THE AMERICAN DEMOCRACY AND ITS NATIONAL PRINCIPLE
The foregoing review of the relation which has come to subsist in Europe between nationality and democracy should help us to understand the peculiar bond which unites the American democratic and national principles. The net result of that review was encouraging but not decisive. As a consequence of their development as nations, the European peoples have been unable to get along without a certain infusion of democracy; but it was for the most part essential to their national interest that such an infusion should be strictly limited. In Europe the two ideals have never been allowed a frank and unconstrained relation one to the other other. They have been unable to live apart; but their marriage has usually been one of convenience, which was very far from implying complete mutual dependence and confidence. No doubt the collective interests of the German or British people suffer because such a lack of dependence and confidence exists; but their collective interests would suffer more from a sudden or violent attempt to destroy the barriers. The nature and the history of the different democratic and national movements in the several European countries at once tie them together and keep them apart.
The peoples of Europe can only escape gradually from the large infusion of arbitrary and irrational material in their national composition. Monarchical and aristocratic traditions and a certain measure of political and social privilege have remained an essential part of their national lives; and no less essential was an element of defiance in their attitude toward their European neighbors. Hence, when the principle of national Sovereignty was proclaimed as a substitute for the principal of royal Sovereignty, that principle really did not mean the sudden bestowal upon the people of unlimited Sovereign power. "The true people," said Bismarck, in 1847, then a country squire, "is an invisible multitude of spirits. It is the living nation—the nation organized for its historical mission—the nation of yesterday and of to-morrow." A nation, that is, is a people in so far as they are united by traditions and purposes; and national Sovereignty implies an attachment to national history and traditions which permits only the very gradual alteration of these traditions in the direction of increasing democracy. The mistake which France made at the time of the French Revolution was precisely that of interpreting the phrase "souvreneté nationale" as equivalent to immediate, complete, and (in respect to the past) irresponsible popular sovereignty.
The European nations are, consequently, not in a position to make their national ideals frankly and loyally democratic. Their national integrity depends upon fidelity to traditional ideas and forms quite as much as it does upon the gradual modification of those ideas and forms in a democratic direction. The orderly unfolding of their national lives calls for a series of compromises which carry the fundamental democratic implication of the national principle as far as it can under the circumstances be safely carried; and in no other way does a people exhibit its political common sense so clearly as in its ability to be contemporary and progressive without breaking away from its historical anchorage. A comparatively definite national mission and purpose clearly emerge at some particular phase of the indefinite process of internal and external readjustment; but such a mission and such purposes necessarily possess a limited significance and a special character. Restricted as they are by the facts of national history, they lack the ultimate moral significance of the democratic ideal, which permits the transformation of patriotic fidelity into devotion to the highest and most comprehensive interests of humanity and civilization.
That an analogous condition exists in our own country, it would be vain to deny. The American people possessed a collective character even before they possessed a national organization; and both before and after the foundation of a national government, these common traditions were by no means wholly democratic. Furthermore, as we have frequently had occasion to observe, the American democracy in its traditional form has more often than not been anti-national in instinct and idea. Our own country has, consequently, a problem to solve, similar in certain respects to that of the European nations. Its national cohesion is a matter of historical association, and the facts of its historical association have resulted in a partial division and a misunderstanding between its two fundamental principles—the principles of nationality and democracy.
In the case of the United States there is, however, to be observed an essential difference. A nation, and particularly a European nation, cannot afford to become too complete a democracy all at once, because it would thereby be uprooting traditions upon which its national cohesion depends. But there is no reason why a democracy cannot trust its interests absolutely to the care of the national interest, and there is in particular every reason why the American democracy should become in sentiment and conviction frankly, unscrupulously, and loyally nationalist. This, of course, is a heresy from the point of view of the American democratic tradition; but it is much less of a heresy from the point of view of American political practice, and, whether heretical or not, it indicates the road whereby alone the American people can obtain political salvation.
The American democracy can trust its interest to the national interest, because American national cohesion is dependent, not only upon certain forms of historical association, but upon fidelity to a democratic principle. A nation is a very complex political, social, and economic product—so complex that political thinkers in emphasizing one aspect of it are apt to forget other and equally essential aspects. Its habits and traditions of historical association constitute an indispensable bond; but they do not constitute the only bond. A specific national character is more than a group of traditions and institutions. It tends to be a formative idea, which defines the situation of a country in reference to its neighbors, and which is constantly seeking a better articulation and understanding among the various parts of its domestic life. The English national idea is chiefly a matter of freedom, but the principle of freedom is associated with a certain in measure of responsibility. The German national idea is more difficult of precise description, but it turns upon the principle of efficient and expert official leadership toward what is as yet a hazy goal of national greatness. The French national idea is democratic, but its democracy is rendered difficult by French national insecurity, and its value is limited by its equalitarian bias. The French, like the American, democracy needs above all to be thoroughly nationalized; and a condition of such a result is the loyal adoption of democracy as the national idea. Both French and American national cohesion depend upon the fidelity of the national organization to the democratic idea, and the gradual but intentional transformation of the substance of the national life in obedience to a democratic interest.
