The Elements of Politics

Henry Sidgwick

Chapter 1

Scope and Method of Politics

§4. The study of Politics, then, as I shall treat it, is concerned primarily with constructing, on the basis of certain psychological premises, the system of relations which ought to be established among the persons governing, and between them and the governed, in a society of civilised men, as we know them. I shall refer not unfrequently to actual laws and political institutions: but chiefly by way of illustration, or to give concrete particularity to conclusions which would otherwise remain general and vague. The inquiry has two main divisions, (1) one relating to the Work or Functions of Government, and (2) the other to its Structure or Constitution: along with the latter I have thought it convenient to include the general inquiry into the relations, moral as well as legal, that ought to exist between government and the governed, besides such relations as are already defined in the determination of governmental functions; and also an inquiry into the relation of the State to voluntary associations of political importance. In deciding which of the two main divisions is to be taken first, we seem at first sight to be in a dilemma. On the one hand it may be fairly said that the first, in logical order of discussion, ought clearly to precede the second; for in investigating the best constitution we are considering the fitness of Government as an instrument to do a particular work: and in such a consideration we ought to get as clear an idea as possible of the work that has to be done before we proceed to consider how the instrument ought to be constituted. On the other hand it may be urged with no less plausibility that in the matter of government, as in private affairs, we cannot decide what it is prudent to attempt till we know what means we have at our disposal for effecting our ends. And in truth neither department of the subject can be entirely left out of view in studying the other. But on the whole it seems the best solution of the difficulty to begin by considering what government ought to do, bearing in mind that-so far as our conclusions on this point go beyond our experience of what governments actually have done---they must not be regarded as final until we have considered the prospect of obtaining a government qualified to carry out the work which we have judged to be desirable if possible. I propose, therefore, to begin by considering the Work of Government. Here, again, doubt may be raised as to whether we should consider first Internal or External Functions---i.e. the action of government on the members of the community governed, or its action in relation to other communities and individuals. It is undeniable that, in early periods of human history, the most pressing need of government is created by war, and that, in many cases, a predominant influence has been exercised on its development by this need. Still, in the consideration of civilised polity, it would seem that the Internal Functions of Government should properly occupy our attention first, as being more essentially implied in our general notion of political society; since we can conceive---indeed many have looked forward to---the union of the human race under one ``parliament of man''; or, again, we can conceive a political society so much separated from others by physical barriers as to have no external relations of much importance.

Further, it should be observed that the External Action of Government usually involves Internal Action,---often of a very important kind. Thus, though the primary object for which an army is raised is usually to fight a foreign enemy, still, in the work of raising and disciplining such an army in modern states, an important and peculiar exercise of governmental functions in relation to the governed is normally required.

I shall begin, then, with the Internal Functions of Government. Here the establishment and administration of Law is admittedly the most important: and to this accordingly our attention will be first directed. Hume indeed asserts, in a well-known essay, that ``we are to look upon all the vast apparatus of our government as having ultimately no other object or purpose but the distribution of justice, or, in other words, the support of the twelve judges. Kings and parliaments, fleets and armies, officers of the court and revenue, ambassadors, ministers and privy-councillors, are all subordinate in their end to this part of administration.'' There is some exaggeration in this statement;---since (e.g.) the objection that a French province has to being conquered and annexed by Germany is not due mainly to a fear of a bad administration of justice by German judges, but more to the national sentiment which makes it desire to remain a part of the French state. Still Hume's view is so far true as to make it proper for us, in considering the work that government has to do, to direct our attention first to the establishment and administration of a good system of Law. But before we proceed to the consideration of what Law and Government ought to be, it is desirable to undertake a preliminary inquiry into the characteristics that are essentially implied in the commonly received notions of Government and Law. To this we will proceed in the next chapter.

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