Modern Democracies, Vol. 1 - James Bryce - ebook

Modern Democracies, Vol. 1 ebook

James Bryce



American political scientists do not need to be told that James Bryce's work is one of the most important ever written on the principles and practice of democratic government. More than a century has passed since his masterly description and appreciation of the American Commonwealth put him at the head of all students of American government and politics. He has served as a member of three British cabinets, he has been the British ambassador to the United States, and he has traveled to all quarters of the globe, always keenly interested in the institutions of the lands he visited. Now he embodies the ripest fruits of these years of travel and study in two stout volumes. After some introductory considerations applicable to democratic government in general, he proceeds to a detailed comparison of the working of democracy in various countries, chiefly France, Switzerland, Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, and concludes with some general observations and reflections on the present and future of democratic government. This is volume one out of two.

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Modern Democracies


Vol. 1







Modern Democracies 1, J. Bryce

Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck

86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9



ISBN: 9783849650131

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FRANCE.. 152

















CANADA REF. 249329








Many years ago, at a time when schemes of political reform were being copiously discussed in England, mostly on general principles, but also with references, usually vague and disconnected, to history and to events happening in other countries, it occurred to me that something might be done to provide a solid basis for argument and judgment by examining a certain number of popular governments in their actual working, comparing them with one another, and setting forth the various merits and defects which belonged to each. As I could not find that any such comparative study had been undertaken, I formed the idea of attempting it, and besides visiting Switzerland and other parts of Europe, betook myself to the United States and Canada, to Spanish America and Australia and New Zealand, in search of materials, completing these journeys shortly before the War of 1914 broke out. The undertaking proved longer and more toilsome than had been expected; and frequent interruptions due to the War have delayed the publication of the book until now, when in some countries conditions are no longer what they were when I studied them eight or ten years ago. This fact, however, though it needs to be mentioned, makes less difference than might be supposed, because the conditions that have existed in those countries, and especially in France, the United States, and Australia, from 1914 to 1920 have been so far abnormal that conclusions could not well be drawn from them, and it seems safer to go back to the earlier and more typical days. Neither is it necessary for the purpose here in view to bring the record of events in each country up to date; for it is not current politics but democracy as a form of government that I seek to describe. Events that happened ten years ago may be for this particular purpose just as instructive as if they were happening to-day.

The term Democracy has in recent years been loosely used to denote sometimes a state of society, sometimes a state of mind, sometimes a quality in manners. It has become encrusted with all sorts of associations attractive or repulsive, ethical or poetical, or even religious. But Democracy really means nothing more nor less than the rule of the whole people expressing their sovereign will by their votes. It shows different features in different countries, because the characters and habits of peoples are different; and these features are part of the history of each particular country. But it also shows some features which are everywhere similar, because due to the fact that supreme power rests with the voting multitude. It is of the Form of Government as a Form of Government — that is to say, of the features which democracies have in common — that this book treats, describing the phenomena as they appear in their daily working to an observer who is living in the midst of them and watching them, as one standing in a great factory sees the play and hears the clang of the machinery all around him. The actual facts are what I wish to describe, and it seems as if nothing could be simpler, for they are all around us. But the facts are obscured to most people by the half-assimilated ideas and sonorous or seductive phrases that fill the air; and few realize exactly what are the realities beneath the phrases. To those persons who, as politicians, or journalists, or otherwise, have been “inside politics,” the realities of their own country are familiar, and this familiarity enables such experts to get a fair impression of the facts in other countries. But as regards large parts of every public that may be said which the cynical old statesman in Disraeli's novel Contarini Fleming said to his ardent son who wished to get away from words to ideas, “Few ideas are correct ones, and what are correct no one can ascertain; but with Words we govern men.”

The book is not meant to propound theories. Novelties are not possible in a subject the literature of which began with Plato and Aristotle and has been enriched by thousands of pens since their day. What I desire is, not to impress upon my readers views of my own, but to supply them with facts, and (so far as I can) with explanations of facts on which they can reflect and from which they can draw their own conclusions.

I am not sufficiently enamoured of my own opinions to seek to propagate them, and have sought to repress the pessimism of experience, for it is not really helpful by way of warning to the younger generation, whatever relief its expression may give to the reminiscent mind. The saddest memories of political life are of moments at which one had to stand by when golden opportunities were being lost, to see the wrong thing done when it would have been easy to do the right thing. But this observation was made by a Persian to a Greek at a dinner-party, the night before the battle of Plataea twenty-four centuries ago, and the world has nevertheless made some advances since then.

Though I have written the book chiefly from personal observations made in the countries visited, there are of course many treatises to which I should gladly have referred, were it not that the number to be cited would be so large as to perplex rather than help the reader who is not a specialist, while the specialist would not need them. My greatest difficulty has been that of compression. In order to keep the book within reasonable limits I have had to turn reluctantly away from many seductive by-paths, from history, from forms of political theory,— such as those of the conception of the State and the nature of Sovereignty,— from constitutional and legal questions, and above all from economic topics and those schemes of social reconstruction which have been coming to the front in nearly every country — matters which now excite the keenest interest and are the battleground of current politics. Though frequently compelled to mention such schemes I have abstained from any expressions of opinion, not merely for the sake of avoiding controversy, but because it seems to me, after a long life spent in study — and study means unlearning as well as learning — to be a student's first duty to retain an open mind upon subjects he has not found time to probe to the bottom. Even when one thinks a view unsound or a scheme unworkable, one must regard all honest efforts to improve this unsatisfactory world with a sympathy which recognizes how many things need to be changed, and how many doctrines once held irrefragable need to be modified in the light of supervenient facts. What we want to-day is a better comprehension by each side in economic controversies of the attitude and arguments of the other. Reconcilements are not always possible, but comprehension and appreciation should be possible.

