The Australian Democracy
THE only really democratic experiment, beside our own, going on in the world to-day, is that of the English Australian colonies. All others are more or less disturbed by the political or social traditions of an anterior régime. Nowhere else, therefore, can so much instruction be obtained as to the probable effect of popular government on laws and manners. There is no other democracy whose beginning so nearly resembles ours. We began, it is true, at a much earlier period, under the influence of aristocratic and religious ideas which have lost their force, and we began with a very different class of men. Our first settlers were a selected body, with strong prepossessions in favor of some sort of organization, which, whatever it was to be, was certainly not to be democratic. They sought to reproduce the monarchical or aristocratic world they had left, as far as circumstances would permit. It may fairly be said that the society they tried to establish on this side of the Atlantic was the society of the Old World, with some improvements, notably another kind of established church. By the time the Australian colonies were founded, however, — that is, about a century ago, — what was most antiquated in the American régime had fairly departed. The colonies here had sloughed off a good deal of the European incrustation, and had frankly entered on the democratic régime, but with social foundations such as the Australians could not claim.
Australia originated with New South Wales, and was first settled as a convict station. Most of the earliest emigrants were men transported for crime, and long treated as slaves. The first step taken toward social organization was the bestowal of large tracts of land on English capitalists, to be used as sheep-farms, with the convicts as herdsmen or laborers. Free emigrants came slowly to open up agriculture as a field of industry. As they increased, hostility to the large sheep-farmers was developed in a process somewhat similar to the extinction of the great manors in New York. In fact, New South Wales passed nearly half a century in getting rid of the defects of its foundation, in clarifying its social constitution, and in bringing itself into something like harmony with the other civilized societies of the world. In 1842 the colonies received a legislature, a large proportion of the members of which were nominees of the crown. During the previous half-century they were governed despotically by governors, often brokendown aristocrats, sent out from England. Their society was composed largely of the great sheep-farmers and of actual or emancipated convicts. Religion and morals were for a time at the lowest ebb. The institution of marriage hardly existed. The multitude of female convicts and the thinness of population in the interior rendered concubinage easy and general. The press had not begun to draw respectable talent from England, and the newspapers, such as they were, were largely in the hands of ex-convicts. There was nothing that could be called public opinion. The only appeal against any wrong-doing lay to the home government, which was then six months away ; and so deeply seated was the belief in England that Australia was simply a community of convicts that any appeals received little attention.
The first thing that could be called a political party in the colony consisted of Irish Catholic immigrants, who had gone out in large numbers in 1841, under the stimulation of government grants and bounties. They acted rather as Catholics than as citizens, and, as usual, under the leadership of their clergy. A responsible legislature of two houses was not established until 1856. The colonies started with the English, or cabinet system ; that is, with ministries selected or approved by Parliament. This was the first great difference between us and them. The framers of the American Constitution decided, for reasons which seemed to them good, to give the executive a definite term of office, independent of legislative approval. This they conceived to be necessary to the establishment of complete independence between the different departments of the government. The separation of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches held a very high place in the minds of all political speculators in the eighteenth century, after Montesquieu had dwelt on its necessity. Therefore, the founders of the American republic made each branch independent in its own sphere, with its own term of office, which the others could neither lengthen nor abridge, This is what is called the presidential system. The cabinet system makes the executive not only part and parcel of the legislative branch, but dependent on it for existence. A vote of the majority can change the executive, while the executive can order a renewal of the legislative branch; that is, dissolve it. The presidential system is undoubtedly the best defense that could be devised against democratic changeableness, or the influence on the government of sudden bursts of popular feeling. But it almost goes to the other extreme. It is very difficult to make any change in public policy or legislation in the United States in less than five years. In Australia, under the cabinet system, six changes may be made in a year. In New South Wales, there have been forty-one ministries, doubtless with entirely different views on important subjects, in thirty-seven years, or more than one change each year. The same phenomena exhibit themselves in all the countries which have adopted the British system, or in which the royal prerogative still remains a legislative force. Unhappily, in the colonies as in France, these frequent changes do not always mean changes of policy. Ministries are too often overthrown simply to satisfy personal rancor, or disappointment, or jealousy.
