Ethics of Democracy
Chap. 5, Trial by Jury
of the people, by the people, for the people,
shall not perish from the earth.
- Speech at
Gettysburg; by Abraham Lincoln
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
I will have never
No lineage counted
choppers and ploughmen
Shall constitute a
"Boston Hymn," by
Ralph Waldo Emerson
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
fountain of common hopes and kindly sympathies;
Indian and Negro,
Saxon and Celt, Teuton and Latin and Gaul-
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
He deems his flesh
to be finer flesh, he boasts that his blood is blue:
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;
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
Where law and song
and loathing of wrong are words of the common
Where the masses
honor straightforward strength, and know, when veins
That the bluest
blood is putrid blood - that the people's blood is red.
- "Crispus Attucks,"
by John Boyle O'Reilley
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
- Froude's Caesar,
prosperity through freedom, equality, local
autonomy and respect for the commons.
The Ethics of Democracy
by Louis F. Post
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
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"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
**** Franklin H. Giddings, in "Democracy and Empire." Macmillan.
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