DEMOCRACY means rule by the masses of the people — a system of government in which the governing initiative is vested in the people as a whole, and exercised by counting of heads, one head being equal to any other. Democracy means that the opinions of a majority, no matter how arrived at, must of necessity be just and wise; that if enough people believe a thing to be true it must be true. Democracy naïvely assumes that human nature in masses is a thing altogether superior to individual human nature; that, while an incompetent and selfish autocrat will misgovern and oppress the people, the equally ignorant, equally stupid self-interest of the mass will result in wise action. Democracy assumes that tyranny is imposed upon a physically superior mass by a physically inferior minority, without the acquiescence of the mass, and that, if the mass be once freed from the minority’s tyrannical domination, it never again will fall under such domination. Democracy, though proclaiming the average man’s capacity to anticipate the conditions of his own well-being, is yet founded upon a deep-lying distrust of human worth. It claims that every man should have an equal voice in the control of affairs, on the ground that no man can be trusted to act fairly toward his fellow men, that, for the most part, power will be abused. Democracy is born from the suspicion that all men are equally unworthy to be trusted with power over other men. Indeed, democracy means nothing else than despair of finding any fit to govern, and contented putting-up with the want of them.
In the eighteenth century, with its decadent aristocracy and its simple economic scheme, the obsession for democracy was pardonable enough. When men have suffered false governors, and have cast them away, they hope that no government, or the nearest to none, will suffice them. But the persistence of this fantastic notion in the midst of the machinery of the industrialized State is astounding indeed.
Democracy professes to believe that all men are equal in their mental capacities. This obvious absurdity, to which the Declaration of Independence gave such brilliant and such conspicuous utterance, resulted from the halfbaked liberalism of eighteenth-century prophets. The intelligence tests applied in connection with the war draft tell a different story. These indicate that the average mental age of our male voters is about fourteen. There is about the political and economic jargoning of democracy an evasion of reality so stupendous as to amount to a collective madness. The toiling and trading masses cannot have either the leisure or the capacity for investigating the underlying principles of policy, or for mastering the details of legislation. They ever are the ready victims of the crafty politician with his shibboleths and catchwords. This palpably absurd dogma of human equality results in the suppression of the superior, reducing all to a common level of dull mediocrity. The consequence is that humanity finds itself without leadership, floundering in confusion. And is there not a strange irony in the fact that the multimillionaire has become the popular ideal in a country dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal?
And what of liberty? What in any rational mind is that divine quality of liberty? That a man be free, be permitted to unfold himself in works of use and beauty and wisdom, is surely a blessing to him, immense and indispensable — to him and to mankind. But that a host of men be equally free to do no work, equally free to indulge their vanities, is the most fatal curse that could be inflicted on them — curse and nothing else, to them and to all men.
In the period that intervened between the Declaration of Independence of the American Colonies and the adoption of the Constitution, democracy was put to practical test. The results were so disastrous that in the Constitutional Congress a stout fight was made against democracy. The opponents of democracy were victorious; an aristocratic-republican constitution was adopted. This experience was submerged in the flood of democratic oratory which during the last hundred years has sapped the life of American politics. Now it is near forgotten. These hundred years of democracy in the United States offer the most conclusive test upon which an evaluation of the democratic theory of government may be based. Never elsewhere has democracy been tried on such a scale, or under more favorable conditions.
Democracy is a fiction, a concept without any corresponding reality. It should be apparent to all that the government of a people, whatever be the political formula under which that government is operated, falls, by necessity, into the hands of a politically active group. Always has the machinery of government been operated by a group banded together, avowedly or secretly, for that purpose. Fasciare means ‘to bind’ — hence Fascismo, government by a group bound together for the purpose of making its influence dominant. Fascism, then, is no new thing — it is the way of all government. Governments differ only in the make-up, and the motives and methods, of the dominant group. Under democratic procedure men group themselves, in accordance with their short-sighted self-interest, into organized militant minorities, each willing to sacrifice the State, the human race, and posterity to its own superficially apparent interests. Loudly does democracy proclaim the rights of man. The duties of man, as near as possible, it forgets. Hence in so-called democracies the dominant group, for the most part, absorbs men of mediocre capacity and of doubtful integrity. They do not bring into national service the highest-skilled talent of the people, but delegate their sovereignty to men who will serve the self-seeking interests of the group, and who can give expression to the confused and nebulous sentiments of the crowd — men of words, who are able to make the worse cause seem the better; flatterers who tell them that they cannot err; panderers who minister to the crowd’s prejudices and to their greed. The political torpor induced by the delusion of democracy, with its evasions and irresponsibilities, — everyone leaving the business of government to another, — has brought our civilization to a crisis greater, perhaps, than any that has ever occurred. It is no exaggeration to say that a form of government which makes articulate and gives weight to the most self-seeking and incompetent element in society will, if allowed to continue, cause the collapse of civilization.
