Liberty, Equality, Fraternity
Chapter V. Equality
The second great article of the modern creed which I have undertaken to examine is Equality. It is at once the most emphatic and the least distinct of the three doctrines of which that creed is composed. It may mean that all men should be equally subject to the laws which relate to all. it may mean that law should be impartially administered. It may mean that all the advantages of society, all that men have conquered from nature, should be thrown into one common stock, and equally divided amongst them. It may be, and I think it is in a vast number of cases, nothing more than a vague expression of envy on the part of those who have not against those who have, and a vague aspiration towards a state of society in which there should be fewer contrasts than there are at present between one man's lot and another's. All this is so vague and unsatisfactory that it is difficult to reduce it to a form definite enough for discussion. It is impossible to argue against a sentiment otherwise than by repeating commonplaces which are not likely to convince those to whom they are addressed if they require convincing, and which are not needed by those who are convinced already.
In order to give colour and distinctness to what is to be said on the one side, it is necessary to find distinct statements on the other. The clearest statement of the doctrine of equality with which I am acquainted is to be found in Bentham's Principles of Morals and Legislation.  It consists principally of an expansion of the principle that a given quantity of the material of happiness will produce the largest amount of actual happiness when it is so divided that each portion of it bears the largest possible ratio to the existing happiness of those to whom it is given. This, however, is subject to the remark that you may cut it up so small that the parts are worthless. To give a hundred pounds apiece to ten people, each of whom possesses a hundred pounds, doubles the wealth of ten people. To give a thousand pounds to a man who has already a thousand pounds doubles the wealth of only one person. To give a farthing to everyone of 960,000 persons is to waste 1,000£. This argument no doubt shows that in so far as happiness depends on the possession of wealth by persons similarly situated in other respects, it is promoted rather by a general high level of comfort than by excessive accumulations of wealth in individual hands; but this is really a barren truth. It might be important if some benefactor of the human race were to wake one morning with his pockets stuffed full of money which he wished to distribrute so as to produce a maximum of enjoyment, but it has very little relation to the state of the world as we know it. Moreover, Bentham's whole conception of happiness as something which could, as it were, be served out in rations, is open to great objection, though his way of using it gave extraordinary force and distinctness to his views on many important topics.
Upon this subject Mr. Mill has put forward a theory which, if not quite so simple or so perfectly distinct as his view about liberty, admirably serves the purposes of discussion. The parts of his writings to which I refer are part of the chapter in his essay on Utilitarianism (ch. v.), "On the Connection between Justice and Utility," and the whole of his work on the Subjection of Women. Though these passages can hardly be said to give a definite theory of equality, which, indeed, was not the object with which they were written, they form a powerful and striking expression and, so to speak, condensation of a popular sentiment, which in France and perhaps in some other countries is in these days more powerful than that which is inspired either by liberty or by fraternity .
Mr. Mill's views on this subject, then, seem to be as follows. Having considered other matters connected with Utilitarianism (to some of which I shall have to refer in connection with Fraternity), he proceeds to consider its connection with justice:--In an ages of speculation (he says) one of the strongest obstacles to the reception of the doctrine that utility or happiness is the criterion of right or wrong has been drawn from the idea of justice. The powerful sentiment and apparently clear perception which that word recalls with a rapidity and certainty resembling an instinct, have seemed to the majority of thinkers to point to an inherent quality in things. to show that the just must have an existence in nature as something absolute, generically distinct from every variety of the expedient, and in idea opposed to it, though (as is commonly acknowledged) never in the long run disjoined from it in fact.Commenting upon this, Mr. Mill proceeds to expound in a long and interesting chapter what I think is the true theory of justice. It may be thus stated:-- Justice, like nearly every other word which men use in ethical discussions, is ambiguous, and is exceedingly likely to mislead those who use it unless its ambiguity is recognized and allowed for. It implies, first, the impartial application of a law to the particular cases which fall under it. It implies, secondly, that the law so to be administered shall either be for the general good, or at least sha11 have been enacted by the legislator with an honest intention to promote the good of those whom it is intended to benefit.
The same thing may be stated otherwise, as follows:-- The words just and justice may refer either to the judge who applies or to the legislator who makes a law, or to the law itself. The judge is just if he enforces the law impartially. The legislator is just if he enacts the law with an honest intention to promote the public good. When the law itself is called just or unjust, what is meant is that it does or does not in fact promote the interests of those whom it affects.
The corn laws, for instance, were unjust if and in so far as they were inexpedient. Those who passed them were unjust if and in so far as they knew, or ought to have known, that they were inexpedient. If on any occasion they were carried out partially, or if they were left unexecuted by those whose duty it was to carry them out, the persons guilty of such partiality or neglect were unjust, irrespectively of the question whether the laws themselves and whether the legislators who made them were just or unjust. The principle as to morals is precisely similar. Justice in the common intercourse of society differs from legal justice only in the circumstance that morality is less definite in its form than law, and more extensive in its range. A man withdraws his confidence from his friend upon frivolous grounds. By calling this an injustice we imply that there is a known and well-understood though unwritten rule of conduct, to the effect that confidence once reposed by one person in another should not be withdrawn except upon reasonable grounds, and that this rule has not been impartially applied to the particular case. A rule of positive morality may be called unjust as well as a law. For instance, there are in most societies rules which impose social penalties on persons who have been guilty of unchastity, and these penalties are generally more severe upon women than upon men. Those who think it on the whole expedient to make the difference in question will regard these rules as just. Those who think it inexpedient will regard them as unjust, but it is impossible to discuss the question of their justice or injustice apart from that of their expediency or inexpediency.
I need not point out at length the manner in which Mr. Mill traces out the connection between justice and expediency. He shows, as it appears to me irresistibly, that justice means the impartial administration of rules (legal or moral) founded on expediency, and that it includes the idea of coercion and of a desire of revenge against wrongdoers. He also points out with great distinctness and force that many of the most popular commonplaces on the subject, which are often regarded as definitions or quasi-definitions of justice, are merely partial maxims, useful for practical purposes, but not going to the root of the matter .Most of the maxims of justice current in the world, and commonly appealed to in its transactions, are simply instrumental in carrying into effect the princip1es of justice which we have now spoken of. That a person is only responsible for what he has done voluntarily, or could voluntarily have avoided; that it is unjust to condemn any person unheard; that the punishment ought to be proportioned to the offence, and the like, are maxims intended to prevent the just principle of evil for evil from being perverted to the infliction of evil without the justification. The greater part of these common maxims have come into use from the practice of courts of justice, which have been naturally led to a more complete recognition and elaboration than was likely to suggest itself to others of the rules necessary to enable them to fulfil their double function of inflicting punishment when due, and of awarding to each person his right.Thus far I have nothing to add to Mr. Mill's statement. It may, I think, be put thus in other words:-- Justice involves the elements of power and benevolence. Power acts by imposing general rules of conduct on men, which rules may or may not be benevolent and may or may not be impartially executed. In so far as they are benevolent and impartially applied to particular cases, Justice is saId to be done. Whether the law itself is just or unjust, impartiality in its application is absolutely essential to a just result. A general rule not applied impartially is for practical purposes no rule at all.
So far, I have only to assent, but Mr. Mill's doctrine that the words just and unjust always involve "a desire that punishment may be suffered by those who infringe the rule" calls, I think, for one important remark. The doctrine does not apply to the case in which the thing qualified as just or unjust is a law or rule. When a judge or a legislator is called unjust, no doubt the word implies personal censure, and this involves more or less distinctly a wish for the punishment of the unjust person. But to call a law unjust seems to me to be the same thing as to call it inexpedient. You cannot punish a law, nor would any rational person wish to punish a legislator who makes a bad law under an honest mistake. Still less would it be reasonable to punish the judge who applies a bad law impartially to a particular case. Nor can it be said that an unjust law is a law breaches of which ought not to be punished. To free from punishment every person who breaks a bad law would be to put an end to law altogether.
If the distinction between an unjust and an inexpedient law is to be maintained, it must be done by the help of some such theory as is involved in the expression "rights of man." It must be said that there are rights which are not the creatures of law, but which exist apart from and antecedently to it; that a law which violates any of these rights is unjust, and that a law which, without violating them, does more harm than good is simply inexpedient. I need not say how popular such theories have been or what influence they have exercised in the ,world, nor need I remind those who, like myself, have been trained in the school of Locke, Bentham, and Austin, that this theory is altogether irreconcilable with its fundamental doctrines. The analysis of laws (political or ethical), according to that school, is as follows. The first idea of all is force, the power to reward and punish. The next idea is command. Obey and you shall be rewarded. Disobey and you shall be punished. Commands impose duties and confer rights. Let A do what he will with this field, and let no one else interfere with him. A hereupon has a right of property in the field, and the rest of the world is under a duty to abstain from infringing that right. This theory is irreconcilable with any notion about natural rights which cannot be resolved into general expediency. It may of course be said that God is the ultimate legislator, and that God has imposed laws on men which they must obey under penalties. It may also be said, without using the name of God, the course of nature is thus and not otherwise, and if you do not adjust your institutions to the course of nature, they will fall to pieces. I for one do not quarrel with either of these assertions; but each resolves right into general utility--general as regards a larger or smaller class. If you regard God as the ultimate legislator, what other criterion of God's will can be discovered than the tendency of a rule or law to promote the welfare of men in general, or of such men as God is supposed to favour? If we take the course of nature as a guide in legislation, our object is simply. to know how far and on what terms we (that is, I in the plural) can get what we want. On these grounds I think that the justice and the expediency of a law are simply two names for one and the same thing. 
