Popular Science Monthly/Volume 51/August 1897/The Despotism of Democracy
By FRANKLIN SMITH.
"WHATEVER crushes individuality," says John Stuart Mill, describing the essential feature of all political governments, "is despotism, by whatever name it be called, and whether it professes to enforce the will of God or the injunctions of men." Be the government autocratic, aristocratic, or democratic, the power it wields in restraint of natural rights, or of equal freedom, puts it under the ban. Decked though it be with motives worthy of the noblest philanthropy, aim though it may to fill the world with saints, it is vitiated by the love of power and by the check it puts upon the natural growth of character. It would make all men, not like the diversity of Nature, but like the figures of Egyptian art. If democracy as well as autocracy and aristocracy has sought to accomplish this task; if the former as well as the latter, in the pursuit of an enterprise that has always ended and must inevitably end in disaster, has put shackles on the individual in the form of laws and seized his property under the guise of benevolences and taxes, it is none the less despotism because the crime is done in the name of the people. Nor is it any the less a fit object of execration because it does not bear the title of Cæsar or the Council of Ten.
That democracy should be thought the protector of freedom and property is natural. Despite the dense clouds of cant and metaphysics that have enveloped it, the idea has a historic basis. The growth of civilization has been largely an abatement of the monopoly and amount of political control. Human society did not begin, to use the phrase of Hobbes, "with the desolate freedom of the wild ass." Morgan and Maine have made it a commonplace of science that there was never a time when the members of the primitive group had the rights and immunities conferred only upon those possessed of the power of moral control. "Mankind," says Prof. Burgess, confirming the truth of a social philosophy he rejects, "does not begin with liberty. Mankind acquires liberty through civilization," It is first subjected to a double dominion—that of custom and that of the leader become autocrat through the fortunes of war. To him belong the person and property of his subjects, to be used as whim or interest may direct. "Kings," said Louis XIV, expounding the doctrine of autocratic despotism, "are absolute lords, naturally possessing the entire and uncontrolled disposal of all property, whether belonging to the church or to the laity, to be exercised at all times with due regard to economy and to the general interests of the state." The political philosophy of English autocracy was the same. "As the father over one family," said Sir Robert Filmer, the apologist for the despotism of Charles I, "so the king, as the father over many families, extends his care to reserve, feed, clothe, instruct, and defend the whole commonwealth. His war, his peace, his courts of justice, and all his acts of sovereignty tend only to preserve and distribute to every subordinate and inferior father and to their children their rights and privileges, so that all the duties of a king are summed up in an universal fatherly care of his people."
Here is the point of departure in the long and desperate struggle against political control—a struggle that occupies the greater part of the history of civilization. If autocratic despotism has not, as in the East, deprived men of the desire to live their lives in their own way and to profit from their own skill and energy, they find it intolerable. They lapse into doubt as to the divinity, benevolence, and wisdom of the master that holds them in bondage. Like the English barons, they unite to wrest from him some right or privilege, some bar to the arbitrary seizure of their person and property. With the triumph of their courage and efforts passes the power of the one to the hands of the few. As a landed aristocracy, like that of feudalism, or as a commercial oligarchy, like that of Florence and Venice, they become the new despots. They, in turn, rule by divine right; their voice is the voice of God; and disobedience to their commands becomes impiety and treason. While they have introduced, in a measure, the reign of liberty in the ordering of their own lives, the many are still the victims of unmitigated despotism. Whether it be in Greece or Italy, in Spain or England, in France or Germany, their lives and property are not their own. Describing the government of lower Austria at the close of the middle ages, Navagero tells us that there were "five sorts of persons—clergy, barons, nobles, burghers, and peasants." Of the peasants, however, "no account" was made, because they had "no voice in the Diet." But there was still a sixth sort—the servile laborers—of even less account. Yet the peasants were hardly better off than slaves. They were not merely obliged to bear much heavier taxation than the barons, nobles, and burghers, but they had no part in tempering its weight. That, as in other aristocratic countries, was the arbitrary work of the upper classes. As in other countries also, the upper classes determined their own burdens. There was still to be won for the lower classes the same right. Not only must they be permitted to fix the amount of their taxes, but they must have exemption from arbitrary seizure; they must have impartial justice; they must have deliverance from the countless restraints upon their freedom. When these conquests of the masses over the classes have been made, there is then the advent of democracy, the power that so many fear and hate, that so many hail as the beginning of a better day. Misrepresented as it has been by friend and foe, it signifies nothing more dreadful or more wonderful than the possession of the right of every man to direct his own life as seems to him best. It is the application to politics of the fundamental principle of Protestantism—the concession of the same freedom in individual conduct as is granted in individual belief. Little as this truth is recognized and practiced, it lurks in the current political discussions. If it is not openly proclaimed, it is tacitly implied. Mr. Godkin defines democracy as "the participation of the whole community in the work of government."
