by Anthony M. Ludovici
IS DEMOCRACY SAFE? – I
Quand la populace se mêle de raisonner tout est perdu. – VOLTAIRE.
1 – THE SCOPE OF THIS BOOK
THIS is not merely another among the legion of hortatory treatises which pour annually from publishers' offices. For all such works, except for the temporary diversion they may provide, are quite useless. A century ago, Buckle pronounced all exhortation to be futile and claimed that moral appeals can never have any effect whatsoever on those to whom they are addressed. [(23) Chap. V.] In 1933, Professor Jacks declared that "moral exhortation is useless" (Observer) and only seven years ago, Professor N. Peffer remarked that "It is futile to resort to moral suasion, appeals to the world's better nature" (8). Eighty years ago Herbert Spencer came to the same conclusion. [(146) Chap. XV.]
The object of this book is rather to accomplish the two following most urgently needed tasks – first the re-examination of the doctrine and practice of Democracy, in order to determine whether they really deserve the unstinted praise and approval lavished upon them in the last half-century; and, secondly, the demonstration that aristocracy is not only a workable form of government, but also the only form of government which can give a society enduring health and strength.
Now it is one of the strange anomalies of our Age that, in spite of the steady loss of quality in all departments of Western Civilization and the rapid disintegration of Western society – a process already begun when (29) was written, but which, as foretold in that book, has gathered momentum since – the chorus of authoritative voices, with few exceptions, still chant only one refrain, that the panacea for all our ills consists in consolidating and continuing the very system that has led to our disquieting condition.
The masses, persuaded by their betters that so long as they are "free" to chose, or "elect", the leaders they fancy, all will be for the best, are so much flattered by their quinquennial right to pick their political representatives, that, provided they may continue to exercise it, they are apparently indifferent to its outcome. Only the fewest among them see any causal connexion between the exercise of this right and its untoward results. As to listening to anyone who undertakes to defend so antiquated and completely "debunked" a political system as Aristocracy, this appears to them almost ridiculous. Never having perfectly understood what Aristocracy means, or had before them any but caricatures of the aristocratic type, they approach the subject with a bias consisting chiefly of stubborn incredulity.
Thus, even to criticize, not to say question, the exercise of this right, beside which the captures made in Blind Man's Buff partake almost of scientific discrimination, is to provoke such angry reprisals that he who, like the present writer, ventures to plead, if only for a patient hearing, while he defends an alternative régime, does so at the risk of his life – certainly at the risk of his living.
As Alexander Gray suggests in (154): "Democracy is no longer democracy, if it is forcibly prevented from choosing fools when it feels so inclined."
2 – THE AVERAGE ELECTOR AND HIS INEVITABLE LIMITATIONS
As D. W. Harding maintains in (152): "Life is too short for the politician to master the intricate detail of more than a few problems... As for the ordinary citizen with other work to do, an opinion on national affairs must necessarily be based on an assortment of facts and arguments minute in proportion to the original facts and opinions from which it has been selected." Even a confirmed democrat like Middleton Murry admits in (41) that "The evidence is accumulating that modern democracy is an unworkable system of government ... because it involves too heavy a demand on the understanding and imagination of the average man".
But Murry seems to forget that even the highest wisdom and most encyclopædic knowledge cannot avail if the elector is not given all the information concerning the matter to be judged. Here D. H. Harding is better. [(152), p.33.] C. Delisle Burns, also an ardent democrat, admits that our democratic institutions "do not promote [in 'ordinary men and women'] the formation of a will or opinion which is worthy of exerting influence". [(28) Chap. VI.]
There is no need to labour the point. It has always been obvious to the critics of Democracy and, from the quotations above, which could be multiplied to fill many pages, it appears to be becoming obvious even to professed democrats themselves.
3 – THE PEOPLE'S WILL FRUSTRATED
The People may claim that, as they are the ultimate judges, they can control governments for their own good. This appears to be true; but, scrutinized closely, it cannot be sustained. For, although they can certainly dismiss, are the People equipped to replace the dismissed team by a better one? Besides, even if they were so equipped, propaganda ably conducted by powerful minorities may influence mass opinion to any extent, without those so influenced discovering how or why their choice is determined for them. D. W. Harding believes that "the poorly informed and imperfectly literate sections of the public can be unified with relatively crude propaganda". [(152) p.79.] But does anyone suppose that the better informed and more literate are less susceptible to propaganda, perhaps of a subtler sort, than their inferiors? C. Delisle Burns observes that "when 'public opinion' demands this or that, what generally happens is that a few induce many others to make or support statements of which most of the supporters have only the very slightest understanding". [(28) Chap. III.]
