Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER LVII: results of democratic government - Modern Democracies, vol. 2.
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CHAPTER LVII: results of democratic government - Viscount James Bryce, Modern Democracies, vol. 2. 
Modern Democracies, (New York: Macmillan, 1921). 2 vols. Vol. 2.
Part of: Modern Democracies, 2 vols.
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results of democratic government
The general good nature and absence of political passion noticeable in New Zealand are reflected in the Press, which is creditably fair and free from violence or bitterness. There were in 1917 63 daily newspapers, besides 34 tri-weekly, 32 bi-weekly, and 69 weekly, numbers large for a population of 1,100,000. No one among them has ever exercised so great a power as the chief dailies of Melbourne and Sydney enjoyed twenty years ago: none indeed could, for there is no city that holds a leading place in the nation. But the general tone is good, and several are written with marked ability. They seemed to me to be doing more for the formation of an enlightened public opinion than was being done by the debates in Parliament, which, to be sure, are scantily reported.
Opinion is rather less sharply divided on the lines of social class than is now the case in Australia; and this uniformity expresses the homogeneity of the nation. Still, one may distinguish between three sections, the wage-earners at the one end, the wealthier landowners and merchants at the other, and the large mass between these extremes. First of the wage-earners. Although less than half are said to belong to labour unions, it is these bodies and the United Labour Federation that dominate the whole, because they have an organization, and their programme makes a definite and positive appeal. Few of its members are revolutionary, though some have become imbued with communistic ideas. Whatever may appear in electoral platforms prepared by leaders more extreme than their followers, the aim of the great majority is not to create a collectivistic society but to secure further increases of wages and improvements in labour conditions. As already observed, there is an advanced party which, stimulated by Australian Syndicalists, and discontented with the Court of Arbitration, prefers the method of strikes, and has begun to advocate the nationalization of all the means of production and distribution, but the prospect of any such change is distant, for the moderate section is the more numerous, nor is the wage-earning element likely to grow large enough to dominate politics. Though the men of property are few, they carry weight, not by voting strength or by any power over the votes of their employees —for no attempt to exert such power would be tolerated — but by the sort of influence which persons of education and commercial importance cannot but possess in a community which feels that its prosperity depends on agricultural production and the export of its products. Such men are of course the stronghold of conservative opinion. Between these two extremes stands the bulk of the voters, including not only the middle but also a considerable part of the poorer class. Its opinion is the deciding force in the country. The principal articles of its faith may be summed up as follows:
It believes in equality, social as well as political, values constitutional freedom, knows that order must go with freedom, and condemns revolutionary methods. It is firmly — more enthusiastically perhaps than any of the other Dominions — attached to Britain and the unity of the British Empire. Proud of New Zealand, it likes to feel that New Zealand has by its experiments been giving a lead to older and larger countries. It has no fear of experiments, thinking it can try them safely, and drop them if they do not succeed, so, however far it may be from professing what are known as Collectivist doctrines, it would not disapprove of any measure merely because branded with that name. Its profound trust in the future makes it heedless of consequences. “This plan promises well: let us try whether it will benefit us now. The future will take care of itself.”
Here is the answer to those Europeans who ask, after reading of New England's experiments in legislation, “Are the New Zealanders all Socialists, and if so, what has become of the Individualists?” They are in principle no more Socialists than Individualists. The great majority do not think in abstractions: they have no use for theories. If the most obvious way to avert some evil or obtain some good seems to lie in invoking the State's action, they invoke it. “What is the State but ourselves? It is ours to use; why be jealous of it?” There is in this none of the German deification of the State as Power. The State is not to them a mighty organism in which national life is to centre, and by which national life is to be moulded and controlled, but rather an instrument ready to hand to be employed for diffusing among themselves and their neighbours comfort and prosperity, the things they really care for, and which rather than the growth of power or population occupy the New Zealand mind, leading them to tolerate that working-class resistance to immigration which surprises Europeans and Americans.
Public opinion follows the doings of Parliament with intelligence, but with little deference and no keen interest. What one may call the “high voltage” of politics in France or England or the United States is absent. There are no great prizes and few small prizes offered to ambition.
Both here and in Australia one is struck by the absence of traditions. The institutions of course are not new, and the Speaker of the House wears a wig. But that flavour of the British House of Commons thinking and manners, which was brought by the most educated among the first Anglican settlers at Christchurch and the first Presbyterian settlers at Dunedin, has almost died out with them, and the present generation seems, patriotically British as it is, to have but slight sense of the long British past behind it. Traditions are needed, and great men are needed to create them in these new countries, striking figures that can touch the imagination and throw some rays of colour over the landscape of national life. Tame are those regions of the sky in which no stars of the first magnitude glitter. Leaders of some talent and force there will always be in every free country, but it is a misfortune when a nation's most forcible and most trusted leaders do not represent something more ideal than did Richard Seddon.
