The Decline of Western Democracy

In his new book, The Public Philosophy, which will he published this month, WALTER LIPPMAN has made a forceful analysis of the gravest issue of our time, the steady impairment of the power to govern which has imperiled the western democracies during the past Jour decades, He shows that this deterioration began before 1914, that Lord Bryce saw the warning signs in 1920: and he shows how deep-seated the disorder has become since 1938. The great question to which he addresses himself in the later chapters is whether this decline can be checked and to what extent Democracy can renew its strength. The deep seriousness with which Mr. Lippmann writes will be seen in this, the first of three excerpts we shall draw from his book.


DURING (he fateful summer of 1938 I began writing a book in an effort to come to terms in my own mind and heart with the mounting disorder in our western society. I was living in Paris at the time, and I had learned that the decision had been taken which was soon to lead Mr. Chamberlain and M. Daladier to Munich. Little hope remained that another world war could be averted except by abject surrender, and yet there was no sure prospect that France and Great Britain would be able to withstand the onslaught that was coming. They were unprepared, their people were divided and demoralized. The Americans were far away, were determined to be neutral, and were unarmed. I was filled with foreboding that the nations of the Atlantic Community would not prove equal to the challenge, and that if they failed, we should lose our great traditions of civility, the liberties western man has won for himself after centuries of struggle and which were now threatened by the rising tide of barbarity,

I began writing, impelled by the need to make more intelligible to myself the alarming failure of the western liberal democracies to cope with the realities of this century. I had done a draft of the book when the fall of France made it evident that we too must soon be engaged and, moreover, engaged alone if the Battle of Britain were lost.

In December, 1941, I put the manuscript, away, knowing that so much was going to happen to the world and to me that if ever I went back to the book, it would be to start all over again. When I did come back to it after the war, the foreboding which had inspired it was in a terrible measure realized. Something had gone very wrong in the liberal democracies. They had, to be sure, defeated their enemies. They had avoided defeat and subjection. But they were unable to make peace and to restore order. For the second time in a generation they had failed to prevent a ruinous war, they had been unwilling to prepare themselves to wage the war, and when at long last and at exorbitant cost they had managed to defeat their enemies, they had been unable to make peace out of their victories. They were entangled in a vicious circle of wars that led to ever bigger and wider wars. Could it be denied that they were sick with some kind of incapacity to cope with reality, to govern their affairs, to defend their vital interests and, it might be, to insure their survival as free and democratic states?

There was no mistaking the decline of the West. Thirty years after Wilson had proclaimed a world at peace under democratic governments, the North Atlantic democracies were preoccupied with the defense of Western Europe and the fringes of the Eurasian continent. In less than hall a century it had come to that. In 1900 men everywhere on earth had acknowledged, even when they resented, the primacy of the western nations. They were the recognized leaders in the progress of mankind, and it was taken as axiomatic that the question was when, and not whether, the less advanced people would have learned how to use the western technology, to hold free elections, to respect the Bill of Rights and to live by its political philosophy. Until 1917 the model for a new government anywhere in the world, even in Russia, was liberal democracy in the British, the French, or the American style.

Copyright 1955, by The Atlantic Monthly Company. Boston 16, Mass. All rights reserved.

But by the end of 1920 things had taken a sharp turn. Lord Bryce was then finishing his Modern Democracies, and though he still wrote in the prewar manner that “democracy is spreading” and that, “the number of democracies in the world has doubled within fifteen years,” he had seen the warning signs and he was troubled. It might not be “really helpful to the younger generation,” he wrote in the preface, but he could not “repress the pessimism of experience.” Me had to say that “although democracy has spread, and although no country that has tried it shows any signs of forsaking it, we are not yet entitled to hold with the men of 1789 that it is the natural and, therefore, in the long run, the inevitable form of government. Much has happened since the rising sun of liberty dazzled the eyes of the States-General at Versaillcs. Popular government has not yet been proved to guarantee, always and everywhere, good government. If it be improbable, yet it is not unthinkable that, as in many countries impatience with tangible evils substituted democracy for monarchy or oligarchy, a like impatience might someday reverse the process.”

