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From the old dog : being the letters of the Hon. --- ---, ex prime minister to his nephew online

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1291, and again more clearly in 1874, the Swiss
Federal constitution pattern of all federal instru-
ments of government gave distinct and choate ex-
pression to the democratic sentiment, that the
public meeting is the ultimate basis of all demo-
cratic rule. In England, the Norman tyranny, with
its curses of clericalism and feudalism, effectively
smothered for a while the Germanic institutions of



democracy and especially that of public meeting.
It was not until 1769 that public meetings were
revived. "Public meetings," says Cooke's "History
of Party," "through which the people might declare
their newly-acquired consciousness of power, can-
not be clearly traced higher than the year 1769,
but in 1770 they had become a daily occurrence."
Since then, they have always found a definite place
in the scheme of English government, their power
recognised, and their supreme authority frequently
made manifest. By public meetings, and not by
spontaneous action of the privileged classes which
elected Parliaments, were the various Reform
Bills forced through the Legislature. In the hands
of the Chartists, of the Roman Catholic Emanci-
pists, and, more recently, as the final court of
appeal invoked by Gladstone, the public meeting
has in England continually vindicated its claim to
be the final arbitrament on matters of national
policy a Supreme Court of Appeal from Parlia-

The dignity of the public meeting has always been
recognised by the statutes, by the Common Law, and
by the prescriptive customs of England. The chair-
man of such a body has, by his office, a wide judi-
cial and magisterial power. He is empowered to
take steps to maintain order, which would not be
available to him as an ordinary citizen. The police
forces of the State must, if called upon, assist Him



in the maintenance of his dignity and of proper
order. It is forbidden that the soldiers of the
Crown should assemble to overawe any public
meeting. For the time being, indeed, a public
meeting is akin to an assemblage of the Legisla-
ture, and its properly-elected chairman has tem-
porary powers and privileges analogous to those
with which the Speaker of Parliament is clothed.
Such provisions are necessary to safeguard the
right of public meeting. If there were no means
of checking disorder, of securing freedom of speech
and freedom of vote, the right of public meeting
would lapse; every gathering would be at the mercy
of a minority, liable to be frustrated by a few hire-
ling malcontents.

In Australia, unfortunately, there has not been
always enough regard for the sanctity of the public
meeting, that centre core of democracy. Free in-
stitutions are taken a great deal too much for
granted in this community. They have not had to
be fought for to any marked extent, but have
usually been granted without much trouble of agita-
tion. vSo they have not had the advantage of being
hallowed by the traditions which centre around
great struggles for freedom. The people have
never learned in the school of experience that fierce
jealousy of any tresspass on their rights, which is
the main safeguard against oligarchic trespass.
So we lack, as a people, much of the true demo-



cratic spirit. The forms of democracy we have,
freedom we have, but not that spirit of Liberty
which makes the citizen "always the head and the
ideal." So in Australia there pass unnoticed out-
rages on that essential of democracy the public
meeting which in countries supposedly more back-
ward politically would be promptly punished. To
crush or flaunt a public meeting is quite a common
instrument of party politics in Australia, as com-
mon, too, in the hands of the "Radicals" as of the

Don't ever be misled by any thought of party
advantage to condone any outrage on the right of
public meeting. It is really more important than
all your Parliaments.

I am afraid that this letter has been intolerably
prosy. But a brighter one next time.

Your affectionate Uncle.




SYDNEY, 4/8/-.

My Dear Jack : So now you're Whip for the Party.
Congratulations. And, after all this talk of big
principles, I have yet to say, my dear boy, that in
party manoeuvring you will find in the ultimate end
that it's the little things that matter in politics. A
Government may with impunity play ducks and
drakes with the revenues with which it is entrusted,
may disgracefully neglect and bungle the adminis-
trative functions which it possesses. But let it
beware of the trifles, the accidental trifles. Should
it give occasion for the valiant politician of the pot-
house to prate magnificently about the " Constitoo-
shon;" for the suburban greengrocer to look vague
and mysterious, and nod meaningly as he mutters:
"As I said to Mr. Jenkins coming from the Bible
Class, 'it's very fishy;' " for the oracle of the street
corner to declare: "Oh, these toffs are all the same;
they're all in the hands of the blooming Jews, and
they 'as to do what they're told" then a Cabinet



is on the edge of a precipice. Keep an eye on the
little sentimental questions, if you don't want to see
your party stampeded away under your very nose.