I should certainly have expected that Mr. Mill would be of the same opinion, but on carefully reading his essay on Utilitarianism, and comparing it with his essay on the Subjection of Women, it appears to me that, though this is the opinion which all the rest of his speculations would make it natural for him to hold, he turns away from it in order to obtain support for his doctrine about women; "an opinion," as he tells us, which he has "held from the very earliest period" when "he had formed any opinions at all on social and political mattters, and which, instead of being weakened and modified, has been constantly growing stronger by the progress of reflection and the experience of life"--in short, a pet opinion, which when once embraced by a logical mind is capable of turning all things unto itself. This opinion is--"That the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes, the legal subordination of one sex to the other, is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement, and that it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side nor disability on the other." I shall have more to say upcn this hereafter. At present I wish to point out how carefully the foundation for it is laid in the essay on Justice. Although, as I have shown, the whole drift, not only of the particular argument, but of the doctrines of the school to which Mr. Mill belongs, and of which he is beyond all question the most distinguished living member, leads to the conclusion that equality is just only if and in so far as it is expedient, Mr. Mill gives to equality a character qifferent from other ideas connected with justice.
The following extract will show this:--Nearly allied to the idea of impartiality is that of equality, which often enters as a component part both into the conception of justice and into the practice of it, and in the eyes of many persons constitutes its essence. But in this, more than in any other case, the notion of justice varies in different persons, and always conforms in its variations to their notion of utility. Each person maintains that equality is the dictate of justice except where he thinks that expediency requires inequality. ... Those who think that utility requires distinctions of rank do not consider it unjust that riches and social privileges should be unequally dispensed, but those who think this inequality inexpedient think it unjust also.If this means that the word just as applied to a law or an institution is identical in meaning with the expression "generally useful," I fully agree with it, but I do not think this is the meaning. The words italicized appear to convey something further, and to imply that justice involves the notion that a presumption is in all cases to be made in favour of equality quite irrespectively of any definite experience of its utility; and if this is what Mr. Mill means, I disagree with him. It appears to me that the only shape in which equality is really connected with justice is this--justice presupposes general rules, legal or moral, which are to be applied to particular cases, by those who are in the position of judges with respect to them. If these general rules are to be maintained at all, it is obvious that they must be applied equally to every particular case which satisfies their terms . The rule, "All thieves shall be imprisoned," is not observed if A, being a thief, is not imprisoned. In other words, it is not observed if it is not applied equally to every person who falls within the definition of a thief, whatever else he may be. If the rule were, "All thieves except those who have red hair shall be imprisoned, and they shall not,:" the rule would be violated if a red-haired thief were imprisoned as much as if a black-haired thief were not imprisoned. The imprisonment of the red-haired thief would be an inequality in the application of the rule; for the equality consists not in the equal treatment of the persons who are the subjects of law, but in the equivalency between the general terms of the law and the description of the particular cases to which it is applied. "All thieves not being red-haired shall be imprisoned" is equivalent to "A being a thief with brown hair, B being a thief with black hair, C being a thief with white hair, &c., shall be imprisoned, and Z being a thief with red hair shall not be imprisoned." In this sense equality is no doubt of the very essence of justice, but the question whether the colour of a man's hair shall or shall not affect the punishment of his crimes depends on a different set of considerations. It is imaginable that the colour of the hair might be an unfailing mark of peculiarity of disposition which might require peculiar treatment. Experience alone can inform us whether this is so or not.
The notion that apart from experience there is presumption in fayour of equality appears to me unfounded. A presumption is simply an avowedly imperfect generalization, and this must, of course, be founded on experience. If you have occasion to speak to a stranger in the streets of London, you address him in English, because you presume that he speaks that language; but this is founded on experience of the fact that London is inhabited by people who speak English. In precisely the same way the presumption (if any) to be made in favour of equality must be based upon experience, and as equality is a word so wide and vague as to be by itself almost unmeaning, the experience on which the presumption is based must be experience of the effects of that particular kind of equality to which reference is made, or, at any rate, experience of facts from which inferences can be drawn as to what the effects of it would be like. In every view of the case, therefore, we are brought back to the result that the justice of equality means merely that equality is as a fact expedient.
I do not overlook another and far more important passage from the same chapter of Mr. Mill's writings which bears upon this subject. It is as follows:--This great moral duty [the adherence to maxims of equality and impartiality] rests upon a still deeper foundation: being a direct emanation from the first principle ot morals, and not a mere logical corollary from secondary or derivative doctrines. It is involved in the very meaning ot utility, or the greatest-happiness principle. That principle is a mere form of words without rational signification unless one person's happiness supposed equal in degree (with the proper allowance made for kind) is counted for exactly as much as another's. Those conditions being supplied, Bentham's dictum "everybody to count for one, nobody for more than one," might be written under the principle of utility as an explanatory commentary. The equal claim of everybody to happiness in the estimation of the moralist and the legislator involves all equal claim to all the means of happiness, except in so far as the inevitable conditions of human life, and the general interest in, which that of every individual is included, sets limits to the maxim, and those limits ought to be strictly construed. As every other maxim of justice, so this is by no means to be held applicable universally. On the contrary, as I have already remarked, it bends to every person's ideas of social expediency. But in whatever case it is deemed applicable at all it is held to be the dictate of justice. All persons are deemed to have a right to equality of treatment except where some recognized social expediency requires the reverse, and hence all social inequalities which have ceased to be considered expedient assume the character not of simple inexpediency but of injustice, and appear so tyrannical that people are apt to wonder how they ever could have been tolerated.
It is but very seldom that there is any difficulty in understanding Mr. Mill, but I cannot understand this passage. If justice, as applied to a law, is identical with expediency, how can a law be not simply inexpedient but unjust? If, in reference to a law, justice has some other meaning than general expediency, what is that meaning? So far as I know, Mr. Mill has nowhere explained in what it consists; but as I shall have occasion to show immediately, a considerable part of his argument about the subjection of women assumes that there is such a distinction, and the feeling that there is colours every page of it.
With regard to the remainder of the passage just quoted, I will content myself for the present with expressing my dissent from it. The reasons why I dissent will appear in discussing the subject of Fraternity. When stated I think they will show the real root of the differences--I do not say between Mr. Mill and myself, which is a matter of very small importance, but of the difference between two very large and influential classes of writers and thinkers who are continually confounded together.
Having tried to show in what sense justice and equality are connected, and in what sense they are independent of each other, I proceed to examine the question of the expediency of equality in some of its more important features.
The doctrine upon this subject which I deny, and which I am disposed to think Mr. Mill affirms--though, if he does, it is with somewhat less than his usual transparent vigour and decision--is that equality is in itself always expedient, or, to say the very,least, presumably expedient, and that in every case of inequality the burden of proof lies on those who justify its maintenance.
I might give in proof or illustration of this the whole of his essay on the Subjection of Women, a work from which I dissent from the first sentence to the last, but which I will consider on the present occasion only with reference to the particular topic of equality, and as the strongest distinct illustration known to me of what is perhaps one of the strongest, and what appears to me to be by far the most ignoble and mischievous of all the popular feelings of the age.
The object of Mr. Mill's essay is to explain the grounds of the opinion that "the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes, the legal subordination of one sex to the other, is wro.ng in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, or disability on the other."
