The Degeneration of liberalism.
"It is not freedom, but the use of freedom, that ennobles man."
"We have marched triumphing, not through your presence;
"Songs have inspired us, not from your lyre."
But a Party in the true and noble sense in which Burke used the word they certainly are not, and it is on such men as I have described that the Liberal Party must depend if it is ever again to become a truly national Party, seeking the good of the country as a whole, instead of being, as it is now, a mere faction used by individuals and classes for their own aggrandisement. Such men regard the present ascendency of the self-styled Liberal Party as the triumph of a mere numerical majority consisting mainly of the blind and mercenary followers of self-seeking demagogues—men who place their own and their Party's interests before those of the nation as a whole. They believe that Liberalism has ceased to have any connection with liberty or even with political morality, and just as in the very midst of the reign of corruption in Great Britain in 1761, the principle that inspired the leading Liberals was embedded in one sentence by Burke—" The principles of true politics are those of morality enlarged"—so the "true Liberals" amongst us continue to protest amidst the political corruption surrounding them that "Seddonism," which lives and moves and has its being in corruption, is separated, toio cœlo, from Liberalism.
Just as religion when it degenerates into a mere profession of belief in certain dogmas becomes a useful cloak for selfishness and hypocrisy, so with Liberalism in New Zealand; it has become a mere credo, the articles of which are altered and added to from time to time by the leaders of the Party to meet the demands of the hour. Anyone who refuses to subscribe to any of those articles ceases to be a Liberal, whilst on the other hand anyone who is prepared to pronounce the shibboleth becomes at once a Liberal, no matter what his political past may have been, or how recently he may have denounced the Liberal Party and all its ways, or how sudden his conversion. The recent general election furnished several remarkable instances of such "conversions." In one case a politician who had been a member of a so-called Conservative Ministry, and who had denounced the "Liberal" Government in the most unmeasured terms within a few weeks of the election, was accepted as the "Liberal" candidate for one of the leading constituencies, and the "Liberals" and the Labour Party elected him as one of their represen- page 4 tatives. We do not know whether this politician professes to have undergone any conversion, but the appalling fact is that to the "Liberal" Government that accepted him as its candidate and to the "Liberals" who elected him the question of the sincerity of the conversion is of no importance at all; indeed, such a question seems to be regarded as quite irrelevant—to this complexion has "Liberalism" come in New Zealand! It seems to have adopted the notion that the change from Conservatism to Liberalism may be an instantaneous one, like the process seen in the first act of Gounod's "Faust." A despairing and ruined man learns that if he pronounces the words "I believe," and succeeds in persuading himself of their magic power, a complete change will take place in him—hey, presto! off go the philosopher's dingy robes, his hoary locks, his palsied gestures and accents, and a young hero steps down to the footlights to sing fortissimo of the glorious new life that is now his.
Here we see one material distinction between true Liberalism and the counterfeit which designing men are now passing off for it. Liberalism is not a mere credo, the repetition of which makes a man a Liberal; it is rather a matter of temperament and cast of mind, a disposition to look at matters political in a particular way. But, in politics as in religion, there are always multitudes of people who, like Dugald Dalgetty, simply choose the side that is likely to pay them best, and those who at the present moment in New Zealand call themselves the leaders of the Liberal Party are fully alive to this fact, and are deliberately availing themselves of it to the uttermost. What else is the meaning of that shameful declaration of the Premier that in the making of appointments a "Liberal" is entitled to the preference? Is it possible to imagine anything better calculated to degrade Liberalism? And could there be a worse symptom of the progress of the disease in the body politic than the fact that such a pronunciamiento has been received with such indifference? Some years ago a leading English Liberal published a book with the title "Why am I a Liberal?" If that question were answered truthfully by our New Zealand "Liberals" what would be the answer in most cases? "Because the Liberal Premier has said that Liberals are to have the preference, and I have a son or daughter who expects to get an appointment under this grand new principle." "Because the Premier says his Government is the People's Government, and he considers it his special duty to look after the interests of the working men." Can it be questioned that such answers disclose the real moving springs of "Liberalism?" Is it not inevitable that, human nature being such as it is. Liberalism should in such circumstances be degraded, and should become a synonym for individual and class selfishness? And can it be denied that it is to their adroitness and unscrupulousness in appealing to such selfishness the "Liberal" Government owes success? True Liberalism is an appeal to the highest motives and noblest aspiration of its votaries, whilst the spurious Liberalism I have been describing builds upon the much surer foundation of self-interest.