As Whip, now, it will be your duty to study the
little wiles of the game of politics, and to advise
your Ministers thereon. To this end, I'd suggest
a reading up of great political campaigns. One
of the best was that recent one of Mr. Joseph Cham-
berlain's for Protection in England. Study how he
fixed upon " the colonies " then very popular in
Great Britain as a shield behind which his country
might retreat from its present obviously untenable
Freetrade position. For many years now, Britain
has steadily decayed under Freetrade. Its old posi-
tion of absolute supremacy in trade and manufac-
ture has been lost, and, in almost every great de-
partment of industrial life, it has had to sink to a
second or third or fourth place. Coincidently with
this loss of material prosperity, there has been a
far more serious draining away of the national
stamina. Britain's lands have passed out of cul-
tivation to such an extent that the old "yeomanry *'
is almost extinct. From a degenerated and neuras-
thenic population, it finds it almost impossible to
secure sailors for the navy and soldiers for the
army of any decent standard of physical strength.
And, withal, Britain is faced always with the shud-
dering dread of famine in war time. As was the
case with Rome in its decline, Britain's native lands


no longer produce anything like the quantity of food
necessary for the support of the home population.
Should a great war stop the currents of commerce,
shut the seas against grain and meat ships, it alone
of the great Powers of the world would be left in
the position of a beleaguered and unprovisioned for-
tress. America, France, Germany, Russia could
gather as usual their home harvests, and continue
to subsist, suffering only the deprivation of certain
luxuries; Britain would lack bread and meat, and
would be brought a suppliant to the feet of its ene-
mies by sheer hunger. This result could almost
be arrived at while Britain's fleets were uncon-
quered; an alliance of three Powers to stop supplies
would make bread so dear as to be beyond the reach
of the masses. That is an intolerable position to be
in, and Chamberlain saw it.

But an appreciation of the fact was not by any
means a direct prelude to steps for a cure. There
stood in the way the sturdy British vanity, the
robust egotism of the Englishman, which makes him
regard himself as senior partner with Divine Pro-
vidence in the conduct of the universe. The Eng-
lishman boasts that he does not know when he is
beaten; and very often he does not know when to
come in out of the wet. For many years he has
pinned his faith to Freetrade, and cited himself and
Providence as the only repositories of the true fiscal
truth. Freetrade became to him, like the Bible,



an exclusive possession, holding which was a proof
of national superiority. And, such is the British
mind, Britain was quite capable of going down to
ruin with the Freetrade flag nailed to the mast.
Chamberlain understood his Englishmen, and ac-
cordingly suggested a way to surrender with all the
honors of war and the national vanity flying its ban-
ner. Britain was to give up Freetrade; but not
because an Englishman is not worth ten foreigners,
not because Britain has ceased to become the Ark
of the one true fiscal covenant, not because Heaven
has been misleading the Chosen People, but because
it was necessary for the sake of "the poor colonies."
To give up Freetrade was thus to be an added proof
of Britain's extraordinary magnanimity. It had
not been mistaken in the past, but wished to be
nobly generous in the future.

Extraordinary as it may seem, there is no doubt
at all that Chamberlain's pretence that Pro-
tection was necessary for the sake of "the
colonies " wonderfully assisted the British mind to
consider the abandonment of a policy which is ruin-
ing Britain, but to which, nevertheless, Britain
shows the pig-headed devotion of the entirely self-
complacent devotee, or the entirely self-satisfied
grocer. A further proof of his knowledge of the
art of politics Chamberlain, whilst soothing the
national vanity, offered a bribe for support to the
British workers. The first fruits of Protection were



to be applied, under his proposals, to old-age pen-
sions for the poor.

