Human Nature In Politics
At first sight the main controversy as to the best form of government appears to have been finally settled in favour of representative democracy. Forty years ago it could still be argued that to base the sovereignty of a great modern nation upon a widely extended popular vote was, in Europe at least, an experiment which had never been successfully tried. England, indeed, by the 'leap in the dark' of 1867, became for the moment the only large European State whose government was democratic and representative. But to-day a parliamentary republic based upon universal suffrage exists in France without serious opposition or protest. Italy enjoys an apparently stable constitutional monarchy. Universal suffrage has just been enacted in Austria. Even the German Emperor after the election of 1907 spoke of himself rather as the successful leader of a popular electoral campaign than as the inheritor of a divine right. The vast majority of the Russian nation passionately desires a sovereign parliament, and a reactionary Duma finds itself steadily pushed by circumstances towards that position. The most ultramontane Roman Catholics demand temporal power for the Pope, no longer as an ideal system of world government, but as an expedient for securing in a few square miles of Italian territory liberty of action for the directors of a church almost all of whose members will remain voting citizens of constitutional States. None of the proposals for a non-representative democracy which were associated with the communist and anarchist movements of the nineteenth century have been at all widely accepted, or have presented themselves as a definite constructive scheme; and almost all those who now hope for a social change by which the results of modern scientific industry shall be more evenly distributed put their trust in the electoral activity of the working classes. And yet, in the very nations which have most whole-heartedly accepted representative democracy, politicians and political students seem puzzled and disappointed by their experience of it. The United States of America have made in this respect by far the longest and most continuous experiment. Their constitution has lasted for a century and a quarter, and, in spite of controversy and even war arising from opposing interpretations of its details, its principles have been, and still are, practically unchallenged. But, as far as an English visitor can judge, no American thinks with satisfaction of the electoral 'machine' whose power alike in Federal, State, and Municipal politics is still increasing. In England not only has our experience of representative democracy been much shorter than that of America, but our political traditions have tended to delay the full acceptance of the democratic idea even in the working of democratic institutions. Yet, allowing for differences of degree and circumstance, one finds in England among the most loyal democrats, if they have been brought into close contact with the details of electoral organisation, something of the same disappointment which has become more articulate in America. I have helped to fight a good many parliamentary contests, and have myself been a candidate in a series of five London municipal elections. In my last election I noticed that two of my canvassers, when talking over the day's work, used independently the phrase, 'It is a queer business.' I have heard much the same words used in England by those professional political agents whose efficiency depends on their seeing electoral facts without illusion. I have no first-hand knowledge of German or Italian electioneering, but when a year ago I talked with my hosts of the Paris Municipal Council, I seemed to detect in some of them indications of good-humoured disillusionment with regard to the working of a democratic electoral system.