Mr. Mill is fully aware of the difficulty of his task. He admits that he is arguing against "an almost universal opinion," but he urges that it and the practice founded on it is a relic of a bygone state of things. "We now live--that is to say, one or two of the most advanced nations of the world now live--in a state in which the law of the strongest seems to be entirely abandoned as the regtuating principle of the world's affairs. Nobody professes it, and as regards most of the relations between human beings, nobody is permitted to practise it. ... This being the ostensible state of things, people flatter themselves that the rule of mere force is ended.:" Still they do not know how hard it dies, and in particular they are unaware of the fact that it still regulates the relations between men and women. It is true that the actually existing generation of women do not dislike their position. The consciousness of this haunts Mr. Mill throughout the whole of his argument, and embarrasses him at every turn. He is driven to account for it by such assertions as that "each individual of the subject class is in a chronic state of bribery and intimidation combined," by reference to the affection which slaves in classical times felt for their masters in many cases, and by other suggestions of the same sort. His great argument against the present state of things is that it is opposed to what he calls "the modern conviction, the fruit of a thousand years of experience":--That things in which the individual is the person directly interested never go right but as they are left to his own discretion, and that any regulation of them by authority except to protect the rights of others is sure to be mischievous. ... The peculiar character of the modern world ... is that human beings are no longer born to their place in life and chained down by an inexorable bond to the place they are born to, but are free to employ their faculties and such favourable chances as offer, to achieve the lot which may appear to them most desirable. Human society of old was constituted on a very different principle. All were born to a fixed social position, and were mostly kept in it by law or interdicted from any means by which they could emerge from it. ... In consonance with this doctrine it is felt to be an overstepping of the proper bounds of authority to fix beforehand on some general presumption that certain persons are not fit to do certain things. It is now thoroughly known and admitted that if some such preumptions exist no such presumption is infallible. ... Hence we ought not ... to ordain that to be born a girl instead of a boy shall decide the person's position all through life.The result is that "the social subordination of women thus stands out as an isolated fact in modern social institutions"' It is in "radical opposition" to "the progressive movement, which is the boast of the modern world." This fact creates a "prima facie presumption" against it, "far outweighing any which custom and usage could in such circumstances create" in its favour.
I will not follow Mr. Mill through the whole of his argument, much of which consists of matter not relevant to my present purpose, and not agreable to discuss, though many of his assertions provoke reply. There is something--I hardly know what to call it; indecent is too strong a word, but I may say unpleasant in the direction of indecorum--in prolonged and minute discussions about the relations between men and women, and the characteristics of women as such. I will therefore pass over what Mr. Mill says on this subject with a mere general expression of dissent from nearly every word he says. The following extracts show the nature of that part of his theory which bears on the question of equality:--The equality of married persons before the law ... is the only means of rendering the daily life of mankind in any high sense a school of moral cultivation. Though the truth may not be felt or generally acknowledged for generations to come, the only school of genuine moral sentiment is society between equals. The moral education of mankind has hitherto emanated chiefly from the law of force, and is adapted almost solely to the relations which force creates. In the less advanced states of society, people hardly recognize any relation with their equals. To be an equal is to be an enemy. Society, from its highest place to its lowest, is one long chain, or rather ladder, where every individual is either above or below his nearest neighbour, and wherever he does not command he must obey. Existing moralities accordingly are mainly fitted to a relation of command and obedience. Yet command and obedience are but unfortunate necessities of human life; society in equality is its normal state. Already in modern life, and more and more as it progressively improves, command and obedience become exceptional facts in life, equal association its general rule. ... We have had the morality of submission and the morality of chivalry and generosity; the time is now come for the morality of justice.
In another part of the book this doctrine is stated more fully in a passage of which it will be enough for my purpose to quote a very few lines:--There are many persons for whom it is not enough that the inequality [between the sexes) has no just or legitimate defence; they require to be told what express advantage would be obtained by abolishing it. To which let me first answer, the advantage of having all the most universal and pervading of all human relations regulated by justice instead of injustice. The vast amount of this gain to human nature it is hardly possible by any explanation or illustration to place in a stronger light than it is placed in by the bare statement to anyone who attaches a moral meaning to words.
These passages show what Mr. Mill's doctrine of equality is, and how it forms the very root, the essence, so to speak, of his theory about the subjection of women. I consider it unsound in every respect I think that it rests upon an unsound view of history, an unsound view of morals, and a grotesquely distorted view of facts, and I believe that its practical application would be as injurious as its theory is false.
The theory may be shortly restated in the following propositions, which I think are implied in or may be collected from the extracts given above.
1. Justice requires that all people should live in society as equals.
2. History shows that human progress has been a progress from a "law of force" to a condition in which command and obedience become exceptional.
3. The "law of the strongest" having in this and one or two other countries been entirely abandoned, in all other relations of life, it may be presumed not to apply to the relation between the sexes.
4. Notorious facts as to the nature of that relation show that in this particular case the presumption is in fact well founded.
I dissent from each of these propositions. First, as to the proposition that justice requires that all people should live in society as equals. I have already shown that this is equivalent to the proposition that it is expedient that all people should live in society as equals. Can this be proved? for it is certainly not a self-evident proposition.
I think that if the rights and duties which laws create are to be generally advantageous, they ought to be adapted to the situation of the persons who enjoy or are subject to them. They ought to recognize both substantial equality and substantial inequality, and they should from time to time be so moulded and altered as always to represent fairly well the existing state of society. Government, in a word, ought to fit society as a man's clothes fit him. To establish by law rights and duties which assume that people are equal when they are not is like trying to make clumsy feet 1ook handsome by the help of tight boots. No doubt it may be necessary to legislate in such a manner as to correct the vices of society or to protect it against special dangers or diseases to which it is liable. Law in this case is analogous to surgery, and the rights and duties imposed by it might be compared to the irons which are sometimes contrived for the purpose of supporting a weak limb or keeping it in some particular position. As a rule, however, it is otherwise. Rights and duties should be so moulded as to clothe, protect, and sustain society in the position which it naturally assumes. The proposition, therefore, that justice demands that people should live in society as equals may be translated thus:--"It is inexpedient that any law should recognize any inequality between man beings."
This appears to me to involve the assertion, "There are no inequalities between human beings of sufficient importance to influence the rights and duties which it is expedient to confer upon them." This proposition I altogether deny. I say that there are many such differences, some of which are more durable and more widely extended than others, and of which some are so marked and so important that unless human nature is radically changed, we cannot even imagine their removal; and of these the differences of age and sex are the most important.
The difference of age is so distinct a case of inequality that even Mr. Mill does not object to its recognition. He admits, as every one must, that perhaps a third or more of the average term of human life--and that the portion of it in which the strongest, the most durable, and beyond all comparison the most important impressions are made on human beings, the period in which character is formed--must be passed by everyone in a state of submission, dependence, and obedience to orders the objects of which are usually most imperfectly understood by the persons who receive them. Indeed, as I have already pointed out, Mr Mill is disposed rather to exaggerate than to underrate the influence of education and the powers of educators. Is not this a clear case of inequality of the strongest kind, and does it not at all events afford a most instructive precedent in favour of the recognition by law of a marked natural distinction? If children were regarded by law as the equals of adults, the result would be something infinitely worse than barbarism. It would involve a degree of cruelty to the young which can hardly be realized even in imagination. The proceeding, in short, would be so utterly monstrous and irrational that I suppose it never entered into the head of the wildest zealot for equality to propose it.
Upon the practical question all are agreed; but consider the consequences which it involves. It involves the consequence that, so far from being "unfortunate necessities," command and obedience stand at the very entrance to life, and preside over the most important part of it. It involves the consequence that the exertion of power and constraint is so important and so indispensable in the greatest of all matters, that it is a less evil to invest with it every head of a family indiscriminately, however unfit he may be to exercise it, than to fail to provide for its exercise. It involves the consequence that by mere lapse of time and by following the promptings of passion men acquire over others a position of superiority and of inequality which all nations and ages, the most cultivated as well as the rudest, have done their best to surround with every association of awe and reverence. The title of Father is the one which the best part of the human race have given to God, as being the least inadequate and inappropriate means of indicating the union of love, reverence, and submission. Whoever gave the command or uttered the maxim, "Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land," had a far better conception of the essential conditions of permanent national existence and prosperity than the author of the motto Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.
Now, if society and government ought to recognize the inequality of age as the foundation of an inequality of rights of this importance, it appears to me at least equally clear that they ought to recognize the inequality of sex for the same purpose, if it is a real inequality. Is it one? There are some propositions which it is difficult to prove, because they are so plain, and this is one of them. The physical differences between the two sexes affect every part of the human body, from the hair of the head to the sole of the feet, from the size and density of the bones to the texture of the brain and the character of the nervous system. Ingenious people may argue about anything, and Mr. Mill does say a great number of things about women which, as I have already observed, I will not discuss; but all the talk in the world will never shake the proposition that men are stronger than women in every shape. They have greater muscular and nervous force, greater intellectucll force, greater vigour of character. This general truth, which has been observed under all sorts of circumstances and in every age and country, has also in every age and country led to a division of labour between men and women, the general outline of which' is as familiar and is universal as the general outline of the differences between them. These are the facts, and the question is whether the law and public opinion ought to recognize this difference? How it ought to recognize it, what difference it ought to make between men and women as such, is quite another question.
The first point to consider is whether it ought to treat them as equals, although, as I have shown, they are not equals, because men are the stronger. I will take one or two illustrations. Men, no one denies, may, and in some cases ought to be liable to compulsory military service. No one, I suppose, would hesitate to admit, that if we were engaged in a great war it might become necessary, or that if necessary it would be right, to have a conscription both for the land and for the sea service. Ought men and women to be subject to it indiscriminately? If anyone says that they ought, I have no more to say, except that he has got into the region at which argument is useless. But if it is admitted that this ought not to be done, an inequality of treatment founded on a radical inequality between the two sexes is admitted, and if this admission is once made, where are you to draw the line? Turn from the case of liability to military service to that of education, which in Germany is rightly regarded as the other great branch of State activity, and the same question presents itself in another shape. Are boys and girls to be educated indiscriminately, and be instructed in the same things? Are boys to 1earn to sew, to keep house, and to cook, and are girls to play at cricket, to row, and be drilled like boys? I cannot argue with a person who says Yes. A person who says No admits an inequality between the sexes on which education must be founded, and which it must therefore perpetuate and perhaps increase.
