In a certain New York club of authors and scholars, the conversation
turned one evening, as it is so accustomed to turn, on the politics of
the day; and some astonishment was caused when one of the circle, a
distinguished student of sociology well known for his radical opinions,
said with emphatic conviction that we were talking of little things, and
that the one great question of the day was whether a democratic society
could develop a natural aristocracy. By chance I had with me that night
an excellent new book on The Political Philosophy of Burke, by
Professor John MacCunn, late of the University of Liverpool, and as we
left the club showed it to one of my fellow writers, with a word of
commendation. "Ah," he said, handing it back unopened, "Burke! he's
dead, is he not?" Well, Burke, I dare say, is dead for us, as so many
other great memories have perished, and Lord Morley (plain John Morley
then, a fairly practical statesman) was indulging in the usual
enthusiasm of the biographer when, twenty-five years ago, he closed his
luminous volume with the prophecy that "the historic method, fitting in
with certain dominant conceptions in the region of natural science, is
bringing men round to a way of looking at society for which Burke's
maxims are exactly suited; and it seems probable that he will be more
frequently and more seriously referred to within the next twenty years
than he has been within the whole of the last eighty." The historic
method has an odd way of discrediting the authority of history, and
certainly in the lustrum since Lord Morley's predicted score of years
the world of Lloyd George and Mr. Roosevelt has not been referring
abundantly to Burke's maxims. Yet, with the words of my radical
sociological friend in my ears, I could not help reflecting on the
coincidence that Professor MacCunn, a writer thoroughly imbued with
modern ideas, should have led the whole of Burke's political philosophy
up to the same question of natural aristocracy. "For Burke's feet," he
says, "were never on surer ground than when, as we have seen, he argued
that a civil society, by the very conditions of social struggle and
growth, must needs evolve 'a natural aristocracy, without which there is
no nation.'" And then, being sufficiently trained in the new historic
method, he proceeds to show how Burke entirely missed the real problem
of society--as if human nature had first sprung into existence with the
Of the urgency of the problem a reflective man will scarcely doubt. The only thing, in fact, that might lead him to question its urgency is its hoary antiquity. Plato wrestled with it when he undertook to outline the ideal republic, and many of his pages on the range of government through its five forms--aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny--sound as if he had been reading yesterday's newspapers of London and New York. In the orgy of misrule that brought Athens to humiliation in the last years of the Peloponnesian war he had seen oligarchs and timocrats tearing at each other's throats like mad dogs; he had seen the triumph of the democratic party, and, knowing its instability, he had composed the long dialogue of The Republic to show how, if possible, it might be saved from impending tyranny. He wrote, so far as the public was concerned, in a spirit of despair, almost as if foreseeing the domination of an Alexander and the cold despotism of Rome; and in that saddened scepticism he was thinking more of holding up the aristocratic idea of justice for any pious seeker of the future than of creating an actual commonwealth. Yet, however his application of the law of the individual to the machinery of polities may appear at times fantastic, his argument never really gets far from the everlasting questions of government.
The oligarchy which he knew and described was what we should rather call a plutocracy. He had in mind a State in which, "instead of loving contention and honour [as under a timocracy], men become lovers of money and business, and they praise and admire the rich man, and confer office upon him, but despise the poor man." "And such a State," he adds, "will necessarily be not one but two States, one of the poor, the other of the rich, who are living in the same place and always plotting against each other." And when in such a society the disposers of wealth proceed from privilege to insolence and folly, and on the other side the many have lost the sense of reverence and have become aware of the sheer power of numbers, then the plutocratic State changes to the true democracy, the uncontrolled sway of the majority. The change is like that which comes to a rich young man who, forgetting the discipline of necessity, passes into the libertinism of indulgence. He will hearken to no word of advice; and if any one tells him there is a distinction among pleasures, that some are the satisfaction of gross and ignoble desires and others are the satisfaction of good and useful desires, he shakes his head in superiority, and swears that all pleasures are alike. So the oligarchical faction loses its power and position; and the democracy in its turn follows the same path, despising the constraint of authority and the guidance of experience, caught by the lure of indiscriminate pleasure. "The father comes down to the level of the son, being afraid of his children, and the son is on a level with his father, having no shame or fear of his parents .... So the schoolmaster fears and flatters his scholars, and the scholars despise their masters and tutors; and, in general, young and old are alike, the young competing with the old in speech and action, and the old men condescending to the young in their gay and easy manners, from dread of being thought morose and dictatorial."
