Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER LXXVII: the later phases of democracy - Modern Democracies, vol. 2.
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CHAPTER LXXVII: the later phases of democracy - 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 later phases of democracy
Those whose recollections carry them back over the last seventy years will be disposed to think that no other period of equal length in the world's annals — not even the years between 1453 and 1521, nor those between 1776 and 1848 — has seen so many profoundly significant changes in human life and thought. We are here concerned only with those which have affected popular government. But political changes are — apart from the action of some extraordinary individual — always due either to changes in the external conditions of man's life, economic and social, or to changes in man's thoughts and feelings, or to both combined. It is therefore worth while to glance at the influences of both these kinds which have had their repercussions in political ideas and political practice.
The swift advance in every department of physical science, enlarging our command of natural forces, has immensely enlarged the production of all sorts of commodities, and has, by providing quicker and cheaper modes of transport, brought food from one part of the earth to another in vastly increased quantity. Population has increased. Wealth has increased. The average duration of life has been lengthened. Many things which were luxuries have become indispensable comforts. Nations have been drawn closer to one another, and commerce has become a far more important element in their relations to one another. In the more prosperous nations new avenues to wealth have been opened, so that a large number of men sprung from what were the middle and poorer classes have accumulated great fortunes, while the ownership of land, once the chief source of wealth and social influence, has sunk into a second place. The “economic factor” has attained a new importance not only in international intercourse, but within each country, changing the relation of social classes, effacing the old distinctions of birth and rank, and not only placing the new rich almost on a level with the old families, but destroying the old ties between the employer and his workmen. The isolated hand-worker has become rare, the factories that have replaced him are filled by crowds of toilers who have little or no personal touch with the incorporated company that pays their wages. As the number of such workers grew, they learnt to organize themselves, so that presently their combinations as well as their numbers gave them a power and an independence previously unknown. Thus a process of equalization set in which not only placed the new rich on a level with the old rich, but raised and strengthened the hand-workers as a whole, the processes of levelling down and levelling up going on together. Knowledge was no longer confined to a small minority. Nearly everybody could read and write. Books and newspapers were accessible to all, so there was in the intellectual sphere also an equalization of opportunities and an emancipation of the masses from that sense of inferiority which had formerly made them accept as natural the predominance of the better born, the richer, and the more instructed.
These changes were directly or indirectly due to advances in the sciences of nature and in their application to practical ends, changes which, though they had been in process for more than a century, were immensely accelerated and extended in their operation within the lifetime of men still living. But the advances had moral as well as material effects. They changed what are called “the values.” Men became more and more occupied with the ascertainment and interpretation of facts, and especially of the phenomena of nature. Their thoughts turned to concrete facts. They questioned old ideas and long-established doctrines, demanding evidence of whatever they were asked to believe. Principles which had gone undisputed for centuries were discredited. Historical criticism of the Christian scriptures became more active and its results were disseminated widely. The habit of respect for tradition, together with such obedience to ecclesiastical authority as had remained, began to disappear, except in a small circle which the growing scepticism had affrighted, while the habit of looking to another world as one which would provide compensation for the injustices of this world declined.1 There was a general unsettlement of convictions, a disposition to get the most that was possible out of this present life, along with a feeling that every one ought to have a full chance for developing his own individuality and seeking happiness in his own way. This sense of human equality and of the right to untrammelled “self realization” found its most striking expression in what is called the feminist movement, an amazing departure from ancient and deeply rooted custom, with hardly a parallel in the history of society in respect of its extent, of the passion which inspired its advocates, and of the amount of sympathy it evoked in unexpected quarters.
Either of these two streams of tendency, the economic and the intellectual, was strong enough to effect great changes. Coinciding in their operation, they have produced what is a new world in the realm of what is called sociological thought as well as in the material conditions of life and the economic structure of society. Not a few views and proposals that were derided seventy years ago are now accepted and welcomed. Economic doctrines, which all sensible men then held are now treated as obsolete. What were fads or dreams have become axioms. What were axioms are now despised as fads or superstitions.
Such changes could not but affect the political movements already in progress, expanding their aims and quickening their march. Though the outburst of revolutionary fervour in 1848 spent its force before permanent results had been achieved, the forces that were making for democracy soon recovered their momentum, since they had behind them the assertion of human equality, the desire to break old shackles and secure for everybody his chance in life. The loss of respect for authority and for the persons who claimed it in the State and in the Church cleared away much that had barred the path of earlier reformers. The masses, now that education had spread among them, could no longer be treated as unfitted by ignorance for civiç rights, and while the organizations they had built up gave them the means of showing their strength, the growing demand for legislation designed to benefit them by providing better conditions of health and labour made it seem absurd to prevent those for whom these benefits were intended from directly expressing their own needs and wishes. So all over Europe, outside the despotisms of Russia and Turkey, power more and more passed to the people. The United States had been for many years a democracy. In England, which may be taken as fairly typical, because the changes it underwent were not revolutionary, but accomplished with a pretty general consensus of opinion, statutes of 1868 and 1885 made the wage-earners a majority in nearly every constituency; and an Act of 1918 extended the suffrage not only to all men but to all women over thirty years of age. To-day the masses are, or could be if they asserted themselves, masters of the political situation everywhere in Europe; though in some countries, such as Spain and Rumania, they have scarcely yet seemed to realize their power.
