Franklin Henry Giddings.

Democracy and empire; with studies of their psychological, economic, and moral foundations online

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Mr. Spencer has earnestly protested in all his political writ-
ings against the overactivity of parliaments. Yet as a psy-
chologist and sociologist he has done more than any other
thinker to enable us to understand that, since all organic co-
hesion is conditioned by growth, a policy of ceaseless activity
is necessary, as a fact of social psychology, if any political
cooperation is to be kept up. Moreover, the policy must be
one that appeals to the people as well as to the leaders. It
must awaken popular interest and quicken popular thought.

Summing up our conclusions, we have these net results : a
numerical majority in a differentiated society, occupying an


extended and diversified geographical area, is a concurrent
majority in composition, though by no means a perfect one.
It is held together more by feeling than by opinion, and con-
servative feeling predominates in respect to all fundamental
rights and established political usages. But the cohesion of
feeling and habit will not endure if there is no intellectual
activity and no growth whatever of opinion. The majority
must, therefore, have a policy of the sort that admits of dis-
cussion and fosters it. In short, the cohesion of a majority is
conditioned at one limit by conservative feelings that cannot
be contemned, and at the other limit by the necessity of push-
ing a policy of activity or progress as far and as fast as the
inertia of the mass will permit.

A political majority, therefore, has a nature that can be
described in terms of the laws of social psychology, and its
conduct is subject to natural limitations. It must follow a
mean course between the mischievous conservatism of Maine's
prognosis and the shameless radicalism of Burke's, or it will
cease to be a majority. As social structure becomes more
complex the difficulties of holding the diverse elements of a
majority together in a working coordination rapidly increase.
All other things remaining the same, the inertia of conserva-
tism would increase, and political stagnation would bring
progress to an end. National disintegration would follow.
But other things do not and cannot remain unchanged. As
the difficulties of maintaining party cohesion increase, the
necessity of adhering to a positive policy becomes more im-
perative. Agitation must be kept up. The "campaign of
education " must be vigorously pushed. No fact in the later
history of party politics in England stands out more clearly
than this. In our own country it has been disguised some-
what by the overwhelming strength of the " spoils system,"
but it is becoming apparent now even to the most " practical "
of politicians. Progress in this form brings its own safe-
guards with it. As voters become responsive to opinion, they
become capable of independence. Consequently, as party
policy becomes positive, it is compelled at the same time to
become ever more heedful of the teachings of experience.


While conservative feeling will protect elementary rights and
useful customs, the slowly acquired power to learn from ex-
perience will enable popular governments, as time goes on,
to rectify their inevitable mistakes in those difiBcult affairs of
industrial legislation and finance in which undisciplined pub-
lic opinion at first so easily goes wrong. The unequal geo-
graphical distribution of the progressive part of the population
will always aid the formation of sound judgments from expe-
rience, since many costly experiments will be made at first
locally, on a relatively small scale.




Whether it is more presumptuous for the philosopher to
write history or for the historian to write philosophy, is a
question that " searcheth the reins " of the scholar. The
philosophy that is not verified and made real by an incor-.
poration of historical materials has not even an intellectual
value. It is but an esoteric sort of revery, in space of only
one or of more than three dimensions, as you please. History
that is not organized and interpreted by philosophy is only
a dignified form of the tale that is told by an idiot; it
signifies nothing. And yet, to combine history and philoso-
phy, and to write, for example, philosophical history, is per-
haps the supreme achievement of the human mind. The
analytical and speculative intellect is seldom keenly alive to
the interest, the freshness, and, above all, the exact values, of
concrete facts. The inquisitive mind of either the journalistic
or the a;ntiquarian type may be narrowly analytical or loosely
synthetical, but it rarely has that true constructive power in
which analytic and synthetic genius are combined.