Bringing out more distinctly the idea that it is something besides the universal possession of political power, Sir Thomas Erskine May defines it as "a principle or force, and not simply an institution." More specific still, Mr. Lowell describes it as a "form of society, no matter what its political classification, in which every man had a chance and knew that he had it." Mr. Morley also holds that it means something more than political sovereignty put into the hands of everybody. Showing that as such it has shattered the old forms of despotism and enlarged the opportunities of life for all, high and low, rich and poor, he says: "It has shaken the strength and altered the attitude of churches, has affected the old subjection of women and modified the old conceptions of the family and of property, has exalted labor, has created and dominated the huge enginery of the press, has penetrated in a thousand subtle ways into the whole region of rights, duties, human relations, and social opportunities." It is Boudrillart, however, that brings out the truth that democracy, properly speaking, is a form of moral control as well as a condition of freedom. After saying that modern democracy "permits a larger and larger number to enjoy the moral, intellectual, and material possessions of life," and "undertakes to substitute merit for favor and right for injustice," he adds: "It takes shelter behind the doctrine of perfectibility, which applies not only to the achievements of the human mind, to the discoveries of science, to the inventions of industry, but to the social condition and to the political and economic conditions that favor it. . . . To let each man be more and more a man," he continues, emphasizing the need of moral control to check the possible license of freedom "that is to say, realize more perfectly the type of humanity, by the development of all that constitutes it—such is the end to which democracy aspires. Development of power for the individual and for the race—that is its ideal."
Finding little cheer in the contemplation of the ideal toward which the evanescence of political control and the growth of moral control have been taking the human race, the students of democracy are often weighted heavily with foreboding. It seems to portend some disaster that no man can avert. "There is no mincing the matter," says Mr. W. E. Forster: "unless the world goes back, democracy must go forward." "The democratic principle," says Maine, regarding it as a militant power like some barbarian horde, "has gone forth conquering and to conquer, and its gainsayers are few and feeble." "To attempt to arrest the progress of democracy," says De Tocqueville, in the same melancholy vein, "seems like opposition to God, and it remains for the nations of the earth to adjust themselves to the conditions imposed by Providence." But when viewed in the light of the far-reaching and hopeful inductions of Herbert Spencer, democracy, to many minds so fraught with peril to civilization, is divested of terror. They show not only why it is honored with the vast moral, intellectual, and material achievements of the last four centuries, but they show also why it is charged with the intolerable social and political evils that have blackened and still blacken the pages of history. By the operation of the law of evolution, as immutable as any law of Nature, the agencies of human effort, whatever be their purpose, have been enlarged almost to an infinite degree, and made immeasurably more perfect and useful. By the operation of another law, equally immutable, has been decreed the character of those agencies; it has determined whether the beliefs, institutions, and morals of a nation shall be—those of savages or those of civilized men those of war or those of peace.
