AT first sight it may be Thought that the means by which we can operate on the Wills of individual men, and of communities of men, are contained within a narrow compass, and are such as to be all, if not within easy reach, at least within easy recognition. And it is true that some methods of operating on the minds of men we do know instinctively, just as in the material world we know by the first rudiments . of intelligence how to accomplish a few physical results. But experience and observation teach us, although they teach us very slowly, that direct appeals to the reason, or direct appeals to the feelings of men, are entirely useless when those faculties have not been placed [354/355] under conditions favourable to their exercise in a right direction. And as in the material world, the knowledge we have acquired of the powers of Nature, and of the methods of turning them to use, has been slowly gained in the lapse of ages, and as all we discover does but reveal how much we have yet to know; so in the immense world of the Mind and Character of Man, our knowledge of the methods by which it may be well and wisely governed, has advanced only by slow degrees. There is a boundless field of discovery still open to those who investigate the laws which govern the development of our nature. When we look at the high degrees of excellence which that nature so often attains under favourable conditions for the growth and exercise of its better powers, and when we contrast this with its stunted and distorted growth as exhibited among large portions of Mankind, it becomes a question of deep and endless interest to know how far these conditions are subject to the control of Will through the use of means. If such means can ever be devised, it must be by knowledge, first of the elementary forces which have a constant operation on Human [355/356] Character, and secondly by contrivance in so combining them as to make them operate in the direction we desire. And it is in this search that we discover the intimate blending and inseparable connexion between mental and material laws-that is, between the forces which operate on the material frame and the forces which operate on the Mind and Character of Man.
And here we come on a great subject — the function of Human Law as distinguished from Natural Law. Just as the Will of the individual can operate upon itself by the use of means, some of which are known instinctively, whilst others are found out by reason so can the collective Will of Society operate upon the conduct of its members in two ways — first, directly by authority; and secondly, indirectly by altering the conditions out of which the most powerful motives spring. This last is a principle of government, which has been distinctly recognised only in modern times, and which admits of applications not yet foreseen. The idea of founding Human Law upon the Laws of Nature, is an idea which, though sometimes instinctively acted upon, was [356/357] never systematically entertained in the ancient world. Indeed, the true conception of Natural Law is one founded on the progress of physical investigation, and growing out of the habits of scientific thought. It was long before Man came to apprehend the prevalence of Law in the phenomena of Matter; and it was still longer before he could even entertain the notion of Natural Law as applicable to himself. The ancient lawgivers were always aiming at standards of Political Society, framed according to some abstract notions of their own as to how things ought to be, rather than upon any attempt to investigate the constitution of human nature as it actually is. It was a mistake in the science of Politics analogous to that which Bacon complained of so bitterly in the science of Physics. Men were always trying to evolve out of their own minds knowledge which could only be acquired by patient inquiry into facts. How worse than useless this method is, received an illustration in ancient philosophy still more striking than in ancient legislation. Fortunately for mankind, no actual legislators have ever been quite so foolish as some philosophers. Perhaps, all things [357/358] considered, the most odious conceptions of Human Society which the world has ever seen, were the conceptions of an intellect certainly among the loftiest which has ever exercised its powers in speculative thought Plato's Republic is an Ideal State, founded on abstract conceptions of the mind, and one of its leading ideas is the destruction of Family Life, and the annihilation of the family affections. And yet this result, odious and irrational as it is, was arrived at from reasoning which is not in itself odious, but which is false, chiefly because it takes no account of the facts of Nature. The welfare of the State was to be the one object of desire in every mind.? All separate interests and affections were to be suppressed, and amongst these the very idea of special property in Wife or Child. The highest type of man was to be bred by the Republic as the highest type of dogs and horses is bred by an intelligent owner.1 Such are the humiliating results of abstract reasoning, pursued in ignorance of the great Law, that no purpose can be attained in Nature except by legitimate use of the means which Nature [358/359] has supplied. For as in the material world, all her Forces must be acknowledged and obeyed before they can be made to serve, so in the Realm of Mind there can be no success in attaining the highest moral ends until due honour has been assigned to those motives which arise out of the universal instincts of our race.
Accordingly it is remarkable that the system of ancient philosophy which for so many ages continued to rule the thoughts of men — the philosophy of Aristotle — owes almost all the strength it has in Politics as in other matters, to occasional and almost unconscious resort to the true methods of scientific reasoning and investigation. Aristotle founds his adverse criticism on Plato, where it is most successful, upon the actual facts of what men, under specified conditions, naturally do, and think, and feel. From these facts he argues justly as to what they would do under the artificial restrictions of a theoretical philosophy. When, for example, he argues against communism, and in favour of private property, upon the ground of the watchfulness and attention which self — interest produces in the [359/360] conduct of business,2 and when he adds," It is unspeakable how advantageous it is that a man should think he has something which he may call his own, for it is by no means to no purpose that each person should have an affection for himself, for that is natural,"3 he touches the very root idea of the science of Political Economy. He touches it, but he does not grasp it if it is a line of argument which is never consistently maintained; and though there are perpetual appeals to "nature" — to that which is "natural" — to that which nature teaches — no definite meaning can be attached to these expressions; and dogmas are laid down as "natural," which are purely abstract and metaphysical conceptions. Nature is called as a witness, and then the witness she gives is condemned and put out of court. Industry is occasionally praised, whilst the means and the motives to industry are systematically despised. The exercise of any [360/361] mechanical employment, or the following of merchandise, is condemned in an Ideal Government as "ignoble and destructive to virtue.4 A maritime situation is recommended, because of its convenience in enabling a city to receive from others produce which its own country does not afford, and to export those necessaries of life of which it has more than plenty. This looks like a perception of the soundest maxims of Commerce. But in the next breath, the whole richness and blessing of Commerce, as an element of civilisation, is repudiated and destroyed by the stupid and selfish maxim that a city must traffic to supply its own wants only, and not the wants of others for those who make themselves into an open market for every one, do it for the sake of revenue; but if a State ought to have no part in this kind of gain, neither ought it to furnish such a mart."5
It is surely wonderful that such a mind as that of [361/362] Aristotle should have supposed that it was either possible, or, if possible, desirable that the benefits of traffic should all be on one side; nor is it less wonderful that, with his hands, as it were, upon the spot, and touching with his very fingers the foundation — facts, he should yet have failed to feel and to seize the great secret of modern Political Science — the links of Natural Consequence in which the blessedness of Commerce lies. But all this comes of thinking that we can be wiser than Nature, and of failing to see that every natural instinct has its own legitimate field of operation, within which we cannot do better than let it alone. It comes from the notion that we can arrive at that which ought to be, without taking any note of that which actually is.
The bondage under which all true Science lies to fact — the necessity of groping among the detail of little and common things — this is a hard lesson for the human Intellect to learn — — conscious as that Intellect is of its own great powers of its own high aims — of its own large capacities of intuitive understanding. But it is a lesson which must be learnt. There are no short cuts in Nature. Her results are always [362/63] attained by Method. Her purposes are always worked out by Law. So must ours be. For our bodies and our spirits are both parts of the great Order of Nature; and our Wills can attain no end, and can accomplish no design, except through knowledge and through use of the appropriate and appointed means. Nor can those means be ascertained except by careful observation, and as careful reasoning. It is a hard thing to know all the forces which operate even on our own individual minds; and it is a much harder problem to understand the forces which arise out of the complicated conditions of human society. But the very idea of Natural Law as affecting mankind is founded on the possibility of tracing in human nature the existence and operation of forces which under given conditions do actually determine the course of human conduct in particular directions. Amongst these forces there are a certain number which are constant, or at least so constant that they may be calculated upon as certainly affecting the great majority of mankind. These are chiefly the motives which arise out of our physical constitution — the desires and affections which are [363/364] common to the race. To follow these motives — to be actuated by them is, therefore, natural. And yet to follow these motives exclusively, may, and generally does, lead to great evils, often to calamities, sometimes to destruction. How, then, can these motives be controlled? Only by appealing to other motives — to forces lying in the higher regions of the mind, and placed there like the forces of external Nature, to be at the disposal of the Intelligence and the Will.
