« PreviousContinue »
THE LIMITATIONS OF PARLIAMENTARY GOVERNMENT.
WILIT ABOUT IRELAND ?
The Irish comedy in the Com- sions of amity Mr Gladstone was mittee-room of the House of Com- eager to contide (for on what else mons may be regarded in various could he confide ?) has thrown lights. From one point of view it aside his disguise. The air has is a roaring farce; from another it been cleared by a tremendous exis a grave lesson in constitutional plosion of good, honest, healthy ethics. On its dramatic side in- hatred. We know where we are deed it is so excellent that the now,—the arts of the rhetorician, spectators are apt to overlook its the blandishments of the sophist, serious significance as a factor in are no longer of any avail. The the political situation. Its signifi- Irish members are divided into cance, as well as its importance, two factions ; but both factions however, can hardly be overrated. use the same language. There For it has given the English and must be an end of the Union. Scottish people one other oppor. They represent, they declare, a tunity of considering what is be people rightly struggling to be fore them. They are invited free, and who detest their cononce again to pause and reflect. querors as the Italians detested They may deride, if they please, the Austrians, as the Poles detest the “ravings ” of Cassandra and the Czar. Ireland is to become the warnings of the Sibyl ; but it a separate kingdom. The ties that does really seem as if some Higher bind her to England are to be cut. Court had mercifully allowed them The sorry figment of a scheme of a locus panitentia', as if the book “safe and moderate” Home Rule of doom had not been finally closed is treated with undisguised deriagainst them. If they go astray sion. It is laughed to scorn by now, they go with their eyes open. the Healyites no less than by the They will not be permitted to Parnellites. The Patriots, after plead hereafter that they “knew years of politic mystification, have not what they did.”
at length shown themselves in their Its significance lies mainly in true colours. They no longer affect this,—That it has disclosed to all to pursue constitutional methods. who are not wilfully or judicially If England will not give them Inblind what the truth is. The veil dependence, so much the worse for has been dropped. The enemies England. They will take it by of England have ceased to use force ; and they will not want sugared phrases. At last we have allies, for the Irish race throughgot them in the intimacy of family out the world is behind them. life (but such a family!) to say They are rebels, in short, -as truly plainly what they mean.
The rebels as if they had bayonets in sickly sentimentalities and insin- their hands, as if the first shot ceritics of the “Union of lTearts" had been fired, as if an army, have been roughly and even vio- oflicered by American rowdies, lently brushed aside. The cloven were marching on Dublin Castle. hoof has been shown; the astute It is best to state the facts Mephistopheles in whose profes- broadly; but for the purpose of
the argument we desire to lay to make it untenable. Home Rule before our readers it is enough to now construed by the Irish say that the object of their league members means in the end Separis avowedly and notoriously un and “Separation,” express constitutional, inasmuch as it in or implied, was the only element volves the ultimate dismemberment (apart from the agrarian) that gave of the empire.
· Home Rule” any vitality across It is in vain for English Home the Channel. So that from its very Rulers to plead that dismember- nature Home Rule never could ment is not the aim of their Irish become a legitimate question for allies. They may protest as much the arbitrament of Parliament,as they choose ; but what is their a parliamentary, a constitutional, protest worth in face of the unequi- settlement of a question involving vocal declarations of the men who dismemberment being, as we shall must know best ? All the palaver see, a contradiction in terms. Had about the land and the police and Mr Parnell been honest, the lanthe judicial bench, and how far it guage which he now uses inight is wise and safe to go, this year, or
have been used years ago.
Now next year, or the year after, is the he talks not obscurely of “force," merest moonshine. Mr Gladstone, and he is right. Force is the only rapt in ecstatic contemplation, logical weapon in his arsenal. If shuts his eyes, closes his ears, folds he can get what he aims at by his hands; but his followers are force he is entitled to it, but not perfectly well aware that the dis- otherwise. loyal Irish value these concessions, Is a proposal to dismember the not because they will enlarge the British empire one which a British functions and enhance the dignity Parliament, however constituted, of an Irish constitutional assem is competent to entertain? This bly, but because hereafter, in a not is a question of vast importance, distant future, they will make dis- which has never been sufficiently memberment more easy.