Subjected to the solvent power of these inductions, all the phenomena of social life yield their secrets. They disclose the truth that feudalism, from which modern society took its origin, was not due to soil, nor climate, nor race; it sprang from the murder and pillage of mediæval barbarism. Of the same remorseless Fury were born its machinery of despotism and its hideous traits. She was the mother of the hatred, cruelty, greed, and lust that afflicted the world for a thousand years and still afflict it. Industry, however, has been the mother of peace, liberty, honesty, and virtue. Without security and freedom, traffic in labor and its fruits is impossible. Men must be protected from robbery; they must own themselves as well as their toil; they must have the right to exchange; they must be exempt from seizure and confiscation. Nor can traffic thrive without the benignant spirit of kindness and courtesy. It demands an effort to please, and the effort to please begets the habit of pleasing. It demands honesty and confidence, the basis of credit and a potent stimulus to enterprise. But traffic is a ship freighted with wealth, which gives leisure and permits the culture of the noble side of life—literature, art, science, philosophy, philanthropy. Shall any one say, then, with Renan, that "the origin of all civilization is aristocratic," that it is "the work of aristocrats"? On the contrary, its origin is democratic; it comes of freedom and self-control; it is the work of toil, so despised and oppressed in every feudal land.
Yet it is heard on every hand that, as civilization advances, political government—that is, the restraints of feudal despotism—must increase; otherwise the world will stop, and its lights go out. The cry is not from the throats of ignorant demagogues or rapacious politicians; it is raised by the most studious and thoughtful. "Law," said John Randolph Tucker, before the American Bar Association, "must grow with civilization, or," he added, showing that he had yet to learn what civilization means, "progress will cease, and the achievements of a people will be unworthy of their genius and, their character." Although Mr. Lecky has declared that the tendency "in the midst of the many and violent agitations of modern life to revert to archaic types of thought and custom will hereafter be considered one of the most remarkable characteristics of the nineteenth century," he, too, believes it to be "quite true that the functions of government must inevitably increase with a more complicated civilization." Even Mr. Godkin, who says most truly that "the best thing in the world is individual freedom" and that "a man who is compelled to work by law . . . is to all intents and purposes a slave," holds that "the world, through the increase of its offices and activity, needs far more regulation than it used to need." But the growth of law, the increase of functions and regulations, the creation of officials to correspond with both, is not progress—it is, as Mr. Lecky himself hints, retrogression; it does not point to the future—it points to the past; it is not the dawn of a better day—it is a return to the curse of the middle ages. No tribute to the purpose of official machinery can hide its kinship with feudalism. Nor can any sophistry blot out the fact that such machinery is only an attempt to fit the institutions of that hated and decadent form of social life, whose object was the prosecution of war, to modern social life, whose object is the cultivation of peace and industry, as well as self-control. The current belief that it will be more successful in the future than in the past is the most amazing delusion that ever lodged in the human mind. There is no magic in the diffusion of the irresponsible power of the one among the irresponsible many. Wisdom and virtue do not increase with the multiplication of the greed and ignorance intrusted with the management of an important and difficult enterprise. Forty millions of despots under the hierarchy of other despots trying to force thirty millions of subjects under the same debasing rule, to live a life not their own and to contribute money to a use they have no interest in, is just as much a form of feudalism as the government of a Bourbon prince or of a council of Spartan ephors. It is just as certain to evoke the same evils and stir up the same revolt that have overthrown every other despotism.
Ignored as this truth has been and still is in speculation and practice, it has been tacitly recognized and acted upon. That is why the tyranny of the majority has been branded as no better than the tyranny of the minority; why publicists from Aristotle to Mill and Spencer have declaimed against its perils; why so much has been done in contravention of the belief that progress is to be sought through an increase of these perils; why scheme after scheme for the selection of representatives, for the restriction of legislatures, for the appointment of officials, and for the prevention of extravagance and fraud, have been invented; why every one of them has failed, and must inevitably fail. The virtue of human wit is not greater than the virtue of human character. A system of regulation can not be devised that will not yield to some plan to subvert it. "If, in Greece," says Polybius, describing an experience constantly duplicated in modern democracies, "the state intrusts to any one only a talent, and if it has ten checking clerks, and as many seals, and twice as many witnesses, it can not insure his honesty." But with character any political system will work; without it, none. When, however, human nature has grown perfect—that is to say, when civilization has reached its goal—political government will have ceased, and the only government will be that of self, or conscience. Such government will suffice to prevent the aggressions that philanthropists and statesmen strive in vain to suppress. It will also permit the fullest liberty, the highest development, and the greatest happiness both for the individual and for the race. "Not to crush minorities under the majority, the individual under centralization, liberty under equality," says Boudrillart, stating the problem thus solved, "that is the destiny of democracy."
