Symbols are often so useful and so mysteriously powerful that the word itself exhales a magical glamor. In thinking about symbols it is tempting to treat them as if they possessed independent energy. Yet no end of symbols which once provoked ecstasy have quite ceased to affect anybody. The museums and the books of folklore are full of dead emblems and incantations, since there is no power in the symbol, except that which it acquires by association in the human mind. The symbols that have lost their power, and the symbols incessantly suggested which fail to take root, remind us that if we were patient enough to study in detail the circulation of a symbol, we should behold an entirely secular history.

In the Hughes campaign speech, in the Fourteen Points, in Hamilton's project, symbols are employed. But they are employed by somebody at a particular moment. The words themselves do not crystallize random feeling. The words must be spoken by people who are strategically placed, and they must be spoken at the opportune moment. Otherwise they are mere wind. The symbols must be earmarked. For in themselves they mean nothing, and the choice of possible symbols is always so great that we should, like the donkey who stood equidistant between two bales of hay, perish from sheer indecision among the symbols that compete for our attention.

Here, for example, are the reasons for their vote as stated by certain private citizens to a newspaper just before the election of 1920.

For Harding:

"The patriotic men and women of to-day, who cast their ballots for Harding and Coolidge will be held by posterity to have signed our Second Declaration of Independence."

Mr. Wilmot--, inventor.

"He will see to it that the United States does not enter into 'entangling alliances,' Washington as a city will benefit by changing the control of the government from the Democrats to the Republicans."

Mr. Clarence--, salesman.

For Cox:

"The people of the United States realize that it is our duty pledged on the fields of France, to join the League of Nations. We must shoulder our share of the burden of enforcing peace throughout the world."

Miss Marie--, stenographer.

"We should lose our own respect and the respect of other nations were we to refuse to enter the League of Nations in obtaining international peace."

Mr. Spencer--, statistician.

The two sets of phrases are equally noble, equally true, and almost reversible. Would Clarence and Wilmot have admitted for an instant that they intended to default in our duty pledged on the fields of France; or that they did not desire international peace? Certainly not. Would Marie and Spencer have admitted that they were in favor of entangling alliances or the surrender of American independence? They would have argued with you that the League was, as President Wilson called it, a disentangling alliance, as well as a Declaration of Independence for all the world, plus a Monroe Doctrine for the planet.

Since the offering of symbols is so generous, and the meaning that can be imputed is so elastic, how does any particular symbol take root in any particular person's mind? It is planted there by another human being whom we recognize as authoritative. If it is planted deeply enough, it may be that later we shall call the person authoritative who waves that symbol at us. But in the first instance symbols are made congenial and important because they are introduced to us by congenial and important people.

For we are not born out of an egg at the age of eighteen with a realistic imagination; we are still, as Mr. Shaw recalls, in the era of Burge and Lubin, where in infancy we are dependent upon older beings for our contacts. And so we make our connections with the outer world through certain beloved and authoritative persons. They are the first bridge to the invisible world. And though we may gradually master for ourselves many phases of that larger environment, there always remains a vaster one that is unknown. To that we still relate ourselves through authorities. Where all the facts are out of sight a true report and a plausible error read alike, sound alike, feel alike.

Except on a few subjects where our own knowledge is great, we cannot choose between true and false accounts. So we choose between trustworthy and untrustworthy reporters.1

Theoretically we ought to choose the most expert on each subject. But the choice of the expert, though a good deal easier than the choice of truth, is still too difficult and often impracticable. The experts themselves are not in the least certain who among them is the most expert. And at that, the expert, even when we can identify him, is, likely as not, too busy to be consulted, or impossible to get at. But there are people whom we can identify easily enough because they are the people who are at the head of affairs. Parents, teachers, and masterful friends are the first people of this sort we encounter. Into the difficult question of why children trust one parent rather than another, the history teacher rather than the Sunday school teacher, we need not try to enter. Nor how trust gradually spreads through a newspaper or an acquaintance who is interested in public affairs to public personages. The literature of psychoanalysis is rich in suggestive hypothesis.

