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CHAPTER XXVI: what democracy has done for france - 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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what democracy has done for france
He who should try to set forth and weigh against one another the defects and merits of popular government in France under the Third Republic would himself err and mislead others if he failed to remember the conditions under which it has had to live since 1870. These conditions have been made by the past, and by it only can they be explained. Without repeating the historical sketch presented in Chapter XVIII., I will try to show, by briefly comparing the results of political development in England with those visible in France, the advantages which the former has enjoyed for working democratic institutions.
In England the compact framework of society changed very slowly from A.D. 1500 to 1900. The ancient aristocracy of land and birth passed by degrees into a new aristocracy of wealth. The old ties that held each class to those that were above it or below it, though slowly changed in character, were never roughly broken.
In France the old feudal order lasted down till 1789, though it had become a hollow shell. It continued sharply cut off from the bourgeoisie, and the bourgeoisie were also, if less sharply, cut off from the peasantry and the artisans. Since the First Revolution there has been going on what the French call a morcellement within each class, a dissolution of each social stratum into social atoms.
In England there was, except at a few crises, such as Wat Tyler's rising in 1381, very little class hatred and no permanent class antagonism. Neither is there to-day. It has appeared in one of the British colonies, though in no acute form, and its appearance there surprises the British visitor.1
In France the three classes disliked one another before the Revolution. The old aristocracy of birth is now reduced to comparatively few families, and the new industrial and financial plutocracy which has arisen out of the bourgeoisie cannot look down on its immediate parents. But that plutocracy is hated by the industrial masses, and it fears them.
In England there were traditions of the independence of the legislature and of its power to assert popular rights going back to the fourteenth century; and since the middle of the seventeenth the privileges and usages of Parliament had become familiar to the nation. Every man who entered the House of Commons knew, or soon learnt, how to work the Parliamentary machine.
In France the ancient and cumbrous representative institution of the States-General had died out, and a new start was made at the First Revolution, without experience and in the midst of excitement.
In England the national mind was from early times pervaded by the idea of the supremacy of Law, a law based on the old customs of the people, a Law of the Land which operated not only as between the king's subjects but against the king himself if he sought to transgress it. When the day came for restricting the power of the king, that which was taken from him went to Parliament, and the last thing which Parliament desired was to entrust any discretionary power to the State — a word seldom used in England — or to any State-appointed local officials.
In France the Crown was not restrained. The ideas of Justice and Law were clearly grasped, and justice was skilfully administered as between subject and subject, but the conception of what law should be between subject and sovereign was clouded by a feeling that public interest must prevail against private interests, perhaps also by the texts which lawyers and judges drew from the law of imperial Rome. Thus no well-defined line was drawn limiting the powers of the State, and Raison d'état was allowed to justify the overriding of the subjects' rights. When that argument was used, law was affected as is the needle when a magnet is brought near to a compass. The men of 1789 found this doctrine and practice existing; they used it and let it pass on to their successors. The argument of Raison d'état has continued to hold its ground.
In England there was an old system of local self-government in counties and boroughs. This had, before the end of the eighteenth century, become very rusty and practically oligarchic. But it had sufficed to exclude the control of the central government and had fostered a sentiment of local patriotism.
In France such slight self-government as existed in the provinces and the towns before the First Revolution was subject to be controlled or overruled by the Crown. The only force that tried to resist Louis XVI.'s financial measures was the Parlement of Paris.
In England the central government had few posts to bestow outside the capital; and when many new offices began to be created in the nineteenth century as the functions of government went on expanding, a system of competitive examination was set up which took them out of the sphere of favouritism and made their occupants a practically permanent civil service. Members of Parliament, who had been worried by the demands of their constituents to be recommended for appointments, gladly acquiesced in the loss of what brought them more trouble than advantage. Political patronage finally disappeared in the later Victorian days.
In Prance the number of places under the central government is extremely large, and the political influence of officials at elections and otherwise is so great that it has been deemed necessary, by all governments and parties in their turn, to confine appointments as far as possible to persons who can be trusted to support the existing form of government, whatever it may be.
In England, down to 1876 and 1886 (when two successive schisms broke up the old Whig party), each of the great rival parties which had existed since the seventeenth century included large bodies of persons belonging to each of the social classes. There were plenty of the poor in the Tory party, plenty of wealthy nobles among the Whigs. (The Labour party dates only from 1906.)