J. A. Hobson, an ardent champion of Democracy, feels obliged to admit that, as things are, "it is easy for the ruling and possessing classes to confuse the electorate by dangling before their eyes specious substantial benefits, to divide them by conflicting appeals to trade and locality, to subject to undetected mutilation any really inconvenient or dangerous reform, and in the last resort to draw across the path of policy some great inflammatory national appeal to passion". [(30) Chap. VI.]
If, as many allege, high finance constitutes one of the chief powerful minorities, the popular vote and Parliamentary set-up arising from it become mere shadow-sparring. Volumes have been written to substantiate this contention. In [(75) Chap. IX], Dr. Thomas Robertson, one of the many who represents it, quotes the following passage: "This national and mainly international dictatorship of money ... which, through the ownership of a large portion of the Press, converts the advertisement of its own private opinion into the semblance of general public opinion, cannot for much longer be permitted to render Democratic Government a mere nickname."
And whom is Dr. Robertson quoting? – None other than Vincent C. Vickers, an ex-Governor of the Bank of England, who in 1919 resigned from his post by way of protest.
Lord Bryce also maintains that "In every country unscrupulous wealth can, by artificially 'making opinion', mislead and beguile the people more easily and with less chance of detection than in any other way"; which is reminiscent of Sophocles' remark: "Opinion is stronger than Truth." Lord Bryce also points out that "The two best administered democracies in the modern world have been the two poorest, the Orange Free State before 1899 and the Swiss Federation". Of the power of the Press, he says: "Newspapers have become one of the most available instruments by which the Money Power can make itself felt in politics." [(95) I, Chap. X, and II, Chaps. LXVII, LXIX, and LXXIII.]
Delisle Burns takes a similar view [(28) Chap. VI], as do also Doctors J. S. Fulton and C. R. Morris. [(86) Chap. VIII.]
One hundred and twenty years ago, Coleridge was already charging Governments with subordination to the Money Power, and suggesting that this infirmity was probably endemic in England. [(155) 4.7.1830.]
As for that other democracy across the Atlantic, the late Professor Laski and Müller-Freienfels both held that "in actual fact the vote is controlled by the Press and the money". (Quoted in Dr. Brady's Business as a System of Power, and C. A. Beard's Toward Civilization respectively.) For earlier testimony to the same effect, see Chapter XI of (122).
4 – EDUCATION, NATIONAL TONE, AND THE PRESS
The bewildering chaos now resulting from the infinite diversity and agglomeration of ill-considered, ill-founded, and conflicting opinions on all subjects (even as vital as food, hygiene, and mating) in our democratic society, leads to so much misery both physical and psychological, that the scant attention vouchsafed it by modern statesmen is perplexing. Even among social philosophers, only the few mention it with any misgiving.
The democratic atomization of the population, which makes every individual being a unique psycho-physical type and consequently an inscrutable stranger to his contemporaries, is but a concrete parallel to the prevalent extreme diversity of values, so that each individual being is a centre from which wholly individual values emanate.
It is thought that in this imbroglio of clashing views, "Education" may help. But no amount of acquired factual knowledge, which is what Education chiefly means today, can make good the absence of that gradual and insensible absorption throughout every human life, of the uniform values that characterize a well-ordered society – values issuing from leaders of sound taste and instinct who, by virtue of the imitative faculty of their fellows, can give them the benefit of sharing in the advantages of gifts they do not congenitally possess.
For, as Lord Bryce has pointed out: "If men are from childhood accustomed to regard certain conduct as honourable ['and', we should add, 'certain opinions as sound'], they do not ask why that should be so, but promptly judge themselves and others by the standards they have accepted." [(95) I. Chap. XIII.]
Education conducted by a vast personnel indiscriminately conscripted except for scholastic attainments, cannot make good the absence of valuing leaders for integrating a society. Thus Alexander Gray speaks of "that pathetic faith in education, which is to be found only in those who have been denied it". [(154) p.104.] Referring to education as a means of imparting political sagacity, Herbert Spencer long ago declared: "How little that which people commonly call education prepares them for the use of political power, may be judged from the incompetency of those who have received the highest education the country affords." (125.) Lord Bryce concurs. [(95) I. Chap. VIII.]
Professor G. M. Trevelyan [(59) Chap. XVIII] observes that "generally speaking it [Popular Education] has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading, an easy prey to sensations and cheap appeals". [cf. Bryce on the illiterate English rustic of 1860: (95) I. Chap. VIII.]