Then arises the problem which confronted the State in Plato's day, as it did in Burke's, and which may not seem entirely irrelevant to the watcher of to-day: How shall the people be saved from themselves? How, indeed? To Plato, who beheld as in a vision the coming of Alexander and Caesar, the actual historic answer was a gloomy picture of the change from licence to tyranny. His account of the impending fall can never lose its fresh interest:
When a democracy which is thirsting for freedom has evil cupbearers presiding over the feast, then, unless her rulers are very amenable and give a plentiful draft, she calls them to account and punishes them, and says that they are cursed oligarchs. And loyal citizens are insultingly termed by her, slaves who hug their chains; she would have subjects who are like rulers, and rulers who are like subjects: these are the men whom she praises and honours both in private and public.One escape from this fatal declension Plato saw, that, by the working of the inner law of self-restraint or by some divine interposition, the people should, before it was too late, be turned to hearken to their natural leaders, and the State should thus develop from anarchy into a true aristocracy. The question, then or at any time, is not whether there shall be leaders but of what character these leaders shall be. There was the brawling tribe of demagogues and sycophants in the Athenian democracy, as there have been at other times of licentious upheaval. And the character of these men is always the same: they lead by flattery and by clamorous justification of the passing wave of desire. The aristocratic leaders whom Plato had in mind, and whom, for the confusion of posterity he called philosophers, were of the very opposite sort, being men who should guide by imposing their authority and experience on the impulsive emotions of the multitude. They should be politicians who might dare the displeasure of the people as Burke dared his constituents at Bristol: "The very attempt towards pleasing everybody discovers a temper always flashy, and often false and insincere.... I am to look, indeed, to your opinions; but to such opinions as you and I must have five years hence." They should be philosophers like John Stuart Mill who, facing the electors of Westminster and being asked whether he had ever said that English workingmen were "generally liars," replied simply, "I did." Such were to be the aristocrats of Plato's State, men of simple and rational desires, lords of their own souls and so masters of others. Nor should they govern for their own smaller profit. For, as Socrates says, "it is not to the injury of the servant that we think he ought to be governed, but because it behooves each of us to be governed by the divine wisdom, having that power within us if possible, or, ifthat be impossible, then by an external authority, so that we may all, following the same guidance, be brought into likeness one to another and into good will."
There is something at once strange and familiar in this political discussion, now more than two thousand years old. To it Plato brought all his wisdom, sometimes not disdaining sophistry, trying to show by what kind of education and by what arts of persuasion and illusion a natural aristocracy could be imposed and maintained. It was pretty much the same problem that confronted Burke at the time of the French Revolution, inspiring his earlier writings on that event with incomparable eloquence, and stinging him in the end almost to a frenzy of despair. Burke did not come to the question with so clear an intuition as the Greek, and in some ways his Reflections, despite their modern dress, are more remote from us than is Plato's Republic, because he dealt less with the universal aspects of human nature. And in so far as his practical reason was coloured by the peculiar circumstances of his own day, it has lost in direct application to the needs of another age. But he is not dead, despite my literary friend; wisdom is of longer life than the generations of mankind, and there is scarcely another book of modern times so full of political wisdom as Burke's Reflections.
