[Read before the Auckland Institute, 21st October, 1895.]
“Man is born to be a citizen.”
We are being daily taught that law reigns everywhere, and the conviction is freeing us from many idle beliefs, and giving us “confidence in the universe.” If, then, the presence of law is universal we look for it not alone in the material world, but in the sphere of man's intelligent action. Here, too, nothing happens by accident, and chance does not exist. It must be admitted, of course, that where the human will and passions are directly concerned our knowledge and theories lack the degree of precision and universality which characterizes the physical and mathematical sciences. But accurate knowledge of a kind is attainable, and some general laws can be deduced. It is claimed, therefore, that there is a science of politics. The term does not denote a body of infallible rules which the statesman may use for his guidance in cases of practical difficulty, but rather principles of social relations and duties. It is in virtue of this science that men are able to test and reject mischievous theories in politics. Man is a citizen—a member always of some social order. As
such he will inevitably be led to “reflect on the nature of the State, the functions of government, the nature and authority of civil obligation.” Nor will he stop there. He will proceed to apply the most searching and exact methods of investigation, and draw conclusions. Thus slowly but surely a science of politics is growing up, based on ever-widening knowledge, and marked by logical exactness.
It is well to remember that the science of politics is not entirely or even mainly a creation of our day. Aristotle was its real founder, and his special service was to separate politics from ethics. Since his time many of the world's foremost thinkers and teachers have laboured in the same field, amongst them being, in our own country, Hobbes, Locke, Burke, Bentham, the Mills, Herbert Spencer, and several others. Each of these has contributed something definite of his own to the elucidation of the subject, or has helped to correct mistaken notions. Wild speculation there has been, and hasty generalisations; but these have in many cases been refuted or rectified. The materials for sound political theory are accumulating. It only needs that intelligent use shall be made of these by the statesman and legislator. We may reasonably hope that the diffusion of general knowledge, and acquaintance with the methods and results of science, will gradually dispose men to make political changes with caution, and only on sufficient ground.
In politics, whether theoretical or practical, problems of the most perplexing nature present themselves, and the discussion of these reveals irreconcilable differences of opinion, and gives rise often to some bitterness of feeling. This is to be expected. Uncertainty as to the goal towards which human society is moving, and doubt as to the right road to take, would alone, even under otherwise favourable circumstances, raise questions of great difficulty. But the difficulty is vastly increased by the conflicting social ideals and aspirations of men and their defective morality. Accordingly, the history of human society is a checquered one. Man has hitherto advanced by blundering. Dearly-bought experience has taught him his errors in the sphere of politics as elsewhere. We cannot hope that the path of social progress will ever be easy to find or free of difficulties. Politics, therefore, can never be child's play.
Again, as accounting for the estrangement between citizens in regard to matters of State policy, it is to be recognised that the effects of political action are very grave and far-reaching, and profoundly concern the community, both collectively and individually. It is the duty of every man, therefore, to be on the alert, and to guard that which is essential to his welfare. All legislative proposals should be subjected
to the closest scrutiny, and discussed as fully and openly as possible. Only in this way can citizens preserve their liberty and advance socially. Now, it must happen that when men's interests are menaced, or supposed to be menaced, sides will be taken, and every effort made to defeat what are thought to be obnoxious measures. Even political theories, wild and impracticable though they may seem to be, cannot safely be ignored. They are not got rid of by simply calling them “fads.” Theory has a strong tendency to translate itself into fact, and politics afford a favourable arena for the experiment.
The existence through long centuries of organized parties in the State, and the rise of new ones in more recent times, witness to wide and persistent divergence of opinion, method, and ideals in the sphere of politics. Rival policies, embodied in party organizations, are thought to be justified on the ground that they serve to correct one another by material criticism, and thus to assure progress. But the mere mention of the party names—Conservative, Liberal, Radical, Socialist, Anarchist, and the like—indicates how complicated political questions have grown, and how greatly the decision of them is embarrassed. It is difficult for any statesman or party nowadays to hold on a steady course in politics. The older political parties are failing to satisfy the demands of electors, and the old political creeds have been variously modified, and are loosely held. The rearrangement of parties and sections of parties by mutual compromise is a familiar spectacle. These and the like changes show what mighty transforming forces are at work in the body politic.
