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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/651

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POLITICAL FORMS AND FORCES.

otherwise almost wholly dependent on past public opinion. The ruler, in part the organ of the wills of those around, is in a still greater degree the organ of the wills of those who have passed away; and his own will, much restrained by the first, is still more restrained by the last.

For his function as regulator is mainly that of enforcing the inherited rules of conduct which embody ancestral sentiments and ideas. Everywhere we are shown this. Among the Arafuras, such decisions as are given by their elders are "according to the customs of their forefathers, which are held in the highest regard." So is it with the Kirghiz: "The judgments of the bais, or esteemed elders, are based on the known and universally recognized customs." And in Sumatra "they are governed in their various disputes by a set of long-established customs (adat), handed down to them from their ancestors. . . . The chiefs, in pronouncing their decisions, are not heard to say, 'So the law directs,' but 'Such is the custom.'"

As fast as orally-preserved custom passes into written law, the political head becomes still more clearly an agent through whom the feelings of the dead control the actions of the living. That the power he exercises is mainly a power which acts through him, we see clearly on noting how little ability he has to resist it if he wishes to do so. His individual will is practically inoperative save where the overt or tacit injunctions of departed generations leave him free. Thus, in Madagascar, "in cases where there is no law, custom, or precedent, the word of the sovereign is sufficient." Among the East Africans, "the only limit to the despot's power is the ada, or precedent." Of the Javans, Raffles writes, "The only restraint upon the will of the head of the government is the custom of the country, and the regard which he has for his character among his subjects," In Sumatra the people "do not acknowledge a right in the chiefs to constitute what laws they think proper, or to repeal or alter their ancient usages, of which they are extremely tenacious and jealous," And how imperative is this conformity to the beliefs and sentiments of progenitors is shown by the fatal results apt to occur from disregarding them. "'The King of Ashantee, although represented as a despotic monarch, . . . is not in all respects beyond control.' He is under 'an obligation to observe the national customs, which have been handed down to the people from remote antiquity; and a practical disregard of this obligation, in the attempt to change some of the customs of their forefathers, cost Osai Quamina his throne.'" Which instance reminds us how commonly, as now among the Hottentots, as in the past among the ancient Mexicans, and as throughout the histories of civilized peoples, rulers have engaged, on succeeding to power, not to change the established order.

 

Doubtless the proposition that the political head, simple or compound, is in the main but an agency through which works the force