Experience has shown that no system of government will work without the right men to operate it. Get your man — that is the problem. How get governors who will govern, not merely take the wages for governing? Do not expect that your true governor will be chosen by ballot box, or by other political machine. No, the real governor is invested with governorship by the power that is in him. His patent of authority lies in the fact that he governs. He is a man whom the multitude, as by law of nature, finds itself constrained to follow. In past times have we not seen, again and again, a people seek refuge from the tyranny of an autocrat, or of an aristocracy, in democracy, and then force absolute power upon a king to escape from democracy? The moment comes, if democracy is permitted to go too far, when the concentration of power in the hands of one man is felt as a relief from the irresponsible tyranny of the mob.
When the dominant group is formed by the more intelligent, more patriotic classes, when there are contained in it men of spiritual insight, whose thought has some measure of the quality of inspiration, then the people is really governed. We hear much of capital and labor, and little of thought. Yet never in the world did civilization support itself on business alone. Without a thinking class, a class wholly separated from business, no civilization is stable. Such minds alone are qualified and may be trusted to be the guardians of mankind, more especially of posterity, for the future generations are vastly in the majority and therefore of infinitely greater moment than the existing generations. Obviously the best alone are qualified for this guardianship, men and women who are capable of understanding and valuing and preserving the national traditions, who have an intelligent appreciation of the best that mankind has achieved in past ages, and in whom a great passion for a deeper, richer, tenderer life overrules their lusts and vanities. They are not concerned with rights. Their business is with restraint and order and organization, and with nursing the tender seedlings of culture. When the governing group is so constituted, active participation in political life is restored to the position of high honor that is proper to it. Such are your true aristocracies.
When these best elements in a nation betray their trust, when the landlord and the master of industry fail to coöperate with the thinker, or when those delicately attuned minds who stand in the borderland of inspiration fail to make the renunciation and the effort by which alone they become actual seers of the vision of truth, political stagnation takes possession of the nation and it begins to drift toward political chaos.
Though democracy be a delusion, a theory of government which, in the nature of things, cannot be realized, a final and undivided responsibility rests upon the people. Good governments have arisen, and will arise, without any initiative from the masses, but unless the masses persistently and insistently demand government, and dare to fight to abolish sham government, there is no assurance of continued good government. There must not be any division of responsibility for government. The governors must be held wholly responsible for the conduct of the nation’s affairs, the people for their acquiescence in such conduct. If the people are slack, power will in the long run be abused. Natural kingship deteriorates, sooner or later, into despotism. The lord, once the benign protector of the vassal, turns tyrant. To acknowledge their real governor when he appears, and to follow him and put up with no other — herein lies the responsibility of the masses. Serious thinkers never saw in the general suffrage anything more than a convenient device for getting rid of sham governors. When a people finds itself wretched it should know that it has not been well governed. Then, if there are men, they will rid themselves of their false governors. Prudence, indeed, will dictate, says the Declaration of Independence, that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes. But when the conduct of government consistently evinces a profound indifference to the welfare of the people and an eye to the exclusive interest of a group, it is the right of the people, it is their duty, to throw off such government.
Mussolini is pictured to us as a tyrant who, as the leader of a band of desperate criminals, has instituted a veritable reign of terror in Italy. To one living in Italy such tales of horror seem exaggerated, to say the least. Italy plainly welcomes the ‘tyrant’ with a sigh of relief.
