Page images
PDF
EPUB

mental conditions of Parliamentary Government, which I call “rationality," by which I do not mean reasoning power, but rather the power of hearing the reasons of others, of comparing them quietly with one's own reasons, and then being guided by the result. But a French Assembly is not easy to reason with. Every assembly is divided into parties and into sections of parties, and in France each party, almost every section of a party, begins not to clamour but to scream, and to scream as only Frenchmen can, as soon as it hears anything which it particularly dislikes. With an Assembly in this temper, real discussion is impossible, and Parliamentary Government is impossible too, because the Parliament can neither choose men nor measures. The French assemblies under the Restored Monarchy seem to have been quieter, probably because being elected from a limited constituency they did not contain so many sections of opinion; they had fewer irritants and fewer species of irritability. But the assemblies of the '48 Republic were disorderly in the extreme. I saw the last myself, and can certify that steady discussion upon a critical point was not possible in it. There was not an audience willing to hear. The Assembly now sitting at Versailles is undoubtedly also, at times, most tumultuous, and a Parliamentary Government in which it governs must be under a peculiar difficulty, because as a sovereign it is unstable, capricious, and unruly.

The difficulty is the greater because there is no check, or little, from the French nation upon the Assembly. The French, as a nation, do not care for or appreciate Parliamentary Government. I have endeavoured to explain how difficult it is for inexperienced mankind to take to such a government; how much more natural, that is, how much more easy to uneducated men is loyalty to a monarch. A nation which does not expect good from a Parliament, cannot check or punish a Parliament. France expects, I fear, too little from her Parliaments ever to get what she ought. Now that the suffrage is universal, the average intellect and the average culture of the constituent bodies are excessively low; and even such mind and culture as there is has long been enslaved to authority; the French peasant cares more for standing well with his present préfet than for anything else whatever; he is far too ignorant to check and watch his Parliament, and far too timid to think of doing either if the executive authority nearest to him did not like it. The experiment of a strictly Parliamentary Republic-of a Republic where the Parliament appoints the Executive—is being tried in France at an extreme disadvantage, because in France a Parliament is unusually likely to be bad, and unusually likely also to be free enough to show its badness.

Secondly, the present polity of France is not a copy of the whole effective part of the British Constitution,

but only a part of it. By our Constitution nominally the Queen, but really the Prime Minister, has the power of dissolving the Assembly. But M. Thiers has no such power; and therefore, under ordinary circumstances, I believe, the policy would soon become unmanageable. The result would be, as I have tried to explain, that the Assembly would be always changing its Ministry, that having no reason to fear the penalty which that change so often brings in England, they would be ready to make it once a month. Caprice is the characteristic vice of miscellaneous assemblies, and without some check their selection would be unceasingly mutable. This peculiar danger of the present Constitution of France has however been prevented by its peculiar circumstances. The Assembly have not been inclined to remove M. Thiers, because in their lamentable present position they could not replace M. Thiers. He has a monopoly of the necessary reputation. It is the Empire—the Empire which he always opposed—that has done him this kindness. For twenty years no great political reputation could arise in France. The Emperor governed and no one member could show a capacity for government. M. Rouher, though of vast real ability, was in the popular dea only the Emperor's agent; and even had it been otherwise, M. Rouher, the one great man of Imperialism, could not have been selected as a head of the Government, at a moment of the greatest reaction against the

[ocr errors]

Empire. Of the chiefs before the twenty years' silence, of the eminent men known to be able to handle Parliaments and to govern Parliaments, M. Thiers was the only one still physically able to begin again to do so. The miracle is, that at seventy-four even he should still be able. As no other great chief of the Parliament régime existed, M. Thiers is not only the best choice, but the only choice. If he were taken away, it would be most difficult to make any other choice, and that difficulty keeps him where he is. At every crisis the Assembly feels that after M. Thiers “the deluge," and he lives upon that feeling. A change of the President, though legally simple, is in practice all but impossible; because all know that such a change might be a change, not only of the President, but of much more too: that very probably it might be a change of the polity—that it might bring in a Monarchy or an Empire.

Lastly, by a natural consequence of the position, M. Thiers does not govern as a Parliamentary Premier governs. He is not, he boasts that he is not, the head of a party. On the contrary, being the one person essential to all parties, he selects Ministers from all parties, he constructs a cabinet in which no one Minister agrees with any other in anything, and with all the members of which he himself frequently disagrees. The selection is quite in his hand. Ordinarily a Parliamentary Premier cannot choose; he is brought in by a party; he is maintained in

Iviii

INTRODUCTION

INTRODUCTION TO THE SECOND EDITION,

O THE SECOND EDITION.

office by a party; and that party requires that as they aid him, he shall aid them; that as they give him the very best thing in the State, he shall give them the next best things. But M. Thiers is under no such restriction. He can choose as he likes, and does choose. Neither in the selection of his Cabinet nor in the management of the Chamber, is M. Thiers guided as a similar person in common circumstances would have to be guided. He is the exception of a moment; he is not the example of a lasting condition.

For these reasons, though we may use the present Constitution of France as a useful aid to our imaginations, in conceiving of a purely Parliamentary republic, of a monarchy minus the monarch, we must not think of it as much more. It is too singular in its nature and too peculiar in its accidents to be a guide to anything except itself.

In this essay I have made many remarks on the American Constitution, in comparison with the English; and as to the American Constitution we have had a whole world of experience since I first wrote. My great object was to contrast the office of President as an executive officer and to compare it with that of a Prime Minister; and I devoted much space to showing that in one principal respect the English system is by far the best. The English Premier being appointed by the selection, and being removable at the pleasure, of the preponderant

« PreviousContinue »