Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/177

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COMPARATIVE STUPIDITY OF POLITICIANS.

ity of Nature and the watchfulness of human enemies, cannot afford to take things easily. Action is forced upon them; they must either succeed or conspicuously fail. In politics, usually, the state of things is entirely different. The demand is rarely made for heroic measures; the prudence which is taught is that rather which shuns difficulty and dreads failure, than that blending of caution and audacity which finds in the way of seeming danger the true path of safety. The education of practice in parliamentary politics is, therefore, for the most part, an education in the arts of inaction, evasion, and delay. The blame of doing nothing is usually less than the blame of doing amiss. A great writer, whose instinctive sagacity was often wiser than the elaborated reflections of more painful thinkers, embodied the characteristic weakness of political training in England when he made "How not to do it" the aim of our statesmen. Lord Melbourne's "Can't you leave it alone?" gave expression to the same paralysis of action in excessive caution and prudence. Politics of this sort will attract feeble minds and characters, or will enfeeble those naturally stronger. The oratory which they foster will be that of mystification, amusement, and excitement. Acquaintance with political philosophy or economic science will be felt to be wholly superfluous. Even that empirical knowledge of his age and country, and of the assembly in and through which he rules, which are essential to every practical statesman, will be little more than the charlatan's or demagogue's acquaintance with the foibles and passions of popular sentiment and opinion. The admiral who boasted that he brought his ships home uninjured from seas in which he had not encountered the enemy, and the Frenchman whose achievement it was to have kept himself alive during the French Revolution, represent the prevalent aims of modern statesmanship. A ministry exists to keep itself in existence; if the ship, without going anywhere or doing anything, can be kept afloat, that is held to be all that can be required. This fainéant policy does not require any high range of intellect. Men of the first order will seek careers which afford ampler scope to capacity. If they betake themselves to public life, which affords them no opportunity of great public work, there is danger of their devoting their energies to their own private and personal ends; or, merely to establish a character for "honesty" will often prove enough to repose on. A picture, a statue, or a poem, does not receive additional value from the fact that its author is a very pleasant and straightforward sort of fellow; but "honest Jack Althorp's" statesmanship rested entirely on this basis of character; and a late parliamentary leader has been commended on the ground that "there is not the making of a lie in him." A career in which character may be a substitute for capacity must, from the nature of the case, be pursued on a lower intellectual level than those in which intelligence and cultivation and general or special knowledge are absolutely essential.