Front Page Titles (by Subject) PART I: CONSIDERATIONS APPLICABLE TO DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT IN GENERAL - Modern Democracies, vol. 1.
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
PART I: CONSIDERATIONS APPLICABLE TO DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT IN GENERAL - Viscount James Bryce, Modern Democracies, vol. 1. 
Modern Democracies, (New York: Macmillan, 1921). 2 vols. Vol. 1
Part of: Modern Democracies, 2 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
CONSIDERATIONS APPLICABLE TO DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT IN GENERAL
A century ago there was in the Old World only one tiny spot in which the working of democracy could be studied. A few of the ancient rural cantons of Switzerland had recovered their freedom after the fall of Napoleon, and were governing themselves as they had done from the earlier Middle Ages, but they were too small and their conditions too peculiar to furnish instruction to larger communities or throw much light on popular government in general. Nowhere else in Europe did the people rule. Britain enjoyed far wider freedom than any part of the European Continent, but her local as well as central government was still oligarchic. When the American Republic began its national life with the framing and adoption of the Federal Constitution in 1787-89, the only materials which history furnished to its founders were those which the republics of antiquity had provided, so it was to these materials that both those founders and the men of the first French Revolution constantly recurred for examples to be followed or avoided. Nobody since Plutarch had gathered the patterns of republican civic virtue which orators like Vergniaud had to invoke. Nobody since Aristotle had treated of constitutions on the lines Alexander Hamilton desired for his guidance.
With 1789 the world passed into a new phase, but the ten years that followed were for France years of revolution, in which democracy had no chance of approving its quality. It was only in the United States that popular governments could be profitably studied, and when Tocqueville studied them in 1827 they had scarcely begun to show some of their most characteristic features.
Within the hundred years that now lie behind us what changes have passed upon the world! Nearly all the monarchies of the Old World have been turned into democracies. The States of the American Union have grown from thirteen to forty-eight. While twenty new republics have sprung up in the Western hemisphere, five new democracies have been developed out of colonies within the British dominions. There are now more than one hundred representative assemblies at work all over the earth legislating for self-governing communities; and the proceedings of nearly all of these are recorded in the press. Thus the materials for a study of free governments have been and are accumulating so fast that the most diligent student cannot keep pace with the course of political evolution in more than a few out of these many countries.
A not less significant change has been the universal acceptance of democracy as the normal and natural form of government. Seventy years ago, as those who are now old can well remember, the approaching rise of the masses to power was regarded by the educated classes of Europe as a menace to order and prosperity. Then the word Democracy awakened dislike or fear. Now it is a word of praise. Popular power is welcomed, extolled, worshipped. The few whom it repels or alarms rarely avow their sentiments. Men have almost ceased to study its phenomena because these now seem to have become part of the established order of things. The old question,— What is the best form of government? is almost obsolete because the centre of interest has been shifting. It is not the nature of democracy, nor even the variety of the shapes it wears, that are to-day in debate, but rather the purposes to which it may be turned, the social and economic changes it may be used to effect; yet its universal acceptance is not a tribute to the smoothness of its working, for discontent is everywhere rife, while in some countries the revolutionary spirit is passing into forms heretofore undreamt of, one of which looms up as a terrifying spectre. The time seems to have arrived when the actualities of democratic government, in its diverse forms, should be investigated, and when the conditions most favourable to its success should receive more attention than students, as distinguished from politicians, have been bestowing upon them. Now that the abundant and ever-increasing data facilitate a critical study, it so happens that current events supply new reasons why such a study should be undertaken forthwith. Some of these reasons deserve mention.
We have just seen four great empires in Europe — as well as a fifth in Asia — all ruled by ancient dynasties, crash to the ground, and we see efforts made to build up out of the ruins new States, each of which is enacting for itself a democratic constitution.
We see backward populations, to which the very conception of political freedom had been unknown, summoned to attempt the tremendous task of creating self-governing institutions. China, India, and Russia contain, taken together, one half or more the population of the globe, so the problem of providing free government for them is the largest problem statesmanship has ever had to solve.
The new functions that are being thrust upon governments in every civilized country, make it more than ever necessary that their machinery should be so constructed as to discharge these functions efficiently and in full accord with the popular wish.
And lastly, we see some of the more advanced peoples, dissatisfied with the forms of government which they have inherited from the past, now bent on experiments for making their own control more direct and effective. Since democracy, though assumed to be the only rightful kind of government, has, in its representative form, failed to fulfil the hopes of sixty years ago, new remedies are sought to cure the defects experience has revealed.
These are among the facts of our time which suggest that a comprehensive survey of popular governments as a whole may now have a value for practical politicians as well as an interest for scientific students. Any such survey must needs be imperfect,— indeed at best provisional — for the data are too vast to be collected, digested, and explained by any one man, or even by a group of men working on the same lines. Yet a sort of voyage of discovery among the materials most easily available, may serve to indicate the chief problems to be solved. It is on such a voyage that I ask the reader to accompany me in this book. Its aim is to present a general view of the phenomena hitherto observed in governments of a popular type, showing what are the principal forms that type has taken, the tendencies each form has developed, the progress achieved in creating institutional machinery, and, above all — for this is the ultimate test of excellence — what democracy has accomplished or failed to accomplish, as compared with other kinds of government, for the well-being of each people. Two methods of handling the subject present themselves. One, that which most of my predecessors in this field have adopted, is to describe in a systematic way the features of democratic government in general, using the facts of particular democracies only by way of illustrating the general principles expounded. This method, scientifically irreproachable, runs the risk of becoming dry or even dull, for the reader remains in the region of bloodless abstractions. The other method, commended by the examples of Montesquieu and Tocqueville, keeps him in closer touch with the actual concrete phenomena of human society, making it easier for him to follow reasonings and appreciate criticisms, because these are more closely associated in memory with the facts that suggest them. These considerations have led me, instead of attempting to present a systematic account of Democracy in its general features and principles, to select for treatment various countries in which democracy exists, describing the institutions of each in their theory and their practice, so as to show under what economic and social conditions each form works, and with what results for good or evil. These conditions so differentiate the working that no single democracy can be called typical. A certain number must be examined in order to determine what features they have in common. Only when this has been done can we distinguish that which in each of them is accidental from what seems essential, characteristic of the nature and normal tendencies of democracy as a particular form of government.
Six countries have been selected for treatment: two old European States, France and Switzerland; two newer States in the Western hemisphere, the American Union and Canada; and two in the Southern hemisphere, Australia and New Zealand. France has been the powerful protagonist of free government on the European Continent and has profoundly affected political thought, not only by her example but by a line of writers from the great names of Montesquieu and Rousseau down to Tocqueville, Taine, Boutmy, and others of our own time. In Switzerland there were seen the earliest beginnings of self-government among simple peasant folk. The rural communities of the Alpine cantons, appearing in the thirteenth century like tiny flowers beside the rills of melting snow, have expanded by many additions into a Federal republic which is the unique example of a government both conservative and absolutely popular. Among the large democracies the United States is the oldest, and contains many small democracies in its vast body. Its Federal Constitution, the best constructed of all such instruments and that tested by the longest experience, has been a pattern which many other republics have imitated. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, whose institutions have been modelled on those of England, are the youngest of the democracies, and the two latter of these have gone further and faster than any others in extending the sphere of State action into new fields. To the comparatively full account of these six, I have prefixed a shorter treatment of two other groups. The city republics of ancient Greece cannot be omitted from any general survey. Their brief but brilliant life furnished the earliest examples of what men can achieve in the task of managing their affairs by popular assemblies, and the literature which records and criticizes their efforts is one of the world's most precious possessions, destined to retain its value so long as civilized society exists. The republics of what is called “Latin America,” all of them Spanish except Portuguese-speaking Brazil and French-speaking Haiti, must also find a place, for they have a double interest. Their earlier history shows the results of planting free representative institutions in a soil not fitted to receive the seed of liberty, while the progress which some few of them have been recently making towards settled order shows also that with an improvement in economic and intellectual conditions that seed may spring up and begin to flourish.
Only one of the great modern democracies has been omitted. The United Kingdom, though in form a monarchy, has a government in some respects more democratic than is that of France, and the process by which it passed from an oligarchy to a democracy through four constitutional changes in 1832 1868, 1885, and 1918 is full of instruction for the historian. But no citizen of Britain, and certainly no citizen who has himself taken a part in politics as a member, during forty years, of legislatures and cabinets, can expect to be credited with impartiality, however earnestly he may strive to be impartial. I have therefore been reluctantly obliged to leave this branch of the subject to some one, preferably some American or French scholar, who is not affected by a like disability.
These accounts of governments in the concrete constitute the centre and core of the book, and may, it is hoped, be serviceable to those who are interested in the practical rather than the theoretical aspects of politics. I have prefixed to them some introductory chapters analyzing the ideas or doctrines whereon popular governments rest, tracing the process by which they have grown, and indicating the conditions under which they are now worked; and have also called attention to certain generally operative factors which the reader must keep in sight while studying the features of the several communities examined. Such factors are the influences of education, of religion, of the newspaper press, of tradition, of party spirit and party organization, and of public opinion as a ruling force. These preliminary essays form Part I., and Part II. is occupied by the descriptions of the six actual modern democratic governments already enumerated. These descriptions do not enter into the details either of the constitutional mechanism or of the administrative organization of each country dealt with, but dwell upon those features only of its institutions, as seen in actual working, which belong to and illustrate their democratic character.
To these last-mentioned chapters which describe the working of actual democratic governments, past and present, there are subjoined, in Part III., other chapters classifying and comparing the phenomena which the examination of these governments reveals, and setting forth the main conclusions to which they point.
The book thus consists of three parts. Part I. contains preliminary observations applicable to popular governments in general. Part II. describes certain selected popular governments, giving an outline of their respective institutions and explaining how these institutions work in practice. Part III. summarizes and digests the facts set forth in Part II. and indicates certain conclusions which may be drawn from them as to the merits and defects of democratic institutions in general, the changes through which these institutions have been passing, the new problems that are beginning to emerge, and the possibility of other changes in the future.
Unlike to one another as are many of the phenomena which the governments to be described present, we shall find in them resemblances sufficient to enable us to draw certain inferences true of democratic governments in general. These inferences will help us to estimate the comparative merits of the various forms democracy has taken, and to approve some institutions as more likely than others to promote the common welfare.
There is a sense in which every conclusion reached regarding men in society may seem to be provisional, because though human nature has been always in many points the same, it has shown itself in other respects so variable that we cannot be sure it may not change in some which we have been wont to deem permanent. But since that possibility will be equally true a century hence, it does not dissuade us from doing the best we now can to reach conclusions sufficiently probable to make them applicable to existing problems. New as these problems seem, experience does more than speculation to help towards a solution.
Most of what has been written on democracy has been written with a bias, and much also with a view to some particular country assumed as typical, the facts there observed having been made the basis for conclusions favourable or unfavourable to popular governments in general. This remark does not apply to Aristotle, for he draws his conclusions from studying a large number of concrete instances, and though he passes judgment, he does so with cold detachment. Neither does it apply to Tocqueville who, while confining his study to one country, examines it in the temper of a philosopher and discriminates between phenomena peculiar to America, and those which he finds traceable to democratic sentiment or democratic institutions in general. The example of these illustrious forerunners prescribes to the modern student the method of enquiry he should apply. He must beware of assuming facts observed in the case of one or two or three popular governments to be present in others, must rid himself of all prejudices, must strive where he notes differences to discover their origin, and take no proposition to be generally true until he has traced it to a source common to all the cases examined, that source lying in the tendencies of human nature. But of this, and especially of the comparative method of study, something will be said in the chapter next following.
As the tendencies of human nature are the permanent basis of study which gives to the subject called Political Science whatever scientific quality it possesses, so the practical value of that science consists in tracing and determining the relation of these tendencies to the institutions which men have created for guiding their life in a community. Certain institutions have been found by experience to work better than others; i.e. they give more scope to the wholesome tendencies, and curb the pernicious tendencies. Such institutions have also a retroactive action upon those who live under them. Helping men to goodwill, self-restraint, intelligent co-operation, they form what we call a solid political character, temperate and law-abiding, preferring peaceful to violent means for the settlement of controversies. Where, on the other hand, institutions have been ill-constructed, or too frequently changed to exert this educative influence, men make under them little progress towards a steady and harmonious common life. To find the type of institutions best calculated to help the better and repress the pernicious tendencies is the task of the philosophic enquirer, who lays the foundations upon which the legislator builds. A people through which good sense and self-control are widely diffused is itself the best philosopher and the best legislator, as is seen in the history of Rome and in that of England. It was to the sound judgment and practical quality in these two peoples that the excellence of their respective constitutions and systems of law was due, not that in either people wise men were exceptionally numerous, but that both were able to recognize wisdom when they saw it, and willingly followed the leaders who possessed it.
Taking politics (so far as it is a science) to be an experimental science, I have sought to make this book a record of efforts made and results achieved. But it so happens that at this very moment there are everywhere calls for new departures in politics, the success or failure of which our existing data do not enable us to predict, because the necessary experiments have not yet been tried.
The civilized peoples seem to be passing into an unpredicted phase of thought and life. Many voices are raised demanding a fundamental reconstruction of governments which shall enable them to undertake much that has been hitherto left to the action of individuals, while others propose an extinction of private property complete enough to make the community the only owner of lands and goods, and therewith the authority which shall prescribe to each of its members what work he shall do and what recompense he shall receive to satisfy his own needs. Here are issues of supreme and far-reaching importance. “How,” it may be asked, “can any one write about democracy without treating of the new purposes which democracy is to be made to serve? Look at Germany and France, England and America. Look at Australia and New Zealand, where democratic institutions are being harnessed to the chariot of socialism in a constitutional way. Above all, look at Russia, shaken by an earthquake which has destroyed all the institutions it found existing.” My answer to this question is that the attempts heretofore made in the direction of State Socialism or Communism have been too few and too short lived to supply materials for forecasting the consequences of such changes as those now proposed. What history tells us of the relation which the permanent tendencies of human nature bear to political institutions, is not sufficient for guidance in this unexplored field of governmental action. We are driven to speculation and conjecture. Now the materials for conjecture will have to be drawn, not from a study of institutions which were framed with a view to other aims, but mainly from a study of human nature itself, i.e. from psychology and ethics as well as from economics. Being, however, here concerned with political institutions as they have been and as they now are, I am dispensed from entering the limitless region of ethical and economic speculation. We see long dim vistas stretching in many directions through the forest, but of none can we descry the end. Thus, even were I more competent than I feel myself to be, I should leave to psychologists and economists any examination of the theories and projects that belong to Collectivism or Socialism or Communism.1 A treatment of them would swell this book to twice or thrice its size, and would lead me into a sphere of enquiry where controversies burn with a fierce flame.
The ancient world, having tried many experiments in free government, relapsed wearily after their failure into an acceptance of monarchy and turned its mind quite away from political questions. More than a thousand years elapsed before this long sleep was broken. The modern world did not occupy itself seriously with the subject nor make any persistent efforts to win an ordered freedom till the sixteenth century. Before us in the twentieth a vast and tempting field stands open, a field ever widening as new States arise and old States pass into new phases of life. More workers are wanted in that field. Regarding the psychology of men in politics, the behaviour of crowds, the forms in which ambition and greed appear, much that was said long ago by historians and moralists is familiar, and need not be now repeated. But the working of institutions and laws, the forms in which they best secure liberty and order, and enable the people to find the men fit to be trusted with power — these need to be more fully investigated by a study of what has proved in practice to work well or ill. It is Facts that are needed: Facts, Facts, Facts. When facts have been supplied, each of us can try to reason from them. The investigators who are called on to supply them may have their sense of the duty owed to truth quickened by knowing that their work, carefully and honestly done, without fear or favour, will be profitable to all free peoples, and most so to those who are now seeking to enlarge the functions of government. The heavier are the duties thrown on the State, the greater is the need for providing it with the most efficient machinery through which the people can exercise their control.
the method of enquiry
The contrast between the rapid progress made during the last two centuries in the study of external nature and the comparatively slow progress made in the determination of the laws or principles discoverable in the phenomena of human society is usually explained by the remark that in the former success was attained by discarding abstract notions and setting to work to observe facts, whereas in the latter men have continued to start from assumptions and run riot in speculations. As respects politics, this explanation, though it has some force, does not cover the whole case. The greatest minds that have occupied themselves with political enquiries have set out from the observation of such facts as were accessible to them, and have drawn from those facts their philosophical conclusions. Even Plato, the first thinker on the subject whose writings have reached us, and one whose power of abstract thinking has never been surpassed, formed his view of democracy from the phenomena of Athenian civic life as he saw them. His disciple Aristotle does the same, in a more precise and less imaginative way. So after him did Cicero, with a genuine interest, but no great creative power; so too did, after a long interval, Machiavelli and Montesquieu and Burke and others down to Tocqueville and Taine and Roscher.
The fundamental difference between the investigation of external nature and that of human affairs lies in the character of the facts to be observed. The phenomena with which the chemist or physicist deals — and this is for most purposes true of biological phenomena also — are, and so far as our imperfect knowledge goes, always have been, now and at all times, everywhere identical. Oxygen and sulphur behave in the same way in Europe and in Australia and in Sirius. But the phenomena of an election are not the same in Bern and in Buenos Aires, though we may call the thing by the same name; nor were they the same in Bern two centuries ago, or in Buenos Aires twenty years ago, as they are now. The substances with which the chemist deals can be weighed and measured, the feelings and acts of men cannot. Experiments can be tried in physics over and over again till a conclusive result is reached, but that which we call an experiment in politics can never be repeated because the conditions can never be exactly reproduced, as Heraclitus says that one cannot step twice into the same river. Prediction in physics may be certain: in politics it can at best be no more than probable. If vagueness and doubt surround nearly every theory or doctrine in the field of politics, that happens not so much because political philosophers have been careless in ascertaining facts, but rather because they were apt to be unduly affected by the particular facts that were under their eyes. However widely and carefully the materials may be gathered, their character makes it impossible that politics should ever become a science in the sense in which mechanics or chemistry or botany is a science. Is there then no way of applying exact methods to the subject, and of reaching some more general and more positive conclusions than have yet secured acceptance? Are the materials to be studied, viz. the acts and thoughts of men, their habits and institutions, incapable of scientific treatment because too various and changeful?
The answer is that there is in the phenomena of human society one “Constant,” one element or factor which is practically always the same, and therefore the basis of all the so-called “Social Sciences.” This is Human Nature itself. All fairly normal men have like passions and desires. They are stirred by like motives, they think upon similar lines. When they have reached the stage of civilization in which arts and letters have developed, and political institutions have grown up, reason has become so far the guide of conduct that sequences in their action can be established and their behaviour under given conditions can to some extent be foretold. Human nature is that basic and ever-present element in the endless flux of social and political phenomena which enables general principles to be determined. and though the action of individual men may often be doubtful, the action of a hundred or a thousand men all subjected to the same influences at the same time may be much more predictable, because in a large number the idiosyncrasies of individuals are likely to be eliminated or evened out. Politics accordingly has its roots in Psychology, the study (in their actuality) of the mental habits and volitional proclivities of mankind. The knowledge it gives is the knowledge most needed in life, and our life is chiefly spent in acquiring it. But we are here concerned only with the political side of man, and have to enquire how to study that particular department of his individual and collective life.
Two other differences between the Natural and the Human Sciences need only a word or two. The terms used in the latter lack the precision which belongs to those used in the former. They are not truly technical, for they do not always mean the same thing to all who use them. Such words as “aristocracy,” “prerogative,” “liberty,” “oligarchy,” “faction,” “caucus,” even “constitution “convey different meanings to different persons. The terms used in politics have, moreover, contracted associations, attractive or repellent, as the case may be, to different persons. They evoke feeling. An investigator occupied in the interpretation of history is exposed to emotional influences such as do not affect the enquirer in a laboratory. Nobody has either love or hatred for the hydrocarbons; nobody who strikes a rock with his hammer to ascertain whether it contains a particular fossil has anything but knowledge to gain by the discovery. The only chemical elements that have ever attracted love or inspired enthusiasm are gold and silver; nor is it chemists whom such enthusiasm has affected.
Human affairs, however, touch and move us in many ways, through our interest, through our associations of education, of political party, of religious belief, of philosophical doctrine. Nihil humani nobis alienum. We are so influenced, consciously or unconsciously, in our reading and thinking, by our likes and dislikes, that we look for the facts we desire to find and neglect or minimize those which are unwelcome. The facts are so abundant that it is always possible to find the former, and so obscure that it is no less easy to undervalue the latter.
If vigorous minds who have addressed themselves to the study of governments have, although they used the facts they saw, often differed in their conclusions and failed in their forecasts, this is because few subjects of study have suffered so much from prejudice, partisanship, and the habit of hasty inference from a few data. Even large-visioned and thoughtful men have not escaped one particular kind of prepossession. Such men are naturally the keenest in noting and condemning the faults of whatever system of government they happen to live under. Nearly every political philosopher has like Hobbes, Locke, and Burke written under the influence of the events of his own time. Philosophers who are also reformers are led by their ardour to overestimate the beneficial effects of a change, because they forget that the faults they denounce, being rooted in human weakness, may emerge afresh in other forms. Struck by the evils they see, they neglect those from which they have not suffered. One must always discount the sanguine radicalism of a thinker, who, like Mazzini, lived beneath the shadow of a despotism, and the conservatism, or austerity, of one who lived, like Plato, amidst the hustle and din of a democracy.
Human nature being accordingly a factor sufficiently constant to enable certain laws of its working to be ascertained, though with no such precision and no such power of prediction as is possible in the physical sciences, how is it to be studied?
The best way to get a genuine and exact first-hand knowledge of the data is to mix in practical politics. In such a country as France or the United States a capable man can, in a dozen years, acquire a comprehension of the realities of popular government ampler and more delicate than any which books supply. He learns the habits and propensities of the average citizen as a sailor learns the winds and currents of the ocean he has to navigate, what pleases or repels the voter, his illusions and his prejudices, the sort of personality that is fascinating, the sort of offence that is not forgiven, how confidence is won or lost, the kind of argument that tells on the better or the meaner spirits. Such a man forms, perhaps without knowing it, a body of maxims or rules by which he sails his craft, and steers, if he be a leader, the vessel of his party. Still ampler are the opportunities which the member of an Assembly has for studying his colleagues. This is the best kind of knowledge; though some of it-is profitable only for the particular country in which it has been acquired, and might be misleading in another country with a different national character and a different set of ideas and catchwords. Many maxims fit for Paris might be unfit for Philadelphia, but some might not. It is the best kind because it is first-hand, but as its possessor seldom commits it to paper, and may indeed not be qualified to do so, the historian or philosopher must go for his materials to such records as debates, pamphlets, the files of newspapers and magazines, doing his best to feel through words the form and pressure of the facts. When he extends his enquiry to other countries than his own, the abundance of materials becomes bewildering, because few books have been written which bring together the most important facts so as to provide that information regarding the conditions of those countries which he needs in order to use the materials aright.
These data, however, do not carry us the whole way towards a comprehension of democratic government in general. The student must try to put life and blood into historical records by what he has learnt of political human nature in watching the movements of his own time. He must think of the Past with the same keenness of interest as if it were the Present, and of the Present with the same coolness of reflection as if it were the Past. The English and the Americans of the eighteenth century were different from the men of to-day, so free government was a different thing in their hands. There are, moreover, differences in place as well as in time. Political habits and tendencies are not the same thing in England as in France or in Switzerland, or even in Australia, The field of observation must be enlarged to take in the phenomena of all the countries where the people rule. The fundamentals of human nature, present everywhere, are in each country modified by the influences of race, of external conditions, such as climate and the occupations that arise from the physical resources of the country. Next come the historical antecedents which have given, or withheld, experience in self-government, have formed traditions of independence or submission, have created institutions which themselves in turn have moulded the minds and shaped the ideals of the nations.
This mode of investigation is known as the Comparative Method. That which entitles it to be called scientific is that it reaches general conclusions by tracing similar results to similar causes, eliminating those disturbing influences which, present in one country and absent in another, make the results in the examined cases different in some points while similar in others. When by this method of comparison the differences between the working of democratic government in one country and another have been noted, the local or special conditions, physical or racial or economic, will be examined so as to determine whether it is in them that the source of these differences is to be found. If not in them, then we must turn to the institutions, and try to discover which of those that exist in popular governments have worked best. All are so far similar in that they are meant to enable the people to rule, but some seek this end in one way, some in another, each having its merits, each its defects. When allowance has been made for the different conditions under which each acts, it will be possible to pronounce, upon the balance of considerations, which form offers the best prospect of success. After the differences between one popular government and another have been accounted for, the points of similarity which remain will be what one may call democratic human nature, viz. the normal or permanent habits and tendencies of citizens in a democracy and of a democratic community as a whole. This is what we set out to discover. The enquiry, if properly conducted, will have taught us what are the various aberrations from the ideally best to which popular government is by its very nature liable.
