All free men feel that the only tolerable condition of Government is Democracy. No such man will tolerate the compulsory direction of his actions by any temporal authority save the general will of his fellow-citizens. This great truism I shall assume as the foundation of all that I have to say in this essay. With those who do not feel its truth, with those who regard a Hereditary Aristocracy or merely the Rich or Experts or Men in Advance of their Age as the proper repositories of political power I shall not here argue. I will argue with them when they have answered the plain question of the Jesuit Suarez, "If sovereignty is not in the People, where is it?"
Democracy, then, we assume as the fundamental condition of the state of society which we desire to create; but it is of vital importance to have in our minds a clear and unalterable idea of what Democracy means. Democracy means Government by the General Will. That is to say, it means that such laws as the mass of the population approves are passed and enforced, while such laws as are obnoxious to the mass of the population are rejected. It is clear that this has on the face of it nothing to do with special devices such as representation, by which modern men have attempted to achieve the end of Democracy. Despotic institutions, hereditary rulers, and representative bodies must alike be judged from the democratic standpoint by whether they do or do not result in a system of Government which accords with the general will of the people. Democracy, considered in this sense, is not a new thing (as our Moderns suppose), but just about the oldest thing in the world. In what Mr. Wells has christened "The Normal Social Life" practical Democracy has always prevailed in the matters which most deeply affect the ordinary existence of the common man. Now and then, no doubt, a far-off ruler not chosen by him might force the common man to take part in a war which was not of his making. Taxes not levied with his consent would occasionally be imposed upon him. But in the matters that concern his daily life, in his sowing and reaping, in his buying and selling, in his marrying, in the bearing and upbringing of his children, in his religion, and in all other things for which such a man normally cares, his actions would be regulated by the customs of his tribe or commune, and any disputes would be settled by a council of his neighbors. That is to say, these matters would be settled by the general will. He would be living, whether he knew it or not, under the conditions of Democracy.
Now in this, as in other matters, what we must seek to effect is a return to what is wholesome and natural to Man in the Normal Social Life while availing ourselves of the advantages which a more elaborate system of society affords us. We must seek under the conditions imposed by the growth of larger States and the consequent necessity of a more extensive political organisation to obtain that which is obtained so easily in a simple society by the meeting of villagers under a tree. The matter is the more urgent because so long as our system of government remains essentially undemocratic every step in the direction of Collectivism will be a step away from Democracy. It is no use denying that the "permeation" of our politicians and others with what are called "Socialist" ideas has tended, up to the present, rather to diminish than to increase the power of the General Will. Not only have measures directed towards the regimentation of the poor and tending, not to Collectivism, but to the
Now it is clear that the success of this experiment depends essentially upon the exact correspondence between the actions of the delegate and the wishes of those from whom his authority is derived. I say this is clear to any one who has attempted to think out the problem of representation. It is apparently by no means clear to a great many writers in the press or to a great many speakers on political platforms. These people are forever drawing an entirely meaningless distinction between "a Delegate" and what they call "a Representative." What this distinction means I have never been able to conceive. A man must vote either according to the wishes of his constituents or against those wishes. If he does the former he is acting as a faithful delegate would act. If he does the latter, he is neither a delegate nor a representative. He is an Oligarch. For how can we say that a man "represents" Slocum when he is in the habit of saying "Aye" where the inhabitants of Slocum would, if consulted, say "No"?
Now it is pretty obvious to most of us that, in
at the cheapest restaurants.
Nothing could be more absurd than the present practice in England, the practice, I mean, of rewarding success in politics with salaries varying from £ i, 200 to £10,000 a year, and then pretending that these sums are of no account at all to the persons who receive them. Such a practice directly tends to produce corruption of the worst kind. A Professional Politician may be, like a Professional House-Agent, a perfectly honest man—that is, he may endeavour to give in return for his salary honest and efficient service to the State. But we all know what would happen if it were a general assumption, which it was "in bad taste" to challenge, that House- Agents were entirely indifferent to their fees and were actuated solely by compassion for persons whofound themselves for the moment homeless and by a desire to see them adequately housed. Such a general assumption would be used by really dishonest house-agents to cover their offences, while the honest house-agent, working, no doubt, for money but fairly earning it, would find himself handicapped. And that is exactly the condition of English Politics to-day. Politics in
“It happened to Lord Lundy then,
As happens to so many men,
About the age of twenty-six
They shoved him into Politics.
In which profession he commanded
The salaries his rank demanded."