Man, it would seem, must ever be a framer of polities, impelled thereto by necessity of nature and social exigencies. The State is, in germ, involved in the very constitution of man. Endowed with social instincts, man must have fellowship with his kind. He cannot live in solitude: he must therefore enter into relations with his fellows. Man, as far as we know him, has always lived in society, and hence his actions must be brought under some regulation. In the case of civilised man, his thought is ever growing wider and clearer, his sympathies more comprehensive, his life more complex. Added to this, man has shown in all stages of his history a capacity for conceiving ideals—artistic, religious, moral, social, political—and his destiny is to devote his energies, even to lay down his life, to realise his ideals.
He has not been uniformly successful in his efforts for this realisation. At best, his steps have been slow and painful; but often he has failed, missed the way altogether, or come back to his starting-point. He has learned to do right by blundering.
On the whole, however, he has made progress. He has undoubtedly made progress in knowledge, industrial arts, and military discipline. He has improved his surroundings—made them more favourable to his self-development. The easier, ruder forms of social life must have preceded the more complex and polished forms. Modern political communities of the advanced type have been evolved out of much simpler associations of human beings. But the progress has always been partial. There has never been, nor is there now, an advance—certainly not an equal advance—of the whole race of man. As a matter of fact, we find the more advanced portions of mankind grouped in well-defined entities, called States. What does this term “State” denote? Unfortunately, the word is used somewhat loosely. It signifies sometimes the government—that is, the governing authorities, in contradistinction to the governed. Sometimes it denotes the governed as opposed to the government. A common usage makes the word stand for the secular authorities as distinguished from the ecclesiastical. Yet another usage makes the word denote the nation as a subject of government. This variable usage is the more to be regretted because the term stands for an essential conception of political science. The State may be defined as a large group of men, occupying a considerable area of the earth's surface, speaking for the most part the same language, and united under a single government. Professor Amos, in his book on the “Science of Politics,” says, “The State, in the modern acceptation of the term, carries with it the ideas of territorial limitation, of population, past, present, and to come, and of organization for the purposes of government.” In Canada and the United States of America we see a very extensive territory, inhabited by men of the same race and speaking the same language, who yet do not form a State because they lack political unity.
Altogether different from our conception was the Greek conception of a State. “There was in the Greek mind,” says Professor Freeman, “a distinct idea of a Greek nation, united by common origin, speech, religion, and civilisation…. But that the whole Greek nation, or so much of it as formed a continuous or nearly continuous territory, could be united into one political community never came into the mind of any Greek statesman or Greek philosopher. The independence of each city was the one cardinal principle from which all Greek political life started. The State, the commonwealth, was in Greek eyes a city, an organized society of men dwelling in a walled town as the hearth and home of the political society, and with a surrounding territory not too large to allow all its free inhabitants habitually to assemble within its walls to discharge the duties of citizens.”
It must not be inferred that this system of city-states existed in Greece from the beginning. It is certain that there, as elsewhere, ruder types of political organization preceded that which was so characteristic of Greek civilisation at its best. Wandering tribes do not build towns. The hill-fort and the unwalled village came before Athens in order of time, and left some faint traces of themselves in historic times.
