BY F. W. TAUSSIG
WHEN Nassau Senior, perhaps the most scholarly and wide-minded economist of the British school, enumerated the postulates of political economy, he contented himself with mentioning a single trait in human nature. He set forth such fundamental things as the law of diminishing returns, the tendency of population to increase, and so on; and then went on to state in the simplest terms the one motive from whose working he conceived that useful conclusions could be drawn: “that every man desires to obtain additional wealth with as little sacrifice as possible.” This was among the postulates of the science: something so self-evident, or so completely established by other sciences, that the economist might accept it once for all as a basis for further reasoning.
No doubt the ready acceptance of this proposition as simple and self-supporting was due to the general intellectual trend of the time. The drift was in all directions towards simplicity and unity, towards the analysis of complex phenomena into a few elements. In psychology, the doctrine of association of ideas was dominant; all human impulses were resolved into processes of association with simple elements. In ethics, utilitarianism held the field; the sense of right and wrong, so far from being thought innate, was regarded as a simple precipitate of mankind’s experience of gain or loss from different modes of conduct. In economics the Ricardian theorems lent themselves to a brief and consistent statement of a few ruling principles, leading easily to a compact system of clear-cut conclusions. All this made natural a rapid analysis of the motives that influence men in their economic doings: plain striving for wealth, such as was seen in operation on all sides.
Since those days the course of thought has much changed. Psychology has doubled on its tracks, as it were; association of ideas does not tell the whole story; human nature, we find, works with no single motive force, but with a curious assortment of inconsistent impulses. Utilitarianism throws a flood of light on the directions which our moral judgments take; but it remains a question whether there be not an instinct of right conduct, very variable in range and degree, butno less deep-rooted than other instincts of the race. In economics, much as the science has gained by the Ricardian method of analyzing the bare working of fundamental forces, we feel the imperative need of bearing in mind the complexities of real life, the interaction of opposing or converging causes. And so we are not content with the acceptance of a simple desire for additional wealth as the one human motive that deserves the attention of the economist. Why always additional wealth ? and why additional wealth only? and is it not possible that further examination of the apparently simple desire for wealth may open new inquiries and point the way to new conclusions ?
In considering these questions I shall have in mind primarily the kind of person described in our books as the “captain of industry,”— the manager of large affairs, the successful man. The qualities which this sort of person must possess, and the nature of the operations he conducts, have been abundantly discussed in recent economic literature. But more has been said of the things that he does than of the motives that lead him to do them. The desire for wealth which actuates him is, as Cliffe Leslie long ago remarked, not a simple motive, but a very complex one, made up of all sorts of differing passions and instincts. In trying to analyze him I confess to have something of the feeling which the naturalist must have when called on to examine and classify an ichthyosaurus or a megatherium, — a huge and elaborate monster, doubtless very terrible in the real world, and not to be dissected even in the scholar’s laboratory without fear and trembling. Yet deliberate examination may be expected to show that, however strange on first inspection, and however striking as a species by himself, this remarkable sort of person partakes of the general characteristics of the genus homo, and that his ways can be analyzed and laid bare like those of the ordinary man.
The several aspects or constituent elements of the complex desire for wealth may be analyzed under four heads: first, love of ease and comfort; second, desire for distinction; third, the impulse to activity; fourth, the passion for power and mastery.
Of the first of these, the love of ease and comfort, little need be said, both because the motive itself is simple and obvious, and because it seems to play no great part in our problem. We all wish abundant and varied food, ample clothing, sufficient house room, opportunity for recreation, and other resources of prosperous living. The wide diffusion of such physical comfort, and the extent to which the arts must advance before a satisfactory average can be secured, constitute the problem of production for society as a whole. But for the limited section of society which we now have in mind, this factor can play no great part. An income very modest in the eyes of modern fortune-seeking suffices for all essentials. Much more than this is sought by the would-be captain of industry; and to understand the springs of his doings we must consider chiefly the other motives.
