Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

posite political party, than he has with be taken for granted on a great many subforeigners of a party answering to his jects that the individual is to be dearer own. But the oligarchic or the demo- than the State, that public interests, pubcratic party in any Greek city was some- lic feelings, and the like, are to be made thing more than an oligarchic or a demo- of less account than private interests and cratic party in that particular city. It feelings. Except perhaps in such cases as was a branch of a party that was spread betrayal of military duty, it seems to be through all the cities of Greece, and the commonly taken for granted that an oicitizens of one Greek city were not abso- fence, great or small, against the State, is lute foreigners to one another in the way to be looked on as lighter than an offence that men of different nations in modern of the same kind against an individual. Europe are. It was possible that the Greek Even perhaps in the exception which I who wrought treason against his own city have made, the betrayal of military duty, might flatter himself with the belief that I suspect that in many minds the notion he was working for the common good of of a breach of a man's personal engageHellas. It is hardly possible that any ments, of a stain on his professional man in modern Europe who should try “honour," would come before the simple to bring about a political change in his notion of crime against the State of which own country by the help of a foreign he is a member. It is, I think, certain force could ever persuade himself that he that a crime against the State, simply as was working for the common good of a crime against the State, is not commonEurope.

ly felt to be in the same sense a crime, The difference then between small states that it is not visited with the same social and great has two sides to it. Each has in penalties, as a purely private crime of the some points the advantage of the other. same kind. I speak of all this because, in the matter Let us take some instances of all kinds, which I have taken in hand, I think that from the smallest up to the greatest. An the small states of the old time have the old Roman held that all private feeladvantage over the great states of our ings should be sacrificed to public own day. I think that the circumstances duty of any kind. Lucius Æmilius Paulof the small commonwealth lead in some lus celebrated his triumph all the same, respects to a higher and purer tone of although, of the two sons who were left political morality ; but I am fully aware to keep up the succession of his house, that this advantage, and the other ad- one had died a few days before, and the vantages of a small commonwealth, had other was seemingly on his death-bed.* to be purchased by great disadvantages In our time a “domestic afflictionis althe other way. If therefore I point out ways held to be reason enough to account some things in which I think that we for the absence of any public man from might improve ourselves by the model of any kind of public duty. There no doubt a far distant state of things, I would notare cases where the “domestic affliction” be understood as striving after, or even is so real that nothing short of the iron as sighing after, a state of things which is discipline of old Rome could enable a beyond our reach, a state of things which, man to discharge public duties while the if it were to be had, would most likely not blow is still fresh upon him. But we hear be on the whole any improvement on the the same phrase when we may be sure state of things in which we find ourselves. that the “affliction” and the consequent

My main point then is that, in the large mourning are purely ceremonial. A man states of modern Europe, the State, and is expected to stay away, not only bethe duty which each citizen owes to the cause his own feelings prompt him to State, is not, perhaps cannot be, con- stay away, but because conventional rules stantly present to men's minds in the require him. Not only would the sacrisame way in which it was present to a patriotic citizen of one of the small com

1 * See the story in Livy, xlv. 40. He had two other

" sons, but they had been adopted into other families, the monwealths of past times. It seems to younger Scipio for one of them.

fice of private feeling to public be looked hear about “vested interests." In any on as a social indecency; it would be public reform it is taken for granted that looked on as a social indecency if a man the reform is to be left imperfect, if any did not pretend sorrow and consequent man's private interest would suffer by incapacity for business, even when none carrying it out thoroughly. That is to is really felt. Now we may perhaps de- say, in this as in other matters, public inbate whether the Roman or the English terest must give way to private. This feeling on this matter is the more healthy; worship of vested interests is, I believe, but there can be no doubt as to the prin held to be conservative, but it very often ciples from which the two feelings sev- is in practice destructive. It often haperally start. The Roman feeling takes pens that an institution which has befor granted that the State should come come very corrupt might be reformed and before everything else in the minds of all might again đo good service, if only the its citizens. The modern feeling takes particular men who profit by its abuse for granted that the domestic relations were turned out, and better men put in come first, and that the State must get their stead. Reformers of almost any what it can after the domestic relations age before our own would have preserved have been satisfied.

