Public Opinion







BUT the human mind is not a film which registers once and for all each
impression that comes through its shutters and lenses. The human mind
is endlessly and persistently creative. The pictures fade or combine,
are sharpened here, condensed there, as we make them more completely
our own. They do not lie inert upon the surface of the mind, but are
reworked by the poetic faculty into a personal expression of
ourselves. We distribute the emphasis and participate in the action.

In order to do this we tend to personalize quantities, and to
dramatize relations. As some sort of allegory, except in acutely
sophisticated minds, the affairs of the world are represented. Social
Movements, Economic Forces, National Interests, Public Opinion are
treated as persons, or persons like the Pope, the President, Lenin,
Morgan or the King become ideas and institutions. The deepest of all
the stereotypes is the human stereotype which imputes human nature to
inanimate or collective things.

The bewildering variety of our impressions, even after they have been
censored in all kinds of ways, tends to force us to adopt the greater
economy of the allegory. So great is the multitude of things that we
cannot keep them vividly in mind. Usually, then, we name them, and let
the name stand for the whole impression. But a name is porous. Old
meanings slip out and new ones slip in, and the attempt to retain the
full meaning of the name is almost as fatiguing as trying to recall
the original impressions. Yet names are a poor currency for thought.
They are too empty, too abstract, too inhuman. And so we begin to see
the name through some personal stereotype, to read into it, finally to
see in it the incarnation of some human quality.

Yet human qualities are themselves vague and fluctuating. They are
best remembered by a physical sign. And therefore, the human qualities
we tend to ascribe to the names of our impressions, themselves tend to
be visualized in physical metaphors. The people of England, the
history of England, condense into England, and England becomes John
Bull, who is jovial and fat, not too clever, but well able to take
care of himself. The migration of a people may appear to some as the
meandering of a river, and to others like a devastating flood. The
courage people display may be objectified as a rock; their purpose as
a road, their doubts as forks of the road, their difficulties as ruts
and rocks, their progress as a fertile valley. If they mobilize their
dread-naughts they unsheath a sword. If their army surrenders they are
thrown to earth. If they are oppressed they are on the rack or under
the harrow.

When public affairs are popularized in speeches, headlines, plays,
moving pictures, cartoons, novels, statues or paintings, their
transformation into a human interest requires first abstraction from
the original, and then animation of what has been abstracted. We
cannot be much interested in, or much moved by, the things we do not
see. Of public affairs each of us sees very little, and therefore,
they remain dull and unappetizing, until somebody, with the makings of
an artist, has translated them into a moving picture. Thus the
abstraction, imposed upon our knowledge of reality by all the
limitations of our access and of our prejudices, is compensated. Not
being omnipresent and omniscient we cannot see much of what we have to
think and talk about. Being flesh and blood we will not feed on words
and names and gray theory. Being artists of a sort we paint pictures,
stage dramas and draw cartoons out of the abstractions.

Or, if possible, we find gifted men who can visualize for us. For
people are not all endowed to the same degree with the pictorial
faculty. Yet one may, I imagine, assert with Bergson that the
practical intelligence is most closely adapted to spatial
qualities. [Footnote: _Creative Evolution_, Chs. III, IV.] A
“clear” thinker is almost always a good visualizer. But for that same
reason, because he is “cinematographic,” he is often by that much
external and insensitive. For the people who have intuition, which is
probably another name for musical or muscular perception, often
appreciate the quality of an event and the inwardness of an act far
better than the visualizer. They have more understanding when the
crucial element is a desire that is never crudely overt, and appears
on the surface only in a veiled gesture, or in a rhythm of speech.
Visualization may catch the stimulus and the result. But the
intermediate and internal is often as badly caricatured by a
visualizer, as is the intention of the composer by an enormous soprano
in the sweet maiden’s part.

Nevertheless, though they have often a peculiar justice, intuitions
remain highly private and largely incommunicable. But social
intercourse depends on communication, and while a person can often
steer his own life with the utmost grace by virtue of his intuitions,
he usually has great difficulty in making them real to others. When he
talks about them they sound like a sheaf of mist. For while intuition
does give a fairer perception of human feeling, the reason with its
spatial and tactile prejudice can do little with that perception.
Therefore, where action depends on whether a number of people are of
one mind, it is probably true that in the first instance no idea is
lucid for practical decision until it has visual or tactile value. But
it is also true, that no visual idea is significant to us until it has
enveloped some stress of our own personality. Until it releases or
resists, depresses or enhances, some craving of our own, it remains
one of the objects which do not matter.


Pictures have always been the surest way of conveying an idea, and
next in order, words that call up pictures in memory. But the idea
conveyed is not fully our own until we have identified ourselves with
some aspect of the picture. The identification, or what Vernon Lee has
called empathy, [Footnote: _Beauty and Ugliness_.] may be almost
infinitely subtle and symbolic. The mimicry may be performed without
our being aware of it, and sometimes in a way that would horrify those
sections of our personality which support our self-respect. In
sophisticated people the participation may not be in the fate of the
hero, but in the fate of the whole idea to which both hero and villain
are essential. But these are refinements.

In popular representation the handles for identification are almost
always marked. You know who the hero is at once. And no work promises
to be easily popular where the marking is not definite and the choice
clear. [Footnote: A fact which bears heavily on the character of news.
_Cf_. Part VII.] But that is not enough. The audience must have
something to do, and the contemplation of the true, the good and the
beautiful is not something to do. In order not to sit inertly in the
presence of the picture, and this applies as much to newspaper stories
as to fiction and the cinema, the audience must be exercised by the
image. Now there are two forms of exercise which far transcend all
others, both as to ease with which they are aroused, and eagerness
with which stimuli for them are sought. They are sexual passion and
fighting, and the two have so many associations with each other, blend
into each other so intimately, that a fight about sex outranks every
other theme in the breadth of its appeal. There is none so engrossing
or so careless of all distinctions of culture and frontiers.

The sexual motif figures hardly at all in American political imagery.
Except in certain minor ecstasies of war, in an occasional scandal, or
in phases of the racial conflict with Negroes or Asiatics, to speak of
it at all would seem far-fetched. Only in moving pictures, novels, and
some magazine fiction are industrial relations, business competition,
politics, and diplomacy tangled up with the girl and the other woman.
But the fighting motif appears at every turn. Politics is interesting
when there is a fight, or as we say, an issue. And in order to make
politics popular, issues have to be found, even when in truth and
justice, there are none,–none, in the sense that the differences of
judgment, or principle, or fact, do not call for the enlistment of
pugnacity. [Footnote: _Cf_. Frances Taylor Patterson, _Cinema
Craftsmanship_, pp. 31-32. “III. If the plot lacks suspense: 1. Add
an antagonist, 2. Add an obstacle, 3. Add a problem, 4. Emphasize one
of the questions in the minds of the spectator.,..”]

But where pugnacity is not enlisted, those of us who are not directly
involved find it hard to keep up our interest. For those who are
involved the absorption may be real enough to hold them even when no
issue is involved. They may be exercised by sheer joy in activity, or
by subtle rivalry or invention. But for those to whom the whole
problem is external and distant, these other faculties do not easily
come into play. In order that the faint image of the affair shall mean
something to them, they must be allowed to exercise the love of
struggle, suspense, and victory.

Miss Patterson [Footnote: _Op. cit._, pp. 6-7.] insists that
“suspense… constitutes the difference between the masterpieces in
the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the pictures at the Rivoli or the
Rialto Theatres.” Had she made it clear that the masterpieces lack
either an easy mode of identification or a theme popular for this
generation, she would be wholly right in saying that this “explains
why the people straggle into the Metropolitan by twos and threes and
struggle into the Rialto and Rivoli by hundreds. The twos and threes
look at a picture in the Art Museum for less than ten minutes–unless
they chance to be art students, critics, or connoisseurs. The hundreds
in the Rivoli or the Rialto look at the picture for more than an hour.
As far as beauty is concerned there can be no comparison of the merits
of the two pictures. Yet the motion picture draws more people and
holds them at attention longer than do the masterpieces, not through
any intrinsic merit of its own, but because it depicts unfolding
events, the outcome of which the audience is breathlessly waiting. It
possesses the element of struggle, which never fails to arouse

In order then that the distant situation shall not be a gray flicker
on the edge of attention, it should be capable of translation into
pictures in which the opportunity for identification is recognizable.
Unless that happens it will interest only a few for a little while. It
will belong to the sights seen but not felt, to the sensations that
beat on our sense organs, and are not acknowledged. We have to take
sides. We have to be able to take sides. In the recesses of our being
we must step out of the audience on to the stage, and wrestle as the
hero for the victory of good over evil. We must breathe into the
allegory the breath of our life.


And so, in spite of the critics, a verdict is rendered in the old
controversy about realism and romanticism. Our popular taste is to
have the drama originate in a setting realistic enough to make
identification plausible and to have it terminate in a setting
romantic enough to be desirable, but not so romantic as to be
inconceivable. In between the beginning and the end the canons are
liberal, but the true beginning and the happy ending are landmarks.
The moving picture audience rejects fantasy logically developed,
because in pure fantasy there is no familiar foothold in the age of
machines. It rejects realism relentlessly pursued because it does not
enjoy defeat in a struggle that has become its own.

What will be accepted as true, as realistic, as good, as evil, as
desirable, is not eternally fixed. These are fixed by stereotypes,
acquired from earlier experiences and carried over into judgment of
later ones. And, therefore, if the financial investment in each film
and in popular magazines were not so exorbitant as to require instant
and widespread popularity, men of spirit and imagination would be able
to use the screen and the periodical, as one might dream of their
being used, to enlarge and to refine, to verify and criticize the
repertory of images with which our imaginations work. But, given the
present costs, the men who make moving pictures, like the church and
the court painters of other ages, must adhere to the stereotypes that
they find, or pay the price of frustrating expectation. The
stereotypes can be altered, but not in time to guarantee success when
the film is released six months from now.

The men who do alter the stereotypes, the pioneering artists and
critics, are naturally depressed and angered at managers and editors
who protect their investments. They are risking everything, then why
not the others? That is not quite fair, for in their righteous fury
they have forgotten their own rewards, which are beyond any that their
employers can hope to feel. They could not, and would not if they
could, change places. And they have forgotten another thing in the
unceasing war with Philistia. They have forgotten that they are
measuring their own success by standards that artists and wise men of
the past would never have dreamed of invoking. They are asking for
circulations and audiences that were never considered by any artist
until the last few generations. And when they do not get them, they
are disappointed.

Those who catch on, like Sinclair Lewis in “Main Street,” are men who
have succeeded in projecting definitely what great numbers of other
people were obscurely trying to say inside their heads. “You have said
it for me.” They establish a new form which is then endlessly copied
until it, too, becomes a stereotype of perception. The next pioneer
finds it difficult to make the public see Main Street any other way.
And he, like the forerunners of Sinclair Lewis, has a quarrel with the

This quarrel is due not only to the conflict of stereotypes, but to
the pioneering artist’s reverence for his material. Whatever the plane
he chooses, on that plane he remains. If he is dealing with the
inwardness of an event he follows it to its conclusion regardless of
the pain it causes. He will not tag his fantasy to help anyone, or cry
peace where there is no peace. There is his America. But big audiences
have no stomach for such severity. They are more interested in
themselves than in anything else in the world. The selves in which
they are interested are the selves that have been revealed by schools
and by tradition. They insist that a work of art shall be a vehicle
with a step where they can climb aboard, and that they shall ride, not
according to the contours of the country, but to a land where for an
hour there are no clocks to punch and no dishes to wash. To satisfy
these demands there exists an intermediate class of artists who are
able and willing to confuse the planes, to piece together a
realistic-romantic compound out of the inventions of greater men, and,
as Miss Patterson advises, give “what real life so rarely does-the
triumphant resolution of a set of difficulties; the anguish of virtue
and the triumph of sin… changed to the glorifications of virtue and
the eternal punishment of its enemy.” [Footnote: _Op. cit._, p.
46. “The hero and heroine must in general possess youth, beauty,
goodness, exalted self-sacrifice, and unalterable constancy.”]


The ideologies of politics obey these rules. The foothold of realism
is always there. The picture of some real evil, such as the German
threat or class conflict, is recognizable in the argument. There is a
description of some aspect of the world which is convincing because it
agrees with familiar ideas. But as the ideology deals with an unseen
future, as well as with a tangible present, it soon crosses
imperceptibly the frontier of verification. In describing the present
you are more or less tied down to common experience. In describing
what nobody has experienced you are bound to let go. You stand at
Armageddon, more or less, but you battle for the Lord, perhaps…. A
true beginning, true according to the standards prevailing, and a
happy ending. Every Marxist is hard as nails about the brutalities of
the present, and mostly sunshine about the day after the dictatorship.
So were the war propagandists: there was not a bestial quality in
human nature they did not find everywhere east of the Rhine, or west
of it if they were Germans. The bestiality was there all right. But
after the victory, eternal peace. Plenty of this is quite cynically
deliberate. For the skilful propagandist knows that while you must
start with a plausible analysis, you must not keep on analyzing,
because the tedium of real political accomplishment will soon destroy
interest. So the propagandist exhausts the interest in reality by a
tolerably plausible beginning, and then stokes up energy for a long
voyage by brandishing a passport to heaven.

The formula works when the public fiction enmeshes itself with a
private urgency. But once enmeshed, in the heat of battle, the
original self and the original stereotype which effected the junction
may be wholly lost to sight.




THEREFORE, the identical story is not the same story to all who hear
it. Each will enter it at a slightly different point, since no two
experiences are exactly alike; he will reenact it in his own way, and
transfuse it with his own feelings. Sometimes an artist of compelling
skill will force us to enter into lives altogether unlike our own,
lives that seem at first glance dull, repulsive, or eccentric. But
that is rare. In almost every story that catches our attention we
become a character and act out the role with a pantomime of our own.
The pantomime may be subtle or gross, may be sympathetic to the story,
or only crudely analogous; but it will consist of those feelings which
are aroused by our conception of the role. And so, the original theme
as it circulates, is stressed, twisted, and embroidered by all the
minds through which it goes. It is as if a play of Shakespeare’s were
rewritten each time it is performed with all the changes of emphasis
and meaning that the actors and audience inspired.

Something very like that seems to have happened to the stories in the
sagas before they were definitively written down. In our time the
printed record, such as it is, checks the exuberance of each
individual’s fancy. But against rumor there is little or no checks and
the original story, true or invented, grows wings and horns, hoofs and
beaks, as the artist in each gossip works upon it. The first
narrator’s account does not keep its shape and proportions. It is
edited and revised by all who played with it as they heard it, used it
for day dreams, and passed it on. [Footnote: For an interesting
example, see the case described by C. J. Jung, _Zentralblatt für
Psychoanalyse_, 1911, Vol. I, p. 81. Translated by Constance Long,
in _Analytical Psychology_, Ch. IV.]

Consequently the more mixed the audience, the greater will be the
variation in the response. For as the audience grows larger, the
number of common words diminishes. Thus the common factors in the
story become more abstract. This story, lacking precise character of
its own, is heard by people of highly varied character. They give it
their own character.


The character they give it varies not only with sex and age, race and
religion and social position, but within these cruder classifications,
according to the inherited and acquired constitution of the
individual, his faculties, his career, the progress of his career, an
emphasized aspect of his career, his moods and tenses, or his place on
the board in any of the games of life that he is playing. What reaches
him of public affairs, a few lines of print, some photographs,
anecdotes, and some casual experience of his own, he conceives through
his set patterns and recreates with his own emotions. He does not take
his personal problems as partial samples of the greater environment.
He takes his stories of the greater environment as a mimic enlargement
of his private life.

But not necessarily of that private life as he would describe it to
himself. For in his private life the choices are narrow, and much of
himself is squeezed down and out of sight where it cannot directly
govern his outward behavior. And thus, beside the more average people
who project the happiness of their own lives into a general good will,
or their unhappiness into suspicion and hate, there are the outwardly
happy people who are brutal everywhere but in their own circle, as
well as the people who, the more they detest their families, their
friends, their jobs, the more they overflow with love for mankind.

As you descend from generalities to detail, it becomes more apparent
that the character in which men deal with their affairs is not fixed.
Possibly their different selves have a common stem and common
qualities, but the branches and the twigs have many forms. Nobody
confronts every situation with the same character. His character
varies in some degree through the sheer influence of time and
accumulating memory, since he is not an automaton. His character
varies, not only in time, but according to circumstance. The legend of
the solitary Englishman in the South Seas, who invariably shaves and
puts on a black tie for dinner, bears witness to his own intuitive and
civilized fear of losing the character which he has acquired. So do
diaries, and albums, and souvenirs, old letters, and old clothes, and
the love of unchanging routine testify to our sense of how hard it is
to step twice in the Heraclitan river.

There is no one self always at work. And therefore it is of great
importance in the formation of any public opinion, what self is
engaged. The Japanese ask the right to settle in California. Clearly
it makes a whole lot of difference whether you conceive the demand as
a desire to grow fruit or to marry the white man’s daughter. If two
nations are disputing a piece of territory, it matters greatly whether
the people regard the negotiations as a real estate deal, an attempt
to humiliate them, or, in the excited and provocative language which
usually enclouds these arguments, as a rape. For the self which takes
charge of the instincts when we are thinking about lemons or distant
acres is very different from the self which appears when we are
thinking even potentially as the outraged head of a family. In one
case the private feeling which enters into the opinion is tepid, in
the other, red hot. And so while it is so true as to be mere tautology
that “self-interest” determines opinion, the statement is not
illuminating, until we know which self out of many selects and directs
the interest so conceived.