Nothing could be more indicative of the fact that democracy as a form of political government is only a form of despotism than the exhibition of certain traits otherwise inexplicable and absurd. As the heir of the irresponsible one and the few, it arrogates to itself their attributes of divinity, and like them exacts from its subjects a slavish homage and obedience. Although Aristotle said that in a democracy "a people knowing itself to be king assumes all his pretensions," the truth has yet to be learned and acted upon. "The modes of addressing the multitude," writes Maine, after describing democracy a second time as monarchy inverted, "are the same as the modes of addressing kings." "O king, live forever," said the Oriental courtier as he approached his irresponsible master. "The voice of the people is the voice of God," cries the courtier of democracy. "Your ascent to power," exclaims an American Bossuet, addressing the Grand Monarch of the New World, "proceeded as uniformly and majestically as the laws of being, and was as certain as the decrees of eternity." How the obsequious practices of despotic states have been revived under popular government has not escaped the attention of Mr. Godkin. "In talking on such subjects as the currency with a view of enlightening the people," he says, "skillful orators are very careful to repudiate all pretense of knowing anything more about the matter than their hearers." But they must do more than that; they must represent their hearers as omniscient. "When," said an orator in the last presidential campaign, discussing the most complex of political issues, "I see a person who says it is too difficult for the people, I find some one who says it is too deep for him. No question is too deep for the people." Had any sycophant of Nero's time pretended to more knowledge than the tyrant himself, he would have lost his life. In these days of humane societies, however, the penalty is less severe but not less summary. Howls of derision and certain defeat await the suitor for popular favor that neglects to burn the incense so pleasing to the many, and dares to say that they not only do wrong but often do most grievous wrong; that universal suffrage, however lauded as a cure for political and social ills, never insures the choice of the most fit to rule; that there is a deal of ignorance and crime that masquerades under the name of democracy. As well might the scoffer at the divine right of kings or the infallibility of Popes two centuries ago have expected to be received with honor and cordiality at the Vatican or the palace of Versailles.
When the power of democracy is increased—that is, when government assumes more functions, thus emulating the "universal" parent of Sir Robert Filmer's political philosophy—the more despotic, intolerant, and barbarous it becomes. More offices and privileges are thrown into the political arena to be fought for. Party organization grows stronger, and party feeling more bitter and savage. The pursuit of politics becomes a form of civil war, giving rise to its ethics and its evils. Division of the people into hostile camps follows. Military discipline, transferred to civil life, is enforced. Leaders spring up to take command of the political organizations, the modern condottieri, always agents of crime and despotism. They fight campaigns as they would fight battles; and they fight them with no more principle than the lawless bands that plundered Italy and Spain at the close of the middle ages. If divided counsels are fatal in war, they are equally fatal in politics. Nothing, therefore, becomes more odious than independence in thought and action; and nothing is more sternly rebuked, and, if possible, severely punished. Only the utmost fidelity is approved, and rewarded with either appointments, or contracts, or legislative favors. The policy adopted is, not what is right, but what is expedient. The demoralizing principles of Jesuitism assume control, and the end, which is party triumph, is made to justify its achievement by any means. Hence, caucus tricks and crimes, convention intrigue and outrage, bribery and fraud at elections, and sophistry and falsehood in political discussion. Hence, the exclusion from public life of men that loathe these practices and refuse to sell their souls to the Mephistopheles of politics. Hence the dominance of men, including even the "scholar in politics," so quickly debased, that never hesitate to purchase power by the creation of offices or by the plunder of the rich. Hence the low tone, the scenes of violence, and the marked decadence of all legislative bodies in every part of the world.