Are, then, these higher motives not also natural are they above nature, are they supernatural? It would really seem as if this were the idea involved in the distinction which is so vaguely drawn between that which is said to be natural and that which is said to be not natural — between Natural Law and Positive Institution. Yet Reason, and Conscience, and Fancy, and Imagination, and Belief, or whatever other faculties may direct, wisely or unwisely, the course of legislation, are all equally natural to Man. They are all as much parts of his mental constitution as the desires and instincts to which the term natural is usually confined. There is no extravagance of the individual Will there is no folly [364/365] of blind and irrational legislation which has not been the fruit of some part or another of Man's nature. I dwell on this only because it is important here as in other cases to attach a definite meaning to the words we use, and especially to a word which plays so important a part in the language both of Philosophy and of Politics.
It appears, then, that as applied to human conduct, we mean by "natural" conduct that which men are prompted to pursue rather by instinct and impulse than by calculation of consequences and by reason, Human Laws, or Positive Institutions, as being the result of deliberation, stand contrasted with Natural Law in this sense, and in this sense alone. For as Reason and Reflection are natural to Man, and are as important parts of his nature as the highest of his instincts, so Laws founded on a right exercise of that Reason are Natural Laws in the best and highest sense of all. Laws, however, whether in this sense natural or not, that is, whether founded in a right or a wrong exercise of reason, are always intended to act as restraints on the actions of individuals, and to interfere with the motives by which their conduct would be otherwise [365/366] determined. This restraint may be said to be artificial as opposed to the natural restraints of the individual reason: and this perhaps is the distinction most generally intended when the natural conduct of men is contrasted with their conduct under the control of Positive Institution. But as the motives which determine individual conduct are not always reasonable motives, so it is clear,, that what men naturally do is no sure test either of what they ought to do, or of what they ought to be allowed to do. It is their nature, under certain conditions, to do all that is bad and injurious to themselves and others. Hence it is the most difficult of all problems in the Science of Government to determine when, where, and how, it is wise to interfere by the authority of Law with the motives which are usually called the natural motives of men. The question is no other than this — How far the abuse of those motives can be checked and resisted by that public authority whose duty and function it is to place itself above the influences which, in individual men, overpower the voice of reason and of conscience? [366/367]
No more signal illustration has been ever given of the relation between Natural Law and Human Law — of the circumstances in which Natural Law may be trusted, and of those in which it absolutely requires to be controlled, than the illustration afforded by the history of Legislation in our own country within the resent century. During that period two great discoveries have been made in the Science of Government: the one is the immense advantage of abolishing restrictions upon Trade; the other is the absolute necessity of imposing restrictions upon Labour. The rise, the growth, and the final acceptance of these two ideas as the basis of practical Legislation, is a history so curious, and having such close relation to the subject of this chapter, that I propose to deal with it somewhat in detail.
Since the dissolution of the Greek and Roman Commonwealths, no nation has acted on the one great error of all the ancient systems of political philosophy — that the natural desire of men for the accumulation of wealth is an evil to be dreaded and repressed. So far as this goes there is a sharp and striking contrast between the spirit of [367/368] ancient and of modern policy. The great object of the ancient policy, says Dugald Stewart,
was to counteract the love of money and a taste for luxury by positive institutions, and to maintain in the great body of the people habits of frugality and a severity of manners. The decline of States is uniformly ascribed by philosophers and historians, both of Greece and Rome, to the influence of riches on national character; and the laws of Lycurgus, which, during a course of ages, banished the precious metals from Sparta, are proposed by many of them as the most perfect model of legislation devised by human wisdom. How opposite to this is the doctrine of modern politicians! Far from considering poverty as an advantage to a State, their great aim is to open new sources of national opulence, and to animate the activity of all classes of the people by a taste for the comforts and accommodations of life."6
This is true, and has been true more or less of all the modern nations of the world. But although they never held the [368/369] absurd doctrine that Nature was wrong when she taught men to desire wealth, they did hold the doctrine hardly less mischievous that Nature was incompetent to teach them how best to acquire it. It would be difficult to say whether the law of ancient Sparta prohibiting gold from ever coming into the State was worse than the law of modern Spain, which prohibited gold from ever being allowed to leave it. It is certain that the Spanish law was at least the more irrational of the two. If a State wishes to be poor, it is not absurd to prohibit the making of money. But if a State wishes to be rich, it is mere stupidity to prohibit the natural use of the medium of exchange. Yet this law of Spain is only an extreme example of the system and the theories which governed, until the other day, the legislation of all the nations of Europe, and which still largely prevails amongst them.
It was no oratorical exaggeration, but a strict and literal description of the truth, when Mr Gladstone said7 of the old commercial policy that it was "a system of robbing and [369/370] plundering ourselves." And how was it so? What was the essence of its error? These questions are best answered by another. What was the central idea of the new system which has superseded the old one? The essential idea of these new opinions cannot be better given than in the words of Dugald Stewart:
"The great and leading object of Adam Smith's speculations is to illustrate the provision made by Nature in the principles of the human mind, and in the circumstances of man's external situation, for a gradual progressive augmentation in the means of national wealth; and to demonstrate that the most effectual plan for advancing a people to greatness is to maintain that order of things which Nature has pointed out; by allowing every man, as long as he observes the rules of justice, to pursue his own interest in his own way, and to bring both his industry and his capital into the freest competition with those of his fellow — citizens."8
Adam Smith found Positive Institutions regulating and restricting natural human action in two [370/371] different directions. There were laws restricting free interchange in the products of labour; and there were other laws restricting the free employment of labour itself. He denounced both. Labour was deprived of its natural freedom by laws forbidding men from working at any skilled labour, unless they had served an apprenticeship of a specified time. It was also deprived of its natural freedom by monopolies, which prevented men from working at any trade within certain localities, unless allowed to do so by those who had the exclusive privilege. The first mode of restriction prevented labour from passing freely from one employment to another, even in the same place. The second mode of restriction prevented labour passing freely from place to place, even in the same trade. Both of these restrictions were as mischievous, and as destructive of their own object, as restrictions in the free interchange of goods. They both depended on the same vicious principle of attempting to obtain by Legislation results which would be more surely attained by allowing every man to sell his goods or his labour when, where, and how he pleased. [371/372]
The labour of a poor man was his capital. He had a natural right to employ it as be liked. And as for protecting the community from bad or imperfect work, that would be best secured by unrestricted competition. The natural instincts. and respective interests of producers and consumers would secure mutual adaptation. Perfect freedom of exchange in goods, the products of labour, and perfect freedom in the application of labour itself — this was the rule to follow. Natural Law was the best regulator of both. Such were the doctrines of Adam Smith, then new in the world
It is not a little remarkable that, during the same years in which Adam Smith was working out his memorable Inquiry, other minds, working in a very different department of human thought, were preparing events which were to bring to a speedy test how far these doctrines of Natural Law were true absolutely, or true only under limitations, which he did not foresee. When Adam Smith was lecturing with applause in Glasgow from the chair of Moral Philosophy, James Watt was selling mathematical instruments in an [372/373] obscure shop within the precincts of the same University. FIt may seem as if no two departments of human thought are more widely separated than those in which these two men were working. One Was a region purely mental. The other was a region purely physical. The one had reference to the Laws of Matter. The other had reference to the Laws of Mind. Yet the work of James Watt and the work of Adam Smith were inseparately connected, not only as involving analogous methods of investigation, but as showing in their result the blending and co-operation of mental and material laws.
It was the labour of Watt to reduce to obedience, under the power of Mind, one of the most tremendous Forces of Nature, and this he did through many years of curious inquiry, and of laborious contrivance. He found only a rude and imperfect mechanism through which this great Force had been misdirected and dissipated and lost. He collected it in fitter vessels; he led it into smoother channels; he opened for it doors of passage, through which the rushing of its escape did for him what he wanted it to do. [371/372]Other forces which before had conspired against it, were so guided as to work along with it, not only in perfect harmony, but in close alliance. He made, in short, its invariable energies subject to the variable conditions of Adjustment. And so, he governed it and controlled it, and handed it over to the Human Family as the servant of their Will for ever.