Far more effective is the desire for distinction, a motive so all-pervading that, like the pressure of the air, it acts on us without our being conscious of its powder. Much that we might be disposed to ascribe to the love of material ease is but a manifestation of the desire for distinction: as in our clothing, our houses, even our food. It belongs among the primary human impulses; it shows itself in the earliest stages of tribal life, and seems to gather strength as society advances to more complex stages. It persists in defiance of all the principles and traditions of democracy. So wide-reaching and ineradicable is it that the social reformer must perforce reckon with it. We cannot hope to root it out, even should we desire to do so. All that can be expected is to modify its growth, and cause it to develop in ways helpful for the common welfare.
Doubtless the form of the love of distinction which is most widely felt is the desire for social superiority, — using the word social in its narrow conventional sense. Each layer in society deems itself better than that below, and wishes to be as well thought of as that above. Each set decks itself with those outward symbols, from starched linen to stately mansions, which proclaim to the onlooker what stage of worldly advancement has been attained. The snobbery of the race, however flouted by the satirist, persists in undiminished strength. And this is a factor of the first importance in the economic world. It is a prime motive for the accumulation of wealth, and so for the increase of the community’s capital.
The recognition of wealth as sufficient in itself to accredit the owner in the social scale came first in Great Britain. Admission to the shining ranks of the upper class has been the dream of every Briton; wealth, if piled high enough, has been, next to martial renown, the surest means of securing entrance. This materialization of the British aristocracy has unquestionably had a powerful effect on the activities of the business class. It has served to promote enterprise, invention, and the accumulation of capital, and has been no small factor in bringing about that industrial leadership which Great Britain retained through the nineteenth century. The same influences have shown themselves in other countries, tardily at first, but with gathering strength during the last generation or two. In the United States, in the absence of hereditary dignities and titles, wealth became naturally the main avenue to social distinction. Here, as in Great Britain, it has sometimes taken a generation or two before the desired goal was attained; but admission to the set which deems itself exclusive has been attained by the millionaire’s children, or at all events by his later descendants.
It is not easy to say just in what way and to what degree the love of distinction in this form affects the captain of industry. Are the ceremonies and extravagances of conventional society per se sources of pleasure to the successful man of affairs ? Or are they valued as symbols of place and power, external evidences of the attainment of a distinguished station ? These are questions which the self-made rich man would himself often find it difficult to answer. Like all of us, he follows the paths of emulation and imitation marked out for him by the rest of the world. Perhaps it is not this form of distinction, but merely distinction in some form, that spurs him; a doubt which we could solve only if we could try the experiment of removing all the silly ostentation, and leaving only a ribbon, a laurel-wreath, for the man who had guided with success the wealth-making forces of society. We may infer, indeed, from some things in everyday observation, that it is the wives and children and children’s children of the self-made man who care chiefly for the frippery of wealth. Often he is said to be, for himself, indifferent to these baubles, even averse to them. In the infinite shades of variety in human nature, many no doubt get a real zest of enjoyment from the paraphernalia of riches, while as many more go through the motions with weary impatience. But it is probable that in all cases there is some admixture of other motives; and in many cases doubtless there is a preponderance of other motives.
Among these other motives, we may next consider the impulse for activity, the inevitable wish of the active and healthy man to be up and doing. Sports and recreation pall, when pursued not to vary the work of the world, but as occupations in themselves. A fortunate few only can find a resource in creative intellectual work. Your business man, however successful in business, has commonly no marked aptitudes in other directions, and has no other resource than to go on with business. He continues to scheme and work largely from the need of giving vent to his energies. No other occupation is so interesting and absorbing as moneymaking ; at all events no other is so easily entered. Hence many a man who has accumulated what he once thought quite enough, continues to accumulate more, and piles riches on riches, from the mere negative motive that he must do this or nothing. And doubtless, where such is the case, the conventional extravagances of the very rich give some added flavor, from the gratification of the love of distinction in its snobbish form; even though this gratification would have been quite inadequate of itself to induce the exertion.
