Administrative Law

Centralization: John Austin

Citation: Centralization: John Austin (1847) Edinburgh Review Vol. 85, No. 171 (Jan., 1847)

By the books which we have taken for a text, and by various books and essays which we have not specified, our attention has been drawn to a subject of great and growing importance—the tendencies of that form of Government, or rather, that form of Administration, which we must designate, for want of a better title, by the barbarous, though received name, of Centralization. Novel as it is, the word has acquired already a good and a bad sense; and, like all other words subject to this ambiguity, it has begotten a crowd of mistakes concerning the thing which it signifies, with a crowd of intentional or unintentional fallacies.

For example, the word is often put forward by ostensible advocates of the thing, as a cover for vexatious restraints laid by governments on the governed. On the other hand, the word is frequently employed (in a sense which imports blame), as if it were synonymous with over-governing;—that is, an over-meddling by governments with the interests and concerns of their subjects. This confusion of two things which have no natural connexion has armed objectors to improvements with a telling and dangerous fallacy. Any interference by a government with the interests and concerns of its subjects, however expedient that interference may be, is reproached by those who would raise a prejudice against it, with a tendency to centralization; and by this brandishing of a word, (which, as being imperfectly understood, is full of mysterious terrors,) they can work on the practical convictions of their hearers or readers, with an effect which they could not produce by a perspicuous statement of their reasons. To obviate the prevalent mistakes concerning Centralization, and to obviate the obstacles to improvement, which they have raised and are likely to raise, is the purpose of the present article. A complete accomplishment of the purpose would surpass our limited space, although it did not surpass our limited powers; but we hope that such of our readers as may care to investigate the subject, will be helped to adequate conceptions of it by the suggestions which we shall offer to their notice.

Of the many misconceptions of centralization which have fallen under our observation, the following, we think, are the most prevalent and important:—1. It is confounded with over-governing. 2. It is thought incompatible with the spirit, if not with the forms, of free or popular government. 3. It is thought incompatible with local governments of local and popular origin. 4. In France, Prussia, and other continental countries, the governments of localities, with the lower branches of the general administration, are controlled to excess by the heads of the latter; and this abuse of centralization is supposed to be of its essence.

To clear the subject of the obscurity which they have cast upon it, we shall examine these misconceptions as fully as our limits will permit. We shall append to our examination of the last a few remarks on a subject which is closely connected with it;—the expediency of the sovereign authority delegating its functions, so far as such delegation consists with the preservation of its power. To our examination of these misconceptions we shall prefix a general outline of centralization itself. In this preliminary outline, we shall endeavour to determine the notion of centralization; we shall endeavour to indicate the conditions upon which it depends; and we shall notice its tendencies to promote or defeat the objects which governments ought to pursue.

A perfect definition of centralization would involve a definition of sovereignty and independent political society; but since a definition of these fundamental notions would not consist with our limited purposes, we confine ourselves to the following assumptions:—That every political society is subject to a person or persons who may be styled the sovereign: That the political powers, active or passive, of this individual or body, are not limitable by positive law; since all the positive laws in force in the given society owe their legal validity to the expressed will of the sovereign or to its tacit sanction: That the other political authorities in the given society are subordinate to the sovereign or supreme one; deriving their political powers from its express or tacit delegation, and holding those powers at its pleasure. The omnipotence of the sovereign authority, as meaning its absolute freedom from legal restraints, is (we conceive) indisputable; being involved in the notion of sovereignty, as the properties of a circle are implied by the definition of the figure. If the sovereignty resides in a single person, the sovereign government is properly a monarchy; if it resides in a body of persons, the government may be styled a republic, (in the wider meaning of the term.) But with this division of governments into monarchies and republics—or with the division of republics into oligarchies, aristocracies, democracies, limited or mixed monarchies, and other forms innumerable—we have no immediate concern.

In every state whatever, the subordinate authorities bear a relation to the supreme one, which, by a metaphor, may be styled centralization; for, owing their being and attributes (by its express or tacit delegation) to that supreme authority, they may be said to radiate from it as from their common centre. But the term centralization, as it is usually applied, must signify something less obvious than that universal relation; and this less obvious and less determinate signification is the meaning with which we are concerned. According to the theory of every government, the subordinate authorities ought to be dependent on the supreme one: they ought to be the ministers or instruments of its expressed or intimated pleasure. For example, the governments of the States forming the American Union are held together by a merely federal tie; but being subordinate to the aggregate of states from which the federal government holds its constitution and attributes, they ought to be dependent on this government, (in respect of matters within its competence,) as the authorities in an English county are dependent on the British Parliament. But though it is necessarily supposed by the theory of every government, this ideally perfect dependence is not attainable in practice. There are, however, countries in which the approach made to it is closer than it is in others; and if we abstract the causes (physical and moral) which modify the workings of political institutions, we may say that the degree in which the ideal is realised is determined by the constitution and attributes of the subordinate authorities. Now, if their constitution and functions tend strongly to make them dependent on the supreme one, the government is centralized; if their constitution and functions have not that tendency, the government is not centralized; and if, in consequence of this structural defect, they tend strongly to independence of the supreme one, they partake more or less of the nature of sovereign powers. The degree of the tendency to dependence, and the degree of the opposite tendency, which are marked by the opposed terms ‘centralized’ and ‘uncentralized,’ cannot be determined exactly by general expressions. Like the many other distinctions founded on differences of degrees, which occur in the moral sciences, the distinction is vague in theory. In spite, however, of its vagueness, important theoretical conclusions are deducible from it; and it is applicable, in reference to particular governments, with a sufficient approach to certainty. In fine, if centralization has any determinable import, and if we have succeeded in seizing that import correctly, it lies in the constitution and attributes of the subordinate authorities in a State: it is any such determination, or any such structure or disposition, of the constitution and functions of those authorities, as tends strongly (though in a degree not precisely assignable) to make them practically dependent on the sovereign power. If we have mistaken its import, our mistake is a venial one. We have looked into many disquisitions, and more declamations, about this much extolled and much decried word; but we have not lighted in the very best of them upon any endeavour to determine the nature of the thing.

From the notion of centralization, we should pass directly to its conditions or essentials. Before, however, we proceed to these, we must notice an application (much in vogue since the time of Montesquieu) of the two expressions ‘legislative’ and ‘administrative.’ By that application, the mutual relations of the sovereign and subordinate authorities have been much obscured; and, consequently, the difficulties inherent in our subject have been much aggravated. Legislation is the making of laws: administration (in the more usual sense of the word) is the applying of laws (or of rules or principles) to cases arising under them. But to laws and administrative acts, we must add the laws (improperly so called) which are made for and restricted to a specific case or cases. Such, for example, are the privileges, beneficial or onerous, of the Roman law; such, also, are private acts of Parliament; and such are acts of Parliament (rare as they are invidious) for reaching criminals guilty of anomalous offences. This legislation in specie, or calculated for a specific case, is compounded of legislation and administration. As giving a law, (or a something analogous to a law,) it partakes of the former; as applying that law to the case for which it specifically provides, it is nearly allied to the latter. In deeming it a sort of administration, we are following, we believe, the more prevalent usage; and certainly are justified by the nature of the purpose to which it is, or ought to be applied. Unless it be odiously arbitrary, it corrects or helps the existing law, and harmonizes with its maxims and spirit; and is thus an application of that law, (or, at least, of the principles on which that law is founded,) rather than a legislative act. On the division of political functions into legislative and administrative, has been founded a corresponding division of political functionaries. According to this division, (generally received since Montesquieu,) legislative functions are, or ought to be, the sole business of the sovereign; administrative functions are, or ought to be, the exclusive office of the subordinate authorities. For example, the King (or Queen Regnant) of the United Kingdom has two political characters. He is the foremost member of the Parliament, as composed of King, Lords, and Commons; and, in another and subordinate character, he is the foremost minister of that sovereign body. According to the division in question, the King, Lords, and Commons, as composing the sovereign Parliament, are the legislative power: the King, in his ministerial character, with the aggregate of the functionaries deriving their functions from him, are the administrative or executive authority.—In regard to the sovereign, (whether an individual or a body,) this division is palpably false.

All political powers, actual and possible, reside actively or passively in the central authority; and all such powers residing in others are merely emanations from it. In large and civilised countries, and in more modern times, the central authority has confined its activity to matters of general interest. Accordingly, it has confined itself to the making of laws concerning those weightier matters, and has delegated its administrative functions. But this proposition, though generally true, must be taken with large limitations. Even in such countries, administrative functions, or functions analogous to them, are often exercised directly by the sovereign power. For example, private acts of Parliament, now so frequent and important, are rather administrative than legislative measures; and declarations of war, treaties of peace, with other measures determining our foreign relations, are, for the most part, in the same predicament. According, indeed, to the theory of the constitution, (or rather to its historical forms,) the determination of these relations belongs to the King; but since the King could not determine them effectually, without the concurrence of the Lords and Commons, they are directly determined, in fact, by the sovereign authority of Parliament.—In regard to the subordinate authorities, the hollowness of the division is equally manifest. By virtue of powers which the sovereign has expressly given them, or has tacitly permitted them to exercise, those authorities in all countries have legislated to a vast extent. For example, the laws made by our numerous colonial governments are directly legislative acts proceeding from a subordinate source. The ordonnances made by the King of the French, for giving detailed effect to the laws of the King and Chambers, are acts of the same character.

