Franklin Henry Giddings.

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

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can find in no record of the past any assurance that a people
which uncritically accepts every exciting proposition that is
uttered, can maintain either social order at home or a re-
spected place among nations. The formation of opinion, as
distinguished from emotional conviction or belief, begins
when some one has the hardihood to doubt, to call for ex-
planations, to insist upon proof, to be satisfied with nothing
less than a clear intellectual understanding of the problems
involved. It is, then, of vital necessity to preserve and to
nurture a habit that takes the f orni of a certain kind of scep-
ticism — not the scepticism that ends in mere denial and a
paralysis of will, but that which is the instrument of a sincere
determination to know and to face the truth. Perhaps it is
an unusual interpretation of the New England preaching
which sees in it the most powerful propaganda of scepticism
— in this noble sense of the word — which has ever acted
upon the minds of men. Yet I believe that such an interpre-
tation is a strictly valid one. In scarcely a discourse by
such giants as Edwards and Hopkins, not to speak of their
liberal co-equals, Emerson and Channing, is there a failure
to admit the possibility of argumentative error, or hesita-
tion to grapple with the hypothetical antagonist. Men did
not hear such discourses without learning to carry the method
into all their intellectual activity. It bore religious fruit in
the Unitarian movement, and political fruit in the doctrine of
national sovereignty.

The allusion to the scepticism which ends in mere denial
and paralysis of will is a reminder of one further vitally
necessary element in popular teaching, which must now be
considered. The intellectual life is no exception to the rule


that any mode of human activity may hecome intemperate
or decadent. The excess of intellectualism appears when
rationality ceases to be positive, or creative, in its aim, and
degenerates into merely negative thinking. This is the in-
dubitable truth that underlies a healthy popular repugnance
to certain nerveless types of " mugwumpery." In a culti-
vated community there always appears an order of men who
are so dissatisfied with existing conditions, so intolerant of
the strong convictions of their fellows, so impressed with the
difficulties of discovering the deeper truths of philosophy and
of life, that they lapse into the moods of scorn and cynical in-
difference. In the long run, these moods — no less surely than
sentimentalism and sensuality — undermine the character of
individuals and destroy the nerve of nations. In the struggle
for existence intellect has been developed, not as a substitute
for, but as the ally and guide of, the motor processes of the
conscious organism. Its purpose has been to discover the
complexities of environing situations, in order that a truer ad-
justment may be made to them. Intellect apart from purpose
and positive conduct is an anomaly in nature — as surely a
mode of degeneration as is the lapse into a sentimental form
of passivity. The cynic, the scoffer, the man who has no
sturdy intention, is as truly a part of the great company of the
unfit which nature has doomed to extinction as is the pauper
or the idiot. Therefore, nothing can be more disheartening
than to see large numbers of cultivated men falling back into
the position of political indifference, taking the ground that
all earnest strife is useless, and proclaiming that politics are
in their nature corrupt, demoralizing, and unfit for gentlemen.
It is indeed true that such men usually are

" Calm in the thick of the tempest,"
they have the virtue of restraint ; but not the less are they

" A partner in its motion and mixed up
With its career."

We need to-day more of the teaching that intellect must be
positive and linked to serious purpose.

What, then, to summarize our conclusions, shall we say is


the popular instruction most necessary in a democracy ? It
is, first, the teaching by every available agency — the pulpit,
the press, the lecture — of the duty of training children, and
as far as possible adults, in habits of active, rather than of
passive, enjoyment. It is, secondly, the stirring up of intel-
lectual strife. It is the inculcation of the duty of seriously
grappling with the problem presented in every human rela-
tion, instead of accepting its sentimental value as sufficient.
It is the teaching, in season and out of season, that it is folly
to yield ourselves to any mood of popular feeling or to any
clamour of popular belief, until we have subjected the implied
proposition to that truth-searching doubt which insists upon
a full understanding of the situation. It is, finally, the teach-
ing of the supremely important truth that intellect must be
the servant and guide of life. All these teachings, by all of
these agencies of popular instruction, must be not less by
spirit, by manner, suggestion, and example, than by precept
and argumentation. Above all, must the instructor himself
maintain an individual faith in the reality of his message,
which, quite as much as any words that he may use, will
carry conviction to those whose characters he would mould.
Realizing, as he must, that dangers will continually threaten
the stability of any popular government that does not rest
upon moral foundations and is not guided by calm intelli-
gence ; knowing, as he must, that doubt in the higher sense
of the word is necessary to sincere investigation ; he must yet
preserve his faith in the possibility of passing safely through
all dangers and of emerging from all doubt into the light of
attainable truth. With Paracelsus, he must say : —

"If I stoop
Into a dark tremendous sea of cloud,
It is but for a time : I press God's lamp
Close to my breast ; its splendour, soon or late,
Will pierce the gloom : I shall emerge one day.''





