Popular Science Monthly/Volume 19/July 1881/The Development of Political Institutions VIII
|THE DEVELOPMENT OF POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS.|
TWO parts of the primitive triune political structure have, in the last two chapters, been dealt with separately; or, to speak strictly, the first has been considered as independent of the second, and again, the second as independent of the first: incidentally noting its relations to the third. Here we have to treat of the two in combination. Instead of observing how from the chief, little above the rest, there is, under certain conditions, evolved the absolute ruler, entirely subordinating the select few and the many; and instead of observing how, under other conditions, the select few become an oligarchy tolerating no supreme man, and keeping the multitude in subjection, we have now to observe the cases in which there is established a coöperation between the first and the second.
After chieftainship has become settled, the chief continues to have sundry reasons for acting in concert with his head-men. It is needful to conciliate them; it is needful to get their advice and willing assistance; and, in serious matters, it is desirable to divide responsibility with them. Hence the prevalence of a consultative assembly. In Samoa, "the chief of the village and the heads of families formed, and still form, the legislative body of the place." Among the Foolahs, "before undertaking anything important or declaring war, the king [of Rabbah] is obliged to summon a council of Mallams and the principal people." Of the Mandingo states we read that, "in all affairs of importance, the king calls an assembly of the principal men, or elders, by whose counsels he is directed." And such cases might be multiplied indefinitely.
That we may fully understand the essential nature of this institution, and that we may see why, as it evolves, it assumes the distinctive characters it does, we must once more go back to the beginning.
Evidence, coming from many peoples in all times, shows that the consultative body is, at the outset, nothing more than a council of war. It is in the open-air meeting of armed men that the cluster of leaders is first seen performing that deliberative function in respect of military measures which is afterward extended to other measures. Long after its deliberations have become more general in their scope, there survive traces of this origin.
In Rome, where the king was above all things the general, and where the senators, as the heads of clans, were, at the outset, war chiefs, the burgesses were habitually, when called together, addressed as "spear-men": there survived the title which was naturally given to them when they were present as listeners at war-councils. So, during later days in Italy, when the small republics grew up. Describing the assembling of "citizens at the sound of a great bell, to concert together the means of their common defense," Sismondi says, "This meeting of all the men of the state capable of bearing arms was called a Parliament." Concerning the gatherings of the Poles in early times we read: "Such assemblies, before the establishment of a senate, and while the kings were limited in power, were of frequent occurrence, and. . . were attended by all who bore arms"; and at a later stage "the comitia paludata, which assembled during an interregnum, consisted of the whole body of nobles, who attended in the open plain, armed and equipped as if for battle." In Hungary, too, up to the beginning of the sixteenth century, "les seigneurs, à cheval et armés de pied en cap comme pour aller en guerre, se réunissaient dans le champ de courses de Rakos, près de Pesth, et là discutaient en plain air les affaires publiques." Again, "the supreme political council is the nation in arms," says Stubbs of the primitive Germans; and though, during the Merovingian period, the popular power declined, yet, "under Chlodovech and his immediate successors, the people assembled in arms had a real participation in the resolutions of the king." Even now the custom of going weapon in hand is maintained where the primitive political form remains. "To the present day," writes M. Laveleye, "the inhabitants of the Outer Rhodes of Appenzell come to the general assembly, one year at Hundwyl and the other at Trogen, each carrying in his hand an old sword or ancient rapier of the middle ages." Mr. Freeman, too, was witness to a like annual gathering in Uri, where the inhabitants assemble in arms to elect their chief magistrate and to deliberate.
It may, indeed, be alleged that in early, unsettled times the carrying of arms by each freeman was needful for personal safety, especially when a place of meeting very far from his home had to be reached. But there is evidence that, though this continued to be a cause for assembling in arms, it was not by itself a sufficient cause. While we read of the ancient Scandinavians that "all freemen capable of bearing arms were admitted" to the national assembly, and that, after his election from "among the descendants of the sacred stock," "the new sovereign was elevated amid the clash of arms and the shouts of the multitude," we also read that "nobody, not even the king or his champions, were allowed to come armed to the assizes."
