The Elements of Politics

Henry Sidgwick

Chapter XI


§2. Let us now proceed to a general survey of the means by which the personal services and material commodities required by government are to be provided. It must be admitted that, in some respects, this survey would come more appropriately after we have discussed the external relations of political communities, and the important governmental functions connected with them;---since, in most modern states, the larger share of the cost of government is caused by these functions. On the other hand, however largely the expenditure of government may be due to its external relations, the burden of providing the required supplies must fall almost entirely within the community: foreign tributes, whether exacted politically or---under exceptional circumstances---obtained by taxing foreign trade, can rarely amount to more than a small fraction of such supplies. I propose, accordingly, to introduce the discussion of the resources of government here; though in so doing I must take a more extended view of governmental work than that which has so far been brought before us.

The commodities required by government may be divided into (1) Personal services, (2) Material products of labour, and (3) Natural resources, especially land and its contents. Of these the third class may have belonged to the community from the first, and never have been permitted to be appropriated by individuals: it is only with regard to the first two classes that the questions necessarily arise whether they are to be obtained (a) voluntarily or compulsorily, (b) gratuitously or by purchase. For the higher parts of the work of government, if they do not involve continuous and fatiguing labour, the required services are likely to be obtainable without either compulsion or pecuniary emolument; as the dignity and power attached to such work renders it sufficiently attractive to a sufficiently large class. Whether this arrangement is desirable depends chiefly on the further question whether it is expedient that the work should be wholly or mainly in the hands of persons of comparative wealth and leisure:---a question of which the consideration belongs rather to the second part of this work which treats of the structure of government. And similar considerations are important in the more numerous cases in which either compulsion or payment is necessary to obtain the required services. Thus one of the reasons commonly alleged for making service on juries compulsory in England, is that the particular judicial functions allotted to the jury would be less satisfactorily performed if they were allowed to fall into the hands of a limited and quasi-professional class of persons.

So again, it is urged in favour of compulsory military service, that it diminishes the constitutional dangers involved in the existence of a large standing army, since conscripts are less likely than professional soldiers to be seduced into subserving the ends of unconstitutional ambition. Still I conceive that where compulsory military service is rightly introduced, the decisive reason in its favour is the economic reason, that the army required is too large to be raised by voluntary enlistment except at a rate of payment which would involve a greater burden in the way of taxation than the burden of compulsory service. For where the number of soldiers and sailors required for warlike purposes is not large in proportion to the population, and can be obtained for moderate remuneration, voluntary enlistment has great advantages from a utilitarian point of view; since it tends to select the persons most likely to be efficient soldiers and those to whom military functions are least distasteful; both which advantages are lost by the adoption of the compulsory system. Accordingly, no one would propose to apply this system to the police or civil service in any modern State.

At the same time, where there is no regular compulsion to military service, the duty of aiding personally, if required, in the defence of the community against foreign enemies, ought to be recognised as incumbent upon citizens generally: since no one can say how much of the available physical force of the community may be imperatively needed in a crisis of war, and it is desirable that whatever demands may be made upon it should be cheerfully and promptly met. Similarly, the aid of private persons---not in governmental employment---may be on exceptional occasions needed for the maintenance of order, and for the prevention, detection, and punishment of crime: accordingly, a general obligation to render such services, when required to do so by lawful authority, should be legally established: though the general economic advantages of ``division of labour'' render it expedient that these functions should be (as far as possible) left in the more expert hands of a carefully organised and disciplined body of governmental employees.

Even where military service is compulsory, the support and equipment of all, except a comparatively small minority of well-to-do persons, must be defrayed from the funds of the community: and it is obvious that whatever services the public obtains voluntarily must receive adequate remuneration from the same funds---except in the case of the dignified and comparatively unfatiguing posts before mentioned, or where the services are only occasional, and demand but a small expenditure of time.

Similarly, the cost of the material products of human labour required for governmental use, whether purchased or manufactured in governmental establishments, must be borne by the public treasury: and where they are purchased it is generally expedient that they should be obtained by free exchange at their market-value: as any compulsory reduction of the price paid for them would either discourage their production or would be an inconvenient way of indirectly taxing the consumers of similar products.

The case is otherwise when the commodity required is not due to human industry:---i.e. land or some part of the contents of land, in an unlaboured condition. Here, however, the practical question often is, not how the Government is to be supplied with such commodities, but rather how far it is desirable that it should retain possession of them. For, as we saw, in newly occupied territory, all the land with its contents is rightly treated as originally the property of the community: and actually much of the land that now belongs to the public, in modern European communities, has never been strictly private property; while other portions have been the private or semi-private property of royal families, and have thus gradually acquired the character of public property, as the monarchy changed from a feudal or semi-feudal to a modern institution. No doubt where there are valid reasons for retaining such land in public ownership---whether because it is required for the due performance of governmental functions, or because it is likely to be more useful under governmental management---there would also be strong reasons for acquiring it, if it were in private hands: only where it is already public property, the question whether it is to be obtained compulsorily or by voluntary exchange does not arise. Where, however, this question does arise, I hold it expedient in the special case of land that the community should have the right of compulsory purchase; because there is nothing to be gained here---as there is in the case before discussed of the products of labour---by allowing the owner of land to profit by the special need of the community.

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