The absorption of men's minds with ideas and schemes of social reconstruction has diverted attention from those problems of free government which occupied men's minds when the flood-tide of democracy was rising seventy or eighty years ago; and it has sometimes seemed to me in writing this book that it was being addressed rather to the last than to the present generation. That generation buried itself with institutions; this generation is bent rather upon the purposes which institutions may be made to serve. Nevertheless the study of institutions has not lost its importance. Let us think of the difference it would have made to Europe if the countries engaged in the Great War had in 1914 been all of them, as some of them were, oligarchies or autocracies; or if all of them had been, as some were, democracies. Or let us think of what may be the results within the next thirty years of setting up democracies in countries that have heretofore formed part of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Monarchies; or (to take a still more startling case) of trying the experiment of popular government in India, in China, in Russia, in Egypt, in Persia, in the Philippine Islands. If any of the bold plans of social reconstruction now in the air are attempted in practice they will apply new tests to democratic principles and inevitably modify their working. There is still plenty of room for observation, plenty of facts to be observed and of thinking to be done. The materials are always growing. Every generalization now made is only provisional, and will have to be some day qualified: every book that is written will before long be out of date, except as a record of what were deemed to be salient phenomena at the time when it was written. Each of us who writes describes the progress mankind was making with its experiments in government as he saw them; each hands on the torch to his successor, and the succession is infinite, for the experiments are never completed.

It is, I hope, needless for me to disclaim any intention to serve any cause or party, for a man must have profited little by his experience of political life if he is not heartily glad to be rid of the reticences which a party system imposes and free to state with equal candour both sides of every case. This is what I have tried to do; and where it has been harder to obtain information on a controversial issue from one side than from the other I have stated that to be so, and gone no further in recording a conclusion than the evidence seemed to warrant.

My cordial thanks are due to a few English friends whose views and criticisms have aided me, and to many friends in France and Switzerland, the United States and Canada, Australia and New Zealand, who have been kind enough to read through the proofs relating to the country to which each of them respectively belongs and have favoured me with their comments. The list of these friends is long, and their names would carry weight; but as their comments were given in confidence, and I alone am responsible for errors of view and fact — errors which I cannot hope to have avoided — I do not name these friends, contenting myself with this most grateful acknowledgment of help without which I should not have ventured into so wide a field.



CHAPTER I: introductory

A century ago there was in the Old World only one tiny spot in which the working of democracy could be studied. A few of the ancient rural cantons of Switzerland had recovered their freedom after the fall of Napoleon, and were governing themselves as they had done from the earlier Middle Ages, but they were too small and their conditions too peculiar to furnish instruction to larger communities or throw much light on popular government in general. Nowhere else in Europe did the people rule. Britain enjoyed far wider freedom than any part of the European Continent, but her local as well as central government was still oligarchic. When the American Republic began its national life with the framing and adoption of the Federal Constitution in 1787-89, the only materials which history furnished to its founders were those which the republics of antiquity had provided, so it was to these materials that both those founders and the men of the first French Revolution constantly recurred for examples to be followed or avoided. Nobody since Plutarch had gathered the patterns of republican civic virtue which orators like Vergniaud had to invoke. Nobody since Aristotle had treated of constitutions on the lines Alexander Hamilton desired for his guidance.

With 1789 the world passed into a new phase, but the ten years that followed were for France years of revolution, in which democracy had no chance of approving its quality. It was only in the United States that popular governments could be profitably studied, and when Tocqueville studied them in 1827 they had scarcely begun to show some of their most characteristic features.

Within the hundred years that now lie behind us what changes have passed upon the world! Nearly all the monarchies of the Old World have been turned into democracies. The States of the American Union have grown from thirteen to forty-eight. While twenty new republics have sprung up in the Western hemisphere, five new democracies have been developed out of colonies within the British dominions. There are now more than one hundred representative assemblies at work all over the earth legislating for self-governing communities; and the proceedings of nearly all of these are recorded in the press. Thus the materials for a study of free governments have been and are accumulating so fast that the most diligent student cannot keep pace with the course of political evolution in more than a few out of these many countries.

A not less significant change has been the universal acceptance of democracy as the normal and natural form of government. Seventy years ago, as those who are now old can well remember, the approaching rise of the masses to power was regarded by the educated classes of Europe as a menace to order and prosperity. Then the word Democracy awakened dislike or fear. Now it is a word of praise. Popular power is welcomed, extolled, worshipped. The few whom it repels or alarms rarely avow their sentiments. Men have almost ceased to study its phenomena because these now seem to have become part of the established order of things. The old question,— What is the best form of government? is almost obsolete because the centre of interest has been shifting. It is not the nature of democracy, nor even the variety of the shapes it wears, that are to-day in debate, but rather the purposes to which it may be turned, the social and economic changes it may be used to effect; yet its universal acceptance is not a tribute to the smoothness of its working, for discontent is everywhere rife, while in some countries the revolutionary spirit is passing into forms heretofore undreamt of, one of which looms up as a terrifying spectre. The time seems to have arrived when the actualities of democratic government, in its diverse forms, should be investigated, and when the conditions most favourable to its success should receive more attention than students, as distinguished from politicians, have been bestowing upon them. Now that the abundant and ever-increasing data facilitate a critical study, it so happens that current events supply new reasons why such a study should be undertaken forthwith. Some of these reasons deserve mention.

We have just seen four great empires in Europe — as well as a fifth in Asia — all ruled by ancient dynasties, crash to the ground, and we see efforts made to build up out of the ruins new States, each of which is enacting for itself a democratic constitution.