The Roman private law, at the end of the free republic, had been made chiefly by the direct legislation of the Pretors. The French law, under the old monarchy, owed its existence, in a great measure, to the direct and judicial legislation of the various Parliaments. By the judicial legislation of the English Courts of Justice, the vast and artificial fabric of the unwritten law has been built on a narrow basis of ancient and rude customs. It is clear, therefore, that ‘the legislative power,’ or ‘the legislature,’ is not an appropriate name for the sovereign authority; and that the term ‘administrative,’ in its more usual sense, does not characterise the authorities subordinate to it. But, in another and more comprehensive sense, administrative (or executive) is equivalent to subordinate or ministerial; and to administer (or to execute) is to give effect, by subordinate legislation or administration, to the will of the sovereign power. In this sense, therefore, the subordinate authorities may be aptly styled administrative; and may be properly distinguished by that epithet from the sovereign authority of which they are ministers or instruments.

From this verbal, but indispensable discussion, we shall pass to the conditions on which centralization depends. We must previously remark, however, that its tendency to strengthen the central authority is aided or impeded by causes extrinsic to political institutions. Such, for example, is the facility or difficulty of communication between the parts of the country; the disposition of their respective populations to union or separation; the attachment or aversion of the bulk of the community to the actual holders of the sovereign power; and the docility or indocility inherent in the national character,—(whether that character be imputable to race, or to a long and steady action of outward influences.) As such causes are innumerable, and combine and cross in innumerable ways, we have not room for a distinct and formal inquiry into their nature and operation. But our review of the political conditions on which centralization depends, and the political causes by which it is helped or thwarted, will involve an occasional notice of the various extrinsic circumstances which variously modify the workings of political institutions.

In reference to centralization, the subordinate authorities in a state may be distributed under two heads;—the governments of localities, and the general administration of the country.—We understand by a locality, (the only expression, not altogether new, that is adequate to the extent of our meaning,) any such portion of the country subject to the sovereign power, as is administered by subordinate authorities specially occupied with its peculiar affairs. Accordingly, extensive provinces, extensive dependencies, and even the several states united by a federal union, are just as much localities, in the sense which we attach to the expression, as English counties and municipalities, or French departments and communes. The subordinate authorities, thus administering a locality, may be styled a local government. We understand by the general administration, the aggregate of the subordinate authorities, superior and inferior, who are occupied with affairs concerning the country at large. Though the governments of localities, and the general administration of the country, are always distinct or distinguishable, they naturally cross and combine in various ways. Thus, functionaries belonging to the latter may exercise their functions within a locality; and, though engaged in the general administration, may be members of the local government. For example, a collector of the general revenue may exercise his functions within the limits of a town; and may combine the character of collector of revenue with that of mayor of the town or member of the town-council.

Though a local government, as being a subordinate authority, emanates immediately or ultimately from the sovereign power, it may originate immediately in various ways. First, it may proceed immediately from the sovereign authority, or from that authority through the general administration; secondly, it may derive its immediate origin from the locality which it administers; lastly, it may partly derive that origin from the former of those two sources, and partly from the latter. For example, the local government of a French department might be chosen by the King, as the head of the general administration; or it might be chosen by a larger or smaller fraction of the inhabitants of the locality; or it might be chosen partly in one of those two ways, and partly in the other. In fact, it originates immediately in the last-mentioned manner. The Prefect is the chief of the local government, as well as a functionary of the general administration. But to the Prefect, who is appointed by the King, is attached a Departmental Council, who are elected by a portion of the inhabitants; and, without the concurrence, or the previous advice of this Council, the acts of the Prefect, as local administrator, are not valid. In reference to centralization, the immediate origin of the local governments is a matter of primary importance. If they proceed immediately from the central authority, (or from the general administration, which commonly sympathises with it,) they naturally tend to dependence upon that authority, so far as their tendencies are determined by political causes. But if a local government, entirely or principally, derives its immediate origin from the locality itself, it naturally tends to clash with the central authority, or with the general administration;—the tendency being greater or less as its territory is larger or smaller, as its immediate origin is more or less popular, and as its attributes are more or less extensive. To make this tendency obvious, and to show the necessity for taking precautions against it, we will advert to the local governments in which it is the strongest: the several governments of states united by a federal union, and the local governments of dependencies. By a short analysis of these governments, we shall gain a point of view which commands the subject of centralization, or, at least, an important part of it.

The nature of the States’ Governments (whether they are sovereign or subordinate?) has been much discussed by the parties which divide the American Union; although it is clearly determined (as we presume to think) by the purposes and provisions of the federal constitution. As that constitution was framed by a convention which represented the several states, a like extraordinary convention may alter or annul it at their pleasure. The aggregate of the several states, as represented by such a convention, is, therefore, sovereign throughout the Union. The federal government, which is its creature and minister, and the states’ governments, whose powers it can modify at its pleasure, are equally subordinate to it. But though this aggregate, as thus represented, is properly a sovereign body, its active functions are merely constituent. It defines the constitution and attributes of the federal government, and thus modifies (by implication) the powers of the states’ governments. It leaves, however, the ordinary business of a government to those respective authorities; the federal government administering the affairs of the Union, and each of the states’ governments administering those of its locality. Since it is merely constituent, and since its interventions are separated by long intervals, the sovereign authority in the American Union may be styled constituent or latent; as a sovereign authority which habitually governs may be styled acting or ostensible. That the federal government is merely ministerial, cannot be doubted; the specified powers which it holds from the constituent sovereign, rendering its character obvious. But, the federation apart, each of the states’ governments would be supreme and independent; it has only relinquished, by its accession to the federation, a specified portion of its sovereign powers; and it may be said, with some plausibility, that the infinitude of powers which it retains is equivalent to sovereignty. To this it may be answered, that its powers are liable to abridgment by the constituent authority; and that no government, subject to such a liability, can be deemed sovereign and independent. Nay, the constituent authority, for the purpose of strengthening the federation, might deprive the states’ governments of all but specified powers;—endowing the federal government with the infinite residue, and thus giving it a character approaching to sovereignty. In that event, the subordination of the states’ governments would not admit of a doubt; and since the federal government, notwithstanding the enlargement of its powers, would be obviously the creature and minister of the federal constitution, its subordinate character would be equally indisputable.

The following, therefore, are the characters of a federal state:—1. The federal government and the states’ governments are subordinate to a constituent sovereign. 2. The will of the federal government (as to matters within the competence which it derives from the federal constitution) is enforced in the several states by its own authority and instruments. In every state, therefore, there are two administrative authorities;—the administration of the federal state created by the federation, and the state’s or local government. And here is the practical difference (a wide and important one) between a federal state and a mere confederation of states. The latter is a knot of states severally independent, though bound together by an alliance calculated for permanency. The assembly, or other organ, which determines their common affairs, is neither sovereign, nor the minister of a sovereign authority. It is merely a congress of ambassadors from the several states, agreeing on resolutions concerning the interests of the confederacy; and these resolutions are enforced in every state by the authority and instruments of its peculiar government. 3. The powers of the federal government are specified and limited; and, consequently, each of the states’ governments possesses an infinitude of powers, notwithstanding the federal union. This, in fact, is a character of a federal state, though not implied by the idea. If the powers of the states’ governments were specified by the federal constitution, it would give the federal government an infinitude of powers, and make it in practice nearly supreme. But if the several states could consent to so intimate a union, they would probably go further, and consent to a perfect fusion; the machinery of a federal state being far less simple and convenient, than that of a state with an acting and ostensible sovereign.

The position of a dependency is different from that of a state united to others by a federal union. Speaking generally, (for the proposition might be limited by some unimportant exceptions,) a dependency is governed by the sovereign authority from which the local government derives its constitution and attributes. For example, all our colonial governments emanate from the British Parliament, immediately or ultimately; and the same sovereign authority governs the colonies directly, or through various departments of the general administration of the empire. But, notwithstanding the interventions of the sovereign power, the machinery of the local government is as ample as that of a supreme one: its powers, moreover, are as various and extensive as those of a state’s government in a federal state: in short, it possesses as much of the constitution and attributes belonging to a sovereign government, as consists with the sovereignty and the occasional interventions of the government to which it is subordinate. This description applies, in somewhat different degrees, to all our colonial governments; and it applies, in an eminent degree, to the local government which governed Ireland when forming a dependency upon Great Britain. It were superfluous to dwell upon consequences which the description plainly implies. If the local government, entirely or principally, originate immediately in the dependency itself, it will obviously tend to clash with the sovereign authority. If its local origin be of a popular character, and its territory be large and populous, the tendency will obviously be strong—as strong as the tendency of a state’s government, with a similar origin and territory, to conflict with the administration of the federal state. It is hardly necessary to add, that federal government, or government by a system of dependencies, may be rendered expedient or inevitable by physical or moral causes; or that the only purpose of our strictures upon them is to show their intrinsic inconsistency with centralization.