the institution, but would have turned out Again, everybody will remember how, the men who had made it useless or mis. in the time of the Crimean war, a number chievous. The modern fashion is to deof men were allowed to come home from stroy the institution itself, but to spare the scene of warfare on the ground of those whose faults have brought about its “urgent private business.” It would destruction. The sinecurist, the pluralist, seem indeed that it was only the favoured the shameless neglecter of all duty, is algrandees who were thus highly privileged ; ; lowed to keep his ill-gotten gains for life ; we may doubt whether the private busi- his vested interests must be tenderly ness of a drummer-boy, or even that of dealt with ; but when he dies, the instian ensign without interest, would have tution which, but for him, might have been thought urgent enough to allow his been reformed is condemned to perish public duties to be left behind. But for his fault. whether the plea was urged in good faith All these ways of looking at things or in bad, the fact that it could be pub- show a very different state of feeling licly urged at all shows a state of feeling with regard to the State from that which which a Roman or a Spartan commander lighted up the patriotism of the citizens would not have understood. Leônidas or of the ancient commonwealths. The Manius Curius would have made short thing to be noticed is the way in which, work of a lochagos or a centurion who in all cases of these kinds, it is taken for talked of urgent private business at granted, as a matter of course, that the Thermopylai or at Beneventum. Justly private interest must prevail over the or unjustly, the public opinion of Sparta public. The thing is never argued about; would have put those noble and gallant it is taken for granted, as an axiom that officers in the same limbo with Aristo- cannot be doubted. If it were proposed démos the Trembler. Such public opin- in any case to make vested interests yield ion would have been unjust, it was un- to the common good, the cry of "confisjust in the case of Arisdodêmos. The cation” would at once be raised. The officers who came home were certainly use of the word itself illustrates the state not cowards in the vulgar sense. They of feeling of which I speak. In the diahad proved their animal courage amid lect of Mr. Disraeli and the penny-athe excitement of actual fighting ; they liners “confiscation " always means someseem to have disliked the hard, dull, thing wicked. It seems to be high-polite wearing work which followed the fighting for stealing. But “confiscation" is in But the point is, that “urgent private itself a word purely colourless ; it means business” could in any case be allowed the taking of anything for the public as an excuse for forsaking public busi- treasury. When the estates of a felon or ness of any kind. It could have been al- traitor were forfeited to the Crown, and lowed only in a state of society which when a magistrate fines a man for an ashabitually accepts the principle that pri-sault or a trespass, the process in both vate interests should come before public cases is confiscation. The vulgar use of interests.

the word is doubtless owing to the love It is a bold thing to say, but it strikes of using a big, vague, Latin-sounding me that the same feeling lurks under a word, instead of a short English word great deal of the talk which we nowadays about whose meaning there can be no

doubt. But the misuse could have arisen smoking is a specially gross and selfish only in a state of things in which people breach of the law. The obvious way of had learned to look on confiscation to the dealing with such an offender is simply State as the same thing with unjust seiz- to hand him over to the guard, just as ure by a private person. When Mr. Dis- one would call in a policeman to one raeli and other people, in the Irish guilty of theft or other breach of the law. Church debates, talked big about “con- But this kind of treatment seems never fiscation," the implied sentiment, though to be understood by the offender himself. most likely they did not know it, was the Sometimes a man will ask if his fellowsame as that of one of Mr. Dickens's passengers have any objection to his characters — “Rates is a robbery." smoking, just as he might ask for any tri

