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Some Arguments Considered
by [?]


It is a favourite line of argument to show that we have no choice between the maintenance of the Union and the concession to Ireland of national independence. The evils of Irish independence are universally reckoned by Englishmen to be so intolerable that we shall never agree to it. The evils of Home Rule are even more intolerable still. Therefore, it is said, if we shall never willingly bring the latter upon our heads, a fortiori we ought on no account to invite the former. The business in hand, however, is not a theorem, but a problem; it is not a thesis to be proved, but a malady to be cured; and the world will thank only the reasoner who winds up, not with Q.E.D., but with Q.E.F. To reason that a patient ought not to take a given medicine because it may possibly cause him more pain than some other medicine which he has no intention of taking, is curiously oblique logic. The question is not oblique; it is direct. Will the operation do more harm to his constitution than the slow corrosions of a disorder grown inveterate? Are the conditions of the connection between England and Ireland, as laid down in the Act of Union, incapable of improvement? Is the present working of these conditions more prosperous and hopeful, or happier for Irish order and for English institutions, than any practicable proposal that it is within the compass of statesmanship to devise, and of civic sense to accept and to work? That is the question.

Some people contend that the burden of making out a case rests on the advocate of change, and not on those who support things as they are. But who supports things as they are? Things as they are have become insupportable. If you make any of the constitutional changes that have been proposed, we are told, parliamentary government, as Englishmen now know it, is at an end; and our critic stands amazed at those “who deem it a slighter danger to innovate on the Act of Union than to remodel the procedure of the House of Commons.” As if that were the alternative. Great changes in the rules may do other good things, but no single competent authority believes that in this particular they will do the thing that we want. We cannot avoid constitutional changes. It is made matter of crushing rebuke that the Irish proposals of the late Government were an innovation on the old constitution of the realm. But everybody knows that, while ancient forms have survived, the last hundred years have witnessed a long succession of silent but most profound innovations. It was shortsighted to assume that the redistribution of political power that took place in 1884-5 was the last chapter of the history of constitutional change. It ought to have been foreseen that new possessors of power, both Irish and British, would press for objects the pursuit of which would certainly involve further novelties in the methods and machinery of government. Every given innovation must be rigorously scrutinized, but in the mere change or in the fact of innovation there is no valid reproach. When one of the plans for the better government of Ireland is described as depriving parliamentary institutions of their elasticity and strength, as weakening the Executive at home, and lessening the power of the country to resist foreign attack, no careful observer of the events of the last seven years can fail to see that all this evil has already got its grip upon us. Mr. Dicey himself admits it. “Great Britain,” he says, “if left to herself, could act with all the force, consistency, and energy given by unity of sentiment and community of interests. The obstruction and the uncertainty of our political aims, the feebleness and inconsistency with which they are pursued, arise in part at least from the connection with Ireland.” So then, after all, it is feebleness and inconsistency, not elasticity and strength, that mark our institutions as they stand; feebleness and inconsistency, distraction and uncertainty. The supporter of things as they are is decidedly as much concerned in making out a case as the advocate of change.