The Receding Tide of Democracy


FIVE years have passed since the armistice put a nominal end to the greatest of all world struggles. We can now see things somewhat in perspective and may profitably attempt an inventory of results. Men have indeed long been busy at the task, but it is significant of the spirit of our time that most of these surveys have been economic. So far as I am aware, no one has attempted to estimate the influence of the war on democracy or the principle of self-government. The men of my generation were reared in the faith that democracy was our most precious heritage, the palladium of our liberties, and in general the cure for all our social ills. Both our Revolutionary War and our Civil War were fought with this conviction in the foreground of consciousness. The measures adopted, following the decision, expressed that conviction. The one was epitomized in the Federal Constitution, the other in the Fifteenth Amendment.

But while the recent conflict resulted in the most sweeping changes in government, affecting two or three hundred millions of the human race, changes almost wholly in the apparent interest of democracy, surprisingly little attention has been paid to these changes.

They have received but moderate editorial notice and the note of exultation has been conspicuously lacking. Reparations monopolize the front page, and while we are sharply divided on the questions of the Ruhr, of French militarism, and the like, these questions are discussed with little reference to the German Republic whose fate hangs trembling in the balance. Have we become disillusioned with democracy and lost faith in its saving grace, or have other interests for the moment made too heavy a demand upon our finite attention and induced a neglect of democracy which belies our true convictions?

Undeniably the economic problems that now engross our attention are of extreme importance. They are basic to our civilization and failure to solve them will destroy both democracy and civilization itself. Yet the problem of political organization remains one of the great interests of mankind. If our fathers saw things in somewhat distorted perspective, is it not probable that we do the same? It will not be amiss for us to try to redress the balance.

It may be well to recall at the outset that the traditional faith in democracy is of comparatively recent origin. The founders of our republic accepted the principle with many misgivings. Probably those who accepted democracy rather as the one thing possible than as the one thing desirable were in a minority, but a minority which included a Hamilton was a potent minority. If these men only half believed in democracy, the statesmen of Europe in their day did not believe in it at all. Even in England, by far the most advanced of European nations at that time, there were few serious statesmen who saw in popular government anything more than a useful check on the indispensable power of the monarch.

Distrust and even denunciation of democratic tendencies was as common among English statesmen of the time as among German statesmen of a century later.

If we are tempted to criticize this attitude as narrow and prejudiced, it is well to recall that the facts of history certainly favored their contention. Democracy was not an unproved thing; it was a discredited thing. It had had many trials, all of them failures, ending in relapses into autocracy. The solitary democracy of the time, that of Switzerland, existed under conditions too anomalous to serve as a precedent.

The next century and a quarter, from 1789 to 1914, witnessed a remarkable change of sentiment. Doubts slowly yielded and hopes increased until democracy became the hope of humanity and faith in it a shibboleth of sanity.

First of all, American democracy made good. We effected a union of diverse elements, enormously extended our domain, assimilated alien populations, evolved an efficient government organization, and came unscathed through the ordeal of civil war. It was not a case of mere survival, but of unprecedented advance in wealth, in education, in culture, and in political and military organization. Nor did we have covert recourse to autocracy in the crises of our national life, but rather we steadily fostered the atrophy of the less democratic features of our constitution and moved constantly toward the full realization of democracy.

Fair-minded men in Europe could not but be impressed by such a record. In fact they were unduly impressed by it and, like ourselves, attributed to democracy much that was due to other causes.

But this was not the only triumph of democracy. Before half a century had passed, all Latin America had thrown off the yoke of allegiance to Europe and adopted constitutions like our own. France had followed promptly and dramatically, if somewhat fitfully, in our footsteps, and the great Dominions of Canada and Australia had unmistakably mapped out a democratic future. Before the end of the period China had added her vast amorphous bulk to the group.

Less conspicuous but more significant was the change wrought in States still outwardly monarchical. Great Britain retained her king but transferred his prerogatives to the Commons, leaving him indeed a useful functionary but in no sense a ruler. Influenced by American and British example, the idea gained currency that Anglo-Saxon prosperity was due to constitutional government. Constitutions were therefore extorted or willingly granted in nearly all the monarchies of Europe and even in far-away Japan. Russia fell into line in 1905, Turkey in 1908, and even Persia a little later.

