Ethics of Democracy

Part 6, Democratic Government
Chap. 5, Trial by Jury

Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

- Speech at Gettysburg; by Abraham Lincoln

Many politicians of our time are in the habit of laying it down as a self-evident proposition, that no people ought to be free till they are fit to use their freedom. The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story who resolved not to go into the water till he had learnt to swim.

- Essay on Milton by Macaulay

I will have never a noble,
No lineage counted great;

Fishers and choppers and ploughmen
Shall constitute a state.

"Boston Hymn," by Ralph Waldo Emerson

So long as a single one amongst your brothers has no vote to represent him in the development of the national life, so long as there is one left to vegetate in ignorance where others are educated, so long as a single man, able and willing to work, languishes in poverty through want of work to do, you have no country in the sense in which country ought to exist - the country of all and for all.

- On the Duties of Man by Mazzini

I charge thee, Love, set not my aim too low;
If through the cycling ages I have been
A partner in thy ignorance and sin,

So through the centuries that ebb and flow

I must, with thee, God's secrets seek to know.
Whate'er the conflict, I will help to win
Our conquest over foes without - within -

And where thou goest, beloved, I will go.

Set no dividing line between the twain
Whose aim and end are manifestly one;

Whate'er my loss, it cannot be thy gain
Wedded the light and heat that make Life's sun.

Not thine the glory and not mine the shame.

We build the world together in one Name.

'The New Eve to the Old Adam," by - Annie L. Muzzey, in Harper's Magazine

O blood of the people! changeless tide, through century, creed and race!

Still one as the sweet salt sea is one, though tempered by sun and

The same in the ocean currents, and the same in the sheltered

Forever the fountain of common hopes and kindly sympathies;

Indian and Negro, Saxon and Celt, Teuton and Latin and Gaul-

Mere surface shadow and sunshine; while the sounding unifies all!

One love, one hope, one duty theirs! No matter the time or ken,

There never was separate heart-beat in all the races of men!

But alien is one - of class, not race - he has drawn the line for himself;

His roots drink life from inhuman soil, from garbage of pomp and pelf;

His heart beats not with the common beat, he has changed his life-stream's hue;

He deems his flesh to be finer flesh, he boasts that his blood is blue:

Patrician, aristocrat, tory - whatever his age or name,

To the people's rights and liberties, a traitor ever the same.

The natural crowd is a mob to him, their prayer a vulgar rhyme;

The freeman's speech is sedition, and the patriot's deed a crime.

Wherever the race, the law, the land, - whatever the time, or throne,

The tory is always a traitor to every class but his own.

Thank God for a land where pride is clipped, where arrogance stalks apart;

Where law and song and loathing of wrong are words of the common heart;

Where the masses honor straightforward strength, and know, when veins are bled,

That the bluest blood is putrid blood - that the people's blood is red.

- "Crispus Attucks," by John Boyle O'Reilley

Patricians and plebeians, aristocrats and democrats, have alike stained their hands with blood in the working out of the problem of politics. But impartial history declares also that the crimes of the popular party have in all ages been the lighter in degree, while in themselves they have more to excuse them; and if the violent acts of revolutionists have been held up more conspicuously for condemnation, it has been only because the fate of noblemen and gentlemen has been more impressive to the imagination than the fate of the peasant or the artisan.

- Froude's Caesar, Ch. VIII.

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The Ethics of Democracy

by Louis F. Post

Part 6, Democratic Government
Chapter 6, Imperialism

WHEN Rome passed from republic to empire the name of king had the detested significance in the Roman mind that both king and emperor have now in the American. Frankly to have proposed a king would have been as fatal to Roman imperialism then, as frankly to propose an emperor would be to American imperialism now. To thrice refuse the kingly crown, whether sincerely or not, was the best of Roman politics. Yet the Roman republic was strangled by the Roman empire, and there was no king. The title of "imperator," which the Caesars adopted, was but a common expression of republican authority, as innocent in Roman thought as "manager" is in American thought.