In France political parties did not exist before the First Revolution; and since then nearly all the large landowners and most of the rich have belonged to one of them, and the large majority of the working-men to the more advanced sections of the other.
In England abstract ideas have counted for very little in politics, because the struggles of the Whigs and the middle class against the power of the Crown took the form of an assertion of rights some of which were as old as Magna Charta, and the habit thus formed of relying on precedents and making reforms bit by bit, as each occasion called for them, became a tradition and a part of British character. Only at rare moments did reformers appeal to Natural Eights.
In France, on the other hand, theory came before practice, dazzling inexperienced minds. When the old monarchy fell, the traditions, such as they were, of feudal independence and local self-government had been forgotten, so there were no foundations, save those of abstract doctrine, on which to build. Practice has never been able to keep up with theory, and theory has always been apt to stand in the way of slow and small reforms. It discredited them as inadequate.1
In Great Britain the strife of jarring creeds and churches was fought out and all but settled in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Such antagonisms as continued between the Established Church and the Nonconformists were of slight political moment. The nation has, since 1688, been practically of one faith, and persecution went out of fashion in England and Scotland because there was no occasion for it.
In Trance the reaction against the dominant Church, which had continued to persecute till within thirty years of the Revolution, was violent enough not only to overthrow the Church, but for a time to crush down religious observances. Ever since, the hostility of Catholics and Voltaireans, or atheists, has divided the nation, causing an exasperation more bitter than mere political quarrels provoke. There are not enough of Protestants and of Republican Catholics to form a middle term between the extremes of Clericalism and Secularism.
These differences may all be traced to the different course which events took in each country. They may have been also affected by racial qualities inherent in each people. But where history supplies a sufficient explanation, why hunt for causes in the far more obscure phenomena of racial heredity? More may perhaps be attributed to the insular position of Britain, and something also to the fact that the law of imperial Rome, never adopted there, did not lend its sanction to the doctrines of absolutism. It is not merits in one stock of mankind nor defects in the other, but a set of geographical facts and a series of historical facts, for which neither country is to be praised or blamed, that gave Britain conditions more favourable to the working of that democratic system into which she passed in 1868 and 1885 than those amid which France has had to live. Some of the defects in French government are due to those conditions and not to democracy. It is still too soon to say whether Britain, which now finds herself swept into an epoch of change, will make the most of the advantages she has inherited. These differences in the preparation of France and of England for a Parliamentary democracy need to be remembered when we come to appraise the merits of Republican government in France.
French critics, detached philosophers as well as reactionary politicians, complain of what they call “Parliamentarism.” That system is on the face of it a government by ministers responsible to the Chambers (virtually to the Chamber of Deputies) who are assumed to represent the views of their constituents, and thus to give effect to the wishes of the majority of the nation. Thus described, it resembles the system of Britain and her self-governing Dominions. In practice, however, it is largely worked by the personal relations of deputies to the majority in their constituencies, or to those who appear to lead that majority, and of ministers to deputies. Deputies hold their seats by obtaining favours for constituencies or individual constituents, ministers hold their places by granting these favours to deputies, a process which depletes the Treasury, demoralizes the legislature, and weakens the Administration. It is government by patronage. It is aggravated by the division of the Chamber into so many parties and groups that for many years past no ministry has been able to command a majority all its own, and every arrangement has a provisional character. Sometimes (as in 1901) a combination is formed, but its permanence cannot be reckoned on. This, in making Cabinets unstable, compels a minister to think constantly of every vote, frequently even of one to be caught from among his opponents. The group system engenders and almost justifies intrigue, for how else can a working majority be secured? French politicians are probably not less scrupulous than politicians in other countries, but they are driven to tortuous methods.
The jealousy which the deputies show of the Administration may be explained partly as a tradition from the days of the Second Empire, partly from the critical temper inherent in the French nature, partly from the corporate ambition which leads every body of men to try to extend their power. It is unfortunate as a further source of instability, though sometimes as, for instance, in war crises, stringent criticism is needed to keep ministers up to the mark.