A description of the attitude of New Zealanders towards their Government and politics needs to be prefaced by a few words on their character and temperament.
They are all (except of course the fifty thousand aborigines) of British stock, and one often notes in them especially in Otago (the far South) a slightly Scottish tinge, whereas the Australians are more distinctively English, with now and then a touch of the Irish. They are strong and healthy, frank, simple, courageous. Before there was any talk of war they instituted a system of physical training and drill which public opinion, with some few exceptions, approved, and had created for defence a force, into the management of which politics scarcely entered. What may be called the social atmosphere of the country is rural rather than urban,1 for only one city counts more than one hundred thousand inhabitants, and outside the towns population is sparse, except where dairying or fruit-growing enables a small district to support many households. Nowhere, not even in Western Canada, is the level of comfort higher. The total private wealth has been calculated at £387,000,000, and the average wealth per head, for persons over twenty years of age, estimated at £604, and this although there are no millionaires and very few persons rich according to British or American standards. A great number of the artisans own the houses they live in. No class is sunk to anywhere near the margin of subsistence, and the traveller, from the moment of landing, feels that the economic pressure of life is light.2
Everybody is educated, and a large percentage well educated, for secondary schools are abundant. The inhabitants, especially in the smaller towns and rural areas, have the same intelligent interest in literature and social questions and public affairs, civil and ecclesiastical, as has been traditional among the townsfolk and the peasantry of Scotland, and of Switzerland, and of New England until the flood of new European immigrants began to swamp the offspring of the old Puritan stock. The likeness to Scotland appears also in the religious habits of the people, for here (and especially in Otago) the habit of churchgoing seems to have maintained itself better than in any other purely British colony, except perhaps in Newfoundland and Ontario.1 Visiting New Zealand soon after I had visited Argentina and Brazil, where men of the educated class have practically dropped Christianity, I was struck by this contrast between the descendants of the Spaniards and the Englishmen of the sixteenth century. In New Zealand life is taken more easily than in Europe, and far more easily than in strenuous North America. The people enjoy outdoor amusements, and are almost as addicted to horse-racing (with the use of the totalizator), cricket, and football as are the Australians. Their temper and view of life has a leisurely and indulgent cast, as of those who wish not only to be happy but also to make everybody else happy, to the extent even of dissolving for slighter causes than English law recognizes the marriages of those who think that they would be happier apart.2 Though the level of knowledge and intelligence is fairly well maintained, men's interest in the greater world beyond the ocean lies in current events, especially those of the Motherland, rather than in following the movements of thought and literature and art. This may be attributed to the remoteness of the country from the European centres of intellectual life, the inevitable results of which it has not been attempted to meet by the establishment of a teaching university on the British or American scale. The country ought to possess, and all the more because Europe is so far off, a much larger number of persons occupied with the higher studies, both literary and scientific, for, over and above the direct influence of their teaching work, they help to keep up an intellectual atmosphere and to vindicate for learning and science a due place of honour. New countries are specially liable to be occupied with purely material interests, because those memorials and traditions of the past which touch imagination and inspire reverence are absent, and the first need of the settler is to subdue the land to his use and develop its resources for that export trade on which New Zealand depends. Material comfort and the volume of production may have for a time at least to take the first place, but they do not suffice for the full enjoyment of that leisure which New Zealand can command.
One may sum up the public opinion of the country by saying that it is temperate and reasonable rather than enlightened and foreseeing. In domestic affairs it thinks of comfort first, tolerates abuses, is glad to throw responsibilities upon Government, prefers to mitigate the consequences of political evils rather than exert itself to remove their causes, does not realize the need for a scientific study of the social and economic problems which its politicians try to solve.