Closely connected with our ideas of the State is our conception of government. We have seen that the State, in the modern sense of the term, implies the existence of a governing body. Even in barbarous communities we find some kind of rule established, and deference and obedience paid to some authority raised above the mass of the people. Immemorial nobility is to be met with in all branches of the human race; but how the distinction of rank arose in the first instance seems to be a matter of mere conjecture. It is possible, of course, to have distinctions of rank without such distinctions conferring any right of government. But, in practice, those who enjoy special honours usually secure posts of authority. As States advance in civilisation the organization of government becomes greatly developed, owing to the social needs of each community. But from whom is the authority to govern ultimately derived? Can the claim to rule or occupy official positions be based in the last resort upon inheritance, rank, caste, or divine right? Some answers given to these questions have in the past disturbed the peace of nations, and given rise to numerous changes in the constitutions of States. They have, however, now been answered virtually in one way, for the general conviction seems to be that no government ever existed which did not derive its power really from the consent of the governed. “Government,” says Huxley, “is the corporate reason of the community.” Where the sovereign is a compound body, as is the case now in every civilised government, the practical sovereignty rests with the people. In the British Constitution the three Estates of the Realm must agree before any measure can become law. A complicated but effective system of checks has been devised regulating the exercise of power by the monarch. But with whom does supremacy rest? Bagehot has shown that the British Constitution has given the sovereignty to the majority of the House of Commons. This seems to agree with the political genius of the Teutonic race in all times. Speaking of the Teutonic Assemblies, Professor Freeman says, “So in our land our ancient Witenagemots not only made laws, not only chose and deposed kings, ealdormen, and bishops, but sat in judgment on State offenders, and pronounced sentences of outlawry and confiscation…We must
remember that, carefully as we now distinguish the functions of legislator, judge, juror, and witness, it was only by slow degrees that they were distinguished. All grew out of the various attributes of an Assembly which, as being itself the people, exercised every branch of that power which the people has, at sundry times and in divers manners, intrusted to the various bodies which directly or indirectly draw their authority from that one sovereign source. In all times and in all places power can have no lawful origin but the grant of the people. The difference between a well- and an ill-ordered common wealth lies in this: Have the people wisdom and self-control enough to see that in reverencing and obeying the powers of the State in their lawful exercise they are in truth doing homage to themselves, and giving the fullest proof of their fitness to discharge the highest right of men and citizens?”
The State is a natural institution. It takes form according to the special wants and circumstances, the innate qualities and spiritual aims of this or that people. We cannot forbear asking, What higher purpose, if any, does the State serve? Can the State be a factor in individual and social development ? The State is concerned with human conduct, and its action is distinctly moral in character, and enforces morality. Although it is quite true that we “cannot make men good in the best sense of the word by Act of Parliament,” yet for all that the State does exercise a great influence in maintaining and improving morality. It lays down a minimum of duty in many matters, and punishes when there is any wilful neglect of its regulations. For example, the State asserts that it is the duty of parents not only to support but to educate their children, and requires parents to act accordingly. But all this only confirms the account given long ago of the function of the State by the greatest of statesmen. Pericles, in his famous funeral oration, describes what Athens aims at doing for her sons, and what claims she has upon their devotion. It is a city-state of which he speaks: “We have a form of government which, from its not being administered for the benefit of the few but of the many, is called a democracy…We cultivate taste without extravagance, and study philosophy without effeminacy; wealth is with us a thing not for display but for reasonable use; the acknowledgment of poverty we do not consider disgraceful; but only the want of effort to escape from it.” (Thuc., ii., 37–40.) All through the speech, says Pollock, runs the idea of the city-state being much more than a source of protection. It exists for the culture of men; it is the sphere of the citizen's higher activity. The glory of Athens is that she aims at producing, by means of a free
and generous education, the highest type of man. Aristotle also says, “The State was founded to protect life: it continues to improve it.” In the words of Herbert Spencer, “complete life in the associated state” is the end of the social organism which we call “the State.”
The account given not long ago of what the Glasgow City Council had done and intended to do for the benefit of the citizens of that important town shows that the spirit of the old Greek democracy still lives in the Aryan race. Indeed, what we see done in our midst for the improvement of civic life — the recreation - grounds, parks, library, art gallery, museum, and the like set apart for public use—the splendid benefactions of public-spirited citizens—are all an acknowledgment that the city is more than a mere dwelling-place, that we are all under an obligation to do what we can for the culture of men.
There are signs, however, not a few that men intend to use increasingly the larger powers of the State for the same end. It is considered by multitudes part of the proper business of the State to abolish abuses and grievances, and to promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number by direct legislation. That was the doctrine of Bentham, and it has taken hold of the mind of millions. It has become an article of belief that “the State has no excuse for being backward in well-doing.”