The work of Adam Smith was not dissimilar in its relation to the Reign of Law. It was his labour to prove that in the rude contrivances of Legislation, due account had not been taken of the natural forces with which it had to deal. He showed that among the very elements of human character there were instincts, and desires, and faculties of contrivance, all of which by clumsy machinery had been impeded, and obstructed, and diverted from the channels in which they ought to work. He could not, however, test his reasoning as the Inventor could by continual experiment. He had to rely on abstract reasoning, and on such verification as could be drawn from the complicated phenomena of the Body Politic. In this respect the work of Adam Smith was harder than [374/375] the work of Watt. And why it was harder is a question which it may be well to ask. It is not surprising that the methods of applying to our own use the Powers of external Nature, should be matter of difficult research. But it may well seem strange that the forces which have their seat within ourselves — in the Mind and Character of Man should be so unknown to us as to require careful reasoning and observation before we know how to use them with success for the attainment of our ends. Yet so it is. The conscious energies of the Will are ever tempted to march directly upon objects which can only be reached by circuitous methods of approach. And so the Wealth of Nations, and the skill of Crafts, and the success of Trade, had all been hindered by the measures designed for their protection. The promptings of individual interest had been checked and thwarted and driven into channels less fruitful than those which they would have naturally found.
On the other hand, the discovery of the Steam Engine, like every other weapon placed at the disposal of Mind, gave a new stimulus to the motives, and a new form to the conditions by [375/376] which the conduct of thousands was determined. Little did the brilliant Professor know that the discoveries of his humble friend would yet in their results serve to limit the conclusions of his own Philosophy. In the meantime, all that he knew of Watt and of his personal history seemed to be, and really was, a signal illustration of the follies of restriction. For no other reason than that he had not been born in Glasgow, Watt could not legally sell the products of his ingenuity and labour in that City. The spirit and the laws of corporate monopoly rigidly excluded him; and the company of "Hammermen" insisted on the exclusion being maintained, for fear of "loss and skaith to the Burgesses and Craftsmen of Glasgow, by the intrusion of strangers."9 The working — classes themselves were among the most strenuous supporters of a system which diminished the value by restricting the area of their labour. Fortunately the University had privileges of its own, which, within its own property, excluded the jurisdiction of a Municipality and a Craft not more ignorant or more selfish [376/377] than their contemporaries at the time. It may well be supposed, that Adam Smith's opinions on freedom of labour must have been influenced by personal observation of the working of such laws in the case of a man who, though still obscure, was even then appreciated by those who knew him for ingenuity and resource.
In looking at restrictions such as these, there was nothing then to suggest to Adam Smith the consequences which might arise from the entire freedom of labour, when that labour was placed under new conditions. He had no knowledge, and he could then have no conception what these new conditions were to be. Yet they were being silently prepared and determined in the very years in which he spoke and wrote. His friend Watt was a principal agent in the great impending change. But Watt was not alone. Other minds were working at the same time whose labours were to match with a curious fittingness into his. Indeed, the work which was going on in those years is only one example of a law of which many other examples may be found. It is an order of facts observable in the progress of [377/378] Mankind, that long ages of comparative silence and inaction are broken up, and brought to an end, by shorter periods of almost preternatural activity. And that activity is generally spent in paths of investigation, which, though independent, are converging. Different minds, pursuing different lines of thought, find themselves meeting upon common ground. Such, in respect to literature, was the period of the Revival of Learning: such, in respect to Religion, was the period of the Reformation such, in respect to the abstract sciences, was the period of Tycho Brahe, of Galileo, and of Kepler. Hardly less memorable than these, certainly not less powerful, as affecting the condition of society, were those few years in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, which were marked by such an extraordinary burst of Mechanical Invention. Hargraves, and Arkwright, and Watt, and Crompton, and Cartwright, were all contemporaries. They were all working at the same time, and in the same direction. Out of their inventions there arose for the first time what is now known as the Factory system; and out of the Factory system, arose a condition of things as [378/379] affecting human labour which was entirely new in the history of the world. The change thus effected is a signal illustration of the relation in which Natural Law stands to Positive Institution in the realm of Mind. Let us look for a moment at its history and results.
The Common Law of England had placed no restrictions upon labour. The only restrictions which existed arose either from the special monopolies of Corporate Bodies, or from the General Statute of Apprenticeship. This statute had been passed in the reign of Elizabeth. It provided that no man should work at any craft on his own account until he had served an apprenticeship of seven years. But the Statute of Apprenticeship being in derogation of common rights, had always been construed strictly by the Courts of Law; and so it had come to pass that two great rules of limitation had been applied to it. First, it was held to apply only to such crafts of skill as were known at the time of its being passed; and secondly, it was held not to apply at all to rural districts, but only to market towns. From these two rules of limitation, it resulted, first, that all trades and [379/380] employments were free which had arisen since the commencement of the seventeenth century, and, secondly, that even the older crafts were free also if they were prosecuted outside the boundaries of towns.
Such was the condition of the law when the inventions of Adam Smith's contemporaries brought into existence employments which were entirely new, and opened them to that unrestricted competition, the advantage of which he had laid down as a universal doctrine.
Spinning and weaving were not new. They were as old as the memory of Mankind. But the simple mechanism by which these arts were prosecuted were almost equally old, and had undergone little change and little improvement. In 176o the Spinning — Wheel, and the common Loom, as used by the people of Yorkshire, were little in advance of the implements for the same purpose which had been in use beyond the reach of History. The Spindle which is depicted on the monuments of Egypt was, until a few years ago, familiar in the Highlands. The essential feature of this ancient industry, so far as its effects [380/381] upon social conditions are concerned, was that it was separate and not gregarious. It did not interfere with, but rather was congenial to, Family Life. Thus, for thousands of years,
"Maids at the Wheel, Weavers at the Loom,
Sat blithe and happy."10
But the pressure of new necessities had arisen, and these could be met only by new inventions. Towards the middle of the eighteenth century, the greatest difficulty was experienced by weavers and spinners in England in maintaining their position in the markets of the world. It is curious how each new mechanical invention gave rise to the necessities out of which the next arose. The invention of the Fly Shuttle in weaving, so early as 1733, seems to have given the first impulse to all that followed. By means of this invention the power of weaving overtook the power of spinning. An adequate supply of yarn could not be procured under the ancient methods of that most ancient industry. New conditions gave rise [381/382] to new motives, and new motives called into play the latent energies of Mind. The time and the cost of collecting the products of so many scattered labourers enhanced unduly the cost of manufacture, and even when their remuneration was reduced to the lowest point compatible with existence, that cost was still too high. Something was imperatively required to economise the work of human handssome more elaborate contrivance to make that work go farther than before. And so Hargrave's invention arose, not before the time.11 And when his Spinning jenny had been invented, a still more elaborate and powerful combination of mechanical adjustments was soon perfected in the hands of Arkwright.12 When his Spinning Frame was invented, and when Crompton's farther invention of the Mule jenny speedily followed13 the new order of things had been fairly inaugurated. The great change had come, and the survivance of the ancient domestic industries of so many centuries was no longer possible.
And just as Hargraves and Arkwright and Crompton were inventing the new machines [382/383] which were to be moved, Watt was labouring at the new Power which was to move them. But meanwhile before the Steam Engine had been made available, the Factory system had begun under the old motive — power of Water; and here it is very curious to observe how each stage in the progress of discovery had, by way of natural consequence, its own special effect on the conduct and the Wills of men. Very soon the course of every mountain stream in Lancashire and Yorkshire, was marked by Factories. This again had another consequence. It was a necessity of the case that such Factories must generally be situated at a distance from pre — existing populations, and, therefore, from a full supply of labour. Consequently they had to create communities for themselves. From this necessity, again, it arose that the earlier mills were worked under a system of Apprenticeship. The due attendance of the requisite number of "hands" was secured by engagements which bound the labourer to his work for a definite period.
And now for the first time appeared some of the consequences of gregarious labour under [383/384] the working of Natural Laws, and under no restrictions from Positive Institution. The millowners, collected as Apprentices boys and girls, and youths and men, and women, of all ages. In very many cases no provision adequate, or even decent, was provided for their accommodation. The hours of labour were excessive. The ceaseless and untiring agency of machines kept no reckoning of the exhaustion of human nerves. The Factory system had not been many years in operation when its effects were seen. A whole generation were growing up under conditions of physical degeneracy, of mental ignorance, and of moral corruption.
