The Future of Political Parties

THE leading political parties, both in the United States and Europe, have been undergoing a process of evolution within the past two years, which has radically transformed, or seems about to transform, their character and party programmes. This transformation is none the less real because it has been, to a certain degree, unconscious, and has been obscured by the perpetuation of old party names and the continued use of old formulas.

For nearly a score of years, from 1876 to 1896, American politics were in what may be described as a state of transition. Both the great parties often professed the same devotion to administrative reform and to sound money, and sought to create artificial issues rather than to accept those growing inevitably out of the progress of events. Both parties had practically fulfilled, as early as 1876, the mission for which they were organized, and the succeeding twenty years were spent largely in the pursuit of factitious issues which would attract votes and hold the party organizations together, rather than in the adoption of issues logically created by events. There was a groping for new issues, without that sharp division of parties which develops naturally from conflicting economic policies or opposing moral convictions.

Recent events have created new issues, which seem likely to shape the policies of the two great parties in the United States for many years to come, and give to each a definite and clear-cut political programme. One of these parties seems destined to stand for a strong government, seeking national greatness through a resolute foreign policy and the expansion of colonial empire ; the other seems destined to champion some of those measures of state socialism which have already obtained a firm footing in Europe, with the aim of insuring to the masses of the people equality of economic and social opportunity. In a sense, the two political parties have represented these ideas from the days of Hamilton and Jefferson; but a radical change has recently taken place in the issues treated as paramount, and in the methods by which those issues are advocated.

The Republican party has ceased to concern itself with the liberation and enfranchisement of the black race, and, while still protectionist, has so far lost sight of this issue that it was not even mentioned by President McKinley, in his last annual message to Congress, as one of the causes of the abounding prosperity which the country has enjoyed. With the changed conditions of international competition, the Republican party has risen to the new requirements of the time, and proved its kinship with the party of Hamilton by adopting a positive national policy. On the Democratic side, — speaking, for convenience, of the Bryan Democracy as representing the party organization, — the modification of old conceptions is even more striking. This is true not merely of the money question, but of the fundamental methods by which the Democratic party of Jefferson sought to realize its aims.

Thomas Jefferson and his followers advocated, in political matters, if not in those more strictly economic, what came to be called the doctrine of laissez faire. This doctrine performed great services to humanity and to sound political and economic theory in shaking the fetters of feudalism from modern society. But its work as a living creed in the strictly political field is nearly done. If Mr. Cleveland, in appealing to the masses of the Democratic party to return to their old principles, receives but scanty and fainting response, it is not because these principles were false, but because they have done their perfect work. This work is no longer in danger of being undone, and it is, therefore, no longer possible to stir political passions in regard to it. Flawless on the side of abstract doctrine, it no longer represents an issue upon which propagandism is required. In the arena of political freedom, little remains to be achieved in the United States, and comparatively little in any country where constitutional government has been established. Universal manhood suffrage ; the equal share of all men in government ; justice for rich or poor, weak or powerful, in the courts of law, — all these things have been completely achieved in democratic countries, so far as it is possible for them to be achieved by political legislation. The fact that this universal suffrage and this equality of civil rights is coming to be limited, in this country, to the Caucasian race involves a different problem, upon which it is not necessary to enter here. The Anglo-Saxon mind is preeminently practical rather than severely logical, and accepts to-day, in practice, if not in terms, the limitation that the privilege of self - government shall be granted only to those who are capable of using it with reasonable discretion.

In the complete achievement of those reforms for which Jefferson contended is found the reason for much of the groping and wavering of the Democratic party in America to-day. It is not a phenomenon, moreover, which is limited to the United States. In Great Britain, the same sense of a mission which has been fulfilled has paralyzed the energies of the Liberal party, stifled the ambition of its leaders, and disrupted its ranks, in the face of the new issues which are coming before the country. Liberalism in its classic sense has, in the political field, done its perfect work. It will be pointed out in a moment that there is another field upon which it may enter; but in this new field new battle cries will be heard, new weapons will be used, and many of those who have served loyally under the banner of political liberalism will refuse to serve under the banners inscribed with the new doctrines. The true meaning of the new conditions, and the new alignment they demand, are coming to be appreciated by thoughtful Liberals in England. Mr. G. F. Millin, in an article in the Fortnightly Review for April, 1901, thus sums up the situation : —

“ It is the simple truth to say that the great historic party, the moral power of which reformed Parliament, repealed the Corn Laws, swept away religious disabilities, gave a free press and popular education, and the right to combine, has no effective principle or policy absolutely and clearly distinct from those which are now guiding the legislation and the administration of the Tories.”