Another point of difference between our beginning and that of the Australians was that they had no constitution, as we call it; that is, no organic law, paramount to all other laws, and which all legislators were bound to respect in legislating. Every government was organized under an English act of Parliament, but this simply provided a framework, and placed almost no restrictions on the subjects of legislation, because there are no restrictions on the action of the English Parliament itself. The will of Parliament is the British constitution, and the will of the Australian legislatures is the constitution of the colonies, provided they make no attack on the supremacy of the British crown ; that is, they may do anything they please which Parliament may do, provided they obey the imperial law which sets them up. This has some good effects, and some bad ones. It decidedly increases the sense of responsibility, in which our legislatures are so often wanting. The Australians know that any act they pass will be executed, that no intervention of the courts on constitutional grounds can be looked for, and that if the law works badly the action of public sentiment will be immediate, and may lead to the overthrow of the ministry for the time being. In fact, a law paramount, drawn up by picked men, assembling for the purpose at stated intervals of twenty years or less, and safeguarding all the primary social rights against popular passion or impulse or legislative corruption, and interpreted by the courts, is a device peculiar to certain of the United States. It is the only really valid check on democracy ever devised, but it is doubtful whether it could now be set up anywhere else with effect. Its Revolutionary origin has surrounded it with a sanctity which it would he difficult to give any court created in our day and gainsaying the popular will. On the other hand, this absence of constitution gives legislatures a freedom in trying social experiments greater than ours enjoy, though they enjoy a good deal. There is hardly any mode of dealing with private property or private rights which an Australian legislature may not attempt, hardly any experiment in taxation which it may not try. Its sole restraint lies in the quick action of popular reprobation.
These two facts — the adoption of the cabinet system from England, and the absence of a constitution containing restraints on legislation — are the main differences between our democracy and that of Australia. But every Australian colony, however strong its aspirations to political independence, is influenced in what may be called its manners by the mother country. Australia began its political life with as close an approach to an aristocracy as a new country can make, in the existence of the " squatters,” most of whom were capitalists or scions of good English families. These men obtained large grants of land from the government for sheep-farming, which in the beginning they managed with convicts whom they hired from the state, and whom they were permitted to flog in case of misbehavior. Their life, in short, was very nearly that of the old cotton-planter in the South, with the " patriarchal ” element wanting.
The first work of the new democracy was to overthrow them, and take their large tracts of land away from them. But the democracy did not succeed, and has not succeeded, in preventing the formation of an upper class of the " English gentleman ” type. This is what the successful Australian still strives to be. He does not become " a man of the people,” in our sense, and does not boast of his humble origin and early struggles as much as our millionaire is apt to do. The influence of this type was prolonged and strengthened by the large emigration to Australia of university graduates from England, during the fifties and sixties, after the colonies had fairly entered on free government, when a successful career at the bar and in public life had become possible. These, again, were reinforced by a still larger emigration of broken-down men of good family, who, if they added but little to the wealth or morality of the colonies, did a good deal to preserve the predominance of English conventional ideas. For instance, one of the very strong English traditions is the right of men of education and prominence to public offices ; that is, men previously raised above the crowd by wealth or rank or education, or by some outward sign of distinction. This was perpetuated in the colonies by their connection with England in the way I have mentioned. It made the careers of such men as Robert Low and Gavan Duffy and Dr. Pensores and many others easy and natural, and made the breaking away from English ideas on social questions more difficult. Perhaps as important was the fact that it preserved the English way of living as the thing for the “self-made man” to aspire to. How strong this influence is in the AngloSaxon world may be inferred from the difficulty of keeping English influence in these matters in due subordination in this country. Nearly all our rich people, and people who have enjoyed any social success in England, are apt to revert to English life, and have to be ridiculed and denounced in the press in order to make them continue “ good Americans.”
In democracies which still look to England as “ home,” and which receive large bodies of immigrants educated in England, it can be easily understood how great must be the English influence on the colonial way of looking at both politics and society. In later days, when the democracy has fairly broken loose from the control of the Foreign Office, gifted men of the earlier American kind — that is, good speakers or writers — have in a large degree preserved their sway. The multiplicity of new questions, and the possibility of getting into power at any time by overthrowing the existing ministry, have naturally kept alive the art of discussion as the art which leads to political power. Thus far, undoubtedly, this has prevented the rise of any system like our caucus, which attaches little importance to eloquence or power of persuasion. In Australia a man can hardly get high office without a general election. He has to produce a change of opinion in the legislature, or so great a change of opinion out of doors as to intimidate the legislature, either in order to see his policy adopted by the men actually in power, or to be charged himself with the formation of a new ministry. That is, the man most successful in exposition, who identifies himself by speech most prominently with some pending question, becomes, under the cabinet system, the man entitled to power, and no caucus nomination could either give it to him or deprive him of it. This more than aught else has made easy individual prominence by means of parliamentary arts. Of course, there is behind all talk a good deal of intrigue and chicanery, but talk there has to be. The cabinet system — or the possibility of changing majorities in the legislature at any time without waiting for a fixed term — makes it absolutely necessary that a successful politician should be able to express himself. He may be uneducated, in the technical sense of the term, but he must be master of his own subject, and be able to give a good account of it. He has to propose something energetically, in order to hold his place. Thus, Sir Charles Cowper and Robert Low had to connect themselves with the educational system, Sir Henry Parkes with the land system, and so on. The minister, whoever he is, is in constant danger of losing his place ; the “ outs ” are constantly eager to displace him, and they displace him, as in England, by bringing up new questions, or new aspects of old ones.
