After reading this article you will learn about:- 1. Political Obligation and the Idea of Justice 2. Political Obligation and the ‘General Will’ 3. Political Obligation and the Democratic System.
Political Obligation and the Idea of Justice:
Is it a final solution of the problem of political obligation to argue that we are bound by our own contractual act in forming and continuing to accept the constitution of our State? That argument certainly provides us with a legal bond in virtue of which we are tied to performance by a necessity: not the necessity of enforced law, which is what holds us to our civil obligation, but the necessity of the constitution, which is what holds us to our political obligation.
But the question may be raised, Why is the constitution itself necessary, or in what sense is it a necessity which we are bound to accept? We may reply to that question by saying, or repeating, that the constitution, after all, is our act (though the communist or the revolutionary might rejoin that it was not his), and that our acts, when they are once established as objective facts in the external environment of our lives—when once they have gone out of us as promises made to others, on which others rely and on the performance of which they count—oblige us necessarily as things now beyond recall.
Fides est servanda. But our minds crave something more even than the sanctity of promise and pledge. We want to know not only that we are now bound and tied, but also that we ought to be: we want to know not only that there has been an act of our own, but also that the act has value, or is directed towards a value, so that we are bound not only by the act as an act, but also by something valuable in it or above it.
We are thus led to ask ourselves where, and in what, we can find the final and ultimate ground of political obligation. The answer to that question is suggested by the argument of the previous Book.
The ultimate reason why we are obliged is not that the State is our act and deed: it is because the State represents and realizes, and in so far as it represents and realizes, that system of political values, and that general idea of justice controlling and coordinating the system, which finally claim our obedience. If the State does this, and to the extent that it does this, our obligation is perfect.
It is not, therefore, the fact that the State has a basis of contract which finally commands our allegiance. It is the fact that the State is the expression and organ of justice. We are obliged to the governing authority of the State, and we obey and perform its commands, because the State as a whole is, on the whole, such an expression and organ.
If the State fails to be that, or in so far as it fails to be that, we are left with an obligation which hangs, as it were, in the air, and has no final support. Then there arises the problem, ‘Which is the true obligation: our obligation to the State, or our obligation to justice?’ It is the problem which confronts the communist in a non-communist State: it is equally the problem which confronts the liberal and the democrat in a State which is neither liberal nor democratic – it is, in a word, the problem whether the major obligation is simply to the State-expression of justice, or to a demand of justice which the State either fails to express or falls short of expressing fully.
To that problem we shall return at the end of the argument of this Book. Meanwhile we are left with the proposition that the State as a whole is, on the whole, the expression and organ of justice, and that this is the final source of political obligation. The proposition involves both a positive and a negative implication.
Neither of these implications will justify any and every act of the governing authority of the State: both of them justify only the action of the State in general (or in other words the State as a whole), and that only in respect of the general trend of such action.
The positive implication is that when the State is declaratory—when it declares, in the form of law, the body of deductions which flow from the idea of a right order of human relations, as that idea now stands at this given stage of common conviction—we are actively obliged to accept and to carry into effect the law so declared, because it is ultimately a declaration of the dictates of an order which we ourselves acknowledge to be obligatory.
In fulfilling the law which the State declares, we obey, and we are obliged to obey, our own idea of what a right order of human relations should be. The negative implication is that when the State is compulsory—when it compels us by the use of force to recognize in a particular case, and that our own case, the general rule which we recognize as binding for all cases—we are passively obliged to accept and Suffer the compulsion so applied, because, once more, it is ultimately the compulsion of an order which we ourselves acknowledge and acknowledge to be obligatory.
In undergoing compulsion we are being made to obey, not the State as a will or a power impinging on our own will or power, but the something behind the State which is not a will or a power, but a system of right order which we believe to be right as a system, even though we may have infringed it at a particular point.
Political Obligation and the ‘General Will’:
Two lines of thought have been followed in the argument hitherto advanced. Along the first line an attempt has been made to explain political obligation in terms of contract, and as the result of the political contract embodied in the constitution. Along the second the attempt has been made to explain it in terms of justice, and as being a logical consequence of the idea of a right order of relations which is at once demanded and supplied by our own reason and thought.
