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and thirty-three candidates for fortysix seats, and in that of the Bouchesdu-Rhône there were seventy-four candidates for eight seats. No one will be surprised to hear that the abstentions were most numerous in those districts where the number of candidates was largest. What a world of light-hearted frivolity does this state of things reveal! By many of the candidates and of the voters alike the franchise must have been regarded not as a trust to be sedulously cherished and guarded, but as an idle plaything to be lightly handled and capriciously misused. When so many are indifferent, it cannot be a matter of surprise that the Socialists, who, to do them justice, are grimly earnest, are advancing steadily to their goal. It was Burke's opinion that a perfect democracy is "the most shameless thing in the world"; in those districts where an election seems to be regarded as a joke, there at least it may be said that democracy shows but little sense of shame.
It will be obvious then from these facts that the drift of French democratic feeling has set, at least for the present, in favour of the parties professing extreme opinions, and it is only natural to expect some corresponding results in the conduct of affairs. We shall find them most clearly marked in the Chamber of Deputies. As the Radicals and Socialists feel their strength increasing, they naturally grow more aggressive, and their differences with the Moderates more acute. The formation of Ministries on the principle, admirable in itself, of Republican Concentration, is daily becoming more difficult; the less stubborn of the Moderates incline towards the side which they think is growing in favour with the people; and so the Chamber as a whole is slightly in advance of the opinion of the country, while Minis
tries are reduced to a condition of curious instability. A Ministry of Radicals, as it would not command a majority, would be an impossible creation; while one of Moderates alone, or of Moderates tempered by a Radical admixture, can only live from hand to mouth, feeling never sure that a number of weak-kneed Opportunists will not combine with the extreme Left to turn them out. That the present is the ninth Ministry within six years is a fact which needs no comment. All this tends of course to deteriorate the class of men from which Ministries are recruited. The stuff of which good Ministers are made is never in any country very common, but in France events have reduced it sadly. Where no one can count on stability of office, and there is nothing to be gained but loss of reputation, the best men hold back. Corruption, too, the peculiar vice of parliamentary institutions, has cut very deep in France; and many who have held office, being rightly or wrongly suspected of the taint, have become impossible candidates for ministerial place. Nowhere else are public men used up at such a fearful pace, or does democracy devour so many of her children. It is obvious that such a state of things must be a source of very serious danger even to such a country as France, with her marvellous recuperative force, and vast resources of men of shining talents and eminent abilities.
It is much to be wished that the evil ended here, and that the Presidency of the Republic, remaining unaffected by the current of events, had afforded a nucleus of resistance to the revolutionary forces. But it is evident that, since M. Grévy retired from the Elysée, the position of the President has become more and more unstable. He himself was compromised by scandals, his ignorance
of which, if ignorance it was, was the measure of his impotence; and he was practically driven from office by the Chamber. M. Carnot fell by the knife of the assassin, and all the world knows how M. Casimir-Périer retired. No doubt the French President occupies a peculiar position. It has been said that whereas a constitutional monarch reigns but does not govern, and the American President governs but does not reign, the French President does neither. There is a story of a court jester who climbed into the throne, and holding the ball in one hand and the sceptre in the other, declared that he was "reigning." The French President is in much the same position, with the difference that he has not got the ball and sceptre to console him. He is reduced to a course of strenuous inactivity, which would certainly be trying to a man of energy and power. But even that does not account for the late President's retirement, an event not so much disastrous in itself as suggestive of ominous and unsuspected forces. The inner history of the events which led to his retirement is not yet wholly known, but of this we may be sure, that M. Casimir-Périer, who was elected as a man of well-known strength and resolution, did not suddenly become as weak as water. Nemo repente fuit turpissimus. Something must have happened to render his position one in which he could no longer usefully continue; and from what we know we may infer that it was something arising from the gathering forces of disorder. We know that his constituents, when he accepted the Presidency, elected in his place a Radical of a revolutionary type, and that an arrondissement of Paris elected as its Deputy a man who, besides being a Socialist, owned a scurrilous print, and was sent to prison for grossly libelling the President; we know, too, that when the Socialists in the Cham