The reorganization of parties throughout the world promises, therefore, to be along the lines of imperial expansion on the one hand, and state socialism on the other. The recognition of the importance of colonial expansion has flashed upon all the great civilized nations within the past generation. Great Britain, the chief colonial power down to recent years, was absorbed in domestic questions until she had worked out political freedom at home and economic supremacy under the old conditions. Disraeli was among the first to appreciate the importance of the colonies to the future of the British Empire. In the face of ridicule and contumely, he declared in favor of an imperial policy, and set in motion the series of measures which in 1877 placed upon the head of Queen Victoria the diadem of " Empress of India.”

Prince Bismarck persisted in laying the foundations of an imperial policy by his ventures in Africa from 1885 onward, in spite of hostile votes in the Reichstag and the barren character of the countries open to German colonization. France was already a colonial power in Algeria and the Orient before 1880, but only after that year did she push her conquests in Annam, extend her protectorate over Tunis, and seize Madagascar. Even Belgium, though without a large military and naval equipment to sustain her power beyond sea, succeeded, by the convention of 1892, in acquiring a large territory in Africa. Italy also sought colonial establishments on the Red Sea, at heavy cost, and Japan was prevented from acquiring a footing in China only by the united warning of three great powers. Russia, although feeling less the pressure of some of the economic causes which have influenced the great manufacturing nations, has, nevertheless, pressed with growing intensity upon her neighbors in central Asia and upon the tottering Empire of China. The United States entered the circle in 1898 with the conquest of Porto Rico and the Philippines. Although the appearance of this country among colonial powers bore the semblance of an accident, the eagerness with which the opportunity was seized, and the light - hearted ness with which blood and treasure have been sacrificed for maintaining a footing in the Orient, are sufficient evidence that expansion and the struggle for free markets must soon have become, in any event, a part of American national policy.

The evolution of an imperial foreign policy in manufacturing countries, and the simultaneous growth of the sentiment for state socialism in all of them, are but gropings along different lines for a solution of the same problem. This problem is the congestion of saved capital, the growing intensity of the struggle for existence, both between individuals and nations, and the necessity for new outlets for the less efficient labor which has been displaced by machinery on the one hand, and for the greatly increased product of the more efficient labor on the other, which, by the aid of machinery and economies in production, is outrunning the demands of current consumption. In the evolution of human society, it is not unlikely that each of these solutions — new markets and the protection of national trade opportunities abroad, and some steps toward the reorganization and mitigation of the competitive system at home — will be in part adopted in meeting the problems of the future.

The manufacturing and capitalistic nations stand face to face in a struggle for commercial power which may be a struggle of life or death for their producing masses. As units of political power, it is the mission of each to obtain outlets for its national production, and to prevent the fencing off of the undeveloped territories of the earth for the exclusive exploitation of one or more other powers. Equality of economic opportunity abroad, or exclusive opportunity, therefore, is the mission of the strong national party in each nation,— the party which need not blush under a true interpretation of the name " Imperialist.” But equality of economic opportunity at home must also be secured, if the benefits won by national producing capacity and guarded by national power are not to be sequestrated by a few. This is the true mission of the party in opposition, — to demand equality of opportunity for those within the state in sharing what has been won by a firm national policy for the citizens of the state throughout the world. These issues are so great and vital that they may well justify a recasting of party programmes, and may well make party professions seem trifling when they are rung upon the old domestic issues. When these new issues are frankly recognized as the dividing lines of party, the present unsettled state of party relations will disappear, and each of the great parties will have a definite and defensible programme. Toward this solution events are steadily tending.