Nor could any one at that time have told where and when the republic ended and the empire began. The transition was effected by a series of departures from old standards and old ideals, each of which commended itself to superficial observation as being in the interest of the republic. No imperial policy was deliberately proposed. Probably none was dreamed of even by the Roman imperialists themselves. But more or less unconsciously they 'turned the current of events toward imperialism. We know how the current of a great river in the bottoms may be turned by small cuttings into the bank at a bend. The analogy holds true to Roman history. In times of stress masterful ambitions prevailed in the settlement of temporary issues, until at last an imperial current had broken through the republican banks at a bend and torn out a channel for itself. There was no conscious setting up of an empire to take the place of the republic, but the empire came.

It is always so. When a people are about to pass from freedom to tyranny, nobody shouts from the housetops: "Hurrah, boys! Let's change our freedom for tyranny!" Probably nobody desires the change, and only a few suspect the tendency. What happens is this: Things that really make for tyranny, but which are supposed to be desirable in themselves, are done regardless of what they may lead on to; and one step following another the time comes when succeeding generations are awakened by sore experience to the fact that the freedom their fathers had is gone. "The greatest changes," says James Bryce, "are often those introduced with the least notion of their consequence, and the most fatal those which encounter least resistance."

The history of republics furnishes a never-failing admonition to us that our republic may pass into empire without exciting alarm by any of those outward indications with which securely established empires advertise their power. The price of liberty is now, as it always has been and always must be, eternal vigilance.

The essential characteristic of empire, in the objectionable sense of the term, is absolutism. Whether or not absolute power be administered benevolently, makes no difference. The evil is in the power itself; not in the nature or manner of its administration. Benevolent absolutism is, indeed, the most fruitful seed of tyranny. Let absolutism begin malignantly, and a people accustomed to freedom recognize it for what it is, and rising up in their might put it down. But let it begin benevolently, and by the time the people see and feel the tyranny which is as natural to every species of absolutism as poison to a poison vine, they are powerless to resist its aggressions. The little finger of a small standing army is then stronger than the loins of the unorganized masses.

Neither is it important whether absolute power be centered in one man or in several. An empire ruled by an emperor, a Caesar, a king, a boss, a czar, a sultan, or whatever other title he may adopt, is not more intolerable than one ruled by an oligarchy. The true distinction, the only test distinction, turns not upon the number of despots or their benevolence, but upon the question of self-government or superimposed government. Whatever may be the titles of its administrators, the government that is at all times responsible to the people governed is a free government, while the government that governs without responsibility to the governed is imperial.

What made Rome a terrible empire was, at first, not despotism at home. So far as the heavy hand of tyrannical government concerned him, the Roman citizen was long as free under the empire as under the republic. As between citizens, there was under the empire a strict observance of justice, and for the protection of Roman citizens abroad the whole power of the empire was on call. But there was utter contempt for the rights of other peoples.

Long before she was known as an empire, while republican forms were unaltered and the republican spirit still seemed vital, Rome had set out to be a world power. In this ambition for universal dominion she succeeded; and as her sway extended she established colonies. They were of two sorts, "senatorial" and "imperatorial." The latter were governed absolutely from Rome, being colonies in which the "inferior" and subjugated peoples would have been dominant but for the armies of the empire that were quartered upon them; and though the former were self-governing to a degree, that was because, through Roman immigration and other influences, they had become submissive to the mistress whose decrees went forth from the banks of the Tiber. Superimposing her imperial government upon all, Rome held no relation of responsibility whatever to the governed in her colonies. From that moment, says Froude,* the days of her own self-government were numbered; and he points this moral for all time: "If there be one lesson," he writes,** "which history clearly teaches, it is this, that free nations cannot govern subject provinces. If they are unable or unwilling to admit their dependencies to share their own constitution, the constitution itself will fall in pieces from mere incompetence for its duties."

