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of them. First, there are those who, although
willing to work, and to work diligently, bring to
their work merely physical strength and an honest
will, not intelligence and skill. Wherever there is
a numerous and increasing population such workmen
must be in constant danger of being greatly in
excess of the demand for them. They are so now in
this country. And hence there is in it a large body
of men who are badly paid, hardly driven, sorely
taken advantage of, preyed on by sweaters, misled
by agitators, and easily capable of being stirred up
to disorder, but feebly capable, or altogether in-
capable, of the sort of organisation which would
really strengthen and profit them.

What is to be done as reo^ards them ? This is
a crucial question. Socialism does not help us to
answer it. It is obviously, for the most part, an essen-
tially educational question. So educate all who are
to become workmen that they will become, or at least
be inexcusable if they do not become, intelligent and
skilled workmen, and the question will be answered as
far as it can be answered. But free Britain can thus
answer it just as well as a socialistic Britain could.
And it is her manifest interest to apply all her intelli-
gence and energy so to answer it ; to make it a prime
object of her policy to have all her workmen intelli-
gent and skilled — better workmen than those of
other countries. Of such workmen she can never


have too many, or even a sufficient number ; and
such workmen never can be very badly paid in a
free country. That she will ever perfectly solve the
problem indicated I am not so optimistic as to sup-
pose. I have little faith in absolute solutions in
politics ; I have much more confidence in what, to
use mathematical phraseology, may be called asymp-
totic solutions — continual approximations to ideals
never completely reached.

There is, secondly, a class of workmen whose
destitution is mainly self-caused ; mainly due to
intemperance, to idleness, and to other forms of vice.
It is imjjossible to follow in regard to them the
advice of Mr. Herbert Spencer — " Do nothing ; leave
' good-for-nothings ' to perish." The human heart
is not hard enoug-h for that ; and human societv is
not wholly guiltless of the faults even of the least
worthy of its members. On the other hand, simply
to give charity to the idle, the drunken, and dis-
solute, is to increase the evil we deplore, and to
divert charity from its proper objects. What is
wanted is a system which will couple provision for
the relief of the unworthy with conditions of labour
and amendment, so that their appeals for charity
can be refused with the knowledge that they have
only to work and be sober in order not to starve.
To devise an appropriate system of the kind is
doubtless difficult, but surely is not impossible.



In the preceding pages I have especially had in view
the Collectivism of Social Democracy, or, in other
words, Democratic Socialism. Other forms of Social-
ism seem to me to be at present comparatively un-
important. Our age is a thoroughly democratic
one. The democratic spirit pervades and moulds all
our institutions ; it raises up what is in accordance
with it and casts down what is contrary to it ; it
confers life and inflicts death, as it never did in any
previous period of the world's history. Contem-
porary Socialism manifestly draws most of its
strength from its alliance with Democracy. Not
unnaturally it rests its hopes of success mainly on
the full development of democratic principles and
feelings ; on the irresistible strength of the democratic
movement. Its adherents hope to gain the masses
to their views, and by the votes and power of the
masses to carry these views into effect.

The connection between Socialism and Democracy
being thus intimate and vital it is expedient to con-
sider for a little Democracy in itself, and in its
relation to Socialism.

What is Democracy ? The etymology of the
word yields as good an answer as we are likely to


get. Democracy is rule or government by the
people ; it is the system of political order which
every one who is held bound to conform to it has a
share in forming and modifying. A community or
nation is a Democracy when, according to its con-
stitution and in real fact, the supreme governing
authority, or rather the head source of political
power, is not an individual or a class but the com-
munity or nation itself as a whole. Such is the
general idea of Democracy ; the principle on which
it rests and in which it moves ; the end or goal to
which it tends ; the ideal in the realising of which
it can alone find satisfaction, self-consistency, and

But it is only an idea or ideal. The ideal has
never been manifested on earth in any social form.
There has never existed a pure and complete
Democracy, any more than a pure and complete
Monarchy or Aristocracy. Every actual govern-
ment is mixed. There have been manv communities
called Democracies ; but they have all been only
more or less democratic. The ancient " Demo-
cracies " were not States governed by the people.
They were governments in the hands of the poorer
classes of the people — the classes which had wrenched
power from the richer classes, yet who denied free-
dom to multitudes of slaves. In other words, they
were class governments. But government by a
class is essentially incompatible with a true notion
of Democracy, rule by the people, not by any class
or classes of it, rich or poor.

