Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER LXXIII: the results democratic government has given - Modern Democracies, vol. 2.
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CHAPTER LXXIII: the results democratic government has given - 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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the results democratic government has given
To test democracy by its results as visible in the six countries examined, it will be convenient to consider how far in each of them the chief ends for which government exists have been attained, taking these ends to include whatever the collective action of men associated for the common good can do for the moral and material welfare of a community and the individual citizens who compose it, helping them to obtain the maximum that life can afford of enjoyment and to suffer the minimum life may bring of sorrow.
These ends may be summed up as follows:
Safety against attack on the community from without.
Order within the community — prevention of violence and creation of the consequent sense of security.
Justice, the punishment of offences and the impartial adjustment of disputes on principles approved by the community.
Efficient administration of common affairs, so as to obtain the largest possible results at the smallest possible cost.
Assistance to the citizens in their several occupations, as, for example, by the promotion of trade or the regulation of industry, in so far as this can be done without checking individual initiative or unduly restricting individual freedom.
These may be called the primary and generally recognized functions of government in a civilized country. Other results, needing a fuller explanation, will be presently adverted to. I take first the five ends above named.
Of the conduct of foreign policy, once deemed a department in which popular governments were inconstant and incompetent, nothing need be added to what has been said in a preceding chapter except that the errors of the peoples have been no greater than those committed by monarchs, or by oligarchies, or in democracies themselves by the small groups, or the individual Ministers, to whose charge foreign relations had been entrusted.
Outside and apart from these definite duties, legally assigned to and discharged by government, there is a sphere in which its action can be felt and in which both its form and its spirit tell upon the individual citizen. When political institutions call upon him to bear a part in their working, he is taken out of the narrow circle of his domestic or occupational activities, admitted to a larger life which opens wider horizons, associated in new ways with his fellows, forced to think of matters which are both his and theirs. Self-government in local and still more in national affairs becomes a stimulant and an education. These influences may be called a by-product of popular government, incidental, but precious. Whoever has grown up in a household where public affairs were followed with interest and constantly discussed by the elders and friends of the family knows how much the boy gains by listening, asking questions, trying to understand the answers given; and the gain to the budding mind is greatest when the differences of opinion he hears expressed are most frequent. In Britain and America every general Parliamentary or Presidential Election marked for many a boy an epoch in the development of his thought, leading him to reflect thenceforth on events as they followed one another. In the Six Democracies described this kind of education is always going on, and the process is continued in an even more profitable form where the citizen, when he has reached the voting age, is required to vote not only at elections, but also, as in Switzerland and some of the American States, on laws submitted to the people by Referendum and Initiative.
Could this examination be extended to six other European countries, Italy, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the results to be described would not differ materially from those set forth as attained in the Six countries examined in Part II. In none has justice or order or the efficiency of civil administration suffered in the process of democratization which all have undergone within the last ninety years, and in most these primary duties of government are better discharged. We may accordingly treat the results our enquiry has given for the Six as substantially true for European democracies in general.
Here, however, a wider question arises. Some one may say: “These attempts to estimate what government has done or failed to do for the citizen do not convey a definite impression of what is after all the thing of most worth, viz. the amount of satisfaction, be it greater or less, with life and in life which democracy has brought to the modern world. What has it done for human happiness? Is it discredited, as some argue, by the fact that, after its long and steady advance, those civilized peoples which had hoped so much from popular government, have seen in these latest years the most awful calamities which history records? Has it, if we think of the individual man, made him more or less disposed to say, taking the common test, ‘If I could, I would live my life over again,’ or does it leave him still in the frame of mind expressed twenty-three centuries ago by the Greek poet, who wrote, ‘the best thing for a man is never to have been born at all, and the next best to return swiftly to that darkness whence he came’?”1
Shall we say in the familiar lines of a later poet, that the question is idle, because governments have infinitesimally little to do with the matter?
How small of all that human hearts endure,
That part which laws or kings can cause or cure.
What is Happiness? Nations as well as men have shown by their acts how differently they conceive it. Some, like Albanians and Afghans, cannot be happy without fighting, and the exploits of the heroes recorded in the Icelandic sagas as well as the feats of warlike prowess which fill the Iliad seem to show that the first European peoples to produce great literatures cherished the same ideals. Yet the ideals of peace also were never absent. Eris and At£, Strife, and Sin the parent of Strife, loom large in the Homeric poems as figures to be hated, because they are sources of misery. That impassioned little poem, the hundred and forty-fourth Psalm, begins with the stern joy of battle in the verses:
Blessed be Jehovah my Strength who teacheth my hands to war and my fingers to fight.
My goodness and my fortress, my high tower and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I trust.
And ends with a prayer for the blessedness of peaceful prosperity which the Almighty bestows:
That our sons may grow up like young plants and our daughters be as the polished corners of the temple:
That our garners may be full affording all manner of stores:
That our oxen may be strong to labour, that there may be no breaking in nor going out, that there be no complaining in our streets.
Happy is the people that is in such a case; happy the people whose God is Jehovah.