England has in modern times followed the ancient Roman example. Like Rome, she protects her citizens abroad with the ferocity of a she-bear defending her litter of cubs. But "inferior" peoples have no rights, as peoples, that she feels bound to respect. Again like Rome, she aspires to rule the world. In this she has been more successful than any other modern nation. Around the globe her drums alone beat a continuous reveille. And in imitation of Rome she has subjugated "inferior" peoples and attached them to her empire as colonies. Where the "inferior" peoples are in the ascendant her colonies are "crown" colonies, which correspond to the "imperatorial" colonies of Rome; but as the superior Anglo-Saxon immigrant secures dominion over the natives, privileges of self-government are extended and the colonies rise to the dignity of what Rome knew as colonies of the "senatorial" class.

Some of these have been granted a certain power of self-government which precludes England from holding them to her empire by arbitrary ties. Their loyalty to the mother country is no longer secured by imperial power emanating from Westminster; it is an imperial sentiment fostered within the colonies themselves - within the nations rather, for in all but name and international recognition the combined Provinces of the Canadian Dominion and the federated States of the Australian Commonwealth are independent units in the category of Anglo-Saxon sovereignties. They are essentially less the colonial dependencies of England than her military allies.

And it might almost be said that our own federal republic is becoming part of this allied group. It is at any rate following England's lead. Once a collection of British colonies, it made a successful struggle for independence, but after more than a century of bitterness toward Great Britain it has latterly been falling into line with her for an epoch of Anglo-Saxon empire.

That is the outward form that American imperialism assumes. With an international "understanding between statesmen," as a distinguished British cabinet minister approvingly phrased it, the American republic has been projected upon the same career of colonial empire that Great Britain copied from Rome. Receding from her traditional policy of government by consent, she is following the British lead and developing systems of colonial government without responsibility to the governed.

Looking backward, we can identify the beginning of this career of colonial imperialism with the American naval victory in Manila Bay. That event generated a dangerous ambition, the first published indication of which was authorized by the close personal friend and political confidant of President McKinley, only a few days after the Manila Bay battle. He said:***

"The President realizes, as we all realize, that the problem presented by the capture of the Philippines is the most important and most serious that confronts the administration and the country. To say what we will do is impossible at this time, but this much has been determined upon. We will take possession of the islands first, and discuss the disposition of them afterwards. Some sentimentalists seem imbued with the idea that we are going to give the islands back to Spain. It seems there is no probability of that. To retain them will, as the English newspapers have pointed out, necessitate a departure from the traditions of our government. Of course such a step is not to be taken hastily. In cursory talk among Republican leaders I find that there seems to be very little opposition, except on the idea that some day our system of Statehood might be extended to these outlying territories. I think nobody has any idea of doing that. When the time comes our policy will be made clear, to the effect that Statehood is to be restricted to the present limits of our nation, and is not to be extended to territory separated from the country, even when it is so close as Cuba. All these details can be settled when the time comes. It seems to me, and must be clear to everybody, that the United States are entering upon one of the most important crises of their existence."

In the light of subsequent events those words indicate either that imperial plans had already been roughly formulated, or that their author was a remarkable prophet. For this republic, following the example of Rome and Great Britain, has ever since been superimposing government upon "inferior" peoples; ostensibly for their own good, incidentally it may be for ours; but clearly against their will. This is the essence of empire, and its significance has been recognized and welcomed in high scholastic as well as political and commercial quarters. A famous American college professor and author**** has coupled the hostile ideas of republic and empire, and declared them harmonious. Had he written in Lincoln's day he would probably have foreseen none of the dangers Lincoln feared from a nation half free and half slave, for he has no fear for a nation half republic and half empire. In fact, he regards imperialism for America as inevitable, and opposition to it as "probably as futile as opposition to the trade wind or the storm." It is not with concern that he says this. He puts it forward as a reason for falling into line. His philosophy, in other words, is simply an elaboration of the fatalistic epigram that "Destiny determines duty." Believing it to be the destiny of our country to become a republic and an empire, he regards it as our duty to promote imperial policies.