Religious teaching and popular wisdom have always distinguished
several personalities in each human being. They have been called the
Higher and Lower, the Spiritual and the Material, the Divine and the
Carnal; and although we may not wholly accept this classification, we
cannot fail to observe that distinctions exist. Instead of two
antithetic selves, a modern man would probably note a good many not so
sharply separated. He would say that the distinction drawn by
theologians was arbitrary and external, because many different selves
were grouped together as higher provided they fitted into the
theologian’s categories, but he would recognize nevertheless that here
was an authentic clue to the variety of human nature.

We have learned to note many selves, and to be a little less ready to
issue judgment upon them. We understand that we see the same body, but
often a different man, depending on whether he is dealing with a
social equal, a social inferior, or a social superior; on whether he
is making love to a woman he is eligible to marry, or to one whom he
is not; on whether he is courting a woman, or whether he considers
himself her proprietor; on whether he is dealing with his children,
his partners, his most trusted subordinates, the boss who can make him
or break him; on whether he is struggling for the necessities of life,
or successful; on whether he is dealing with a friendly alien, or a
despised one; on whether he is in great danger, or in perfect
security; on whether he is alone in Paris or among his family in

People differ widely, of course, in the consistency of their
characters, so widely that they may cover the whole gamut of
differences between a split soul like Dr. Jekyll’s and an utterly
singleminded Brand, Parsifal, or Don Quixote. If the selves are too
unrelated, we distrust the man; if they are too inflexibly on one
track we find him arid, stubborn, or eccentric. In the repertory of
characters, meager for the isolated and the self-sufficient, highly
varied for the adaptable, there is a whole range of selves, from that
one at the top which we should wish God to see, to those at the bottom
that we ourselves do not dare to see. There may be octaves for the
family,–father, Jehovah, tyrant,–husband, proprietor, male,–lover,
lecher,–for the occupation,–employer, master, exploiter,–competitor,
intriguer, enemy,–subordinate, courtier, snob. Some never come out
into public view. Others are called out only by exceptional circumstances.
But the characters take their form from a man’s conception of the
situation in which he finds himself. If the environment to which he
is sensitive happens to be the smart set, he will imitate the character
he conceives to be appropriate. That character will tend to act as
modulator of his bearing, his speech, his choice of subjects, his
preferences. Much of the comedy of life lies here, in the way people
imagine their characters for situations that are strange to them: the
professor among promoters, the deacon at a poker game, the
cockney in the country, the paste diamond among real diamonds.


Into the making of a man’s characters there enters a variety of
influences not easily separated. [Footnote: For an interesting sketch
of the more noteworthy early attempts to explain character, see the
chapter called “The Antecedents of the Study of Character and
Temperament,” in Joseph Jastrow’s _The Psychology of Conviction_.] The analysis in its fundamentals is perhaps still as doubtful as it
was in the fifth century B. C. when Hippocrates formulated the
doctrine of the humors, distinguished the sanguine, the
melancholic, the choleric, and the phlegmatic dispositions, and
ascribed them to the blood, the black bile, the yellow bile, and the
phlegm. The latest theories, such as one finds them in Cannon,
[Footnote: _Bodily Changes in Pleasure, Pain and Anger_.] Adler,
[Footnote: _The Neurotic Constitution_.] Kempf, [Footnote: _The
Autonomic Functions and the Personality; Psychopathology. Cf_. also
Louis Berman: _The Glands Regulating Personality_.] appear to
follow much the same scent, from the outward behavior and the inner
consciousness to the physiology of the body. But in spite of an
immensely improved technique, no one would be likely to claim that
there are settled conclusions which enable us to set apart nature from
nurture, and abstract the native character from the acquired. It is
only in what Joseph Jastrow has called the slums of psychology that
the explanation of character is regarded as a fixed system to be
applied by phrenologists, palmists, fortune-tellers, mind-readers, and
a few political professors. There you will still find it asserted that
“the Chinese are fond of colors, and have their eyebrows much vaulted”
while “the heads of the Calmucks are depressed from above, but very
large laterally, about the organ which gives the inclination to
acquire; and this nation’s propensity to steal, etc., is admitted.”
[Footnote: _Jastrow, op. cit._, p. 156.]

The modern psychologists are disposed to regard the outward behavior
of an adult as an equation between a number of variables, such as the
resistance of the environment, repressed cravings of several
maturities, and the manifest personality. [Footnote: Formulated by
Kempf, _Psychopathology_, p. 74, as follows:

Manifest wishes }
over }
Later Repressed Wishes }
Over } opposed by the resistance of the
Adolescent Repressed Wishes } environment=Behavior
Over }
Preadolescent Repressed Wishes }
] They permit us to suppose, though I have not seen the notion
formulated, that the repression or control of cravings is fixed not in
relation to the whole person all the time, but more or less in respect
to his various selves. There are things he will not do as a patriot
that he will do when he is not thinking of himself as a patriot. No
doubt there are impulses, more or less incipient in childhood, that
are never exercised again in the whole of a man’s life, except as they
enter obscurely and indirectly into combination with other impulses.
But even that is not certain, since repression is not irretrievable.
For just as psychoanalysis can bring to the surface a buried impulse,
so can social situations. [Footnote: _Cf._ the very interesting
book of Everett Dean Martin, _The Behavior of Crowds_.

Also Hobbes, _Leviathan_, Part II, Ch. 25. “For the passions of
men, which asunder are moderate, as the heat of one brand, in an
assembly are like many brands, that inflame one another, especially
when they blow one another with orations….”

LeBon, _The Crowd_, elaborates this observation of Hobbes’s.] It
is only when our surroundings remain normal and placid, when what is
expected of us by those we meet is consistent, that we live without
knowledge of many of our dispositions. When the unexpected occurs, we
learn much about ourselves that we did not know.

The selves, which we construct with the help of all who influence us,
prescribe which impulses, how emphasized, how directed, are
appropriate to certain typical situations for which we have learned
prepared attitudes. For a recognizable type of experience, there is a
character which controls the outward manifestations of our whole
being. Murderous hate is, for example, controlled in civil life.
Though you choke with rage, you must not display it as a parent,
child, employer, politician. You would not wish to display a
personality that exudes murderous hate. You frown upon it, and the
people around you also frown. But if a war breaks out, the chances are
that everybody you admire will begin to feel the justification of
killing and hating. At first the vent for these feelings is very
narrow. The selves which come to the front are those which are attuned
to a real love of country, the kind of feeling that you find in Rupert
Brooke, and in Sir Edward Grey’s speech on August 3,1914, and in
President Wilson’s address to Congress on April 2, 1917. The reality
of war is still abhorred, and what war actually means is learned but
gradually. For previous wars are only transfigured memories. In that
honeymoon phase, the realists of war rightly insist that the nation is
not yet awake, and reassure each other by saying: “Wait for the
casualty lists.” Gradually the impulse to kill becomes the main
business, and all those characters which might modify it,
disintegrate. The impulse becomes central, is sanctified, and
gradually turns unmanageable. It seeks a vent not alone on the idea of
the enemy, which is all the enemy most people actually see during the
war, but upon all the persons and objects and ideas that have always
been hateful. Hatred of the enemy is legitimate. These other hatreds
have themselves legitimized by the crudest analogy, and by what, once
having cooled off, we recognize as the most far-fetched analogy. It
takes a long time to subdue so powerful an impulse once it goes loose.
And therefore, when the war is over in fact, it takes time and
struggle to regain self-control, and to deal with the problems of
peace in civilian character.

Modern war, as Mr. Herbert Croly has said, is inherent in the
political structure of modern society, but outlawed by its ideals. For
the civilian population there exists no ideal code of conduct in war,
such as the soldier still possesses and chivalry once prescribed. The
civilians are without standards, except those that the best of them
manage to improvise. The only standards they possess make war an
accursed thing. Yet though the war may be a necessary one, no moral
training has prepared them for it. Only their higher selves have a
code and patterns, and when they have to act in what the higher
regards as a lower character profound disturbance results.

The preparation of characters for all the situations in which men may
find themselves is one function of a moral education. Clearly then, it
depends for its success upon the sincerity and knowledge with which
the environment has been explored. For in a world falsely conceived,
our own characters are falsely conceived, and we misbehave. So the
moralist must choose: either he must offer a pattern of conduct for
every phase of life, however distasteful some of its phases may be, or
he must guarantee that his pupils will never be confronted by the
situations he disapproves. Either he must abolish war, or teach people
how to wage it with the greatest psychic economy; either he must
abolish the economic life of man and feed him with stardust and dew,
or he must investigate all the perplexities of economic life and offer
patterns of conduct which are applicable in a world where no man is
self-supporting. But that is just what the prevailing moral culture so
generally refuses to do. In its best aspects it is diffident at the
awful complication of the modern world. In its worst, it is just
cowardly. Now whether the moralists study economics and politics and
psychology, or whether the social scientists educate the moralists is
no great matter. Each generation will go unprepared into the modern
world, unless it has been taught to conceive the kind of personality
it will have to be among the issues it will most likely meet.


Most of this the naive view of self-interest leaves out of account. It
forgets that self and interest are both conceived somehow, and that
for the most part they are conventionally conceived. The ordinary
doctrine of self-interest usually omits altogether the cognitive
function. So insistent is it on the fact that human beings finally
refer all things to themselves, that it does not stop to notice that
men’s ideas of all things and of themselves are not instinctive. They
are acquired.

Thus it may be true enough, as James Madison wrote in the tenth paper
of the Federalist, that “a landed interest, a manufacturing interest,
a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests,
grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into
different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views.” But if
you examine the context of Madison’s paper, you discover something
which I think throws light upon that view of instinctive fatalism,
called sometimes the economic interpretation of history. Madison was
arguing for the federal constitution, and “among the numerous
advantages of the union” he set forth “its tendency to break and
control the violence of faction.” Faction was what worried Madison.
And the causes of faction he traced to “the nature of man,” where
latent dispositions are “brought into different degrees of activity,
according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for
different opinions concerning religion, concerning government and many
other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to
different leaders ambitiously contending for preeminence and power, or
to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting
to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties,
inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more
disposed to vex and oppress each other, than to cooperate for their
common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into
mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents
itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been
sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most
violent conflicts. But the _most common_ and _durable_ source
of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property.”

Madison’s theory, therefore, is that the propensity to faction may be
kindled by religious or political opinions, by leaders, but most
commonly by the distribution of property. Yet note that Madison claims
only that men are divided by their relation to property. He does not
say that their property and their opinions are cause and effect, but
that differences of property are the causes of differences of opinion.
The pivotal word in Madison’s argument is “different.” From the
existence of differing economic situations you can tentatively infer a
probable difference of opinions, but you cannot infer what those
opinions will necessarily be.

This reservation cuts radically into the claims of the theory as that
theory is usually held. That the reservation is necessary, the
enormous contradiction between dogma and practice among orthodox
socialists bears witness. They argue that the next stage in social
evolution is the inevitable result of the present stage. But in order
to produce that inevitable next stage they organize and agitate to
produce “class consciousness.” Why, one asks, does not the economic
situation produce consciousness of class in everybody? It just
doesn’t, that is all. And therefore the proud claim will not stand
that the socialist philosophy rests on prophetic insight into destiny.
It rests on an hypothesis about human nature. [Footnote: _Cf._
Thorstein Veblen, “The Socialist Economics of Karl Marx and His
Followers,” in _The Place of Science in Modern Civilization,_
esp. pp. 413-418.]

The socialist practice is based on a belief that if men are
economically situated in different ways, they can then be induced to
hold certain views. Undoubtedly they often come to believe, or can be
induced to believe different things, as they are, for example,
landlords or tenants, employees or employers, skilled or unskilled
laborers, wageworkers or salaried men, buyers or sellers, farmers or
middle-men, exporters or importers, creditors or debtors. Differences
of income make a profound difference in contact and opportunity. Men
who work at machines will tend, as Mr. Thorstein Veblen has so
brilliantly demonstrated, [Footnote: _The Theory of Business
Enterprise_.] to interpret experience differently from handicraftsmen
or traders. If this were all that the materialistic conception of politics
asserted, the theory would be an immensely valuable hypothesis that
every interpreter of opinion would have to use. But he would often
have to abandon the theory, and he would always have to be on
guard. For in trying to explain a certain public opinion, it is rarely
obvious which of a man’s many social relations is effecting a particular
opinion. Does Smith’s opinion arise from his problems as a landlord,
an importer, an owner of railway shares, or an employer? Does
Jones’s opinion, Jones being a weaver in a textile mill, come from
the attitude of his boss, the competition of new immigrants, his wife’s
grocery bills, or the ever present contract with the firm which is
selling him a Ford car and a house and lot on the instalment plan?
Without special inquiry you cannot tell. The economic determinist
cannot tell.

A man’s various economic contacts limit or enlarge the range of his
opinions. But which of the contacts, in what guise, on what theory,
the materialistic conception of politics cannot predict. It can
predict, with a high degree of probability, that if a man owns a
factory, his ownership will figure in those opinions which seem to
have some bearing on that factory. But how the function of being an
owner will figure, no economic determinist as such, can tell you.
There is no fixed set of opinions on any question that go with being
the owner of a factory, no views on labor, on property, on management,
let alone views on less immediate matters. The determinist can predict
that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the owner will resist
attempts to deprive him of ownership, or that he will favor
legislation which he thinks will increase his profits. But since there
is no magic in ownership which enables a business man to know what
laws will make him prosper, there is no chain of cause and effect
described in economic materialism which enables anyone to prophesy
whether the owner will take a long view or a short one, a competitive
or a cooperative.

Did the theory have the validity which is so often claimed for it, it
would enable us to prophesy. We could analyze the economic interests
of a people, and deduce what the people was bound to do. Marx tried
that, and after a good guess about the trusts, went wholly wrong. The
first socialist experiment came, not as he predicted, out of the
culmination of capitalist development in the West, but out of the
collapse of a pre-capitalist system in the East. Why did he go wrong?
Why did his greatest disciple, Lenin, go wrong? Because the Marxians
thought that men’s economic position would irresistibly produce a
clear conception of their economic interests. They thought they
themselves possessed that clear conception, and that what they knew
the rest of mankind would learn. The event has shown, not only that a
clear conception of interest does not arise automatically in everyone,
but that it did not arise even in Marx and Lenin themselves. After all
that Marx and Lenin have written, the social behavior of mankind is
still obscure. It ought not to be, if economic position alone
determined public opinion. Position ought, if their theory were
correct, not only to divide mankind into classes, but to supply each
class with a view of its interest and a coherent policy for obtaining
it. Yet nothing is more certain than that all classes of men are in
constant perplexity as to what their interests are. [Footnote: As a
matter of fact, when it came to the test, Lenin completely abandoned
the materialistic interpretation of politics. Had he held sincerely to
the Marxian formula when he seized power in 1917, he would have said
to himself: according to the teachings of Marx, socialism will develop
out of a mature capitalism… here am I, in control of a nation that
is only entering upon a capitalist development… it is true that I am
a socialist, but I am a scientific socialist… it follows that for
the present all idea of a socialist republic is out of the question…
we must advance capitalism in order that the evolution which Marx
predicted may take place. But Lenin did nothing of the sort. Instead
of waiting for evolution to evolve, he tried by will, force, and
education, to defy the historical process which his philosophy

Since this was written Lenin has abandoned communism on the ground
that Russia does not possess the necessary basis in a mature
capitalism. He now says that Russia must create capitalism, which will
create a proletariat, which will some day create communism. This is at
least consistent with Marxist dogma. But it shows how little
determinism there is in the opinions of a determinist.]

This dissolves the impact of economic determinism. For if our economic
interests are made up of our variable concepts of those interests,
then as the master key to social processes the theory fails. That
theory assumes that men are capable of adopting only one version of
their interest, and that having adopted it, they move fatally to
realize it. It assumes the existence of a specific class interest.
That assumption is false. A class interest can be conceived largely or
narrowly, selfishly or unselfishly, in the light of no facts, some
facts, many facts, truth and error. And so collapses the Marxian
remedy for class conflicts. That remedy assumes that if all property
could be held in common, class differences would disappear. The
assumption is false. Property might well be held in common, and yet
not be conceived as a whole. The moment any group of people failed to
see communism in a communist manner, they would divide into classes on
the basis of what they saw.

In respect to the existing social order Marxian socialism emphasizes
property conflict as the maker of opinion, in respect to the loosely
defined working class it ignores property conflict as the basis of
agitation, in respect to the future it imagines a society without
property conflict, and, therefore, without conflict of opinion. Now in
the existing social order there may be more instances where one man
must lose if another is to gain, than there would be under socialism,
but for every case where one must lose for another to gain, there are
endless cases where men simply imagine the conflict because they are
uneducated. And under socialism, though you removed every instance of
absolute conflict, the partial access of each man to the whole range
of facts would nevertheless create conflict. A socialist state will
not be able to dispense with education, morality, or liberal science,
though on strict materialistic grounds the communal ownership of
properties ought to make them superfluous. The communists in Russia
would not propagate their faith with such unflagging zeal if economic
determinism were alone determining the opinion of the Russian people.


