Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/759

This page has been validated.
739
THE DECLINE OF PARTY GOVERNMENT.

In the same way it has been assumed that the English system of party and of cabinets, which are committees of party, is the vital principle of constitutional government. But party in England has been the instrument, probably the indispensable instrument, of a chronic revolution. By the action of the party which in its successive phases has borne the names of Puritan, Whig, and Liberal, the Tudor autocracy has been reduced to a limited, or rather a faineant, monarchy, and the Tory oligarchy, once intrenched in the rotten boroughs, has been replaced by a House of Commons elected on a more popular basis; supreme power, in other words, has been gradually transferred from the crown and the aristocracy to the representatives of the people. All this time there has been a real ground of division and a question of importance supreme enough to warrant allegiance to a party. But the process is now nearly complete. Other questions, of which the name Radical is the symbol, will probably emerge, and may again furnish grounds for the action of party. As it is, the lines between the aristocratic and democratic parties remain, though their outline is confused, and the democratic party is paralyzed for the time by the Conservative reaction, caused mainly by a vast influx of wealth. But we have an inkling at all events in the present state of things, even in England, of the time when the materials for party will be finally exhausted, and when we shall be obliged perforce to look out for some other mode of working constitutional government. Bayonets have their uses, but you cannot sit on them. Party has its use as the organ of a pacific revolution; but it will not supply the permanent basis of a national government.

Even in the course of the revolution, effected by means of party in England, as often as the movement has been temporarily suspended by accident or lassitude, the weakness of the system has appeared. Between the fall of Jacobitism and the advent of the French Revolution, when there was no great party question on foot, but the offices of state were still put up as the prizes of success in the struggle of parliamentary factions, you had half a century of chaotic intrigue and corruption, broken only by the short dictatorship of Chatham, whose own conduct, in the cabals which drove Walpole into the war with Spain, was an example, if not of place-hunting, of place-storming, of the most flagrant kind. The boasted efficiency of party, as a detector and exposer of abuses, was then proved to be little sustained by facts; it was seen, neither for the first nor for the last time, that two factions, whatever their mutual hatred, may virtually combine to preserve a privilege of plundering the community, which each hopes to exercise in its turn.

Not only is the usefulness of party as a political instrument closely connected with the peculiar circumstances of English history; it is closely connected also with the peculiar circumstances of an age of unscientific politics, of combinations formed upon class interests, of