Even apart from such evidence, there is ample reason to infer that the council of war originated the consultative body, and gave outlines to its structure. Defense against enemies was everywhere the need which originally prompted joint deliberation. For other purposes individual action, or action in small parties, might suffice; but for insuring the general safety combined action of the whole horde or tribe was necessary; and to secure this combined action must have been the first motive for a political gathering. Moreover, certain constitutional traits of early assemblies, among the civilized, point to councils of war as having initiated them. If we ask what must happen when, in a tribe, the predominant few debate military measures in presence of the many, the reply is that, in the absence of a developed political organization, the assent of the many to any decision must be obtained before it can be acted upon; and the like must at first happen when many tribes are united. As Gibbon says of the Diet of the Tartars, formed of chiefs of tribes and their martial trains, "the monarch who reviews the strength, must consult the inclination, of an armed people." Even if, under such conditions, the predominant few could impose their will upon the many, armed like themselves, it would clearly be impolitic to do so, since success in war would be endangered by dissension. Hence would arise the usage of putting to the surrounding mass of armed men the question whether they agreed to the course which the council of chiefs had decided upon. There would grow up a form such as that which had become established for governmental purposes at large among the early Romans, whose king or general asked the assembled burgesses or "spear-men" whether they approved of the proposal made; or like that ascribed by Tacitus to the primitive Germans, who, now with murmurs and now with brandishing of spears, rejected or accepted the suggestions of their leaders. Moreover, there would naturally come just that restricted expression of popular opinion which we are told of. The Roman burgesses were allowed to answer only "Yes" or "No" to any question put to them; and this is exactly the simple answer which the chief and head warriors would require from the rest of the warriors when war or peace had to be determined upon. A kindred restriction existed among the Spartans. In addition to the senate and coordinate kings, there was "an Ekklesia, or public assembly of citizens, convened for the purpose of approving or rejecting propositions submitted to them, with little or no liberty of discussion"—a usage quite explicable if we assume that in the Homeric Agora, from which the Spartan constitution descended, the assembled chiefs had to gain the assent of their surrounding followers before important actions could be undertaken.
Concluding, then, that war originates political deliberation, and that the select body which especially carries on this deliberation first takes shape on occasions when the public safety has to be provided for, we shall be prepared the better to understand the traits which characterize the consultative body in later stages of its development.
Already we have seen that at the outset the militant class was of necessity the land-owning class. In the savage tribe there are no owners of the tract occupied, save the warriors who use it in common for hunting. During pastoral life, good regions for cattle-feeding are jointly held against intruders by force of arms. And, where the agricultural stage has been reached, communal possession, family possession, and individual possession, have from time to time to be defended by the sword. Hence, as was shown, the fact that in early stages the bearing of arms and the holding of land habitually go together.
While, as among hunting-peoples, land continues to be held in common, the contrasts which arise between the few and the many are such only as result from actual or supposed personal superiority of one kind or other. It is true that, as pointed out, differences of wealth, in the shape of chattels, boats, slaves, etc., cause some class-differentiations; and that thus, even before private land-owning begins, quantity of possessions aids in distinguishing the governing from the governed. When the pastoral state is arrived at and the patriarchal type established, such ownership as there is vests in the eldest son of the eldest; or if, as Sir Henry Maine says, he is to be considered trustee for the group, still his trusteeship joins with his military headship in giving him supremacy. At a later stage, when lands come to be occupied by settled families and communities, and land-ownership gains definiteness, this union of traits in each head of a group becomes more marked; and, as was shown when treating of the differentiation of nobles from freemen, several influences conspire to give the eldest son of the eldest superiority in extent of landed possessions, as well as in degree of power. Nor is this fundamental relation changed when a nobility of service replaces a nobility of birth, and when, as presently happens, the adherents of a conquering invader are rewarded by portions of the subjugated territory, granted on condition of continued military service. Throughout, the tendency continues to be for the class of military superiors to be identical with the class of large land-owners.
It follows, then, that, beginning with the general assemblage of armed freemen, all of them holding land individually or in groups, whose council of leaders, deliberating in presence of the rest, are distinguished only as being the most capable warriors, there will, through frequent wars and progressing consolidations, be produced a state in which this council of leaders becomes further distinguished from the rest by the larger possessions, and consequent greater powers, of its members. Becoming more and more contrasted with the general mass of armed freemen, the consultative body will tend gradually to subordinate it, and, eventually separating itself, will become independent.
