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The perfect is the enemy of the good

On William ‘Wilber’ Wilberforce’s feast day we wonder whether the abolitionist and poet Ebenezer Jones, whom we wrote about below, would have had much to say to each other politically. If they had, Jones's Chartist sympathies might have dismayed or even repelled Wilber, though he would have loved Ebenezer's urge to protect animals from human cruelty.

We wrote about the fascinating fellowship of men, women, musicians, admirals, former slaves, doctors, businessmen and writers, all linked by a profound dedication to Christ, who abolished slavery. They are among the best Brits, but they were not perfect. Though Wilber gave away most of his money to the cause of abolition, prison reform, the protection of animals, and a rogue of a son, he did not advocate voting rights for the workingman, as far as I know.

The Chartists had some excellent ideas (we wrote about them in the Liberty Timeline). They called for the vote for workingmen in 1839, and urged a secret ballot at elections. They, too, lacked perfection, at least from a woman's point of view, since they did not call for the vote for women.

The Chartists wanted to see MPs paid because it would be difficult for a workingman to serve in Parliament without an income. This made perfect sense, but in this century it has created a class of people who start working for government as soon as they leave school and who receive salaries far higher than most of their constituents. Gordon Brown, for instance, has been in government since 1983. He has no other professional experience. He doesn’t know how to run a business or teach school or run a farm or heal a patient, yet he feels he can make decisions for British families. Like the Chartists, Brown appears to believe that all real life problems can be solved by the political organization of the country.

We admire the Chartists, but here again we don't see perfection. We believe that Brown is wrong when he tries to make the government the problem-solver of society because British history tells us he is.

The value of wages rose. . .by 80 per cent during the second half of the [19th] century" (Simon Bradley reviewing London in the 19th Century, TLS, 21 June 2007); more than 95 per cent of the British people could read by the end of the century; mortality rates fell dramatically and life expectancy rose; crime declined so sharply that prisons were torn down (Newgate, Millbank, Coldbath Fields, and Horsemonger Lane and debtors' prisons) and the downward trend in crime was widely remarked. All these achievements did not occur because government was involved but because the British people were organizing themselves and working together to create a society of freedom, justice, and prosperity.

Was it perfect? No. As the French say, the perfect is the enemy of the good.