It is this method that I have sought to apply in investigating the phenomena each particular government shows, so as to indicate wherein they differ from or agree with those found in other governments. Where the phenomena point to one and the same conclusion, we are on firm ground, and can claim to have discovered a principle fit to be applied. Firm ground is to be found in those permanent tendencies of mankind which we learn from history, i.e. from the record of observations made during many centuries in many peoples, living in diverse environments, physical and historical. The tendencies themselves take slightly diverse forms in different races or peoples, and the strength of each relatively to the others varies. These diversities must be noted and allowed for; but enough identity remains to enable definite conclusions of general validity to be attained.
So expressed and considered in their application to practice, these conclusions have a real value, not only to the student but also to the statesman. Many an error might have been avoided had a body of sound maxims been present to the minds of constitution makers and statesmen; not that such maxims could be used as necessarily fit for the particular case, but that he who had them before him would be led to weigh considerations and beware of dangers which might otherwise have escaped him. Some one has said, There is nothing so useless as a general maxim. That is so only if you do not know how to use it. He who would use it well must always think of the instances on which it rests and of the instruction these may be made to yield. Its use is to call attention. It is not a prescription but a signpost, or perhaps a danger signal.
The conclusions obtained by these methods of investigation are less capable of direct application to practice than are those of the exact sciences. However true as general propositions, they are subject to many qualifications when applied to any given case, and must be expressed in guarded terms. The reader who may be disposed to complain of the qualified and tentative terms in which I shall be obliged to express the results which a study of the phenomena has suggested will, I hope, pardon me when he remembers that although it is well to be definite and positive in statement, it is still better to be accurate. I cannot hope to have always attained accuracy, but it is accuracy above everything else that I have aimed at.
the definition of democracy
The word Democracy has been used ever since the time of Herodotus1 to denote that form of government in which the ruling power of a State is legally vested, not in any particular class or classes, but in the members of the community as a whole. This means, in communities which act by voting, that rule belongs to the majority, as no other method has been found for determining peaceably and legally what is to be deemed the will of a community which is not unanimous. Usage has made this the accepted sense of the term, and usage is the safest guide in the employment of words.
Democracy, as the rule of the Many, was by the Greeks opposed to Monarchy, which is the rule of One, and to Oligarchy, which is the rule of the Few, i.e. of a class privileged either by birth or by property. Thus it came to be taken as denoting in practice that form of government in which the poorer class, always the more numerous, did in fact rule; and the term Demos was often used to describe not the whole people but that particular class as distinguished from the wealthier and much smaller class. Moderns sometimes also use it thus to describe what we call “the masses “in contradistinction to “the classes.” But it is better to employ the word as meaning neither more nor less than the Rule of the Majority, the “classes and masses “of the whole people being taken together.
So far there is little disagreement as to the sense of the word. But when we come to apply this, or indeed any broad and simple definition, to concrete cases, many questions arise. What is meant by the term “political community “? Does it include all the inhabitants of a given area or those only who possess full civic rights, the so-called “qualified citizens”? Can a community such as South Carolina, or the Transvaal, in which the majority of the inhabitants, because not of the white race, are excluded from the electoral suffrage, be deemed a democracy in respect of its vesting political power in the majority of qualified citizens, the “qualified “being all or nearly all white? Is the name to be applied equally to Portugal and Belgium, in which women do not vote, and to Norway and Germany, in which they do? Could anybody deny it to France merely because she does not grant the suffrage to women? Or if the electoral suffrage, instead of being possessed by all the adult, or adult male, citizens, is restricted to those who can read and write, or to those who possess some amount of property, or pay some direct tax, however small, does that community thereby cease to be a democracy?
So again, what difference is made by such limitations on the power of the majority as a Constitution may impose? There are communities in which, though universal suffrage prevails, the power of the voters is fettered in its action by the rights reserved to a king or to a non-elective Upper House. Such was the German Empire, such was the Austrian Monarchy, such are some of the monarchies that still remain in Europe. Even in Britain and in Canada, a certain, though now very slender, measure of authority has been left to Second Chambers. In all the last mentioned cases must we not consider not only who possess the right of voting, but how far that right carries with it a full control of the machinery of government? Was Germany, for instance, a democracy in 1913 because the Reichstag was elected by manhood suffrage?
Another class of cases presents another difficulty. There are countries in which the Constitution has a popular quality in respect of its form, but in which the mass of the people do not in fact exercise the powers they possess on paper. This may be because they are too ignorant or too indifferent to vote, or because actual supremacy belongs to the man or group in control of the government through a control of the army. Such are most of the so-called republics of Central and South America. Such have been, at particular moments, some of the new kingdoms of South-Eastern Europe, where the bulk of the population has not yet learnt how to exercise the political rights which the Constitution gives. Bulgaria and Greece were nominally democratic in 1915, hut the king of the former carried the people into the Great War, as the ally of Germany, against their wish, and the king of the latter would have succeeded in doing the same thing but for the fact that the Allied fleets had Athens under their guns.
All these things make a difference to the truly popular character of a government. It is the facts that matter, not the name. People useds confound — some persons in some countries still confound — a Republic with a Democracy, and suppose that a government in which one person is the titular and permanent head of the State cannot he a government by the people. It ought not to he necessary nowadays to point out that there are plenty of republics which are not democracies, and some monarchies, like those of Britain and Norway, which are. I might multiply instances, but it is not worth while. Why spend time on what is a question of words? No one has propounded a formula which will cover every case, because there are governments which are “on the line,” too popular to he called oligarchies, and scarcely popular enough to be called democracies. But though we cannot define either Oligarchy or Democracy, we can usually know either the one or the other when we see it. Where the will of the whole people prevails in all important matters, even if it has some retarding influences to overcome, or is legally required to act for some purposes in some specially provided manner, that may be called a Democracy. In this book I use the word in its old and strict sense, as denoting a government in which the will of the majority of qualified citizens rules, taking the qualified citizens to constitute the great bulk of the inhabitants, say, roughly, at least three-fourths, so that the physical force of the citizens coincides (broadly speaking) with their voting power. Using this test, we may apply the name to the United Kingdom and the British self-governing Dominions,1 to France, Italy, Portugal, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Greece, the United States, Argentina, and possibly Chile and Uruguay. Of some of the newer European States it is too soon to speak, and whatever we may call the republics of Central America and the Caribbean Sea, they are not democracies.
Although the words “democracy “and “democratic “denote nothing more than a particular form of government, they have, particularly in the United States, Canada, and Australia, acquired attractive associations of a social and indeed almost of a moral character. The adjective is used to describe a person of a simple and friendly spirit and genial manners, “a good mixer,” one who, whatever his wealth or status, makes no assumption of superiority, and carefully keeps himself on the level of his poorer or less eminent neighbours. I have heard a monarch described as “a democratic king.” 1 Democracy is supposed to be the product and the guardian both of Equality and of Liberty, being so consecrated by its relationship to both these precious possessions as to be almost above criticism. Historically no doubt the three have been intimately connected, yet they are separable in theory and have sometimes been separated in practice, as will appear from the two following chapters.
the historical evolution of democracy
The facts and forces that have created Popular Government are partly of the Practical and partly of the Theoretic order. These two forces have frequently worked together; but whereas the action of the former has been almost continuous, it is only at a few epochs that abstract doctrines have exerted power. It is convenient to consider each order apart, so I propose in this chapter to pass in rapid survey the salient features of the historical process by which governments of the popular type have grown up. Some light may thus be thrown on the question whether the trend towards democracy, now widely visible, is a natural trend, due to a general law of social progress. If that is so, or in other words, if causes similar to these which have in many countries substituted the rule of the Many for the rule of the One or the Few are, because natural, likely to remain operative in the future, democracy may be expected to live on where it now exists and to spread to other countries also. If on the other hand these causes, or some of them, are local or transient, such an anticipation will be less warranted. This enquiry will lead us to note in each case whether the change which transferred power from the Few to the Many sprang from a desire to be rid of grievances attributed to misgovernment or was created by a theoretical belief that government belonged of right to the citizens as a whole. In the former alternative the popular interest might flag when the grievances had been removed, in the latter only when the results of democratic government had been disappointing.
When the curtain rises on that Eastern world in which civilization first appeared, kingship is found existing in all considerable states, and chieftainship in tribes not yet developed into states. This condition lasted on everywhere in Asia with no legal limitations on the monarch until Japan framed her present Constitution in 1890. Selfish or sluggish rulers were accepted as part of the order of nature, and when, now and then, under a strong despot like Saladin or Akbar, there was better justice, or under a prudent despot less risk of foreign invasion, these brighter intervals were remembered as the peasant remembers an exceptionally good harvest. The monarch was more or less restrained by custom and by the fear of provoking general discontent. Insurrections due to some special act of tyranny or some outrage on religious feeling occasionally overthrow a sovereign or even a dynasty, but no one thought of changing the form of government, for in nothing is mankind less inventive and more the slave of custom than in matters of social structure. Large movements towards change were, moreover, difficult, because each local community had little to do with others, and those who were intellectually qualified to lead had seldom any other claim to leadership.
In early Europe there were no great monarchies like those of Assyria or Egypt or Persia. Men were mostly organized in tribes or clans, under chiefs, one of whom was pre-eminent, and sometimes a large group of tribes formed a nation under a king of ancient lineage (perhaps, like the Swedish Ynglings, of supposed divine origin) whom the chiefs followed in war.
The Celtic peoples of Gaul and those of the British Isles, as also the Celtiberians of Spain, were thus organized in clans, with a king at the head of a clan group, such as the king of the Picts in North-Eastern and the king of the Scots in Western Caledonia. In Germany kingship based on birth was modified by the habit of following in war leaders of eminent valour,1 and the freemen were, as in Homeric Greece, accustomed to meet in public assembly to discuss common affairs. It was only among the Greeks, Italians, and Phoenicians that city life grew up, and the city organization usually began by being tribal. A few families predominated, while the heads of the older clans held power over the meaner class of citizens, these being often strangers who had gathered into the cities from outside.
From the king, for in most of these cities the government seems to have been at first monarchical, power passed after a while to the heads of the great families. Their arrogance and their oppression of the poorer citizens provoked risings, which in many places ended, after a period of turmoil and seditions, by overthrowing the oligarchy and vesting power in the bulk of the well-to-do citizens, and ultimately (in some cities) in all the free voters. The earlier steps towards democracy came not from any doctrine that the people have a right to rule, but from the feeling that an end must be put to lawless oppression by a privileged class.
Equality of laws (laovoμía) was in Greece the watchword of the revolutions, whether violent or peaceable, which brought about these reforms. Theoretic justifications of the rule of the multitude came later, when politicians sought to win favour by sweeping away the remains of aristocratic government and by filling the people with a sense of their own virtue and wisdom. The breaking down of the old oligarchy at Eome was due to the growth of a large population outside the old tribal system who were for a long time denied full equality of civil rights and subjected to harsh treatment which their incomplete political equality prevented them from restraining. These complaints, reinforced by other grievances relating to the stringent law of debt and to the management of the public land, led to a series of struggles, which ended in strengthening the popular element in the Roman Constitution. But Eome never became more than partially democratic, and theories regarding the natural rights of the citizen played no significant part in Roman history, the Italians having a less speculative turn of mind than the Greeks. Needless to say that the Rights of Man, as Man, were never heard of, for slavery, the slavery of men of the same colour as their masters and often of equal intelligence, was an accepted institution in all countries. Such development of popular or constitutional government as we see in the Hellenic and Italic peoples of antiquity was due to the pressure of actual grievances far more than to any theories regarding the nature of government and the claims of the people.
With the fall of the Roman republic the rule of the people came to an end in the ancient world. Local self-government went on for many generations in the cities, but in an oligarchic form, and it, too, ultimately died out. For nearly fifteen centuries, from the days of Augustus till the Turks captured Constantinople, there was never among the Romans in the Eastern Empire, civilized as they were, any more than there had been in the West till the imperial power ceased at Rome in the fifth century, a serious attempt either to restore free government, or even to devise a regular constitutional method for choosing the autocratic head of the State.
Few things in history are more remarkable than the total eclipse of all political thought and total abandonment of all efforts to improve political conditions in a highly educated and intelligent population such as were the inhabitants of the Western half of the Empire till the establishment there of barbarian kingdoms in the fifth and sixth centuries, and such as were the Hellene-Romans round the AEgean Sea till many centuries later. The subjects of the Eastern Roman Empire were interested in letters and learning, in law and in art, and above all, after the rise of Christianity, in religion. But though the political and historical literature of the classical ages had been preserved in Constantinople long after they had fallen out of knowledge in the West, nothing of a political kind was produced in the field of theory, nothing of a political kind attempted in the field of practice. Men were tired of politics. Free government had been tried, and had to all appearance failed. Despotic monarchies everywhere held the field. The few active minds cared for other things, or perhaps despaired. The masses were indifferent, and would not have listened. When a rising occurred it was because men desired good government, not self-government. Who can say that what has happened once may not happen again?
The progress of popular government in the modern world from its obscure Italian beginnings in the eleventh century A.D. may be referred to four causes:
The influence of religious ideas.
Discontent with royal or oligarchic misgovernment and consequent efforts at reform.
Social and political conditions favouring equality.
It would be impossible to sketch the operation of these causes in all modern countries, so I confine myself to those few in which democracy has now gone furthest, treating each of these in the briefest way.
In England there are three marked stages in the advance from the old feudal monarchy, as it stood at the accession of the Tudor kings, to popular government. The first is marked by the struggle which began between king and Parliament under Charles I. and ended with the Revolution Settlement of 1688-89.
This was a struggle primarily against ecclesiastical oppression, secondarily against civil misgovernment, and in particular against the exercise of certain royal prerogatives deemed to infringe civil liberty, such as the claim of the king to levy taxes and issue executive ordinances without the consent of Parliament. The struggle, conducted in the name of the ancient rights of the subject, occupied more than half a century, and brought about not merely a recognition of these rights, but also an extension of them sufficient to make the House of Commons thenceforth the predominant power in the State. It was prompted by a spirit of resistance to actual oppressions rather than by any desire to assert the abstract right to self-government. Yet in the course of it questions of a theoretical nature did twice emerge.
Among the Puritans who formed the bulk of the parliamentary party in the Civil War, the Independents were the most consistent and most energetic element. In their view all Christians were, as Christians, free and equal, and therefore entitled to a voice in the affairs of a Christian State as well as of a Christian congregation. After the Restoration of 1660 this doctrine fell into the background. But at the end of the period (in 1689) John Locke, the most eminent English thinker of his time, published a treatise on Government, upholding the principles of the Whig party. As that book had its influence then and thereafter on the Whigs, so the seed of the Independents' doctrine, carried across the ocean, fell on congenial ground in the minds of the New England Puritans, and there sprang up, two generations later, in a plentiful harvest.
For a hundred years after the Revolution Settlement the English acquiesced in the political system then established. It was an oligarchy of great landowners, qualified, however, by the still considerable influence of the Crown and also by the power which the people enjoyed of asserting their wishes in the election of members for the counties and for a few large towns. The smaller boroughs, from which came a large part of the House of Commons, were mostly owned by the oligarchs, and through them the oligarchy usually got its way. Towards the end of the eighteenth century the faults of this system, as well as that increase in the royal power which George the Third seemed to be effecting, began to create a demand for reform, but the outbreak of the French Revolution and the long war which followed interrupted all such schemes. Forty years later, when the horror inspired by the excesses of the Revolution had melted away, the call for reform was again heard, and was now the louder because there was much suffering and discontent among the labouring class in town and country. The grievances complained of were not so galling as those which had aroused the Puritans against Charles the First. But in times of enlightenment abuses are resented as grievances. Men of intellect and education saw more clearly than their fathers had done the defects in the laws of the country and the monstrous anomalies of the electoral system. Reinforced in its later stage by the excitement which the revolution that overthrew Charles X. in France had evoked, the movement grew fast, and triumphed in the Reform Act of 1832. The contest was almost bloodless. There were riots, but no civil war. The chief motive force behind the Whig leaders was the sense among the whole people that there were grave evils which could be cured only by a more truly representative House of Commons. But there was also a feeling, stronger than had been discernible since the seventeenth century, that the power possessed by the landowning class and by the rich in general belonged of right to the bulk of the nation.
The effect of the Act, which reduced the suffrage but left the great majority of the manual labourers still unenfranchised, was to transfer voting power to the middle classes and the upper section of the hand-workers, but the hold of the wealthy, both landowners and others, upon the offices of State, remained, though beginning by degrees to loosen. So things stood for thirty-five years.
The process of change by which Great Britain became a democracy was resumed in 1867 by an Act which lowered the electoral franchise in the boroughs, was continued in 1885 by another Act, which lowered it in counties also, and was ended by an Act of 1918 which enfranchised virtually the whole adult population, women as well as men. All these measures were accompanied by redistributions of seats which have now made representation almost exactly proportioned to population. Thus the United Kingdom has now universal suffrage, and in almost every constituency the labouring class compose the majority, usually a very large majority.
For none of these three Acts was there any strong popular demand. In 1866—67 a few more or less academic politicians advocated parliamentary reform on the ground that it would enable questions of social reform to be more promptly and boldly dealt with.1 Others, led by two great orators, Mr. Bright and Mr. Gladstone, urged that the wider the basis of representation, the stronger would be the fabric of the Constitution and the more contented the people. But there was no real excitement, such as had forced the Act of 1832 upon a reluctant parliament, nor were there any violent demonstrations through the country such as had been common in the days of the Chartist agitation in 1840-48.2 The young reformers of 1866, quorum pars parva fui, were rather disappointed at what seemed the apathy of the masses, and some of the Lancashire working-class leaders told me that they received only a feeble bucking. The explanation of the ease with which the Bill of 1867 was carried is to he found partly in the cheery optimism of those days, when few people feared the results of change (for Socialism had not yet appeared), partly in the habit the two great parties were beginning to form of competing for popular favour by putting forth alluring political programmes. To advocate the extension of the suffrage was easy, to oppose it invidious as indicating distrust; and while the Liberal party thought it had something to gain by reform, the shrewd old leader of the Tory party saw he had little to lose. Neither perceived that in the long run both would suffer, for this result was not disclosed till the general election of 1905 brought into being a new Labour party, which drew voters away from both Liberals and Tories, and now threatens the working of the time-honoured two-party system.
The Acts of 1884-85, which extended the franchise to the agricultural labourers and miners in the counties and redistributed seats, passed even more easily, and ultimately by a compromise between the two parties. They were the logical consequence of the Act of 1867, and the fears formerly entertained by the richer classes had been removed by the electoral victory they won in 1874. The only heat that arose was when the House of Lords had threatened to defeat the extension of the suffrage by a side wind. The Act of 1918 was passed during the Great War by a Coalition Ministry with scarcely any opposition, and little noticed by the people, whose thoughts were concentrated on the battle-front. Never was a momentous change made so quietly.
Throughout this long march from feudal monarchy to extreme democracy which occupied three centuries, the masses of the people, whether peasants in the country or artisans in the towns, never (except in 1832) clamoured for political power. The ancient system was gradually broken down by the action of a part of the upper class aided by the bulk of the middle classes. The really active forces were, in the earlier stages of the march, the pressure of religious and civil tyranny which could be removed only by setting Parliament above the Crown, while in the later stages the operative causes were: First, the upward economic progress of the middle and humbler classes, which made it seem unfair to keep them in tutelage; secondly, the wish to root out the abuses incident to old-fashioned oligarchies and create a more efficient administration; and thirdly, the tendency of the two political parties to make political capital for themselves by proposals likely to attract both the unenfranchised masses and those who, sympathizing with the masses, thought they would be better cared for if they received full civic rights. Abstract principles, theories of political equality as prescribed by natural justice, played some part only at four epochs: during the Civil War; at the Revolution of 1688; during the years when the contagion of the French Revolutionary spirit of 1789 was active; and lastly, during the Chartist period, when there was much suffering and consequent discontent among the working class. That discontent had virtually subsided before the Act of 1867 and did not contribute to its passing. With the expanding manufacturing activity that set in from 1848 onwards, and before Socialism had made any converts, or any distinctive Labour party had been thought of, the nation, complacent in the assurance of growing power, of commercial prosperity, and of the stability of its institutions, glided cheerfully down a smooth current, scarcely noting how fast the current ran, into a democratic system which, virtually unchecked by constitutional safeguards, now leaves its fortunes to the impulses of a single Chamber.
From Britain we may turn to trace the swifter growth of democracy in those branches of the English people which established themselves beyond the seas.
The North American colonies of England were settled by persons belonging (except to some extent in Virginia) to the middle and humbler classes, among whom there was at first little difference in wealth, and not very much in rank. Social and economic conditions creating social equality made political equality ultimately inevitable. The electoral suffrage was for a time restricted by property qualifications, but after the Revolution which severed the colonies from the British Crown, these restrictions were removed, slowly, but with little controversy, in all the States of the Union. By 1830 manhood suffrage had come to prevail (subject to some few exceptions) over the country. But while the Northern and Western States were democracies, the Southern States were, until slavery was extinguished, practically oligarchical, for in them there had grown up an aristocracy of slaveholding planters, who controlled the government, the landless whites following their lead. This condition of things disappeared after the Civil War, which broke up the aristocracy of large landholders, and now the Southern States are as purely democratic as the Northern. Yet one difference remains. In nearly all of these States the large majority of negroes are, despite the provisions of the Federal Constitution, excluded from the electoral franchise by various devices introduced into the State Constitutions.
As the United States were predestined to democracy by the conditions in which they began their career as an independent nation, so the swiftness and completeness with which the rule of the multitude was adopted were due to their antecedent history and to the circumstances of their separation from Britain. The principles of the English Puritans had formed the minds of the New Englanders. The practice of self-government in small areas had made the citizens accustomed to it in South as well as North. Independence had been proclaimed and the Revolutionary War waged in the name of abstract principles, and the doctrine of man's natural rights glorified. Over no other people of Teutonic stock has this doctrine exerted so great an influence.
The Australasian colonies, Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand, have had a shorter and more placid career. In them even more markedly than in North America, the settlers came from the poorer and middle classes of Britain, carrying with them no distinctions of rank, and living on terms of social equality with one another. When the time came, in the middle of the nineteenth century, for granting representative institutions and responsible self-government, the British Parliament constructed these institutions on the British model as it then stood. Once established, however, the institutions showed themselves more democratic in their working than those of that model, because the English aristocratic traditions and the influence of landholders and rich men, then still potent in the mother country, were absent. Such property qualifications as at first limited the right of voting were soon swept away by the colonial legislatures. Manhood suffrage was, after about forty years, followed by universal suffrage at the instance of some few women who asked for it. In neither case was there serious opposition, and therefore little need to invoke general principles against opposition. It seemed the obvious thing. People said, Why not? If the working men want it, if the women want it, let them have it.
Australia and New Zealand are the countries in which democracy has gone furthest in practice, and they are also those in which it has owed least to theoretic arguments. There were not (except as regarded land settlement) either grievances which it was needed to remove, or occasions for invoking abstract principles.
The history of Canada and that of South Africa have both of them been too chequered, and the racial conditions which affect their politics too complicated, to admit of being treated with the brevity needed in this chapter. So far as relates to the causes which created popular government, it may suffice to say that the circumstances of Canada (and to a less degree, those of South Africa) resembled those of Australia in respect of the general equality of wealth and education among the people, so it was natural that the British Parliament should there also reproduce by its grant of responsible government the self-governing institutions of the mother country. In Canada these have worked out in a sense somewhat more democratic than they were doing in Great Britain before 1918, but less so than in Australasia. In South Africa the existence of a large coloured population has prevented the grant of universal suffrage.
Returning to Europe, one may begin with the land in the mountain recesses of which the government of the people by the people first established itself, and from which the accents of liberty were heard in Continental Europe before England's example became known there.
