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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51

Chapter VII. — Conclusion

page 46

Chapter VII.


Besides the sixteen pleas for Protection which we have now discussed, there are (for error is hydra-headed) a number of minor and subordinate ones. But these are either so trivial as to have no weight, or so obviously unsound as to carry with them their own refutation. Almost all of them, moreover, are branches of, or correlative to, those of which we have treated, and we shall, therefore, refrain from passing them under review.

We cannot conclude without adverting to two curious phenomena in connection with the subject under discussion.

1. Here is a matter of science, in which the facts or data are numerous and well-authenticated. The inferences from these data are by no means abstruse or recondite; and the arguments on either side have been abundantly, if not always very luminously, set forth. And yet, of those who have more or less inquired into the subject, while nine out of ten have arrived at one conclusion, the remaining one-tenth have arrived at a conclusion diametrically opposite. By what peculiar twist of the brain is it that the same data lead one man to a direct affirmative and another to as direct a negative? No admission on either side that there is something to be said on the other! There is no neutral tint. All is either jet black or refulgent white. The reasons for such contradictory conclusions from ascertainable facts may, we think, be traced to some of the following explanations, which apply to imperfect reasoners on either side of the question: viz., 1. Some persons treat unsupported assertions as admitted facts. 2. Some shrink from statistics which they find troublesome, and therefore call them misleading. 3. Some only take those figures which tell in their favour, and leave out the rest. 4. Some ignore, or forget, a portion of the essential data, and conclude from incomplete premises. 5. Some admit a proposition, but afterwards go on reasoning as if they had refuted it. 6. page 47 Some confine their attention to local and transitory topics, but reason as if they were general and permanent. 7. Some, biassed by self-interest, look obliquely instead of straight at the data before them. 8. Some, clinging to foregone conclusions, shut their eyes to new facts and their ears to new arguments. 9. Some resist an argument, not as being unsound, but simply as being adverse. 10. Some grant that the formula 2x8=16 is quite correct in theory, but contend that it is inadmissible in practice. 11. Some fancy that what is verbose and obscure is profound, and that what is concise and lucid is shallow. But we need go no farther. These and similar logical shortcomings may serve to explain the curious discrepancy noticed above.

2 Through what marvellous coincidence does it happen that nearly all English Free Traders belong to the Liberal, and nearly all English Protectionists belong to the Conservative party? Here is an economic question, purely scientific, the discussion of which, and the conclusions in regard to which, can only rest on considerations intrinsic to the question itself. If different persons arrive at different conclusions upon it, such differences should be the outcome of a diversity in their reasoning power, not of a diversity in their party proclivities. And yet, by some peculiar elective affinity, we find one set of conclusions identified with the Liberal party and the opposite set with the Conservative party. This cannot be the result of mere chance. Are we to infer that the peculiar mental organisation which impels a man to be a Liberal is precisely that which will impel him to be a Free Trader? Or that the special form of brain which predisposes a man to adopt Conservatism happens to be the very brain formation that will evolve Protectionism out of his economic inquiries? These inferences are hardly admissible, and we fear that the coincidence in question is due to less recondite and more vulgar causes. The fact is that the so-called convictions of many, both Free Traders and Protectionists, are not owing to independent, fearless, truth-seeking inquiry, but are the result of old traditions, early education, immediate surroundings, class interests, spirit of comradeship, and generally of influences extraneous to the abstract question of truth or error.

page 48

While few Liberals are Protectionists, many, especially of the leading, Conservatives are from conviction Free Traders; and to these the alliance of their party with an effete theory must be distasteful and embarrassing. They would, perhaps, not be sorry were a friendly voice to address the rank and file of their party in something like the following terms:—" Beware of identifying yourselves with a scientific heresy. Protection is a defunct fallacy which no amount of political galvanism can resuscitate. How long will you continue to encumber yourselves with its dead body? You compromise the future of your party by hampering it with a discarded policy. By so acting the triumph of Free Trade becomes the defeat of Conservatism; and if Free Trade be a scientific truth, you are pledging yourselves to the adoption of a scientific error. It is as though the Conservative programme were to include a belief in astrology, or to involve a repudiation of the Copernican system, and a return to the good old times of Ptolemy. Pray do not make it anti-Conservative in a man to assent to the binomial theorem."

But whatever party be in power, one thing is clear. The people of England have made up their minds. They will not go back to those miserable and memorable times when Protection taxed their food, curtailed their foreign trade, crippled their industry, and periodically spread starvation, destitution, and despair throughout the land. You might as well exhort the emancipated slave to resume his fetters. We have adopted a living principle;—under it we have thriven, and to it we will cleave.