All these cases are instances, in differ- Aing favour; he does not see that he ent ways, of the feeling, a feeling all the might as reasonably ask whether his felmore important because it is calmly and low-passengers have any objection to unconsciously taken for granted, that pri- have their pockets picked. And whether vate interests should come first, and pub- he asks or not, he always seems to hold lic interests second. Here, I do not hes- that the appeal to the guard - that is, itate to say, is a wide difference between then and there, the appeal to law — is a the point of view of great states and that personal incivility to himself. He seems of small ones. In a small state, no less to think that he ought to be dealt with in than in a great one, the citizen may practi- some tender and delicate fashion, and not cally put his private interest before the as the public offender which he really is. interest of the commonwealth ; he may That is to say, he cannot understand the betray the commonwealth, or he may en- public, but only the personal, view of rich himself at its expense; but if he things. · But to one who understands the does so, he is universally understood to duty of obedience to law, the smoker in be a bad citizen, one who directly tram- a non-smoking carriage seems no more ples on his duties towards the common-entitled to delicacy or civility than a thief wealth of which he is a member. Con- is. If any one should here bring in the duct of this kind may even be quite as difference between moral and positive ofcommon in a small state as in a great fences, the answer is that the positive ofone; the difference is that, in the small fence, while the law which creates it is in state, a line of conduct is always held to force, is a moral offence. And men act on be contrary to the duties of a citizen this principle whenever it is convenient which, in a large state, is, in a slightly to them. The offence of the poacher is modified form, taken for granted even by at least as much the arbitrary creation of the most respectable men of all parties. positive law as the offence of the smoker; We see the same difference of feeling in yet game-keepers and game-preservers do another form, in the difficulty, to put it not commonly feel themselves called broadly, which people nowadays seem to upon to show much delicacy or civility to feel in understanding that a crime against the poacher. Much the same may be the State is any crime at all. This comes said about the common breach of the out both in the greatest matters and in wholesome rule which forbids railway the smallest, and, as in all such cases, the servants to receive gifts — that is to say, smallest class of instances are really the bribes — from passengers. This is somemost instructive. To many people, the thing more than a breach of law on the notion of law as law, the doctrine that it part of the giver; it is the worse offence is a conscientious duty to obey the law, of tempting another to a breach of law. simply because it is the law, seems to be Yet every one must have often heard something wholly unknown. Take, for both these practices unblushingly avowed instance, such a case as that of smoking and justified, and that often by men who in any railway carriage under the old certainly would not wilfully sin against rules, or the worse case of smoking in a anything which they looked on as either carriage not set apart for smoking under a moral or a social precept. That is to the new rules. The act of smoking in say, men fail to see that obedience to law, either case is a distinct breach of the law; as law, is a moral duty; they fail to see for, though it is not directly forbidden by that the commonwealth ought to come Act of Parliament, yet the bye-law of a first, and the individual only to come afcompany empowered by Parliament to ter it. make bye-laws is undoubtedly law within We see the same feeling at work in its own range. And the act of smoking in other small cases, which involve not only a carriage set apart for those who dislike breach of law, but distinct dishonesty to

wards the commonwealth. The necessity | man has taken to unlawful trading – that of taxation and the right of taxation are is, to robbery of the State - who certain y involved in the very idea of civil govern- would not, at the beginning at least, have ment. The payments which each mem- taken to piracy — that is, to robbery of ber of the State has to pay to the State individuals. All these are, in differeut as a whole are as much the lawful right ways, cases of the same incapacity to see of the State as any payment which one that a real duty is owing to the commonman has to make to another. To de- wealth by its members, and that each fraud the State in any way is surely as man's duty to the commonwealth itself is dishonest as to defraud any particular higher than his duty to any of his fellowmember of the State. To any one who members of the commonwealth. has a real conviction of what the State. These are small matters, such as any is, or ought to be, to all its members, man may have done, or have been it seems a greater crime than to de- tempted to do, at some time of his life. fraud any particular person. Yet it But the same feeling, the same incapais certain that many people who are city fully to take in that crime against the true and just in their dealings with State is a crime, follows men into much their neighbours cease to be true and just higher regions. A few men only are in their dealings with the commonwealth. called on to take part in their own perPeople who would not only scrupulously sons in the great public events of history, discharge every real debt, but who would but every man is called on to form his even be fantastically exact about paying estimate of those who do take part in their share, or more than their share, of them. It is part of every man's moral everything, will often have no scruple education to learn to apply the rule of against practising some petty fraud on right to public affairs, to give honour to the public revenue, the pettiness of which worthy deeds, and to brand the unworthy is often the most wonderful thing about as they deserve. Yet this is what hardly it. Here again, in another way, private any one does. Very few people fully take interest is even scrupulously regarded, in that a public crime is a crime ; very while public interest is set at nought. few feel the same loathing for a public Indeed men get so thoroughly into the criminal which they feel for a private habit of dealing with the State in a way criminal; very few would shrink from in which they would not deal with one the presence of a tyrant as they certainly another that they will do what is really would shrink from the presence of a coman act of dishonesty towards an indivi- mon murderer. Now, before I go on to dual, if it only bears the likeness of illustrate my position by examples, I being an act of dishonesty towards the must first draw one or two distinctions. State. Very decent people will, to save We may be always certain that any popular a halfpenny, put something into a book-instinct, any popular cry, any prevalent parcel which they ought to write on a way of looking at things, has a certain separate post-card. This looks like amount of truth in it. The cry may be cheating the revenue, and so it is. But on the whole false, and therefore mischiethe minds of those who do so are so bent vous ; but it is sure not to be wholly on the thought of cheating the revenue false. There is sure to be at the bottom that they forget that they are also expos- some half truth,- some truth distorted, ing the person to whom the parcel is sent misapplied, put out of its right relation to to the risk of paying extra postage, if the other truths, but which still has enough unlawful enclosure is found out. So of the character of truth about it to lead again, people who would not cheat in a people wrong. I have just now brackprivate dealing between man and man, etted the tyrant and the common murwill not scruple to bring in a pirated edi- derer. Yet we all instinctively feel that tion of a book. The thing looks so like there is a difference between them. We cheating the revenue that they forget that will put out of sight for the moment the it really is not the revenue that is cheated, question whether of the two is the greater but the author or publisher whose work criminal ; my present point is that they is pirated. So, to turn to acts on a are criminals of two different kinds. We all greater scale, we may be sure that many feel that, perhaps neither Dionysios, cera man has turned smuggler who would tainly neither Cæsar and neither Buonahave shrunk with horror from the thought parte, was at all likely to pick a man's of turning pirate. As lesser crime so pocket or to stab him in the dark. We often leads to greater, the smuggler often feel that our lives would be safe in the turns into something worse. But many a private company of many a man who

