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Central Literary Magazine
It must be borne in mind that this Magazine is neutral in Politics and Religion; its pages are open to a free expression of all shades of opinion without leaning to any.
POLITICS AND IMPOLITICS.*
The Temptation to examine and critcise other people's opinions being one whlch a member of the C. L. A. can scarcely resist, I propose to devote the short time at my disposal to a consideration of the doctrines preached by a gentleman in another place twelve months ago.
The Address which I shall briefly criticise is on a subject called “Impolitics," and was delivered in October, 1877, by Mr. H. Lakin Smith, B.A., the then retiring President of the Birmingham and Edgbaston Debating Society.
Under ordinary circumstances it might be prudent to abstain from controversially noticing arguments not addressed directly to ourselves, but my excuse in this case must be twofold :
First.--The address in question has had a certain amount of authority given to it by its publication and circulation : and
Secondly—The subject of political organisation dealt with by the writer has been, and is now, a prominent one, and at the same time is one on which apparently much misconception is entertained. In criticising my friend's production I propose to imitate him in one respect, and it is this, that although I shall defend political parties, and political organisation, I shall do so in no party spirit, but with that fairness and impartiality which I have endeavoured through my presidential year to observe; and whilst Mr. Lakin Smith has maintained his impartiality by attacking parties all round, I shall be able I trust to preserve mine by defending them.
In the first place, then, I am disposed to find fault with the word “Impolitics" itself—and like the noble lord who referred to several * Being the President's Address delivered to the Members of the Association,
October 4th, 1878.
dictionaries for the word “innuendo," but could not find it because he was an “n” short in his calculations, I have referred to the dictionary for “impolitics," and cannot find it, because until Mr. Smith introduced it there was no such word in the vocabulary. As an adjective it is true we have impolitic, which signifies “imprudent, indiscreet, void of art or forecast,"—and any one carefully examining the article to which I am calling your attention, may be disposed to apply the aforesaid adjective to it. Indeed the author himself not only emphatically does so, but he candidly states that “there are many far abler, far wiser, far more competent to judge, and as conscientious as himself, who are entirely opposed to his views.”
We may take the writer's assurance for granted; perhaps on a little further reflection he might even have abstained from enforcing opinions, which, according to his own admission, must be less sound than are those of his opponents.
I do not include myself among those more discerning persons referred to by Mr. Lakin Smith, but as their self-elected representative, I shall, with your forbearance, indulge in a few remarks upon
POLITICS AND POLITICAL ORGANISATIONS." Now with regard to "politics,” I advance this as a general proposition, that wherever a representative government is supposed to exist, (in many cases it is only a supposition) whether for the state or the municipality, it is in the highest sense desirable, that not only the representatives but the people themselves should take an intelligent, and an abiding interest in all those questions, the solution of which is left to the representatives.
In any theory of representative government this duty is implied, and representative government itself is a farce unless such an active interest is taken. If, too, the politics of a country are regarded with unconcern and indifference, the power is apt to get transferred from a helpless, a quiescent, and an indolent people to a more resolute, and strong willed, though perhaps more corrupt executive ; and whether the government, for the time being, be Whig or Tory, history teaches us that we cannot always trust either princes or cabinets, and that their acts and deeds should be closely scrutinised by the people themselves. When a man therefore boasts, (as men often do) that he never troubles himself about politics, that he never exercises his vote, that it is immaterial to him who is in power, and who is not, that he cares only to attend to his own business, and to leave political and municipal matters to others,-in such a case I say the man is to be condemned for selfishness and his neglect of public duty.
It is also essential, that for a country to be satisfactorily governed under a representative system, all who are expected to take a part should be well instructed in their duties, and that thus the intelligence and the wisdom, and the virtues of a nation may be represented, rather than its ignorance, its prejudices, and its weaknesses.
If these propositions be correct, the next question is how far the present system of parties is beneficial or otherwise to political progress.