Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/280

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Editor's Table.


A RECENT writer in one of the magazines quotes John Stuart Mill as speaking in one of his letters to the historian Motley of "the fatal belief of your public that anybody is fit for anything." The trouble to which Mill refers is one that dates a long way back. It is not correct to say that in this community or anywhere else the belief prevails that anybody is fit for anything. Nobody thinks that anybody is fit to repair his watch, or to fit him with spectacles, or to cut him out a suit of clothes. We all believe in special training and special qualifications when it comes to matters like these; but what democratic communities, from Athens downward, have refused to believe is that any special qualifications are required for the art of political government. It is to be observed that it is political government only that is regarded as so simple and trivial a thing. To manage a bank, a railroad, a hotel, is allowed on all hands to require great skill and experience combined with no inconsiderable equipment of moral character; but to step into the Presidency and fill the office satisfactorily does not, it has been expressly stated, call for anything more than commonplace endowments. A little more seems, as a general thing, to be required of members of the Cabinet; but, broadly speaking, Mr. Mill's dictum, if we confine it—as doubtless he meant it to be confined—to politics, is true, that in this country "anybody is considered fit for anything."

What is the source of this most preposterous opinion? It is difficult to give any answer but one: the self-interest and vanity of the populace: self interest, because the unqualified office-seeker does not like to think he might be barred from office by lack of competency; vanity, because the voter who feels a sense of proprietorship in the Government does not like to think that he himself or any person he might recommend is not "good enough" for any office in the Government. Of course, it has to be admitted—though somewhat grudgingly—that offices requiring technical knowledge in connection with this or that branch of science can not be filled by persons destitute of such knowledge; but it is always a consolation to think that the most ignorant citizen could acceptably fill some higher office in which he would have power to make the men of science step round.

Fortunately, there are laws operating even in the political world which to some extent antagonize false theories. It may be sound democratic doctrine that any citizen is fit for any office; but when it has come to filling the offices, in some mysterious way conspicuously unfit individuals have not infrequently been ruled out. No one, of course, would venture to say that they were ruled out for lack of intellectual qualification; but they have been ruled out all the same, and left to wonder how it was that their candidature was not successful. In a few cases conspicuously fit candidates have been selected, to the great advantage of the public interests concerned.

The strongest proof, however, that there is a certain tendency in things to nullify wrong theories is the prog-