The growth of this temporary council of war, in which the king, acting as general, summons to give their advice the leaders of his forces, into the permanent consultative body in which the king, in his capacity of ruler, presides over the deliberations of the same men on public affairs at large, is exemplified in various parts of the world. The consultative body is everywhere composed of minor chiefs, or heads of clans, or feudal lords, in whom the military and civil rule of local groups is habitually joined with wide possessions; and the examples frequently exhibit this composition on both a small and a large scale—both locally and generally. A rude and early form of the arrangement is shown in Africa. Among the Caffres "every chief chooses from among his most wealthy subjects five or six, who act as counselors to him. . . . The great council of the king is composed of the chiefs of particular kraals." A Bechuana tribe "generally includes a number of towns or villages, each having its distinct head, under whom there are a number of subordinate chiefs," who "all acknowledge the supremacy of the principal one. His power, though very great and in some instances despotic, is, nevertheless, controlled by the minor chiefs, who, in their pichos or pitshos their parliament or public meetings, use the greatest plainness of speech in exposing what they consider culpable or lax in his government." Of the Wanyamwezi. Burton says that the Sultan is "surrounded by a council, varying from two to a score of chiefs and elders. . . . His authority is circumscribed by a rude balance of power; the chiefs around him can probably bring as many warriors into the field as he can." Similarly in Ashantee. "The caboceers and captains. . . claim to be heard on all questions relating to war and foreign politics. Such matters are considered in a general assembly, and the king sometimes finds it prudent to yield to the views and urgent representations of the majority." From the ancient American states, too, instances may be cited. In Mexico "general assemblies were presided over by the king every eighty days. They came to these meetings from all parts of the country"; and then we read further that the highest rank of nobility, the Teuctli, "took precedence of all others in the senate, both in the order of sitting and voting," showing what was the composition of the senate. It was so, too, with the Central Americans of Vera Paz: "Though the supreme rule was exercised by a king, there were inferior lords as his coadjutors, who mostly were titled lords and vassals; they formed the royal council, . . . and joined the king in his palace as often as they were called upon." Turning to Europe, mention may first be made of ancient Poland. Originally formed of independent tribes, "each governed by its own kniaz, or judge, whom age or reputed wisdom had raised to that dignity," and each led in war by a temporary voivod or captain, these tribes had, in the course of that compounding and recompounding which wars produced, differentiated into classes of nobles and serfs, over whom was an elected king. Of the organization which existed before the king lost his power, we are told that—
So, too, during internal wars and wars against Rome, the primitive Germanic tribes, once semi-nomadic and but slightly organized, passing through the stage in which armed chiefs and freemen periodically assembled for deliberations on war and other matters, evolved a kindred structure. In Charlemagne's time, at the great assembly of the year—
And then at a later period, as Hallam writes—
the mass of the rural population having thus ceased to possess power. Similarly during the later feudal period in France. An "ordinance of 1228, respecting the heretics of Languedoc, is rendered with the advice of our great men and prudhommes"; and one "of 1246, concerning levies and redemptions in Anjou and Maine," says that, "having called around us, at Orleans, the barons and great men of the said counties, and having held attentive counsel with them," etc.