Let us seek for this complicated formula a specific application. How can it be translated into terms of contemporary American conditions? Well, in the first place, Americans are tied together by certain political, social, and economic habits, institutions, and traditions. From the political point of view these forms of association are at once constitutional, Federal, and democratic. They are accustomed to some measure of political centralization, to a larger measure of local governmental responsibility, to a still larger measure of individual economic freedom. This group of political institutions and habits has been gradually pieced together under the influence of varying political ideas and conditions. It contains many contradictory ingredients, and not a few that are positively dangerous to the public health. Such as it is, however, the American people are attached to this national tradition; and no part of it could be suddenly or violently transformed or mutilated without wounding large and important classes among the American people, both in their interests and feelings. They have been accustomed to associate under certain conditions and on certain terms; and to alter in any important way those conditions and terms of association without fair notice, full discussion, a demonstrable need and a sufficient consent of public opinion, would be to drive a wedge into the substance of American national cohesion. The American nation, no matter how much (or how little) it may be devoted to democratic political and social ideas, cannot uproot any essential element in its national tradition without severe penalties—as the American people discovered when they decided to cut negro slavery out of their national composition.
On the other hand, their national health and consistency were in the long run very much benefited by the surgical operation of the Civil War; and it was benefited because the War eradicated the most flagrant existing contradiction among the various parts of the American national tradition. This instance sufficiently showed, consequently, that although nationality has its traditional basis, it is far from being merely a conservative principle. At any one time the current of national public opinion embodies a temporary accommodation among the different traditional ideas, interests, conditions, and institutions. This balance of varying and perhaps conflicting elements is constantly being destroyed by new conditions,—such, for instance, as the gradual increase before the Civil War of the North as compared to the South in wealth, population, and industrial efficiency. The effect of this destruction of the traditional balance was to bring out the contradiction between the institution of negro slavery and the American democratic purpose—thereby necessitating an active conflict, and the triumph of one of these principles over the other. The unionist democracy conquered, and as the result of that conquest a new balance was reached between the various ingredients of American national life. During the past generation, the increased efficiency of organization in business and politics, the enormous growth of an irresponsible individual money-power, the much more definite division of the American people into possibly antagonistic classes, and the pressing practical need for expert, responsible, and authoritative leadership,—these new conditions and demands have been by way of upsetting once more the traditional national balance and of driving new wedges into American national cohesion. New contradictions have been developed between various aspects of the American national composition; and if the American people wish to escape the necessity of regaining their health by means of another surgical operation, they must consider carefully how much of a reorganization of traditional institutions, policy, and ideas are necessary for the achievement of a new and more stable national balance.
In the case of our own country, however, a balance is not to be struck merely by the process of compromise in the interest of harmony. Our forbears tried that method in dealing with the slavery problem from 1820 to 1850, and we all know with what results. American national cohesion is a matter of national integrity; and national integrity is a matter of loyalty to the requirements of a democratic ideal. For better or worse the American people have proclaimed themselves to be a democracy, and they have proclaimed that democracy means popular economic, social, and moral emancipation. The only way to regain their national balance is to remove those obstacles which the economic development of the country has placed in the path of a better democratic fulfillment. The economic and social changes of the past generation have brought out a serious and a glaring contradiction between the demands of a constructive democratic ideal and the machinery of methods and institutions, which have been considered sufficient for its realization. This is the fundamental discrepancy which must be at least partially eradicated before American national integrity can be triumphantly re-affirmed. The cohesion, which is a condition of effective nationality, is endangered by such a contradiction, and as long as it exists the different elements composing American society will be pulling apart rather than together. The national principle becomes a principle of reform and reconstruction, precisely because national consistency is constantly demanding the solution of contradictory economic and political tendencies, brought out by alterations in the conditions of economic and political efficiency. Its function is not only to preserve a balance among these diverse tendencies, but to make that balance more than ever expressive of a consistent and constructive democratic ideal. Any disloyalty to democracy on the part of American national policy would in the end prove fatal to American national unity.