It is true that these constitutions varied greatly in the powers conferred upon the people, some — like those of Germany and Japan — refusing to recognize the responsibility of ministers to the representative body, while that of Russia largely withheld from popular control some of the most important departments of government. But it was popularly believed that the whole was a ratchet movement which could end in but one way.

What was granted could never be recalled and what was withheld could not long be retained. Potentially, therefore, the world had been won for democracy before the year 1914. Autocracy retreated like a hunted thing into the wilds of Africa, the fastnesses of the Himalayas, and the sheltered preserve of MecklenburgSchwerin.


However just men’s faith in democracy, it must be confessed that this confidence has been at times naïve. This was especially true of the period following our Civil War. It was then that we sponsored Liberia and enfranchised our slaves with few misgivings and inadequate safeguards. It was at this time that Britain took steps to withdraw from Jamaica, convinced that the islanders were ready for self-government. It seems strange now that Britain should have found the example of Haiti, Santo Domingo, and Venezuela reassuring, but prepossession seems to have precluded observation. The possibility of retrogression in these exotic republics seems not to have been entertained. Progress might be slow, but the nature of democracy made progress inevitable.

To be sure, the quarter century immediately preceding the World War somewhat moderated these hopes. It witnessed the failure of democracy in Liberia, the virtual cancellation of Negro suffrage in the South, the collapse of the Caribbean republics and the growing tendency to deadlock in the popular governments of continental Europe. Men took a more sober view and allowed more time for the realization of their hopes. But men still believed in democracy and found in new territorial gains compensation for local failure and disappointment. If Santo Domingo, Haiti, and Nicaragua had fallen prey to anarchy, their place in the democratic procession had been taken by Russia, Turkey, Persia, and China — each with its new Magna Charta. What were such losses in the face of such gains!

The World War naturally marks an epoch in this development, with which, by the way, it avowedly concerned itself. The war was fought, we were told, to make the world safe for democracy. If this pronouncement was not altogether borne out by events, it unquestionably struck a popular chord. There was a very general hope that the war might advance the cause of democracy and a strong conviction that the triumph of democracy would go far to ensure the world against a repetition of the great horror.

The first result seemed to promise the fulfillment of these hopes. Before the war ended, the Russian autocracy, conspicuous misfit in a combination to make the world safe for democracy, had collapsed. With the collapse of the Central Powers fell the most venerable and firmly established dynasties of Europe. In Germany alone twenty-two hereditary rulers lost their thrones. Even the one country where democracy seemed impossible has since dismissed its sultan and elected a president. All this was very gratifying. It seemed that whether the world was safe for democracy or not, democracy had decided to take the risks.

It is needless to say that this spectacular overturning of thrones had no serious significance in this connection. The whole performance had about the same relation to the establishment of democracy that Fourth-of-July fireworks have to the winning of a battle. But it appealed to the popular imagination and strengthened the popular faith in the ultimate triumph of the cause. Back of this pyrotechnic display, too, there was something of real achievement. The German Empire, for instance, had long had its Reichstag elected on a basis of complete manhood suffrage, but the principle of ministerial responsibility to the Reichstag had been strenuously and successfully resisted by the Emperor. His overthrow removed the obstacle to the complete recognition of the democratic principle. Much the same was true throughout the domain of the Central Powers. These countries had had the institutions of popular government, but the powers of government were divided between these and the monarch. Popular government was encroaching steadily on monarchical prerogative and the outcome was hardly in doubt, but the disappearance of the monarchs, in theory at least, completed the transfer.

This period of showy and more or less nominal triumph, however, has been followed by a series of unmistakable defeats. Democracy has lost immense territories, and its position has been visibly weakened in territories which it nominally retains. Withal it seems to have lost ground in the confidence of mankind.

The case of Russia comes first to mind — that vast territory where we hoped so much and where our disappointment is so complete. The apologist will of course remind us that this is no real loss to democracy. Russia was an autocracy before and is an autocracy now. The change may be for better or for worse, but it does not concern democracy. There is a degree of truth in this popular view, but I believe it to be largely erroneous. There was a real beginning of popular government in Russia in the decade preceding the war, and the extinction of these incipient institutions probably constitutes one of the most serious losses that democracy has suffered.