We have now to draw the two lines together and to combine the two explanations. If they are left unconnected, difficulties ensue: explanation ceases to be valid, and obligation does not oblige. If obligation be regarded as simply a matter of contract, we are faced by the possibility of two opposite consequences, both of them disastrous, if diametrically different.
On the one hand some of the parties to the contract may stickle and cavil about the State’s action, and arguing, ‘This was not in the bond’, they may refuse accordingly to be obliged.
On the other hand, the contractual association, acting as a whole, or at any rate by a majority decision, may hold that its own will and deed is final, whatever that will and deed may be, provided only that the form of the constitution is duly observed: indeed, since an act of the association, or that of a defined and prescribed majority within it, can alter the form of the constitution, the will and deed of the association may even be held to be unconditionally final, without proviso or qualification.
In that case the members of the association will be obliged by the necessity of obeying mere will, as such and apart from its content. These are the difficulties which ensue from a simple reliance on the notion of contract. But there are also difficulties which ensue from a simple reliance on the notion of justice.
If obligation be regarded as simply a matter of justice and of obedience to the dictates of justice, then it will follow that a governing authority which wills and enforces those dictates will necessarily oblige us, even if it is a pure autocracy, in no way based on consent, and therefore destitute of any contractual element.
This may seem an abstraction, or even a fantasy. In effect it is a fantasy; for if justice is a common conviction, then it and autocracy can never be yoke-fellows.
But it is a fantasy which haunted the benevolent despots of the eighteenth century, and has haunted in our time the leaders and dictators of the twentieth century. Nor has it haunted them only. It has also been accepted by many thinkers, who have believed that the cause of impartial justice is best served by the mind of the ‘one best man’ who is lifted above all passion.
The problem before us is that of reconciling the principle of a common will, expressed in the notion of contract, with the principle of a common rule, expressed in the notion of justice. In other words we have to combine democratic might with sovereign right: to unite the volume and dynamic power of a common will with the stability and control of a common rule of reason.
It is an easy escape from this problem, illustrated in the writings of Rousseau, to proclaim the sovereign right of democratic might. But it is an escape, arid not a solution: not a reconciliation of both of the terms, but an elimination of one at the expense of the other; not the joint dominion of a common will and a common rule, but the single dominion of a will which, because it is merely will, is ultimately nothing but might.
Is it also an escape, or is it a solution, if we start at the other end: if instead of attaching sovereign right to democratic might, we seek to attach democratic might to sovereign right? Does that too eliminate one of the terms at the expense of the other, or does it succeed in reconciling both? At any rate there is a case for inquiry.
We may therefore inquire where the argument leads if instead of beginning—and ending—in will, we begin with the ‘rule of right’ or common rule of reason. On this basis we take our start from the idea of a right order of relations postulated and given by reason and therefore prior to will; and we seek to discover how this sovereign right proceeding from reason can acquire democratic might, by becoming the common conviction of the whole of a community, and by inspiring and enlisting in support of itself the common will of the members of that community.
The inquiry involves three stages. In the first of these stages we are confronted by the idea of a sovereign right, as the ultimate source of obligation—the idea of justice the ordered, ‘joining’ and ‘fitting together’ both the positions of persons and the principles on which those positions are assigned, and thus producing what we have called a right order of human relations.
This was the fundamental meaning of the theory of Natural Law, as that idea was expressed by the Stoics and the Roman lawyers in antiquity, by the Fathers and the schoolmen of early and medieval Christianity, and by thinkers of the secular school of Natural Law in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But there was an imperfection and an abstraction in the theory of Natural Law, particularly in the last of its phases.
We cannot assume, as the thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries did, that there are truths of a ‘natural’, or ideally rational, justice to be discovered and deduced by the reason of the solitary jurist, as there are truths of geometry to be discovered and deduced by the reason of the solitary geometrician.