No less degree of genius than that which blends the
historical with the philosophical intellect, and is able to
apply the highest constructive power to the tremendous task
of explaining political progress, will ever give us a true
account of the involved relations of liberty and democracy
— the most complex, the most momentous, the most fasci-
nating, and the most baffling products of social evolution.
Men of unquestioned genius have essayed this achievement
and have failed. Neither De Tocqueville nor Bryce, neither
Mill nor Sumner Maine, has satisfactorily described either
liberty or democracy. True conceptions of liberty are to be



iound only in writings on constitutional law; and even in
Ithese writings, which the general reader usually passes over
;as too technical for his needs, liberty is accurately conceived
only if the authors in some degree unite the philosophic with
the historical temperament. Democracy is nowhere truth-
fully portrayed, because no writer ever views it comprehen-
I sively. Democracy is more than a form of government ; it
i is more than universal suffrage ; it is more, even, than popular
I power.

That Mr. William Edward Hartpole Lecky should write
two compact volumes on the development of democracy and
the struggle of liberty for existence in the nineteenth century,
was as inevitable as that Edmund Burke should have opinions
on the French Revolution. Mr. Lecky has throughout his
life been deeply interested in the philosophical aspects of so-
cial progress. He has studied deeply those developments of
rationalism and of morals in which are disclosed the psycho-
logical causes of political changes and of institutional forms.
He has depicted with admiring appreciation that type of civil
liberty and of parliamentary government by a property-own-
ing, leisured class, which was the chief contribution that the
eighteenth century made to civilization. At the end of these
employments he has in recent years, before and since his elec-
tion to the House of Commons, been deeply interested in fin
de Slide democratic politics, and has been impelled to formu-
late his opinions upon every burning modern question, from
land nationalization and municipal tramways to woman suf-
frage and vivisection. How could he do less, then, than
clothe his judgments in the brilliant, the often fascinating
language that has made his writings no less literature than
history, and, rounding and combining them into an ample
whole, make them into a book!

Not less inevitable was it, however, that Mr. Lecky's
treatise on these momentous themes should in value fall
below, rather than rise above, the great works of De Tocque-
ville, Maine, and Bryce. Mr. Lecky is philosophical, but he
is not a philosopher. He is an historian, but he does not
grasp history. In the minute analysis of a special topic his


acuteness is often admirable, but he never partitions his whole
subject into its logical, or even into its descriptive, or its
chronological divisions. He can put together with fine liter-
ary art the descriptive or the narrative elements of a single
chapter, but in higher constructive power he is astonishingly-
deficient. He cannot put together the chapters of a book.
There is absolutely no reason why any one of the chapters of
"Democracy and Liberty" should stand where it does rather
than somewhere else. The work is therefore an admirable, a
brilliant achievement in high-class journalism ; it is nothing
more. Nevertheless, it may easily prove to be more useful
for popular instruction than any preceding account of modern
political tendencies. Let us, then, try to see exactly what
Mr. Lecky attempts to show, and to estimate his success
within the limits which he has imposed upon himself, and
those which his literary habits and the characteristics of his
mind have imposed upon him.

In " Democracy and Liberty " Mr. Lecky distinctly states
a definite thesis, and his account of the political and social
changes that have been taking place in Europe and the
United States during the present century is evidently re-
garded by him as a demonstration of his proposition. With
his flagrant disregard of logical order, however, the statement
of his thesis is so placed that only the attentive, line-by-line
reader will discover it. Half of his reviewers have missed it,
and have, in consequence, praised or blamed him for argu-
ments that he has not so much as attempted to make. The
words that should have been put at the beginning of his first
chapter are thrown in almost parenthetically at the end of the
twenty-fifth page, as follows : —

" One of the great divisions of politics in our day is coming
to be whether, at the last resort, the world should be gov-
erned by its ignorance or by its intelligence. According to
the one party, the preponderating power should be with edu-
cation and property; according to the other, the ultimate
source of power, the supreme right of appeal and of control,
belongs legitimately to the majority of the nation told by
the head, — or, in other words, to the poorest, the most


ignorant, the most incapable, who are necessarily the most

" It is a theory which assuredly reverses all the past expe-
riences of mankind. In every field of human enterprise, in
all the competitions of life, by the inexorable law of nature,
superiority lies with the few and not with the many, and suc-
cess can only be attained by placing the guiding and control-
ling power mainly in their hands."

