Popular Science Monthly/Volume 43/September 1893/Editor's Table

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search



AMONG the hopeful signs of the times we may reckon the increased attention that is being given in our higher schools to the study of "civics," a term which includes the general principles of government, the Constitution of our own country in particular, and the duties of citizenship. It is somewhat extraordinary that the importance of instructing our youth in these subjects was not earlier recognized; but we may hope that, now that they have been introduced pretty generally into our educational courses, they will assume the prominence to which they are entitled. If the State undertakes to educate, it should be mainly and primarily with a view to producing good citizens; and the instruction which specially pertains to this object should in all public schools have an honored, if not indeed the foremost, place.

What is government? is a question which must spontaneously occur to the mind of every young person, and the teacher is fortunate who has a subject to deal with in regard to which his or her pupils are already prepared to ask questions. Government, it can be explained, in the first place is control. Control may be exercised either for good or for evil—either in excess of requirements, or in due proportion to THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY,

��requirements, or in measure inadequate to requirements. Control exercised for evil is tyranny, and should, wherever possible, be res sted ; control exercised for good is government in tDe best sense and deserves loyal acquiescence and support. Control in excess of require- ments again is tyranny, even though ex- ercised not by a monarch but by a ma- jority of the citizens ; control in due proportion to requirements is govern- ment in a good sense ; control inade- quate to requirements means a greater or less degree of anarchy. It should not be difficult to interest the minds of the young in deciding or trying to de- cide for themselves certain practical questions to which these definitions would naturally give rise. Take the government of a given country at a given time: was it tyrannical or was it reasonable government? Did it de- serve resistance or support ? Such and such laws, are they in excess of require- ments, or are they such as circumstiinces demand? What are we to understand by " requirements " ? Requirements for what? Here is the opportunity for pointing out how purely meddlesome and intrusive a great deal of legislation is — the mere mandates of majorities who want to have their way in every- thing, and are not content to win others over by persuasion, but insist on forcing them into conformity by legal measures. The "requirements " it can be shown, beyond which political control should not go, are the requirements of national cohesion. Whatever tends to enforce uniformity of practice or habit or opin- ion beyond the demands of national unity partakes of the nature of tyranny, whether the authority that imposes it has one head or a million heads. The necessity for government in the true sense can be made evident to the weak- est understanding, and from this will obviously flow the duty of every citizen to aid in the maintenance of law and order. What kind of a society, it may bo a?ked, would that be the sole foun-

��d.'.tions of which were force and fraud? What would become of liuman industry if the laborer could not depend on re- ceiving his honest wages, or any worker on protection in carrying on his employ- ment? Law, it will be seen, is no re- straint upon the good, but is their shield against the aggressions of the evil ; to the latter alone is it a terror, and they alone can have any interest in weaken- ing its authority. Yet even they would suffer were there no law, and conse- quently the ideal condition of things for a bad man would be one in which others obeyed the law while he suc- ceeded in evading it. The habitual criminal is thus no better than a beast of prey or a parasite.

Teaching of this nature addressed to a class in which some kind of public opinion was capable of being evoked would, we are persuaded, do much to create in the minds of the young a sense of the interest they have in upholding the institutions of the country, both na- tional and municipal. We incline to the opinion that this interest should first be awakened by means of general consid- erations upon government before de- tailed instruction is given in the national Constitution. When the time has come for the latter, the different purposes which each power in the State is intend- ed to serve should be carefully explained, and the pujjils should be invited to ex- ercise their own independent judgment upon the Constitution as a whole and upon its several parts. They might be freely asked whether they could suggest B anything better, and the whole subject ^ should be commended to them as one in which they have an interest that can not safely be neglected. It should be impressed upon them that, if honest peo- ])le do not take an interest in politics, dishonest people are sure to do so, and that the only way to nullify the influ- ence of the bad is for the good — those who have the welfare of their country at heart — to occupy the field in over- whelming numbers themselves.


��Modern writers note a decline in the sentiment of patriotism ; but we can afford to let the old patriotism go, if we can get a better patriotism in its place. The old patriotism involved hardly less of hostility and ill-will to other coun- tries than of attachment to one's own. Tlie new patriotism calls upon us to serve our own country first, and no less in peace than in war, but to be desirous that other countries should be equally well served by their sons. The old pa- triotism formed easy alliances with self- ish and unworthy interests, so that the trade of patriot became one of the most suspected of vocations — so much so that the sturdy old Tory, Dr. Johnson, de- nounced it as " the last refuge of a scoundrel " ; but the new patriotism which can not commend itself by loud- mouthed denunciation of other countries can only make itself known and felt by useful activity in the public interest at home.

The complete instruction of our youth in civics will have to embrace, we regret to say, a description of the principal evils which dog the steps of representa- tive government. We have just glanced at the evil of indiflference in political affairs, but in a course of instruction it would merit much fuller treatment. Then there is the opposite evil of ex- cessive partisanship leading to the grav- est abuses of administration, and through the frauds which it introduces into the working of the political machine threat- ening even the stability of the State. Tfiere is the evil of excessive taxation, resorted to in order that the party in power may have more money to dis- tribute for political purposes. There is the evil of corrupt understanding be- tween the party in power and business men whose pecuniary interests that party can promote by legislation — so much tariff (for example) meaning so much money to be contributed at elec-

��tion times. The celebrated letter in which the chairman of a certain com- mittee threatened to "fry the fat" out of certain manufacturers who, after hav- ing been put in the way of enriching themselves at the expense of the public, had failed to respond with due liberality and gratitude when the hat was being passed round for a great political cam- paign, should be printed for an everlast- ing remembrance and illustration of " how it works." As regards the thieves and pirates who obtain government con- tracts and enrich themselves by furnish- ing inferior articles, it would be easy to rouse against them the fierce indignation and reprobation of any class of ingenuous youths ; and it would not be hard to show that many other frauds upon the Government, such as charging undue prices for things, obtaining by collusion contracts at figures beyond what would afford a fair profit, and so on, are all of an infamous nature and utterly unworthy of any man pretending to be a good cit- izen. Great care should be taken not to deal with any of these subjects in a cynical spirit or to create the impres- sion that the evils indicated are more widespread than they really are. It ought to be a paramount object to pro- mote respect for the country in which we live, and while the evils and dan- gers which beset our system of govern- ment should be plainly pointed out, stress should also be laid upon the vast amount of faithful service and un- selfish devotion which the country re- ceives from its worthier sons. The spirit to cultivate is not one of despond- ency, but one of hope, of confidence, and of resolute endeavor. Let our young people but have the right kind of teaching, and they will respond to it, and in less than ten years the effect for good upon the public opinion and public life of the country will be very apparent.

�� �