We see backward populations, to which the very conception of political freedom had been unknown, summoned to attempt the tremendous task of creating self-governing institutions. China, India, and Russia contain, taken together, one half or more the population of the globe, so the problem of providing free government for them is the largest problem statesmanship has ever had to solve.

The new functions that are being thrust upon governments in every civilized country, make it more than ever necessary that their machinery should be so constructed as to discharge these functions efficiently and in full accord with the popular wish.

And lastly, we see some of the more advanced peoples, dissatisfied with the forms of government which they have inherited from the past, now bent on experiments for making their own control more direct and effective. Since democracy, though assumed to be the only rightful kind of government, has, in its representative form, failed to fulfil the hopes of sixty years ago, new remedies are sought to cure the defects experience has revealed.

These are among the facts of our time which suggest that a comprehensive survey of popular governments as a whole may now have a value for practical politicians as well as an interest for scientific students. Any such survey must needs be imperfect,— indeed at best provisional — for the data are too vast to be collected, digested, and explained by any one man, or even by a group of men working on the same lines. Yet a sort of voyage of discovery among the materials most easily available, may serve to indicate the chief problems to be solved. It is on such a voyage that I ask the reader to accompany me in this book. Its aim is to present a general view of the phenomena hitherto observed in governments of a popular type, showing what are the principal forms that type has taken, the tendencies each form has developed, the progress achieved in creating institutional machinery, and, above all — for this is the ultimate test of excellence — what democracy has accomplished or failed to accomplish, as compared with other kinds of government, for the well-being of each people. Two methods of handling the subject present themselves. One, that which most of my predecessors in this field have adopted, is to describe in a systematic way the features of democratic government in general, using the facts of particular democracies only by way of illustrating the general principles expounded. This method, scientifically irreproachable, runs the risk of becoming dry or even dull, for the reader remains in the region of bloodless abstractions. The other method, commended by the examples of Montesquieu and Tocqueville, keeps him in closer touch with the actual concrete phenomena of human society, making it easier for him to follow reasonings and appreciate criticisms, because these are more closely associated in memory with the facts that suggest them. These considerations have led me, instead of attempting to present a systematic account of Democracy in its general features and principles, to select for treatment various countries in which democracy exists, describing the institutions of each in their theory and their practice, so as to show under what economic and social conditions each form works, and with what results for good or evil. These conditions so differentiate the working that no single democracy can be called typical. A certain number must be examined in order to determine what features they have in common. Only when this has been done can we distinguish that which in each of them is accidental from what seems essential, characteristic of the nature and normal tendencies of democracy as a particular form of government.

Six countries have been selected for treatment: two old European States, France and Switzerland; two newer States in the Western hemisphere, the American Union and Canada; and two in the Southern hemisphere, Australia and New Zealand. France has been the powerful protagonist of free government on the European Continent and has profoundly affected political thought, not only by her example but by a line of writers from the great names of Montesquieu and Rousseau down to Tocqueville, Taine, Boutmy, and others of our own time. In Switzerland there were seen the earliest beginnings of self-government among simple peasant folk. The rural communities of the Alpine cantons, appearing in the thirteenth century like tiny flowers beside the rills of melting snow, have expanded by many additions into a Federal republic which is the unique example of a government both conservative and absolutely popular. Among the large democracies the United States is the oldest, and contains many small democracies in its vast body. Its Federal Constitution, the best constructed of all such instruments and that tested by the longest experience, has been a pattern which many other republics have imitated. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, whose institutions have been modelled on those of England, are the youngest of the democracies, and the two latter of these have gone further and faster than any others in extending the sphere of State action into new fields. To the comparatively full account of these six, I have prefixed a shorter treatment of two other groups. The city republics of ancient Greece cannot be omitted from any general survey. Their brief but brilliant life furnished the earliest examples of what men can achieve in the task of managing their affairs by popular assemblies, and the literature which records and criticizes their efforts is one of the world's most precious possessions, destined to retain its value so long as civilized society exists. The republics of what is called “Latin America,” all of them Spanish except Portuguese-speaking Brazil and French-speaking Haiti, must also find a place, for they have a double interest. Their earlier history shows the results of planting free representative institutions in a soil not fitted to receive the seed of liberty, while the progress which some few of them have been recently making towards settled order shows also that with an improvement in economic and intellectual conditions that seed may spring up and begin to flourish.

Only one of the great modern democracies has been omitted. The United Kingdom, though in form a monarchy, has a government in some respects more democratic than is that of France, and the process by which it passed from an oligarchy to a democracy through four constitutional changes in 1832 1868, 1885, and 1918 is full of instruction for the historian. But no citizen of Britain, and certainly no citizen who has himself taken a part in politics as a member, during forty years, of legislatures and cabinets, can expect to be credited with impartiality, however earnestly he may strive to be impartial. I have therefore been reluctantly obliged to leave this branch of the subject to some one, preferably some American or French scholar, who is not affected by a like disability.

These accounts of governments in the concrete constitute the centre and core of the book, and may, it is hoped, be serviceable to those who are interested in the practical rather than the theoretical aspects of politics. I have prefixed to them some introductory chapters analyzing the ideas or doctrines whereon popular governments rest, tracing the process by which they have grown, and indicating the conditions under which they are now worked; and have also called attention to certain generally operative factors which the reader must keep in sight while studying the features of the several communities examined. Such factors are the influences of education, of religion, of the newspaper press, of tradition, of party spirit and party organization, and of public opinion as a ruling force. These preliminary essays form Part I., and Part II. is occupied by the descriptions of the six actual modern democratic governments already enumerated. These descriptions do not enter into the details either of the constitutional mechanism or of the administrative organization of each country dealt with, but dwell upon those features only of its institutions, as seen in actual working, which belong to and illustrate their democratic character.