The system, as I have already said, has the well-known defect of instability in the executive. It means in Australia, as it means in France and Italy, incessant change or frequent changes. It is what our founders dreaded when they put the President in office for four years, and Congress for two years, and made each independent of the other. But it has the effect of preventing the formation of strict party ties, controlled by a manager who has not to render any public account of his management. In other words, the caucus ruled by the boss is hardly possible under it. The boss is hardly possible, if he has to explain the reasons of his actions, and to say what he thinks the party policy ought to be. Whether this system would survive the formation of a confederacy like ours, and the necessity of more potent machinery to get a larger multitude to take part in elections, is something which may reasonably be doubted. In large democracies the future probably belongs to the presidential system, with its better arrangements for the formation and preservation of strong parties, working under stricter discipline and with less discussion.
The cabinet system, however, has had one excellent effect : it compels every minister who appeals to the constituencies for power to state at length and with minuteness his claims on their support. He sets forth his views and plans with a fullness and an amount of argumentation which are never met with nowadays in our party platforms. He makes a real plea for confidence in him personally, and he issues his programme immediately before the election which is to decide his fate. His opponent, or rival, issues a counter one, and the two together place before the constituencies such an explanation of the political situation as our voters rarely get. Each not only explains and argues in defense of his programme, but makes promises, which, if he succeeds, he may be almost immediately called on to fulfill. These two documents are, in fact, much more businesslike than anything which our political men lay before us. In our presidential system, no one in particular is responsible for legislation, and the Congress elected one year does not meet till the next. The effect of these two circumstances has given our party platform a vagueness and a sonorousness, a sort of detachment from actual affairs, which make it somewhat resemble a Pope’s encyclical. It does not contain a legislative programme. There is, in fact, no person competent to make one, because no person, or set of persons, is charged with fulfilling it. It is “ the party ” which the voter supports, and the party is a body too indeterminate to be held to any sort of accountability. The platform, therefore, confines itself to expressing views, instead of making promises. It reveals the hopes, the fears, the dislikes, and the admirations of the party rather than its intentions. It expresses sympathy with nationalities struggling for freedom, affection for workingmen and a strong desire that people who hire them shall pay them a “ fair wage,” detestation of various forms of wrong-doing on the part of their opponents, and denunciation of the mischiefs to the country which these opponents have wrought. But it gives little inkling of what the party will really do if it gets into power. If it does nothing at all, it cannot be called to account except in the same vague and indefinite way. Nobody in particular is responsible for its shortcomings, because all its members are responsible in the same degree.
Take as an illustration of my meaning what has occurred in this country with regard to the existing currency difficulties. Both the Republican and Democratic platforms have declared in favor of having a good currency, but the Democratic platform simply demanded the coinage of silver at a certain ratio to gold, and ascribed a long list of evils to the failure of the nation to furnish such a coinage ; it described these evils in terms of philanthropy rather than of finance. It did not offer any explanation, in detail, of the way free coinage of silver at the fifteen to one ratio would work ; how it would affect foreign exchange, or domestic investments, or creditors, or savings-banks. It simply recommended the plan passionately, as a just and humane thing, and treated its opponents as sharks and tyrants. No business man could learn anything from it as to the prospects of his ventures under a silver régime. The Republican platform, on the other hand, without mentioning gold, declared its desire that the various kinds of United States currency (ten in number) should be of equal value. But it abstained from saying precisely in what manner this equality of value would be preserved, and what steps would be taken for the purpose ; in spite of the fact that it was dealing with a business matter, it made no proposal which a business man could weigh or even understand. The result was that although Congress met within four months of the election, and the election had turned on the currency question, nothing whatever was said or done about it. No one in Congress felt any particular responsibility about it, or could be called to account for not bringing it up or trying to settle it. Yet every one could, or would, express cordial agreement with the platform.
Under the Australian system things would have gone differently. Mr. McKinley would have issued an address to the electors, saying distinctly that he stood for the gold standard, setting forth the precise manner in which he meant to deal with the various forms of United States currency in case he were elected, and promising to do it immediately on his election. Mr. Bryan would have issued a counter manifesto, stating not simply his objections to the gold standard, but the exact way in which he meant to get rid of it, and the probable effect of this action on trade and industry. Consequently, after the election, one or other of them would have met a Parliament which would have demanded of him immediate legislation ; and if he had failed to produce it promptly, he would have been denounced us a traitor or an incompetent, and a vote of want of confidence would have turned him out of office. In short, the winning man would have had to produce at once something like the plan which our monetary commission, composed of men not in political life at all, has laboriously formed.