ber moved for his release in order that he might be allowed to take his seat, a number of Deputies voted in favour of the proposal. Such was the measure of support that the President could look for in the Chamber. It is said that Ministers refused to submit some important documents of State for his perusal, and entered on important acts of policy without his knowledge or concurrence. If that be true, it must have been owing to the pressure of the Radicals and Socialists who seem bent on making the Chamber override every other authority in the State, and on making for themselves a position of ultimate supremacy and the last resort of power. They pose as the sole and sacred guardians of universal suffrage, a phrase which they almost worship as a fetish. The events which immediately preceded M. Casimir-Périer's retirement afforded the world a sample of their spirit. It seems that a question had arisen over a guarantee given by the State to the bonds of a certain railway-company, and the Council of State, the highest judicial authority in the land, before whom the question came, decided in favour of the company. The Socialists, who were suspicious of a job, demanded that Ministers should over-ride the decision of the Council, and actually succeeded in getting a majority in the Chamber for their proposal. That is much as if the House of Commons should insist on the Government overruling a decision of the House of Lords sitting as the ultimate Court of Appeal. The French Chamber in fact arrogated to itself the highest functions of the State, and in effect decided that its will was law. That, and nothing else, was what the majority of Deputies who carried the proposal meant. A more monstrous abuse of parliamentary authority was probably never witnessed; it is no wonder that the whole of France stood
aghast, and that the Ministers flung down their portfolios in horror. This event probably precipitated M.CasimirPérier's retirement, and the Socialists recognised in that a personal triumph for themselves, of which they did not fail to make the most. It is true that the Extremists did not succeed in carrying their own candidate for the Presidency, but even in the election of M. Faure there was a sop thrown to Radical opinion. Louis Philippe, with a retrospective glance at his earlier life, and with an almost pathetic presage of the future, once remarked that it was good for France to have a king who had blacked his own boots. The career of M. Faure has been one of which any man might be proud; but it is none the less the case that the qualifications for the Presidency are being reduced to these, to have once worked with one's hands and to have a pleasant manner. The crowning glory of the Socialists was, however, accorded by M. Faure himself when he amnestied the various political offenders, thereby enabling M. Rochefort to celebrate his return by a characteristic display of his quality. By a curious coincidence he arrived in Paris on the day when the mortal remains of Canrobert, the last of the Marshals of France, were carried to their rest. It might have been expected that the voice of faction would have been silent over the grave of one who, whatever his mistakes, was a brave soldier and had added glory to the name of France. But the Socialists angrily dissented from the national honours paid by a grateful country to the illustrious dead, and M. Rochefort of course outdid all his rivals in this unseemly business. His journal, the Intransigeant, could find no better name for the man whom France was honouring than "the last of the flunkey murderers."
The Moderates and Extremists are
in truth divided by a gulf which no compromise can bridge. First they are divided on questions of religion, the former being tolerant and clerical in sympathy, the latter possessed with a fanatical hatred of the Church; then they are at war on all questions arising over proprietary rights. The Extremists, wild with suspicion of corruption, smell a job in every act of State; the Moderates, on the other hand, tremble for their cherished rights of property, nor is their fear unreasonable. As things go no one can be sure what the Chamber will not do next. Quite recently a majority was almost found for a proposal to put a special tax upon the holders of French rentes; it was nothing more indeed than a piece of silly spite against investors, but none the less alarming. The proposal of an incometax, again, is a question upon which the Republicans are hopelessly divided. The Moderates recoil from it with horror, believing, and with cause, that it might easily become a terrible engine of robbery and oppression; while the Extremists, who avow their determination to tax all unearned incomes to extinction, are furious with anger at delay. Certainly the millennium has not yet arrived in France.