The American democracy can, consequently, safely trust its genuine interests to the keeping of those who represent the national interest. It both can do so, and it must do so. Only by faith in an efficient national organization and by an exclusive and aggressive devotion to the national welfare, can the American democratic ideal be made good. If the American local commonwealths had not been wrought by the Federalists into the form of a nation, they would never have continued to be democracies; and the people collectively have become more of a democracy in proportion as they have become more of a nation. Their democracy is to be realized by means of an intensification of their national life, just as the ultimate moral purpose of an individual is to be realized by the affirmation and intensification of its own better individuality. Consequently the organization of the American democracy into a nation is not to be regarded in the way that so many Americans have regarded it,—as a necessary but hazardous surrender of certain liberties in order that other liberties might be better preserved,—as a mere compromise between the democratic ideal and the necessary conditions of political cohesion and efficiency. Its nationalized political organization constitutes the proper structure and veritable life of the American democracy. No doubt the existing organization is far from being a wholly adequate expression of the demands of the democratic ideal, but it falls equally short of being an adequate expression of the demands of the national ideal. The less confidence the American people have in a national organization, the less they are willing to surrender themselves to the national spirit, the worse democrats they will be. The most stubborn impediments which block the American national advance issue from the imperfections in our democracy. The American people are not prepared for a higher form of democracy, because they are not prepared for a more coherent and intense national life. When they are prepared to be consistent, constructive, and aspiring democrats, their preparation will necessarily take the form of becoming consistent, constructive, and aspiring nationalists.
The difficulty raised by European political and economic development hangs chiefly on a necessary loyalty to a national tradition and organization which blocks the advance of democracy. Americans cannot entirely escape this difficulty; but in our country by far the greater obstacle to social amelioration is constituted by a democratic theory and tradition, which blocks the process of national development. We Americans are confronted by two divergent theories of democracy. According to one of these theories, the interest of American democracy can be advanced only by an increasing nationalization of the American people in ideas, in institutions, and in spirit. According to the other of these theories, the most effective way of injuring the interest of democracy is by an increase in national authority and a spread of the national leaven. Thus Americans, unlike Englishmen, have to choose, not between a specific and efficient national tradition and a vague and perilous democratic ideal—they have to choose between two democratic ideals, and they have to make this choice chiefly on logical and moral grounds. An Englishman or a German, no matter how clear his intelligence or fervid his patriotism, cannot find any immediately and entirely satisfactory method of reconciling the national traditions and forms of organization with the demands of an uncompromising democracy. An American, on the other hand, has it quite within his power to accept a conception of democracy which provides for the substantial integrity of his country, not only as a nation with an exclusively democratic mission, but as a democracy with an essentially national career.
NATIONALITY AND CENTRALIZATION
The Federal political organization has always tended to confuse to the American mind the relation between democracy and nationality. The nation as a legal body was, of course, created by the Constitution, which granted to the central government certain specific powers and responsibilities, and which almost to the same extent diminished the powers and the responsibilities of the separate states. Consequently, to the great majority of Americans, the process of increasing nationalization has a tendency to mean merely an increase in the functions of the central government. For the same reason the affirmation of a constructive relation between the national and the democratic principles is likely to be interpreted merely as an attempt on the grounds of an abstract theory to limit state government and to disparage states rights. Such an interpretation, however, would be essentially erroneous. It would be based upon the very idea against which I have been continually protesting—the idea that the American nation, instead of embodying a living formative political principle, is merely the political system created by the Federal Constitution; and it would end in the absurd conclusion that the only way in which the Promise of American democracy can be fulfilled would be by the abolition of American local political institutions.
The nationalizing of American political, economic, and social life means something more than Federal centralization and something very different therefrom. To nationalize a people has never meant merely to centralize their government. Little by little a thoroughly national political organization has come to mean in Europe an organization which combined effective authority with certain responsibilities to the people; but the national interest has been just as likely to demand de-centralization as it has to demand centralization. The Prussia of Frederick the Great, for instance, was over-centralized; and the restoration of the national vitality, at which the Prussian government aimed after the disasters of 1806, necessarily took the form of reinvigorating the local members of the national body. In this and many similar instances the national interest and welfare was the end, and a greater or smaller amount of centralized government merely the necessary machinery. The process of centralization is not, like the process of nationalization, an essentially formative and enlightening political transformation. When a people are being nationalized, their political, economic, and social organization or policy is being coördinated with their actual needs and their moral and political ideals. Governmental centralization is to be regarded as one of the many means which may or may not be taken in order to effect this purpose. Like every other special aspect of the national organization, it must be justified by its fruits. There is no presumption in its favor. Neither is there any general presumption against it. Whether a given function should or should not be exercised by the central government in a Federal system is from the point of view of political logic a matter of expediency—with the burden of proof resting on those who propose to alter any existing Constitutional arrangement.