In 1905, following the disasters of the war with Japan, popular pressure extorted from a weak tsar a constitution which provided, among other things, for an elective assembly or Duma. The Duma was elected by practically manhood suffrage, a suffrage which the Tsar virtually pledged himself not to restrict. On the other hand the Duma was given but little authority over such important departments as foreign affairs, finance, the army, and the royal household. Limited as were its powers, however, they included a certain control of the purse, a power which, all history shows, can be used to extort further concessions without limit.

It is a curious fact that while those who believed in a Duma met only to demonstrate its futility, those who did not believe in it, fairly justified its existence. Called together by the Tsar, they went through the parliamentary motions. Commissions were appointed to study national problems and reports and discussions followed. Inevitably an interest in these questions developed, and the Duma found itself in conflict with bureaucratic views and procedure. During the later years of the decade it developed a serious programme, compelled increasing recognition, and showed an unmistakable determination to champion the popular cause. The prime minister found himself compelled repeatedly to prorogue the Duma and have recourse to ad-interim legislation by decree in order to carry on the government. This was resented as hotly as it would have been in any Western country and the conflict was developing that cohesion and discipline which the Duma required for its task. It was this onetime reactionary Duma, headed, it is true, by Milyukoff and his constitutionalist associates, but presenting a fairly united front, that overturned the autocracy in 1917.

For a moment the destinies of Russia seemed committed to its keeping. Milyukoff was the man of the hour. But with the brake of tsardom removed, the new Government went spinning down the toboggan slide of revolution. After Milyukoff came Kerensky and after him Lenin.

We must resist the temptation to digress on the masterful personality of Lenin. Suffice it to say that he has demonstrated immense ability, probably the greatest of any man in our time. Most successful leaders are opportunists. Like the surf rider, they are clever in balancing themselves on the crest of the curling wave that bears them shoreward. But it is the wave that sets their course. Not so Lenin. No leader of revolution ever held so consistently to a philosophy not born of the situation or favored by events. He has constantly taken the half loaf, but never abated his ultimate demands. He said at the outset that his experiment in Russia would probably be a failure. The marvel is that he has so nearly made it a success. Whatever the outcome, he seems to have avoided the fate of most leaders of revolution. He has kept his principles. He began as a communist and he is a communist still.

But Lenin is not and never was a democrat. He believes that democracy is a device of the capitalist to divert popular attention from the real issue and that it has always served that end. The people are not able and never will be able to anticipate the conditions of their own welfare. They can learn to appreciate these conditions only through experience. It follows that the conditions of well-being must be imposed upon them by the few who have the gift of foreseeing them. Once enlightened by experience — perhaps a long and painful experience — they will recognize and defend their true good, but never in advance. This philosophy, which is more or less present in the subconsciousness of every imaginative and aggressive man, is, apparently, unqualifiedly accepted by Lenin. I have seen no evidence that he ever quarreled with the institution of tsardom in principle. He objected merely to the ends sought. The Tsar would have been all right if he had used his power to establish communism. It is needless to say that this philosophy is in permanent conflict with democracy to which it assigns but the humble task of ratifying the fait accompli.

The modern obsession in favor of democracy was never more clearly shown than in the early charge of inconsistency brought against Lenin. When he dissolved the newly invoked National Assembly because he found the majority opposed to his plans, we accused him of abandoning his principles. We assumed that, as a champion of the people’s cause, he would rely upon the people’s support. Why? Only because we have so thoroughly accepted the idea that the people can be trusted with the people’s interests. Lenin does n’t think so. Perhaps we should n’t if we lived in Russia. To him the hope of the world lies in communism and for the establishment of communism he is ready to use every available means. Democracy is not an available means, and for democracy as such he cares nothing whatever.

It is undeniable, therefore, that Russia represents, in a very real sense, lost ground for democracy. Paradoxical as it may seem, it was the overthrow of autocracy which was the occasion of this loss. The autocracy, always resistant but inevitably yielding, was the necessary steadying and consolidating force. Had the tsarist régime continued, there can be little doubt that an evolution more nearly like that of England would have been the lot of Russia. At present there seems to be no such prospect. Present-day Russia is not even incipiently democratic.


