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Modern History Sourcebook:
Joseph Chamberlain:
The Radical Programme, 1885

New conceptions of public duty, new developments of social enterprise, new estimates of the natural obligations of the members of the community to one another, have come into view, and demand consideration....

Thus far the agricultural 1aborer has been regarded by the political economists as a mere machine---an instrument to be used for the creation of wealth, deposited in the hands of the few; not as a human being whose comfort health, and home are to be considered, and who has a claim to such benefits as were conferred by the Factory Acts upon the laborers in towns. If his welfare cannot be sufficiently protected without the taxation of property, then property will be taxed....

But it is needless now to attempt to define the measures that may be necessary for these ends. It is enough to indicate their general character. They sound the death knell of the laissez-faire system; and if the agricultural laborer is not strong enough to look after himself, to take the initiative in the social reforms prompted by a rational estimate of private interest, there is an organized body of politicians in this country who will at least do thus much for him. If it be said that this is communism, the answer is that it is not. If it be said that it is legislation of a socialht tendency, the impeachment may readily be admired. Between such legislation and communism there is all the difference in the world.

Communism means the reduction of everything to a dead level the destruction of private adventure, the paralysis of private industry, the atrophy of private effort. The socialistic measures now contemplated would preserve in their normal vigor and freshness all the individual activities of English citizenship, and would know nothing more spoliatory than tax---if and in what degee necessary---aggregations of wealth for the good of the country....

It is not desirable, even if it were possible, that all Liberals should think exactly alike, and that every candidate should be cut to precisely the same pattern. In the Liberal army there must be pioneers to clear the way, and there must be men who watch the rear. Some may always be in advance, others may occasionally be behind; but the only thing we have to fight to demand is, that no one shall stand still, and that all should be willing to follow the main lines of Liberal progress to which the whole Party are committed. I do not conceal from you my own opinion that the pace will be a little faster in the future than it has been in the past. Everywhere the reforms to which the resolution has made reference are casting their shadows before. Everywhere in the country I see a quickening of political life. Everywhere there is a discussion, and hope, and expectation....

I have been solemnly excommunicated by some of the great authorities who claim a monopoly of the orthodox Liberal faith and doctrine. Gentlemen, I am not discouraged; I am not repentant. I am told if I pursue this course that I shall break up the Party, and that I shall altogether destroy any chance which I might otherwise have had of office. I do not believe it. But if it were true, I say that I care little for Party, and nothing at all for office, except so far as these things may be made instrumental in promoting the objects which I publicly avowed when I first entered Parliament, and which I will prosecute so long as I remain in public life. The Liberal Party has always seemed to me the great agency of progress and reform, and by the changes which have recently taken place it has secured a vantage-ground which I myself had hardly ever dared to anticipate. I had looked forward with hope to the future, but I had not supposed in my time so great a change could have been successfully effected. But now that my wildest expectations have been surpassed, I am not willing to be silent as to the uses to which I believe the people ought to put the new power and the privileges which have been conferred upon them. I had already a deep conviction that when the people came to govern themselves, and when the clamor of vested interests and class privileges was overborne by the powerful voice of the whole nation, that then the social evils which disgrace our civilization and the wrongs which have cried vainly for redress would at last find a hearing and a remedy. And if that be not so, it will be no longer statesmen or governments that you will have to blame. It will not be the fault of parties or of individuals, it will be the apathy or the ignorance, the indifference or the folly of the people themselves which alone can hinder their progress and their prosperity....

I am not a communist, although some people will have it that I am. Considering the difference in the character and the capacity of men, I do not believe that there can ever be an absolute equality of conditions, and I think that nothing would be more undesirable than that we should remove the stimulus to industry and thrift and exertion which is afforded by the security given to every man in the enjoyment of the fruits of his own individual exertions. I am opposed to confiscation in every shape or form, because I believe that it would destroy that security, and lessen that stimulus. But, on the other hand, I am in favor of accompanying the protection which is afforded to property with a large and stringent interpretation of the obligations of property. . . .

The Liberal Party of the past has been the popular party. It has been reinforced from time to time by successive Reform Bills, and now, after the greatest of them all, it would be false to its trust and unworthy of its high mission if it did not strive to bring the institutions of the country into harmony with the wants and aspirations of the people; if it did not seek continuously the greatest happiness of the greatest number; if it did not serve the poor with at least as much zeal as it brings to the protection of the rich; and if it did not enforce the obligations of property as strenuously as it defends its rights....

Politics is the science of human happiness, and the business of a statesman and of politicians is to find out how they can raise the general condition of the people; how they can increase the happiness of those who are less fortunate among them.


From: C. W. Boyd, ed., Mr. Chamberlain's Speeches, (London: Constable & Co., 1914), pp. 14-16, 166-170, 194-195.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

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© Paul Halsall, November 1998
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