It may be affirmed, consequently, without paradox, that among those branches of the American national organization which are greatly in need of nationalizing is the central government. Almost every member of the American political body has been at one time or another or in one way or another perverted to the service of special interests. The state governments and the municipal administrations have sinned more in this respect than the central government; but the central government itself has been a grave sinner. The Federal authorities are responsible for the prevailing policy in respect to military pensions, which is one of the most flagrant crimes ever perpetrated against the national interest. The Federal authorities, again, are responsible for the existing tariff schedules, which benefit a group of special interests at the expense of the national welfare. The Federal authorities, finally, are responsible for the Sherman Anti-Trust Law, whose existence on the statute books is a fatal bar to the treatment of the problem of corporate aggrandizement from the standpoint of genuinely national policy. Those instances might be multiplied, but they suffice to show that the ideal of a constructive relation between the American national and democratic principles does not imply that any particular piece of legislation or policy is national because it is Federal. The Federal no less than the state governments has been the victim of special interests; and when a group of state or city officials effectively assert the public interest against the private interests, either of the machine or of the local corporations, they are noting just as palpably, if not just as comprehensively, for the national welfare, as if their work benefited the whole American people. The process of nationalization in its application to American political organization means that political power shall be distributed among the central, state, and municipal officials in such a manner that it can be efficiently and responsibly exerted in the interest of those affected by its action.
Be it added, however, in the same breath, that under existing conditions and simply as a matter of expediency, the national advance of the American democracy does demand an increasing amount of centralized action and responsibility. In what respect and for what purposes an increased Federal power and responsibility is desirable will be considered in a subsequent chapter. In this connection it is sufficient to insist that a more scrupulous attention to existing Federal responsibilities, and the increase of their number and scope, is the natural consequence of the increasing concentration of American industrial, political, and social life. American government demands more rather than less centralization merely and precisely because of the growing centralization of American activity. The state governments, either individually or by any practicable methods of coöperation, are not competent to deal effectively in the national interest and spirit with the grave problems created by the aggrandizement of corporate and individual wealth and the increasing classification of the American people. They have, no doubt, an essential part to play in the attempted solution of these problems; and there are certain aspects of the whole situation which the American nation, because of its Federal organization, can deal with much more effectually than can a rigidly centralized democracy like France. But the amount of responsibility in respect to fundamental national problems, which, in law almost as much as in practice, is left to the states, exceeds the responsibility which the state governments are capable of efficiently redeeming. They are attempting (or neglecting) a task which they cannot be expected to perform with any efficiency.
The fact that the states fail properly to perform certain essential functions such as maintaining order or administering justice, is no sufficient reason for depriving them thereof. Functions which should be bestowed upon the central government are not those which the states happen to perform badly. They are those which the states, even with the best will in the world, cannot be expected to perform satisfactorily; and among these functions the regulation of commerce, the organization of labor, and the increasing control over property in the public interest are assuredly to be included. The best friends of local government in this country are those who seek to have its activity confined with the limits of possible efficiency, because only in case its activity is so confined can the states continue to remain an essential part of a really efficient and well-coördinated national organization.
Proposals to increase the powers of the central government are, however, rarely treated on their merits. They are opposed by the majority of American politicians and newspapers as an unqualified evil. Any attempt to prove that the existing distribution of responsibility is necessarily fruitful of economic and political abuses, and that an increase of centralized power offers the only chance of eradicating these abuses is treated as irrelevant. It is not a question of the expediency of a specific proposal, because from the traditional point of view any change in the direction of increased centralization would be a violation of American democracy. Centralization is merely a necessary evil which has been carried as far as it should, and which cannot be carried any further without undermining the foundations of the American system. Thus the familiar theory of many excellent American democrats is rather that of a contradictory than a constructive relation between the democratic and the national ideals. The process of nationalization is perverted by them into a matter merely of centralization, but the question of the fundamental relation between nationality and democracy is raised by their attitude, because the reasons they advance against increasingly centralized authority would, if they should continue to prevail, definitely and absolutely forbid a gradually improving coördination between American political organization and American national economic needs or moral and intellectual ideals. The conception of democracy out of which the supposed contradiction between the democratic and national ideals issues is the great enemy of the American national advance, and is for that reason the great enemy of the real interests of democracy.
To be sure, any increase in centralized power and responsibility, expedient or inexpedient, is injurious to certain aspects of traditional American democracy. But the fault in that case lies with the democratic tradition; and the erroneous and misleading tradition must yield before the march of a constructive national democracy. The national advance will always be impeded by these misleading and erroneous ideas, and, what is more, it always should be impeded by them, because at bottom ideas of this kind are merely an expression of the fact that the average American individual is morally and intellectually inadequate to a serious and consistent conception of his responsibilities as a democrat. An American national democracy must always prove its right to a further advance, not only by the development of a policy and method adequate for the particular occasion, but by its ability to overcome the inevitable opposition of selfish interests and erroneous ideas. The logic of its position makes it the aggressor, just as the logic of its opponents' position ties them to a negative and protesting or merely insubordinate part. If the latter should prevail, their victory would become tantamount to national dissolution, either by putrefaction, by revolution, or by both.
