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THE DANGER IN FRANCE AND BELGIUM.
Ir was well observed by Burke that the generality of people are fifty years at least behindhand in their politics. "Men are wise," he said, "but with little reflection, and good with little self-denial, in the business of all times except their own." It is often indeed of the most recent events that men are most profoundly ignorant. They either do not see these events at all, or if they do see them, it is very imperfectly and in a wrong perspective; the facts are distorted by prejudice and passion; their true significance is missed, and can only be perceived in future years when the controversial fires have cooled, and time and the historian have cleared away the smoke. Many a man has a more accurate knowledge of the England of the Commonwealth or the Conquest than of the England of his own day, and of the France of the Napoleonic era than the France of the third Republic. It may then be neither uninteresting nor uninstructive to glance for a moment at the two countries, France and Belgium, which are most adjacent to us, whose affairs have much influence on ourselves, and which have between them very close affinities in geographical position, language, manners, and traditions.
It is one of the highest problems of statesmanship to insure that the ruling classes should be those whose interest No. 427.-VOL. LXXII.
coincides with that of the community at large, and who at the same time possess the knowledge and wisdom without which mere good intentions would be vain. Interest gives the motive to seek a just rule and a good administration, and knowledge the power to erect and support them. In the earlier ages of the history of the world the greatest weight was attached to years, experience, and wisdom as the qualifications for those who aspired to be rulers of men. Age was the crown of manhood to which reverence was instinctively accorded, and the old were deemed the oracles of wisdom. Of such sort formerly were the shepherds of the people. Then it was afterwards discovered that knowledge alone was no guarantee against the abuses of untrammelled power, that the wielders of authority frequently perverted it to their own self-interested ends, and that if they did not govern badly by mistake they sometimes did so by design. It is to the consummate skill and intensity of conviction with which this position was argued and maintained by the French philosophers of the eighteenth century, and by Bentham and his school, that the growth of modern democracy must mainly be ascribed. Much of what they said was unquestionably true; but they saw only one side of the
question, though they saw it with a penetrating glance; and in consequence it has come to be a widely spread belief that interest without knowledge is a sufficient guarantee for efficiency of rule, and that to insure good government it needs only to be wished for. Ripe wisdom and mature experience are thus held in less account; youth with its sensitive receptiveness, its eager enthusiasms, and its generous ardour not yet dulled by disillusions, is a pleasanter, if not a better, counsellor than age; it hopes more and is more ready to rush into experiments. We of modern times, when so many new movements are in vogue, are somewhat like belated Rehoboams who scorned his old advisers, and summoned the young to his counsel. It will be well for us if we do not meet with similar misfortunes.
The rule of the many seems now to be regarded as the final and inevitable form of government for all the civilised communities of men; that is held for a fact, which may either be eagerly embraced or sullenly accepted. The few, it is said, misgoverned, because it was their interest to do so; but the many will govern well, because it will be their obvious gain. That briefly is the democratic creed; and it would be a good one if the mass of men had the foresight to know their true interests in life, and the wisdom to find the means likely to attain them. But as many of the people too often close their eyes to the one and are ignorant of the other, democracy is in truth a very great experiment. It is nothing less than self-government by those who necessarily have little notion how to govern. That, disguise it as we may, is the great central fact, the master idea of the modern world.
Let us consider first the case of France. There the suffrage is practically universal, being the possession of every man who has attained the age
of twenty-one and has resided for at least six months in his commune, the exceptions only being soldiers serving with the flag and those disqualified by crime. The last general election took place in 1893, and its results, and
events which have subsequently happened, are of the greatest interest and importance. In the first place, the great fact of the election of 1893 was the enormous increase of the Republican Deputies and the complete rout of the Reactionary parties. For whereas the Republicans of all shades gained one hundred and eight seats, the Monarchists and Boulangists lost one hundred and one, the discrepancy of these figures being accounted for by the fact that since the previous election the number of Deputies had been increased by seven. So that in a House of five hundred and eighty-two members, if we put aside the sixteen representatives of Algeria and the colonies, we find that no less than four hundred and ninety Deputies are Republicans and only seventy-six Reactionaries. This result is unquestionably due to the action of the Pope in directing the Royalists to acknowledge the Republic; and it is the "Rallied Right" who have so largely recruited the Republican ranks. It must be at once admitted that from this point of view the result of the elections was highly satisfactory. If M. Thiers was right when he declared that a Republic was the form of government which divided Frenchmen least, there should now be a prospect that the fundamental differences which have so often torn her citizens asunder will soon be blotted out. That is well; but with this it is to be feared that all sense of satisfaction ends. The following table shows the number of Deputies of the various Republican parties returned, and the number of seats which each of them respectively have gained.
Moderate Republicans, 279 seats, showing a gain of 17.
Radical Socialists, 10 seats, showing a gain of 7.
Radicals, 143 seats, showing a gain of 48. Socialists, 31 Rallied, 27 It will be seen from these figures that the Radicals and Socialists have increased in strength in a much greater degree than the Moderate Republicans. It is the former and not the latter who have gained most by the desertions from the Royalist ranks; and such gains as the Moderates had were almost counterbalanced by defections from themselves to the Radical wing. The significance of this fact will be rendered more apparent by a somewhat closer examination of the voting. Of the votes given for the Republicans rather more than half were polled by the Radical and Socialist candidates. Of these two parties the Radicals polled decidedly the most; but then in proportion to the number of votes cast for them they were much the most successful; for while about eighty per cent. of their supporters in the country are represented in the Chamber, only about thirty-three per cent. of the Socialists and about twenty-two per cent. of the Radical Socialists are equally successful. It has been calculated that
a strictly proportional representative system the Moderates have gained twenty-four more seats than they are entitled to, and the Radicals eighteen more; whereas the Socialists should have increased their representatives by sixteen, and the Radical Socialists by two. It is at once therefore apparent that the Socialist element in the Chamber is a most inadequate representation of that party in the country. Now that is a fact the gravity of which it would be hard to overestimate. It is true indeed that the greater part of the Socialist votes were cast in the great towns of Paris,
Lyons, Lille, and Marseilles; but to any one who considers the preponderating influence which the great towns, and particularly Paris, have in France, this will hardly appear an ameliorating fact. It seems impossible to mistake the drift of democracy in France it is showing daily less sobriety of thought, less temperance in speech and action, and an ever-increasing tendency to leave the ordered paths of prudence for rash and revolutionary courses. To profess one's self a Socialist is to acknowledge a desire to see the existing framework of society completely overturned; and whether the Socialist voters quite appreciate the meaning of their creed, or only act in sheer ignorance and folly, the danger to the State is the same. There were moreover features about the last election suggestive not merely of a spirit of indifference in the people but also of a misplaced frivolity which is really ominous. Too much must not be made of the number of abstentions, because they are numerous everywhere; but it is worthy of remark that they amount to about thirty per cent. of the number of electors on the register, being a considerable increase on those of the previous election in 1889. That in itself is a fact which merely shows how little the franchise is esteemed in the land where the natural rights of man have been the most violently insisted on; but the absurd number of the candidates who in many districts sought the suffrages, and all of whom must presumably have received a certain number of votes, is significant. In England the number of candidates for a single seat rarely exceeds three, and is not often that; in France the constituencies in which more than four candidates appeared were numerous; in one constituency there were actually eleven. In the Department of the Seine there were three hundred