Whether our political institutions are more or less repub-
lican than they were a generation or two ago, is a ques-
tion that turns upon the meaning of the word " republican."
If by a republic we mean a government organized by a large
body of electors, and carried on through the agency of repre-
sentatives who are responsible to their constituents, our insti-
tutions are certainly as yet republican in form. Between
form and substance, however, there may be a vital difference ;
and nothing in the history of human institutions is more
familiar than the survival of forms from which the original
content has forever disappeared.

The republics of the past did, indeed, disappear in form
and in name as well as in substance. The republic of Rome
became a despotism and then an empire ; the republics of
Florence and of Venice disappeared before the power of the
dictators ; the first republic of France gladly exchanged its
anarchy and bloodshed for the despotic rule of the first Napo-
leon; the second republic of France willingly surrendered
itself to the imperial will of Napoleon III.

We hardly need to fear that, within any future which
human foresight can now explore, the political institutions
of our own country will cease to be republican in name and
outward semblance. It is peculiarly characteristic of the
Anglo-Saxon civilization to preserve ancient forms while
greatly, or even wholly, changing the substance within.
The British government is still a monarchy in name; its
House of Peers is still in seeming a coordinate branch of the
lawmaking power. In reality. Great Britain has long been



one of the most democratic of modern nations, and the House
of Commons is practically the absolute sovereign.

In the United States we have seen in our political devel-
opment more than one exemplification of this transformation
of institutions. The founders of the Constitution expected
that the electoral college would be the real electing body;
and from 1778 until 1800 the electoral college did, in fact,,
choose the President of the United States. But in 1800 the
practice of putting forward the nominees of a congressional
caucus sprang up and rapidly strengthened, and until 1824
our presidents were in reality chosen by Congress, whose
decisions were ratified by the electoral college. Then fol-
lowed a brief period of nomination by the state legislatures.
This was succeeded by the present system in 1831 and 1832,.
when, for the first time, candidates were put in nomination
by conventions of the two dominant parties. Since that time
the electoral college has been in practice nothing more than,
a dignified body which formally ratifies the decision already
made ; and the last pretence that it was, or could be, any-
thing more disappeared in 1877, when James Russell Lowell
refused to cast his vote for Tilden, and thereby to termi-
nate the dangerous contest between Tilden and Hayes, on
the ground that he could not honourably act otherwise than
as his constituents had expected when they voted for him.

Yet more significant, if not so well understood, is th&
change that has taken place in the methods of making and
amending statute laws. Probably the majority of American
citizens still suppose that state legislatures are a law-creating-
power. Actually, to a great extent, they make law to-day
only as the electoral college elects a chief magistrate. To
a great extent legislators merely formulate and ratify meas-
ures already prepared elsewhere. Very seldom, indeed, does
a member of a legislature introduce a bill drafted by himself,
and in which he himself is personally interested. Bills are
prepared by associations, clubs, individuals, and party man-
agers. They are taken to the state capital by paid agents,,
who ascertain what representative and what senator are, on
the whole, the best persons to introduce the measures a&


drafted, and who then watch them through every stage of
progress to enactment or defeat. Legislatures, in fact, have
become forms, and the real law-making power has moved back
into the hands of individuals, party organizations, and*other
voluntary associations.

Under this system, party organizations have obtained con-
trol of governmental machinery; and within each party a
smaller voluntary group, consisting of the workers and the
leaders, the "machine" and the "boss," has risen to an un-
stable supremacy, which is practically absolute most of the
time, although now and then it is greatly limited by faction
or revolt. Consequently, all measures, good and bad, that
originate outside of party organizations, must be put in line
with party interests. If they antagonize the plans of the
"boss" and the "machine," they are usually defeated ah
initio, because of the certainty that all party men who sup-
port them will fail of renomination, or of appointment, or of
promotion in the future. Obviously, therefore, the question
whether our system of government by voluntary organiza-
tions and personal leadership, working through governmental
forms that are republican in name and appearance, shall be
also republican in reality, is one that will be answered by the
relations that develop between party organization, on the one
hand, and, on the other hand, those thousands of free associa-
tions which are primarily concerned with business, religion,
science, art, education, and philanthropy, but are compelled
from time to time to ask for changes in existing law or
administration. Theoretically, the government that has its
springs in voluntary initiative should be the freest, the most
truly republican, of all known modes of government. Theo-
retically, the leadership of the " boss " should be flexible and
delicately sensitive to public feeling ; because, theoretically,
it is a product of a free competition and natural selection
among bosses. Actually, however, when the political party
has made itself the only form of non-governmental organiza-
tion through which other forms can influence the legislative
body, the government that results is republican in reality only
if a majority of voters are keenly alive to the importance of-


maintaining other forms of free association besides their party,
to the importance of securing consideration for every question
upon its merits, and to the importance of keeping the way
open for every natural leader of men to rise to a position of
influence. If a political party can retain power by other
means than its appeal to con^ience and intelligence, or if
two great parties by deals and trades can defy both common
sense and common morality, a government republican in
name and form must soon cease to be republican in fact.