The traveller in New Zealand is bewitched by the strange charm of its scenery, unlike any that is to be seen in the Old World or the New, lakes, and fjords like those of the Arctic Seas, running far into the recesses of snowy ranges like the Alps, volcanoes and geysers, trees and birds of families unknown elsewhere, and a race of aborigines in whose character, as seen by the first explorers, the extremes of savagery and chivalry seemed to have met. In such a land, remote and untouched by the influences of the old civilizations, he can hardly help expecting to find that simplicity and liberty which we associate with the conditions of primitive life. What is his surprise to find in New Zealand the most modern forms of modernity, a people who have given a lead to the nations of our time in extending most widely the functions of the State and superseding the action of the individual! Whatever he may think of this new departure, and however prosaic the machinery it has set working, he cannot quite escape the feeling, fantastic as it may appear, that the grandeur and beauty of the country and the element of romance that belongs to its scenery and to the misty twilight of its history will somehow or other mould or inspire the people. Those who inhabit such a land can hardly have a commonplace future. Will they not some day or other add something novel and striking, be it in letters or arts or institutions, to the stock of mankind's possessions?
It is now time to ask what Democracy has given to New Zealand, what it has failed to give, what special tendencies it has here manifested, what lessons it suggests for other countries. Under it the people enjoy:
Honest government, without bribery or election frauds.
A tolerably efficient administration.
An upright and competent judiciary.
A pure and efficient unpaid local Government.
Good public order and a general respect for law.
An adequate provision of instruction in public schools.
These things, it may be said, existed before Democracy came, and are therefore not attributable to it. That is true. But universal suffrage and an unchecked legislature have not injuriously affected them.
The chief defects in the government of the country, not necessarily all of them due to its democratic character, are the following:
The average of knowledge and ability in Parliament is not high. It wants dignity: its debates neither instruct nor inspire the people.
Though there is no pecuniary corruption in public life, there is a great deal of jobbery, especially in efforts to gain the favour of constituencies.
Financial administration has been wasteful, both as respects the grants for local purposes and in the conduct of some of the many State undertakings. The debt is very heavy in proportion to the population, though part of it is represented by the asset of the railways. Here, as elsewhere, democracy is extravagant.
The growth of population is slow, partly owing to the desire of the wage-earning class to check immigration.
Too much land is in the hands of large proprietors, both through mistakes made in the first years of the Colony, and also because the Ministries that tried to deal with the problem lacked skill and foresight.
Of these faults the two last are not chargeable on democratic government, for they existed before it came, as did much of the public debt. Between 1850 and 1880 the landowning class were as keen in the advocacy of borrowings and in demands for local grants as the voters on a wider franchise have been since.
The distinctive boon Democracy is supposed to have conferred is the body of acts passed in the interest either of the poorer class or of the general public. Many of these have been already examined, but of them, taken all together, a few more words may be said.
That which has chiefly turned the eyes of older countries upon New Zealand is the extension of State action to new fields, partly by laws interfering with freedom of contract, partly also by the taking over of industries previously left to individual enterprise. This is, however, the subject on which it is most difficult to pass a judgment, and that for two reasons. One is that different schools of thought apply different standards to the evaluation of results. The Individualist condemns in advance a law which compels the employer to pay and the workman to accept a wage fixed by the State, and complains of regulations which make it difficult for him to obtain food in an inn after a certain hour. Another section of opinion is prepared in advance to approve both. The only test which these schools can agree in applying is that of tangible results. Does the State regulation of wages ensure industrial peace and give satisfaction alike to the employer and employed? Does the State, in working its coal-mines, obtain as large an output at no greater cost than private coal-owners obtain, and with no greater friction between employer and workman? To determine the results is, however, no easy matter, for in some cases, as that of coalmining, they are disputed, while in others the experiment evidently needs to be tried for some time longer before its success or failure can be proved. Compulsory arbitration with the judicial fixing of wages has reduced the number and extent of strikes and prevented much loss of work and wages, but the hopes at first entertained that it had solved the labour problem have been dissipated. Just when the employers were beginning to acquiesce, the workmen became less and less satisfied, and a section among them prefers the strike to the Court. The system of loans to settlers and to workers for enabling them to acquire houses was working well so long as the Government could borrow in England at 3% per cent, and lend in New Zealand at 5 per cent. But can it continue when the Government must pay interest at, or even above, the higher figure? Though the evidence I obtained regarding the management of Government enterprises seemed to show that the State pays more for the work it gets than private employers do, because its workers “go slow,” and discipline is lax, it would be unsafe to treat this as an established fact, and hard to ascertain the amount of resulting loss. The future will have to settle these controversial issues, and throw some much-needed light on the question how far Paternalism can go without economic loss and galling restrictions on individual liberty.
Still more difficult is it to estimate the effects upon national character of the supersession by the State of individual initiative and enterprise, for such effects, always somewhat intangible, are slow in revealing themselves. They may not become evident until a generation has grown up under their influence, and in the meantime other causes may have modified that influence, making it hard to assign to them their share in affecting national character, for national character, though often talked of as if it were a permanent fact due to a racial strain, is always changing, and changes faster in our age, even in an isolated people, than it ever did before, because the influences that play on it are more numerous. Thus the field for speculation is still open. Neither those who hold nor those who deny that the increase of State interference weakens individual initiative are at present entitled to cite New Zealand in support of their doctrine.
