The Political Power of British Agriculture

Publication Date01 Sep 1959
DOI10.1111/j.1467-9248.1959.tb01938.x
AuthorJ. Roland Pennock
SubjectArticle
NOTES
AND
REVIEW ARTICLES
29
1
of application. The individualistic democracy advocated by Mill sets the problem of govern-
ment as one primarily of
elucidating
values and is devised to allow a wide diversity of values
to rise to the surface. Turning, however, to the problem of
realizing
values, it is more diffi-
cult to regard democracy simply as a method consistent with all values. It tends to become
a
value itself, and therefore not always placed first in the total list of values. It is well
known that democratic forms of government easily suffer if everyone wants quickly two
bowls of rice instead
of
one, or if men are urgently preoccupied with defence from internal
or external danger. It would be useful to have a realistic discussion on whether democracy
ought to suffer. On this problem Mill left a loophole for himself by maintaining that his
theory applied only beyond
a
certain level of civilization. Unless we use the word ‘civiliza-
tion’ in
a
completely question-begging way, however, this distorts the issue, which
is
based
upon circumstance rather than civilization. Even in a western democracy, how much unem-
ployment would there have to be before one rated the form of government at
a
value below
that of getting
a
job?; or how much danger, before one placed security first? It may be
objected that this is just to pick out emergencies. But there are
no
emergencies in political
theory;
it is simply that situations where radical choices have to
be
faced are more infrequent
in some societies than in others, but their theoretical significance is the same.
I
cannot see that Mr. Greaves has helped at all with this interesting and difficult problem,
though he may do
so
later. It would have been appropriate here, because it is not strictly
a matter of the application of democratic theory, but
a
part of the theory itself, which is
otherwise incomplete. The question of the limits of the method advocated by Mr. Greaves
is also clearly the question of its validity. There is, of course, an entirely different question
of application where, for example, one discusses electoral systems or the schools from
which civil servants are recruited, and this is concerned with institutional consequences.
I
very much hope that Mr. Greaves will develop his system, but that he will consider the
first kind of application and not merely the second. Until then we cannot say how far he
has escaped agnosticism.
THE
POLITICAL POWER
OF
B
RI
TI
s
H
AG
RI
c
tT
LT
u
RE
J.
ROLAND
PENNOCK
Swarthmore College
IN
Britain as in America the political power of farmers is generally reputed to be great;
and if, in fact, it is as great as it is thought to be it
is
out of proportion to their numbers.
This well-known phenomenon hardly needs documentation. Attention may be called, how-
ever, to the extent of agricultural subsidies in Great Britain, ranging between
65
and
100
per cent.
of
the total net profits of the industry. Whatever may be the justifications for
agricultural subsidies in Britain, it appears to be quite generally agreed among disinterested
economists that the present level is too high. Moreover, there is other circumstantial evi-
dence,
if
it is needed,
of
agriculture’s political power. For instance, when, in
1950,
Labour
was sitting
on
the very edge of the seat
of
power, and when it was forced,to choose between
cutting agricultural income and raising the price of food, it followed the latter course.:
1
The Government discontinued its subsidy
on
feedingstuffs and decreased that
on
ferti-
lizers, but it compensated the farmers (at least in part) for these cuts partly by introducing

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