Here we have Mr. Lecky's conception of democracy. It is
the political power of the ignorant many, exercised through a
formal method of procedure which essentially consists in a
count by the head, irrespective of personal qualifications. It
is the realization of the theoretical politics of Rousseau. Very
evidently we have here, also, Mr. Lecky's profound convic-
tion that ultimate political decision by the ignorant many is
equivalent to the rule of ignorance, and is therefore predes-
tined by the laws of nature and the experience of mankind to
disastrous failure. His review of the recent politics and leg-
islation of Western Europe and the United States is accord-
ingly made in the belief that they disclose the unmistakable
beginnings of the decay of civilization. Incidentally he
attempts, also, to establish the secondary proposition that
England is probably to suffer more severely than any other
nation from the rule of ignorance and the decline of liberty.
The enlightenment, the nobility, the sane administration of
affairs, which have made her the leader in human progress,
are to disappear under the reign of universal vulgarity, nar-
row-mindedness, and all-conquering folly.

A merely formal criticism of such a work would inquire
whether this conception of democracy is scientific, of un-
doubted philosophical lineage, or only a base-born notion that
has been picked up among the people, clothed in literary-
purple and fine linen, and passed off in intellectual society as
of the legitimate aristocracy of ideas. It would next inquire
whether ultimate political decision by the relatively ignorant
many is necessarily the same thing as the rule of ignorance,
and therefore foreordained to failure.

Under criticism of this kind Mr. Lecky's thesis would suffer


severely. His concept ion of democracy is ab astard idea, ha lf
philosophical and half commonplace. Scientifically, democ-
racy must be defined as a form of government, or as a form
of the state, or as" a form of society, or as a combiaation of
the three. As a form of government, democracy consists in
the actual administration of political affairs through universal
suffrage. Democracy as a form of government cannot coexist
with representative institutions ; it admits executive and
judicial offices only of the most restricted ministerial type ;
it demands the decision of every question of legal and execu-
tive detail, no less than of every fundamental principle of
right and of policy, by a direct popular vote. There is no
such thing as a democratic government on a large scale.
Democracy as a form of the state is popular sovereignty, —
that is, a popular distribution of formal political power. It
signifies the right of the masses of the people to participate
in the creation of the government or machinery of adminis-
tration. It may act through representative institutions, as
well as directly. These distinctions, which in their essential
features were made by Aristotle, have in recent years become
familiar. Democracy as a form of society is not so often or
quite so easily discriminated. It is a democratic organization
and control of the non-political forms of association. It is
also something besides. In a perfectly democratic society
the masses would possess that indefinite, unformed, but
actual political power which lies back of the formal power
that registers its decisions through the act of voting. In the
poorer ranks of the population there would be a volume of
feeling, opinion, and will, that might at any moment assume
a political form, either legal or revolutionary. In Professor
Burgess's nomenclature, democracy as a form of society is
popular sovereignty behind the constitution, as distinguished
from popular sovereignty in the constitution. In the lan-
guage of Professor Dicey, it is popular political sovereignty
as distinguished from popular legal sovereignty.