At any rate we do find ourselves trusting certain people, who constitute our means of junction with pretty nearly the whole realm of unknown things. Strangely enough, this fact is sometimes regarded as inherently undignified, as evidence of our sheep-like, ape-like nature. But complete independence in the universe is simply unthinkable. If we could not take practically everything for granted, we should spend our lives in utter triviality. The nearest thing to a wholly independent adult is a hermit, and the range of a hermit's action is very short. Acting entirely for himself, he can act only within a tiny radius and for simple ends. If he has time to think great thoughts we can be certain that he has accepted without question, before he went in for being a hermit, a whole repertory of painfully acquired information about how to keep warm and how to keep from being hungry, and also about what the great questions are.

On all but a very few matters for short stretches in our lives, the utmost independence that we can exercise is to multiply the authorities to whom we give a friendly hearing. As congenital amateurs our quest for truth consists in stirring up the experts, and forcing them to answer any heresy that has the accent of conviction. In such a debate we can often judge who has won the dialectical victory, but we are virtually defenseless against a false premise that none of the debaters has challenged, or a neglected aspect that none of them has brought into the argument. We shall see later how the democratic theory proceeds on the opposite assumption and assumes for the purposes of government an unlimited supply of self-sufficient individuals.

The people on whom we depend for contact with the outer world are those who seem to be running it.2 They may be running only a very small part of the world. The nurse feeds the child, bathes it, and puts it to bed. That does not constitute the nurse an authority on physics, zoology, and the Higher Criticism. Mr. Smith runs, or at least hires, the man who runs the factory. That does not make him an authority on the Constitution of the United States, nor on the effects \of the Fordney tariff. Mr. Smoot runs the Republican party in the State of Utah. That in itself does not prove he is the best man to consult about taxation. But the nurse may nevertheless determine for a while what zoology the child shall learn, Mr. Smith will have much to say on what the Constitution shall mean to his wife, his secretary, and perhaps even to his parson, and who shall define the limits of Senator Smoot's authority?

The priest, the lord of the manor, the captains and the kings, the party leaders, the merchant, the boss, however these men are chosen, whether by birth, inheritance, conquest or election, they and their organized following administer human affairs. They are the officers, and although the same man may be field marshal at home, second lieutenant at the office, and scrub private in politics, although in many institutions the hierarchy of rank is vague or concealed, yet in every institution that requires the cooperation of many persons, some such hierarchy exists.3 In American politics we call it a machine, or "the organization."

There are a number of important distinctions between the members of the machine and the rank and file. The leaders, the steering committee and the inner circle, are in direct contact with their environment. They may, to be sure, have a very limited notion of what they ought to define as the environment, but they are not dealing almost wholly with abstractions. There are particular men they hope to see elected, particular balance sheets they wish to see improved, concrete objectives that must be attained. I do not mean that they escape the human propensity to stereotyped vision. Their stereotypes often make them absurd routineers. But whatever their limitations, the chiefs are in actual contact with some crucial part of that larger environment. They decide. They give orders. They bargain. And something definite, perhaps not at all what they imagined, actually happens.

Their subordinates are not tied to them by a common conviction. That is to say the lesser members of a machine do not dispose their loyalty according to independent judgment about the wisdom of the leaders. In the hierarchy each is dependent upon a superior and is in turn superior to some class of his dependents. What holds the machine together is a system of privileges. These may vary according to the opportunities and the tastes of those who seek them, from nepotism and patronage in all their aspects to clannishness, hero-worship or a fixed idea. They vary from military rank in armies, through land and services in a feudal system, to jobs and publicity in a modern democracy. That is why you can breakup a particular machine by abolishing its privileges. But the machine in every coherent group is, I believe, certain to reappear. For privilege is entirely relative, and uniformity is impossible. Imagine the most absolute communism of which your mind is capable, where no one possessed any object that everyone else did not possess, and still, if the communist group had to take any action whatever, the mere pleasure of being the friend of the man who was going to make the speech that secured the most votes, would, I am convinced, be enough to crystallize an organization of insiders around him.