Italy furnishes another example of territory recently lost to democracy. Constitutional government, though completely recognized in Italy and loyally observed by the Savoy dynasty, has never been wholly successful. The Italians have not succeeded in forming two coherent political parties. Political groups have been numerous, fluctuating, and largely personal in their allegiance. Government majorities have been formed on the bloc principle with its corollary—the fatal minority veto. The circumstances of the recent revolution are familiar but its true scope is not commonly understood. The fact that the change has been made without violence and that the machinery of popular government has been preserved and to some extent utilized has somewhat obscured the fundamental character of the change.

The organization of the Fascisti is to me one of the most significant achievements of modern times. Mussolini seems to have grasped the fact that subversive radicalism rests not upon reasoned conviction but upon the restless energy of youth. There is something of the Jacobin about every young man. It is not that he has clearer vision or more public spirit than older men, but that he longs for something to do. The conservative says to him, ‘Things are pretty much right as they are. Don’t disturb them.’ That offers no relief to his pent-up energy. The radical calls to him, ‘Come and help us smash this rotten thing and we will build a better one afterward.’ That appeals. The impulse tingles out to his very finger tips. Conviction follows easily under such circumstances. Philosophy is but the shadow cast by passing events.

Having resolved upon a drastic plan of action, Mussolini made his appeal to the millions of young Italians as they were released from military service. There is reason to believe that they were ready to a very large extent to join the revolutionaries. He called them to save Italy and laid out a programme congenial to their tastes. Appealing to their patriotism, to their military pride, and to their desire for action, he launched them with superlative skill against the hydra-headed revolution. There was bloody retaliation, but this only gave them martyrs to avenge and fired their zeal. When the radicals tried their favorite stunt of a general strike, sprung upon an unsuspecting country at midnight, the Fascisti jumped on to the abandoned tramways and locomotives and set things going. Marvelous as was their discipline, the most striking thing about them was a certain spirit of moral exaltation which must not be forgotten in our estimate of Mussolini.

From first to last, however, there was no appeal to the law. It may be that this is Mussolini’s temperament, or, not unlikely, the result of his disgust with the Italian Government as he knew it. But the more important fact is that legal methods were wholly unsuited to the occasion and to the instruments of his choice. It is probable that if Mussolini himself had been at the head of the Government, and had attempted with the aid of honest courts to suppress the revolution, he would have failed. He certainly could not have enlisted the enthusiastic coöperation of twenty-year-old youths.

For a long time the Fascisti seemed hardly to come into contact with Government. That contact came when they gathered strength sufficient to invade the great socialist strongholds in the industrial North. Here, in cities like Milan and Turin, the radicals controlled the Government and their stronghold was the city hall. Here, when their plans were ready, the Fascisti appeared in numbers before the mayor and other officers and presented a courteous request that they should resign their positions. When this was refused, they picked them up bodily and carried them out on to the sidewalk, while those of their number who had been previously designated sat down in the vacant chairs and assumed their respective duties. It was a primitive form of recall, but prompt and effectual.

With amusing inconsistency the radicals in Parliament now raised a clamor that Government should protect life and property. Too late the Government tried to recover its usurped prerogatives. A new prime minister in his opening speech used the significant words: ‘It is obviously inadmissible that Government should relinquish its prerogatives to a private organization.’

The test soon came. A large body of Fascisti, attempting to raid the radical headquarters of a Tuscan industrial town, were opposed by the military, and, refusing to withdraw, were fired upon and seventeen of their number killed. I well remember the wild excitement when I awoke the next morning in Florence, the Fascist stronghold. Crowds were gathered at the street corners where the walls were covered with black-bordered posters announcing the new martyrdom and repeating the familiar assertion that their only crime was to have saved Italy. There were others of mediatorial intent, among the latter one of the noblest patriotic appeals that I have read in any language.

There was a brief lull in Fascist activity, but the Government soon fell, and its successor did not, and probably dared not, renew the attempt. The Fascisti soon resumed their activity and Mussolini boldly declared that the Fascisti were going to govern Italy — under the constitution if possible, without it if necessary. Soon all talk of the constitution ceased. Fifty thousand strong they marched on Rome, and the king, refusing further attempts at constitutional temporizing, called Mussolini to form a ministry.