There occurred in Queensland, when Sir George Bowen was governor, in 1867, a financial crisis which makes clear the difference between the Australian system and ours. The ministry had borrowed £1,000,000 sterling through a Sydney bank, to be spent in public works. The works had been begun, and £50,000 of the money had been received and a large number of men employed, when the bank failed. The ministers in office instantly proposed to issue “ inconvertible government notes,” like our greenbacks during the war, and make them legal tender in the colony. The governor informed them that he should have to veto such a bill, as his instructions required him to “ reserve for the Queen’s pleasure ” every bill whereby any paper or other currency might be made a legal tender, “except the coin of the realm, or other gold or silver coin.” But the ministers persisted. The populace of Brisbane were told by a few stump orators that “ an issue of unlimited greenbacks would create unlimited funds for their employment on public works, while at the same time it would ruin the bankers, squatters [great sheepfarmers], and other capitalists.” A socalled indignation meeting was held, at which the governor and a majority of the legislature were denounced in violent terms ; several leading members of Parliament were ill-treated in the streets, and threats were even uttered of burning down Government House.1
The governor held firm, and insisted on meeting the crisis by the issue of exchequer bills; so the ministry resigned, and was succeeded by another, which did issue the exchequer bills. Had the governor not held his ground, the colony would have been launched on a sea of irredeemable paper, from which escape would probably have been difficult. In fact, there is little doubt that it is the necessity of making their loans in England, and thus getting the approval of British capitalists for their financial expedients, which has saved the colonies from even worse excesses in currency matters. The immediate responsibility of the minister for legislation must make all crises short, if sharp. No abnormal financial situation in any of the Australian colonies could last as long as ours has done, and while they retain their connection with the British crown they will be preserved from the very tempting device of irredeemable paper.
An effort has been made in some of the colonies to get rid of changefulness in the executive by electing the ministers by popular suffrage, instead of having them elected by Parliament; but this attempt to depart from the cabinet system has apparently been made only by the “labor party,” or workingman’s party, which exists and grows, without having as yet been successful in getting hold of office. Its main strength seems to lie, as in this country, in influence ; that is, in alarming members of Parliament about its vote. It hangs over the heads of the legislators in terrorem, in closely divided constituencies, but does not often make its way into Parliament itself, though those of its members who have been elected seem to acquit themselves very creditably.
The first strong resemblance between our experience and that of the Australians is to be found in the educational system. The first attempts at popular education, as might have been expected, were made by the clergy of the Anglican Church, the only church which had official recognition in the early days of the colonies. All money voted by the government for this purpose was given to the clergy and distributed by them. The instruction was mainly religious, and the catechism and reading of the Scriptures in the Protestant version played a prominent part in it. From the beginning, the opposition to this, on the part of all the other denominations, was very strong. As in America, the opposition of the Catholics was not directed against denominational teaching. They were willing to have the state money equally divided among the clergy, so that each denomination might control the instruction given to its own children. To this plan all the other denominations, except the Anglicans, were violently hostile ; so that on this question the Protestant Episcopalians and the Catholics were united. Their clergy wanted the state money for their own kind of education, while those of other denominations were in favor of secular education, or common schools, paid for largely by the state, though not wholly, as here.
It would be tedious to go over the history of the struggle which resulted in the establishment of state schools, with secular teaching. It bore a close resemblance to our own struggle, but differed in having for the efforts of the Protestant Episcopalians powerful support from the home government, which then, as now, sympathized with denominational teaching. It ended, finally, in the triumph of the secular schools. Secular education seems to be the established democratic method of teaching the young, though the desire of the clergy to keep control of education is giving it an anti-religious trend in some countries, — France, for instance. The agitation of this subject in Australia has brought out the interesting fact that the Catholic population, almost wholly Irish and very large, sides with the priests on nearly every public question, the educational question among others. This is exactly what has occurred in England. In the late conflict over the schools in England, the Irish voted with the Tories in favor of denominational teaching. Like most national oddities, there is for this an historical explanation. The banishment of the old Irish gentry, beginning in Elizabeth’s time, and ending with the Revolution of 1688, deprived the Irish of their natural political leaders. The new gentry were foreigners in race and religion, and in political sympathies. This threw the people back on the priests, who became their only advisers possessing any education or knowledge of the world, and assumed without difficulty a political leadership which has never been shaken to this day, in spite of the growing activity of the lay element in Irish politics. No Irish layman has, as yet, proved a very successful politician, in the long run, who has not managed to keep the clergy at his back.
It may be said that, on the whole, the educational movement in Australia has been controlled by influences common to the rest of the civilized world. In nearly all countries there is a struggle going on — which ended with us many years ago — to wrest the control of the popular schools, wherever they exist, from the hands of the clergy, who have held it for twelve hundred years. No characteristic of the old régime in politics is more prominent than the belief that the priests or ministers only should have charge of the training of youth. Almost the whole history of the educational movement in this century is the history of the efforts of the “Liberals ” or “ Radicals ” to oust them.
The Australians resemble us also in having an immense tract of land at the disposition of the state. They came into possession much later, when waste lands were more accessible, before they were covered by traditions of any sort, and when the air had become charged with the spirit of experimentation. They have accordingly tried to do various things with the land, which we never thought of. South Australia, for instance, had the plan of giving grants of land to small coöperative associations, to be managed by trustees, and supplied with capital by a loan from the state of not more than $250 a head. The state, in short, agreed to do what our Populists think it ought to do, — lend money to the farmers at a low rate of interest. Some of these associations were plainly communistic, and the members were often brought together simply by poverty. As a whole, they have not succeeded. Some have broken up ; others remain and pay the government its interest, but no one expects that it will ever get back the principal.