To these last-mentioned chapters which describe the working of actual democratic governments, past and present, there are subjoined, in Part III., other chapters classifying and comparing the phenomena which the examination of these governments reveals, and setting forth the main conclusions to which they point.

The book thus consists of three parts. Part I. contains preliminary observations applicable to popular governments in general. Part II. describes certain selected popular governments, giving an outline of their respective institutions and explaining how these institutions work in practice. Part III. summarizes and digests the facts set forth in Part II. and indicates certain conclusions which may be drawn from them as to the merits and defects of democratic institutions in general, the changes through which these institutions have been passing, the new problems that are beginning to emerge, and the possibility of other changes in the future.

Unlike to one another as are many of the phenomena which the governments to be described present, we shall find in them resemblances sufficient to enable us to draw certain inferences true of democratic governments in general. These inferences will help us to estimate the comparative merits of the various forms democracy has taken, and to approve some institutions as more likely than others to promote the common welfare.

There is a sense in which every conclusion reached regarding men in society may seem to be provisional, because though human nature has been always in many points the same, it has shown itself in other respects so variable that we cannot be sure it may not change in some which we have been wont to deem permanent. But since that possibility will be equally true a century hence, it does not dissuade us from doing the best we now can to reach conclusions sufficiently probable to make them applicable to existing problems. New as these problems seem, experience does more than speculation to help towards a solution.

Most of what has been written on democracy has been written with a bias, and much also with a view to some particular country assumed as typical, the facts there observed having been made the basis for conclusions favourable or unfavourable to popular governments in general. This remark does not apply to Aristotle, for he draws his conclusions from studying a large number of concrete instances, and though he passes judgment, he does so with cold detachment. Neither does it apply to Tocqueville who, while confining his study to one country, examines it in the temper of a philosopher and discriminates between phenomena peculiar to America, and those which he finds traceable to democratic sentiment or democratic institutions in general. The example of these illustrious forerunners prescribes to the modern student the method of enquiry he should apply. He must beware of assuming facts observed in the case of one or two or three popular governments to be present in others, must rid himself of all prejudices, must strive where he notes differences to discover their origin, and take no proposition to be generally true until he has traced it to a source common to all the cases examined, that source lying in the tendencies of human nature. But of this, and especially of the comparative method of study, something will be said in the chapter next following.

As the tendencies of human nature are the permanent basis of study which gives to the subject called Political Science whatever scientific quality it possesses, so the practical value of that science consists in tracing and determining the relation of these tendencies to the institutions which men have created for guiding their life in a community. Certain institutions have been found by experience to work better than others; i.e. they give more scope to the wholesome tendencies, and curb the pernicious tendencies. Such institutions have also a retroactive action upon those who live under them. Helping men to goodwill, self-restraint, intelligent co-operation, they form what we call a solid political character, temperate and law-abiding, preferring peaceful to violent means for the settlement of controversies. Where, on the other hand, institutions have been ill-constructed, or too frequently changed to exert this educative influence, men make under them little progress towards a steady and harmonious common life. To find the type of institutions best calculated to help the better and repress the pernicious tendencies is the task of the philosophic enquirer, who lays the foundations upon which the legislator builds. A people through which good sense and self-control are widely diffused is itself the best philosopher and the best legislator, as is seen in the history of Rome and in that of England. It was to the sound judgment and practical quality in these two peoples that the excellence of their respective constitutions and systems of law was due, not that in either people wise men were exceptionally numerous, but that both were able to recognize wisdom when they saw it, and willingly followed the leaders who possessed it.

Taking politics (so far as it is a science) to be an experimental science, I have sought to make this book a record of efforts made and results achieved. But it so happens that at this very moment there are everywhere calls for new departures in politics, the success or failure of which our existing data do not enable us to predict, because the necessary experiments have not yet been tried.

The civilized peoples seem to be passing into an unpredicted phase of thought and life. Many voices are raised demanding a fundamental reconstruction of governments which shall enable them to undertake much that has been hitherto left to the action of individuals, while others propose an extinction of private property complete enough to make the community the only owner of lands and goods, and therewith the authority which shall prescribe to each of its members what work he shall do and what recompense he shall receive to satisfy his own needs. Here are issues of supreme and far-reaching importance. “How,” it may be asked, “can any one write about democracy without treating of the new purposes which democracy is to be made to serve? Look at Germany and France, England and America. Look at Australia and New Zealand, where democratic institutions are being harnessed to the chariot of socialism in a constitutional way. Above all, look at Russia, shaken by an earthquake which has destroyed all the institutions it found existing.” My answer to this question is that the attempts heretofore made in the direction of State Socialism or Communism have been too few and too short lived to supply materials for forecasting the consequences of such changes as those now proposed. What history tells us of the relation which the permanent tendencies of human nature bear to political institutions, is not sufficient for guidance in this unexplored field of governmental action. We are driven to speculation and conjecture. Now the materials for conjecture will have to be drawn, not from a study of institutions which were framed with a view to other aims, but mainly from a study of human nature itself, i.e. from psychology and ethics as well as from economics. Being, however, here concerned with political institutions as they have been and as they now are, I am dispensed from entering the limitless region of ethical and economic speculation. We see long dim vistas stretching in many directions through the forest, but of none can we descry the end. Thus, even were I more competent than I feel myself to be, I should leave to psychologists and economists any examination of the theories and projects that belong to Collectivism or Socialism or Communism. Ref. 001 A treatment of them would swell this book to twice or thrice its size, and would lead me into a sphere of enquiry where controversies burn with a fierce flame.