And we must note, in the first place, that to Burke, as to Plato, it never occurred to think that society, even under the most lawless anarchy, could exist without leaders. "Power," he knew, "of some kind or other, will survive the shock in which manners and opinions perish." He knew too, and declared, that in the end he who made himself master of the army would overbear all other influences; but meanwhile he beheld the State of France under the sway of demagogues who were preparing the people for a carnival of blood and cruelty, and all his eloquence was exerted, and with extraordinary effect, to avert from his own country this plague of revolution. The philosophes, who had prepared the dogmas of popular flattery for the mouth of a Marat and a Robespierre, had intensified in him the natural British distrust of all application of abstract reasoning to government and the affairs of life; and he felt a profound aversion for those who would "lay down metaphysic propositions which infer universal consequences," and would then "limit logic by despotism." Being thus debarred from belief in a true philosophy by his experience of the false, yet having himself a mind that grasped at general principles, he turned to "the happy effect of following nature, which is wisdom without reflection, and above it." In that "discipline of nature" he looked for the genuine guidance of society, and one of the memorable passages of his works is that in which he describes the character of those who, themselves under this control, should be for others "men of light and leading":
A true natural aristocracy is not a separate interest in the State, or separable from it. It is an essential integrant part of any large body rightly constituted. It is formed out of a class of legitimate presumptions, which, taken as generalities, must be admitted for actual truths. To be bred in a place of estimation; to see nothing low and sordid from one's infancy; to be taught to respect one's self; to be habituated to the censorial inspection of the public eye; to look early to public opinion; to stand upon such elevated ground as to be enabled to take a large view of the widespread and infinitely diversified combinations of men and affairs in a large society; to have leisure to read, to reflect, to converse; to be enabled to draw the court and attention of the wise and learned wherever they are to be found;--to be habituated in armies to command and to obey; to be taught to despise danger in the pursuit of honor and duty; to be formed to the greatest degree of vigilance, foresight, and circumspection, in a state of things in which no fault is committed with impunity, and the slightest mistakes draw on the most ruinous consequences;--to be led to a guarded and regulated conduct, from a sense that you are considered as an instructor of your fellow-citizens in their highest concerns, and that you act as a reconciler between God and man;--to be employed as an administrator of law and justice, and to be thereby amongst the first benefactors to mankind;--to be a professor of high science, or of liberal and ingenuous art;--to be amongst rich traders, who from their success are presumed to have sharp and vigorous understandings, and to possess the virtues of diligence, order, constancy, and regularity, and to have cultivated an habitual regard to commutative justice--these are the circumstances of men that form what I should call a natural aristocracy, without which there is no nation.Not many, even among the wisest of our own generation, would fail to respond favourably to that glowing picture of nature's aristocrats, but when we come to the means by which Burke would ensure the existence and supremacy of such a class, it is different. Despite some tincture of the so-called "enlightenment," which few men of that age could entirely escape, Burke had a deep distrust of the restive, self-seeking nature of mankind, and as a restraint upon it he would magnify the passive as opposed to the active power of what is really the same human nature. This passive instinct he called "prejudice"--the unreasoning and unquestioning attachment to the family and "the little platoon we belong to in society," from which our affection, conincident~ always with a feeling of contented obligation, is gradually enlarged to take in the peculiar institutions of our country; "prejudice renders a man's virtues his habits, . . . through just prejudice his duty becomes a part of his nature." Prejudice is thus the binding force which works from below upwards; the corresponding force which moves from above is "prescription"--the possession of rights and authority which have been confirmed by custom. In other words, Burke believed that the only practical way of ensuring a natural aristocracy was by the acceptance of a prescriptive oligarchy; in the long run and after account had been taken of all exceptions--and he was in no wise a blind worshipper of the Whig families which then governed England--he believed that the men of light and leading would already be found among, or by reason of their preeminence would be assumed into, the class of those whose views were broadened by the inherited possession of privilege and honours.
He so believed because it seemed to him that prejudice and prescription were in harmony with the methods of universal nature. Sudden change was abhorrent to him, and in every chapter of history he read that the only sound social development was that which corresponded to the slow and regular growth of a plant, deep-rooted in the soil and drawing its nourishment from ancient concealed sources. In such a plan prejudice was the ally of the powers of time, opposing to all visionary hopes a sense of duty to the solid existing reality and compelling upstart theory to prove itself by winning through long resistance. And with the force of time stood the kindred force of order and subordination personified in privilege. "A disposition to preserve, and an ability to improve, taken together," would be Burke's standard of a statesman; "everything else is vulgar in the conception, perilous in the execution." In passages of a singular elevation he combines the ideas of Hobbes on the social contract with those of Hooker on the sweep of divine universal law, harmonizing them with the newer conception of evolutionary growth. "Each contract of each particular State," he says, "is but a clause in the great primeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and invisible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures, each in their appointed place." And thus, too, "our political system is placed in a just correspondence and symmetry with the order of the world, and with the mode of existence decreed to a permanent body composed of transitory parts; wherein, by the disposition of a stupendous wisdom, moulding together the great mysterious incorporation of the human race, the whole, at one time, is never old, or middle-aged, or young, but, in a condition of unchangeable constancy, moves on through the varied tenor of perpetual decay, fall, renovation, and progression. Thus, by preserving the method of nature in the conduct of the State, in what we improve, we are never wholly new; in what we retain, we are never wholly obsolete."
