Karl Frederick Geiser.

Democracy versus autocracy; a comparative study of governments in the world war online

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Copyright, 1918
By D. C. Heath & Co.






Eternal Spirit of the chainless Mind!
Brightest in dungeons. Liberty! thou art,
For there thy habitation is the heart —

S The heart wliich love of thee alone can bind;

And when thy sons to fetters are consign 'd —

V( To fetters, and the damp vault's dayless gloom.

Their country conquers with their martyrdom.
And Freedom's fame finds wings on every wind.

— Byron, Sonnet on Chillon




This little book has been prepared primarily to meet
the needs of the government requirements in the War
Aims Courses now given in American colleges and uni-
versities. It has also been written with a view to stimu-
lating in the general reader a greater interest, a clearer
understanding, and a greater love and enthusiasm for the
democratic ideals of government. The World War has
familiarized us with such terms as "democracy," "autoc-
racy," "parliamentary systems," "responsible govern-
ment," "self-determination," the "small state," and
many other similar expressions. My own experience and
observation in teaching government for nearly a score of
years convinces me, however, that such terms convey
very httle meaning to the average individual, including
the college graduate. The great need of the hour in the
"campaign of education" that is now going on is a more
careful examination of the terms of the problems we
propose to solve. I have therefore attempted to make
these chapters in a very real sense a study of political
ideals, terms, and types of institutions rather than a
mere collection of miscellaneous and interesting facts
proportioned among the states according to their general
importance. I have assumed a knowledge of our own
government and have taken England, France, and Italy


as representatives of the parliamentary and responsible
systems; Germany as representing autocracy in its most
efficient, and therefore most dangerous, form; Austria-
Hungary as the great political complex out of which have
come many of the problems — and indeed the very causes
— of the World War, and the discussion of which will
surely occupy much time at the coming peace conference.
Belgium stands as an example of the ideal small state
for which the democracies are fighting, while Brazil is
selected as typical of the most progressive of the South
American repubhcs.

The bibUography at the end of the volume has been
added with a view to furnishing a minimum number of
references to works accessible in most libraries or procur-
able at a small investment.

I am indebted to Dean Guy Stanton Ford of the Com-
mittee on Public Information, Wasliington, D. C, for sug-
gestions concerning the plan out of wliich this book has
grown and especially to the scholarly advice and help of
Dr. Kenneth W. Colegrove of Syracuse University both
while the manuscript was being prepared and the proof-
sheets corrected.


Cambridge, Mas3acht:setts,

November 6, 1918



I. Introduction 1

Determining Principles 3

11. Comparative Government 7

Presidential System 7

The American Government 7

Parliamentary Governments 8

The English Government 8

The Government of France 15

The Government of Italy 20

III. The Government of Germany 26

IV. Austria-Hungary 36

The History of Austria 37

Titles of Austrian Rulers 40

The History of Hungary 41

The Compromise of 1867 45

V. Austria-Hungary: Government of To-day 47

The Common Government 47

The Government of Austria 50

Provincial and Local Government ... 55



The Government of Hungary 56

Provincial and Local Government. ... 58
The Problem of Races in the Dual Monarchy 59

The Czecho-Slovaks 62

VI. The Government of Belgium 65

The History of Belgium, 1579-1914 .... 65

Government 68

Justice 72

Local Government 73

Area, Population and Language .... 73

VII. The Government of Brazil 75

The History of Brazil, 1500-1891 .... 75

The Constitution 78

The State Government 79

The General Government 81

Population and Resources 84

Bibliography 87

Index 91




When President Wilson gave expression to the
now famous phrase, "We are fighting to make the
world safe for democracy," he uttered a profound
truth. He saw in the conflict in which America is
engaged in association with the Allies, a struggle
between two political ideals; these two ideals, when
expressed in form and practice of government, are
in their nature either monarchic or democratic.
The one ideal is accepted by Germany; the other
by the United States; the one means a government
imposed from above; the other a "government by ^
the consent of the governed"; the one means an
irresponsible autocracy; the other a government
responsible to the people — a democracy.