The socialist theory of human nature is, like the hedonistic calculus,
an example of false determinism. Both assume that the unlearned
dispositions fatally but intelligently produce a certain type of
behavior. The socialist believes that the dispositions pursue the
economic interest of a class; the hedonist believes that they pursue
pleasure and avoid pain. Both theories rest on a naive view of
instinct, a view, defined by James, [Footnote: _Principles of
Psychology_, Vol. II, p. 383.] though radically qualified by him,
as “the faculty of acting in such a way as to produce certain ends,
without foresight of the ends and without previous education in the

It is doubtful whether instinctive action of this sort figures at all
in the social life of mankind. For as James pointed out: [Footnote:
_Op. cit._, Vol. II, p. 390.] “every instinctive act in an animal
with memory must cease to be ‘blind’ after being once repeated.”
Whatever the equipment at birth, the innate dispositions are from
earliest infancy immersed in experience which determines what shall
excite them as stimulus. “They become capable,” as Mr. McDougall
says, [Footnote: Introduction to _Social Psychology_, Fourth
Edition, pp. 31-32.] “of being initiated, not only by the perception
of objects of the kind which directly excite the innate disposition,
the natural or native excitants of the instinct, but also by ideas of
such objects, and by perceptions and by ideas of objects of other
kinds.” [Footnote: “Most definitions of instincts and instinctive
actions take account only of their conative aspects… and it is a
common mistake to ignore the cognitive and affective aspects of the
instinctive mental process.” Footnote _op. cit._, p. 29.]

It is only the “central part of the disposition” [Footnote: p. 34.] says Mr. McDougall further, “that retains its specific character and
remains common to all individuals and all situations in which the
instinct is excited.” The cognitive processes, and the actual bodily
movements by which the instinct achieves its end may be indefinitely
complicated. In other words, man has an instinct of fear, but what he
will fear and how he will try to escape, is determined not from birth,
but by experience.

If it were not for this variability, it would be difficult to conceive
the inordinate variety of human nature. But when you consider that all
the important tendencies of the creature, his appetites, his loves,
his hates, his curiosity, his sexual cravings, his fears, and
pugnacity, are freely attachable to all sorts of objects as stimulus,
and to all kinds of objects as gratification, the complexity of human
nature is not so inconceivable. And when you think that each new
generation is the casual victim of the way a previous generation was
conditioned, as well as the inheritor of the environment that
resulted, the possible combinations and permutations are enormous.

There is no prima facie case then for supposing that because persons
crave some particular thing, or behave in some particular way, human
nature is fatally constituted to crave that and act thus. The craving
and the action are both learned, and in another generation might be
learned differently. Analytic psychology and social history unite in
supporting this conclusion. Psychology indicates how essentially
casual is the nexus between the particular stimulus and the particular
response. Anthropology in the widest sense reinforces the view by
demonstrating that the things which have excited men’s passions, and
the means which they have used to realize them, differ endlessly from
age to age and from place to place.

Men pursue their interest. But how they shall pursue it is not fatally
determined, and, therefore, within whatever limits of time this planet
will continue to support human life, man can set no term upon the
creative energies of men. He can issue no doom of automatism. He can
say, if he must, that for his life there will be no changes which he
can recognize as good. But in saying that he will be confining his
life to what he can see with his eye, rejecting what he might see with
his mind; he will be taking as the measure of good a measure which is
only the one he happens to possess. He can find no ground for
abandoning his highest hopes and relaxing his conscious effort unless
he chooses to regard the unknown as the unknowable, unless he elects
to believe that what no one knows no one will know, and that what
someone has not yet learned no one will ever be able to teach.



” 14. YES OR NO



This goes to show that there are many variables in each man’s
impressions of the invisible world. The points of contact vary, the
stereotyped expectations vary, the interest enlisted varies most
subtly of all. The living impressions of a large number of people are
to an immeasurable degree personal in each of them, and unmanageably
complex in the mass. How, then, is any practical relationship
established between what is in people’s heads and what is out there
beyond their ken in the environment? How in the language of democratic
theory, do great numbers of people feeling each so privately about so
abstract a picture, develop any common will? How does a simple and
constant idea emerge from this complex of variables? How are those
things known as the Will of the People, or the National Purpose, or
Public Opinion crystallized out of such fleeting and casual imagery?

That there is a real difficulty here was shown by an angry tilt in the
spring of 1921 between the American Ambassador to England and a very
large number of other Americans. Mr. Harvey, speaking at a British
dinner table, had assured the world without the least sign of
hesitancy what were the motives of Americans in 1917. [Footnote: _New
York Times_, May 20, 1921.] As he described them, they were not the
motives which President Wilson had insisted upon when _he_
enunciated the American mind. Now, of course, neither Mr. Harvey nor
Mr. Wilson, nor the critics and friends of either, nor any one else,
can know quantitatively and qualitatively what went on in thirty or
forty million adult minds. But what everybody knows is that a war was
fought and won by a multitude of efforts, stimulated, no one knows in
what proportion, by the motives of Wilson and the motives of Harvey
and all kinds of hybrids of the two. People enlisted and fought,
worked, paid taxes, sacrificed to a common end, and yet no one can
begin to say exactly what moved each person to do each thing that he
did. It is no use, then, Mr. Harvey telling a soldier who thought this
was a war to end war that the soldier did not think any such thing.
The soldier who thought that _thought that_. And Mr. Harvey, who
thought something else, thought _something else_.

In the same speech Mr. Harvey formulated with equal clarity what the
voters of 1920 had in their minds. That is a rash thing to do, and, if
you simply assume that all who voted your ticket voted as you did,
then it is a disingenuous thing to do. The count shows that sixteen
millions voted Republican, and nine millions Democratic. They voted,
says Mr. Harvey, for and against the League of Nations, and in support
of this claim, he can point to Mr. Wilson’s request for a referendum,
and to the undeniable fact that the Democratic party and Mr. Cox
insisted that the League was the issue. But then, saying that the
League was the issue did not make the League the issue, and by
counting the votes on election day you do not know the real division
of opinion about the League. There were, for example, nine million
Democrats. Are you entitled to believe that all of them are staunch
supporters of the League? Certainly you are not. For your knowledge of
American politics tells you that many of the millions voted, as they
always do, to maintain the existing social system in the South, and
that whatever their views on the League, they did not vote to express
their views. Those who wanted the League were no doubt pleased that
the Democratic party wanted it too. Those who disliked the League may
have held their noses as they voted. But both groups of Southerners
voted the same ticket.

Were the Republicans more unanimous? Anybody can pick Republican
voters enough out of his circle of friends to cover the whole gamut of
opinion from the irreconcilability of Senators Johnson and Knox to the
advocacy of Secretary Hoover and Chief Justice Taft. No one can say
definitely how many people felt in any particular way about the
League, nor how many people let their feelings on that subject
determine their vote. When there are only two ways of expressing a
hundred varieties of feeling, there is no certain way of knowing what
the decisive combination was. Senator Borah found in the Republican
ticket a reason for voting Republican, but so did President Lowell.
The Republican majority was composed of men and women who thought a
Republican victory would kill the League, plus those who thought it
the most practical way to secure the League, plus those who thought it
the surest way offered to obtain an amended League. All these voters
were inextricably entangled with their own desire, or the desire of
other voters to improve business, or put labor in its place, or to
punish the Democrats for going to war, or to punish them for not
having gone sooner, or to get rid of Mr. Burleson, or to improve the
price of wheat, or to lower taxes, or to stop Mr. Daniels from
outbuilding the world, or to help Mr. Harding do the same thing.

And yet a sort of decision emerged; Mr. Harding moved into the White
House. For the least common denominator of all the votes was that the
Democrats should go and the Republicans come in. That was the only
factor remaining after all the contradictions had cancelled each other
out. But that factor was enough to alter policy for four years. The
precise reasons why change was desired on that November day in 1920
are not recorded, not even in the memories of the individual voters.
The reasons are not fixed. They grow and change and melt into other
reasons, so that the public opinions Mr. Harding has to deal with are
not the opinions that elected him. That there is no inevitable
connection between an assortment of opinions and a particular line of
action everyone saw in 1916. Elected apparently on the cry that he
kept us out of war, Mr. Wilson within five months led the country into

The working of the popular will, therefore, has always called for
explanation. Those who have been most impressed by its erratic working
have found a prophet in M. LeBon, and have welcomed generalizations
about what Sir Robert Peel called “that great compound of folly,
weakness, prejudice, wrong feeling, right feeling, obstinacy and
newspaper paragraphs which is called public opinion.” Others have
concluded that since out of drift and incoherence, settled aims do
appear, there must be a mysterious contrivance at work somewhere over
and above the inhabitants of a nation. They invoke a collective soul,
a national mind, a spirit of the age which imposes order upon random
opinion. An oversoul seems to be needed, for the emotions and ideas in
the members of a group do not disclose anything so simple and so
crystalline as the formula which those same individuals will accept as
a true statement of their Public Opinion.


But the facts can, I think, be explained more convincingly without the
help of the oversoul in any of its disguises. After all, the art of
inducing all sorts of people who think differently to vote alike is
practiced in every political campaign. In 1916, for example, the
Republican candidate had to produce Republican votes out of many
different kinds of Republicans. Let us look at Mr. Hughes’ first
speech after accepting the nomination. [Footnote: Delivered at Carnegie
Hall, New York City, July 31, 1916.] The context is still clear enough
in our minds to obviate much explanation; yet the issues are no longer
contentious. The candidate was a man of unusually plain speech, who
had been out of politics for several years and was not personally
committed on the issues of the recent past. He had, moreover, none of
that wizardry which popular leaders like Roosevelt, Wilson, or Lloyd
George possess, none of that histrionic gift by which such men
impersonate the feelings of their followers. From that aspect of
politics he was by temperament and by training remote. But yet he knew
by calculation what the politician’s technic is. He was one of those
people who know just how to do a thing, but who can not quite do it
themselves. They are often better teachers than the virtuoso to whom
the art is so much second nature that he himself does not know how he
does it. The statement that those who can, do; those who cannot,
teach, is not nearly so much of a reflection on the teacher as it

Mr. Hughes knew the occasion was momentous, and he had prepared his
manuscript carefully. In a box sat Theodore Roosevelt just back from
Missouri. All over the house sat the veterans of Armageddon in various
stages of doubt and dismay. On the platform and in the other boxes the
ex-whited sepulchres and ex-second-story men of 1912 were to be seen,
obviously in the best of health and in a melting mood. Out beyond the
hall there were powerful pro-Germans and powerful pro-Allies; a war
party in the East and in the big cities; a peace party in the middle
and far West. There was strong feeling about Mexico. Mr. Hughes had to
form a majority against the Democrats out of people divided into all
sorts of combinations on Taft vs. Roosevelt, pro-Germans vs.
pro-Allies, war vs. neutrality, Mexican intervention vs.

About the morality or the wisdom of the affair we are, of course, not
concerned here. Our only interest is in the method by which a leader
of heterogeneous opinion goes about the business of securing a
homogeneous vote.

“This _representative_ gathering is a happy augury. It means the
strength of _reunion._ It means that the party of _Lincoln_
is restored….”

The italicized words are binders: _Lincoln_ in such a speech has
of course, no relation to Abraham Lincoln. It is merely a stereotype
by which the piety which surrounds that name can be transferred to the
Republican candidate who now stands in his shoes. Lincoln reminds the
Republicans, Bull Moose and Old Guard, that before the schism they had
a common history. About the schism no one can afford to speak. But it
is there, as yet unhealed.

The speaker must heal it. Now the schism of 1912 had arisen over
domestic questions; the reunion of 1916 was, as Mr. Roosevelt had
declared, to be based on a common indignation against Mr. Wilson’s
conduct of international affairs. But international affairs were also
a dangerous source of conflict. It was necessary to find an opening
subject which would not only ignore 1912 but would avoid also the
explosive conflicts of 1916. The speaker skilfully selected the spoils
system in diplomatic appointments. “Deserving Democrats” was a
discrediting phrase, and Mr. Hughes at once evokes it. The record
being indefensible, there is no hesitation in the vigor of the attack.
Logically it was an ideal introduction to a common mood.

Mr. Hughes then turns to Mexico, beginning with an historical review.
He had to consider the general sentiment that affairs were going badly
in Mexico; also, a no less general sentiment that war should be
avoided; and two powerful currents of opinion, one of which said
President Wilson was right in not recognizing Huerta, the other which
preferred Huerta to Carranza, and intervention to both. Huerta was the
first sore spot in the record…

“He was certainly in fact the head of the Government in Mexico.”

But the moralists who regarded Huerta as a drunken murderer had to be

“Whether or not he should be recognized was a question to be
determined in the exercise of a sound discretion, but according to
correct principles.”

So instead of saying that Huerta should have been recognized, the
candidate says that correct principles ought to be applied. Everybody
believes in correct principles, and everybody, of course, believes he
possesses them. To blur the issue still further President Wilson’s
policy is described as “intervention.” It was that in law, perhaps,
but not in the sense then currently meant by the word. By stretching
the word to cover what Mr. Wilson had done, as well as what the real
interventionists wanted, the issue between the two factions was to be

Having got by the two explosive points “_Huerta_” and
“_intervention_” by letting the words mean all things to all men,
the speech passes for a while to safer ground. The candidate tells the
story of Tampico, Vera Cruz, Villa, Santa Ysabel, Columbus and
Carrizal. Mr. Hughes is specific, either because the facts as known
from the newspapers are irritating, or because the true explanation
is, as for example in regard to Tampico, too complicated. No contrary
passions could be aroused by such a record. But at the end the
candidate had to take a position. His audience expected it. The
indictment was Mr. Roosevelt’s. Would Mr. Hughes adopt his remedy,

“The nation has no policy of aggression toward Mexico. We have no
desire for any part of her territory. We wish her to have peace,
stability and prosperity. We should be ready to aid her in binding up
her wounds, in relieving her from starvation and distress, in giving
her in every practicable way the benefits of our disinterested
friendship. The conduct of this administration has created
difficulties which we shall have to surmount…. _We shall have to
adopt a new policy,_ a policy of _firmness_ and consistency
through which alone we can promote an enduring _friendship._”

The theme friendship is for the non-interventionists, the theme “new
policy” and “firmness” is for the interventionists. On the
non-contentious record, the detail is overwhelming; on the issue
everything is cloudy.

Concerning the European war Mr. Hughes employed an ingenious formula:

“I stand for the unflinching maintenance of _all_ American rights
on land and sea.”

In order to understand the force of that statement at the time it was
spoken, we must remember how each faction during the period of
neutrality believed that the nations it opposed in Europe were alone
violating American rights. Mr. Hughes seemed to say to the pro-Allies:
I would have coerced Germany. But the pro-Germans had been insisting
that British sea power was violating most of our rights. The formula
covers two diametrically opposed purposes by the symbolic phrase
“American rights.”

But there was the Lusitania. Like the 1912 schism, it was an
invincible obstacle to harmony.

“… I am confident that there would have been no destruction of
American lives by the sinking of the Lusitania.”

Thus, what cannot be compromised must be obliterated, when there is a
question on which we cannot all hope to get together, let us pretend
that it does not exist. About the future of American relations with
Europe Mr. Hughes was silent. Nothing he could say would possibly
please the two irreconcilable factions for whose support he was

It is hardly necessary to say that Mr. Hughes did not invent this
technic and did not employ it with the utmost success. But he
illustrated how a public opinion constituted out of divergent opinions
is clouded; how its meaning approaches the neutral tint formed out of
the blending of many colors. Where superficial harmony is the aim and
conflict the fact, obscurantism in a public appeal is the usual
result. Almost always vagueness at a crucial point in public debate is
a symptom of cross-purposes.


But how is it that a vague idea so often has the power to unite deeply
felt opinions? These opinions, we recall, however deeply they may be
felt, are not in continual and pungent contact with the facts they
profess to treat. On the unseen environment, Mexico, the European war,
our grip is slight though our feeling may be intense. The original
pictures and words which aroused it have not anything like the force
of the feeling itself. The account of what has happened out of sight
and hearing in a place where we have never been, has not and never can
have, except briefly as in a dream or fantasy, all the dimensions of
reality. But it can arouse all, and sometimes even more emotion than
the reality. For the trigger can be pulled by more than one stimulus.

The stimulus which originally pulled the trigger may have been a
series of pictures in the mind aroused by printed or spoken words.
These pictures fade and are hard to keep steady; their contours and
their pulse fluctuate. Gradually the process sets in of knowing what
you feel without being entirely certain why you feel it. The fading
pictures are displaced by other pictures, and then by names or
symbols. But the emotion goes on, capable now of being aroused by the
substituted images and names. Even in severe thinking these
substitutions take place, for if a man is trying to compare two
complicated situations, he soon finds exhausting the attempt to hold
both fully in mind in all their detail. He employs a shorthand of
names and signs and samples. He has to do this if he is to advance at
all, because he cannot carry the whole baggage in every phrase through
every step he takes. But if he forgets that he has substituted and
simplified, he soon lapses into verbalism, and begins to talk about
names regardless of objects. And then he has no way of knowing when
the name divorced from its first thing is carrying on a misalliance
with some other thing. It is more difficult still to guard against
changelings in casual politics.

For by what is known to psychologists as conditioned response, an
emotion is not attached merely to one idea. There are no end of things
which can arouse the emotion, and no end of things which can satisfy
it. This is particularly true where the stimulus is only dimly and
indirectly perceived, and where the objective is likewise indirect.
For you can associate an emotion, say fear, first with something
immediately dangerous, then with the idea of that thing, then with
something similar to that idea, and so on and on. The whole structure
of human culture is in one respect an elaboration of the stimuli and
responses of which the original emotional capacities remain a fairly
fixed center. No doubt the quality of emotion has changed in the
course of history, but with nothing like the speed, or elaboration,
that has characterized the conditioning of it.