This is on the whole the most harmless and least corrupt kind of professionalism in politics. Such men are apprenticed to politics as a profession (that is, as a means of making money) just as men of humbler rank are apprenticed to be Solicitors, Greengrocers, or Compositors, because their parents happen to be able to command for them an opening in these trades. Such men, if they happen to be honest men, often try to do their best to earn their money by serving the community to the best of their ability. This method of choosing governors is repugnant to Democracy, but is not clearly reignant to plain morals or to the national interest. is the method by which all oligarchical States are governed. It was the method by which
One necessity stands out manifest and incontrovertible. If politics are to be an Profession, the profession of Executive Administrator must be kept strictly separate from the profession of Delegate to the Legislature. If this is not so, the Legislature can never in the nature of things be really independent of the Executive, and can, therefore, never really act as an effective check upon it. Every member of the Legislature body will be on the lookout for the more profitable administrative posts. These posts will of necessity be in the gift of the Executive. They will necessarily be bestowed upon those of whose conduct the Executive approves. The Executive will naturally approve of the conduct of those who do not oppose or even criticise it. Therefore there will be (as in fact there is to-day) an immense pressure upon members of the Representative Body not to act in a representative fashion, but rather to use all the power and influence they possess to support, not those who have elected them, but those from whom they expect benefits.
It is obvious that in any state of society some one or other must be intrusted with the business of practical executive administration. It is equally obvious that no man can reasonably be expected to take on such a task as a mere hobby. He must be paid for it; it must be his means of livelihood, in a word, his profession. To that there is, in the abstract, no more objection than there is to the profession of Doctor, House-Agent, or Butcher, provided always that the employer of such a man— i.e., the Community—has as full a control over him as a man has over the tradesmen he employs. A butcher does not supply you with such meat as he may think will suit your health or personal efficiency, but with such meat as you demand. So long as the expert administrator confines himself to endeavouring to satisfy his clients as the butcher does and makes no pretence to an authority superior to that of his clients, he is harmless and may be exceedingly useful. It is impossible to deny that the details of administration in a modern state are so complex that the sheer routine work of administration does, and must, involve a degree of special knowledge to which the ordinary citizen cannot and would not choose to attain. So does the trade of a bootmaker. I cannot make a pair of boots. I have to ask a bootmaker to make them for me. But—and this is the essential point—I am the judge of the pair of boots when made: if they do not fit me I reject them and dismiss my bootmaker. I am in no way deterred from following this course by the assurance that the bootmaker is "an expert" or that he is "more advanced" than I, or by any other of the pretences by which oligarchy is being once more foisted upon the people.
The great problem, then, is that of the control of the necessary professional administrator by the General Will. It is, I admit, an exceedingly difficult problem, and for the present I can see no solution save the old expedient of a representative assembly- defective as I know that expedient to be. I have often wondered whether some one would not one day hit upon a method of extending to general politics the much more really democratic method of the Common Jury. I have often had a fancy, for example, for a Second Chamber constituted upon that principle—a name chosen by lot from the voting list of every constituency, attendance to be compulsory, and a reasonable and equal remuneration to be granted to every person compelled to attend. I am quite confident that such a chamber would represent the General Will a great deal better than either the House of Lords or the House of Commons has1 done in the past, and would make very short work (to the great satisfaction of the mass of the population) of much legislation that has passed with ease and with "the consent of all parties" through our present Parliament.
But I do not pretend to have any such scheme ready for practical advocacy; and so for the present we must rest content with the representative system, doing, at the same time, all that we can to prevent its abuse, to mitigate its inevitable failings, and, above all, to keep it continually controlled by the direct expression of the General Will. Let us first draw as clear a distinction as we can between the inevitable defects of representation and the accidental evils to which it does make it quite intolerable in this country. Take the latter first.