The plan of conducting legislation by Committees of the Chamber has been censured as weakening the power of a ministry to frame and push through its measures, and as injuring their symmetry. But this is due to the increasing demands made on the time of legislatures. The same procedure has been forced on the American Congress. In the British Parliament the opposite method of legislation by the whole House led to a deplorable congestion of business, to cure which a system of committees is being now tried. The governing assemblies of all the large countries are oppressed by more work than they can dispose of.
Of corruption in the legislature I have spoken already. Though neither flagrant nor widespread, there is enough to show that republics do not necessarily, according to Montesquieu's dictum, live by Virtue as Monarchies live by Honour. A graver defect has been the mismanagement of finance, the extravagance of every government, and the increase of the floating debt. So far from securing economy, as John Bright and the English Radicals of his time fondly expected, democracy has proved a more costly though less incompetent form of government than was the autocracy of Louis XV. in France or that of the Czars in Russia.
The Executive, pitifully weak in its relations with the deputies, is over-strong as against the individual citizen. Of civil liberty, as understood in Britain and America, there is not too much but too little.1 The citizen is not safe from domiciliary visits and arbitrary arrests. On the other hand, the press enjoys practical impunity for whatever charges it may bring against individuals.
The responsibility of officials to special administrative tribunals, instead of to the ordinary courts of justice, secures for them, not indeed indulgence, for the special courts do their duty fairly enough, but a privileged position which reduces the citizen's sense of freedom. This is the more serious because the range of action of the centralized administration is so wide, stretching over the whole country, drawing trivial matters to Paris for decision. The Prefect, a product of the old régime reproduced under Napoleon, has not had his wings clipped by democracy. The local civil servant, ruled by the deputy through the Prefect, is expected to render help in elections, and is at all times liable to be accused of political partisanship. The Executive, moreover, sometimes at the prompting or with the consent of the Legislature, has been inclined to infringe upon the judicial department. Judges were once displaced on a large scale because of an alleged want of loyalty to the Republic.
These faults have been excused on grounds of political necessity. Where the very form of government is in dispute, and attempts to overthrow it by force may be feared, the same measure of freedom cannot — so it is argued — be allowed to local authorities or to individual citizens as in countries where a well-settled order has long existed, for a centralized bureaucracy holds a nation compactly together and restrains tendencies to disunion. To this it is answered that the policy of restraint is one to which republics ought least of all to resort, because, themselves founded on freedom, they claim that freedom assures the contentment of the people and their loyalty to free institutions. But though every Government, in its turn, applies repressive measures, defending itself by the plea that its predecessors have used them, the average citizen does not resent such action. If conservatively disposed, as are most bourgeois and peasants, he sees in them a guarantee of order.
The intolerance shown in religious matters and the spying upon officials, upon the army, even apparently upon judges, in which this intolerance expresses itself, and which in 1913 was charged on Freemasons who were believed to have practised it, are equally unworthy of a free Government. They are palliated on the same ground, viz. that the Roman Church, its clergy, and its aims are unfriendly to the Republic, so that a sous préfet who goes frequently to mass or lets his daughter sing in a church choir is presumably wanting in loyalty to the government he serves.
“Liberty, Equality, Fraternity “is still the motto of the Republic. Equality, civil and political, exists. Social equality is a thing which governments cannot establish, except by extinguishing all classes save one. Economic equality has come no nearer than elsewhere. Only a social and economic revolution could create it, and it is doubtful whether it could thereafter be maintained. Liberty is less secured than in some monarchies. As for Fraternity, one who notes the personal bitterness to which political and ecclesiastical partisanship gives rise is reminded of Metternich's saying: “If I lived in France I should prefer to have cousins rather than brothers.”
Class hatreds, anti-religious intolerance, and the deficient respect for personal liberty have not been brought into France by democracy. They are maladies of long standing, for which it is responsible only so far as it has not succeeded in eliminating them. It is the misfortune not the fault of the Republic that antagonisms are stronger than affinities, that they impede the working of government, distract it from some of its social tasks, and create a general sense of unrest.