Mention ought here to be made of two sentiments which, playing on conservatively minded men as well as on Liberals, brought about these changes quietly in England, and to some extent in other countries also. One was the fear that if the constitutional demand for extensions of the suffrage were not granted, violent efforts to obtain it might follow. The other was a belief that only by giving more power to the workers would their real grievances receive due attention and, above all, prompt attention.
The results of this change were not at once visible. In Great Britain, for instance, little happened to show the difference. The English Tories, after their victory in the Election of 1874, applauded the prescience of their leader (Mr. Disraeli) who had divined that his party need not suffer from the extension of the electoral franchise he had carried, an extension wider than that which his opponents had proposed. I remember that when, in 1878, I remarked to a singularly acute observer, London correspondent of a German newspaper,1 that it was strange to see the English working men make so little use for their own benefit of the power they had come to possess, he replied that they did not yet know how great their power was. They must have time. Scarcely did they begin to know it till 1890, and not fully till 1905, by which year other changes had begun and a new spirit was at work.
The earlier victories of democracy in Europe, like its still earlier victory in America, had been won in the name of Liberty. Liberty meant the expulsion of tyrants, the admission of the bulk of a nation to a share in power, the full control of the people through their representative assembly, the abolition of privilege and hereditary rank, and the opening on-equal terms of every public career to every citizen. These would have been the main articles of a radical democrat's creed any time between 1830 and 1870, and many, at least in England and France, would have added to it the suppression of the State Establishment of religion, the curtailment of public expenditure, the public provision of education, free trade, the reduction of armies and the cultivation of peaceful relations with all foreign countries. Once these things had been attained everybody could sit down and be happy in his own way, the free play of economic forces ensuring peaceful progress and a steady amelioration of the conditions of life. There were of course already those, especially among the revolutionaries of the European continent, who looked further ahead. But, speaking generally, political liberty and political equality, both taken in the widest sense, satisfied the aspirations of the democrats of those days. These were the ideals of orators and thinkers from Charles James Fox and Jefferson down to Mazzini. These hopes inspired Wordsworth in his youthful prime and Schiller and Shelley and Victor Hugo. These were the doctrines which offended Goethe,1 and which repelled Carlyle in his later days.
When, however, political liberty and equality had been actually attained, or at least became certain of attainment, the leaders of the working classes, began to ask what did it profit them to have gained political power if they did not turn it to practical account for their own benefit. Legislation for the improvement of labour conditions had, no doubt, been stimulated by the extension of the suffrage, both in England and in other countries, notably in Germany, where government sought to hold at bay demands for political change by propitiating the wage-earners. But more was wanted. The chief things which the working classes desired were higher wages and shorter hours. These had been heretofore sought by strikes. But political action in the legislature provided an easier and surer way, while the State might be required to better the condition of the wage-earners by providing at the public cost other benefits such as gratuitous education, pensions, or houses, or employment on public works when other employment was slack. Some went further, insisting on the so-called Right to Work, i.e. the duty of the State to provide employment for every one who sought it.
The growing power of the Labour Unions and the area over which strikes had begun to extend, led the employers also to combine for resistance, and their combinations further solidified the Unions, so that employers and employed were more and more gathered into hostile camps. Meanwhile, in many countries the consolidation of many industrial enterprises that had formerly been in many hands into a few great undertakings — such as those called in America Trusts — some of which created a virtual monopoly in certain branches of production, struck at that faith in the power of free and open competition on which the older economists had relied, and evoked demands that in order to protect the consumer such combinations should be broken up and their undertakings taken over and managed by the State. The simultaneous tendency to throw on public authorities an increasing number of services needed in the interest of the community made the supersession of individual action more familiar, while State action became less distrusted the more the State itself was seen to be passing under popular control.