Under the influence of certain practical demands, an increase has already taken place in the activity of the Federal government. The increase has not gone as far as governmental efficiency demands, but it has gone far enough to provoke outbursts of protest and anguish from the "old-fashioned Democrats." They profess to see the approaching extinction of the American democracy in what they call the drift towards centralization. Such calamitous predictions are natural, but they are none the less absurd. The drift of American politics—its instinctive and unguided movement—is almost wholly along the habitual road; and any effective increase of Federal centralization can be imposed only by most strenuous efforts, by one of the biggest sticks which has ever been flourished in American politics. The advance made in this direction is small compared to the actual needs of an efficient national organization, and considering the mass of interest and prejudice which it must continue to overcome, it can hardly continue to progress at more than a snail's pace. The great obstacle to American national fulfillment must always be the danger that the American people will merely succumb to the demands of their local and private interests and will permit their political craft to drift into a compromising situation—from which the penalties of rescue may be almost as distressing as the penalties of submission.
The tradition of an individualist and provincial democracy, which is the mainstay of an anti-national policy, does not include ideals which have to be realized by aggressive action. Their ideals are the ones embodied in our existing system, and their continued vitality demands merely a policy of inaction enveloped in a cloud of sacred phrases. The advocates and the beneficiaries of the prevailing ideas and conditions are little by little being forced into the inevitable attitude of the traditional Bourbon—the attitude of maintaining customary or legal rights merely because they are customary or legal, and predicting the most awful consequences from any attempt to impair them. Men, or associations of men, who possess legal or customary rights inimical to the public welfare, always defend those rights as the essential part of a political system, which, if it is overthrown, will prove destructive to public prosperity and security. On no other ground can they find a plausible public excuse for their opposition. The French royal authority and aristocratic privileges were defended on these grounds in 1780, and as the event proved, with some show of reason. In the same way the partial legislative control of nationalized corporations now exercised by the state government, is defended, not on the ground that it has been well exercised, not even plausibly on the ground that it can be well exercised. It is defended almost exclusively on the ground that any increase in the authority of the Federal government is dangerous to the American people. But the Federal government belongs to the American people even more completely than do the state governments, because a general current of public opinion can act much more effectively on the single Federal authority than it can upon the many separate state authorities. Popular interests have nothing to fear from a measure of Federal centralization, which bestows on the Federal government powers necessary to the fulfillment of its legitimate responsibilities; and the American people cannot in the long run be deceived by pleas which bear the evidence of such a selfish origin and have such dubious historical associations. The rights and the powers both of states and individuals must be competent to serve their purposes efficiently in an economical and coherent national organization, or else they must be superseded. A prejudice against centralization is as pernicious, provided centralization is necessary, as a prejudice in its favor. All rights under the law are functions in a democratic political organism and must be justified by their actual or presumable functional adequacy.
The ideal of a constructive relation between American nationality and American democracy is in truth equivalent to a new Declaration of Independence. It affirms that the American people are free to organize their political, economic, and social life in the service of a comprehensive, a lofty, and far-reaching democratic purpose. At the present time there is a strong, almost a dominant tendency to regard the existing Constitution with superstitious awe, and to shrink with horror from modifying it even in the smallest detail; and it is this superstitious fear of changing the most trivial parts of the fundamental legal fabric which brings to pass the great bondage of the American spirit. If such an abject worship of legal precedent for its own sake should continue, the American idea will have to be fitted to the rigid and narrow lines of a few legal formulas; and the ruler of the American spirit, like the ruler of the Jewish spirit of old, will become the lawyer. But it will not continue, in case Americans can be brought to understand and believe that the American national political organization should be constructively related to their democratic purpose. Such an ideal reveals at once the real opportunity and the real responsibility of the American democracy. It declares that the democracy has a machinery in a nationalized organization, and a practical guide in the national interest, which are adequate to the realization of the democratic ideal; and it declares also that in the long run just in so far as Americans timidly or superstitiously refuse to accept their national opportunity and responsibility, they will not deserve the names either of freemen or of loyal democrats. There comes a time in the history of every nation, when its independence of spirit vanishes, unless it emancipates itself in some measure from its traditional illusions; and that time is fast approaching for the American people. They must either seize the chance of a better future, or else become a nation which is satisfied in spirit merely to repeat indefinitely the monotonous measures of its own past.
THE PEOPLE AND THE NATION
At the beginning of this discussion popular Sovereignty was declared to be the essential condition of democracy; and a general account of the nature of a constructive democratic ideal can best be brought to a close by a definition of the meaning of the phrase, popular Sovereignty, consistent with a nationalist interpretation of democracy. The people are Sovereign; but who and what are the people? and how can a many-headed Sovereignty be made to work? Are we to answer, like Bismarck, that the "true people is an invisible multitude of spirits—the nation of yesterday and of to-morrow"? Such an answer seems scarcely fair to living people of to-day. On the other hand, can we reply that the Sovereign people is constituted by any chance majority which happens to obtain control of the government, and that the decisions and actions of the majority are inevitably and unexceptionally democratic? Such an assertion of the doctrine of popular Sovereignty would bestow absolute Sovereign authority on merely a part of the people. Majority rule, under certain prescribed conditions, is a necessary constituent of any practicable democratic organization; but the actions or decisions of a majority need not have any binding moral and national authority. Majority rule is merely one means to an extremely difficult, remote and complicated end; and it is a piece of machinery which is peculiarly liable to get out of order. Its arbitrary and dangerous tendencies can, as a matter of fact, be checked in many effectual and legitimate ways, of which the most effectual is the cherishing of a tradition, partly expressed in some body of fundamental law, that the true people are, as Bismarck declared, in some measure an invisible multitude of spirits—the nation of yesterday and to-morrow, organized for its national historical mission.