Early in the fourteenth century several small communities of peasants on the shores of the Lake of Luzern, owning their fields and enjoying in common the woods and pastures, rose in arms against the exactions of their feudal superior the Count of Hapsburg, who happened at the time to be also Emperor. Attempts made to subdue them were foiled by their valour and by the defensibility of the valleys in which they dwelt. Other Alpine communities followed their example, and were equally successful. None of them meant to disavow allegiance to the Empire, but merely to repel the insolence and tyranny of the feudal magnates, and maintain that local self-government which had been the ancient birthright of the freemen among many Teutonic lands, as in Frisia and in Norway. Presently they allied themselves with some of the neighbouring cities which had thrown off the supremacy of their ecclesiastical or secular lords. The cities were ruled by oligarchies; the rural cantons continued to govern themselves by the whole body of freemen meeting in the primary assembly which debated and determined matters of common interest and chose the officials who had to manage current business. In this federation democratic and oligarchic governments deliberated (through their delegates) and fought side by side. There was nothing surprising in such an alliance, for in old Switzerland Oligarchy and Democracy were Facts, untinged by Doctrines. Nobody had thought about general principles of government. The rural democracies of Uri, Schwytz, Unterwalden, and the Grey Leagues (Grisons) ruled the subject territories they had conquered on the Italian side of the Alps just as sternly as the oligarchies of Bern and Zurich did theirs: the interest both had in holding down their respective subjects being indeed one of the bonds that held the Confederates together.
The public meeting of freemen in the three Forest Cantons, as also in Zug, Glarus, and Appenzell, was a survival from times before feudalism, almost before history, when each tiny community, isolated from all others, managed its own affairs. So little did any theories of equality and liberty influence their minds that they were in fact the most conservative of all Swiss. They did not admit newcomers to share in their civic rights. They detested the French revolutionaries so late as 1848, and being strong Catholics, they strove against the liberalism of industrial cities like Zurich. One contribution, however, was made by them to those democratic theories which they disliked. The city republic of Geneva, not yet a member of the Confederation, gave birth in 1712 to J. J. Rousseau, and it seems probable that it was the political arrangements of the old rural cantons, directly governed by their own citizens, that suggested to him those doctrines which, announced in his Contrat Social, exercised an immense influence on men's minds in France and in North America at a time critical for both countries.
In 1796 the armies of revolutionary France shattered the Confederation, and out of the ruins there arose a shortlived Helvetic Republic, in which the inhabitants of the subject territories were admitted to civic rights. After many conflicts and changes, including a brief civil war in 1847, Switzerland became, by the Constitutions of 1848 and 1874, a democratic Federal State, all the twenty-two component members of which are also democracies.
It was only in the latest phases of Swiss political development that abstract theory played a conspicuous part. The ideas diffused by the French Revolution spread wide the faith in popular sovereignty now characteristic of the Swiss nation and have set their stamp upon the present form of its institutions. They were unheard of in the earlier days, when the Swiss fought against the South German princes and afterwards against Charles the Bold of Burgundy. In ancient Greece the democratic cities and the oligarchic cities stood generally in opposition to one another. There were exceptions, as when democratic Athens attacked the then democratic Syracuse; but as a rule similarity in the form of government was a ground for friendly relations. No tendency of this kind appeared among the Swiss. It deserves to be noted that in the Middle Ages monarchy was always assumed to be the normal, natural, and even divinely appointed form of government. Until by the Peace of Westphalia (1648), the independence of the Swiss Confederation was recognized, all republics both north and south of the Alps were vaguely deemed to be under the suzerainty, nominal as it had become, of the Romano-Germanic Emperor. In the middle of the thirteenth century the people of Iceland, the one republic then existing in the world, were urged by the envoys of the king of Norway to place themselves under his sovereignty on the ground (inter alia) that everywhere else in the world monarchy held the field.
Of France little need be said, because every one may be assumed to know the salient facts of her history since 1788. She is the capital instance of a nation in which abstract ideas have immense force, because in no other modern people are ideas so quickly irradiated by imagination and fired by emotion. Never did political theories attain such power and run so wild a course as in the years from 1789 to 1794. We are so startled by the fervour with which they were held, and the absurd applications made of them, as sometimes to attribute to them even more power than they really exerted over the course of events. The enthusiasts whom they spurred on, could not, great as is the élan of enthusiasm, have destroyed the monarchy and the church with so little resistance had it not been for the existence of grievances which made the peasantry, except in parts of the West, welcome these sudden and sweeping changes. The oppressive exactions and odious privileges which exasperated the people, the contempt into which both the Court and the ecclesiastical system had fallen since the days of Louis XIV. and which was heightened by the weakness of the unlucky king, had struck away the natural supports upon which government usually rests, so that little effort was needed to overthrow the tottering fabric. It was not so much the doctrines of Liberty and Equality with which the Convention hall resounded as the wish of the masses to better their condition and the desire of all classes but one to be rid of galling social privileges. When these things had been attained, the nation acquiesced for fourteen years in the rule of a military dictator, who gave them an efficient administration and as much prosperity as was compatible with heavy expenditure on war and a terrible toll of human lives. The later revolutions of 1830 and 1848 and 1870 were far less violent, not merely because the enthusiasms of 1789 had died out, but also from the absence of any such solid grievances as had existed under the ancien régime.
All three revolutions were the work of the capital rather than of the nation, and how little the nation as a whole had been permeated by the passion for political equality was shown by the very limited suffrage that prevailed under the reign of Louis Philippe, and of which it was rather the educated class than the excluded masses that complained, and by the long submission to the rule of Louis Napoleon, whose fall, when at last it came, came as the result of a foreign war. His government was costly and corrupt, but the country was prosperous, and the ordinary citizen, though he did not respect his rulers, had few hardships affecting his daily life to lay to their charge. It is nevertheless true that a theoretical preference of republicanism to other forms of government waxed strong in France, and has now, a generation having grown up under it, drawn to its support the conservative instincts of the people, while the Bonapartean Empire was associated with military misfortunes and the loss of territory. Since 1848, and still more so since 1870, the old watchwords of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity have been, if not superseded, yet overlaid by new doctrines involving new contests of principle. Liberty, i.e. popular representative self-government, is well established. Fraternity has become a mere phrase in the presence of a standing antagonism between the wage-earning class and the bourgeoisie. Social and political equality have been attained in so far as the former can be attained while great differences of wealth exist. The new doctrines and new issues are economic rather than political. They point to the extinction of private property, the enjoyment of which was placed by the men of 1789 among Natural Rights; and those who stop short of this at least suggest the absorption by the State of the means of production and distribution. The arguments advanced in support of these doctrines are rather economic than philosophical, and the controversy is carried on in the practical sphere, with the desire for Economic Equality as its motive force. In this sense it may be said that abstract doctrines of Human Rights figure less in the conflicts of to-day than in the generations that were fascinated by Rousseau and Tom Paine.
To this outline of the causes which have in some countries created popular government, a few sentences may be added as to the causes which in other countries retarded or arrested its growth. In Castile and Aragon, where in the later Middle Ages the prospects of free constitutional development seemed bright, the wars with the Moors and the power of the Church impressed on the national mind habits and tendencies which allowed the Crown to draw all power to itself. In Hungary the Turkish domination, followed by that of the Hapsburgs, strong by their other dominions, gave the ancient constitution little chance. In Poland foreign wars and internal dissensions weakened the country till it fell a prey to its neighbours. Of Holland and the Scandinavian kingdoms it would be impossible to speak without a historical disquisition, while the republics of Spanish America, in which the extinction a century ago of the arbitrary rule of a distant mother country raised high hopes for freedom, will be dealt with in a later chapter. But of modern Germany some few words must be said, because her recent history is instructive. Upon educated men in the German States, though less in Prussia than elsewhere, the principles of the French Revolution told powerfully. Unhappily, they were speedily followed by the armies first of the French Republic and then of Napoleon, so national patriotism was forced to support the sovereigns from whom it would otherwise have demanded constitutional freedom. When the War of Liberation was crowned with victory in 1814, the reformers expected a grant of political rights, but the sovereigns banded together in, or dependent upon, the Holy Alliance, refused all concessions. Frightened for a time by the revolutionary movements of 1848–49, they soon regained control. The desire for political liberty, a thing unknown for centuries, had not gone deep among the people, and the grievances they had to complain of were teasing rather than wounding, so the forces of reaction continued to prevail till the Prussian Liberals began that fight against Bismarck which from 1862 till 1865 seemed likely to establish the right of the legislature to financial control. But in 1864 the successful war against Denmark and in 1866 the successful war against Austria gave to the Crown and its audacious Minister an ascendancy which threw domestic issues into the background. In 1870 the tremendous victory over France, followed by the creation of national unity in the form of a German Empire, was taken as vindicating the policy of Bismarck, whose persistence in raising taxes without legislative sanction had given the Prussian army the military strength by which victory had been won. Though the Reichstag, a representative chamber for the Empire, was created in 1871 on the basis of universal suffrage, it failed to secure the control of the people over the executive. An assembly elected on a comparatively narrow franchise but with wide powers does more to make a government popular than one elected on a wider franchise with narrower powers. The cause of real constitutional freedom advanced no further in the Empire or in Prussia. The spirit of the old Liberalism withered, and when a strong opposition after a time grew up, it was a Socialistic opposition, whose aims were economic at least as much as political.
From 1814 to 1870 the German Liberals had striven for national unity and for a constitutional freedom like that of England. When the former had been attained, and its attainment, with the prestige of an unexampled triumph, had made Germany the greatest military power of the Old World, the interest in freedom declined. Commercial and industrial development became the supreme aim. The government, with its highly trained bureaucracy, helped the richer and middle classes towards prosperity in many ways, so they overlooked its defects in recognition of its services, and identified themselves with a system their fathers would have condemned. The Social Democratic party was less friendly. Its growth alarmed the Government. But it did not push opposition to extremes, believing material progress to be bound up with national strength and administrative activity. The professional classes, and especially the clergy, the teachers, and nearly all the men of science and learning, were devoted to a system under which science and learning were promoted and honoured. Moreover, the habit of obedience was in all classes deep-seated. Germany's strength depended on the army. A Prussian was a soldier first and a citizen afterwards. Patriotic ardour, the pride of nationality, loyalty to the dynasty under which the country had grown great, the passion for industrial development and commercial predominance — all these things combined to make the people as a whole acquiesce in the refusal of electoral reforms in Prussia and of that ultimate control of foreign policy and power of dismissing ministers that are enjoyed by every other people which counts itself free. The most educated and thoughtful part of the nation, from which many leaders of reform had come in earlier days, showed little wish to advance further in the path of constitutional freedom. This is the most illuminative instance of a movement towards democracy arrested in its course which modern times have furnished.
Of the Great War and the changes it has wrought in Germany the time has not yet come to speak.
The conclusion to which this brief summary seems to point is that while the movement which has in many countries transferred power from the Few to the Many has sprung partly from the pressure of actual grievances and partly from the abstract doctrine of Natural Rights, the latter has played a smaller part than its earlier apostles expected. Nowhere have the masses of the people shown a keen or abiding desire for political power. Looking back over the course of history, we moderns are surprised that our forefathers did not, so soon as they thought about government at all, perceive that few persons are fit to be trusted with irresponsible power, and that men know better than their rulers can be expected to know for them what their needs and wishes are. How came it that what are now taken as obvious truths were not recognized, or if recognized, were not forthwith put in practice? Why were ills long borne which an application of these now almost axiomatic principles would have removed?
I have tried in later chapters to suggest answers to these questions. Meantime, let us recognize that neither the conviction that power is better entrusted to the people than to a ruling One or Few, nor the desire of the average man to share in the government of his own community, has in fact been a strong force inducing political change. Popular government has been usually sought and won and valued not as a good thing in itself, but as a means of getting rid of tangible grievances or securing tangible benefits, and when those objects have been attained, the interest in it has generally tended to decline.
This does not mean that either in the English-speaking peoples or in France is democracy at present insecure. In the United Kingdom the practice of self-government has, especially since the Reform Act of 1832, become so deeply rooted as to have stood outside all controversy. The sovereignty of the people is assumed as the basis of government. The extensions of the suffrage made in 1867 and 1885 were desired by the middle classes who already enjoyed that franchise, as by the mass of working-men who did not, and were carried not so much for the sake of redressing social or economic grievances as because a restriction of the electoral franchise was itself deemed to be a grievance. Similarly in the United States and in the British self-governing colonies, the presumption that all citizens already enjoying equal civil rights should be voters was accepted with hardly any cavil. The masses, being generally educated, and feeling no deference to any other class, claimed the vote as obviously due to them; and there was no body to withstand the claim. In France, where the minds of men have been formed by the fifty years' practice of republican institutions, those institutions are now supported by the forces of conservative inertia on which monarchy formerly relied.
Nevertheless, although democracy has spread, and although no country that has tried it shows any signs of forsaking it, we are not yet entitled to hold with the men of 1789 that it is the natural and therefore in the long run the inevitable form of government. Much has happened since the rising sun of liberty dazzled the eyes of the States-General at Versailles. Popular government has not yet been proved to guarantee, always and everywhere, good government. If it be improbable, yet it is not unthinkable that as in many countries impatience with tangible evils substituted democracy for monarchy or oligarchy, a like impatience might some day reverse the process.
the theoretical foundations of democracy
“we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness, that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” (American Declaration of Independence, 1776.)
“Men are born and continue equal in respect of their rights.
“The end of political society is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These Rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.
“The principle of all Sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body, no individual, can exert any authority which is not expressly derived from it.”
“All citizens have a right to concur personally, or through their representatives in making the law. Being equal in its eyes, then, they are all equally admissible to all dignities, posts, and public employments.
“No one ought to be molested on account of his opinions, even his religious opinions.” (Declaration of the Rights of Man made by the National Assembly of France, August 1791.)
These two declarations, delivered authoritatively by two bodies of men at two moments of far-reaching historical importance, contain the fundamental dogmas, a sort of Apostles' Creed, of democracy. They are the truths on which it claims to rest, they embody the appeal it makes to human reason. Slightly varied in expression, their substance may be stated as follows.
Each man who comes into the world comes into it Free, with a mind to think for himself, a will to act for himself. The subjection of one man to another except by his own free will is against Nature. All men are born Equal, with an equal right to the pursuit of happiness. That each man may secure this right and preserve his liberty as a member of a community, he must have an equal share in its government, that government being created and maintained by the consent of the community. Equality is the guarantee of independence.
These axioms, being delivered as self-evident truths, antecedent to and independent of experience, require no proof. They are propounded as parts of the universal Law of Nature, written on men's hearts, and therefore true always and everywhere.
While the Declarations of the Natural Rights of Man made at Philadelphia and at Paris were resounding through the world there were other thinkers who, like some Greek philosophers more than two thousand years before, were drawing from the actual experience of mankind arguments which furnished another set of foundations on which democracy might rest. Testing the value of a principle by its practical results, they propounded a number of propositions, some of which may be given as familiar examples.
Liberty is a good thing, because it develops the character of the individual, and conduces to the welfare of the community. When one man, or a few men, rule over others, some of the subjects are sure to resent control and rebel against it, troubling the general peace. No one is good enough to be trusted with unlimited power. Unless he be a saint — perhaps even if he be a saint — he is sure to abuse it.
Every man is the best judge of his own interest, and therefore best knows what sort of government and what laws will promote that interest. Hence those laws and that government will presumably be the best for a community as a whole which are desired by the largest number of its members.
Two men are presumably better able than one to judge what is for the common good. Three men are wiser still, and so on. Hence the larger the number of members of the community who have a right to give their opinion, the more likely to be correct (other things being equal) is the decision reached by the community.
Individual men may have selfish aims, possibly injurious to the community, but these will be restrained by the other members of the community whose personal aims will be different. Thus the self-regarding purposes of individuals will be eliminated, and the common aims which the bulk of the community desires to pursue will prevail.
As every man has some interest in the well-being of the community, a part at least of his own personal interest being bound up with it, every man will have a motive for bearing his share in its government, and he will seek to bear it, so far as his personal motives do not collide therewith.
Inequality, by arousing jealousy and envy, provokes discontent. Discontent disturbs the harmony of a community and induces strife. Hence equality in political rights, while it benefits the community by opening to talent the opportunity of rendering good service, tends also to peace and good order.
To sum up, government by the whole people best secures the two main objects of all Governments — Justice and Happiness, Justice, because no man or class or group will be strong enough to wrong others; Happiness, because each man, judging best what is for his own good, will have every chance of pursuing it. The principles of liberty and equality are justified by the results they yield.
From these propositions it follows that the admission on equal terms of the largest possible number of members of a community to share in its government on equal terms best promotes the satisfaction of all the members as individuals, and also the welfare of the community as a whole; and these being the chief ends for which government exists, a government of the people by themselves is commended by the experience of mankind.
Reflective minds in our day will find arguments of this type more profitable than the purely abstract doctrine of Natural Rights, a series of propositions called self-evident, incapable of proof or disproof, interpretable and applicable in whatever sense the believer may please to give them. But these transcendental axioms have in fact done more to commend democracy to mankind than any utilitarian arguments drawn from history, for they appeal to emotion at least as much as to reason. They are simpler and more direct. Their very vagueness and the feeling that man is lifted to a higher plane, where Liberty and Equality are proclaimed as indefeasible rights, gave them a magic power. Rousseau fired a thousand for one whom Benthamism convinced.
Towards the end of the eighteenth century the spirit of reforming change was everywhere in the air. Reforms were long overdue, for the world had been full of tyranny, inequality, and injustice. But the rapacity and cruelty of the Middle Ages had been borne patiently, save at moments of exceptional excitement, because violence and the rule of force were then taken as part of the nature of things. In a quieter time, when ferocity had abated and knowledge had spread among the laity, setting free men's tongues and pens, injustices were more acutely resented, privileges of rank became odious, administrative abuses that had once passed unnoticed began to be felt as scandals. Then the spirit of reform suddenly kindled into a spirit of destruction. The doctrine of Natural Rights overthrew the respect for tradition, for it acted in the name of Justice, sparing neither birth nor wealth, and treating “vested rights” as vested wrongs. This was moreover the age of Illumination, when Authority, heretofore accustomed to enforce its decrees by persecution, had been dethroned that Reason might reign in its stead. Reason, accompanied and inspired by Justice, was expected to usher in a better world, with the sister angel Fraternity following in their train, because human nature itself would be renovated. Inequality and repression had engendered one set of vices in rulers and another in their subjects — selfishness and violence, hatred, perfidy, and revenge. Under good government — and in an age of reason little government would be needed — human nature, no longer corrupted by examples of successful wickedness, would return to the pristine virtues the Creator had meant to implant. With Liberty and Equality the naturally good instincts would spring up into the flower of rectitude, and bear the fruits of brotherly affection. Men would work for the community, rejoicing not merely in their own freedom, but because they desired the welfare of others also. These beliefs were the motive power which for a time made faith in democracy almost a religion. It was a finer spirit than that of later revolutionary extremists, by so much as Hope is better than Hatred, the dream of a moral regeneration more ennobling than the prospect of material advantage.
The blast of destruction which horrified Burke, whose insight perceived what havoc the uprooting of ancient habits and traditions must work, was to the ardent souls of those days a fresh breeze of morning, clearing away the foul vapours that had hung over an enslaved world. They desired to destroy only in order to rebuild upon an enduring foundation, finding that foundation in the imprescriptible Rights of Man. Wordsworth has described the enthusiasm of that time in memorable words: —
To examine and criticize the doctrine of Natural Rights, round which an immense literature has grown up, would be impossible within the limits of this book, nor is such an examination needed, for I am here dealing with the phenomena of democracy, not with its theoretical basis. But it must be remembered that the conception of an Ideal Democracy which emerged in the eighteenth century has continued to affect politics not only on the speculative but on the practical side also. The view that natural justice prescribes this form of government continues to be reinforced by the belief that human nature, enlightened and controlled by Reason, may be expected so to improve under the influences of liberty and equality, peace and education, as to make that ideal a reality. An Ideal Democracy — the expression comes from Plato's remark that a pattern of the perfect State is perhaps stored up somewhere in heaven — may be taken to mean a community in which the sense of public duty and an altruistic spirit fill the minds and direct the wills of the large majority of the citizens, so that the Average Citizen stands on the level of him whom we sometimes meet and describe as the Model Citizen. What then, expressed in the terms of our own day, would such a community be?
In it the average citizen will give close and constant attention to public affairs, recognizing that this is his interest as well as his duty. He will try to comprehend the main issues of policy, bringing to them an independent and impartial mind, which thinks first not of his own but of the general interest. If, owing to inevitable differences of opinion as to what are the measures needed for the general welfare, parties become inevitable, he will join one, and attend its meetings, but will repress the impulses of party spirit. Never failing to come to the polls, he will vote for his party candidate only if satisfied by his capacity and honesty. He will be ready to serve on a local Board or Council, and to be put forward as a candidate for the legislature (if satisfied of his own competence), because public service is recognized as a duty. With such citizens as electors, the legislature will be composed of upright and capable men, single-minded in their wish to serve the nation. Bribery in constituencies, corruption among public servants, will have disappeared. Leaders may not be always single-minded, nor assemblies always wise, nor administrators efficient, but all will be at any rate honest and zealous, so that an atmosphere of confidence and goodwill will prevail. Most of the causes that make for strife will be absent, for there will be no privileges, no advantages to excite jealousy. Office will be sought only because it gives opportunities for useful service. Power will be shared by all, and a career open to all alike. Even if the law does not — perhaps it cannot — prevent the accumulation of fortunes, these will be few and not inordinate, for public vigilance will close the illegitimate paths to wealth. All but the most depraved persons will obey and support the law, feeling it to be their own. There will be no excuse for violence, because the constitution will provide a remedy for every grievance. Equality will produce a sense of human solidarity, will refine manners, and increase brotherly kindness.
Some of the finest minds of Wordsworth's time, both in France and in England, hoped for the sort of community I have outlined. We hear less about it now, for democracy has arrived, and one hundred and thirty years have brought disappointments. New questions regarding the functions of the State have arisen dividing the votaries of democracy into different schools, one of which, denying the “natural right” to hold property proclaimed in 1789, conceives Nature to prescribe equality in property as well as in civic status. But though there is not much talk about Natural Rights, the influence of that old theory is still discernible. It gives strength to the movement for asserting popular sovereignty in the form of direct legislation by the people through the Initiative and Referendum, and their direct action in recalling officials without a vote by the legislature or recourse to courts of law. It was a main factor in securing the extension of the electoral suffrage to women. In England, the argument generally accepted in 1870 that fitness for the exercise of the suffrage should be a pre-condition to the grant of it was in 1918 tossed contemptuously on the dustheap of obsolete prejudices, because a new generation had come to regard the electoral franchise as a natural right. The same tendency appears in the readiness now shown to grant self-government to countries inhabited by races devoid of political experiences, such as the inhabitants of India and the Philippine Islands, and to sweep away the constitutional checks once deemed needful. If restrictions on the power of the people are deemed inconsistent with democracy, it is because democratic institutions are now deemed to carry with them, as a sort of gift of Nature, the capacity to use them well.
It was easy to idealize democracy when the destruction of despotism and privilege was the first and necessary step to a better world. Nowadays any one can smile or sigh over the faith and hope that inspired the successive revolutions that convulsed the European Continent in and after 1789. Any one can point out that men mistook the pernicious channels in which selfish propensities had been flowing for those propensities themselves, which were sure to find new channels when the old had been destroyed. Yet the hopes of Wordsworth's generation were less unwarranted than we are now apt to think them. People felt then, as we cannot so acutely feel to-day, how many evils had been wrought by a tyranny that spared neither souls nor bodies. It was natural to expect not only the extinction of those abuses which the Revolution did extinguish, first for France and thereafter for most West European countries, but something like a regeneration of humanity. Even in sober England, even in America which had never had much to suffer from misgovernment, there were great and good men who pardoned many of the excesses of the Revolution for the sake of the blessings that seemed likely to follow.
The abstract doctrines of the Revolutionary epoch and the visions of a better world that irradiated those doctrines, blurred as they have been in the lapse of years, have never ceased to recommend popular government to men of sanguine temper. But the Vision, the picture of an Ideal Democracy, a government upright and wise, beneficent and stable, as no government save that of the people for the people can be, has had greater power than the abstract doctrines, mighty as was their explosive force when they were first proclaimed. It is the conception of a happier life for all, coupled with a mystic faith in the People, that great multitude through whom speaks the Voice of the Almighty Power that makes for righteousness — it is this that constitutes the vital impulse of democracy. The country where the ideal democracy exists has not yet been discovered, but the faith in its existence has survived many disappointments, many disillusionments. Many more will follow, but them also the faith will survive. From time to time hope is revived by the appearance of a group of disinterested reformers, whose zeal rouses a nation to sweep away abuses and leaves things better than it found them. It is only sloth and torpor and the acquiescence in things known to be evil that are deadly. So we may hope that the Ideal will never cease to exert its power, but continue to stand as a beacon tower to one generation after another.