We come now to that form of government which, after ages of struggle, has established itself in all the leading States of the world. Democracy is in possession of the field. The fact has been heralded in some such fashion as this: “The rule of the many seems now to be regarded as the final and inevitable form of government for all the civilised communities of men: that is held for a fact which may either be eagerly embraced or sullenly accepted. The few misgoverned because it was their interest to do so; the many will govern well because it will be their obvious gain.” Whether these high hopes and confident predictions will be fulfilled the future will show. It will most probably be in the future as in the past, that the course of human progress will not be without lets and hindrances, disappointments and failures. It is easy and pleasant to cherish rosy imaginations, but an “unreined” democracy will unquestionably have its own peculiar difficulties.
The word “democracy” comes to us from the Greeks, and was used by Greek political writers with great exactness. But in the modern usage of the word a vulgarism has crept in which is wholly inexcusable. It is used sometimes to express a class of society with some connotation of opprobrium. In strict propriety it denotes a form of government in which all the
citizens who enjoy civil rights also enjoy political rights. Two great Greek thinkers, Plato and Aristotle, have left us lists of forms of government, classified as “normal” and “corrupt,” and in each case democracy takes rank as a corrupt form. In Aristotle's view, democracy is the rule of the poor for their own advantage—an anticipation, by the way, of a rather widely-held modern opinion. Later writers, however, have given it a more favourable position.
Reference has already been made to Greek democracy as exemplified at Athens. It must be carefully remembered that the Greek political communities were small, and possessed a large slave population. The inhabitants of a single town constituted a State. Foreigners and slaves were not counted as citizens, and therefore could take no part in legislation or in the administration of justice. In Greece, then, democracy was exhibited on a limited scale, and under conditions totally unlike those of a modern democratic State. Modern statecraft has set itself a problem of formidable complexity. Whether it succeeds or fails the aim is undoubtedly high.
What does history teach as to the merits of a purely democratic government ? It is sometimes charged against democracy that it is necessarily fatal to individual development, to robustness and originality of thought, to spontaneity of action. Its tendency, we are told, is to level down. Such was not the case at Athens. Professor Freeman says on this point, “Pure democracy—the government of a whole people and not of a part only—is a form of government which works up the faculties of man to a higher pitch than any other; it is the form of government which gives the freest scope to the inborn genius of the whole community and of every member of it…The democracy of Athens raised a greater number of human beings to a higher level than any government before or since it gave freer play than any government before or since to the personal gifts of the foremost of mankind.” This is high praise. There is but one drawback to it: it is that democracy at Athens appears to have been too forcing, and therefore lacked the quality of durability. But, however this may be, there is little room for doubting that a strong admixture of the democratic spirit in a government is necessary if a people is to achieve the highest results.
If we turn from Greece to Italy, there too we find the independent city the leading political idea, but Rome, by means of concessions to allies and subjects, was nearer becoming a nation in the modern sense than Greece. The history of the long struggle at Rome between the aristocracy and democracy is highly instructive from every point of view, chiefly from the close parallel it presents to what has taken
place in England since the Revolution. One thing is proved by it—namely, that the just demands of the people cannot in the long-run be resisted. A special good which resulted from the victory of the plebeians was that out of the patrician and plebeian elements of the body social was formed an assembly —the Roman Senate—which has been described as “the first political corporation of the world.”