It appears, we think, from the foregoing analysis, that the conditions of centralization, in reference to the governments of localities, may be indicated as follows:—1. The functions of those governments must be specified and limited; and must not consist (like the attributes of states’ governments, or the local governments of dependencies) in infinite aggregates of powers. 2. Their respective territories must not be sufficiently extensive to give them a moral weight rendering their dependence precarious. If the territory and population which are administered by a local government are a large fraction of those of the country, it will tend to antagonize with the sovereign authority, in spite of any limitations which may be put upon its functions. These conditions (with the details which they imply) being observed and satisfied, local governments of local and popular origin are helps rather than hindrances to centralization; tending to strengthen the influence of the central authority, as well as to give to the localities themselves the best administration of their local affairs. But, intending to revert to local governments in another part of this article, we pass at present to those conditions of centralization which lie in the constitution and attributes of the general administration.

There is in every country an administrative authority, which may be called the head of the general administration. By this presiding authority, the departments of that administration are linked to the sovereign power; and, by the same authority, those departments, with the functionaries whom they include, are immediately or mediately directed or controlled. In pure monarchies, this presiding authority may be placed in a single minister, but is commonly entrusted to a council of ministers. In limited monarchies, the single person, (clothed with a monarchical title,) who is the foremost member of the sovereign body, is also the head of the general administration; but since he delegates his functions to a council of ministers, (or, at least, exercises his functions with and under their advice,) this presiding authority virtually resides in them, rather than in him.[1] In republican governments of other forms or names, this presiding authority may reside in a single person, but dwells more commonly in a number of persons; and (according to the infinite varieties of their several constitutions) is exercised directly by the head of the general administration, or virtually delegated to a body of ministers.

In respect of the general administration, (thus linked to the sovereign authority,) the conditions of centralization may be indicated as follows:—1. The departments and sub-departments into which the administrative body is divided and subdivided must be clearly arranged. 2. The administrative functions distributed amongst them must be clearly determined. 3. The places in the administrative hierarchy, respectively occupied by its several functionaries, must be clearly marked; the authorities in the same hierarchy to which they are respectively responsible, clearly designated; and the natures of their respective responsibilities, with the respective modes of enforcing them, clearly defined. These conditions being observed and satisfied, an unbroken chain of subordination connects the lowest functionary with the central authority. The general administration, through its head, is linked immediately to the sovereign power; its several departments, through their respective heads, are linked immediately to the head of the general administration; and every individual functionary is linked to the head of his department, by the clear determination of his place, his functions, and his responsibilities. The clear arrangement of the administrative machine facilitates the supervision of its movements; so that the central authority can keep it to its destined direction, with comparative ease and certainty. By the same clearness of arrangement, the departments and sub-departments are prevented from clashing, as well as from resisting or thwarting the sovereign power. Not being covered with the mystery of a crude and confused organisation, the administrative machine is not impervious to discerning observation and criticism; and the endeavours of the central authority to control and direct its movements, are, therefore, enlightened and assisted by an intelligent public opinion.

From the conditions of centralization, we pass to certain causes which heighten its effect, but which can hardly be ranked with its conditions or essentials.

In large and civilised countries, and in more modern times, the central authority has commonly limited its activity to matters of general and permanent concern. Commonly confining itself to the making of laws regarding those weightier matters, it has delegated many of its legislative powers, and more of its administrative functions. By extending this reasonable policy as far as it might extend it with advantage to the country, it would heighten its efficiency and strengthen its power. Relieved from a multitude of burdensome functions which it might better exercise by subordinate functionaries, it would be able to perform the business which it reserved to itself with mature deliberation as well as despatch; and, moreover, it could give to the supervision and control of the administrative machine more attention than it can bestow at present upon that important office of the central authority. But, since the central authority consults the interests of its power, by delegating its functions up to a certain point, such delegation has a centralizing tendency, if it be not a condition of centralization. What are the functions which it should exercise directly, and what are those which it ought to delegate, cannot be determined by general expressions; nor would any attempt to draw the line of demarcation consist with our limited space. We shall, however, revert to the subject in the last part of the present article.

It seems to be supposed by most of the writers who have treated of centralization, that homogeneity, or uniformity, of institutions constitutes its essence. They seem to suppose, for example, that where a government is perfectly centralized, one system of law obtains throughout the country; that the respective governments of the several localities have been cast in a common mould; that the departments and sub-departments of the general administration have been struck off from a common type; that the divisions of the country, for general administrative proposes, have been cut out on a common pattern. Now, this uniformity simplifies the administrative machine; lays it bare to descerning observation and criticism; and thus enables the central authority to watch and control its movements with comparative facility and effect. Accordingly, this uniformity is highly centralizing, where the conditions which we have passed in review have been observed and satisfied. But it appears clearly, from an obvious and decisive fact, that mere uniformity of institutions is not identical with centralization. This uniformity may exist, to an eminent degree, in a country ruled by a government which is not centralized at all; nay, in a country made up of states which are not subject to a common sovereign. The United States of America, though subject to a common sovereign, are loosely united by a federal union. Germany is held together by a still looser and weaker tie;—by a mere confederation of independent states, or by a federal bond which is hardly closer or stronger. Nevertheless, the political institutions of these divided countries are scarcely less homogeneous than those of France herself. The respective legal systems of the several American States, (excepting two or three which have lately acceded to the Union,) are substantially one and the same. A Common Law of America, abstracted from those several systems, has been admitted by the ablest American jurists; and is (we believe) the law applied by the federal tribunals to certain of the cases within their competence. In Germany, the homogeneity of the several legal systems is equally remarkable. The Common Law of Germany forms the bulk of the system which obtains in each of the states; although, in some of the states, (as, for example, in Prussia,) that universal law has been reduced to a code, and has taken a new name along with a systematic form.[2] We have said that uniformity of institutions (where certain conditions have been satisfied) has a highly centralizing tendency. It must be added, however, that it tends to weaken the central government, and to defeat the ends of centralization, where it is accepted with reluctance by considerable portions of the governed. The rage of the French nation for forcing its nationality on others, is a principal cause of its inaptitude for colonizing foreign countries, and for holding them in permanent subjection. In her ancient policy towards her foreign dependencies, England herself was too much influenced by a puerile conceit of her own institutions; scourging dependent populations to whom her institutions were not intelligible, with English law, administered through English procedure, by technical English lawyers. Happily for herself, and the nations dependent upon her, she has taken to a better way during the last half century. From her vast experience in colonial government, she has learned to respect their opinions and manners, and to touch their institutions with a cautious and tender hand. To this policy, not less prudent than magnanimous and humane, we must mainly attribute her wonderful success in attaching her Hindoo subjects to her naturally invidious rule; and in tincturing an Asiatic people whose prejudices were all but indelible, with the morality and the knowledge of Christian and civilised Europe.

From the notion and conditions of centralization, we proceed to its tendencies as regarding the welfare of the governed;—limiting our attention, however, in this preliminary outline, to such considerations concerning those tendencies as could not be inserted conveniently in the subsequent portion of this article.

The administrative authorities, local and general, are, in theory, dependent on the sovereign power. To realise this ideal, is the direct end of centralization. It is, therefore, an instrument of good, in the hands of a good government: But is it not an instrument of evil in the hands of a bad one? We think it will appear, on a little reflection, that this seeming difficulty is nearly or altogether groundless. A regular administration is a complex and artificial machine. In a country not proportionally civilised, such a machine could not be constructed; or, if constructed on a foreign model, could not be worked. This appears from the history of countries in which the administrative system has attained or approached to regularity. That system, at its origin, was utterly crude and confused; and though it has emerged at last from primeval and barbarous disorder, it owes its comparative regularity to a toilsome elaboration continued through a long series of progressive ages. But in a country whose government is centralized, the administrative system is highly regular. A high civilisation, therefore, is an imperative moral condition of centralization. In imperfectly civilized countries whose governments are apparently centralized, (as, for example, Russia,) the centralization is merely formal. In such a country, the administrative authorities, however perfect their arrangement, are not practically dependent on the sovereign power; since the end of the elaborate and well-meant system is defeated or thwarted by causes lying in the barbarity of the nation. Men fitted for the higher administrative offices, by intellectual and moral qualifications, are not sufficiently numerous to supply the wants of the administration. The higher functionaries are infected, therefore, with the ignorance, the venality, the negligence, and the other disqualifying defects (intellectual and moral) of the lower functionaries whom they ought to superintend and control; and since they spring from the barbarity of the nation, the vices of the administration are not corrected or mitigated by an intelligent public opinion and a commanding public morality. The central authority itself, however public-spirited, is inevitably affected by the barbarity of the nation. It is not sufficiently enlightened to adopt the effectual means of obtaining from its subjects the largest sum of obedience. By occasional, irregular, and violent exercises of its power, (after the manner of an Asiatic despot,) it here and there chastises its offending functionaries, or redresses the wrongs proceeding from their offences. But, by repressing public opinion, it prevents the formation of a good public opinion; and, consequently, it debars itself from the effectual means of detecting and preventing such offences, and of curing those vices in the administrative system from which they immediately flow. By its arbitrary exercises of its power, (however beneficent their purpose,) it perpetuates in the body of its subjects, and therefore in its administrative functionaries, the anarchical spirit of disobedience which naturally accompanies barbarity. It forgets that arbitrary government, in its remoter and general consequences, is nearly equivalent to no government at all; and that a government which would obtain for itself the greatest sum of obedience, must scrupulously respect the laws which it imposes on the governed. But if a government really centralized supposes a people highly civilised, the tendencies of such a government (whatever be the form of the sovereignty) will be beneficent in the main. The notions of the people about the ends of government, and about the means of attaining them, will be enlightened and just. As holding the same notions, or in its own despite, the government will aim at the ends sanctioned by a commanding opinion; and the administrative authorities, as its obedient instruments, will keep to the line of duties which is set to them by government and people. That it may obtain for itself the largest sum of obedience, the government will respect the laws which it imposes on the governed; and, for the same reason, it will take good care that its legislative and administrative measures shall tend really and apparently to promote the general good. It appears, therefore, that where a government is really centralized, it governs by maxims which are good in themselves, and which are also consecrated by a formidable public opinion. But since constitutional securities for good government rest immediately on the same moral power, those maxims are equivalent, in no inconsiderable degree, to these more formal guarantees; insomuch, that a government which is not popular in form, but which is really or effectually centralized, will be administered in the spirit of governments which are popular in form and substance. In fine, if the form of the government be good, centralization, with the causes from which it springs, will enhance its good tendencies; if the form of the government be bad, they will go far to correct its bad ones. We are led to remark, by these considerations on the tendencies of centralization, that the utility of legislative and administrative improvements is far less doubtful than that of reforms in the constitutions of supreme governments. The good of the governed ought to be the end of government; and in civilised countries it is, to a great extent, the end which the government pursues. This it may promote directly, by its own legislation and administration, and those of its subordinates. This it may promote less directly, by acting, through the same means, on the opinions and sentiments of its subjects. By a good legislation and administration, it diffuses insensibly, throughout the country, an enlightened opinion and morality which powerfully re-act upon itself; and which supply, to no inconsiderable extent, the absence or defects of constitutional guarantees. To this it may be added, that constitutional reforms can rarely be brought about without a resort to violence; and the demoralising tendencies of a violent reform far outweigh its direct tendencies to promote the progress of the country towards better political institutions. But, commonly, legislative and administrative improvements have not to encounter the resistance which is always opposed to reforms in the constitutions of supreme governments. Generally speaking, the resistance to the former is far less formidable and obstinate;—coming from the sinister interests, real or imaginary, of particular and limited classes. The intelligent and impartial public is ready to urge them on the government; and the government itself (where it can see its way) is disposed to promote them, or to yield to the public voice.