People differ widely in their susceptibility to ideas. There are some
in whom the idea of a starving child in Russia is practically as vivid
as a starving child within sight. There are others who are almost
incapable of being excited by a distant idea. There are many
gradations between. And there are people who are insensitive to facts,
and aroused only by ideas. But though the emotion is aroused by the
idea, we are unable to satisfy the emotion by acting ourselves upon
the scene itself. The idea of the starving Russian child evokes a
desire to feed the child. But the person so aroused cannot feed it. He
can only give money to an impersonal organization, or to a
personification which he calls Mr. Hoover. His money does not reach
that child. It goes to a general pool from which a mass of children
are fed. And so just as the idea is second hand, so are the effects of
the action second hand. The cognition is indirect, the conation is
indirect, only the effect is immediate. Of the three parts of the
process, the stimulus comes from somewhere out of sight, the response
reaches somewhere out of sight, only the emotion exists entirely
within the person. Of the child’s hunger he has only an idea, of the
child’s relief he has only an idea, but of his own desire to help he
has a real experience. It is the central fact of the business, the
emotion within himself, which is first hand.

Within limits that vary, the emotion is transferable both as regards
stimulus and response. Therefore, if among a number of people,
possessing various tendencies to respond, you can find a stimulus
which will arouse the same emotion in many of them, you can substitute
it for the original stimuli. If, for example, one man dislikes the
League, another hates Mr. Wilson, and a third fears labor, you may be
able to unite them if you can find some symbol which is the antithesis
of what they all hate. Suppose that symbol is Americanism. The first
man may read it as meaning the preservation of American isolation, or
as he may call it, independence; the second as the rejection of a
politician who clashes with his idea of what an American president
should be, the third as a call to resist revolution. The symbol in
itself signifies literally no one thing in particular, but it can be
associated with almost anything. And because of that it can become the
common bond of common feelings, even though those feelings were
originally attached to disparate ideas.

When political parties or newspapers declare for Americanism,
Progressivism, Law and Order, Justice, Humanity, they hope to
amalgamate the emotion of conflicting factions which would surely
divide, if, instead of these symbols, they were invited to discuss a
specific program. For when a coalition around the symbol has been
effected, feeling flows toward conformity under the symbol rather than
toward critical scrutiny of the measures. It is, I think, convenient
and technically correct to call multiple phrases like these symbolic.
They do not stand for specific ideas, but for a sort of truce or
junction between ideas. They are like a strategic railroad center
where many roads converge regardless of their ultimate origin or their
ultimate destination. But he who captures the symbols by which public
feeling is for the moment contained, controls by that much the
approaches of public policy. And as long as a particular symbol has
the power of coalition, ambitious factions will fight for possession.
Think, for example, of Lincoln’s name or of Roosevelt’s. A leader or
an interest that can make itself master of current symbols is master
of the current situation. There are limits, of course. Too violent
abuse of the actualities which groups of people think the symbol
represents, or too great resistance in the name of that symbol to new
purposes, will, so to speak, burst the symbol. In this manner, during
the year 1917, the imposing symbol of Holy Russia and the Little
Father burst under the impact of suffering and defeat.


The tremendous consequences of Russia’s collapse were felt on all the
fronts and among all the peoples. They led directly to a striking
experiment in the crystallization of a common opinion out of the
varieties of opinion churned up by the war. The Fourteen Points were
addressed to all the governments, allied, enemy, neutral, and to all
the peoples. They were an attempt to knit together the chief
imponderables of a world war. Necessarily this was a new departure,
because this was the first great war in which all the deciding
elements of mankind could be brought to think about the same ideas, or
at least about the same names for ideas, simultaneously. Without
cable, radio, telegraph, and daily press, the experiment of the
Fourteen Points would have been impossible. It was an attempt to
exploit the modern machinery of communication to start the return to a
“common consciousness” throughout the world.

But first we must examine some of the circumstances as they presented
themselves at the end of 1917. For in the form which the document
finally assumed, all these considerations are somehow represented.
During the summer and autumn a series of events had occurred which
profoundly affected the temper of the people and the course of the
war. In July the Russians had made a last offensive, had been
disastrously beaten, and the process of demoralization which led to
the Bolshevik revolution of November had begun. Somewhat earlier the
French had suffered a severe and almost disastrous defeat in Champagne
which produced mutinies in the army and a defeatist agitation among
the civilians. England was suffering from the effects of the submarine
raids, from the terrible losses of the Flanders battles, and in
November at Cambrai the British armies met a reverse that appalled the
troops at the front and the leaders at home. Extreme war weariness
pervaded the whole of western Europe.

In effect, the agony and disappointment had jarred loose men’s
concentration on the accepted version of the war. Their interests were
no longer held by the ordinary official pronouncements, and their
attention began to wander, fixing now upon their own suffering, now
upon their party and class purposes, now upon general resentments
against the governments. That more or less perfect organization of
perception by official propaganda, of interest and attention by the
stimuli of hope, fear, and hatred, which is called morale, was by way
of breaking down. The minds of men everywhere began to search for new
attachments that promised relief.

Suddenly they beheld a tremendous drama. On the Eastern front there
was a Christmas truce, an end of slaughter, an end of noise, a promise
of peace. At Brest-Litovsk the dream of all simple people had come to
life: it was possible to negotiate, there was some other way to end
the ordeal than by matching lives with the enemy. Timidly, but with
rapt attention, people began to turn to the East. Why not, they asked?
What is it all for? Do the politicians know what they are doing? Are
we really fighting for what they say? Is it possible, perhaps, to
secure it without fighting? Under the ban of the censorship, little of
this was allowed to show itself in print, but, when Lord Lansdowne
spoke, there was a response from the heart. The earlier symbols of the
war had become hackneyed, and had lost their power to unify. Beneath
the surface a wide schism was opening up in each Allied country.

Something similar was happening in Central Europe. There too the
original impulse of the war was weakened; the union sacrée was broken.
The vertical cleavages along the battle front were cut across by
horizontal divisions running in all kinds of unforeseeable ways. The
moral crisis of the war had arrived before the military decision was
in sight. All this President Wilson and his advisers realized. They
had not, of course, a perfect knowledge of the situation, but what I
have sketched they knew.

They knew also that the Allied Governments were bound by a series of
engagements that in letter and in spirit ran counter to the popular
conception of what the war was about. The resolutions of the Paris
Economic Conference were, of course, public property, and the network
of secret treaties had been published by the Bolsheviks in November of
1917. [Footnote: President Wilson stated at his conference with the
Senators that he had never heard of these treaties until he reached
Paris. That statement is perplexing. The Fourteen Points, as the text
shows, could not have been formulated without a knowledge of the
secret treaties. The substance of those treaties was before the
President when he and Colonel House prepared the final published text
of the Fourteen Points.] Their terms were only vaguely known to the
peoples, but it was definitely believed that they did not comport with
the idealistic slogan of self-determination, no annexations and no
indemnities. Popular questioning took the form of asking how many
thousand English lives Alsace-Lorraine or Dalmatia were worth, how
many French lives Poland or Mesopotamia were worth. Nor was such
questioning entirely unknown in America. The whole Allied cause had
been put on the defensive by the refusal to participate at

Here was a highly sensitive state of mind which no competent leader
could fail to consider. The ideal response would have been joint
action by the Allies. That was found to be impossible when it was
considered at the Interallied Conference of October. But by December
the pressure had become so great that Mr. George and Mr. Wilson were
moved independently to make some response. The form selected by the
President was a statement of peace terms under fourteen heads. The
numbering of them was an artifice to secure precision, and to create
at once the impression that here was a business-like document. The
idea of stating “peace terms” instead of “war aims” arose from the
necessity of establishing a genuine alternative to the Brest-Litovsk
negotiations. They were intended to compete for attention by
substituting for the spectacle of Russo-German parleys the much
grander spectacle of a public world-wide debate.

Having enlisted the interest of the world, it was necessary to hold
that interest unified and flexible for all the different possibilities
which the situation contained. The terms had to be such that the
majority among the Allies would regard them as worth while. They had
to meet the national aspirations of each people, and yet to limit
those aspirations so that no one nation would regard itself as a
catspaw for another. The terms had to satisfy official interests so as
not to provoke official disunion, and yet they had to meet popular
conceptions so as to prevent the spread of demoralization. They had,
in short, to preserve and confirm Allied unity in case the war was to
go on.

But they had also to be the terms of a possible peace, so that in case
the German center and left were ripe for agitation, they would have a
text with which to smite the governing class. The terms had,
therefore, to push the Allied governors nearer to their people, drive
the German governors away from their people, and establish a line of
common understanding between the Allies, the non-official Germans, and
the subject peoples of Austria-Hungary. The Fourteen Points were a
daring attempt to raise a standard to which almost everyone might
repair. If a sufficient number of the enemy people were ready there
would be peace; if not, then the Allies would be better prepared to
sustain the shock of war.

All these considerations entered into the making of the Fourteen
Points. No one man may have had them all in mind, but all the men
concerned had some of them in mind. Against this background let us
examine certain aspects of the document. The first five points and the
fourteenth deal with “open diplomacy,” “freedom of the seas,” “equal
trade opportunities,” “reduction of armaments,” no imperialist
annexation of colonies, and the League of Nations. They might be
described as a statement of the popular generalizations in which
everyone at that time professed to believe. But number three is more
specific. It was aimed consciously and directly at the resolutions of
the Paris Economic Conference, and was meant to relieve the German
people of their fear of suffocation.

Number six is the first point dealing with a particular nation. It was
intended as a reply to Russian suspicion of the Allies, and the
eloquence of its promises was attuned to the drama of Brest-Litovsk.
Number seven deals with Belgium, and is as unqualified in form and
purpose as was the conviction of practically the whole world,
including very large sections of Central Europe. Over number eight we
must pause. It begins with an absolute demand for evacuation and
restoration of French territory, and then passes on to the question of
Alsace-Lorraine. The phrasing of this clause most perfectly
illustrates the character of a public statement which must condense a
vast complex of interests in a few words. “And the wrong done to
France by Prussia in 1871 in the matter of Alsace-Lorraine, which has
unsettled the peace of the world for nearly fifty years, should be
righted. …” Every word here was chosen with meticulous care. The
wrong done should be righted; why not say that Alsace-Lorraine should
be restored? It was not said, because it was not certain that all of
the French _at that time_ would fight on indefinitely for
reannexation if they were offered a plebiscite; and because it was
even less certain whether the English and Italians would fight on. The
formula had, therefore, to cover both contingencies. The word
“righted” guaranteed satisfaction to France, but did not read as a
commitment to simple annexation. But why speak of the wrong done by
_Prussia_ in _1871_? The word Prussia was, of course, intended
to remind the South Germans that Alsace-Lorraine belonged not to
them but to Prussia. Why speak of peace unsettled for “fifty years,”
and why the use of “1871”? In the first place, what the French and
the rest of the world remembered was 1871. That was the nodal
point of their grievance. But the formulators of the Fourteen Points
knew that French officialdom planned for more than the Alsace-Lorraine
of 1871. The secret memoranda that had passed between the Czar’s
ministers and French officials in 1916 covered the annexation of the
Saar Valley and some sort of dismemberment of the Rhineland. It was
planned to include the Saar Valley under the term “Alsace-Lorraine”
because it had been part of Alsace-Lorraine in 1814, though it had
been detached in 1815, and was no part of the territory at the close
of the Franco-Prussian war. The official French formula for annexing
the Saar was to subsume it under “Alsace-Lorraine” meaning the
Alsace-Lorraine of 1814-1815. By insistence on “1871” the President
was really defining the ultimate boundary between Germany and France,
was adverting to the secret treaty, and was casting it aside.

Number nine, a little less subtly, does the same thing in respect to
Italy. “Clearly recognizable lines of nationality” are exactly what
the lines of the Treaty of London were not. Those lines were partly
strategic, partly economic, partly imperialistic, partly ethnic. The
only part of them that could possibly procure allied sympathy was that
which would recover the genuine Italia Irredenta. All the rest, as
everyone who was informed knew, merely delayed the impending Jugoslav


It would be a mistake to suppose that the apparently unanimous
enthusiasm which greeted the Fourteen Points represented agreement on
a program. Everyone seemed to find something that he liked and
stressed this aspect and that detail. But no one risked a discussion.
The phrases, so pregnant with the underlying conflicts of the
civilized world, were accepted. They stood for opposing ideas, but
they evoked a common emotion. And to that extent they played a part in
rallying the western peoples for the desperate ten months of war which
they had still to endure.

As long as the Fourteen Points dealt with that hazy and happy future
when the agony was to be over, the real conflicts of interpretation
were not made manifest. They were plans for the settlement of a wholly
invisible environment, and because these plans inspired all groups
each with its own private hope, all hopes ran together as a public
hope. For harmonization, as we saw in Mr. Hughes’s speech, is a
hierarchy of symbols. As you ascend the hierarchy in order to include
more and more factions you may for a time preserve the emotional
connection though you lose the intellectual. But even the emotion
becomes thinner. As you go further away from experience, you go higher
into generalization or subtlety. As you go up in the balloon you throw
more and more concrete objects overboard, and when you have reached
the top with some phrase like the Rights of Humanity or the World Made
Safe for Democracy, you see far and wide, but you see very little. Yet
the people whose emotions are entrained do not remain passive. As the
public appeal becomes more and more all things to all men, as the
emotion is stirred while the meaning is dispersed, their very private
meanings are given a universal application. Whatever you want badly is
the Rights of Humanity. For the phrase, ever more vacant, capable of
meaning almost anything, soon comes to mean pretty nearly everything.
Mr. Wilson’s phrases were understood in endlessly different ways in
every corner of the earth. No document negotiated and made of public
record existed to correct the confusion. [Footnote: The American
interpretation of the fourteen points was explained to the allied
statesmen just before the armistice.] And so, when the day of
settlement came, everybody expected everything. The European authors
of the treaty had a large choice, and they chose to realize those
expectations which were held by those of their countrymen who wielded
the most power at home.

They came down the hierarchy from the Rights of Humanity to the Rights
of France, Britain and Italy. They did not abandon the use of symbols.
They abandoned only those which after the war had no permanent roots
in the imagination of their constituents. They preserved the unity of
France by the use of symbolism, but they would not risk anything for
the unity of Europe. The symbol France was deeply attached, the symbol
Europe had only a recent history. Nevertheless the distinction between
an omnibus like Europe and a symbol like France is not sharp. The
history of states and empires reveals times when the scope of the
unifying idea increases and also times when it shrinks. One cannot say
that men have moved consistently from smaller loyalties to larger
ones, because the facts will not bear out the claim. The Roman Empire
and the Holy Roman Empire bellied out further than those national
unifications in the Nineteenth Century from which believers in a World
State argue by analogy. Nevertheless, it is probably true that the
real integration has increased regardless of the temporary inflation
and deflation of empires.


Such a real integration has undoubtedly occurred in American history.
In the decade before 1789 most men, it seems, felt that their state
and their community were real, but that the confederation of states
was unreal. The idea of their state, its flag, its most conspicuous
leaders, or whatever it was that represented Massachusetts, or
Virginia, were genuine symbols. That is to say, they were fed by
actual experiences from childhood, occupation, residence, and the
like. The span of men’s experience had rarely traversed the imaginary
boundaries of their states. The word Virginian was related to pretty
nearly everything that most Virginians had ever known or felt. It was
the most extensive political idea which had genuine contact with their

Their experience, not their needs. For their needs arose out of their
real environment, which in those days was at least as large as the
thirteen colonies. They needed a common defense. They needed a
financial and economic regime as extensive as the Confederation. But
as long as the pseudo-environment of the state encompassed them, the
state symbols exhausted their political interest. An interstate idea,
like the Confederation, represented a powerless abstraction. It was an
omnibus, rather than a symbol, and the harmony among divergent groups,
which the omnibus creates, is transient.

I have said that the idea of confederation was a powerless
abstraction. Yet the need of unity existed in the decade before the
Constitution was adopted. The need existed, in the sense that affairs
were askew unless the need of unity was taken into account. Gradually
certain classes in each colony began to break through the state
experience. Their personal interests led across the state lines to
interstate experiences, and gradually there was constructed in their
minds a picture of the American environment which was truly national
in scope. For them the idea of federation became a true symbol, and
ceased to be an omnibus. The most imaginative of these men was
Alexander Hamilton. It happened that he had no primitive attachment to
any one state, for he was born in the West Indies, and had, from the
very beginning of his active life, been associated with the common
interests of all the states. Thus to most men of the time the question
of whether the capital should be in Virginia or in Philadelphia was of
enormous importance, because they were locally minded. To Hamilton
this question was of no emotional consequence; what he wanted was the
assumption of the state debts because they would further nationalize
the proposed union. So he gladly traded the site of the capitol for
two necessary votes from men who represented the Potomac district. To
Hamilton the Union was a symbol that represented all his interests and
his whole experience; to White and Lee from the Potomac, the symbol of
their province was the highest political entity they served, and they
served it though they hated to pay the price. They agreed, says
Jefferson, to change their votes, “White with a revulsion of stomach
almost convulsive.” [Footnote: _Works,_ Vol. IX, p. 87. Cited by
Beard, _Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy,_ p. 172.]

In the crystallizing of a common will, there is always an Alexander
Hamilton at work.




