type, they are not entirely free from questions of fundamental difficulty. The central question of government Whose will is to prevail 1 has at the present time (1879) been agitating two of the greatest of the colonies, a deadlock between the council and the assembly in Victoria being referred to England, and the governor-general of Canada refusing to dismiss a^lieu- teuant-governor on the advice of his responsible ministry. The subjection of colonies to the home Government is still retained in two important cases. The colonies have no voice whatever in determining the nature of their relations with other communities ; the question of peace or war is decided for them by the home Government. Again, all the colonies, whatever may be their powers of local self- government, seek justice in the last resort from the sove reign in council.

2. Local Government.—As the business of society at large must be undertaken by the supreme government, so the local business of the subdivisions of society must be undertaken by local sub-governments. Local government repeats on a small scale the features of the supreme government, but its business is chiefly judicial and adminis trative. The most marked distinction here is between rural and urban communities between the county and the borough. Self-government or representative govern ment is the rule in the latter, the exception in the former. In England, since the Municipal Corporations Act, the affairs of all urban communities, except the city of London and a few unimportant boroughs, are managed by the direct representatives of the inhabitants. In the counties the control of affairs rests with the justices of the peace, who are nominated by the crown exclusively from the class of gentry. The degree of control exercised by the supreme govern ment over local governments is a point of first-rate import ance in the constitution of a country. Among free countries England and France stand at opposite ends of the scale, England being characterized by great local independence, France by strict central control. Thus it is said that, even under the republic, the minister of education can say that at a given hour all the children in all the schools of France are learning the same lesson. The habitual dependence of the French people upon the action of the state has been described as a survival from the times of imperial despotism which may be expected to disappear gradually under the influence of freedom. A step in this direction has certainly been taken in the proposal to allow communes to elect their own maire ; and the abuse of the prefectoral system by a recent ministry ought to lead to some diminution of its enormous powers. On the other hand the increased activity of the state, which, as we have already seen, has accompanied the establishment of popular government on a wide basis in England, has shown itself also in increased centralization. The new functions educational, sanitary, and other- imposed on local bodies are controlled by the supreme government through central boards. In 1871 the local government board was constituted to take over the powers of control over local boards hitherto exercised by various high officers of state, the poor law board, and the privy council. More recently the Prisons Act of 1877 has trans ferred to the secretary of state the powers hitherto exercised by the local prison authorities, and has made the cost of maintaining local prisons a burden on the public funds.

As we have already said, the work of local governments generally embraces very little that can properly be called legislation. They have a power of making bye-laws for carrying out within their district the purposes of a general law, and over that power the courts of justice exercise a vigilant control. Parliament in England has hitherto looked with great distrust on subordinate legislatures, and it is a common saying that the jealousy of the House of Commons is one of the reasons why the metropolis remains without municipal government. But it would now be generally admitted that the legislation demanded of parliament every year is greatly beyond its effective powers. There are in dications of an approach to something that may be described as home rule a name which inspires more distrust than the reality. Parliament makes no pretence of consistency in legislating separately for England, Scotland, and Ireland. To take only notorious examples, the Irish Land Act, flie Disestablishment Act, and the Sunday Liquor Act of Ireland, and the Forbes Mackenzie Act of Scotland are instances of legislation according to the supposed wishes of the people specially affected. Irish and Scotch business tends in the House of Commons more and more to fall into the hands of Irish and Scotch members, and the interference of others is not unfrequently resented as an intrusion. Again, private bill legislation, regulated as it is by ascertained general principles, has come to be in fact, as in form, a purely judicial proceeding, which might well be relegated, as it no doubt one day will be relegated, to local tribunals. Another indication of the same tendency is to be found in what is called permissive legislation, which leaves to local authorities the responsibility of deciding how far a given principle shal] be applied.

(e. r.)