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I will not enter into the question of the origin of parties. That subject was handled by one of our most thoughtful contributors to the Magazine, in an article which appeared in October, 1874, and I am disposed to concur to a great extent with the views there expressed.
I do not contend that the present system of parties is indispensable, but looking at the experience of nearly every country in which representative government is found, there are generally at least two contending parties, whether you call them Liberal and Conservative, Whig and Tory, Republican and Democrat, or by whatever other opposing names you like ; and whether we approve or disapprove, the same system will probably continue through our day and generation at least.
We may conclude then that we shall always have two parties, a party always proposing change and a party always opposing it. You will always have in fact in politics : The party of " affirmative thought” and The party of “negative thought;" and every individual may, (I will not say must) join that party and assist in its work, which he or she considers to be best adapted for attaining the ends of good, wise, and impartial government.
And here I must join issue with the writer of the address to which I have referred, who attempts to infer that to a politically organised mind “all human ideas are capable of being resolved into two, Liberal and Conservative, that it allows a double definition to each of those terms. _“To a Liberal” he says, “the term “Liberal' means or implies everything that is good, and Conservative' everything that is bad ; to a Conservative on the other hand the term 'Conservative' means or implies everything that is good and . Liberal' everything that is bad.”
He gives as the next assumption of political organisation “ that it is the duty of mankind to resolve themselves like their ideas into two classes, or parties, Liberal and Conservative; and for each party to consider that everything it does must necessarily be good, and done from good motives, and everything emanating from the opposite party must necessarily be bad and done from bad motives.”
Now I think I may safely appeal to my friends present to-night (whether Conservatives or Liberals) when I challenge the accuracy of such statements as those I have read. If such were a correct representation of parties in the present day, then the sooner parties were abolished the better ; but it is because I believe that party organisation properly and efficiently conducted (independently of its advantages as regards discipline) tends to promote a spirit of enquiry and to elevate political life, that I would advocate such organisation.
I would place greater faith in a Community (whether dominantly Liberal or Conservative) where parties are well organised, than in one where the political life of the inhabitants is unattended to, and each individual is left to work out in the best way he can his own political creed.
There are some persons, who advocate independence of party ties, because they say that the truth is divided in tolerably even proportions between the two parties. But if they really think so, it might be desirable for them to join both parties and thereby become possessed of the whole truth.
Some politicians indeed shew their independence by attaching themselves nominally to one party, and serving by all means in their power the opposite one, and in their case the term "independent” has been appropriately defined as not to be depended upon.
They are as well satisfied to receive the applause of their opponents, as of their own nominal friends; they take kindly to the flattery of their quondam enemies: they receive with delight dignities or it may be substantial rewards for the desertion of their party, from the hands of their political antagonists, and then they not only find fault with every kind of organisation which would act as a check upon such defiant independence, but they try to delude themselves into the belief that they are guilty of no inconsistency. These men have their rewards indeed, but it would be impossible to hold them up to the world as examples of pure highminded or unselfish patriots.
But an independent politician, of another species, stands aloof from both parties : he decides to keep himself free from contamination with either and thus saves himself from work, responsibility, anxiety and expence. Besides, by not associating himself with any party, he can abuse all
, and such abuse is generally indulged in by those who have never done any public work and who are indisposed to make any sacrifice. They may be perfect critics, but beyond criticism they do not care to go.
Some of them will attribute all sorts of motives to those public-spirited men who assist in doing their share of the unpaid and unprofitable work of serving the people. These critics cannot imagine that a man entering Parliament, or the Town Council, or other public body has any higher or nobler object in view than that of promoting his own personal ambition or his own position and prospects in life. Mr. Dawson in his Sermon on the “Religion of Politics” thus effectively refers to those Superior people who object to degrade themselves by mixing in public life.
“How many are there who don't meddle in these matters, and with whom the affectation of superiority with which they decline to do so, is a simple cover of indolence? How sweet it sounds—this philosophical indifference and superiority ! how mean it really is ! By it and through it the government of towns and nations sinks down into the hands of the vulgar, the self-seeking and the mean.”