Still less can we assume that, even if they could be discovered and deduced by such a process, they would remain thenceforth unchangeably true. There are differences between geometry and justice. For one thing, geometry is concerned with impersonal space, which does not think; justice is a matter of a personal system of human relations, and therefore of living persons who themselves think about those relations, whose thought constitutes that system, and who, in a word, think justice into existence.
It is not the solitary jurist who discovers the truths of justice: it is the whole body of persons who stand in relation with one another and think out together the problems of the right order of their relations.
For another thing, geometry is concerned with a space which is constant and invariable, and it remains accordingly constant itself; justice is a matter of human relations which change and grow in the process of time with changes of social thought, and it adjusts itself and changes accordingly. There is, indeed, a constancy of justice; but justice has also life and growth, and therefore mutability. It is an ‘ever-fixed mark’; but it is also an ever-flowing stream.
This brings us to the next and second stage of our inquiry. If justice, as a matter of human relations, involves a society of persons thinking about their relations and thinking into existence a right order of those relations; if again, as such a matter, it also involves the possibility of a change of relations, and therefore of thought about relations, and therefore of the scheme of right order created for them by thought; it follows that we can add to the idea of sovereign right, which confronted us in the first stage, the idea of creative general thought, busy in a constant process of disengaging this sovereign right from the multitude of relations and the constant flux of their change.
Justice is made by the general thought of all the members of a community engaged in relations with one another; or, more exactly, it is always in process of being made by that general thought, and it is therefore always in a state of ‘becoming’ or development. The general thought of the community is the maker of sovereign right, and it is always making it afresh.
We can see an example of its making and remaking if we take the instance of marriage, or the relation of husband and wife. Thought has created and sustains the idea that permanent monogamy is-the justice or right order of that relation. It has been a long work: it is a work which is still being changed and modified.
Greater equality has been introduced into the relation by the reduction of the power of the husband: greater liberty is being sought (sometimes with too little regard to the principle of co-operation, in the rearing and training of children, which is also a principle of marriage) by the extension of facilities for divorce in the event of grave disagreement.
At point after point, and in stage after stage, the general thought of the community, which originally applied the idea of justice to the relation of the sexes, is constantly applying it afresh, and therefore constantly changing the general opinion about the right order of that relation and, with it, the law which reflects and declares that opinion.
The third and last stage of our inquiry confronts us with the question, ‘What is the product that issues from this general thought of the community, and what is the form and shape in which it is distilled and expressed?’ Gierke, seeks to express the product in the term ‘common conviction’ (Gesammtiiberzeugung). Rousseau sought to express it in the term ‘general will’ (volonte generate).
Both of these terms are shorthand, and either of them is the half rather than the whole of the matter. Perhaps we shall answer our question best if we put the two terms together, and if, in the course of doing so, we also seek to indicate, more precisely than has yet been done, both the area in which the general thought of the community acts and the time-span of its action.
On that basis we may say that, as the result of a long-time process of thought, moving in the area of Society and being therefore a process of social thought, there emerges a common conviction which is also a general will about a right order of human relations and the obligatory nature of that order.
The long-time character of the process of thought is a fact of primary importance. Burke stated this fact in memorable words, ‘Man is a most unwise, and a most wise being. The individual is foolish. The multitude, for the moment, is foolish, when they act without deliberation.
But the species is wise, and when time is given to it, as a species, it almost always acts right.’ If we substitute ‘Society’ for ‘species’ the statement of Burke is the expression of an indubitable truth. The benefit of time is needed for the production of the common conviction which is also a general will.
It was the error of Rousseau to ascribe to the meeting of the multitude for the moment a volonte generate which can only be the fruit of slow time and of something more than the multitude. That something more (and here we come to another fact of primary importance) is Society, national Society, as defined and explained in the beginning of the whole argument; and it is accordingly social thought, in the strict sense of the word, which produces, by its working in time, a common conviction and will.
The area in which the general thought of the community acts is essentially and primarily the area of Society, and not the area of the State. This is not to say that such thought is not operative in the area of the State: it is only to say that it operates there, as it were, at a remove, and by a translation or transference from its original area.