The late Lord Acton, most learned among the Englishmen of his generation, proposed to himself in his youth the writing of a History of Liberty from the earliest times to our own. The book remained unwritten not merely because the subject was vast, but also because his own learning was so wide and multifarious that he knew he would have been overcome by the temptation to endless digressions and profuse citations. Even the analysis of the conception of Liberty and the examination of the various meanings which the term has borne at different times and in different countries would need a treatise. No one seems to have undertaken the task. All that can be attempted here is to distinguish between some of the senses in which the word has been used and to indicate how they bear on one another.
Many questions arise. What is the relation between Liberty and Democracy? Does the former prescribe the latter? Does the latter guarantee the former? Is Liberty a Positive or a merely Negative conception? Is it an End in itself, or a means to an End greater than itself? But to explain the various senses which the word has borne let us look for a moment at the history of the conception.
The first struggles for Liberty were against arbitrary power and unjust laws. The ordinary Greek citizen of the sixth century B.C. was not free when oppressed by an oligarchy or a tyrant, who took his property or put him to death in defiance of old usage and common justice. To him Liberty meant equal laws for all — isovoμía — or what we should call a recognition of civil rights, securing exemption from the exercise of arbitrary power. The barons and prelates of England who extorted Magna Charta from the king complained of his tyrannical action contrary to the old customs of the nation, and obtained from him a promise to abandon these and to abide by the Lex Terrae, the ancient and general customary law of the land. So the conflict between the English Parliament and Charles the First arose over the acts of royal power that transgressed common law and right, unjust and unauthorized exactions and the extra legal action of the Star Chamber, violating the long-established rights of the subject to person and property. By this time, however, a new point of contention had emerged. The subject, besides suffering in person and property, was suffering also by being forbidden the expression and dissemination of his particular religious opinions and the right of worshipping God according to his own convictions. In such cases the private civil rights of the individual to life and property and the exercise of religion were alleged to be infringed. The struggle for freedom was a struggle for the recognition of all these rights. This was the original sense of the famous Whig watchword, Civil and Religious Liberty. The two were associated as parts of the same thing, though Religious Liberty was more difficult to define, for practices that seem to fall within the sphere of religion may be injurious to public order or to morality, and therefore fit to be forbidden.
In the course of this struggle the English combatants for freedom realized, as had done their Greek and Roman predecessors, that they could not win and hold civil and religious liberty so long as the constitution of the State left political power in the hands of a monarch or of a class. The rights of the body of the people could not be safe till the people — not necessarily the whole, but at least a considerable part of the people —- had an effective share in the government. There was therefore a further conflict to secure Political Liberty, i.e. a constitution restricting arbitrary power and transferring supremacy from the Crown to the Nation. Thenceforth, and for two centuries, the conception of Liberty covered not only private civil rights but public and political rights also; and especially the right of electing the representatives through whom the people were to exercise their power. Civil and Religious Liberty in the old sense receded into the background, being assumed to have been secured, while Political Liberty, being deemed to be still not complete even in England, and not having been yet won in many other countries, continued to occupy men's minds. Civil Liberty had originally been the aim and political liberty the road to it, but now Political Liberty was thought of as the cause and civil liberty as the consequence. So Liberty came to mean self-government. A “free people “was understood to be a people which rules itself, master of its own destinies both at home and wherever its power extends abroad.
Much later, and perhaps not fully till the nineteenth century, was it perceived that besides his private civil rights to person, property, and the exercise of religion, and besides also his political rights to share in the government of the State, there are other matters in which restrictions may be imposed on the individual which limit his action where restriction may be harmful, or is at any rate not obviously necessary. In the old struggle for Civil Rights the whole people, except the ruling man or class, usually stood together in demanding those rights.1 Everybody therefore supposed that when Political Liberty had been secured, the rights of the citizen were safe under the aegis of self-government, which means in practice the rule of the majority. But it presently appeared that a majority is not the same thing as the whole people. Its ideas and wishes may be different from those of minorities within the people. As legislation is in its hands, it may pass laws imposing on a minority restrictions which bear hardly on them. Whether it does this from a wish to beat down their resistance, or in the belief that such restrictions make for the interest of the community as a whole, in either case it restricts the action of the individual, and that perhaps where restriction may be needless or mischievous. Thus a new conception arises, giving rise to new questions, viz. the conception of Individual Liberty, an exemption from control in respect of matters not falling within either the old and accepted category of private civil rights, nor within the category of political rights.
Thus we find four kinds of Liberty whose relations have to be determined:
Civil Liberty, the exemption from control of the citizen in respect of his person and property.
Religious Liberty, exemption from control in the expression of religious opinions and the practice of worship.
Political Liberty, the participation of the citizen in the government of the community.
Individual Liberty, exemption from control in matters which do not so plainly affect the welfare of the whole community as to render control necessary.
These descriptions — they are not Definitions — are necessarily vague and general, for the conceptions of the matters that fall within each of the four terms aforesaid have varied and will continue to vary. Most vague, and indeed incapable of definition, are the matters that belong to the category of Rights of the Individual. Thinkers are not agreed as to what these rights are, yet none doubts their existence and their title to be protected. Each man has a presumptive right to enjoy that sort of natural exercise of free will which a bird has when it flits from bough to bough or soars singing into the sky. But when concrete examples begin to be adduced, what differences of view! Do laws forbidding the use of intoxicants, or the carrying of pistols, or limiting the hours during which a man may work, or suppressing lotteries, or punishing the advocacy of tyrannicide, or making vaccination compulsory, or fixing a minimum wage, or forbidding a gardener to groom his employer's horse, infringe either Individual Liberty or Civil Liberty in the old sense of the term? What is to be said of laws directed in some countries against certain religious orders, or of those which elsewhere forbid the intermarriage of white and coloured persons? These cannot be here discussed, but difficult as it is to find any line fixing the bounds of Individual Liberty, it is plain that the presumption is in favour of freedom, not only for the sake of securing to each man the maximum of harmless pleasures, but also in the interests of the community, for Individuality is precious, and the nation profits by the free play of its best minds and the unfettered development of its strongest characters. Individual Liberty, though it consists in exemption from control, has a Positive as well as a Negative side. It imports activity, it implies the spontaneous and pleasurable exercise of the powers of Willing and Doing.
What are the relations to one another of these several kinds of Liberty?
Civil Liberty may exist without Political Liberty, for a monarch or an oligarchy may find it well to recognize and respect it. But it was won by political struggles, and has in fact been seldom found where Political Liberty did not exist to guard it.
Conversely, the presence of Political Liberty practically involves that of Civil Liberty, at least in the old historical sense of that term, because in a self-governing people the majority are pretty certain to desire for each one among them the old and familiar securities for person and property, which are, however, in some free governments less ample than in English-speaking countries. This applies also to Religious Liberty. Yet it is easy to imagine a State in which an overwhelming majority of one persuasion, religious or anti-religious, would accord scant justice, or indulgence, to those who dissented from the dominant view.
As Individual Liberty consists in Exemption from Legal Control, so Political Liberty consists in participation in Legal Control. It is an Active Right. Between Individual Liberty and Political Liberty there is no necessary connection; each may exist without the other. An enlightened autocrat might think that discontent would be reduced if his subjects were given free scope for the indulgence of their tastes and fancies. But such rulers have been few. Monarchs have been surrounded by privileged aristocracies. An Absolute Government usually relies on its police, fears the free expression of opinion, is worked by a strong bureaucracy, naturally disposed to extend its action into the regulation of private life and the supersession of individual initiative. The individual has far better chances under constitutional government, for the spirit of democracy has generally fostered the sense of personal independence, and been a tolerant spirit, willing to let everybody seek his pleasure in his own way. Yet even popular government may care little for the “self-determination “or “self-realization “of the individual citizen.
It is hard to draw any line of demarcation between Civil Liberty and Individual Liberty. The distinction is rather historical than theoretical. Both consist in Exemption from Control, i.e. in the non-interference of State authority with the unfettered exercise of the citizens' will. But the conception of Civil Liberty was older than that of Individual Liberty. When men were fighting against oppression by kings or oligarchs, they assumed that there were certain restrictions to which every one must be subject by law, while there were certain other restrictions which must be abolished. It was against the latter, which nearly everybody felt to be oppressive, that they strove. Such were arbitrary arrests and general warrants and the power of the Executive over the Judiciary. What might be classed as being legitimate restrictions they did not stop to define, nor has anybody since succeeded in defining them, for the doctrines of thinkers as well as the notions of ordinary citizens have been different in different countries and have varied from time to time in the same country. Enough to say that although the conception of Individual Liberty may be made to include the exemptions our ancestors contended for in the seventeenth century, and though every kind of individual liberty may be called a Civil Liberty, there is this significant difference that the Civil liberties of those older days were extorted from arbitrary monarchs, whereas what we call Individual Liberty to-day has to be defended, when and so far as it needs defence, against the constitutional action of a self-governing community.
I pass by the cases in which a democratic nation has shown by its treatment of a subject country that it does not value the principles of liberty for their own sake — such cases as that of the Athenian democracy ruling over the outlying cities whom it called its allies, or that of some of the Swiss Cantons, in their rule over their subjects in the valleys south of the Alps. Nor need we stop to consider cases in which a compact majority of one colour denies equal rights to those of another colour who dwell in their midst, for these have special features that would need explanations out of place here. But it is worth while to note the tendencies which in many free countries have, in extending the scope of legislation and of the administrative interference of the State, encroached on the sphere in which individual will and action used to move unrestrained.
Our times have seen a growing desire to improve the conditions of the poorer classes, providing better houses and other health-giving conditions, fixing the hours of labour, raising wages, enacting compulsory methods for settling labour disputes. There is a wish to strike at the power of corporate wealth and monopolistic combinations by handing over large industries, or the means of transportation, or such sources of national wealth as coal and iron, to the State to be managed by it for the common benefit. There is also a passion for moral reform conspicuous in the effort to forbid the use of intoxicants. In these and other similar directions the power of the State seems to open the most direct way to the attainment of the aims desired. But every enlargement of the sphere of State action narrows the sphere left to the will of the individual, restricting in one way or another his natural freedom. So long as the people were ruled by a small class, they distrusted their rulers, and would have regarded administrative interference in many of the matters enumerated as a reduction of their liberty. But this jealousy of the State vanished when the masses obtained full control of the government. The administration is now their own: their impatience desires quick returns. “Why,” they say, “should we fear government? Why not use it for our benefit? Why await the slow action of ameliorative forces when we can set the great machine to work at fall speed?”
These tendencies have during the last half-century gained the upper hand, and have discredited, without refuting, the laissez-faire doctrine which had held the field of economic thought since the days of Adam Smith. They seem likely to keep the ground they have won. Regulative legislation may reduce the freedom of workmen and of employers, may take great departments of industry out of private hands, may impose new obligations and proscribe old forms of pleasure. A nation may, like the Prussian, submit to be forced into certain moulds'in order to secure the military strength or industrial organization or commercial prosperity which a skilled administration and the use of public money can create.1 Minorities may fare hardly at the hands of majorities apt to believe that numbers mean wisdom, and persuaded that if they choose to impose a restriction on themselves they are entitled to impose it upon others. Nevertheless, where the evident good of society is involved, individual preferences will be forced to give way on the ground that to arrest the will of a majority is to sacrifice their liberty, and so neglect the happiness of the greater number for that of the smaller. But, whatever the future may bring, the freedom of thought, speech, and writing do not seem at present threatened. The liberty of the press is a traditional principle in the popular mind; democratic habits foster the sense of personal independence and express themselves in the phrase “Live and Let Live.”
Two tendencies run through the history of the Church as well as of the State, both having roots deep in human nature. In daily life we note the presence of what may be called the centripetal and centrifugal forces in human society, the working of one set of tendencies which make some men desire a close and constant association with others, and of other tendencies which make other men desire to stand apart and follow their own bent. Some men are happy with Nature and books and their own meditations, others need the stimulus of constant intercourse with their fellows. In the Church the social impulse consolidated the early Christian communities under the bishop, and created monastic orders abjuring the free life of the world to dwell together, while introspection and the feeling of the direct relation of the soul to God produced the anchorites of the fifth and sixth centuries, and that strenuous assertion of the rights of individual conscience which came from the English Puritans of the seventeenth. “Without the one tendency, action would be disconnected and ineffective; without the other, thought would lose in variety and vigour; there would be less poetry and less philosophy. Ubi spiritus Domini, ibi Libertas. The world seems to have now entered an era in which the principles of associated action and of the dominance of the community are gaining strength. Though the Prussian doctrine of the State is un-welcome to English-speaking peoples, the policies it has suggested have been slowly, almost insensibly, supplanting the individualism of last century. The ideal of happiness may change from that of birds wantoning in the air to that of bees busy in carrying honey to the common hive. We perceive that the enthusiasm for liberty which fired men's hearts for a century or more from the beginning of the American Revolution down to our own time has now grown cool. The dithyrambic expression it found in the poets and orators of those days sounds strange and hollow in the ears of the present generation, bent on securing, with the least possible exertion, the material conditions of comfort and well-being.
Liberty may not have achieved all that was expected, yet it remains true that nothing is more vital to national progress than the spontaneous development of individual character, and that free play of intellect which is independent of current prejudice, examines everything by the light of reason and history, and fearlessly defends unpopular opinions. Independence of thought was formerly threatened by monarchs who feared the disaffection of their subjects. May it not again be threatened by other forms of intolerance, possible even in a popular government?
Room should be found in every country for men who, like the prophets in ancient Israel, have along with their wrath at the evils of their own time inspiring visions of a better future and the right to speak their minds. That love of freedom which will bear with opposition because it has faith in the victory of truth is none too common. Many of those who have the word on their lips are despots at heart. Those men in whom that love seemed to glow with the hottest flame may have had an almost excessive faith in its power for good, but if this be an infirmity, it is an infirmity of noble minds, which democracies ought to honour.1
Not less than any other form of government does democracy need to cherish Individual liberty. It is, like oxygen in the air, a life-giving spirit. Political liberty will have seen one of its fairest fruits wither on the bough if that spirit should decline.
The conception of Equality needs to be here examined, for it has been the prime factor in the creation of democratic theory, and from misunderstandings of it have sprung half the errors which democratic practice has committed. Let us begin by distinguishing four different kinds of Equality.
A. Civil Equality consists in the possession by all the citizens of the same status in the sphere of private law. All have an equal right to be protected in respect of person and estate and family relations, and to appeal to the Courts of Law for such protection. Such equality was found in few countries two centuries ago, but is now (subject to trivial exceptions) the rule in all civilized communities.
B. Political Equality exists where all citizens — or at least all adult male citizens — have a like share in the government of the community, and are alike eligible to hold any post in its service, apart, of course, from provisions as to age or education or the taint of crime. Such equality now obtains in countries which have adopted manhood (or universal) suffrage.
C. Social Equality, a vaguer thing, exists where no formal distinctions are drawn by law or custom between different ranks or classes, such as, for instance, the right to enter places from which others are excluded, as the Romans reserved special seats in the amphitheatre for the senators and Equites, or as in Prussia certain persons only could be received at court (Hoffähigkeit). Sometimes the term is extended to denote the conditions of a society where nobody looks up to or looks down upon any one else in respect of birth or wealth, as is the case in Norway, and, broadly speaking, in Switzerland and the United States and the British self-governing Dominions.
These three kinds of Equality are familiar, and the two former definable by law. To Social Equality we may presently return. There is, however, a fourth kind less easy to deal with.
D. Natural Equality is perhaps the best name to give to that similarity which exists, or seems to exist, at birth between all human beings born with the same five senses. Every human creature comes naked into the world possessing (if a normal creature) similar bodily organs and presumably similar mental capacities, desires, and passions. For some days or weeks little or no difference in these respects is perceptible between one child and another. All seem alike, all presumptively entitled to the same rights in this world and an equal prospect of happiness both in this world and the next, since all possess souls of the same value in the sight of God. It is this equality that the American Declaration of Independence means when it says that “All men are born free and equal”; it is this (applied to human beings when they have reached maturity) which the Greek orator Alcidamas meant when he said that God made no one a slave,1 which St. Paul meant when he wrote, “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free.” Christianity, which first proclaimed the doctrine of Natural Equality, and did most to establish it, treated all who entered the Christian community as equals and brethren. Slavery lasted on in many parts of the world, even among Christians, but (except for a futile attempt made eighty years ago by a few slave-owners to argue that the negro was something less than a human being) the principle has not been denied for centuries past, and the right to liberty has been admitted among the primordial rights to which all men are entitled through the whole of life.
But as the infants grow, innate but previously undiscoverable differences are revealed. Some prove to be strong in body, forceful in will, industrious, intelligent. Some are feeble, timorous, slack, dull. When maturity is reached, some begin to render service to the community as workers or thinkers or inventors or soldiers. Others may become a burden to it, or prove fit only for occupations needing little strength or skill. Thus the supposed Natural Equality turns into an Inequality which is more evidently natural, because due to the differences in the gifts which Nature has bestowed on some and denied to others. The fact that the progress of mankind in arts and sciences and letters and every form of thought has been due to the efforts of a comparatively small number of highly gifted minds rising out of the common mass speaks for itself. Natural Inequality has been and must continue to be one of the most patent and effective factors in human society. It furnished whatever theoretical justification the ancient world found for slavery; it was a basis used in argument by the slaveholders of North America and Brazil down to our own days, though the results of slavery, moral as well as economic, had long ago condemned that institution. To reconcile this Natural Inequality as a Fact with the principles of Natural Equality as a Doctrine is one of the chief problems which every government has to solve.
Does Natural Justice require Political Equality? Most Greek democrats held that it did, and that all citizens should have an equal right of voting and equal eligibility to office. In the modern world the sentiment of fraternity, mainly due to Christianity, has counted for more than any abstract theory. Whatever inequalities exist between men, the feeling remains that “one man is as good as another,” or as Burns wrote, “a man's a man for a' that,” in this sense at least, that the things men have in common are more important than the things in which they differ, and that the pleasure or pain of each (even if not measurable by the same standard) ought to be equally regarded. The association of Equality with Justice is strong, because every one feels that the chances of birth have given to some and refused to others a share of the external conditions of well-being which has no relation to intrinsic merit, so that the disparity ought not to be artificially increased. The sense of human sympathy appeals to the finer and gentler souls who desire to lift up those to whom fortune has been unkind, and it finds favour with that large majority of persons who have no special excellence that could entitle them to special treatment. Those who, agreeing with Aristotle's view that Justice is not absolute but relative to a man's capacities, so that each man's share in political functions should be proportioned to his virtue and his power of serving the State, have in modern times argued that ignorance should disqualify for the suffrage, and that one who has not enough property to give him a permanent interest in the country, or who contributes nothing in taxes, should not be placed on a level with the man of education possessed of at least some taxable property.1
To this it was replied that the poor man has the same flesh and blood as the rich. He has an interest in his country's welfare, and suffers quite as much as the rich man by its misfortunes. Even if he has little property, he has his labour, an indispensable contribution to the country's wealth. He is liable to military service in time of war. If he is a Roman Catholic, he receives the same sacraments as does the rich, and his son may become a priest, dispenser of the means of salvation. If he is a Protestant he is, at least in America and Scotland and in the Nonconformist Churches of England, allowed his voice in the affairs of the congregation. Why should he be debarred from bearing his part in the civil government of the country? 2 If in these things Natural Equality is admitted, why not in politics? It is the simplest rule, the expression of Natural Justice.
In the struggles over Political Equality, turning chiefly on the extension of the electoral franchise, the equalitarian view prevailed not so much because it was admitted in principle as in respect of the want of criteria that could be practically applied to determine a man's fitness to vote. Intelligence, knowledge, and a sense of civil duty were the three qualities needed. But there were no means for testing these. No line of discrimination could be drawn between those who possess these merits and the rest of the community. No test of fitness could be applied which would not admit many persons whom their neighbours knew to be personally bad citizens, and probably exclude many who were known to be good. The possession of property was obviously no evidence of merit. Many who disliked universal suffrage allowed themselves to be driven to acquiesce in it for the sake of simplicity. Thus it has come to be deemed the corner-stone of democracy. But though Natural Equality triumphed as a doctrine, Natural Inequality remained as a fact. To votaries of the doctrine it was, however, an unwelcome fact, which, since it could not be denied in the face of the evidence, they sought to ignore or minimize. Having decided that every man was fit to vote, they argued that as he was fit to vote upon policy he must be also fitted to execute policy. If one man is as good as another at the polls, one man is as good as another for office, or at least for all offices except the highest.1
The people having been recognized as competent to govern themselves, why scrutinize degrees of competence for elective posts? “The average man rules, and his authority is best delegated to one who best represents the mass, because himself an average man. To suggest that special knowledge and skill must be sought for in an official or a member of the legislature is to cast a slight on the citizens in general.” This attitude was the easier to adopt because the bulk of the citizens were not sufficiently instructed to know the value of skill and knowledge. Popular leaders usually encourage the self-confidence of the multitude, and may carry their flattery so far as to disclaim their own attainments and dissimulate their own tastes, so as to make these seem to be just those of the average citizen, that type of simple untutored virtue which has come down to us from the fabled Golden Age of Hesiod. There have been times and countries in which this exaltation of the Common Man has been carried so far as to treat differences of capacity as negligible. The people is conceived of not as an aggregate of all sorts of different kinds of minds and characters, each kind the proper complement of the other, but as a number of individuals resembling one another like pebbles on the beach, their social unity based on their equality and guaranteed by their similarity. The doctrine of Equality, filling the people with a belief in their own competence, even for judgeships, was particularly strong in new countries where the early colonists were nearly all occupied with the same tasks, developing a self-helpfulness which could dispense with special knowledge. But it has not been confined to those countries. Everybody remembers how in the Terror of 1793 a plea that Lavoisier's life might be spared was met by the remark “The Republic has no need of chemists.” The Russian Communists of to-day appear to take the “proletarian” handworker as the type, and propose to reduce every one else to his level. Nevertheless the progress of physical science, involving special training for the purposes of production, and the enlarged sphere of governmental action, which increases the value of skill and knowledge, have been making the recognition of Natural Inequality in the selection of administrative officials more and more inevitable. A country which should fail to recognize this cannot but fall behind its competitors.
What then is the relation to one another of these different kinds of Equality?
There has been a long conflict between the sentiment of Natural Equality and the stubborn fact of Natural Inequality. In the ancient world and the Middle Ages the latter had free course and prevailed. With the progress of civilization and the establishment of constitutional government the sentiment of Equality won its first victories in creating Civil Equality. It overcame the selfishness and prejudice of ruling classes, and showed that Natural Inequality is entirely compatible with the possession of equal private rights by all subjects or citizens. Its next struggle was for Political Equality. Here abstract theory and sentiment were confronted by practical considerations, for the risks of conferring suffrage on masses of ill-informed persons, many of them heretofore uninterested in public affairs, were undeniable. Were those who were for any reason — and there were many different reasons in different cases — palpably inferior in the capacity for self-government to be entrusted with a power they might, because unfit, use to their own detriment as well as to that of the whole community? Abstract theory has, however, generally prevailed, though in one remarkable case Natural Inequality avenged itself, for the suffrage granted after the American Civil War to the recently emancipated negroes has now been virtually withdrawn. It had embittered the whites; it had not helped the coloured people.
The sentiment of Natural Equality, strengthened by the attainment of Political Equality, has done much to promote Social Equality. That kind of Equality can, no doubt, exist under a despot who allows no voting rights to his subjects, and may stand all the stronger if they are all alike powerless.1 Yet it is hard in any government except a democracy, and not too easy even there, to prevent the rise of families or corporations accumulating wealth, and, through wealth, gaining power. Legislation has, in sweeping away class distinctions in the civil and political spheres, left social relations untouched. Law indeed could not, except perhaps under a fullblown Communist régime, prevent citizens from choosing their friends among those whose habits and tastes are like their own. Even in Norway and Switzerland, and still more in the United States, social sets continue to exist which are more or less exclusive, and the admission to which men, and still more women, are found to desire. The value of Social Equality — and how great that value is appears when we compare our century with the eighteenth — depends upon its spontaneity. It does much to smooth the working of democratic institutions. The economic antagonism of classes, dangerous in free governments, is less acute when there is no social scorn on the one side and no social resentment on the other.
Last of all we come to Economic Equality, i.e. the attempt to expunge all differences in wealth by allotting to every man and woman an equal share in worldly goods. Here arises the sharpest conflict between the principle or sentiment of Natural Equality and the fact of Natural Inequality. It is argued that Natural Justice, in prescribing Equality, requires the State to establish a true and thoroughgoing Equality by redressing the injustices of fortune — taking from those who have too much to supply the needs of those who have too little, and providing that in future all shall share alike in the products of labour. Wealth, produced by the toil of the Many, must not be allowed to accumulate in the hands of the Few. The establishment of Political Equality has not, as was fondly hoped, secured general contentment and the peace of the community, but has rather accentuated the contrast between two sections of those citizens who, alike in the possession of voting power, are alike in little else. Of what use is that political power which the masses have won if it does not enable them to benefit their condition by State action, carried, if necessary, even to the extinction of private property?