Herein lies the danger of those relations which party
organizations have established with interests that furnish
the pecuniary means for great political undertakings. It is
no secret that in former years the Republican party drew
its revenues from office-holders, who were systematically
assessed; it is no secret that in the presidential contest of
1896 the same party obtained the revenues with which it
conducted its campaign of education against the free silver
movement, by contributions from the great corporations. Di-
rectors did not hesitate to appropriate the money of their
stockholders to this purpose, or to justify their action by the
plea that the very existence of business interests was im-
perilled. The enormous danger for the future that lurks in
this argument and this practice needs only to be mentioned to
be understood. The Democratic party, on the other hand, has,
until recently, drawn its revenues in the great cities chiefly
from saloons and from various forms of vice. It is generally
believed that in recent municipal campaigns in New York
the Tammany organization has expended large sums of money
obtained from corporations enjoying public franchises.

Is there a lesson for the citizen to draw from these notori-
ous facts? Is the substance of republicanism endangered,
unless certain changes in our present methods of government
can be secured ? Is the most important practical conclusion,
perhaps, the suggestion that such great services as those
which are now rendered in our cities by corporations holding
franchises, and such great pecuniary interests as the liquor
traffic should be taken altogether out of private hands, and
placed within the control and management of the state ?


An affirmative answer to these questions is held by many-
thoughtful men to be almost necessarily true; and they
therefore throw themselves with sincere earnestness into the
agitation for a public ownership of quasi-public entef|)rises.
It is highly probable that, in a measure, their efforts will be
successful. The present drift of public policy is toward an
expansion of the business activities of municipal corporations.
This tendency, however, is not without its own great dan-
gers. Political parties that at heart believe in the spoils
system can probably destroy the reality of popular govern-
ment more quickly through the exploitation of a gigantic
public business than through any other means. To look to
socialistic measures for an increase of essential republican-
ism is, I fear, to misapprehend either republicanism or social-
ism. The substance of republicanism must be preserved, if
at all, by further increasing, not by curtailing, the freedom
of individual initiative, the vitality of voluntary organiza-
tion, the competitive struggle among the true natural leaders
of men ; and by more strenuously demanding that political
parties shall deal openly, soberly, and honestly with public

All this can be accomplished if the " boss " and the " ma-
chine" can be made responsible to the party. The party
will then be itself responsible to the public. Just how such
responsibility is to be brought about, perhaps no one at pres-
ent very clearly sees. Until the thing actually happened no
one in England foresaw how a shamelessly corrupt party
government was to become sensitively responsible to public
opinion through the device of ministerial responsibility in
the House of Commons. A very different device will have
to be invented for the United States; but it is not unrea-
sonable to expect that in one way or another the " boss " and
the " machine " will presently be made as strictly accounta-
ble to their party as are the Prime Minister and his associates
in the British cabinet.




Thekb could be no better proof that ethical ideas are an
expression of a vague but massive desire to break over limit-
ing conditions, and permit an ever-enlarging development of
human personality, than is afforded in the maxim so dear
to the American mind, that governments derive their just
powers from the consent of the governed.

From every point of view this maxim is revolutionary.
As an epigrammatic bit of political literature, its origin may
be found in the revolutionary thought of Rousseau and
his contemporaries ; while back of Rousseau it may in sub-
stance be traced through many generations of speculative
discontent. As a statement of alleged political fact, it has
singularly little content of truth. In human history govern-
ments have not often derived any powers, just or unjust, from
any conscious, rational consent of the governed. Consent is
more than submission ; it implies that the consenting person,
with full apprehension of the facts, has agreed to a certain
conclusion or policy, through an act of his individual reason.
Governments have always been dependent for their stability
upon the non-resistance of the governed, but non-resistance
may be a product of a thousand mental and moral factors
other than consent. Furthermore, only through revolution
have there been occasional instances of the establishment of
government upon the consent of the governed. No state has
ever been outright created by covenant, f And, finally, the
maxim has in our own history been used chiefly for revolu-
tionary purposes. 1 The actual evolution of government in
times of tranquillity has gone on, for the most part, with little
conscious reference to other than purely practical considera-
tions of possibility, expediency, and convenience. Police



powers for the most part have been developed rather with
reference to the maxim that public welfare is the supreme
law, than to the proposition that no law is ethically right if
it does not rest upon the consent of those who must obey it.
The annexation of territory and the framing of constitutional
provisions to govern the relations of commonwealths to the
Union, in like manner have proceeded from considerations of
general fitness, opportunity, and practical utility, rather than
from notions of ideal justice. Nevertheless, every American
doubtless would say that the foundation of government upon
the consent of the governed is an ideal to be reverently cher-
ished and, as far as possible, attained.