We must reckon as part of the same impulse, or as one closely allied, the satisfaction which comes from achievement. We need not go into psychological refinements, — there may or may not be, as has been suggested by some thinkers, an ancient and deep-rooted instinct for workmanship. Certain it is that many men, and probably most men of the type we are now chiefly considering, take pleasure in rounded achievement. To one who has the capacity for management, there is a strong satisfaction in so administering a complex enterprise that every part of the mechanism does its work properly, or in carrying a long-continued chain of operations successfully to the end. The pleasure is like that of the mechanic in a neat job, of the scholar in a conclusive investigation. It adds zest to the impulse for activity, and may maintain activity long after the motives by which labor was first impelled have ceased to operate.
Last among the motives to which I shall advert is the love of power. No doubt this passion, like the others which we have been considering, is not to be regarded as standing by itself. Only in extreme cases can it be observed as separately in action. Desire to command the services of others is obviously one of its sources, and the love of ease and the aversion to labor contribute to it. The love of distinction is commonly associated with it. But here again the question arises why the love of distinction should take this particular direction; which it can do only if mankind commonly admire and emulate the successful exercise of the power of subjugation.
In its brutal forms, the passion for domination is observable, alas, through almost the entire sweep of history. We may speculate that it is an outgrowth, a result by natural selection, of that warfare between contending races which Malthus illustrated so plentifully in the later and less familiar chapters of the Essay on Population. We can hardly doubt that the brute instinct for slaughter and destruction, which crops out so easily even in our society of peaceful industry, is an inheritance from the primal days of the race, when man shared with the rest of organic life the relentless struggle for existence. Similarly we may guess the passion for mastery to be the outcome of the same sort of struggle between the over-peopling groups and races of men. Whatever its origin, there can be no question as to its strength and persistence, or the response which it has met from kindred feelings in the hearts of men from time immemorial. Alexander, Cæsar, Napoleon, and the whole host of lesser heroes, have aroused the admiration which all the world feels for the subjugator. Most of what we know of history is one long, sad tale of sanguinary aggression, of unceasing struggle by each prince and princeling for more territory and more vassals, and, running through it all, the glorification of adventure, power, and conquest.
Something of the satisfaction which the captain of armies has felt is felt also by the modern captain of industry. His is a figure as familiar to the modern world as that of the martial leader has always been, and it is hardly less admired. He, too, lords it over thousands and tens of thousands, and finds gratification for the passion of mastery as well as for the love of distinction. What part these two motives, so closely associated, play in the doings of the fortune-builder, he is himself hardly conscious. He strives for that which is striven for by his associates. Among these — in the hierarchy, sacred to our plutocracy, of the “big men" in the business world — we can see often no explanation of the incessant striving and scheming which does not take into account the passion for domination. The great captain of industry, with millions of money at his command, has under his sway a vast complex of men, of interwoven enterprises and industries, of towns, cities, even of states. To a degree of which we are hardly aware, but which he himself appreciates but too well, he is the power behind the throne in the political life of our boasted democracy. In the business sphere he is the acknowledged leader, before whom men bow and cringe, and of whom they speak with bated breath.
The worship of wealth and of the rich man has often been the object of satire and of blame; and similarly the motives which we have just considered — the love of distinction in its snobbish forms and the passion for industrial mastery — have been roundly condemned. Yet it deserves to be noted that the direction which these impulses take in modern times has led to great gains for the community. The industrial ideal has supplanted the military, or if it has not supplanted it, has at least risen to equal prominence and attractiveness. The satirist and the lover of the simple life may be amazed that the sort of distinction given by the mere possession of wealth should be so highly prized; but the substitution of this avenue to distinction for the feudal one of birth and valor has meant an immense stimulus to material progress and peaceful accumulation. Similarly, the vent which the passion for mastery has found in industrial conquest has meant an enormous gain for peace, industry, mutual service. Your feudal baron or mediæval statesman was essentially of the robber type. At best, he was a sort of watch dog, whose business it was to prevent others from plundering his charges. Our modern fortune-builder is often portrayed as the counter-type of the feudal baron; nor can it be denied that, in the ramifications of modern industry, there are great possibilities for mere rapacity. But such, after all, is not the main effect, certainly not the sole effect, of the moneymaking activities. Enterprise, invention, the development of the fruitful division of labor, the organization of new schemes, the opening of new lands, and the utilization of new resources, — these have been the main conditions and accompaniments of great fortunes. We can no longer hold the semi-theological view reflected in Adam Smith’s oft-quoted phrase, that the individual is “led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention;” but we may at least be thankful that the impulses which move the strong and ambitious are so often turned to the achievements of peace and industry.
