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gone so far as to say that “there never has been a period in our history, since the American nation was independent, when it would not have been a calamity to have it controlled by its highly educated men alone."
It is not, then, merely a matter of "rights,” it is a matter of actual expediency to cleave to democracy. For democracy is the method that brings the most widespread and diverse intelligence to bear upon public problems. The prejudices of one class are neutralized by the opposite prejudices of another class. The self-seeking of one group is cancelled by the interest of other groups. Only by thus giving expression to the needs and ideas of every vocational group, every cultural interest, and every geographical section, can we get a resultant effective force best representative of the general welfare.
And we must not forget the educative influence of democracy. In an autocracy decisions are made for the people; in a democracy decisions are made by the people. To be governed never so well misses something of the value that comes from helping to govern.
Mr. Elihu Root has declared that "the greatest, most useful educative process ever known in the world occurs every four years in the United States when, during a Presidential election, some fifteen million voters are engaged for months in reading and hearing about great and difficult questions of government.” With all allowance for the buncombe that they hear on the platform, the unfair, partisan arguments that they read, the meaningless eulogies and the mudslinging, there is a solid nucleus of serious attention to public problems, and a good deal of fruitful thinking engendered. One of the great advantages of the extension of the democratic
principle to include women lies in the impetus thus given them to interest themselves in the problems of city, State and Nation.
The belief in democracy implies the belief in the ballot as the means of effecting needed changes in legislation or administration; belief in the ballot not only as contrasted with the bullet but as contrasted with what is today called "direct action." This is not to say that all strikes are unjustifiable. On the contrary, a strike to bring pressure to bear upon selfish and profiteering employers to grant a living wage, reasonable hours, or what not, may be the best means available to a highly desirable end. But the use of a General Strike, or sabotage, or ca'canny, or the expropriation of owners by workers (as recently in Italy), to effect fundamental changes in our institutions, is sharply opposed to our democratic ideal, which demands the attainment of political ends through political channels.
It is necessary to emphasize this point because there seems to be a growing group of those who despair of reform by the ballot and advocate the employment in far greater degree than hitherto of economic pressure. The editor of a brilliant American weekly recently expressed his attitude as follows: “When the economic organization wants anything enough to insist on having it, nothing else really matters. In an editorial some weeks ago we have already adverted to the passage of the Adamson bill. The railwaymen wanted the eight-hour day, and wanted it enough to insist on having it. They got it promptly from the existing Administration, and would have gotten it just as promptly from any other. They now seem to want the Plumb plan, and have the support of the miners in this desire. We do
not think much of the Plumb plan except by way of its educative value; but if the railwaymen really want it, want it as they wanted the Adamson bill, they will get it and get it on demand. It is clear to this paper, in short, that actual power lies in the economic organization, and that whatever power the political organization has, is purely factitious and exists on sufferance. Hence the political organization comes finally to nothing but a set of dummies and may be regarded accordingly. No President, Congress or Supreme Court will ever be found in the way of any demand of the economic organization, provided such demand has the backing of serious purpose such as was behind the Adamson bill.
“The thing is, then, in our judgment—without stirring up revolutions, which usually mean the mere exchange of one form of tyranny for another and hence do little good and great harm; without arraying oneself against the existing political or institutional order—the thing is to get the economic organization to want the right things, the fundamental things, and to be in earnest about getting them.
"Let the existing political organization take its own course. It is keenly aware of the power of the economic organization; and whenever it becomes convinced that the intelligence and will of the economic organization is really functioning behind that power, it will yield without any serious trial of strength."
What of this argument? As a matter of fact, the experience of "direct action” in recent years does not corroborate this editor's assurance of its success. Both in England and in France a general strike of the railway workers was beaten. Volunteers were found to do the work of engineers and trainmen, automobiles were used to transport people and goods,
and the people showed so great resourcefulness in getting along without the regular railway workers that nothing came of the demonstration. From the study of these and other cases a great many of the most ardent labor leaders and most radical advocates of social change admit that unless the public in general sympathizes heartily with the strikers and is willing to endure privation for the sake of furthering their cause, the attempt at direct action is bound to be futile.
It is also obvious that there is, and will be, no unified "economic organization.” There are a number of different groups of workers, some wanting one thing, some another. If the railway-workers seek by direct action to force the nationalization of the railways, will the textile-workers, the metal-workers, the carpenters, plumbers, farmers, and teachers support them? Not unless they have become convinced that such a change of policy is advantageous for the country as a whole. And if they are convinced of the desirability of the change, it can be attained by the ballot. They will never consent, and they ought not to consent, to the dictation of public policy by a single group or combination of groups which is not strong enough or persuasive enough in its arguments to win in a fair contest at the polls.
Direct action is the attempt of a wilful minority to have its way. It means inconvenience to the public, very likely actual suffering. In engenders bitterness, and almost inevitably leads to bloodshed. If it represents the wish of a majority in the community it is unnecessary, because its end could be attained by the ballot. If it represents the attempt of a minority who feel themselves in a strategic position to hold up the community's life until they are granted what they wish, it is the very negation of our ideal of Democracy. Instead of seeking to decide matters of public policy by discussion, persuasion, and a majority vote, it proposes to attain its end by a threat, by browbeating the rest of the people into accepting the policy of a minority. Under an autocracy, such a method matches power against power; it may be the best way of breaking the back of tyranny. In a democracy the one thing most needful is to preserve a general respect for the attainment of political ends by the ballot. And any economic organization that makes use of the public's need of its services to force its program upon the State is guilty of grave disservice.
On the other hand, we must recognize that groups of workers are right in pointing out that the owners of industry are making use of their strategic position to divert a large share of the profits of labor into their pockets. Owners of valuable land and natural resources are making the most of their strategic position to make fortunes by demanding high rentals and prices. Inheritors of fortunes are using their strategic position to add to their fortunes at compound interest. Why should not groups of workers, who have no other advantage in the race, use their strategic position to extort such terms as they can get?
The answer is, Two evils do not make a good. By all means let us seek to curtail Privilege and Profiteering and devise a fairer distribution of the fruits of industry and the natural resources of our continent. But let us do it by political means; that is, by educating people to see the need of reform until a majority vote can be obtained for measures and men