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

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

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. [Footnote: See an
interesting, rather quaint old book: George Cornewall Lewis, _An
Essay on the Influence of Authority in Matters of Opinion_.]

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

The people on whom we depend for contact with the outer world are
those who seem to be running it. [Footnote: _Cf._ Bryce, _Modern
Democracies_ Vol. II, pp. 544-545.] 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

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. [Footnote: _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. ] 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


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, [Footnote: _Op.
cit._, Vol. II, p. 542.] “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. [Footnote: _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.] 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. [Footnote:
_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.] 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.




BECAUSE of their transcendent practical importance, no successful
leader has ever been too busy to cultivate the symbols which organize
his following. What privileges do within the hierarchy, symbols do for
the rank and file. They conserve unity. From the totem pole to the
national flag, from the wooden idol to God the Invisible King, from
the magic word to some diluted version of Adam Smith or Bentham,
symbols have been cherished by leaders, many of whom were themselves
unbelievers, because they were focal points where differences merged.
The detached observer may scorn the “star-spangled” ritual which
hedges the symbol, perhaps as much as the king who told himself that
Paris was worth a few masses. But the leader knows by experience that
only when symbols have done their work is there a handle he can use to
move a crowd. In the symbol emotion is discharged at a common target,
and the idiosyncrasy of real ideas blotted out. No wonder he hates
what he calls destructive criticism, sometimes called by free spirits
the elimination of buncombe. “Above all things,” says Bagehot, “our
royalty is to be reverenced, and if you begin to poke about it you
cannot reverence it.” [Footnote: _The English Constitution,_ p.
127. D. Appleton & Company, 1914.] For poking about with clear
definitions and candid statements serves all high purposes known to
man, except the easy conservation of a common will. Poking about, as
every responsible leader suspects, tends to break the transference of
emotion from the individual mind to the institutional symbol. And the
first result of that is, as he rightly says, a chaos of individualism
and warring sects. The disintegration of a symbol, like Holy Russia,
or the Iron Diaz, is always the beginning of a long upheaval.

These great symbols possess by transference all the minute and
detailed loyalties of an ancient and stereotyped society. They evoke
the feeling that each individual has for the landscape, the furniture,
the faces, the memories that are his first, and in a static society,
his only reality. That core of images and devotions without which he
is unthinkable to himself, is nationality. The great symbols take up
these devotions, and can arouse them without calling forth the
primitive images. The lesser symbols of public debate, the more casual
chatter of politics, are always referred back to these proto-symbols,
and if possible associated with them. The question of a proper fare on
a municipal subway is symbolized as an issue between the People and
the Interests, and then the People is inserted in the symbol American,
so that finally in the heat of a campaign, an eight cent fare becomes
unAmerican. The Revolutionary fathers died to prevent it. Lincoln
suffered that it might not come to pass, resistance to it was implied
in the death of those who sleep in France.

Because of its power to siphon emotion out of distinct ideas, the
symbol is both a mechanism of solidarity, and a mechanism of
exploitation. It enables people to work for a common end, but just
because the few who are strategically placed must choose the concrete
objectives, the symbol is also an instrument by which a few can fatten
on many, deflect criticism, and seduce men into facing agony for
objects they do not understand.

Many aspects of our subjection to symbols are not flattering if we
choose to think of ourselves as realistic, self-sufficient, and
self-governing personalities. Yet it is impossible to conclude that
symbols are altogether instruments of the devil. In the realm of
science and contemplation they are undoubtedly the tempter himself.
But in the world of action they may be beneficent, and are sometimes a
necessity. The necessity is often imagined, the peril manufactured.
But when quick results are imperative, the manipulation of masses
through symbols may be the only quick way of having a critical thing
done. It is often more important to act than to understand. It is
sometimes true that the action would fail if everyone understood it.
There are many affairs which cannot wait for a referendum or endure
publicity, and there are times, during war for example, when a nation,
an army, and even its commanders must trust strategy to a very few
minds; when two conflicting opinions, though one happens to be right,
are more perilous than one opinion which is wrong. The wrong opinion
may have bad results, but the two opinions may entail disaster by
dissolving unity. [Footnote: Captain Peter S. Wright, Assistant
Secretary of the Supreme War Council, _At the Supreme War
Council,_ is well worth careful reading on secrecy and unity of
command, even though in respect to the allied leaders he wages a
passionate polemic.]

Thus Foch and Sir Henry Wilson, who foresaw the impending disaster to
Cough’s army, as a consequence of the divided and scattered reserves,
nevertheless kept their opinions well within a small circle, knowing
that even the risk of a smashing defeat was less certainly
destructive, than would have been an excited debate in the newspapers.
For what matters most under the kind of tension which prevailed in
March, 1918, is less the rightness of a particular move than the
unbroken expectation as to the source of command. Had Foch “gone to
the people” he might have won the debate, but long before he could
have won it, the armies which he was to command would have dissolved.
For the spectacle of a row on Olympus is diverting and destructive.

But so also is a conspiracy of silence. Says Captain Wright: “It is in
the High Command and not in the line, that the art of camouflage is
most practiced, and reaches to highest flights. All chiefs everywhere
are now kept painted, by the busy work of numberless publicists, so as
to be mistaken for Napoleons–at a distance….It becomes almost
impossible to displace these Napoleons, whatever their incompetence,
because of the enormous public support created by hiding or glossing
failure, and exaggerating or inventing success…. But the most
insidious and worst effect of this so highly organized falsity is on
the generals themselves: modest and patriotic as they mostly are, and
as most men must be to take up and follow the noble profession of
arms, they themselves are ultimately affected by these universal
illusions, and reading it every morning in the paper, they also grow
persuaded they are thunderbolts of war and infallible, however much
they fail, and that their maintenance in command is an end so sacred
that it justifies the use of any means…. These various conditions,
of which this great deceit is the greatest, at last emancipate all
General Staffs from all control. They no longer live for the nation:
the nation lives, or rather dies, for them. Victory or defeat ceases
to be the prime interest. What matters to these semi-sovereign
corporations is whether dear old Willie or poor old Harry is going to
be at their head, or the Chantilly party prevail over the Boulevard
des Invalides party.” [Footnote: _Op. cit._, pp. 98, 101-105.]

Yet Captain Wright who can be so eloquent and so discerning about the
dangers of silence is forced nevertheless to approve the silence of
Foch in not publicly destroying the illusions. There is here a
complicated paradox, arising as we shall see more fully later on,
because the traditional democratic view of life is conceived, not for
emergencies and dangers, but for tranquillity and harmony. And so
where masses of people must cooperate in an uncertain and eruptive
environment, it is usually necessary to secure unity and flexibility
without real consent. The symbol does that. It obscures personal
intention, neutralizes discrimination, and obfuscates individual
purpose. It immobilizes personality, yet at the same time it
enormously sharpens the intention of the group and welds that group,
as nothing else in a crisis can weld it, to purposeful action. It
renders the mass mobile though it immobilizes personality. The symbol
is the instrument by which in the short run the mass escapes from its
own inertia, the inertia of indecision, or the inertia of headlong
movement, and is rendered capable of being led along the zigzag of a
complex situation.


But in the longer run, the give and take increases between the leaders
and the led. The word most often used to describe the state of mind in
the rank and file about its leaders is morale. That is said to be good
when the individuals do the part allotted to them with all their
energy; when each man’s whole strength is evoked by the command from
above. It follows that every leader must plan his policy with this in
mind. He must consider his decision not only on “the merits,” but also
in its effect on any part of his following whose continued support he
requires. If he is a general planning an attack, he knows that his
organized military units will scatter into mobs if the percentage of
casualties rises too high.

In the Great War previous calculations were upset to an extraordinary
degree, for “out of every nine men who went to France five became
casualties.” [Footnote: _Op. cit_., p. 37. Figures taken by
Captain Wright from the statistical abstract of the war in the
Archives of the War Office. The figures refer apparently to the
English losses alone, possibly to the English and French.] The limit
of endurance was far greater than anyone had supposed. But there was a
limit somewhere. And so, partly because of its effect on the enemy,
but also in great measure because of its effect on the troops and
their families, no command in this war dared to publish a candid
statement of its losses. In France the casualty lists were never
published. In England, America, and Germany publication of the losses
of a big battle were spread out over long periods so as to destroy a
unified impression of the total. Only the insiders knew until long
afterwards what the Somme had cost, or the Flanders battles;
[Footnote: _Op cit._, p. 34, the Somme cost nearly 500,000
casualties; the Arras and Flanders offensives of 1917 cost 650,000
British casualties.] and Ludendorff undoubtedly had a very much more
accurate idea of these casualties than any private person in London,
Paris or Chicago. All the leaders in every camp did their best to
limit the amount of actual war which any one soldier or civilian could
vividly conceive. But, of course, among old veterans like the French
troops of 1917, a great deal more is known about war than ever reaches
the public. Such an army begins to judge its commanders in terms of
its own suffering. And then, when another extravagant promise of
victory turns out to be the customary bloody defeat, you may find that
a mutiny breaks out over some comparatively minor blunder, [Footnote:
The Allies suffered many bloodier defeats than that on the Chemin des
Dames.] like Nivelle’s offensive of 1917, because it is a cumulative
blunder. Revolutions and mutinies generally follow a small sample of a
big series of evils. [Footnote: _Cf._ Pierrefeu’s account, _op.
cit._, on the causes of the Soissons mutinies, and the method
adopted by Pétain to deal with them. Vol. I, Part III, _et seq._]

The incidence of policy determines the relation between leader and
following. If those whom he needs in his plan are remote from the
place where the action takes place, if the results are hidden or
postponed, if the individual obligations are indirect or not yet due,
above all if assent is an exercise of some pleasurable emotion, the
leader is likely to have a free hand. Those programs are immediately
most popular, like prohibition among teetotalers, which do not at once
impinge upon the private habits of the followers. That is one great
reason why governments have such a free hand in foreign affairs. Most
of the frictions between two states involve a series of obscure and
long-winded contentions, occasionally on the frontier, but far more
often in regions about which school geographies have supplied no
precise ideas. In Czechoslovakia America is regarded as the Liberator;
in American newspaper paragraphs and musical comedy, in American
conversation by and large, it has never been finally settled whether
the country we liberated is Czechoslavia or Jugoslovakia.

In foreign affairs the incidence of policy is for a very long time
confined to an unseen environment. Nothing that happens out there is
felt to be wholly real. And so, because in the ante-bellum period,
nobody has to fight and nobody has to pay, governments go along
according to their lights without much reference to their people. In
local affairs the cost of a policy is more easily visible. And
therefore, all but the most exceptional leaders prefer policies in
which the costs are as far as possible indirect.

They do not like direct taxation. They do not like to pay as they go.
They like long term debts. They like to have the voters believe that
the foreigner will pay. They have always been compelled to calculate
prosperity in terms of the producer rather than in terms of the
consumer, because the incidence on the consumer is distributed over so
many trivial items. Labor leaders have always preferred an increase of
money wages to a decrease in prices. There has always been more
popular interest in the profits of millionaires, which are visible but
comparatively unimportant, than in the wastes of the industrial
system, which are huge but elusive. A legislature dealing with a
shortage of houses, such as exists when this is written, illustrates
this rule, first by doing nothing to increase the number of houses,
second by smiting the greedy landlord on the hip, third by
investigating the profiteering builders and working men. For a
constructive policy deals with remote and uninteresting factors, while
a greedy landlord, or a profiteering plumber is visible and immediate.

But while people will readily believe that in an unimagined future and
in unseen places a certain policy will benefit them, the actual
working out of policy follows a different logic from their opinions. A
nation may be induced to believe that jacking up the freight rates
will make the railroads prosperous. But that belief will not make the
roads prosperous, if the impact of those rates on farmers and shippers
is such as to produce a commodity price beyond what the consumer can
pay. Whether the consumer will pay the price depends not upon whether
he nodded his head nine months previously at the proposal to raise
rates and save business, but on whether he now wants a new hat or a
new automobile enough to pay for them.


Leaders often pretend that they have merely uncovered a program which
existed in the minds of their public. When they believe it, they are
usually deceiving themselves. Programs do not invent themselves
synchronously in a multitude of minds. That is not because a multitude
of minds is necessarily inferior to that of the leaders, but because
thought is the function of an organism, and a mass is not an organism.

This fact is obscured because the mass is constantly exposed to
suggestion. It reads not the news, but the news with an aura of
suggestion about it, indicating the line of action to be taken. It
hears reports, not objective as the facts are, but already stereotyped
to a certain pattern of behavior. Thus the ostensible leader often
finds that the real leader is a powerful newspaper proprietor. But if,
as in a laboratory, one could remove all suggestion and leading from
the experience of a multitude, one would, I think, find something like
this: A mass exposed to the same stimuli would develop responses that
could theoretically be charted in a polygon of error. There would be a
certain group that felt sufficiently alike to be classified together.
There would be variants of feeling at both ends. These classifications
would tend to harden as individuals in each of the classifications
made their reactions vocal. That is to say, when the vague feelings of
those who felt vaguely had been put into words, they would know more
definitely what they felt, and would then feel it more definitely.

Leaders in touch with popular feeling are quickly conscious of these
reactions. They know that high prices are pressing upon the mass, or
that certain classes of individuals are becoming unpopular, or that
feeling towards another nation is friendly or hostile. But, always
barring the effect of suggestion which is merely the assumption of
leadership by the reporter, there would be nothing in the feeling of
the mass that fatally determined the choice of any particular policy.
All that the feeling of the mass demands is that policy as it is
developed and exposed shall be, if not logically, then by analogy and
association, connected with the original feeling.

So when a new policy is to be launched, there is a preliminary bid for
community of feeling, as in Mark Antony’s speech to the followers of
Brutus. [Footnote: Excellently analyzed in Martin, _The Behavior of
Crowds,_ pp. 130-132,] In the first phase, the leader vocalizes the
prevalent opinion of the mass. He identifies himself with the familiar
attitudes of his audience, sometimes by telling a good story,
sometimes by brandishing his patriotism, often by pinching a
grievance. Finding that he is trustworthy, the multitude milling
hither and thither may turn in towards him. He will then be expected
to set forth a plan of campaign. But he will not find that plan in the
slogans which convey the feelings of the mass. It will not even always
be indicated by them. Where the incidence of policy is remote, all
that is essential is that the program shall be verbally and
emotionally connected at the start with what has become vocal in the
multitude. Trusted men in a familiar role subscribing to the accepted
symbols can go a very long way on their own initiative without
explaining the substance of their programs.

But wise leaders are not content to do that. Provided they think
publicity will not strengthen opposition too much, and that debate
will not delay action too long, they seek a certain measure of
consent. They take, if not the whole mass, then the subordinates of
the hierarchy sufficiently into their confidence to prepare them for
what might happen, and to make them feel that they have freely willed
the result. But however sincere the leader may be, there is always,
when the facts are very complicated, a certain amount of illusion in
these consultations. For it is impossible that all the contingencies
shall be as vivid to the whole public as they are to the more
experienced and the more imaginative. A fairly large percentage are
bound to agree without having taken the time, or without possessing
the background, for appreciating the choices which the leader presents
to them. No one, however, can ask for more. And only theorists do. If
we have had our day in court, if what we had to say was heard, and
then if what is done comes out well, most of us do not stop to
consider how much our opinion affected the business in hand.

And therefore, if the established powers are sensitive and
well-informed, if they are visibly trying to meet popular feeling, and
actually removing some of the causes of dissatisfaction, no matter how
slowly they proceed, provided they are seen to be proceeding, they
have little to fear. It takes stupendous and persistent blundering,
plus almost infinite tactlessness, to start a revolution from below.
Palace revolutions, interdepartmental revolutions, are a different
matter. So, too, is demagogy. That stops at relieving the tension by
expressing the feeling. But the statesman knows that such relief is
temporary, and if indulged too often, unsanitary. He, therefore, sees
to it that he arouses no feeling which he cannot sluice into a program
that deals with the facts to which the feelings refer.

But all leaders are not statesmen, all leaders hate to resign, and
most leaders find it hard to believe that bad as things are, the other
fellow would not make them worse. They do not passively wait for the
public to feel the incidence of policy, because the incidence of that
discovery is generally upon their own heads. They are, therefore,
intermittently engaged in mending their fences and consolidating their

The mending of fences consists in offering an occasional scapegoat, in
redressing a minor grievance affecting a powerful individual or
faction, rearranging certain jobs, placating a group of people who
want an arsenal in their home town, or a law to stop somebody’s vices.
Study the daily activity of any public official who depends on
election and you can enlarge this list. There are Congressmen elected
year after year who never think of dissipating their energy on public
affairs. They prefer to do a little service for a lot of people on a
lot of little subjects, rather than to engage in trying to do a big
service out there in the void. But the number of people to whom any
organization can be a successful valet is limited, and shrewd
politicians take care to attend either the influential, or somebody so
blatantly uninfluential that to pay any attention to him is a mark of
sensational magnanimity. The far greater number who cannot be held by
favors, the anonymous multitude, receive propaganda.

The established leaders of any organization have great natural
advantages. They are believed to have better sources of information.
The books and papers are in their offices. They took part in the
important conferences. They met the important people. They have
responsibility. It is, therefore, easier for them to secure attention
and to speak in a convincing tone. But also they have a very great
deal of control over the access to the facts. Every official is in
some degree a censor. And since no one can suppress information,
either by concealing it or forgetting to mention it, without some
notion of what he wishes the public to know, every leader is in some
degree a propagandist. Strategically placed, and compelled often to
choose even at the best between the equally cogent though conflicting
ideals of safety for the institution, and candor to his public, the
official finds himself deciding more and more consciously what facts,
in what setting, in what guise he shall permit the public to know.