When Benito Mussolini took hold of the rudder of government, the illconstructed constitutional monarchy had been honeycombed through and through with radical democracy; had, in fact, ceased to be an actual government; had become mere semblance of government. The constituted authorities of the State had abjectly surrendered to radicalism. So complete was this surrender that just before the end of the war five hundred and fortysix Communist agents from the city of Milan alone had free passes on the railways of the State. There was extreme apathy, slackness, and disorder in all state functions; many programmes, few acts. Discipline was lax in all departments of the public service. It was heavily loaded with supernumerary officeholders, who reported at their respective offices only on the twenty-seventh day of each month, and then merely to draw their salary. Frequent strikes in all industries had reduced production to a minimum. There were unemployment, want, bread riots. Workers took possession of factories and ran them to a standstill. Peasants began to dictate to the landlords. Italy was in a state of anarchy.
Mussolini did not overthrow constitutional government. Constitutional government had evaporated from lack of governing initiative. Fascism was a revolution against mob rule. The conduct of a revolution cannot properly be judged by the standards of an operative social order. Revolutions should be judged primarily by their results—secondarily only, by their methods. Acts of violence have been committed, it is true. Hitherto revolutions commonly have been attended with acts of violence. But the tales of violence spread abroad by defeated political adventurers are wholly unreliable and grossly exaggerated. It is probably true that the number of Communists killed in the revolution is less than that of the casualties suffered by the Fascists. The well-known fact that the Fascists substituted castor oil for the dungeon and the scaffold does not indicate unusual cruelty.
The Fascist revolution has remedied many of the evils of the old régime. It is in the way of remedying others. It has rescued Italy from political and social chaos. It has given the people a strong and efficient government. Discipline has been reëstablished in the public service by a system of rigid inspection. The vigilant eye of the Fascist militia is upon every branch of the public service. On every railway train there is an officer of militia who checks up the work of the conductor. The people are being adequately taxed, with the result that the national budget has been balanced. Strikes have been abolished, and industrial courts substituted. Industry is being revived and organized. At the present time there are practically no unemployed in Italy. Everywhere the people seem prosperous and contented. The malarial tracts are being drained, and waste lands reclaimed. The political adventurer alone suffers hardship. Mussolini might well answer his critics in the words of Goethe: ‘Do it better.’
Considering the extent to which the present generation from infancy has been exposed to democratic oratory, it is not surprising to find many wellintentioned people opposed to Mussolini. Indeed, it is surprising to find how general is the disposition to judge Mussolini by his beneficent results rather than by his undemocratic methods. The passing of democracy calls forth surprisingly little protest. These critics tell us that the Fascist government is neither legal nor constitutional; that the Fascists, in defiance of democratic procedure, foully possessed themselves of every position of control throughout the country, the machinery of the State and of the municipalities, the army, the militia, and the police, the press, the judiciary, the banks, and the schools. Mussolini, they say, has conspired with the King and a strong parasitic plutocratic clique to destroy democracy in Italy, and the people’s sacred right not to be governed is being filched from them by Fascist, legislation.
Sure enough, Mussolini is no democrat. Many earnest men, when they awaken to political consciousness and realize how ill the people are governed, embrace the high-sounding theories of radical democracy. So did Mussolini. But democracy in operation is a thing very different from democracy in theory. Democracy in operation turned the founders of our republic from democratic theory. So also it turned Mussolini. Now he believes that the masses, when left to themselves, will not govern themselves; that if a people is to have government, such government must be achieved by the few and imposed by them on the masses, either by persuasion or by force — by persuasion preferably, when possible; by force when persuasion fails. If the dogma of democracy be counted among the eternal verities, then Mussolini cannot be defended.
It has been said that the liberties of a people are rooted in its political constitution. Profound error! Whenever in history we have seen a people enjoying liberty, — not for a day, but long-continued liberty, — the root of it has been in the people’s own manliness. The virtue of a constitution lies in the fact that it does not deal in makebelieves, but takes account of realities. A genuinely aristocratic constitution recognizes the people’s right of revolution and the supremacy of their power, and provides for the orderly conduct of a genuinely popular revolution. No constitution can confer upon the people the right to govern; a constitution can only pretend to confer such. Act of congress cannot make possible what in the nature of things is impossible. Nor do the people really want to govern. When an election is imminent, are we not confronted everywhere with appeals to the people to exercise their suffrage rights?
There stands Mussolini at the head of the manhood of Italy. What shall we do with him? Spiteful oratory may fret him, may distress him, but will not make him cease from governing. The one profitable thing we may do with Mussolini, profitable to us and to him, is to learn the facts about him and Italy. There may be in Mussolini some actual use for us. He has blazed a trail by which all nations may find their way out of the entanglements of democracy when the evils thereof become too great to be endured.