Professor Mannheim, however, is one of the few social philosophers who appreciates the distress which everywhere results from the people's lack of uniform and tasteful values, the absorption of which would constitute their education for sound living. In [(104) Part V, iii] he says: "The clumsiness in our society, in which different man-made institutions frequently clash and different moral codes continuously lead to conflicts, is reflected in the rising tide of neurosis in the individual." The uneasy vacuum left by our vanished valuers is now filled to some extent by the Press, the wireless, and the cinema [Mannheim: (43) Chap. III, sect. 10] and since, of the three, the first is supposed to be "free", it might, in responsible hands, have gone some way towards filling the gap left by our departed qualified Tone-Setters.
But, in order to function in this way, it should from the first have been conducted by men who, besides being equivalent to gifted valuers, could also have been made to answer for any irresponsible action. So far, however, is this from being the case, that the Press, besides being run by men quite incapable of propagating sound uniform values, is now able to initiate even a disastrous policy without incurring any liability. As Lord Bryce has said: "The power of the Press is a practically irresponsible power" [(95) I. Chap. X.]
Above all, in order to act in a wholly disinterested manner, the Press required to be perfectly free. Unfortunately, as things are, this is impossible.
5 – THE FREEDOM OF THE PRESS
As it is now quite impossible to produce a leading daily newspaper, or any periodical for that matter, without depending to an extent incompatible with a free expression of views on powerful advertising corporations representing jealously-guarded interests, the institution of a Free Press is practically out of the question. As Middleton Murry has said: "The establishment of a 'Free Press' was, in fact, the successful establishment of newspapers dependent upon advertisement revenue." [(41) Chap. XVII.]
The enormous space devoted to women's interests and tastes alone, in the leading dailies, is an instance of this. For, just as the growing volume of advertisements of articles of female dress, etc., has kept pace with the increasing frontage occupied by drapers' and milliners' shops in our towns, so has this twofold increase kept pace with a Press propaganda which is manifestly Feminist and which presents a barrier to any anti-Feminist arguments or facts.
Thus, when discussing the Press in (149), R. C. K. Ensor writes: "The bulk of the new advertising expenditure (e.g. that by the then rapidly extending stores) was for goods purchased by women; and from an early stage it came to be realized, as it had never been before 1914, that for advertising purposes women readers were incomparably more valuable than men... Morning papers between the two Great Wars aimed then especially to attract as readers (1) women, (2) young people. The central norm of tests came to be what attracts young unmarried women earning money, since they are the largest consumers of advertised goods."
Another instance is the relatively supine indifference of the Press to the appalling tragedy of road casualties – 181,438 deaths between 1909 and 1945, and 4,524,083 injured!
J. S. Dean, in [(101) Introduction], observes that "never before in the history of civilization has it been so easy to kill and to maim without incurring punishment, or even censure". (Both Christopher Dawson, in (17), pp.5-6, and Dr. Williamson in (49) Chap. X, record their protests in almost similar terms.]
But when do we hear of a Press agitation to abolish the evil? In early Victorian days, any such national scourge would have brought all our Earls of Shaftesbury, our Michael Sadlers, and our Robert Peels to the foot of the throne, to pray for the redress of the people's wrongs. How then explain the comparative indifference of the Press towards this crying scandal, more especially as, according to Dr. Williamson, it is preponderatingly the price of pleasure? [(49) Chap. X.]
J. S. Dean gives us perhaps the shrewdest explanation. Commenting on the "very little space found for the subject of the motor slaughter" in the Press, he remarks with great moderation: "It will be realized that in some cases at least the large expenditure of the motor interests in Press advertising is not without its effects." [(101) Chap. V, ii.]
There is no need of further examples to support the claim that in our democracy we have as little right to look on the Press as "free" as when it was dependent on Government subvention.
When, therefore, we reflect that the masses, high and low, rely chiefly on the Press for their opinions, and that no other tutors or Tone-Setters than the newspapers exist for the majority, we appreciate the emptiness encompassing a people when it no longer possesses an élite capable of leading it and giving it the imponderabilia by which a sound and decent life may be led.
Thus Christopher Dawson, in 1939, felt entitled to declare [(17) p.77]: "The average man and woman, and still more the average boy and girl [under a parliamentary régime], are no more their own masters than under a dictatorship. Their minds are moulded and their opinions are formed insensibly by the mass suggestion and mass propaganda of the Press, the radio and the cinema. And the only difference is that the fascist and communist states attempt to direct this propaganda in accordance with their respective ideologies, whereas in the democracies, it is a soulless force which is inspired purely by the motive of profit."
6 – CAN A DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE CHOOSE PEACE OR WAR?
Than Peace or War, no major issue could more irrevocably decide the fate of every member of a community. To what extent in such a major issue can the People's will be effective, or is their consent sought? Many nineteenth-century political philosophers took it for granted that the People's will must always count in deciding either for Peace or War; and Delisle Burns observes: "The political reformers and the only advocates of free trade believed that peace would be the natural result of Government based upon the popular franchise." [(28) Chap. V.]