has ordered a massacre or begun an life, who would himself shrink from any unrighteous war. We feel that our purses ordinary crime in private life, may be guilty would be safe in the private company of of public crimes of the deepest dye. We many a man who has driven a land wild feel, instinctively and rightly, that the by military plunder or judicial confiscation. public criminal is something quite differI have myself elsewhere made the re- ent from the private criminal, that the tymark that there are cases in which it rant is not necessarily a man of the same needs the worse man to do the lesser mould as the vulgar cut-throat or cutcrime.* I am not now arguing which is purse. But, because the public criminal the worse man; I only say that they are is a criminal of another kind from the two different kinds of men. It is quite private one, because his crimes may be certain that many a man will do a great more easily glozed over, because there is public crime who would shrink from do-' often something dazzling about their very ing a much smaller private crime. Two greatness, men go on practically to infer causes, not unconnected with one an- that public crimes are no crimes at all. other, help to bring this about. Firstly, Because the tyrant is not to be conmost men act less from a distinct convic- founded with the vulgar robber or murtion of abstract right and wrong than derer, men hastily infer that the vulgar from a feeling of what is commonly robber or murderer is a criminal, but that looked at as right and wrong in their own the tyrant is not a criminal. Because a age. A man will do a thing in one time particular class of crimes is not inconsistor place which a really worse man would ent with much that is socially attractive shrink from doing in another time or — nay, we may fully admit, because it is place. It follows that, in an age which is not inconsistent with some real private severe on private crimes but is disposed virtues — men leap to the conclusion that to look with indulgence on public crimes, crimes of this class are no crimes, or at men will often feel no scruple about a least that they must be judged by another crime against the commonwealth, while standard, and spoken of in another tone, public opinions will make them shrink from the every-day doings of criminals on from a lesser crime against an individual. a smaller scale. Secondly, in all moral inquiries we must The line of thought which runs through always allow for the power of self-delusion. all this is in this way perfectly intelligible, It often happens that the greater crime but it is a line of thought which saps the may be more easily glozed over by false foundations of all public virtue, and tends excuses than the less. To take the three thoroughly to blunt the whole moral chief crimes which come together in the sense. We allow that the man who is second table of the Decalogue, we hold guilty of a massacre or an unjust war that murder is a greater crime than adul- may be a man of quite another stamp tery or theft. But there are many cases from a private murderer. But it does not in which the murderer may, by some pro- follow that he is a better man than the cess of self-delusion, persuade himself private murderer ; still less does it follow that his crime is no crime ; with the two that the crime and its doer ought to be lesser crimes this is hardly possible. any the less branded with the abhorAnd this power of self-delusion applies rence of mankind. To say indeed, as has with special force to public crimes. A often been said, that he who kills one man who is really seeking nothing but his man is condemned as a murderer, while own selfish ends may, by processes of he who kills thousands of men is honsophistry within his own breast, per- loured as a hero, is a sophism on the face suade himself that he is acting from high of it ; for he who kills the thousands may and patriotic motives ; he may persuade be a true hero, who has never struck a himself that his crimes are no crimes, or, blow except in a righteous cause. And, at any rate, that they are means which supposing the slaughter to be done in the end will justify. Then too no cause open and regular welfare, even in an unis so bad but it will get some partisans, righteous cause, there is so much that is and the applause and flattery of his ac- dazzling and delusive about war and its complices are thus added to the working accompaniments that we can hardly put of self-delusion within his own breast. In the author of an unjust war, though the all these ways it is quite possible that a misery which he causes may be ten man who has nothing about him which thousandfold greater, quite on the same would make us shrink from him in private moral level as a common murderer. We

may be sure that Lewis the Fourteenth • History of the Norman Conquest, iv. 606. would never have ordered a personal

« VorigeDoorgaan »