Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/467

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multiplication of public offices, by making access to these as easy as possible, and by changing the incumbents as often as possible. Yielding in the first place to an evil necessity, they have afterward converted that necessity into a general resource of government, by trusting, as a regular thing, to the interested support of energetic and ambitious men with whom they divide the profits arising from the management of the public business. How dangerous such an expedient is from the point of view of the governments themselves, it is almost needless to point out; since it must necessarily call forth far more claims than it can satisfy, and consequently excite against the established régime passions far stronger than any it can evoke for its support.[1] If we just look at the selections for a generation or two past for the most eminent political functions, is there any reason why the great majority of our aspiring men should not conceive the hope of climbing in their turn to similar positions? Another marked feature of the times is the disposition to trust to material agencies or mere acts of legislation for the removal of evils that have their root in men's ideas and in social customs. An amendment to a constitution or a charter is proffered as a plan of political salvation; or, worse still, we are asked to rest our hopes on the substitution of this man for that in a cabinet. Meanwhile, the absence of any clear or comprehensive conception of the social future affords a career only to the most vulgar kind of ambition. At no former epoch, probably, were such chances ever offered to a presuming and adventurous mediocrity. The quality chiefly required in public life is fluency of speech; above all, a fluency which suffers no abatement if it is suddenly called on to change sides on a question. In a time of weak and wavering convictions there has naturally been a demand for representatives characterized by the vagueness of their intellectual habits and an habitual lack of fixed opinions. Unless we could hope that such a condition of things would be but transitory, it would really constitute the most shameful social degradation. That hope we may, however, entertain. If there are forces of decomposition at work, there are also—though their action may not be so conspicuous—forces of regeneration; and what is needed to give these a decisive victory is the formulation and application of a true political philosophy.


Such was the view taken by Comte, over forty years ago, of the then political situation in France and other countries enjoying constitutional régimes. Matters have not mended since his day: principles are more than ever discredited in political affairs; parties no longer even profess them; and government and legislation are carried on at mere hap-hazard. The great object with party managers is to get all important questions taken "out of politics," so that there may be

  1. How exactly this applies to the existing situation in France, and how nearly it describes the situation here, no reader will fail to remark.