The first public man to bring it under the notice of Parliament with a view to remedy, was, to his immortal honour, a master manufacturer, to whom the new industry had brought wealth, and power, and station. In 1802 the elder Sir Robert Peel was the first to introduce a bill to interfere by law with the natural effects of unrestricted competition in human labour. It is characteristic of the slow progress of new ideas in the English mind, and of its strong instinct to adopt no [384/385] measure which does not stand in some clear relation to pre-existing laws, that Sir Robert Peel's bill was limited strictly to the regulation of the labour of Apprentices. Children and young persons who were not Apprentices might be subject to the same evils, but for them no remedy was asked or provided. The notion was, that as Apprentices were already under Statutory provisions, and were subjects of a legal contract, it was permissible that their hours of labour should be regulated by positive enactment. But the Parliament which was familiar with restrictions on the products of labour, and with restrictions of monopoly on labour itself — which restrictions were for the purpose of securing supposed economic benefits, would not listen to any proposal to regulate "free" labour for the purpose of avoiding even the most frightful moral evils. These evils, however great they might be, were the result of "natural laws," and were incident to the personal freedom of Employers and Employed. In the case of Apprentices, however, it was conceded that restriction might be tolerated. And so through this narrow door the first of the Factory Acts was passed. [385/386]
It is a history which illustrates in the clearest light, the sense in which human conduct, both individually and collectively, is determined by Natural Law. If Watt's Steam Engine had been invented earlier — if mills had not been at first erected away from the centres of population, in order to follow the course of streams — if consequently the evils of the Factory system had not begun to be observable in the labour of Apprentices, there is no saying how much longer those evils might have been allowed to fester without even an assertion of the right to check them. The Act of 1802,14 though useless in every other sense, was invaluable at least in making this assertion.
Meanwhile, Watt's great invention had been completed. And now a new cycle of events began, arising by way of natural consequence out of the Reign of Law. When the perfected Steam Engine became applicable to mills, it was no longer always cheaper to erect them in rural districts; on the contrary, it was often cheaper to have them in the towns, near a full supply of labour, and a cheap supply of fuel. With this change came the abandonment of the system of Apprenticeship. It was now "free" labour which more and more supplied the mills. But this only led to the same evils in an aggravated form. Children and women were especially valuable in the work of mills. There were parts of the machinery which might be fed by almost infant "hands." The earnings of children became an irresistible temptation to the parents. They were sent to the Factory at the earliest age, and they worked during the whole hours that the machinery was kept at work. The result of this system was soon apparent. In 1815, thirteen years after he had obtained the Act of 1802, Sir Robert Peel came back to Parliament and told them that the former Act dad become useless — that mills were now generally worked not by water, but by steam — that Apprentices had been given up, but that the same exhausting and demoralising labour, from which Parliament had intended to relieve Apprentices, was the lot of thousands and thousands of the children of the free poor. In the following year, 1816, pressing upon the House of Commons a new [387/388] measure of restriction, he added, that unless the Legislature extended to these children the same protection which it had intended to afford to the Apprentice class, it had come to this, that the great mechanical inventions which were the glory of the age would be a curse rather than a blessing to the country.15 These were strong words from a master manufacturer; but they were not more strong than true.
Thus began that great debate which in principle in may be said to be not ended yet: — the debate, how far it is legitimate or wise in Positive Institution to interfere for moral ends with the freedom of the individual Will? Cobbett denounced the opposition to restrictive measures as a contest of "Mammon against Mercy." No doubt personal interests were strong in the forming of opinion, and some indignation was natural against those who seemed to regard the absolute neglect of a whole generation, and the total abandonment of them to the debasing effects of excessive toil, as nothing compared with the [388/389] slightest check on the accumulations of the Warehouse. But the opposition was not in the main due either to selfishness or indifference. False intellectual conceptions — false views both of principle and of fact — were its real foundation. Some of the ablest men in Parliament, who were wholly unaffected by any bias of personal interest, declared that nothing would induce them to interfere with the labour which they called "free." Had not the working classes a right to employ their children as they pleased? Who were better able to judge than fathers and mothers of the capacities of their children? Why interfere for the protection of those who already had the best and most natural of all protections? Such were some of the arguments against interfering with free labour.
Now in what sense was this labour free? It was free from legal compulsion — that is to say, it was free from that kind of compulsion which arises out of the public Will of the whole community imposed by authority upon the conduct of individuals. But there was another kind of [389/390] force from which this labour was not free — the force of overpowering motive operating on the Will of the labourers themselves. If one parent, more careful than others of the welfare of his children, and moved less exclusively by the desire of gain, withdrew his children at an earlier hour than others from Factory Work, his children were liable to be dismissed and not employed at all.16 On the other hand, motives hardly less powerful were in constant operation on the masters. The ceaseless, and increasing, and unrestricted competition amongst themselves, — the eagerness with which human energies rush into new openings for capital, for enterprise, and for skill, — made them, as a class, insensible to the frightful evils which were arising from that competition for the means of subsistence which is the impelling motive of labour.
Nor were there wanting arguments founded on the constancy of Natural Laws against any attempt on the part of Legislative authority to interfere with the "freedom" of individual [390/391] Will. The competition between the possessors of capital was a competition not confined to our own country. It was also an international competition. In Belgium especially, and in other countries, there was the same rush along the new paths of industry. If the children's hours of labour were curtailed, it would involve of necessity a curtailment also of the adult labour, which would not be available when left alone. This would be a curtailment of the working time of the whole mill; and this would involve a corresponding reduction of the produce. No similar reduction of produce would arise in Foreign mills. In competition with them the margin of profit was already small. The diminution of produce from restricted labour would destroy that margin. Capital would be driven to countries where labour was still free from such restrictions, and the result would be more fatal to the interest of the working classes of the English towns than any of the results arising from the existing hours of work. All these consequences were represented as inevitable. They must arise out of the operation of invariable laws. [391/392] Such were the arguments — urged in every variety of form, and supported by every kind of statistical detail — by which the first Factory Acts were vehemently opposed.
And, indeed, in looking back at the debates of that time, we cannot fail to see that the reasoning of those who opposed restriction on Free Labour met with no adequate reply. Not only were the supporters of restriction hampered by a desire to keep their conclusions within the scope of a very limited measure; not only were they anxious to repudiate consequences which did legitimately follow from their own premises; but they were themselves really ignorant of the fundamental principles which were at issue in the strife. Their conclusions were arrived at through instincts of the heart. The pale faces of little children, stunted and outworn, carried them to,their result across every difficulty of argument, and in defiance of the alleged opposition of inevitable laws. And yet, if the supporters of the Factory Acts had only known it, all true abstract argument on the subject was their own. The conclusions to which they pointed were as true in the light of Reason, as [392/393] they felt them to be true in the light of Conscience.