To this it was answered that Economic Equality, no new conception, has always been nothing more than a conception, a vision unrealizable in fact. Something like it may have existed among primitive savages whose only goods were a deerskin and a weapon, but as life became more civilized by the invention of new means to provide for new wants, so much the more did intelligence, strength, persistent industry, and self-control enable their possessor to acquire and retain more than his less gifted fellows. By these qualities the arts of life advanced, enabling greater comfort to be secured for all. If all property were divided up on one New Year's Day, the next would see some men rich and some poor. To ignore differences in productive capacity would be not to follow Nature but to fly in her face.
With this controversy we are not here concerned, for Democracy — which is merely a form of government, not a consideration of the purposes to which government may be turned — has nothing to do with Economic Equality, which might exist under any form of government, and might possibly work more smoothly under some other form. The people in the exercise of their sovereignty might try to establish community of property, as they might try to establish a particular form of religion or the use of a particular language, but their rule would in either case be neither more nor less a Democracy. Political Equality can exist either along with or apart from Equality in property.
Equality has in this chapter been considered only with regard to civilized communities in which a government more or less popular exists. Other considerations arise in countries where white men rule over, or are in close and permanent contact with, races of a different colour. How far can the principles which seem fit for the former set of cases be applied to such facts as are presented by Louisiana, or South Africa, or the Philippine Isles? On this subject some observations will be found in a later chapter.1
Nearly a century ago Tocqueville remarked that the love of Equality was stronger than the love of Liberty, so that he could imagine a nation which had enjoyed both parting less reluctantly with the latter than with the former. Nothing has happened since his day to contradict, and some things to support, this view. Although the belief in Equality as an abstract principle is weaker in men's minds to-day, the passion for Equality in practice remains strong in France and the United States, and has spread to Australia and New Zealand. It may continue so far as our eye can reach into the future, for nothing is nearer to a man than the sense of his personal importance.2 Yet we must remember that this was not always so. The feeling of reverence, the disposition to look up and to obey, is also rooted deep in human nature. It appeals not only to that indolence or lack of initiative which disposes men to follow rather than to think or act for themselves, but also to imagination, as when any striking figure appears, rising high above them, or when associations have gathered round ancient and famous families, like those of Rome even in the later days of the republic. There was a time when men nourished their self-esteem, as did the dependants of a great house in mediaeval England, as in later times the soldiers of some great warrior have been known to do, on an identification of their efforts and hopes with the glory and fortunes of those who led them. Improbable as is the recurrence of the conditions which, down to the eighteenth century, and in some countries even later, not only secured respect and deference for what was then called the Upper Class, but inspired romantic devotion to a legitimate sovereign, however personally unworthy, it remains true that what men once have felt they may come to feel again. The instinct of personal independence, vehement in days when there were many injuries to resent and many abuses to destroy, may wane under new conditions, and come to count for less in the political life of nations than it does to-day in the English-speaking world.
democracy and education
In 1868, when Britain was taking its first long step towards Universal Suffrage, Robert Lowe, who had been the most powerful opponent of that step, said in Parliament, “Educate your masters.” Two years later the first English Act establishing public elementary schools was passed. Thenceforth the maxim that the voter must have instruction fitting him to use his power became a commonplace; and the advocates of democracy passed unconsciously, by a natural if not a logical transition, from the proposition that education is a necessary preparation for the discharge of civic functions to the proposition that it is a sufficient preparation. Modern democratic theory rests on two doctrines as its two sustaining pillars: that the gift of the suffrage creates the will to use it, and that the gift of knowledge creates the capacity to use the suffrage aright. From this it is commonly assumed to follow that the more educated a democracy is, the better will its government be. This view, being hopeful, was and is popular. It derived strength from the fact that all the despotic governments of sixty years ago, and some of them down to our own day, were either indifferent or hostile to the spread of education among their subjects, because they feared that knowledge and intelligence would create a wish for freedom,1 and remembered that such old movements of revolt as Wat Tyler's rising in 1381 and the Peasants' War in Germany in 1522, had failed largely because the discontented subjects did not know how to combine.
To determine the relation between popular government and education, let us begin by asking what Education means in its relation to citizenship. In the England of 1868 elementary education included little more than reading, writing, and arithmetic, for that was practically all that the large majority of schools for the people attempted. The conception has now widened, as schools have improved and as school life has been lengthened. Most primary schools in every English-speaking country now include in their curriculum some grammar, history, and geography, often also a little physical science. Yet when we talk of popular education it is still the ability to read and write that is uppermost in our minds, and the standard by which a nation's education is judged is that of Illiteracy. Wherever any law fixes an educational qualification for the suffrage, that is the test applied. Thus we naturally slip into the belief that the power to read is a true measure of fitness, importing a much higher level of intelligence and knowledge than the illiterate possess.
In modern civilized countries, where schools abound, ignorance of letters is prima facie evidence of a backwardness which puts a man at a disadvantage, not only for rising in the world, but for exercising civic rights, since in such countries nearly all knowledge comes, not by talk, but from the printed page. The voter who cannot read a newspaper or the election address of a candidate is ill-equipped for voting. But the real question is not whether illiteracy disqualifies, but to what extent literacy qualifies. How far does the ability to read and write go towards civic competence? Because it is the only test practically available, we assume it to be an adequate test. Is it really so? Some of us remember among the English rustics of sixty years ago shrewd men unable to read, but with plenty of mother wit, and by their strong sense and solid judgment quite as well qualified to vote as are their grandchildren to-day who read a newspaper and revel in the cinema. The first people who ever worked popular government, working it by machinery more complicated than ours, had no printed page to learn from. Athenian voters who sat all through a scorching summer day listening to the tragedies of Euripides, and Syracusan voters who gave good treatment to those of their Athenian captives who could recite passages from those tragedies, whereof Syracuse possessed no copies, were better fitted for civic functions than most of the voters in modern democracies. These Greek voters learnt their politics not from the printed, and few even from any written page, but by listening to accomplished orators and by talking to one another. Talking has this advantage over reading, that in it the mind is less passive. It is thinking that matters, not reading, and by Thinking I mean the power of getting at Facts and arguing consecutively from them. In conversation there is a clash of wits, and to that some mental exertion must go. The Athenian voters, chatting as they walked away in groups from the Assembly, talked over the speeches. They had been made to feel that there were two sides to every question, and they argued these with one another. Socrates, or some eager youth who had been listening to Protagoras or Gorgias, overtook them on the way, and started fresh points for discussion. This was political education. But in these days of ours reading has become a substitute for thinking. The man who reads only the newspaper of his own party, and reads its political intelligence in a medley of other stuff, narratives of crimes and descriptions of football matches, need not know that there is more than one side to a question, and seldom asks if there is one, nor what is the evidence for what the paper tells him. The printed page, because it seems to represent some unknown power, is believed more readily than what he hears in talk. He takes from it statements, perhaps groundless, perhaps invented, which he would not take from one of his fellows in the workshop or the counting-house. Moreover the Tree of Knowledge is the Tree of the Knowledge of Evil as well as of Good. On the printed page Truth has no better chance than Falsehood, except with those who read widely and have the capacity of discernment. A party organ, suppressing some facts, misrepresenting others, is the worst of all guides, because it can by incessantly reiterating untruth produce a greater impression than any man or body of men, save only ecclesiastics clothed with a spiritual authority, could produce before printing was invented. A modern voter so guided by his party newspapers is no better off than his grandfather who eighty years ago voted at the bidding of his landlord or his employer or (in Ireland) of his priest. The grandfather at least knew whom he was following, while the grandson, who reads only what is printed on one side of a controversy, may be the victim of selfish interests who own the organs which his simplicity assumes to express public opinion or to have the public good at heart. So a democracy that has been taught only to read, and not also to reflect and judge, will not be the better for the ability to read. That impulse to hasty and ill-considered action which was the besetting danger of ruling assemblies swayed by orators, will reappear in the impression simultaneously produced through the press on masses of men all over a large country.
These considerations have a significance for European democracies only so far as they suggest the need for carrying education in politics much further than most of them have yet carried it. But in countries hitherto ruled by absolute monarchs, like China or Russia, or by a foreign power, like India or the Philippine Isles, countries in which the experiment of representative government is now about to be tried, those who try the experiment will do well to enquire what the prospect is that ability to read will carry with it the ability to participate in government. Will elementary schools started among the Filipinos qualify them for the independence promised after some twenty years of further tutelage? Will the now illiterate inhabitants of British India be better fitted to cast their votes, whenever the suffrage may be extended to them, by being enabled to read, far more widely than now, newspapers published in their vernaculars? In Russia, a nearer and more urgent case, where the experiment of press freedom would have been instructive, it was not tried, for the censorship exercised by the Czardom was promptly re-established in a more stringent form by the Bolshevists who suppressed all newspapers but their own. No one doubts that in all these countries the sooner elementary education is provided the better: but how soon will it begin to tell for good in politics?
Here is one set of reasons to shake the faith that reading and the habit of reading are enough to make men good citizens of a democracy. Now let us hear another set of sceptics who bid us go from the children that leave a village school at thirteen to the “upper” or educated classes, and enquire from an observation of their minds and conduct whether political capacity increases in proportion to knowledge. There are those who ask whether experience has shown that education helps men to political wisdom. “If it does”— so they argue — “we should find that when in some political dispute the majority of the so-called educated classes have been found on one side, and the bulk of the less educated on the other, the judgments and forecasts of the more educated were usually approved by the result. But has this in fact happened? Has not the untutored instinct of the masses been frequently vindicated by the event against the pretensions of the class which thinks itself superior? Take English history during the nineteenth century, and mark in how many cases the working men gave their sympathy to causes which' Society' frowned upon, and which subsequent events proved to have deserved that sympathy. What outworn prejudices, what foolish prophecies, what wild counsels may be heard from the lips of the rich! What ridiculous calumnies against political opponents have been greedily swallowed in the fashionable circles of Paris and London! What narrow views have been expressed even by brilliant writers and accomplished teachers or divines! High attainments in some branch of science or learning are compatible with crass ignorance and obstinate perversity where practical issues are involved. Heraclitus said long ago,' Much knowledge does not teach wisdom.'1 Have not associations of working men been more often right in their political judgment of measures than college common rooms and military clubs? The instincts of the multitude are as likely to be right as the theories of the learned.”
These two sets of criticisms seem worth stating, for extravagant estimates of the benefits to be expected from the diffusion of education need to be corrected by a little reflection on the hard facts of the case. But they do not affect the general proposition that knowledge is better than ignorance. The elementary school may do little to qualify four children out of five for his duty as a voter. But the fifth child, the child with an active mind, has gained much, and it is he who will influence others. The rich man, or the highly trained man of science, may be — and often is — a purblind politician, but that is the result of partisanship or class prejudice, not of knowledge, without which partisanship and class selfishness would be even commoner than they are.
And now we may return to ask, with moderated hopes, What can education do in the way of making good citizens?
Philosophers, and among them some of the greatest, have dwelt much upon and expected much from the formation of political habits by instruction and training. Plato, the earliest whose thoughts on the subject have come down to us, and indeed Greek thinkers generally, had an ethical as well as a political aim, wishing the State to elevate and maintain at a high standard the character of its members for the preservation of internal peace as well as for strength in war. Their favourite example of what training could do was drawn from Sparta, though they saw the hard narrowness of the character it produced. The idea, which in the Middle Ages had been lost except in so far as it was left in the keeping of the Church, was frequently revived by modern theorists while ignored by practical men, till in our own days the example of Japan reawakened a sense of what may be accomplished by the persistent inculcation of certain beliefs, and showed how the long-cherished traditions of a nation may make its members prefer death to any deviation from the accepted code of personal honour and national duty. Still more recently in another country the diffusion of a militaristic spirit and the wide acceptance of theories which place the State above morality — theories proceeding from a few forcible teachers and writers and seconded by the success which had attended their application in war — have exemplified the power of a system of doctrines when glorified by the small ruling class and accepted by nearly all of the more cultivated classes of a great nation. These results are in both instances attributable at least as much to Tradition and Authority as to school instruction, the former repeating through life the maxims delivered in early years. If we can imagine a free people to have all but unanimously agreed on certain principles of faith and practice, and to require every school to teach them, as Eousseau thought that his State should have a civic religion with a civic creed to be enforced, on pain of expulsion, upon those who did not believe it, such a people might succeed in establishing a political orthodoxy which would stand for centuries, just as the Inquisition established a theological orthodoxy in Spain which lasted from the days of Ferdinand and Isabella till Napoleon's invasion. Each generation growing up in the same unquestioned belief would impose unquestioning acceptance on the next. In our day, when every belief is everywhere contested, and intercourse between nations is unprecedentedly active, this may seem impossible, but an Ice Age may await the mind of man, as ice ages have from time to time descended upon his dwelling-place.
Assuming, as may safely be assumed (for it is done with success in Switzerland) that some service can be rendered by instilling in early years an interest in civic functions and a knowledge of their nature,1 let us ask what sort of instruction is possible: (a) in the Elementary Schools; (b) in the Secondary Schools; and (c) in the Universities?
(a) In schools where pupils remain till about fourteen years of age everything depends on the teacher. To most boys of thirteen, such terms as constitutions, ministries, parliaments, borough councils and voting qualifications are mere abstractions, meaning nothing, because the things which the names denote are outside the boy's knowledge. Text-books are of little use except in furnishing a syllabus which will help the teacher in his efforts to explain in familiar language, and by constant illustrations, what government does mean. To do even this successfully implies a skill not always found. Most teachers need to be taught how they should teach such a subject.
(b) In Secondary Schools and evening Classes for older pupils more may be done. As the school curriculum includes history, the origin of representative institutions may be explained, and the course of their development in countries like Britain and the United States may be outlined. Attention may be called to passing events, such as elections, which show how institutions are actually worked. Even the elements of economics may be added, such as the principle of the division of labour, the nature of money as a medium of exchange, and the arguments for and against Free Trade. The difficulty which inevitably recurs, that of dealing with matters which have little reality or “content” to one who has not yet come into contact with them in actual life, can be reduced, if not surmounted, by a conversational treatment enlivened by constant illustrations.
(c) When we come to the Universities a wider field opens. Here there are students of high intelligence, some of whom will in after life be leaders, helping to form and guide public opinion. As they already possess a knowledge of the concrete facts of politics, they can use books and can follow abstract reasonings. They discuss the questions of the hour with one another. The living voice of the teacher who can treat of large principles and answer questions out of his stores of knowledge, can warn against the fallacies that lurk in words, can explain the value of critical methods, and, above all, can try to form the open and truth-loving mind, is of inestimable value. In times when class strife is threatened there is a special need for thinkers and speakers able to rise above class interests and class prejudices. Men can best acquire wide and impartial views in the years of youth, before they become entangled in party affiliations or business connections. The place fittest to form such views is a place dedicated to the higher learning and to the pursuit of truth. Universities render a real service to popular government by giving to men whose gifts fit them for leadership that power of distinguishing the essential from the accidental and of being the master instead of the servant of formulas which it is the business of philosophy to form, and that comprehension of what the Past has bequeathed to us by which history helps us to envisage the Present with a view to the Future.
Lest it be supposed that in dwelling on the value of highly educated leaders I am forgetting the qualities needed among the mass of the citizens, let me say a word about the country in which that mass had shown itself most competent. What have been the causes of the success of democracy in Switzerland? Not merely the high level of intelligence among the people and the attention paid to the teaching of civic duty, but the traditional sense of that duty in all classes and, even more distinctly, the long practice in local self-government. Knowledge and practice have gone hand in hand. Swiss conditions cannot be reproduced elsewhere, but the example indicates the direction which the efforts of other democracies may take. The New England States of the North American Union, till they were half submerged by a flood of foreign immigrants, taught the same moral. Trained by local self-government to recognize their duty to their small communities, the citizens interested themselves in the business of the State and acquired familiarity with its needs by constant discussion among themselves, reading the speeches and watching the doings of their leaders. Not many were competent to judge the merits of the larger questions of policy debated in the National legislature. But they learnt to know and judge men. They saw that there are always two sides to a question. They knew what they were about when they went to the polls. Valuing honesty and courage, they were not the prey of demagogues. It is because such conditions as those of Switzerland and early Massachusetts cannot be secured in large modern cities that it becomes all the more necessary to try what systematic teaching can do to make up for the want of constant local practice.
The conclusions which this chapter is meant to suggest may be summed up as follows:
Though the education of the citizens is indispensable to a democratic government, the extent to which a merely elementary instruction fits them to work such a government has been overestimated. Reading is merely a gate leading into the field of knowledge. Or we may call it an implement which the hand can use for evil, or for good, or leave unused.
Knowledge is one only among the things which go to the making of a good citizen. Public spirit and honesty are even more needful.
If the practical test of civic capacity in individuals or classes be found in voting for the best men and supporting the best measures, i.e. the measures which ultimate results approve, the masses may be found to have in some countries acquitted themselves as well as what are called the educated classes.
Attainments in learning and science do little to make men wise in politics. Some eminent scientific men have been in this respect no wiser than their undergraduate pupils. There have been countries in which the chiefs of public services and the professors in Universities were prominent in the advocacy of policies which proved disastrous.
The habit of local self-government is the best training for democratic government in a nation. Practice is needed to vivify knowledge.
The diffusion of education among backward races such as the Filipinos or the African Bantu tribes, or even among the ignorant sections of civilized peoples, such as the Russian peasantry, or the Chinese, or the Indian ryots, will not, desirable as it is, necessarily qualify them to work a democratic government, and may even make it more difficult to work in its earlier stages.
These conclusions (if well founded) may damp hopes, but must not discourage action. Instruction must be provided, in civilized and uncivilized countries, and the more of it the better, for every man must have his chance of turning to the best account whatever capacity Nature has given him, and of enjoying all the pleasure the exercise of his faculties can afford. This will doubtless work out for good in political as well as in other fields of effort. The seed of education will ultimately yield a harvest in the field of politics, though the grain may be slow in ripening.
democracy and religion
Whoever tries to describe popular government as it is now and has been in the past, cannot pass over in silence the strongest of all the forces by which governments have been affected. The influence of religion springs from the deepest sources in man's nature. It is always present. It tells upon the multitude even more than it does upon the ruling, or the most educated, class. When roused, it can overpower considerations of personal interest, and triumph over the fear of death itself.
A history of the relations of the spiritual power to the secular during the last eighteen centuries would distinguish two things, essentially different, but apt to be confused in thought because generally intertwined in fact. One is Religion, i.e. the religious sentiment as it exists in the mind, disposing those who think and feel alike about man's relation to the Unseen Powers to the recognition of a special tie of sympathy, but not taking concrete form in association for any purpose save that of common worship. The other is Ecclesiasticism, that is to say, some form of religious doctrine solidified in institutions and practices, and especially in the organization in one body of those who hold the same faith, in order that they may not only worship together but act together. This action may be for various purposes, some of which are connected with the secular life, though helping to subserve the spiritual life also. Ecclesiasticism has appeared in divers forms. A caste system, such as existed in ancient Egypt and still exists in India, is one.1 Another is a religious order, such as those which have been so powerful in the Roman Church. But the most important form is that we call a Church, a body of persons organized and disciplined as a community, on the basis of a common belief, whose officials constitute a government obeyed within the community and able to make itself felt by those without.
Infinitely varying have been the relations between the Church and the State, nor has any really satisfactory solution of the difficulties created by their rival claims been ever discovered. Wherever contractual relations or questions of property are involved, there is contact and there may be conflict. We are here concerned only with one small branch of this vast subject, viz. the force which religions or churches have exerted either in aiding and developing and colouring, or in condemning and opposing, the democratic spirit in general or any particular democratic governments.
In the ancient world religions did not embody themselves in churches, though there were priests and sometimes priestly castes, and the priest could be a potent figure. A profound difference between that ancient world and ours lay in the fact that in it all religions were mutually compatible, so that a polytheist, while primarily bound to worship the gods of his own country, might worship those of other countries also. All alike were deemed able to help their worshippers and defend against its enemies the nation that worshipped them, thus requiring its devotion. The first people that claimed exclusive reality and wide-stretching power for its own Deity was Israel, though no particular time can be fixed as that when it attained to the conception of Jehovah as the one and only true God. The first rulers who tried to enforce by persecution conformity to their own religious usages were the Sassanid kings of Persia, who, being fire-worshippers, forbade their Christian subjects, and doubtless other non-Zoroastrian subjects also, either to bury or to burn the bodies of the dead, these modes of interment being to them a desecration of Fire or of Earth. The first form of worship prescribed by law and enforced by penalties was the worship of the Roman Emperor, or rather of his “Genius “or protecting spirit. Having begun as a voluntary manifestation of loyal devotion to the reigning sovereign, this worship became general in the Eastern provinces, and was used as a test to be applied to persons suspected of being Christians, whenever the emperor, or some local governor, chose to put in force the laws which forbade Christianity as an “illicit superstition.”1 Impartial between religious beliefs, the Emperors feared the Christians partly because they were a secret society, partly because, “looking to another kingdom, that is, a heavenly,” they stood apart from the general body of Rome's subjects. They did not, however, even when persecuted, attempt to resist or overthrow the temporal sovereign, continuing to protest their civil loyalty to him who was, albeit a pagan, the Power ordained of God.
The ancient polytheisms need not further concern us, though religious passion often played a part in Greek politics; and a few sentences may suffice for the faiths which bear the names of Buddha (Sakyamuni) and Mohammed, since in no people professing either has the rule of the people ever been established. Buddhism is compatible with any form of government, and though it has (contrary to its essential principles), given rise to wars, it has not favoured any particular form. In Tibet it developed a strong hierarchy, and became practically a State as well as a Church, presenting singular resemblances to the Catholic hierarchy as it stood in the days of Popes Gregory VII. and Innocent III. Islam, specially interesting to the lawyer as Buddhism is to the student of philosophy, is a State no less than a Church. The Sacred Law (like that of the Pentateuch) regulates civil relations as well as those we should call religious; and ancient Muslim custom assumes a Commander of the Faithful, or Khalif, a leader, not a sacred person, nor invested with spiritual author ity, but entitled to respect and to some undefined and un-definable measure of obedience as the successor of the Prophet, so long as he himself observes the Faith and enforces the Sacred Law.2 All who hold that faith are equal in civil rights, and in a sense socially equal. Political rights are a different matter, but there seems to be nothing (unless it be the conception of the Khalifate) to prevent Muslims from trying the experiment of a republic.
We return to Christianity as the religion which, claiming to be universal, necessarily addressed itself to the conversion of all mankind, though at first only by methods of pacific persuasion. When it became the official religion of the Roman world it received the support of the State, and recognized the authority of the Emperor, by whom the first six great General Councils were convoked. It had of course nothing to do with approving or disapproving any form of government, nor was popular government so much as dreamt of.
After a thousand years there came in the eleventh century that great controversy between the secular and the spiritual power in which modern political thought had its beginnings. The Emperors Henry IV., Henry V., and Frederick I. in Italy and Germany, and the Kings of England, William the Conqueror, his two sons and his great-grandson Henry II. found their authority disputed by the Popes from Gregory VII. onwards. The question at issue was not one of popular rights, but between two kinds of monarchy, the ecclesiastical power and the civil power, the former claiming an authority higher, because exercised over the immortal soul and so reaching forward into the future state, whereas the power of the temporal monarch was only over the body and ended with this life. The Popes claimed, and sometimes put in force, the right to absolve subjects from allegiance to heretical or schismatic or disobedient sovereigns. Archbishops, like the pious and gentle Anselm and the haughty Thomas of Canterbury, both received the halo of sainthood for defending the spiritual against the secular power. In this controversy, although the kings and most of the feudal nobility stood on one side while most of the Italian republics stood on the other, maintaining, with the blessing of the Pope, their rights of practical self-government, no distinctively democratic principles were involved, yet the institution of the priesthood was an assertion of human equality, for every ordained priest was, as a duly commissioned minister of God, the equal of any temporal potentate, and in one respect his superior, since able to dispense sacraments necessary to salvation. As the rule of celibacy saved the priesthood from becoming a hereditary caste, it was not, like the hereditary priestly and warrior castes in Egypt and India, an oligarchic institution; and less than ever so after the creation in the thirteenth century of the two great mendicant Orders, Dominicans and Franciscans, which sprang from and had great power with the masses of the people.