Three years later Mussolini marched on Rome, and Italy became the first of the bigger democracies to “reverse the process.” In retrospect we can now see that what Lord Bryce, writing at the end of the First World War, thought was the pessimism of experience was in fact the Intuition of a sensitive and knowing observer, he had felt in his bones, being too close to the event to perceive it, that a fundamental change in the prospects of democracy was in the making.

There had occurred, i now believe, an unrecognized revolution within the democratic states. By the third year of the First World War the cumulative losses had become so exorbitant that the institutional order of all the belligerents gave way under the stress and strain. The war had become, in Ferrero’s telling phrase, hyperbolic, and the prewar governments were incapable of imposing such unlimited drafts upon the endurance and the loyalties of the people.

The existing governments had exhausted their imperium — their authority to bind and their power to command. With their traditional means they were no longer able to carry on the war; yet they were unable to negotiate peace. They had, therefore, to turn to the people. They had to ask still greater exertions and sacrifices. They obtained them by “democratizing” the conduct and the aims of the war: by pursuing total victory and by promising total peace. In substance they ceded the executive power of decision over the strategical and the political conditions for concluding the war. In effect they lost control of the war.

In the defeated countries the price of this was revolution against the established order. The Romanov, the Hohenzollern, the Hapsburg, and the Ottoman Empires collapsed. In the victorious countries institutions were not overthrown, rulers were not exiled, imprisoned, or executed. But the constitutional order was altered subtly and yet radically within itself.

This revolution appeared to be a cession of power to the representative assemblies, and when it happened it was acclaimed as promising the end of the evils of secret diplomacy and the undemocratic conduct of unpopular wars. In fact, the powers which were ceded by the executive passed through the assemblies, which could not exercise them, to the mass of voters, who, though unable also to exercise them, passed them on to the party bosses, the agents of pressure groups, and the magnates of the new media of mass communications.

The consequences were disastrous and revolutionary. The democracies became incapacitated to wage war for rational ends and to make a peace which would be observed or could be enforced.


A VIGOROUS critic of democracy, Sir Henry Maine, writing in 1884 pist as England was about to adopt general manhood suffrage, observed that “there could be no grosser mistake" than the impression that “Democracy differs from Monarchy in essence.” For “the tests of success in the performance of the necessary and natural duties of a government are precisely the same in both cases. These natural and necessary duties have to do with the defense and advancement abroad of the vital interests of the state and with its order, security, and solvency at home. Invariably these duties call for hard decisions. They are hard because the gov ernors of the state must tax, conscript, command, prohibit; they must assort a public interest against private inclination and against what is easy and popular. If they are to do their duty, they must often swim against the tides of private feeling.

Perhaps, before going any further, I should say that I am a liberal democrat and have no wish to disenfranchise my fellow citizens. My hope is that both liberty and democracy can be preserved before the one destroys the other. Whether this can be done is the question of our time, what with more than half the world denying and despairing of it. Of one thing we may be sure. If it is to be done at all, we must be uninhibited in our examination of our condition. And since our condition is manifestly connected with grave errors in war and peace that have been committed by democratic governments, we must adopt the habit of thinking as plainly about the sovereign people as we do about the politicians they elect. It will not do to think poorly of the politicians and to talk with bated breath about the voters. No more than the kings before them should the people be hedged with divinity. Like all princes and rulers, like all sovereigns, they are ill-served by flattery and adulation. And they are betrayed by the servile hypocrisy which tells them that what is true and what is false, what is right and what is wrong, can be determined by their votes.

