« AnteriorContinua »
average men is such that they only attach themselves strongly to one of these courses at a time. We have, therefore, had times when the chief object of foreign politics has seemed to be the support of congresses and conferences, the demand for international arbitration in the place of war, and for the dismissal of those overgrown armies which are constantly threatening the peace of Europe. At another time the doctrine of non-intervention has been accepted as the true panacea for the evils by which the Continent is affected. Much sense and much nonsense has been talked on behalf of both these theories, and it would be rash to attempt to forecast the solutions which the future may have in store. But it can hardly be doubted that the rise of a higher and better international law than now exists will only become possible, if on the one hand the general community of nations exercises its authority on behalf of the establishment and maintenance of states formed on the natural basis of the wishes of the populations, so far as they can be ascertained, and if, on the other hand, it defends any state so constituted against the interference of its neighbours. The growth of the authority of European congresses, joined to an increased respect for national independence, will probably be the leading feature of the international relations of the future, and, on the whole, in spite of occasional backslidings, the foreign policy of England has helped on the change. In domestic politics the effect of antipathy to French principles survived the war. For some years it was Policy after thought to be dangerous to think of reforms at all. the War. Everything which existed was evidently for the best, even if it were a job or a sinecure. The idea of bringing popular pressure to bear upon men of property and the idea of asking men of property to listen to more intelligent persons than themselves was equally scouted.
Then came a great change. On the one hand a demand arose for parliamentary reform, for the widening of the basis of representation. On the other hand a demand arose for a more intelligent and less selfish government. The two demands have been answered. The policy which had died out with Pitt was again in the ascendant. The great Liberal movement made its power felt over both parties and all classes. Twice has a parliamentary reform bill been carried, to place the control of the government in the hands of men of less material property than those who had formerly been entrusted with it, and the result has been to increase rather than to diminish the weight of intelligence. Happily too the struggle which preceded these changes was not a mere struggle between classes, like the revolutionary struggle in France. A large number of the owners of great estates threw themselves on the side of reform, whilst their opponents, who objected to change, were honourable men, striving, according to their belief, for the best interests of their country, and capable of influencing for good the generation in which they lived. The growth of the scientific spirit and its extension through popular teaching, open at last to both sexes alike, has helped and will help still more to widen the basis of authority. Yet the reform of the criminal law, the changes in the poor law, the introduction of free trade, have all been the work of men of special intellectual qualifications, and the possession of such qualifications carries with it more weight in the affairs of government than it did at any preceding time. Popular power organised by intellect, influenced by morality, and devoted to high and noble aims, is the ideal form of the society which is now developing itself, and which has survived the violent tyranny of the French Revolution and the violent reaction caused by that tyranny. How far the nation falls short of that
ideal can to some extent be seen, and will be more clearly seen in future times. But we may be sure that it is less in danger of shipwreck, because more than other nations it does not disregard its past, and because it does not hastily cast off or even profoundly modify its old institutions till they have become beyond all dispute hurtful rather than beneficent.