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DEMOCRACY ON TRIAL
By John Howland, D.D., President of Colegio Internacional, Guadalajara, Mexico
In the opinion of some students of history, democracy is but one stage in the invariable and inescapable cycle of political growth: autocracy, constitutional monarchy, oligarchy, democracy, and anarchy leading back to absolutism; the only possible variation being the length of the different periods, which will be dependent on special local conditions. Others, while not attempting to elude or minimize the historical testimony, would affirm that the lapse from democracy to an anarchy which finds its remedy only by a return to absolutism is by no means a necessity, but simply an accident, owing to defective conditions in previous stages; and that, at the worst, the movement is not a cycle but an ascending spiral in which the former stage is simply approached but at a much higher level, having eliminated much that held it down and back, carrying with it much of the good it has won out of the past and ever approaching more and more the straight tangent which will be the perfect and permanent democracy. Under every system since men first congregated, the strong have ruled the weak; but side by side with the rude fact of power have grown the ideals of fellowship and justice, and these have helped to correct the inequality and injustice which condition human life.
The struggle has been two-fold: to limit more and more the power of the ruler, and to introduce a larger and more effective participation of the people in public affairs. Hence we find two conceptions of democracy, not mutually exclusive but still fundamentally distinct: the one based on social equality, and the other the simple vesting of power in the people. The former is undoubtedly the most frequently entertained: and the cry of "Liberty, Fraternity, Equality, is the one which finds the quickest and most ardent response
THE JOURNAL OF RACE DEVELOPMENT, VOL. 4, NO. 3, 1914
in the sympathies of the people. Not only is it the more popular, but doubtless it must be conceded to occupy a higher moral plane, for the latter tends to lead to the former; that is, the vesting of power in all should result in the minimizing, if not in the obliteration, of all degrading or oppressive inequalities. No country can attain real and permanent progress as long as any class, be it high or low, fails through ignorance or indifference to respond to the call of patriotism, whether that call be to the field of battle or to the quieter but more strenuous struggle for the attainment of individual perfection and the fulfilment of personal obligations.
In the republics of ancient times and in most of those of the present, the adoption of democracy was a transition from a previous condition, so that the republican form had to be superimposed on elements that were more or less refractory. The United States has the unique position of being a republic in which the general character of its government was prepared before the nation came into being. The determinative element in the formation of the new race was a group of the descendants of those who had already fought valiantly for liberty and wrested successive concessions from the reluctant crown. When independence was secured for the English colonies, they had only to formulate and publish the principles that had already actuated them from the first. So, naturally, the new republic moved forward with scarcely a jar or tremor in its course.
This difference of origin is often overlooked in judging the progress and attainment of other republics. Because they do not correspond in every detail to the form that the United States has elaborated, they are considered defective or abnormal. It is easy to forget that a republican form of government furnishes no guarantee against tyranny and that a monarchy is not inconsistent with a high degree of political freedom. The writer of the article on democracy in the Encyclopedia Britannica does not hesitate to claim that Great Britain is the best type extant of a true democracy and that from her have come the ideals that have led to the establishment of republics, though none of them have attained to the height of the parent country. He calls the French
Republic "bureaucratic," and those in Latin America "despotic." Cavour in Piedmont, working for the freedom and unity of Italy, deliberately rejected the republican form and labored for a constitutional monarchy, established by the coöperation of France. He did this at the cost of losing the coöperation and even of encountering the fanatical opposition of Mazzini and other Italian patriots, but the result would seem to have fully justified his views.
With nations as with individuals there must be a reckoning with inherited tendencies and characteristics. Latin American republics were originally colonial dependencies. They were not colonies founded, as was the great republic of the north, by men who fled from oppression to seek greater freedom in a wilderness: but by those who were sent out to exploit new lands for the benefit of the crown. The only examples they had of government were, in most cases, marked by greed, graft, favoritism, and an utter disregard for the welfare of the colonies themselves. The democratic idea of rulers chosen by the people, responsible to the people, and administering the government with disinterested devotion to the welfare of the people, was practically unknown among them. What wonder, then, that office should have been sought not for the opportunity for service, for the honor, nor even for the salary, but mainly for the openings it offered for personal enrichment. It is always hard to break with hoary traditions; and even when they have been cast off, their influence often persists for an indefinite time.