If I am right in what I have been saying, there has developed in this century a functional derangement of the relationship between the mass of the people and the government. The people have acquired power which they are incapable of exercising, and the governments they elect have lost powers which they must recover if they are to govern. What then are the true boundaries of the people’s power? The answer cannot be simple. But for a rough beginning let us say that the people are able to give and to withhold their consent to being governed — their consent to what the government asks of them, proposes to them, and has done in the conduct of their affairs. They can elect the government. They can remove it. They can approve or disapprove its performance. But they cannot administer the government. They cannot themselves perform. They cannot normally initiate and propose the necessary legislation. A mass cannot govern. The people, as Jefferson said, are not “qualified to exercise themselves the Executive Department; but they are qualified to name the person who shall exercise it. . . . They are not qualified to legislate with us; therefore they only choose the legislators.”

Where mass opinion dominates the government, there is a morbid derangement of the true functions of power. The derangement brings about the enfeeblement, verging on paralysis, of the capacity to govern. This breakdown in the constitutional order is the cause of the precipitate and cataastrophic decline of western society. It may, if it cannot be arrested and reversed, bring about the fall of the West.

The propensity to this derangement and the v ulnerability of our society to it have a long and complex history. Yet the more I have brooded upon the events which I have lived through myself, the more astounding and significant does it seem that the decline of the power and influence and selfconfidence of the western democracies has been so steep and so sudden. We have fallen far in a short span of time. However long the underlying erosion had been going on, we were still a great and powerful and flourishing community when the First World War began. What we have seen is not only decay — though much of the old structure was dissolving — but something which can be called an historic catastrophe.


WAITING in 1913, just before the outbreak of the war, and having in mind Queen Victoria and King Edward VII, Sir Harry Johnston thus described how foreign affairs were conducted in the nineteenth century: —

“In those days, a country’s relations with its neighbors or with distant lands were dealt with almost exclusively by the head of the State — Emperor, King, or President—acting with the more-or-less dependent Minisler-of-State, who was no representative of the masses, but the employe of the Monarch. Events were prepared and sprung on a submissive, a confident, or a stupid people. The public Press criticized, more often applauded, but had at most to deal with a fait accompli and make the best of it. Occasionally, in our own land, a statesman, out of office and discontented, went, round the great provincial towns agitating against the trend of British foreign policy — perhaps wisely, perhaps unfairly, we do not yet know — and scored a slight success. But once in office, his Cabinet fell in by degrees with the views of the Sovereign and the permanent officials (after the fifties of the last century these public servants were a factor of ever-growing importance); and, as before, the foreign poliev of the Empire was shaped by a small camarilla consisting of the Sovereign, two Cabinet Ministers, the permanent UnderSecretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and perhaps one representative of la plus haute finance”

Withont taking it too literally, this is a fair description of how foreign affairs were conducted before the First World War. There were exceptions. The Aberdeen Government, for example, was overthrown in 1855 because of its inefficient conduct of the Crimean War. But generally speaking, elected parliaments were not normally consulted in the deliberations which led up to war, or on the high strategy of the war, on the terms of the armistice, on the conditions of peace. Even their right to be informed was severely limited, and the principle of the system was, one might say, that war and peace were the business of the executive department. The power of decision was not in, was not even shared with, the House of Commons, the Chamber of Deputies, the Reichstag.

THe United States was, of course, a special case. The Congress has always had constitutional rights to advise and to be consulted in the declaration of war and in the ratification of treaties. But at the time I am talking about —that is to say, before the First World War broke out—it was American policy to abstain from the role of a great power, and to limit its sphere of vital interests to the Western Hemisphere and the North Pacific Ocean. Only in 1917 did the American constitutional system for dealing with foreign affairs become involved with the conduct of world affairs. From then on, the conduct of the war and then the1 conditions of the armistice and the peace were subjected to the dominating impact of mass opinions.

Saying this does not mean that the whole great mass of the people have had strong opinions about the whole range of complex issues which were before the military staffs and the foreign offices. The action of mass opinion has not been, and in the nature of things could not be, continuous through the successive phases in which affairs develop. Action has been discontinuous. Usually it has been a massive negative imposed at critical junctures when a new general course of policy needed to be set. There have, of course, been periods of apathy and of indifference. But democratic politicians have preferred to shun foresight about troublesome changes to come, knowing that the massive veto was latent, and that it would be expensive to them and to their party if they provoked it.

