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that will rectify existing evils. To seek a shorter cut to this end is to compromise the good sought, and to undermine the foundations of democracy.
The fundamental need in a democracy, then, is political education. The responsibility for State policy in America rests, ultimately, upon all the people; it will be wise or foolish, fair or unfair, skilful or blundering, in the long run in proportion to the insight of the electorate on public problems. The big problems of public policy are not beyond the comprehension of the people. But they are obscured by prejudice and self-seeking, by the rhetoric and sophistry of a propagandist press, by the passions and greed of groups accustomed to think in terms of personal or class advantage. What we need is statemindedness, patriotism, Americanism--call it what you will—the habit of thinking in terms of the general good; and a widespread determination to study all problems from that angle. We need so diffused an education on civic matters that the mass of voters will no longer be helpless in the hands of political bosses, spellbinder orators, and a partisan press. We must think for ourselves, every one of us; in the formation and utilization of an enlightened public opinion lies our salvation.
On the other hand, we must not expect the impossible of human nature. The great mass of Americans are busy, hard-working, people, with little spare time and energy to study political situations and inform themselves with regard to candidates. We must beware of putting too heavy a burden upon them, for in so doing we shall defeat our end. We must devise such improvements in our political mechanism as will make the obfustication of issues less easy, and smooth the way for the formation and direct application to public policy of a genuine public opinion. Ways and means to this end will be considered in succeeding chapters.
James Russell Lowell, Address on Democracy. (Reprinted in
Fulton, op. cit., p. 166.) Matthew Arnold, Democracy, in Mixed Essays. J. H. Tufts, Our Democracy, Chap. XXII. Maurice Maeterlinck, Universal Suffrage, in The Double
Garden. W. H. Allen, Efficient Democracy, Chap. XI. Stanton Coit, and others, in Ethical Democracy. J. A. Smith, The Spirit of American Government. W. E. Weyl, The New Democracy, Chap. XX. J. M. Mecklin, Introduction to Social Ethics, Chap. I. Warner Fite, in Atlantic Monthly, vol. 102, p. 611. J. D. Miller, in International Journal of Ethics, vol. 25, p. 213. R. B. Perry, in International Journal of Ethics, vol. 28, p. 449. W. Fite, in International Journal of Ethics, vol. 18, p. 1. T. Davidson, in International Journal of Ethics, vol. 10, p. 21. J. J. Mackenzie, in International Journal of Ethics, vol. 16,
Sylvester Baxter, in Forum, vol. 52, p. 313.
A BRILLIANT American student of politics, in a book published a few years ago, writes: “We talk about the evils of democracy. We have not yet tried democracy. Party or 'interests' govern us with some fiction of the 'consent of the governed.'
A conservative professor of law in one of our leading universities declares, “In other forms of unpopular government the central figure has been the monarch, the autocrat, the oligarch, or the aristocrat. In ours it is the politocrat (i.e., the boss). We have avoided monarchy, autocracy, oligarchy, and aristocracy, only to find ourselves tightly in the grasp of a politocracy.”
Another contemporary writer has recently declared, “The name of self-government is noisy everywhere, the Thing is throttled.”
A valuable work on Social Ethics, published in 1920, states this as a truism: "The average American prides himself upon his energy, his business astuteness, his industrial efficiency; but in many ways his civic stupidity makes the world stand aghast.”
These are undoubtedly exaggerated statements. But they are examples of a very widespread disgust with politics in this country. This is not a new state of things; on the contrary, inefficiency and graft have existed in our politics from the beginning. Charles Lee described the Continental Congress as "a stable
of stupid cattle that stumbled at every step.” It is doubtful if standards are lower today than formerly. But certainly they are not as high as our ideal of Democracy demands. We must seek to discover the causes of this unsatisfactory situation.
It is obvious to any observer that there is a great deal of ignorance and incompetence in high places, even in such conspicuous positions as those of Congressmen. In 1917 a well-known political critic, writing in one of our conservative weeklies about a tax bill that had been under discussion in Congress, said, “The House did its part in framing the bill with a looseness and carelessness which were almost terrifying to anyone who understood the gravity of the country's circumstances." The chairman of the committee that framed it "was, in the field of finance, an awkward child-almost a wilful child, and ... to say it in the only word that is adequate-ignorant."
A man who was for years a leader in the Senate recently made the statement that by the application of proper business methods the cost of conducting the United States Government could be reduced $300,000,000 a year. Other observers have made other estimates; but there is general agreement as to the existence of enormous waste.
A professor of politics in one of our great universities, writing in the Atlantic Monthly, declares that "consideration of Congressional procedure from the standpoint of comparative politics causes a feeling of blank amazement at the national tolerance."
In another important American weekly the editor wrote, “This last session of Congress has been an ominous exhibition. From first to last it was calculated to destroy all confidence in the machinery of representative government. .. It was garrulous, wasteful, amorphous, frivolous and foolish. It wasted money like a drunken sailor and time like a babbling idiot. It could not think, it would not imagine, it could not organize, it could not act."
Still another observer wrote, “Among Americans who have watched Congress closely, who have dealings with it on any public matter, the legislature of this nation is cordially despised. There isn't a decent public servant in Washington who doesn't breathe a sigh of relief when Congress adjourns. There isn't an official interested in his work who can't work better when Congress is gone.”
Mr. Bryce described the situation clearly in his American Commonwealth, though he was too courteous, in his rôle of foreign critic, to put the matter so boldly as this. “Congressmen,” he wrote, "are not chosen from among the best citizens. . . . They do not pretend to lead the people, being, indeed, seldom specifically qualified to do so."
Now, making all allowance for the exaggeration of these statements, the fact remains that, with exceptions, our system does not get the ablest, the best trained men, the men with deepest insight into public problems, into Congress. The situation is even worse in the State legislatures and municipal councils. However we may hesitate to criticize our legislators and officials in the presence of foreigners, we all admit to ourselves that these are usually not very efficient bodies, to say the least. There is a vast deal of legislative blundering; important bills are held up year by year, or amended so as to ruin their value, and vicious bills are constantly passed. To point this out is the sheerest commonplace. It is when we come to ask why this is so that we are forced to realize