This idea that destiny determines duty is not only fatalistic, it is atheistic. That is not to say that those who adopt it are atheists by intention or profession. They may attend church services with the regularity of deacons, or adore pietistic fetishes with the devotion of pagans. They may even be profoundly religious in personal life. But their social philosophy is nevertheless the philosophy of atheism. The hypothesis which makes destiny the standard of duty assumes that precisely such blind forces as wind and storm hold sovereign sway in social life. It entirely ignores the moral forces which are as capable of checking or diverting evil tendencies in society, as intellectual forces are of avoiding the dangers of the storm and making the wind an agency of service instead of destruction.

That there is a tendency to evil in the social world is true. Consequently there may be a tendency to imperialism. But that evil tendencies in society cannot be resisted or diverted by moral agencies and influences is not true. All evil tendencies in society are results of the influence upon it of evil choices made by individuals; and they may be diverted or subdued by the counteracting influence of righteous choices by individuals. It is thus within the power of every one to affect in some degree the trend of social development. According as he decides for or against the right, whenever his community comes to judgment upon a moral issue, so does he help to make its future. These decisions are the determining factors of history.

It is not a "good God, bad devil" world, this in which we live. There is no duality of person or force - good and bad - in eternal conflict. Neither is there a solitary beneficent person or force that instigates evil in order to produce good. This great conflict between good and evil in which we are floundering, is an unavoidable product of the individual faculty of choosing between good and evil - between the moral affirmative and the moral negative, between moral harmony and moral discord - with which man is endowed, and without which he could not be man. Out of that struggle so produced comes the great social force or tendency in social life which we recognize as evil and personify as the devil. Its development may be readily observed by following in thought the story of a human life.

Men at birth are wholly selfish. They care for nothing but self-gratification. With advancing maturity, this absorbing self-love gives way in greater or less degree to what in appearance if not in fact is love for others. The grown man, unlike the suckling babe or the toddling child, considers in some measure the comfort of his fellows even at the cost of discomfort to himself. He may do so merely because experience has taught him the wisdom, as matter of pure selfishness, of taking others into account; or he may do it because the inspiration of love has touched his heart and opened his understanding to a realization of the beneficent law of moral righteousness, which is so superbly phrased in the golden rule. But whichever may be his motive, selfishness will not be wholly expelled from his nature. In the one case it will not be even modified. Whoever is altruistic merely because experience or observation has taught him that it pays, is essentially as selfish as an Ishmaelite. In the other case, selfishness remains in degree. No man ever becomes so completely at one with justice, so perfectly in harmony with moral law, as to escape a daily battle between his righteous purposes and his selfish inclinations. There are, therefore, innumerable individual decisions against social righteousness.

In consequence of these individual decisions, there is an evil force in the social world. It consists in the spontaneous cooperation of individual selfishnesses. This is the force that makes for imperialism in all its forms. It is the force that supports aristocracy, plutocracy, oligarchies, monopolies and boss-ships. It is the force that maintains militarism and monopolies, and every other mode of selfish mastery by man over man. It is the force that once degraded Rome from republic to empire and brought on the Dark Ages, and that threatens now to make history repeat itself with the American republic in the place of the Roman. And this is the force which fatalists regard as inevitable and irresistible.

It is, indeed, inevitable. But it is not irresistible. In so far as individual men, in their social or public relations, choose the right for its own sake, evil social forces are resisted. When those forces prevail, it is because the social conscience is weak. Slavery cannot live a minute in a community where the dominant sentiment is truly vitalized by the spirit of human liberty. Imperialism could not raise its head if public opinion were inspired by the golden rule. Militarism would be an abhorrent spectre if the common conscience held human life sacred. Against devotion to the right because it is right, evil tendencies in society are impotent. And so tremendous is the expansive power of this righteous force that even a little of it accomplishes mighty things. The righteousness of only ten righteous men would have saved Gomorrah from destruction.