The State, as such, is the area of electoral votes, parliamentary statutes, executive orders and regulations, judicial decisions, and all the formal declarations which constitute, in one way or another, the scheme of positive law.
All these declarations register social thought. But that thought is prior to the registration; and it acts, in its original motion, elsewhere than in the area of registration.
It acts in and through the social organs which precipitate social thought and conduct with one another the discussion of what they precipitate: it acts in and through the churches, the clubs and societies and parties (not in themselves a part of the State but rather a part of Society, however much they impinge on the State), the professional and occupational groupings, the newspaper and pamphlet and book, and all the other organs for the ventilation and the comparison of different social ideas.
We can thus see social thought in all its forms and with all its organs, which correspond to the multiplicity of Society, proceeding by the way of discussion, which is its great and sovereign way; and we may even begin to see in advance the emergence of the idea of democracy, which is a system of ‘government by discussion’, and therefore a transference of the method of social thought into the area of the State and government.
Proceeding thus by way of discussion, social thought produces a mental output (and here we come to still another fact of primary importance) which is partly a conviction of the value, and partly a will for the establishment, of a general order of social relations and the general rules of that order.
It would be an error to concentrate attention exclusively on the element of will in this output: it would also be an error, and a still greater error, if, having so concentrated our attention and isolated the element of will, we ascribed that element exclusively to the State. The will is conviction as well as will, and conviction before it is will; and the primary area of its residence is Society, even if its effects are transferred and translated into the State and the State’s legal system.
But the term ‘general will’ has come to be used in political theory as a shorthand term for that common conviction-and- will which, arising in the area of Society, transmits its action and operation into the area of the State. There is some reason for the use of the term; but there are also reasons for using the term with caution, and with reservations and qualifications.
In favour of its use we may argue that a national Society, as such, and as distinct from the State, develops in the course of its common life a growing general conviction about the just and proper order of the relations between its members, and a growing general will for the establishment and maintenance of that order as its own way of life and type of civilization. This has been the line of development of French national society; it has equally been the line of development of British national society.
Upon this basis we may go on to argue that the national State, as the legal incorporation of a national Society, should acknowledge this general will at each stage, in the form and expression which it has attained at that stage, as the ultimate standard of its action.
Thus conceived, the general will, as a contemporary thinker has said, is ‘the standard by which political willing should be guided’: in other words it is the ultimate and permanent will (if we can rightly use the word ‘will’) by which the immediate and day-to-day will of the governing authority ought to be determined, as it also is the ultimate will (if again we can rightly use that word) by which the will of the citizen ought to be obliged.
But though we may thus speak of the general will as the standard by which political willing should be guided, alike in the governing authority and in the citizen, we must also remember the qualifications to which any use of that term is subject. The first qualification is a matter of the mental character of this will. The will is a conviction as well as a will, and a conviction before it becomes a will.
The essential and primary thing about it, as Gierke has said, is a conviction that something already is, and that a standard exists and is there, rather than a will that something shall be.
From this point of view we may also say, as Rousseau strove to say, that the essence of the general will is not the persons or ‘subjects’ willing, but the things or ‘objects’ of their will: the things or ‘objects’ which are primarily a content of common conviction, and which only become a content of common or general will because they are already a content of common or general conviction.
The second qualification, which ensues upon the first, is a matter of the factor of time. So far as the general will is will, it is not an act of willing at a given moment of time: it is a permanent trend of will, which is growing as well as permanent, and which, we may even say in a paradox, shows its permanence most clearly in its capacity of growth.
The third and last qualification, which ensues in turn on the second, is a matter of the area or residence of this general will, thus operative through time as a permanent and yet growing trend of the mind in the members of a community. The area or place of residence is not the legally organized State. The ‘general will’ is not political willing, and its home is not the political sphere. It belongs to the social area: it is a function of Society.
The qualifications are so numerous that we may well come to the conclusion that the general will is almost of the nature of a will-o’-the-wisp. The truth which that term is designed to express may be stated more simply in other terms.