When once a war is on, of course, the whole people, rich and poor alike, "whose native barbarism", according to J. A. Hobson, "is evoked when war occurs" [(30) Chap. III], scramble into their Grand National Stand and think only of cheering their own and booing the enemy's side. For, national vanity being engaged, the keeping of scores becomes the principal pastime.
Hence, as both Lloyd George and Churchill discovered, it is not as difficult as many suppose to "lead" a people in war-time. Any skilled chef de claque could do it; for, as D. H. Harding observes: "Once a nation is committed to war, almost everyone will support the national effort." [(152) p.60.] Besides, as Dr. Williamson has shown, "a government engaged in winning a great war spends money with a lavish hand and is generally popular on that account alone". [(49) Chap. VIII, also (150) 1.1.1856.]
But whether any single member of the voting masses has ever been consulted is another question. Professor N. Peffer (8) declares flatly that "no political mechanism has yet been devised by which the people of any country, however democratic ... can have any effective voice in the acts of government that determine peace and war". (The italics are mine, A.M.L.) Similarly, D. W. Harding remarks that "if an influential section of a nation decides that war is necessary, the reluctance of numerically large sections of the nation can within wide limits be overcome". [(152) p.245.]
For confirmation of this view by recent authors, the reader may be recommended The Private Diaries of Paul Baudouin (1948, p.52), and Charles A. Beard's President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War of 1941 (Chap. II). According to J. A. Hobson, even the Boer War was started over the heads of the English people. [(30) Chap. III.]
So that, in a major issue, involving their own lives, those of their fellow-countrymen, and the future of their respective nations, average voters in democracies, according to these testimonies, count for nothing, always have counted for nothing.
7 – THE PEOPLE'S JUDGMENT OF THEIR PARLIAMENTARY REPRESENTATIVES
Apart from the fact that the People's political representatives are not always free to act independently as their protectors even if they wished to do so, can it be claimed that the electorate choose their representatives after having weighed their merits, and can therefore rely on having their popular and national interests safeguarded ?
It is true that they are allowed to select the nominee of one Party rather than that of another Party; but, as Alexander Gray points out, all the elector actually has is "the option of indicating his preference between two (or three) candidates, among whom, in fact, he feels no preference". [(154) p.512.]
Cardinal Newman, who denied the average man's capacity to form a useful opinion on a subject outside his own sphere, maintained that all he was competent to do was to choose his teacher (guide, philosopher or friend) rather than a particular doctrine or its advocate. (Essay on Private Judgment, Vol. II of Essays.)
But even this claim can hardly be maintained; for, to be able to choose a teacher of a doctrine, one must be able to judge his competence in that particular field – the very fact that Newman denies.
Mill makes much the same claim in his Dissertations and Discussions. After admitting that average untrained people must be imperfect judges of "the majority of political questions", he maintains that their judgment "must, in general, be exercised rather upon the characters and talents of the persons whom they appoint to decide these questions for them, than upon the questions themselves".
Apart from the fact that Mill's words imply that the persons appointed by the electorate "to decide these questions for them", are "trained persons" – a most daring assumption! – his plea is open to the same objection as Newman's.
The reader may reply: "But is this objection more than a quibble? Cannot the average man choose his own doctor and lawyer although he is ignorant of both medicine and the law?"
True! But without the General Medical Council and the Law Society, he could not do so. Only after these two institutions have passed a doctor and a solicitor as fit to function as such, can a layman choose either – i.e. he has only qualified men to choose from. The fact that he sometimes comes to grief notwithstanding, shows that even when the utmost is done to guarantee efficient service, the ignorant cannot always be protected.
In the choice of their political representatives, however, laymen are not concerned with men already passed as fit to represent them by some authority. So that both Newman's and Mill's attempt to escape from the dilemma presented by the ignorant mass when given the chance of choosing their political representative, gravitates into a mere display of learned verbiage.
Let us, therefore, now consider Mill's other contention – that ordinary people's judgment "must in general be exercised rather upon the character and talents of the persons whom they appoint to decide these questions for them, than upon the questions themselves".
8 – CAN ELECTORS JUDGE THE CHARACTER AND TALENTS OF THEIR REPRESENTATIVES?
It is the more curious that Mill should have advanced this plea seeing that in another context he declared that "an Englishman is ignorant concerning human nature". (Subjection of Women, Chap. III.)
Nor is there much in England's record to cast doubt on this generalization. England has produced no great psychologists; in poetry, which most plumbs the depths of the mind, her authors are vis-à-vis of human nature, mainly escapists who prefer to dwell tediously on different aspects of Nature – the stars, the clouds, sky effects, brooks, birds, flowers, and moonlight – whilst in the psychological axioms which command nation-wide acceptance, there is a profusion of counterfeit coinage. Moreover, we have only to recall the flagrant errors in Englishmen's judgments concerning their womenfolk – a feature that perplexed a foreign psychologist like Dr. Fritz Wittels. (Die Sexuelle Not, Chap. V, Sect. I.)