In the winter of 1918—1919, for example, Floyd George, Clemenceau, Wilson, and Orlando were at a critical juncture of modern history. The Germans had been defeated, their government had been overthrown, their troops disarmed and disbanded. The Allies were called upon to decide whether they would dictate a punitive peace or would negotiate a peace of reconciliation.

In the thirties the British and the French governments had to decide whether to rearm and to take concerted measures to contain Hitler and Mussolini or whether to remain unarmed and to appease them. The United States had to decide whether to arm in order to contain the Japanese or to negotiate with them at the expense of China.

During the Second World War the British and the American governments had again to make the choice between total victory with unconditional surrender and negotiated settlements whose end was reconciliation.

These were momentous issues, like choosing at. the fork of the road a way from which there is no turning back: whether to arm or not to arm; whether, as a conflict blows up, to intervene or to withdraw; whether in war to fight for the unconditional surrender of the adversary or for his reconciliation. The issues are so momentous that public feeling quickly becomes incandescent to them. But they can be answered with the only words that a great mass qua mass can speak —with a yes or a no.

Experience since 1917 indicates that in matters of war and peace the popular answer in the democracies is likely to be no. For everything connected with war has become dangerous, painful, disagreeable, and exhausting to very nearly everyone. The rule to which there are few exceptions—the acceptance of the Marshall Plan is one of them — is that at the critical junctures when the stakes are high, the prevailing mass opinion will impose what amounts to a veto upon changing the course on which the government is at the time proceeding. Prepare for war in time of peace? No. It is bad to raise taxes, to unbalance the budget, to take men away from their schools or their jobs, to provoke the enemy. Intervene in a developing conflict? No. Avoid the risk of war. Withdraw from the area of the conflict? No. The adversary must not be appeased. Reduce your claims on the area? No. Righteousness cannot be compromised. Negotiate a compromise peace as soon as the opportunity presents itself? No. The aggressor must be punished. Remain armed to enforce the dictated settlement? No. The war is over.

The unhappy truth is that the prevailing public opinion has been destructively wrong at the critical junctures. The people have imposed a veto upon the judgments of informed and responsible officials. They have compelled the governments, which usually knew what would have been wiser, or was necessary, or was more expedient, to be too late with too little, or too long with too much, too pacifist in peace and too bellicose in war, too neutralist or appeasing in negotiation or too intransigent. Mass opinion has acquired mounting power in this century. It has shown itself to be a dangerous master of decisions when the stakes are life and death.


THE errors of public opinion in these matters have a common characteristic. The movement of opinion is slower than the movement of events. Because of that, the cycle of subjective sentiments on war and peace is usually out of gear with the cycle of objective developments. Just because they are mass opinions there is an inertia in them. It takes much longer to change many minds than to change a few. It takes time to inform and to persuade and to arouse targe scattered varied multitudes of persons. So before the multitude have caught up with the old events there are likely to be new ones coming up over the horizon with which the government should be preparing to deal. But the majority will be more aware of what they have just caught up with near at hand than with what is still distant and in the future. For these reasons the propensity to say no to a change of course sets up a compulsion to make mistakes. The opinion deals with a situation which no longer exists.

When the world wars came, the people of the liberal democracies could not be aroused to the exertions and the sacrifices of the struggle until they had been frightened by the opening disasters, had been incited to passionate hatred, and had become intoxicated with unlimited hope. To overcome this inertia the enemy had to be portrayed as evil incarnate, as absolute and congenital wickedness. The people wanted to be told that when this particular enemy had been forced to unconditional surrender, they would re-enter the golden age. This unique war would end all wars. This last war would make the world safe for democracy. This crusade would make the whole world a democracy.