This may also be said of the alleged indifference to politics of a large section of the population. Four revolutions and the almost incessant turmoil of political life since 1788 have not sufficed to make the bulk of the peasantry, and a considerable percentage of the bourgeoisie, take that steadily sustained interest in public affairs expected from them when the Republic was established. This impairs the influence of public opinion. In some classes it is sluggish, while if one regards the whole country, the divisions are too sharply cut to be blent into anything approaching a general national will. Though these conditions are no worse than they were under previous forms of government — perhaps indeed less evident than in the days of the Orleanist and Bonapartist monarchies — they are naturally disappointing to those apostles of popular government who hold that the gift of political power confers the sense of a duty to use it and the capacity to use it wisely. Happy faith, which the experience of a century and a quarter has not shaken.
It is time to turn to the other side of the balance-sheet and see what the democratic Republic has accomplished for France since 1871.
Its achievements must be judged, not only by the adverse conditions (already described), which the Past had bequeathed, but also by comparison with the performances of previous Trench monarchies, and in particular with those of the Second Empire, a period of material growth and widespread prosperity. Has France risen or sunk since her government became popular? By how much has the individual citizen been made happier and more contented?
Civil administration has been, both in town and country, reasonably efficient and generally honest. There has been less corruption and favouritism among officials than under the Second Empire. Some municipalities have been wasteful as well as lavish in expenditure, and that of Paris far from pure; yet such scandals as have arisen are less than those which, common in America from 1865 to 1900, have not yet been expunged from its cities.
Public order has been creditably maintained. When one considers the flame of anger that has blazed up in more than one political crisis, and in great strikes, among an excitable people, one must admit that only an Executive armed with large powers and bold enough to use them, even in the face of denunciations in the Chamber, could have checked disorders threatening civil war. The range of action and the arbitrary methods allowed to the police shock the Englishman or American, but they are seldom used with an evil purpose. Civil justice is less costly than in Britain or America. Few complaints are made of its administration or of that of the criminal courts, and the superior judges are generally trusted. The procedure in criminal cases which foreign observers have censured as harsh towards the suspected prisoner, and the laxity of the rules regarding the admission of evidence, are things of old standing in France, and unconnected with the form of government. Respect for the law and the Executive have prevented the growth of the habit of lynching.
It is hard to estimate the value of the legislation which the Republic has produced without passing an opinion on measures which nothing but experience of their working can test. The subjects which have chiefly occupied the Chambers have been education, controversial only so far as it affects the action of ecclesiastics, the relations of Church and State, the right of working-men to combine in unions, old-age pensions, sanitation, factory laws, and taxation, the most hotly contested point in which has been not the tariff, for Protectionist doctrine reigns, but the imposition of an income-tax. Upon these subjects statutes of wide scope have been passed. There are complaints that more has not been effected for the benefit of the masses, but whoever considers the atmosphere of incessant party strife in which the Chambers have had to debate and decide will not disparage the amount and value of the work done to improve industrial conditions. The total annual output of measures is said to be about the same as under the two preceding monarchies. Most of these have been non-controversial and of minor importance, partly no doubt because the Code framed under Napoleon definitely settled many questions in the law of family and the law of property which have remained less clearly determined in English-speaking countries, where there has been little codification on a large scale.
One of the chief tasks of each successive ministry has been to provide for military defence. Though the results accomplished fell short of what was frequently demanded, and though pessimists declared that democratic habits could not but destroy obedience, these results have been creditable to a people which had renounced and did not wish to revive its old militaristic spirit. A superb line of fortifications along the north-eastern frontier was constructed in the'seventies and'eighties. Constant attention was given to the supply of artillery. Mobilization was efficiently carried through in August 1914, and the French Army acquitted itself in the war which then began with a discipline and spirit worthy of its best traditions. The management of naval affairs, in which France had shone in days now remote, was less satisfactory, while the performances of the fleet in war seemed scarcely proportionate to the sums that had been spent upon producing it, or to the ancient fame of the French naval service.
The colonial possessions of France have been largely increased under the Republic in North, in West, and in Central Africa. Madagascar has been annexed, and so have large territories in South-E astern Asia. All these acquisitions (except Tunis and Morocco) are tropical, and would be un-suited for the settlement of Frenchmen, even if France had any surplus of population to send abroad. Whether they have the commercial value attributed to them, considering the expenditure which the maintenance of a navy to protect them implies, is a further question.