Having analysed the notion of centralization—passed its conditions in review, and noticed its tendencies as regarding the welfare of the governed—we shall examine those misconceptions of its essence and properties with which we are especially concerned;—taking them in the order in which we stated them at the outset.

I. Centralization, as it is commonly conceived, is mistaken for over-governing. A centralized government, according to the same conception, is an over-regulating, over-restraining, over-protecting government;—paternal, as its friends would call it; a pestilent busy-body, as it would be called by its enemies. We think that this is the conception which is commonly associated with the word; and our impression is confirmed by two of the books whose titles we have prefixed to this Article—De la Liberté du Travail, by Mr Dunoyer; and Notes of a Traveller, by Mr Laing. M. Dunoyer, in the first volume of his admirable treatise, examines the different degrees to which men’s faculties have unfolded themselves, in the successive stages of advancing society. In one chapter, principally relating to France, he considers that stage of society in which the government is centralized, but also interferes to excess with the interests and concerns of the governed. He has entitled this chapter, De la Liberté compatible avec une centralisation exagerée.[3] It appears, however, from the contents, that the thing which he brands with the name of excessive centralization, is nothing but the meddling of the French administrative authorities with matters which ought to be abandoned to private discretion. With reference, indeed, to the legitimate province of government, it is clear that a government cannot be excessively centralized, or, in other words, excessively efficient; which is implicitly admitted by M. Dunoyer himself in many passages of this very chapter. It is stated, or plainly supposed, in many passages of Mr Laing’s Notes, that centralization is nothing but another expression for government interference with matters which should be left to private prudence.[4]

Having shown that the mistake with which we are presently concerned has been made by acute writers, we shall show that centralization has no tendency whatever to lead a government to excessive interference; and that the over-meddling of certain centralized governments is not an effect of their centralization, but a consequence of other causes.

The radical cause of that over-meddling, in all the countries subject to those governments, is the false opinion prevalent amongst the population, concerning what may be called the legitimate province of government;—that is, the extent and limits of its useful interference with the interests and concerns of the governed. In France, Prussia, and Austria, protection for national industry against the competition of foreigners, is still part and parcel of the economical creed of the majority: the same may be affirmed of police regulations determining the prices of provisions, or interfering with the rates of wages or the hours of labour;—nay, the vexatious passport system, considered as a precaution against crimes, is generally regarded with favour, and endured with cheerful resignation. In these cases, (produced as examples,) and in many analogous cases, the cause of the over-governing is the false and prevalent opinion; the government condescending to that opinion, rather than sharing in the errors on which it is founded. And although the government were deeply imbued with all the prejudices of its subjects, the evil would spring from that opinion as its ultimate and efficient cause; for, however blind and obstinate the prejudices of the government might be, it would speedily yield to a sound opinion widely diffused and clearly pronounced. This explanation, indeed, is not absolutely complete; since some of the vexations inflicted by the governments in question come from their own fears, rather than the prejudices of their subjects. Such, for example, is the annoying supervision exercised by the political police; and such is the passport system, as a security against enemies of the state, and not as a precaution against ordinary crimes. These vexations, however, though imputable to the fears of the governments, are the result of a cause extrinsic to centralization,—the revolutionary state of Europe, and, indeed, of the world, during the last half century. Exaggerating the importance of the revolutionary symptoms, and heartily frightened by them, the governments in question fell into the policy which is naturally prompted by a panic; just as our own government, influenced by an unworthy alarm, suspended the securities for personal liberty, and subjected aliens to arbitrary removal from the country. In consequence of the progress made by public opinion, and the happy subsidence of revolutionary agitations, the excessive governing has already diminished, and the disposition to it is rapidly declining. The annoyances inflicted by the political police are fast disappearing. The vexatious passport system has been greatly relaxed. The protective system itself (rooted, as it is, in inveterate prejudices, and backed, as it is, by formidable sinister interests) has already undergone modifications which strike at its principle; and, though it is bolstered up by political and temporary causes, it has received its death-blow from the great economical lesson which the Queen of industry and commerce has recently given to the world.

That centralization and over-governing have no natural connexion, is shown by a decisive fact; the uncentralized governments which the governments in question have superseded, were more vexatious than their centralized successors. Of the countries subject to these governments, France is the only one which our limits will permit us to notice; and, with regard to France, we shall merely refer to an interesting chapter in the generally interesting volumes of M. Dunoyer. Although he chastises, with merited and fearless severity, the excessive meddling of the present centralized government, he proves that the over-governing under the old monarchy was much greater and far more odious. In the chapter in question, (which relates to the state of France under that chaotic government,) he exposes the mischievous obstacles to the commerce and industry of the kingdom, which arose from the enormous privileges (or political powers) of the various provincial and other local governments; with the mischievous and tyrannous restraints on the natural freedom of labour, which arose from the similar privileges of the incorporated professions and trades.[5] The obvious truth is, that the over-governing imputed to centralization descends from states of society in which centralization was impossible. It comes from the crude conceptions of the legitimate province of government, which were naturally entertained by the middle ages and the ages immediately following them—ages which were just as incapable of centralized and regular government, as of conceiving the advanced science and the advanced industry which (like centralization) are products of a high civilization. Inasmuch as our civilization, and especially our social civilization, is still far from complete, these crude conceptions of earlier ages have not entirely lost their mischievous authority; and, consequently, they have still a considerable influence (though a constantly decreasing influence) on the policy of centralized and other civilized governments.

We think it follows clearly from the foregoing statistical and historical references, that the over-governing imputed to centralization arises from causes extrinsic to the latter. That the two things have no natural connexion, follows with equal clearness from this consideration: by abstaining from over-governing, as far as the prejudices of their subjects will allow them to abstain from it, centralized governments (like other governments) would consult their own interests. This will appear sufficiently from a short summary of the evils which a government brings upon itself by excessive meddling. 1. By needlessly extending its functions, it wantonly aggravates its necessarily heavy labours, and becomes proportionally incompetent to its proper duties. 2. By meddling with interests and concerns which ought to be left to private discretion, it makes itself responsible, in the eyes of its subjects, for their natural privations and sufferings. A people fashioned by a so-called paternal government, loses (with its self-reliance) its energy, foresight, and fortitude; looks to its government for good which its government cannot give, and for protection from evils which its government cannot prevent.[6] 3. By regulating the application of labour and capital, for the purpose of rendering them more productive, it affects to possess a command over the sources of production, which, if real, would justify Socialism; and it thus contributes to turn its subjects from the possible means of improving their condition, to schemes which are big with deception, disaffection, and anarchy. 4. It irritates all its subjects who are sufficiently intelligent and impartial to condemn its pernicious meddling. Moreover, it irritates all who, without condemning the system, are incidentally hurt by it in some of their particular interests. For example, it can hardly grant protection to one class of producers, without visible damage to other classes; and by consequence, its paternal care, instead of contenting all of them, sets them at odds with one another, and with their common parent. 5. Whilst, in these various ways, it weakens its authority with its subjects, it retards their advancement in industry and opulence. By thus striking at the source from which it draws its revenue, it abridges its natural means of supporting the establishments which are necessary to its own security and their welfare; and, consequently, it abridges its power and consideration relatively to those of governments which are liberal and wise enough to stick to their proper province.

