« EdellinenJatka »
party. In foreign politics absolute non-intervention was at this time the Radical watchword ; and as for the colonies, the sooner they shook themselves free from all connexion with the Mother-country the better. Mr. Kent is, we think, sometimes unduly severe in his criticism on the Radical party, and gives very scant recognition indeed to the immense services they have rendered to their country; but there is truth in his comments on the bourgeois type of Radical statesmanship of a generation or two ago.
• The Radicals,' he writes, 'who held the field during the middle portion of the century were, to speak in general terms, well-intentioned Nonconformists, immersed in the business of the office or the mill, who thought that the main object of the statesman should be the discovery and establishment of the conditions of profitable trade, and so indirectly to raise the standard of existence among the masses of the people.
However great the virtues of its leaders, he considers that the party as a whole was not inspired by 'great ideals
or elevating sentiments, and that, after all allowances are made, “the Manchester School will be rightly remembered * by posterity as being, of all the types of Radicals, the one of
the dullest imaginative power, of the narrowest mental 'vision, and the least animated by high conceptions of the future of the Anglo-Saxon race.'
This is, we think, far too severe a criticism on men who, however narrow' and 'unimaginative' they may have been in some respects, held up before the people, in a way very few politicians have done, the identity of true policy with high morality, and a keen sense of right and wrong between citizen and citizen and nation and nation. When complaint is made that the Manchester party was a party wanting the inspiration of a high ideal, let it be remembered that with them a wise or a foolish policy was never so much a question of expediency or inexpediency as a question of absolute right or wrong; and let us recognise that teaching such as this raises the whole tone of political controversy, and is itself an attempt to lead the nation to a higher ideal' than has sometimes been involved in the pursuit of a policy of more glittering and popular attractiveness.
Bright and Cobden of course agreed with the historic Radical party in desiring a very wide extension of the franchise, though, unlike their predecessors, they desired it for practical reasons, not as a consequence of their acceptance of some doctrine of abstract right. They believed in the ballot as a necessary protection to the voter; they would have preferred shorter parliaments; but, strong men
as they were, they would listen to no delegate theory,' which would make it the duty of a representative to oppose in Parliament his own honest convictions. They were strong individualists,' and held that, as a general rule, men's own interests could be better looked after by themselves than by the constant interference of a well-intentioned paternal government. They did much to popularise politics; that is, by constant public speaking to bring before the people that they themselves, and not merely Parliament, were directly concerned in good government and wise policy, setting in this respect an example which all statesmen nowadays necessarily follow. As Mr. Kent puts it: • The Manchester Radicals familiarised the people with the • habits and the instruments upon which self-government 'must ultimately rest. To have done this was the great (merit of the Manchester School, and in the general history of Radicalism this is a fact of great importance.'
Radicalism of the present day is certainly marked by very different traits from those which specially characterised it half a century ago. The objects of Bright and Cobden have been largely accomplished. Absolute free trade, the establishment of a very wide suffrage protected by the ballot, and a sweeping redistribution of seats, have long been won, and many of those privileges' of classes and institutions against which they warred have been swept away. But how about their ideals'? Are the Radicals of to-day inspired by the beliefs and hopes that animated their fathers and grandfathers? Is liberty' according to John Stuart Mill, the freedom of the individual from government regulation as it seemed good in the eyes of John Bright, deemed precious by the leaders of democracy at the end of the nineteenth century ? “Laissez-faire ' has long since ceased to be attractive to advanced' politicians, and socialistic dreams no longer repel our latter-day Radicals. Democracy having in fact got control over government, it . not unnaturally is much more inclined to believe in the benefits of all-pervading government regulation than in the days when the governors of the nation belonged to a limited class to whom the Radicals imputed interests distinct from, and often adverse to, those of the governed. The new Radicals, having succeeded in crowning democracy as their king, view without jealousy the strong and even arbitrary rule of their new monarch.
If there has been this fundamental change in Radical ideas as to the true functions of government in matters of domestic politics, the change has been no less marked in their way of regarding the foreign and colonial interests of
the nation. The very idea of large armies and powerful fleets was hateful to politicians of the Manchester School. They disbelieved altogether in the necessity of war, in the dangers of possible attack by rival or hostile nations, and they regarded the maintenance of the army as a sort of huge aristocratic job by which salaries were found for the younger sons of a selfish land-owning gentry. In all this they differed widely from the general sense of the people. Whilst Radicals were preaching the doctrines of peace at any price, the Volunteer movement was converting hundreds of thousands of peaceful citizens into a powerful army of national defence. The more extended the suffrage, the more determined has the nation shown itself to provide, at any cost which may be necessary, naval and military establishments on a scale previously undreamed of in times of peace; and during recent years it would be difficult to point to any Radical of mark who has lifted a finger in the cause of the reduction of armaments, or the retrenchment of our gigantic military expenditure.