It is not necessary, then, to invent a collective intelligence in order to explain why the judgments of a group are usually more coherent, and often more true to form than the remarks of the man in the street. One mind, or a few can pursue a train of thought, but a group trying to think in concert can as a group do little more than assent or dissent. The members of a hierarchy can have a corporate tradition. As apprentices they learn the trade from the masters, who in turn learned it when they were apprentices, and in any enduring society, the change of personnel within the governing hierarchies is slow enough to permit the transmission of certain great stereotypes and patterns of behavior. From father to son, from prelate to novice, from veteran to cadet, certain ways of seeing and doing are taught. These ways become familiar, and are recognized as such by the mass of outsiders.

Distance alone lends enchantment to the view that masses of human beings ever cooperate in any complex affair without a central machine managed by a very few people. "No one," says Bryce,4 "can have had some years' experience of the conduct of affairs in a legislature or an administration without observing how extremely small is the number of persons by whom the world is governed." He is referring, of course, to affairs of state. To be sure if you consider all the affairs of mankind the number of people who govern is considerable, but if you take any particular institution, be it a legislature, a party, a trade union, a nationalist movement, a factory, or a club, the number of those who govern is a very small percentage of those who are theoretically supposed to govern.

Landslides can turn one machine out and put another in; revolutions sometimes abolish a particular machine altogether. The democratic revolution set up two alternating machines, each of which in the course of a few years reaps the advantage from the mistakes of the other. But nowhere does the machine disappear. Nowhere is the idyllic theory of democracy realized. Certainly not in trades unions, nor in socialist parties, nor in communist governments. There is an inner circle, surrounded by concentric circles which fade out gradually into the disinterested or uninterested rank and file.

Democrats have never come to terms with this commonplace of group life. They have invariably regarded it as perverse. For there are two visions of democracy: one presupposes the self-sufficient individual; the other an Oversoul regulating everything.

Of the two the Oversoul has some advantage because it does at least recognize that the mass makes decisions that are not spontaneously born in the breast of every member. But the Oversoul as presiding genius in corporate behavior is a superfluous mystery if we fix our attention upon the machine. The machine is a quite prosaic reality. It consists of human beings who wear clothes and live in houses, who can be named and described. They perform all the duties usually assigned to the Oversoul.

The reason for the machine is not the perversity of human nature. It is that out of the private notions of any group no common idea emerges by itself. For the number of ways is limited in which a multitude of people can act directly upon a situation beyond their reach. Some of them can migrate, in one form or another, they can strike or boycott, they can applaud or hiss. They can by these means occasionally resist what they do not like, or coerce those who obstruct what they desire. But by mass action nothing can be constructed, devised, negotiated, or administered. A public as such, without an organized hierarchy around which it can gather, may refuse to buy if the prices are too high, or refuse to work if wages are too low. A trade union can by mass action in a strike break an opposition so that the union officials can negotiate an agreement. It may win, for example, the right to joint control. But it cannot exercise the right except through an organization. A nation can clamor for war, but when it goes to war it must put itself under orders from a general staff.

The limit of direct action is for all practical purposes the power to say Yes or No on an issue presented to the mass.5 For only in the very simplest cases does an issue present itself in the same form spontaneously and approximately at the same time to all the members of a public. There are unorganized strikes and boycotts, not merely industrial ones, where the grievance is so plain that virtually without leadership the same reaction takes place in many people. But even in these rudimentary cases there are persons who know what they want to do more quickly than the rest, and who become impromptu ringleaders. Where they do not appear a crowd will mill about aimlessly beset by all its private aims, or stand by fatalistically, as did a crowd of fifty persons the other day, and watch a man commit suicide.

For what we make out of most of the impressions that come to us from the invisible world is a kind of pantomime played out in revery. The number of times is small that we consciously decide anything about events beyond our sight, and each man's opinion of what he could accomplish if he tried, is slight. There is rarely a practical issue, and therefore no great habit of decision. This would be more evident were it not that most information when it reaches us carries with it an aura of suggestion as to how we ought to feel about the news. That suggestion we need, and if we do not find it in the news we turn to the editorials or to a trusted adviser. The revery, if we feel ourselves implicated, is uncomfortable until we know where we stand, that is, until the facts have been formulated so that we can feel Yes or No in regard to them.