The Right Hon. G. J. Shaw-Lefevre, in answer to the question, "Why am I a Liberal?" says, "Because in domestic legislation it (Liberalism) prefers the interests of the nation to those of any section or class of it, while it endeavours to secure its objects without doing wrong or injustice to individuals." Can it be said that our self-styled Liberals in New Zealand could adopt those words as embodying one of their principles? Would not the following express more correctly the true inwardness of New Zealand Liberalism?—"I am a Liberal because in domestic legislation Liberalism professes to seek the interests of one particular class, the working class, regardless of the interests of large landowners and other Tories." There is no doubt that such a proposition as this propounded in a stentorian voice by the "Liberal" Premier, would be received with acclamation and delight by the great majority of his followers, and anyone who ventured to demur would be branded as a Tory. Is it any wonder, then, that real Liberals repudiate with scorn a title of which they used to be proud? To them Liberalism meant the struggle of the masses of the people against the strongholds of privilege—not specially in the interests of the people in the sense in which that word is now used by demagogues, but in the interests of the nation as a whole. In their view the true Liberal is
"Justiciae cultor, rigidi senator honest, In commune bonus."
But not one of those terms can with propriety be applied to our self-styled New Zealand Liberal. He cannot be described as justiciae cultor, a lover of justice, for justice knows no distinction between Liberal and Conservative, Aristocrat and Democrat Time was when there would have been nothing inappropriate in describing a Liberal as rigidi servator honesti, but, alas! to do so now would simply raise a smile of derision; and, as for being in commune bonus, good towards all, our New Liberal would regard the idea as simply Quixotic. According to a leading English Liberal, the page 5 ideal of a Liberal Party consists in a view of things undisturbed by the promptings of interests and prejudices, in a complete independence of all class interests, and in relying for its success on the better feelings and higher intelligence of mankind. If this be a correct description of the true ideal of a Liberal Party, how wofully the Liberal Party in New Zealand falls short of it; Not one of those three essentials can be predicated of it—indeed, the converse of each of the three might be applied without impropriety. So far from being independent of all class interests and relying on the better feelings of mankind, its leaders rely for their success upon appeals to pure selfishness and class interests, and men who persist in dinging to the principles of true Liberalism are vilified as renegades because they refuse to surrender their principles and independence.
Liberalism in New Zealand presents a remarkable illustration of the tendency inherent in human nature for men to deceive themselves with mere words and phrases, and to cling to the shadow after the substance has fled. A truly magical power is attached to the mere use of the word "Liberal," and yet nothing is more certain than that Liberalism in New Zealand has ceased to have any connection with liberty, and has become the most intolerable form of despotism: a Party destitute of the feeling and idea implied by true Liberalism arrogates to itself the exclusive right to the name. So there are many who, whilst scorning to be called Liberals according to the prevalent acceptation, yet claim to be true Liberals. Liberalism means the advancement of the general interests of the community and of all classes without distinction as against the privileges of an aristocratic ruling caste. In a country in which there is no aristocracy and no ruling caste and no class privileges to fight against, Liberalism either changes its meaning or ceases to have any meaning at all. This is the explanation of the remark so often heard that in New Zealand there are no Liberals and no Conservatives; and the statement is perfectly correct if the terms are used in the sense they bear in England to distinguish two great political parties. In England Liberalism derived all its significance and all its power from the fact that for generations the aristocracy had selfishly used political power for its own self-aggrandisement. History shows that in the past no body of men ever found political power in their hands without being tempted to make selfish use of it, and the question of questions for the future is whether the great Democracies of the twentieth century are to resist the temptation to use political power as a means of material self-enrichment. With a higher sense of duty than has been shown by some of the governing classes which preceded them, will they refrain from jobbing the Commonwealth? In so far as New Zealand is concerned at the present moment, if we answer truthfully, we must admit that Democracy, that Liberalism, means government in the interests of a particular class. It will no doubt be replied that, if this be so, the favoured class constitutes a majority of the people of the colony—namely, the working-class, and that as in the past in England the aristocracy exploited the Government and Legislature of the country in their own interest, it is but natural and right that the People (Demos) should do likewise when they find themselves in possession of political power. That it is natural seems only too true, but that it is right is certainly not true, however "Liberals may preach and practise to the contrary.