It has been said that the programme outlined by Jefferson at the foundation of the republic has been completely carried out. Emphasis should be laid upon the fact that this programme sought political objects rather than economic objects. Before machine production had been born, — at least before it had become a serious factor in social life ; before great accumulations of capital had made possible the construction of railways, the centralization of industry, the distribution of the products of the farm and mill through organized markets, and combinations of producers and manufacturers, reaching the stage of world monopolies, — it was the dream of idealists that the achievement of political equality for all men would usher in economic equality as an inevitable consequence. The two ideas were hardly considered as separate. This hope has been disappointed. There is almost nothing more which can be done to extend the political rights of members of the Caucasian race in America or Great Britain. Even regulations to prevent corruption of the individual voter, to insure the secrecy of his ballot, and thereby to take away all power of direct political coercion from wealth, intellect, and power, have reached a point where they can be carried little farther. But it is obvious, even to those who have expected great results from these recent reforms, that they have failed to accomplish what was expected, in establishing for all men by the side of their equality before the law a like equality of economic opportunity.

The fact that the work of the Liberal party along the lines of political reform has been accomplished in England, much like the work of the Democratic party along the same lines in the United States, was recognized in an article printed in the Fortnightly Review for November, 1900, by Mr. Edward Dicey. He even declared that the list of political reforms “ was virtually exhausted while the nineteenth century was still in its prime.” Summing up the future of the great parties, he declared : —

“ I can see no grounds to hope that the Liberal party can ever regain the position it held in the days of Whig ascendency, under Russell and Palmerston. If I have made my meaning clear, I think I have shown that the Liberal downfall is due mainly to the logic of facts. The party, for good or bad, had fulfilled its mission, and having completed all the principal reforms consistent with the existing constitution of these realms, it lost its reason of being. . . . According to my forecast, the opposition, in virtue of the exigencies of their political position, must become more and more radical. For the moment the Radicals are left out in the cold. They have no programme, no policy, no leaders, and, for the most part, no heart in their work. But in a democracy there is sure to be a party which bids for popular support by democratic legislation. For reasons I have pointed out, political reform has lost its attraction for the masses. But the idea that their position might be improved by social reforms is gradually gaining ground amidst the working class, who in the last resort can always determine the result of any appeal to the constituencies by sheer force of numbers. Thus, if I am not mistaken, the liberal party of the future, under whatever name it may be known, will be the radical party with socialistic proclivities.”

That the Democratic party in the United States is going through a similar transformation is beginning to be appreciated by far - sighted observers. The New York Journal, soon after the recent election of Mr. Tom L. Johnson as mayor of Cleveland, declared that “ this week’s elections have brought to the front a new class of leaders, — men who have given thought to the problems of the new century, and who will be able to propose solutions that will commend themselves to the public intelligence.” The real character of the new issues was thus set forth : —

“ Mr. Bryan, able and patriotic as he is, is not really modern. He lives in the past. He has never been able fully to adapt himself to the economic and social revolution that has changed the face of the world. A superseded financial theory like free silver appeals to him more than the public ownership of railroads and telegraphs, postal savings banks, or any of the other pressing needs of the twentieth century.”

The Springfield Republican, whose readiness to speak the truth at all times has been long sustained by a keen insight into the shams of party management, reviews these same elections of last spring, and thus sums up their significance : —

“ Their success has in it a half note of socialistic triumph. Men who take the ground Johnson and Jones do toward monopolies, toward land, and toward taxation can hardly be in close sympathy with the old Democracy of Mr. Whitney, the late Governor Flower, and Mr. Cleveland. Their success in Cleveland and Toledo means a Bryanism modified and readjusted along socialistic lines, rather than the revival or restoration of the old Democratic régime.”

That a great work lies before the party of popular rights is manifest from many of the signs of the times. The rapid accumulation of property in the hands of a few is a factor big with the elements of jealousy and discord in the future. If it be true, as shown by a recent computation in the New York Herald, that 3828 millionaires own $16,000,000,000, or nearly one fifth of the wealth of the country, this fact is bound to attract attention and cause debate.