Follow the matter a step further to the vital point of the whole question--marriage. Marriage is one of the subjects with which it is absolutely necessary both for law and morals to deal with in some way or other. All that I need consider in reference to the present purpose is the question whethet the laws and moral rules which relate to it should regard it as a contract between equals, or as a contract between a stronger and a weaker person involving subordination for certain purposes on the part of the weaker to the stronger. I say that a law which proceeded on the former and not on the latter of these views would be founded on a totally false assumption, and would involve cruel injustice in the sense of extreme general inexpediency, especially to women. If the parties to a contract of marriage are treated as equals, it is impossible to avoid the inference that marriage, like other partnerships, may be dissolved at pleasure. The advocates of women's rights are exceedingly shy of stating this plainly. Mr. Mill says nothing about it in his book on the Subjection of Women, though in one place he comes very near to saying so, but it is as clear an inference from his principles as anything can possibly be, nor has he ever disavowed it. If this were the law, it would make women the slaves of their husbands. A woman loses the qualities which make her attractive to men much earlier than men lose those which make them attractive to women. The tie between a woman and young children is generally far closer than the tie between them and their father. A women who is no longer young, and who is the mother of children, would thus be forever absolutely in her husband's power, in nine cases out of ten, if he might put an end to the marriage whenever he pleased. This is one inequality In the position of the parties which must be recognized and provided for beforehand if the contract is to be for their common good. A second inequality is this. When a man marries it is generally because he feels himself established in life. He incurs, no doubt, a good deal of expense, but he does not in any degree impair his means of earning a living. When a woman marries she practically renounces in all but the rarest cases the possibility of undertaking any profession but one, and the possibility of carrying on that one profession in the society of any man but one. Here is a second inequality. It would be easy to mention others of the deepest importance, but these are enough to show that to treat a contract of marriage as a contract between persons who are upon an equality in regard of strength, and power to protect their interest, is to treat it as being what it notoriously is not.
Again, the contract is one whicn involves subordination and obedience on the part of the weaker party to the stronger. The proof of this is, to my mind, as clear as that of a proposition in Euclid, and it is this:--
1. Marriage is a contract, one of the principal objects of which is the government of a family;
2. This government must be vested either by law or by contract in the hands of one of the two married persons.
3. If the arrangement is made by contract, the remedy for breach of it must either be by law or by a dissolution of the partnership at the will of the contracting parties.
4. Law could give no remedy in such a case. Therefore the only remedy for breach of, the contract would be a dissolution of the marriage.
S. Therefore, if marriage is to be permanent, the government of the family must be put by law and by morals in the hands of the husband, for no one proposes to give it to the wife.
Mr. Mill is totally unable to meet this argument, and apparently embraces the alternative that marriage ought to be dissoluble at the pleasure of the parties. After much argument as to contracts which appear to me visionary, his words are these:-- "Things never come to an issue of downright power on one side and obedience on the other except where the connection has been altogether mistake and it would be a blessing to both parties to be relieved from it."'
This appears to me to show a complete misapprehension of the nature of family government and of the sort of cases in which the question of obedience and authority can arise between husband and wife. No one contends that a man ought to have power to order his wife about like a slave and beat her if she disobeys him. Such conduct in the eye of the law would be cruelty and ground for a separation. The question of obedience arises in quite another way. It may, and no doubt often does, arise between the very best and most affectionate married people, and it need no more interfere with their mutual affection than the absolute power of the captain of a ship need interfere with perfect friendship and confidence between himself and his first lieutenant. "rake the following set of questions:-- "Shall we live on this scale or that? Shall we associate with such and such persons? Shall I, the husband, embark in such an undertaking, and shall we change our place of residence in order that I may do so? Shall we send our son to college? Shall we send our daughters to school or have a governess? For what profession shall we train our sons?" On these and a thousand other such questions the wisest and the most affectionate people might arrive at opposite conclusions. What is to be done in such a case? for something must be done. I say the wife ought to give way. She outght to obey her husband, and carry out the view at which he deliberately arrives, just as, when the captain gives the word to cut away the mast, the lieutenant carries out his orders at once, though he may be a better seaman and may disapprove them. I also say that to regard this as a humiliation, as a wrong, as an evil in itself, is a mark not of spirit and courage, but of a base, unworthy, mutinous disposition--a disposition utterly subversive of all that is most worth having in life. The tacit assumption involved in it is that it is a degradation ever to give up one's own will to the will of another, and to me this appears the root of all evil, the negation of that which renders any combined efforts possible. No case can be specified in which people unite for a common object from making a pair of shoes up to governing an empire in which the power to decide does not rest somewhere; and what is this but command and obedience? Of course the person who for the time being is in command is of all fools the greatest if he deprives himself of the advantage of advice, if he is obstinate in his own opinion, if he does not hear as well as determine; but it is also practically certain that his inclination to hear will be proportioned to the degree of importance which he has been led to attach to the function of determining.
To sum the matter up, it appears to me that all the laws and moral rules by which the relation between the sexes is regulated should proceed upon the principle that their object is to provide for the common good of the two great divisions of mankind who are connected together by the closest and most durable of all bonds, and who can no more have really conflicting interests than the different members of the same body, but who are not and never can be equals in any of the different forms of strength.
This problem law and morals have solved by monogamy, indissoluble marriage on the footing of the obedience of the wife to the husband, and a division of labour with corresponding differences in the matters of conduct, manners, and dress. Substantially this solution appears to me to be right and true; but I freely admit that in many particulars the stronger party has in this, as in other cases, abused his strength, and made rules for his supposed advantage, which in fact are greatly to the injury of both parties. It is needless to say anything in detail of the stupid coarseness of the laws about the effects of marriage on property, laws which might easily be replaced by a general statutory marriage settlement analogous to those which every prudent person makes who has anything to settle. As to acts of violence against women, by all means make the law on this head as severe as it can be made without defeating itself. As to throwing open to women the one or two employments from which they are at present excluded, it is rather a matter of sentiment than of practical importance. I need not revive in this place a trite discussion. My object at present is simply to establish the general proposition that men and women are not equals, and that the laws which affect their relations ought to recognize that fact.
I pass to the examination of the opinion that laws which recognize any sort of inequality between human beings are mere vestiges of the past, against which as such there lies the strongest of all presumptions.
Mr. Mill's view as exhibited in the passages above quoted or referred to may, I think, be reduced to these two propositions:-- 1. History shows that human progress has been a progress from a "law of force" to a condition in which command and obedience become exceptional. 2. The "law of the strongest" having in this and one or two other countries been "entirely abandoned" in all other relations of life, it may be presumed not to apply to the relations between the sexes.
I think these propositions completely unsound. They appear to me to rest on a mistaken view of history and on a misinterpretation of its facts.
In the first place they involve the assumption that the progress of society is from bad to good; for to say that it is from good to bad, and that we ought to promote it, would be absurd. No doubt, however, Mr. Mill's assumption is that the progress of society is from bad to good; that the changes of the last few centuries in our own and the other leading nations of Western Europe and in the United States have been changes for the better.
This is an enormously wide assumption, and it is one to which I certainly cannot assent, though I do not altogether deny it. I think that the progress has been mixed, partly good and partly bad. I suspect that in many ways it has been a progress from strength to weakness; that people are more sensitive, less enterprising and ambitious, less earnestly desirous to get what they want, and more afraid of pain, both for themselves and others, than they used to be. If this should be so, it appears to me that all other gains, whether in wealth, knowledge, or humanity, afford no equivalent. Strength, in all its forms, is life and manhood. To be less strong is to be less of a man, whatever else you may be. This suspicion prevents me, for one, from feeling any enthusiasm about progress, but I do not undertake to say it is well founded. It is not and it cannot be more than a suspicion, and the fallacies of the imagination in this matter are so obvious and so nearly irresistible that it is impossible for anyone to be too much on his guard against giving way to them. The doubt is enough, however, to stop enthusiasm. I do not myself see that our mechanical inventions have increased the general vigour of men's characters, though they have, no doubt, increased enormously our control over nature. The greater part of our humanity appears to me to be ' mere increase of nervous sensibility in which I feel no satisfaction at all. It is useless to lament or even to blame the inevitable. It is rash to draw general conclusions as to the character of a process extending over centuries from the observations which one man can make in a few years, but it is at least equally rash to rejoice over the inevitable, and to assume that it is good. To observe and to take our part in the changes in which we live is rational; but for my part I will neither bless them at all nor curse them at all, and no one, I think, has a right to do otherwise without showing cause for what he does. The inference applicable to the present subject is that, even if the inequality between men and women is a vestige of the past, and is likely to be destroyed by the same process which has destroyed so many other things, that is no reason for helping the process on. The proper reflection upon its approaching removal may be, The more's the pity. Mr. Woodhouse liked his gruel thin, but not too thin. At a certain point of wateriness he would probably have turned off the tap. If Emma had been a disciple of Mr. Mill's, she might have remarked, "Reflect, dear sir, that you are interrupting the stream of progress. Such remains of cohesiveness as are exhibited by the grits which form the substratum of your simple meal are relics of the past, and as such are probably defects in your gruel instead of merits."
