Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I: introductory - Modern Democracies, vol. 1.
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CHAPTER I: introductory - Viscount James Bryce, Modern Democracies, vol. 1. 
Modern Democracies, (New York: Macmillan, 1921). 2 vols. Vol. 1
Part of: Modern Democracies, 2 vols.
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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 subject is, however, touched upon in a chapter of Part III, for the sake of indicating the effects on political institutions which a system of State Socialism might produce.