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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/454

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

society in which the only men who had political power, and were in a qualified sense free, were so many petty despots, holding not only slaves and dependents but even children in the same absolute bondage as they held their cattle, is, in its intrinsic nature, more nearly allied to an ordinary despotism than it is to a society of citizens politically equal.

Passing now to our special question, we may understand the kind of confusion in which Liberalism has lost itself, and the origin of those mistaken classings of political measures which have misled it—classings, as we shall see, by conspicuous external traits instead of by internal natures. For what, in the popular apprehension and in the apprehension of those who effected them, were the changes made by Liberals in the past? They were abolitions of grievances suffered by the people, or by portions of them: this was the common trait of them which most impressed itself on men's minds. They were mitigations of evils which had directly or indirectly been felt by large classes of citizens, as causes of misery or as hindrances to happiness. And since in the minds of most a rectified evil is equivalent to an achieved good, these measures came to be thought of as so many positive benefits; and the welfare of the many came to be conceived alike by Liberal statesmen and Liberal voters as the aim of Liberalism. Hence the confusion. The gaining of a popular good being the external conspicuous trait common to Liberal measures in earlier days (then in each case gained by a relaxation of restraints), it has happened that popular good has come to be sought by Liberals, not as an end to be indirectly gained by such relaxations, but as the end to be directly gained. And, seeking to gain it directly, they have used methods intrinsically opposed to those originally used.

And now, having seen how this reversal of policy has arisen (or partial reversal, I should say, for the recent Burials Act, and the efforts to remove all remaining religious inequalities, show continuance of the original policy in certain directions), let us proceed to contemplate the extent to which it has been carried during recent times, and the still greater extent to which the future will see it carried if current ideas and feelings continue to predominate.

 

Before proceeding, it may be well to say that no reflections are intended on the motives which have prompted one after another of these various restraints and dictations. These motives were doubtless in nearly all cases good. It must be admitted that the restrictions, placed by an act of 1870 on the employment of women and children in Turkey-red dye-works, were, in intention, no less philanthropic than those of Edward VI, which prescribed the minimum time for which a journeyman should be retained. Without question, the Seed Supply (Ireland) Act of 1880, which empowered guardians to buy seed for poor tenants, and then to see it properly planted, was moved by a de-