Every one who has seriously considered the subject without prejudice knows that these great accumulations of wealth are in most cases legitimate under existing law, and that the getting of them has involved no violation of the moral law as it is understood to-day. In any country, the person who looses the seal of its resources, whether by a railway system, an important invention, or the reduction of the cost of making or distributing some useful article, is entitled to reap rich rewards. This is especially the case in a new country, where the taking of risks is an almost necessary condition of great success. The accumulation of these fortunes has not prevented the increase in the number of well - paid positions in the professions which minister to new comforts, luxury, and culture. The number of persons having incomes which would have been considered generous upon the scale of half a century ago has greatly increased, and the earnings and comfort of the laboring masses have also increased. All classes have an increased producing power, resulting from machinery ; and this increased producing power has enabled all to become larger purchasers of articles and services beyond the bare necessities of subsistence.

But notwithstanding the freedom of these fortunes, in the majority of cases, from any taint of wrongdoing, and notwithstanding the improved resources of all classes, the concentration of great wealth in a few hands is an economic fact of which society is certain to take note. Abuses of great wealth have usually grown up by degrees, and not by deliberate violation of law or equity. It was thus that Italy was ruined by the conquests of Rome, which substituted slave labor for free labor, and gradually absorbed all the arable land into the hands of a few landlords. It was thus that the French nobility, originally rendering important services to the state, became useless parasites upon the body politic, because they retained and extended their privileges after they had ceased to render services. In the United States, the control which the holders of this wealth are often able to exercise over state legislatures, with the exemptions from taxation which have been purchased by corporations, by carrying their enterprises into particular communities, indicates a danger of abuse with which the far-sighted statesman and philosopher is bound to reckon.

The new party of opposition to privilege and power will undoubtedly make blunders in the application of its theories which will repel the thoughtful and alarm the conservative. But in spite of this fact, — in spite of the tendency of its policies to drive into the ranks of the more constructive party men of property and large interests, — a legitimate field undoubtedly lies before the party which sets out to diminish the powers of corruption, of deception, and of spoliation, conferred by the progress of events upon concentrated wealth and unscrupulous power. Its highest aim should be to insure to all something of that equality of economic and social opportunity which is the dream of the most profound thinkers. Exaggeration and passion will, unfortunately, obscure the better elements of this party programme, and excite the nervous fears of the owners of property and of special privileges ; but the principles of the popular party will continue to make headway, even if their execution is sometimes reluctantly assumed by its better organized opponent.

In this great field of economic inequalities must labor the liberal party of the future. To a limited extent its objects may be sought along the old lines of democratic policy, — the removal of needless fetters imposed by the state upon the freedom of the individual. But along these lines only a tithe can be accomplished of that programme which is being marked out by the advanced thinkers of modern socialism. Direct interference by the state with private rights and with the privilege of combination — not abstention from interference — is a necessary part of their political machinery. In the measures of state socialism they seek the weapons which are to cripple the power of great combinations, and remit to the individual the real equality in competition with his fellows which they believe is threatened by the privileges conferred on corporations by the power of combined wealth, and by the many weapons of deception and wrong placed in the hands of the farsighted and unscrupulous by the modern organization of industry. It is not intended to be implied that this organization is wrong in substance or in purpose. This is the opposite of the writer’s belief. Many of the changes which have been proposed would tend only to cripple the mighty machinery by which modern competition is reduced to a common level, and by which values are fixed with a delicacy and precision which were impossible under old conditions. Laws which check enterprise by excessive taxation upon the production and distribution of goods or the transfer of capital only fasten a ball and chain about a nation which seeks to enter upon a successful race with its rivals in the intense competition of modern commerce.

Notwithstanding these grounds for criticising popular measures of intended reform, there are many measures of state socialism which are capable of reasonable discussion without raising alarm among intelligent owners of property. Such projects would naturally precede more radical ones as political issues. Insurance for workingmen against sickness and old age, which is on trial in Germany, has many benefits. The laborer, the employer, and the state share in fixed proportions in the contributions toward the funds which provide for emergencies and old age. If the contributions by the state seem to levy a tax upon the more thrifty, it should be remembered that, in a large degree, they only offset contributions which would otherwise have to be made for public charity. These subjects are mentioned, not for the purpose of expressing any opinion on their merits, but to indicate the class of issues upon which the country may be called to divide in the future.