Nominally there was a shadowy regularity in this as the king is still the mouthpiece of the constitution in summoning a minister to power. But as the Fascisti had but a feeble following in Parliament, and no effort was made to form a government bloc, the spirit of the Constitution was obviously violated. Mussolini’s attitude toward Parliament was soon made plain. He addressed each House in turn and told them they might stay and play at governing if they would rubber-stamp his programme; otherwise he should send them home. The lower House, by an enormous majority, and the conservative Senate with unanimity, voted to remain on his terms. Whether he was more deferential than Napoleon or simply more contemptuous, I do not know. Doubtless all parties realized the value in this age of the world of the formal parliamentary sanction, and possibly there was a thought that the future might have for this Parliament a more serious use in store.

The Fascisti seized the capitol at Rome much as they seized the city hall at Milan. The entire movement was extra-legal from start to finish — indeed rather ostentatiously so. This extra-legal character continues not only at the centre but in the details of administration. The organization constitutes a supergovernment without a shadow of legality but with the only real authority in Italy to-day.

This is revolution, surely, but is it perchance a democratic revolution? Is it the organization, or Mussolini, that is the source of authority? The answer is not doubtful. The Italian soldier swears to his sovereign, ‘obedience, prompt and absolute.’ The Fascista swears to Mussolini, ‘obedience, prompt, absolute, and blind.’ These are no empty words. When his chief lieutenant in Naples, the man who had been responsible for rallying all of southern Italy to his standard, ventured to disagree with him on a question of policy, Mussolini promptly dismissed him. Later, when a difference arose between him and the central executive committee, the governing body of the whole organization, he not only dismissed the committee but expelled them from the organization. He is master and he does not hesitate to show his mastery. Nor does he fortify himself behind orders in council. His decrees are written in the first person and bear only his personal signature. Beyond the measure of most autocrats he seems to reach his own decisions and assert his own authority.

The continuance, even for a day, of such an autocracy in the twentieth century is profoundly significant. It implies of course, very remarkable qualities on the part of Mussolini. But it implies also a profound reaction against democracy. Italy plainly welcomes the change with a sense of relief. Extremes meet under the dictator’s banner. The radicals, true to Mussolini’s diagnosis, have found in his programme of drastic reform and direct action the opportunity which they crave, and, despite old rancors and Fascist suspicions, have disbanded their organizations and flocked to his standard. But the conservatives as well, the soberest men in the kingdom, have pledged their allegiance. Mussolini has won Italy.

Foreign opinion, too, has been significantly favorable. Our American ambassador in Rome is his outspoken partisan in a measure approaching diplomatic indiscretion. The dictator is apparently persona grata in every European capital. There have been head shakings, but the disposition seems general to judge Mussolini by his administrative reforms rather than by the principle at stake. The passing of democracy calls forth surprisingly little protest.


It was on the evening of the twelfth of September that I arrived in Madrid. Stepping out of the hotel early next morning, I hardly noticed anything remarkable in the few persons who stood talking or reading their newspapers in the neighboring square until my eye caught the headline: THE GARRISON OF BARCELONA IN REVOLT. I had dropped down into a Spanish revolution.

Later in the day I witnessed the gathering of a small crowd of idlers to hear read the proclamation of martial law. There was no disturbance, no excitement, scarcely even moderate interest. I had difficulty in gleaning from the papers and from conversation the facts regarding the uprising. Those of whom I inquired invariably prefaced their reply with the contemptuous remark that it amounted to nothing. Yet it was the collapse of constitutional government in Spain.

The occasion of it had been the severe defeat suffered by the national arms in the preceding year at the hands of the Rif tribes in Morocco. The investigation demanded by the exasperated people had been dilatory and evasive, a round-up of insignificant scapegoats and the exoneration of the suspected higher-ups. This, I have said, was the occasion. But the cause lay far deeper — in the universal conviction that the Government was hopelessly corrupt and incompetent, and that it had won and retained power by bribery and the manipulation of electoral machinery. I have never heard the citizens of any other country speak of their Government with such absolute loathing and contempt.

Banking on this feeling of the people, a group of generals had conspired to oust the Government, and the rising in Barcelona had been the signal. The ministry began with a grandiloquent pronunciamento, then appealed to the king for help, and, failing in this, resigned and fled the country. The king called the Barcelona general to form a Government, which he did, not in the constitutional form, but in the form of a military triumvirate, euphemistically styled a ‘directorate.’ This was followed by the declaration of martial law and the substitution of generals for the provincial governors throughout the kingdom. The country acquiesced with scarce a voice of protest.