considered. Parliament, it is said, Nor can it be said that the public from the necessity of the case, disclosure of their true feelings and must be all-powerful ; it is, and aims was accidental, the acci can be, subject to no limitadent of a domestic affliction. It tions except those imposed by its is not the Divorce Court alone that own sovereign will. This theory has driven Mr Parnell to seek the of parliamentary absolutism is at aid of “the Hillmen.” It is not present widely popular; and those irritated vanity alone that has who venture to assert, as we vendriven Mr Healy to outbid Mr ture to assert, that it is theoretiParnell. Mr Parnell's position cally unsound and practically infrom the beginning was intrinsi- defensible, are looked upon as cally illogical; and the “logic of guilty of political heresy, if not events” was certain sooner or later of political immorality.1
1 We observe, since this article was written, that Lord Salisbury, in a speech characterised by what we may call his uncommon common-sense (a speech from the Prime Minister has all the virtues of a tonic), made some very seasonable observations on the practical impotence of Parliament (even when dealing with social subjects of comparatively secondary importance) to impose its views on a reluctant community : “ Parliament uses such grand language in its enactments that it has got to believe itself omnipotent; but that is a very great mistake. Par
Under the system of govern- contrary, that it cannot entitle a ment which exists in this country, parliamentary assembly to exceed Parliament is only approximately its constitutional functions.
It representative. Its decisions are could not, for instance, authorise not the decisions of the nation, a Parliament, however elected, to but not unfrequently of a bare resolve that the British empire majority only. As a rule the should cease to exist, and to decree minority submit, for as rule its dissolution. subinission is more tolerable than that the odd man in each concivil war.
But there are limits stituency were in favour of the to submission, and whenever the clissolution of the empire, and succleavage of opinion in the members ceeded in electing a Parliament to of the body politic is vital com
(arry out his views.
But a nation promise becomes impossible, and cannot be dissolved like a jointan appeal to force is the only stock company. Any number of remedy that remains.
electoral victories, any number of those who resort to it in such parliamentary resolutions, would cases to be branded as traitors. be futile. They would go for
nothing Every man in every “ Treason cloth never prosper, --what's constituency who belonged to the
the reason? Why, when it prosper's none dare call minority would still be entitled it treason.
to say: "No. There are certain
root-questions, certain vital and But when i Parliament becomes fundamental questions, which have despotic—when it fails to observe not been confided to Parliament the conditions under which it ex- by the constitution. The House ercises authority—there are other of Commons cannot touch them,and good reasons why those who they lie outside the arena of deresist should not be called traitors, bate. When such questions arise, even though they are beaten. they must be determined elsewhere.
Mr Gladstone, when in a ma We shall not allow you to settle jority, is fond of talking of the them in your way until we are "mandate” which Parliament has beaten,-beaten elsewhere than at received from the people. llow the polling-booths, and with other far, then, we would like to inquire, weapons than words. can this mandate be held to go? shall not hesitate to fight to the Is it subject to no limitations? Is last man for what we consider of the devolution absolute and uncon the last importance—the continued ditioned ? It appears to us, on the existence of our society. When
liament is it very potent engine, and its enactments almost always do something, though they very seldom do what the originators of thosc enactments meant. The result, to use a technical phrase', is a resultant of a composition of two forces, and the two forces are the enacting force of Parliament and the evading force of the inclividual. If the enactment squares with the public interest and is agreeable to the public conscience, it will be carried out. If it has been allopted as the result of an agitation, or at the bidding of a class—if it overrides the rights of a minority and tramples on the principles which the conscience of the nation approve—that Act of Parliament will have no efl'ect in attaining the objects for which it was made. But it will have an effect in surrounding the industry which it touches with precautions and investigations, and inspections and regulations, in which it will be slowly euveloped and stitled."
we are overpowered, the State may are rashly raised, as they have commit suicide if it sees fit-but been raised more than once in not till then. Till then we shall our history, there is needed for continue to believe (and to mani- their solution some other and far fest our belief in the most prac- sterner force than parliamentary tical form) that no assembly of palaver. legislators can resolve society into It may be urged, indeed, that the its original elements. There is no Irish controversy (which was made such clause in the compact; a a burning question when Mr Gladlegislative assembly attempting to stone capitulated to his mephistodo so mistakes its functions and phelean ally-never indeed was exceeds its commission.”
there a more unequal alliance ! It cannot be doubted that this for in the toils of this adroit and proposition is substantially sound. taciturn schemer the verbose leader It will hardly, at least, be denied of the Liberal party was as helpby any one that the implied con less as Faust when he had sold his sent on which an organised society soul) does not involve any vital rests is more or less limited and issue.