Instead of committing ourselves to the notion of the primary or supreme sovereignty of the general will, we may prefer to speak of the primacy of a socially created and socially developed conception of justice—that last and most majestic sovereign which stands behind and above the ‘sovereign’ constitution, as that, in its turn, stands behind and above the ‘sovereignty’ of the parliament of the State. Upon this basis we may proceed to enumerate a series of propositions.
1. The supreme sovereign which stands in the background of any politically organized community is justice: justice in the sense of that right order of human relations which gives to the greatest possible number of persons the greatest possible opportunity for the highest possible development of all the capacities of their personality.
2. Justice is mediated by, or comes through the medium of, a process of social thought, which in the course of its operation produces a body of common conviction about the dictates of justice, backed by a common will or purpose of acting in the strength and under the guidance of that conviction.
3. This product of social thought is mediated in turn by the State, in the sense that it undergoes a process of being declared and enforced by a legal association contractually formed for that object by the creation of a constitution, and acting henceforth in virtue and under the rules of that constitution.
4. The citizen is obliged, at the end of the whole process, to obey the law so declared and enforced by the State, for the immediate reason that the State is based on his own contractual act, but for the ultimate reason that the State expresses the product of social thought which itself is the expression of justice.
A number of problems are raised by, or involved in, these propositions:
(a) The third of them raises the problem of the proper method of the mediation of social thought by the State; it leads us to inquire whether the democratic form of constitution and the democratic method of government are the most correspondent, in their own nature, to the form and method of social thought, and the most likely, in their results, to translate the product of such thought into a clear and effective expression.
(b) The first proposition, and especially its first clause, confronts us once more with the problem of sovereignty: it leads us beyond and involves us in an inquiry into the ultimate nature and final residence of sovereign authority.
(c) The fourth proposition, in its final clause, suggests, or implies, one of the gravest (if not the gravest) of all political problems. Granted that the citizen is obliged to obey the law of the State because the State expresses in its law the product of social thought, which itself is the expression of justice, does it follow that he is obliged to obey when that reason is not present?
If and so far as the State does not express in its law the product of social thought, but expresses something different from, or even contrary to, that product, does obligation then to that extent cease; is disobedience then justified; and, if it is, may it even be carried to the length of resistance? This is the problem of the limits of political obligation: it is also, at its furthest reach, the problem of the right, or duty, of resistance.
It is a problem as old as the Antigone of Sophocles, and indeed as old as the State itself; but it is always assuming new shapes, and if in the past a Creon or a Caesar was challenged in the name of religious conviction, today democracy itself is challenged in the name of the economic creed of communism.
Political Obligation and the Democratic System:
If the State can be regarded as mediating social thought about justice to its members, and as expressing in its law the product of such thought, we may draw from that premiss the conclusion that the State should itself correspond, in its own nature and operation, to the process of social thought which it mediates, and should thus be a broad open channel for the flow of the product which it expresses.
The process of social thought is a process in which all the members of Society can freely share, and to which they can all contribute freely. It follows that, if there is to be correspondence and a broad open flow, the process of the activity of the State should also be a process in which all its members can freely share and to which they can all freely contribute.
We may argue that this demand is satisfied, and satisfied only, by the democratic State. Indeed we may argue that it is satisfied doubly by the democratic State; first in the form of its constitution and the way of its coming into being, and next in its method of government and the way of its operation.
In their actual coming into being, States are historical products of very various patterns, due to a variety of historical causes. But the question before us here is not a question of the far-off origins, back in the mists of time, of the States we know today in their changed and developed form as the modern States of our Western world.
It is a question of the basis and raison d’etre of the modern State as we know it now, in the form which it has now assumed in the world in which we now live. What set of ideas, and what motions of the mind, have formed and brought into being the State we now know in the form it now has? it is only necessary to summarize briefly the heads of the answer.
A national Society, in the course of a process of social thought, creates and sustains an idea and ideal of a right of order relations between its members: an idea and ideal of justice. But it cannot attain its ends, or turn the idea into fact and the ideal into reality, without an organized system for the declaration and enforcement of the dictates of justice.