To meet the probable criticism that no notice has been taken of the ecclesiastics usually included in the consultative body, it is needful to point out that due recognition of them does not involve any essential change in the account above given. Though modern usages lead us to think of the priest-class as distinct from the warrior-class, yet it was not originally distinct. With the truth that, habitually in militant societies, the king is at once commander-in-chief and high-priest, carrying out in both capacities the dictates of his deity, we may join the truth that the subordinate priest is usually a direct or indirect aider of the wars thus supposed to be divinely prompted. In illustration of the one truth may be cited the fact that, before going to war, Radama, King of Madagascar, "acting as priest as well as general, sacrificed a cock and a heifer, and offered a prayer at the tomb of Andria-Masina, his most renowned ancestor." And in illustration of the other truth may be cited the fact that, among the Hebrews, whose priests accompanied the army to battle, we read of Samuel, a priest from childhood upward, as conveying to Saul God's command to "smite Amalek," and as having himself hewed Agag in pieces. More or less active participation in war by priests we everywhere find in savage and semi-civilized societies; as among the Dakotas, Mundrucus, Abipones, Khonds, whose priests decide on the time for war, or give the signal for attack; as among the Tahitians, whose priests "bore arms, and marched with the warriors to battle"; as among the Mexicans, whose priests, the habitual instigators of wars, accompanied their idols in front of the army, and "sacrificed the first-taken prisoners" at once; as among the ancient Egyptians, of whom we read that "the priest of a god was often a military or naval commander." And the naturalness of the connection, thus common in rude and in ancient societies, is shown by its revival in later societies, notwithstanding an adverse creed. After Christianity had passed out of its early extra-political stage into the stage in which it became a state religion, its priests, during actively militant periods, reacquired the primitive militant character. "By the middle of the eighth century [in France], regular military service on the part of the clergy was already fully developed." In the early feudal period, bishops, abbots, and priors, became feudal lords, with all the powers and responsibilities attaching to their positions: they had bodies of troops in their pay, took towns and fortresses, sustained sieges, led or sent troops in aid of kings. And Orderic, in 1094, describes the priests as leading their parishioners to battle, and the abbots their vassals. Though in recent times Church dignitaries do not actively participate in war, yet their advisatory function respecting it—often prompting rather than restraining—has not even now ceased, as among ourselves was lately shown in the vote of the bishops, who, with one exception, approved the invasion of Afghanistan.
That the consultative body habitually includes ecclesiastics, does not, therefore, conflict with the statement that, beginning as a war council, it grows into a permanent assembly of minor military heads.
Under a different form there is here partially repeated what was set forth when treating of oligarchies: the difference arising from inclusion of the king as a coöperative factor. Moreover, much that was before said respecting the influence of war in narrowing oligarchies applies to that narrowing of the primitive consultative assembly by which there is produced from it a body of land-owning military nobles. But that consolidation of small societies into large ones effected by war brings other influences which join in working this result.
In early assemblies of men similarly armed it must happen that though the inferior many will recognize that authority of the superior few which is due to their leaderships as warriors, to their clan-headships, or to their supposed supernatural descent, yet the superior few, conscious that they are no match for the inferior many in a physical contest, will be obliged to treat their opinions with some deference—will not be able completely to monopolize power. But as fast as there progresses that class-differentiation before described, and as fast as the superior few acquire better weapons than the inferior many, or, as among various ancient peoples, have war-chariots, or, as in mediæval Europe, wear coats of mail or plate-armor and are mounted on horses, they, feeling their advantage, will pay less respect to the opinions of the many. And the habit of ignoring their opinions will be followed by the habit of regarding any expression of their opinions as an impertinence.
This gradual usurpation will be furthered by the growth of those bodies of armed dependents with which the superior few surround themselves—mercenaries and others, who, while unconnected with the common freemen, are bound by fealty to their employers. These, too, with better weapons and defensive appliances than the mass, will be led to regard them with contempt, and to aid in subordinating them.
Not only on the occasions of general assemblies, but from day to day in their respective localities, the increasing power of the chiefs thus caused will tend to reduce the freemen more and more to the rank of dependents, and especially so where the military service of such nobles to their king is dispensed with or allowed to lapse, as happened in Denmark about the thirteenth century:
A further influence conducing to loss of power by the armed freemen and gain of power by the armed chiefs, who form the consultative body, follows that widening of the occupied area which goes along with the compounding and recompounding of societies. As Richter remarks of the Merovingian period: "Under Chlodovech and his immediate successors, the people assembled in arms had a real participation in the resolutions of the king. But, with the increasing size of the kingdom, the meeting of the entire people became impossible." Only those who lived near the appointed places could attend. Two facts, one already given under another head, may be named as illustrating this effect: "The greatest national council in Madagascar is an assembly of the people of the capital and the heads of the provinces, districts, towns, villages," etc.; and, speaking of the English Witenagemot, Mr. Freeman says, "Sometimes we find direct mention of the presence of large and popular classes of men, as the citizens of London or Winchester": the implication in both cases being that all freemen had a right to attend, but that only those on the spot could readily avail themselves of the right. This cause for restriction, which is commented upon by Mr. Freeman, operates in several ways. The actual cost of a journey to the place fixed for the meeting, when a kingdom has become large, is too great to be borne by a man who owns but a few acres. Further, there is the indirect cost entailed by loss of time, which, to one who personally labors or superintends labor, is serious. Again, there is the danger, which in turbulent times is considerable, save to those who go with bodies of well-armed retainers. And obviously these deterrent causes must tell where, for the above reasons, the incentives to attend have become small.