There has been no less change in the sentiments with which the modern Radical regards the Colonial Empire. The conception of a Greater Britain,' an expression made common first of all, we think, by Sir Charles Dilke- a true Radical of the new type-has taken possession of the minds of Englishmen, the idea of a great and world-wide and everexpanding empire, of which the United Kingdom is the heart, owning allegiance to one throne and one flag. Lord Rosebery raises the cry of ' Liberal Imperialism,' whatever precisely that may mean, and there is hardly a prominent Liberal or Radical in the country who raises a protest against it.
Mr. Kent disputes the claims made by the Radical party to arrogate to itself all credit for reforms and improvements due to the changed circumstances of the time, and the onward march of democracy. All parties, he declares, bare had their share in shaping the system of government which now prevails. And this is so far true; inasmuch as it would have been clearly impossible for a party which never numbered more than a small minority in Parliament and in the country to give legislative effect to its aspirations without the co-operation of other parties in the State. It is true also that the Radicals never had a monopoly of the cause of parliamentary reform. Reform Acts have been passed by Whig governments and Tory governments, and from the middle of last century onwarde distinguished statesmen, who were very far indeed from being Radicals, are known to have
advocated very wide changes in popularising the electoral system of the House of Commons. Yet it would be monstrously unfair to deny that in the fierce early struggles against the stolid resistance to all change as likely to destroy the constitution and produce anarchy, the Radicals bore the burden and heat of the day. They did more than sow • the seeds from which posterity has reaped the crops.' They brought popular opinions, perhaps sometimes popular prejudice and popular passion, to bear; and so gave to the reformers the power necessary to achieve their ends. With regard to the great battle of Free Trade versus Protection, can it be really said with truth that Sir Robert Peel in a single session did as much for the cause that ultimately won as did Messrs. Bright and Cobden in ten years ? Sir Robert Peel himself, with a truer sense, recognised that the real conqueror in that great battle was not himself, but Richard Cobden. So with Reform it seems to us impossible to hold with Mr. Kent' that from the strict and narrow point
of view, the purpose of the Radicals bas failed, and still in its 'main points awaits fulfilment.' Short parliaments, pledged representatives, the reform or abolition of the House of Lords, universal suffrage, the payment of members. True that, strictly speaking, these particular changes have not been effected; but surely something very like complete satisfaction has been given to the spirit in which these Radical claims were advanced. We have not got triennial parliaments, but we have reached a state of affairs where it is most improbable that a House of Commons will last longer than three years, unless it has very clearly behind it the support of the country. Members are virtually pledged to their constituents on all questions of great public interest. If we have not got manhood suffrage, we have gone a very long way towards it. The House of Lords has not been touched by the legislative reformer ; but it now interprets its own functions as those principally of revision and correction of measures coming from the other House, and of delaying or rejecting fundamental measures which have not been approved by the people. This is not the theory which was held or acted upon by the House of Lords in the days of Lord Lyndhurst following the great Reform Act. More and more has the whole power of the State centred in the House of Commons. More and more have we approached, and are we still approaching, the extreme Radical ideal as the basis of that House, manhood suffrage and equal electoral districts. When we hear of the old Radical attacks upon privilege,' we ask ourselves, What 'privileges' are now left? Bright and Cobden, indeed, bitterly resented the feudal privileges ’ of the country gentry. Have the latter now any privileges beyond those of the dwellers in towns ? Democratic principles of government, such as were dear to former Radicals, and to Radicals alone, are now accepted by all parties as the only possible foundation in a democratic age for national or local government. No wise political reformers probably ever expected in every detail quite to realise their ideals, but surely it would be difficult to imagine a much more complete triumph of the Radical hopes of a generation or two ago in the direction of democratic government than the present age has witnessed.
On the other hand, whilst Mr. Kent holds that the 'Radical 'purpose' has failed, he thinks that, owing to the general democratisation of affairs, the Radicals have captured and absorbed the Liberal party. We should say, rather, that what used to be considered Radical ideas in matters of domestic government have gone far to capture both parties, Liberal and Conservative alike. The truth is that the effect of the successive Reform Acts and of other changes that have been made in our system of government has rendered the old division of parties entirely obsolete. No party could nowadays entrench itself behind privilege; all parties now seek power from the same source—that is, the general approval of the people. It may be at present that Radicals are more ready thau Conservatives to interfere by legislation and by Government regulation in matters once left to individual discretion. To limit the hours of labour by Act of Parliament has been inade, we believe, a plank’in some of the Radical programmes; but it must be remembered that the early Factory Acts were passed by Conservatives, and their extension is almost as likely to be undertaken by one party as by the other. The comment that the old Radicals were possessed by a strong faith in the principles they avowed, and by a spirit of optimism as to the blessed effects which their adoption would produce—' They knew exactly what they wanted, and knowing it, they pursued it with unconquerable zeal '—is a true one, and indicates another wide difference between them and their successors.
* The new Radicals are not agreed whether they wish for Home Rule all round or Home Rule for Ireland only; it is, indeed, by no means certain whether it has been abandoned altogether or only for a time. They are not agreed whether they wish to end the House of Lurds or only to amend it; whether they wish to strengthen it or weaken it; whether they desire two legislative chambers or only one. ... They insist on the principle of one man one vote; but of that of