That was a cute plan of campaign. To have
directly attacked Freetrade would have been like
blaspheming the Most High. The suggestion that
Britain needed to abandon that Freetrade which was
just as much a part of the traditional national
character as the morning cold bath and the Bible;
the confession that the Chosen People of these
modern times had been actually wrong in a matter
over which they had in the past assumed such offen-
sive airs of superiority, was an awkward one to
make, and had to be masked somehow at first. The
plea that Britain needed Protection, not for its own
sake, but for the sake of its poor little " colonies,"
which would perish if Britain didn't come to its own
aid with a tariff to protect its own interests, was
an artful, if not exactly a logical, one. It took off
the edge of the blow to British vanity. It gave
John Bull a dignified means of retreat from a bad
position. He could get to shelter, not because he
had to run away to save himself, but because he
had to bolt to save his children.

Now, a few years"after that insidious attack,
Freetrade is decidedly tottering in Great Britain.

I could give you a thousand incidents of success-
ful wiles from local politics, but (you will under-
stand why) I am avoiding mention of the actual
political occurrences of our day and our country.



As Whip, study your tactics, my dear boy. The
Walls of Jericho nowadays seldom fall to a trumpet
blast, but to the insidious efforts of the under-
ground engineer.

But, Jack, don't sink to be an "Afternoon Tea"
Politician. Australian public life, chiefly because
of the absence of large ideas, and the neglect of
high traditions, is, to a very great extent, governed
by petty little considerations of personal amiability.
The man who can provide the right kind of drinks
at the right time for the right persons possesses a
valuable political asset. As a statesman, he may
be fool or rogue; as a financier, he may be reckless,
thriftless, or even dishonest; but if, as an enter-
tainer, he has a taking way with him, some degree
perhaps a very distinguished degree of success
is open to him. He can "shout" his way to a
Premiership, and a title, taking "shout," in its
broadest sense, of providing for this man whisky,
for this man flattery, for this man nepotic conces-
sions, for this man afternoon tea.

For even afternoon tea is not to be despised as
a weapon of political warfare especially in these
days, when the word " man " in politics, as well as
in anthropology, denotes man and woman. Indeed,
the afternoon tea politician is often the most wily
and assiduous in the art of making small personal
attentions take the place of large political principles
as reasons for public advancement. He casts Irs



macaroon biscuits on the waters with' notably excel-
lent results to himself personally.

But whether it takes the form of afternoon tea for
the women folk, cigars and whisky for the promi-
nent constituent, bland smiles and courteous con-
sideration for the reporter, promises of titles and
billets for the newspaper proprietor, local works for
the roads-and-bridges member, artful flattery for
the young and impressionable member, this bribery
for it is, in effect, bribery has a huge influence
in Australian public life. The dull plodder, whose
affable smile was destined by nature for the ribbon-
counter of a genteel drapery emporium, goes into
politics, and finds that smile a way to advancement.
The instinctive "boss," whose only chance of dis-
gracing public life should be as a ward-politician,
manoeuvring kerbing and guttering jobs for his sup-
porters, creeps and intrudes into large affairs of
State, and shapes the fate of the Government of a
State or a nation, by the concession of a bridge or
a road. Such affable nobodies, "bosses," and sec-
taries necessarily of no special ability and no real
strength of character, since otherwise they would
not seek prominence by such paths crowd forward,
and, in crowding forward, often prevent men of real
worth from entering into public life, until pessimists
foretell the time when it will be a rarity to see a
quite honest man in politics, relying on his honesty
alone as a claim to power, refusing to wheedle any



sort of personage, not seeking to concilate with
bribes or flattery, demanding support on high
grounds of principle.

. Still, it is comforting to reflect, there are yet some
such men in politics; and, assuredly, there would
be many more were it not for a prevailing miscon-
ception that the voters really want the afternoon
tea type of politician, and would prefer him to men
of ability and principle, if given the choice. Experi-
ence does show that the people are sometimes so
foolish as to give power to mere schemers. But
they are seldom so foolish as to deliberately reject
the better for the poorer type. With a bold enough
lead from men of tried worth, the electorates are
generally sensible enough; it is the lead that is so
often lacking.