The truth is, that some of the finest distinctions in Philosophy were then for the first time emerging on the stage of Politics. The newest debates of Parliament were circling unconsciously round one of the oldest disputations of the Schools. A question of practical legislation had arisen which involved one of the most difficult problems in metaphysical analysis. On the one hand, Freedom was asserted for the Will under conditions and in a sense in which it did not exist. On the other hand, Freedom was denied to the Will in a sense in which the instincts of humanity testified to its presence, and to the possibility of its being exerted with effect. The true Doctrine of Necessity was exemplified in the conduct of Employers and Employed — that conduct being determined in a wrong direction by the force of overpowering motives] The false Doctrine of Necessity was exemplified in the argument, that this conduct could not be changed under the force of higher motives asserting themselves through the Will of the Community in the form of Law. [393/394]
The antagonism which was and still is so often assumed between Natural Law and Human Law, or in other words between Natural Law and Positive Institution, is an antagonism which may indeed exist, and does very often exist. But it is also an antagonism which may be eliminated, and must be eliminated if Legislation is ever to be attended with permanent success. It is, alas, a Natural Law that men should be thoughtless, and selfish, and reckless of moral consequences, when they are bent exclusively on material results. But when the consequences of this conduct has been brought home to their convictions by the force of imminent danger or of actual calamity, it is a law not less natural that they should take alarm, that they should retrace their steps, and that by walking in another course they should bring about conditions of a better kind. The Laws of Man are also Laws of Nature, when founded on a true perception of natural tendencies and a just appreciation of combined results. On the other hand, Human Laws are at variance with, or antagonistic to the Laws of Nature, when founded either on the desire of attaining a wrong end, or [394/395] on the attempt to reach a right end by mistaken means. In either of these cases Positive Institution and Natural Law become opposed, and thus a bad contrivance in Legislation, like a bad contrivance in mechanics, comes always to some deadlock at last. Time and Natural Consequence are great Teachers in Politics as in other things. Our sins and our ignorances find us out. Both in conduct and in opinion Natural Law is ever working to convict error, to reveal and to confirm the truth.17
And so it was that the sad phenomena of Factory labour were beginning to indicate the great difference between the results of perfect freedom of exchange in the products of labour and the results of perfect freedom of competition in Labour itself. Perhaps that difference ought to have been foreseen, for the cause of it is plain enough. There are certain results for the attainment of which the natural instincts of individual men not only may be trusted, but must be trusted as the best and indeed the only guide. There are other results of which as a rule those [395/396] instincts will take no heed whatever, and for the attainment of which, if they are to be attained at all, the higher faculties of our nature must impose their Will in authoritative expressions of Human Law. In all that wide circle of operations which have for their immediate result the getting of wealth, there is a sagacity and a cunning in the instincts of labour and in the love of gain compared with which all legislative wisdom is ignorance and folly. But the instincts of labour, having for their conscious purpose the acquisition of wealth, are instincts which, under the stimulus and necessities of modern society, are blind to all other results whatever. They override even the love of life; they silence even the fear of death. Trades in which the labourers never reach beyond middle life — trades in which the work is uniformly fatal within a few years — trades in which those who follow them are liable to loathsome and torturing disease — all are filled by the enlistment of an unfailing series of recruits. If, therefore, there be some things desirable or needful for a Community other than the acquisition of wealth, — if mental ignorance, and physical [396/397] degeneracy, be evils dangerous to social and political prosperity, then these results cannot and must not be trusted to the instincts of individual men. And why? Because the few motives which bear upon them, and which consequently determine their conduct, have become almost as imperious as the motives which determine the conduct of the lower animals. Observers whose duties have called them to a close investigation of the facts, have never failed to be impressed with those facts as the result of Laws against which the individual Will is unable to contend. Overpowering motives arise out of the conditions of society — out of the force of habit — out of the helplessness of poverty — out of the thoughtlessness of wealth — out of the eagerness of competition — out of the very virtues even of industrial skill. These constitute an aggregate of power tending in one direction, which make the resulting action of Wind as certain as the action of Inanimate Force. "Thus," says Mr Baker, one of the most experienced of our Factory Inspectors," most of the workshops of this great commercial country [397/398] "are found to have fallen into the inevitable track of competitive industry, when unrestricted by law, — namely, to cheapen prices by the employment of women and children in the first instance, and then to increase production by protracted hours of work, without much regard to age, to sex, or to physical capability." This is the result of Nature — of Nature, at least, such as ours now is. But it is the result of that Nature with all its nobler powers allowed to sleep. Power to control such evils has been given to Man, and he is bound to use it. "Free labour, even in a free country," as Mr Baker says, "requires the strong arm of the law to protect it from the cupidity and ignorance of parents."18 And by the "strong arm of the law" is meant nothing but the law nature. If under such conditions of society, higher motives are ever to prevail, they must be supplied from without, and must be imposed in authoritative form through the legitimate organs of Positive Institution. [398/399]
And so the Factory Acts, instead of being excused as exception and pleaded for as justified only under extraordinary conditions, ought to be recognised as in truth the first Legislative recognition of a great Natural Law, quite at important as Freedom of Trade, and which like this last, was yet destined to claim for itself wider and wider application.
Accordingly, since the year when the first Sir Robert Peel pleaded the cause of Factory Apprentices, there has been going on a double movement in Legislation, one a movement of retreat, the other a movement of advance. Step by step Legislation has retired from a Province once considered peculiarly its own: step by step it has advanced into another Province within which the Schools of Political Economy would have denied it a foot of ground. Since 1802, there have been passed a long series of laws removing, one after another, all restrictions which aimed at guiding the individual Will in its sharp and sagacious pursuit of material wealth. During the same period there have been passed another long series of Acts imposing [399/400] restrictions more and more stringent on the individual Will in its blind and reckless disregard of moral ends.19 In neither of these movements was Parliament impelled by the light of reason, but under the blessed teaching which belongs to the Reign of Law. False theory and mistaken conduct have been found out by the working of Natural Consequence. The abstract reasonings of Adam Smith had indeed long before prepared the minds of a few to perceive the true theory of unrestricted competition in the interchange of goods. But as it needed the practical results of restriction — distress, discontent, and the danger of civil [400/401] commotion — to bring home to the national understanding the economic error of the old commercial systems; so also as regards the grievous results of unrestricted competition in human labour, our only effective teaching has been that of hard experience. The doctrines of Adam Smith, when applied here, were a hindrance and not a help.
The Political Economists were, almost to a man, hostile to restrictive legislation. They did not see what would be the working of Natural Law upon the Human Will, when that Will was exposed to overpowering motives under debased conditions of understanding, and of heart. They did not see the higher Law which Parliament was asserting when it was driven by sheer instinctive horror of actual results, to prohibit "free" labourers from disposing as they pleased of the labour of their children. To this hour the principle on which this great counter — movement rests as regards our ideas of the legitimate province of Legislation, has never been philosophically treated. The Laws on which it depends, and which it does but recognise, have never been scientifically defined. [401/402]
We are still in a state of tutelage — advancing with slow and reluctant steps in the path indicated by the teachings of Natural Consequence. The last Report on the Employment of Children shows that evils as bad as ever existed before the passing of the Factory Acts, prevail at this moment among large classes of our operative population, and demand again, as imperatively as before, an authoritative interference of Positive Institution with the freedom of the individual Will. The fact of such legislation has indeed gained a sort of silent acquiescence, and some of the old opponents have admitted that their fear of the results, in an economical point of view, has proved erroneous. But there is still no clear and well — grounded intellectual perception of the deep foundations of principle on which it rests. Nor is there among a large section of Politicians any adequate appreciation of the powerful influence it has had in improving the physical condition of the people, and securing their contentment with the Laws under which they live.
When, however, we think for a moment of the frightful nature of the evils which this Legislation [401/403] has checked, and which to a large extent it has remedied — when we recollect the inevitable connexion between suffering and political disaffection — when we consider the great moral laws which were being trodden under foot from mere thoughtlessness and greediness — we shall be convinced that if, during the last fifty years, it has been given to this country to make any progress in Political Science, that progress has been in no thing happier than in the Factory Legislation. The names of those who strove for it, and through whose faith and perseverance it was ultimately carried, are, and ever will be, in the history of Politics, immortal names. No Government and no Minister has ever done a greater — perhaps, all things considered, none has ever done so great a service. It was altogether a new era in Legislation — the adoption of a new principle — the establishment of a new idea. Nor is that principle and that idea even now thoroughly understood. The promptings of individual self — interest are still relied upon for the accomplishment of good which it does not belong to them even to suggest, and which they can never be trusted to [403/404] pursue. Proposals for legislative interference with a view to arrest some of the most frightful evils of Society, are still constantly opposed not by careful analysis of their tendency, but by general assertions of Natural Law as opposed to all legislation of the kind. "You cannot make men moral by Act of Parliament" such is a common enunciation of Principle, which, like many others of the same kind, is in one sense a truism, and in every other sense a fallacy. It is true that neither wealth, nor health, nor knowledge, nor morality can be given by Act of Parliament. But it is also true that the acquisition of one and of all of these can be impeded and prevented by bad laws, as well as aided and encouraged by wise and appropriate legislation.
There is no doctrine in Physics more certainly true than this doctrine in Politics — that every practice which the authority of Society recognises or supports has its own train of consequences, which, for evil or for good, can be modified or changed in an infinite variety of degrees according as that sanction is given or withheld. Innumerable illustrations of this truth will arise wherever [404/405] we take the trouble to trace any social or political phenomena through the sequences of cause and effect from which they come. Not unfrequently these illustrations are of a melancholy kind, and give us much to think of respecting the better understanding and the better management of our complicated nature. Thus, for example, there seems good reason to believe there is a direct relation between the amount of life and property annually sacrificed by shipwreck, and the legislation which recognises and sanctions Insurance to the full amount of the value of ship and cargo. The cause of this is obvious. Care for life is less eager and less wakeful than care for property: This is true even when men are dealing equally with their own property, and with their own lives. It is still more true when they are dealing not only with property which is their own, but with lives which belong to others. The inevitable effect of such Insurance is therefore to relax the motives of self-interest which are the strongest incitements to precaution.20 Similar results [405/406] appear in a thousand other cases, both of laws still existing, and of laws which have been repealed. The conduct of men depends on the balance of motives which are brought to bear upon them. In supplying those motives, external conditions and mental character act and react upon each other. Both of these can be affected, and affected powerfully, by Positive Institution.