It was inevitable that when the preponderance of political power came to be placed in the hands of the numerical majority a class of politicians should arise who would set themselves to the task of flattering the people for their own selfish ends, and this form of adulation offered to Xing Demos is just as detestable as that which in the past surrounded kings and potentates. In New Zealand politicians of this class call themselves Liberals, but in reality they are mere demagogues. Just as the self-seeking flatterers of kings and princes professed to regard the interests of the nation as subordinate to the interests of the sovereign, so our New Liberal boasts of carrying on the government of the country especially in the interests of the people, and the Liberal Premier describes his Administration as the "People's Government." Now, let me say at once that I regard the government of the people by the people and for the people as the highest of political ideals; but I use the word people to mean the nation as an organic whole, whilst the demagogue, masquerading as a Liberal, uses the word people to signify a mere numerical majority consisting of one particular class of the community. This doctrine of the Divine Right of the numerical majority, which has come to be a fundamental dogma of our degraded Liberalism, is just as mischievous and tyrannical as that of the Divine Right of kings, and there is no more unpopular and yet no more necessary duty imposed upon those who claim to be leaders of the people than that of exposing the danger lurking in this pestilent doctrine of the infallibility of mere majorities. Charlatans and demagogues and sham Liberals never tire of bawling page 6 from the house-tops "Trust the People!" The sham Liberal places his trust not in the people (i.e., the nation as a whole), but in the People (i.e., a particular class of the nation). The true Liberal is the true Democrat—that is, the man who, whilst he prepared to give effect, not to the mere whims of any faction or temporary majority, however large, but to the real will of the nation, is yet just and tenacious of purpose, not to be shaken in his solid resolves by the ardour of citizens clamouring for what is base and bad, nor yet by the frown of the monarch urging his behests.
The author of the book before referred to, in defining the true Liberal, gives as the first feature by which he may be recognised the following:—"He will love the approval of his own conscience more than the approval of the people. He will prefer to the applause of the multitude the still small voice within him acknowledging him in the right. He will stand like a lion with the people when he thinks they are right, but he will fight like a tiger against them if he believes them to be in the wrong." I leave it to you to say whether this description of a leading trait of true Liberalism given by a leading British Liberal is applicable to either of our so-called parties. I am under the impression that those whom our soi-disant Liberals brand as Conservatives or Tories would at any rate claim that the description applies to them; whilst I am quite certain the "bosses" of the Liberal Party (it has no leaders) would consider it no compliment to apply it to that Party. Instead of guiding himself by the still small voice of conscience, the Liberal turns his ear to catch the least murmur of the voice of the people—a voice which is much more likely to be vox Diaholi than vox Dei, if it be not at bottom the voice of individual judgment and personal conviction; and how seldom can that be said of it!
"They praise and they admire they know not what,
And know not whom, but as one leads the other."
There is no subject on which there is more need for political education of the average elector than the question of the rights and power of the numerical majority. It seems to have become one of the essential principles of our degraded Liberalism that a mere numerical majority is to be considered the people, and that the majority must be right; that it is no use—nay, that it is wrong—to resist the will of the majority, and therefore it must go unchecked. If Liberalism has any principles at all it must be admitted that this is one of them, and "Liberals" do not hesitate to say that to place any check upon the power of the majority is a violation of the principles of Democracy. Our Liberals artfully endeavour to identify Liberalism; with Democracy, and thus try to make it appear that all who are not prepared to proclaim themselves Liberals must necessarily be enemies of the People. I venture to say that the People (using the word in the "Liberal" sense) is not the nation, that the interests of the People are not necessarily the interests of the nation, and that it is not necessary to choose between the sacrifice of democratic ideas and the sacrifice of national interests. If this were necessary a true patriot could have no hesitation in saying that democratic ideas must go to the wall. That our spurious Liberalism is incompatible with true Democracy, and that the interests of the "Liberal" Party are antagonistic to the national interests, I am fully convinced, and bare endeavoured to prove elsewhere. But "Liberalism" and Democracy are not identical, however it may suit "Liberals" to say so, and so no such choice as that between the sacrifice of democratic ideas and the sacrifice of national interests is presented to us for acceptance, and one may still be a true Democrat without being a "Liberal."