In contrast with the fatalistic philosophy of atheism, and its deadly maxim that "destiny determines duty," how infinitely exalted are the Christian standards of justice and their democratic corollaries. Tried by those tests, all imperialistic policies must be put aside.

By every principle of Christian government, it is a wicked assumption for any nation or any race to claim to have a commission to superimpose its authority upon "inferiors," for the regulation of their domestic affairs. This assumption derives all the plausibility it has from the fact that the self-styled "superior" peoples have superior force, and from nothing else. We are able to superimpose our authority upon "inferior" peoples, not because we are superior in any of the things that go to make men morally better or socially more useful, but solely because we are superior in the manipulation of coercive agencies. We are better than they "because we can lick 'em," as a rough and ready imperialist has put it. Reduced to its last analysis, then, the pretense that superior peoples have the moral right to superimpose their authority upon inferior peoples is a mere euphemism for the brutal proposition that the stronger have the moral right to subjugate the weaker.

That proposition is no truer of peoples than of individuals. If "superior" peoples have the right to govern "inferior" peoples, then it must be that "superior" individuals have the right to govern "inferior" individuals. And in the one case as in the other, the ultimate test of superiority must be superiority of physical power. Imperialists are entitled to full credit for consistency on this point. They do maintain, with more or less caution according to circumstances and their own disposition to be discreet, that the "inferior" members of a community should be governed by the "superior." This is what imperialism logically leads to. We cannot build up a system of imperialism for "inferior" peoples in colonies abroad, without sooner or later allowing our traditions of equal rights to be pulled down at home.

This notion that the "better" classes should govern, will not bear the slightest investigation. "Governmept by the best" has a seductive sound, but there is no substance to the conception. There is no way of picking out the best.

Education is not a test. Some of the best educated men are the most accomplished knaves, and others are the most consummate fools.

Property is no test. All have heard Franklin's story of the man who, having been allowed to vote at one election because he owned a jackass equal in value to the property qualification, but being denied the right at the next election because his "property qualification" had meanwhile died, innocently asked which had really voted the first time, himself or the jackass. This old-time anecdote unmasks the absurdity of property qualifications.

There might be a society, to be sure, in which property qualifications would afford a reasonable test of special fitness to participate in government. If everybody's wealth were the measure of his usefulness - if, that is, he could accumulate only in proportion to what he earned - his wealth would be some sort of index to the degree of his intelligence, sanity, civic loyalty, thrift, and so on. But we have no such society. The amount of a man's wealth to-day is as a rule an index only to his degree of cupidity, and to his shrewdness in playing in a predatory game.

Similar objections apply to every other test. To determine who shall administer government, only two effective ways can be conceived. One is to leave the decision to the governed; the other is to resort to force. "Government by the best," as distinguished from government by the governed, is nothing when examined but a discreetly phrased synonym for government by the strongest. It is the same idea with reference to local government as is imperialism with reference to colonial government. And to a realization of this idea the American people will surely come if they allow the current of imperialistic tendencies to get beyond their control.

Any discussion of imperialistic tendencies would be incomplete without some reference to the influence in promoting them of the belief that by this means civilization is spread over the world. That the feeling that imperialism, conquest, subjugation, or by whatever term one may choose to distinguish the policy of government of "inferior" by "superior" peoples, does extend civilization contributes largely to its acceptance, we may be well assured. Nor need we doubt that in this feeling there is the germ of a true concept of progress. Then why oppose imperialism? Why not encourage the extension of superior civilization, even by means of conquest and slaughter?

If for no other reason, for the simple one that all the possible benefits of imperialism in this and every other respect can be secured in greater degree without it. The great promoter of true civilization is not military conquest, nor conquest of any other kind by means of force. The great promoter of civilization is trade. Not the trade that is said to follow the flag. Not the trade that consists in exporting without importing. Not any kind of strangulated trade. But free trade.