Nor has the democratic idea ever fully actualised


itself in modern times. Our own country has been
gradually becoming democratic, and is now some-
what strongly democratic ; but it is in no sense
strictly a Democracy. Large numbers of the people
have still not even an indirect share in the govern-
ment of the country. If every person is entitled to
even such a share in it our most advanced politicians
have not been very zealous in promoting the rights
of their fellow-citizens. We are still far from man-
hood suffraofe ; and manhood suffrao-e is, as reo^ards
the suffrage, only half-way to the democratic ideal ;
for all women are people, and if every man has a
right to vote as one of the people so has every

When we get, if we ever get, to manhood and
womanhood suffrage, then, but only then, shall we
be strictly a Democracy ; and even then only in
what may be called the lower sense of the term.
The government of the country will then be in-
dh'ectly in the hands of the people. The electorate
will be coextensive with the people. Every one will
have a share in the leo^islation of the nation to the
extent of having a vote in the appointment of one
of its leofislators.

But will the attainment of this be a full realisa-
tion of the idea of Democracy, or likely to satisfy
the desires of Democracy ? The ancient Democracies
were much more democratic than that, and far from
so easily satisfied. In them the people directly
governed. The citizens of Athens were all members,
and even paid members, of its government. They
had vastly more influence on the internal and


external politics of Athens than the parliamentary
electors of Britain on the politics of Britain. Of
course, this was chiefly owing to the comparative
smallness of the territory and the comparative few-
ness of the citizens of Athens. The direct govern-
ment of extensive and populous countries by the
whole mass of their citizens is obviously impossible.
That a very large number of the inhabitants of
Britain, France, and the United States have any
share at all in the government of their respective
nations, they owe to the elaboration of that great
political instrument, the system of representa-

But the representative system is no development
of the idea of Democracy ; on the contrary, it is an
obvious and enormous limitation or restriction of it.
If Democracy be the entirely and exclusively legiti-
mate form or species of government it cannot con-
sistently adopt the representative system at all. It
cannot reasonably be expected to be content to
serve merely as the means of choosing an aristocracy.
If the democratic idea be an absolute and complete
truth ; if the central principle of its creed, the equal
right of all to a share in the government of their
country, be an absolute and inalienable right ; not
an equal share for each man in an election merely,
but an equal share in the entire government of the
country is the ideal which every thorough-going
democrat must have in view.

It is one, however, which is manifestly unattain-
able not only in the form of personal participation
in the government of countries like those of modern


Europe, but even through the methods of repre-
sentation adopted by the most democratic of* these
countries. How, then, can a Democracy which has
a thorough and unquaHfied beHef in the justice of
its own claims and in the certainty and complete-
ness of their realisation, act in accordance with its
faith, and vindicate its pretensions ?

The way in which it is most certain to try so to
act is to endeavour to minimise representation, and
to substitute for it, so far as possible, mere delega-
tion ; or, in other words, it is to insist that its
legislators and functionaries be wholly its servants
and instruments ; that their judgments and acts be
simply the reflections, and expressions of its own
mind and will. Such is the goal to w^hich from its
very nature the absolute democratic idea strives
and tends. In this country we are already to such
an extent democratic that the strain of the move-
ment towards it is distinctly felt. No intelligent
observer, I think, can have failed to perceive that
the House of Commons is not unexposed to a danger
which cannot be warded off by any forms of pro-
cedure, rules, or laws of its own — the danger of
losing its deliberative independence, of becoming a
body of mere mandatories, not free to judge accord-
ing to reason and conscience, but constrained to
decide solely according to the wishes of their con-
stituents. It is as apparent, however, that we
should beware of this dang-er. When the electors
of this country fancy themselves competent to give
mandates regarding the mass of matters which
must be dealt with by its Legislature, common