In our day the more advanced stages of democracy are represented mainly by the Republics of France, Switzerland, and the United States, and by the Australasian Colonies. Each of these types is well worthy of the closest study, but probably the one that will reach the most important lessons and have the greatest interest for mankind will be that of the United States. Here we have the sturdy, self-reliant AngloSaxon, long trained in the difficult art of self-government, applying on a vast scale the principles of democracy. This great social experiment, if such it must be regarded, is entitled to the most kindly and hopeful sympathy of all lovers of their species. We are hardly justified in predicting the failure of democracy in the modern world, and as exhibited in the Teutonic race, because of the breakdown of the two ancient republics. Teutonic democracy has been developed on different lines. Unlike the Greeks and Romans, the Teutonic did not pass through the urban commonwealth to the stage of national existence. “The nations of the Teutonic race,” says Freeman, “alike in Germany, in Britain, and in Scandinavia, grew from tribes into nations without ever going through the Greek stage of a system of isolated cities.” Where the process of development has been so diverse, the resulting type of democracy, if less brilliant, may prove more permanent. It is certainly less concentrated and stimulating than that of Greece, and on this ground alone might be expected to be more lasting. A widely - scattered population, with most diverse interests, must exercise much coolness and consideration in order to carry on government with any degree of success. It is in just such circumstances and under such conditions that modern democracy lives and acts.
The innate tendency of the Aryan race to self-government has already been touched upon, but in the Teutonic branch the system of representation has enabled the people at large, when unable to be present in person at the law-making body, to have a voice in the government of themselves. Ancient democracies had no representative system. This happy device is distinctive of Teutonic democracy, more especially in recent times; but science has aided and abetted the genius of the race, and rendered the modern development of democracy possible and inevitable. By the telegraph and other means of rapid communication contagious thought is enabled to travel
from the centre to the most distant extremities of the body politic. Political changes in England may be known in New Zealand in a few hours., The Press, too, exerts its mighty force in fostering and stimulating the democratic spirit. Through it the people can make their thoughts and wishesknown, and so influence and guide their representatives. In this way the community at large becomes a kind of parliament. Political topics and measures are discussed and criticized from a hundred points of view. The spread of education and consequent enlightenment of the people, tending as it does to equalise social conditions, is also a contributory force in the same direction. Acted on by all these agencies, the civilised world itself seems to be in process of unification.
In some such way as this modern democracy is to be accounted for, and under conditions of this kind it is operative. But there is one other cause, very powerful and persistent in its action, which has also, in my opinion, helped to produce the social development going on in our civilisation—I mean the Christian ethic. There can be no question at all as to the existence and potency of this force. Has it also played an important part in the evolution of our democracy ? Contradictory answers will probably be given to this question. But, without making the Christian ethic responsible for all the doings of democracy, or for what may be called the accidents of the movement, the uplifting of the people may be said to be essentially its work. The opinion of the author of “Social Evolution” is, I think, sound in the main: “All anticipations and forebodings as to the future of the incoming democracy founded upon the comparisons with the past are unreliable or worthless. For the world has never before witnessed a democracy of the kind that is now slowly assuming supreme power amongst the western peoples. To compare it with democracies which held power under the ancient empires is to altogether misunderstand both the nature of our civilisation and the character of the forces that have produced it. Neither in form nor in spirit have we anything in common with the democracies of the past, The gradual emancipation of the people and their rise to supreme power has been in our case the product of a slow ethical development, in which character has been profoundly influenced, and in which conceptions of equality and of responsibility to each other have obtained a hold on the general mind hitherto unparalleled. The fact of our time which overshadows all others is the arrival of democracy. But the perception of the fact is of relatively little importance if we do not also realise that it is a new democracy.
The advance of democracy, whether we approve or deplore it, is an undeniable fact. The unmistakable signs or proofs
of the sovereignty of the people are—(1) The extension of the parliamentary franchise so as to include all citizens except children, criminals, and the insane; (2) the eligibility of citizens of all ranks for nearly all offices of State; (3) the supremacy of legislation.
