Professor Blackie: 'On Democracy'
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Aristotle's Pol. 1. 2-Bekker.


'When one measures the whole circle of the Social Sciences, one is frightened at all that they require,—study, talent, genius, and elevation of character.'-Sismondi, Essays, London, 1847, p.289.


Theœtet. 155 D.


Aristotle, Pol. 1. 5.


The Iliad of Homer. By Edward Earl of Derby. Vol, i. p. 45.


Sir James Mackintosh, in Life by his Son, Vol. i. p. 92.


Leading Article, December 3, 1866.


'Certainly the direction of a State is more difficult than that of a ship; nevertheless, if a ship on an unknown sea had on board with a thousand ignorant persons one skilful pilot, these ignorant persons would be mad if they did not give up the helm to him, or if they pretended to regulate his navigation by the majority of suffrages. It is not the pilot who has the right to direct the ship; it is the right of all those who are running a common risk, to profit by the skill of the most skilful for the safety of the lives and property of all. The object of association is, in fact, to bring forward the greatest talent and the greatest virtue, in order to employ them for the greatest good of all. In a time of great danger, of deep feeling, the instinct by which to discover greatness is not wanting to the masses, and genius often takes its true place without trouble. But it is rare that political questions inspire the people with the sentiment of danger and the necessity of confidence at the same time. Most frequently, if we asked each individual for his opinion, we should be far from obtaining in reply the expression of the national opinion. The ignorant populace, given up almost everywhere to retrograde prejudices, will refuse to favour its own progress. The more ignorant the people are, the more are they opposed to all kind of development, the more they are deprived of all enjoyment, and the more are they obstinately, angrily attached to their habits, as to the only possession they have left; like horses, which in a fire it is impossible to force out of a stable in flames. Count the voices in Spain and Portugal, they will be for the maintenance of the Inquisition. Count them in Russia, they will be for the despotism of the Czar. Count them everywhere, they will be for those laws, for those local customs which most require to be corrected, they will be for prejudices: it would seem that this word, appropriated to opinions adopted by vulgar minds without discussion, says enough; it suffices to teach us that the masses hold to opinions ready made, that only the small number of thinkers rise above them to consider them anew.'—Sismondi, Essays, pp. 289, 290.


The Trades'-Unions have asserted in the strongest terms, and in fact their whole organization implies, the right of every mere majority to control a minority by physical force.  I extract from the Pall Mall Gazette the following utterance of one of the ringleaders of the Trades' Union at Sheffield:—

    'I maintain that all those who get their living by a trade are bound to obey the laws of the union of the trade.  After entering a trade it is not a voluntary act of theirs to become members of that trade's union.  The rebel States wanted to secede, to be expelled from the Union, but the United States thrashed them into obedience.  So with trades'-unions.  It is their duty to thrash all into submission who get their living by the trade, and who will not obey the laws of the union without thrashing.  If in so doing they become obnoxious to Parliament law, they take the consequences.  Never in the history of the world have any men allowed a smaller number of men to do as they liked.  No man can do so unless with the consent of those around him.  There is either an eye to convey determined indignation, or a hand to strike down the offender.'


The best example of the tyrannous tendencies of all majorities is to be found in the democratic, or at least republican, constitution of the Scottish General Assembly. In that body, any independent thinker is sure to be overborne and ejected, though learning, philosophy, and piety may all plead loudly in his favour; whereas, within the pale of the aristocratic Church of England, every variety of opinion has hitherto found a generous and a considerate toleration.


Laws III. 692 A.


Ar. Pol. II. 12.  By the demagogic measures of Clisthenes and Pericles, the republic, however wisely constituted by Solon, declined into an abominable democracy, conducted not by the laws, but by the headstrong will of the people.—Schoemann On the Popular Assemblies of the Athenians, Cambridge, 1838, p. 17.


Pol. IV. 8.


Polyb. VI. 3.


Republ, I. 27, 28.


Methods of Observation and Reasoning in Politics, vol. ii, p. 76.


The Furies, by Æschylus.


Hist. VI. 12.


Republ, VIII. 565 D.


'What good could come of a community in which peace and war, the appointment and deposition of the general and officers of the army, and the management of the public money and property, depended on the humours of the multitude, and their leaders, elected as whim or circumstance might determine?'—Mommsen, History of Rome, vol. i. p. 803—German.


Of Padua, Lord Brougham says, 'The government of Padua was at different times almost purely democratic, when the people so far prevailed over the nobles as to vest the whole administration in the companies of artisans.  Nothing could exceed the levity and uncertainty of the Paduan councils so long as this democratic influence prevailed; but it was always remarked, that when the errors, inconsistencies, and incapacity of the popular government had brought the State within a hair's -breadth of destruction, the nobles were looked on as the only resource, and generally interfered with effect.'—Political Philosophy, eh. xxiii.  And to the same effect Professor Spalding: 'Within those Italian cities that had been most decidedly free, the dissensions which had preceded their overthrow, removing all partial privileges and all real distinctions o frank, and in most places laying the nobles at the foot of the third estate, did by this very means weaken all orders of the community, and generated that spiritless apathy with which the subjects of the Italian principalities submitted to the rule of their despotic masters.'—Italy, vol. ii. p. 133.


Sir William Temple's Works, London, 1740, vol. i. p. 31.


Spirit of Laws, viii. 16.  De Tocqueville, while he is too wise positively to assert the impracticability of anything but a small republic, nevertheless says: 'It may be advanced with confidence that the existence of a great republic will always be exposed to far greater perils than that of a small one.'—Vol. i. p. 189.


