On The CHRISTIAN AND
ECONOMIC POLITY of a NATION
More Especially With Reference to Its Large Towns
NEXT in importance to those truths which are directly
religious, do we hold those which relate to the connexion between the Moral and
Economic well-being of Society. But it must be premised that we look on the
good moral condition of human beings as hopeless, save by the instrumentality
of religion - and then, this being admitted, those temporal blessings which
form the unfailing inheritance of a virtuous and well-taught peasantry, the
diffused comfort and sufficiency which are the sure attendants of a
peoples worth along with a peoples intelligence, should be regarded
as exemplifications of the scripture sayings, that if we seek first the kingdom
of God and His righteousness all other things shall be added unto us, and that
godliness hath the promise of the life which now is as well as of that which is
But this dependence of comfort upon character, or the connexion between the two terms of this great sequence, is the result of certain economic laws, the contemplation of which is quite familiar to the disciples of Political Eonomy. But no two classes of men stand more apart from each other - than those economists whose office it is to investigate the law of dependence between character and comfort; and those clergymen whose office it is efficiently, by their prayers and labours among the people, to build up a high average character in society. While prosecuting their respective employments, they are completely beyond the sight and recognition of each other - the former very generally not cognizant, nay sometimes even contemptuous of the latter - and the latter quite unconscious that any function or exercise of theirs can at all expedite the objects of the former. Nevertheless it is not the less true, that between a high tone of character and a high rate of wages there is a most intimate alliance; and, while it is for the economists alone to speculate aright on the action and reaction of these two elements - it is for the ministers of the gospel alone, by the influence of that faith which they teach, to elevate the morality of the common people, and so to carry into practical fulfilment that glorious connexion which is ever found to obtain between a well-principled and a well-conditioned peasantry.
The walk to which we now point has been little explored; nor, as far as our experience goes, does it form a very inviting one to the general, or even to the literary public. It would seem as if the Economists repudiate the moral ingredient as of vastly too ethereal a nature for their science - while moralists and divines on the other hand, are often found to recoil from Political Economy, as they would from a system of gross utilitarianism. From a late conversation with Mr Guizot I could infer, that the affinity between these two subjects was still almost an entire novelty in France. In truth, it is nearly as little studied in England - though it be amply conceded by the philosophical state with all whom I have now named, that it is only in this quarter of speculation, where we shall meet with the solution of the most arduous problems in the art of government, or rather where the great problem of society can be fully and satisfactorily resolved.
One of the greatest difficulties, both in the management and philosophy of human affairs, is presented to us by the question of Pauperism; and a large proportion of the following pages is dedicated to the elucidation of that question. We have long thought that by a legal provision for indigence, two principles of our moral nature have been confounded, which are radically distinct from each other - distinct both objectively in the ethical system of virtue, and subjectively in the laws and workings of the human constitution. These two principles are humanity and justice, whereof the latter is the only proper object of legislation -which, by attempting the enforcement of the former, has overstepped altogether its own rightful boundaries. It is right that justice should be enforced by law, but compassion ought to have been left free; and the mischief that has practically ensued from the violation of this obvious propriety, strikingly evinces the harmony of the abstract with the concrete in the constitution of our actual world - insomuch that derangement and disorder will inevitably follow, whenever the natural laws of that microcosm which each man carries in his own heart, are thwarted by the dissonancy of those civil or political laws, by which it is often so vainly attempted to improve on the designs of the Great Architect, when the inventions of man are suffered to supersede the great principles of truth and nature in the mechanism of human society.
But it may be asked, if the practical necessity for the discussion of this question have not now gone by? Has not the reformation for which I have all along contended been now set on foot; and is it not exemplifying at this moment the wisdom of its principles, and the blessed results of its operation, all over England? Has not the system for which we begun our advocacy so long back as 1814, been actually adopted, if not in full, at least by so near an approximation, that any repetition or republisation of it, whether in its principles or details, is now uncalled for? And is it not superfluous to bring that again to the test of argument, which may now be left to the better test of experience?
We reply that if one consideration could be of more prevailing influence than another, in determining us on the restatement of our views, it would be the deep misapprehension which obtains upon this subject. The changes which have taken place on the system of pauperism in England are not in our estimation accordant with the true principles or philosophy of the question; and to us it marks a still more resolute perseverance in error, that the same system has of late been transported to Ireland, in the vain imagination that it will improve the economic state of the people, and medicate the distempers of that unhappy land.
