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Art. 8.-MODERN DEMOCRACIES.
1. Modern Democracies. By James Viscount Bryce. Two vols. Macmillan, 1921.
THIS is a marvellous book to have been written by a man of eighty-three, as fresh, clear, and vigorous as anything which the author set down when, more than fifty years ago, he opened a new aspect of mediæval history to most English readers in his famous 'Holy Roman Empire.' And this, his last book, is as useful as his first, because it helps in just the same way to define and clarify phrases, words, and ideas, which most men use as common currency without having thought out accurately their own conceptions expressed in those common terms. 'Republic,' 'monarchy,' 'constitution,' 'equality,' 'justice,' 'religion,' often have different meanings to different men, who fall into dispute because they fail to comprehend that they are not speaking of precisely the same things. Democracy, the catchword of this book's title, is one of the most perilous terms of all, because it has acquired in some countries associations of a social-indeed, almost of a moralcharacter, which do not accrue to it in others.
'Democracy (Lord Bryce explains) is supposed to be the product and guardian both of Equality and of Liberty, being so consecrated by its relationship to both as to be almost above criticism. Historically, no doubt, the three have been intimately connected-yet they are separable in theory, and have sometimes been separated in practice.'
The object of this great book is to strip democracy of its casual accretions of meaning, to discover its essential connotation, and, when it has been defined, to examine its strength and its weakness. Lord Bryce attacks the problem, as he himself owns, from the standpoint of an old British Liberal, reared in the atmosphere of Victorian party politics; but he is fully conscious that in some degree he is a prejudiced observer for that reason. He warns his readers of the fact, and once and again refrains from comment where the personal element must influence his outlook on British policy. He would have preferred, as he says in his introductory chapter, that
the deductions as to the working of democracy in the United Kingdom should have been made by a French or an American student of world-history.
We are bound to concede that he has made a strenuous and successful effort to curb his personal and national bias, that no one could call the book a piece of party propaganda, and that there is no attempt whatever to cloke the faults and failings of democracy. Indeed, many readers, British and American, of the more idealistic sort, will complain that they have been 'smitten in the house of a friend,' that the picture of the developments of modern democracy is in many ways depressing. The author seems to slip into the position of one defending an imperilled cause, without that bold and absolute confidence in its inevitable triumph which every Liberal would have felt in the 19th century. The key-notes of his final chapters are not enthusiastic pæans in praise of the virtues of democracy, as might have been expected; but two very sober thoughts-Is there any other form of government which can do better for the world than democracy? And if democracy be ruled a failure, what remains for the future of mankind? (¤, 584). 'If the light of democracy be turned into darkness, how great is that darkness!'
The search for the essential meaning of democracy has to be made on a very broad survey. Lord Bryce sweeps his eye round all the states in which the fact or the theory of popular government has prevailed, from ancient Athens to 20th-century Chile and New Zealand. And when his enormous topic has been dealt with in chronological and regional divisions, there emerges a full logical analysis of the conceptions which contribute to, or issue from, the democratic ideal. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, the old republican watch-words, are treated in a few chapters of close thinking, which fill the reader with unbounded gratitude to the author who has dared to compress so much theory into so small a compass.
Lord Acton, as all men know, started out to write a history of the conception of Liberty, and failed to complete his task, because he tried to read every book bearing on human political thought which had ever been written. After fifty years he had not even formulated on paper a general outline of his conclusions.
The mere sight of the library which that great scholar accumulated to assist his researches explained sufficiently why those researches ended in nothing real. Hence the gratitude of the student to Lord Bryce, who has had the vigour and self-restraint to attempt the possible and the definite, and to produce chapters of moderate length, packed from end to end with historical deductions and illustrations. They can be mastered in a few hours, yet may serve as introductions to illimitable fields of inquiry. The twenty-two pages which deal with Liberty and Equality could hardly be bettered.
The system by which Lord Bryce attacks his subject is, of course, the 'Comparative Method,' and, in particular, what John Stuart Mill called, in his Logic, 'the joint method of agreement and difference.' When a general survey has been taken of all the democratic states, and allowance has been made for the varying conditions under which each worked, there will be a residuum of common experiences.