If we look below these ideas of prejudice and privilege, time and subordination, for their one animating principle, we shall find it, I think, in the dominance of the faculty of the imagination. Nor did this imaginative substructure lying beneath all of Burke's writings and speeches, from the early essay on the Sublime and Beautiful to his latest outpourings on the French Revolution, escape the animadversion of his enemies. Tom Paine made good use of this trait in The Rights of Man, which he issued as an answer to the Reflections. "The age of chivalry is gone," Burke had exclaimed at the close of his famous tirade on the fall of Marie Antoinette. "Now all is changed. All the pleasing illusions, which made power gentle, and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland assimilation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the superadded ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination .... " To this Paine retorted with terrible incision. Ridiculing the lamentation over the French Queen as a mere sentimental rhapsody, he catches up Burke's very words with malign cunning: "Not one glance of compassion, not one commiserating reflection, that I can find throughout his book, has he bestowed on those who lingered out the most wretched of lives, a life without hope in the most miserable of prisons. It is painful to behold a man employing his talents to corrupt himself. Nature has been kinder to Mr. Burke than he has been to her. He is not affected by the reality of distress touching his heart, but by the showy resemblance of it striking his imagination. He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird."
Now there is an element of truth in Paine's charge, but there is distortion also. To say that Burke had no thought for the oppressed and the miserable is a wanton slander, disproved by abundant passages in the very Reflections and by his whole career. "If it should come to the last extremity," he had once avowed in Parliament, with no fear of contradiction, "and to a contest of blood, God forbid! God forbid!--my part is taken; I would take my fate with the poor, and low, and feeble." But it is the fact nevertheless, construe it how one will, that in the ordinary course of things Burke's ideas of government were moulded and his sentiment towards life was coloured by the vivid industry of his imagination, and that he thought the world at large controlled by the same power. I doubt if analysis can reach a deeper distinction between the whole class of minds to which Burke belongs and that to which Paine belongs than is afforded by this difference in the range and texture of the imagination.
And in this Burke had with him the instinct of his people, while in a way transcending it; for a good deal of what we regard as the British character depends on just the excess of imagination over a rather dull sensibility and sluggish intelligence. This, if we look into it, is what Bagehot signalized as the saving dulness of England and what Walpole meant by attributing to "the good sense [note the contrast of sense and sensibility] of the English that they have not painted better." It was this same quality that inspired Burke's great comparison of the French excitability with the British stolidity: "Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field." In its higher working, when sensibility and intelligence are also magnified, the imagination, no doubt, is the source of the loftier English poetry and eloquence, but in the lower range, which we are now considering, it is rather a slow, yet powerful and endearing, visualization of what is known and familiar; it is the beginning of that prejudice for existing circumstances and actual relations which Burke exalted as the mother of content. And with content it produces a kind of egotistic satisfaction in the pomps and privileges which pass before the eye, giving to the humble a participation in things wherein they have no material share. In the baser nature this evokes a trait which we condemn as snobbishness; in the higher it results in a fine magnanimity: "He feels no ennobling principle in his own heart, who wishes to level all the artificial institutions which have been adopted for giving a body to opinion and permanence to fugitive esteem. It is a sour, malignant, envious disposition, without taste for the reality, or for any image or representation of virtue, that sees with joy the unmerited fall of what had long flourished in splendour and in honour." Thus, too, the imagination is an accomplice of time as well as of the law of subordination; indeed, its deepest and noblest function lies in its power of carrying what was once seen and known as a living portion and factor of the present, and there is no surer test of the quality of a man's mind than the degree in which he feels the long-remembered past as one of the vital and immediate laws of his being. So it is that the imagination is the chief creator and sustainer of the great memorial institutions of society, such as the Crown and the Church and the other pageantries of State, which are the very embodiment of prescription, as it were the soul of tradition taking form and awful authority among the living. How deeply Burke felt this prescriptive right of the imagination no one need be told; nor is it necessary to quote the familiar passages in which he likens the British monarchy, with its bulwark of nobility, to "the proud keep of Windsor, rising in the majesty of proportion, and girt with the double belt of its kindred and coeval towers," or calls on the Church to "exalt her mitred front in courts and parliaments." There is the true Burke; he knew, as Paine knew, that the support of these institutions was in their symbolic sway over the imaginations of men, and that, with this defence undermined, they would crumble away beneath the aggressive passions of the present, or would remain as mere bloodless vanities. He thought that the real value of life was in its meaning to the imagination, and he was not ashamed to avow that the fall and tragedy of kings, because they bore in their person the destiny of ancient institutions, stirred him more profoundly than the sufferings of ordinary men.