But what, it may be asked, is a democracy.'* Are
not all modern governments, of whatever form, ruled
by public opinion? Could any ruler in an enlight-
ened state carry on a government without the con-
sent, active or passive, of the people forming the



state? These are searching questions, and the
implications raised by them should by no means be
dismissed in a perfunctory manner, for they suggest
ideas lying at the foundation of the World War.
No attempt will here be made to discuss all of the
issues raised by these questions. That is not the
purpose of this outline, and we merely call attention
to them in order to define, at the outset, the scope
and purpose of this study. It may be true that all
modern states are, in a general sense, governed by
public opinion, if by that phrase we mean a passive
popular approval of the existing political order of
society. And if the issues of the war were merely
to determine whether political power should hence-
forth emanate from above or below — from governor
or governed — the significance of the final outcome
would not be of transcendent importance; that is
to say, the direction in which power flows is not in
itself the significant fact concerning issues between
states. The significant fact about the source of
power is this: \^Tien political power cornes Iroi
above, it comes from a single source; there is n(
way of restraining it; it is liable to abuse; and it\
always implies a government imposed upon the'
governed from without. Such a government may-^
be directed by wise counsel; it may be efficient;
and may, in a material way, do mueh-fof^-the^ec^rlc;
but it is not democratic. On the other handT'a
government in which power emanates from the


people and is imposed upon themselves by their
own- free choice carries with it its own restrictions
and is not liable to abuse. Such a government
may make mistakes — all governments do that.
It may have faults, but in that case

" The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars.
But in ourselves, that we are imderlings,"

and this is an important fact to keep in mind.

There is one more question, then, that should be
asked and answered: Is a democracy the best kind
of government? Yes. After long experience, after
all the observations made concerning government
since man has kept a record of events, it is clear,
beyond a doubt, that the people themselves know
best what they want; and they should choose,
therefore, their own form of government and impose,
in whatever form and manner they please, their
own laws. — That is what we mean by a democracy.

Determining Principles

Adopting, therefore, President Wilson's phrase
quoted above as one of our chief war aims, and
accepting as a definition of democracy the foregoing
paragraph, it is pertinent to ask to what extent the
chief European governments associated with us in
this war are also democratic in form, practice, and
spirit. That is the question we shall attempt to
answer. But before doing so it will be well to


summarize certain fundamental principles concern-
ing government in general :

1. The character of any government, i.e. whether
it is democratic or undemocratic, is determined by
two facts: first, its form, and second, the extent to
which it is subject to popular control.

2. The functions of government are twofold —
the formulation of policy, determined by the legisla-
tive branch, and the execution of the public will by
the executive or administrative branch, for the
judiciary is in the last analysis merely a branch of the
law-enforcing power. These two functions may be
united in one authority, as in the earlier despotisms
of the East, or in two separate and independent
departments, as in the United States; or they may
be exercised jointly by the legislative and executive
branch, as in England, France, and Italy. The
executive may be called a king, president, cabinet,
or council — the name is unimportant. The policy-
determining branch may be called a congress, an
assembly, a legislature, or a parliament — these are
mere names for the same idea. The cliief fact to be
kept in mind is that there are two distinct functions
of government — law-making and law-enforcing —
and the manner of interaction of these two depart-
ments and their relation to the people determine
whether or not a government is really a democracy.

3. Since all governments are ordered and regu-
lated by law, whatever the source or nature of that


law may be, the authority and control of the law-
making branch will primarily determine the character
of the government; that is to say, if the legislative
body is elected by, and continually dependent upon,
the people, we have one of the chief essentials of a

4. From the very nature of society, every self-
governing community forming a sovereign state,
extending over a wide area, and including a large
population, must be politically organized into a
national, general, or central government and into
local governments. The central government always
controls the foreign policy; it declares war, makes
treaties, regulates commerce, and forms all alliances
with other states. In the consideration of our ques-
tion this fact must constantly be kept in mind, for
in the war we have been waging against the central
powers all considerations of the merits and demerits
of local government — state or municipal — are
irrelevant. We have not been waging war against
the cities of Germany; we have had no concern with
the government of Hamburg, Leipzig, Stuttgart, or
Munich. Our sole concern and purpose has been the
defeat of the mihtary rulers of the central gov-
ernments of the German and Austro-Hungarian
Empires. We shall consider, therefore, in our de-
scription of the English, French, ItaUan and Ger-
man systems the nature and character of the general
or central government and touch upon the local gov-


ernments only so far as may be necessary to a
proper understanding of the general government.

Applying these general considerations or principles
to the chief governments of Europe now engaged
against the central powers, and assuming that each
government is fighting for its own existence and
ideals, let us see to what extent, judged from the
above considerations, each country is fighting for
democracy. For the American the problem of
understanding the governments of Europe may
best be approached through a comparative method,
beginning with the salient facts of our own govern-
ment before proceeding to the governments of


Presidential System

The American Government

The American government differs from nearly all
other governments in having a written constitution
superior to, and binding upon, both the legislative
and executive departments, and in having an inde-
pendent federal judiciary clothed with the authority
of declaring null and void the acts of other depart-
ments. The Supreme Court is itself, however,
created by the Constitution, which in turn vests in
Congress the power of creating inferior courts, so
even this department is in the last analysis subject
to popular control. Sovereignty, or final power,
rests directly with the Constitution, whereas in
England, and indeed all governments of Europe,
except Switzerland, sovereignty rests directly with
the law-making department. "The American Con-
stitution," says James Bryce, "is the living voice of
the people, or the people at their best." With a
President and both branches of Congress elected by
the people, and a fundamental law made and changed



by the people, and that law binding upon all govern-
ing authorities, America has, in the best sense of the
term, a popular or democratic government.