So don't be an "afternoon tea politician." it's
contemptible, and, in the long run, doesn't pay.

You will, I know, sort out the lesson I wish to
impress from these too apparently contradictory
arguments. As a politician you must reconcile
yourself sometimes to "playing to the gallery,"
must seek good ends by means which are not as
good; but it won't pay in the long run to allow your
methods to sink to a contemptible level.

Your affectionate Uncle.





SYDNEY, 3/12/-.

My Dear Jack: Yes, I've read your speech about
the "tired Australian," and I think it is profoundly
silly. All the same, I'll grant you that in matters
of public life the Australian sometimes seems tired.
Perhaps the explanation is that the Australian type
of great potential energy, sometimes needing
strong stimulus to call out his good qualities, but
always capable of effort is yet cursed with a grave
"doubt of appearances," and is fearful generally
that enthusiasm should show as ridiculous. He lets
his doubts take refuge in a cynical attitude of
" don't-care." The man who " doesn't care a darn"
is familiar to the city and the back country. As a
matter of truth, he does care, and cares very much,
for a good deal of what he professes to disregard.
But his shyness suggests that not to care is a safe

81 o


stand to take, and he therefore hides his emotions
and his hopes. That is the spirit which, to a very
large extent, governs Australian public life. It is
in a way the antithesis of the spirit cf blague, the
pose of overweening national conceit, which is found
so offensive in other peoples; and yet it can, and
does, exist side by side with a very marked degree
of vanity. The Australian citizen is not by any
means an over-modest man; he has a quite suf-
ficiently good opinion of himself. But in his com-
munity life his assent is tacitly given to various pro-
positions most hurtful to national pride that he
cannot manufacture things like the European or
Japanese; that he cannot defend himself, but must
hire defence from outside; that he cannot pay his
way like the ordinary man, but must exist on debt.

The Australian is good enough stuff to make a
nation of, but so far he lacks the community feel-
ing. He has not been taught how to effectively
extend his personal pride into a national pride, his
individual desire for supremacy, and his individual
capacity to hustle, into a collective dignity and
vigorousness. But, at the same time, he is ''good

The Australian man lias prompted more ignorant
pessimism than the Australian drought. " He is
lazy, ever inclined against a post. He is so devoted
to pleasure and to gambling as to be incapable of
serious, self-sacrificing national work. He is an



envious Radical in politics, instinctively hating his
superiors, and seeking to drag all to a dead level of
mediocrity by sumptuary legislation. He is by
instinct irreligious, undisciplined, drunken, im-
moral." All these are current charges. In part,
such charges are due to the persistence in this new
country of the good old British habit of national
self-slander as a means of political argument. In
part, they come from the alarm which fills many
foreign visitors when they find that an Australian
national type is evolving. The explorers of the
Commonwealth who expect to find the Australian
a somewhat backward Britisher, following at a re-
spectful distance in the footsteps of his forefathers,
and are confronted by what is unmistakably a new
national type, nearer to the British, certainly, than
to the German, or French, or Italian, but yet essen-
tially new, are filled with uneasiness. It is un-
natural, wrong. Australians should be British: in
every respect in which they differ from British they
are sheep wandering from the fold.

The discontents of Australia who cry "woe," and
rend their garments over our national sins when-
ever their nominee for the office of alderman is un-
successful, deserve little attention, and, as a custom,
get none, except in the London press during the
silly season. They are quite well understood. It
is a British habit to see the whole nation going to
the dogs when the income-tax pinches, or things



are a little wrong in the matter of street alignment.
Many proverbs (proverbs are common wisdom
crystallised into epigrams) insist that " blood will
tell." The influence of heredity on a community is
perhaps exaggerated by some sociologists; but at
the most cautious estimate it is very great. Now,
hereditarily, we Australians are very happy. The
first stock of the land was pre-eminently lusty and
vigorous. The convicts, whom some affect to think
of as a reproach, were in reality rough-hewn
foundational stones of the best kind. The judges
who sent them out might have been expert colo-
nisers instead of stern punishers. Three-fourths of
the convicts sent to Australia were criminals only
in the sense that their spirits were out of sympathy
with the cruel bondage of their times Scotch crof-
ters, Irish rebels, English Chartists, and offenders
against the brutal Game Laws. These were the best
of stock for the breeding of a new nation and the
subduing of a wilderness. To them were added, in
the fulness of time, all the most hardv and adven-


turous spirits of Europe and America, attracted by
the free land, the free gold, the free life of Aus-