But if the community has thus gained from the turning of the love of distinction to the worship of wealth, and of the masterful passion to industrial conquest, it does not follow that this common gain may not be secured in still greater degree. Is it conceivable that he who directs an industrial enterprise with success, and thereby gains a fortune, may be induced to labor with equal zeal and efficiency in public business ? Can the love of distinction and the passion for domination not be satisfied in ways other than those we are now familiar with ? Can the great capacities of the captain of industry be turned directly and unquestionably to the general good, without the bribe of a fortune, and of power thinly veiled and lightly trammeled ?
Clear it is that the modern community needs the services of strong industrial leaders. We cannot foresee how great will be the extension of the functions of government in the next two or three generations; but that they will extend measurably, perhaps largely, there can be no doubt. Public works even in their accepted routine, — schools, streets, sewers, water supply, lighting, the post, — become more complicated and call for a higher order of management. I have little faith in the theorem that the sphere of the state must of necessity broaden, and I should hesitate long before venturing on a prediction as to the extent to which its operations will be enlarged in this century. But enlargement in some degree, great or small, is certain. Most certain of all it is that some at least of the great industries of modern times would be carried on to greater advantage for the community if conducted as public enterprises under able management. Here is the essence of the problem: can able management be secured? In the past, there has been found no spur to industrial efficiency equal to that from the magic of property, with all the freedom, elasticity, power, which flow from unfettered ownership. Can we find in the future, under public ownership, any stimulus comparable to this ?
Reverting now to our analysis of the motives for money-making, I fear we must face the fact that the most widespread and perhaps most powerful of these motives cannot be easily turned to the aid of public management. I refer to the love of distinction in its most familiar form, — the snobbish form, if you please to call it so: the desire to rise in the social scale. No doubt, a monarchical or semi-monarchical state can use a system of orders, titles, decorations, as in some degree a substitute for salaries and wealth. But the substitute is not comparable in efficacy to the desire for wealth as a means of securing social station, and in any case it is available in only very limited range under a democracy. Hence it is probable that, as long as human nature remains such as we know it, private ownership and management of capital will conduce most to the efficient and progressive conduct of production, and that the sphere of public management, while large absolutely, will be limited in range and extent as compared with the accepted and dominant régime of private property.
Nevertheless, there is obvious play for the love of distinction in public affairs; and this not only in political affairs as commonly thought of, but in those industrial problems which are coming to be more and more interwoven with political affairs. After all, public station is a lodestone of wonderful power. Not all men of administrative capacity are open to its attractions, and not all have the aptitudes necessary for participation in public affairs. But in the class of business men who form, so to speak, the officers of the industrial army, and from whom the generals are recruited, there is a good proportion of ambitious men for whom public service has a strong attraction. They are drawn not only by the distinction and possible fame of a public career; they are drawn also by something better and higher. In enumerating and classifying economic motives, we must not forget the altruistic impulse. Whether or no it be innate, and whatever its origin, its existence and influence are patent. Like the other motives which we have considered, it is dominant only in extreme cases. As some individuals are possessed by a love of display, and others by a passion for domination, so a few are consumed by devotion to the rest of mankind. But most men have mixed motives: they feel the itch of social ambition, they love power and control; they respond also to the call for public spirit. There is enough of public spirit and of genuine altruism to contribute effectively to the solution of our social and economic problems. When we add the gratification from public fame and a place in history, we may feel reasonably sure that, for a considerable proportion of those who have the gifts of leadership, the attractions of public service are powerful enough. Given opportunity for the exercise of these gifts of leadership, and leaders of the right stamp will not be lacking.
Given opportunity, I say; for here seems to be the greatest difficulty of the case. The love of distinction can be gratified, and the sense of duty will strengthen devotion to the general good. But the case is much less hopeful as to the other motives which affect the industrial captain. The desire for continuous activity and rounded achievement, still more the passion for domination, are not easily satisfied under the conditions of public service in a democracy. Here are some aspects of our problem which deserve attentive consideration.