This military dictatorship rules a willing country still. The movement is apparently patriotic and the housecleaning now in progress is eminently wholesome and long overdue. The apathy with which the Spaniards regard such a change is a sorry commentary on Spanish democracy, not to say on democracy in general. Here is a people in a comparatively advanced stage of intelligence and culture, which, a hundred years ago, fought with desperate energy for its constitution and which has since been living in the full enjoyment of a well-developed constitutional government. And this people witnesses the passing of all this in complete indifference. Can we prescribe democracy and constitutional government quite so confidently as has been our wont for the healing of the nations?

As the preceding period witnessed the failure of the Caribbean and LatinAmerican democracies, so the present period witnesses the failure of democracy in the parent countries of Latin Europe. The suggestion might seem to be that democracy is ill suited to the Latin temperament. But the story does not end here.


The Teutonic race with whom it is generally assumed that all modern democracy originated, has had its share of humiliation and failure. Such was the result in Austria, a country not usually associated in our minds with democracy or self-government but actually the scene of some very conscientious experiments in this connection. One of the most interesting of these experiments was cut short by the war, to the regret not only of those who are committed to democracy but of those who are interested in political experiment.

In 1905 Austria adopted a new constitution. Having in mind the diverse nationalities and special interests to be represented, great attention was paid to the principle of proportional representation, the provision for that purpose being, perhaps, the most perfect yet devised. The election which took place in that year met all expectations. Every element in the polyglot realm was represented by numbers equitably proportioned to its importance. The Parliament thus elected remained in session for four years and accomplished virtually nothing. Each element was in a minority and insisted upon its right of minority veto. Race antagonisms overrode all public interests. When the Bohemians tired of blocking German proposals, they enlivened the scene by insisting that the proceedings should be carried on in Bohemian — a language known only to themselves while everybody spoke German. It was with a sigh of relief that the country heard the message of the aged Kaiser sending these wranglers to their homes.

Doubtless the heterogeneity of the Austrian population accounts in a way for this fiasco, but that heterogeneity was precisely the problem which government was called upon to solve and which democracy failed to solve. That heterogeneity is there still and is almost as marked in the several parts of divided Austria as it was before in the whole. Nor are we exempt. There is always heterogeneity, of class or of section if not of race, and the principle of proportional representation, so often lauded, guarantees no more solution in one case than in another. It but furnishes the raw material out of which the necessary coherent majority must be built by mutual concession and discipline. Failing this there may be democracy, but certainly not democratic government, There has been much criticism of Hapsburg despotism. As a matter of fact the Hapsburg ruler has been for a century a refuge of his people from the intolerable excesses of popular government. I prophesy that he will be missed.


As I write, two new republics seem likely to offer their contribution to our subject. Turkey has abolished her sultanate, restricting the functions of the present incumbent to an innocuous spiritual headship, and placing the supreme authority in an elective assembly and president. We shall await the event. The prospect is encouraging for a reorganized and prosperous Turkey, but our confidence reposes in the character of the strong man at the head rather than in the institutions of popular government. I am not sure but our confidence is based largely upon the fact that the strong man at the head is in reality little hampered by constitutional limitations. One fact is significant. When the recent election took place the real issue before the country was the abolition of the sultanate and the adoption of constitutional government. There was known to be a division of opinion on the subject in the provisional Assembly at Angora. The strong man, however, not caring to go to the country on that issue, drove through the Assembly a bill making it high treason to propose the restoration of the sultanate, thus making it a capital offense to urge the very programme on which the opposition was preparing to appeal to the electorate. Thus armed he got his mandate, but the proof that the new government tests on the popular will is not conclusive.

Doubtless some hundred-and-odd millions of the American people feel encouraged by the fact that Turkey has unfurled the banner of democracy. Doubtless the same persons will greet with acclaim the accession of Greece to the circle of the republics. Whatever significance the proposed change may have, it has little bearing on the question of democracy. Throughout her brief period of independence Greece has had a constitutional government, corrupt, to be sure, and occasionally suspended, but genuine, at least so far as the noninterference of the monarch was concerned, with a single and not unparalleled exception during the great war. Such success as constitutional government has achieved in Greece is due more than anything else to the prudence and tact of the monarch who was permitted so long to preside over her destinies. His successors unfortunately have not been able to exercise a like steadying influence over an exceptionally mercurial people, but the throne itself serves as something of a balance wheel, even when weakly occupied. Greece has been signally blessed in the appearance, during her brief period of self-government, of two very great statesmen, but her treatment of them hardly justifies the gift of more.