It is perfectly easy for a keen and narrow intelligence to ridicule Burke's trust in the imagination, but as a matter of fact there is nothing more practical than a clear recognition of its vast domain in human affairs--it was Napoleon Bonaparte who said that "imagination rules the world." Burke is not dead; his pages are an inexhaustible storehouse of inspiration and wisdom. But it is true nevertheless, that his ideas never quite freed themselves from their matrix, and that in his arguments the essential is involved in the contingent. Though he saw dearly enough the imperfections of the actual union of a prescriptive and a natural aristocracy, he was not able, with all his insight, to conceive the existence of the latter alone and by virtue of its own rights. He cried out that the age of chivalry was gone; he saw that the age of prescription, however it might be propped up for a time, was also doomed, not only in France but in his England as well, and with that away there was nothing for his imagination but an utter blank. As a consequence the problem of government for us to-day in its fundamental aspects is really closer to the exposition of the Greek philosopher two thousand years ago than to that of the modern English statesman. We have the naked question to answer: How shall a society, newly shaking itself free from a disguised plutocratic regime, be guided to suffer the persuasion of a natural aristocracy which has none of the insignia of an old prescription to impose its authority? Shall the true justice prevail, which by a right discrimination would confer power and influence in accordance with inner distinction; or shall that so-called justice prevail--for no man acknowledges open injustice -- which recommends itself as equality of opportunity, but in practice, by confusing the distinctions of age, sex, and character, comes at last to the brutal doctrine that might makes right, whether that might be the material strength of money or the jealous tyranny of numbers?
Leaders there will be, as there always have been. Leaders there are now, of each class, and we know their names. We still call the baser sort a demagogue, and his definition is still what it was among those who invented the term: "a flatterer of the people." Or, if that description seems too vague, you will recognize him as one who unites in himself enormous physical and mental activity, yet who employs these extraordinary talents in no serious way for the comfort and sustenance of the higher life of the imagination, but for running about restlessly and filling the public mind with stentorian alarms. He is one who proclaims ostentatiously that the first aim of government "must always be the possession by the average citizen of the right kind of character," and then, in his own person, gives an example of identifying character with passion by betraying a friend and malignantly misinterpreting his words, as soon as that friend may be decried for balking the popular will--and balking the path of the decrier's ambition. He is one who has been honoured as the leader of a great political party, and then, as soon as he is dethroned from its leadership, denounces that same party as the tool of privilege and the source of corruption. He is one who, in proclaiming the principles of this new party, has constantly on his lips the magical word "justice," which he defines by the specious phrase "equality of opportunity," yet in the end identifies justice with the removal of all checks from government, to the end that the desire of the majority may be immediately carried out, whether right or wrong. For "it is impossible to invent constitutional devices which will prevent the popular will from being effective for wrong without also preventing it from being effective for right. The only safe course to follow in this great American democracy is to provide for making the popular judgment really effective."
To this end our exemplary demagogue would take away every obstacle between the opinion of the moment and the enactment of that opinion into law. Hence the initiative and referendum. Above the legislators is the Constitution, devised in order that legislation upon any particular question may be made to conform essentially with what has been laid down on deliberation as the wisest general course of government. It is a cheek upon hasty action, and implies a certain distrust of the popular judgment at any moment when passion or delusion may be at play. Therefore our demagogue will denounce reverence for the Constitution as a fetich. Blithely ignoring the fact that Constitution-making and remaking is one of the pastimes of some States, and that even the Federal Constitution can be amended with none too great difficulty when the opinion of the people is really formed (as in the recent ease of the election of senators), he will earnestly call upon the Constitutional Convention of Ohio "to provide in this Constitution means which will enable the people readily to amend it if at any point it works injustice"; and then, as if that provision were not sufficient to relax its mortmain, he will virtually abrogate its function of imposing any check whatsoever by adding "means which will permit the people themselves by popular vote, after due deliberation and discussion, but finally and without appeal, to settle what the proper construction of any constitutional point is"; and this construction is to be made, not legally, that is by an attempt to get at the actual meaning of the language used, but in accordance with the current notion of what is right.