When in the sixteenth century the Reformers claimed for all Christians freedom of opinion and worship, the revolt became one against both temporal and spiritual monarchy. “Call no man master,” neither the king nor the Pope, nor even the whole Church, speaking through a General Council. To meet this protest against authority, and to prop up kingship, the doctrine of Divine Right was invented, partly as a device for transferring to the secular monarch that sort of headship of a National Church which Henry VIII. assumed in England, partly by thinkers who, feeling the need for some sanction to civil authority, argued that whoever is allowed by God to rule de facto should, at least after a time, be recognized as ruling de jure. This theory, challenged both by the Jesuits, who asserted the right of subjects to overthrow or kill heretical princes condemned by the Pope, and by those Protestants who carried to their logical development the principles of the Reformation, became at last ridiculous. Its dying echoes were heard in the coronation speeches of William I. of Prussia and his unfortunate grandson.
Calvin, the most constructive mind among the Reformers, set himself to replace the Papal and hierarchical system by erecting in Geneva a theocratic scheme of government in close alliance with the State. Each Christian community was to elect its ministers and elders, who were to rule through a Consistory, exercising certain powers in civil matters. His disciples developed this into a frame of representative church government, the locally elected ministers and elders choosing others to represent them in larger governing assemblies. This system, which spread to, and has maintained itself in Presbyterian churches all over the world, became a political force in England and still more effectively in Scotland. It was, however, republican rather than democratic, nor was Calvin himself disposed to trust the multitude.1
The first proclamation of democratic theories in modern countries, if we omit occasional outbursts in the Italian cities and in Germany during the Reformation excitements, the most notable among which was that of the Westphalian Anabaptists, came with the Independents (themselves partly influenced by Anabaptist notions) during the English Civil War. How the ideas of the English Puritans were carried to New England, how they were developed among the American insurgents at the time of the Revolutionary War, how from America they affected the French mind, already stirred by the writings of Rousseau, all these things are too familiar to need description. Christianity itself, however, either in its Roman or its Protestant form, was never involved. That anti-religious, or at least anti-Christian, character which has marked revolutionary movements on the European Continent is due to the enmity felt towards highly secularized State Churches as a part of the established political order which had become odious. Men remembered the persecutions they had prompted, and contrasted the lives of not a few prelates, holders of richly endowed offices, with the precepts they were supposed to teach. The intellectual reawakening and moral reformation of the Roman Church in France have not removed this antagonism, because that Church was long the supporter of monarchy and still exerts a power outside the State which advanced Republicans denounce as Clericalism. The same thing has happened in Italy and Spain, in Spanish and Portuguese America, and to some slight extent even in some Protestant countries. Everywhere in proportion as the Church, more or less completely secularized, was despotic and persecuting, just in that proportion was dislike of it more bitter. Spanish and Italian anarchists show a specially ferocious hostility to Catholicism as well as to the established order of society. Identifying Christianity with capitalism, the Russian and German disciples of Karl Marx display a similarly aggressive antagonism, while in France the alliance between the Roman Church and Louis Napoleon served to exacerbate the old anti-clerical sentiment of the Republicans. In English-speaking countries there has been no such hostility. Democrats and Socialists are there no less and no more Christians than other citizens. The associations, at one time or another, of Christian Churches with monarchies or oligarchies or popular republics have been due to what some have called “the accidents of history,” to external causes rather than to essential principles, and they need not affect our view of the true relations, whatever these may be, between forms of faith and forms of government.
As in our own time, however, parties have arisen which call themselves Christian Socialists, while some who do not use that name have argued that Socialism is a legitimate development from the teaching of the Gospels, it is worth while to examine whether any such connection exists.
If the aims of Socialism and Communism be defined as being the establishment of a greater equality of economic conditions and the extinction of suffering due to poverty, these are ends which Christianity also seeks. But the means by which it would attain these ends are different from those which any political party has advocated. The renunciation or abolition of private property is not inculcated in the New Testament, although some of the first believers, in the passionate exaltation of their new sense of brotherhood, had all things in common.1 Communist politicians propose to carry out their programmes (whatever form these may take) by law, i.e. by the compulsive power of the State using physical force. The Gospel contemplates quite other means of bettering human society. It appeals to the sympathy and conscience of the individual, bidding him love his neighbour as himself, and, since he is bound to rejoice in his neighbour's happiness equally with his own, to treat his neighbour, not as a competitor, but as a partner or a brother, giving to him freely all he needs. In a Christian society regulated by these principles there would be no need for the various organs of State action, for an army, or a navy, or courts of law, or police, nor would there be any State relief of poverty, because relief would already have been voluntarily effected by private benevolence. Under the conditions of such a society the State would in fact be superfluous, except as an organization for devising and carrying out a variety of purposes beneficial to all, such as the construction of public works and the preservation of public health. It need hardly be added, for this follows from what has been said already, that there is nothing in the New Testament to require a Christian to be or not to be a political Socialist, nothing either to dissuade or to recommend the use of State power to effect social or economic reforms. If it is sought to effect those reforms by legal compulsion methods, that is a matter for the State which has its own means and methods.
Some have complained that in the Gospel precepts for the conduct of life there is no reference to public or civic duties, unless it be in the saying “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's.” But the answer or explanation seems to be, not only that any such precepts would have been inapplicable (if indeed intelligible) to men living in the political conditions of those to whom the Gospel was first preached, but also that they would have been superfluous. Had Christianity been put in practice, forms of government would have mattered little.
But Christianity never has been put in practice. Even that precept which it might have seemed comparatively easy to observe — the avoidance of war between Christians — was entirely disregarded. Whatever was the original meaning of the saying “I am come to send not peace but a sword,” one of those many dicta in the Gospels whose true sense remains doubtful, the prophecy was fatally fulfilled, for many wars have sprung from religion, and wars have been as frequent between so-called Christian States as ever they were between those heathen States which Augustine held to be the offspring of sin.
This brief survey may suffice to show that the relation of the Christian Church or Churches to the State has varied from people to people and from age to age according to local circumstances and transitory issues. Many were the attempts from time to time to represent Christianity as the natural bulwark of some set of political doctrines, or to draw the Church into an alliance with the party that professed them. Monarchy and Democracy alternately, or both at the same moment, made bids for ecclesiastical support. Theologians or statesmen appealed to the Bible as favouring the views they propounded. Monarchists and democrats could equally well do so, for there were plenty of texts for both to cite. In England High Churchmen like Laud and Sheldon maintained the divine right of kings by quoting the passages in the book of Samuel which refer to Saul the king of Israel as the Lord's anointed, but the Puritans and the Jesuits alike could counter them by references to the deposition of Saul by the prophet acting under the direction of Jehovah. Every one can find in the Christian Scriptures what he seeks, because those books are not, like the Koran, the product of any one mind or time but of eight centuries, and record not only events and the words of men, but also the emergence and growth of ideas and beliefs slowly developed in the long life of a people which has contributed more than any other to the religious thought of mankind. The habit of trying to apply to current politics isolated dicta meant for other conditions has now passed away. No party resorts to an arsenal which provides weapons equally available for all.
But though, as we have seen, none of the great religions has any natural or necessary affinity to any particular form of government, there are still ways in which religion, or an ecclesiastical body, can affect the course of political events. Such an organization can unite with and intensify racial or national or party passion. When strong enough to command the obedience of its own members, it can strengthen by its alliance a secular government or a political party. A glance at the world of to-day shows that although ecclesiastical influences on politics are slighter than formerly, they still exist.1 In Russia the Orthodox Church of the East may, though she failed to stem the Bolshevik tide in 1917, prove to have retained part of that power over the peasantry and the middle class which seemed immense ten years ago. In Canada, Australia, and Ireland, in Belgium and Holland and Switzerland, the support of Roman bishops and priests counts for something in elections. In France the Church is the pillar of the conservative Right; in Germany it has furnished the foundation of a considerable political party. It is in English-speaking countries only that the Roman Church has frankly embraced democratic principles, declaring that she has no complaint against popular government, and confining her action to educational questions.
What, then, is the relation to democracy of the fundamental ideas of the Gospel? Four ideas are of special significance.
The worth of the individual man is enhanced as a being to whom the Creator has given an immortal soul, and who is the object of His continuing care.
In that Creator's sight the souls of all His human creatures are of like worth. All alike need redemption and are to be redeemed. “In Christ there is neither barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free.”
Supremely valuable is the inner life of the soul in its relation to the Deity. “The kingdom of Heaven is within you.”
It is the duty of all God's creatures to love one another, and form thereby a brotherhood of worshippers.
The first of these ideas implies spiritual liberty, the obligation to obey God (who speaks directly to the believer's heart) rather than man. It is freedom of conscience.
The second implies human equality, in respect not of intellectual or moral capacity but of ultimate worth in the eyes of the Creator, and it points to the equal “right of all men to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The third idea, expressed in those precepts which bid the Christian to live, with a pure heart, in close communion with God, and the fourth which implies the creation of a Christian community, cannot but affect a man's attitude to life in the world, and may innuence it in one of two ways. Absorption in the inner life may tend to individualism, engendering a Quietism or isolated mysticism. On the other hand, the idea of a Christian brotherhood of worship points to the value of the collective life and may dispose men to submission in matters of faith and a merging of their own wills in the will of the community.
Either of these principles, taken alone, may be pushed to an extreme. He who regards the welfare of his own soul may neglect his social and political duties, may passively endure tyranny, or may withdraw, like the early Christian hermits, into the desert. On the other hand, the gathering of the individual worshippers into a community which almost inevitably passes into an organization, may build up a hierarchy which will sacrifice liberty to orthodoxy and become a worldly power. Each of these tendencies was pushed very far, and each has exposed Christianity to censure. Voltaire attacked it as an aggressive and persecuting force, inimical to freedom, yet also a troublesome rival to well-ordered civil government. Rousseau attacked it as an anti-social influence which, in detaching men from the life of this world and turning their hopes to another, made them neglectful of civic duty. The one thought it dangerous as a stimulant, the other as a narcotic.
If we regard the essential quality of Christianity rather than the errors and corruptions which led men to neglect or pervert its teachings, if we fix our minds not so much on its direct action upon events in history as upon the ideas it contained which affected the course of events, we shall find its influence to have been operative in two respects chiefly. It implanted the conception of a spiritual freedom prepared when necessary to defy physical force. The sentence, “We must obey God rather than men,”1 went echoing down the ages, strengthening the heart of many a man accused for his opinions. It created a sentiment of equality between men — all alike sinful beings, yet also all worth saving from the power of sin — which restrained the degrading idolatry of power which had existed under Asiatic despotisms. The greatest king was a sinner no less than the humblest subject, and might, as a sinner, be resisted and, if the need arose, deposed. These ideas, which from time to time broke through the crust of monarchical tradition in the Middle Ages, became potent factors among the Protestants in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, wherever monarchs stood opposed to the principles of the Reformers.
In the political as in the moral sphere the fundamental ideas of the Gospel have effected much, yet how much less than was expected by those who first felt their purifying and vitalizing power. That power sank lowest just when it had secular authority most fully at its disposal. The more the Church identified itself with the world, the further did it depart from its own best self. The Church expected or professed to Christianize the world, but in effect the world secularized the Church. The Kingdom of Heaven became an Ecclesiastical State. Such victories as Christian principles have from time to time won in the unending strife of good and evil have been won by their inherent moral force, never through earthly weapons. Neither Voltaire nor Rousseau saw that the belief in “life and immortality brought to light through the Gospel “may vivify a man's higher impulses and give a new worth and force to all the work he can do under the sun.
The teachings of the Gospel live and move and have their being in a plane of their own. The values they reveal and exalt are values for the soul, not to be measured by earthly standards. Their influence is not institutional but spiritual. It has nothing to do with governments, but looks forward to a society in which law and compulsion will have been replaced by goodwill and the sense of human brotherhood. However remote the prospect that such a society can be established on earth, the principles which that teaching inculcates are sufficient to guide conduct in every walk of life. He who does justice and loves mercy and seeks the good of others no less than his own will bring the right spirit to his public as well as his own private duties. If ever that spirit pervades a whole nation, it will be a Christian nation as none has ever yet been.
the press in a democracy
It is the newspaper press that has made democracy possible in large countries. The political thinkers of antiquity assumed that a community of self-governing citizens could not be larger than one voice could reach, because only by the voice could discussion be carried on: and they might have added that only where the bulk of the citizens dwell near one another can they obtain by word of mouth the knowledge of political events that is needed to make discussion intelligent and profitable. Within the last hundred years the development of the press has enabled news to be diffused and public discussion to be conducted over wide areas; and still more recently the electric telegraph has enabled news and the opinions of men regarding it to be so quickly spread over a vast and populous country that all the citizens can receive both news and comments thereon at practically the same moment, so that arguments or appeals addressed to the people work simultaneously upon their minds almost as effectively as did the voice of the orator in the popular assembly.
Even before this immense change had arrived, it had been recognized in all free countries that the function of diffusing news and arguments must be, in normal times, open to all persons, so that every man may publish what he pleases, subject to whatever liability law may impose in respect of the misuse of this power. From the days of Milton, whose Areopagitica was the first great statement of the case for unlicensed printing, the friends of popular government have treated the freedom of the press as indispensable to its proper working, so much so that it has figured in nearly all the written constitutions of modern free States. The faith in popular government rested upon the old dictum: “Let the people have the truth and freedom to discuss it, and all will go well “(Fortis semper Veritas1 ). A free press — so it was assumed — may be relied on to supply true facts because false facts will soon be discovered and discredited. Competition among those who know that the people desire the truth will enable truth to be discerned from falsehood. Free discussion will sift all statements. All arguments will be heard and canvassed. The people will know how to choose the sound and reject the unsound. They may be for a time misled, but general freedom will work out better than any kind of restraint. In free countries no one now impeaches the principle, whether or not he expects from it all it seems to promise. The liberty of the press remains an Ark of the Covenant in every democracy.
To this let it be added that the press was earning the favour it received. During many years in which one country after another was striving to extort full self-government from mon-archs or oligarchies the press was one of the strongest forces on the popular side. It exposed oppression and corruption; it arraigned an arbitrary executive, denouncing its selfish or blundering policies; it helped the friends of liberty to rouse the masses. It won popular confidence and sympathy, because it embodied and focussed the power of public opinion. Without it the victory of opinion over the armed force of governments could not have been won.
A time, however, arrived when difficulties and dangers previously unforeseen came to light. It was perceived that the power of addressing large masses of men could be used in many ways and for many purposes. Two or three of these may be mentioned as illustrations.
The old monarchies had possessed their official organs which set forth the facts — or falsehoods — to which it was desired to give currency, but these organs were generally discredited by their official character. Bismarck, if he did not invent, was the first who practised extensively and efficiently the practice of suborning newspapers not supposed to be connected with the government to propagate the statements and views he sought to foist upon the people. His so-called “Reptile Press “proved an effective engine for strengthening his position, and set an example followed in other countries. This method involved no restriction of press freedom, but the well-spring of truth was poisoned at its source.
In countries long attached to the principles of liberty such as the United States and England some violent journalists were found advocating the assassination of rulers or statesmen. Could this he permitted? Did the existence of a political motive justify incitement to murder? This question was answered in the United States by the conviction and punishment, nearly forty years ago, of Johann Most, a German anarchist. The murder, in 1901, of President Mc-Kinley, by a Polish anarchist, probably under the influence of literature suggesting the removal of the heads of States, gave further actuality to this issue. In a country which provides constitutional means for the redress of grievances, political assassination is an offence against democracy, and cannot plead the arguments used to justify tyrannicide in lands ruled by tyrants. Will democracy allow itself to be stabbed in the back?
In a different quarter another problem arose which showed how hard it is to apply, irrespective of special conditions, principles previously assumed to be of universal validity. British administrators in India were agreed, whatever their school of thought, in holding it unsafe to allow the same liberty to newspapers published in the native languages as might be allowed to all newspapers in Europe or North America. The absence of restrictions would enable unscrupulous persons not only to disturb public order by false statements, hard to track and refute, and by pernicious incitements addressed to ignorant minds, but also to extort money from individuals by methods of blackmailing, a device peculiarly hurtful in a country where women are secluded. The ordinary penal law could not be effectively used to prevent these evils. Thus a people like the English, heartily democratic in sentiment, found itself unable to apply to the vernacular Indian press its own cherished maxims. Cases like these — and others might be added — show that unlimited publicity, the life-blood of free government, may have its dangers, just as explosives, useful for mining and tunnelling, have been turned to the purposes of violent crime.
Other things have happened in our time to shake the complacent optimism which the growth of a cheap press had inspired. With the growth of population in industrial centres, with the diffusion among all classes of the habit of reading, with the need for information on many new topics of interest, newspapers began to be far more widely read, and as their circulation increased, so did the size of their daily and weekly issues, and the volume of their non-political matter. So also did the pecuniary returns which, if successful, they brought in to their proprietors. They became lucrative business undertakings. Moreover, as most of their readers now belonged to a class with less education and less curiosity for what may be called the higher kinds of knowledge, and with more curiosity for the lower kinds, such as reports of sporting contests, fatal accidents, and above all, accounts of crimes and matrimonial troubles, there appeared in some countries newspapers of a new type which throve by the support of this uninstructed, uncritical, and unfastidious mass of readers. Such papers, free from that restraint which the public opinion of the more educated class had hitherto imposed, could play down to the tastes of the crowd and inflame its passions or prejudices by invectives directed against other classes or against foreign nations, or by allegations and incitements the falsity of which few of its readers were qualified to discover. Since many in this less educated social stratum read newspapers of this type and no others, currency could be given with impunity to misrepresentations and fallacies which there was no means of exposing, however deceptive the colour they gave to the questions before the nation.
The rise of these journals, inauspicious in their moral as in their political influence, has led observers to note a change which has been passing on the press as a whole. But first let us distinguish two aspects a newspaper wears, two functions it discharges.
In one aspect it is a commercial undertaking. It sells news to those who wish to buy news. It sells space in its columns to those advertisers who desire means for bringing their wares (or offered services) to the notice of the public. So far its aims and purposes are simple, straightforward, unexceptionable. It is a trading concern, directed to the making of pecuniary profits.
Its other aspect is that of a guide and adviser, seeking to form the opinion and influence the action of the public. It comments on current events; it advocates or opposes certain views or politics, professing to be in such advocacies animated by public spirit and a disinterested wish to serve the whole community. This spirit may, and often does, prompt the, proprietor's or the editor's action. But the real though of course unavowed motive may be selfish and even sordid, perhaps the desire to make gain for the proprietor or his friends out of some undertaking which the State can help or discourage, perhaps a pecuniary inducement offered by persons needing the help of the press. It is of course impossible for the public to know in any given case what may be the motives that lie behind the action of the newspaper; and in most cases its professions of disinterested patriotism are taken at their face value. The same confiding spirit which makes the average reader believe the news which he reads in the paper makes him assume that the views and arguments which accompany the news are also, even though they may be partisan, at least honestly partisan. Thus, that commercial character which a newspaper has in its first-mentioned aspect of a seller of news and of advertising space, and which is innocuous in that aspect, because understood by everybody, may be secretly present and potent in affecting its performance of the function of commenting on events and advocating policies. Premising this significant distinction between the two aspects a newspaper wears, we may return to consider the course of recent developments in political journalism.
The leading organs of the press have been, and are still, in free countries, the one great and indispensable medium for the diffusion of information and opinion on political topics. The daily paper reports events and the views, spoken and written, of prominent men regarding events, and it does this with a perfection of machinery and a display of executive talent that are among the most conspicuous achievements of our time. As already observed, it generally adds to its accounts of events happening and words spoken its own comments, intended to influence the minds of its readers in favour of the political views which it professes and which are, presumably, those of the proprietors and the editorial staff. This is partisanship, but when, as usually happens, the partisanship is known to the reader, it can be allowed for and discounted. So long as there is no suppression or perversion of truth no harm is done. The attitude is (subject to two differences to be hereafter noted) substantially the same as that of a public speaker advocating on a platform the cause of his party. Neither from him nor from the newspaper can impartiality be expected. We are satisfied if each is fairly honest, neither distorting facts nor misrepresenting the position of opponents.
If every newspaper did its best to ascertain and to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and gave equal opportunities for the expression of all views, leaving the public to judge between those views, newspapers would be, so far as politics are concerned, an almost unmixed good. Everything that can be done would have been done to enable the formation of a sound and sober public opinion, and though the people would sometimes err they would have only themselves to blame. This virtue is not to be looked for in such a world as the present. To demand it would be what theologians call a Counsel of Perfection. The people are pretty well served when a party paper reports events and speeches with fairness to both sides. Such a paper consults its own interests in doing so, for it is respected, and is more likely to be read, by members of the other party. The paper has, moreover, a sort of responsibility to its own party, which regards it as an asset, the value of whose advocacy is reduced if it becomes intemperately reckless, or descends to personal abuse, for that may produce a reaction beneficial to the person assailed, who might relish attacks as a tribute to his importance. It is not invective that damages an antagonist but the bringing up against him of his own errors in word or deed. Sensible men, a minority no doubt, but a minority which influences the rank and file, form their own opinion from the facts little affected by newspaper praise or dispraise.
Till past the middle of last century a newspaper occupying itself with political affairs — and it is only with these that we are here concerned — was primarily a party organ, in close touch with party leaders. The editor was often an independent and forceful personality, who took his own line, perhaps trying to hold an Olympian position in which he could bestow censure or praise on one or other party at his pleasure.1 But in either case it was as an organ and leader of public opinion that the paper stood out to the world. It was, of course, also a commercial undertaking which had to pay its way and earn a profit; and the wish to earn a profit might influence its political attitude. But the advocacy of political doctrines and the function of giving the public the means of judging for itself by a copious supply of news purported to be its first aim.
Latterly, however, the newspaper has developed another side. Though it still claims to stand as the purveyor of truth and the disinterested counsellor of the people, it is now primarily a business concern, an undertaking conducted for profit like any other. The proprietor has begun to dwarf the editor. The latter has been a man of letters with a pride in his gifts, and usually with a set of opinions which he seeks to propagate. The proprietor is a man of business, and though he may desire power as well as money, profit comes before political opinions. The editor and his staff may be animated by the purest public spirit and may believe all they write, but the proprietor must make money by extending his circulation and (through the circulation) the more considerable returns from advertisements. When the function of purveying truthful news and tendering sound advice seems to conflict with that of increasing the paper's circulation, the obvious way of attaining the latter aim is by taking the line most likely to please the buyers. Noting the direction in which public opinion is moving, the paper will follow, perhaps exaggerate and intensify, the feeling of the moment, or, still more adroitly, it will anticipate the feeling it sees just arising. Another form of gainful activity occurs when the paper's help is desired by a class or a group of persons who have some private interests to promote. They may induce it to advocate legislation from which they expect some benefit, perhaps a protective duty, or a railroad project. Or they may wish to work up a boom in the stock market or to influence the action of Government in some foreign or colonial question out of which money may be made. A financial group may acquire a number of journals, and while working them for profit may also use its power to promote other business enterprises, and to further the ambitions of political leaders. In cases of this kind, where the attitude of the paper is determined not by honest conviction but by an undisclosed motive, the public, ignorant of the secret inducement, is misled. It is only in some few countries where the tone of journalism has declined with that of public life in general that these evils have become serious. But the risk is always present.
Another perversion of press power appears when a group of politicians, or perhaps a single person, works a paper, or even a number of papers, for their or his political advancement. In a country where service in the legislature, or eloquence on the stump, is not the only door open to high political office, an ambitious man may seek to win influence and votes by addressing the electorate through his journal or journals just as a politician would do by platform speeches. In such instances it may be thought that the journal's influence is lessened when the facts are known, because intelligent readers understand and discount the motives for its proprietor's action. Yet this may not happen. If the paper commands a host of readers by the attractiveness of its non-political matter, the support it gives to the political group, or to the man, still continues to tell on their minds; and it must be remembered that the great majority of these readers are neither well informed nor intelligent enough to realize the nature of the game that is being played.
Where a journal, from whatever motives, desires to influence opinion and votes in a particular direction, it has two methods available. One is that of argument. It will advocate or oppose a policy, will extol, or disparage or even calumniate, a party chief, after the manner of party speakers on the platform. Experience has shown that, where party government exists, such advocacy is inevitable and is, within reasonable limits, the best way of bringing out the issues involved and rousing the attention of the citizens. This method, if it abstains from falsification and calumny, is fair and above-board. Sensitive men may suffer more than they would if attacked by a public speaker, because to him they can reply directly, calling him to account for misrepresentation more easily than they can an anonymous journalist. Yet no great harm is done. In political warfare hard knocks must be expected.