Foreign policy has been conducted, through many difficult crises, sometimes unwisely, yet with fewer variations of aim than have been visible in the lines followed by the other great European States. The two Chambers, in this respect reflecting and obeying the mind and purpose of the nation, have almost always strengthened and supported the Executive. When one considers the defects incident to the rule of popular assemblies, the restraint which the Chambers imposed upon themselves must elicit the respect of impartial observers. Foreign policy has been deemed, ever since (and even before) the days of Demosthenes, to be the weak point of a democracy. This charge finds little support in a study of French history between 1871 and 1914. Greater errors were committed and more weakness shown under the Orleans Monarchy and certainly under the Second Empire.
The chief praise, however, which may be given to the Third Republic is that it has lasted fifty years, more than twice as long as any preceding form of government since 1792.1 Several times it has been in peril. But though the currents drove the ship very near to the rocks, she managed, by skill or good luck, to escape them unscathed, and her course during the present century has been steadier than before. It would be too much to say that the mass of the people are better contented than in previous generations, for the peasantry and a large part of the bourgeoisie were content under Louis Napoleon, to whom many looked back as the man “qui faisait vivre toute le monde,” and large sections of the working-men are impatient for a socialistic Republic. But a long series of elections has shown that though there is a dislike of Parliamentarism and a hankering after a stronger Executive — I do not mean a dictatorship — the old monarchical parties are virtually extinct. The Republic, in one form or another, is the choice of France. Even Paris, which has so often made revolutions without the will, or against the will, of the country, could not do so to-day. Tocqueville asked, more than half a century ago, “Are we on the way to intermittent anarchy, the incurable disease of old peoples? “But France seems no nearer to-day than in 1870 to that calamity. Many forces are struggling for mastery within her. But those that make for stability, a stability in those essentials which give life and hope, seem likely to prevail.
What are the lessons which the history of popular government in France can furnish to other countries? Caution is needed in basing conclusions of general applicability on the experience of a country whose conditions are so peculiar, for the successes and the failures there may be due less to the system than to those conditions. But subject to this reservation some few morals may be drawn illuminative for the student of popular governments in general.
Democracy needs local self-government as its foundation. That is the school in which the citizen acquires the habit of independent action, learns what is his duty to the State, and learns also how to discharge it. The control of local affairs by the Central Government has in France lessened the citizen's sense of responsibility. It has multiplied the posts of which the executive can dispose, and thereby enlarged the field in which political patronage can run riot. Patronage may no doubt be employed and abused by local authorities also, and is so employed in America and elsewhere for personal or party ends. But this does less harm to the higher interests of the State, for the held of action is narrower, and the malady may be only sporadic, curable by the action of the local citizens themselves when they have been roused to a sense of its evils, as it is being cured to-day in the United States.
That democracy is not necessarily a weak government is proved by the vigour and firmness with which the French Executive has more than once repressed breaches of public order. Much of course depends on the support which the ministry may count upon from public opinion. Much depends on the individual minister. He may be timid, he may be strong. But the general truth remains that a forceful man whose motives are above suspicion will be supported. The masses value courage in their leaders.
The control of a single omnipotent Assembly is dangerous. A check on haste or passion is needed, be it that of a Rigid Constitution limiting the Assembly's powers, or that of a presidential veto, or that of a Second Chamber. Some high authorities would like to see the French Senate stronger, not merely in respect of its legal powers, but by the weight of the men who compose it. But taking it as it is, it has been a valuable safeguard.
Democracies, especially Parliamentary democracies, need the kind of leadership which creates compact and steady parties, one of which may constitute a majority capable of maintaining, for some while at least, a government that will pursue a settled and consistent policy. It fixes upon one or a few that responsibility which can no more be fixed on an Assembly than you can grasp a handful of smoke. France has suffered, since the death of Gambetta, from the want of such leadership. Jules Ferry had some of the qualities required. Waldeck-Rousseau had these in larger measure, and he pulled things together when they were falling into confusion. The leader may no doubt be a demagogue who can lead the Assembly or beguile the people into dangerous paths, but France is not a soil specially favourable to demagogism, less favourable perhaps than England. France is intensely critical. It is not from plausible Parliamentary or platform rhetoricians that the menacing spectre of a dictatorship has arisen.