The survival amongst Englishmen of the love of ball-games long after the period in life and history when Continental adults, from whom some of the games hail, give them up, also points in the same direction. It is a side of English life incomprehensible to the Russians, for instance. (See Havelock Ellis: The Genius of Europe, p.90.) Finally, we have only to note how this surviving love of ball-games in English adults argues the dominion in maturity of childish tastes. ("Mais c'est un jeu d'écolier!" Briand cried when Lloyd George introduced him to golf. Sarah Bernhardt, less parliamentary, referring to the same game, said: "cejeu idiot" – Chap. XII of I knew Sarah Bernhardt, by Suze Rueff.) We have but to bear all these facts in mind in order to appreciate how precarious it would be to rely on psychological insight as the last defence of the English electoral system.
For the difficult art of judging character and talents belongs essentially to a mature mind. And yet English witnesses, as far distant from each other as de Quincey and Lady Violet Bonham Carter, testify to the immaturity of the majority of Englishmen. [See respectively: Works, Vol. I, p.318, and (149) Chap. IX.]
Besides, the consistency with which ordinary people insist on testimonials before employing even a housemaid, sufficiently demonstrates their awareness of their inadequate powers of judgment. But is it easier and less important to choose an M.P. than a domestic servant?
Could anyone claim, moreover, that electors ever have a chance of competently estimating "the character and talents" of the candidates before them? Even if the latter could be observed in a sufficient number of activities and their background explored, are the temper and atmosphere at the hustings favourable to sober and penetrating judgments? Over two thousand years ago Sophocles observed that it is not easy to know a man's temper, mind, and will, till he is seen exercising them. (Antigone, 176-177.)
"How seldom," says Lord Bryce, "are men correctly judged even by those who have good opportunities of judging and are not heated partisans!" [(95) II. Chap. XXVI.]
Besides, the Parliamentary candidate always advocates certain policies which, as we have seen, the average elector is unfit to judge wisely. Even if he could do so, he never knows enough about them. Nevertheless, his opinion of the candidate will inevitably be influenced by the latter's attitude to these policies.
Even Education cannot help here; for, as Herbert Spencer points out, "no smattering of mensuration, astronomy or geography, fit men for estimating the character and motives of Parliamentary candidates". (125.)
Of the counterfeit psychological axioms enjoying currency among Englishmen, both rich and poor, only the commonest can be mentioned. Among the foremost is the superstition that a portly "bluff, rough-spoken man is incapable of deceit". He is usually what is known as a "good mixer". Nor are most people in the least perturbed by the fact that such a man epitomizes a whole gallery of humbugs, of whom Horatio Bottomley might be the archetype. But, strange to say, since women have become M.P.s, even females of this type are getting into Parliament.
It was Agnes Strickland who first pricked the gas-bag that this type usually is. [(91) II.] And yet, in male form, it is par excellence the type to captivate women. As a house-to-house tout for vacuum-cleaners, as a policeman, bookmaker, parson, or doctor, they adore him. Indeed, it makes one wonder why more of such house-to-house touts do not stand for Parliament. Their ascendancy in politics and in the Trade Unions cannot fail to have struck the attentive student of English life. In Germany, Ribbentrop, the house-to-house traveller in wines, was one of them.
Then there is the widespread English bigotry – it is now a religious mania – concerning "a sense of humour"; the belief that no character pretending to be desirable can be without it. Not a book is now published in England but it contains a tag about the supreme desirability of a sense of humour, and even Stalin had this ridiculously overrated quality foisted on him by Churchill at a time when the latter was trying to be amiable to the Red Dictator. (The Katyn Wood Murders, by Jas. Mackiewits, 1951, p.101.)
The fact that it is hardly possible to mention any great rogue in history, from Henry VIII to Talleyrand, Cagliostro, Bottomley, Ribbentrop and, above all, Himmler, who had not a sense of humour, cuts no ice with these latter-day fanatics. And when a man such as Wordsworth or Richelieu has reluctantly to be classed among the humourless, it is obvious that the biographer records the fact with cruel heartache. Indeed, the present position is this – given two candidates, one a Wordsworth and the other with little else to recommend him than a gift for low comedy, the latter would be certain to win the election. But it would be unfair to blame the crowd for this. All their highbrows, for generations, often in slavish imitation of each other have been inculcating the superstition about a sense of humour upon them.
