The Future of Democracy

The Future of Democracy :- Whatever may be the weaknesses of democracy, and they undoubtedly exist, it seems destined to become universal. In fact it has already nearly become such, Since the close of the World War we have seen even the rock-ribbed autocracy of Germany transformed into a republic with all the modern democratic institutions such as universal suffrage without distinction of sex, popular election of the head of the state, parliamentary ministerial responsibility, proportional representation, the referendum, the initiative, and the recall.

Old monarchies such as Belgium, Rumanian, and Hungary have introduced new democratic institutions. It is hardly likely that they will ever again turn away from democracy, for the reason, as Laski, remarks, that men who have once tasted power will not surrender it. Whether, as Sidgwick remarked, democracy is a depressingly prevalent political fact, it is, as he himself admitted, a widely and enthusiastically accepted political ideal.

Recently Russia, Italy, Austria, and Germany have abandoned it, but it is doubtful whether their abandonment will be permanent. Sir Henry Maine, who ventured the opinion that the history of popular government did not warrant the assumption that it had an indefinite future, admitted that the example of the United States had done much to raise the credit of democratic republics and to reveal their possibilities.

Lecky, who, like Maine, feared and distrusted democracy, also admitted that it was likely to dominate, at least for a considerable time, in all civilized countries, and that the only questions to be met were those relating to the form which it should take and the means by which its characteristic evils could be best avoided.

We are free to criticize democracy as much as we please, but as Barthelemy remarks, it is as vain as to criticize the course of the seasons or the laws of attraction of the stars. Democracy will reply sum quia sum.

It is not improbable, however, that the forms of democracy as it exists in some countries will undergo important changes. There are those who maintain that the remedy for the existing ills is not less but more democracy, and that consequently the changes that are likely to follow will involve a further extension of the democratic principle of on the other hand, an increasing number of wise observers believe that democracy has been perverted through an attempt to throw upon the people tasks for which they are incompetent and that a reaction is inevitable.

Lord Bryce was certainly not over optimistic regarding the future of democracy. In the form which it has almost everywhere taken, that of government by a representative assembly he thought it shows signs of decay in nearly every country the confidence in such assemblies has perceptibly declined, in some they have shown themselves unequal to their tasks, and in others too subservient to parties.

The recent virtual displacement of representative government in a number of European countries by dictatorships has been due in part to the dissatisfaction with the representative system. Nevertheless it is, as Bryce aptly remark-ed, up to those Who criticize democracy to suggest something better to take its place.

Essential Conditions of Successful Democracy :-

In the light of a varied and wide experience with democracy we are fully justified in concluding that there are certain conditions which are essential to the successful working of democratic government. Maine, who Was a severe-critic of democracy, admitted that with a wise constitution the turbulence of democracy might be restrained and made as calm as water in a reservoir.

Lecky, who likewise criticized American democracy, admitted that it was not a failure. But, he added one duty is absolutely essential to the safe working of democracy anywhere, namely, a written constitution, securing property and contract, placing difficulties in the way of Organic changes, restricting the power of majorities, and preventing outbursts of mere temporary discontent and more casual coalitions from overthrowing the main pillars of state.

It is hardly necessary to say that perhaps the most fundamental of all conditions to the successful working of democratic government is that the people who work it shall possess a relatively high degree of political intelligence, an abiding interesting public affairs, a keen sense of public responsibility, and a readiness to accept and abide by the decisions of the majority.

The majority in turn must be willing to recognize that strong minorities have rights which are entitled to respect and cannot be disregarded without violating one of the fundamental principles of popular government. The distressing indifference of the electors in many countries is undoubtedly a danger to democracy.

It was a wise saying of Montesquieu that the tyranny of a prince would hardly bring a state to ruin quicker than would indifference to the common welfare in a republic. Laveleye and Mill very properly maintained that democracies should provide at the expense of the state the facilities for elementary education and that it should even be made obligatory. Happily many of them are to-day fulfilling this duty in a high degree.

Lord Bryce justly concluded that popular government will flourish and decline in proportion to the moral and intellectual progress of mankind. It assumes, he said, not merely intelligence derived from books-mere ability to read and write-but an intelligence elevated by honor, purified by sympathy, and stimulated by a sense of duty to the community.

In short, ,the future of democracy is a part of two larger branches of inquiry the future of religion and the prospects of human progress. Professor Barthelemy, who has written a penetrating study of the subject, concludes that the essential condition of success is that democracy shall be directed by the wisest, the most intelligent and the best, in a word, although it excites prejudice by the elite of the population.

Varying Aptitude of People for Democratic Government :-

The results of experience undoubtedly prove that the success of democratic government must vary-with the aptitude of peoples who operate it, because, as Mill observed, governments are human instruments and must be worked by men. Certainly there are not lacking countries in which it has been introduced where the results have been disappointing.

Thus in most of the Latin American republics the form at least of democracy exists, but in some of them the actual working of the system has not been characterized by a high degree of success, due to the general lack among the people of certain of the essential qualities and aptitudes referred to above, such as are found in a more conspicuous degree among Anglo-Saxon people.