Yet another cause coöperates. When the occupied area is large, and therefore the number inhabiting it great, an assembly of all the armed freemen, could they be gathered, would be disabled from taking part in the proceedings, both by its size and by its lack of organization. A multitude made of those who have come from scattered points over a wide country, mostly unknown to one another, unable to hold previous communication, and therefore without plans, as well as without leaders, can not cope with the relatively small but well-organized body of those having common ideas and acting in concert.
Nor should there be omitted the fact that when the causes above named have conspired to decrease the attendance of men in arms who live far off, and when there grows up the usage of summoning the more important among them, it naturally happens that in course of time the receipt of a summons becomes the authority for attendance, and the absence of a summons becomes equivalent to the absence of a right to attend.
Here, then, are several influences, all directly or indirectly consequent upon war, which join in differentiating the consultative body from the mass of armed freemen out of which it arises.
Given the ruler, and given the consultative body thus arising, there remains to ask. What are the causes of change in their relative powers? Always between these two authorities there must be a struggle—each trying to subordinate the other. Under what conditions, then, is the king enabled to override the consultative body; and under what conditions is the consultative body enabled to override the king?
Inevitably a belief in the superhuman nature of the king gives him an immense advantage in the contest for supremacy. If he is god-descended, open opposition to his will by his advisers is out of the question; and members of his council, singly or in combination, dare do no more than tender humble advice. Moreover, if the line of succession is so settled that there rarely or never occur occasions on which the king has to be elected by the chief men, so that they have no opportunity of choosing one who will conform to their wishes, they are further debarred from maintaining any authority. Hence, habitually; we do not find consultative bodies having an independent status in the despotically governed countries of the East, ancient or modern. Though we read of the Egyptian king that "he appears to have been attended in war by the council of the thirty, composed apparently of privy councilors, scribes, and high officers of state," the implication is that the members of this council were functionaries, having such powers only as the king deputed to them. Similarly in Babylonia and Assyria, attendants and others who performed the duties of ministers and advisers to the god-descended rulers did not form established assemblies for deliberative purposes. In ancient Persia, too, there was a like condition. The hereditary king, almost sacred and bearing extravagant titles, though subject to some check from princes and nobles of royal blood who were leaders of the army, and who tendered advice, was not under the restraint of a constituted body of them. Throughout the history of Japan down to our own time a kindred state of things existed. The Daimios were required to be present at the capital during prescribed intervals, as a precaution against insubordination; but they were never, while there, called together to take any share in the government. And hereditary divine kingship, having this as its concomitant in Japan, has it likewise in China. We read that, "although there is nominally no deliberative or advisatory body in the Chinese Government, and nothing really analogous to a congress, parliament, or tiers-état, still necessity compels the Emperor to consult and advise with some of his officers." Nor does Europe fail to yield us evidence of like meaning. I do not refer only to the case of Russia, but more especially to the case of France during the time when monarchy had assumed its most absolute form. In the age when divines like Bossuet taught that "the King is accountable to no one, . . . the whole state is in him, and the will of the whole people is contained in his"—in the age when the King (Louis XIY), "imbued with the idea of his omnipotence and divine mission," "was regarded by his subjects with adoration" he "had extinguished and absorbed even the minutest trace, idea, and recollection of all other authority except that which emanated from himself alone." Along with establishment of hereditary succession and acquirement of divine prestige, such power of the other estates as existed in early days had disappeared.