No fine phrases of social or political speculation can mask the odium of the fact that the spirit of democracy, like that of other despotisms, is selfish and sordid. The truth is exploited in every work of history and politics. "The love of exercising power," says Buckle, drawing upon his vast knowledge, "has been found to be so universal that no class of men who have possessed authority have been able to avoid abusing it." Madison, who was a friend of democracy, thought the same. "Where there is an interest and a power to do wrong," he says, "wrong will generally be done, and not less readily by a powerful and interested party than by a powerful and interested prince." Maine, who was quite as friendly toward aristocracy, agrees with him. "Under the shelter of one government as of the other," he says, "all sorts of selfish interests breed and multiply, speculating on its weaknesses and pretending to be its servants, agents, and delegates." Even one of the most distinguished high priests of democracy does not pretend that it will be more unselfish than any other despotism. "Having forged an instrument for democratic legislation," says Mr. Labouchere, alluding to the establishment of universal suffrage, "we shall use it." To be sure, democracy does not propose to create hereditary privileges. It will continue to wage, as it has waged, relentless war against them, and will not cease until it has crushed them. But it creates privileges of its own not less odious nor less violative of the laws of political science and the rights of individuals. It permits its subjects to plunder one another as pitilessly as the barons of the Rhine. With the aid of duties and bounties, defended with the logic of philanthropy, manufacturers grow rich "beyond the dreams of avarice." Appealing to the same feudal argument, trades and professions gain possession of monopolies as despotic and intolerable as the mediæval corporations. Commissions, created to provide politicians with place and pelf, and duplicating the intendants of the old régime, threaten the destruction of that institution so famous in history and so dear to the American heart—local self-government. Even philanthropists, under the spell of a sympathy that eclipses their judgment, band themselves together to exercise an authority in the suppression of vivisection that will eventually subvert the freedom of science as well as the freedom of the community.
"The really alarming feature connected with the growth of democracy," says Mr. Godkin, apparently astonished at this natural and inevitable abuse of power, "is that it does not seem to make adequate provision for the government of this new world [of modern industry]. Its chief function, like the chief function of the monarchy which it has succeeded," he adds, showing an unconscious recognition of the cause of the evil, "is to fill offices." But what other form of despotism has ever made adequate provision for anything beyond the preservation of order and the prevention of aggression? Has not the government of the one tried it and—failed? Has not the government of the few tried it and—failed? Let the moral, intellectual, and industrial history of every country on the face of the earth answer. For centuries despotism, either autocratic or aristocratic, strove in the interest of self-preservation to regulate the beliefs of men. Even the portly volumes of Dr. White on The Warfare of Science scarcely suffice to record its incalculable harm. It made cowards, hypocrites, and martyrs. It drove virtuous and industrious populations from their homes, crippling forever Protestant France and the Spanish Netherlands. Never has it laid its fingers on any enterprise, whether its motives be greed or virtue, without blighting it like a plague, and summoning, like an evil spirit, all the malevolence that war has planted in the human heart. "The first inevitable consequence was," says Buckle, recounting its attempts to regulate trade, "that in every part of Europe there sprang into existence numerous and powerful gangs of smugglers, who lived by disobeying the laws which their ignorant rulers had imposed. These men, desperate from the fear of punishment, and accustomed to the commission of every crime, contaminated the surrounding population; introduced into peaceful villages vices formerly unknown; caused the ruin of entire families; spread, wherever they came, drunkenness, theft, and dissoluteness; and familiarized their associates with those coarse and swinish which were the natural habits of so vagrant and lawless a life." Most significantly does he add that with the abolition of the laws vanished the crimes and the criminals they had created. But the despotism of democracy has yielded no better fruit. "The public have seen law defied," says President Charles W. Eliot, describing the attempts to control the American liquor traffic in the interest of virtue; "a whole generation of habitual lawbreakers, schooled in evasion and shamelessness; courts ineffective through fluctuations of policy, delays, perjuries, negligencies, and other miscarriages of justice; officers of the law double-faced and mercenary, legislators timid and insincere, candidates for office hypocritical and truckling, and officeholders unfaithful to pledges and to reasonable public expectation."