But the full venom of his attack will be directed against the courts, because in them is impersonated the final sovereignty of unimpassioned judgment over the fluctuations of sentiment, and with it the last check upon the operations of the demagogue. The interpretation of the law in accordance with the conditions of life is to rest with the people. If necessary they are to have the power of recalling the judge who is recalcitrant to their views, and at the least they are to have opportunity to reverse any decision of the courts which seems to them wrong. In this way he thinks to ensure "an independent judiciary"! To enforce the need of the recall, he accuses the courts of "refusing to permit the people of the States to exercise their right as a free people." Thereupon he cites what he calls a "typical" case in New York, in which the judges declared a workingmen's compensation act unconstitutional." In other words, they insisted that the Constitution had permanently cursed our people with impotence to right wrong and had perpetuated a cruel iniquity." This tirade, followed by the most inflammatory appeals to the emotions, was uttered in 1912, at the very time when he was inveighing against the courts for perpetuating iniquity, the machinery was in train for amending the Constitution, and in less than two years that permanent curse was removed by the passage of a Constitutional law in full favor of the workingman. Such is the despotism of facts. And ever through these vituperative charges runs the high note of flattery: "If the American people are not fit for popular government, and if they should of right be the servants and not the masters of the men whom they themselves put in office."
The demagogue paints himself. In a word you may know him by this single trait: he is one who, in the pursuit of the so-called rights of humanity, has a supreme contempt for those
Unconcerning things, matters of fact;one who, by means of an hypnotic loquaciousness, is constantly persuading the people that they have only to follow their first impulsive emotions to be right and safe, and that as a consequence every institution should be swept away which in their wiser, calmer moments they have created as a bulwark against their own more variable nature. To complete the picture we need to contrast with it Burke's portrait of the men of light and leading, with his sober statement of the law of liberty: "Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity; in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters." Or we may go further back and look upon Plato's portrait of the guides who have earned the right to persuade others to temperance by the diligent exercise of that virtue in their own lives.
But the most notable example of demagoguery to-day, is not a man, though he be clothed with thunder, but an institution. There are newspapers and magazines, reaching millions of readers, which have reduced the art to a perfect system. Their method is as simple as it is effective: always appeal to the emotion of the hour, and present it in terms which will justify its excess. Thus, in times when there is no wave of international envy disturbing the popular mind, our journal will print edifying editorials on brotherly love and laud the people as the great source of peace among nations. But let some racial dispute arise, as in the months preceding our Spanish war or the Italian raid on Africa, and this same journal will day after day use its editorial columns to inflame national hatred--and increase its circulation. On days when no sensational event has occurred, it will indulge in the prettiest sentimental sermons on the home and on family felicities. Nothing so moral; it will even plead in lacrimose type against the evil of allowing babies to lie in perambulators with their eyes exposed to the sun. But let the popular mind be excited by some crime of lust, and the same journal will forget the sweet obligations of home and wife,--
That silly old morality,and will deck out the loathsome debauchery of a murderer and his trull as the spiritual history of two young souls finding themselves in the pure air of passion; or some sordid liaison will be virtually lifted above marriage by the terms "affinity" or "heart-wife." And always, meanwhile, the people are to be soothed out of a sense of responsibility for errors and corruption by the skilfully maintained suggestion of a little group of men, entirely removed from the feelings and motives of ordinary humanity, sitting somewhere in secret conclave, plotting, plotting, to pervert the government. Our public crimes are never our own, but are the result of conspiracy.
These are the agencies that, in varying forms, have been at work in many ages. Only now we have formulated them into a noble maxim, which you will hear daily resounding in the pulpit and the press and in the street: "The cure of democracy is more democracy." It is a lie, and we know it is a lie. We knowthat this cry of the demagogue has invariably in the past led to anarchy and to despotism; and we know that to-day, were these forces unopposed, as happily they are not unopposed, the same result would occur--
Our liberty reversed and charters gone,The remedy for the evils of licence is not in the elimination of popular restraint, but precisely in bringing the people to respect and follow their right leaders. The cure of democracy is not more democracy, but better democracy.
Nor is such a cure dependent on the appearance in a community of men capable of the light, for these the world always has, and these we too have in abundance; it depends rather on so relating these select natures to the community that they shall be also men in leading. The danger is, lest, in a State which bestows influence and honours on its demagogues, the citizens of more refined intelligence, those true philosophers who have discourse of reason, and have won the difficult citadel of their own souls, should withdraw from public affairs and retire into that citadel as it were into an ivory tower. The harm wrought by such a condition is twofold: it deprives the better minds of the larger sustenance of popular sympathy, producing among them a kind of intellectual preciosite and a languid interest in art as a refuge from life instead of an integral part of life; and, on the other hand, it tends to leave the mass of society a prey to the brutalized emotions of indiscriminate pleasure-seeking. In such a State distinction becomes the sorry badge of isolation. The need is to provide for a natural aristocracy.
