The Elements of Politics

Henry Sidgwick

Chapter 19

Methods and Intruments of Government

§1. In the preceding chapters we have been occupied in surveying the work of government from the point of view of the governed: that is, we have concentrated attention on the effects that Government ought to aim at producing in the condition and mutual relations of the private members of the community governed, and in their relations to individuals and communities outside. In the chapters that follow we shall be engaged in considering how Government should be constituted for the proper performance of the functions which our discussion up to this point has marked out for it; how the necessary organs of government should be appointed; what should be their mutual relations; and how far their powers should be constitutionally limited by the rights of the governed. The present chapter forms the transition or connecting link between the two discussions. I propose here to make a brief survey of the whole work marked out for government, with the special object of determining in a general way the kind of methods and instruments that will be required for its satisfactory accomplishment.

In this chapter I shall assume, for simplicity, that we are concerned with what may be called ``unitary'' States:---that is, with States in which the ordinary exercise of the highest powers of Government belongs to a central organ or organs, exercising control over all the members of the State; while only matters of secondary importance are handed over to the independent management of local governing bodies. I shall also assume the unity of government in a different sense; i.e. I shall assume that, however the functions of government may be divided among different persons and bodies, there is no ultimate conflict among these organs; so that, though there may be differences of view among them leading to debate and mutual criticism, still their final decisions, demanding the obedience of the rest of the community, are as harmonious and consistent as if they emanated from one rational will. In subsequent chapters, examining more closely the constitution and relations of different organs of government, we shall have to take note of the possibilities of conflict among them, and consider expedients for avoiding or terminating it: but for the present I shall simply assume it to be avoided, and shall speak of ``Government'' as possessing unity of action, however its powers may be distributed.

For clearness of view let us first limit our attention to what I have called the ``individualistic minimum'' of governmental business---what other writers have distinguished as the ``necessary'' from the ``optional'' functions of government. In this view, the main internal work of government will consist in maintaining general security from coercion and intimidation, from intentional and culpably careless injury to person, reputation, or property, and from loss caused by failure to perform contracts---according to the definition of these rights before given; and in securing due provision for children, the burden of their support and education being thrown on their parents. It will further have to protect the interests of the community generally, and of individual members of it so far as may be necessary, against the attacks or encroachments of foreigners---at the same time compelling its own subjects to abstain from violating the rights of the latter. Finally, it will be its duty to make such provision as may be required for its own maintenance, and its own defence against internal as well as external foes. We have then to consider what governmental machinery will be necessary or expedient for the performance of these functions.

Let us take the internal work first. Here the point of primary importance is to give adequate inducements to all persons to perform their fundamental duties and refrain from infringing the fundamental rights of others. This end, as we before saw, may be partly attained by enforcing, at the request of the person whose right has been infringed, redress or compensation from the person who has infringed it; but in the case of grave transgressions of duty it will also be necessary to inflict on the violators some further punishment---beyond the penalty involved in the enforcement of compensation; moreover, there are certain kinds of mischievous conduct which, as they do, not give occasion for compensation, can only be repressed by punishment. Accordingly, whenever a sufficiently serious transgression of duty appears, or is alleged, to have occurred, it will be the business of Government, firstly, to decide, after an impartial examination of the facts, whether or not the transgression has actually taken place; and secondly, whenever such transgression is proved, to take such steps as may be necessary for compelling adequate redress or compensation, and inflicting adequate punishment. It is evident that, these two businesses require to a great extent different intellectual faculties and habits for their efficient conduct: the former needs a thorough and exact knowledge of the rules of civic duty that Government has to enforce, and impartiality and expertness in applying them to particular cases: the latter demands skill in organising and combining the labour of a number of subordinates---policemen, prison officials, etc.---with appropriate materials and instruments, for the attainment of particular definitely prescribed results. We have therefore prima facie reason to allot these functions to separately constituted organs which---in accordance with usage---I will call respectively the Judiciary or Judicial organ, and the Executive. It is the latter that will actually have to bring such force as may be required to overbear any resistance that may be offered by recalcitrant transgressors: it must therefore provide, organise, and train this force, so as to apply it when needed in the most effective and economical way, and with the minimum of social disturbance. Further, the organised physical force of the community will also be required---and ordinarily to a much greater extent---for the purpose of defending the interests of the State against foreign aggression: and it is obviously desirable, to prevent dangerous conflicts of authority, that its ultimate control should be in one hand. Thus there is a strong prima facie reason for making identical the organ that deals with the foreign relations of the State with what we have called the Executive, so far as the supreme direction of both functions is concerned. I shall, accordingly, assume provisionally that this is the case, and that it is the business of the Executive to receive foreign ambassadors, and to watch over the interests of the State and its members abroad, through the agency of ambassadors and consuls, and through correspondence with foreign governments; and also to organise and equip armies and fleets for foreign warfare, and direct their action when war has broken out.

Turning again to internal affairs, we may note that, even if the functions of government are confined within the narrowest limits, it must be the further business of the Executive to arrest persons suspected, on adequate grounds, of crime and keep them in confinement up to the time of trial if the crime be grave. Moreover, it is obviously desirable that Government should stop offences, if possible, before they are completed, prevent them if the intention to commit them is manifest, and remove continuing sources of injury and clearly illegal annoyance. Policemen, accordingly, will be required for these purposes, no less than for bringing criminals to punishment.

Again, we have before seen (Chap. XI.) that, for the adequate performance of all the various functions above described, kinds and amounts of labour are required which cannot be expected to be obtained gratuitously, and cannot well be imposed, as unremunerated duties, upon any class of citizens in a modern State: and that, accordingly, in order to provide the required remuneration and the various instruments and materials needed for governmental purposes, Government must have the power of levying taxes on the income or property of the governed. We must therefore add to the Government a financial department, to superintend the collection of these taxes, and their distribution for the different purposes of governmental expenditure. Tax-collectors, paymasters, accountants, comptrollers, and auditors, will be the subordinate officials in this department; and their operations will be directed by superior officials, whose business will form another department of what I have called Executive functions. Further, it seems clear that the proportion of the national income required for governmental expenditure cannot be fixed once for all, owing to the great variations that occur---chiefly through foreign wars, and dangers of wars---in the needs of Government. ``The public'', as Hobbes says, ``cannot be dieted''; so that private members of the community must submit to the degree of insecurity involved in an indefinite right of Government to take their property. It seems therefore important, in order to minimise this insecurity and render the exercise of this power of taxation as little formidable as possible, that the taxes to be levied should not be determined by the officials who will have to spend the proceeds, or other officials under their influence: it is important that the ``budget'' of the State should receive the assent of a separate and independent body, specially qualified to watch, in the interest of the taxpayers, the collection and expenditure of the taxes, and to prevent as far as possible any oppressiveness in the former or excess in the latter. It is, accordingly, an accepted principle in the construction of a modern government, that the ultimate control of governmental finance should be in the hands of such a body.

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