The Conservative View, ca. 1895

Barbara Tuchman, in The Proud Tower, describes the political philosophy of Lord Salisbury, the British Prime Minister:

Class war and irreligion were to him the greatest evils and for this reason he detested Socialism, less for its menace to property than for its preaching of class war and its basis in materialism, which meant to him a denial of spiritual values. He did not deny the need of social reforms, but believed they could be achieved through the interplay and mutual pressures of existing parties. The Workmen’s Compensation Act, for one, making employers liable for work-sustained injuries, though denounced by some of his party as interference with private enterprise, was introduced and passed with his support in 1897.

He fought all proposals designed to increase the political power of the masses. When still a younger son, and not expecting to succeed to the title, he had formulated his political philosophy in a series of some thirty articles which were published in the Quarterly Review in the early 1860’s, when he was in his thirties. Against the growing demand at that time for a new Reform law to extend the suffrage, Lord Robert Cecil, as he then was, had declared it to be the business of the Conservative party to preserve the rights and privileges of the propertied class as the “single bulwark” against the weight of numbers. To extend the suffrage would be, as he saw it, to give the working classes not merely a voice in Parliament but a preponderating one that would give to “mere numbers a power they ought not to have.” He deplored the Liberals’ adulation of the working class “as if they were different from other Englishmen” when in fact the only difference was that they had less education and property and “in proportion as the property is small the danger of misusing the franchise is great.” He believed the workings of democracy to be dangerous to liberty, for under democracy “passion is not the exception but the rule” and it was “perfectly impossible” to commend a farsighted passionless policy to “men whose minds are unused to thought and undisciplined to study.” To widen the suffrage among the poor while increasing taxes upon the rich would end, he wrote, in a complete divorce of power from responsibility; “the rich would pay all the taxes and the poor make all the laws.”

He did not believe in political equality. There was the multitude, he said, and there were “natural” leaders. “Always wealth, in some countries birth, in all countries intellectual power and culture mark out the man to whom, in a healthy state of feeling, a community looks to undertake its government.” These men had the leisure for it and the fortune, “so that the struggles for ambition are not defiled by the taint of sordid greed. . . . They are the aristocracy of a country in the original and best sense of the word. . . . The important point is, that the rulers of a country should be taken from among them,” and as a class they should retain that “political preponderance to which they have every right that superior fitness can confer.

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