The phrase popular Sovereignty is, consequently, for us Americans equivalent to the phrase "national Sovereignty." The people are not Sovereign as individuals. They are not Sovereign in reason and morals even when united into a majority. They become Sovereign only in so far as they succeed in reaching and expressing a collective purpose. But there is no royal and unimpeachable road to the attainment of such a collective will; and the best means a democratic people can take in order to assert its Sovereign authority with full moral effect is to seek fullness and consistency of national life. They are Sovereign in so far as they are united in spirit and in purpose; and they are united in so far as they are loyal one to another, to their joint past, and to the Promise of their future. The Promise of their future may sometimes demand the partial renunciation of their past and the partial sacrifice of certain present interests; but the inevitable friction of all such sacrifices can be mitigated by mutual loyalty and good faith. Sacrifices of tradition and interest can only be demanded in case they contribute to the national purpose—to the gradual creation of a higher type of individual and associated life. Hence it is that an effective increase in national coherence looks in the direction of the democratic consummation—of the morally and intellectually authoritative expression of the Sovereign popular will. Both the forging and the functioning of such a will are constructively related to the gradual achievement of the work of individual and social amelioration.
Undesirable and inadequate forms of democracy always seek to dispense in one way or another with this tedious process of achieving a morally authoritative Sovereign will. We Americans have identified democracy with certain existing political and civil rights, and we have, consequently, tended to believe that the democratic consummation was merely a matter of exercising and preserving those rights. The grossest form of this error was perpetrated when Stephen A. Douglas confused authoritative popular Sovereignty with the majority vote of a few hundred "squatters" in a frontier state, and asserted that on democratic principles such expressions of the popular will should be accepted as final. But an analogous mistake lurks in all static forms of democracy. The bestowal and the exercise of political and civil rights are merely a method of organization, which if used in proper subordination to the ultimate democratic purpose, may achieve in action something of the authority of a popular Sovereign will. But to cleave to the details of such an organization as the very essence of democracy is utterly to pervert the principle of national democratic Sovereignty. From this point of view, the Bourbon who wishes the existing system with its mal-adaptations and contradictions preserved in all its lack of integrity, commits an error analogous to that of the radical, who wishes by virtue of a majority vote immediately to destroy some essential part of the fabric. Both of them conceive that the whole moral and national authority of the democratic principle can be invoked in favor of institutions already in existence or of purposes capable of immediate achievement.
On the other hand, there are democrats who would seek a consummate democracy without the use of any political machinery. The idea that a higher type of associated life can be immediately realized by a supreme act of faith must always be tempting to men who unite social aspirations with deep religious faith. It is a more worthy and profound conception of democracy than the conventional American one of a system of legally constituted and equally exercised rights, fatally resulting in material prosperity. Before any great stride can be made towards a condition of better democracy, the constructive democratic movement must obtain more effective support both from scientific discipline and religious faith. Nevertheless, the triumph of Tolstoyan democracy at the present moment would be more pernicious in its results than the triumph of Jeffersonian Democracy. Tolstoy has merely given a fresh and exalted version of the old doctrine of non-resistance, which, as it was proclaimed by Jesus, referred in the most literal way to another world. In this world faith cannot dispense with power and organization. The sudden and immediate conversion of unregenerate men from a condition of violence, selfishness, and sin into a condition of beatitude and brotherly love can obtain even comparative permanence only by virtue of exclusiveness. The religious experience of our race has sufficiently testified to the permanence of the law. One man can be evangelized for a lifetime. A group of men can be evangelized for many years. Multitudes of men can be evangelized only for a few hours. No faith can achieve comparatively stable social conquests without being established by habit, defined by thought, and consolidated by organization. Usually the faith itself subsequently sickens of the bad air it breathes in its own house. Indeed, it is certain to lose initiative and vigor, unless it can appeal intermittently to some correlative source of enthusiasm and devotion. But with the help of efficient organization it may possibly survive, whereas in the absence of such a worldly body, it must in a worldly sense inevitably perish. Democracy as a living movement in the direction of human brotherhood has required, like other faiths, an efficient organization and a root in ordinary human nature; and it obtains such an organization by virtue of the process of national development—on condition, of course, that the nation is free to become a genuine and thorough-going democracy.
