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theory; and men of “advanced opinions” believe that the day for its application to public matters, in most western countries at least, has already come. Theoretically, of course, the two doctrines are essentially at variance, since they start from opposite data: practically it is not absolutely inevitable that they should clash. The ground of reconciliation—half reconciliation, half compromise—may be reached when the majority in a sagacious nation choose wise kings and honest nobles to rule them, and men of leisure and of culture to legislate for them, and when these are virtuous and enlightened. enough to study the interests of the nation and the masses in preference to their own. This, however, is the ideal condition, which no one is optimist enough to believe we have already reached. We aim at it, however—perhaps we approximate towards it; some dreamers think that we come very near to it in England.
We have said that the democratic theory, as well as the aristocratic or autocratic one, is as a theory logically defensible, if not unassailable and obviously sound, when the main premiss is obtained. But both theories have their weak places—the points on which practically they break down; and, curiously enough, the weak places are analogous in each. They have long been perceived in the one case, but not in the other; and it is this last that we write this paper for the purpose of pointing out. The weak point in the aristocratic theory is that it is very difficult, on any hereditary or autocratic system, to secure that it shall be the wisest, best, most capable who do govern; that we shall get the right men to the head of affairs; or that, when there, we shall be able to rely upon their ruling for the interests of the country at large, and not for their own special behoof. So clearly has this been seen, and so fully has it been exemplified, that it is the real reason for which the theory itself has fallen into discredit, and been so often and generally discarded among progressive nations. The analogous weak place in the rival doctrine equally undeniable, equally fatal, perhaps equally incurable—if it has not quite escaped detection, has at least not hitherto been adequately signalized or often recognised. The theory affirms, that when a nation has reached a certain stage of advance and education, the majority of the people are competent to govern, or to determine the form and direction and to choose the instruments of government; and that, being the majority, they ought to have their own way. The fact is that in no democracy does the majority of citizens thus choose or govern, any more than in an aristocracy; that often the more democratic the form of constitution the less are choice and rule really and truly in the hands of the majority; and that, if this be so, the very basis and main premiss at the root of the democratic theory breaks down.
And is it not so ? Must not the whole practical machinery of
modern political action be widely altered before it ceases to be so ? And when it shall have ceased to be so, will not the character and condition of a people have become so disciplined and advanced that almost any rule will be easy and be suitable? The plain truth is, that democracies, just like aristocracies—perhaps more than aristocracies—have a perpetual, nearly irresistible, tendency to degenerate into oligarchies. Politics, though an exciting, is a troublesome and a busy game, and requires devotion, experience, trained skill. The many,
in every state, are too poor and too. hard-worked to do more than rush into it occasionally ; the few are always at it. The few, therefore, the active politicians, the professional electioneers, get the matter speedily into their own hands, speak for the masses and tell them how to speak; think for them, lead them and mislead them ; organize their action, direct their votes. It must always be so, and it would seem as if it must be more and more so just in proportion to the width of the democratic basis. Even in the most popular and primitive cantons in the east of Switzerland, where the whole body of inhabitants meet in the open air to vote their laws and to elect their magistrates, it is always an active few, a “caucus,” in fact, who prepare the resolutions, canvass, and instruct or persuade the electors, propose the candidates—do the work, in short. In our own trades' unions, how rarely do the masses of workmen exercise any influence, form or uphold any opinion, decide any important matter! There is too little individual thought or volition among them, and that little is rarely courageous, is never organized, and, therefore, is always feeble and inoperative. They vote as they are bid, and strike when they are told. They follow the multitude, thinking they are going with the majority, when in truth often half that majority are ignorant or reluctant, and are merely obeying, probably unconsciously, the impulse given them by a small, often unwise, sometimes selfish and dishonest clique. There is, perhaps, no such thorough oligarchy as that often to be found among trades' unions. In America, the land of democracy par excellence, whose democracy is possibly more real than elsewhere, because the level of instruction, capacity, and means among the people is more uniform—in the Union as in States, in Congress as in local assemblies, in national as in municipal politics—the management of affairs has fallen into the hands of a regular and a notoriously low profession, of men who make a business of mal-administration, of perhaps the most recklessly dishonest oligarchs on earth; legislation, as well as elections, is contracted for. The nation among nations, with probably the greatest future before it if not great yet, has suffered its politics to be governed and coloured by a small and disreputable minority, and only on very grave occasions, when serious danger is imminent, and
after infinite mischief has been done, does the real sound-hearted, rational majority of the people—the shareholders, as it were, among the infamous directors—step in to veto the last folly, and send the daily, ordinary, standing rascals to the right-about. The facts are notorious and deplorable; and the most graphic illustration of the state of things is presented when vigilance committees, representing the preoccupied, busy, poco-curante, respectable majority, have to be organized to sweep away or lynch the judges, sheriffs, police officers, who have been nominated by a knot of harpies and malefactors in the name of the abstinent and passively conniving masses.