Be this as it may, let us consider the question whether the "law of force"--the "law of the strongest"--really has been abandoned? whether if it were abandoned it would tend to produce equality? and whether the general course of events in recent times has tended or does now tend to set it aside? First, and by way of introduction to the other questions, let us consider what it is.
Force is an absolutely essential element of all law whatever. Indeed law is nothing but regulated force subjected to particular conditions and directed towards particular objects. The abolition of the law of force cannot therefore mean the withdrawal of the element of force from law, for that would be the destruction of law altogether.
The general tenor of Mr. Mill's argument rather indicates that by the "law of force" and the "law of the strongest" he means force unregulated by any law at all. If this was what he meant, he should have said it; but he could not have said it without being at once involved in an obvious contradiction to facts, for the marriage institutions of modern Europe are anything but a case of force unregulated by law. They are cases of laws which regulate in the sternest way the most impetuous of human passions. Can anyone doubt that the principles of monogamy and the indissolubility of marriage effectually controlled the most ardent passions of the strongest-willed races in the world during the dark and the middle ages, or that the control so exercised was in its results eminently beneficial to the human race at large and to women in particular? De Maistre claims, and in this case I think justly, great credit for the medireval clergy for having upheld these principles, which are the central principles of our version of morals, against the repeated attacks which were made upon them by the passions of kings and nobles in the most violent periods of history.
Assuming, then, that the "law of force" is a somewhat indefinite expression for the general importance of force, and that Mr. Mill means to assert that force tends to lose its importance, I proceed to his whole conception of the theory of equality and its history.
It is no doubt perfectly true that in all the institutions of the nations which principally interest us, and in particular in such of their institutions as have to do with law and government, there is a constant tendency to the rejection of distinctions and to the simplification of laws. This is due to a variety of causes. In the first place the societies in question have a tendency to increase. The different kingdoms into which our own and the other great European nations were subdivided in the early stages of our history gradually ran into each other. The growth of wealth, and changes in the habits of life proceeding from an infinite number of causes, not only rendered old institutions unsuitable for later times, but in many cases made them unintelligible. Thus, for instance, the word murder, which for centuries has been the name of a crime, was, it seems, originally the name of a fine laid upon a township in which a person unknown was found slain, unless the legal presumption that the unknown man was a Dane could be disproved by positive testimony that he was an Englishman, by a proceeding called a "presentment of Englishry." The strange distinction introduced in favour of the Danes, and maintained in favour of the French, was not finally removed till the fourteenth year of Edward II I; By that time the presentment of Englishry had become unmeaning and was abolished, and the name of the fine had passed into the name of the crime in respect of which the fine was imposed.
This was one case out of a multitude of the growth of equality, by the rejection of a distinction between the murders of men of different races which had become senseless. Probably every part of the institutions of every nation in the world would afford illustrations of the same principle. The history of the Roman law from the days of the Twelve Tables to the time of Justinian is little else than one continued illustration of it. Another, and one of the utmost importance, is afforded by a process which Mr. Mill refers to in a passage quoted above about the distinction which exists between the present and the former arrangements of society for the purpose of assigning to men their position in life. In former times, Mr. Mill tells us, "all were born to a fixed social position, and were mostly kept in it by law or interdicted from any means by which they could emerge from it." Sir Henry Maine refers to, and to a certain extent gives the theory of, this matter in a passage which he sums up by saying, "The movement of the progressive societies has hith~rto been a movement from status to contract," a movement, that is, from a condition of things in which the relations between man and man are determined by membership of a family or of a tribe, or of a conquering or conquered race, towards a condition of things in which they depend upon contract. This is no doubt quite true, and to Sir Henry Maine's account of the matter, which is as interesting as it is ingenious, I have no objection to make. I will only observe upon it that in this, as in other cases, he confines himself to the investigation of or to speculations about matters of fact; and neither says nor, as it seems to me, assumes, as Mr. Mill always does, that to show that the course of events has in fact led from A to B, and appears to be in the direction of C, proves that B is better than A, and that C is better than B.
The question with which I have to deal is whether these facts authorize Mr. Mill's two doctrines:-- namely, first, the doctrine that the law of the strongest, or the law of force, has been abandoned in these days--an assertion which, I think, must, for the reasons already assigned, be taken to mean that force tends to be less and less important in human affairs; and, secondly, the doctrine that this abandonment of the law of force is equivalent to the growth of equality. Both of these doctrines I deny, and I deny that the facts which I have admitted tend even to prove them.
As to the first, I say that all that is proved by the fact that status, to use Sir H. Maine's expression, tends to be replaced by contract, is that force changes its form. Society rests ultimately upon force in these days, just as much as it did in the wildest and most stormy periods of history. Compare Scotland in the fourteenth century with Scotland in the nineteenth century. In the fourteenth century the whole country was a scene of wild confusion, of which one of the most learned of Scott's novels (though it was written after his genius had received its fatal blow), The Fair Maid of Perth, gives a striking picture. "My name," says one of the characters, "is the Devil's Dick of Hellgarth, well known in Annandale for a gentle Johnstone. I follow the stout Laird of Wamphray, who rides with his kinsman, the redoubted Lord of Johnstone, who is banded with the doughty Earl of Douglas; and the Earl, and the Lord, and the laird, and I, the esquire, fly our hawks where we find our game, and ask no man whose ground we ride over." Every page of the book is full of the feuds of Highland and Lowland, Douglas and March, burghers and nobles, Clan Chattan and Clan Quhele. The first impression on comparing this spirited picture with the Scotland which we all know--the Scotland of quiet industry, farming, commerce, and amusement, is that the fourteenth century was entirely subject to the law of force, and that Scotland in the nineteenth century has ceased to be the theatre of force at all. Look a little deeper and this impression is as false, not to say as childish, as the supposition that a clumsy rowboat, manned by a quarrelsome crew, who can neither keep time with their oars, nor resist the temptation to fight among themselves, displays force, and thai an ocean steamer which will carry a townful of people to the end of the earth at the rate of three hundred miles a day so smoothly that during the greater part of the time theyare unconscious of any motion or effort whatever, displays none. The force which goes to govern the Scotland of these days is to the force employed for the same purpose in the fourteenth century what the force of a line-of-battle ship is to the force of an individual prize-fighter. The reason why it works so quietly is that no one doubts either its existence, or its direction, or its crushing superiority to any individual resistance which could be offered to it. The force of the chain of champions of whom the Devil's Dick was the last link is now stored up in the vast mass of peaceable and rational men, who, in case of need, wouid support the law, and from them it is drawn off as required. It can be defied only on the smallest possible scale, and by taking it at a disadvantage. A criminal may overpower an isolated policeman just as a pigmy might with his whole weight hold down the last joint of the little finger of a giant's left hand, if the hand were in a suitable position; but deliberate individual resistance to the law of the land for mere private advantage is in these days an impossibility which no one ever thinks of attempting. Force not only reigns, but in most matters it reigns without dispute, but it does not follow that it has ceased to exist.
This proposition is true, not merely in its general and abstract shape, but also of every relation of life in detail. Nowhere is it more strikingly illustrated than in the relation of marriage. Mr. Mill says:-- "I readily admit that numbers of married people, even under the present law (in the higher classes of England probably a great majority), live in the spirit of a just law of equality. Laws never would be improved if there were not numerous persons whose moral sentiments were better than the existing laws." This is an admission that most marriages under the existing laws are happy. The reason, says Mr. M ill, is because the moral tone of particular classes is superior to the law. I say that it is because the law is good, and the people in question obey it. I go beyond Mr. Mill in his opinion about marriages, I should say that in all classes of life they are much more often happy than otherwise; but I say that is because as a general rule both husbands and wives keep the solemn promises which they made at their marriage, including the wife's promise to obey her husband. Surely the natural inference to draw from the fact that an institution works well is that it is founded on true principles, and answers its purpose. The administration of justice in this country is singularly pure. The inference is, not that the judges are superior to the law, but that the law in which they are trained is favourable to the pure administration of justice.