Abstracting the extrinsic causes which affect the operation of political institutions, a centralized government is far less likely than another to surpass the limits of useful interference. The administrative system being comparatively regular, is not concealed by a crude and confused organization, from the supervision of the government, or the observation of the public. The proper province of legislation and administration (including the extent and limits of useful government-intervention) may, therefore, be surveyed and measured by government and public, with comparative facility and precision; so that the government (kept to its right line by enlightened opinion) is less likely to meddle needlessly, or to neglect the matters with which it ought to interfere. It is well remarked by M. Dunoyer, that the French Revolution, in the first instance, sharpened the ancient vexations;—the oppressive powers of the ancient local governments, and incorporated professions and trades, being transferred by that great convulsion to the vigorous and ruthless hands of the new central tyranny. In consequence, however, of the more systematic form which those powers received from the new governments, their extent, nature, and tendencies became comparatively obvious; and the attention of the intelligent public having thus been drawn to their tendencies, the ancient prejudices in which they originated have insensibly lost much of their former authority and influence.

The legitimate province of government is one question; the tendency of centralization to lead to excessive governing, is another question. But since the questions are strongly associated, we should be tempted to examine the former at considerable length, if our limits would permit the departure from our proper subject. With those limits before us, we can only venture on the following remark:—In consequence of a vehement and natural reaction against the disposition to excessive governing, many crude and untenable maxims have been hastily advanced by the advocates of freedom. Unless understood with limitations which reduce them to nothing at all, some of these maxims (as, for example, the celebrated laissez faire) are plainly false and absurd; since they plainly imply assumptions which would prove the inutility of law and government. According to another maxim, a government ought to confine itself to purely defensive functions;—the prevention of wrongs, and the protection of the country against foreign enemies. But though it is more plausible than the sweeping laissez faire, this also is radically false. It rests at bottom upon no reason at all; inasmuch as the very functions which it would permit to governments, are, by remote consequence, much more than purely defensive. It appears to us, that this maxim (with others of the like import) is doubly mischievous. It tends to prevent the good (in the way, for example, of public education) which governments may directly accomplish notwithstanding the slenderness of their means; and it weakens the cause of freedom, which it seeks to support, by placing it on a false basis. And here we must desist from this short digression. The legitimate province of government, or the extent and limits of its useful interference, is a subject (we presume to think) which has not been sufficiently sifted; insomuch, that an accurate and intelligible exposition of it would fully occupy the space assigned to an article.

II. The misconception which we have examined confounds centralization with over-governing. By the mistake which we shall now consider, it is deemed incompatible with the substance or spirit of what is commonly called free government.

Where the sovereign power resides in a body of persons, forming a fraction of the society, which may be deemed a large one, the government is popular or democratic; or, at least, the constitution of the government partakes largely of the popular or democratic element. According to an ancient and established notion, such a government is free: that is, the subjects of such a government (including the individual members of the sovereign body itself) are freer from political restraints, not needed by the general good, than the subjects of governments differently constituted.[7]

Into the truth of this notion, or into the limitations and explanations with which it ought to be received, we shall not stay to enquire; inasmuch as the question with which we are concerned, is the alleged inconsistency of centralization with the substance of popular government.

So far as we have observed, this allegation (or this supposition) depends upon a train of reasoning, which may be stated as follows:—As a centralized government is regular or systematic, the administration of the country, and especially the general administration, is needlessly divided and subdivided; and from this needless multiplication of departments and sub-departments, results a needless multiplication of paid functionaries. But this unnecessary number of paid government-offices, leads to a further consequence. It gives to the central authority, in monarchies, and it gives to the head of the administration, in limited monarchies and other republican governments, large means of corruption or influence. These are used in monarchies, to maintain and perpetuate monarchy; and they are used in governments of popular form and appearance, to render the government, in substance and spirit, a monarchy or narrow aristocracy.—The alleged needless multiplication of paid functionaries, is manifestly the only basis on which the reasoning rests. But assuming that countries ruled by centralized governments suffer from this evil, the evil may inhere in centralization, or it may arise from causes extrinsic to centralization. Accordingly, we shall endeavour to show, in the first place, that centralization in itself has no tendency to produce the evil; and in the next place, that the evil arises exclusively, in the countries in question, from causes incidental to uncentralized, as well as to centralized governments.

1. It is usual with advocates of popular institutions, to extol the advantages of self-government;—an expression which signifies (if it signifies any thing) the government of a political society by the society itself. But self-government, as thus understood, is simply impossible. However democratic the government, a large portion of the society—namely the non-adults—are confined by physical causes to the condition of passive citizens;—that is, not partakers in the sovereignty, but merely subjects of the sovereign body. If (as has been the practice in all societies) women are also excluded from the sovereign body, the number of the active or ruling citizens is still further reduced. If (as has been the practice in almost all societies) servitude, extreme poverty, or any other cause indicating a want of intelligence or independence, be also a ground of exclusion from the sovereign body, the active citizens, even under governments eminently democratic, are a decided minority of the entire population. To this it must be added, that the sovereign body, in the natural course of things, is divided into opposite parties; and in fact, if not by the theory of the constitution, the stronger or ascendant party rules the minority of the active citizens, as well as the great mass of the merely subject community. And hence results, where the ascendant party abuses its power, not a tyranny of the majority, (as has been said,) but the tyranny of a small minority of the entire population of the country. In reference, therefore, to the sovereign authority, self-government is plainly impossible. In reference to the administrative authorities, its impossibility is equally manifest. These, it is obvious, are a fraction of the society, appointed immediately or mediately by the sovereign body, or by the body which represents it and acts as the organ of its will. —Whatever, therefore, be the form of the government, a political society is administered by persons receiving their authority from the sovereign power; or, in other words, by functionaries, (paid or voluntary.)

It is necessary to the welfare of a political society, that a certain number of administrative functions (or a certain quantity of administrative business) should be performed;—the number of functions (or quantity of business) required by the public wants depending on the size of the territory, the amount of the population, and a multitude of other causes equally variable. The number of the functionaries absolutely necessary for the due performance of these indispensable functions, depends on the structure of the administrative system. If the organization of the system be crude and confused, the number, naturally, is comparatively large; if the organization be regular or systematic, the number, naturally, is comparatively small; for the more orderly the distribution of the various functions, the more easy is it, without damaging the efficiency of the system, to combine or cumulate functions in one and the same functionary. It is, therefore, the tendency of centralization, which supposes a regular administration, to reduce the functionaries required by the public wants to the lowest possible number.

Those who insist on the tendency of centralized and regular government to multiply functionaries beyond the public wants, seem to have intended another objection. It appears to us, that they mean to object to the policy of paying the requisite functionaries out of the public revenue; and to insist that the requisite functions might and ought to be performed by unpaid or voluntary officers. Now if an administrative system, managed by paid functionaries, be more efficient than a system abandoned to voluntary officers, the policy of paying functionaries is of the essence of centralization. It contributes, at least, in a high degree, to accomplish a principal end of centralized and regular government;—the giving the greatest efficiency, as well as the greatest order, to the administrative system of the country. We therefore shall consider for a moment, the efficiency of an administrative system administered on the voluntary principle.

In countries, (as, for example, England,) in which considerable fortunes are not rare, the higher administrative offices, which confer distinction on the holders, may be filled efficiently by voluntary officers. But the lower offices are so numerous, and confer so little distinction on those who hold them, that men qualified for them, by personal qualifications, will rarely consent to fill them without pay. Though men personally qualified were willing to fill them without pay, men thus qualified, and also sufficiently rich to serve the public gratuitously, would not be nearly numerous enough to satisfy the wants of the administration. It may, therefore, be affirmed generally, that the lower offices (which commonly demand, notwithstanding their obscurity, personal qualifications possessed by few) will not be occupied by men competent to discharge them efficiently. To this it may be added, that the actual occupants, competent or incompetent, are commonly content to discharge them taliter qualiter;—treating them as a pastime rather than a serious business. An efficient discharge of obscure duties is not a way to distinction; nor is the loss of an office not paid in money or praise, a thing to be seriously feared. The administrative authorities to whom the volunteer is responsible, are disposed to wink at his defaults if not at his misdeeds. After all, (think they,) he is not paid for his services; to look a gift horse in the mouth, is not grateful or gracious; and if we dismissed him, or drove him to resign, others might be discouraged from serving the country for nothing. Although a large experience would seem to warrant the argument, we will not insist on the tendency of the voluntary system to render the administrative officers venal and corrupt; for, in all civilized countries, the restraints of conscience and opinion are sufficiently strong to prevent the frequent occurrence of so gross a consequence. We think that the other reasons to which we have adverted, prove the intrinsic inefficiency of the voluntary system. They are indeed so obvious and powerful, that in spite of the prejudices against functionarism, (a nickname for the opposite system which does not seem to have taken,) the payment of administrative functionaries has everywhere extended as civilization has advanced. There are some administrative offices, as that of member of an English town-council or French departmental-council, to which these reasons are not applicable. The possession of such an office confers a local distinction, which, without pay, is naturally an object of ambition; and since his duties are controlling and negative, rather than active and positive, they do not demand from the occupant a large sacrifice of his time. But every administrative office demanding much labour, or merely demanding qualifications which are products of much labour, ought to be adequately paid; and to expect that such an office will be efficiently discharged without an adequate salary, were nearly as absurd as to call upon private workmen to work without wages. In all countries, (as, for example, France,) in which considerable fortunes are extremely rare, the same reasoning is applicable to all the higher offices demanding the like labour or the like qualifications. Even in countries in which such fortunes are numerous, offices of this character ought to be adequately paid. If they were filled by wealthy occupants, ostentatiously giving their services without pay, the opulent classes would sanction the antipathy with which functionarism is frequently regarded. The lower and paid functionaries would therefore be regarded by the multitude with no friendly or respectful feeling; and since an administrative system cannot be efficient, if those who work it are disliked or contemned, the substantial interests of the country would be sacrificed to a small saving, and to the vanity or fastidiousness of the rich.