Thus there came a new orientation in politics as the struggle for political equality died down, its goal having been reached. The movement towards Economic Equality, already visible in many countries, forged to the front and gained strength with those who thought that progress towards it might be made by extending the action of the State, perhaps in some new form. Though its chief support naturally came from the working class, which it would admit to a larger share in the world's goods, it had some backing among members of the richer class whose sympathy went out to the poor, or who held that theoretical justice prescribed equal enjoyment, or equal opportunities for enjoyment, for all alike, and that those whose labour was the chief factor in the production of wealth were entitled to a far larger share, perhaps to the whole, of that which was produced. If Economic Equality was to be taken as the aim in view, how was it to be attained? A mere redistribution of property as it existed, to be effected by taking from the richer to give to the poorer, was obviously no remedy, for differences of wealth would soon reappear.1 It therefore became necessary to reconstruct society on a new basis so as to prevent inequalities from arising afresh. Thus various schemes were propounded by a host of thinkers in different countries, Frenchmen and Germans leading.2 Some of these schemes proposed to transfer all the means of production, distribution, and exchange to the State (or to administrative authorities — local or departmental — within the State), gradually transferring one industry after another from individuals to public management, and bringing the products of the transferred industries into the public treasury, but not altogether superseding private effort or forbidding those who had produced some kinds of things to retain the product.
More extreme theorists advocated the entire extinction of private property, with an allotment of every form of labour to some specific form of production and the application of the commodities produced to satisfy the needs of all alike. This full-blown Communism considers Capital as the enemy to be destroyed, root and branch, and seeks to extinguish classes altogether, making all the members of a nation consist only of one body, the so-called “proletariate.”
To describe even in outline the various types which the new doctrines have been taking, and the groups which in each country have embraced each type, would be beyond the scope of this book. Three observations may, however, be in place.
The movement, which had been originally democratic, took in its new phase a different course in different countries. Anarchism, seeking to extend individual liberty so widely as to get rid of laws altogether, might have seemed to be a more natural extension of democratic principles than is Socialism, and there are those who so regard it. But Socialists and Anarchists, despite their divergent theories, have in common their desire to overthrow existing institutions, the former in order to rebuild, the latter in order to leave the site bare for men to disport themselves thereon. Agreeing as they do in the first step, there has been a certain amount of co-operation, if not of real sympathy, between them. Communism throve best in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, in some cities of which latter country Anarchism also was conspicuous. Each set of theorists hoped to find a field for the full practical development of their respective doctrines in Russia. In Australia and New Zealand, countries far less affected by abstract views, there were sustained efforts of the wage-earning class to secure higher wages, shorter hours, and various other benefits to be bestowed by the State, and these took shape in a well-compacted Labour party. This happened also in Britain, which followed in the wake of Australia. Many leaders of the Labour party held and hold socialistic principles, but these have not been generally inscribed on the Labour banner in any English-speaking land. In the United States, where democracy had been longest established, a Labour party arose much later, now counting millions of adherents, but not yet strong in the legislatures, while Socialism and Communism have found almost all their support among recent immigrants from Europe, who give them a considerable and apparently increasing vote in Presidential elections.1
In France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Russia the Socialist movement has always had a strong anti-religious colour. The Church has been an object of attack, being represented as an enemy of the people and of progress. This is much less true of Germany, and there is no definitely anti-Christian colour among English-speaking Socialists. The democratic movements of last century were everywhere concerned more with Destruction than with Construction. They sought to sweep away privileges and restrictions, establishing political equality by knocking down the old barriers. This work of abolition having been completed, there comes a call for institutions which shall give to the masses the positive benefits they desire by organizing Society on new lines. This is a Constructive work. Destruction is easy. Any fool can with one blow of his hammer destroy a statue it took Michael Angelo years to perfect. But to construct needs knowledge, thought, skill, and at least so much experience as enables a man to judge whether his plans can be put in practice. The leaders of the Socialist and Communist parties have not had the opportunities for acquiring such experience. There has been plenty of intellectual force among German and French Socialists, but they have been divided into many sects with divergent doctrines, and chiefly occupied in denouncing the existing state of society which no one defends, except indeed by pointing out that every form of social structure known to history has been indefensible.
Four methods of action have presented themselves to the leaders of the new movements. One is constitutional action through those representative legislatures in which a Labour or Socialist party is able to secure a majority, or at least an organized minority, strong enough to extort from an Administration in power the kind of legislation it desires. This has been successfully done in Australia and New Zealand, and to a less extent in Britain, in France, and in Germany. A second method is the old one of organizing strikes to compel employers to raise wages, or shorten hours of labour, or confine employment to the members of labour unions. This expedient is everywhere resorted to, but as it is costly it sometimes fails. A third plan is to organize a general or “sympathetic” strike, so as to put pressure on the whole community to yield to the demands of any particular body of workers demanding something either from private employers or from the State, if they are in State employment.1
A fourth method, itself a development of the third, is to apply either the general strike, or a strike of several associated bodies of workers, for the purpose of compelling the legislature and executive to adopt, or to desist from, some particular policy, possibly a foreign as well as a domestic policy, which they have adopted or are deemed likely to adopt. This is called the method of Direct Action. It is expected to prove specially effective if the strikers are employed in a form of industry essential to the welfare of the community at large, such as work on railroads or in coal mines, or in electric lighting and power, seeing that the suspension of railroad traffic, for instance, paralyzes all industries and inflicts the gravest inconveniences on the whole population.
