Monday, March 20, 2017

Mallock on the value of Labor

"Labor is the industrial exertion of a single man on some single piece of work, and on that single piece of work only, no matter what this may be—the carrying of a sack or the wheeling of a barrow, which requires no training at all; or the finishing of a chronometer, which requires the training of half a life-time. Ability is the industrial exertion of a single man, which affects simultaneously the labor of many men, multiplying or improving the results of it in each case."

(from "Who Are the Chief Wealth Producers" by W.H. Mallock.  in The North American Review, June 1893, p.653)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Bagehot on Conservatism

"The essence of Toryism is enjoyment. Talk of the ways of spreading a wholesome Conservatism throughout this country: give painful lectures, distribute weary tracts (and perhaps this is as well—you may be able to give an argumentative answer to a few objections, you may diffuse a distinct notion of the dignified dulness of politics); but as far as communicating and establishing your creed are concerned—try a little pleasure. The way to keep up old customs is, to enjoy old customs; the way to be satisfied with the present state of things is, to enjoy that state of things. Over the "Cavalier" mind this world passes with a thrill of delight; there is an exultation in a daily event, zest in the "regular thing," joy at an old feast. Sir Walter Scott is an example of this. Every habit and practice of old Scotland was inseparably in his mind associated with genial enjoyment. To propose to touch one of her institutions, to abolish one of those practices, was to touch a personal pleasure —a point on which his mind reposed, a thing of memory and hope. So long as this world is this world, will a buoyant life be the proper source of an animated Conservatism."
(From "Mr. Macaulay", p422 in Estimates of some Englishmen and Scotchmen, by Walter Bagehot)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

James Fitzjames Stephen on democracy

The main thrust of Jame Fitzjames Stephen's book, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, was a critique of John Stuart Mill's views from the position of orthodox Utilitarianism.  But Stephen's own views shifted markedly from the orthodox Benthamite position over time.  In March 1867, contemplating the Reform Act being considered by Parliament, he wrote:
"Our case is that the interests of all classes are substantially identical; that the existence of masses of wealth is essential to the employment of labour, and that realized capital forms the fund by which labour is supported and want relieved; that the existence of a large class which has leisure enough to learn to think, to insist upon all that we mean by refinement, and into which any one may by industry and good conduct earn an entrance for himself and his family, is essential not merely as a stimulus to industry, but for the purpose of conducting public business; and these facts, we further say, are as well known to the poor as to the rich, and as little likely to be forgotten or undervalued by them. They are and ought to be regarded as the natural friends and supporters of wealth and education, the willing and intelligent critics and followers of those who possess them. In a word, we regard the whole nation as an organized body, capable, to use Milton’s splendid language, "of the greatest designs that can be attempted to make a church or kingdom happy." Taking this view, it appears to us undignified, cowardly, and narrow-minded in the extreme for the upper classes to be looking out for substitutes for rotten boroughs, and to be admitting that they are altogether incompetent to the task of leading, persuading, and heading a majority. The justification, and the only possible justification, for their existence is that they are the natural leaders of the nation, the natural friends, instructors, and representatives of the poor. They are the officers of the regiment freely chosen by the men, who, as a matter of fact, actually do, and from the nature of things must, have in their hands the final and unquestionable sanction of physical force. Let them try to fill this position worthily, let them, really believe and act on the belief that they are not a privileged minority, but the natural leaders of the majority, and they will find their whole position infinitely strengthened and improved. They will be what they are and always have been, but their power will be held by a more secure tenure, and will rest on a broader basis. What they have to do is to lead the majority, not to admit themselves to form a minority. If they take the first course, they will constitute a natural aristocracy. If they take the second, they will degenerate into a paltry and narrow-minded clique. Nothing is so narrow, so bigoted, so essentially inaccessible to reason as a minority artificially invested with political power."
Leslie Stephen believed his brother "a good deal corrupted by old Carlyle."  Indeed, a few months after this piece was published, contemplating an article Thomas Carlyle on the topic, the tone of his views appear to have shifted substantially.
"The point on which we should be most inclined to agree with Mr. Carlyle is the unfitness of the bulk of the population and of any Government representing them for carrying out arduous schemes in the teeth of difficulties and in spite of opposition by systematic and careful legislation. The essence of legislation by a majority of the whole nation is to let people do as they like as much as possible, and to take a minimum of trouble. Such a democracy as we should have in England would have very little faith in legislation. They would simply turn their backs upon the devices for improving and governing the world which require constant adjustment and elaborate care, and the thing to apprehend would be that, after getting their elbows entirely free, they would settle down in a stolid, rather sluttish condition of ease and indifference. It may well be the destiny of the British empire under its new rulers to dwindle down by degrees to the condition of a larger Holland, prosperous and insignificant."
Yet, at an analytic level, Fitzjames Stephen was consistent in the Tocquevillian belief that: "Democracy is not a form of government, but a state of society" -- arguing that:
"The real importance of Reform Bills and other constitutional changes in countries in which the broad principles of legal government and equal legal rights are fully recognized, consists not in the fact that they alter its distribution of political power, but in the fact that they render its working safe and regular, and provide a legal channel for its exercise."