The restraints of Positive Institution are not, however, the only means, — very often they are not the best means by which to lighten the overpowering pressure of particular motives upon the individual Will. For as the Reason and the Conscience of the whole Political Community can interfere by the exercise of authority, so also may adequate remedies be found in the reason and the conscience of Voluntary Societies. The external conditions which tell upon the individual Will are themselves very often nothing but conditions depending on the aggregate Will of those around us; and if upon them, by any means, new motives can be brought to bear, then the whole of those external conditions may be changed. The language which is used in the name of Economic Science constantly involves in this matter [406/407] the same fallacy which has already been pointed out in the language used in the name of Physical Science. It is often said that the conduct and condition of men are governed by invariable laws; and the conclusion is that the evils which arise by way of natural consequence out of the action of those laws, are evils against which the struggles of the Will are hopeless. But the facts on which this conclusion is founded, are, as usual, inaccurately stated. The conditions of human life and conduct, like the conditions of all natural phenomena, are never governed by those separate and individual forces which alone are invariable, but always by combinations among those forces which combinations are of endless variety, and of endless capability of change. Different motives arise out of the inborn gifts of character, and out of the conditions of external circumstance. It is true, indeed, that there are in the mind of Man, as there are in Nature, certain forces originally implanted, which are unchangeable in this sense, that they have an invariable tendency to determine conduct in a particular direction. But as in Nature we have a power of commanding her elementary forces by the methods of adjustment, [407/408] so in the Realm of Mind we can operate on the same principle, by setting one motive to counteract another: and by combination among many motives, we can influence in a degree, and to an extent as yet unknown, the conduct and the condition of Mankind.
Nor are the resources of Contrivance limited to adjustment among the motives which arise only out of existing conditions. New motives can be evoked and put in action by the adopting of appropriate means. The mere founding, for example, of a Voluntary Society for any given purpose, evolves out of the primary elements of human character a latent force of the most powerful kind, namely, the motive — the sentiment — the feeling — the passion as it often is, of the Spirit of Association. This is a passion which defies analysis. The cynic may reduce it to a form of selfishness — and undoubtedly the identification of the interests and the desires of Self with the Society for which this passion is conceived, lies at its very root and is of its very essence. It is true, also, that it is a passion so powerful as to need strong control — without which control it generates some of the very meanest emotions of the heart. Out of it there has come, [409/410] and there comes again and again from age to age, a spirit of hatred even against good itself, when that good is the work of any one who "followeth not us." It is a force, nevertheless, rooted in the Nature of Man, implanted there as part of its constitution, and like all others of this character, given him for a purpose, and having its own legitimate field of operation. Nor is that field a narrow one. The Spirit of Association is the fountain of much that is noblest in human character, and of much that is most heroic in human conduct. For all the desires and aspirations of Self are not selfish. The interests of Self, justly appreciated and rightly understood, may be, nay indeed must be, the interests also of other men — "of Society — of Country — of the Church, and of the World. And so it is that when the aim of any given Association is a high aim, directed to ends really good, and seeking the attainment of them by just methods of procedure, the spirit it evokes becomes itself a new "Law" — a special force operating powerfully for good on the mind of every individual subject to its influence. Some preexisting motives it modifies — some it neutralises — [409/410] some it suppresses altogether — some it compels to work in new directions. But in all cases the Spirit of Association is in itself a power — a force — a Law in the Realm of Mind. What it can do, and what it cannot do, in affecting the conditions of Society, is a problem not to be solved so easily and so summarily as some dogmatists in political philosophy would have us to believe. It is a question which, like so many others, is not likely to be solved by abstract reasoning without the help of actual experiment. And this experiment is being tried. The instincts of men, truer often than the conclusions of philosophy, have rebelled against the doctrine that they are the sport of circumstance. Yet finding by hard experience that this is often true of the individual Will when standing by itself, they have resolved to try whether it is equally true of the Collective Will, guided by the spirit and strengthened under the discipline of Association. Hence the phenomena of Combination as a means of affecting the condition of labour — phenomena so alarming to many minds, and certainly so well deserving of attention. Let us look for a moment at the [410/411] important illustrations of the Reign of Law which these phenomena afford.
A moment's consideration will convince us that the same necessities of labour which were found to determine so fatally the condition of women and children, are necessities which apply without any abatement to the labour of adult men. They must be subject to the same pressure of inducements. Nay more, it is only through them that this pressure can reach the women who are their wives, and the children who are their children. If overpowering motives did not equally determine the conduct and condition of adult men, no legislation would have been required for the protection of their families. If a man is placed under such conditions that he cannot save his wife and child from exhausting labour, it is certain that the same conditions will impose a like necessity upon himself. Nevertheless, Parliament has resolutely and wisely refused to interfere on his behalf. And why? Because the argument is that the adult man is able or ought to be able to defend himself. And so he can, but how? Only by combination. The "law" which results in excessive labour is the law of [411/412] competition — that is, it is the attraction exerted upon the Wills of a multitude of individual men by the rewards of labour. The pressure of this attraction can only be lightened by bringing those Wills under the power of counter motives which may induce them to postpone, to some higher interest, the immediate appetites of gain. And this is the work which Combination does. It comes in the place of Positive Institution. Those who are under it "are a Law unto themselves."
Nor is it unimportant to observe that what Combination does for the protection of labour it does better, and with better consequences, than Positive Institution can ever do. Men are driven to excessive labour, because if they don't work excessively, others will. But it is the effect of Combination that others wont. Under Positive Institution they are not allowed. Under Combination they are determined not. And as the forming of an intelligent resolution, and the abiding by it, are higher exercises of mind than the mere passive obedience to authority, so is the good effected by Combination a higher good than that resulting from Factory Legislation. It tends to form and [412/413] to strengthen character. It tends to subordinate the present to the future — and the temporary, interests of Self to the permanent welfare of a, Brotherhood of men. And this it tends to do in classes otherwise prone to follow only the impulse of the moment, and to consider only they; apparent — interests of the individual.
These considerations should disabuse our minds of the unjust and unreasonable prejudice against the principle of Combination which still betrays itself so strongly in the language of many politicians. When the Working Classes combine for the protection of their own labour against the effects of unrestricted competition, they are simply taking that course which is recommended alike by reason and by experience. It is the course which Parliament has indicated as the right course both by what it has itself done, and by what it has declined to do. Nor can there be any greater mistake than to suppose that this course involves necessarily any rebellion against the laws of economic science. Combination is an appeal to the most fundamental of all Natural Laws — to the law of Contrivance — to the power of Adjustment — wielding, [413/414] through Reason and Conscience, the elementary forces of Human Character. Of the constancy and"invariability" of these no doubt or denial is involved. Rather the reverse. It is upon instinctive trust in that constancy that all social and political Contrivance rests. And so we need not be surprised to find that through the organised efforts of communities of men, the evils which arise by way of natural consequence out of the helplessness and thoughtlessness of the individual Will, are evils which to a large extent can be met and overcome.
But though all this is true, universally, of the principle of Combination, it is very far from being true, universally, of the particular purposes to which Combination is applied. All the sources of error which have so long perverted Legislation, are equally powerful in perverting the aims, and in misdirecting the efforts of Voluntary Association. If the upper classes, with all the advantages of leisure, and of culture, and of learning, have been so unable, as we have seen them to be, to measure the effect of the laws they made, how much more must we expect errors and misconceptions of the most grievous kind to beset the action of those who, [414/415] through poverty and ignorance, and often through much suffering, — have been able to do little more than strike blindly against evils whose pressure they could feel, but whose root and remedy they could neither see nor understand?