That the manufacture of consent is capable of great refinements no
one, I think, denies. The process by which public opinions arise is
certainly no less intricate than it has appeared in these pages, and
the opportunities for manipulation open to anyone who understands the
process are plain enough.

The creation of consent is not a new art. It is a very old one which
was supposed to have died out with the appearance of democracy. But it
has not died out. It has, in fact, improved enormously in technic,
because it is now based on analysis rather than on rule of thumb. And
so, as a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern
means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner.
A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any
shifting of economic power.

Within the life of the generation now in control of affairs,
persuasion has become a self-conscious art and a regular organ of
popular government. None of us begins to understand the consequences,
but it is no daring prophecy to say that the knowledge of how to
create consent will alter every political calculation and modify every
political premise. Under the impact of propaganda, not necessarily in
the sinister meaning of the word alone, the old constants of our
thinking have become variables. It is no longer possible, for example,
to believe in the original dogma of democracy; that the knowledge
needed for the management of human affairs comes up spontaneously from
the human heart. Where we act on that theory we expose ourselves to
self-deception, and to forms of persuasion that we cannot verify. It
has been demonstrated that we cannot rely upon intuition, conscience,
or the accidents of casual opinion if we are to deal with the world
beyond our reach.



“I confess that in America I saw more than America;
I sought the image of democracy itself.”

Alexis de Tocqueville.





SINCE Public Opinion is supposed to be the prime mover in democracies,
one might reasonably expect to find a vast literature. One does not
find it. There are excellent books on government and parties, that is,
on the machinery which in theory registers public opinions after they
are formed. But on the sources from which these public opinions arise,
on the processes by which they are derived, there is relatively
little. The existence of a force called Public Opinion is in the main
taken for granted, and American political writers have been most
interested either in finding out how to make government express the
common will, or in how to prevent the common will from subverting the
purposes for which they believe the government exists. According to
their traditions they have wished either to tame opinion or to obey
it. Thus the editor of a notable series of text-books writes that “the
most difficult and the most momentous question of government (is) how
to transmit the force of individual opinion into public
action.” [Footnote: Albert Bushnell Hart in the Introductory note to A.
Lawrence Lowell’s _Public Opinion and Popular Government. _]

But surely there is a still more momentous question, the question of
how to validate our private versions of the political scene. There is,
as I shall try to indicate further on, the prospect of radical
improvement by the development of principles already in operation. But
this development will depend on how well we learn to use knowledge of
the way opinions are put together to watch over our own opinions when
they are being put together. For casual opinion, being the product of
partial contact, of tradition, and personal interests, cannot in the
nature of things take kindly to a method of political thought which is
based on exact record, measurement, analysis and comparison. Just
those qualities of the mind which determine what shall seem
interesting, important, familiar, personal, and dramatic, are the
qualities which in the first instance realistic opinion frustrates.
Therefore, unless there is in the community at large a growing
conviction that prejudice and intuition are not enough, the working
out of realistic opinion, which takes time, money, labor, conscious
effort, patience, and equanimity, will not find enough support. That
conviction grows as self-criticism increases, and makes us conscious
of buncombe, contemptuous of ourselves when we employ it, and on guard
to detect it. Without an ingrained habit of analyzing opinion when we
read, talk, and decide, most of us would hardly suspect the need of
better ideas, nor be interested in them when they appear, nor be able
to prevent the new technic of political intelligence from being

Yet democracies, if we are to judge by the oldest and most powerful of
them, have made a mystery out of public opinion. There have been
skilled organizers of opinion who understood the mystery well enough
to create majorities on election day. But these organizers have been
regarded by political science as low fellows or as “problems,” not as
possessors of the most effective knowledge there was on how to create
and operate public opinion. The tendency of the people who have voiced
the ideas of democracy, even when they have not managed its action,
the tendency of students, orators, editors, has been to look upon
Public Opinion as men in other societies looked upon the uncanny
forces to which they ascribed the last word in the direction of

For in almost every political theory there is an inscrutable element
which in the heyday of that theory goes unexamined. Behind the
appearances there is a Fate, there are Guardian Spirits, or Mandates
to a Chosen People, a Divine Monarchy, a Vice-Regent of Heaven, or a
Class of the Better Born. The more obvious angels, demons, and kings
are gone out of democratic thinking, but the need for believing that
there are reserve powers of guidance persists. It persisted for those
thinkers of the Eighteenth Century who designed the matrix of
democracy. They had a pale god, but warm hearts, and in the doctrine
of popular sovereignty they found the answer to their need of an
infallible origin for the new social order. There was the mystery, and
only enemies of the people touched it with profane and curious hands.


They did not remove the veil because they were practical politicians
in a bitter and uncertain struggle. They had themselves felt the
aspiration of democracy, which is ever so much deeper, more intimate
and more important than any theory of government. They were engaged,
as against the prejudice of ages, in the assertion of human dignity.
What possessed them was not whether John Smith had sound views on any
public question, but that John Smith, scion of a stock that had always
been considered inferior, would now bend his knee to no other man. It
was this spectacle that made it bliss “in that dawn to be alive.” But
every analyst seems to degrade that dignity, to deny that all men are
reasonable all the time, or educated, or informed, to note that people
are fooled, that they do not always know their own interests, and that
all men are not equally fitted to govern.

The critics were about as welcome as a small boy with a drum. Every
one of these observations on the fallibility of man was being
exploited ad nauseam. Had democrats admitted there was truth in any of
the aristocratic arguments they would have opened a breach in the
defenses. And so just as Aristotle had to insist that the slave was a
slave by nature, the democrats had to insist that the free man was a
legislator and administrator by nature. They could not stop to explain
that a human soul might not yet have, or indeed might never have, this
technical equipment, and that nevertheless it had an inalienable right
not to be used as the unwilling instrument of other men. The superior
people were still too strong and too unscrupulous to have refrained
from capitalizing so candid a statement.

So the early democrats insisted that a reasoned righteousness welled
up spontaneously out of the mass of men. All of them hoped that it
would, many of them believed that it did, although the cleverest, like
Thomas Jefferson, had all sorts of private reservations. But one thing
was certain: if public opinion did not come forth spontaneously,
nobody in that age believed it would come forth at all. For in one
fundamental respect the political science on which democracy was based
was the same science that Aristotle formulated. It was the same
science for democrat and aristocrat, royalist and republican, in that
its major premise assumed the art of government to be a natural
endowment. Men differed radically when they tried to name the men so
endowed; but they agreed in thinking that the greatest question of all
was to find those in whom political wisdom was innate. Royalists were
sure that kings were born to govern. Alexander Hamilton thought that
while “there are strong minds in every walk of life… the
representative body, with too few exceptions to have any influence on
the spirit of the government, will be composed of landholders,
merchants, and men of the learned professions.” [Footnote: _The
Federalist_, Nos. 35, 36. _Cf_. comment by Henry Jones Ford in
his _Rise and Growth of American Politics_. Ch. V.] Jefferson
thought the political faculties were deposited by God in farmers and
planters, and sometimes spoke as if they were found in all the people.
[Footnote: See below p. 268.] The main premise was the same: to govern
was an instinct that appeared, according to your social preferences,
in one man or a chosen few, in all males, or only in males who were
white and twenty-one, perhaps even in all men and all women.

In deciding who was most fit to govern, knowledge of the world was
taken for granted. The aristocrat believed that those who dealt with
large affairs possessed the instinct, the democrats asserted that all
men possessed the instinct and could therefore deal with large
affairs. It was no part of political science in either case to think
out how knowledge of the world could be brought to the ruler. If you
were for the people you did not try to work out the question of how to
keep the voter informed. By the age of twenty-one he had his political
faculties. What counted was a good heart, a reasoning mind, a balanced
judgment. These would ripen with age, but it was not necessary to
consider how to inform the heart and feed the reason. Men took in
their facts as they took in their breath.


But the facts men could come to possess in this effortless way were
limited. They could know the customs and more obvious character of the
place where they lived and worked. But the outer world they had to
conceive, and they did not conceive it instinctively, nor absorb
trustworthy knowledge of it just by living. Therefore, the only
environment in which spontaneous politics were possible was one
confined within the range of the ruler’s direct and certain knowledge.
There is no escaping this conclusion, wherever you found government on
the natural range of men’s faculties. “If,” as Aristotle said,
[Footnote: _Politics_, Bk. VII, Ch. 4.] “the citizens of a state
are to judge and distribute offices according to merit, then they must
know each other’s characters; where they do not possess this
knowledge, both the election to offices and the decision of law suits
will go wrong.”

Obviously this maxim was binding upon every school of political
thought. But it presented peculiar difficulties to the democrats.
Those who believed in class government could fairly claim that in the
court of the king, or in the country houses of the gentry, men did
know each other’s characters, and as long as the rest of mankind was
passive, the only characters one needed to know were the characters of
men in the ruling class. But the democrats, who wanted to raise the
dignity of all men, were immediately involved by the immense size and
confusion of their ruling class–the male electorate. Their science
told them that politics was an instinct, and that the instinct worked
in a limited environment. Their hopes bade them insist that all men in
a very large environment could govern. In this deadly conflict between
their ideals and their science, the only way out was to assume without
much discussion that the voice of the people was the voice of God.

The paradox was too great, the stakes too big, their ideal too
precious for critical examination. They could not show how a citizen
of Boston was to stay in Boston and conceive the views of a Virginian,
how a Virginian in Virginia could have real opinions about the
government at Washington, how Congressmen in Washington could have
opinions about China or Mexico. For in that day it was not possible
for many men to have an unseen environment brought into the field of
their judgment. There had been some advances, to be sure, since
Aristotle. There were a few newspapers, and there were books, better
roads perhaps, and better ships. But there was no great advance, and
the political assumptions of the Eighteenth Century had essentially to
be those that had prevailed in political science for two thousand
years. The pioneer democrats did not possess the material for
resolving the conflict between the known range of man’s attention and
their illimitable faith in his dignity.

Their assumptions antedated not only the modern newspaper, the
world-wide press services, photography and moving pictures, but, what
is really more significant, they antedated measurement and record,
quantitative and comparative analysis, the canons of evidence, and the
ability of psychological analysis to correct and discount the
prejudices of the witness. I do not mean to say that our records are
satisfactory, our analysis unbiased, our measurements sound. I do mean
to say that the key inventions have been made for bringing the unseen
world into the field of judgment. They had not been made in the time
of Aristotle, and they were not yet important enough to be visible for
political theory in the age of Rousseau, Montesquieu, or Thomas
Jefferson. In a later chapter I think we shall see that even in the
latest theory of human reconstruction, that of the English Guild
Socialists, all the deeper premises have been taken over from this
older system of political thought.

That system, whenever it was competent and honest, had to assume that
no man could have more than a very partial experience of public
affairs. In the sense that he can give only a little time to them,
that assumption is still true, and of the utmost consequence. But
ancient theory was compelled to assume, not only that men could give
little attention to public questions, but that the attention available
would have to be confined to matters close at hand. It would have been
visionary to suppose that a time would come when distant and
complicated events could conceivably be reported, analyzed, and
presented in such a form that a really valuable choice could be made
by an amateur. That time is now in sight. There is no longer any doubt
that the continuous reporting of an unseen environment is feasible. It
is often done badly, but the fact that it is done at all shows that it
can be done, and the fact that we begin to know how badly it is often
done, shows that it can be done better. With varying degrees of skill
and honesty distant complexities are reported every day by engineers
and accountants for business men, by secretaries and civil servants
for officials, by intelligence officers for the General Staff, by some
journalists for some readers. These are crude beginnings but radical,
far more radical in the literal meaning of that word than the
repetition of wars, revolutions, abdications and restorations; as
radical as the change in the scale of human life which has made it
possible for Mr. Lloyd George to discuss Welsh coal mining after
breakfast in London, and the fate of the Arabs before dinner in Paris.

For the possibility of bringing any aspect of human affairs within the
range of judgment breaks the spell which has lain upon political
ideas. There have, of course, been plenty of men who did not realize
that the range of attention was the main premise of political science.
They have built on sand. They have demonstrated in their own persons
the effects of a very limited and self-centered knowledge of the
world. But for the political thinkers who have counted, from Plato and
Aristotle through Machiavelli and Hobbes to the democratic theorists,
speculation has revolved around the self-centered man who had to see
the whole world by means of a few pictures in his head.




THAT groups of self-centered people would engage in a struggle for
existence if they rubbed against each other has always been evident.
This much truth there is at any rate in that famous passage in the
Leviathan where Hobbes says that “though there had never been any time
wherein particular men were in a condition of war one against another,
yet at all times kings and _persons_ of _sovereign authority
because_ of their _independency_, are in continual jealousies
and in the state and posture of gladiators, having their weapons
pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another…” [Footnote:
_Leviathan_, Ch. XIII. Of the Natural Condition of Mankind as
concerning their Felicity and Misery.]


To circumvent this conclusion one great branch of human thought, which
had and has many schools, proceeded in this fashion: it conceived an
ideally just pattern of human relations in which each person had well
defined functions and rights. If he conscientiously filled the role
allotted to him, it did not matter whether his opinions were right or
wrong. He did his duty, the next man did his, and all the dutiful
people together made a harmonious world. Every caste system
illustrates this principle; you find it in Plato’s Republic and in
Aristotle, in the feudal ideal, in the circles of Dante’s Paradise, in
the bureaucratic type of socialism, and in laissez-faire, to an
amazing degree in syndicalism, guild socialism, anarchism, and in the
system of international law idealized by Mr. Robert Lansing. All of
them assume a pre-established harmony, inspired, imposed, or innate,
by which the self-opinionated person, class, or community is
orchestrated with the rest of mankind. The more authoritarian imagine
a conductor for the symphony who sees to it that each man plays his
part; the anarchistic are inclined to think that a more divine concord
would be heard if each player improvised as he went along.

But there have also been philosophers who were bored by these schemes
of rights and duties, took conflict for granted, and tried to see how
their side might come out on top. They have always seemed more
realistic, even when they seemed alarming, because all they had to do
was to generalize the experience that nobody could escape. Machiavelli
is the classic of this school, a man most mercilessly maligned,
because he happened to be the first naturalist who used plain language
in a field hitherto preempted by supernaturalists. [Footnote: F. S.
Oliver in his _Alexander Hamilton_, says of Machiavelli (p. 174):
“Assuming the conditions which exist–the nature of man and of
things–to be unchangeable, he proceeds in a calm, unmoral way, like a
lecturer on frogs, to show how a valiant and sagacious ruler can best
turn events to his own advantage and the security of his dynasty.”] He
has a worse name and more disciples than any political thinker who
ever lived. He truly described the technic of existence for the
self-contained state. That is why he has the disciples. He has the bad
name chiefly because he cocked his eye at the Medici family, dreamed
in his study at night where he wore his “noble court dress” that
Machiavelli was himself the Prince, and turned a pungent description
of the way things are done into an eulogy on that way of doing them.

In his most infamous chapter [Footnote: _The Prince_, Ch. XVIII.
“Concerning the way in which Princes should keep faith.” Translation
by W. K. Marriott.] he wrote that “a prince ought to take care that he
never lets anything slip from his lips that is not replete with the
above-named five qualities, that he may appear to him who hears and
sees him altogether merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and
religious. There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this
last quality, inasmuch as men judge generally more by the eye than by
the hand, because it belongs to everybody to see you, to few to come
in touch with you. Everyone sees what you appear to be, few really
know what you are, and those few dare not oppose themselves to the
opinion of the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them;
and in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, which it is
not prudent to challenge, one judges by the result…. One prince of
the present time, whom it is not well to name, never preaches anything
else but peace and good faith, and to both he is most hostile, and
either, if he had kept it, would have deprived him of reputation and
kingdom many a time.”

That is cynical. But it is the cynicism of a man who saw truly without
knowing quite why he saw what he saw. Machiavelli is thinking of the
run of men and princes “who judge generally more by the eye than by
the hand,” which is his way of saying that their judgments are
subjective. He was too close to earth to pretend that the Italians of
his day saw the world steadily and saw it whole. He would not indulge
in fantasies, and he had not the materials for imagining a race of men
that had learned how to correct their vision.

The world, as he found it, was composed of people whose vision could
rarely be corrected, and Machiavelli knew that such people, since they
see all public relations in a private way, are involved in perpetual
strife. What they see is their own personal, class, dynastic, or
municipal version of affairs that in reality extend far beyond the
boundaries of their vision. They see their aspect. They see it as
right. But they cross other people who are similarly self-centered.
Then their very existence is endangered, or at least what they, for
unsuspected private reasons, regard as their existence and take to be
a danger. The end, which is impregnably based on a real though private
experience justifies the means. They will sacrifice any one of these
ideals to save all of them,… “one judges by the result…”


These elemental truths confronted the democratic philosophers.
Consciously or otherwise, they knew that the range of political
knowledge was limited, that the area of self-government would have to
be limited, and that self-contained states when they rubbed against
each other were in the posture of gladiators. But they knew just as
certainly, that there was in men a will to decide their own fate, and
to find a peace that was not imposed by force. How could they
reconcile the wish and the fact?