The ancient world, having tried many experiments in free government, relapsed wearily after their failure into an acceptance of monarchy and turned its mind quite away from political questions. More than a thousand years elapsed before this long sleep was broken. The modern world did not occupy itself seriously with the subject nor make any persistent efforts to win an ordered freedom till the sixteenth century. Before us in the twentieth a vast and tempting field stands open, a field ever widening as new States arise and old States pass into new phases of life. More workers are wanted in that field. Regarding the psychology of men in politics, the behaviour of crowds, the forms in which ambition and greed appear, much that was said long ago by historians and moralists is familiar, and need not be now repeated. But the working of institutions and laws, the forms in which they best secure liberty and order, and enable the people to find the men fit to be trusted with power — these need to be more fully investigated by a study of what has proved in practice to work well or ill. It is Facts that are needed: Facts, Facts, Facts. When facts have been supplied, each of us can try to reason from them. The investigators who are called on to supply them may have their sense of the duty owed to truth quickened by knowing that their work, carefully and honestly done, without fear or favour, will be profitable to all free peoples, and most so to those who are now seeking to enlarge the functions of government. The heavier are the duties thrown on the State, the greater is the need for providing it with the most efficient machinery through which the people can exercise their control.



The contrast between the rapid progress made during the last two centuries in the study of external nature and the comparatively slow progress made in the determination of the laws or principles discoverable in the phenomena of human society is usually explained by the remark that in the former success was attained by discarding abstract notions and setting to work to observe facts, whereas in the latter men have continued to start from assumptions and run riot in speculations. As respects politics, this explanation, though it has some force, does not cover the whole case. The greatest minds that have occupied themselves with political enquiries have set out from the observation of such facts as were accessible to them, and have drawn from those facts their philosophical conclusions. Even Plato, the first thinker on the subject whose writings have reached us, and one whose power of abstract thinking has never been surpassed, formed his view of democracy from the phenomena of Athenian civic life as he saw them. His disciple Aristotle does the same, in a more precise and less imaginative way. So after him did Cicero, with a genuine interest, but no great creative power; so too did, after a long interval, Machiavelli and Montesquieu and Burke and others down to Tocqueville and Taine and Roscher.

The fundamental difference between the investigation of external nature and that of human affairs lies in the character of the facts to be observed. The phenomena with which the chemist or physicist deals — and this is for most purposes true of biological phenomena also — are, and so far as our imperfect knowledge goes, always have been, now and at all times, everywhere identical. Oxygen and sulphur behave in the same way in Europe and in Australia and in Sirius. But the phenomena of an election are not the same in Bern and in Buenos Aires, though we may call the thing by the same name; nor were they the same in Bern two centuries ago, or in Buenos Aires twenty years ago, as they are now. The substances with which the chemist deals can be weighed and measured, the feelings and acts of men cannot. Experiments can be tried in physics over and over again till a conclusive result is reached, but that which we call an experiment in politics can never be repeated because the conditions can never be exactly reproduced, as Heraclitus says that one cannot step twice into the same river. Prediction in physics may be certain: in politics it can at best be no more than probable. If vagueness and doubt surround nearly every theory or doctrine in the field of politics, that happens not so much because political philosophers have been careless in ascertaining facts, but rather because they were apt to be unduly affected by the particular facts that were under their eyes. However widely and carefully the materials may be gathered, their character makes it impossible that politics should ever become a science in the sense in which mechanics or chemistry or botany is a science. Is there then no way of applying exact methods to the subject, and of reaching some more general and more positive conclusions than have yet secured acceptance? Are the materials to be studied, viz. the acts and thoughts of men, their habits and institutions, incapable of scientific treatment because too various and changeful?

The answer is that there is in the phenomena of human society one “Constant,” one element or factor which is practically always the same, and therefore the basis of all the so-called “Social Sciences.” This is Human Nature itself. All fairly normal men have like passions and desires. They are stirred by like motives, they think upon similar lines. When they have reached the stage of civilization in which arts and letters have developed, and political institutions have grown up, reason has become so far the guide of conduct that sequences in their action can be established and their behaviour under given conditions can to some extent be foretold. Human nature is that basic and ever-present element in the endless flux of social and political phenomena which enables general principles to be determined. and though the action of individual men may often be doubtful, the action of a hundred or a thousand men all subjected to the same influences at the same time may be much more predictable, because in a large number the idiosyncrasies of individuals are likely to be eliminated or evened out. Politics accordingly has its roots in Psychology, the study (in their actuality) of the mental habits and volitional proclivities of mankind. The knowledge it gives is the knowledge most needed in life, and our life is chiefly spent in acquiring it. But we are here concerned only with the political side of man, and have to enquire how to study that particular department of his individual and collective life.

Two other differences between the Natural and the Human Sciences need only a word or two. The terms used in the latter lack the precision which belongs to those used in the former. They are not truly technical, for they do not always mean the same thing to all who use them. Such words as “aristocracy,” “prerogative,” “liberty,” “oligarchy,” “faction,” “caucus,” even “constitution “convey different meanings to different persons. The terms used in politics have, moreover, contracted associations, attractive or repellent, as the case may be, to different persons. They evoke feeling. An investigator occupied in the interpretation of history is exposed to emotional influences such as do not affect the enquirer in a laboratory. Nobody has either love or hatred for the hydrocarbons; nobody who strikes a rock with his hammer to ascertain whether it contains a particular fossil has anything but knowledge to gain by the discovery. The only chemical elements that have ever attracted love or inspired enthusiasm are gold and silver; nor is it chemists whom such enthusiasm has affected.