The other method is more crafty and more effective. Since it is Facts that count for most in the formation of opinion, the newspaper which desires its views to prevail will try to make out its case by facts. Sometimes it may assume facts: i.e. it will put forward a theory of the motives or intentions of a person or a group of politicians, and presently treat that theory as an accepted reality, proceeding to ground charges upon it. Sometimes it may even invent facts — i.e. it will catch up (possibly itself set agoing) a rumour, and then proceed to refer to the rumour as a fact, give it prominence, hammer it into the public mind by repeated blows. This method needs to be prudently applied, for the alleged fact may be disproved, and if this happens frequently, the paper's credit will suffer. A safer and more telling device than either argument or misrepresentation is found in the Selection of facts. In every controversy there are plenty of facts fit to be adduced on both sides. If a paper skilfully and systematically selects for publication all the facts that point to one conclusion, and suppresses or mentions curtly and scantily all the facts that bear the other way, it cannot be charged with direct falsehood, though it practically falsifies the case by withholding from its readers the means of forming a just judgment. The suppression of the truth is more insidious than the suggestion of the false. This Negative misrepresentation is as easy and more prudent than Positive, because detection and conviction are more difficult. Partisan speakers as well as journals slip into it more or less unconsciously, but it is far more effective, and usually more deliberate, in the hands of the journal, and has been employed on a great scale, especially in matters of foreign policy. Before the outbreak of the war between the United States and Spain in 1898 the newspapers of the former country were deluged with matter putting the conduct of Spain in Cuba — conduct doubtless open to grave censure — in the worst light and letting little or nothing appear on her behalf. A more remarkable case was seen a year later, when the bulk of the British press 1 stated and exaggerated what case there was against the Transvaal Government, while ignoring the facts which made in favour of that republic, with the result that the British public never had the data necessary for forming a fair judgment.
These instances, to which others might be added, illustrate the fact that press exaggerations or misrepresentations are especially mischievous in questions arising with foreign countries. Where the controversy is domestic, the citizens know more about it, and the activity of the opposing parties may be relied on to bring out the facts and provide answers to mendacious statements and fallacious arguments. This may not happen where a foreign country is concerned, whose case no political party nor any newspaper need feel bound (except from purely conscientious motives) to state and argue. To do so is usually unpopular, and will be stigmatized as unpatriotic. Here, accordingly, the policy of suppressing or misrepresenting what may be said on behalf of the foreign case commends itself to the journal which thinks first of its own business interests. Newspapers have in all countries done much to create ill feeling and bring war nearer. In each country they say the worst they can of the other country, and these reproaches, copied by the newspapers of the other, intensify distrust and enmity. All this is done not, as sometimes alleged, because newspapers gain by wars, for that is not always the case, since their expenditure also increases, but because it is easier and more profitable to take the path of least resistance. The average man's patriotism, or at least his passion, is aroused. It is comforting to be told that the merits are all on his side; nor can there ever be too many reasons for hating the foreigner.
Arts of this nature have long been used by public speakers. The newspaper is only an orator addressing a reader instead of a hearer. It lacks the personal charm, the gift of attracting enthusiasm and inspiring attachment, which the great orator possesses. But in other respects its power is greater than his. It addresses many audiences at once. It is indispensable, because it gives a mass of non-political news which most people want for business purposes, and the rest from curiosity. For the multitude who follow public affairs with an interest not strong enough to draw them to public meetings or make them read the reports of proceedings in a legislature, it is the only source of political instruction, perhaps almost their only reading of any kind. It can go on reiterating its arguments, or setting forth the same set of facts intended to suggest or enforce those arguments, day by day and week by week.
The last fifty or sixty years have seen an evident increase in the power of the great newspapers. As the number of their readers, as well as the habit of reading, has grown, and as their range has expanded, for they supply news from all over the world and treat many new subjects, which only specialists can handle, so also their revenue and their expenditure have increased. Since they require a larger capital than formerly, the stronger papers have grown, and the weaker have withered away, while few new rivals have appeared, because to establish a daily journal is a costly and risky enterprise. Thus, in the great cities of nearly every country, the number of leading papers is now comparatively small, but each wields a greater power than formerly. This is not due to any finer quality in their articles, for the writing is no more brilliant than formerly — in some countries it seems to have declined. The “leading articles,” moreover, count for less than does the news and what may be called the “attitude” of the great journal, with the prestige it derives from the vast scale of its operation, addressing myriads at the same moment, in the same words, with the same air of confidence. The feeling that so many people read it and believe in it raises the presumption that if they do read it, it is because they believe. Seeing in it a force that cannot be ignored, each accepts its views because each thinks that others are accepting. It speaks ex cathedra with a pontifical authority which imposes deference. Goldwin Smith said fifty years ago that he remembered an article in which a great British newspaper claimed that it discharged in the modern world the functions of the mediaeval Church.
Prestige is heightened by mystery. Scarcely any of those who read what the paper tells them know who has written what they read, or what sources of information he possesses, or what intellectual weight. The voice seems to issue from a sort of superman, and has a hypnotic power of compelling assent. An elderly clubman who has been behind the scenes may remark to his friend over their coffee: “After all, these thundering articles are written by a fellow with the arrogance of inexperience, who knows much less about the matter than you and I do, a young fellow scribbling in a dingy room up three pair of stairs.” But to the tens of thousands in and all round the city the thunder seems to come from the sky above. It is like the voice of a great multitude. And in truth the paper does represent much more than the scribe in the dingy room, for a great journal has traditional authority as well as large capital behind it, and its policy may be the product of the combined action of a number of shrewd minds, watching the ebbs and flows of opinion, studying how to please the vast electorate, or how to terrify the men in office. Behind the argumentative advocacy, in itself a small matter, is the power of manipulating news, and of reporting what the proprietors wish to be known and ignoring what they wish to keep out of sight. Strange is the fascination of the printed page. Men who would give little credence to a tale told them by a neighbour, or even written to them by a friend, believe what the newspaper tells them merely because they see it in print. In one country where newspaper inaccuracy is taken as matter of course, the same man who says, “You know the papers are full of lies,” will forthwith repeat some charge against a politician on the faith of a paragraph, believing, because he saw it in the newspaper, that there must be something in it.
There are countries in which one source of a journal's power consists in its relations, real or supposed, with the ministry of the day, or with those great financial interests which are believed, not without reason, to exert an influence more permanent than that of officials, since they do not come and go with a popular vote. Ministers, and also prominent politicians not in office, have frequently used, and been helped by, newspapers, repaying them sometimes by private intelligence, sometimes, as in the United States, by the bestowal of foreign missions, sometimes, as in England, by titular honours.1 Not to speak of Germany under Bismarck, Katkoff rendered great services to the Russian Government in the'seventies, and some English politicians have owed much to the incessant efforts of their press friends, while in Australia there have been times when a powerful paper could make or unmake a Prime Minister.
A more important element in the growing ascendancy of the press may be found in the fact that in most countries it depends less than it did two generations ago on the favour of what is called “Society “and the educated classes. The political and literary sides of its action had then a significance which has declined with the increasing importance of its commercial aspects. It is less amenable to the critical judgment of what are called the “men of culture,” because it relies on the vast mass of persons who buy it merely for news or for business purposes, and who advertise in it for the latter. To the majority of such persons its political attitude is indifferent; and this makes the political news it publishes, and the interpretations of that news it supplies, a more efficient means of propaganda. Secure in its hold upon the business community and the multitude of readers who are glad to have their thinking done for them, it need not regard criticisms proceeding from the austere or fastidious few.
Those whose recollections go back half a century seem agreed that the power of journalism, as compared with that of the most eminent individual statesmen, has in nearly every free country been growing. Let us compare the opportunities of influence which were open to such men as Peel or Gladstone, Calhoun or Seward or Grover Cleveland, with those which their successors to-day enjoy, and estimate the advantages the journal possesses when engaged in a conflict with the statesman.
To-day the statesman, even if he be a brilliant speaker whose speeches are invariably reported, has a far smaller audience than the newspaper, because it is read steadily from day to day, and he only occasionally. He may have a personal charm which the paper lacks. He may be an orator on whose lips the crowd hangs. He may, like Theodore Roosevelt, be a figure throbbing with life, who becomes the hero, almost the personal friend, of a multitude who admire his force and love his breezy ways. But the aggressive quality which is indispensable to prominence makes enemies, and exposes him to a fire of criticism and misrepresentation. He cannot be always contradicting misstatements and repelling charges; nor be sure that his denials will reach those who have read the charges. He can grapple with and throw a personal foe, but in a conflict with the impersonal newspaper it will always have the last word. It can persistently take for granted statements which require proof until the reader believes they have been proved. It can incessantly repeat the same argument or the same accusation, and can do this incidentally, as well as in a set way, so as to influence that host of readers who are too listless to enquire into the truth of assertions or insinuations sandwiched in between the news about markets or sport. Tactics like these will win against all but those strongest antagonists who have already by intellectual force and moral dignity secured the confidence of the people. Iteration is like the ceaseless stream of bullets from a machine-gun. It is the deadliest engine of war in the press armoury.
The power of the newspaper, one of the most remarkable novelties of the modern world, has two peculiar features. It has no element of Compulsion and no element of Responsibility. Whoever exposes himself to its influence does so of his own free will. He need not buy the paper, nor read it, nor believe it. If he takes it for his guide, that is his own doing. The newspaper, as it has no legal duty, is subject to no responsibility, beyond that which the law affixes to indefensible attacks on private character or incitements to illegal conduct. It is an old maxim that power and responsibility should go together, and that no man is good enough to be trusted with power for the employment of which he need give no account. Here, however, we have power which can be used without anything except conscience to restrict or guide its use. A journal is not liable, civilly or criminally, for propagating untruth or suppressing truth unless damage to a particular individual or harm to the State can be proved.
This is the case with politicians also, as with all who speak in public, but they, being individuals, have something to lose by speaking untruth or perverting truth. They can be denounced, and deprived of whatever respect or influence they may have enjoyed. To penalize a newspaper for like conduct is so difficult as to be often scarcely possible. The paper is an impersonal entity. Its writers are unknown: its editor, and even its proprietors, may be known to comparatively few. Proof of a deliberate purpose to mislead will not necessarily affect its circulation or reduce its influence upon masses of men who know little and care less about such offences. Except in the most glaring cases, it can with impunity misuse its power. The proprietor, or the editor to whom his proprietor gives a free hand, may be patriotic and well-intentioned, but the power either wields is not accompanied by responsibility.
These things being what they are, it may seem surprising that the influence of the press should not, in English-speaking countries, have been more abused than has in fact been the case. How far it is now abused, either there or elsewhere, is a subject which cannot be here dealt with, for the facts, differing in different countries, are everywhere hard to ascertain. It is enough to indicate how liable to abuse power so irresponsible must be, and how salutary the traditions which have, in the countries just referred to, maintained, among the leading journals, a creditable standard of courtesy and a fair, if not perfect, standard of honour. The vigilance of public opinion, the strenuous competition which exists between the able men who fill the higher posts, and their pride in their profession, have helped to guard these traditions.
In the chapters of Part II. which deal with the six democracies there selected for description, I have attempted to estimate the authority actually exerted in each by its press. That authority seems to be stronger in Great Britain — possibly also in the British self-governing Dominions — than in the United States; but it must be remembered that in a very large country there are so many journals, each relying on the circulation it holds in its own territory, that no such general predominance can be won as a very few may possess in a small country. In England, and even in Scotland, politicians, and especially candidates for Parliament, a class prone to the habit of nervously “tapping the weather-glass,” are apt to exaggerate the political importance of the press. There have been General Elections at which the balance of journalistic strength was heavily on the side which suffered a crushing defeat at the polls. A member may hold his seat for many years against the hostility of all the local papers. If he is personally liked and trusted, their attacks produce a reaction in his favour. But in a large country, and even in a city like New York, full of ignorant voters, persistent denigration may destroy a politician. A calumny once launched cannot be overtaken. Attack is easier than defence: and the resources of misrepresentation are infinite.1
A journal which addresses itself specially to one particular section of a nation, be it a racial, or religious, or industrial section, needed as it may be for some purposes, can be dangerous if it presents to that section a purely partisan set of facts and opinions, exaggerating whatever grievances the section has, and intensifying its sense of separation from and antagonism to other parts of the nation. Those belonging to such a section who read other newspapers also will not be seriously affected, but where they see only their own class organ, and take its statements for truth, an irritable fanaticism on behalf of sectional ideas and class aims may be engendered. This is an instance of the general principle that the best remedy against whatever dangers the dominance of the press involves is to be found in the free and full competition of independent newspapers. It is the predominance in one particular area or among the members of one particular class, of a single paper, or of several controlled by the same person or group and working for the same ends, that threatens the formation of a fair and enlightened public opinion. The tyranny of monopoly is even worse in opinion than in commerce. Suppose a capitalistic combination to acquire a large number of newspapers, placing them under the direction of one capable mind and forceful will, and using their enormous resources to drive rivals out of the field. The papers would be able to supply the fullest and latest news in every department of journalism, and to purchase the service of the ablest pens. With their vast circulation, they could, by presenting facts of one colour and tendency and suppressing or discolouring all news of an opposite tendency, succeed in impressing, if not on the majority yet on a large percentage of the voters, whatever opinion they desired. The weaker kind of politician would succumb to them. Ministries would fear to offend them. Foreign countries would soon begin to recognize their supremacy. If the capital needed to finance such an enterprise and the powerful brain needed to direct it were to be united, what might not happen in a country not too large for such an enterprise? The contingency is improbable, but those who know what centralization and combination have in all branches of business been able to effect will hardly deem it impossible. How could the dictatorship of such a syndicated press be resisted? The remedy proposed for industrial monopolies is nationalization, but here nationalization would aggravate the evil, making the State itself the tyrant. Recourse might be needed to drastic legislation of a kind not yet tried.
The coincidences of opportunity with a supreme talent for using opportunity mark the turning points of history. Alexander of Macedon having received from nature extraordinary gifts, inherited a well-trained army and saw before him a divided Greece and an effete Persian empire waiting to be conquered. Had he been born earlier or later, the whole course of events might have been different. The career of Napoleon points the same moral. There have doubtless been many other men of genius who might have equally affected the fortunes of the world had like opportunities come to them.1
What has been said as to the influence the press can exert on the working of popular government through its power of forming opinion may be summed up in a few propositions.
Universal suffrage has immensely increased the proportion of electors who derive their political views chiefly or wholly from newspapers.
The causes which enable newspapers well managed, and commanding large capital, to drive weaker papers out of the field, have in all countries reduced the number of influential journals, and left power in comparatively few hands.
The influence upon opinion exercised by a great newspaper as compared with a prominent statesman or even with the debates in legislative bodies, has grown.
Newspapers have become more and more commercial undertakings, devoted primarily to their business interests.
The temptations to use the influence of a newspaper for the promotion of pecuniary interests, whether of its proprietors or of others, have also increased. Newspapers have become one of the most available instruments by which the Money Power can make itself felt in politics.
The power of the press is a practically irresponsible power, for the only thing it need fear (apart from libel suits) is the reduction of circulation, and the great majority of its readers, interested only in business and sport, know little of and care little for the political errors or tergiversations it may commit.
Press power is wielded more effectively through the manipulation and suppression of news than by the avowed advocacy of any political views. It is more dangerous in the sphere of foreign than in that of domestic policy, and is one of the chief hindrances to international goodwill.
Democratic government rests upon and requires the exercise of a well-informed and sensible opinion by the great bulk of the citizens. Where the materials for the formation of such an opinion are so artfully supplied as to prevent the citizens from judging fairly the merits of a question, opinion is artificially made instead of being let grow in a natural way, and a wrong is done to democracy.
No one will suppose that an indication of the dangers which misuse of the power of the press may bring implies any disparagement of the invaluable services it renders in modern free countries. Without it, as already observed, there could be no democracy in areas larger than were the city communities of the ancient world. The newspaper enables statesmen to reach the whole people by their words, and keeps legislatures and executive officials under the eyes of the people. Itself irresponsible, it enforces responsibility upon all who bear a part in public work. It is because the press alone can do and is doing so much salutary and necessary work that attention needs to be called to any causes which might, by shaking public confidence in it, impair its usefulness to the community.
Political parties are far older than democracy. They have existed in nearly all countries and under all forms of government, though less in monarchies than in oligarchies, in the latter of which they have been particularly frequent and fierce. The Guelfs and Ghibellines, after having for a time divided Germany, divided the feudal nobility and the cities of northern and middle Italy for three centuries.
In popular governments, however, parties have a wider extension if not a more strenuous life, for where every citizen has a vote, with the duty to use it at elections, each of the parties which strive for mastery must try to bring the largest possible number of voters into its ranks, organize them locally, appeal to them by the spoken and printed word, bring them up to the poll. Ballots having replaced bullets in political strife, every voter is supposed to belong to one of the partisan hosts and to render more or less obedience to its leaders. He has, moreover, at least in theory, something to gain from its victory, because each party promises legislation of the kind he is supposed to desire, whereas most men who called themselves Guelfs and Ghibellines fought merely out of an attachment, usually hereditary, to a party name, and probably also to the cause of some particular leader, as in Mexico today if the member of a band is asked to what he belongs, he answers, “To my chief “(mi jefe).
Many have been the origins whence in time past parties have sprung. Religious or ecclesiastical differences have given birth to them, as in England and Scotland in the seventeenth century, or racial divisions, or loyalty to a dynasty, as in the case of the Stuarts in England after James II's expulsion, and the Bourbons in Erance after 1848. Even attachment to a particular leader who has gathered followers round him may keep them together long after he has passed away. In the republic of Uruguay there were, sixty years ago, two prominent generals, each with a band of adherents. These Reds and Whites still divide the country. A party may in its first beginnings be built on any foundation — wood or stubble as well as rock — for it is not the origin that matters so much as the forces which, once created, a party can enlist. However, in more recent days, and especially in countries enjoying representative government, the normal source is found in the emergence of some type of political doctrine or some specific practical issue which divides the citizens, some taking one side, some another.
Though the professed reason for the existence of a party is the promotion of a particular set of doctrines and ideas, it has a concrete side as well as a set of abstract doctrines. It is abstract in so far as it represents the adhesion of many minds to the same opinions. It is concrete as consisting of a number of men who act together in respect of their holding, or professing to hold, such opinions. But being a living organism, it develops in ways not limited by its theory or its professions, and is affected by the constantly changing circumstances amid which it moves and to which it must adapt itself.
Whatever its origin, every party lives and thrives by the concurrent action of four tendencies or forces, which may be described as those of Sympathy, Imitation, Competition and Pugnacity. Even if intellectual conviction had much to do with its creation, emotion has more to do with its vitality and combative power. Men enjoy combat for its own sake, loving to outstrip others and carry their flag to victory. The same sort of passion as moves the crowd watching a boat race between Oxford and Cambridge or a football match between Yale and Harvard, is the steam which works the great English and American parties. Nothing holds men so close together as the presence of antagonists strong enough to be worth defeating, and not so strong as to be invincible. This is why a party can retain its continuity while forgetting or changing its doctrines and seeing its old leaders disappear. New members and new leaders, as they come in, imbibe the spirit and are permeated by the traditions which the party has formed. It is pleasant to tread in the steps of those who have gone before and associate one's self with their fame. Life becomes more interesting when each talks to each of how the opposite party must be outgeneralled, and more exciting when the day of an electoral contest arrives. Though a certain set of views may have been the old basis of a party, and be still inscribed on its banner, the views count for less than do the fighting traditions, the attachment to its name, the inextinguishable pleasure in working together, even if the object sought be little more than the maintenance of the organization itself. In England, sixty years ago, few indeed of the crowds that at an election flaunted their blue or yellow colours could have explained why they were Blues or Yellows. They had always been Blues or Yellows; probably their fathers were. It was irrational, but it expressed a sentiment of loyalty to a cause. If the bulk were not fighting for principles, they were fighting unselfishly for something outside themselves, expecting from victory nothing but the pleasure of victory.1
It was in English-speaking countries that party first became a force in free political life. Whigs and Tories in England date from the days of Charles II., parties in America from the presidential election of 1796. In the former case party appeared first in Parliament. In the latter it appeared simultaneously in Congress and in the people at large. The influence and working of a party system need to be considered separately in each of these two fields. Let us begin with the people.
In countries which enjoy representative government parties have two main functions, the promotion by argument of their principles and the carrying of elections. These provide constant occupation, and success in either contributes to success in the other. The business of winning elections involves the choice of candidates. In every election area, the local members of the party must agree upon a candidate for whom their united vote will be cast. While constituencies were small, because electoral districts were small and the suffrage was restricted by a property qualification, men either put themselves forward as candidates, or induced a small group of influential electors to nominate them. A person of local prominence as landowner in a county or merchant in a borough was known to many of the electors, and accepted on the score of his position or personal abilities or popularity. This still happens in parts of France and of Switzerland, and formerly happened in America. But when constituencies became large and the feeling of democratic equality pervaded all classes, the principle of popular sovereignty required the choice of a party candidate to be made by those of the electors who belonged to the party. So local party Committees grew up, and local party meetings were convoked to select the candidate. This custom was, many years later, adopted in England where, however, the Central Office (i.e. the national party managers) may tactfully suggest to the local association the name of a particular aspirant. Without some party authority recognized as entitled to recommend a candidate, the voting strength of the party might be dispersed among competing party candidates, many electors not knowing for whom they ought to vote. In large constituencies, guidance is essential,1 so when in the United States it is desired to put forward as candidates for city offices better men than those whom the party organization is nominating, a Citizens' Committee or Good Government Organization, formed for the occasion, issues a list of candidates whom a bevy of respected inhabitants join in recommending.
Another branch of political work formerly left to private initiative has now become recognized as incumbent on a party. It is the conduct of elections and the defraying, where the candidate is a poor man, of part at least of the expenses of a contest, expenses which have grown with the increased size of constituencies due to universal suffrage. Every party has now funds available for helping candidates, a practice liable to be abused, yet unavoidable, for without help capable men might be excluded, and the candidate with the longest purse would have an unfair advantage.
Another and not less important function of a party is that of holding together the members of a representative assembly who profess the political opinions for which the party stands, so as to concentrate their efforts on the advocacy of its principles and the attainment of its ends. This is especially needed in countries living under what is called Parliamentary Government, where the Executive is virtually chosen and dismissible by the majority of the legislature. Under such a system the majority, called the Party in Power, carries on the government of the country through some of its leaders, the executive ministers, whom it keeps in office so long as they retain its confidence. Such a scheme cannot work without some sort of discipline to keep the members of the majority solid, reminding them of their responsibility to their supporters in the constituencies. From Great Britain, which has been governed in this way for about two centuries, this scheme spread to such countries as Canada, Australia, France, Belgium, Holland and the three Scandinavian kingdoms, in all of which a “Party in Power “carries on the government, while the rest of the legislature constitute the Opposition or Oppositions.
In other countries, such as the United States, the majority in the legislature, though it controls legislation, does not choose the Executive, that function being reserved to the people voting at the polls; so that the expression “Party in Power “describes the party which holds the Executive. But this difference reduces but little the need for party organization and discipline in the legislative chambers. In both cases the party must hold together in order to pursue its purposes. In both the motive and regulative force that keeps them united together, consists in the common wish to give effect to their doctrines by legislation, and in both, moreover, the party leaders have a prospect of winning authority, distinction, and emoluments, the rank and file of the party sharing, when their turn comes, in getting or securing for their friends whatever patronage may be going. Thus the impulse to hold together is strong: thus a party may maintain unity and vigour even if it has ceased to care for the principles for whose sake it professes to exist.
This system, under which the fortunes of a nation are entrusted to one set of persons who represent the majority, possibly only a bare majority, of the voters, has been much censured, especially by theorists unfamiliar with the actual working of representative institutions. Why, it is urged, should administrative officers, most of whose work has nothing to do with their party opinions, be they Whig or Tory in England, Republican or Democratic in America, be taken entirely from those who profess one set of political views and belong to one organization? The man with the fullest knowledge of foreign relations, or the man who best understands educational problems, may belong to the minority. Why should his abilities be lost to the public service? Why make so many public questions controversial that need not be so? What is the sense of setting up one group of men, A, B, C and D, to introduce legislation and handle administrative problems, and of setting up a second set, W, X, Y, Z, to harass and trip up the former, opposing their proposals and hampering their executive action? Yet this is understood to be, under the British system, the especial business of a parliamentary opposition, for the men who compose it find a motive for their attacks in the hope of turning their antagonists out of office to install themselves therein. Thus a parliament becomes a battlefield, and its deliberations a perpetual struggle of the Ins and the Outs, in which the interests of the country are forgotten.
Other charges brought against the party system may be enumerated, because they indicate dangers which threaten the working of democratic government.