Now it must be clearly understood that in advocating such a measure, at least under the conditions that actually prevail to-day, there is involved no futile intention of abrogating democracy, in so far as democracy means government by and of the people. A natural aristocracy does not demand the restoration of inherited privilege or a relapse into the crude dominion of money; it !s not synonymous with oligarchy or plutocracy. It calls rather for some machinery or some social consciousness which shall ensure both the selection from among the community at large of the "best" and the bestowal on them of "power"; it is the true consummation of democracy. And again, it must be said emphatically that it is not an academic question dealing with unreal distinctions. No one supposes that the "best" are a sharply defined class moving about among their fellows with a visible halo above them and a smile of beatific superiority on their faces. Society is not made of such classifications, and governments have always been of a more or less mixed character. A natural aristocracy signifies rather a tendency than a conclusion, and in such a sense it was taken, no doubt, by my sociological friend of radical ideas who pronounced it the great practical problem of the day.
The first requisite for solving this problem is that those who are designed by nature, so to speak, to form an aristocracy should come to an understanding of their own belief. There is a question to be faced boldly: What is the true aim of society? Does justice consist primarily in levelling the distribution of powers and benefits, or in proportioning them to the scale of character and intelligence? Is the main purpose of the machinery of government to raise the material welfare of the masses, or to create advantages for the upward striving of the exceptional? Is the state of humanity to be estimated by numbers, or is it a true saying of the old stoic poet: humanum paucis vivit genus? Shall our interest in mankind begin at the bottom and progress upward, or begin at the top and progress downward? To those who feel that the time has come for a reversion from certain present tendencies, the answer to this question cannot be doubtful. Before anything else is done we must purge our minds of the current cant of humanitarianism. This does not mean that we are to deny the individual appeals of pity and introduce a wolfish egotism into human relations. On the contrary, it is just the preaching of false humanitarian doctrines that results practically in weakening the response to rightful obligations and, by "turning men's duties into doubts," throws the prizes of life to the hard grasping materialist and the coarse talker. In the end the happiness of the people also, in the wider sense, depends on the common recognition of the law of just subordination. But, whatever the ultimate effect of this sort may be, the need now is to counterbalance the excess of emotional humanitarianism with an injection of the truth--even the contemptuous truth. Let us, in the name of a long-suffering God, put some bounds to the flood of talk about the wages of the bricklayer and the trainman, and talk a little more about the income of the artist and teacher and public censor who have taste and strength of character to remain in opposition to the tide. Let us have less cant about the great educative value of the theatre for the people and less humbug about the virtues of the nauseous problem play, and more consideration of what is clean and nourishing food for the larger minds. Let us forget for a while our absorbing desire to fit the schools to train boys for the shop and the counting-room, and concern ourselves more effectively with the dwindling of those disciplinary studies which lift men out of the crowd. Let us, in fine, not number ourselves among the traitors to their class who invidiae metu non audeant dicere.
One hears a vast deal these days about class consciousness, and it is undoubtedly a potent social instrument. Why should there not be an outspoken class consciousness among those who are in the advance of civilization as well as among those who are in the rear? Such a compact of mutual sympathy and encouragement would draw the man of enlightenment out of his sterile seclusion and make him efficient; it would strengthen the sense of obligation among those who hesitate to take sides, and would turn many despondent votaries of fatalism and many amateur dabblers in reform to a realization of the deeper needs of the day. Nor is this an appeal to idle sentiment. Much is said about the power of the masses and the irresistible spread of revolutionary ideas from the lower ranks upward. The facts of history point in quite the other direction. It was not the plebs who destroyed the Roman republic, but the corrupt factions of the Senate, and the treachery of such patricians as Catiline and Julius Caesar. In like manner the French Revolution would never have had a beginning but for the teaching of the philosophers and the prevalence of equalitarian fallacies among the privileged classes themselves. The Vicomtesse de Noailles spoke from knowledge when she said: "La philosophie n'avait pas d'apotres plus bienveillants que les grands seigneurs. L'horreur des abus, le mepris des distinctions hereditaires, tous ces sentiments dont les classes inferieures se sont emparees dans leur interet, ont du leur premier eclat a l'enthousiasme des grands." And so to-day the real strength of socialistic doctrines is not in the discontent of the workingmen, but in the faint-hearted submission of those who by the natural division of society belong to the class that has everything to lose by revolution, and in the sentimental adherence of dilettante reformers. The real danger is after all not so much from the self-exposed demagogues as from the ignorant tamperers with explosive material. It is not so much from the loathsome machinations of the yellow press, dangerous as they are, as from the journals that are supposed to stand for higher things, yet in their interest in some particular reform, support whole-heartedly candidates who flirt with schemes subversive of property and constitutional checks; in their zeal for the brotherhood of man, deal loosely with facts, and in their clamour for some specious extension of the franchise, neglect the finer claims of justice. These men and these journals, betrayers of the trust, are the real menace. Without their aid and abetment there may he rumblings of discontent, wholesome enough as warnings against a selfish stagnation, hut there can be no concerted drive of society towards radical revolution. For radical forces are by their nature incapable of any persistent harmony of action, and have only the semblance of cohesion from a constraining fear or hatred. The dynamic source or evolution must he in the perversion of those at the top, and anarchy comes with their defalcation. Against such perils when they show themselves, the proper safeguard is the arousing of a counter class consciousness.