The true Liberal, whilst heartily accepting Democratic Government, does not pretend to believe that the majority is always right, and is prepared to withstand them to the uttermost when he believes them to be in the wrong; and, although he believes that the rule of the majority is, under the circumstances of our times, on the whole beneficial to the nation, he does not admit that he is either morally or logically bound to concede that the power of a majority ought to be unchecked; whilst recognising that the majority is ultimately supreme, he holds that it should exercise its power subject to checks imposed by the Constitution, and should thus be forced to act slowly and deliberately, and that the will of the majority, however large the majority may be, cannot render just that which is unjust or right that which is wrong. The "Liberal"; or demagogue professes to believe the opposite of all this, and by fawning flattery, by loathsome lying, by abominable appeals to his meanest motives, by profligate promised made in reckless profusion and incapable of performance, he deludes the "Liberi" elector and secures his vote.
The Liberal dogma of the supremacy of the mere will of the majority is constantly landing its professors in difficulties, and an excellent illustration of this is seen in the page 7 excuses invented to justify the requiring of more than a majority of votes for the introduction of Prohibition. The Prohibitionists charge the Liberals with being untrue to their great principle, and what answer is available? We read in "As You Like It" of a certain knight who "swore by his honour they were good pancakes, and swore by his honour the mustard was naught." "Now. I'll stand to it," says Touchstone, "the pancakes were naught, and the mustard was good, and yet was not the bight forsworn swearing by his honour, for he never had any; or if he had be had sworn it away before he saw that mustard and those pancakes." The like may be said of the principles of the Liberal" party individually and collectively. They cannot be said to have acted contrary to them, for they have no principles worthy of the name, as they can be altered at a moment's notice. When a "Liberal" orator appears before a crowd of "Liberal" electors be lays it down as a fundamental principle of his Party "to trust the People" because the majority is always right, and he charges his opponents, the "Conservatives," with blasphemy against the Democracy because they dare to suggest that the majority may err. The sardonic Heine represents Napoleon as saying to the French nation, Thou shalt have none other gods bat me" and this is precisely the claim that" Liberals" are so eager to set up on behalf of" the People." As to the sincerity of their worship the less said the better. When called upon to put their principle into practice, as by recognising the right of the majority to impose Prohibition, they devise all kinds of excuses for departing from their grand principle.
It is scarcely possible to imagine any dearer proof of the insincerity of those who claim to be the leaders of the Liberal Party, and of their total want of loyalty to principle of any kind, than their action in connection with the female franchise. That they were secretly doing their utmost to avert it, whilst professing to be earnestly striving for it, there cannot be the slightest doubt. Their duplicity in this matter is almost beyond belief. One of the principal reasons alleged as necessitating the appointment of twelve nominees to the Legislative Council was the fact that the Council had prevented the great "reform," and yet it is beyond doubt that those of the twelve who have always proved themselves the most "Liberal" voted against the measure, whilst those who supported it have been denounced as renegades and Tories. Could anything show more clearly what a sham Liberalism has become since the death of Mr. Ballance I That he was sincere in his advocacy of woman's franchise there is no doubt; but it is equally certain that its realisation was mainly due to those whom Liberals are in the habit of describing as Conservatives. It is surely high time that the people woke up to the fact that they are being deluded with mere words and distinctions that mean nothing—that in point of fact there are no Parties in the sense in which the term is used in England. It does not follow that there are no Liberals and no Conservatives; for it is as certain that many, of those who call themselves Liberals are really Conservatives, as that many of those whom the "Liberals" brand as Conservatives are really Liberals. Judged by any rational test, a politician like Mr. Rolleston is unquestionably a Liberal in the proper sense of the word, whilst a man like Mr. Larnach, for instance, is as unquestionably a Conservative. The truth is that the distinction is meaningless as applied to Parties, and at the present moment the only real distinction is between those who are prepared to obey Mr. Seddon and those who are not.