Let us look first at some of the peculiarities of the political machinery of our own country. Its familiar characteristic is the system of checks and balances. The fear of usurpation by the executive was the natural fruit of the experience of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; hence the hedging of his power, and the strict line of demarcation between the functions of the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. This principle, suggested by the example of England and the experience of the colonies, has its most conspicuous application in the Constitution of the United States, and prevails no less in the governments of the several states and of the cities. Throughout we find the same interwoven authority, the same divided responsibility, the same checks to any steady sweep of power. The executive is sharply separated from the legislature. Statutes are framed by those who have no responsibility for their working. The authority of the executive is commonly restricted by the confirmation of appointments at the hands of the legislature, or some branch of it. It is further restricted by the popular election, in most states and cities, of a great number of subordinate officials.
The consequences are obvious and too familiar. The position of chief executive officer in city or state does not tempt the able man of affairs. The clearest illustration is to be found in our municipal troubles. In every one of our misgoverned cities there is no lack of capable and public-spirited men, able and willing to give themselves to the vigorous administration of public business. Managing ability, such as the posts demand, can be found in plenty. But the conditions of the service do not call it forth. Setting aside the difficulties of electing a man of the right type if he were willing to serve, — a matter to which I shall presently turn, — the prospect of service after election is unattractive precisely to such a man. What he sees before him is usually a complex and unwieldy political mechanism; a body of subordinate officers imposed by popular vote; a right of check and confirmation by a municipal legislature, commonly with two cumbrous branches; an uncertainty as to the statutory authority which will be conferred on him by this legislature; and, not least, a brief term of office. From all this there follows the necessity of caution and compromise, of conciliating divergent and more or less selfish interests, persuading suspicious and unintelligent persons, entrusting the execution of well-laid plans to untried and possibly insubordinate officials. Another election must be faced within a year or two, and puts a damper on the inception of far-reaching plans. Can we wonder that the impulses for achievement and for mastery find nothing attractive in the administration of public affairs ? In this matter, as in all human arrangements, preferences and choices settle themselves into grooves of habit. The established tradition in our American life is that the captain of industry has no ambition and finds no opportunity in public life. If he wishes permanent power, lasting distinction, continuous achievement, he turns to fortune-building in private industry.
The conditions of the case have indeed evolved a peculiar sort of one-man-power in public affairs, and have drawn into political life a familiar type of the masterful man. Such is the party boss, who enjoys power, and a certain measure of distinction. The mechanism of government is so unwieldy that those who are within cannot control it; hence there has developed the boss, who manages the apparatus from without. This cannot be done without skill, shrewdness, enterprise, and other such qualities needed for any career of leadership. But it calls also for methods distasteful to straightforward and high-minded men. Your boss is indeed not always so black as he is painted; there are political machinists entitled to our respect. But the rôle is after all an underhand one, a circumventing of the avowed plan and intent of the general will. It attracts the unscrupulous, and even the well-intentioned man who essays it finds himself almost inevitably impelled to fight the devil with fire. Not infrequently a man who has achieved success as a leader of industry turns to political activity. He then usually becomes the manipulator and master of the party machine, following almost of necessity the familiar methods of intrigue, bargain, office-mongering, bribery. The able man of the higher type is not drawn to such doings, while on the other hand the competition in the unsavory work has a demoralizing effect on those who strive for political power.
The system of checks and balances is thus a strong factor in preventing the most needed abilities from being exercised in the public service. But it is not the only factor, possibly not the most important one. The elemental instincts of democracy are themselves obstacles to the best working of democracy.