It is a sound theorem of President Lowell's that popular government "may be said to consist of the control of political affairs by public opinion." Now there is to-day a vast organization for manipulating public opinion in favor of the workingman and for deluding it in the interest of those who grow fat by pandering in the name of emancipation to the baser emotions of mankind; but of organization among those who suffer from the vulgarizing trend of democracy there is little or none. As a consequence we see the conditions of life growing year by year harder for those whose labour is not concerned immediately with the direction of material forces or with the supply of sensational pleasure; they are ground, so to speak, between the upper and the nether millstone. Perhaps organization is not the word to describe accurately what is desired among those who are fast becoming the silent members of society, for it implies a sharper discrimination into grades of taste and character than exists in nature; but there is nothing chimerical in looking for a certain conscious solidarity at the core of the aristocratical class (using "aristocratical" always in the Platonic sense), with a looser cohesion at the edges. Let that class become frankly convinced that the true aim of a State is, as in the magnificent theory of Aristotle, to make possible the high friendship of those who have raised themselves to a vision of the supreme good, let them adopt means to confirm one another in that faith, and their influence will spread outward through society and leaven the whole range of public opinion.
The instrument by which this control of public opinion is effected is primarily the imagination; and here we meet with a real difficulty. It was the advantage of such a union of aristocracy and inherited oligarchy as Burke advocated that it gave something visible and definite for the imagination to work upon, whereas the democratic aristocracy of character must always be comparatively vague. But we are not left wholly without the means of giving to the imagination a certain sureness of range while remaining within the forms of popular government. The opportunity is in the hands of our higher institutions of learning, and it is towards recalling these to their duty that the first efforts of reform should be directed. It is not my intention here to enter into the precise nature of this reform, for the subject is so large as to demand a separate essay. In brief the need is to restore to their predominance in the curriculum those studies that train the imagination, not, be it said, the imagination in its purely aesthetic function, though that aspect of it also has been sadly neglected, but the imagination in its power of grasping in a single firm vision, so to speak, the long course of human history and of distinguishing what is essential therein from what is ephemeral. The enormous preponderance of studies that deal with the immediate questions of economics and government inevitably results in isolating the student from the great inheritance of the past; the frequent habit of dragging him through the slums of sociology, instead of making him at home in the society of the noble dead, debauches his mind with a flabby, or inflames it with a fanatic, humanitarianism. He comes out of college, if he has learnt anything, a nouveau intellectuel, bearing the same relation to the man of genuine education as the nouveau riche to the man of inherited manners; he is narrow and unbalanced, a prey to the prevailing passion of the hour, with no feeling for the majestic claims of that within us which is unchanged from the beginning. In place of this excessive contemporaneity we shall give a larger share of time and honour to the hoarded lessons of antiquity. There is truth in the Hobbian maxim that "imagination and memory are but one thing"; by their union in education alone shall a man acquire the uninvidious equivalent in character of those broadening influences which came to the oligarch through prescription--he is moulded indeed into the true aristocrat. And with the assertion of what may be called a spiritual prescription he will find among those over whom he is set as leader and guide a measure of respect which springs from something in the human breast more stable and honourable and more conformable to reason than the mere stolidity of unreflecting prejudice. For, when everything is said, there could be no civilized society were it not that deep in our hearts, beneath all the turbulences of greed and vanity, abides the instinct of obedience to what is noble and of good repute. It awaits only the clear call from above.