As a small sample group of such highbrows, see, for instance, Dr. A. L. Rowse [(151) p.14]; G. K. Chesterton (Orthodoxy, Chap. IX); the Bishop of Tasmania (Hibbert Journal, Vol. 9. No. 24, Jan.); and Hugh Walpole (Jeremy at Crale, Chap. XI).
At all events, one thing is certain, if, from any point of vantage in the Commons, we listen to the speeches and study the personalities of Members of Parliament, the majority of whom we may safely assume were elected for their "sense of humour", we can soon convince ourselves that there is no shadow of reason for connecting this quality with any desirable trait.
The third and last counterfeit psychological axiom that we shall be able to examine is the popular superstition that oratory and statesmanship are inseparable.
True, there have been men like Bismarck who have combined great statesmanship with an eloquence that surpassed that of all their contemporaries. The connexion is, however, far from constant or necessary.
For if, to mention only a few examples, the crowd would only remember Moses and, above all, Stalin (for evidence of his lack of eloquence see Stalin, by I. Deutscher, Chap. VI); if they had heard of James I's eloquence (acknowledged by Hume) and the complete inarticulateness of Charles I; if they had ever heard of Lucien Bonaparte's superiority over his brother Napoleon in this matter [see (70) Chap. XLIX], they might be less ready to infer from glibness the possession of ruler gifts.
Emerson tells us (Essay on Eloquence) that an American statesman once remarked to him that "the curse of this country [U.S.A.] is eloquent men"; whilst Lord Bryce also comments on the frequency with which eloquence may conceal "a lack of steadfastness and wisdom". [(95) II. Chap. LXXVI.]
Perhaps the most harmful form of this superstition is its counterpart – the belief that where eloquence is lacking statesmanship must also fail.
There are many minor counterfeit psychological axioms which guide the masses in their choice not only of their M.P., but also of their professional advisers, their friends, and their life-mates; but enough have been examined to dispose of Mill's attempt to escape from the necessity of condemning the electoral system. For it is clear that the above data cannot be even approximately sound without invalidating his claim that ordinary people's judgment can successfully "be exercised rather upon the characters and talents of the persons they appoint to decide these questions [political issues] for them".
There are, therefore, good grounds for endorsing J. A. Froude's conclusion that "no one seriously supposes that popular suffrage gives us a wiser Parliament than we used to have". [(145) II, On Progress.] Whilst, about half a century later, Lord Bryce observed that "universal suffrage and the growth of equality of opportunity have done less than was expected to bring to the service of the State men of statesmanlike ability". [(95) II. Chap. LXXVI.]
Thus it appears necessary to concede that, in proportion as the people's judgments of the characters and talents of their representatives are likely to be mistaken, these representatives will be unfit for their difficult duties. But, if this is so, how can the average man and woman be expected to discern in the candidates before them those special and exalted gifts which mark the statesmanlike leader? For a sound judgment to be reached on any human being, the assessor must have much in common with the assessed. Only expert blacksmiths can assess the precise amount of skill in aspiring blacksmiths. And, on this very question, Cicero remarked that "just as virtue is possessed only by a few, so it can be distinguished and perceived only by a few". (Republic, I, Chap. 51. Trans. by C. W. Keyes.)
Ordinary people confronted by a man of exceptional superiority are, as things now stand, more likely to be baffled than prepossessed. There is no intention here to charge ordinary folk with a defect, for a defect can be made good. The multitude's present inability to judge superior fellow-beings, however, cannot be made good. The most they can now do is unfailingly to equate all signs of economic superiority with superiority in general. Nor is there any intention to disparage a particular class in the community. For, as things are, the economic superior today is just as likely, as is the poor man, to be unable to recognize superiority except by looking at a man's boots.
What chance, then, has an élite of arising out of the democratic method of choosing rulers?
Although his solution is inadequate, Sir Fred Clarke, an ardent democrat, at least appreciates that Democracy does here present a grave problem; for he says: "More general education of the lower levels will have as one of its functions the awakening in the mass of capacity to recognize a member of the élite when he appears and to know what it is that makes him so." [(66) Chap. II.] Evidently, then, he agrees that, at present, the masses do not possess this capacity. His error is, however, twofold; for he implies that the higher levels do possess the capacity, and he imagines that education can correct the existing popular defect.
When, therefore, in [(116) 3, iiia] Dr. Spitz confidently asserts that "democratic government may be regarded as an institutional device for securing proper and adequate leadership", what can he mean? Even Dr. Mannheim, an equally ardent democrat, acknowledges that "the lack of leadership in late liberal mass society can be ... diagnosed as the result of the change for the worse in selecting the élite". [(104) Part II, iv.]