They looked about them. In the city states of Greece and Italy they
found a chronicle of corruption, intrigue and war. [Footnote:
“Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention…
and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been
violent in their deaths.” Madison, _Federalist_, No. 10.] In
their own cities they saw faction, artificiality, fever. This was no
environment in which the democratic ideal could prosper, no place
where a group of independent and equally competent people managed
their own affairs spontaneously. They looked further, guided somewhat
perhaps by Jean Jacques Rousseau, to remote, unspoiled country
villages. They saw enough to convince themselves that there the ideal
was at home. Jefferson in particular felt this, and Jefferson more
than any other man formulated the American image of democracy. From
the townships had come the power that had carried the American
Revolution to victory. From the townships were to come the votes that
carried Jefferson’s party to power. Out there in the farming
communities of Massachusetts and Virginia, if you wore glasses that
obliterated the slaves, you could see with your mind’s eye the image
of what democracy was to be.

“The American Revolution broke out,” says de Tocqueville, [Footnote:
_Democracy in America,_ Vol. I, p. 51. Third Edition] “and the
doctrine of the sovereignty of the people, which had been nurtured in
the townships, took possession of the state.” It certainly took
possession of the minds of those men who formulated and popularized
the stereotypes of democracy. “The cherishment of the people was our
principle,” wrote Jefferson. [Footnote: Cited in Charles Beard,
_Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy._ Ch. XIV. ] But the
people he cherished almost exclusively were the small landowning
farmers: “Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God,
if ever He had a chosen people, whose breasts He has made his peculiar
deposit for substantial and genuine virtue. It is the focus in which
He keeps alive that sacred fire, which otherwise might escape from the
face of the earth. Corruption of morals in the mass of cultivators is
a phenomenon of which no age nor nation has furnished an example.”

However much of the romantic return to nature may have entered into
this exclamation, there was also an element of solid sense. Jefferson
was right in thinking that a group of independent farmers comes nearer
to fulfilling the requirements of spontaneous democracy than any other
human society. But if you are to preserve the ideal, you must fence
off these ideal communities from the abominations of the world. If the
farmers are to manage their own affairs, they must confine affairs to
those they are accustomed to managing. Jefferson drew all these
logical conclusions. He disapproved of manufacture, of foreign
commerce, and a navy, of intangible forms of property, and in theory
of any form of government that was not centered in the small
self-governing group. He had critics in his day: one of them remarked
that “wrapt up in the fullness of self-consequence and strong enough,
in reality, to defend ourselves against every invader, we might enjoy
an eternal rusticity and live, forever, thus apathized and vulgar
under the shelter of a selfish, satisfied indifference.” [Footnote:
_Op. cit_., p. 426.]


The democratic ideal, as Jefferson moulded it, consisting of an ideal
environment and a selected class, did not conflict with the political
science of his time. It did conflict with the realities. And when the
ideal was stated in absolute terms, partly through exuberance and
partly for campaign purposes, it was soon forgotten that the theory
was originally devised for very special conditions. It became the
political gospel, and supplied the stereotypes through which Americans
of all parties have looked at politics.

That gospel was fixed by the necessity that in Jefferson’s time no one
could have conceived public opinions that were not spontaneous and
subjective. The democratic tradition is therefore always trying to see
a world where people are exclusively concerned with affairs of which
the causes and effects all operate within the region they inhabit.
Never has democratic theory been able to conceive itself in the
context of a wide and unpredictable environment. The mirror is
concave. And although democrats recognize that they are in contact
with external affairs, they see quite surely that every contact
outside that self-contained group is a threat to democracy as
originally conceived. That is a wise fear. If democracy is to be
spontaneous, the interests of democracy must remain simple,
intelligible, and easily managed. Conditions must approximate those of
the isolated rural township if the supply of information is to be left
to casual experience. The environment must be confined within the
range of every man’s direct and certain knowledge.

The democrat has understood what an analysis of public opinion seems
to demonstrate: that in dealing with an unseen environment decisions
“are manifestly settled at haphazard, which clearly they ought not to
be.” [Footnote: Aristotle, _Politics_, Bk. VII, Ch. IV.] So he
has always tried in one way or another to minimize the importance of
that unseen environment. He feared foreign trade because trade
involves foreign connections; he distrusted manufactures because they
produced big cities and collected crowds; if he had nevertheless to
have manufactures, he wanted protection in the interest of
self-sufficiency. When he could not find these conditions in the real
world, he went passionately into the wilderness, and founded Utopian
communities far from foreign contacts. His slogans reveal his
prejudice. He is for Self-Government, Self-Determination,
Independence. Not one of these ideas carries with it any notion of
consent or community beyond the frontiers of the self-governing
groups. The field of democratic action is a circumscribed area. Within
protected boundaries the aim has been to achieve self-sufficiency and
avoid entanglement. This rule is not confined to foreign policy, but
it is plainly evident there, because life outside the national
boundaries is more distinctly alien than any life within. And as
history shows, democracies in their foreign policy have had generally
to choose between splendid isolation and a diplomacy that violated
their ideals. The most successful democracies, in fact, Switzerland,
Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and America until recently, have had
no foreign policy in the European sense of that phrase. Even a rule
like the Monroe Doctrine arose from the desire to supplement the two
oceans by a glacis of states that were sufficiently republican to have
no foreign policy.

Whereas danger is a great, perhaps an indispensable condition of
autocracy, [Footnote: Fisher Ames, frightened by the democratic
revolution of 1800, wrote to Rufus King in 1802: “We need, as all
nations do, the compression on the outside of our circle of a
formidable neighbor, whose presence shall at all times excite stronger
fears than demagogues can inspire the people with towards their
government.” Cited by Ford, _Rise and Growth of American
Politics,_ p. 69.] security was seen to be a necessity if democracy
was to work. There must be as little disturbance as possible of the
premise of a self-contained community. Insecurity involves surprises.
It means that there are people acting upon your life, over whom you
have no control, with whom you cannot consult. It means that forces
are at large which disturb the familiar routine, and present novel
problems about which quick and unusual decisions are required. Every
democrat feels in his bones that dangerous crises are incompatible
with democracy, because he knows that the inertia of masses is such
that to act quickly a very few must decide and the rest follow rather
blindly. This has not made non-resistants out of democrats, but it has
resulted in all democratic wars being fought for pacifist aims. Even
when the wars are in fact wars of conquest, they are sincerely
believed to be wars in defense of civilization.

These various attempts to enclose a part of the earth’s surface were
not inspired by cowardice, apathy, or, what one of Jefferson’s critics
called a willingness to live under monkish discipline. The democrats
had caught sight of a dazzling possibility, that every human being
should rise to his full stature, freed from man-made limitations. With
what they knew of the art of government, they could, no more than
Aristotle before them, conceive a society of autonomous individuals,
except an enclosed and simple one. They could, then, select no other
premise if they were to reach the conclusion that all the people could
spontaneously manage their public affairs.


Having adopted the premise because it was necessary to their keenest
hope, they drew other conclusions as well. Since in order to have
spontaneous self-government, you had to have a simple self-contained
community, they took it for granted that one man was as competent as
the next to manage these simple and self-contained affairs. Where the
wish is father to the thought such logic is convincing. Moreover, the
doctrine of the omnicompetent citizen is for most practical purposes
true in the rural township. Everybody in a village sooner or later
tries his hand at everything the village does. There is rotation in
office by men who are jacks of all trades. There was no serious
trouble with the doctrine of the omnicompetent citizen until the
democratic stereotype was universally applied, so that men looked at a
complicated civilization and saw an enclosed village.

Not only was the individual citizen fitted to deal with all public
affairs, but he was consistently public-spirited and endowed with
unflagging interest. He was public-spirited enough in the township,
where he knew everybody and was interested in everybody’s business.
The idea of enough for the township turned easily into the idea of
enough for any purpose, for as we have noted, quantitative thinking
does not suit a stereotype. But there was another turn to the circle.
Since everybody was assumed to be interested enough in important
affairs, only those affairs came to seem important in which everybody
was interested.

This meant that men formed their picture of the world outside from the
unchallenged pictures in their heads. These pictures came to them well
stereotyped by their parents and teachers, and were little corrected
by their own experience. Only a few men had affairs that took them
across state lines. Even fewer had reason to go abroad. Most voters
lived their whole lives in one environment, and with nothing but a few
feeble newspapers, some pamphlets, political speeches, their religious
training, and rumor to go on, they had to conceive that larger
environment of commerce and finance, of war and peace. The number of
public opinions based on any objective report was very small in
proportion to those based on casual fancy.

And so for many different reasons, self-sufficiency was a spiritual
ideal in the formative period. The physical isolation of the township,
the loneliness of the pioneer, the theory of democracy, the Protestant
tradition, and the limitations of political science all converged to
make men believe that out of their own consciences they must extricate
political wisdom. It is not strange that the deduction of laws from
absolute principles should have usurped so much of their free energy.
The American political mind had to live on its capital. In legalism it
found a tested body of rules from which new rules could be spun
without the labor of earning new truths from experience. The formulae
became so curiously sacred that every good foreign observer has been
amazed at the contrast between the dynamic practical energy of the
American people and the static theorism of their public life. That
steadfast love of fixed principles was simply the only way known of
achieving self-sufficiency. But it meant that the public opinions of
any one community about the outer world consisted chiefly of a few
stereotyped images arranged in a pattern deduced from their legal and
their moral codes, and animated by the feeling aroused by local

Thus democratic theory, starting from its fine vision of ultimate
human dignity, was forced by lack of the instruments of knowledge for
reporting its environment, to fall back upon the wisdom and experience
which happened to have accumulated in the voter. God had, in the words
of Jefferson, made men’s breasts “His peculiar deposit for substantial
and genuine virtue.” These chosen people in their self-contained
environment had all the facts before them. The environment was so
familiar that one could take it for granted that men were talking
about substantially the same things. The only real disagreements,
therefore, would be in judgments about the same facts. There was no
need to guarantee the sources of information. They were obvious, and
equally accessible to all men. Nor was there need to trouble about the
ultimate criteria. In the self-contained community one could assume,
or at least did assume, a homogeneous code of morals. The only place,
therefore, for differences of opinion was in the logical application
of accepted standards to accepted facts. And since the reasoning
faculty was also well standardized, an error in reasoning would be
quickly exposed in a free discussion. It followed that truth could be
obtained by liberty within these limits. The community could take its
supply of information for granted; its codes it passed on through
school, church, and family, and the power to draw deductions from a
premise, rather than the ability to find the premise, was regarded as
the chief end of intellectual training.




“IT has happened as was to have been foreseen,” wrote Hamilton,
[Footnote: _Federalist,_ No. 15] “the measures of the Union have
not been executed; the delinquencies of the States have, step by step,
matured themselves to an extreme which has at length arrested all the
wheels of the national government and brought them to an awful
stand.”… For “in our case the concurrence of thirteen distinct
sovereign wills is requisite, under the confederation, to the complete
execution of every important measure that proceeds from the Union.”
How could it be otherwise, he asked: “The rulers of the respective
members… will undertake to judge of the propriety of the measures
themselves. They will consider the conformity of the thing proposed or
required to their immediate interests or aims; the momentary
conveniences or inconveniences that would attend its adoption. All
this will be done, and in a spirit of interested and suspicious
scrutiny, without that knowledge of national circumstances and reasons
of state which is essential to right judgment, and with that strong
predilection in favor of local objects which can hardly fail to
mislead the decision. The same process must be repeated in every
member of which the body is constituted; and the execution of the
plans framed by the councils of the whole, will always fluctuate on
the discretion of the ill-informed and prejudiced opinion of every
part. Those who have been conversant in the proceedings of popular
assemblies, who have seen how difficult it often is, when there is no
exterior pressure of circumstances, to bring them to harmonious
resolutions on important points, will readily conceive how impossible
it must be to induce a number of such assemblies, deliberating at a
distance from each other, at different times, and under different
impressions, long to cooperate in the same views and pursuits.”

Over ten years of storm and stress with a congress that was, as John
Adams said, [Footnote: Ford, _op. cit._, p. 36.] “only a diplomatic
assembly,” had furnished the leaders of the revolution “with an
instructive but afflicting lesson” [Footnote: _Federalist_, No. 15.] in what happens when a number of self-centered communities
are entangled in the same environment. And so, when they went
to Philadelphia in May of 1787, ostensibly to revise the Articles of
Confederation, they were really in full reaction against the
fundamental premise of Eighteenth Century democracy. Not only
were the leaders consciously opposed to the democratic spirit of
the time, feeling, as Madison said, that “democracies have ever
been spectacles of turbulence and contention,” but within the
national frontiers they were determined to offset as far as they could
the ideal of self-governing communities in self-contained environments.
The collisions and failures of concave democracy, where men
spontaneously managed all their own affairs, were before their eyes.
The problem as they saw it, was to restore government as against
democracy. They understood government to be the power to make
national decisions and enforce them throughout the nation;
democracy they believed was the insistence of localities and classes
upon self-determination in accordance with their immediate interests
and aims.

They could not consider in their calculations the possibility of such
an organization of knowledge that separate communities would act
simultaneously on the same version of the facts. We just begin to
conceive this possibility for certain parts of the world where there
is free circulation of news and a common language, and then only for
certain aspects of life. The whole idea of a voluntary federalism in
industry and world politics is still so rudimentary, that, as we see
in our own experience, it enters only a little, and only very
modestly, into practical politics. What we, more than a century later,
can only conceive as an incentive to generations of intellectual
effort, the authors of the Constitution had no reason to conceive at
all. In order to set up national government, Hamilton and his
colleagues had to make plans, not on the theory that men would
cooperate because they had a sense of common interest, but on the
theory that men could be governed, if special interests were kept in
equilibrium by a balance of power. “Ambition,” Madison said,
[Footnote: _Federalist_, No. 51, cited by Ford, _op. cit._,
p. 60.] “must be made to counteract ambition.”

They did not, as some writers have supposed, intend to balance every
interest so that the government would be in a perpetual deadlock. They
intended to deadlock local and class interest to prevent these from
obstructing government. “In framing a government which is to be
administered by men over men,” wrote Madison, [Footnote: _Id_.] “the great difficulty lies in this: _you must first enable the
government to control the governed_, and in the next place, oblige
it to control itself.” In one very important sense, then, the doctrine
of checks and balances was the remedy of the federalist leaders for
the problem of public opinion. They saw no other way to substitute
“the mild influence of the magistracy” for the “sanguinary agency of
the sword” [Footnote: _Federalist, No. 15.] except by devising an
ingenious machine to neutralize local opinion. They did not understand
how to manipulate a large electorate, any more than they saw the
possibility of common consent upon the basis of common information. It
is true that Aaron Burr taught Hamilton a lesson which impressed him a
good deal when he seized control of New York City in 1800 by the aid
of Tammany Hall. But Hamilton was killed before he was able to take
account of this new discovery, and, as Mr. Ford says, [Footnote: Ford,
_op. cit._, p. 119.] Burr’s pistol blew the brains out of the
Federal party.


When the constitution was written, “politics could still be managed by
conference and agreement among gentlemen” [Footnote: _Op. cit._,
p. 144] and it was to the gentry that Hamilton turned for a
government. It was intended that they should manage national affairs
when local prejudice had been brought into equilibrium by the
constitutional checks and balances. No doubt Hamilton, who belonged to
this class by adoption, had a human prejudice in their favor. But that
by itself is a thin explanation of his statecraft. Certainly there can
be no question of his consuming passion for union, and it is, I think,
an inversion of the truth to argue that he made the Union to protect
class privileges, instead of saying that he used class privileges to
make the Union. “We must take man as we find him,” Hamilton said, “and
if we expect him to serve the public we must interest his passions in
doing so.” [Footnote: _Op. cit._, p. 47] He needed men to govern,
whose passions could be most quickly attached to a national interest.
These were the gentry, the public creditors, manufacturers, shippers,
and traders, [Footnote: Beard, _Economic Interpretation of the
Constitution, passim._] and there is probably no better instance in
history of the adaptation of shrewd means to clear ends, than in the
series of fiscal measures, by which Hamilton attached the provincial
notables to the new government.

Although the constitutional convention worked behind closed doors, and
although ratification was engineered by “a vote of probably not more
than one-sixth of the adult males,” [Footnote: Beard, _op. cit._,
p. 325.] there was little or no pretence. The Federalists argued for
union, not for democracy, and even the word republic had an unpleasant
sound to George Washington when he had been for more than two years a
republican president. The constitution was a candid attempt to limit
the sphere of popular rule; the only democratic organ it was intended
the government should possess was the House, based on a suffrage
highly limited by property qualifications. And even at that, the
House, it was believed, would be so licentious a part of the
government, that it was carefully checked and balanced by the Senate,
the electoral college, the Presidential veto, and by judicial

Thus at the moment when the French Revolution was kindling popular
feeling the world over, the American revolutionists of 1776 came under
a constitution which went back, as far as it was expedient, to the
British Monarchy for a model. This conservative reaction could not
endure. The men who had made it were a minority, their motives were
under suspicion, and when Washington went into retirement, the
position of the gentry was not strong enough to survive the inevitable
struggle for the succession. The anomaly between the original plan of
the Fathers and the moral feeling of the age was too wide not to be
capitalized by a good politician.


