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II.

Lecture that head the moral feelings of the time and the

society to wbich he belongs. The Sultan could not if he would change the religion of the Mahommedan world, but if he could do so it is in the very highest degree improbable that the head of Mahommedanism should wish to overthrow the religion of Mahomet; the internal check on the exercise of the Sultan's power is at least as strong as the external limitation. People sometimes ask the idle question why the Pope does not introduce this or that reform ? The true answer is that a revolutionist is not the kind of man who becomes a Pope, and that the man who is a Pope has not any wish to be a revolutionist. Louis the Fourteenth could not in all probability have established Protestantism as the national religion of France; but to imagine Louis the Fourteenth as wishing to carry out a Protestant reformation is nothing short of imagining him to have been a being quite unlike the Grand Monarque. Here again the internal check works together with the external check, and the influence of the internal limitation is as great in the case of a Parliamentary sovereign as of any other; perhaps it is greater. Parliament could not prudently tax the Colonies ; but it is hardly conceivable that a modern Parliament, with the history of the last century before its eyes, should wish to tax the colonies. The combined influence both of the external and of the internal limitation on legislative sovereignty is admirably stated in Mr. Leslie Stephen's Science of Ethics, whose chapter on Law and Custom con

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tains one of the best statements to be met with Lecture

II. of the limits placed by the nature of things on the theoretical omnipotence of sovereign legislatures.

“ Lawyers are apt to speak as though the legislature “ were omnipotent, as they do not require to go “ beyond its decisions. It is, of course, omnipotent “ in the sense that it can make whatever laws it

pleases, inasmuch as a law means any rule which " has been made by the legislature. But from the “scientific point of view, the power of the legisla“ ture is of course strictly limited. It is limited, " so to speak, both from within and from without; “ from within, because the legislature is the product “of a certain social condition, and determined by “ whatever determines the society; and from with"out, because the power of imposing laws is dependent upon the instinct of subordination, which “ is itself limited. If a legislature decided that "all blue-eyed babies should be murdered, the pre

servation of blue-eyed babies would be illegal; but legislators must go mad before they could pass “such a law, and subjects be idiotic before they could submit to it.”

Though sovereign power is bounded by an external Limits and an internal limit, neither boundary is

very
defi-

coincide. nitely marked, nor need the two precisely coincide. A sovereign may wish to do many things which he either cannot do at all or can do only at great risk of serious resistance, and it is on many accounts specially to be noted that the exact point at which the external

Leslie Stephen, Science of Ethics, p. 143.

may not

II.

tative government

Lecture limitation begins to operate, that is the point at which

subjects will offer serious or insuperable resistance to the commands of a ruler whom they generally obey, is never fixed with precision. It would be rash of the Imperial Parliament to abolish the Scotch law Courts, and assimilate the law of Scotland to that of England. But no one can feel sure at what point Scotch resistance to such a change would become serious. Before the War of Secession the sovereign power of the United States could not have abolished slavery without provoking a civil war; after the War of Secession the sovereign power abolished slavery and conferred the electoral franchise upon the Blacks without ex

citing actual resistance. Represen

In reference to the relation between the external

and the internal limit to sovereignty, representative produces

government presents a noteworthy peculiarity. It is dence this. The aim and effect of such government is to external produce a coincidence, or at any rate diminish the and limiet divergence between the external and the internal

limitations on the exercise of sovereign power. Frederick the Great may have wished to introduce, and

may in fact have introduced, changes or reforms opposed to the wishes of his subjects. Louis Napoleon certainly began a policy of free trade which would not be tolerated by an assembly which truly represented French opinion. In these instances neither monarch reached the external limit to his sovereign power, but it might very well have happened that he might have reached it, and have thereby provoked serious resistance on the part of his subjects. There

coinci

between

II.

might, in short, have arisen a divergence between the Lecture internal and the external check. The existence of such a divergence, or (in other words) of a difference between the permanent wishes of the sovereign, or rather of the King who then constituted a predominant part of the sovereign power and the permanent wishes of the nation, is traceable in England throughout the whole period beginning with the accession

of James the First and ending with the Revolution 1 of 1688. The remedy for this divergence was l. found in a transference of power from the Crown

to the Houses of Parliament; and in placing on the throne rulers who from their position were induced to make their wishes coincide with the will of the nation expressed through the House of Commons; the difference between the will of the sovereign and the will of the nation was terminated by the foundation of a system of real representative government. Where a Parliament really represents the people, the divergence between the external and the internal limit to the exercise of sovereign power can hardly arise, or if it arises must soon disappear. Speaking roughly, the permanent wishes of the representative portion of Parliament can hardly in the long run differ from the wishes of the English people, or at any rate of the electors. That which the majority of the House of Commons command the majority of the English people usually desire. To prevent the divergence between the wishes of the sovereign and the wishes of subjects is in short the effect, and the only certain effect, of bonâ fide representative government. For

II,

1

Lecture our present purpose there is no need to determine

whether this result be good or bad. An enlightened
sovereign has more than once carried out reforms in
advance of the wishes of his subjects. This is true
both of sovereign kings and, though more rarely, of
sovereign Parliaments. But the sovereign who has
done this, whether King or Parliament, does not in
reality represent his subjects. All that it is here
necessary to insist upon is that the essential property
of representative government is to produce coincidence
between the wishes of the sovereign and the wishes
of the subjects; to make, in short, the two limitations
on the exercise of sovereignty absolutely coincident.
This, which is true in its measure of all real represen-
tative government, applies with special truth to the
English House of Commons.

The House of Commons," writes Burke, “was sup-
posed originally to be no part of the standing govern-
ment of this country. It was considered as a control,
“issuing immediately from the people, and speedily
“ to be resolved into the mass from whence it arose.
“In this respect it was in the higher part of govern-
“ment what juries are in the lower. The capacity
“of a magistrate being transitory, and that of a
“ citizen permanent, the latter capacity it was hoped
“would of course preponderate in all discussions, not
only between the people and the standing authority
“ of the Crown, but between the people and the
fleeting authority of the House of Commons itself.
“It was hoped that, being of a middle nature between
“subject and government, they would feel with a

a

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