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Art. V.-A Dialogue on the Best Form of Government. By
the Right Honourable Sir GEORGE CORNEWALL LEWIS,
Bart., M.P. London: 1863. IT T is seldom that the title of a book prefixed to an article in
this Review suggests reflections so mournful as those which will arise in the minds of our readers in connexion with this small volume. It may not be wonderful that the death of one who was a frequent contributor to these pages, and who himself for some time superintended their issue, should be a source of grief to scholars and literary men; but it is not often that the loss of the same man is at least as deeply felt by the Cabinet, the Parliament, and the people of Great Britain. Yet such is the case at the present moment.
Whilst literature mourns an acute and accomplished scholar, the whole nation laments a statesman in whose good sense, sagacity, and integrity it could place implicit confidence. As the Dean of St. Paul's bas truly said, in the graceful note prefixed to the recent edition of his · History of the Jews:- It is rare that a man who might have aspired to the very highest dignity in the State might have done honour as professor of Greek to the most learned University in Europe. It does not belong to us to dwell on the feelings of domestic sorrow, or the bitter regret of intimate friends, who know how he never failed in affection and considerate kindness for those immediately connected with him. Our present intention is to lay before our readers a concise account of this Dialogue, which was Sir George Lewis's last published work, and we hope to add a few words illustrative of his character and position. Any attempt at a biography (properly so called) would be out of place in these pages: the time has not yet come for such a work, and it would require materials of a different kind from those which are now before us.
The intention and form of this little book is best described in the author's own words. He says:
'I have supposed the dialogue to take place in our own time and country, between four Englishmen, belonging to the educated class. My object has been to conceive each of the three recognised forms, Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy, as represented by a sincere partisan, and to attribute to him such arguments as a judicious advocate might properly use. I have attempted, in discussion, to place each government in the light in which it would be regarded by an enthusiastic admirer, and to suggest all the strongest objections to the other governments which the advocates of each would naturally urge. My aim has been to conduct the controversy in such a manner as to represent the strength of each case ; but I have not endeavoured to exhaust the subject. A dialogue is not fitted for systematic instruction, or for strict scientific treatment.' (P. vi.)
We think that Sir George Lewis has succeeded admirably in attaining the limited object which he had in view. The Dialogue is well written and well constructed, and the whole treatment of the subject is eminently characteristic of his fair and candid mind. It is probable that Crito, who opens the conversation, represents the author's own sentiments more nearly than any other speaker. He proposes the discussion, and at the same time questions whether there be such a thing as a best form of government in the abstract:
'I cannot admit,' he says, 'that there is any one form of government which is best for every community under every variety of circumstances. Compare the useful arts. Can it be said that there is a best ship, a best gun, a best knife, a best spade, independently of all the various purposes to which these instruments can be applied ? Why are we to suppose that one form of government is the best adapted for all communities, whatever their moral and intellectual state may be ?' (P. 5.)
He then asks how the difference of race can be passed over; and whether this abstract form of government is the best equally for all those who differ to the uttermost in civilisation and in origin? The supposed representative of each form replies by asserting that the particular government which he advocates is an end to be sought for its own sake and under all circumstances. Democraticus maintains that there are many sorts of bad government, but only one good government:
εσθλοί μεν γάρ απλώς παντοδαπώς δε κακοί. . Monarchicus undertakes to prove that a best form is not only possible, but actually exists, and he lays especial stress on what may be called the universality of monarchy, as a proof of its excellence. Aristocraticus reproaches him with calling those governments ' monarchies’ which are in reality of another character, and thus claiming credit for what does not really belong to that form. He refuses, for instance, to allow that the government of England is properly called a "monarchy,' and says it may not be a democratic republic, but it is a republic
nevertheless. By a republic I understand every government * in which the sovereign power is, both in form and in substance, distributed among a body of persons.' (P. 17.)
Monarchicus replies by pressing as the characteristic of sovereignty the civil and criminal irresponsibility of the king of England, and contrasting it with the position of a doge of Venice or a republican president; and this limited question is argued with great force and ingenuity.
Monarchy is attacked as a rude and unimproved system of government characteristic of barbarism and social ignorance.
The universal adoption of pure monarchy in the East is ascribed to the backward and stationary character of Oriental society, which is well, and in the main, truly stated.* Aristocraticus contrasts with this the corporate or plural principle of government, for which he gives the Greeks credit as inventors. His opponent answers that there is no plural government without a decision by the majority, and that
• Decision by the majority is unquestionably one of the clumsiest contrivances for securing rectitude of decision which can be devised. You may talk of the rudeness of monarchical government, but I defy you to point out anything in monarchy so irrational as counting votes, instead of weighing them; as making a decision depend, not on the knowledge, ability, experience, or fitness of the judges, but upon their number. Nobody, in forming his individual opinion, ever resorts to such a test. No historian in commenting on the vote of an assembly, ever says, that the decision was made by the majority, and therefore it was right.' (P. 33.)
The reply is, that decision by a majority is no doubt open to theoretical objections, but that it is the necessary condition of corporate government, and that corporate government is the only way of escaping from the perils of absolute sovereignty, with all its evils of occasional violence and assassination, and the corresponding cruelties on the part of a king who is in constant fear for his life. Monarchicus rejoins by referring to the cruelties of the Greek oligarchies and of ancient and modern democracies.