Their constituents can deprive them of their salaries; the "Government" cannot. On the lowest motive, therefore, it will be better for them to please those who elect them than those whom they are elected to control. What, then, will become of "the Ministry"? It will disappear. The professional head of a department—strictly excluded from the assembly—will remain. The popular assembly elected to control that permanent head will remain. Probably the assembly will find it convenient to divide itself into Committees for this purpose, though such Committees should have no more than investigatory and advisory powers. The decision must rest with the assembly itself. But the "Minister"—that is, the Professional Politician who has entered Parliament by pretending to represent some body of electors and has consented for a salary not to represent them, but to represent instead the Caucus that pays him— for him the new Democracy will have no use. But when you have liberated the Representative Assembly from the control of that little group of Professional Politicians which is commonly called "The Government," but which I have always preferred to designate more accurately as "The Two Front Benches," you have not, therefore, necessarily made it really responsible to the people. That is, you have not achieved Democracy. It must be insisted upon again that, though the present political regime in
Against this peril the only real security is a vigilant and instructed popular opinion. With such an opinion always goes an extreme distrust of the representative, a feeling that he will always cheat you if he can, and a determination that he shall not be allowed to do so. Walt Whitman saw very far indeed into the truth when he set down as one of the conditions of his ideal State that the people should be "always ready to rise up against the never-ending audacity of Elected Persons." The chief change needed, then, is, it must be admitted, a change in the popular psychology. Nevertheless, there are changes in machinery which would be the necessary accompaniments of such a change, and which may do a great deal to make it easier. And here I come to methods which the peculiar independence of the several States of the
Of course, it would not do to give the coal-miners, for example, irresponsible control of the coal-fields. The coal-fields must be national property; on that we agree. But I do not see why all details of management, such matters as the hours of labour, provision against accident, and the like, should not be settled directly by the organised workers concerned. If such powers were vested in these Guilds, you would start with the immense advantage, from the democratic point of view, of an electing body accustomed to debate, to decisive action, and to the control of its own affairs, which would be able to thrash out the instructions to be given to its delegate, and to send him to the representative assembly with a real mandate derived from themselves. Incidentally it should be remarked that such an infusion of reality into the operations of the electoral unit would go far to meet such cases as that of the United States, where the evils arise, not from the oligarchical control of a small clique, but rather from the omnipotence of a political Machine subject to no real popular control. And a further check upon the development of a two-party system in which there is no wider alternative than the chances of two candidates may, perhaps, be found in some such method of voting as Proportional Representation affords. Of course it is essential that the control of the Electing Body over the delegates should be absolute. Two checks on their action would greatly help to accomplish this. The first check is the Recall. Not only should elections be reasonably frequent, but a certain proportion of the Electors should at any time have the right to demand a general poll on the question of whether the delegate was or was not carrying out the mandate of his constituents. Should the vote go against him, the delegate would have to resign, and another would be elected in his place. The mere threat of this action would probably be enough in most cases to prevent the delegate from shamelessly and continually violating his trust, as is so often done to-day.
The second check is the Referendum accompanied by the Initiative. How powerful a weapon even under the present degrading political conditions is the popular plebiscite may be perceived by noting the horror with which the Professional Politicians regard it, and the panic which seized them when one of their own number was imprudent enough to mention it a couple of years ago. But for the Referendum to be a really effective democratic weapon it must be capable of being put into force, not merely on the initiative of the legislature itself or on any section of it, but on the initiative of a fixed proportion of the Electors. Indeed, for my part, I am disposed to think that under the freer political system such as I have sketched no substantial alteration of the laws should be passed without a direct appeal to the popular will. To those who are incapable of looking beyond the corruptions and futilities of modern politics such a pronouncement will doubtless seem absurd. But we are presupposing that those corruptions and futilities are at an end; and when they are at an end there will be no need whatsoever for all this plethora of legislation which we have come to think of as something inevitable. When one comes to consider it in the abstract it is really rather absurd that a nation should have to keep some six hundred men busy for nine months in the year at the interminable task of continually altering its laws. If just laws can once be established, it is reasonable to suppose that for some considerable time at any rate they will prove adequate Doubtless from time to time some unforeseen change in economic or other conditions may necessitate modifications, but I do not look forward in the Great State to the unending legislation of our own time—a legislation which owes its necessity at best to the need for patching up a system in process of active decay, and at worst to the requirements of the Party "Programme" and, what is much more important, the Party War Chest No doubt the change from the present basis of society to a juster and healthier one will mean a good deal of drastic law-making—and I suspect a good deal of law-breaking also—but, once the change accomplished, I should expect a vital alteration of the laws under which citizens are to live to be almost as rare a thing in the State of the Future as it was in the settled and happy communities of the past. Such are a few of the comparatively rough and crude suggestions that I would make for the democratic organisation of the State of the future.
They pretend to be nothing more than an outline, and even as an outline they will doubtless require much modification. Every democrat must feel a certain disinclination to lay down hard-and-fast conditions for the future, if only for this reason, that, if his democratic faith be genuine, he desires that the people should have, not the form of government he likes, but the form of government they themselves like. That is what has always made me dislike answering detailed questions as to how this or that would be done "under Socialism." I may have thought of a very ingenious answer, but it does not follow that it is the answer that my fellow-citizens will give. And it is for them, not for me, to pronounce the ultimate decision. Securus judicat orbis terrarum.
From the book "Socialism and the Great State" published in 1912 by Harper & Brothers