As a result of this impassioned nonsense public opinion became so envenomed that the people would not countenance a workable peace; in 1917 they wore against any public man who showed “any tenderness for the Hun,” or was inclined to listen to the “Hun food snivel.”Yet as soon as the terms of the settlement were known, it was evident that peace had not been made with Germany. It was not for want of power but for want of statesmanship that the liberal democracies failed. They failed to restore order in that great part of the world which — outside of revolutionary Russia — was still within the orbit of their influence, still amenable to their leadership, still subject to their decisions, still working within the same economy, still living in the same international community, still thinking in the same universe of discourse. In this failure to make peace there was generated the cycle of wars in which the West has suffered so sudden and so spectacular a decline.

Public opinion, having vetoed reconciliation, had made the settlement unworkable. And so when a new generation of Germans grow up, they rebelled. But by that time the western democracies, so recently too warlike to make peace with the unarmed German Republic, had become too pacifist to take the risks which could have prevented the war that Hitler was announcing that he would wage against Europe. Having refused the risk of trying to prevent: war, they would not now prepare for the war. The European democracies chose to rely on the double negative of unarmed appeasement, and the American democracy chose to rely on unarmed isolation.

When the unprevented war came, the fatal cycle was repeated. Western Europe was defeated and occupied before the British people began seriously to wage the war. And after the catastrophe in Western Europe eighteen agonizing months of indecision elapsed before I lie surprise and shock of Pearl Harbor did for the American people what no amount of argument and evidence and reason had been able to do.


THE record shows that the people of the democracies, having become sovereign in this century, have made it increasingly difficult for their governments to prepare properly for war or to make peace. Their responsible officials have been like the ministers of an opinionated and willful despot. Between the critical junctures, when public opinion has been inattentive or not vehemently aroused, responsible officials have often been able to circumvent extremist popular opinions and to wheedle their way towards moderation and good sense. In the crises, however, democratic officials — over and above their own human propensity to err—have been compelled to make the big mistakes that public opinion has insisted upon. Even the greatest men have not been able to turn back the massive tides of opinion, and of sentiment.

There is no mystery about why there is such a tendency for popular opinion to he wrong in judging war and peace. Strategic and diplomatic decisions call for a kind of knowledge — not to speak of an experience and a seasoned judgment —which cannot be had by glancing at newspapers, listening to snatches of radio comment, watching politicians perform on television, hearing occasional lectures, and reading a few books, it would not be enough to make a man competent to decide whether to amputate a leg, and it is not enough to qualify him to choose war or peace, to arm or not to arm, to intervene or to withdraw, to fight on or to negotiate.

Usually, moreover, when the decision is critical and urgent, the public will not be told the whole truth. What can be told to the great public, it xxill not hear in the complicated and qualified concreteness that is needed for a practical decision. When distant and unfamiliar and complex things are communicated to great masses of people, the truth suffers a considerable and often a radical distortion. The complex is made over into the simple, the hypothetical into the dogmatic, and the relative into an absolute. Even when there is no deliberate distortion by censorship and propaganda, which is unlikely in time of war, the public opinion of masses cannot be counted upon to apprehend regularly and promptly the reality of things. There is an inherent tendency in opinion to feed upon rumors excited by our own wishes and fears.

At the critical moments in this sad history, there have been men worth listening to who warned the people against their mistakes. Always, too, there have been men inside the governments who judged correctly because they were permitted to know in time the uncensored and unvarnished truth. But the climate of modern democracy does not usually inspire them to speak out. What Churchill did in the thirties before Munich was exceptional; the general rule is that a democratic politician had hotter not be right too soon. Very often the penalty is political death, ll is much safer to keep in step with the parade of opinion than to try to keep up with the swifter movement of events.

In government offices which are sensitive to the vehemence and passion of mass sentiment public men have no sure tenure. They are in effect perpetual office seekers, always on trial for their political lives, always required to court their restless constituents. They are deprived of their independence. Democratic politicians rarely feel they can afford the luxury of telling the whole truth to the people. And since not telling it, though prudent, is uncomfortable, they find it easier if they themselves do not have to hear too often too much of the sour truth. The men under them who report and collect the news come to realize in their turn that it is safer to be wrong before it has become fashionable to be right.