sense must have entirely forsaken them. When
they find men wilhng to legislate as their mere
mandatories on affairs of national importance,
patriotism must have become extinct among our
so-called politicians. And should government by
mandate ever be established, such government must
of its very nature be so blind, weak, and corrupt
that it will be of short duration. Besides, govern-
ment by delegates is as incompatible as government
by representatives with the direct participation of
the peoj^le in the government, or, in other \vords,
with a full realisation of the democratic ideal of

Hence certain fervent democrats in France, and
Spain, and Russia have advocated the splitting up
of Europe into a multitude of communes sufficiently
small to allow all the adult inhabitants to take a
direct share in their government. These communes,
they believe, would freely federate into natural
groups, and in process of time form not only a
United States of Europe, but a Confederation of
Humanity. Insensate as this scheme is, it is not
unconnected with the democratic ideal of equality ;
and it rests on a faith in the possibilities and merits
of Home Kule and Federation which is at present in
many minds far in excess of reason. A real and
vital union when attained or attainable is always
to be preferred to mere confederation. A sense of
the equal right of all to rule which cannot tolerate
representative government will not find full satisfac-
tion in a delegative government, or even in the direct
and independent home rule of a small commune ; it


must demand, if not the absolute equality, at least the
nearer approxmiation to it, of self-rule, the rejection
of all authoritative and parliamentary, social and
public government. Beyond democratic Communism
or Collectivism there is democratic Anarchism,
the anarchist Communism or Collectivism, which
leaves every man to be a law unto himself and, so
far as his power extends, unto his neighbour ; which
declares that everything belongs equally to every one,
and nothing specially to any one, and which discards
every idea of reverence and obedience.

What precedes naturally leads us to ask, Is the
democratic idea an absolute and complete truth ?
Is the principle of equality on Avhich Democracy
rests the expression of an absolute and inalienable
right ? Is a thoroughly self-consistent and fully
developed Democracy a possible thing ? Is it a
desirable thing ? Is Democracy the only legitimate
form of government ? Is it necessarily or always the
best o-overnment ?

These are questions which, with full conviction, I
answer in the negative. But I have to add that
the democratic idea is truer and less incomplete than
any rival idea of government ; that the principle of
equality on which Democracy rests is not moving and
swaying the modern mind so widely and powerfully
as it does without reason or justification, any more
than the idea of unity which built up the monarchies
of Europe and the mediaeval Church worked without
a purpose and mission in earlier centuries ; tliat not
only is no other government more legitimate or
more desirable than Democracy, but that every other


government does its duty best when it prepares
the way for a reasonable and well-conditioned
Democracy ; and that although Democracy, far
from being necessarily good, may be the worst
of all governments, it can be so only through the
perversion of powers which ought to make it the
best of all governments.

It may be necessary that one man should rule a
community with almost unlimited and uncontrolled
power ; but it can only be so in evil times. The
rule of a few may often be better than the rule of
many, for the few may be fit and the many unfit ;
but that is itself a vast misfortune, and every
addition to the number of the fit is assuredly great
gain. That the rule of one should give place to the
rule of some, and the rule of some to the rule of all,
if the rule be at last as efficacious and rio-hteous as
at first, is progress ; whereas to go from the rule
of all towards that of one alone is to retroo^rade. A
government in which any class of the people has no
share is almost certain to be a government unjust or
ungenerous to that class of the people, and, therefore,
to that extent a bad government. It may in certain
circumstances be foolish and wrong to extend political
power to all ; but it is always a duty to promote
whatever tends to make those from whom such
power is withheld entitled to possess it, by making
them able to use it wisely and rightly. In this
sense and to this extent every man, it seems to
me, is bound to be the servant and soldier of
Democracy. The true goal of life for each of us
in any s})here of existence is not our own selfish


good, or the good of any class or caste, but the
good of all ; and so the goal at which each of us
ought to ann in political life is the good government
of all, by the association and co-operation of all, in
the spirit expressed and demanded by these words
of Jesus : " Let him who would be the first amono-
you make himself the servant of all."