It is too early to pass judgment on the new democracies in Germany and the other Central Powers. Conditions are too abnormal to permit of their natural working and development.

Useful conclusions can hardly be drawn from countries utterly bankrupt and crippled by foreign occupation. It is not too much to say, however, that democracy has shown no particular aptitude for dealing with a difficult situation. Acting under popular mandate the country has pursued a policy of low taxation and currency inflation which has plunged it into hopeless ruin. Perhaps a different government would have done no better, but it is difficult to see how it could have done worse. More significant but more difficult would be the study of the older and more firmly established democracies — such as France, Great Britain, and the United States. Here there is little apprehension of collapse and a fair measure of success has undeniably been achieved. But there are disquieting symptoms. Both Britain and the United States have recently lost the conditions of majority rule and have fallen, at least for the present, into a condition of partial paralysis. We are to have emasculated programmes, blocs, and deals. The class struggle, too, shows ominous signs of getting out of hand. Despite the enormous representation of Labor in the British Parliament and its constitutional triumph, the demand for direct action is loudly heard. Dean Inge notes as the most conspicuous fact in English life to-day a widespread revolt against majority rule.


These observations lead to no novel conclusions. The phenomenon is as old as government itself. If we seek an explanation for the failure of democracy in the cases mentioned, we shall, of course, find it in the general facts of ignorance and selfishness, in the lawlessness of individuals and of groups. Let us if possible be more specific. What particular principle or practice is it that is wrecking democracy to-day, not merely in its tentative stages, as in Russia, but in countries of settled democratic procedure, like Italy and Spain, and possibly even in its strongholds, like Britain and the United States ?

The answer, I think, cannot be doubtful. The thing that made a fiasco of the Russian Duma, that reduced Italian and Spanish democracy to impotence and contempt, that has tied the hands of the American Senate, and that threatens the oldtime stability of the British government, is simply the refusal loyally to accept the principle of majority rule. The refusal may come in the form of violation of law, disreputable in an isolated individual but condoned and held up to honor in the case of a brazen minority. It may come in the making of law, in the filibuster, and the minority hold-up. In whatever form it comes, it is in essence lawlessness and anarchy. As such it spells doom to democracy. There is and can be no democracy without honest acceptance of the will of the majority. Democracy is nothing else than the rule of the majority, as autocracy is in essence the rule of the minority. For minority rule with adequate constructive powers and ultimate responsibility there is much to be said. Under certain conditions it is the preferable, sometimes the only possible, system. For majority rule there is also much to be said. It is slower, less intelligent, less efficient, and less constructive than minority rule at its best, but it has the universal advantage of consent and popular support.

But for majority rule with minority veto there is nothing to be said. The majority can do nothing because the minority obstructs, and the minority can do nothing because it is the minority. The result is stalemate and government paralysis, the worst of all vices and the one most certain to bring retribution.

The principle of minority veto has wrecked democracy in Italy, in Austria, and in Spain. It is this that menaces democracy in Britain and America. It is found not only in nefarious alliance with the selfish and the predatory, but in the complacent pose of patriotism and superior virtue. Though the principle of majority rule is basic to our political philosophy, it is accepted in practice by no section, no party, no class, no militant ideal. The caucus or party convention that smooths out difficulties and with infinite patience closes up the ranks of a working majority, is stigmatized as the ‘machine,’ and the individual who surrenders his hobby to the will of the majority is pilloried as a traitor to principle. Above the clash of self-interest and the din of individual opinion, is heard the exhortation of the idealist to stand by your hobby though the heavens fall. Whether we demand a League of Nations or a glass of beer, we invoke the same right of minority veto.

Do we believe in democracy? It is time for a searching of heart. Do we believe in the loyal acceptance of the will of the majority — not a will which wholly meets our approval but a will based on mutual concessions to which we have contributed our share, not a suppositious and imaginary will ascertainable only under ideal and impossible conditions, but that will as actually expressed through the imperfect organs which we possess? Or are we prepared to defy that mandate and discredit its decisions to secure ends more selfish — or perchance more ideal — than the majority wills?