Conversely, there are cases showing that where the king has never had, or does not preserve, the prestige of supposed descent from a god, and where he continues to be elective, the power of the consultative body is apt to override the royal power, and eventually to suppress it. The first to be named is that of Rome. Originally "the king convoked the senate when he pleased, and laid before it his questions; no senator might declare his opinion unasked; still less might, the senate meet without being summoned." But here, where the king, though regarded as having divine approval, was not held to be of divine descent, and where, though usually nominated by a predecessor, he was sometimes practically elected by the senate and always submitted to the form of popular approval, the consultative body presently became supreme. "The senate had in course of time been converted, from a corporation intended merely to advise the magistrates, into a board commanding the magistrates, and self-governing." Afterward "the right of nominating and canceling senators, originally belonging to the magistrates, was withdrawn from them"; and, finally, "the irremovable character and life-tenure of the members of the ruling order, who obtained seat and vote, was definitely consolidated": the oligarchic constitution became pronounced. The history of Poland yields another example. After unions of simply-governed tribes had produced small states and generated a nobility, and after these small states had been united, there arose a kingship. At first elective, as kingships habitually are, this continued so—never became hereditary. On the occasion of each election out of the royal clan, there was an opportunity of choosing for king one whose character the turbulent nobles thought fittest for their own purposes; and hence it resulted that the power of the kingship decayed. Eventually—
And then there is the instance furnished by Scandinavia, already named in another relation. Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish kings were originally elective; and, though, on sundry occasions, hereditary succession became for a time the usage, there were repeated lapses into the elective form, with the result that predominance was gained by the feudal chieftains and prelates forming the consultative body.
The second element in the triune political structure is thus, like the first, developed by militancy. By this the ruler is eventually separated from all below him; and by this the superior few become integrated into a deliberative body separated from the inferior many.
That the council of war, formed of leading warriors who debate in presence of their followers, is the germ out of which the consultative body arises, is implied by the survival of usages which show that a political gathering is originally a gathering of armed men. In harmony with this implication are such facts as that, after a comparatively settled state has been reached, the power of the assembled people is limited to accepting or rejecting the proposals made, and that the members of the consultative body, summoned by the ruler, who is also the general, give their opinions only when invited by him to do so.
Nor do we lack clews to the process by which the primitive war council grows, consolidates, and separates itself. Within the warrior class, which is also the land-owning class, war produces increasing differences of wealth, as well as increasing differences of status; so that, along with the compounding and recompounding of groups which war brings about, the military leaders come to be distinguished as large land-owners and local rulers. Hence, members of the consultative body become contrasted with the freemen at large, not only as leading warriors are contrasted with their followers, but, still more, as men of wealth and authority.
This increasing contrast between the second and third elements of the triune political body ends in separation when, in course of time, war consolidates large territories. Armed freemen scattered over a wide area are deterred from attending the periodic assemblies by cost of travel, by cost of time, by danger, and also by the experience that multitudes of men, unprepared and unorganized, are helpless in presence of an organized few, better armed and mounted, and with bands of retainers. So that, passing through a time during which only the armed freemen living near the place of meeting attend, there comes a time when even these, not being summoned, are considered as having no right to attend; and thus the consultative body becomes completely differentiated.
Changes in the relative powers of the ruler and the consultative body are determined by obvious causes. If the king retains or acquires the repute of supernatural origin or authority, and the law of hereditary succession is so settled as to exclude election, those who might else have formed a consultative body having coördinate power become simply appointed advisers. But, if the king has not the prestige of supposed sacred origin or commission, and continues to be elective, then the consultative body retains power, and is liable to become an oligarchy.
Of course, it is not alleged that all consultative bodies have arisen in the way described, or are constituted in like manner. Societies, broken up by wars or dissolved by revolutions, may preserve so little of their primitive organizations that there remain no classes of the kinds out of which such consultative bodies as those described arise. Or, as we see in our own colonies, societies may have been formed in ways which have not fostered classes of land-owning militant chiefs, and therefore do not furnish the elements out of which the consultative body, in its primitive shape, is composed. Under conditions of these kinds the assemblies answering to them, so far as may be in position and function, are formed under the influence of tradition or example; and in default of men of the original kind are formed of others—generally, however, of those who, by position, seniority, or previous official experience, are more eminent than those forming popular assemblies. It is only to what may be called the normal consultative body which grows up during that compounding and recompounding of small societies into large ones which war effects that the foregoing description applies; and the senates, or superior chambers, which arise under later and more complex conditions, may be considered as homologous to them in function and composition so far only as the new conditions permit.