It is a duty, then, to work towards, and on behalf
of. Democracy ; but only towards, and on behalf of,
a Democracy which knows its own limitations, which
perceives that its distinctive truth is not the whole
truth, and that, therefore, to be exclusive and
thoroughly self-consistent and complete, instead of
beinof an obliofation under which it lies, is a dano^er
against which it must always be anxiously on its

The truth distinctive of Democracy, I have said,
is not the whole truth of government. The truth
in Monarchy, the necessity of unity of rule and
administration, of a single, centralising, presiding
Will, is also a great and important truth. In all times
of violence and of discord it has come to be felt as
the supreme want of society. Wherever Democracy
rushes into extremes there sets in a reaction
towards unity in excess, the unity of despotism.

The truth in the idea of Aristocracy : the truth
that there must always be in society those who
lead and those who follow ; and that it is of almost
incalculable moment for a people that those who lead
it be those who are ablest to lead it ; its men of
greatest power, energy, and insight, its wisest and
best men : is likewise a truth which will never cease


to be of quite incalculable value. The nation which
does not feel it to be so, which fails to give due
place and respect to those endowed with the gifts
of real leadership, and accepts instead as good
enough to lead it empty and pretentious men,
flattering and designing men, demagogues and
intrio'uers, is a nation which will become well
acquainted with ditches and pitfalls, with mis-
fortune and sorrow.

Theocracy as a distinct positive form of government
has almost everywhere passed away, but the idea
which gave rise to it : the idea that the ultimate regu-
lative law of society is not the will of any man or of
any number of men but of God ; that every people
ouw-ht to feel and acknowledo:e itself to be under the
sovereignty of God : has in it a truth which cannot
pass away, whoever may abandon it, betray it, or
rise up against it. It is a truth with which society
cannot dispense. A people which deems its own
will a sufficient law to itself, which does not acknow-
ledare a divine and inviolable law over itself, will
soon experience that it has stripped itself of all
protection from its own arbitrariness and injustice.
Only in the name of a Will superior to all human
wills can man protest with effect against human
arbitrariness and tyranny. Becognition of the
sovereignty of God can alone save us from that
slavery to man which is degrading ; whether it be
slavery to one master or to many, to despotic kings
or despotic majorities.

In the interests, then, of Democracy itself we ought
to combat Democracy in so far as it is exclusive,


narrow, intolerant ; in so far as it will not acknow-
ledge and accept the truths in other forms of govern-

Democracy may tend to be, but is not bound to
be, republican. A constitutional monarch may be
the safest sort of president. From a democratic
point of view the general and abstract argumenta-
tion in favour of Monarchy may seem unsatisfactory,
and yet the Monarchy of a particular country may
have such a place in its history and constitution,
and such a hold on the imaginations and affections
of its people, that no democrat of sane and sober
mind will set himself to uproot and destroy it, and
so to sacrifice the tranquillity of a people for the
triumph merely of a narrow dogma.

More than this, whatever a Democracy may call
itself, it must be so far monarchical, so far add the
truth and virtue of Monarchy to its own, that there
shall be no lack of unity, strength, or order in its
action either at home or abroad. It will not prosper
in the strug-g-le for existence unless it function with
the consistency and effectiveness of a single, central
sovereign Will. If through any fault of Democracy
the loyal, law-abiding citizens of Britain be allowed
to suffer violence and wrong from the lawless and
disloyal, and still more if through any fault of
Democracy Britain should have to endure defeat and
humiliation from a foreign enemy, the result must
inevitably be an indignant and patriotic revulsion
towards a more efficient and anti-democratic govern-
ment. Hence every wise friend of the cause of
Democracy in this land, as well as every lover of his


country, will sternly discountenance all tendencies
which would lead the Democracy of Britain to sym-
pathise with lawlessness or to be indillerent as to
the naval supremacy and military power of Britain.