Throughout (116) Dr. Spitz contends that the fundamental advantage of Democracy is the chance it gives the People of dismissing unsatisfactory, and electing satisfactory, governments. But if the People possess neither the right criteria nor the discrimination to select a better ruling personnel than that they have rejected, how can this one fundamental advantage be regarded as such? The power to select and reject can be an advantage only if (1) the judges possess sound criteria for their selections; (2) the judges are competent to apply these criteria; and, above all, (3) the available better personnel is available. Seeing, however, that today even the third condition is unlikely to be present, how can Dr. Spitz sustain his claim? He never once faces this difficulty.
9 – THE NEED OF POLITICAL VIRTUE IN A DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE
Although few have been able to answer the question, many political philosophers have asked whether a community, bred on the idea of materialistically assessing the value of political principles and expedients by the body-weight behind them, can be expected to be disinterestedly concerned about the welfare of their society as a whole.
Two centuries ago, Montesquieu went to the root of the matter when he declared that the only sound basis of popular government was the political virtue of the People. And he defined this quality as follows: "la vertu politique est un renoncement à soi-même, qui est toujours une chose très pénible." [(48) IX. Chap. V.]
La Harpe, commenting on this statement, wrote: "Si le caractère général n'est pas bon, la chose publique sera donc mauvaise; comme le royaume ira mal si le prince est mauvais; avec cette différence, que les vices du prince passent avec lui, au lieu que rien n'arrête la corruption d'une république." (Ibid., III, Chap. III.)
In plain English, unless a democratic people are capable of acts of painful renunciation when voting at the polls, a democracy is in fact worse than any other form of government, because its evil principles cannot be exorcized. Thus Montesquieu concluded that neither in a monarchy, nor in an aristocracy, is it so essential to have virtue widely disseminated as in a democracy. "Le peuple qui est à l'égard des nobles ce que les sujets sont à l'égard du monarque, est contenu par leur lois. Il a donc moins besoin de vertu que le peuple de la démocratie." (Ibid., III, Chap. IV.)
This finds its significant modern echo in that letter on Moral Rearmament in The Times of 1 September, 1938, signed by thirty-three M.P.s, who stated that "Danger lies in paying lip-service to democratic principles and refusing to pay the full price of freedom. Democracy without high character and the discipline of high purpose, disintegrates... Whence can come that inner quickening that is so greatly needed?" And they reply: "In reawakening to the fundamental values on which democracy was built, in a rededication of our people to those elementary virtues of honesty, unselfishness and love which so many of us have allowed to take a secondary place."
As there are no serious grounds for assuming that the public virtue insisted on by Montesquieu, if Democracy is not to bring Nemesis, has ever existed at any period in this country, the words "reawakening" and "re-dedication" used by the thirty-three M.P.s are rather uncandidly smuggled into Montesquieu's plea, presumably merely to soften the note.
But, even if it were only a matter of reawakening, we shall see that both Montesquieu and our thirty-three M.P.s were too simplicist in their advocacy of a virtuous nation in order to safeguard Democracy. They both overlooked one serious complication.
Mill tried to meet the difficulty by pressing the advantages of education. But how can education, as we understand it, correct political unwisdom and supply the virtue on which Montesquieu insisted? Mill, like Socrates, imagined that error and vice always spring from illiteracy and ignorance. Unfortunately one has only to live a short while among the learned and scholarly to be convinced that education is no generator or guarantee of virtue. It is probably true that it would be easier to make the masses knowledgeable than virtuous. But as even the educated have repeatedly shown themselves incapable of "acts of painful self-renunciation" in politics, the supposed panacea of Education seems again to be rather a desperate expedient.
The qualities Lord Bryce required of his Model Citizen relate much more to moral virtue than to erudition. For, he says, this Model Citizen will bring "to the main issues of policy" what he calls "an independent and impartial mind, which thinks first, not of its own, but of the general interest" – precisely Montesquieu's 'painful self-renunciation'! [(95) I. Chap. V.]
Middleton Murry meets the difficulty by urging us all to become not merely professing, but also practising Christians. "For the historical moment has come when whatever hope there is of saving human society from degradation and destruction lies in the effort to make the Christian faith the dynamic of social existence." [(41 Chap. VIII.] The late Sir Stafford Cripps advocated the same solution, as does also a recent Government booklet. (See Section II, pp.42-43 infra.) But Murry at least acknowledges that at present none of us is virtuous enough, i.e. Christian enough, to make Democracy workable [(41) Chap. VII], and Herbert Spencer long ago took very much the same view. "Unless we suppose," he said, "that Man's nature will be suddenly exalted, we must conclude that private interests will sway the doings of all the component classes in a socialistic society." (67.) In 1894, he again expressed his "conviction that the fit character [for free institutions] is not possessed by any people, nor is likely to be possessed for ages to come". (Essay: The late Professor Tyndal.) Let us now see how Montesquieu's solution, like that of the thirty-three M.P.s and Middleton Murry, is too simplicist.