The jealousy of the executive is something more than a survival from the outlived exigencies of earlier centuries. It has its roots deep in the everyday prepossessions of the average man. Those who have read the voluminous history of tradeunionism in England which Mr. and Mrs. Webb have put together with such splendid industry will have been struck with the lesson which those authors draw as to the working of pure democracy. The trade union is loth to put authority into the hands of its leaders. It clings to townmeeting government. The necessities of the case have indeed compelled a gradual stiffening of the organization. More and more power has been delegated to the executive committees and general secretaries, and perpetual referendum has been given up. The imperative need of efficiency in a fighting organization has caused a departure from the pure simplicity of democratic principle, and an acceptance of something like singlehanded leadership; yet even here, under the pressure of vital interest and the most obvious need, slowly, grudgingly, incompletely. The working of the same impulse is familiar to every one who watches our American democracy. There is always an uneasy fear of “getting away from the people.” Hence the predominance of elected officials, the confusing multiplicity of elections, the helplessness of the voter in face of an endless list of unknown candidates for office, — and so the necessity of party organization to give a clue and meaning to the whole, and the natural evolution of the boss. In times of stress and peril, democracy turns instinctively to a dictator. But in the humdrum days of peace, it clings no less instinctively to its own possession of power.
This state of mind, like all our impulses and opinions, rests largely on tradition. The habitual glorification of democracy has strengthened it, and it has been further strengthened by the worship of the Constitution. Checks and balances are part of the wonted political machinery. A permanent executive with a free hand is repugnant alike to the individual’s instinct for control over his representative, and to his prepossessions as to the proper system of government. The two causes interact, and reinforce each other; and both tend to keep out of the public service the type of man whom the public most needs.
Contrast for a moment the ultra-democratic situation, inhibiting as it does continuous leadership and achievement, with its most extreme opposite. There are no more interesting episodes in history, and in some respects none more encouraging, than the careers of the British colonial administrators. The peculiar conditions have bred a peculiar set of men. Here are power, responsibility, prolonged tenure, difficult problems; on the other hand, plastic subject races, habituated for ages to autocratic government. The work of such men as Lord Lawrence, in the Punjab, or in our day Lord Cromer in Egypt, deservedly wins our admiration. Here the impulse for mastery has had full scope, and has been directed to beneficent channels. The ambition of every active-spirited civil servant is fired by the possibilities of great achievement, when once he shall have reached the post of leadership. Even in the lower stages he is from the outset habituated to a position of command. The admirable traditions which have been fostered during the past century by the curiously mixed government of Great Britain, — half a democracy, half an oligarchy of gentlemen, — served to turn this autocratic power to the achievements of peace. Hence the unique interest of the careers of the great colonial administrators. Their dictatorship gives them the dramatic position of world-conquerors, yet their labors are directed to the single-minded promotion of the happiness and prosperity of the subject millions.
Instructive in a somewhat similar way is the experience of Germany, and especially of Prussia. Notwithstanding a framework of democratic apparatus, the government of Prussia has remained essentially bureaucratic. The official class is beset by no doubt as to its power or tenure, no serious checks in its pursuance of a settled policy. The aristocratic associations of the service, the traditions of vigorous activity maintained by the Hohenzollerns, the free gratification of the love of distinction by titles and decorations, have drawn into its ranks a large measure of the best ability of the country. Your German bureaucrat is not always an agreeable person. But he is usually hardworking and assiduous; his advancement depends on his efficiency, and his work gives an opening to the man of power and resource. Hence the governmental machine in Germany shows results comparable to those obtained by the great leaders of private industry in English-speaking countries.
To take a striking example, what more remarkable achievement has there been in modern times than the German system of workmen’s insurance ? No doubt we may make reservations even in admitting its success. Some of the most cherished objects — the placation of social unrest and the checkmating of the socialists — have failed of attainment. It is a question still what gains have been secured in the fundamental task of uplifting the character of the people; whether the whole system is not after all but a magnified poor-law, with the inevitable limitations of every such mechanical scheme. Nevertheless it stands as a wonderful administrative achievement. The systematic organization and control of numberless groups of insuring and insured; the interweaving of central control with local administration; the regulation of complex financial problems and the accumulation and investment of millions of capital funds; the development of a whole new department of legal practice and adjudication ; the extension of the principle to new fields, and its amendments and improvement in the light of actual experience; not least, the combination of a strong spirit of charity for the poor, with an equally strong spirit of holding them strictly to account, — all this, I believe, no other government in the world could have accomplished. The new and untried operations have given scope for the best ambition of trained and capable leaders, and such leaders have been supplied by the bureaucracy, with its traditions of permanent tenure, continuous policy, honorable distinction.
