Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/197

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
191
PRESENT POLITICS

under. These sunken rocks will wreck many a politician's bark in the next few years. Until the change has become definite and the new coast has been charted there will be no safety on political seas. The present confusion of mind makes it difficult for constituents and representatives to understand each other. Chance and whim will determine more than a few public careers before the transition is gone through.

The story of this phase of our economic activity can be compressed into a few sentences. An energetic people possessed with the spirit of equality, and working on an undeveloped domain, flourished forth in a democratic era of acquisition, exploiting natural resources and each other. Now that the natural wealth has been so largely appropriated, it is no longer possible for the majority of the people to continue their former practises, and they have been demanding through a few of their representatives that the minority also cease. This was insurgency.

When the new spirit began to possess the people they endeavored to enact legislation or repeal laws and reorganize administration with a view to abolishing the antiquated institutions and practises that had become odious. They found, however, that the specialization of function had gone so far that there had grown up a governing class of politicians, office holders and administrators fairly distinct from the mass of the citizens. This caste removed from the pressure of new conditions that were changing the lives and thinking of the people in general is dominated by the traditions, customs and practises of an earlier period. The code of ethics of the era of acquisition still obtains among the governing group because the members of this group have not been exposed to the influences to which the common people have been subjected. The representatives of the people now in office represent the people of earlier generations—not their contemporaries. The leaders are in the rear, and persist in staying there. This inability to catch step, this moral inertia, is leading an increasing number of people to doubt the workableness of representative government. When a candidate is elected he enters into the governing group: the atmosphere he breathes is fifty years old: he is soon behind the times. He does what was formerly acceptable, but is no longer so. He does not represent his constituents, for the simple reason that they do not look upon the public affairs as their fathers did. The constituents have changed—the representatives have remained the same.

The extreme difficulty of bringing up to date the machinery of government as at present operated is what is behind the movement for the initiative and referendum that has enrolled within its ranks great numbers of men who have hitherto regarded the proposals of direct legislation as impracticable, cumbersome and out of the question in political units of any great size. Their old objections are as valid as ever they were for a situation in which the people and their representatives are