While any step toward state socialism will undoubtedly be like a red rag to a bull, in many quarters, — and this intolerant temper will be fostered for political ends by the party of positive policies, — there is nothing in a moderate programme of this kind to alarm the man of property or even disturb the owner of great wealth, where its possession does not depend upon special favors from the state. There is not room in a magazine article to discuss, even in outline, the reasonable measures of public policy which might be supported by a party seeking, in the interests of the masses, to insure for all equality of economic opportunity. The socialistic features of this programme, so far as they become practical issues, will naturally relate to the control of quasi-public functions, like transportation by rail, municipal lighting and heating, and other things which can better be done by concentration and by a single authority than by several competitors. Whatever may be the economic merits of these proposals, they are not revolutionary in the worst sense of the term. The man who advocates them is not necessarily an enemy of private property nor a champion of red-handed revolution. The most conservative countries in a political sense — Great Britain and Germany — have already gone far beyond American communities in this sort of state socialism.

The ownership of the telegraph and the railways by the government is likely to be much discussed in the United States within the next generation. There are many objections to such control, but the proposition is capable of candid discussion, and does not in itself go beyond the confines of a legitimate political issue. Railway corporations hold their privileges under the right of limited liability. This makes each of them an artificial creature of the law. They have obtained by favor of the state another important privilege, in the right to take land for their tracks by right of eminent domain. That the state has the right to revise these grants of special privileges, so as to establish a closer supervision over their use and abuse, is unquestionable, except perhaps in extraordinary instances. If the proposal that the government shall acquire the railways is socialistic or revolutionary, it is a form of revolution already achieved in the most conservative countries of Europe, — Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Russia. Switzerland has only recently completed arrangements for the acquisition of the chief private lines, and their conversion into state railways. The telegraph lines are now controlled by the government in nearly every European country, including Great Britain, and the functions of the post office are steadily encroaching upon the business of the express companies,

How far it will be possible for thoughtful and conscientious men to serve in the ranks of the popular party, if it adopts the tenets of state socialism, will depend much upon the particular measures which it advocates. Two vigorous and evenly balanced political parties are essential to the healthy growth of a democratic country. The party of constructive measures and a resolute foreign policy is certain to make blunders, from the very fact that its character compels it constantly to venture upon new seas. Such blunders will invoke reaction, and at intervals will drive the party from power. Unchallenged possession of power, moreover, fosters lack of sensitiveness to the public will, and encourages extravagance and corruption. These conditions make it desirable that the party of opposition should be cohesive enough to govern well, and be led by men of a due sense of responsibility to the existing order. They are likely, in any event, to be intrusted with power at times by the negative influence of revolt against the party of positive action ; and no well-wisher of his country can desire that they should use this power ill.

The new dividing line between the parties, therefore, is becoming distinct enough to be visible to the vision of the far - sighted and thoughtful throughout the world. But revolutions do not always move forward in a straight line. They are affected, like the tide, by eddies and undertows. These confusing currents may seem for a time to arrest or obscure the drift toward definite party divisions in favor of a resolute foreign policy on the one hand, and state socialism on the other. The conservative influences which were once potent in the Democratic party may succeed in putting a man of the steady caution of ex-Senator Gorman or the resolute nationalism of ex-Secretary Olney at the head of the Democratic national ticket in 1904. The policies and surroundings of such men would mask for a time the evolution of party tendencies ; but the same divisions in the party ranks which split the party in twain, and made it useless for President Cleveland to recommend any positive measure of reform, would unquestionably break out in Congress under either of these men, distinguished, able, and tactful as they are. The party under their leadership, though eminently respectable and formally true to its past, would not represent the methods and policies of democracy throughout the world in its new struggle for equality of economic and social opportunity.

The democratic idea, therefore, must seek a new manifestation, if the party would survive as a healthy rival of the party of expansion. That democracy has fulfilled its mission in the direction of purely political reforms is the reason for its hesitations, divisions, and defeats on two continents within the last few years. When it has formulated a new and comprehensive programme, — logical and virile from the point of view of a large class of thinkers, — it may be in a position to measure swords again, with courage and enthusiasm, with the party which supports a constructive national policy at home, and a resolute foreign policy abroad. For the moment, the latter party will profit by the divisions and hesitations in the ranks of its opponents, and will receive as recruits from their ranks those who are impatient of any party without a constructive policy, and those who tremble at the signs of the coming of the new order.

Charles A. Conant.