The case of Belgium is in some ways even more important than that of France, for there the people have only just come into full possession of the franchise. Until 1893, when the Constitution was revised, the franchise was one of the narrowest in Europe. It is striking evidence of the instability of political institutions that King Leopold, in his speech to the Chamber in that year, was able to describe the Belgian as the oldest of the written constitutions of Europe. Dating from 1831 this old Constitution gave about forty-five thousand voters only for a population of something like four millions. In the year
1848 this proportion was very slightly extended by lowering the property qualification; but it was not till 1893 that any approach was made to a wide extension of the franchise. Now there is practically universal suffrage tempered by what is called the dual vote, a provision which appears to be unique. One vote is given to every man of the age of twenty-five who is not otherwise disqualified; but a second vote is given, first to every married man or widower of the age of thirty-five with legitimate children, who pays at least five francs in respect of the house or building which he occupies; secondly, to every man of twenty-five who possesses realty worth two thousand francs, or an income of one hundred francs from State investments; and thirdly to every man who has certain educational certificates, or who belongs to those professions or occupies those posts which afford a guarantee that his education has reached a certain standard. Nobody, however, can have more than three votes. The practical result is that nearly every man in Belgium has a vote, that almost as many have two votes, and a considerable number three. But the chief point of interest is this, that there democracy is absolutely new, and that what we have lately witnessed there constitutes the earliest acts of that democracy in the first enjoyment of its rights.
The first election under the pro visions of the new Constitution took place in last October. Formerly there had existed two great parties in Belgium, the Clerical and the Liberal, which, much as the Conservatives and Liberals in England, had alternately held office; but at the last election the Socialists rose as one man, and almost effaced the Liberals. The Clerical party won by an immense majority, gaining no less than one hundred and four seats; but the Liberals only gained
fifteen, while the Socialists actually succeeded in winning thirty-three. That this was due in some degree to divisions among the Liberals themselves, and to the fact that some of them voted for the Socialists, is probably true enough, but that does not alter the serious nature of the outlook. A strong Liberal party in the Chamber would have done something to soften and lubricate the conflicts between the contending Clericals and Socialists. As it is, there are drawn up in contending array two parties whose views on almost everything are violently opposed, and between whom there can be nothing but relentless war. It is not a state of things which can bring any good to Belgium; for the deeper the divisions, the more bitter the contest is likely to become. The moderate Liberals will merge with the Clericals, while those of more progressive views will throw in their lot with the Socialists. Where issues of fundamental principle are at stake; where there is a question of religion or its absence, and of private or collective ownership of property, there is no room for concession or for compromise. And it so happens that in Belgium these political divisions correspond in the main with two different portions of the country. The Flemish provinces in the North are chiefly agricultural and Catholic, and it is from these the Clericals draw the greater portion of their strength; the Walloon provinces in the South have a large industrial population, who are naturally more addicted to Socialist theories. To the certainty of a war of classes is added therefore the possibility of geographical dismemberment. There seems indeed every prospect that the Flemings of the North will, if the Socialists strongly press their claims, separate themselves in preference to surrender. These are the firstfruits of democracy in Belgium.
Such then, very briefly, is the present drift of democracy in France and Belgium, and the prospect is not one which even the man of most catholic sympathies can view with any satisfaction. If indeed Socialism be sound in theory and a practicable scheme, then our French and Belgian neighbours are much to be congratulated. Their eyes already meet the beams of a brighter day, while ours peer hope lessly through the enshrouding gloom. If on the other hand Socialism is, as most competent thinkers believe, radically false in theory and impossible in practice, a system utterly at variance with the wants of human nature, and a scheme which could only for a moment be built up on the ruins of society, then indeed what has recently happened in France and Belgium may well fill us with alarm. For it is evident that the more active portion of the people which congregates in cities is being increasingly allured by these wild idealists; that instead of fixing their attention upon the attain
able, they are pursuing unsubstantial visions, and dreaming dreams as vain as any that ever issued from the ivory gate. If they continue in this course, only one result can ensue; there will be a horizontal cleavage in society and a desperate war of classes. Democracy may be now the only form of government to which the Western nations are likely to submit; but it is a perilous experiment. "A theory concerning government," said Burke, 'may become as much a cause of fanaticism as a dogma in religion." The Socialists of France and Belgium have a theory concerning government, and they are pursuing it with an all-consuming zeal. They have as much a creed, a dogma, a religion, as ever had the priests of the Holy Inquisition. That is why the actions of our continental neighbours are of so much interest and importance to ourselves. For political theories, no less than religious systems, have their proselytes.