When a number of people all say Yes they may have all kinds of reasons for saying it. They generally do. For the pictures in their minds are, as we have already noted, varied in subtle and intimate ways. But this subtlety remains within their minds; it becomes represented publicly by a number of symbolic phrases which carry the individual emotion after evacuating most of the intention. The hierarchy, or, if it is a contest, then the two hierarchies, associate the symbols with a definite action, a vote of Yes or No, an attitude pro or con. Then Smith who was against the League and Jones who was against Article X, and Brown who was against Mr. Wilson and all his works, each for his own reason, all in the name of more or less the same symbolic phrase, register a vote against the Democrats by voting for the Republicans. A common will has been expressed.

A concrete choice had to be presented, the choice had to be connected, by the transfer of interest through the symbols, with individual opinion. The professional politicians learned this long before the democratic philosophers. And so they organized the caucus, the nominating convention, and the steering committee, as the means of formulating a definite choice. Everyone who wishes to accomplish anything that requires the cooperation of a large number of people follows their example. Sometimes it is done rather brutally as when the Peace Conference reduced itself to the Council of Ten, and the Council of Ten to the Big Three or Four; and wrote a treaty which the minor allies, their own constituents, and the enemy were permitted to take or leave. More consultation than that is generally possible and desirable. But the essential fact remains that a small number of heads present a choice to a large group.

The abuses of the steering committee have led to various proposals such as the initiative, referendum and direct primary. But these merely postponed or obscured the need for a machine by complicating the elections, or as H. G. Wells once said with scrupulous accuracy, the selections. For no amount of balloting can obviate the need of creating an issue, be it a measure or a candidate, on which the voters can say Yes, or No. There is, in fact, no such thing as "direct legislation." For what happens where it is supposed to exist? The citizen goes to the polls, receives a ballot on which a number of measures are printed, almost always in abbreviated form, and, if he says anything at all, he says Yes or No. The most brilliant amendment in the world may occur to him. He votes Yes or No on that bill and no other. You have to commit violence against the English language to call that legislation. I do not argue, of course, that there are no benefits, whatever you call the process. I think that for certain kinds of issues there are distinct benefits. But the necessary simplicity of any mass decision is a very important fact in view of the inevitable complexity of the world in which those decisions operate. The most complicated form of voting that anyone proposes is, I suppose, the preferential ballot. Among a number of candidates presented the voter under that system, instead of saying yes to one candidate and no to all the others, states the order of his choice. But even here, immensely more flexible though it is, the action of the mass depends upon the quality of the choices presented.6] And those choices are presented by the energetic coteries who hustle about with petitions and round up the delegates. The Many can elect after the Few have nominated.

1. See an interesting, rather quaint old book: George Cornewall Lewis, An Essay on the Influence of Authority in Matters of Opinion.

2. Cf. Bryce, Modern Democracies Vol. II, pp. 544-545.

3. Cf. M. Ostrogorski, Democracy and the Organization of Political Parties, passim; R. Michels, Political Parties, passim; and Bryce, Modern Democracies, particularly Chap. LXXV; also Ross, Principles of Sociology, Chaps. XXII-XXIV.

4. Op. cit., Vol. II, p. 542.

5. Cf. James, Some Problems of Philosophy, p. 227. "But for most of our emergencies, fractional solutions are impossible. Seldom can we act fractionally." Cf. Lowell, Public Opinion and Popular Government, pp. 91, 92.

6. Cf. H. J. Laski, Foundations of Sovereignty, p. 224. "... proportional representation... by leading, as it seems to lead, to the group system... may deprive the electors of their choice of leaders." The group system undoubtedly tends, as Mr. Laski says, to make the selection of the executive more indirect, but there is no doubt also that it tends to produce legislative assemblies in which currents of opinion are more fully represented. Whether that is good or bad cannot be determined a priori. But one can say that successful cooperation and responsibility in a more accurately representative assembly require a higher organization of political intelligence and political habit, than in a rigid two-party house. It is a more complex political form and may therefore work less well.