That the "Liberal" Party is not in the true sense Liberal is plain to any person not blinded by Party feeling. True Liberals feel that no Party and no individual can be worthy of the name of Liberal that is a slave to the will of one man. That this was unfortunately the case with the so-called Liberal Party individually and collectively during the Parliament of 1893-1896 there can be no doubt. The circumstances were exceptional, but the fact remains, and the result is the degradation of Liberalism into a synonym for slavish subservience to the will of a self-constituted master. I say a master, not a leader; for a leader is one who leads, and is followed; whilst a master is one who has the power to drive. How the Leadership of the Liberal Party came to be converted into a Dictatorship on the death of Mr. Ballance will form an interesting chapter in the inner history of New Zealand political intrigues, and it is not for me to descant on the subject.
"'Truth is great and must prevail!'
Trite the adage: how and when?
Trial tells another tale.
Truth has failed, will fail again
If not backed by truthful men."
Not truth prevailed on this memorable occasion, but personal ambition, backed by fixity of purpose, strength of will, and force and determination of character. The men who knew the truth as to the last wishes of their lost leader as to his successor backed the untruth, and it prevailed, and Richard Seddon found himself Premier, with the largest and most obedient following ever page 8 known in the history of Party government in New Zealand. Thus opened the Parliament of 1898-96, which is regarded by "Liberals" as the high-watermark of Liberalism. That it was fertile in legislation there can be no doubt, and especially in its first session, and at least one truly great and beneficent enactment was made in the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act. But I am not concerned with the details of legislation. "What I desire to ascertain is how liberty fared during the course of this most "Liberal" of all Parliaments.
Now, there can be no doubt that the two most striking features in that Parliament were—(1) the decline in the quality of the members in general respect, in education, in public spirit, and in care and deliberation, and I fear, it must be added, in morality and integrity; and (2) its complete subjection to the will of one man. To prevent misunderstandings, it is necessary to explain the sense in which I use the word "morality." I do not mean that in personal morality the New Liberals or the Labour members in that Parliament were inferior to the members of preceeding Parliaments. To say anything of the kind were to do them a great injustice, for in regard to private morals they constrasted favourably with men who regarded themselves as their superiors in social position.
One of the arguments most commonly used in favour of the extension of the franchise to women was that their influence in politics would tend to raise the morale of the Legislature; and if the increase in the number of members who advocated Prohibition is to be accepted as a test, the most "Liberal" Parliament was also the most "moral." But apart from the fact that many of those who had pledged themselves to Prohibition were quite insincere, there can be no doubt that such a test of morality is not merely inadequate but is positively erroneous. A Prohibitionist, even when he is sincere, is not necessarily a better man than his neighbour who happens to be a moderate drinker; and with regard to a community, it may even be questioned, as it was by Renan, "whether a people that drank nothing but water would be the greater for it. Would it illustrate a more beautiful page in human history? Would it reach a higher standard of life and thought?" And with regard to the Prohibition Parliament of 1893-6, can it be said to have been more moral than its predecessors by reason of its licensing legislation? It is perfectly well known that neither the Government that introduced the Licensing Bills, nor all the members who voted for them, wished them to become law. They were moved by compulsion and calculation, not by conviction, and it is an evil sign when public opinion looks without serious reprobation on those whom it believes to be acting without convictions, to be playing with great national interests for party or personal ends as if they were cards in a game or horses in a race. That this description applies to the action of the "Liberal" Party and its leaders in many instances, notably Prohibition and the woman's franchise, there can be no doubt, and such conduct must be admitted to to highly immoral in the sense in which I use the word. A Party capable of acting in this way cannot be said to have a very lofty ideal. That a Liberal leader should introduce legislation in which he does not believe on a highly important subject, and should coerce his Party to pass it, betrays a degree of turpitude and subserviency that is almost incredible, and yet this happened again and again. And as for voting for resolution against their convictions in obedience to the commands of their master, that was a matter that gave "Liberal" members of this most "Liberal" of Parliaments very little trouble after the first effort.
