Page 2 of 5
More by this Author
Hereditary despotism is, then, in essence and sentiment
democratic because it chooses from mankind at random.
If it does not declare that every man may rule, it declares
the next most democratic thing; it declares that any man may rule.
Hereditary aristocracy is a far worse and more dangerous thing,
because the numbers and multiplicity of an aristocracy make it
sometimes possible for it to figure as an aristocracy of intellect.
Some of its members will presumably have brains, and thus they,
at any rate, will be an intellectual aristocracy within the social one.
They will rule the aristocracy by virtue of their intellect,
and they will rule the country by virtue of their aristocracy.
Thus a double falsity will be set up, and millions of the images
of God, who, fortunately for their wives and families, are neither
gentlemen nor clever men, will be represented by a man like Mr. Balfour
or Mr. Wyndham, because he is too gentlemanly to be called
merely clever, and just too clever to be called merely a gentleman.
But even an hereditary aristocracy may exhibit, by a sort of accident,
from time to time some of the basically democratic quality which
belongs to a hereditary despotism. It is amusing to think how much
conservative ingenuity has been wasted in the defence of the House
of Lords by men who were desperately endeavouring to prove that
the House of Lords consisted of clever men. There is one really
good defence of the House of Lords, though admirers of the peerage
are strangely coy about using it; and that is, that the House
of Lords, in its full and proper strength, consists of stupid men.
It really would be a plausible defence of that otherwise indefensible
body to point out that the clever men in the Commons, who owed
their power to cleverness, ought in the last resort to be checked
by the average man in the Lords, who owed their power to accident.
Of course, there would be many answers to such a contention,
as, for instance, that the House of Lords is largely no longer
a House of Lords, but a House of tradesmen and financiers,
or that the bulk of the commonplace nobility do not vote, and so
leave the chamber to the prigs and the specialists and the mad old
gentlemen with hobbies. But on some occasions the House of Lords,
even under all these disadvantages, is in some sense representative.
When all the peers flocked together to vote against Mr. Gladstone's
second Home Rule Bill, for instance, those who said that the
peers represented the English people, were perfectly right.
All those dear old men who happened to be born peers were at that moment,
and upon that question, the precise counterpart of all the dear old
men who happened to be born paupers or middle-class gentlemen.
That mob of peers did really represent the English people--that is
to say, it was honest, ignorant, vaguely excited, almost unanimous,
and obviously wrong. Of course, rational democracy is better as an
expression of the public will than the haphazard hereditary method.
While we are about having any kind of democracy, let it be
rational democracy. But if we are to have any kind of oligarchy,
let it be irrational oligarchy. Then at least we shall be ruled by men.