In New South Wales, the state became a landlord on an extensive scale on the Henry George plan, and the question of rents then grew into a great political question. Political “ pressure ” is brought to bear on the fixing of the rents, and the management, of course, gives a very large field for “ pulls ” and “ influence.” In Queensland, which has a tropical sugar region, not only have lands been rented by the state, but cheap carriage has been provided for farm and dairy produce on the state railway, bonuses have been paid on the export of dairy produce, advances have been made to the proprietors of works for freezing meat, and it has been proposed to establish state depots in London for the receipt and distribution of frozen meat. One act makes provision, under certain conditions, for a state guarantee for loans contracted to build sugar-works. In New Zealand, there is a graduated tax intended to crush out large landholders; but any landholder who is dissatisfied with his assessment can require the government to purchase at its own valuation, and land is rented in small holdings. The government has also borrowed large sums of money to lend to farmers on mortgage. It sends lecturers on buttermaking and fruit - growing around the country. It pays wages to labor associations who choose to settle on state lands and clear or improve them, and then allows them to take up the holdings thus improved. It keeps a " state farm,” on which it gives work to the unemployed. All these things, of course, give it a great number of favors to bestow or withhold, and open a wide field for political intrigue.
As a general rule, the suffrage is adult and male, but there is a property qualification for voters for the upper houses of the legislatures, answering to our Senates. Members of both houses are paid a small salary. At first they all served voluntarily, as in England, and the payment of members was not brought about without a good deal of agitation. But the argument which carried the day for payment was, not, as might be supposed, the justice of giving poor men a chance of seats, but the necessity, in a busy community, of securing for the work of government the services of many competent men who could not afford to give their time without pay. The “ plum ” idea of a seat in the legislature can hardly be said to have made its appearance yet. The necessity of doing something for “labor” very soon became prominent in colonial policy, and one of its first triumphs was the contraction of very large loans in England for the construction of public works, mainly railroads and common roads, the creation of village settlements and the advance of money to them. The result of all this, after a while, was tremendous financial collapse, and the discharge of large bodies of the very laborers for whose benefit the works were undertaken. This calamity seems to have stimulated the tendency to tax the rich heavily, and to foster the policy of protection. Trade is promoted not simply by duties on imports, but by state aid to exports. A depot in London, which does not pay its own expenses, takes charge of Australian goods and guarantees their quality ; bonuses are given to particular classes of producers, and there is even talk of a “ produce export department ”of the government. The protectionist policy has taken possession of the Australian mind even more firmly than it has taken possession of the mind of the Republican party here. A free-trader comes nearer being looked upon as a “ crank ” in most of the colonies than he does here. But the “ infant industry ” there has solid claims to nurture which it does not possess in this country. In fact, the dominance of the protectionist theory is so strong that it forms one of the obstacles in the promotion of the proposed Australian confederation, as no colony is quite willing to give up its right to tax imports from all the others, and still less is it willing to join Mr. Chamberlain’s followers and let in free the goods of the mother country. We may conjecture from this what obstacles the policy of free internal trade between our states would have met with at the foundation of our government, had America been more of a manufacturing community, and had intercommunication been easier. The difficulty of carriage a hundred years ago formed a natural tariff, which made the competition of foreigners seem comparatively unimportant.
From the bestowal of responsible government in the fifties, down to 1893, nearly all the colonies reveled in the ease with which they could borrow money in England. There was a great rush to make state railroads, in order to open up the lands of the great landholders to projects favored by labor, and to give employment to workingmen ; and, after the railroads were made, they carried workingmen for next to nothing. Along with this came an enormous development of the civil service, somewhat like our increase of pensions. New South Wales alone had 200,000 persons in government offices, at a salary of $13,000,000, and 10,000 railroad employees to boot. This gave the ministries for the time being great influence, which was increased by the fact that the state was the owner of large tracts of land, which it rented on favorable terms to favored tenants. The excitement of apparent prosperity, too, brought into the legislature large numbers of men to whom salary was important, and the result was perhaps the first serious decline in the character of the Australian governments. The colonies were founded between 1788 and 1855. Up to this time they have spent $800,000,000 on public works. They have made 80,000 miles of telegraph, and 10,000 miles of railway. Though they have a revenue of only $117,500,000 they have already a debt of $875,000,000.