Political Essays, p. 297, where he goes on to give the details: 'In the centre of Switzerland the three little cantons of Uri, Schwitz, and Unterwalden are pure most democracies; among shepherds, almost equal in fortune, as well as in intelligence, it was not thought necessary to preserve greater influence for opinions resulting from mere deliberation; the elections as well as the laws, as well as all public resolutions, are carried by the votes of universal suffrage, by all the male inhabitants above the age of eighteen assembled in the Landsgemeine; it is really a will of their own, which the citizens of these little cantons express in these assemblies of all the people; but this will is constantly retrograde.  In spite of their confederates, in spite of the clamour of Europe, they have continued the use of torture in their tribunals; they have kept up the custom of contracts to enter into the service of foreign powers; and these men, so proud and so jealous of their liberty, are the most eager to sell themselves to despots, to enable them to keep other nations in chains: every year, in short, and at every diet, they solicit their confederates to proscribe the liberty of the press.  We must not suppose, however, that there are not in Uri, Schwitz, and Unterwalden, men whose more enlightened intellect, whose more elevated character, recoils from torture, trading in men, and the censorship of the press: no doubt they would form public opinion, if time were given them; but before every discussion, universal suffrage decides, by a majority, in favour of the gross ignorance of the great number, against the virtuous intelligence of some few.'


The American Union. By James Spence. London, 1861. Page 41.


'In the New World man has no other enemy than himself.'—De Tocqueville.  Yes; but that is the most dangerous of all.  The old Adam is a terrible monster, made up of a tiger, a fox, a viper, and an ass.


Spence, The American Union, p. 24.


The thorough-going advocates of all sorts of moral and intellectual scepticism, the unblushing advocates of the theory that all right is convention, and all might is right, the well-known sophists, whom, in spite of Mr. Grote, I cannot force myself to admire, were all very clever fellows.


Quoted by Spence, p. 71.


Democracy in America, By Alexis de Tocqueville. London, 1838. Vol. ii. P. 46.


De Tocqueville, vol. ii. p. 87.


Ibid. p. 91.


Plato, Gorgias, 463 A.


De Tocqueville, vol. ii. p. 92.


 Ibid. vol. i. p. 155.


The American Union, p. 187.


North American Review for October 1866, p. 457.


De Tocqueville (ii. 2-10), stating it as a general rule that in the United States the most talented individuals are rarely placed at the head of affairs, notes an exception to this in the following remarkable words:—'In dangerous times, genius no longer abstains from presenting itself in the arena; and the people, alarmed by the perils of their situation, bury their envious passions in a short oblivion.'  Plato says that wise men will seek public life, not as a good thing, but as a necessary duty (Rep. 540 D); but in a field where power, and place, and influence are the reward, the most ambitions, the most unscrupulous, and the most selfish men will generally be more eager in the race.  These are the men who are not so apt to inquire whether an occupation be noble or necessary, as whether it be profitable. And even their wives and daughters sometimes may have more to say in the matter than their own ambition or their itch for Parliamentary manipulation.


Spence, The American Union, P. 35.


This is just the doctrine of moral philosophy which the advocates of democracy constantly forget.  How is it that the morality and the reason of all masses of men often produce results of which the individuals comprising the mass would be ashamed?  There are three virtues which the people, acting in masses, never have practised—justice, gratitude, and mercy; and yet the persons constituting the masses may often be in nowise destitute of these virtues. How is this?


De Tocqueville, Vol. ii, pp. 4, 5.


North American Review, pp. 433-435.


North American Review, pp. 437, 438.


North American Review, p. 449.  In reference to the case of New York, to those who say that it is an exceptional case, my answer is, 1st, That in many of our large cities there is a large amount of the same class of people which constitutes the lowest class in that city; and 2nd, that the case of New York is a fair instance of what universal suffrage on American ground and under American influence can do for good government.


Pol. IV. 12.


The importance of this point was recognised by Alexander Hamilton, one of the great framers of the American constitution. I quote his opinion from De Tocqueville:—

'There are some, who would be inclined to regard the servile pliancy of the Executive to a prevailing current, either in the community or in the legislature, as its best recommendation.  But such men entertain very crude notions, as well of the purposes for which government was instituted, as of the true means by which the public happiness may be promoted.  The republican principle demands that the deliberative sense of the community should govern the conduct of those to whom they intrust the management of their affairs; but it does not require an unqualified complaisance to every sudden breeze of passion, or to every transient impulse which the people may receive from the arts of men who flatter their prejudices to betray their interests.  It is a just observation that the people commonly intend the public good. This often applies to their very errors.  But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it.  They know from experience that they sometimes err; and the wonder is that they so seldom err as they do, beset, as they continually are, by the wiles of parasites and sycophants; by the snares of the ambitious, the avaricious, the desperate; by the artifices of men who possess their confidence more than they deserve it; and of those who seek to possess, rather than to deserve it.  When occasions present themselves in which the interests of the people are at variance with their inclinations, it is the duty of persons whom they have appointed to be the guardians of those interests, to withstand the temporary delusion, in order to give them time and opportunity for more cool and sedate reflection.  Instances might be cited in which a conduct of this kind has saved the people from very fatal consequences of their own mistakes, and has procured lasting monuments of their gratitude to the men who had the courage and magnanimity enough to serve them at the peril of their displeasure.'—P. 179.


Essays, p. 313.


See Constitutionalism of the Future, by James Lorimer, Esq., 1867, 2nd edition; and Speech delivered at a Meeting of the Liverpool Reform League on Dec. 19, 1866, including extracts from Archbishop Whately and John Stuart Mill, on Plurality of Votes as a needful element in any Final scheme of Parliamentary Reform. London: Longman, 1867.


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