Human affairs, however, touch and move us in many ways, through our interest, through our associations of education, of political party, of religious belief, of philosophical doctrine. Nihil humani nobis alienum. We are so influenced, consciously or unconsciously, in our reading and thinking, by our likes and dislikes, that we look for the facts we desire to find and neglect or minimize those which are unwelcome. The facts are so abundant that it is always possible to find the former, and so obscure that it is no less easy to undervalue the latter.

If vigorous minds who have addressed themselves to the study of governments have, although they used the facts they saw, often differed in their conclusions and failed in their forecasts, this is because few subjects of study have suffered so much from prejudice, partisanship, and the habit of hasty inference from a few data. Even large-visioned and thoughtful men have not escaped one particular kind of prepossession. Such men are naturally the keenest in noting and condemning the faults of whatever system of government they happen to live under. Nearly every political philosopher has like Hobbes, Locke, and Burke written under the influence of the events of his own time. Philosophers who are also reformers are led by their ardour to overestimate the beneficial effects of a change, because they forget that the faults they denounce, being rooted in human weakness, may emerge afresh in other forms. Struck by the evils they see, they neglect those from which they have not suffered. One must always discount the sanguine radicalism of a thinker, who, like Mazzini, lived beneath the shadow of a despotism, and the conservatism, or austerity, of one who lived, like Plato, amidst the hustle and din of a democracy.

Human nature being accordingly a factor sufficiently constant to enable certain laws of its working to be ascertained, though with no such precision and no such power of prediction as is possible in the physical sciences, how is it to be studied?

The best way to get a genuine and exact first-hand knowledge of the data is to mix in practical politics. In such a country as France or the United States a capable man can, in a dozen years, acquire a comprehension of the realities of popular government ampler and more delicate than any which books supply. He learns the habits and propensities of the average citizen as a sailor learns the winds and currents of the ocean he has to navigate, what pleases or repels the voter, his illusions and his prejudices, the sort of personality that is fascinating, the sort of offence that is not forgiven, how confidence is won or lost, the kind of argument that tells on the better or the meaner spirits. Such a man forms, perhaps without knowing it, a body of maxims or rules by which he sails his craft, and steers, if he be a leader, the vessel of his party. Still ampler are the opportunities which the member of an Assembly has for studying his colleagues. This is the best kind of knowledge; though some of it-is profitable only for the particular country in which it has been acquired, and might be misleading in another country with a different national character and a different set of ideas and catchwords. Many maxims fit for Paris might be unfit for Philadelphia, but some might not. It is the best kind because it is first-hand, but as its possessor seldom commits it to paper, and may indeed not be qualified to do so, the historian or philosopher must go for his materials to such records as debates, pamphlets, the files of newspapers and magazines, doing his best to feel through words the form and pressure of the facts. When he extends his enquiry to other countries than his own, the abundance of materials becomes bewildering, because few books have been written which bring together the most important facts so as to provide that information regarding the conditions of those countries which he needs in order to use the materials aright.

These data, however, do not carry us the whole way towards a comprehension of democratic government in general. The student must try to put life and blood into historical records by what he has learnt of political human nature in watching the movements of his own time. He must think of the Past with the same keenness of interest as if it were the Present, and of the Present with the same coolness of reflection as if it were the Past. The English and the Americans of the eighteenth century were different from the men of to-day, so free government was a different thing in their hands. There are, moreover, differences in place as well as in time. Political habits and tendencies are not the same thing in England as in France or in Switzerland, or even in Australia, The field of observation must be enlarged to take in the phenomena of all the countries where the people rule. The fundamentals of human nature, present everywhere, are in each country modified by the influences of race, of external conditions, such as climate and the occupations that arise from the physical resources of the country. Next come the historical antecedents which have given, or withheld, experience in self-government, have formed traditions of independence or submission, have created institutions which themselves in turn have moulded the minds and shaped the ideals of the nations.

This mode of investigation is known as the Comparative Method. That which entitles it to be called scientific is that it reaches general conclusions by tracing similar results to similar causes, eliminating those disturbing influences which, present in one country and absent in another, make the results in the examined cases different in some points while similar in others. When by this method of comparison the differences between the working of democratic government in one country and another have been noted, the local or special conditions, physical or racial or economic, will be examined so as to determine whether it is in them that the source of these differences is to be found. If not in them, then we must turn to the institutions, and try to discover which of those that exist in popular governments have worked best. All are so far similar in that they are meant to enable the people to rule, but some seek this end in one way, some in another, each having its merits, each its defects. When allowance has been made for the different conditions under which each acts, it will be possible to pronounce, upon the balance of considerations, which form offers the best prospect of success. After the differences between one popular government and another have been accounted for, the points of similarity which remain will be what one may call democratic human nature, viz. the normal or permanent habits and tendencies of citizens in a democracy and of a democratic community as a whole. This is what we set out to discover. The enquiry, if properly conducted, will have taught us what are the various aberrations from the ideally best to which popular government is by its very nature liable.

It is this method that I have sought to apply in investigating the phenomena each particular government shows, so as to indicate wherein they differ from or agree with those found in other governments. Where the phenomena point to one and the same conclusion, we are on firm ground, and can claim to have discovered a principle fit to be applied. Firm ground is to be found in those permanent tendencies of mankind which we learn from history, i.e. from the record of observations made during many centuries in many peoples, living in diverse environments, physical and historical. The tendencies themselves take slightly diverse forms in different races or peoples, and the strength of each relatively to the others varies. These diversities must be noted and allowed for; but enough identity remains to enable definite conclusions of general validity to be attained.