"But," urges some philanthropic statesman, enamored of quackery for social and political ills, "is it not possible to frame laws with sufficient skill and to get them enforced with sufficient vigor to hasten human progress? Too intolerable altogether is it to await the slow pace of evolution." Intolerable though it be, it is far less so than the remedy urged, which was foredoomed from the first to inevitable disaster. It is a flagrant violation of the law of social and physical growth. The union of merit with benefit is as vital as the union of breath with life. The severance of the one is punished with the same certainty and severity as the severance of the other. Men must not be deprived of the fruits of their talents and toil; they must not be allowed to escape the penalties attached to ignorance and indolence. Protection against this law was. the inherent and destructive vice of the rule of the one and of the few; it is the vice also of the rule of the many. "When despotism," says Boudrillart, catching a glimpse of this truth, "becomes the régime of a nation, is it not its fatal law to revive favors and privileges, and to destroy equality for the benefit of the low and unworthy?" As if fresh from the study of the national, State, and municipal governments of the United States, Maine replies in the affirmative. "When the ingenious legislator," he says, "had counted on producing a nation of self-denying and somewhat sentimental patriots, he finds that he has created a people of Jacobins or a people of slaves." Necessarily is it so. Self-interest, enlisted in behalf of the prostitution of public affairs, as must be the case under every form of despotism, can produce nothing but inefficiency and corruption. A powerful bureaucracy can only destroy the independence of a people and render them unfit to care for themselves. If they have not wholly lost spirit, any failure to give them relief from the woes they have been taught to charge to the government is certain to turn them into rioters and revolutionists. It did so in Greece and Rome; it did so in the Italian republics; it will do so in their modern successors.
Of the many "problems of democracy" that now vex the victims of social and political speculation, there is one at least that admits of solution. It is the utter unfitness of any class of people to exercise special dominion, even though they be "leading citizens" or distinguished philanthropists. The assumption that they are an unfailing depository of virtue to be graciously and mysteriously diffused among the poor and ignorant, so generally regarded as the greatest peril of modern democracy, is another astonishing delusion. To expose it, I shall not appeal to the lives of fighting ecclesiastics that led armies to slaughter, thus violating the gospel of peace, and practiced in private and public the current morals, nor to the lives of the philosophers and statesmen that befogged the interests of the people with sophistry and falsehood and gave themselves up to vice and crime, I can not hope to deepen the significance of the pleas of apologists that they were simply the creatures of their age, obedient only to its code of ethics. I call attention rather to history more recent and impressive—to the history of the day, which discloses a divergence quite as profound between preaching and practice. It shows that, as the morals of every class are molded by the same forces, they are very much alike. Inspect, for example, those of the wreckers of banks and railroads, and of the promoters of fraudulent enterprises. Are they better than those of the burglar or thief? Inspect, also, those of the "influential citizens" that intrigue and bribe for municipal contracts and privileges. Do they differ from those of the ward heelers that conspire for places they are not fitted to fill, or of the public officials that peddle protection to gamblers and harlots? Inspect, again, those of the illiterate and impoverished "gang" that flock to a State Legislature to become the chartered pilferers of some metropolis. Are they worse than those of the more intelligent and prosperous "gang" that besiege the national Legislature for a similar purpose on a greater scale? Inspect, finally, those of the people that revel in books on a Corsican barbarian, in series of articles hideous with the atrocities of war, and in newspapers reeking with vulgarity and crime; that hear without a shudder of the annual slaughter of victims more numerous than the Greeks of the Anabasis; that preach rancor and revenge toward a kindred nation that has their own institutions and their own love of freedom; that show contempt for the law of nations in their reckless clamor for the recognition of insurgents that have no status as belligerents; that lust after the territory of a primitive people and applaud the conspirators that rob them of their rights; that join with others to crush the native government of harmless tribes of South Sea islanders; that hide behind the dazzling shield of "manifest destiny" colossal schemes of aggression all over the world, and prepare for them with lavish expenditures upon a powerful navy and a vast system of coast fortifications. Yet it is supposed that a people thus tainted from top to bottom with the ethics of feudal barbarism may be trusted with their brother's keeping—that he can have no possible need of the kindly attention of a good Samaritan.