No nation could have had a better start, and the
vigour of that pioneer stock still pulsates through
Australia, and is felt in every vein of her body. It
was, true, a little weakened by environment. There
was a deplorable lack of enemies in the new country.



there was neither an effective savage , nor a civi-
lised and hostile neighbour to cope with. It is not
good for man to be alone without an enemy; he is
thus encouraged to forget the dependence of the
individual on the community. There was not even
a ravening beast tribe to suggest the comfort of
one human shoulder finding another in touch. This
softening effect of peaceful conditions was a good
deal modified by the demands on hardihood made
by natural conditions. Still, it was powerful enough
to have some evil effect.

In the inquiry into the Australian national type,
my first conclusion:

Heredity. Favourable. The Australian comes of
an extraordinarily strong, adventurous stock, a
little weakened by the lack of danger during four
generations of its environment here.

The "lack of respect" in the Australian is an
idiosyncrasy noted by most observers. It suggests
the next great factor in the evolution of a national
type climate. Over the great part of Australia
there is no winter severity. Nine-tenths of the
inhabitants do not know what snow means. In
almost all parts of the continent an open-air life has
no hardships at any time of the year. This has an
important effect on character. The hearth (the
focus of the Latins) loses its power. In a cold cli-
mate the family of necessity clusters round the
hearth. Fire, shelter, cannot be done without. In



Australia the family bond has no support from the
elements. Almost every day, and most of the
nights, can be spent out of doors without suffering.
There is a consequent loosening of family discipline,
which is the ultimate basis of all respect for per-
sonages. The patriarchy weakens, and with it the
allied reverence to presbyters and rulers.

Another effect of the Australian climate, exu-
berantly bright and sunny, is its encouragement of
the holiday spirit. On a rough average, over the
greater part of the populated part of the continent
there are 300 days of the yea.r on which to work
seems a sin against Nature, and to mine for gold in
the dim caverns of offices a madness. The constant
temptation is to drag one's food out to the forest,
there " to live and lie reclined."

My second conclusion:

Climate. Favourable to happiness. Unfavourable
to discipline and to energy. Prompts to a weaken-
ing of family life, and to a holiday spirit.

When, together with climate, are taken into con-
sideration other "natural conditions," the impulse
is in the other direction. Australia produces prac-
tically no food from the unaided bounty of Nature.
There is no banana to be the upas-tree of civilisa-
tion. All that man gets he must work for, and
work for regularly and intelligently. The soil gives
very rich rewards to the careful tiller. It gives
nothing to the idler, little to the spasmodic worker.



Over the greater part of the continent, indeed, irri-
gation is necessary, or very near to necessary, for
profitable tillage. Just as there are no wild beasts
of prey to combat, there are no natural food beasts
to eat. Man must breed the meat he wants. A
cautious, scientific practicality is thus taught by
Australian natural conditions. There are no great
geographical features to suggest awe. The need
for irrigation prohibits superstition. But splendid
guerdons encourage those who use their hands and
heads to overcome Nature.

My third conclusion:

General Natural Conditions. Uniquely favourable
to steady, brainy work. Intelligent industry wins
enormous rewards. The tendency is to produce a
Scotch type without the Scotch anxiety for exile.

A more difficult area of investigation is that of
the effect of artificial conditions on the national
type. For such conditions are sometimes causes,
sometimes results. But a few plain tracks may
be followed to definite conclusions. The Australian
is almost unique among the peoples of the world
in the fact that he started with practically no
"class" condilions, and there has since been very
little stimulus to their growth. The Australian of
every class wears about the same sort of clothes.

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Online LibraryFrank FoxFrom the old dog : being the letters of the Hon. --- ---, ex prime minister to his nephew → online text (page 4 of 8)