Pauperism in so far as sustained on the principle, that each man, simply because he exists, holds a right on other men or on society for existence, is a thing not to be regulated but destroyed. Any attempt to amend the system which reposes on such a basis will present us with but another modification of that which is radically and essentially evil. Whatever the calls be, which the poverty of a human being may have on the compassion of his fellows - it has no claims whatever upon their justice. The confusion of these two virtues in the ethical system will tend to actual confusion and disorder - when introduced into the laws and administrations of human society. The proper remedy, or remedy of nature, for the wretchedness of the few, is the kindness of the many. But when the heterogeneous imagination of a right is introduced into this department of human affairs, and the imagination is sanctioned by the laws of the country, then one of two things must follow - Either an indefinite encroachment on property, so as ultimately to reduce to a sort of agrarian level all the families of the land; or, if to postpone this consequence a rigid dispensation be adopted, the disappointment of a people who have been taught to feel themselves aggrieved, the innumerable heart-burnings which law itself has conjured up, and no administration of that law howevçr skilful can appease.
If the many thousand applicants for public charity in England really do have a right to the relief of their wants why should not that right, as a right, be fully and openly and cheerfully conceded to them? Why should they be scared away from the assertion of this right, by any circumstances cf hardship or degradation, or violence to the affections of nature, being associated therewith? Should the avenue to justice be obstructed, and that too by the very pains and penalties which are laid on those who trample justice under foot? Yet every approximation of an alms-house to a gaol, of a house of charity to a house of correction, but exemplifies this grievous paralogism; nor can we wonder, when the rulers of England have led its people so grievously astray, that elements of conflict are now afloat, which destroy the well-being, and even threaten the stability of society.
It is playing fast and loose with a people - first to make a declaration of their right, and then to plant obstacles in the way of their making it good. There is an utter incongruity here of the practice with the principle, which betrays a secret misgiving, as if the principle was not felt to be a sound one. The truth is that it is such a principle as will not bear to be fully and consistently acted upon a pretty decisive evidence of something radically wrong in the whole system. The economy of a legal provision for the poor can only be upheld in a country by a compensation of errors - an expedient which might do in mathematics; but which can never be made to do prosperously or well in the management of human nature.
But it may be asked whether the last reform in the pauperism of England has not, in point of fart, turned out to be a prosperous experiment? Not most assuredly if the question is to be decided by the moral test, or satisfaction of the people. And if brought to the economical test, or saving of the expenditure, it should be recollected that the immense reduction which has been effected under the new system in certain of the parishes, but with a very sore exasperation of the popular feeling, might well be argued as an experimental proof in favour of the doctrine that there is no natural necessity for a legal provision in behalf of indigence at all; and if so, it were surely better that the legal imagination of a right to such provision were dislodged from the hearts of the people, which it never will be completely or conclusively, till the law itself shall, after a gradual retracement of the parishes of England from the great practical error into which they have fallen, have at length been dislodged from the statute-book.
If the body of pauperism is, as we believe it, an artificial excrescence - then it admits of indefinite reduction, whenever the pressure of an energetic administration from without is brought to bear upon it. Now such an administration is never more likely to address itself with resolution and strenuousness to its task, than at the commencement of some very sanguine attempt to rectify and remodel the whole system. And accordingly the great reforming Acts of Mr Gilbert and Mr Sturges Bourne, were signalised during the first years of their operation by the practical triumph of large and marvellous retrenchments in a goodly number of the parishes. But it was at length found, that the unnatural tension of a very strict and vigilant and of course unpopular management, could not always be sustained; and so, on the moment of consequent relaxation, the pauperism, in virtue of its own native elasticity, speedily resumed, nay, exceeded the greatest amount which it had formerly arrived at.
Even though a rigorous style of administration should be persevered in, there is reason to apprehend that this may not permanently keep down the expenses of their pauperism. By aggravating the restraints or the humiliations and sacrifices which are attached to the system, they may scare away from it those of a finer and better spirit among the peasantry of England. But on the other hand the very effect of the system may be, so to degrade and harden the general feeling of the cornmonalty, as shall open the way to the same if not to a greater pressure of applications than before. If the people are revolted by the hardships and annoyances of the present work-house system, this may save the economic pressure - but at the heavy expense of a great moral calamity even a turbulent and dissatisfied feeling throughout the labouring classes of society. But if on the other hand the people shall be so far reconciled as to brook these apnoyances, this will recommit the parishes of England to their wonted expenditure; and without even the comfort of any economic saving, there will still be the great moral injury of a population more blunted in all their delicacies, more insensible to all the feelings whether of honour or of natural affection than heretofore. It remains to be seen how the proposed apparatus of Pauperism for Ireland will be met by its peasantry. If they be generally revolted by its seventies, there is reason to fear the same resentment that is awakened, when we imagine a delusive promise to have been given, a deceitful semblance to have been placed before us, or a mockery to have been practised upon our expectations. And if on the contrary, the urgencies of want shall prevail over the charms of their liberty and their homes, all the resources of the country may not be able to withstand the inroads of a multitude, who, if not countless, may at least turn out indefinitely greater than is now counted on; and in the utter helplessness, if not the utter ruin that must follow, we shall have the abundant practical evidence, that a system which is wrong in principle, is also both unsound in its policy and pernicious in its consequences.