How did Mussolini extricate Italy from the sway of radicalism? He realized that in order to succeed in his venture of government he must unite the antiradical elements of the nation. The radicals were opposed, first of all to government, then to national aspirations and to private ownership. Hence his first act of government was a vigorous propaganda for government, for national greatness, and for private ownership.
The appeal for government and for fuller national life met with warm response from the young men returned from the war. Hard experience had taught many of these the perils of no government. They were for government of some sort, of any sort, and came to be known as Fascists. In others the war had strengthened and vivified the sense of national life. Those were the Nationalists. Here the radicals had played into Mussolini’s hand, for they had vented their militant pacifism upon these men, had subjected them to many annoyances. Under the conditions of traditional democratic procedure the radicals formed an effective majority. To overcome this majority Mussolini adopted a different procedure. In the young Fascists and Nationalists who had served in the war he saw fit and willing material for a fighting force, by whose muscular superiority he might overcome the vocal superiority of the radical element. He organized a volunteer force avowedly for the purpose of executing a revolution against radicalism and establishing government by extraconstitutional methods. The army might be relied upon for neutrality, but for no more. The officers were in sympathy with his nationalistic ideals, but the men had been affected by radical propaganda.
A talent indispensable to the leader of a revolution is the talent of keeping discipline. Be his aim ever so lofty, his vision ever so clear, he, is doomed to failure if he cannot keep his followers in line. This talent Mussolini possesses in a high degree. The discipline within the Fascist Party is as strict as any military discipline. To maintain such discipline without the support of law and custom, even for a day, in these democratizing times is no mean achievement.
As a result of his stand for private ownership Mussolini received the funds needed for the revolution through the established and accustomed channels, and thereby avoided the friction that would have resulted from compulsory levies on wealth.
Mussolini is not a hidebound doctrinaire; he is a man of practical judgment, who must work freely with an eye single to immediate beneficent results and let policy unfold from day to day. He realizes that constitutions are made for government, not government for constitutions. He does not aim to revise the constitution first, and then govern under such revised constitution. Rather his aim is to give the people in each phase of public business such government as seems practicable under the existing conditions. Only gradually, as he gathers support from the accumulating benefits of government, will he press toward a more efficient constitution. He seems not to contemplate any curtailment of the universal franchise, recognizing the fact that political stability requires that the power to rebuke and even to dismiss sham government be left in the hands of the people. He merely exerts a moderate but steady pressure toward a franchise so proportioned that the governing initiative of the more responsible, more intelligent, more creative element in society may find in it a channel of facile expression. To this end he is increasing the weight of the vote of those who have rendered some tangible service to the State.
It is a momentous thing, this Fascism in Italy! It means that Italy, long hagridden, vexed with foul enchantments, is not to die, but to live. We see Italy rise like a young giant, see her shake all that magical trumpery to right and left, trampling it stormfully under foot, and declaring that there still is fife in her, not for recovery only, but for new and better things. Italy has put her feet upon reality. There only lie strength and healing for her and for us. Fascism was not a decorous process, as democratic oratory esteems decorum; but the alternative to it was death. The basic problem of government, then, is not to secure, for the time being, order and prosperity. The basic problem is deeper than that — it is to instill into the people a faith in which these exterior goods may find their permanent soil, a faith that shall make them for all time the competent guardians of their inalienable right to be well governed. First of all the people must be aroused to a deep and vivid sense of their power and of their dignity. They must know that they possess a strength which no political group can resist. They must know that their will, if they choose to exercise it, is absolute, and their judgment final. They must be charged with the responsibility of maintaining an unfaltering sense of sturdy, self-reliant manliness. But, oppression by their mock superiors well shaken off, the grand problem yet remains to solve: that of finding government by their real superiors. For this there are required also reverence and obedience. A people ever set against government will be as ill governed as a people too indolent or too cowardly to throw off sham government. In most vital need, and with a passionate instinctive desire for guidance, the masses should ever have an eye to their true governors. It is not well with a people if it will not acknowledge such men when they appear; a people is in a chaotic state until it will acknowledge such men. Without such governors no fibre of the past took form; without such no State is secure, nor any civilization stable.