The supposed economy of the voluntary system is a mere illusion. An inefficient administration of public affairs, (as, for example, justice or revenue,) costs the country, by direct consequence, and by its effect on the sources of production, infinitely more than can possibly be saved by working the administrative machine on the voluntary principle. It is indeed of the highest importance, that a severe economy, pushed to scrupulosity and pedantry, should regulate the number and appointments of administrative functionaries. The direct consequences of such an economy are nearly insensible; since all that could be saved in any country, by suppressing needless offices and pruning excessive salaries, would be but a drop in the bucket as compared with the national wealth. But the remote and general consequences of a needlessly expensive administration, can hardly be exaggerated. The prodigal expenditure and breach of moral trust, commended to general imitation by the high example of the state, lower the respect of its subjects for honest frugality and industry; and, by thus perverting and abasing their moral feelings and habits, strike at the sources of the national wealth, and at the main basis of the general well-being.

A well-ordered administrative system, efficiently worked by well-paid functionaries, and co-extensive with the genuine wants of the country, is certainly an expensive machine. But, after all, what is the cost of this indispensable instrument, as compared with that of the warlike, or the perverse economical policy, with which governments, wantonly or reluctantly, oppress and plague their subjects? Nations squandering their means on such pernicious fooleries, and starving the beneficent institutions necessary to their safety and welfare, offer a spectacle which is melancholy enough. To those who care for the dignity as well as the happiness of their kind, it is all the more melancholy for being consummately ridiculous.

2. Assuming that the payment of administrative services is an imperative condition of efficient administration, we revert to the alleged tendency of centralization to multiply functionaries beyond the wants of the public.

Comparing a centralized government paying its functionaries, with an uncentralized government pursuing the same policy, the intrinsic advantage, in respect to the cost of the administration, lies (it appears to us) on the side of the former. Where the government is centralized, the distribution of the administrative functions is orderly; it is, therefore, comparatively easy, without harming the efficiency of the administrative system, to cumulate functions in one and the same functionary; and, since the regularity and the comparative simplicity of the system lay it bare to discerning observation and criticism, it is subject to the purifying operation of an intelligent public opinion. Where the government is not centralized, the organization of the administrative system is crude and confused; there are no facilities for cumulating functions without damage to its general efficiency; and, since its disorderly and barbarous structure covers it with mystery which none but the initiated can penetrate, it is impervious to the observation and effective censure of the intelligent portion of the general public. In respect of its intrinsic tendencies, (which may indeed be checked by extrinsic causes,) such an administrative system, or rather administrative chaos, is a teeming hotbed of profusion and corruption.

That the countries ruled by centralized governments suffer from a needless multiplication of paid functionaries, is not disputed. The evil, however, arises from causes extrinsic to centralization. One of the main causes, in all those countries, is the over-governing with which they are oppressed; for, by needlessly enlarging the sphere of government-functions, it needlessly increases the number of government functionaries. Another cause peculiar, perhaps, to France, (and to which we can only allude,) is a trait in the character of the French people which offers an interesting subject to historico-psychological inquiry;—that love of proportion or symmetry, which gives such matchless excellence to the composition and style of their great prose writings; but which too often leads them, in public business, to sacrifice the ends of method to an exquisite exactitude of means. The tendency of this disposition (as may be easily conceived) is to limit the activity of each functionary to his proper or formal department; to prevent the cumulation of functions (however commodious and economical) in one and the same functionary; and, consequently, to multiply the number of functionaries beyond the wants of the public. Another cause, common to all those countries, is the disposition to trust to numbers, (especially in the administration of justice,) as a preventive of culpable malversation, and a security for correctness of decision. This disposition leads naturally to a needless multiplication of functionaries in all the branches of the administration. It leads especially to a vicious complexity in the structure of the judicial system; to a needless lengthening of formal appeals; a needless number of appellate courts; a needless multiplication of the judges attached to each tribunal. This disposition, however, has not the remotest connexion with centralized and regular government; but is derived from the crude conceptions entertained by barbarous ages, concerning the nature of the securities for upright and efficient administration. Another cause, common to all those countries, is the revolutionary state of Europe during the last half century; the French government especially, during the entire period, having been engaged in a struggle with extreme and subversive factions. Hence a disposition in the governments, and especially in the French government, to resort to every expedient which promised peace for the moment; although the expedient, in its remoter and general consequences, might tend to weaken their power, and even to shake their stability. Hence a disposition (and a venial disposition) in the governments of those countries, to gain supporters by corruption; and more particularly, by multiplying administrative offices beyond the public wants, and filling them with reference to the influence rather than the fitness of the occupants. Since parliamentary government has been introduced into France, the imperious necessity, incumbent on the chiefs of the administration, of getting a majority in the Deputies, has led to similar abuses of the administrative establishments. But this is a consequence of parliamentary institutions, combining with other causes in the general state of the country, and not of the centralization to which it has often been ascribed.

Abstracting causes extrinsic to centralization, it is not the interest of a centralized government to multiply functionaries beyond the wants of the country. By this abuse of the administrative institutions, it disgusts and alienates the intelligent and impartial public; and, in civilised communities, it is only in their esteem and considerate attachment, that any government, at the long run, can find efficient support. Nor, by this shameful expedient, does it accomplish its particular purpose. By bribing and gaining a few opponents, it raises up candidates for its corrupt favour, far surpassing in numbers its limited means of corruption. For one friend whose doubtful attachment it buys, it makes to itself, of the suitors whom it disappoints, a score of implacable enemies.

III. We proceed to the supposed inconsistency of centralization with local governments of local and popular origin. This subject we shall consider, with the brevity incumbent upon us, from the following points of view:—1. The advantages accruing from such governments. 2. Their tendency to clash with the central authority; the consequent tendency of existing centralized governments to confine their power and influence within too narrow limits; and the opinion hence arising, that centralization is not compatible with them. 3. The means of reconciling the advantages accruing from them, with the indispensable power and influence of the central authority.

1. It is expedient that general laws (or laws calculated for the country at large) should be adapted to local peculiarities arising from physical or moral causes. Through local governments of local origin, clothed with appropriate powers of subordinate legislation and administration, these adaptations of general and indiscriminating laws are made by persons familiar with the localities;—by persons, therefore, who have greater aptitudes for this particular function, than are commonly possessed by persons of higher general qualifications, whose knowledge of the localities is less intimate and minute. With reference to objects which are not limited to localities, but deeply concern the interests of the general community, it is not less expedient that such governments should partake largely of the popular element; that a considerable fraction of the population in each locality should take a considerable part in the administration of the local affairs, or in the appointment and control of the local administrators. By local governments popularly constituted, a practical knowledge of public affairs, and a habit of caring for public interests, are diffused from the several localities through the country at large. Under a supreme government popularly constituted, this political training and public spirit are of great immediate importance;—since all or many of those who partake in the government of localities are also partakers in the sovereign power. Under a monarchy or narrow aristocracy, this political training and public spirit are more important still; since they powerfully affect the practice of the sovereign authority, give it the substance and spirit of a free government, and supply to a large extent the want of constitutional guarantees. Though local governments of the character in question were imperfect instruments of local administration, they would amply make up for this partial inconvenience, by their tendency to invigorate the mind, and elevate the morality of the country.

2. The intrinsic tendency of such governments to clash with the central authority, is enhanced by a cause which still operates although its origin is remote. Almost every extensive country is an aggregate of units, which, in substance at least, were once independent states; but which have been formed into one independent state by a series of causes arising through many ages. Long after the aggregation had been finally accomplished, these once independent units cherished the memory of their independence. The subordinate authorities of local origin, by whom they were administered in their character of localities, asserted their independence as far as they could; and in the exercise of their political powers, they regarded the central authority as a foreign conqueror from whose unnatural yoke it was lawful for them to escape. By this cause, acting through ages, an aversion to the central authority, and a disposition to resist or thwart it, has been deeply impressed upon localities; and even in countries (as, for example, France) in which the ancient localities have been effaced, the feelings engendered by a bygone order of things still operate to no inconsiderable extent. Hence a barbarous tendency in the populations and governments of localities to sever their local interests from the interests of the general community. Hence the difficulty with which they ascend in practice to the notion or feeling of a common country. Hence the difficulty with which they understand or feel that they hold their political powers as trustees for the central authority; and that even in reference to their genuine local interests, they ought to abstain from using them to the detriment of the common weal. In France and England, the old disparate units of which the country is composed appear to be perfectly fused; but the exclusive local patriotism descending from barbarous ages, still lingers in the former and even in the latter. For example, the vulgar notions (or, at least, feelings) about the nature and objects of parliamentary government, are still deeply tinctured with this miserable spirit. According to these notions, the Chamber of Deputies or the House of Commons is substantially a congress of ambassadors from the several localities which elect them; not an assembly representing the country at large, though chosen by electoral bodies circumscribed by local limits. Accordingly, it is often the scene of a scramble between the electoral localities, as represented by their several delegates—each of the localities doing as much as the jealousy of the others will allow—to adapt the legislation and administration of the country to its narrow conceptions of its local interests.