This wide divergence between principle and practice is of
course differently regarded by men of different sentiments.
While to minds of one type it is only a phase of the conflict
between desire and fact, between ideal and possibility, which
should not discourage us ; to minds of another type it is a
more or less disgraceful failure to remain true to our pro-
fessions. That a nation which was founded — at least pro-
fessedly founded — upon the maxim of consent, should use
its power to compel submission, seems to them to be an utter
repudiation of moral principle, not to say an act of unpar-
donable bad faith.

It may therefore be worth while to inquire whether the
conflict between ideal and reality is indeed as fundamental as
sometimes appears. And this we can best do by asking what
rational meaning the maxim itself contains.

Is it, then, true, merely as an ethical proposition, that gov-
ernments derive all their just powers from the consent of the
governed ? If we say that they do, we must define our posi-
tion upon the moral rightfulness of any coercion. Shall we
say with the philosophical anarchists, that all government of
man by man is wrong ? This is a simple and consistent doc-
trine, if not a practical one ; but if we accept it, we deny that
governments can derive just powers from any source what-
ever. Or shall we say that the coercion of individuals or of
minorities by majorities is a just power of governments, deriv-
able from " consent " ? An affirmative answer is easily sus-


tained, if, at the outset, we give narrow technical meanings to
the terms "justice," "government," and "consent." If we so
choose we may say that by "consent" we mean only that men
rationally agree among themselves that public order mast be
established, and that, having done this, they must not rebel when
they are subsequently required to do various things which,
at the time, they do not rationally approve ; that by " govern-
ment " we mean the will of a majority ; and that by " justice "
we mean the execution of such laws as the majority chooses
to enact. Thus narrowly construing the terms, we may say
that governments so established exercise no unjust powers if
a majority coerces a minority ; if police powers interfere out-
rageously with private conduct ; if, under the guise of taxa-
tion, governments systematically rob and confiscate ; if, indeed,
governments even trample upon such fundamental rights as
the habeas corpus or the trial by jury. Is this narrow con-
struction, however, that which the maxim really should bear ?
If it is, the only comment to be made is that the maxim is of ,
no conceivable value for ethical theory, and of little more :
than a vague and sentimental value for political philosophy.
It means that practically the test of moral government is
nothing more than mere approval by human numbers, who
may be ignorant or even depraved, and that minorities, even
when made up of the most intelligent and conscientious men
in the community, have no other moral rights than those which
a majority, in the exercise of its legal power, chooses to recog-
nize. If this is all that the phrase means, it is not worth a
moment's consideration by any intelligent being.

It will hardly be disputed that those who really care about
this historic maxim regard it as having a much more funda-
mental and noble content. They suppose it to mean not only
that, when a government is established, a majority of those
who are to live under it must assent to its formation and pre-
scribe its powers; not only that, in its subsequent mainte-
nance, a majority of its subjects must continue to desire its
maintenance and continue to approve of its constitution and
functions ; but also that, in the ordinary exercise of its func-
tions, a government must respect the rational convictions and


the moral rights of all its subjects, whether — on questions
of mere expediency — they be counted with a minority or with
a majority. That this is a true proposition, we have proof in
the vast amount of attention which, in our constitutional law,
has been given to the protection of the rights of minorities,
and even of individuals. The very limitation of the powers
of governments, the positive prohibitions of certain forms of
governmental conduct, the insistence upon a two-thirds or a
three-fourths vote in the decision of various fundamental mat-
ters — all these are admissions that, in the performance of
its functions, a government to the utmost possible extent
should look for and secure the consent of the governed,
even when the governed are in a helpless minority.

If, then, we take this logical construction of the maxim,
and then accept the maxim, we are bound to go yet further,
and to say that, as a moral principle, governments should do
absolutely nothing which — in some sense congenial to reason
and conscience — the subject of government does not approve,
or may reasonably be held to approve. To use a familiar
illustration from theology and ethical philosophy, it is a
known possibility of human experience that the sinner or the
wrong-doer, when punished for his evil act, may as a rational
and conscientious being admit that his punishment is just»
This experience of the race, then, should set the limits to even
the punitive action of government, and much more to all action

Online LibraryFranklin Henry GiddingsDemocracy and empire; with studies of their psychological, economic, and moral foundations → online text (page 20 of 29)