Economic Problems of Democracy

by Arthur Twining Hadley, President-Emeritus of Yale University. New York: The Macmillan Co. 1923. 12mo. x+162 pp. $1.50.
Six lectures, given at British universities last year, under the Foundation of the Sir George Watson Chair of American History, Literature, and Institutions, form the substance of this volume. Their immediate purpose was to describe to the British public current political and economic tendencies in America, largely through the medium of their historical background. But they are also suggestive and stimulating lessons in self-analysis for our own people.
President Hadley was able to dismiss a discussion of the mechanics of our government with a reference to the admirable treatment of that subject by Lord Bryce, who had delivered the lectures of this course the previous year, and therefore to devote his whole attention to those newer economic forces — and their antecedents — that are sensibly interfering with the service of our governmental machinery and may eventually compel its readjustment. His illuminating development of this theme, from the period when our economic and political life were equally dominated by the concept of individual freedom to the present era of combination and collective bargaining in both industry and politics, throws light on the origin and nature of public problems that are rapidly coming to the fore.
Democracy has just proved again, as it did in the Persian and the Punic wars, its superiority as a fighting form of government, but its supreme fitness for the task of industrial production still remains to be tested. To-day its central problem is ‘to train a free people to work voluntarily, side by side and yet with due subordination, in the same way that Greece and Italy trained free peoples to fight voluntarily side by side and with due subordination.'
A free people will not work voluntarily side by side without friction and mutual interference, in the complex industrial society of to-day, unless there is an enlightened identification of the individual’s interest with that of the community; and this extends to questions of economic as well as political welfare. For in* stance, ‘our readiness to overlook the primary importance of industrial efficiency to a democracy constitutes the cardinal difficulty in dealing with the American labor problem.’
The waning significance of party lines and the logical growth of political blocs that take their place but do not serve their purpose, have substituted ‘bargains with representatives of separate interests’ for the broader appeals to public opinion that — at least theoretically — determined political issues in the past. Consequently the tariff bloc, the farm bloc, the labor bloc, and other groups, legislate by collective bargaining for the people as a whole, whose common interests may not coincide with those of any of these fragments of the nation. The result is to encourage self-centred policies, consulting private and often antagonistic material advantages, and to permeate public life and international intercourse with a spirit of self-seeking isolation, fatal to boldly conceived plans of action, and in the long run to national greatness. ‘Among all the problems which confront its [modern democracy’s] leaders, I count as most vital the education of the public in the habit of exercising foresight and courage in dealing with international affairs.’
These conclusions, that to attain harmonious community efficiency in production and an enlightened sympathy with world movements translated into action are the great present problems of democracy, are supported by a brilliant historical synthesis. One must look far to find two hours reading more likely to clarify the political thinking of the average, intelligent — but often mentally careless — American. VICTOR S. CLARK.