Again, in so far as a Democracy fails to provide
for itself a true Aristocracy — raises to leadership not
its ablest, wisest, and best but the incompetent and
unworthy — it must be held not to satisfy the require-
ments of good government. I doubt very much
whether Democracy in Britain is satisfying this re-
quirement at present. I should be surprised to learn
that in the House of Commons there are as many as
forty men of remarkable political insight or ability. It
has been said, and there can be little doubt accurately
said, that were the average of intellect in the Boyal
Societv of London not crreater than that in the
House of Commons, British science would be the
contempt of the world. Yet legislation, not less
than science, can only be successfully engaged in by
persons of exceptional brain power and thoroughly
trained intellects. To be quite candid, however, I
must add that what is most to be desiderated in our
political rulers is not so much brain power as moral
fibre ; not intellectual capacity but integrity.

On the only occasion on which I met J. S. Mill I
heard him say, " I entered Parliament with what I
thought the lowest possible opinion of the average
member, but I left it with one much lower." Parlia-
ment has certainly not improved since Mr. Mill's
time, and especially morally. The more indistinct
the principles, and the more effaced the lines of
action, on which the old parties proceeded are


becoming, the more the advantages of party govern-
ment are decreasing and the more its latent evils are
coming to light. Already the struggle of politics is
largely a conscious sham, an ignoble farce, the parties
pretending to hold different principles in order not
to acknowledge that they have only different
interests. Our whole political system is thus per-
vaded "with dishonesty. What w^ould in any other
sphere be regarded as lying is in politics deemed
permissible, or even praiseworthy. Ordinary parlia-
mentary candidates have of late years shown them-
selves unjDrecedentedly servile and untrustworthy.
A large majority of the House of Commons are of
use merely as voting machines, but without inde-
pendence of judgment, sensibility of conscience, or
anxiety to distinguish between good and bad in
legislation or administration. The House of Commons
has during the last decade greatly degenerated. And
it is still plainly on the down-grade.

Is there any remedy ? None, I believe, of a
short or easy kind. No merely political change
will do much good ; such a change as that of
the payment of members, one very likely to be
made before long, cannot fail to do harm. The
House of Commons has been reformed so much
and so often without becoming better, if not with
becoming worse, that all of us should by this time
see that the only real w^ay of improving it is by
improving ourselves ; by each elector being more
independent, serious, and careful in the choice of his
representative ; more able to judge, and more con-
scientious in judging of his ability, force of character



and general soundness of view, while not expecting
him to think entirely as he himself does, or wishing
him to abnegate the reason and conscience by the
independent exercise of which alone he can either
preserve his self-respect or be of use to his country.

The House of Lords, unlike the House of Commons,
might obviously be greatly improved by direct
reform. The time can hardly be far off when no man
will be allowed to fill the office of a legislator merely
because he is the son of his father. The House of
Lords needs reform, however, not with a view to
rendering it more dependent or less influential ; but
in order to make it, through selection from wnthin
and election from without the peerage, if less purely
aristocratic in the conventional sense, more aristo-
cratic in the true sense ; so that not less but more
ability, wisdom, and independence, not less but more
eminence and influence, may be found in it.

With only one House of Legislature, with a merely
single-chambered Parliament, the nation would pro-
bably soon be among the breakers. Those who would
rather end than mend our Upper House are either
very thoughtless persons or persons who desire to see
revolution and confiscation. No lartreself-srovernino-

Online LibraryRobert FlintSocialism → online text (page 23 of 38)