With exceptions so rare that they are regarded as miracles and freaks of nature, successful democratic politicians are insecure and intimidated men. They advance politically only as they placate, appease, bribe, seduce, bamboozle, or otherwise manage to manipulate the demanding and threatening elements in their constituencies. The decisive consideration is not whether the proposition is good but whether it is popular — not whether it will work well and prove itself but whether the active, talking constituents like it immediately. Politicians rationalize this servitude by saying that in a democracy public men are the servants of the people.

This devitalization of the governing power is the malady of democratic states. As the malady grows, the executives become highly susceptible to encroachment and usurpation by elected assemblies; they are pressed and harassed by the higgling of parties, by the agents of organized interests, and by the spokesmen of sectarians and ideologues. The malady can be fatal. It can be deadly to the very survival of the state as a free society if, when the great and hard issues of war and peace, of security and solvency, of revolution and order, are up for decision, the executive and judicial departments, with their civil servants and technicians, have lost their power to decide.


WHEN I describe the malady of democratic states as a derangement in the relation between the mass of the people and the government, I am, of course, implying that there is a sound relationship and that we should be able to know what it is. We must now examine this assumption. We are looking into the relation between, on the one hand, the governing or executive power and, on the other hand, the elected assembly and the voters in the constituencies. The best place to begin is in the simple beginnings of our constitutional development — in the medieval English Parliament — before the essential functions and their relation had become complicated by their later development.

No relationship, sound or unsound, could exist until the functions of execution and representation had become differentiated. In primitive societies they are not differentiated. Under the Norman and Angevin rulers the differentiation had not yet occurred. These rulers “judged and legislated as well as administered.” But by the thirteenth century the differentiation is already visible, and the essential relation in which we are interested can be recognized. There is a writ issued under Henry III in 1254, summoning Parliament. The sheriff of each county is ordered “to cause to come before the King’s Council two good and discreet Knights of the Shire, whom the men of the county shall have chosen for this purpose in the stead of all and of each of them to consider along with knights of other shires what aid they will grant the king.”

Let us note the dualism. There is the government, which means the king and his council of prelates and peers. Then there are the knights of the shires representing the men of the counties. They are to meet, and the king will ask the knights what aid they will grant to him. This is the basic relationship. The government can act. Because it can act, it decides what action should be taken, and it proposes the measures; it then asks the representatives of those who must supply the money and the men for the means to carry out its decisions. The governed, through their representatives, the two knights of the shire from each county, give or withhold their consent.

From the tension and the balance of the two powers — that of the ruler and that of the ruled — there evolved the written and the unwritten contracts of the constitution. The grant of aid by the ruled must be preceded by the ruler’s redress of their grievances. The government will be refused the means of governing if it does not listen to the petitions, if it does not inform, if it does not consult, if it cannot win the consent of, those who have been elected as the representatives of the governed.

The executive is the active power in the state, the asking and the proposing power. The representative assembly is the consenting power, the petitioning, the approving and the criticizing, the accepting and the refusing power. The two powers are necessary if there are to be order and freedom. But each must be true to its own nature, each limiting and complementing the other. The government must be able to govern and the citizens must be represented in order that they shall not be oppressed. The health of the system depends upon the relationship of the two powers. If either absorbs or destroys the functions of the other power, the constitution is deranged.

The western liberal democracies are a declining power in human affairs. I argue that this is due to a derangement of the functions of their governments which disables them in coping with the mounting disorder. I do not say, indeed I think it impossible to know, whether the malady can be cured or whether it must run its course. But I do say that if it cannot be cured, it will continue to erode the safeguards against despotism, and the failure of the West may be such that freedom will be lost and will not be restored again except by another revolution. But for either contingency, for cure now or for recovery after a catastrophe, our first necessity is to work towards an adequate knowledge of the two functions, their nature, and their derangement.