In France, up to the Revolution of 1789, this exclusive local patriotism was backed by the excessive privileges which resided in the provincial and other local authorities. The obstacles to the central authority and to the general interests, which arose from so mischievous a spirit, armed with such formidable powers, determined the Constituent Assembly to abolish the ancient localities, and to give the territory a division consistent with national government. With reference to its own objects, and its own consequences, the change was a great good; though, like the other measures of that inexperienced Assembly, it was marred by the precipitation and injustice inseparable from a violent reform. We heartily sympathize with M. de Cormenin, in his contempt of the silly regrets for the former provinces and their privileges;—regrets which are affected by foolish partisans who are aiming at an impossible restoration of the ancient order of things; or by coxcombs, who, knowing nothing of the middle ages, would push us back from our present to a still less civilized condition. The obstacles to the central authority and to the general interests, which had arisen from the ancient localities, begot an undiscerning suspicion of local governments. The highly centralized government which sprung from the Revolution, was disposed to confine their functions within too narrow limits; and even to subject the exercise of these insufficient powers to an excessive and vexatious control. From this disposition of that government, and from a similar disposition in other centralized governments, has arisen the mistake with which we are presently concerned; although the disposition arose in France, and also in other countries, from causes which are not inherent in centralization.

Looking at the reason of the thing, there is no inconsistency in centralization, with local governments of local and popular origin.

The interests of the localities are special or general;—those which are respectively peculiar to the several localities, and those which they have in common. The special and general interests of all the localities are identical with the interests of the country. The sum of its interests is composed of those of its parts; and such of its interests as are distinguished from those of its parts are nothing but interests common to the latter. Accordingly, if a centralized government consulted the interests of the country, it would give to the local governments the constitutions and attributes which would tend to promote to the utmost the special interests of the localities. It consults, also, its own interests, by pursuing the same policy. By this policy, it satisfies the wants and wishes of the intelligent and impartial public. By this policy, it gives political education and public spirit to the bulk of its subjects; and by thus extending the number of the intelligent and impartial public, it enlarges the basis on which it permanently rests. Centralization, if consistent with its ends, promotes the interests of the localities, as well understood. It subordinates their interests to those of the country. But by this, it merely subordinates their peculiar and lower, to their common and higher interests.

Localities, however, have special interests which are illusory and spurious. These conflict with the interests of the country, and, at the long run, with genuine local interests;—since such interests would decline, if the interests of the country decayed. In these illusory interests, and the exclusive local patriotism from which they arise, lies the difficulty of determining the constitution and attributes of the local governments. For these illusions, as for other social evils, the spread of sound opinions on economical, political, and other social questions, is the only effectual cure. Till these opinions are more extensively diffused, local institutions which are deeply rooted in such prejudices ought to be touched by governments with a cautious hand. By handling them roughly, a government would defeat the ends at which centralization aims; provoking a dangerous resistance on the part of the localities, to every plan, however intrinsically good, for bringing the local institutions into harmony with the interests of the country.

3. The conditions of centralization, in reference to local governments of local and popular origin, may be briefly stated (as appears from our preliminary outline) in some such terms as the following: the attributes of such governments must be limited and specified; and must not consist (like those of the local governments there analysed) in infinite aggregates of powers: their respective territories (or rather their respective populations) must not be sufficiently extensive to give them a moral weight rendering their dependence precarious. With a view to the interests of the country, as well as the influence of the central authority, the following limitation (naturally suggested by the immediately foregoing considerations) ought, moreover, to be put upon their functions: their specified powers ought to be limited to matters in which they are specially concerned. There is no reason whatever for empowering any one locality to meddle with matters regarding the country at large;—matters, assuredly, in which it is deeply concerned, but in which all other localities have the same interest.

As the special interests of different localities differ considerably, the aggregates of powers, granted to the local governments, cannot be exactly fashioned on a common model. Abstracting these differences between individual localities, a definition of the nature and extent of those aggregates of powers would involve an elaborate inquiry. In relation, moreover, to any country in particular, the abstract definition would need modifications which would swell the inquiry to the size of a volume. Any attempt, within our narrow space, to determine the nature and extent of those aggregates of powers, would, therefore, be hopeless and idle. Accordingly, we shall limit our notice of this large and difficult subject to a few general and concise suggestions.

The immediate end of local government is a good administration of local affairs: the social education of the country at large, is, or ought to be, its ulterior and paramount object. It appears to us, that the friends of centralization make a mistake which seriously damages their cause. In reference to the attributes of local governments, they look too much to the immediate end of the institution, and think too little of its remoter and larger purpose. There has been (for example) in France, till within the last few years, an excessive disposition to limit the powers of such governments, and to subject them to the control of the general administration. In respect to the immediate end, the disposition may be justified or excused; for, owing to their crude conceptions of local interests, the local governments, if not so limited and checked, might frequently abuse their powers, to the detriment of the country and the localities. But by this grudging and jealous policy, the remoter and larger purpose is nearly or altogether defeated. It may prevent the authorities of local origin from abusing their powers. But it also perpetuates their indifference about public interests, and their ignorance of public affairs; since no man enters with heart and mind into any business committed to his care, if nothing is left to his discretion, and he is treated with systematic mistrust. The policy, moreover, thwarts the ends of centralization, by a more direct and obvious consequence; for, by offending the self-love of the local authorities and populations, it tends to set them in opposition to the central authority.

If local patriotism were more enlightened, there would be little difficulty in determining the attributes which ought to be given to local governments. Elaborate limitations of their powers and discretion would become superfluous; since the local authorities and populations would care for their common country, as much as they care for their localities. With their actually short-sighted conceptions of their special interests, the difficulty is unquestionably great. The line of demarcation between general and special interests cannot be drawn with precision. To give to the local governments all the discretionary powers which local interests require, is to give them extensive means of harming the country; and, by consequence, the localities themselves.

Till sound opinions on social questions are more extensively diffused, the immediate and remote objects of local governments cannot be reconciled completely. Something, however, may be done in the way of legislation to obviate the difficulty; or rather, to obviate the narrow conceptions of local interests from which the difficulty arises. With a view to this purpose, various plans of local government have been tried or suggested; and to the more remarkable of these plans we will now advert.

According to one of them, the active government of every locality would be placed in a functionary or functionaries of the general administration;—these active authorities being bound, in every matter of importance and difficulty, to ask the preliminary advice of the authorities of local origin. The latter, therefore, would have nothing more than what is commonly called a consultative voice. According to another, the active government of every locality would be placed in authorities of local origin; these being bound, however, in every matter of importance and difficulty, to await the special authorization of the appropriate department of the general administration. According to a third, the active government of every locality would be placed in authorities of local origin; the general administration having a consultative voice. Specified administrative powers, calculated as well as might be to prevent the administrators from abusing them, would be given to the local authorities; these being bound, however, to ask the preliminary advice of the appropriate department of the general administration, in every matter of importance and difficulty.

The first and second would have the inconvenience to which we have already adverted. As the authorities of local origin would be treated with systematic mistrust, those authorities, with the rest of the local population, would probably be alienated from the central government. As little or nothing would be left to their discretion, the local government, though securing a good administration of local affairs, would do little or nothing for the social education of the country.

By the third, the immediate and remote ends of local government would probably be reconciled to no inconsiderable extent. The obligation of the local administrators to consult the general administration, would be a considerable (though a merely moral) security against their abusing their powers. Their habitual exercise of considerable discretionary powers, would give them a political education, and a care for public interests. By their habitual contact with the chief departments of the general administration, this important effect of their unshackled activity would be greatly enhanced. As those departments are constantly occupied with all the sections of the country, their experience of local affairs is far more varied than that of the local authorities in any particular locality; and being accustomed to regard such affairs in relation to the general interests, they are naturally superior to the local partialities and prejudices by which such authorities are as naturally blinded and misled. The results of their varied experience and dispassionate judgments would be constantly offered to the consideration of the local governments; and, as coming in the shape of advice rather than the form of command, would find a ready acceptance with the local governments and populations, and insensibly correct their misconceptions of their special interests.