Left to itself, in obedience to a natural law as obvious and persistent as it is beneficent, trade penetrates from every center into every nook and corner and cranny of the inhabited globe. As it extends, it carries with it a knowledge of the best customs and the best ideals, as well as the best goods, that the world has to offer the world. And with knowledge of what is best, comes voluntary selection of the best. Thus the best in all things conquers peacefully, when trade is free to stimulate peaceful intercourse and exchange.

But this natural and peaceful and serviceable conquest of inferiors by superiors is artfully checked. With deceptive phrases about protecting trade, trade is obstructed. Nor are the "inferior" peoples the great sinners in this particular. They always give the warmest welcome to foreigners until they find that foreigners are bent upon plunder. China, for instance, did not shut herself in commercially for commercial reasons. It was because the civilized barbarian began to lord it over her. We must turn for the worst attacks upon freedom of trade, to the statutes of civilized countries, including our own. The extent to which the spread of civilization is prevented by the deliberate policies for checking trade, can only be conjectured. But it is certain that if conquest, subjugation, imperialism, contribute at all to the spread of civilization, they do so only in so far as they break down the barriers to trade that our barbarous protection policies set up.

Let us drop our policy of obstructing trade, let us make bargaining as free as breathing, let us hold out this policy as an example of civilized ideals let us do these things, and long before imperialism could slaughter enough crown colony natives to make the survivors tractable, peaceful trade would carry what is best in our civilization to the uttermost parts of the earth; and, what might prove to be of more moment, would bring to us what is best in civilizations that we in our ignorant pride hold in contempt as "inferior."

By this means, too, we should make alliances for peace instead of alliances for war.

There have been dreams of annexing Canada to the United States. But Canada could be more firmly annexed by free trade than by political bonds. It is not the political federation of our States that benefits them as units in the American Union; it is the free trade which that Union maintains between them. Abolish our domestic trade freedom, and there would be chaos here though the political union were preserved. Abolish the political union but preserve the trade freedom, and we should hardly be conscious of the change. Free trade between the States is the real substance of the American Union. This is the alliance that makes the States one.

It is the kind of alliance that would unite us to Canada, to Australia, to New Zealand, to Great Britain, to Asia, to Africa, to all the civilized and all the uncivilized peoples of the world, in bonds of perpetual friendship and mutual service. It would not require political annexation. It would not require subjugation. It would not require even treaties. Nothing is necessary but to abolish the trade barriers which we ourselves have erected and maintain. If we abolished ours, other nations could not long maintain theirs.

It is highly significant that this normal method of extending civilization, this Christian kind of alliance, finds no favor with imperialists. The more ardent they are for extending trade at the point of the sword, the more determined are they to obstruct trade by protection statutes. Though they are solicitous for military alliances, they are fearful of trade friendships. When we were pleading in this country for free trade and friendship with England, they urged us to hate the English. But when England offered us a barbaric imperial alliance for the subjugation of "inferior" races, these same false guides were enthusiastic in their praises of the masterful character and the glorious future of Anglo-Saxon dominion. And to give moral color to the infamy, they discoursed upon the duty of loving England and joining with her in "extending civilization."

If it is civilization that we wish to spread, if the progress of the world is our object, we have only to become universal free traders instead of imperialistic free booters. Here is the choice. Free trade, with the olive branch of peace and the horn of general plenty; or imperialism, with the destructive implements and the demoralizing influences of war.

Which shall it be?

* FROUDE'S "Caesar," Ch. XIII.

** FROUDE'S "Caesar," Ch. I.

*** Interview with Senator Marcus A. Hanna, published in the Washington correspondence of the Manchester (England) Guardian of Wednesday, May 11, 1898.

**** Franklin H. Giddings, in "Democracy and Empire." Macmillan.

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