Accordingly, the history of Combination among the Working Classes has, until a very recent period, been a sad history of misdirected effort — of strength put forth only in violence and disorder, and of the virtues of Brotherhood lost in tyrannical suppression of all individual freedom. Its heaviest blows have been often aimed at the most powerful agencies for good. One of the very earliest forms of Combination has been that which was directed against the introduction and improvements of machinery. The Working Classes have always encountered with jealousy and fear those triumphs of Mechanical Invention whose function it is to economise labour, and to multiply the fruits of industry. It would be hard to blame them. What class is there which can say with truth that they have themselves been able always to follow with intelligent foresight the links of Natural Consequence through the darkness into which they [415/416] so often lead? For almost every great step in the advance of civilisation plunges at first through some passage which seems dangerous or at least obscure. The happiest achievements of Contrivance have their own aspects of apparent danger, and their own real incidents of temporary evil. Every new machine displaces and disorganises preexisting forms of labour, and we have seen that even in its ultimate effects the advance of Mechanical Invention developed new dangers to the Working Classes — dangers only to be avoided by measures which were not taken, and by precautions which were not adopted.
It would be well if, from the past convicted errors, both of Legislation and of Combination, we could extract some conclusions of general principle capable of helping us in the difficulties of our own time. In looking at the root of those errors, it would seem that in order to avoid them two things are necessary — first, unshaken faith in great Natural Laws; and secondly, a faith not less assured in the free agency of Man to secure by appropriate means the working of those laws for good. Thus, the love of gain is an instinct [416/417] implanted in the human mind, and the endeavour to suppress it has always been the violation of a Natural Law. In like manner Mechanical Invention is a Law of Nature in the highest and strictest sense. The power of it and the love of it are among the elementary forces of human character. Each fresh exertion of it is, and must be, according to the constitution and course of Nature — leading to higher and higher fulfilments of the original Purpose of Man's Creation, which was, that he should not only inhabit the Earth, as the beasts inhabit it, but that he should subdue it.
So also combination is natural to Man. The desire for it and the need of it, grow with the growth of knowledge and with the increasing complications of Society. It has now, for the most part, emerged from the stage of rude ignorance which led to the breaking of machinery. It is conducted, comparatively at least, with high intelligence, and aims for the most part at legitimate objects of desire. Yet in the rebellion which has been roused against the doctrines of Necessity, founded on false conceptions of Invariable Law, there is a constant danger lest the Spirit of Association should attempt to act [417/418] against Nature instead of acting with it. There is, for example, a Law — an observed order of fact sin respect to Man which the Working Classes too often forget, but which can neither be violated nor neglected with impunity. That Law is the Law of inequality, — the various degrees in which the gifts both of Body and of Mind are shared among men. This is one of the most fundamental facts of human nature. Nor is it difficult to see how it should be also one of the most beneficent. But it is a fact against which the spirit of Combination is very apt to assume an attitude of permanent insurrection. It is, of course, the business and the function of Combination to subordinate in some things the Individual to the Class; and the temptation is to make that subordination exclusive and complete. Hence the jealousy so often shown of wages measured by the amount of work performed. This is a jealousy of the superiority of reward which is naturally due to superiority of power, of industry, or of skill. But these are things which God has joined together, and which no man or combination of men have a right to put asunder. It is a marriage made in the morning of the world, [418/419] and in every step of human progress we see its blessing and its fruit. If it be stupid to break machines and to proscribe Mechanical Invention, it is not less stupid to be jealous of this primeval adjustment between the varying energies of human character and the varying results which they are competent to attain.
This is not the place to enter in detail on the difficult and complicated question as to the limits within which Combinations can, and beyond which they cannot, affect the rewards of labour. They have certainly succeeded in limiting the hours of labour in cases where Legislation could not well have interfered;21 and wherever the hours of labour are reduced without a corresponding reduction in wages, a substantial economic advantage [419/420] is unquestionably secured. Equal confidence is expressed by many Associations, that as a matter of experience and of fact, they have succeeded in establishing higher rates of wages than would have accrued under the system of unrestricted competition. This may very well be true. It is a truth which casts no doubt whatever on the invariability of Economic Laws when these are rightly understood. They are invariable in the same sense, and in no other, in which all other Natural Laws are invariable. That is to say, they represent tendencies in human character determined by motives, which tendencies are constant, and may surely be relied on as producing always, under like conditions, their own appropriate effects. It is upon this constancy that Combination must rely for any power it can ever have: and it is the same constancy in the action of specific motives which sets bounds to the power of Combination, beyond which it can never pass. The same motive which impels the Workman to secure an adequate reward for his labour, impels the Manufacturer or the Trader to secure an adequate reward for his capital, his knowledge, and his skill. And although [420/421] the desire of gain is not the only motive, and is often not the strongest motive, which impels men to persevere in enterprises once begun, yet if Combinations of Workmen should attempt to raise wages so high as to trench upon the minimum rate of profit which will, induce men to carry on any given trade, then by a natural consequence, not less certain than any other, capital and enterprise and skill will be withdrawn from that trade, and those who depend upon it will be the first to suffer. Short, however, of this extreme result, there is generally a margin of ground upon which Combination may act with more or less effect. It may prevent arbitrary or capricious changes; and as there are practically many impediments in the way of men moving their capital from one employment to another, Combination may compel them to submit to lower rates of profit than would otherwise content them if those difficulties did not exist.
But to all these possibilities of influence there is a limit in the nature of things — in Natural Laws — — that is, in the new motives which are brought into operation by new conditions. What that [421/422] limit is, it must always be difficult to determine except by actual experiment. It is enough here to observe that in this, as in every other department of human conduct, men are being led gradually to a knowledge of the truth bye the teachings of Natural Consequence. It is by! the experience of actual results that we are taught both as to the objects which are legitimate objects of desire, and as to the proper methods by which these may be attained. The very attempt of the Working Classes to govern through Combination their own affairs, and to determine their own condition, is an Education in itself. On the extended scale in which that attempt is being made, it must accustom them to consider great general causes, and to estimate the manner and the degree in which these can be affected by the methods of Adjustment. Last, not least, it must lead them to study and to recognise the moral duties which are indeed the most fundamental of all Natural Laws. For it ought to be remembered, that the first and most important object of Combinations is one against which there can be no opposition founded on the doctrines of Economic [422/423] Science. That object is to secure for the Working Classes those provisions against misfortune, sickness, accident, and age, which are amongst the first duties of all organised societies of men. How far through such agency the causes of pauperism may be successfully attacked, is a question on which we are only entering. In like manner, the conditions and limitations under which Combination may succeed in blending the functions and in uniting the profits of Capital and of Labour — this also is a question to be determined by Natural Laws, not yet fully explored or understood. But enough is known, and results sufficiently determinate have already been secured, to convince us that in this great department of Natural Law, as in every other, the Will of Man is not powerless when its energies are directed by wisdom, and when the choice of its methods is founded upon knowledge.
This is, indeed, the great lesson to be learnt from every inquiry into the constitution and course of things. Nature is a great armoury of weapons, and implements, for the service and the use of will. Many of them are too [423/424] ponderous for Man to wield. He can only look with awe on the tremendous Forces which are everywhere seen yoked under the conditions of Adjustment — on the smoothness of their motions, — on the magnitude, and the minuteness, — on the silence, and the perfection of their work. But there are also many weapons hung upon the walls which lend themselves to human hands — lesser tools which Man can use. He cannot alter or modify them in shape or pattern — in quality, or in power. The fashion of them and the nature of them are fixed for ever. These are, indeed, invariable. Only if we know how to use them, then that use is ours. Then also the lesser contrivances which we can set in motion are ever found to work in perfect harmony with the vaster mechanisms which are moving overhead. And as in the material world no effort gives so fully the sense of work achieved as the subjugation of some Natural Force under the command of Will, so in the world of Mind no triumphs of the Spirit are happier than those by which some natural tendency of Human Character is led to the accomplishment of a purpose which is wise [424/425] and good. It is for the gaining of these triumphs that Man has been gifted with the desire of Knowledge, and with the sense of Right, and with the faculties of Contrivance. In such triumphs lie the aim and purpose of all Natural Laws — for these they were all established — for these they all work, whether by way of encouragement, or of restraint, or of retribution.