Something of the same sort may be said of the state railway system of Prussia. I do not propose to discuss the difficult pros and cons as to that great case of public management. It suffices to say that the management of finances and of traffic has been conducted with a single eye to what was believed to be the public interest, — no doubt with some mistakes, but none the less with high ability. The railway net has been systematically and steadily enlarged; speculative building and plundering have ceased, and all favors to individual shippers, all semi-corrupt machinations, have been abolished; not least, the discipline of the enormous staff of workmen has been strict, yet not unkindly. Even though there may not have been that degree of efficiency in traffic operation which has been attained by the ablest American railway managers, there remain achievements which compel admiration. Certainly we in the United States must envy the system of officialdom which has succeeded in attaining results such as now seem hopelessly beyond the reach of our political machinery.
I do not mention these cases of success in administration in order to hold them up for imitation in our own country. Even in a survey of other than our current American problems, their lessons are to be read with caution. Democratic conditions are those that primarily concern us; and not only us, but the civilized world at large. For democracy will prevail more and more in the future of all advanced countries. Such a career as that of the British colonial administrator is unthinkable in a self-governing community; and for this reason, I may remark in passing, the hopes of those who look to a healthy reaction on our own problems from our experiments in colonial government are likely to be disappointed. Nor is the lesson of German officialdom in every respect convincing. It shows what can be done, not by educating a democracy, but by disregarding it. In Germany itself, it rests on conditions that we may expect to see readjusted in course of time. The steady growth of the social democracy bears impressive testimony that the tide of democratic sentiment which shows itself in all the civilized countries is rising in Germany also. Will not that country also be confronted, sooner or later, with the special problems which popular rule has universally brought ? It would be idle to speculate at what distant time and by what processes this transformation may come, or what results it will bring. It suffices for our present purpose to bear in mind that the peculiar historical basis of the German bureaucratic system can never be reproduced in other countries, least of all in a democracy like our own. Lessons may be learned from it, but the thing itself cannot be copied.
Let us turn, then, in conclusion, to the special problems of democracy. These are twofold: problems of intelligence, and problems of character.
First, as to the problems of intelligence. I have already indicated the point on which I believe them chiefly to converge. The best hope for improving the machinery of government lies in lengthening the terms of service for the administrative officers; in reducing the number of elected officials, and enlarging the appointing power; in simplifying the machinery of municipal and state government, perhaps of the national government as well. All this involves an abrogation of power by the voter. He must consent to keep hands off, — if not forever, at least for long periods at a time. Only by some such change will it be possible to enlist and hold in public service men of the needed capacity.
There is abundant evidence that our political system is improving in this direction. We are busily reshaping our methods of municipal government. A succession of new charters for our cities bears witness to the consciousness of existing defects. The trend in all these experiments is the same. The chief administrators, and especially the mayors, have longer terms, and greater power and responsibility. More officers are appointed by them, fewer are elected by popular vote. The municipal legislature is restricted to the business of legislation, and the administration of affairs is taken away from its cumbrous, irresponsible committees. Even where the general system is not modified, or is modified only half way, parts of the machinery are adjusted on the same principle. When a particular thing is to be done, — the building of a rapid-transit roadbed or tunnel, the development of a park-system, the construction of water-works, — the task is often put into the hands of a commission, with a long term and unhampered powers. It is familiar experience that men of administrative capacity can be more easily secured for such commissions than for the routine posts in state or municipal service. The explanation is clear : there is opportunity for uninterrupted activity and successful achievement. The more of such opportunities we have in political life, the more readily shall we attract men of power to public service.