A democracy organized into a nation, and imbued with the national spirit, will seek by means of experimentation and discipline to reach the object which Tolstoy would reach by an immediate and a miraculous act of faith. The exigencies of such schooling frequently demand severe coercive measures, but what schooling does not? A nation cannot merely discharge its unregenerate citizens; and the best men in a nation or in any political society cannot evade the responsibility which the fact of human unregeneracy places upon the whole group. After men had reached a certain stage of civilization, they frequently began to fear that the rough conditions of political association excluded the highest and most fruitful forms of social life; and they sought various ways of improving the quality of the association by narrowing its basis. They tried to found small communities of saints who were connected exclusively by moral and religious bonds, and who in this way freed themselves from the hazards, the distraction, and the violence inseparable from political association. Such communities have made at different times great successes; but their success has not been permanent. The political aspect of associated life is not to be evaded. In proportion as political organization gained in prosperity, efficiency, and dignity, special religious associations lost their independence and power. Even the most powerful religious association in the world, the Catholic Church, has been fighting a losing battle with political authority, and it is likely in the course of time to occupy in relation to the political powers a position analogous to that of the Greek or the English church. The ultimate power to command must rest with that authority which, if necessary, can force people to obey; and any plan of association which seeks to ignore the part which physical force plays in life is necessarily incomplete. Just as formerly the irresponsible and meaningless use of political power created the need of special religious associations, independent of the state, so now the responsible, the purposeful, and the efficient use of physical force, characteristic of modern nations, has in its turn made such independence less necessary, and tends to attach a different function to the church. A basis of association narrower than the whole complex of human powers and interests will not serve. National organization provides such a basis. The perversity of human nature may cause its ultimate failure; but it will not fail because it omits any essential constituent in the composition of a permanent and fruitful human association. So far as it fulfills its responsibilities, it guarantees protection against predatory powers at home and abroad. It provides in appropriate measure for individual freedom, for physical, moral, and intellectual discipline, and for social consistency. It has prizes to offer as well as coercion to exercise; and with its foundations planted firmly in the past, its windows and portals look out towards a better future. The tendency of its normal action is continually, if very slowly, to diminish the distance between the ideal of human brotherhood, and the political, economic, and social conditions, under which at any one time men manage to live together.
That is the truth to which the patriotic Americans should firmly cleave. The modern nation, particularly in so far as it is constructively democratic, constitutes the best machinery as yet developed for raising the level of human association. It really teaches men how they must feel, what they must think, and what they must do, in order that they may live together amicably and profitably. The value of this school for its present purposes is increased by its very imperfections, because its imperfections issue inevitably from the imperfections of human nature. Men being as unregenerate as they are, all worthy human endeavor involves consequences of battle and risk. The heroes of the struggle must maintain their achievements and at times even promote their objects by compulsion. The policeman and the soldier will continue for an indefinite period to be guardians of the national schools, and the nations have no reason to be ashamed of this fact. It is merely symbolic of the very comprehensiveness of their responsibilities—that they have to deal with the problem of human inadequacy and unregeneracy in all its forms,—that they cannot evade this problem by allowing only the good boys to attend school—that they cannot even mitigate it by drawing too sharp a distinction between the good boys and the bad. Such indiscriminate attendance in these national schools, if it is to be edifying, involves one practical consequence of dominant importance. Everybody within the school-house—masters, teachers, pupils and janitors, old pupils and young, good pupils and bad, must feel one to another an indestructible loyalty. Such loyalty is merely the subjective aspect of their inevitable mutual association; it is merely the recognition that as a worldly body they must all live or die and conquer or fail together. The existence of an invincible loyalty is a condition of the perpetuity of the school. The man who believes himself wise is always tempted to ignore or undervalue the foolish brethren. The man who believes himself good is always tempted actively to dislike the perverse brethren. The man who insists at any cost upon having his own way is always twisting the brethren into his friends or his enemies. But the teaching of the national school constantly tends to diminish these causes of disloyalty. Its tendency is to convert traditional patriotism into a patient devotion to the national ideal, and into a patient loyalty towards one's fellow-countrymen as the visible and inevitable substance through which that ideal is to be expressed.
In the foregoing characteristic of a democratic nation, we reach the decisive difference between a nation which is seeking to be wholly democratic and a nation which is content to be semi-democratic. In the semi-democratic nation devotion to the national ideal does not to the same extent sanctify the citizen's relation in feeling and in idea to his fellow-countrymen. The loyalty demanded by the national ideal of such a country may imply a partly disloyal and suspicious attitude towards large numbers of political associates. The popular and the national interests must necessarily in some measure diverge. In a nationalized democracy or a democratic nation the corresponding dilemma is mitigated. The popular interest can only be efficiently expressed in a national policy and organization. The national interest is merely a more coherent and ameliorating expression of the popular interest. Its consistency, so far as it is consistent, is the reflection of a more humanized condition of human nature. It increases with the increasing power of its citizens to deal fairly and to feel loyally towards their fellow-countrymen; and it cannot increase except through the overthrow of the obstacles to fair dealing and loyal feeling.