Parliamentary Governments

The English Governhtunt

Gladstone said that "the American Constitution
is the greatest piece of constructive statesmanship
ever conceived and struck off by the brain and
purpose of man at a single time." In one sense only
was it struck off at a single time: Fifty-five men
sat four months at Philadelphia and drafted our
written Constitution. But those men merely put
into form the experiences of their own colonies,
their observations upon the English government,
and the principles of English common law; and the
American Constitution has expanded since then in
several ways — by amendments, by interpretation
by the courts, and by usage. The American Con-
stitution is therefore much more than the mere
written document.

The English constitution is a still better example
of how political systems grow and cannot be made
at one time. No formal assembly ever sat to draft
a complete scheme of government for England; its
constitution developed gradually, and we can men-
tion only some of the great landmarks which put it
into its present form. Some of these were in the


nature of treaties, such as the Union with Scotland
in 1707, and the Union with Ireland in 1801; others
were in the form of agreements between opposing
political forces or groups — such as the Magna
Carta, the Petition of Right, and the Bill of Rights;
a third source of the constitution comprised statutes,
such as the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679, the Act of
Settlement of 1701, the Fox Libel Act of 1792, the
Reform Acts of 1832, 1867, and 1884, the Municipal
Corporations Act of 1835, the Parliamentary and
Municipal Elections Act of 1872, the Local Govern-
ment Acts of 1888 and 1894, the Parliament Act of
1911, and the numerous suffrage Acts ending with
the Representation of the People Act in 1918.

Nor are these the only sources of the English
constitution. There are unwritten sources, such as
the common law, court decisions, and understandings
or conventions, as they are called, many of which
have never been put into written form by legislative
bodies. The student who wishes to form some idea
of the English constitution may do so by an examina-
tion of the above-mentioned documents and sources.
For our present purpose it will be sufficient to
remember that the chief organs of the English
government gradually grew into their present form.
We shall therefore turn to consider what they are
and how they operate.

In England the chief organs of the central govern-
ment are King, Ministry, and Parliament consisting


of two houses. The King, though a hereditary
monarch, has practically no political power, and the
executive authority is exercised entirely by the
Cabinet, an inner circle of the ministry, which con-
sists of the heads of departments. Their number is
about twenty, while the number included in the
term ministry ranges ordinarily from seventy-five
to one hundred. The Cabinet is the soul and center
of the English government, and while in some
respects its position is not unlike that of the American
Cabinet, its functions are both legislative and
executive, and its relation to the legislative branch is
entirely different. The American Cabinet is inde-
pendent of Congress; the British Cabinet consists
of members and leaders of Parliament selected by
the Prime IMinister largely because of that leader-
ship. If the members of the President's Cabinet
were also at the same time members of the dominant
party in the Senate or House of Representatives,
and if the President's term of office were dependent
upon his ability to lead Congress, we should have
essentially the English system of cabinet government.
The House of Lords consists of about 680 members
who hold seats — (1) by hereditary right, (2) by
creation of the sovereign, (3) by virtue of office —
Law Lords, English archbishops and bishops, (4) by
election for life — Irish peers, and (5) by election
for duration of Parliament — Scottish peers. While
none of the members of the British upper house is


elected by popular suffrage, in 1911 their power was
finally so restricted by the famous Parliament Act
that we may now say in truth that the legislative
power of England resides in the popularly elected
House of Commons. By that Act all money bills
passed by the House of Commons and sent to the
House of Lords become a law one month after they
have been sent to that house. All other public
bills, except a bill extending the duration of Parlia-
ment, if passed by the House of Commons in three
successive sessions, whether of the same Parliament
or not, and presented in each case to the House of
Lords, become law without the assent of the upper
house providing two years have elapsed between
the second reading in the first session and the
third reading in the third session. The Parliament
Act also limited the duration of Parliament to five
years instead of seven. Until about 1832 the House
of Lords was the dominant chamber, but the Re-
form Act of that year brought the lower house into
greater prominence, and since then the House of
Lords has gradually declined in power and influence
until the Act of 1911 virtually removed the last ves-
tige of privilege from the government of England.