Mr. Mill is not quite consistent upon this head, for he tells us distinctly that if the family in its best forms is a school of sympathy and tenderness, "it is still oftener, as respects its chief, a school of wilfulness, overbearingness, unbounded self-indulgence, and a double-dyed and idealized selfishness, of which sacrifice itself is only a particular form;" the individual happiness of the wife and children "being immolated in every shape to his [the head of the family's] smallest preferences." "What better," he asks, "is to be looked for under the existing form of the institution?" If this is at all 1ike the truth, I cannot understand how marriage can be or ever can have been anything but an odious tyranny and school of every kind of vice; nor can I reconcile such statements with the one just quoted as to the general happiness of marriage. Certainly the higher classes of society in this country are not less strict in their views as to the duties of married life than their inferiors. Few ladies would like to be told that they were disobedient wives. Few gentlemen would feel it otherwise than a reproach to learn that they were not masters in their own homes; but how can this be, if authority on the one side and obedience on the other are fundamentally immoral? Mr. Mill's theory involves the absurd consequence that good fruit grows on a bad tree. Mine involves the natural consequence that a good institution produces good results. The real reason why the marriages of sensible and well-educated people in all ranks of life are happy, is that people know their respective places, and act accordingly. The power exists and is exercised, but as the right to exercise it is undisputed, and as its exercise is unresisted, it acts smoothly, and the parties concerned are seldom unpleasantly reminded of its existence.
An exact parallel to the case of married life, is to be found in the common case of hospitality. You go into a handsome, well-appointed house, full of well-behaved people. You observe that one of the company exerts himself in every possible way to promote the enjoyment and to provide for the amusement or occupation of the rest, and that he in all cases studiously though unostentatiously takes, in a certain sense, the lowest place. You are told that this man has an undoubted legal right to order all the rest out of his house at a moment's notice--say in a storm in the middle of the night--to forbid them to touch an article of furniture, to open a book, or to eat a crumb of bread: and this appears harsh; yet if he were deprived of that right, if the presence of his guests rendered its existence doubtful for a moment in any particular, not one of them would cross his doors; matters go well, not because the master of the house has no powers, but because no one questions them, and he wishes to use them for the general comfort of the society.
To say that the law of force is abandoned because force is regular, unopposed, and beneficially exercised, is to say that day and night are now such well-established institutions that the sun and moon are mere superfluities.
It should be observed that though marriage is the most important of all contracts, it is far from being the only one which confers upon one of the parties authority over the other. Nearly every contract does so. A man passes his life in a Government office. He contracts to serve the public on certain terms. Is there here no authority on the part of the employer over the employed? Dismissal from such a post would be as severe a punishment, in most cases, as could be inflicted on a man, a far more severe punishment than a short term of imprisonment or a heavy fine unaccompanied by dismissal. The power of a French Minister of the Interior over an immense multitude of subordinates is as real and quite as formidable as the power of a feudal lord over his vassals ever was. It is true that it is founded on contract and not on status. In the one case the man was born to a certain position, and in the other he entered into it by agreement, but that makes very little real difference between the two cases. In each case there is a stronger and a weaker person, and in each the weaker is subject to the authority of the stronger.
The truth is that the change above referred to, from status to contract, is very far indeed from being universally favourable to equality. I will not speculate on the nature of the change itself. It may be the best and most glorious of all conceivable states of society that all the relations between man and man should be resolved into the single relation of the earning and paying of wages in various forms; but whether this is so or not, it is perfectly 233 certain that the result of the arrangement is to produce not equality but inequality in its harshest and least sympathetic form. The process is this. Society is converted into one immense machine, the powers of which are all concentrated into one body, which is called the public force. It consists of a legislative and an executive body backed up in case of need by soldiers and policemen. The direction in which this force is to act is ascertained by laws which apply with continually increasing precision and inflexibility to all sorts of cases. Each person is left to make use of these laws for his own purposes in his own way. They may be reduced to these four:--
1. Thou shalt not commit crimes. 2. Thou shalt not inflict wrong. 3. Thou shalt perform thy contracts. 4. Thou and thine may keep whatever you can get. To say that such a state of society is favourable to equality, that it tends to supersede obedience and command, that it has superseded force, and the like, sounds more like a poor kind of irony than anything else. What equality is there between the rich and the poor, between the strong and the weak, between the good and the bad? In particular, what equality is there between the well-born and well-bred man, the son of a good, careful, prudent, prosperous parent, who has transmitted to him a healthy mind and body, and given him a careful education; and the ill-born, ill-bred man whose parents had nothing to teach which was not better unlearned, and nothing to transmit which would not have been better uninherited. It is quite true that in these days we have not much titular inequality. It is quite true that we have succeeded in cutting political power into very little bits, which with our usual hymns of triumph we are continually mincing, till it seems not unlikely that many people may come to think that a single man's share of it is not worth having at all. But with all this, real substantial inequalities in every respect, inequalities of wealth, inequalities of talent, of education, of sentiment, and of religious belief, and therefore inequalities in the most binding of all obligations, never were so great as they are at this moment. I doubt much whether the power of particular persons over their neighbours has ever in any age of the world been so well defined and so easily and safely exerted as it is at present. If in old times a slave was inattentive, his master might no doubt have him maimed or put to death or flogged; but he had to consider that in doing so he was damaging his own pfoperty, that when the slave had been flogged he would still continue to be his slave; and that the flogging might make him mischievous or revengeful, and so forth. If a modern servant misconducts himself, he can be turned out of the house on the spot, and another can be hired as easily as you would call a cab. To refuse the dismissed person a character may very likely be equivalent to sentencing him to months of suffering and to a permanent fall in the social scale. Such punishments are inflicted without appeal, without reflection, without the smallest disturbance of the smooth surface of ordinary life.
The older mode of organizing society has, like other things, been made the subject of much romantic exaggeration, but it is clear that it had a side which was favourable to poverty and weakness, though it produced its inequalities, as our own social maxims do. To try to make men equal by altering social arrangements is like trying to make the cards of equal value by shuffling the pack. Men are fundamentally unequal, and this inequality will show itself arrange society as you like. If the object were to secure the greatest amount of equality, the way to do it would be by establishing a system of distinctions, a social hierarchy corresponding as nearly as possible to the real distinctions between men, and by making the members of each class equal among themselves. Something by no means unlike this has actually been done by the caste system in India, and the result is that Hindoo society, though in some ways elastic and possessed of a considerable power of assimilating new ideas, is stable and conservative to a degree utterly unknown and hardly even imaginable in Europe. If we were possessed of any test by which men could be marshalled according to their intrinsic differences with unfailing accuracy, we should really obtain the repose, the absence of conscious and painful restraint, the calm play of unresisted and admitted force which people appear to expect from the establishment of what they call equality. The establishment of even this ideal state of things would leave some of the most important of social problems unsolved, but it is almost an identical proposition that it would afford not merely the best but the only full solution of the great problem of harmonising self-interest with the interests of the public at large. A nation in which every one held the position for which he was best fitted, and in which everyone was aware of that fact, would be a nation in which every man's life would be passed in doing that which would be at once most agreeable to himself and most beneficial to his neighbours, and such a nation would have solved at all events several of the great problems of life.
It is needless to insist on the plain fact that such an ideal is unattainable; but the maintenance of broad and well-marked distinctions which really exist at a given time and place is a step towards it. The distinctions of age and sex are universal. Distinctions of race are at given times and places most important, and the fact that they have been exaggerated and abused is no reason for denying their existence. Distinctions of wealth and of the education and other qualities which are associated with the acquisition and retention of wealth are no less real. Such distinctions will continue to exist and to produce inequalities of every description whether or not they are recognized by law, and whether or not they are permitted to affect the Distribution of political authority. Leave them to find their own level by unrestricted competition and they will display themselves in their most naked and their harshest form.
Let us suppose, to take a single illustration, that men and women are made as equal as law can make them, and that public opinion followed the law. Let us suppose that marriage became a mere partnership dissoluble like another; that women were expected to earn their living just like men; that the notion of anything like protection due from the one sex to tbeother was thoroughly rooted out; that men's manners to women became identical with their manners to men; that the cheerful concessions to acknowledged weakness, the obligation to do for women a thousand things which it would be insulting to offer to do for a man, which we inherit from a different order of ideas, were totally exploded; and what would be the result? The result would be that women would become men's slaves and drudges, that they would be made to feel their weakness and to accept its consequences to the very utmost. Submission and protection are correlative. Withdraw the one and the other is lost, and force will assert itself a hundred times more harshly through the law of contract than ever it did through the law of status. Disguise it how you will, it is force in one shape or another which determines the relations between human beings. It is far 1ess harsh when it is subjected to the provisions of a general law made with reference to broad general principles than when it acts through a contract, the terms of which are settled by individuals according to their own judgment. The terms of the marriage relation as settled by the law and religion of Europe are an illustration, of course on an infinitely wider and more important scale, of the very principle which in our own days has led to the prohibition of the employment of little children in certain classes of factories and of women in coalpits.
To recapitulate, I think that equality has no special connection with justice, except in the narrow sense of judicial impartiality; that it cannot be affirmed to be expedient in the most important relations of social life; and that history does not warrant the assertion that for a great length of time there has been a continual progress in the direction of the removal of all distinctions between man and man, though it does warrant the assertion that the form in which men's natural inequalities display themselves and produce their results changes from one generation to another, and tends to operate rather through contracts made by individuals than through laws made by public authority for the purpose of fixing the relations between human beings.