We must therefore conceive the society as making itself, or ‘constituting’ itself, an organized system for this purpose, or, in other words, as forming itself into a legal association or State, while still continuing to exist and act as a Society, and still continuing, as such, to maintain and develop that process of social thought which is continually fertilizing the idea and ideal of justice.
This act of the ‘constitution’ of a State by the members of a national Society results, and expresses itself, in a ‘constitution’ in another and further sense of the word: the Constitution with a capital C; the articles of association (both written and unwritten) which warrant, authorize, and control the actions and the organs of the legal association.
We may say that this Constitution, or set of articles of association, is of the nature of a contract, which we may call the political contract; and in that sense, we may say that the State has a contractual basis. We may also say that the constitution of a State by a national Society and by all the members of that Society, or in other words by the people, is the first stage and the foundation of the democratic method of government.
In it, and by it, the people have given themselves the basis of political action by a first democratic act of creation. Will they not then go on, still following the same path, and give themselves a method of government and a way of permanent operation in which they are equally active?
To find a firm basis for a theory of the democratic method of government in the modern State, we must go back to the process of social thought from which the State issues and to which it always remains attached. The process of social thought is naturally and necessarily a process of discussion.
Ideas emerge here and there: each emergent idea becomes a magnet which attracts a clustering group of adherents: the various ideas, and the various groups they attract, must either engage in a war of competition with one another to achieve a victory, or attempt a method of composition which fuses and blends them together in peace. The military idea of a war of competition between ideas is prominent in the philosophy of Hegel.
His dialectical idealism (which Marx turned upside down, or as he preferred to say ‘right side up again’, in his dialectical materialism) assumes a war of ideas, in which ‘one shrewd thought devours another’: a battle of thesis and antithesis, in which each side fights for itself. But even Hegel’s military conception of the war of ideas ends in a sort of composition between thesis and antithesis; or, more exactly, it ends by producing the synthesis of a higher truth in which the partial truths of the thesis and the antithesis are abolished and transcended.
It has thus, after all, some approach to the principle of discussion; but Hegel’s theory of discussion is rather that of a logical process inside a solitary mind (even if that mind be conceived as the ‘objective’ mind of a whole Society) than that of a social process among and between a number of minds. The theory which is implied in Aristotle’s Politics is much nearer to the idea of such a social process.
Instead of assuming a war of two conflicting ideas, to be ended by a transcendent and triumphant synthesis, he assumes a plurality of social ideas, to be fused and blended together in a ‘scheme of composition’. Just as it takes all sorts of men to make a world, so it takes all sorts of ideas to produce a ‘catholic’ and all-round view.
Aristotle applies this conception to the field of culture and the province of artistic judgement: here, he says, ‘some appreciate one aspect, and some another, but all together appreciate all’. But he also applies it generally to the whole field of social thought; and he applies it, in particular, to matters of political judgement. The Many, he holds, ‘when they meet together’, and put their minds fairly to one another, can achieve a composition of ideas which gives their judgement a general validity.
If we follow the guidance of Aristotle, we shall say that social thought proceeds by the way of a plurality of ideas, by the way of debate and discussion between the different ideas, ‘when they meet together’ and come into contact with one another, and by the way of a composition of ideas attained through such debate and discussion.
We shall also say that this social way must also be, and also is, the political way: in other words it must also be, and also is, the method of the State’s government and the way of the State’s operation.
This is not only because the State should be true to the Society from which it comes, and on which it continues to rest: it is also because the way of Society (the way of plurality of ideas, debate among them, and composition of them) is right in itself and universally right— right for Society, right for the State, and right wherever men are gathered together and have to act together.
The one way to get at practical truth, the right thing to do, the straight line of action, is, in any form of group, the way of thinking things over together and talking them over together, with a view to finding some composition of the different threads of thought. It is the way of the Friends, when they seek what they call ‘the sense of the meeting’.