It is easy to see that Mr. Lecky's conception of democracy
is not to be identified too exactly with any one of these scien-
tific notions, although in a general way it corresponds to the


second. The real subject of his investigation is democracy
as a form of the state. It is the formal sovereignty of
the people, expressing ultimate decisions through universal

The error in this conception is of that interesting kind which
practical men and historians habitually attribute to theorists,
but which, in fact, is always committed by the practical men
and the historians themselves, and never by the theorists. It
consists in accepting an abstract formula, without limitations
or reservations, as a sufficient account of a concrete phenome-
non. The political theorist knows that his three conceptions
of democracy limit one another, and that, corresponding to
the theoretical limitations, there are in reality numberless
limitations of phenomenon by phenomenon. He knows that
democracy as a form of the state always tends to run into
democracy as a form of government, but never makes great
progress in that direction; and the reason for this curious
limitation he finds in the infinitely complex relations that
enter into the constitution of democracy as a form of
society. In short, he realizes that every one of the three
modes of democracy is conditioned by the other two.
Mr. Lecky, recognizing only one mode, depicts that one as

It is for this reason that he makes the fatal mistake of as-
suming that in politics ultimate formal decision by the igno-
rant many is necessarily equivalent to the rule of ignorance.
In technical language, this is the error of confounding democ-
racy as a form of the state with democracy as a form of society,
or, more generally, of confounding the state organized in the
constitution with the state behind the constitution. Of course
it is conceivable that the ignorant masses might not only vote,
but vote independently, endeavouring actually to express, in
their voting, their own ignorant opinions ; but it is not less
conceivable that they might defer to the opinions of leaders
wiser than themselves. There is no a priori necessity for
thinking that a plSbiseite registers a really popular judgment.
Tradition, custom, imitation, industrial conditions, indefinite
modes of economic and social pressure, may conspire to make


a popular election nothing more than an indorsement of the
policy of a few individuals. Not only may democracy as a
form of the state coexist with aristocracy as a form of society,
but more profound studies of sociology than have yet been
undertaken may one day demonstrate that the political mode
of democracy is vitally dependent upon certain non-demo-
cratic relations in the non-political modes of social intercourse
and organization.

This purely formal criticism, however, must not be allowed
to stand as a substitute for that which is more concrete and
vital. What we are most concerned to know is, first, whether
at the present time Mr. Lecky's imperfect conception of democ^
racy is a true generalization of political facts — whether non-
political society no less than the state has become democratic,
whether popular sovereignty is, in fact, the rule of ignorance ;
and secondly, whether, if democracy is indeed at the present
time a rule of ignorance, its tendencies and conditions compel
us to believe that it will never be anything better.

Taking the concrete view, then, candour forces the frank
admission that Mr. Lecky has sustained a serious indictment
of the political democracy of the hour. Stated in the fewest
words, the charge is the old one — as old as the " Politics " of
Aristotle — that democracy is not always favourable to liberty,,
and that it breeds jobbery, extravagance, and disregard of jus-
tice. To heighten the picture through the device of contrast,
Mr. Lecky begins his story with an account of English rep-
resentative government in the eighteenth century. Of this
preliminary sketch it is the critic's unpleasant duty to say
that it is not altogether truthful. It would be hard to find in
political annals a more extreme development of corruption,
including a more wanton debauchery of the civil service, than
England had attained under her rotten-borough Parliamentary
system a century ago. This aspect of his subject Mr. Lecky
touches very lightly, while he enlarges upon the merits of a
system which brought into Parliament a great number of
men of extraordinary ability, which secured to ministries a
persistent support that could be relied upon, which was sur-
rounded by traditional reverence, which upheld the institu-


tions of property, religion, and civil liberty, and which, all in
all, " had unquestionably worked well." These merits of the
English Parliamentary system the framers of the American
constitution sought to perpetuate in that instrument, and on
this fact also Mr. Lecky dwells. In theoretical opposition
to this English parliamentarism, which represented classes,
vested interests, and concrete institutions, to the utter neg-
lect of an abstract political equality, stood the speculative, or
Erench, type of democracy, which aimed to level all inequali-
ties of privilege and of power by giving to every man one
vote and to every vote the same value. Little by little this
speculative democracy of Rousseau has been passing out of
the realm of ideas into the world of political facts, and inch
by inch it has been conquering the ground once held by the
Parliamentary system. The second half of Mr. Lecky's first
chapter is devoted to an account of the progress of democracy
in France and in the United States since 1848, and to some
of the more obvious consequences, particularly the decreasing
stability of governments and the gigantic increase of taxes
and public debts.