So expressed and considered in their application to practice, these conclusions have a real value, not only to the student but also to the statesman. Many an error might have been avoided had a body of sound maxims been present to the minds of constitution makers and statesmen; not that such maxims could be used as necessarily fit for the particular case, but that he who had them before him would be led to weigh considerations and beware of dangers which might otherwise have escaped him. Some one has said, There is nothing so useless as a general maxim. That is so only if you do not know how to use it. He who would use it well must always think of the instances on which it rests and of the instruction these may be made to yield. Its use is to call attention. It is not a prescription but a signpost, or perhaps a danger signal.

The conclusions obtained by these methods of investigation are less capable of direct application to practice than are those of the exact sciences. However true as general propositions, they are subject to many qualifications when applied to any given case, and must be expressed in guarded terms. The reader who may be disposed to complain of the qualified and tentative terms in which I shall be obliged to express the results which a study of the phenomena has suggested will, I hope, pardon me when he remembers that although it is well to be definite and positive in statement, it is still better to be accurate. I cannot hope to have always attained accuracy, but it is accuracy above everything else that I have aimed at.


The word Democracy has been used ever since the time of Herodotus Ref. 002 to denote that form of government in which the ruling power of a State is legally vested, not in any particular class or classes, but in the members of the community as a whole. This means, in communities which act by voting, that rule belongs to the majority, as no other method has been found for determining peaceably and legally what is to be deemed the will of a community which is not unanimous. Usage has made this the accepted sense of the term, and usage is the safest guide in the employment of words.

Democracy, as the rule of the Many, was by the Greeks opposed to Monarchy, which is the rule of One, and to Oligarchy, which is the rule of the Few, i.e. of a class privileged either by birth or by property. Thus it came to be taken as denoting in practice that form of government in which the poorer class, always the more numerous, did in fact rule; and the term Demos was often used to describe not the whole people but that particular class as distinguished from the wealthier and much smaller class. Moderns sometimes also use it thus to describe what we call “the masses “in contradistinction to “the classes.” But it is better to employ the word as meaning neither more nor less than the Rule of the Majority, the “classes and masses “of the whole people being taken together.

So far there is little disagreement as to the sense of the word. But when we come to apply this, or indeed any broad and simple definition, to concrete cases, many questions arise. What is meant by the term “political community “? Does it include all the inhabitants of a given area or those only who possess full civic rights, the so-called “qualified citizens”? Can a community such as South Carolina, or the Transvaal, in which the majority of the inhabitants, because not of the white race, are excluded from the electoral suffrage, be deemed a democracy in respect of its vesting political power in the majority of qualified citizens, the “qualified “being all or nearly all white? Is the name to be applied equally to Portugal and Belgium, in which women do not vote, and to Norway and Germany, in which they do? Could anybody deny it to France merely because she does not grant the suffrage to women? Or if the electoral suffrage, instead of being possessed by all the adult, or adult male, citizens, is restricted to those who can read and write, or to those who possess some amount of property, or pay some direct tax, however small, does that community thereby cease to be a democracy?

So again, what difference is made by such limitations on the power of the majority as a Constitution may impose? There are communities in which, though universal suffrage prevails, the power of the voters is fettered in its action by the rights reserved to a king or to a non-elective Upper House. Such was the German Empire, such was the Austrian Monarchy, such are some of the monarchies that still remain in Europe. Even in Britain and in Canada, a certain, though now very slender, measure of authority has been left to Second Chambers. In all the last mentioned cases must we not consider not only who possess the right of voting, but how far that right carries with it a full control of the machinery of government? Was Germany, for instance, a democracy in 1913 because the Reichstag was elected by manhood suffrage?

Another class of cases presents another difficulty. There are countries in which the Constitution has a popular quality in respect of its form, but in which the mass of the people do not in fact exercise the powers they possess on paper. This may be because they are too ignorant or too indifferent to vote, or because actual supremacy belongs to the man or group in control of the government through a control of the army. Such are most of the so-called republics of Central and South America. Such have been, at particular moments, some of the new kingdoms of South-Eastern Europe, where the bulk of the population has not yet learnt how to exercise the political rights which the Constitution gives. Bulgaria and Greece were nominally democratic in 1915, hut the king of the former carried the people into the Great War, as the ally of Germany, against their wish, and the king of the latter would have succeeded in doing the same thing but for the fact that the Allied fleets had Athens under their guns.

All these things make a difference to the truly popular character of a government. It is the facts that matter, not the name. People useds confound — some persons in some countries still confound — a Republic with a Democracy, and suppose that a government in which one person is the titular and permanent head of the State cannot he a government by the people. It ought not to he necessary nowadays to point out that there are plenty of republics which are not democracies, and some monarchies, like those of Britain and Norway, which are. I might multiply instances, but it is not worth while. Why spend time on what is a question of words? No one has propounded a formula which will cover every case, because there are governments which are “on the line,” too popular to he called oligarchies, and scarcely popular enough to be called democracies. But though we cannot define either Oligarchy or Democracy, we can usually know either the one or the other when we see it. Where the will of the whole people prevails in all important matters, even if it has some retarding influences to overcome, or is legally required to act for some purposes in some specially provided manner, that may be called a Democracy. In this book I use the word in its old and strict sense, as denoting a government in which the will of the majority of qualified citizens rules, taking the qualified citizens to constitute the great bulk of the inhabitants, say, roughly, at least three-fourths, so that the physical force of the citizens coincides (broadly speaking) with their voting power. Using this test, we may apply the name to the United Kingdom and the British self-governing Dominions, Ref. 003 to France, Italy, Portugal, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Greece, the United States, Argentina, and possibly Chile and Uruguay. Of some of the newer European States it is too soon to speak, and whatever we may call the republics of Central America and the Caribbean Sea, they are not democracies.