The complete subjection of the "Liberal" Party to the despotic will of its master is now so notorious that it is unnecessary to enlarge further upon the theme. Even more remarkable than its subserviency on the one hand were its arrogance and despotic tendencies on the other. These qualities were specially apparent in its attitude towards the Legislative Council, the least sign of independence on its part being treated as a thwarting of the supreme will of the people. Whilst casting the rights and privileges of the people under the feet of an autocrat, the House of Representatives strained to the uttermost its so-called privileges not only against the Upper House but even against the people. Privilege, which formerly was a protection against the encroachments of the Crown and the Ministry, has now come to be used by members for the purposed securing to them the right of slandering their betters with absolute impunity. The privileges which the House of Representatives is so fond of asserting as against the Upper House are largely mere usurpation resting on no authority but its own.
It has been well said that English history from a constitutional point of view, is little else than a record of the transactions by which the prerogatives of the Crown have been transformed into the privileges of the people. In New Zealand, the most democratic of colonies, the privileges of the people and their representatives are being rapidly transformed by a servile Chamber page 9 into the prerogatives of an autocratic Minister. As Lord Acton said not long ago, "Achieved liberty is the one ethical achievement resting on the converging and combined conditions of advancing civilisation"; but it is also true that it is not liberty, but the use of it, that enobles men, and eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. And with our talk of liberty and Liberalism there is very real danger of our losing the substance whilst hugging the shadow. Taine justly observes that it was by invoking liberty and fraternity that the Jacobins able to "instal a despotism worthy of Dahomey, a tribunal similar to that of the Inquisition, and to accomplish human hecatombs akin to those of ancient Mexico." And it is in the name of Liberalism that in New Zealand a servile Parliament sacrificed those dearly-bought privileges of which it is the unworthy heir, and of which it knows neither the price nor the value.
In the name of Liberty the "Liberal" Party has jobbed and exploited the common-wealth in its own selfish interests. It has sold the birthright of the people, and the price is a mere mess of pottage—the spoils and power of office. And what do the people say to such a state of matters? Alas! they no longer prize liberty as their greatest boon. They have bartered it for panem et circences. The most Liberal Government is the one that is prepared to treat the wealthy man as a social pest and to strip him of his wealth in order to provide the panem et circences (food and amusements) for the people. Liberty has ceased to be an end in itself, and has become merely a means to a social end-the attainment of improved material welfare for "the People." Demagogues arise who proclaim the first duty of the State to secure the happiness of the majority by plundering the minority.
As I have said, Liberalism, when it was a vital power and not a mere name, meant the struggle of the masses of the people against the selfish privileges of the aristocracy. We have no privileged aristocracy in New Zealand, but it cannot be said that we have no privileged class. The privileged class now consists of the majority—the People—and I do not hesitate to say that such a state of matters is even more dangerous than the other, because the evil is more widespread and consequently more difficult to remedy. The old theory—and a very erroneous one was that only the rich were fit to regulate society; but no less mischievous is the doctrine, which demagogues are so assiduously preaching, that the government of the country should be "run" in the interests of one particular class—the People—and that, it is the business of the State, of the Government, to make the rich pay for whatever the poor want. We hear a great deal now-a-days about equal political rights, but very little about political and social duties, and matters have come to such a pass that no leading politician durst proclaim the elementary doctrine that in a free Suite every man must take care of himself and his family, and that any individual that looks to the State to provide for him and his family has ceased to be free, although he has the right of voting for a member of Parliament. Cieons will always arise in a democracy to tell the people that it is the duty of the State to provide for them, to tax the rich for the benefit of the poor, to provide them employment at a living wage and pensions for old age without any sacrifice or effort on their own part. It is the capital error of paternal government to undertake to do all for the people, forgetting that the true end of society is not to do work, but to train workers. We shall no doubt be told that if this is despotism, then it is at any rate a benevolent despotism that seeks to procure all those good things for the people. The answer is that a benevolent despotism is the worst of all—a people's worst scourge, more mischievous than the rule of the bloodiest Cæsar or the foulest and most corrupt Stuart. The most grievous treason against society is that officious zeal which paralyses the energies of the governed, chills the high spirited into apathetic disgust, and relieves the idle of unwelcome responsibility. The spirit of self-reliance in a people, if once destroyed, can never be restored, and who can deny that this process is rapidly going on in New Zealand? We have a despot who undertakes to provide work at a living wage for the have-nots by taxing the haves; but he makes the reservation that Liberals are entitled to a preference, so that, not content with destroying the self-reliance of the wage-earners by undertaking to find or make work for them, he also makes hypocrites or "Liberals" of them—for the terms are rapidly becoming synonymous.
