Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/649

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
629
THE MACHINERY OF ELECTIVE GOVERNMENT.

brought to a close; the prolongation of the struggle, with all the appeals to passion and other sinister motives which it involves, is seriously affecting character and collecting difficulties round the government of the future, while a deeper and more momentous revolution, in the religious and social sphere, threatens the stability of civilization, and demands with increasing urgency the attention of the world.

It is needless to say that the forms of government are not all. Constitutions, however wisely framed, will not work without political character; nevertheless, constitutions are most important, and their influence in forming political character is not small. The adoption of elective government in any shape implies of course that the people have arrived at a certain stage of intelligence and self-control. In what are called the South American republics the attempt to introduce elective institutions among Spanish Creoles and Indians has totally failed, and the result is a series of dictatorships, the offspring of usurpation, which are little better than leaderships of a human herd. A sudden introduction of elective government into Russia would, in like manner, probably result in anarchy. On this subject the world has received lessons which reaction has exaggerated to the extent of almost denying the usefulness of wisely ordered institutions, as though blind habit and prejudice alone were trusty guides, and reason, sovereign in all other spheres, were excluded from the highest.

Strict definitions of government and enumerations of its functions are of little value. It may be described, practically, as the organization of the community for such objects as are best attained by common action; a definition which will include national defense and protection of life and property always, but also such other objects as circumstance and the conditions of the nation internal or external may from time to time suggest: centralization being at one time good, while, when a system has been set on foot and the people trained for it, the moment for decentralization may arrive, individual action being as a rule preferable because it calls forth more public virtue and raises the character of the citizen.

In such a paper as this, all that can be done is to present the chief points as they have been brought before the writer's mind by seeing the working of elective government in three countries—Great Britain, the United States, and a British colony. This object will be secured even if none of the writer's opinions, which are stated with unavoidable brevity, should commend themselves to the reader.

The chief points are party government, the expediency of a second Chamber, the mode of electing the Legislative Assembly, the constitution of the Executive, and the franchise. The consideration of these at least suffices for the present. On the horizon there are perhaps symptoms of a still greater change. Parliaments are losing much of their importance, because the real deliberation is being transferred from them to the press and the general organs of discussion by which