IN ORDER to do so it is necessary at the outset to reduce the ambiguity of the term “the people,” For it has two different meanings, which it may be convenient to distinguish typographically. When we speak of popular sovereignty, we must know whether we are talking about The People, as voters, or about The People, as a community of the entire living population, with their predecessors and successors.

It is often assumed, but without warrant, that the opinions of The People as voters can be treated as the expression of the interests of The People as an historic community. The crucial problem of modern democracy arises from the fact that this assumption is false. The voters cannot be relied upon to represent The People. The opinions of voters in elections are not to be accepted unquestioningly as judgments of the vital interests of the community.

To whom, for example, did the Preamble of the Constitution refer when it said that “We the People of the United States . . . ordain and establish this Constitution”? On September 17, 1787, about forty members signed the draft on which they had been working since May 25, for one hundred sixteen days. In Article VII of their text they stipulated that if and when conventions in nine states had ratified it, then for those nine stales The People of the United States would have ordained and established the Constitution. In this context a majority of the delegates elected to nine state conventions were deemed to be entitled to act as The People of the United States.

The inhabitants of the United States who were qualified to vote for these delegates were not a large number. They included no slaves, no women, and (except in New York) only such adult males as could pass property and other highly restrictive tests. We do not have accurate figures. But according to the census of 1790 the population was 3,929,782. Of these, 3,200,000 were free persons, and the adult males among them who were entitled to vote are estimated to have been fewer than 500,000. Using the Massachusetts figures as a statistical sample, it may be assumed that fewer than 160,000 actually voted for delegates to all the ratifying conventions, and of those voting, perhaps 100,000 favored the adoption of the Constitution.

The exact figures do not matter. The point is that the voters were not—and we may add that they have never been and can never be — more than a fraction of the total population. They were less than 5 per cent when the Constitution was ordained. They were not yet 40 per cent in 1952 when, except under the special conditions in the South, we had universal adult suffrage. Manifestly, the voters can never be equal to the whole population, even to the whole living adult population.

Because of the discrepancy between The People as voters and The People as the corporate nation, the voters have no title to consider themselves the proprietors of the commonwealth and to claim that their interests are identical with the public interest. A prevailing plurality of the voters is not The People. The claim that it is is a bogus title invoked to justify the usurpation of the executive power by representative assemblies and the intimidation of public men by demagogic politicians. In fact demagoguery can be described as the sleight of hand by which a faction of The People as voters is invested with the authority of The People. That is why so many crimes are committed in the people’s name.

The fact is that The People is not, as Jeremy Bentham assumed, the simple aggregate of living persons in a community. The People is also the stream of individuals, the connected generations of changing persons, that Burke was talking about when he invoked the partnership “not only between those who are living” but also with “those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born.” The People is a corporation — an entity, that is to say, which lives on while individuals come into it and go out of it.

For this reason Bentham cannot have been right when he said that the interests of the community are no more than the sum of the interests of the several members who happen to compose it at any particular instant of time. He cannot have been right when he said that “the happiness of the individuals, of whom a community is composed, that is their pleasures and their security, is the end and the sole end which the legislator ought to have in view.”

For besides the happiness and the security of the individuals of whom a community is at any moment composed, there are also the happiness and the security of the individuals of whom generation after generation it will be composed. If we think of it in terms of individual persons, the corporate body of The People is for the most part invisible and inaudible. Indeed, as a whole it is nonexistent in that so many are dead and so many are not yet born. Yet this corporate being, though so insubstantial to our senses, binds, in Burke’s words, a man to his country with “ties which though light as air, are as strong as links of iron.” That is why young men die in battle for their country’s sake and why old men plant trees they will never sit under.

In ordinary circumstances voters cannot be expected to transcend their particular, localized, and self-regarding opinions. As well expect men laboring in the valley to see the land as from a mountaintop. In their circumstances, which as private persons they cannot readily surmount, the voters are most likely to suppose that whatever seems obviously good to them must be good for the country, and good in the sight of God.