Nothing is more striking in the history of Discovery than the ages during which men have been blind to the suggestions of Natural Law — suggestions which now appear so obvious that we wonder how the interpretation of them could have been missed so long. It is very easy to feel this wonder concerning others; it it much more difficult to remember that the same wonder will certainly be felt concerning ourselves. Such as we now see to have been the position of former generations in respect to things which they failed to understand, — such, we may depend upon it, is precisely our own position in regard to innumerable phenomena now constantly passing before our eyes. We may be sure of this; and we ought to be as glad of it as we are sure. For the world [425/426] is not so prosperous or so happy as that we should readily or willingly believe in the exhaustion of the means which are at our disposal for its better guidance. Especially in the great Science of Politics which investigates the complicated forces whose action and reaction determine the condition of organized societies of men, we are still standing, as it were, only at the break of day. Our command over the external elements of Nature is, beyond all comparison, in advance of our command over the resources of Human Character.
Special causes retard the progress of knowledge in this department of inquiry. Many problems so difficult and intricate that they never can be solved except by patient observation, patient thought, and yet more patient action, are as yet hardly recognised to be problems at all. We look on the facts of Nature and of human life through the dulled eyes of Custom and Traditional Opinion. And when some misery worse than others forces itself upon the acknowledgment of the world, men are slow to discover or admit their own power over the sources whence [426/427] such miseries come to be. That which is needed to open our eyes to such questions, is not mere intellectual power. Rarer and finer qualities have this work to do. Among the characteristics of the individual men who have exerted the most powerful influence for good on the condition of Society, no quality has been more remarkable than a certain natural openness and simplicity of mind. Readiness to entertain, willingness to accept, and enthusiasm to pursue a new idea, have always been among the most fruitful gifts of genius.
Is it vain to hope that the thoughtfulness and candour which have been the natural inheritance of a few, may yet be more common among all educated men? The whole constitution and course of things would receive an earlier fulfilment did we carry about with us an habitual belief in the inexhaustible treasures which it holds — in the power of the agencies which it offers to Knowledge and Contrivance. For then the results of Natural Consequence would be accepted for that which they teach, and not simply submitted to for that which they inflict. The disorders of Society would not so often be supinely regarded as the [427/428] result of inevitable laws, but would be seen as the fruit always of some ignorance or of some rebellion; and so the exhilarating conviction would be ours, that those disorders are within the reach of remedy through larger Knowledge and a better Will.
We hear much now of the "blessed light of Science;"22 and if the methods and conditions of Physical inquiry were applied in a really philosophical spirit to Spiritual Phenomena, the influence of Science would be more powerful than it is for good. Meanwhile, it is well to remember that although readiness to accept a new idea is essential to Discovery, it is equally true that new dangers beset and surround all new aspects of the truth. Paradoxical as it may sound to say so, this is a consequence of the splendour of Man's endowments, of his freedom from direction, — of the swiftness and the subtlety of his mental powers. On her own narrow path Instinct is a surer guide than Reason, and accordingly it is often the higher faculties of the mind which are the most [428/429] misleading. The Speculative Faculty is impatient of waiting upon Knowledge, and is ever as busy and as ingenious in finding out new paths of error as in supplying new interpretations of the truth. Hence in Philosophy the most extravagant errors have been constantly associated with the happiest intuitions, and it has remained for the successors of great men in another generation to separate their discoveries from their delusions. Hence also in Politics the great movements of Society have seldom been accomplished without raising many false interpretations of the Past, and many extravagant anticipations of the Future.23 It cannot, indeed, be said with truth that the calamities of Nations have generally arisen from too great play being given to novel or theoretical conclusions. Rather the reverse. They have arisen, for the most part, from too little attention being paid to the progress of opinion, and to the insensible development of new conditions.
The question has been often raised, whether [429/430] there is any law of growth, of progress, and of decay prevailing over Nations, as over individual Organisms. Whatever the solution of this question may be, it is certain that some causes are no longer in existence which produced — not indeed the corruption, but — the final overthrow of the great historical Nations of Antiquity. The epoch of conquering Races destroying the Governments, and reconstructing the Populations of the World, is an epoch which has passed away. Whatever causes there may be now of political decline are causes never brought to such rough detection, and never ending in catastrophes so complete. Yet, in modern days a condition of stagnation and decline has been the actual condition of many Political Societies for long periods of time. It is a condition prepared always by ignorance or neglect of some moral or economic laws, and determined by long-continued perseverance in a corresponding course of conduct. Then the laws which have been neglected assert themselves, and the retributions they inflict are indeed tremendous. In the last generation, and in our own time, the Old and the New Worlds have each afforded [430/431] memorable examples of the Reign of Law over the course of Political events. Institutions maintained against the natural progress of Society have "foundered amidst fanatic storms." Other Institutions upheld and cherished against justice, and humanity, and conscience, have yielded only to the scourge of War.
It is in the wake of such convulsions that reactions of opinion so often sweep over the Human Mind, as hurricanes sweep over the surface of the Sea. But whatever new forms of error are begotten of reaction, it is a comfort to believe that there are always some steps gained which are never lost. No man can look back on the history of modern civilisation without seeing that it presents the phenomena of development and growth. Nor can it be doubted, surely, that whatever may be the decline of particular Communities, the progress of Mankind, on the whole, is a progress to higher and better things. And if this be true, no particular exceptions should shake our faith in the general rule that all safe progress depends on timely recognition being given to the natural developments of Thought. They can never be [431/432] resisted in the end, and they are most liable to take erroneous directions when they are resisted long. For this is among the most certain of all the laws of Man's nature — that his conduct will in the main be guided by his moral and intellectual convictions. "All human society is grounded on a system of fundamental opinions." Such is the Law arrived at by the newest of modern Philosophies,24 and it would be well if all its discoveries were as near the truth. This is the Law to which Christianity appeals, and in which its very roots are laid, when it asserts as no other Religion has ever asserted the power and virtue of Belief. And in this Law lies the error which those commit who imagine they can hold by the Ethics of Christianity, whilst regarding with comparative indifference its History and its Creed. This, too, is the Law which lends all their importance to the speculations of Philosophy. False conceptions of the truth, in apparently the most distant provinces of Thought, may and do relax the most powerful springs of action. Among these false conceptions of the truth, none are now more prevalent [432/433] than those which concern the definition, and the function and the power of "Law." Instead of regarding the Constancy of Nature as incompatible with the energies of Will, we must learn to see in it the most powerful stimulus to inquiry, and the most cheering encouragement to exertion.
The superstition which saw in all natural phenomena the action of capricious Deities was not more irrational than the superstition which sees in them nothing but the action of Invariable Law. Men have been right and not wrong, when they saw in the facts of Nature the Variability of Adjustment even more clearly and more surely than they saw the Constancy of Force. They were right when they identified these phenomena with the phenomena of Mind. They were right when they regarded their own faculty of Contrivance as the nearest and truest analogy by which the Constitution of the Universe can be conceived and its Order understood. They were right when they regarded its arrangements as susceptible of Change; and when they looked upon a change of Will as the efficient cause of other changes without number, and without end. It was well to [433/434] feel this by the force of Instinct; it is better still to be sure of it in the light of Reason. It is an immense satisfaction to know that the result of Logical Analysis does but confirm the testimony of Consciousness, and run parallel with the primeval Traditions of Belief. Pt is an unspeakable comfort that when we come to close quarters with this vision of Invariable Law seated on the Throne of Nature, we find it a phantom and a dream — a mere nightmare of ill-digested Thought, and of "God's great gift of speech abused." We are, after all, what we thought ourselves to be. Our freedom is a reality, and not a name. Our faculties have in truth the relations which they seem to have to the Economy of Nature. Their action is a real and substantial action on the Constitution and Course of things. The Laws of Nature were not appointed by the great Lawgiver to baffle His creatures in the sphere of Conduct, still less to confound them in the region of Belief. As parts of an Order of things too vast to be more than partly understood, they present, indeed, some difficulties which perplex the intellect, and a few also, it cannot be denied, which wring the heart. But, on the [434/435] whole, they stand in harmonious relations with the Human Spirit. They come visibly from One pervading Mind, and express the authority of one enduring Kingdom. As regards the moral ends they serve, this, too, can be clearly seen, that the purpose of all Natural Laws is best fulfilled when they are made, as they can be made, the instruments of intelligent Will, and the servants of enlightened Conscience.
Last modified 10 December 2008