Universal suffrage offers no guarantee against such a spectre. It installed Louis Napoleon as President for ten years, it subsequently made him emperor, it confirmed his power a few months before his fall in 1870, and on each occasion by a vast majority. It gave a good deal of support to Boulanger. Caesarism can attract the masses now as it did in the last days of the Roman Republic.
Secret societies, indispensable to the friends of liberty who conspired against the tyrants of Italy two generations ago, are regrettable in a country which has secured full constitutional freedom. Their influence on politics is unhealthy because irresponsible, prone to intolerance, and easily made the tool of selfishness or social persecution.
Individual liberty is not necessarily secured either by the sovereignty of the people, or by equality in private civil rights, or by social equality. In France the citizen has less security against arbitrary arrest and detention, or the searching of his house, or any act of discretionary authority on the part of police or other officials, than Americans think to be an essential part of freedom or than Englishmen enjoyed as such long before democracy was established in England. He is subject in peace time to some of those stringent restrictions which in most free countries are imposed only in days of war.
Whoever surveys the history of France from 1789 to our own time must be struck by the habits of thought and action which repeated revolutions engender. Each violent disturbance of the established order disposes men to another. That “sacred right of insurrection “which ought to be the last resort when other remedies have failed, is invoked on occasions which do not warrant it, and is likely, if successful, to carry destruction farther than is necessary. Weakening the respect for authority, it encourages ambitious adventurers to use it against a lawful government whose defects can be removed in a legal and peaceful way. The fear of it, terrifying the quiet and “respectable “citizens who think first of their comfort and their property, makes them rally to the usurping adventurer and support the government he sets up. The acts of violence that accompany it may leave behind animosities dividing the nation for generations to come.1
All these things happened in France. That the Revolution was needed in 1789 few will now deny, but two or three generations passed before the spirit which the Revolution called up could be exorcised. Half a century of constitutional government seems to have now broken the habit of insurrection, for the people know that they can obtain by their votes whatever they desire. But they still suffer, if not from the disease, yet from what physicians call the sequelae. The venerable doctrine of the English Whigs that where constitutional changes are needed they ought to be effected with the least possible breach of continuity, may seem obsolete and moss-grown. Nevertheless there are countries in which it still finds its application.
Those who say that democracy has not brought to the service of the State enough of the best ability of the nation cannot mean that there is a lack of talent, for as George Sand was wont to say, “Talent is everywhere in France.” Englishmen and Americans who live in Paris are struck by the sustained vivacity of French politics and the amazing cleverness they elicit. The Chambers are a theatre in which the actors are also the audience, enjoying as connoisseurs one another's performances. Some of this cleverness might, however, be usefully exchanged for an infusion of calm and reflective minds, with a wider outlook around and ahead, who could by their characters and attainments exert a steadying influence on opinion. Each democracy needs leaders of the qualities fitted to compensate its peculiar defects. There is no lack in France of men rich in knowledge, acute and vigorous in thought. No modern country has done more, if indeed any has done so much, to originate and develop philosophic thinking on politics. But the greater part of these stores of knowledge and wisdom are not used in political life, and those few statesmen who possess them seem unable to breathe freely in the circumambient atmosphere of passion and partisanship.
A sketch of what the Republic has done or failed to do for France cannot well conclude without some reference to its alleged effects upon the intellectual and moral life of the country. Edmond Schérer, writing in 1883, remarked, as many had said before him and have said since, that democracy was producing mediocrity. Some able French writers of our own day, not Royalists or Clericalists, attribute to it that moral decline also which they discover in their countrymen. With all deference to these eminent persons, one may doubt whether forms of government have more than a slight and transient influence upon literature or art or philosophy. Proposing in a later chapter to deal with this subject, I will here touch but briefly on the case of France. Political freedom has not there borne those intellectual fruits which enthusiasts who lived under despotism expected, for great thinkers and teachers and statesmen are no more frequent now than they were in those days. Democracy may, in the sphere of politics, have levelled down as well as levelled up, and failed to produce many figures conspicuous for elevation and independence. But though it may develop some kinds of talent more than others, there is nothing to show that it reduces the volume of talent that any country possesses, still less that it retards the growth of science, or of art, or of learning, or of polite letters. These things lie outside politics. They bloom or wither from causes hitherto unexplained, perhaps unexplainable: they are affected by social environment and the general tendencies of the age. If it be a materialistic age, men whose minds feed chiefly upon newspapers, men occupied with business projects and leading a restless, leisureless life, are not likely to be creative in the higher realms of thought. “Whatever tendencies happen to rule their world will find expression in politics also, and colour their ideals; but it is in the tendencies themselves rather than in the form of government that the cause resides. Why suggest that it is democracy which has refused to the France of the twentieth century poets of outstanding fame like Victor Hugo, or prose writers like Kenan and Taine, when we note the same absence of exceptionally brilliant figures in almost every country, whatever its form of government. Ranke and Mommsen have had no successors of equal rank in monarchical Germany; nor have Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Browning had such successors in democratic England. The charge that may be with more force brought against democracy is that it has failed, as in many Other countries, to bring to the front, in sufficient numbers, men of high constructive gifts, fit to grapple with the increasingly difficult problems the modern world has to face. Herein universal suffrage and the representative system have not fulfilled the hopes of 1789.