I now proceed to the most important of the remaining senses of the word "equality"--the equal distribution of political power. This is perhaps the most definite sense which can be attached to the vague general word "equality." It is undoubtedly true that for several generations a process has been going on all over our own part of the world which may be described, not inaccurately, as the subdivision of political power. The accepted theory of government appears to be that everybody should have a vote, that the Legislature should be elected by these votes, and that it should conduct all the public business of the country through a committee which succeeds for the time in obtaining its confidence. This theory, beyond all question, has gone forth, and is going forth conquering and to conquer. The fact of its triumph is as clear as the sun at noonday, and the probability that its triumphs will continue for a longer time than we need care to think about is as strong as any such probability can well be. The question is, what will a reasonable man think of it? I think he will criticize it like any other existing fact, and with as little partiality on either side as possible; but I am altogether at a loss to understand how it can rouse enthusiastic admiration in anyone whatever. It certainly has done so for some reason or other. Nearly every newspaper, and a very large proportion of modern books of political, speculation, regard the progress of democracy, the approaching advent of universal suffrage, with something approaching to religious enthusiasm. To this I for one object.
In the first place, it will be well to point out a distinction which, though perfectly clear and of the utmost importance, is continually overlooked. Legilate how you will, establish universal suffrage, if you think proper, as a 1aw which can never be broken. You are still as far as ever from equality. Political power has changed its shape but not its nature. The result of cutting it up into little bits is simply that the man who can sweep the greatest number of them into one heap will govern the rest. The strongest man in some form or other will always rule. If the government is a military one, the qualities which make a man a great soldier will make him a ruler. If the government is a monarchy, the qualities which kings value in counsellors, in generals, in administrators, will give power. In a pure democracy the ruling men will be the wirepullers and their friends; but they will no more be on an equality with the voters than soldiers or Ministers of State are on an equality with the subjects of a monarchy. Changes in the form of a government alter the conditions of superiority much more than its nature. In some ages a powerful character, in others cunning, in others powers of despatching business, in others eloquence, in others a good hold upon current commonplaces and facility in applying them to practical purposes will enable a man to climb on to his neighbour's shoulders and direct them this way or that; but in all ages and under all circumstances the, rank and file are directed by leaders of one kind or another who get the command of their collective force. The leading men in a trade union are as much the superiors and rulers of the members of the body at large, and the general body of the members are as much the superiors and rulers of each individual member, as the master of a family or the head of a factory is the ruler and superior of his servants or workpeople.
In short, the subdivision of political power has no more to do with equality than with liberty. The question whether it is a good thing or a bad one stands on its own ground, and must be decided by direct reference to its effects. They are infinitely numerous and complicated, and it would be idle to try to describe them fully or even to give full illustrations of their character. The point to which I wish to direct attention is one which is continually overlooked because it is unpleasant--namely, that whatever may be the strong side of popular institutions as we know them, they have also a weak and dangerous side, and by no means deserve that blind admiration and universal chorus of applause with which their progress is usually received.
If I am asked, What do you propose to substitute for universal suffrage? Practically, What have you to recommend? I answer at once, Nothing. The whole current of thought and feeling, the whole stream of human affairs, is setting with irresistible force in that direction. The old ways of living, many of which were just as bad in their time as any of our devices can be in ours, are breaking down all over Europe, and are floating this way and that like haycocks in a flood. Nor do I see why any wise man should expend much thought or trouble on trying to save their wrecks. The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing HalleluJah to the river god. I am not so vain as to suppose that anything that I can say will do either good or harm to any perceptible degree, but an attempt to make a few neutral observations on a process which is all but universally spoken of with passion on one side or the other may interest a few readers.
The substance of what I have to say to the disadvantage of the theory and practice of universal suffrage is that it tends to invert what I should have regarded as the true and natural relation between wisdom and folly. I think that wise and good men ought to rule those who are foolish and bad. To say that the sole function of the wise and good is to preach to their neighbours, and that everyone indiscriminately should be left to do what he likes, and should be provided with a rateable share of the sovereign power in the shape of a vote, and that the result of this will be the direction of power by wisdom, seems to me to be the wildest romance that ever got possession of any considerable number of minds.
As to the character of our present rulers, let us hear Mr. Mill. He is speaking of the year 1859, but I do not think matters have altered much since then. Mr. Mill says (Essay on Liberty, chap. iii.) of the governing class of England--meaning "chiefly the middle class"--"Their thinking is done for them by men much like themselves, addressing them or speaking in their name on the spur of the moment through the newspapers." "I am not," he adds, "complaining of this. I do not assert that anything better is compatible as a general rule with the present low state of the human mind. But that does not hinder the government of mediocrity from being mediocre government. No government by a democracy or a numerous aristocracy either in its political acts or in the opinions, qualities, and tone of mind which it fosters ever did or ever could rise above mediocrity, except in so far as the sovereign many have let themselves be guided (which in their best times they always have done) by the counsels and influence of a more highly gifted and instructed one or few." The parenthesis, I think, would apply chiefly to a few years in the history of Athens; but be this as it may, I need hot repeat the quotations which I have already made from the same chapter about the way in which "society has now fairly got the better of the individual." The substance of it is that we all live under a leaden rule of petty contemptible opinions which crushes all individuality. The moral is this: "The greatness of England is now all collective; individually small, we only appear capable of anything great by our habit of combining ; and with this our moral and religious philanthropists are perfectly contented. But it was men of another stamp than this that made England what it has been, and men of another stamp will be needed to prevent its decline." "The mind itself is bowed to the yoke; even in what people do for pleasure conformity is the first thing thought of; they like in crowds; they exercise choice only among things commonly done." There is much more to the same purpose which I need not quote. it would be easy to show from other parts of Mr. Mill's later works what a low opinion he has of mankind at large. His whole essay on the Subjection of Women goes to prove that of the two sexes which between them constitute the human race, one has all the vices of a tyrant, and the other all the vices of a slave. Families are generally schools of selfishness "double dyed and idealized." All women are either bribed or intimidated, and men have reduced them to that position. What the children must be who have such homes and such educators it is needless to say. All this, and much else of the same kind, appears to me to be harsh, unjust, and exaggerated; but I am entitled to ask how a man who thinks thus of his fellow-creatures can, with any degree of consistency, be the advocate of liberty in the sense of the negation of all government, and of equality in any sense at all? Given a herd of stupid fools who are never to be coerced, and who are to keep everyone from rising above their own level, and what will you ever get to the end of time except a herd of stupid fools? Mankind upon this system would be like a set of what Strauss calls the Ur-affen, or primeval apes of Mr. Darwin's theory, with just sense enough to defeat the operation of natural selection. Their one maxim would be to single out every ape who had got a few rudiments of human qualities in him, and, instead of making him their king, stone him to death. "Non meus hic sermo." I merely point out the tendency of a celebrated theory, but after it has been fully discounted, I think that some truth unquestionably remains in it.
I should certainly not agree with Mr. Mill's opinion that English people in general are dull, deficient in originality, and as like each other as herrings in a barrel appear to us. Many and many a fisherman, common sailor, workman, labourer, gamekeeper, policeman, non-commissioned officer, servant, and small clerk, have I known who were just as distinct from each other, just as original in their own way, just as full of character, as men in a higher rank of life.
For my part I should limit myself to this, that the number of people who are able to carry on anything like a systematic train of thought or to grasp the bearings of any subject consisting of several parts is exceedingly small. I should add to this that the work of governing a great nation, if it is to be done really well, requires an immense amount of special knowledge and the steady, restrained, and calm exertion of a great variety of the very best talents which are to be found in it.
I never yet met with anyone who denied that if the institutions by which this country is governed were constructed solely with a view to the efficient transaction of public business, they would have to assume a very different shape from their present one. No one can justify, though he may explain, upon historical grounds, an arrangement by which the whole government of the country is vested in a popular assembly like the House of Commons, ruling as king through a committee which may be dismissed at a moment's notice. This committee, while it is in power, has to work through a set of public offices, hardly one of which has even any pretence to have been specially adapted for its work, while all the more important of them were established with reference to a state of things which has long since passed away. Some degree of permanence, some amount of discretionary authority, some scope for the formation and execution of considerable schemes, are the very first essentials of good government. Under the system which universal suffrage has given and is giving to us they are all but entirely wanting. Endless discussion, continual explanation, the constant statement and re-statement to Parliament of every matter on which government is to act have almost superseded the process of governing. Nothing can be done at all till the importance of doing it has been made obvious to the very lowest capacity; and whatever can be made obvious to such capacities is sure in course of time to be done, although it may be obvious to people capable of taking a wider view that it ought not to be done. When once done, it is the hardest thing in the world to get it undone.