Although the words “democracy “and “democratic “denote nothing more than a particular form of government, they have, particularly in the United States, Canada, and Australia, acquired attractive associations of a social and indeed almost of a moral character. The adjective is used to describe a person of a simple and friendly spirit and genial manners, “a good mixer,” one who, whatever his wealth or status, makes no assumption of superiority, and carefully keeps himself on the level of his poorer or less eminent neighbours. I have heard a monarch described as “a democratic king.” Ref. 004 Democracy is supposed to be the product and the guardian both of Equality and of Liberty, being so consecrated by its relationship to both these precious possessions as to be almost above criticism. Historically no doubt the three have been intimately connected, yet they are separable in theory and have sometimes been separated in practice, as will appear from the two following chapters.




The facts and forces that have created Popular Government are partly of the Practical and partly of the Theoretic order. These two forces have frequently worked together; but whereas the action of the former has been almost continuous, it is only at a few epochs that abstract doctrines have exerted power. It is convenient to consider each order apart, so I propose in this chapter to pass in rapid survey the salient features of the historical process by which governments of the popular type have grown up. Some light may thus be thrown on the question whether the trend towards democracy, now widely visible, is a natural trend, due to a general law of social progress. If that is so, or in other words, if causes similar to these which have in many countries substituted the rule of the Many for the rule of the One or the Few are, because natural, likely to remain operative in the future, democracy may be expected to live on where it now exists and to spread to other countries also. If on the other hand these causes, or some of them, are local or transient, such an anticipation will be less warranted. This enquiry will lead us to note in each case whether the change which transferred power from the Few to the Many sprang from a desire to be rid of grievances attributed to misgovernment or was created by a theoretical belief that government belonged of right to the citizens as a whole. In the former alternative the popular interest might flag when the grievances had been removed, in the latter only when the results of democratic government had been disappointing.

When the curtain rises on that Eastern world in which civilization first appeared, kingship is found existing in all considerable states, and chieftainship in tribes not yet developed into states. This condition lasted on everywhere in Asia with no legal limitations on the monarch until Japan framed her present Constitution in 1890. Selfish or sluggish rulers were accepted as part of the order of nature, and when, now and then, under a strong despot like Saladin or Akbar, there was better justice, or under a prudent despot less risk of foreign invasion, these brighter intervals were remembered as the peasant remembers an exceptionally good harvest. The monarch was more or less restrained by custom and by the fear of provoking general discontent. Insurrections due to some special act of tyranny or some outrage on religious feeling occasionally overthrow a sovereign or even a dynasty, but no one thought of changing the form of government, for in nothing is mankind less inventive and more the slave of custom than in matters of social structure. Large movements towards change were, moreover, difficult, because each local community had little to do with others, and those who were intellectually qualified to lead had seldom any other claim to leadership.

In early Europe there were no great monarchies like those of Assyria or Egypt or Persia. Men were mostly organized in tribes or clans, under chiefs, one of whom was pre-eminent, and sometimes a large group of tribes formed a nation under a king of ancient lineage (perhaps, like the Swedish Ynglings, of supposed divine origin) whom the chiefs followed in war.

The Celtic peoples of Gaul and those of the British Isles, as also the Celtiberians of Spain, were thus organized in clans, with a king at the head of a clan group, such as the king of the Picts in North-Eastern and the king of the Scots in Western Caledonia. In Germany kingship based on birth was modified by the habit of following in war leaders of eminent valour, Ref. 005 and the freemen were, as in Homeric Greece, accustomed to meet in public assembly to discuss common affairs. It was only among the Greeks, Italians, and Phoenicians that city life grew up, and the city organization usually began by being tribal. A few families predominated, while the heads of the older clans held power over the meaner class of citizens, these being often strangers who had gathered into the cities from outside.

From the king, for in most of these cities the government seems to have been at first monarchical, power passed after a while to the heads of the great families. Their arrogance and their oppression of the poorer citizens provoked risings, which in many places ended, after a period of turmoil and seditions, by overthrowing the oligarchy and vesting power in the bulk of the well-to-do citizens, and ultimately (in some cities) in all the free voters. The earlier steps towards democracy came not from any doctrine that the people have a right to rule, but from the feeling that an end must be put to lawless oppression by a privileged class.

Equality of laws (laovoμía) was in Greece the watchword of the revolutions, whether violent or peaceable, which brought about these reforms. Theoretic justifications of the rule of the multitude came later, when politicians sought to win favour by sweeping away the remains of aristocratic government and by filling the people with a sense of their own virtue and wisdom. The breaking down of the old oligarchy at Eome was due to the growth of a large population outside the old tribal system who were for a long time denied full equality of civil rights and subjected to harsh treatment which their incomplete political equality prevented them from restraining. These complaints, reinforced by other grievances relating to the stringent law of debt and to the management of the public land, led to a series of struggles, which ended in strengthening the popular element in the Roman Constitution. But Eome never became more than partially democratic, and theories regarding the natural rights of the citizen played no significant part in Roman history, the Italians having a less speculative turn of mind than the Greeks. Needless to say that the Rights of Man, as Man, were never heard of, for slavery, the slavery of men of the same colour as their masters and often of equal intelligence, was an accepted institution in all countries. Such development of popular or constitutional government as we see in the Hellenic and Italic peoples of antiquity was due to the pressure of actual grievances far more than to any theories regarding the nature of government and the claims of the people.