With morals the case is not quite the same, since they are affected by the standards which the law sets up and which the habits of political life make familiar. If law gives a free rein to licence in writing or in conduct, it may help to lower the tone of social life. The law, or the application of it, has in these matters been far from strict under the Republic. But the standard of morality, public or private, is in practice no lower than it has often been under monarchies or oligarchies. Not to go back to the Regency and Louis XV., those who read the records of the Restoration after 1815 or remember the Second Empire, will not single out the Third Republic for censure. Pecuniary corruption was far more general and more flagrant under the Russian autocracy than it has ever been in any free country. Sixty years ago the France of Louis Napoleon used to be unfavourably contrasted with what were then believed to be the superior morals of Germany. Such a contrast between the two countries would not be drawn to-day. The increase of divorce, arraigned as a blemish due to the legislation of the Republic, is a feature of modern society in every country, nor is morality any higher in the countries that forbid divorce altogether than m those which permit it. There may, however, be force in the complaint that recent French legislation discourages school instruction in moral duty by forbidding the teacher to make any reference to the existence of the Deity, and by excluding everything of a religious nature from the school-books.
Political philosophers have been apt to attribute too much to the influence of forms of government upon the life of a nation as a whole. Foreign observers in particular are apt to fall into this error, knowing less of the inner spirit and domestic virtues of a people than they do of its government and politics, for where a government is popular its defects are patent to all eyes, and these defects are taken to be an index to its character. Seven years ago such observers thought they saw in France a people torn by internal dissensions, religious and political, a legislature changeful and discredited, a large part of the population indifferent to politics, only a small fraction of the finest intellect of the country taking part in its public life. They concluded that France was a decadent country, in which the flame of national life was already flickering low. Then suddenly a war more terrible than any known before broke upon the nation. And an invading army occupied large parts of its territory. Political dissensions continued, political intrigues were as rife as ever; ministry followed ministry in quick succession. But the Nation rose to confront the peril that threatened its existence, and showed that the old spirit of France had lost nothing of its fervour, and her soldiers nothing of their valour.
See chapter on Australia, post.
People sometimes allege that there is a fondness for abstract theory in the Celtic mind and a preference for practical expedients in the Teutonic. But no Celtic gathering ever produced more theories and showed more viewiness than did the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848-9.
In recent years something has been done to provide better guarantees. But something still remains to be done. A high authority wrote in 1910: “Notre histoire politique des cent vingt dernières années se resume dans ce paradox irreductible énervant et sterile, loger un individu parfaitement libre heureux et satisfait dans un État puissant omni- potent et autoritaire.”—M. Maurice Caudel, in the preface to his instructive book Nos Liberiés politiques
The monarchy of Napoleon lasted fourteen years (dating from the beginning of the Consulate), that of the Bourbon Restoration sixteen years, that of Louis Philippe eighteen years, that of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte nineteen years. The first Republic had a life of seven, the second of three years.
Of Labour troubles and the advocacy of what is called “Direct Action “nothing need be said here because these phenomena have appeared in other democratic countries also. So far from being characteristic of democracy, the General Strike (as a means for compelling submission by a government) and Direct Action are attacks on the fundamental principles of democratic government What they show is that those fundamental principles are either not understood or not regarded by a section of those who consider themselves democrats