There dictatorships and revolutions are still common in the place of orderly stable government. Garcia Calderon, an eminent Peruvian scholar and publicist, confesses that democracy has failed in a large part of Latin  America. A hundred years, he says, have passed and still the Same uneasiness disturbs these states, which fate seems to have condemned to anarchy. There is little political training, or  indeed elementary education of any kind, in Latin America.

The illiterate populace, except in some of the large cities, take no share in public life, but instead (in Mexico this is true of two thirds of the people) obey submissively the instructions of a few  leaders. A middle class develops very slowly.

The agrarian rule of feudal times is still in force on the Argentine estancias Brazilian fazendqs, and the haciendas of other countries.  Primitive industry and trade become a foreign monopoly. Every where there is a lack of equilibrium between social organization and the pretensions of political documents-on the one hand oligarchy, on the other a theoretically absolute democracy and equality.

For similar reasons some have expressed doubt as to the suitability of democracy to the Asiatic races, at least in the present state of their development. In those countries where is has proved most successful it has been a natural growth, if suddenly introduced into countries which have for centuries been despotically governed, it would necessarily be an artificial creation and would take root slowly and with difficulty.

In China, Persia and Turkey attempts have recently been made to introduce certain democratic institutions,notably the system of responsible parliamentary government, but it has involved the planting of foreign institutions in soil which had not been prepared for them by education in political matters and training in the habits of self government. Whether the results will justify the high expectations of those who are responsible for the experiment remains to be seen.

Lately the forms of democratic government have been introduced in most of the states of eastern and southeastern Europe, there too in soil which had not been well prepared and among peoples who certainly lack some of the qualities and habitudes which are essential to the successful working of true democratic government. For a time, at any rate, it may be confidently expected that the operation of this form of government will be attended with difficulty and perhaps breakdowns, which may, however, only be temporary.

Excessive Burdens of Democracy  :-

What some writers regard as a defect, if not a danger, of modern democracies, is their tendency to go to extremes and to devolve upon the electorate tasks which by reason of their character and multiplicity the people are not competent to discharge satisfactorily through direct action.Thus President Lowell has remarked that the trouble with modern democracies is that they attempt to do too much. This criticism, it is believed, is entirely justified, especially in so far as it applies to democracy in the United States.

Those who make this charge claim that the introduction of the referendum, the initiative, and other ultra democratic devices Which throw upon the electorate the burden of decisions and responsibilities which can be better discharged by their representatives is in fact a perversion of true democracy and its displacement by a false and spurious type. The amount of truth in this somewhat severe judgment would seem to depend upon the extent to which a perfectly sound democratic principle is applied in practice, whether these devices are used properly or are overworked.

Where, as has actually happened in some American states, the electorate is called upon to pass judgment upon nearly, fifty legislative proposals at a single election, many partisans of a moderate use of the referendum feel that this is pushing democracy to unreasonable limits.

A criticism of American democracy which finds an increasing number of sympathizers, is the practice of choosing by popular vote administrative, ministerial, and even technical functionaries and some Would add judges of the courts-and these generally for short terms. This means not only inordinately lengthy and: confusing ballots, but a multiplicity of recurring elections, which imposes upon the citizen a burden the like of which is unknown in the most democratic countries of Europe.

This feature of democratic government in fact distinguishes the American type from that of all other countries, even that of Switzerland, which is commonly regarded as the classic land of democracy. In the most democratic states of Europe, Great Britain, France, and Switzerland only members of legislative bodies and local deliberative councils are popularly elected-almost never an administrative functionary or judicial magistrate.

In principle it is the same in Canada, where such officers as judges, prosecuting attorneys, sheriffs, and clerks are appointed rather than elected. The original assumption that popular election is an essential condition of responsibility has hardly justified itself.

On the contrary it has tended to transfer the actual selection of the incumbents of such offices to political bosses and party machines, and according to some writers has resulted not in popular government but in what has been described as a system of unpopular government. True democracy undoubtedly requires the election by the people of their legislative representatives and such executive officers as are charged with the determination of questions of policy, but it can hardly be said that it requires popular election of any others.

The agitation since the World War for popular control ,of foreign affairs represents the latest and one of the most extreme demands for the extension of democracy into a new field. If the extension is made, the task of democracy will be still more increased and its operation subject to a severer strain.

However competent the people may be to pass intelligent judgments upon the character of candidates for public office and upon questions of domestic policy, the number who are capable of judging questions of foreign policy, even in the most highly civilized countries, is relatively small. In the United States especially, the lack of popular interest in foreign affairs and consequently the ignorance of the mass in regard to questions of an international character have been the subject of frequent comment.

Under these circumstances, democratic control of foreign policy, if it is to include popular votes treaties and the settlement of issues of foreign policy in political campaigns, may lead to disastrous results. As Elihu Root has well remarked, if democratic control of foreign policies is ever practicable, the people must fit themselves-for the task by interest and education or they will make a worse job of it than the diplomats, against whose alleged faults and incompetency the movement for popular control is directed.