IV. Under certain centralized governments, the lower functionaries of the general administration, as well as the local governments of local origin, are controlled to excess by the higher functionaries of the former. Instead of being left to act on his own discretion and under responsibility for abuse of his powers, the inferior functionary, in applying rules to cases, must often wait for authority from the appropriate principal department. Hence a long correspondence between the functionary and the department, before the former can dispose of the case; and hence vexatious delay, and often irreparable damage, to the parties whom the case concerns. There arises, moreover, from this overlaying of the administration with precautions against abuse, a needless increase of administrative business, with a proportionally needless multiplication of administrative functionaries. So far, however, are these excessive precautions from inhering in centralization, that they tend to defeat its objects. In the first place, they turn the time and attention of the principal administrative departments from their proper business. To lay down rules for the guidance of its inferior functionaries, to superintend their administration of these rules, and to enforce their responsibilities on their abusing their discretionary powers, is the appropriate office of such a department; and it ought to abstain from acting immediately on specific or particular cases, unless they are pregnant with consequences of extraordinary magnitude, or unless they are so anomalous that the rules are inapplicable to them. In the next place, these excessive precautions, by the delays and vexations which they inflict, tend to alienate the people from the central authority; and, by complicating the administrative system, and tending to conceal it from the observation of the intelligent public, they weaken the best security against the abuses of its functionaries, and the best means of correcting its defects.

From this preposterous diligence of administrative departments, we proceed to a practice closely analogous to it, and more inconsistent with the ends at which centralization aims. Sovereign governments (as well as subordinate authorities) frequently neglect functions which they ought to exercise directly, for the direct exercise of functions which they might delegate to advantage. There would not be room in the general view of our subject, to which we are confined by the necessary limits of an article, for any attempt whatever to draw the line of demarcation, by which the two classes of functions are faintly separated; but, to complete that general view, (or to mark out the extent of our subject,) we venture to advert, in conclusion, to the difficult matter in question.

It appears to us, that a sovereign government promotes its power as well as the interests of its subjects, by confining the direct exercise of its legislative and administrative functions to matters of general and permanent concern; and, consequently, that it ought to delegate all its functions which are strictly or substantially administrative, excepting in a few cases (principally regarding its foreign relations) which fall within the reason for its legislative and administrative activity.

It appears to us, moreover, (for reasons which our necessary limits will hardly allow us even to indicate,) that the two following measures might be adopted in England with equal advantage to the country and the central authority.

We have already adverted to the specific legislation, (or legislation by private acts,) which is now done directly by the British Parliament. It appears to us, that this legislation is just as detrimental to the power and influence of the sovereign authority, as to the interests of the parties whom it affects directly, and to those interests of the country which it affects by remote consequence; that the function ought to be delegated (with such exceptions as a close scrutiny would suggest) to subordinate functionaries, endowed with the judicial qualifications which the exercise of it demands; and that this measure would be justified by numerous and weighty analogies, as well as by high considerations of public utility.

It appears to us, moreover, that the great and growing inconveniences of the general Parliamentary legislation urgently call for a measure which might be justified by similar analogies;—namely, the appointment of a Permanent Commission, composed of experienced lawyers, to examine and report upon bills submitted to either of the Houses. The functions of this Commission, as we conceive them, may be briefly indicated. It would have to consider and report, whether the purpose (or purposes) of any proposed law were not virtually accomplished by the existing law of the land; to suggest the provisions by which that purpose might be best carried into effect; and to give the law the form and expression which would render its purpose and provisions as definite and clear as possible.

The want of this institution, or some institution analogous to it, has necessarily led in England, (and, indeed, in all countries,) to the legislation, judicial or direct, of Courts of Justice;—a legislation bad in itself, and derogating from the proper office of the sovereign authority; but arising from causes much misconceived by partial advocates of Codes, and even by many historians of positive systems of law. In reference to the statute law, made with the advice and assistance of the Permanent Commission, the institution would prevent the necessity for those so-called interpretations, with which Courts of Justice, in their own despite, have helped the lame productions of the sovereign legislature. The institution would insensibly form, in the members of the Commission, a body of men equal to the urgent work of reducing the law to a Code. The frightful and accumulating chaos of the written and unwritten law, will, sooner or later, force this measure upon Parliament; but unless care be taken, before the necessity is imminent, for the formation of a body of men competent to the arduous business, it will probably be done in a manner to aggravate the existing evil. Merely practical lawyers are often consummate in the art of applying positive principles; but not being called upon, by the nature of their avocations, to conceive the law as a rational system, they could not conceive the comparatively simple expression to which it might really be reduced. Merely theoretical lawyers are equally incompetent to the business; as wanting a sufficient acquaintance with the details of the law, and that dexterity in applying principles which nothing but practice can impart. The members of a Commission of Legislation, composed as we have suggested, would possess the minute knowledge and practical dexterity which are naturally acquired by experienced lawyers; and, from the nature of their office, they would as naturally combine with these faculties a faculty of a higher order. Their office would give them the talent of conceiving the details of the law, as forming the related parts of an internally coherent whole; and this talent, combined with minute knowledge and practical dexterity, is the talent needed for the work of reducing the law to a Code.

The last consideration suggests an analogy which will concisely illustrate the subject of the present article. If we exclude the conditions of centralization which regard the constitution and functions of local governments, we may say that centralized government is synonymous with regular administration. But this is related to administration not completely extricated from primeval disorder, as a body of law, arranged in a well-made Code, to a body of law, immersed in its natural chaos.


  1.  Princeps—(first or foremost)—is the only name for a limited monarch that expresses his position and character. It was the proper and constitutional title of the earlier Roman Emperors; who, on their accession to office, were invested with specified powers, by a grant of the plebs, or senate. Ostensibly, therefore, that government, like our own, was what is absurdly called a mixed or limited monarchy. In substance, indeed, the difference between the governments is measureless. That was a despotic monarchy, disguised by the forms of a republic; this is a liberal republic, adorned and consolidated by the forms of a monarchy.
  2.  See the following works, each admirable in its kind, for the Common Law of America, and the Common (or Universal) Law of Germany:—’The Jurisdiction of the Federal Courts,’ by Mr Duponceau. ‘Einleitung in das Deutsche Privatrecht, (Introduction to the Private Law of Germany,’) by Charles Frederick Eichhorn. ‘System des Heutigen Romischen Rechts, (Systematic Exposition of the Roman Law, as received and applied in Germany,’) by Frederick Charles von Savigny.
  3.  Vol. i. p. 278.
  4.  Pp. 64, 65, and elsewhere.
  5.  Tome i. Livre iv. Ch. vi. De la Liberté compatible avec le Privilège.
  6.  This is forcibly put by M. Dunoyer. Populations (says he) whose government meddles with every thing, come, in time, to think it responsible for every thing: ‘à n’accuser que lui des maux qu’elles éprouvent; du mauvais succès de leurs spéculations, de l’encombrement des marchés, de l’inégalité des conditions, de l’infortune des classes les moins heureuses; et finalement, à vouloir toujours lui demander comptedu résultat de leur sottise ou de leur folie.’—Tome i. p. 303.
  7.  In so far as a man is not restrained, he is free. The kinds of the freedom which he enjoys, are as numerous as the kinds of the restraints to which he is not subject. He, therefore, is politically or civilly free in as far as he is not restrained by the πολιςcivitas, or state. A distinction, however, has been taken between civil and political liberty; though the only difference is, that civil comes from the Latin, and political from the Greek. According to this distinction, civil liberty signifies liberty in the vulgar sense of the word: it means the liberty of doing or forbearing, which every state (monarchical or republican) permits to its subjects. But, according to the same distinction, political liberty signifies political power: it means that part in the sovereign power, which, in a country popularly governed, is held by a member of the sovereign body. Hence civil liberty is opposed to political; and a look of paradoxical profundity is given to familiar truths, by virtue of a double meaning put upon a word. ‘That a nation having political, may want civil liberty,’ is a maxim which looks pregnant. It expresses, however, nothing more than the following familiar, though important truth: that in a country popularly governed, the subject community (including the individual members of the sovereign body itself) may be oppressed or annoyed by useless restraints.

    The distinction in question has been much insisted on by Mr Laing, (pp. 61–76,) who also tells us (p. 98,) that civil liberty (or liberty) ought to be the end of government. This old conceit is just as groundless as that newfangled distinction; and we are surprised at finding it revived by so acute a writer as Mr Laing. It were nearer the mark to say, that the immediate end of government is restraint; though, in respect to its ultimate end, (the general good,) restraint and liberty are merely means. It is only by abridging their natural liberty, that the state can secure to its subjects the enjoyment of their legal rights—including their legal right to the remnant of natural liberty which it tacitly permits them to retain.)

    According to the distinction which we have just noticed, liberty, in one of its senses, signifies power. As used by M. Dunoyer, it bears an analogous meaning. The first title of his book is, ‘De la Liberté du travail.’ The second is, ‘Exposé des conditions dans lesquelles les forces humaines s’exercent avec le plus de puissance.’ Looking at its purview and tenor, we should give to his book some such title as the following:—’An exposition of the conditions on which the human faculties (as directed to economical ends) are the most advantageously applied.’ Without the limiting clause inserted in the parenthesis, this title would not indicate correctly the purview and tenor of the book; which is especially concerned with political economy, though it frequently travels into other social sciences. Now he manifestly means by the term liberty, the human faculties or powers as applied to the best advantage; and not (as one might infer from the titles of his book) the liberty of so applying them. We cannot but wish (with all our respect for the writer) that he had abstained from this innovation on established language. It needlessly aggravates the intrinsic difficulties of his subject; and it renders the word liberty (which is the very worst stumbling-block in the mental and moral sciences) more ambiguous than it was before. It speaks volumes for his reasoning powers, that the innovation has not betrayed him (in as far as we have observed) into any important inconsistency.