In short, I firmly do believe
In humbug generally;
For it's a thing that I perceive
To have a solid vally.
This hath my faithful shepherd been,
In pastures green hath led me,
And this'll keep the people green
To feed as they have fed me.
One cannot help thinking that so long as the present confusion exists in men's minds as to the meaning of liberty and Liberalism—so long, in fact, as they imagine that the possession of political power is liberty, it is impossible to get them to realise that they may be living under an autocracy. History shows that it is only when misrule becomes personal oppression that the mass of the people can be roused into serious and resolved resistance. Niebuhr has observed that in the great constitutional struggle at Rome the plebs were totally indifferent to the most important interests of the State. Time after time they bore contentedly civil and political injustice. It was to famine or successfully resisted outrage that the Romans were indebted for that spirit of freedom which hurled back the tide of conquest to the gates of Carthage and subdued the world to their will. We see the same thing illustrated in the history of Prance, where long years of unscrupulous despotism, gross abuses, and flagrant inequalities could not arouse the people to save themselves from bondage without the aid of starvation and a monetary crisis.
Do we not see, with only a difference of degree, a similar state of matters in New Zealand at this moment—the most glaring corruption on every hand; appointments created and conferred for the sake of rewarding political supporters; the Civil Service crowded with men of the "right colour," in defiance of the law, and the public service degraded by intimidation and espionage; public money converted into "boodle," and squandered in the purchase of political support; leading "Liberals," who pose as friends of the People, enriching themselves with incomes derived from offices obtained; through their official positions? And all this in the name of Liberalism! It is almost incredible that such a state of matters should exist in New Zealand, and it is stranger still that it should have come to be acquiesced in as a matter of course. How is this to be accounted for? Simply by the fact that human nature is at bottom the same now as it was 2000 years ago in Ancient Rome, and the mass of the people are indifferent to most important public issues, whilst demagogues delude them by professing to run the country in the interest of the "People;" because Liberalism has been degraded by selfish and unscrupulous men, and Liberals have become mercenary and self-seeking, each man having received or expecting to receive some advantage to himself or to his class at the expense of the Commonwealth or of some other class. Not until the country has been brought to the very brink of financial ruin will they realise the hollowness of the promises and schemes with which designing men have been deluding them, or appreciate once more that liberty which they have bartered for a mess of pottage. A shrewd observer has said that the secret of governing a demo, cracy consists in never interfering to check an evil until it has attained such page 11 proportions that all the world must see plainly the necessities of the case; that any amount of moral and material power could easily be obtained, but that, if interference were attempted at an earlier period, neither thinks nor assistance would be forthcoming. However cynical such a doctrine may seem, there is only too much reason to fear that it is correct.
The truth is that "Democracy" and "Liberalism" in the mouths of "Liberals" have no more meaning than that blessed word "Mesopotamia." Neither of them has in itself any motive force whatever. As has been shown over and over again, this "Liberalism" of to-day bears absolutely no relation to liberty and been degraded into despotism. Democracy is merely a form of government as monarchy and aristocracy are, and like them, when it ceases to represent the whole nation, it degenerates. The Democracy becomes demagogy and ochlocracy just as the monarch becomes a tyrant and the aristocracy an oligarchy. Corruptio optimi pessima; the corruption of Democracy and of Liberalism is the worst, the most costly, and the most shameless. When the Government of a country falls into unworthy hands it cannot but be employed for the injury of the community; the worst is the negative of the best, as the noblest of mankind are they who devote their time and talents to the public welfare, so they are the meanest who pervert a public charge to their personal aggrandisement or gratification. And this is what "Liberalism" has come to in New Zealand. It is the art of living profitably in office, and at the same time getting perquisites for personal and political friends.
Printed at the Evening Post Job Printing House, Willis Street, Wellington.