We may concede to all three that if the electorate became politically virtuous in the sense defined, the danger of what the thirty-three M.P.s called "disintegration" might possibly be somewhat reduced. But that is the utmost that we could expect. For, although paragons of virtue might be incapable of deliberately injuring their neighbours, they cannot be relied upon never to cause those unintentional injuries which may result from exercising their political rights without either adequate wisdom or adequate information. No amount of genuine Christianity can make us either politically wise or sufficiently astute accurately to divine all the information that is required to judge every political issue correctly.
There is also this further complication: We Westerners are now at the end of two millenniums of Christian indoctrination. Is modern Man better than ancient Man? True, he has no Roman arenas, nor does he now commit the abominable atrocities of the Roman system of slavery. But in A.D. 1800 he ran a system of slavery hardly less barbarous; whilst even today we still have the nation's callousness towards road casualties which, as we have been told, "are in most cases the price of pleasure"; we also have the crowd's ardent interest in the dangerous displays on dirt-tracks. In this respect, Mr. Justice Humphreys' remarks at Lewes Assizes (11.8.49) on the Hastings Pilot Field case are enlightening, as are also Robert Sinclair's comments on the same sporting feature. [See (100) p.114, where he says: "The motor-cyclists who race round the dirt-track are thrown fairly often and sometimes injured; thus the crowd can enjoy the pulse-quickening effect of a bull-fight without being un-English."] Have we not also the marked deterioration in those virtues of chivalry and nobility which, as late as the Middle Ages, presided over the prosecution of war? (See A Jurist's Advance to Barbarism.)
Again, in the sphere of civil life, is not the record black enough? An anonymous authority, writing on crime, has declared that "never in a fairly long and wide experience of the gangster, the thug, and the bold, bad thief, have I known such an overwhelming accumulation of major, as distinct from petty, crime". (News of the World, 16.1.49; also Daily Mail, 29.9.49.) Railway thefts alone are "now believed to total nearly £3,000,000 a year". (Daily Mail, 12.1.49.)
As recently as 28 December, 1948, we read that Dr. Geoffrey Fisher, in his diocesan notes, had written deploring "the serious decline of honesty and truthfulness in the nation". Whilst in the latter of the following two depressing descriptions of modern English lower-class life – Marie Paneth's Branch Street, and Our Towns, by the Women's Group on Public Welfare – we find the authors saying: "Dishonesty is unhappily widespread in our society."
On the score of these data, which no reader can doubt we could greatly augment, can we seriously claim that human nature has been much improved by two millenniums of Christian moral exhortation?
And yet Middleton Murry, a champion of Democracy, derives substantial comfort from assuring us that, although the democratic system is admittedly unworkable at present, we can make it work if only we all become Christians.
But, if this is the conditio sine qua non of a Democracy that can work, the case is more hopeless than even the most rabid anti-democrat could ever have imagined. For if Christian moral suasion, marked by such arresting proofs of profound faith as our hagiology and our great cathedrals and churches, has failed to improve us, what justifies us moderns in assuming that, by beginning over again to try to make the world Christian, despite our manifestly diminished faith, we can achieve what the past has failed to accomplish ?
Besides, to revive the Faith in these days of widely disseminated Rationalism would, in itself, be a Herculean task. And here, Professor Kluckholn, for one, agrees. [(99) Chap. X.]
But even if the feat could be accomplished, the problem of how to inculcate Christian ethics on the masses would still remain; and, as we have seen, moral exhortation is useless. Indeed, this probably accounts for the past failure of Christian teaching; and the learned editors of (51), confining the question to children, would certainly concur; for they say: "To attempt to inject virtue into children by formal teaching methods, or by the undenominational teaching of religion is futile. In France, it was recognized that any systematic teaching of morality was hopeless."
Earlier in the same chapter, referring to a recent American investigation, which bears this out, T. J. Cohen and R. M. W. Travers (presumably in 1939) say: "An experiment was recently carried out in America to discover the relative extent of moral influence on children... The moral influence of the Sunday school-teacher was found to be zero." (Introduction, by Editors.)
Thus this effort on the part of Democracy's champions to try to place it on a firm footing, turns out to be little more than pious wishful thinking, and we are reminded of Lord Bryce's remarks on the last of the People's three functions in a democracy. "Of these," he says "... the most important and most difficult is that of choosing leaders, for though it seems simple to say that government must pursue the common good, the power to discern and decide in any given case what is good, and what means best conduce thereto, needs a wisdom and unselfishness possessed by few." [(95) Chap. LXXV.]