These “good times ” came to their natural end. By 1893 the money was all spent, the taxation was not sufficient to meet the interest, the English capitalists refused further advances, the banks failed on all sides, and the colonies were left with large numbers of unemployed on their hands. There was nothing for it but to spend more money on “ relief works,”and to keep almost permanently in the employment of the state large bodies of men, who liked it simply because it was easy, and because hard times were a sufficient excuse for seeking it. What one learns from the experience of the colonies in the matter of expenditure is the difficulty, in a democratic government, of moderation of any description, if it once abandons the policy of laissez faire, and undertakes to be a providence for the masses. There is no limit to the human appetite for unearned or easily earned money. No class is exempt from it. Under the old régime, the aristocrats got all the sinecures, the pensions, and the light jobs of every description. One of the results of the triumph of democracy has been to throw open this source of gratification to the multitude, and every attempt made to satisfy the multitude, in this field, has failed. When the French opened the national workshops in Paris in 1848, the government speedily found that it was likely to have the whole working class of Paris on its hands ; when we started our pension list, we found that peace soon became nearly as expensive as war; and when the Australians undertook to develop the country on money borrowed by the state, there was no restraint on their expenditure, except the inability to find any more lenders. The Australian financial crisis was brought about, not by any popular perception that the day of reckoning was at hand, but by the refusal of the British capitalists to make further loans.
Australian experience seems in many ways to prove the value of our system of written constitutions, to be construed and enforced by the courts. The effect on the minds of ill-informed legislators of the knowledge that they can do anything for which they can get a majority, is naturally to beget extravagance and an overweening sense of power, and lead to excessive experimentation. The voters’ knowledge that the minister can do as he pleases has a tendency to increase the exactions of the extremists of every party. The Henry George system of taxation, for instance, could be put into execution in any Australian colony, at any moment, by a mere act of the legislature. The right to vote could be given to women, and has been given in New Zealand. The state can make any number of lines of railroad it pleases, pay for them out of the taxes, and carry poor men on them free. In fact, it can promote any scheme, however speculative, that may take hold of the popular fancy.
It is in devices for the protection of labor that most of this experimentation occurs. New Zealand affords the best example of it. It provides elaborate legal protection for the eight-hour day. A workman cannot consent to work overtime without extra pay. The state sees that he gets the extra pay. It looks closely after the condition of women and children in the factories. It sees that servant girls are not overcharged by the registry offices for getting them places. It prescribes one half-holiday a week for all persons employed in stores and offices, and sees that they take it. It will not allow even a shopkeeper who has no employees to dispense with his half-holiday; because if he does not take it, his competition will injure those who do. The “labor department” of the government has an army of inspectors, who keep a close watch on stores and factories, and prosecute violations of the law which they themselves discover. They do not wait for complaints; they ferret out infractions, so that the laborer may not have to prejudice himself by making charges. The department publishes a “ journal ” once a month, which gives detailed reports of the condition of the labor market in all parts of the colony, and of the prosecutions which have taken place anywhere of employers who have violated the law. It provides insurance for old age and early death, and guarantees every policy. It gives larger policies for lower premiums than any of the private offices, and depreciates the private offices in its documents. It distributes the profits of its business as bonuses among the policyholders, and keeps a separate account for teetotalers, so that they may get special advantages from their abstinence. The “journal” is, in fact, in a certain sense a labor manual, in which everything pertaining to the comfort of labor is freely discussed. The poor accommodation provided for servants in hotels and restaurants is deplored, and so is the difficulty which middle-aged men have in finding employment. More attention to the morals and manners of nursemaids is recommended. All the little dodges of employers are exposed and punished.
If they keep the factory door fastened, they are fined. If housekeepers pretend that their servants are lodgers, and therefore not liable to a compulsory half-holiday, they are fined. If manufacturers are caught allowing girls to take their meals in a workshop, they are fined.
As far as I can make out, too, without visiting the country, there is as yet no sign of reaction against this minute paternal care of the laborer. The tendency to use the powers of the government chiefly for the promotion of the comfort of the working classes, whether in the matter of land settlement, education, or employment, seems to undergo no diminution. The only thing which has ceased, or slackened, is the borrowing of money for improvements. The results of this borrowing have been so disastrous that the present generation, at least, will hardly try that experiment again. Every new country possessing a great body of undeveloped resources, like those of the North American continent and of Australia, must rely largely on foreign capital for the working of its mines and the making of its railroads. In this country all that work has been left to private enterprise, or, in other words, to the activity of individuals and corporations. Apart from some recent landgrants to railroads and the sale of public lands at low rates, it may be said that our government has done nothing whatever to promote the growth of the national wealth and population. The battle with nature, on this continent, has been fought mainly by individuals. The state in America has contented itself, from the earliest times, with supplying education and security. Down to a very recent period the American was distinguished from the men of all other countries for looking to the government for nothing but protection to life and property. Tocqueville remarked strongly on this, when he visited the United States in the thirties. This habit has been a good deal broken up by the growth of the wage-earning class since the war, by the greatly increased reliance on the tariff, and by the government issue of paper money during the rebellion. In the eyes of many, these things have worked a change in the national character. But we are still a great distance from the Australian policy. The development of the country by the state, in the Australian sense, has only recently entered into the heads of our labor and socialist agitators. The American plan has hitherto been to facilitate private activity, to make rising in the world easy for the energetic individual, and to load him with praise and influence after he has risen. This policy has been pursued so far that, in the opinion of many, the individual has become too powerful, and the government too subservient to private interests. There are, in fact, few, if any states in the Union which are not said to be dominated by rich men or rich corporations.