From this sketch of his argument Mr. Lecky passes at once
to the several counts of his indictment. To mention only the
more important of these, they are that democracy confiscates
property; that it restricts liberty in the alleged interests of
morality and of the working classes ; and that it tends to give
the balance of power in society to the emotional, rather than
to the rational, elements of the population.

The proof of confiscation is a record of facts of very unequal
values. The meaning of the steady growth of taxation by
cruder and ever cruder methods and of the reckless expendi-
ture of public revenues is not to be mistaken. Alike in
France, in Canada, in the United States, and in Australia
public finance is and has long been a monstrous scandal. But
the Irish land legislation, which Mr. Lecky evidently regards
as a rather blacker act of governmental robbery than any other
which he recalls, will not be admitted in evidence by all among
his readers who are in general agreement with his opinions.
It is not absolutely certain that this legislation was not in


essence, although in a barbarously crude form, an act of long-
delayed justice. Still less can it be admitted that the popu-
larity of the single tax is an evidence of a widespread desire to
•confiscate private property. Mr. George himself did unques-
tionably in " Progress and Poverty " advocate the confiscation
■of land values ; but it was not until his original proposition
was converted into the essentially different doctrine of the sin-
gle tax that it won many adherents. Far more telling, in the
charge against the ethics of democracy, are the examples of
recent attacks upon literary property. The popular majority
that will not or cannot see the justice of copyright laws has
no sense of the moral grounds of property in any form what-
soever. The most humiliating examples of all, Mr. Lecky
might have drawn, had he chosen to do so, from the repu-
diation of public debts and from the greenback and silver
"crazes" in the United States.

That democracy is ready to sacrifice individual liberty to
■ends which it believes that it can attain directly through
restrictive legislation, is not a novel proposition. Mr.
Lecky's chapters in proof of it are in substance not unlike
Mr. Herbert Spencer's papers on " The New Toryism " and-
•" The Coming Slavery." Their force is due to their compre-
hensiveness and their wealth of detail. Even the hardened
reader of individualistic tracts will experience a new sensa-
iiion as he turns Mr. Lecky's pages and follows through one
•continuous narrative the astonishing story of modern legisla-
tion against gambling, liquor-selling, cigarette-smoking, and
other modes of vice and of the yet more elaborate legislation
in behalf of "labour," consisting of laws limiting the hours
■of employment, regulating the internal affairs of the factory
and of the workshop, fixing the times and modes of wage pay-
ments, prescribing the details of tenement-house construction
-and management, forbidding the competitive employment of
■convict labour by the state, and even fixing a minimum wage
for municipal labourers. If any enthusiastic believer in " the
rights of man " has supposed that, because in its later develop-
ments democracy has refrained from interfering with the indi-
vidual by the murderous methods of the French Revolution,


it has been any the less disposed to regulate his life for him,
he must be prepared to see his illusion dispelled when he
ventures to read Mr. Lecky's pages.

There is one great class of interests, however, in respect of
which democracy has apparently fought persistently and irre-
sistibly for liberty. Democracy is as hostile now as it was
under the Directory to all restraints upon liberty imposed in
the name of religion or by ecclesiastical authority. There are
no more brilliant pages in Mr. Lecky's volumes than those in
which he traces the continuous encroachment of the civil upon
the ecclesiastical power, the extension of secular education,
the substitution of civil for ecclesiastical marriage, and the
growing disregard of Sunday laws.

But, as Mr. Lecky warns us, it will not do to become too
confident that we discover here a form of liberty that democ-
racy will under all circumstances defend. There are signifi-
cant limitations. In the first place, it is not liberty as such

Online LibraryFranklin Henry GiddingsDemocracy and empire; with studies of their psychological, economic, and moral foundations → online text (page 16 of 29)