Practical Essays eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 252 pages of information about Practical Essays.

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IX.

THE PROCEDURE OF DELIBERATIVE BODIES.[18]

That great institution of political liberty, the Deliberative Assembly, seems to be on the eve of breaking down.  I do not speak merely of the highest assembly in the country, but of the numerous smaller bodies as well, from many of which a cry of distress may be heard.  The one evil in all is the intolerable length of the debates.  Business has increased, local representative bodies have a larger membership than formerly, and, notwithstanding the assistance rendered by committees, the meetings are protracted beyond bounds.

In this difficulty, attention naturally fastens, in the first instance, on the fact that the larger part of the speaking is entirely useless; neither informing nor convincing any of the hearers, and yet occupying the time allotted for the despatch of business.  How to eliminate and suppress this ineffectual oratory would appear to be the point to consider.  But as Inspiration itself did not reveal a mode of separating in advance the tares from the wheat, so there is not now any patent process for insuring that, in the debates of corporate bodies, the good speaking, and only the good speaking, shall be allowed.

Partial solutions of the difficulty are not wanting.  The inventors of corporate government—­the Greeks, were necessarily the inventors of the forms of debate, and they introduced the timing of the speakers.  To this is added, occasionally, the selection of the speakers, a practice that could be systematically worked, if nothing else would do.  Both methods have their obvious disadvantages.  The arbitrary selection of speakers, even by the most impartial Committee of Selection, would, according to our present notions, seem to infringe upon a natural right, the right of each member of a body to deliver an opinion, and give the reasons for it.  It would seem like reviving the censorship of the press, to allow only a select number to be heard on all occasions.

May not something be done to circumvent this vast problem?  May there not be a greater extension given to maxims and forms of procedure already in existence?

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[OBVIATING HURRIED DECISIONS.]

First, then, we recognize in various ways the propriety of obviating hurried and unpremeditated decisions.  Giving previous notice of motions has that end in view; although, perhaps, this is more commonly regarded simply as a protection to absentees.  Advantage is necessarily taken of the foreknowledge of the business to prepare for the debates.  It is a farther help, that the subject has been already discussed somewhere or other by a committee of the body, or by the agency of the public press.  Very often an assembly is merely called upon to decide upon the adoption of a proposal that has been long canvassed out of doors.  The task of the speakers is then easy—­we might almost say no speaking should be required:  but this is to anticipate.

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