But if it involve, whether conditional. It may be difficult directly or remotely, whether exto define the conditions and limi- pressly or by implication, the distations with precision; but we memberment of the empire, we may say without qualification, for can only reply that a vital issue instance, that an elective govern- is involved. Two-thirds at least ment which proposes to destroy of the English people are in the the society it has been elected to meantime convinced that if the govern, has failed to observe them. Irish demands as now formulated It has exceeded the powers vested are granted, dismemberment is the in it by a compact which may be inevitable end. Assuming that either written or unwritten, but they judge truly, are they not which can only be disregarded at entitled to plead that the court, peril of civil strife. It is conse which according to Mr Gladstone quently a prodigious mistake when, is about to assume jurisdiction, in a complicated and historical so has no title to act ? May they not ciety like our own, burning ques- challenge its competency, and retions and heroic measures (ques- fuse to be bound by its awards ? tions which rouse the fiercest pas- The parliamentary majority which sions of partisans, and measures Mr Gladstone expects to obtain at which touch the elemental prin- the next election will in any view ciples of government) are made represent an inconsiderable mathe order of the day. The con- jority of the English people. stitution cannot stand the strain this bare majority resolve on the of a profound antipathy. There dismemberment of the empire, is not room within the limits of can its judgment be accepted as our parliamentary system for the authoritative or decisive" by a conflict of Roundhead and Cava- minority which contends that no lier, It is the characteristic of popular mandate can, in a matter a wise and prudent ruler to be of national life or death, confor infinitely careful that no contro- jurisdiction ? versy
which will tear the com We have no desire, however, to munity asunder is permitted to push the argument too far, nor is take shape; for when vital issues it necessary. It is possible that
timid or trimming politicians we are willing to do without you." among the Unionists themselves When that day comes, and when will be willing to admit that the sane minority are crushed as “Home Rule” (as anxiously mini- the Cavaliers were crushed by mised by its English advocates) is Cromwell, Ireland, we admit, must a question which may legitimately go. But we maintain that no decome within the purview of Par- termination to that effect will be liament. They will be prepared operative or effective which is obat least to give the English Home tained by the votes of those memRuler the benefit of the doubt. bers of the Legislature who are They will say that he sincerely be- morally if not legally disabled lieves that Home Rule will not from acting. A decision so arrived lead to dismemberment, and that at would have no moral validityit is barely possible he may be no binding force. And the English right. According to this view people, we may rest assured, are the English Home Ruler is not not going to allow the empire to necessarily a traitor to the consti- be broken up by the votes of men tution as he understands it, nor who, whatever their domestic virHome Rule a question which Par- tues may be, are traitors to the liament is incompetent to enter constitution. tain. But it is obvious that such We do not base our contention considerations cannot be held to upon the plea that the Irish memapply to the Irish Home Ruler, bers are interested parties. It is or to the policy which he supports true that the judge who has the The Irish Home Ruler, as remotest connection with a have seen, is now working avow which is being tried in the court edly and unblushingly for the in which he sits, retires as a matdismemberment of the empire, ter of course from the bench. No lle is proud to be a rebel; he one believes that the high-minded glories in his treason. He is the gentlemen by whom the law is adopen enemy of the State as it ministered in this country would exists. What follows ? Is it not give a dishonest decision, however axiomatic that men who are out- closely their own interests were inside the pale of the constitution volved. But even in the case of are morally if not legally disquali- trained lawyers, it is deemed right fied from taking any legislative part and fitting to guard against the in the settlement of the question ? unconscious bias; and where the
One day or other the British interests are not personal but elector, in a momentary access of national, the objections to a party political delirium, may be con- being the judge in his own cause tent to part with Treland. He are not less strong. may say,—“Go your own way Our objection, however, is of
1 It would really seem, however, as if Mr Gladstone personally can no longer be includled among English Home Rulers. The tone in which, during the debate the other night, he spoke of England—of the England which had no doubt derisively, and even contemptuously, declined to listen to his charming-was characterised by a shrewish vindictiveness. The sense of proportion, the sense of humour, must be at a low ebb in a politician who, after ten years of interminable Irish parliamentary controversy, could venture to say that England, to the detriment of the sister kingdoms, had selfishly monopolised the time and the attention of Parliament.