So peace is for Dante the supreme good, which the government of an Emperor commissioned from on high is to confer upon an Italy distracted by internal strife, leading men to the practice on earth of active virtue in this world, according to the precepts of philosophy, as the successor of Peter is to lead them to celestial felicity in the world to come. The Greek philosophers, however, and the Eastern mystics and the Christian theologians agree in regarding Happiness as a thing which governments can neither make nor mar, since it is unaffected by the possession or the lack of earthly goods. From this exalted view there is a long downward scale, for the pleasures of sense must not be forgotten: many Europeans would deem Happiness unattainable in a land where alcoholic stimulants were unprocurable; and among the various ideals of different modern countries there is that of the maximum of amusement with the minimum of toil, high wages and leisure for bull-fights or horse races and athletic sports, in which many, and that not in Spain or Australia only, place their Summum bonum.
Of Democracy and Happiness can more be said than this, that whatever governments can do to increase the joy of life is so slight in comparison with the other factors that tell on life for good and evil as to make the question not worth discussing on its positive side? With the Negative side it is otherwise. The establishment of popular freedom has removed or at least diminished sources of fear or suffering which existed under more arbitrary forms of government. France has never returned to the oppressions and injustices, even the religious persecutions which had lasted down to the days of Louis XV. In England, under the dawning light of popular power, the Slave Trade and the pillory and the cruel penal code and the oppressive restrictions on industry had begun to disappear even before the peaceful revolution of 1832; and slavery in every British dominion fell at once thereafter. In Germany, Switzerland,1 and Spain torture-chambers had remained till the advent of the armies of republican France. Russia is the only country in which the overthrow of an old-established tyranny has not been followed by the extinction of administrative cruelty. Freedom of thought and speech, if not everywhere the gift of popular government, has found its best guarantee in democratic institutions.
It remains to see which among the things expected from it by its sanguine apostles of a century ago, Democracy has so far failed to bestow upon the peoples. To Mazzini and his disciples, as to Jefferson and many another fifty years before, Democracy was a Religion, or the natural companion of a religion, or a substitute for religion, from which effects on morals and life were hoped similar to those which tie preachers of new creeds have so often seen with the eyes of faith.
What, then, has democracy failed to accomplish? It has brought no nearer friendly feeling and the sense of human brotherhood among the peoples of the world towards one another. Freedom has not been a reconciler.
Neither has it created goodwill and a sense of unity and civic fellowship within each of these peoples. Though in earlier days strife between classes had arisen, it is only in these later days that what is called Class War has become recognized as a serious menace to the peace of States, and in some countries the dominant factor in political and economic conflicts. Liberty and Equality have not been followed by Fraternity. Not even far off do we see her coming shine.
It has not enlisted in the service of the State nearly so much of the best practical capacity as each country possesses and every country needs for dealing with the domestic and international questions of the present age.
It has not purified or dignified politics, nor escaped the pernicious influence which the Money Power can exert. In some states corruption has been rife, and the tone of public life no better than it was under the monarchies or oligarchies of the eighteenth century.
Lastly, Democracy has not induced that satisfaction and contentment with itself as the best form of government which was expected, and has not exorcised the spirit that seeks to attain its aims by revolution. One of the strongest arguments used to recommend Universal Suffrage was that as it gave supreme power to the numerical majority, every section of the people would bow to that majority, realizing that their aims must be sought by constitutional methods, since a resort to violence would be treason against the People and their legal sovereignty. Nevertheless, in many a country revolutionary methods are now being either applied or threatened just as they were in the old days of tyrannical kings or oligarchies. If democracy is flouted, what remains? There was a Greek proverb, “If water chokes, what can one drink to stop choking?”1 If the light of Democracy be turned to darkness, how great is that darkness!
Any one can see that these things which have not been attained ought not to have been expected. No form of government, nothing less than a change in tendencies of human nature long known and recognized as permanent, could have accomplished what philosophies and religions and the spread of knowledge and progress in all the arts of life had failed to accomplish. Christianity — a far more powerful force than any political ideas or political institutions, since it works on the inmost heart of man — has produced nearly all the moral progress that has been achieved since it first appeared, and can in individual men transmute lead into gold, yet Christianity has not done these things for peoples, because, checked or perverted by the worse propensities of human nature, it has never been applied in practice. It has not abolished oppression and corruption in governments, nor extinguished international hatreds and wars, has not even prevented the return of hideous cruelties in war which were believed to have been long extinct.
Yet the right way to judge democracy is to try it by a concrete standard, setting it side by side with other governments. If we look back from the world of to-day to the world of the sixteenth century, comfort can be found in seeing how many sources of misery have been reduced under the rule of the people and the recognition of the equal rights of all. If it has not brought all the blessings that were expected, it has in some countries destroyed, in others materially diminished, many of the cruelties and terrors, injustices and oppressions that had darkened the souls of men for many generations.
Sophocles, Oed. Colon. 1. 1225.
One is still shown to travellers in Appenzell.
Eι υδωρ πνιγ∊ι, τι δ∊ι ∊πιπιν∊ιν;