Human Nature in Politics eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 256 pages of information about Human Nature in Politics.

‘Change of opinion,’ wrote Gladstone in 1868, ’in those to whose judgment the public looks more or less to assist its own, is an evil to the country, although a much smaller evil than their persistence in a course which they know to be wrong.  It is not always to be blamed.  But it is always to be watched with vigilance; always to be challenged and put upon its trial.’[19] Most statesmen avoid this choice between the loss of force resulting from a public change of opinion, and the loss of character resulting from the public persistence in an opinion privately abandoned, not only by considering carefully every change in their own conclusions, but by a delay, which often seems cowardly and absurd, in the public expression of their thoughts upon all questions except those which are ripe for immediate action.  The written or reported word remains, and becomes part of that entity outside himself which the stateman is always building or destroying or transforming.

[19] Gleanings, vol. vii. p. 100, quoted in Morley’s Life, vol. i. p. 211.

The same conditions affect other political entities besides parties and statesmen.  If a newspaper is to live as a political force it must impress itself on men’s minds as holding day by day to a consistent view.  The writers, not only from editorial discipline, but from the instinctive desire to be understood, write in the character of their paper’s personality.  If it is sold to a proprietor holding or wishing to advocate different opinions, it must either frankly proclaim itself as a new thing or must make it appear by slow and solemn argumentative steps that the new attitude is a necessary development of the old.  It is therefore rightly felt that a capitalist who buys a paper for the sake of using its old influence to strengthen a new movement is doing something to be judged by other moral standards than those which apply to the purchase of so much printing-machinery and paper.  He may be destroying something which has been a stable and intelligible entity for thousands of plain people living in an otherwise unintelligible world, and which has collected round it affection and trust as real as was ever inspired by an orator or a monarch.



The assumption—­which is so closely interwoven with our habits of political and economic thought—­that men always act on a reasoned opinion as to their interests, may be divided into two separate assumptions:  first, that men always act on some kind of inference as to the best means of reaching a preconceived end, and secondly, that all inferences are of the same kind, and are produced by a uniform process of ‘reasoning.’

In the two preceding chapters I dealt with the first assumption, and attempted to show that it is important for a politician to realise that men do not always act on inferences as to means and ends.  I argued that men often act in politics under the immediate stimulus of affection and instinct, and that affection and interest may be directed towards political entities which are very different from those facts in the world around us which we can discover by deliberate observation and analysis.

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Human Nature in Politics from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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