I do not for one moment urge that activity in political or municipal life is the only way in which a man may benefit his fellows. I cheerfully admit that there are scores of other opportunities open to those who are disposed to “go about doing good ”—but I can and do say, that much of the adverse criticism of our representatives, whether national or local, is offered by men who were never guilty of a single service for the benefit of the public.
Another argument of Mr. Lakin Smith, in his address, is to the effect that the docility or tractability supposed to be inseparable from organisation is opposed to individuality.
He says, “ The great acme of political organisation, as advocated by both parties at the present day, would seem to be to reduce each party, or at any rate the bulk of each party, as far as possible to the condition of a
flock of sheep, all ready to jump where the first one jumps, without knowing or asking why."
I do not propose very critically to examine the flock of sheep theory. I am not sufficiently acquainted with the mental conditions, the reason. ing or the instinctive faculties of the lower animals, to enable me to do so. At the same time there may be common sense if not wisdom even in the sheep doing as he is told, or, otherwise, following as he is ledand the well organised sheep, who sagaciously follows his trusted leader or shepherd, is rather to be commended than the self-willed and egotistical sheep, who choosing to act on independent principles, it may be loses his food, his rest, or even his life.
The simile, however, is not quite appropriate, inasmuch as an intelligent party would require very good reasons to be given before it consented to jump at all.
But instead of the flock of sheep, take the case of a well-disciplined army. Everyone knows that the army which has been well trained and is well officered, will stand an infinitely better chance than an opposing army composed of raw recruits (however intelligent as individuals) led by unskilled generals, with no defined plan of operations, but all, i.e., officers and men seeking to win their fight by acting on “independent principles."
All your soldiers cannot be leaders, all cannot be officers (unless in an American army), all cannot direct the campaign; but the intelligence, the patriotism, and especially the discipline of the rank and file may be such, that although they cannot lead they are quite content 10 follow, and regarding themselves as brother companions in arms of their leaders, they are content with sharing the glory of the victory which all, by their united efforts, have been able to obtain. Well, if complete organisation be found so advantageous to an army, why not also to political parties?
The cases are not, it is true, altogether parallel, but the divergenceas far as freedom of action is concerned-is in favour of the political party. Unlike the army, and in this respect unlike even the volunteers, the party selects its own leaders, and also the objects to be contended for. All however are, or should be united by common interests. As in the army, so in the political world, you will have men of larger minds, men of greater intellect
, of deeper knowledge, and of larger experience: and these men will naturally be selected as Leaders.
With regard to the present system of organisation of parties, there has been much adverse criticism, in addition to Mr. L. Smith's, indulged in, though it is difficult to understand the objections urged, or what is meant especially by calling our Liberal and Conservative organisations “Caucuses"-a term intended, I presume as one of reproach, though of somewhat doubtful origin and meaning. The answer to such a terrible charge is two-fold. In the first place, many of the persons who make it, do not understand the thing they object to, and in the second place, they do not understand the terms they make use of.
In advocating the organisation of parties, I say that in order to be complete the same should be on the most popular basis, and what would be good for one party would be equally good for the other. If you have a representative Committee, whether it be called “the 600” or “the 300," the one important cousideration is, that the representatives should be openly and publicly selected ; a fair chance being given to all who choose to take any part in the proceedings, and those who do not take such part must then take the consequences of their own neglect.
If this course be adopted, and if all meetings at which business is transacted are of a representative character, then surely such a course must be an advance upon that of a party being governed, as in the old times, by a small knot of self-elected and irresponsible Leaders.
Mr. Lakin Smith, in his address, attempts to prove that under the present system of organisation, the wishes of actual majorities do not in many cases prevail; and in order to establish this proposition, he kindly treats us to a little arithmetic.