This is a not unnatural result of two things. One is, as I have said, our having left the development of the country almost wholly to private enterprises. It is individual capitalists who have worked the mines, made the railroads, invited the immigrants and lent them money to improve their farms. The other is the restrictions which the state constitutions, and the courts construing them, place on the use of the taxes. There are very few things the state in America can constitutionally do with its revenue, compared with what European governments can do. Aids to education are tolerated, because education is supposed to equip men more thoroughly for the battle of life, but the American public shrinks from any other use of the public funds for private benefit. We give little or no help to art, or literature, or charity, or hospitals. We lend no money. We issued legal tender paper under many protests and in a time of great national trial, have never ceased to regret it, and shall probably never issue any more. We are angry when we find that any one enjoys comforts or luxury at the expense of the state. We cannot bear sinecures. But our plunge into pensions since the war shows that there now exists among us the same strong tendency to get things out of the state, and to rely on its bounty, which prevails in Australia. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that at present we owe a good deal of what remains of laissez faire in our policy to our constitutions and courts. We owe the constitutions and the courts to the habits formed in an earlier stage of American history. It was the bad or good fortune of the Australian colonies to enter on political life just as the let-alone policy was declining under the influence of the humanitarian feeling which the rise of the democracy has brought with it everywhere. More constitution than was supplied by the enabling acts of the British Parliament was never thought of, and the British Parliament did not think of imposing any restraints on legislation except those which long custom or British opinion imposed on Parliament itself.
The result is that Australia is absolutely free to democratic experimentation under extremely favorable circumstances. In each colony the state has apparently existed for the benefit of the working classes, who must always constitute the majority of the people in every community, and the masses have been provided with work and protection, in complete disregard of European traditions. The experiment has turned out pretty well, owing to the abundance of land, the natural wealth of the country, and the fineness of the climate. But each colony is forming its political habits, and I cannot resist the conclusion that some of them are habits which are likely to plague the originators hereafter. For instance, the task of finding work for the unemployed, and borrowing money for the purpose, though this generation has seen it fail utterly in the first trial, will probably be resorted to again, with no more fortunate results. Nor can I believe that the growing paternalism, the sedulous care of the business interests of the masses, will not end by diminishing self-reliance, and increasing dependence on the state.
The worst effects of these two agencies, of course, in a country of such wonderful resources as Australia, must be long postponed. There are hindrances to progress in the direction of pure “ collectivism ” yet in existence, many problems to be solved, Old World influences to be got rid of, before Australia finds herself perfectly free from the trammels which the régime of competition still throws around every modern society. But so far as I can judge from the accounts of even the most impartial observers, every tendency which is causing us anxiety or alarm here is at work there, without any hindrance from constitutions ; though there is great comfort among the people, and there is a hopefulness which cannot but exist in any new country with immense areas of vacant land and a rapidly growing population.
One check to all leveling tendencies is the extremely strong hold which the competitive system has taken of the Anglo-Saxon race. There is no other race in which there is still so much of the rude energy of the earlier world, in which men have such joy in rivalry and find it so hard to surrender personal advantages. This renders communal life of any kind, or any species of enforced equality, exceedingly difficult. It will probably endanger the permanence of all the social experimentation in Australia, as soon as this experimentation plainly gives evidence of bestowing special advantages on the weak, or lazy, or unenterprising. There is not in Australia the same extravagant admiration of wealth as a sign of success that there is here, but there are signs of its coming. The state has undertaken to do so many things, however, through which individuals make fortunes here, that its coming may be slow. The wealthy Australian, who dislikes rude colonial ways, and prefers to live in England, is already a prominent figure in London society, and, like the rich Europeanized American, he is an object of great reprobation to the plain Australian, who has not yet " made his pile ” and cannot go abroad. Then there is a steady growth of national pride, which is displaying itself in all sorts of ways, — in literature, art, and above all athletics, as well as in trade and commerce. The development of athletic and sporting tastes generally is greater than elsewhere, and competition is the life of athletics. An athlete is of little account until he has beaten somebody in something. " The record ” is the record of superiority of somebody in something over other people. The " duffer ” is the man who can never win anything. The climate helps to foster these tastes, and the abundance of everything makes the cultivation of them easy ; but they are tastes which must always make the sinking of superiority — or, in other words, any communal system — difficult. Australia may develop a higher type of character or better equipment for the battle of life, and more numerous opportunities, but it is hardly likely to develop any new form of society. When the struggle grows keener, we are not likely to see a corresponding growth of state aid.