It would not be easy to find a greater contrast than that which exists between a feudal system and a true democracy; and the existence of greatly concentrated wealth or extreme poverty, of privileges of birth or of ecclesiastical position, must always be a menance to republican institutions. But these conditions had been brought from Europe and firmly implanted on American soil and had to be taken into account by the new-born republic which sprang up under the influence of that wave of sentiment which, during the first half of the last century, threatened all thrones, even the most firmly established ones of Europe. Where these things exist, even as a memory or as a wish, they are sure sooner or later to
come into conflict with a democratic form of government and some way of adjustment must be found or the government will be overthrown.
Racial prejudice wields a mighty influence in the opinion peoples form of each other. It has been well said that "The portrait that one nation paints of another is likely to appear a libel or a caricature to the sitter." It is not, however, mere prejudice; for each race has its own peculiarities. The Saxon is phlegmatic, reflective, patient of delay, willing to wait for the slow processes of human experience. The Latin blood is fervid, and quickly boils at meeting opposition. The Saxon patriot wages his warfare and bides his time, confident that he is aligned on the side of truth and justice, and that these are destined to triumph at the last, however much they may be sidetracked, misrepresented or perverted for a time. If the party of opposition wins an election, he watches those thus chosen to arrest every false or devious step with the machinery of the law, and even when this fails, he sets himself to use the legal remedy-the election of cleaner executives and a more upright judiciary. He realizes that a people has only the government that it chooses, or at least consents to have; so that, to reform abuses or correct errors, it is necessary to educate public opinion or awaken public sentiment. He knows that victory obtained otherwise will be specious, momentary, and finally delusive. The LatinAmerican, with his more vivid imagination, sees only final ruin in everything that delays, diverts or defeats that for which he is laboring. He expects all to see things from his point of view and with the same enthusiasm. He is impatient of the process of slowly, methodically and persistently shaping the opinions of his compatriots. As in his personal difficulties he is quick to have recourse to the poniard, so in his political disappointments he trusts more naturally to an appeal to arms than to a prolonged campaign for subsequent elections. Instead of the joy that his impassive Saxon neighbor feels in carrying on a prolonged struggle for some principle, he enters the contest with boundless enthusiasm, but if not immediately successful, easily relapses into complete discouragement or lets his disappointment degenerate into a
personal feud against his political opponent. The Saxon, from his boyhood, is trained even in his play, in "team work,” the spirit of coöperation which seeks union on common principles and purposes and with ease passes over personal preferences and slights in pursuance of the greater good. The Latin is more personal; everyone for himself. If he can not carry his point, he may yield with more or less of grace to another; but finds it difficult to combine or coöperate with that other. The difference is seen very markedly in commercial enterprises. Among Saxons combination has reached such limits and attained such colossal success as to seriously menace the stability of governments and the well-being of the common people. Commercial combinations among the Latins are apt to be of short duration. Their traditions and tastes point rather to the building up of a "house," where there shall be one dominant name and interest, and all the rest subservient to that.
History shows that political greatness and permanence must ever depend on well distributed economic and industrial development. The granting of great concessions and subsidies to powerful companies is beneficial in a way, because it develops resources hitherto unproductive: but it easily becomes a menace to the real prosperity of a nation in more ways than one. Frequently, if not usually, such concessions are given to foreigners, so that most of the gain is taken out of the country in which it is produced and then, too, international complications are liable to come up at any time. Such concessions also discourage competition and the wider development of national resources. Life comes from the ground, and only as agriculture is extended, improved and put into the hands of the greatest possible number can a nation hope for lasting prosperity. Ways must be found for the avoidance of or the breaking up of excessively large estates, but this is worse than useless unless the small owner is educated and protected, so that he will not lose through lack of thrift, wisdom, or legal security what he may have acquired. Every citizen who owns no taxable property is a menance to the state. Usually, his impecunious situation reveals a lack of intelligence, sobriety, or willingness to work,