The Elements of Politics

Henry Sidgwick

Chapter 19

Methods and Intruments of Government

§4. We may, therefore, conclude that a Legislative organ is continually needed, in a modern State, to secure the best possible definition even of the individualistic minimum of legal duty.

The need, however, of a continually active legislature becomes more palpable and obvious when we admit the necessity of governmental interference (with sane adults) of the kind that I have called ``indirectly individualistic'' and ``paternal'':---such as the prohibition of insanitary dwellings and food, and generally the enforcement of precautions against disease, the restriction of the sale of intoxicants, the repression of gambling, the regulation of such dangerous industries as mining and navigation, or the manufacture of explosive substances; and when we take into account the State's duty to care for the interests of others than sane adults---especially to supervise the rearing and training of children and protect them from parental neglect and from any oppressive and injurious treatment. And the need will be further increased if we include various kinds of interference, which I before classified as ``Socialistic'', in a wide sense of the term; i.e. if Government is to regulate the use of natural resources---rivers, forests, mines, sea-fisheries---and to make special laws for the tenure of land; to undertake a large share of the business of conveyance and communication; to monopolise coining and regulate the issue of bank-notes. A fresh quantum of legislation will be required if we admit interference with the special aim of benefiting the poor, as by compulsory and partially gratuitous education, poor-relief from public funds, compulsory and state-aided insurance against sickness and old age. As we have before remarked, an important amount of interference under these various heads is actually undertaken by all modern States, and the tendency at present is to extend it: and it is obvious that so far as these measures involve encroachments on freedom, legislation of a complicated and delicate kind will be required, to render the action of government in these various ways at once as useful and as little mischievous as possible.

It is further evident that in order to carry out effectively the various kinds of governmental interference which I have classified as ``indirectly individualistic'', ``paternal'', and ``socialistic'', the Executive will have to be made considerably more extensive and complex. For instance, the regulation of dangerous industries involves a need of new functionaries of various kinds, to inspect the places in which the industries are carried on, to give licences which may be withdrawn if conditions are broken, to test and certify the training of certain classes of skilled labourers; while, so far as Government does not merely regulate, but actually takes certain departments of industry into its own management, the work of the Executive may be further enlarged and varied almost indefinitely. If governmental interference in England were strictly limited to the individualistic minimum, we should only require for executive work---leaving the external relations of the State out of account---something like the Home Office, together with certain local authorities, to manage the machinery for prevention and punishment of crime, and the Treasury to manage the finances. It is because our State undertakes so much further interference of the various kinds exemplified in the preceding paragraph that the functions of such additional departments as our Board of Education, Local Government Board, Board of Trade (so far as regulating railways), and Post Office, are needed.

Here, however, it should be observed that the social needs, which give occasion for governmental work going beyond the individualistic minimum, are partly supplied in England and other modern states by private enterprise and voluntary associations, or by philanthropic efforts and funds given or bequeathed by private persons to public purposes. One consequence of this is that the intervention of Government in the arrangements for supplying these needs does not necessarily involve the action of the ordinary executive organ, or involves it only in a minor degree. It may, in some cases, be expediently carried into effect by legislation giving certain coercive powers to voluntary associations, commercial or uncommercial;---usually under the condition of conforming to special regulations laid down by the legislature. Thus,---to take an instance of a commercial association,---an English railway company, on account of the social importance of its work, is granted a special power of compulsorily purchasing the land that it requires, and in return for this privilege is required to conform to regulations laid down by the legislature in respect of the rates that it charges for the conveyance of goods and passengers. At the same time it has the power of making, with the approval of the Board of Trade, ``byelaws'' for the regulation of its traffic, and attaching penalties which law-courts will enforce to the breach of them. The institutions, again, to which, in England, the exclusion of unfit persons from the medical and legal professions respectively is entrusted, come under the same general head. Institutions of this kind, which we may call ``semi-public'', afford a useful machinery for supplying certain social wants better than the unaided and unregulated action of private persons would supply them, without unduly increasing the responsibilities or the powers of Government.

The semi-public character of such institutions has various forms and degrees. Sometimes, as we have just seen, it involves a share of the coercive function which is the peculiar attribute of Government; sometimes it is given by special privileges of a non-coercive kind. Thus the Bank of England is enabled to perform the public function of providing an important part of the medium of exchange in England, through its special privilege of issuing notes that may be legally tendered in payment of all debts of money (above £5), provided that such notes are expressed to be payable to bearer on demand, and are actually paid by the bank in legal coin whenever demand is made. Sometimes, again, the intervention of the State takes the form of pecuniary assistance from public funds, given under certain conditions: thus many of the universities of Great Britain are to this extent under governmental control, though the executive scarcely interferes in their administration.

It is to be observed that differences similar to those just noted are found in the executive business performed by governmental officials. The most important part of this business consists in interference of a coercive kind with the freedom of individuals, e.g. in preventing and punishing crime and levying taxes. But there are other parts of governmental work, especially of the kinds that I have classed as socialistic, which are usually not coercive, except in the indirect way of requiring funds that have to be raised by taxation; and sometimes not even to this extent, since such work may be carried on remuneratively, just like a private commercial enterprise. Thus, for instance, the business of various kinds carried on by the Post Office in England yields a large annual surplus to the State; and though the main part of this business---the transmission of letters and telegrams---is protected by a monopoly, and so far involves coercive interference with the ordinary rights of individuals, this is not the case with the conveyance of parcels, nor with the insurance and savings bank business performed by the same department. In these latter cases, then, the coercive element of governmental interference is altogether wanting; the businesses are regarded as governmental, because they are supported by public credit, and carried on by officials appointed by government, but these officials in dealing with other members of the community have only the same rights as the ordinary law secures to private persons.

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