He assumes that each party possesses a large amount of what in music would I think be termed “discordant harmony,” or in other words, a large proportion of dissentient adherents. He puts his case thus:“Say the Liberal party for the time being is 8000, 5000 of whom really
wish to pass a measure, the remaining 3000 being dissentients. Say the Conservative party is 7000, 6000 of whom really wish to oppose the measure, and the remaining 1000 wish the measure to pass; both sides being politically organised on the present system, the measure passes, as the 8000 outnumber the 7000; but adding together the opponents on both sides, they amount to 9000, while the total number of assentients on both sides only amounts
to 6000.” And then he exclaims in triumph : "Hence, by means of the present system of political organization 6000
over-rule 9ooo, and the majority is over-ruled by the minority.” Now the answer to such special pleading is simply this—the 3000 dissentient Liberals become Conservatives, and the 1000 assentient Conservatives become Liberals, and the measure fails to get passed; or, if preferred, these 3000 and 1000 voters may be considered as free and independent electors forming a party of their own, and leaving them out of calculation altogether, the result will be the same, the negatives will be victorious.
It must indeed require a powerful imagination to suppose that either of the parties named ever has so large a proportion of dissentient members; and arithmetic, when so used, might be made to prove almost any absurdity.
With regard to the vexed question introduced by Mr. Lakin Smith, as to whether politics should form an element in the choice of municipal Representatives. I admit that the first consideration should always be the fitness of a candidate, but other things being equal, it is natural that an elector should prefer, in municipal matters, to be represented by men of similar minds to those for whom he would vote to represent him in Parliament itself : besides which, the one kind of representation often serves as a schooling for the other, and the man who has shewn the greatest aptitude in serving the Public in the City or Town may, as a
rule, I think, be entrusted with the greater responsibility of serving his Country in its principal Legislative Assembly.
And here let me say a few words with regard to so-called monopolising majorities.
Í take it for granted that every man in joining a political party does so in the belief that the main principles of such party are true, and righteous, and such as are worthy not only of defence but of promulgation :-hence, without attributing improper motives to his opponents, (as is suggested by Mr. Lakin Smith); believing them indeed to be as sincere as himself, it is his duty to fight the battles of his party, and the more successful his efforts the greater cause for congratulation. If then as a Liberal I went to Liverpool or Birkenhead and found that the Conservatives had practically a monopoly or an undue proportion of the representation of the Town for Parliamentary and Municipal purposes, I might think that my party had been lukewarm in permitting such a result to be brought about, but I could not blame my opponents for not providing an opposition.
The duty of the minority is to convert itself into a majority, and if its views are sound and beneficial for the public, then the latter only require to be convinced for their allegiance to be won.
I should occupy your time unduly, if I attempted to answer one half of the fallacies (as I conceive them to be) contained in the address I have briefly criticised, and I will only refer to one other, and it is to the effect that Political Organisation requires a man in certain cases to forego his individual conscientious convictions, on account of the supposed good resulting from united action.
I can only meet this assertion with a direct negative, and say that such sacrifices are not required. There must necessarily be unity of sentiment and conviction with regard to the main cardinal points of a political creed, but anyone is free to join a party or disconnect himself from itand this latter course is frequently resorted to, not so much on account of matters of principle, but by crotchetty people, because in minor matters their dogmas are not at once taken up by their party.
There must necessarily be difference of opinion as to the ordur in which reforms or changes are to be striven after; as to the mode of accomplishment of the same; and as to party management and discipline; but these are all mere matters of detail, and it is absurd to suggest that in these matters there is involved on the part of minorities any sacrifice of conscientious convictions.
In conclusion, then, I contend that we have nothing to fear from the most complete organisation. By it we simply substitute system for confusion, order for chaos, method for irregularity.
We require some such discipline in every condition of life. Those of us who have families, have to lay down certain rules, compliance with which is requisite, if there is to be any good government in the household.
The child who acts on independent principles is generally a source of continued trouble and anxiety, and though his eccentricities are sometime supposed to indicate genius, yet we are inclined to prefer the ways of the child who is more teachable, more tractable, more obedient. In our busi