It is the way of democracy, which is not a solution, but a way of seeking solutions—not a form of State devoted to this or that particular end (whether private enterprise or public management), but a form of State devoted, whatever its end may be, to a single means and method of determining that end.
The core of democracy is choice, and not something chosen; choice among a number of ideas, and choice, too, of the scheme on which those ideas are eventually composed. Democracy is incompatible with any form of one- idea State, because its essence is hospitality to a plurality of ideas, and because its method (which is also its essence) consists in holding together a number of different ideas with a view- to comparison and composition of their difference.
The democratic criticism of the one-idea State is not a criticism of its object (which may also be the object of the democratic State, or at any rate part of its object): it is a criticism of its whole process of life.
This last phrase, ‘process of life’, suggests a further consideration which is of vital importance in the theory of democracy. One of the archbishops of Canterbury, Frederic Temple, once said that there were two schools of political thought: one which held that politics existed for the production of a result, or the ergon school; and another which held that politics was valuable in itself as a process of activity, or the energeia school.
The school of production judged politics by the results which it produced: the school of process preferred to judge on a different basis, and it was content, and more than content, if the process of the political life of a community elicited and enlisted for its operation the minds and wills of its members, thus aiding, and indeed in its measure constituting, the development of their capacities as persons.
The distinction here suggested, which goes back to Aristotle, is a just and pregnant distinction. We are naturally apt to think of politics in terms of making, rather than of doing, as if our political activity were directed wholly to achieving an object outside itself (and not immanent in itself), such as a scheme of legal order, or an adjustment of economic relations, or some other similar structure.
But this is not the whole of the matter, or even the greater part. It is certainly true, and that the State as a legal association must necessarily produce a result: it must produce a scheme of declared and enforced law which gives expression to the idea of justice. But there are two other things which must also be borne in mind.
First, the ultimate purpose behind justice, and therefore behind law, is the development of the capacities of human personality in as many persons as possible to the greatest possible extent. That is the final result which the State must produce—or rather help to produce; for the result produces itself in each person through his own internal activity, even if it needs help, in the way of removal of hindrances and the offering of opportunities, in order to produce itself fully. This first reflection naturally leads to the second.
If we hold that behind and beyond the production of law by the State there is a process of personal activity and personal development in its members, we may go on to say that the production should itself be drawn into the process.
In other words we may argue that the productive effort of the State, the effort of declaring and enforcing a system of law, should also be a process in which, and through which, each member of the State is spurred into personal development, because he is drawn into free participation in one of the greatest of all our secular human activities.
These reflections suggest a second main justification of the democratic system. Not only is it justified, by the fact that it makes the State true to the method of general discussion and composition of ideas which is the method of Society; it is also justified, by the fact that it makes the State, in the very process of its own operation, true to the fundamental purpose which lies behind its operation, the purpose of the development in action of the capacities of personality.
This is the justification urged by John Stuart Mill in his Considerations on Representative Government. Arguing, in his second chapter, that ‘government is at once a great influence acting on the human mind [according as it elicits, or fails to elicit, its energy] and a set of organized arrangements for public business’ [that is to say, for producing the result of a scheme of legal order], he lays stress on the sovereign importance of the first of these two aspects.
He has a strong sense of the ‘practical discipline which the character obtains’ from the demand made upon the citizen to exercise some function; he has an equally strong sense of the intellectual discipline which is also obtained by the mind, when the citizen is required to rise above private partialities, and to apply principles and maxims which are based on the idea of the common good.
If we accept the democratic system as justified, we must also accept the party-system. Party is a great and necessary factor in any method of general discussion; and that is its permanent justification. A party begins as a set of connected and coherent ideas (an ‘ism’, as when we talk of socialism or liberalism or conservatism), emerging and acting in the area of social discussion.
It becomes, in the process of its development, a body of persons united in entertaining such a set of connected and coherent ideas: a body of persons, forming a social group in the area of Society, who discuss their common ideas among themselves, formulate them in a policy or programme, and vindicate that programme in discussion against other similar groups in the same social area.