It is alleged to encourage hollowness and insincerity. The two great American parties have been compared to empty bottles, into which any liquor might be poured, so long as the labels were retained. Party divides not only the legislature but the nation into hostile camps, and presents it to foreign states as so divided. It substitutes passion and bitterness for a common patriotism, prejudices men's minds, makes each side suspect the proposals of the other, prevents a fair consideration of each issue upon its merits, enslaves representatives and discourages independent thought in the party as a whole, because the “solidity” or “regularity” which casts a straight ballot is enforced as the first of duties. It prompts each party to make promises and put forward plans whose aim is not to benefit the country but to attract popular support. When one party plays this game, the other party has to follow suit with another and, if possible, more attractive program me.
Another perversion is the extension of national party issues to local elections, with which they have, as a rule, nothing to do. To run a candidate for a county or city office in an American state, or for a county or borough council in England, as a Republican or Democrat, as a Tory or Liberal, diverts attention from the personal merits of the candidates to their party affiliations, obscures the local issues of policy by putting loyalty to the national party into the foreground, and tends to divide the members of a deliberative local authority into sections drawn together by their political affinities, so that these affinities determine their action in questions purely local.
A further dereliction from principle is found in countries where posts in the public service are reserved for persons who belong to the dominant party. This practice, known as the Spoils System, though reduced of late years, is not yet extinct in the United States, nor France, Canada, and Australia. In Britain, where it was formerly general, it can be still discovered in odd corners, such as some legal, and more rarely, some educational, posts. Here, however, it is only a secondary force, sometimes giving one candidate a slight advantage over another, but seldom installing an incompetent man. Retained as a means of rewarding supporters, it is excused on the ground that as the other side have practised it, “our fellows must have their chance.” Neither party desires to run ahead of the other in the practice of austere virtue.
Lastly, party spirit is accused of debasing the moral standards, because it judges every question from the standpoint of party interest. It acclaims a successful leader as a hero and secures forgiveness for his faults. If the leaders of a party in power embark in an unwise foreign policy, or if some ardent spirits among the Opposition resort to questionable methods of resistance to what they think unjust, the voice of temperate criticism within the party is overborne, because party spirit either blinds men to the truth or fears to admit errors which the other party will use against it.1 Even if the heads of a party organization are discovered to have been using their power for selfish — perhaps for sordid — purposes, the party tries to shield them from exposure; and it may accept the tainted aid of rich men seeking their own private gains. In one way or another, the sentiment of party solidarity supersedes the duty which the citizen owes to the State, and becomes a weapon in the hands of an unscrupulous chief who can lead the party to victory. Party spirit will always be an instrument on which personal ambition can play. In the republics of antiquity a party might help its leader to make himself a Tyrant because it hated the other faction more than it loved freedom. Similar phenomena were seen in mediaeval Italy, and their pale reflex has been sometimes visible in modern states.
That these are among the dangers to which the system of party government exposes a State is practically admitted by each party when it is denouncing the action of a rival party. They describe those rivals as actuated by the “spirit of faction.” They exhort the wiser and more moderate members to shake off that spirit, rid themselves of prejudice, and consider all proposals, even those of opponents, with an open mind, while in the same breath they exhort their own followers to close their ranks and go to the polls cherishing the traditions of their party, grateful for its services, mindful that it emancipated the slave or bestowed old-age pensions upon working men. They must sometimes wish that it was possible for them to address their own followers in one tongue, and their opponents in another, each uncomprehended by the other, as shepherds in the Scottish Highlands are said to shout their orders to one dog in English and to another in Gaelic.
History is full of the mischiefs wrought by party spirit. Yet there is another side to the matter. If parties cause some evils, they avert or mitigate others.
To begin with, parties are inevitable. No free large country has been without them. No one has shown how representative government could be worked without them. They bring order out of the chaos of a multitude of voters. If in such vast populations as those of the United States, Trance, or England, there were no party organizations, by whom would public opinion be roused and educated and directed to certain specific purposes? Each party, no doubt, tries to present its own side of the case for or against any doctrine or proposal, but the public cannot help learning something about the other side also, for even party spirit cannot separate the nation into water-tight compartments; and the most artful or prejudiced party spell-binder or newspaper has to recognize the existence of the arguments he is trying to refute. Thus Party strife is a sort of education for those willing to receive instruction, and something soaks through even into the less interested or thoughtful electors. The parties keep a nation's mind alive, as the rise and fall of the sweeping tide freshens the water of long ocean inlets. Discussion within each party, culminating before elections in the adoption of a platform, brings certain issues to the front, defines them, expresses them in formulas which, even if tricky or delusive, fix men's minds on certain points, concentrating attention and inviting criticism. So few people think seriously and steadily upon any subject outside the range of their own business interests that public opinion might be vague and ineffective if the party searchlight were not constantly turned on. And it may be added that the power of the press to influence the average voter by one-sided statements of fact, incessantly repeated, would be still greater than it is were there not party organizations whose business it is to secure a hearing for their own views.
Of nominations and elections I have already spoken. But a vast deal of preparatory work is needed beyond that which the State does when it makes up a register of voters and provides machinery for taking the votes. Who is to do this? Who is to get literature to the voters, stir them out of their apathy, arrange public meetings, remind the citizens of their duty to vote? Only a permanent party. Temporary organizations formed to promote a particular cause, such as were (in England) the Anti-Corn Law League of 1838 and the Eastern Question Association of 1876, may effect much for the time being, but die out when the crisis has passed; and it becomes increasingly difficult and costly to find means for reaching the enormous voting masses of our time.
Political philosophers have been wont to deplore the existence of party in legislative assemblies and to accuse it of leading to dishonesty. They observe that, in the words of the comic opera, a member who has “always voted at his party's call” cannot but be demoralized. But if there were no party voting, and everybody gave his vote in accordance with his own perhaps crude and ill-informed opinions, Parliamentary government of the English type could not go on. Ministers would not know from hour to hour whether they could count on carrying some provision of a Bill which might in appearance be trifling, but would destroy its coherency, many of those who would have supported it might be absent, while others might give an unconsidered vote. Perpetual uncertainty and the weakness of the Executive which uncertainty involves would be a greater public evil than the subordination to his party of a member's personal view in minor matters. Where he has a strong conviction, he must of course obey it, even at the risk of turning out a ministry, but when, dismissing any thought of his own personal interest, he honestly applies the general principle that party government requires some subordination of individual views, his conscience will not suffer.1
Party discipline in a legislature imposes a needed check on self-seeking and on the greater mischief of corruption. The absence of discipline, far from helping conscience to have free scope, may result in leaving the field open for selfish ambitions. Some years ago a group of strong men who had practically controlled the party majority in the United States Senate was broken up, and party discipline vanished. Ingenuous persons expected an improvement. But the first result was that a few pushing men came to the front, each playing for popularity, and things fell into confusion, the legislative machine working in so irregular and unpredictable a fashion that a call soon came for the restoration of discipline. In every governing body there must be some responsibility, some persons on whom blame can be fixed if bad advice be given and bad results follow. How a ruling body can suffer by the want of permanent parties was illustrated by the Athenian Assembly, a crowd of citizens largely guided by brilliant speakers holding no office, owning no allegiance to any party, each using his talents for his own advancement. When the multitude had been misled by such an orator there was nobody to be blamed except the orator, and his discredit was only a passing incident, for which he might have had secret compensation in a corrupt payment. An organized party with recognized leaders has a character to lose or to gain; and this applies to an Opposition as well as to a Ministerialist party, for every minority hopes to be some day a majority. In Great Britain during the war of 1914–19 party warfare was suspended, and two successive Coalition Ministries formed, so that for a time there was no regular Opposition to keep the Ministry up to the mark, inasmuch as those party chiefs who stood outside were unwilling to be charged with embarrassing their former opponents. The result was that a number of members, who, like the Athenian orators, were not sufficiently important to feel the bridle of responsibility, carried on, each for himself, a sort of guerilla warfare, which had not force enough to impose an effective check on ministerial errors. An administration formed by a coalition of parties is usually weak, not merely because the combination is unstable, but because men whose professed principles differ are likely to be entangled in inconsistencies or driven to unsatisfactory compromises. So a well-compacted party in Opposition which stands on its own feet, having had power before and hoping to have power again, is steadied by the fact that it has a character to lose. Inspiring confidence because it is known to be responsible, it can follow a definite policy and expect a loyal obedience.
In countries where the few large parties of former times have dissolved into small groups, no one of which is large enough to command a majority of the legislature, and in few of which is there any party discipline, other inconveniences are added. The leaders of a large and strong party have an opinion of their followers to regard, as well as the public opinion of the nation outside. That opinion within the party keeps them straight, for if they are seen to be playing for their own hand the party ceases to be trusted. Where there are small groups, each becomes a focus of intrigue, in which personal ambitions have scope. The groups make bargains with one another and by their combinations, perhaps secretly and suddenly formed, successive ministries may be overturned, with injury to the progress of legislation and to the continuity of national policy. Since there must be parties, the fewer and stronger they are, the better.
Must there then always be parties? No one has yet shown how such governments could get on without them.1 Statesmen of exceptional force, such as Peel, Disraeli, Gladstone, while fully aware of their faults most clearly recognized their value. One can imagine a small community in which the citizens know one another so well that they select men for legislative and executive posts on the score of personal merit, and where the legislators are of a virtue so pure that they debate every question with a sole regard to truth and to the advantage of the State. If any such community has existed, its records have not been preserved for our instruction. One can also imagine that in some far distant future when all experiments have been tried, and nations, weary of politics, wish to settle down to a quiet life, a plan may be devised by which each small community, trusting its local concerns to its most honest and capable men, shall empower them to choose others who will go to some centre where they can deliberate on matters of common concern with other such delegates, party being eliminated, because the questions out of which the old parties arose have become obsolete. But the wings of fancy do not support our flight in a thin air so far above the surface of this planet.
We have so far been considering political parties of the old type, co-extensive with the nation and trying to draw adherents from all sections and classes within it. There are, however, three other kinds of party which ought to be noticed, and which may be either within or outside of a large non-sectional political party covering the whole country.
One of these is an ecclesiastical or anti-ecclesiastical organization. Where the interests of a religious body are supposed to need advocacy or protection, or where, on the other hand, a Church is deemed to be unduly powerful in political affairs, an organization may be formed either to defend it in the former case or to resist it in the latter.1 There are in France and Belgium Catholic or so-called “Clerical” parties. Examples have been seen in the United States, where an apprehension that the Roman Catholic Church was acquiring undue power gave birth to the “Know Nothings” in 1853, and long afterwards created what was almost an Anti-Catholic party, under the title of American Protective Association (A. P. A.). Both rose suddenly into prominence, but died out after a few years. The chief instance of an organization acting as an anti-ecclesiastical force, all the stronger for being secret, is to be found in the Freemasons of Continental Europe. This society with its branches exists in England and the United States for purposes purely social and charitable, but the Masonic Lodges have in France and Italy an ardently anti-clerical, even indeed anti-Christian, colour. They are believed to exert an influence before which candidates and deputies quail.
The second class has grown out of the Trade or Labour Unions which sprang up during last century among the industrial populations of Europe, North America, and Australasia. Formed originally for the purpose of mutual charitable help, they became effective in planning and carrying on strikes, and thereafter, realizing the voting power which an extended suffrage had given them, passed into the field of political action. Out of them and the congresses which they hold there have arisen in many countries what are called Labour Parties, putting forward programmes of legislation intended to benefit the wage-earning class, and to throw more of the burden of taxation upon the wealthier part of the community. Such platforms, while commanding sympathy from those among the richer who think that the wage-earners have not yet received a sufficient share in what their toil produces, make their most direct appeal to the labouring class itself and draw most of their strength from the prospect they open of improving its material condition. Though extending over the whole country, they are in so far contrasted with the older parties that they create a cleavage in the nation which is not, as formerly, vertical, but horizontal, having a social as well as a political character. In England the Whig and Tory parties were each of them composed of persons of all degrees of rank and wealth, poor as well as rich. In both the ruling section belonged to the richer class, and was apt to legislate in its own interest, but between the two sections there was no social antagonism. So also in the United States, both the Republican and the Democratic party have been composed, in almost equal proportions, of the poorer and the richer citizens. Now, however, there is a tendency for the community to be divided, as the Greek republics were already in Plato's time, into a party of the poor and a party of the rich, a state of things unfavourable to the formation of a truly national opinion and to some extent to national unity in general.
A third species is the Local or Racial party, familiar examples of which are furnished by the Nationalists and the Sinn Feiners of Ireland and the Regionalists of Catalonia, and were furnished in the Austrian Reichsrath before 1914 by the Polish and Czech parties. These, like the ecclesiastical organizations, are apt to suffer by undue preoccupation with their own particular aims and tenets. But what they lose in this way they may gain in the power of purchasing, by the solid vote they can deliver, the help of one or other of the great national parties.
Other new parties which have appeared in recent years are those called Socialist or Communist. They are not, strictly speaking, class parties, for although they have many aims in common with the Labour parties, they base themselves not on proposals for the benefit of the working class as such, but upon theoretic systems of economic doctrine which are held by many persons in all classes. Their emergence, coupled with that of Labour parties, has had the effect of drawing away from each of the old established parties many of its adherents. This has brought these old parties nearer together, for those who dislike the new doctrines or scent danger in the new proposals, begin to find the familiar differences between the old parties less important than is the coincidence of their opposition to the new parties.1 In some cases accordingly the old parties have been fused into one; in others they have agreed to make common cause at elections with one another. Questions relating to the distribution of political power having been everywhere largely disposed of, the dividing lines between parties tend to be economic. The result has been to accentuate class sentiment, making a sharper division than previously existed between the richer and more conservative element in every country and that which is poorer and more disposed to experimental legislation.
This, however, has been compatible with a tendency for the large parties to split up into smaller sections. There are shades in Conservatism, and even more shades in Radicalism and in Socialism, for the activity of thought and the disappearance of respect for authority multiply new doctrines, helping them to spread fast. Such a tendency makes for definiteness and sincerity in the views of each section or group, but it increases the difficulty of working the machinery of government. This difficulty is in some countries aggravated by the rise of parties founded in the interests of a particular set of producers, such as is the Farmers' party in Canada, and the party of Peasants (i.e. small land-owning agriculturists and pastoralists) in Switzerland.
Two other features characteristic of party in democratic countries deserve mention. The increase in the number of voting citizens and the disappearance of those distinctions of social rank which made the rich landowner the obvious leader in a rural district, as was the rich merchant in a city, have made organization more needful. Those parties which have behind them either an ecclesiastical or a labour organization are in this respect stronger than parties with no religious or class basis. The latter are therefore obliged to find funds to conduct propaganda and to pay their agents. The smaller parties, or the groups which appear in representative assemblies, suffer from want of funds, having few adherents over the country at large, nor are they aided by contributions from capitalists, though the latter readily support a strong party capable of serving their commercial or financial interests. Poverty shortens the life of many groups or drives them to fusion, for “Publicity,” i.e. the advertising, in a direct or indirect form, now deemed essential to success, is so costly that money tends to become the sinews of politics as well as of war.
In every party — and this is especially true of the United States and Britain — one may distinguish three sets of men. There are the national leaders, eminent persons who associate their own fortunes with those of the party and desire by it to obtain office and power. There is the mass of moderate men who have a general sympathy with the party aims, and have been accustomed to vote with it. The third class are zealots and care more for the principles or aims of the party than for its immediate victory. These are the men who do unpaid work in the constituencies and keep the local party machinery going. They summon the meetings of associations, and generally carry their resolutions in the local meetings of the party which are attended by its more ardent members. Their enthusiasm, often coupled with inexperience, makes them eager to go full steam ahead, and their activity often enables them to commit the party, at its larger gatherings, to a policy more extreme than is pleasing to the bulk of the members. The more prudent chiefs sometimes try to slow down the pace, but are not always able to do so in time, so it may befall that the party is officially pledged to proposals in advance not only of public opinion generally but even of the average opinion of its own members. The result is that the moderate members drop away, and may possibly drift into the opposite camp. This phenomenon is of course more frequent in the parties of movement than in those of resistance, but even in the latter the formally declared attitude of a party may not truly represent its general sentiment, for the moderate men, because less keenly interested, usually take least part in the deliberations at which the attitude of the party is proclaimed and its course determined. Thus party spirit often appears to be hotter, and party antagonisms more pronounced, than is really the case, for in a large nation the mass of the electors take their politics more coolly than is realized by those who derive their impressions from newspaper reports of party meetings.
The power of Party Organization and the power of Party spirit are of course very different things, and not necessarily found together. If either should assume undue proportions, what remedies can be found for checking the undue power of an organization over its own members, and what can be done to soften the antagonisms which party spirit creates in a nation, disturbing its internal concord and weakening it in its relations with foreign powers?
Law can do little or nothing. Though many countries have tried to repress by penal legislation factions from which the ruling power apprehended danger, only two seem to have attempted to regulate them. Czarist Russia in the earlier days of the Duma allowed certain parties to apply for and obtain legalization. Many States in the American Union have created administrative Boards on which provision is made for the representation of both the great political parties, and nearly all have passed laws for regulating the nomination of party candidates by the members of the parties or by the voters at large. The rather disappointing results of these expedients are described in later chapters.1
Party spirit as a Force working for good or evil in public life is a matter which must be left to the citizens themselves. Upon them it must depend whether it is reasonable and temperate or violent and bitter. It is no greater a danger in democracies than elsewhere. So, too, experience seems to show that it is only the members of a party who can control the action of organizations and can keep them from being either perverted by astute party managers for their own selfish purposes, or used by honest extremists to launch proposals which the party as a whole does not approve. The more a party lives by the principles for which it stands, the more it subordinates its own aims to the strength and unity of the whole people, and the more it is guided by men who can recognize whatever may be sound in the views of their opponents and prevent opposition from passing into enmity, the better will it serve the common interests of its country.
The beginnings of popular government were in small areas, rural communities and tiny cities, each with only a few hundreds or possibly thousands of free inhabitants. The earliest form it took was that of an assembly in which all the freemen met to discuss their common affairs, and in which, although the heads of the chief families exerted much influence, the mind and voice of the people could make itself felt. Such assemblies marked the emergence of men from barbarism into something approaching a settled and ordered society. In many places these communities lay within a monarchy, in others (as in Iceland) they were independent, but everywhere they accustomed the people to cherish a free spirit and learn to co-operate for common aims. First among these was joint defence against a neighbouring and hostile community. A second, important for the prevention of internal strife, was the settlement, by some kind of judicial method, of disputes between the members, frequently arising from the demand of compensation for the killing of some one whose kinsfolk were bound by custom to avenge his death, such blood-money being awarded by the assembly, or the elders, to the kin, who thereupon desisted from revenge.1 A third was the disposal and management of land belonging to the local community (whether forest or pasture) not allotted in severalty to the members, or of arable land in which there were usually rights assigned to each individual, even if only for a limited period and subject to re-allotment when the period has expired. This was frequent among peoples of South Slavonic stock. It existed till quite recently in the Russian Mir, and still exists in many parts of India.
This self-governing assembly, though there are some races (such as the Celtic) in which we find little or no trace of it, was widely diffused, though its power or influence was greater in some countries than in others. A familiar example may be found in the Agora of Homeric Greece, in the Comitia of Rome, in the meeting of the People (Folk Mot) of the Angles and Saxons in England, in the Thing of the Norsemen in Norway and Iceland. That it is an institution not confined to any one stock of mankind appears from its presence among the Bantu races of South Africa, where it maintains a vigorous life in the Pitso of the Basutos and Bechuanas.1
In the process of time nations were formed by the expansion of these small communities, or by their fusion, or by their absorption into larger units. The other functions of the assembly were either assumed by the whole nation (as was defence) or transferred to special authorities. In the ancient Greek and Italic republics regular courts were set up. In most parts of Europe judicial functions passed to the feudal landowners, and ultimately, first in England and later in Scotland, to the king. Thus popular self-government came to lose what may be called its political (including its military) and its judicial side. But it usually retained the right of managing whatever land belonged to the community; and in some countries functions connected with the parish church, while afterwards other matters of local welfare came under its care. The only country in which the small autonomous unit of the thirteenth century held its ground as a political unit was Switzerland, and particularly those Alpine valleys in which Swiss freedom had its origin. In a few cantons the Landesgemeinde or primary assembly of the whole canton continues to meet to-day.2 In England the Parish, originally similar to the Commune of continental Europe as an ecclesiastical unit and land-holding body, had retained a feeble life, but for ecclesiastical purposes only, until it received a re-grant of limited civil functions by a statute of 1894, while beyond the Atlantic the self-government of small areas had a new birth among the English who settled in the States of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. The Town (rural as well as urban) became a strong organism, drawing life not only from the English traditions which the colonists brought with them, but also from the daily needs of a people dispersed in small groups over a wild country, who had to help one another in many ways, and defend themselves against native tribes. Thus the old Teutonic form of self-government has continued to flourish and to spread out over all the northern States of the American Union.1
The small communities here described may be called the tiny fountain-heads of democracy, rising among the rocks, sometimes lost altogether in their course, sometimes running underground to reappear at last in fuller volume. They suffice to show that popular government is not a new thing in the world, but was in many countries the earliest expression of man's political instincts. It was a real misfortune for England — and the remark applies in a certain sense to Germany also — that while local self-government did maintain itself in the county and borough it should in both have largely lost the popular character which once belonged to it, as it was a misfortune for Ireland and for France that this natural creation of political intelligence should not have developed there. Many things that went wrong in those four countries from the end of the sixteenth century onwards might have fared better under institutions like those of Switzerland or the Northern United States.
Of the part to be assigned to Local Government in a modern democracy, of its relations to the Central Government, and of the forms in which it works best, I propose to speak in a later chapter, following upon those which describe the working of democracy in six modern countries. Here, however, a few words may be said as to the general service which self-government in small areas renders in forming the qualities needed by the citizen of a free country. It creates among the citizens a sense of their common interest in common affairs, and of their individual as well as common duty to take care that those affairs are efficiently and honestly administered. If it is the business of a local authority to mend the roads, to clean out the village well or provide a new pump, to see that there is a place where straying beasts may be kept till the owner reclaims them, to fix the number of cattle each villager may turn out on the common pasture, to give each his share of timber cut in the common woodland, every villager has an interest in seeing that these things are properly attended to. Laziness and the selfishness which is indifferent to whatever does not immediately affect a man's interests is the fault which most afflicts democratic communities. Whoever learns to be public-spirited, active and upright in the affairs of the village has learnt the first lesson of the duty incumbent on a citizen of a great country, just as, conversely, “he that is unfaithful in the least is unfaithful also in much.” The same principle applies to a city. In it the elector can seldom judge from his own observation how things are being managed. But he can watch through the newspapers or by what he hears from competent sources whether the mayor and councillors and their officials are doing their work, and whether they are above suspicion of making illicit gains, and whether the taxpayer is getting full value for what he is required to contribute. So when the election comes he has the means of discovering the candidates with the best record and can cast his vote accordingly.
Secondly: Local institutions train men not only to work for others but also to work effectively with others. They develop common sense, reasonableness, judgment, sociability. Those who have to bring their minds together learn the need for concession and compromise. A man has the opportunity of showing what is in him, and commending himself to his fellow-citizens. Two useful habits are formed, that of recognizing the worth of knowledge and tact in public affairs and that of judging men by performance rather than by professions or promises.
Criticisms are often passed on the narrowness of mind and the spirit of parsimony which are visible in rural local authorities and those who elect them. These defects are, however, a natural product of the conditions of local life. The narrowness would be there in any case, and would affect the elector if he were voting for a national representative, but there would be less of that shrewdness which the practice of local government forms. Such faults must be borne with for the sake of the more important benefits which self-government produces. The main thing is that everybody, peasant and workman as well as shopkeeper and farmer, should join in a common public activity, and feel that he has in his own neighbourhood a sphere in which he can exercise his own judgment and do something for the community. Seeing the working, on a small scale, of the principle of responsibility to the public for powers conferred by them, he is better fitted to understand its application in affairs of larger scope.
These good results have been sometimes wanting in municipal governments, especially in Transatlantic cities where the rapid growth of enormous populations has created abnormal conditions, making it impossible for the citizens to have such a knowledge of one another as is needed to secure a wise choice of councils or administrative officials. Of these I shall speak elsewhere. Meanwhile it is enough to observe that the countries in which democratic government has most attracted the interest of the people and drawn talent from their ranks have been Switzerland and the United States, especially those northern and western States in which rural local government has been most developed. These examples justify the maxim that the best school of democracy, and the best guarantee for its success, is the practice of local self-government.