Classic History Books


The History of England by A. E. Pollard

county councils, borough councils, district councils, and parish councils share with it in various degrees
the task of legislating for the country. They can, of course, only legislate, as they can only administer,

within the limits imposed by Act of Parliament; but their development, like the multiplication of central

administrative departments, indicates the latest, but not the final, stages in the growth and specialization

of English government. A century and a half ago two Secretaries of State were all that Great Britain

required; now there are half-a-dozen, and a dozen other departments have been added. Among them are

the Local Government Board, the Board of Education, the Board of Trade, the Board of Agriculture,

while many sub-departments such as the Public Health Department of the Local Government Board, the

Bankruptcy Department of the Board of Trade, and the Factory Department of the Home Office, have

more work to do than originally had a Secretary of State. It is probable, moreover, that departments will

multiply and subdivide at an ever-increasing rate.

All this, however, is merely machinery provided to give effect to public opinion, which determines the
use to which it shall be put. But its very provision indicates that England expects the state to-day to do

more and more extensive duty for the individual. For one thing the state has largely taken the place of the

church as the organ of the collective conscience of the community. It can hardly be said that the Anglican

church has an articulate conscience apart from questions of canon law and ecclesiastical property; and

other churches are, as bodies, no better provided with creeds of social morality. The Eighth

Commandment is never applied to such genteel delinquencies as making a false return of income, or

defrauding a railway company or the customs; but is reserved for the grosser offences which no member

of the congregation is likely to have committed; and it is left to the state to provide by warning and

penalty against neglect of one's duty to one's neighbour when one's neighbour is not one individual but

the sum of all. It was not by any ecclesiastical agitation that some humanity was introduced into the

criminal code in the third decade of the nineteenth century; and the protest against the blind cruelty of

economic laissez faire was made by Sadler, Shaftesbury, Ruskin, and Carlyle rather than by any

church. Their writings and speeches awoke a conscience in the state, which began to insist by means of

legislation upon humaner hours and conditions of labour, upon decent sanitation, upon a standard of

public education, and upon provision being made against fraudulent dealings with more helpless

fellow-men.

This public conscience has inevitably proved expensive, and the expense has had to be borne either by
the state or by the individual. Now, it might have been possible, when the expense of these new standards

of public health and comfort began to be incurred, to provide by an heroic effort of socialism for a

perpetuation of the individualistic basis of social duty. That is to say, if the state had guaranteed to every

individual an income which would enable him to bear his share of this expense, it might also have

imposed upon him the duty of meeting it, of paying fees for the education of his children, for hospital

treatment, for medical inspection, and so forth. But that effort was not, and perhaps could not, in the

existing condition of public opinion, be made; and the state has therefore got into the habit of providing

and paying for all these things itself. When the majority of male adults earn twenty shillings or less a

week, and possess a vote, there would be no raising of standards at all, if they had to pay the cost. Hence

the state has been compelled step by step to meet the expense of burdens imposed by its conscience. Free

education has therefore followed compulsory education; the demands of sanitary inspectors and medical

officers of health have led to free medical inspection, medical treatment, the feeding of necessitous

school children, and other piecemeal socialism; and, ignoring the historical causes of this development,

we are embarked on a wordy warfare of socialists and individualists as to the abstract merits of

antagonistic theories.

 

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