It is on the strength of these considerations, that we have resolved to present anew those views and reasonings on the subject of Pauperism, which we gave to the public eighteen years ago. The late reform of English pauperism bears more the semblance than the reality of an approximation to that system which we have all along advocated, With them there is little or no change of principle, admitting, as they still do, the right of the destitute to relief, - but, along with this, a large and instant change of practical administration. With us again there is a total diversity of principle from the other, in that we deny the right but along with this a very gradual movement in that executive process by which we would carry our principle into effect. In single parishes we propose to get rid of the old pauperism, not by any sudden or violent dismissal of the actual paupers, who, for aught we care, may be sustained through life in the sufficiency of their present allowances - but by our treatment of the new applications, and which we think may be easily so disposed of, as at length to exchange the heavy expenditure of a legal for the light expenditure of a gratuitous economy. And in carrying this reformation over the country at large, we would proceed not by a simultaneous but by a successive operation - just as the inclosure of commons passes onward from parish to parish under the authority of a permissive law,
If the present reform shall turn out to be a failure, and add one more to the list of abortions which have gone before it, - then at length may it come to be acknowledged, that it is vain to look for any permanent deliverance from this sore mischief, by the mere modification of that which is radically and essentially evil. It has long been the obstinate imagination in England, that the error lies not in the essence of their poor-law, but in the accidents of its administration. This error will probably never be dislodged, but by means of a long and varied experience, by a series of disappointments in one fruitless expedient after another - when their eyes at last may open to the truth, that nothing short of a process of eradication will conclusively relieve them, from the manifold evils of a system which ought not to be regulated but destroyed.
One object of the following pages is to explain, how, wide as the transition may be from their established to our proposed system, yet still there is a series of practicable stepping-stones by which it may be effected.
But let us not forget that the subject of Pauperism occupies but a part, and the smaller part of these volumes, which are more taken up with the Christian than with the economic polity of a nation. And on the former of these two questions we have greater reason to felicitate ourselves in the progress of sound opinion, and of the consequent practical reforms which are now going forward. If in the management of the poor, there has taken place but the semblance of an approximation to the view which we first ventured to publish in 1814, or twenty-five years ago there has been a real and substantial approximation to our views on the Christian education of the people, which were first published in 1817, or twenty-two years ago.
It is most encouraging to observe the amount of Church Extension, and on the right territorial principle, which has already been carried into effect; and the still greater amount which is contemplated both for Scotland and England - a most refreshing contrast with the imputation of Utopianism and folly, wherewith all our speculations on this great topic were wont to be stigmatized. And yet it were a mistaken inference to draw from this revolution of public sentiment, that a renewal of the very arguments in the very language of twenty years back on this subject must be now uncalled for. It is little known how obtuse and impracticable the general mind of society is, when aught in the form of novelty is addressed to it; and what incessant reiteration must be employed ere the resistance, or rather perhaps the apathy, can be fully overcome. Certain it is that to this hour, there is, throughout whole orders of the community, a marvellous inertness of understanding, on the great question of the Establishment and the Extension of National Churches; and we shall not regard the publication over again of our first and still favourite views upon this theme as superfluous or uncalled for - if a few hundred more of readers shall be thereby brought into contact with the elements of the controversy.
We confess no small gratification in finding, at the end of twenty years, that our promulgations held at the time to be altogether Utopian, of the great charm and efficiency which lie in the household ministrations of clergymen, are now repeated in the most popular, and at the same time, the most able and authoritative of our daily journals. The Times Newspaper of a few days back recommends with great force and eloquence, and in the following terms, the still further prosecution of an earnest and indefatigable system of parochial domiciliary visiting throughout all the parishes of the land. This, depend upon it, is the only patent and talismanic key to English hearts, whether of Churchmen, Papists, or Dissenters. Disinterested and persevering kindness, brought habitually to a mans home under all sorts of discouragement, is what no human being can long or rudely resist. With that elevated determination and single-heartedness, which, in the absence of all impertinent intrusions or officious curiosity, manifestly seeks to engage mankind in a devout concern for their immortal interests, let every family in every city, town, or hamlet, be regularly and affectionately visited, no matter what denomination they may belong to. The established clergy, accredited, commissioned, and upheld by the law of this realm, are the clergy of the whole nation. Every fireside in their parish is a part of their allotted charge. They have an official as well as a moral right, subject, of course, to discreet limitations, to seek admittance into every door, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear.. Painful repulses will occasionally, though not often, occur; but these, compensated by a consciousness of dutiful exertion and by cordial welcomes in other cases, will sooner or later be overcome by meek and patient endurance. Only let all the families of England be regularly invited to the dispensation of a free gospel in a free church; and eventually the very universality of this habit of parochial visiting will establish it as a part of our social system, and cause it to work with the uniform beneficence of natures general laws.
Proceed to Chapter One?
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