It need hardly be said that it is neither possible nor desirable to secure in public service so complete a concentration of power and responsibility as is common in our large industrial enterprises. I have pointed out defects in the system of checks and balances, but I would not be supposed to advocate an unending suecession of dictatorships. We have had too much of dictatorship in corporate enterprises, and not enough of checks and balances. Certainly in public affairs it is a question not of whether or no, but of more or less. Some limitation of the powers of the executive we must have, if democracy is to be more than a form. Hence, the instinct for mastery can never find satisfaction so fully in a democracy as it can — to refer to examples already given — in bureaucratic or colonial administration. Powers of persuasion must be exercised, as well as powers of leadership, and compromise must be a frequent outcome of differing opinions. We must face the fact that private industry (so long as it continues to be conducted as private industry on a great scale) will offer some temptations to the captain of industry which public service can never equal. On the other hand, public service satisfies the love of distinction in a manner and to a degree that can be equaled by no ostentation of wealth and no sense of secret power. This lodestone will always attract men to political life; and, given some reasonable chance of prolonged tenure and substantial power, it will attract men of the needed stamp.
The change which we may hope for in the future of American government must come in the state of mind of the people as well as in constitutional and statutory enactment. Something may be done without legislation of any sort. Capable officers may be reëlected, even though the statutes provide that elections shall occur annually or biennially. Reasonably free sway may be allowed them in administration, even though aldermen or councils have the power to restrict or veto. But, as I have already had occasion to say, legislation and tradition react on each other. A change of legislation in the right direction fosters habits in the right direction. The activity which we see now in improving the framework of municipal government is itself a sign that traditions are mending. As the remodeled charters come into effect, they will in turn still further react on the voter’s state of mind. Whether both combined will eventually bring about conditions under which men of the needed quality will find a congenial field in the management of public affairs is, to repeat, a question of popular intelligence.
But — and here we reach the second part of our problem — it is also in large part a question of character. Are we sure that corruption and favoritism will be rejected when they are known P Do the voters wish for honest public service, efficient management, the use of the machinery of government not for the gain of one class or section, but for the single-minded advancement of common benefits ? Will easy employment and favored treatment enlist them as the supporters of political leaders notoriously unfit ? These are indeed in no small degree questions of intelligence, — whether corruption will be recognized as such, and gains for a particular class be seen to conflict with the general welfare. Mainly, however, they are questions of character. Their right disposal depends on the diffusion of the fundamental virtues. Uprightness, steadfastness in work, good faith in the affairs of everyday life, respect for law, — these are even more essential for the successful working of democracy than intelligence in devising political machinery, and in choosing the right men for working the machinery.
This, after all, is the crux of our political and social problems. Unless the stuff of the people be sound, our scheming and teaching will be vain. All the study of political science and constitutional law and comparative administration, of economics and finance and industrial organization, avails nothing unless there be a community fit to profit by it. All the elaboration of more effective governmental apparatus is useless unless the public really wishes better government. And not only must we face this fundamental problem, but we must face the peculiar difficulty of dealing with it. Intelligence can be taught, or at least greatly improved. But character grows by slow steps, and under influences which it is almost impossible to reshape. It is affected, no doubt, by teaching and exhortation, but it rests in the main on inherited qualities and on the example and training which go from parent to child. How large a part is played by inheritance, how large by training and environment, we are much in the dark; but we must resign ourselves to the certainty that external influences, whether of preachers or schoolmasters or learned scholars, do not suffice for shaping human character.
The American people has undergone great changes in the last fifty years. No one can undertake to say what wall be the outcome, after another fifty years, of the revolution in industry through which we are passing, and of our extraordinary mingling of nationalities. Yet I believe that the heart of the people is sound, and that democracy will emerge successfully from the difficulties of adjustment to the new conditions. Not without effort, not without trials, not without disappointments; least of all, by any rapid or revolutionary changes; yet in the end with success. Our political machinery is improving, and is likely still further to improve. The worship of wealth is diminishing, and the respect for public service is increasing. Men of character and capacity will win in the long run the suffrage of the people, and corruption and jobbery will be rebuked. The fundamental virtues are not lacking, and we may base upon them our devices for enlisting highminded ability, for raising general intelligence, for bettering the working details of government. We may expect that the sphere of public enterprises will be enlarged, as the lessons necessary for the successful conduct of such enterprises are learned. We may hope for greater repression of the selfish motives and the sordid activities, for freer play to noble ambition and public-spirited effort, and not only for a stronger government, but for a better and purer democracy.