What are some of the principles of the new democracy ? Amongst these we must enumerate “equality of rights”—a somewhat vague phrase, but which I take to mean that all men are equal before the law or in respect to prohibition and restriction, and that every man has a right to be heard in all matters that affect him. Another principle is that majorities must rule—or, in other words, that the majority for the time being represents the will of the people. A third principle is an increased and increasing use of the machinery of the State in the interests of the masses of mankind. This is done chiefly in the way of compulsory, permissive, or other kinds of legislation. As regards the intervention or limits of the State the greatest diversity of opinion prevails. There are those who would limit the function of the State to the protection of life and property, and there are those who would fly to Government on any and every occasion. Between these two extremes there are many varieties of opinion. The truth seems to be that no hard-and-fast rules can be laid down on the subject. “As to the question in its general bearing,” says Sir Frederick Pollock, “I do not think it can be fully dealt with except by going back to the older question, What does the State exist for ? And, although I cannot justify myself here at length, I will bear witness that for my own part I think this is a point at which we may well say, ‘Back to Aristotle.’ The minimisers tell us that the State exists only for protection. Ariscotle tells us that it was founded on the need for protection, but exists for more than protection—γıνομένη μ∊̀ν ου͊ν του̑ ζη̑ν ἕνεκεν, ου͊σα δὲ του̑ ευ͊ ζη̑ν. Not only material security, but the perfection of human and social life, is what we aim at in that organized co-operation of many men's lives and works which is called the State. I fail to see good warrant of either reason or experience for limiting the corporate activity of a nation by hard-and-fast rules.” It seems to me that the doctrine of pure individualism is as much opposed to what may be called municipal socialism as to State interference. Be this, however, as it may, in this country the State has established an insurance department, and has undertaken the construction and management of railways—and yet the world goes round.
As regards the programmes of democratic legislation, we find economical and social questions mixed up with those which are purely political. Land-nationalisation, co-operation, profit-sharing, limitation of the hours of labour, loans of
public money to settlers, and the like, frequently appear as matters for special legislation. The fact that large numbers of people have come to think that questions of this kind should be dealt with in the way proposed shows how the beliefs of men as to the powers and duties of the State have been revolutionised.
The new democracy is not quite satisfied with the Constitution as it stands, but it shrinks, very wisely I think, from making any sweeping and sudden changes. The existence of a second Chamber not directly responsible to the people is sometimes felt to be a grievance, more especially when the offending Chamber is in opposition to the popular will. Loud cries are heard from time to time for its reform or abolition, but in cooler moments extreme measures find no supporters.
In all democratic communities the greatest interest is taken in education. It is curious to note that in this respect the modern democratic State is but following in the steps of Aristotle. About one-eighth of his treatise on politics is occupied with the theory of education. One of the marvels of the age is the sacrifice made by the State to provide education for its citizens. Young and small communities, equally with the old and strong, are impressed with the importance of education. In England, France, America, Australia, and New Zealand, primary and higher education takes almost the first place in the consideration of the State. It is a true and healthy instinct that prompts this care for education; and no greater service can be rendered to the community than that of helping to improve and develope the system and methods of education. The theory or ideal of education as held by the State is still very imperfect, and the results of such education as is given are not all that could be desired. Our great men differ on the subject, so it is no wonder if lesser folk are perplexed and make mistakes. Froude relates somewhere that Lord Brougham once said he hoped a time would come when every man in England would read Bacon, but that William Cobbett said he would be contented if a time came when every man would eat bacon. The proper combination of the literary and practical elements in education is still a matter of uncertainty and “hopeful blundering.”
What does the democratic form of government require from the citizens? The political machine is not self-acting. If it is worked by selfish, unprincipled people the results are sure to be disastrous. The well-balanced intelligence, superior to passion and prejudice, such as is required for the best government is very rare. We may safely say that unless the people as a whole are intelligent, thrifty, enterprising, industrious, and above all moral, their efforts at self-government will utterly fail. Mr. Bryce has well said in his reflec
tions on American democracy, “It is an old saying that monarchies live by honour and republics by virtue. The more democratic republics become, the more the masses grow conscious of their own power, the more do they need to live not only by patriotism, but by reverence and self-control, and the more essential to their well-being are those sources whence reverence and self-control flow.”
