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Largest meaning of democracy


HE finest and largest meaning of democracy is

that all people should share as largely as pos

sible in the best life. This is a view not so much about government itself as about what government is for. It is indeed closely connected with the idea of self-government, because, as we have said, one of the greatest factors in the best life is to be free and responsible,—that is, to govern oneself. But there are many other things besides self-government which belong in good life. Education is one of them. Enough wealth to keep us well-fed, well-clothed, and warm, to provide us comforts, and to enable us to share these with our friends, is another. Recreation to give our minds and bodies free opportunity for change and growth, and to keep us from growing old too fast is another. Good books, good music, beautiful pictures, noble buildings, the opportunity to enjoy trees, open fields, and splendid mountains, are for many among the choicest of goods. “If I had two loaves of bread," said Mahomet, “I would sell one and buy a hyacinth to feed my soul.”

As to all these good things, two very different views have been held. The one is that these best things should be for a few. The other is that they should be for all. The first view is that of Inequality. The second view is that of Equality. The first view was

Who should have the best things?

called in ancient times the view of “oligarchy,” or “aristocracy.” The second view was called “democracy.” These words do not mean exactly the same as inequality and equality. They mean government by a few (oligarchy), government by the best (aristocracy), and government by the mass of the people after taking out the “ few best” (democracy). Yet the words inequality and equality were very soon connected with these theories of government. For it was taken as a matter of course that if the few (whether they were those of special birth or those who were wealthy) were governing, they would govern for their own advantage; while if the many, who were usually poor, were governing, they would govern for their own advantage.

Why should any one wish to limit good things to a The small class? We know that persons often are selfish; view of but most persons would not wish to set selfishness up inequality as an ideal or as a general policy. Most men would say that it would be a fine thing if all could have health, education, and means of enjoyment. Yet there have always been certain persons who have held strongly to the theory of inequality. Some of them have been very eminent. How can we explain it? There are perhaps four principal reasons which have been in their minds.

The first reason would be a very good one against (1) Men certain forms of the theory of equality. It is that differ in

capacity men are very different in their capacities. Some men, it is claimed, are never capable of enjoying books, music, good clothes, travel, study; and especially it is claimed that they are not capable of governing themselves. It is foolish to waste these goods upon them. If they try to govern themselves they make a mess of it. They cannot manage a business or a farm and make a success of it; how absurd to suppose that they can

manage the business of the whole country or of a city! They should be given the necessaries of life in some way. The older way was by a system of slavery. The modern way should be by daily wages, sufficient to keep them in comfort. The great philosopher of Greece, Aristotle, the man who laid the foundations of most of our various sciences, sincerely believed that some men are not capable of directing themselves and therefore can best be cared for as slaves. Of course he did not mean that they should be cruelly treated. He thought such slavery would be best for both classes.

This we may call the theory of natural inequality. Men are unequal by nature. God has made them so, or, at any rate, they are born so and it cannot be helped. In early times this theory of natural inequality was generally connected with clannishness. Greeks thought that other people were “barbarians ” and not so good as Greeks. Jews thought that the Gentiles were not so good as Jews. Christians thought that Pagans or Heathen were inferior. Normans thought that the English were not gentlemen.

The second reason why men have held the doctrine of inequality has been the old prejudice of the clan added to the military fact of conquest. This is rooted very deep. It seems to show even among animals; a dog that has whipped another carries his head proudly and the whipped dog puts his tail between his legs. The small boy who has triumphed over a boy from another gang feels much like the successful dog, especially if he had an easy victory. He feels that the other boy isn't quite in his “ class.” Peoples have felt much the same way. In history we read over and over again of how one race or group conquers another and reduces it to a lower class even if it does not make its

(2) Race prejudice and conquest


people slaves. When the Normans conquered England they took the view that every Norman was a gentleman and that the English as

a class were simple common.” The word native was used to mean a serf. In ancient Greece, the Spartans, a very warlike group, conquered the older inhabitants and ever after kept them in a state of inferiority. They called them Helots and looked upon them with great contempt. Sometimes the difference in color falls in with difference in fighting ability. The negro race have never been very good fighters. This has no doubt added to the prejudice against them felt by some. On the other hand, the American Indians were, in most cases, remarkable as fighters, and hence a certain romantic admiration for their bravery has tended to counterbalance prejudice arising from difference in color. The Japanese stand higher in general respect among Europeans since their war with Russia.

The third explanation for the view of inequality is (3) Not that in the past there has usually not been “enough enough to go around.” In all human history until the Indus- for all trial Revolution the great mass of men had to work hard and long in order to get the bare means of existence. It had not been possible for many to have books or leisure, to enjoy comforts, or to have education. It is only the recent inventions and the more efficient way of working by coöperation that make possible so much education and so many of the comforts of life as we can now enjoy. In early times the only way in which any one at all could have leisure was that some one else should support him. In Athens the citizens who made the beautiful buildings and statues, who wrote the tragedies and comedies and song, who carried on the government, who laid the foundations

(4) Prizes stimulate

of our sciences, did not expect to do much manual work. They might have farms, but labor of most sorts was performed by slaves. The early settlers of America had little leisure. They worked from early until late, not because any one was oppressing them, but simply because it was impossible to get a living in any other way. If there isn't enough to go around, it may plausibly be said it is better that some one should have leisure for writing poems, painting pictures, studying, and teaching, than that there should be no books, no pictures, no science, and no schools.

A fourth reason that some offer for inequality is that to strive for prizes stimulates men to do their best. And we cannot give prizes without both recognizing differences and making these differences conspicuous. Recognition of differences and admiration for excellence are very widespread both in savage and in civilized life. Among the American Indians a man who had performed special feats of courage or strength could wear an eagle's feather. In the army the lieutenant, captain, colonel, general, have each a distinctive uniform. This is of course partly in order that it may be seen at once whether they have a right to command. But it is partly also a reward for distinguished service. In the field of education those who graduate from college receive

“ degree," such as “bachelor of arts." Those who go on with further study receive further degrees, such

“ doctor of medicine ” or “ doctor of philosophy." These are in part to show whether one is competent to be a physician or a teacher, but they are also regarded as honors. In the earlier days in all our public schools spelling was usually taught orally, and it was the custom that when one missed a word he should go to the foot of the class. To be at the head of the



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