These facts, familiar to us all, are here noted for the sake of observing that whereas the two first-named methods are entirely constitutional and legal, not transgressing the principles of democracy, the two latter are revolutionary and antidemocratic. Democracy was meant to secure that the will of the whole people, as constitutionally expressed on the last occasion of voting, shall prevail, i.e. it was designed to avert revolution by enabling the people to obtain by their votes all the justice that revolution had been previously used to gain, whereas a general strike, whether directed against the whole community, or meant to compel a Government to take a particular course, is an attempt to override the legal methods of the people's rule, just as is an armed insurrection. Such action is therefore a declaration that democracy has failed, and must be replaced by that very violence it was designed to avert. It may seem strange that this method should be at this time of day so lightly resorted to, for violence is a game at which every party can play, and history warns us that a victory won by such means has no promise of finality, since, besides creating a sense of insecurity, it inevitably tends to provoke further violence.
Lastly, in the new phase described the idea of Liberty has been, though not renounced, yet forgotten or ignored. This is not merely because political Liberty, in the sense of the exercise of power by the people, has been won and needs no further thought, but also because the rights of the individual man to lead his life in his own way, work at what he will, take his pleasure as he will, save and spend for himself, are no longer, and that by many persons in all classes, deemed to be a part of Liberty. Every increase of State control, every supersession of individual action by State action more or less reduces them. This may be — doubtless often is — for the general good; but it represents a profound change of attitude.1 Communism of course carries control furthest, for it prescribes to every citizen the work he shall do and the recompense he shall receive, and leaves him nothing he can call exclusively his own.2 Fraternity also, the old watchword of the revolutionist ever since 1789, has fallen out of sight. However little its spirit has ever ruled in France or elsewhere, it was respected as heralding a time when Liberty and Equality would bring friendliness and peace in their train. This kind of Idealism has disappeared; it is material benefits that hold that place in the minds of the most recent advocates of change which spiritual progress held in the earlier generation. There is more hatred than love in the apostles of the Class War and proletarian rule.
Even so far back as 1884 I remember to have heard two distinguished Americans, James Russell Lowell and Charles Eliot Norton, express to another the surprise they felt at finding that, on returning to London after many years, one could say whatever one liked about religious as well as political matters without the risk of exciting horror.
Mr. Max Schlesinger, whom those who lived in London then will remember as one of the foreigners who best understood English thoughts and ways.
Alle Freiheits Apostel, sie waren mir immer zuwider, Willkur suchte doch ein jeder am Ende für sich; Willst du viele befreien, so wag' es viele zu dienen; Wie gefährlich das sei, willst du es wissen, versuch's.
As a Western American remarked, if a wooden city was burnt down to secure equality between poor and rich, some smart man would make his pile by buying up the ashes for potash.
Modern Socialism was just heard of and no more in the first French Revolution, but in the second (1830) it came to the front, and in 1848 its votaries took up arms against the Republic, though it made no figure in the simultaneous revolutions in Hungary, Germany, and Italy.
The causes which have retarded the spread of Socialism in America have been indicated in the chapters on that country.
Some remarks on this method will be further found in the following chapter.
It may of course be argued — indeed it is argued — that a society in Which men are dependent upon others for the means of subsistence is Servitude rather than Liberty, for what does it avail a workman to be uncontrolled if he will starve without work, and is thus driven to take work on the terms which the employer prescribes? Thus any such laws as secure him both livelihood and a fair measure of leisure extend his freedom; and whatever restrictions may be imposed on the individual, there will be, after striking the balance, a credit to the Liberty side of the account. Though it is necessary to call attention to this argument, it is impossible to attempt to discuss it in these pages.
One of the leaders of the Soviet Government in Russia, L. Trotsky, has recently officially defended the system of compulsory labour enforced there, declaring that the Workers' State has the right to send the worker to any place where his labour is needed, and to lay hands on any one who refuses to carry out his labour orders, as also to punish any worker who “destroys the solidarity of labour,” and justifies this by the argument that such compulsion is inevitable, and no worse than that which exists under the hiring system of the bourgeoisie. He approves the payment of wages proportioned to work, in addition to the supply of the necessaries of life, as for the present required to increase production, but looks forward to a time when the motive of a voluntary wish to serve the community will be a sufficient stimulus.