Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IV: the historical evolution of democracy - Modern Democracies, vol. 1.
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CHAPTER IV: the historical evolution of democracy - 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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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.
Two volumes published in 1867 and entitled Essays on Reform and Questions for a Reformed Parliament by these academic writers make cunous reading to-day
The overturning (in 1866) of the railings in Hyde Park in London by a crowd assembled to hold a reform meeting was made much of at the time in the British press and treated in the foreign press as the prelude to a revolution. But having been close to the railings when they fell, I can say that the fall was half an accident and the crowd waB perfectly good-humoured and not at all excited. Led by a respectable old revising barrister, Mr. Edmond Beales, M. A., and composed chiefly of persons drawn by curiosity, it was so dense that its pressure on the railings, which were much lower and weaker than those which now enclose the park, made them give way, lifting as they sank the stone bases in which they were fixed. The front rank, who were squeezed against them, gleefully proceeded to shake them. Down they went, and the people jumped over them into the park amid general laughter.