In France, again—which, under the late empire was a virtual democracy, genuine enough, though of a different nuance—the same fact was obvious to all, and, indeed, was openly avowed. Universal suffrage was there so manipulated by working partly on the ignorance and partly on the fears and prejudices of the multitude, as to return whatever answer a few experienced and skilful officials, acting in obedience to a central will, might desire. The Emperor was elected by an overwhelming majority in the first instance, and very recently that election was re-confirmed by a majority only a trifle less decisive; but how many of those eight millions exercised a deliberate and intelligent, or even a distinctly individual opinion in the vote they gave? Probably, if we could trace out the pedigree of the contents of each ballot-box, we should find that ten thousand men, or even fewer, did all the thinking, all the actual independent volition, for the whole people.
Something of the same sort, though very modified and possibly very distant, looms before us in England. The larger the constituencies the more necessary will committees and experienced electioneers be found to organize and wield them. The more ignorant they are, the more certain they are to listen to and obey the few who will take the trouble to influence and get hold of “what they are pleased to call their minds.” The wider the democracy, the more need of organization. The whole course of history shows us the superior efficiency—i.e., the superior real power-of an organized and active few over an unorganized and inactive many. The mass have an interest in peace; but the few find a vast profit to their purses or a sweet comfort to their passions in war, and as the few rule unless the mass rouses itself, or till it rouses itself, which is usually too late, war comes upon a nation unwilling and unawares. The majority has an interest in economy; but the interest of the few in expenditure is so incomparably more intense and vivid because more concentrated, that democracies are proverbially spendthrift. Now, the reason why the few—an oligarchy properly so called, and an oligarchy often of the worst kind- are more sure to bear sway in
a democracy than in a state where the nobles or the educated classes predominate, is this :That in the latter cases a far larger proportion of the real citizens take an interest and are qualified to take a part in politics; that, being more instructed and enlightened, the interest they take is more continuous; and that, being more independent in mind, their individual volition is far more courageous and influential. Democracy, therefore, in nine cases out of ten-and this is the truth we are desirous to impress—is not the rule of the majority of the people, but is, first, the rule of a smaller number in proportion to that majority; and, secondly, is likely to be the rule of a positively inferior order of intelligence and public virtue, than in states where the basis of citizenship is less extended.
Whether the numerical majority in any nation—even if the real wishes and opinions of that majority could be faithfully ascertained unbiassed by the manipulation of the few—ought to decide the policy and legislation of that nation, is a wholly different and deeper question, too wide to be entered upon here. It is said that every man has a right to a voice as to how and by whom he is to be governed. The theoretical claim may be admitted, but its practical exercise involves a very different matter—namely, the claim to decide how and by whom his fellow-citizens shall be governed ; and this can only be righteously conceded to proved or presumable capacity. Every man may be entitled to govern himself,-only the fairly wise and good, the competent, in a word, can be held entitled to govern, or to take part in or determine the government of others.
W. R. GREG.
FOUR years have elapsed since
the public mind in this country
first became directed to the military system of Prussia. The rapidity and completeness with which in 1866 a great army was placed on a war footing, and enabled to commence hostilities, set many pens in motion, conveying information respecting the character of the Prussian military service, the number and organization of the forces. If surprise at the shortness of time in which Prussia invaded Bohemia and overthrew an Austrian army was then great, still greater surprise and admiration have latterly been expressed at the new proofs of power displayed by Prussia and the confederate German States that have accepted her military system, in rapidly moving vast and well-appointed hosts to the frontiers of France, and inflicting crushing defeats on the armies of that country—believed by many till of late to be the finest in Europe. It may be mentioned here in . regard to Prussian military organization, that although, after the declaration of war by France, a fortnight was allowed for mobilizing the Landwehr, yet ten of these days were granted the men for arranging their private affairs previous to entering upon a campaign.
The admiration and respect usually attending success have in this country been freely bestowed on the Prussian arms. One of the causes of our admiration has been the opinion—to use the words of a