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extremely rare- rare because of its completeness. There is an order of mind-do we not all know it?- which bounds at the idea of a long-standing abuse or evil, and whose one demand is for instant abolition. A root and branch policy is the only weapon which appears feasible, or even worthy of consideration. To make a clean sweep and plant all afresh is what impetuous blood, allied with the necessary want of experience, generally calls for when this order of intellect is brought to bear upon vexed political or social problems. At the other end of the gamut reposes that intellect which is more or lessand generally more-content with things as they are. Quieta non movere. Why disturb an existing order which has worked fairly well, or at any rate has worked in some fashion? From this point of view a mere repetition of certain acts in a particular routine is equivalent to prescriptive right. It would as soon think of displacing an old-fashioned system, on the ground of incompetence, as most of us would think of dispossessing the occupant of an accustomed seat at, say, a public dining-table upon the score of selfishness. I suppose that all human minds range between these two types. Burke's completeness lay in this : that while he clung to what existed with, perhaps, somewhat inordinate fondness, he was as daring in his attempts to improve upon it, to foster in it its principle of growth, as the most ardent and uncalculating innovator. Possibly it is on this account that he has failed to please in many quarters. By keen economic reforms, by unswerving attachment to the cause of Catholic relief, by unflinching devotion to the claims of the persecuted and the oppressed, he probably disgusted many lovers of that old order which politely declines to give place to the new. By stoutly resisting all attempts to widen the base of the British constitution, by extreme
tenderness for prescriptive rights, by an entire abhorrence of academic methods when applied to practical politics, he has puzzled and confounded those whose one aim is to find or make a tabula rasa upon which to commence their experiments. But be the causes what they may of that lack of full and entire appreciation which Burke deserves, the time has surely come when the genius of the English race should recognise genius akin to its own.
Bent on reform, but not keen to innovate; sworn to confer liberty, but a foe to licence and anarchy; content rather to wait for atrophy than hastily to excise the yet living member when excision may fatally injure the very principle of political growth.
Burke's general theory of government is a complex subject. It is, however, impossible to understand his ideas upon the great questions of his own day without an attempt to grapple with it. The task is not made more easy by that enormous grasp of intellect with which Burke travelled from theory to detail, and from detail to theory, and then with & noble enlargement linked all together in one great systematic whole. But the subject has lost none of its fascination with the lapse of time, for round the premises assumed by Burke still rage, and must rage, some of the greatest controversies of our day. The basis of Burke's political method was at once moral and religious. Government was a divine institution originating, it is true, from the people, but resting upon laws which transcended their power to alter. We find this clearly expressed even in his earliest works, notably in his pamphlet On Present Discontents. “Government," he says, “is certainly an
” institution of divine authority, yet its forms and the persons who administer it all originate from the people.” When life was ebbing, we find him still insisting upon the moral aspect of government. “ Some are always considering the formal distribution of power in the constitution. The moral basis they consider as nothing. Very different is my opinion. I consider the moral basis as everything." Here, then, at the outset, we must recognise those two different schools of thought which are at variance on the great questions of morality and religion, and especially as applied to political life-that school, namely, which divorces morality from religion, and finds a sufficient ethical basis in the utilitarian needs of a community; and that other school which finds in the combination of both the only effectual guarantee of an orderly progress. I raise no question as to the truth or otherwise of these respective systems. The discussion of their claims is a subject far beyond the competence of such a paper as I am now reading. I must, however, emphasise clearly to which of these schools it was that Burke belonged, for in this we find the key to unlock the secret decisions of his mind when in great crises he reverted, as do all other men, to those master-principles which at bottom regulate the soul. As early as 1765, when just about entering on public life, he gives no equivocal testimony. “In all forms of government,” he says, “the people is the true legislator; their consent is absolutely essential to the validity of law. But,” he adds, “they have no right to make a law prejudicial to the whole community, because it would be made against the principle of a superior law, which it is not in the power of any community or of the whole race of man to alter.” In 1791, six years before his death, we find him still at the old moorings. “I allow," he says, "that if no supreme Ruler exists, wise to form and potent to enforce the moral law, there is no sanction to any contract, virtual or even actual, against the will of prevalent power. On that
hypothesis let any set of men be strong enough to set their duties at defiance, and they cease to be duties any longer. We have but this one appeal against irresistible power-si genus humanum et mortalia temnitis arma at sperate deos memores fandi atque nefandi.” Human law, then, upon Burke's theory, was but conventional and artificial, if based purely upon the needs of a community irrespective of any wider and more absolute standard. When he says, “What in the result is likely to produce evil is politically false, that which is productive of good politically true,” the evil and the good to which he refers must be weighed in balances of more than human stability. We find this principle persistent throughout his whole career.
When he had driven home his charges against the East India Company's administration, he sums it all up—“To keep faith with the Company was to break the faith, the solemn original indispensable oath in which I am bound by the eternal frame and constitution of things to the whole human race.” By the aid of this master-principle we may unlock all Burke's varieties of attitude upon such questions as popular rights, original compacts, the rule of majorities, the rights of a minority. It was obvious to Burke that if the purview of a statesman is to be limited to the human race and the planet which it inherits, these questions would be settled upon certain clear and narrow lines. The deeper problems involved in such terms as God, Immortality, and the Soul, would not be allowed to have their effect upon those mundane matters which could certainly be decided without their interposition. It was, however, Burke's steadfast opinion that they would be decided in a different way. Respect for authority in matters civil would be an entirely different matter according as a civil state of society was regarded merely as an evolutionary growth destined in time to
decay with the race in which it inheres, or as the partial image of some more complete order in which the individuals composing that society might some day live to participate. The right of a majority would be an unconditioned right in matters civil if we willed to make it so, always assuming that no higher court of appeal exists, and that Shakespeare was romancing when he makes one of his characters say, “Heaven is above all. There sits a Judge whom no king (or majority) can corrupt."
I think it worth noting, as a claim on behalf of Burke to present-day recognition, that in this country the direction of thought in matters political seems rather veering round, if not to his standpoint, at any rate to a more respectful consideration of it. Fifty years ago the tide was running strongly in that line of thought which viewed government as merely a security for the preservation of law and order. Now-a-days we have rather shifted our ground. Take, for example, Gladstone's essay on Church and State, and Macaulay's famous reply thereto. Neither of these would, I think, command the assent of any considerable majority of present day politicians. On the one hand we have come to recognise among the primary responsibilities of a State something of a moral character, rather different to the mere enforcement of law and order. On the other hand, we have certainly not advanced any nearer to that position which makes the resolute propagation of religion a part of State duty. But we have loaded the State with certain responsibilities unknown to our fathers, and so it is that the ethical basis which underlies them has received additional emphasis. Whatever tends to enforce that ethical basis, and give it power upon the minds of men, has acquired pari passu a more respectful attention. This I take to