I am far from implying that the voters are not entitled to the representation of their particular opinions and interests. But. their opinions and interests shoujd be taken for what they are and for no more. They are not —as such — propositions in the public interest. Beyond their being, if they are genuine, a true report of what various groups of voters are thinking, they have no intrinsic authority. The Gallup polls are reports of what people are thinking. But that a plurality of the people sampled in the poll think one way has no bearing upon whether it is sound public policy. For their opportunities of judging great issues are in the very nature of things limited, and the statistical sum of their opinions is not the final verdict on an issue. It is, rather, the beginning of the argument. In that argument their opinions need to be confronted by the views of the executive, defending and promoting the public interest. In the accommodation reached between the two views lies practical public policy.

Faced with choices between hard and soft courses of action, the normal propensity of democratic governments is to please the largest number of voters. The pressure of the electorate is normally for the less painful alternative. That is why governments are unable to cope with reality when elected assemblies and mass opinions become decisive in the state, when there arc no statesmen to resist the inclination of the voters and there are only politicians to excite and to exploit them.

There is then a general tendency to be drawn downward, as by the force of gravity, towards insolvency, towards the insecurity of factionalism, towards the erosion of liberty, and towards hyperbolic wars.

In the effort to understand the malady of democratic government I have dwelt upon the underlying duality of functions: governing — that is, the administration of the laws and the initiative in legislating; and representing—the living persons who are governed, who must pay, who must work, who must fight and, it may be, die for the acts of the government. I attribute the democratic disaster of the twentieth century to a derangement of these primary functions.

The power of the executive has become enfeebled, often to the verge of impotence, by the pressures of the representative assembly and of mass opinions. This derangement of the governing power has forced the democratic states to commit disastrous and, it could be, fatal mistakes. It has also transformed the assemblies in most, perhaps not in all, democratic states from the defenders of local and personal rights into boss-ridden oligarchies, threatening the security, the solvency, and the liberties of the state.

In the traditions of western society, civilized government is founded on the assumption that the two powers exercising the two functions will be in balance—that they will check, restrain, compensate, complement, inform, and vitalize each one the other.

In this century, the balance of the two powers has been seriously upset. Two great streams of evolution have converged upon the modern democracies to devitalize, to enfeeble, and to eviscerate the executive power. One is the enormous expansion of public expenditure, chiefly for war and reconstruction; this has augmented the power of the assemblies which vote the appropriations on which the executive depends. The other development which has acted to enfeeble the executive power is the growing incapacity of the large majority of the democratic peoples to believe in intangible realities. This has stripped the government of that imponderable authority which is derived from tradition, immemorial usage, consecration, veneration, prescription, prestige, heredity, hierarchy.

Under the stress and the strain of the great wars of the twentieth century, the executive power has become elaborately dependent upon the assemblies for its enormous expenditures (if men and of money. The executive has at the same time been deprived of very nearly all of his imponderable power: fearing the action of the representative assembly, he is under great temptation to outwit it or by-pass it, as did Franklin D. Roosevelt in the period of the Second World War. It is significant, I think — certainly it is at least suggestive—that while nearly all the western governments have been in deep trouble since the First World War, the constitutional monarchies of Scandinavia, the Low Countries, and the United Kingdom have shown greater capacity to endure, to preserve order with freedom, than the republics of France, Germany, Spain, and Italy. In some measure that may be because in a republic the governing power, being wholly secularized, loses much of its prestige; it is stripped, if one prefers, of all the illusions of intrinsic majesty.

The evaporation of the imponderable powers, a total dependence upon the assemblies and the mass electorates, has upset the balance of powers between the two functions of the state. The executive has lost both its material and its ethereal powers. The assemblies and the mass electorates have acquired the monopoly of effective powers.

This is the internal revolution which has deranged the constitutional system of the liberal democratic states.