The net result of these evils, all of which are the direct consequence of the system of having the government of the country directly subordinated to the rule of the majority of the voters for the time being, of making it, in other words, as nearly as may be a faithful representative of the fluctuations of public feeling and opinion, has never been fully stated, nor do I think it can be so stated, A few observations on the subject will, however, be worth making, as they will afford a general indication of the enormous price which we pay for the advantages of obtaining the general consent to whatever is done and of interesting a great many people in the transaction of public affairs.
Assume that arrangementshad been made by which a body of able men were able to devote their time continuously, steadily, and systematically to the task of employing the public force for the general welfare of the community, and assume that they could follow out their views without being obliged to be continually stopping to obtain the popular consent at every step. Would there be no work for them to do? I say there would in every department of the State be more work than anyone generation of such men could hope to accomplish, and I further say that the greater part of it is going and will go undone, and that much of it is ill done simply because there is so little continuity, so little permanent authority vested under our system in anyone whatever. In proof of this, I will refer shortly to the business of the principal departments of government. I pass over the Prime Minister with the remark that in the present state of things his parliamentary qualities are nearly everything and his administrative functions comparatively small. After him the first great officer of State is the Lord Chancellor. What with proper assistance he might do in the way of law reform I need not say. The reduction of the law and of the judicial institutions of the country to a rational shape is a question of time, labour, and special knowledge. The real difficulty, I do not say an insuperable one, but the real difficulty lies in the constitution of Parliament, and in the system of party government which makes every man who is out of office pick holes in the work of every man who is in office, and every man who is in office consider, not what is the best thing to be done, but what he is most likely to be able to carry in spite of opposition. No one ac- quainted with the subject can doubt that a systematic reform of the law would facilitate every business transaction in the country, add enormou'sly to the value of every acre of land in it, and convert law into an embodiment of justice, a real standard of conduct in every department of life, and so produce a great effect on both the intellect and the morals of the country.
Next to the Lord Chancellor comes the Lord President of the Council. One of the first things which would occur to such a government as I have supposed to exist (if indeed it would not be presupposed in the establishment of such a government) would e the reflection that the present constitution of the Cabinet and the public offices is about as ill-conceived an arrangement for the real despatch of business as could be contrived, however well it may be adapted to the exigencies of party government. The original idea of the Privy Council, as appears from their proceedings, was far better suited to that purpose, though I do not say it is fit for these times. This is not the place for technicalities which scarcely anyone understands, but in general terms I may observe that a council for the real transaction of business ought to exercise a direct superintendence over every department of the government, and ought, either by means of committees or otherwise, to be kept aware of all the great executive questions which arise in different parts of the government and to give orders upon them. As matters now stand, each departmert is a little State with its own little king for the time being, and the control of the whole over the different parts is loose and vague to the highest possible degree. Eaeh Minister may act as he likes in his own dominions up to the point at which any question before him seems likely to attract the attention of Parliament and threaten the stability of the Ministry. This is not the way to get important questions well settled. If the Cabinet were a real steady governing council whose duty it was to pass orders on all the most important matters which might arise in the different departments, Cabinet Ministers would have to work a great deal harder than they do at present at other matters than making speeches and preparing to answer parliamentary questions.
After the President of the Council come the five Secretaries of State. Of their offices, the Colonial Office, the War Office, the Admiralty, and the India Office have, and can have, very little to gain and they have everything to lose by uncertainty of tenure and continual accountability to every voter in England through his representatives. The relations between England and the colonies, and England and India, are relations which it is hardly possible to conduct in a satisfactory way through Parliament. The best thing that Parliament can do with these subjects, generally speaking, is to let them alone, and to a great extent it does so. A smaller and better instructed body, however, dealing with these matters steadily and quietly might render great services to every part of the British Empire, or rather to every part of the two Empires, colonial and Indian. With regard to the organization of the army and navy, it hardly admits of a question that they are special matters dependent upon special knowledge which has hardly any connection at all with party politics.
The Home Office, perhaps, affords the strongest of all possible illustrations of the extent of the field which lies open for government If anyone were to attempt to say what the internal government of England is, how it is carried on, or how it is superintended, he would be smothered in the attempt under a chaos of Acts, charters, commissioners, boards, benches, courts, and vestries of all sorts and conditions, which have no unity, are subject to no central control in most instances, and are supposed to atone for all their other defects by what Frenchmen praise as "le self-government," which not unfrequently means the right to misgovern your immediate neighbours without being accountable for it to anyone wiser than yourself. Can any one doubt that if this jungle of institutions were carefully examined by anyone who had at once the will and the power to set things to rights, the subjects of education, crime, pauperism, health, and others too numerous to mention or hint at, might be set in quite a new light? Even as things are, a great deal of late years has been done in all these matters, and probably more will be done; but it might be done infinitely quicker and better if the consent of fewer people was required to what, if not absolutely necessary, is plainly desirable.
Foreign policy perhaps affords as strong an illustration as can be given of the importance of special knowledge. There is no department of public affairs (if we except Indian and colonial affairs) in which the general level of knowledge is so low. There is none in which popular passions are so violent, so ill-instructed, or so likely to produce incalculable mischief. The intensity of the ignorance of the great mass of English people about France and Germany could only be equalled by the fierce excitement and unruly and irrational state of sympathy into which they were thrown by the progress of the war. In reference, however, to foreign affairs, what is required is rather the acquisition of knowledge than either administrative or legislative activity. The organization of a diplomatic service, which might be, so to speak, the eyes of the nation as regarded foreign affairs, might often make the difference between peace and war, and might even enable us to avert invasion.
As to financial affairs, of course popular consent, given in some distinct and substantial form, is essential to taxation, and this is the historical explanation of the gradual assumption of sovereignty by the House of Commons. This consideration, no doubt, must always limit the extent to which government by a well-instructed few could be carried, and it is perhaps the most obvious and conclusive of the many obvious and conclusive reasons why no great change in the principles of the machinery of government can be expected by any reasonable man. I do not for a moment suggest that we can be governed otherwise than we are. I fully admit that for practical purposes the best course is to get out of our tools such work as is to be got out of them. I merely wish to refer to the fact that there are two sides to the account, and to excuse myself for not sharing in the general enthusiasm on the subject of our institutions. I do not say that any other institutions are or have been much better. The folly, the weakness, the ignorance of men leave deep marks on all human institutions, and they are quite as legible here and now as in any other time or place.
Equality, like liberty, appears to me to be a big name for a small thing. The enthusiasm about it in recent times seems to me to have been due principally to two circumstances: the invidious position of the French privileged classes before the Revolutlon, and the enormous development of wealth in the United States. The first of these was, no doubt, a case, in which distinctions had been maintained long after they had ceased to have any meaning whatever or to be of any sort of use. Such cases are very common. Men have a passion for pluming themselves upon anything which distinguishes them from their neighbours, and exaggeration on one side is met by passion on the other. The case of the French privileged classes certainly was as gross a case of a distinction without a difference as has ever occurred in the world, and the French were just in the mood to become rhetorical about it, and to make it the subject not of rational quiet alteration, but of outbursts of pathetic and other nonsense, the effects of which will long be felt in the world. Few things in history seem to me so beggarly as the degree to which the French allowed themselves to be excited about such things. It was shameful to permit them to grow, and more shameful not to be able to put them down in a quiet way without fireworks and theatrical illusions.
The success of equality in America is due, I think, mainly to the circumstance that a large number of people, who were substantially equal in all the more important matters, recognized that fact and did not set up unfounded distinctions. How far they actually are equal now, and how long they will continue to be equal when the population becomes dense, is quite another question. It is also a question, which I cannot do more than glance at in two words in this place, whether the enormous development of equality in America, the rapid production of an immense multitude of commonplace, self-satisfied, and essentially slight people is an exploit which the whole world need fall down and worship.
Upon the whole, I think that what little can be truly said of equality is that as a fact human beings are not equal; that in their dealings with each other they ought to recognize real inequalities where they exist as much as substantial equality where it exists. That they are equally prone to exaggerate real distinctions, which is vanity, and to deny their existence, EQUALITY 255 which is envy. Each of these exaggerations is a fault, the latter being a peculiarly mean and cowardly one, the fault of the weak and discontented. The recognition of substantial equality where it exists is merely the avoidance of an error. It does not in itself affect the value of the things recognized as equals, and that recognition is usually a step towards the development of inherent inequalities. If all equally are forbidden to commit crime, and are bound to keep their contlracts, the sober, the far-seeing, and the judicious win, and the flighty, the self-indulgent, and the foolish lose. Equality, therefore, if not like liberty, a word of negation, is a word of relation. It tells us nothing definite unless we know what two or more things are affirmed to be equal and what they are in themselves, and when we are informed upon these points we get only statements about matters of fact, true or false, important or not, as it may be.
1. Dumont's Traites de Legislation, vol. i. p. 180-191, ed. 1830.
2. As to the question whose happiness a utilitarian would wish to consult, see post.
> Chapter VI
Revised June 25, 2004.