The House of Commons is therefore the real
legislative body. It consists of 707 members elected
by universal popular suffrage for a term of five
years unless a prorogation of Parliament and a new
election ends their term before that period has


expired. Until the Representation of the People
Act in 1918 the number of members in the House of
Commons was 670, but that Act redistributed the
seats in Great Britain on the basis of one member
for every 70,000 of the population, and a separate
bill gave Ireland one member for every 43,000 of
the population. The principal act also greatly
extended the right of suffrage to men, and it also
included women over thirty years of age, so that one
third of the population now has the voting privilege.
Its total effect was to double the voting population.

With these facts before us we may now consider
how and why England is, with the possible exception
of Switzerland, politically the most democratic
government in the world. The first fact to be noted
is, that England has had, since 1689, two great
political parties, and that the party in power has
complete control of the government. That is what
is meant by "party government." There are of
course always minor parties which sometimes hold
the balance of power between the two great parties.
The last general election in 1910 gave the Liberals
272, the Laborites 42, the Irish Nationalists 76, the
Independent Nationalists 8, and the Conservatives
and Unionists 272. The Liberals had the support
of the Laborites, Irish Nationalists and Independent
Nationalists, thus giving the Government a majority
of 126.

But in order to understand the Parliamentary


system of government let us assume, what is normally
the case, that the two great groups, called for the
sake of convenience Conservatives and Liberals,
are facing an election. If the Conservatives win
and the majority of that party controls the House of
Commons, then the leader of the Conservatives
becomes Prime Minister, and every member of his
Cabinet will be selected from the Conservative
party in accordance with the expressed will of the
majority of the voters. Now let us assume that the
Conservative party after being in power for a time
commits the country to a policy which the people
disapprove, let us say a new tax on incomes. If
popular opinion, as expressed in newspapers and
various other organs of public expression, opposes
the tax, there will be such a vigorous protest against
the party in power that the King, acting solely upon
the advice of the Prime Minister, who is head of the
party, will be compelled to dissolve Parliament and
issue writs for a new election. The question upon
which that election will turn will be the income tax,
and the people will decide it by voting for candidates
who favor or oppose the tax. If the ministry which
precipitated the election is sustained by the return
of a Conservative party majority, the old Cabinet
remains in power and their policy is continued. If,
on the other hand, the Liberal party returns a
majority, the old Cabinet resigns and the leader of
the Liberals is formally appointed by the Crown as


Prime IVIinister. The latter then chooses all the
members of his Cabinet from the Liberal party;
and a Liberal government pursues a policy in
accordance with the expressed wishes of the

It sometimes happens that in a crisis, such as the
present war, when one or two minor parties, such as
the Labor and Irish Nationalist parties, vigorously
oppose the Cabinet or Government, leaders from
these parties are called into the Cabinet and a
"coalition ministry" is formed. In fact, the present
war has furnished not only an illustration of coali-
tion, but also an example of the elasticity of the
English system to meet a crisis. The Cabinet
prior to December, 1916, consisted of the political
chiefs of the principal departments of government
and exceeded twenty in number. In February,
1918, the Cabinet was reduced to six members,
three of whom were "without portfolio." The pres-
ent "War Cabinet" consists of D. Lloyd George, who
is Prime Minister and first Lord of the Treasury;
Lord Curzon, leader of the House of Lords and
Lord President of the Council; A. Bonar Law, Chan-
cellor of the Exchequer and leader of the House
of Commons; those without portfolio are Austen
Chamberlain, G. N. Barnes, and Lieuten ant-General
J. C. Smutz. (See Statesman's Year-Book, 1918.)
It is indeed a high tribute to the English people
and to English statesmen thus to lay aside political


differences and to cooperate in the nation's day of
need. The ability of a government to adapt itself
to such a crisis, to unite in action, yet allow the
greatest freedom of speech and press, to extend
suffrage beyond that of any other government on
earth, at the same time calling to leadership the
aristocracy of intellect, clearly shows democracy in
its most enlightened form.

Let us now examine from the same point of view
the government of France.

The Government of France

The defeat of the French armies at the hands of
the Germans in 1870 destroyed the tottering Empire
of Napoleon III and gave to France its present
Republic. The constitution of the third Republic
was framed by a provisional government set up from
1870 to 1875, when five constitutional laws were
passed providing for a government essentially as it
is to-day. Like the American Constitution, the
French Constitution is a written document, or rather
a collection of written documents, but unlike the
American Constitution it may be revised and
amended by the two legislative chambers sitting
together in joint session and called the National

The chief organs of government are a President,
a Ministry or Cabinet, and a Parliament consisting


of a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies. The
President is chosen for seven years by the National
Assembly or joint session of the two chambers.
Legally the French President has numerous and
important powers including the initiation of laws

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Online LibraryKarl Frederick GeiserDemocracy versus autocracy; a comparative study of governments in the world war → online text (page 1 of 6)