The responsibility and loyalty which the citizens of a democratic nation must feel one towards another is comprehensive and unmitigable; but the actual behavior which at any one time the national welfare demands must, of course, be specially and carefully discriminated. National policies and acts will be welcome to some citizens and obnoxious to others, according to their special interests and opinions; and the citizens whose interests and ideas are prejudiced thereby have every right and should bepermitted every opportunity to protest in the most vigorous and persistent manner. The nation may, however, on its part demand that these protests, in order to be heeded and respected, must conform to certain conditions. They must not be carried to the point of refusing obedience to the law. When private interests are injured by the national policy, the protestants must be able to show either that such injuries are unnecessary, or else they involve harm to an essential public interest. All such protest must find an ultimate sanction in a group of constructive democratic ideas. Finally, the protest must never be made the excuse for personal injustice or national disloyalty. Even if the national policy should betray indifference to the fundamental interests of a democratic nation, as did that of the United States from 1820 to 1860, the obligation of patient good faith on the part of the protestants is not diminished. Their protests may be as vivacious and as persistent as the error demands. The supporters of the erroneous policy may be made the object of most drastic criticism and the uncompromising exposure. No effort should be spared to secure the adoption of a more genuinely national policy. But beyond all this there remains a still deeper responsibility—that of dealing towards one's fellow-countrymen in good faith, so that differences of interest, of conviction, and of moral purpose can be made the agency of a better understanding and a firmer loyalty.
If a national policy offends the integrity of the national idea, as for a while that of the American nation did, its mistake is sure to involve certain disastrous consequences; and those consequences constitute, usually, the vehicle of necessary national discipline. The national school is, of course, the national life. So far as the school is properly conducted, the methods of instruction are, if you please, pedagogic; but if the masters are blind or negligent, or if the scholars are unruly, there remains as a resource the more painful and costly methods of nature's instruction. A serious error will be followed by its inevitable penalty, proportioned to the blindness and the perversity in which it originated; and thereafter the prosperity of the country's future will hang partly on the ability of the national intelligence to trace the penalty to its cause and to fix the responsibility. No matter how loyal the different members of a national body may be one to another, their mutual good faith will bleed to death, unless some among them have the intelligence to trace their national ills to their appropriate causes, and the candid courage to advocate the necessary remedial measures. At some point in the process, disinterested patriotism and good faith must be reënforced by intellectual insight. A people are saved many costly perversions, in case the official school-masters are wise, and the pupils neither truant nor insubordinate; but if the lessons are foolishly phrased, or the pupils refuse to learn, the school will never regain its proper disciplinary value until new teachers have arisen, who understand both the error and its consequences, and who can exercise an effective authority over their pupils.
The mutual loyalty and responsibility, consequently, embodied and inculcated in a national school, depends for its efficient expression upon the amount of insight and intelligence which it involves. The process of national education means, not only a discipline of the popular will, but training in ability to draw inferences from the national experience, so that the national consciousness will gradually acquire an edifying state of mind towards its present and its future problems. Those problems are always closely allied to the problems which have been more or less completely solved during the national history; and the body of practical lessons which can be inferred from that history is the best possible preparation for present and future emergencies. Such history requires close and exact reading. The national experience is always strangely mixed. Even the successes of our own past, such as the Federal organization, contain much dubious matter, demanding the most scrupulous disentanglement. Even the worst enemies of our national integrity, such as the Southern planters, offer in some respects an edifying political example to a disinterested democracy. Nations do not have to make serious mistakes in order to learn valuable lessons. Every national action, no matter how trivial, which is scrutinized with candor, may contribute to the stock of national intellectual discipline—the result of which should be to form a constantly more coherent whole out of the several elements in the national composition—out of the social and economic conditions, the stock of national opinions, and the essential national ideal. And it is this essential national ideal which makes it undesirable for the national consciousness to dwell too much on the past or to depend too much upon the lessons of experience alone. The great experience given to a democratic nation must be just an incorrigible but patient attempt to realize its democratic ideal—an attempt which must mold history as well as hang upon its lessons. The function of the patriotic political intelligence in relation to the fulfillment of the national Promise must be to devise means for its redemption—means which have their relations to the past, their suitability to the occasion, and their contribution towards a step in advance. The work in both critical, experienced, and purposeful. Mistakes will be made, and their effects either corrected or turned to good account. Successes will be achieved, and their effects must be coolly appraised and carefully discriminated. The task will never be entirely achieved, but the tedious and laborious advance will for every generation be a triumphant affirmation of the nationalized democratic ideal as the one really adequate political and social principle.