The very rapidity of the experimentation now going on promises to bring about illuminating crises earlier there than here. Probably we shall not get our currency experience here for many years to come. Were the Australians engaged in trying our problem, they would reach a solution in one or two years. We are likely in the next hundred years to see a great many new social ventures tried, something which the wreck of authority makes almost inevitable ; but there seems no reason to believe that the desire of the Anglo-Saxon variety of human nature to profit by superiority in any quality will disappear. The cabinet system of government is in itself a strong support to individuality, for reasons I have already given.
Another steadying influence in Australia, perhaps one of the most powerful in a democratic community, is the press. The press, from all I can learn, is still serious, able, and influential. It gives very large space to athletics and similar amusements, but seems to have retained a high and potent position in the discussions of the day. The love of triviality which has descended on the American press like a flood, since the war, has apparently passed by that of Australia. Why this should be I confess I have not been able to discover, and can hardly conjecture. If we judge by what has happened in America, it would be easy to conclude that the press in all democracies is sure to become somewhat puerile, easily occupied with small things, and prone to flippant treatment of great subjects. This is true of the French press, in away; but in that case something of the tendency may be ascribed to temperament, and something to want of practice in self-government.
I cannot see any signs of it in the country press in England. That, so far as I have been able to observe, continues grave, decorous, and mature. There is nothing of the boyish spirit in it which pervades much of our journalism. The weight which still attaches to the tastes and opinions of an educated upper class may account for this in some degree, but the fact is that Australian journals have preserved these very characteristics, although the beginnings of Australian journalism were as bad as possible. Its earliest editing was done by ex-convicts, and the journals which these men set on foot were very like those that have the worst reputation among us for venality and triviality. Strange to say, the community did not sit down under them. There was an immediate rising against this sort of editors in New South Wales. Their control of leading newspapers was treated as a scandal too great to be borne, and they were driven out of the profession. The newspapers then passed largely into the hands of young university men who had come out from England to seek their fortunes; they gave journalism a tone which has lasted till now. The opinions of the press still count in politics. It can still discredit or overthrow a ministry, because the duration of a ministry depends on the opinion of the legislature, and that, in turn, depends on the opinion of the public. There can be no defiant boss, indifferent to what the public thinks, provided he has " got the delegates.” In fact, the Australian system seems better adapted to the maintenance of really independent and influential journals than ours. The fixed terms of executive officers and the boss system of nomination are almost fatal to newspaper power. So long as results cannot be achieved quickly, the influence of the press must be feeble.
Of course, in speaking of a country which one does not know personally, one must speak very cautiously. All impressions one gets from books need correction by actual observation, particularly in the case of a country in which changes are so rapid as in Australia. Of this rapidity every traveler and writer I have consulted makes mention, and every traveler soon finds his book out of date. Sir Charles Dilke visited Australia about 1870, but writing in 1890 he dwells on the enormous differences of every kind which twenty years had brought about. The latest work on Australia, Mr. Walker’s Australasian Democracy, gives as an illustration of this transientness of everything the fact that the three colonies of New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria have had respectively twenty-eight, forty-two, and twenty-six ministries in forty years. One can readily imagine how many changes of policy on all sorts of subjects, and how many changes of men, these figures represent. All travelers, too, bear testimony to the optimism of the people in every colony. Nothing is more depressing in a new country than officialism, or management of public affairs by irresponsible rulers. From this the Anglo-Saxons have always enjoyed freedom in their new countries. The result has always been free play for individual energy and initiative ; and with boundless resources, as in America and Australia, these qualities are sure to bring cheerfulness of temperament. The mass of men are better off each year, mistakes are not serious, mutual helpfulness is the leading note of the community, nobody is looked down on by anybody, and public opinion is all powerful. In Australia there is more reason for this, as yet, than with us. The Australians are not tormented by a race question, they have never had any civil strife, and they have not yet come into contact with that greatest difficulty of large democracies, the difficulty of communicating to the mass common ideas and impulses.
E. L. Godkin.
NOTE. AS I have endeavored to give in this article impressions rather than facts, I have not thought it worth while to cite authorities for all my statements. I will simply say that I have formed these impressions from perusal of the following works : The Australian Colonies in 1896, E. A. Petherick, 1807 ; New Zealand Rulers and Statesmen, 1840-97, Williani Gisborne ; Oceana, J. A. Froude, 1886 ; Queensland, Rev. John D. Lang, D. D., 1864 ; The Coming Commonwealth, R. R, Garlan, 1897 ; The Australians, Francis Adams, 1893 ; The Land of Gold, Julius M. Price, 1896 ; New Zealand Official Year Book, 1897 ; Reports of Department of Labor, 1893-97 ; Journal of 1897 ; Problems of Greater Britain, Sir Charles Dilke, 1890; Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales, Dr. Lang, 1875 ; Thirty Years of Colonial Government, Sir G. F. Bowen, 1889; Australian Democracy, Henry de R. Walker, 1897 ; History of New Zealand, G. W. Rusden, 1891; Western Australian Blue Book.
- Thirty Years of Colonial Government. From the Official Papers of Sir G. F. Bowen.↩