It has already been observed how kind Nature has been in bestowing upon these isles all that could be needed for the growth of a vigorous race and a prosperous self-governing community. Philosophers like Plato in the ancient and Sir Thomas More in the modern world, have indulged their fancy in imagining an ideal State, in which wisely planned institutions and wholesome habits would ensure peace and happiness to a people placed on a fertile soil under genial skies, protected by their remoteness from external attack, unhampered by the resentments of a troubled past, and fitted by their intelligence and character to order life according to right reason. No people planted in a new country has seemed better fitted to realize that ideal than the men who settled in New Zealand. None had a better chance of creating institutions that might serve as a model to less favoured lands. These advantages they have possessed for eighty years. The country has grown steadily and not over swiftly in wealth, and has preserved the purity of its stock without that inrush of ignorant immigrants which North Americans have reason to regret. Its inhabitants have added education to the inborn energy and intelligence of their race, nor have any acute dissensions disturbed the public peace. Government, based on universal suffrage, and exercised (in practice) through one Chamber only, has been as entirely popular as any government can be. Yet a censorious critic can remark that here, too, the defects characteristic of popular governments in older countries have appeared. Want of foresight allowed most of the land to fall into the hands of large proprietors, while those who would have been better occupied in tilling it have crowded into towns where they live by artificially stimulated industries. The citizens are not sufficiently interested in public affairs to observe them with a constant vigilance. Public life attracts too little of the nation's best intelligence, so the laws are often ill framed and their administration imperfect. Expenditure is lavish and sometimes wasteful. Local interests often prevail against the common good. Industrial strife, which it had been hoped to eliminate, constantly recurs. Political parties are more and more forming themselves upon the lines of class distinctions, and the opposition of the poorer and the richer, long familiar to the Old World, has reappeared. There is rather more comfort and contentment than in the great countries of Europe, but no approach to the ideals of Plato or to those of Sir Thomas More can be discerned.
Nevertheless, true though it be that the dream of an ideal democracy has been realized no more in New Zealand than elsewhere, the critic would admit that she has escaped two at least of the evils from which most democracies have suffered, the dominance of money and the control of party organizations, and has made great economic changes with no disturbance of order. Nowhere can we expect to find the bulk of a people striving after ideals, not even when Nature and a secure isolation beckon them upwards. The New Zealanders, after having gone a good way towards State Socialism, showed that they could pause to consider whether they should go farther. They have never attempted a general levelling down, have never lost that reasonable temper which the practice of self-government is fitted to foster. And so, far from being enervated by their seclusion in the midst of a vast ocean, they displayed, when a crisis arrived, their willingness to make every sacrifice needed to meet it. They raised a War Loan immense in proportion to their resources. They sent their youth freely to scale the heights that look across the Hellespont over the plains of windy Troy, and their youth gave proof on the battlefield of unsurpassable patriotism and valour.
This concluding Part contains —
A. An examination and criticism of democratic institutions in the light of the facts described in the survey contained in Part II. of the working of six democratic governments.
B. Observations on certain phenomena which bear on the working of Democracy everywhere.
C. General reflections on the present and future of Democratic Government suggested by a study of the forms it has taken, the changes it has undergone, and the tendencies that are now affecting it.
(Chapters LXXIII. to End.)
Auckland had in 1916 133,000 inhabitants, Wellington 95,000, Christchurch 92,000, Dunedin 69,000. Only six other boroughs had populations exceeding 10,000.
The birth-rate has continued to fall from 1886, when it was 35.40 to 1000 of population to 23.44 in 1918, but as the death-rate is extremely low, having been since 1896 below 10 in 1000 of the population, this, coupled with a steady though small immigration, gives a natural increase of population at the rate of 16.4 per 1000. Had the standard rate of increase recorded in the decade 1865–76 been maintained, the population, which in 1918 was 1,108,000, would have then been 1,621,000. The country could maintain three or four millions at least, but it may be argued that the people are right in preferring a high standard of comfort for few to a lower standard for many.
I omit, of course, the Dutch-speaking parts of South Africa and the French-speaking parts of Canada.
The number of divorces granted has risen in New Zealand much faster than the population. In the ten years 1898 to 1907 it rose from 31 to 147, in the ten from 1908 to 1917 it rose from 171 to 221.