The evils and advantages of the rule of a single individual are then discussed, as well as those which attend on party government.
A very striking passage on the working of the old French Monarchy and its consequences is worth quoting at length. Aristocraticus is made to say :
* We are sorry that Sir George Lewis made Aristocraticus express in such very broad terms his contempt for Eastern literature. He was not himself an Oriental scholar, and it can be scarcely just to say they have never produced any scientific or literary work worthy of 'mention, except the “Arabian Nights”' (p. 29.). Our Sanscrit and Persian scholars must read these words with indulgence, and remember that they are put into the mouth of a professed advocate who is making out a case as shortly and as forcibly as he can, without dwelling on details or qualifying what he says.
'Hostility to the intellectual eminence, to the personal independence, and to the honest pride which ought to characterise every aristocracy is a natural attribute of an absolute monarchy; and it may accordingly be discerned among the various bad qualities of the old French government. The Monarchy of France, from Louis XIV. down to 1789, prevented the formation of a good aristocracy. It maintained the nobles in possession of their civil privileges; and at the same time, deprived them of political power. It preserved their exemption from direct taxes, and kept up the barriers between them and the tiers-état; it thus rendered them odious to the rest of the community. It hardened the mass of the people by its habitual severity, by its cruel punishments, and by its system of judicial torture, which were continued until the Revolution. The frightful punishment of Damiens was in 1757; the breaking of Calas upon the wheel took place in 1762; the horrible execution of the young Chevalier de la Barre occurred in 1766. The men who in July 1789, soon after the taking of the Bastile, murdered Foulon and his son-in-law, Berthier, in the streets of Paris; who hung them from lamp-posts, cut off their heads, and carried them on pikes, thrust Foulon's head in his son-in-law's face, tore out their hearts and entrails, and even devoured them from savage joy-these men had acquired their ferocity under the teaching of the old Monarchy; they had not learnt it in the school of Robespierre and Marat. Moreover, the old French Monarchy, by its frequent recourse to coups d'état, trained the people to a systematic disregard of fixed constitutional and legal rules. By this mode of government it prepared the way for the Revolution of 1789, and for Bonaparte, the two great scourges of modern Europe. The generation of Frenchmen which had grown up to manhood in the year 1789, was the creation of the old Monarchy, not of the Revolution. The Revolution was made by men whose character and opinions had been formed under the Monarchy, and who owed to it their training. If the French nobles had not been, by the short-sighted and selfish jealousy of the Monarchy, withdrawn from all political life, and from all the realities of business, they would not have shown the feebleness, the mutual mistrust, and the incapacity to combine, which characterised them, as a class, during the storms of the early part of the Revolution. Instead of emigrating, they would have organised a resistance to the Convention ; acting as a body, they would easily have put down the handful of ruffians who worked the Paris guillotine during the Reign of Terror.'
It is not easy to sum up the indictment against the French Monarchy more completely and more forcibly than is done in this passage. The feebleness and incapacity resulting from it which marked the conduct of the nobles, was seen also in the fall of the Girondins. We confess that our pity for these men has always been blunted by the double consideration, that they had lent themselves to all the cruelty against the Royal Family, and that they exhibited in their fall the most contemptible want of power to combine and avert their own fate. Monarchicus upholds Burke's view of the French Revolution, and attributes it to the writings of Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, and others. To this Aristocraticus replies that Rousseau's Contrat Social' certainly furnished the political creed of the Revolution, but that it was the Church which was the principal object of attack to writers such as the Encyclopédistes. Voltaire, for instance,
a professed admirer of the old Monarchy. He adds, that if Louis XVI. had had the force of character and the sagacity required for supporting Turgot in his reforms, he might have laughed at the Encyclopédie and the Contrat • Social;' a proposition which we think very questionable, and which we may pause a little to consider.
Speculations as to what might have been the fate of France, if a different course had been pursued by her government, are curious and interesting. To
To go back even to an earlier period: if the Duke of Burgundy had lived, and the country had been spared the imbecility and profligacy of the Regent Orleans and of Louis XV.,-if States General had been summoned as St. Simon desired, and a sincere attempt made to infuse strength and honesty into the territorial aristocracy,—would it have been then too late to repair the mischief done by Louis XIV.? Even this may be doubtful, when we consider the wrongs inflicted on the Protestants, the religious discord which raged in the bosom of the Roman Catholic Church itself in the matter of the Jansenists, the centralisation of power by the Intendants in the provinces, and the utter prostration of the spirit of the nobles. In a letter written in 1840 Sir George Lewis said :
• There is no doubt that the terror excited by the atrocities of the democratic and infidel party in the French Revolution has given great strength to the anti-popular and clerical party. Still, it is difficult to be too grateful for the utter annihilation of the old aristocratic institutions and opinions in France and a large part of Germany, and a peaceable reform would not have effected this. A peaceable reform in 1789 would probably have produced in France the same ultimate effect as the Revolution of 1688 in England. It would have curtailed the power of the king and the privileges of the nobles; and it would ultimately have transferred the governing power from the court to the territorial aristocracy.'
But the correctness of these last views appears to us very questionable, and it must be remembered that they were expressed before Tocqueville had thrown a flood of light on the real character of the old French Government. They are hardly perhaps consistent with our present knowledge on the subject.