To attempt to investigate what kind of government is suited to every known state of society would be to compose a treatise, not on representative government, but on political science at large. For our more limited purpose, we borrow from political philosophy only its general principles. To determine the form of government most suited to any particular people and the one which will be most likely to endure, we must not only understand the roles of history and culture in shaping what is appropriate and palatable to a given people, but we must also be able to distinguish, among the defects and shortcomings which belong to that people, those that are the immediate impediment to progress–to discover what it is which (as it were) stops the way. The best government for them is the one which tends most to give them that for want of which they can not advance or advance only in a lame and lopsided manner. We must not, however, forget the reservation necessary in all things which have for their object improvement or progress, namely, that in seeking the good which is needed, no damage, or as little as possible, be done to that already possessed.
It is impossible to understand the question of the adaptation of forms of government to states of society, without taking into account not only the next step, but all the steps which society has yet to make, both those which can be foreseen, and the far wider indefinite range which is at present out of sight. It follows, that to judge of the merits of forms of government, an ideal must be constructed of the form of government most eligible in itself, that is, which, if the necessary conditions existed for giving effect to its beneficial tendencies, would, more than all others, favor and promote, not one particular improvement, but all forms and degrees of it. This having been done, we must consider what are the mental conditions of all sorts necessary to enable this government to realize its tendencies, and what, therefore, are the various defects by which a people is made incapable of reaping its benefits. It would then be possible to construct a theorem of the circumstances in which that form of government may wisely be introduced; and also to judge, in cases in which it had better not be introduced, what inferior forms of polity will best carry those communities through the intermediate stages which they must traverse before they can become fit for the best form of government.
Of these inquiries, the last does not concern us here, but the first is an essential part of our subject; for we may, without rashness, at once enunciate a proposition, the proofs and illustrations of which will present themselves in the ensuing pages, that this ideally best form of government will be found in some one or other variety of the representative system.
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