From democracy as a form of political government no more need be expected than from any other despotism. Like the government of the one and of the few, the government of the many tends to crystallize society and to thwart its growth. Every law to restrict freedom and every official appointed to enforce it are steps toward a fixity of structure that will cramp and deform social life and divest it of variety or interest. Already this tendency toward a rigid bureaucracy, with its moral perversion and industrial paralysis, has become painfully manifest. The centralization of the Federal Government, which set in so irresistibly with the civil war, has spread like a pest to the State and municipal governments, which wield an authority over the individual far in excess of the fears of the fathers. The same spirit has entered political parties and reduced them to powerful mechanisms almost military in perfection and despotism. It has seized upon the laboring man and capitalist, and arrayed them in bitter enmity and bloody conflict. It has reached the trades and professions, and developed in them the most odious traits of intolerance and monopoly. It has invaded social life even. There it has created a multitude of organizations with an exclusive and aggressive temper and a feudal love of pretension and show. When a nation falls, like another priest of Apollo, into the strangling coils of such a system of organization, every part of which is made firm and unyielding by some law in violation of right or in concession of privilege, it has reached the limit of evolution. Immobile and unprogressive, its people, grown greedy, deceitful and barbarous, lose the capacity to think or to care for themselves. The Government, also become depraved and incapable, degenerates into a huge machine to oppress and exploit. Thus a free democracy is turned into a Roman or Bourbon despotism that only a shock like an irruption of barbarians or a terrific explosion like a great revolution can awaken and rescue from the lethargy of death.
But from democracy as a condition of freedom under moral control, every achievement within the reach of human effort may be expected. Under its régime society remains fluent and mobile, ready to assume the countless forms that meet the ever-changing needs of human life. There is no interference with either the law of evolution, which is left to work its miracles, nor with the law that merit shall be the measure of benefit. Subjected to their powerful stimulus, the individual, neither cramped nor plundered by an ignorant and greedy bureaucratic despotism, is impelled to make the most of his talents and opportunities. He is free to struggle and experiment with himself and with the world in every direction. Not protected from the evils of his blunders by an unwise philanthropy nor deprived of the fruits of his successes by confiscatory taxes, he learns to avoid the one and to strive for the other. What is beyond his own achievement he induces his fellows to help him achieve. Whether the object be one of personal profit or public benefit, that alone is the true method. It is the method that will enable men to execute the most important commercial enterprises, like the construction of canals and railroads, and to work out the weightiest moral reforms, like the abolition of intemperance and the mitigation of cruelty. It was the method of the founders of the great religious orders of the middle ages; it is the method of the founders of the great church and secular societies of to-day. The modern industrial system, unparalleled in history, had the same origin. Not only without the aid of statesmen, but often hampered and almost crushed by their vicious meddling, its founders have turned forests and deserts into farms and gardens, covered continents and seas with lines of transportation, and filled cities with markets, banks, and exchanges. Thus are avoided the evils of every form of despotism. There is no longer the incentive to practice the ethics of war. No one is forced to surrender his liberty without consent, or to part with his property except by gift or contract. Nor is he obliged to change his thought or mode of life at any behest but that of persuasion and conviction.
Whatever power may be needed beyond the conscience of men to control their conduct will be that of rational public opinion. As a matter of fact, it is the only power at any stage of social progress that has validity or efficacy. Without it neither the autocrat nor the democrat can command the slightest allegiance. But no truth is more persistently and disastrously ignored. Although public opinion can make dissent from a Hebrew myth or from a rule of evening dress more culpable than the deception of a customs collector or a tax official, modern social reformers put their faith in a power that has no authority without it. Instead of appealing to Cæsar himself, who alone wields the scepter, they appeal to Cæsar's slaves, who obey his will and incline to his vices. But every act of a legislator that abridges a right or confers a privilege twists the convictions and perverts the morals of every person affected. As this despotism grows, no matter what name it bears, public opinion becomes more depraved and less fitted to be the arbiter of social welfare. It sets up false standards of belief and conduct. In the end it will justify bribery and plunder, as during the degradation of the Swiss, and even assassination, as after the collapse of the Italian republics. Thus, without banishing the devils of freedom, the reformers, moved to such endless efforts to keep swept and garnished, evoke only the devils of despotism, which are immeasurably more ferocious and destructive.