It would be fatal to ignore the fact that democracies are liable to special difficulties and dangers. The objection sometimes urged against popular government, that the people at large lack the requisite training and ability, may be met by saying that “it is not necessary they should be competent the essential thing is that they should be interested.” True as this may be, there are, notwithstanding, grave abuses to which democracy as such is peculiarly subject. Experience proves this beyond dispute. To take but one point, the administration of the law: It is of vital importance to a democratic community that when laws are made they should. be strictly and impartially enforced. The stability of the community rests upon this. Any disposition and effort on the part of an orderly people to shield offenders from the due reward of their deeds are wholly mischievous, and tend towards anarchy. It cannot be too often repeated that the firm and just administration of the law is of the first moment to any State.
Does not a danger also Iurk in the change that is coming over the “representative”? He is turning into the paid delegate, a sort of salaried official. We all know the reason given for the payment of members of Parliament. The reason is probably sound, but the danger remains. The candidate for parliamentary honours would now be laughed at who should venture to say, as Burke did to the electors of Bristol, “It ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasure, his satisfaction to theirs; and, above all, ever find in all cases to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living…Authoritative instructions, man dates issued which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest convictions of his judgment and conscience, these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenour of our Constitution.” Any candidate ven
turing to assert himself thus nowadays, and to speak in this strain to the electors, would probably hear the word “Fudge!”
But, if democracy has its peculiar risks, it has some safeguards in modern life. Whether these will prove completely effective remains to be seen. The first of these is freedom of discussion—the fullest freedom, within reasonable limits, to express opinions. “Experience and discussion may be trusted to make error find its level.” Another safeguard is the decentralisation of power by means of local government. There are many things which local bodies, acting under the delegated authority of the State, can do better than the central Government. Mismanagement on the part of such bodies is more easily discovered and rectified than when the central Government is at fault. Considerations of party and struggle for political power and place do not embarrass the actions of local bodies as they do those of the central Government.
Suppose the success of democracy assured, what benefits may we hope to derive therefrom? Is democracy itself the final form of government, or is there a beyond ? The late Dr. Pearson, in his book on “National Life and Character,” maintains that democracy will find its consummation in State socialism, that the leading nations of the world are tending towards a condition of stationary civilisation, and that the increased importance of the State will prove disastrous to the energy and independence of thought of the individual. “It is now more than probable,” he says, “that our science, our civilisation, our great and real advance in the practice of government, are only bringing us nearer to the day when the lower races will predominate in the world; when the higher races will lose their noblest elements; when we shall ask nothing from the day but to live, nor from the future but that we may not deteriorate.” This is a sufficiently dismal vision of the future. After the fierce struggles and stern discipline of the ages, what more pitiful issue than hopeless, irresistible decay of character? In this connection it is a little pathetic to remember that here in New Zealand there is no one left to whom we may give a vote, and that we are thought to have gone a long way in the direction of State socialism.
It is proverbially hard to confute a prophecy, and most people prefer to speak after the event. But Dr. Pearson's anticipation is not shared by all who venture to forecast the future of man upon earth. A greater teacher than he cherished a very different belief. Tennyson, while he wisely bids us not “deal in watchwords overmuch,” never loses hope in the progress of mankind towards a better and happier condition upon earth:-
We are far from the noon of man: there Is time for the race to grow.
This is a loftier and truer teaching. The instinct of progress has not been implanted in us merely to be baffled and disappointed. We know that the future, whatever it be, will emerge from the present as the present has emerged from the past. But the Muse of history, if we are to put any faith in her teachings, seems to bid us look with confidence to the future where lies the golden age. “History is the best tonic for drooping spirits.”
Even if completely successful, democracy will not fulfil the expectations of those who are loudest in its praise. It cannot turn life into a playtime. Strenuous effort, labour—patient, steady, intelligent—will be as necessary as ever. All the virtues which have marked man's advance hitherto will still be indispensable. In all that makes life noble and really useful the prize will be to him only who strives. Competition may conceivably be lessened, but that should be only to set free our energies for employment in other directions.
Let us interest ourselves in politics if we will: it is, indeed, our duty to do so. But let patriotism govern our political ideals and actions. Above all, we should remember that national strength and greatness can never be attained, nor can they endure, if our lives are divorced from morality.