After the differences between one popular government and another have been accounted for, the points of similarity which remain will be what we may call democratic human nature, viz. the normal or permanent habits and tendencies of citizens living in a democracy, and of a democratic community as a whole. This is what we set out to discover' (1, 21).
It would be an endless task to draw up a mere list of democratic constitutions of all ages, after the fashion of the lost Book of Constitutions which Aristotle once compiled, and of which the section on Athens alone survives. What Lord Bryce has done is to select seven typical modern communities living, or purporting to live, under democratic conditions; he has examined the internal working of each-not merely its legislative or judicial organisation, but its press, its political parties, its attitude to religion and morality, its public opinion, its dealings with education, science, and art. They are then compared with each other, and with the ancient republics of the classical world-of which Athens is, of course, taken as the most convenient example, because we know so much more about it (thanks to Thucydides,
Aristophanes, and Plato) than about any of its contemporary states. The results of the comparison emerge in the weighty third part' of the book, which summarises the evidence and draws the conclusionsconclusions, as we have said above, not too cheerful for the enthusiastic admirer of modern progress. The fine flush of 19th-century idealism has passed; there remains only the reasoned conviction that, all forms of government having defects, those of democracy are less ruinous than those of autocracy, oligarchy, and bureaucracy-not to speak of Bolshevism, which combines all the worst failings of the other three. The general conclusion is not far off that at which Aristotle arrived two thousand two hundred and fifty years ago, when he ruled that a corrupt autocracy was worse than a corrupt oligarchy, and a corrupt oligarchy worse than a corrupt democracy, the last being the least hurtful of the three.*
The seven modern state-groups whose internal conditions Lord Bryce has analysed for us, having personally visited every one of them, are Latin America, France, Switzerland, the Dominion of Canada, the United States, the Australian Commonwealth, and New Zealand.
Latin America can in a large measure be ruled out of the discussion, for, although the states call themselves republics, and pretend to work under elaborate democratic conditions, the majority of them are constitutional shams or impostures. The tropical group from Mexico downwards are really what an ancient Greek would have called tyrannies,' governed in fact by presidents and their pretorian guards.
'Military talent, or even fierce and ruthless energy without talent, brought men to the front, and made them, under the title of president, irresponsible dictators. This state of
things has lasted down to our own day in most of the twenty republics-though of course in varying degrees. . . . Whether better or worse, however, and by whatever name the governments of these states are called, none of them is a democracy' (II, 215).
* Politics,' IV, § 2.
Nor, for the matter of that, is Brazil, where presidents, indeed, bulk less large, but owing to the hopeless ignorance of a parti-coloured proletariate,
'the republic is in fact an oligarchy not of land-owning families, like that of Chile, but of such among the richer citizens, whether landlords, or heads of industrial, financial, and commercial enterprises, as choose to occupy themselves in politics' (I, p. 224).
About the moral of Latin America there is no question, says Lord Bryce. Do not give a people institutions for which it is unripe, in the simple faith that the tool will give skill to the workman's hand. Respect facts; man is in each country not what we wish him to be, but what nature and history have made him. Despite the heart-breaking example of Mexico, which has relapsed into complete anarchy after the fall of that capable despot, Porfirio Diaz, the commentator is not quite hopeless. Some states, like Argentina and Chile, have attained respectability and good internal governance. More may follow. Those who understand what South America was under the old Spanish Viceroys, and what she was when she emerged from her long struggle for independence, will not despond of her future.' But one must not go there in search of true democracy.
The bloodstained annals of Latin America may not be edifying; on the other hand, they cannot be called dull. But those of Switzerland, the nearest approach to an ideal republic that the world can show, are edifying in the highest degree, but dull beyond compare. Happy, as the cynic said, is the land that has no history-and, from the point of view of the writer of drum-andtrumpet chronicles, Switzerland has had no history since the Sonderbund War of 1848. Her citizens, intelligent, public-spirited, progressive, yet cautious, have managed her affairs with the minimum of friction. The constitutional specialist knows her mainly as the motherland of those two modern democratic experiments, the Referendum and the so-called 'Initiative,' viz. the right of a prescribed number of the citizens to propose the passing of any enactment by popular vote. In Switzerland herself those devices have been worked with the moderation and good sense that characterise Swiss