Finally, and in the culmination of its development, a party becomes an organization, with its own accredited leaders, for the purpose of carrying a programme into effect by securing for it a majority of the votes of the political electorate, and by then proceeding to turn its leaders into the political government. In all these stages, but particularly in the last, party serves as a mediator between social thought and political action; and this is a reason why it is a great and necessary factor in the democratic system.
We may accordingly say that a party may be defined as a social formation which:
(1) Serves as a social reservoir for the collection of a set of connected ideas from the area of voluntary society, and also
(2) Serves as a political conduit or channel by which the ideas collected from that area flow from their social reservoir into the system of the State and turn the wheels of political machinery in that system.
So conceived, party performs the service of enabling society to run into the State, and thus of keeping the action of the State constantly and wholesomely responsive to the play of social thought. This is a reason why we may deprecate any legal regulation of party, unless such regulation is made imperative by serious flaws and defects in the working of the party system.
The effect of legal regulation is a transmutation of party, which ceases, when such regulation is applied, to be an informal organ of society freely expressing a trend of social thought, and freely seeking to transmit that trend into the area of political action, and tends to become instead a formal and legal organ of the legal association.
To regulate by law the meetings of party organizations, and to prescribe their methods of nominating candidates, may be, on occasion, a ‘cruel necessity’; but it is, in itself, a grave alteration of the proper relation between the State and party.
Regulation should only enter, as a desperate remedy, when the general system of parties, in the act of carrying over a current of social thought into the area of the State, becomes clogged by the manipulation of party managers, and when the State, as a liberating agency, is thus called on to clear the channel of transmission by providing that the meetings and actions of parties shall be free from any such clog.
But there are other and larger conditions which party must also satisfy if it is to perform its proper function in a system of democracy. In the first place, there must necessarily be a plurality of parties. A one-party State is a one-idea State: it is a falsification, and not a mediation, of social thought and of that general process of social discussion which must in its nature include a number of different ideas.
On the ground of principle, and looking at party as a set of ideas held by a body of persons within the process and for the purpose of social discussion, we must demand at least two parties as the necessary condition of any discussion; and we may demand even more than two, or in other words a multiple system of parties, if that is the proper expression of the varieties actually present in the process of social thought and discussion.
On the ground of practice, and looking at party, in its other aspect, as an organization for the purpose of creating and supporting a government—and also an opposition which will criticize the government and keep it effective—we may welcome a two-party system; but equally we may deprecate a multiple-party system, on the ground that it turns the creation of a government into a matter of temporary and interested coalitions, as it also makes the support of a government uncertain and incoherent.
Considerations of principle and considerations of practice are thus agreed in postulating more than one party; but they are not agreed when the issue is one of more than two, for then considerations of principle may be in favour of more than two, and considerations of practice will be in favour of two and two only.
We can only say that, in such a case, considerations of principle may have to overbear considerations of practice, and that when social thought develops more than two trends of opinion it will be necessary to have more than two parties, even though the presence of more than two parties may involve coalitions and short-lived governments. It would be a pity if raison de gouvernement were allowed to have the last word, and if the whole rational process of social thought and social discussion were subordinated to that raison.
A second condition which party must satisfy if it is to perform its proper function in a system of democracy is that each party should be a set of general ideas, backed by a general body of persons. A party must not be a set of particular ideas about a single interest, backed by a particular body of persons connected with that interest.
This is what Burke had in mind when he defined a party as a body of men united for promoting the national interest upon some particular principle: he meant that all parties alike should be concerned with the same general object, and that each should be partial or partisan only in its particular angle of approach.
It is true, indeed, that a one-interest party may sometimes express a trend of social thought which is broad enough, and unselfish enough, to warrant such a form of expression; an abolitionist party, or even a prohibitionist party, may be held to be of this order.
On the other hand, a one- interest party, composed of a one-interested body of persons, cannot be in its nature an organization for the purpose of creating and supporting a government, or even for the purpose of helping to create and support a government; and a party cannot perform its full function, as a channel of mediation between Society and the State, unless it is able, at the very least, to help in the creation and the support of a government.