Jefferson referred to his election as “the great revolution of 1800,”
but more than anything else it was a revolution in the mind. No great
policy was altered, but a new tradition was established. For it was
Jefferson who first taught the American people to regard the
Constitution as an instrument of democracy, and he stereotyped the
images, the ideas, and even many of the phrases, in which Americans
ever since have described politics to each other. So complete was the
mental victory, that twenty-five years later de Tocqueville, who was
received in Federalist homes, noted that even those who were “galled
by its continuance”–were not uncommonly heard to “laud the delights
of a republican government, and the advantages of democratic
institutions when they are in public.” [Footnote: _Democracy in
America_, Vol. I, Ch. X (Third Edition, 1838), p. 216.]

The Constitutional Fathers with all their sagacity had failed to see
that a frankly undemocratic constitution would not long be tolerated.
The bold denial of popular rule was bound to offer an easy point of
attack to a man, like Jefferson, who so far as his constitutional
opinions ran, was not a bit more ready than Hamilton to turn over
government to the “unrefined” will of the people. [Footnote:
_Cf._ his plan for the Constitution of Virginia, his ideas for a
senate of property holders, and his views on the judicial veto. Beard,
_Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy_, pp. 450 _et
seq._] The Federalist leaders had been men of definite convictions
who stated them bluntly. There was little real discrepancy between
their public and their private views. But Jefferson’s mind was a mass
of ambiguities, not solely because of its defects, as Hamilton and his
biographers have thought, but because he believed in a union and he
believed in spontaneous democracies, and in the political science of
his age there was no satisfactory way to reconcile the two. Jefferson
was confused in thought and action because he had a vision of a new
and tremendous idea that no one had thought out in all its bearings.
But though popular sovereignty was not clearly understood by anybody,
it seemed to imply so great an enhancement of human life, that no
constitution could stand which frankly denied it. The frank denials
were therefore expunged from consciousness, and the document, which is
on its face an honest example of limited constitutional democracy, was
talked and thought about as an instrument for direct popular rule.
Jefferson actually reached the point of believing that the Federalists
had perverted the Constitution, of which in his fancy they were no
longer the authors. And so the Constitution was, in spirit, rewritten.
Partly by actual amendment, partly by practice, as in the case of the
electoral college, but chiefly by looking at it through another set of
stereotypes, the facade was no longer permitted to look oligarchic.

The American people came to believe that their Constitution was a
democratic instrument, and treated it as such. They owe that fiction
to the victory of Thomas Jefferson, and a great conservative fiction
it has been. It is a fair guess that if everyone had always regarded
the Constitution as did the authors of it, the Constitution would have
been violently overthrown, because loyalty to the Constitution and
loyalty to democracy would have seemed incompatible. Jefferson
resolved that paradox by teaching the American people to read the
Constitution as an expression of democracy. He himself stopped there.
But in the course of twenty-five years or so social conditions had
changed so radically, that Andrew Jackson carried out the political
revolution for which Jefferson had prepared the tradition. [Footnote:
The reader who has any doubts as to the extent of the revolution that
separated Hamilton’s opinions from Jackson’s practice should turn to
Mr. Henry Jones Ford’s _Rise and Growth of American Politics_.]


The political center of that revolution was the question of patronage.
By the men who founded the government public office was regarded as a
species of property, not lightly to be disturbed, and it was
undoubtedly their hope that the offices would remain in the hands of
their social class. But the democratic theory had as one of its main
principles the doctrine of the omnicompetent citizen. Therefore, when
people began to look at the Constitution as a democratic instrument,
it was certain that permanence in office would seem undemocratic. The
natural ambitions of men coincided here with the great moral impulse
of their age. Jefferson had popularized the idea without carrying it
ruthlessly into practice, and removals on party grounds were
comparatively few under the Virginian Presidents. It was Jackson who
founded the practice of turning public office into patronage.

Curious as it sounds to us, the principle of rotation in office with
short terms was regarded as a great reform. Not only did it
acknowledge the new dignity of the average man by treating him as fit
for any office, not only did it destroy the monopoly of a small social
class and appear to open careers to talent, but “it had been advocated
for centuries as a sovereign remedy for political corruption,” and as
the one way to prevent the creation of a bureaucracy. [Footnote: Ford,
_op. cit._, p. 169.] The practice of rapid change in public
office was the application to a great territory of the image of
democracy derived from the self-contained village.

Naturally it did not have the same results in the nation that it had
in the ideal community on which the democratic theory was based. It
produced quite unexpected results, for it founded a new governing
class to take the place of the submerged federalists. Unintentionally,
patronage did for a large electorate what Hamilton’s fiscal measures
had done for the upper classes. We often fail to realize how much of
the stability of our government we owe to patronage. For it was
patronage that weaned natural leaders from too much attachment to the
self-centered community, it was patronage that weakened the local
spirit and brought together in some kind of peaceful cooperation, the
very men who, as provincial celebrities, would, in the absence of a
sense of common interest, have torn the union apart.

But of course, the democratic theory was not supposed to produce a new
governing class, and it has never accommodated itself to the fact.
When the democrat wanted to abolish monopoly of offices, to have
rotation and short terms, he was thinking of the township where anyone
could do a public service, and return humbly to his own farm. The idea
of a special class of politicians was just what the democrat did not
like. But he could not have what he did like, because his theory was
derived from an ideal environment, and he was living in a real one.
The more deeply he felt the moral impulse of democracy, the less ready
he was to see the profound truth of Hamilton’s statement that
communities deliberating at a distance and under different impressions
could not long coöperate in the same views and pursuits. For that
truth postpones anything like the full realization of democracy in
public affairs until the art of obtaining common consent has been
radically improved. And so while the revolution under Jefferson and
Jackson produced the patronage which made the two party system, which
created a substitute for the rule of the gentry, and a discipline for
governing the deadlock of the checks and balances, all that happened,
as it were, invisibly.

Thus, rotation in office might be the ostensible theory, in practice
the offices oscillated between the henchmen. Tenure might not be a
permanent monopoly, but the professional politician was permanent.
Government might be, as President Harding once said, a simple thing,
but winning elections was a sophisticated performance. The salaries in
office might be as ostentatiously frugal as Jefferson’s home-spun, but
the expenses of party organization and the fruits of victory were in
the grand manner. The stereotype of democracy controlled the visible
government; the corrections, the exceptions and adaptations of the
American people to the real facts of their environment have had to be
invisible, even when everybody knew all about them. It was only the
words of the law, the speeches of politicians, the platforms, and the
formal machinery of administration that have had to conform to the
pristine image of democracy.


If one had asked a philosophical democrat how these self-contained
communities were to cooperate, when their public opinions were so
self-centered, he would have pointed to representative government
embodied in the Congress. And nothing would surprise him more than the
discovery of how steadily the prestige of representative government
has declined, while the power of the Presidency has grown.

Some critics have traced this to the custom of sending only local
celebrities to Washington. They have thought that if Congress could
consist of the nationally eminent men, the life of the capital would
be more brilliant. It would be, of course, and it would be a very good
thing if retiring Presidents and Cabinet officers followed the example
of John Quincy Adams. But the absence of these men does not explain
the plight of Congress, for its decline began when it was relatively
the most eminent branch of the government. Indeed it is more probable
that the reverse is true, and that Congress ceased to attract the
eminent as it lost direct influence on the shaping of national policy.

The main reason for the discredit, which is world wide, is, I think,
to be found in the fact that a congress of representatives is
essentially a group of blind men in a vast, unknown world. With some
exceptions, the only method recognized in the Constitution or in the
theory of representative government, by which Congress can inform
itself, is to exchange opinions from the districts. There is no
systematic, adequate, and authorized way for Congress to know what is
going on in the world. The theory is that the best man of each
district brings the best wisdom of his constituents to a central
place, and that all these wisdoms combined are all the wisdom that
Congress needs. Now there is no need to question the value of
expressing local opinions and exchanging them. Congress has great
value as the market-place of a continental nation. In the coatrooms,
the hotel lobbies, the boarding houses of Capitol Hill, at the
tea-parties of the Congressional matrons, and from occasional entries
into the drawing rooms of cosmopolitan Washington, new vistas are
opened, and wider horizons. But even if the theory were applied, and
the districts always sent their wisest men, the sum or a combination
of local impressions is not a wide enough base for national policy,
and no base at all for the control of foreign policy. Since the real
effects of most laws are subtle and hidden, they cannot be understood
by filtering local experiences through local states of mind. They can
be known only by controlled reporting and objective analysis. And just
as the head of a large factory cannot know how efficient it is by
talking to the foreman, but must examine cost sheets and data that
only an accountant can dig out for him, so the lawmaker does not
arrive at a true picture of the state of the union by putting together
a mosaic of local pictures. He needs to know the local pictures, but
unless he possesses instruments for calibrating them, one picture is
as good as the next, and a great deal better.

The President does come to the assistance of Congress by delivering
messages on the state of the Union. He is in a position to do that
because he presides over a vast collection of bureaus and their
agents, which report as well as act. But he tells Congress what he
chooses to tell it. He cannot be heckled, and the censorship as to
what is compatible with the public interest is in his hands. It is a
wholly one-sided and tricky relationship, which sometimes reaches such
heights of absurdity, that Congress, in order to secure an important
document has to thank the enterprise of a Chicago newspaper, or the
calculated indiscretion of a subordinate official. So bad is the
contact of legislators with necessary facts that they are forced to
rely either on private tips or on that legalized atrocity, the
Congressional investigation, where Congressmen, starved of their
legitimate food for thought, go on a wild and feverish man-hunt, and
do not stop at cannibalism.

Except for the little that these investigations yield, the occasional
communications from the executive departments, interested and
disinterested data collected by private persons, such newspapers,
periodicals, and books as Congressmen read, and a new and excellent
practice of calling for help from expert bodies like the Interstate
Commerce Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Tariff
Commission, the creation of Congressional opinion is incestuous. From
this it follows either that legislation of a national character is
prepared by a few informed insiders, and put through by partisan
force; or that the legislation is broken up into a collection of local
items, each of which is enacted for a local reason. Tariff schedules,
navy yards, army posts, rivers and harbors, post offices and federal
buildings, pensions and patronage: these are fed out to concave
communities as tangible evidence of the benefits of national life.
Being concave, they can see the white marble building which rises out
of federal funds to raise local realty values and employ local
contractors more readily than they can judge the cumulative cost of
the pork barrel. It is fair to say that in a large assembly of men,
each of whom has practical knowledge only of his own district, laws
dealing with translocal affairs are rejected or accepted by the mass
of Congressmen without creative participation of any kind. They
participate only in making those laws that can be treated as a bundle
of local issues. For a legislature without effective means of
information and analysis must oscillate between blind regularity,
tempered by occasional insurgency, and logrolling. And it is the
logrolling which makes the regularity palatable, because it is by
logrolling that a Congressman proves to his more active constituents
that he is watching their interests as they conceive them.

This is no fault of the individual Congressman’s, except when he is
complacent about it. The cleverest and most industrious representative
cannot hope to understand a fraction of the bills on which he votes.
The best he can do is to specialize on a few bills, and take
somebody’s word about the rest. I have known Congressmen, when they
were boning up on a subject, to study as they had not studied since
they passed their final examinations, many large cups of black coffee,
wet towels and all. They had to dig for information, sweat over
arranging and verifying facts, which, in any consciously organized
government, should have been easily available in a form suitable for
decision. And even when they really knew a subject, their anxieties
had only begun. For back home the editors, the board of trade, the
central federated union, and the women’s clubs had spared themselves
these labors, and were prepared to view the Congressman’s performance
through local spectacles.


What patronage did to attach political chieftains to the national
government, the infinite variety of local subsidies and privileges do
for self-centered communities. Patronage and pork amalgamate and
stabilize thousands of special opinions, local discontents, private
ambitions. There are but two other alternatives. One is government by
terror and obedience, the other is government based on such a highly
developed system of information, analysis, and self-consciousness that
“the knowledge of national circumstances and reasons of state” is
evident to all men. The autocratic system is in decay, the voluntary
system is in its very earliest development; and so, in calculating the
prospects of association among large groups of people, a League of
Nations, industrial government, or a federal union of states, the
degree to which the material for a common consciousness exists,
determines how far cooperation will depend upon force, or upon the
milder alternative to force, which is patronage and privilege. The
secret of great state-builders, like Alexander Hamilton, is that they
know how to calculate these principles.



Whenever the quarrels of self-centered groups become unbearable,
reformers in the past found themselves forced to choose between two
great alternatives. They could take the path to Rome and impose a
Roman peace upon the warring tribes. They could take the path to
isolation, to autonomy and self-sufficiency. Almost always they chose
that path which they had least recently travelled. If they had tried
out the deadening monotony of empire, they cherished above all other
things the simple freedom of their own community. But if they had seen
this simple freedom squandered in parochial jealousies they longed for
the spacious order of a great and powerful state.

Whichever choice they made, the essential difficulty was the same. If
decisions were decentralized they soon floundered in a chaos of local
opinions. If they were centralized, the policy of the state was based
on the opinions of a small social set at the capital. In any case
force was necessary to defend one local right against another, or to
impose law and order on the localities, or to resist class government
at the center, or to defend the whole society, centralized or
decentralized, against the outer barbarian.

Modern democracy and the industrial system were both born in a time of
reaction against kings, crown government, and a regime of detailed
economic regulation. In the industrial sphere this reaction took the
form of extreme devolution, known as laissez-faire individualism. Each
economic decision was to be made by the man who had title to the
property involved. Since almost everything was owned by somebody,
there would be somebody to manage everything. This was plural
sovereignty with a vengeance.

It was economic government by anybody’s economic philosophy, though it
was supposed to be controlled by immutable laws of political economy
that must in the end produce harmony. It produced many splendid
things, but enough sordid and terrible ones to start counter-currents.
One of these was the trust, which established a kind of Roman peace
within industry, and a Roman predatory imperialism outside. People
turned to the legislature for relief. They invoked representative
government, founded on the image of the township farmer, to regulate
the semi-sovereign corporations. The working class turned to labor
organization. There followed a period of increasing centralization and
a sort of race of armaments. The trusts interlocked, the craft unions
federated and combined into a labor movement, the political system
grew stronger at Washington and weaker in the states, as the reformers
tried to match its strength against big business.

In this period practically all the schools of socialist thought from
the Marxian left to the New Nationalists around Theodore Roosevelt,
looked upon centralization as the first stage of an evolution which
would end in the absorption of all the semi-sovereign powers of
business by the political state. The evolution never took place,
except for a few months during the war. That was enough, and there was
a turn of the wheel against the omnivorous state in favor of several
new forms of pluralism. But this time society was to swing back not to
the atomic individualism of Adam Smith’s economic man and Thomas
Jefferson’s farmer, but to a sort of molecular individualism of
voluntary groups.

One of the interesting things about all these oscillations of theory
is that each in turn promises a world in which no one will have to
follow Machiavelli in order to survive. They are all established by
some form of coercion, they all exercise coercion in order to maintain
themselves, and they are all discarded as a result of coercion. Yet
they do not accept coercion, either physical power or special
position, patronage, or privilege, as part of their ideal. The
individualist said that self-enlightened self-interest would bring
internal and external peace. The socialist is sure that the motives to
aggression will disappear. The new pluralist hopes they
will. [Footnote: See G. D. H. Cole, _Social Theory,_ p. 142.] Coercion is the surd in almost all social theory, except the
Machiavellian. The temptation to ignore it, because it is absurd,
inexpressible, and unmanageable, becomes overwhelming in any man who
is trying to rationalize human life.


The lengths to which a clever man will sometimes go in order to escape
a full recognition of the role of force is shown by Mr. G. D. H.
Cole’s book on Guild Socialism. The present state, he says, “is
primarily an instrument of coercion;” [Footnote: Cole, _Guild
Socialism_, p. 107.] in a guild socialist society there will be no
sovereign power, though there will be a coordinating body. He calls
this body the Commune.

He then begins to enumerate the powers of the Commune, which, we
recall, is to be primarily not an instrument of coercion. [Footnote:
_Op. cit._ Ch. VIII.] It settles price disputes. Sometimes it
fixes prices, allocates the surplus or distributes the loss. It
allocates natural resources, and controls the issue of credit. It also
“allocates communal labor-power.” It ratifies the budgets of the
guilds and the civil services. It levies taxes. “All questions of
income” fall within its jurisdiction. It “allocates” income to the
non-productive members of the community. It is the final arbiter in
all questions of policy and jurisdiction between the guilds. It passes
constitutional laws fixing the functions of the functional bodies. It
appoints the judges. It confers coercive powers upon the guilds, and
ratifies their by-laws wherever these involve coercion. It declares
war and makes peace. It controls the armed forces. It is the supreme
representative of the nation abroad. It settles boundary questions
within the national state. It calls into existence new functional
bodies, or distributes new functions to old ones. It runs the police.
It makes whatever laws are necessary to regulate personal conduct and
personal property.

These powers are exercised not by one commune, but by a federal
structure of local and provincial communes with a National commune at
the top. Mr. Cole is, of course, welcome to insist that this is not a
sovereign state, but if there is a coercive power now enjoyed by any
modern government for which he has forgotten to make room, I cannot
think of it.

He tells us, however, that Guild society will be non-coercive: “we
want to build a new society which will be conceived in the spirit, not
of coercion, but of free service.” [Footnote: _Op. cit._, p.
141.] Everyone who shares that hope, as most men and women do, will
therefore look closely to see what there is in the Guild Socialist
plan which promises to reduce coercion to its lowest limits, even
though the Guildsmen of to-day have already reserved for their
communes the widest kind of coercive power. It is acknowledged at once
that the new society cannot be brought into existence by universal
consent. Mr. Cole is too honest to shirk the element of force required
to make the transition. [Footnote: _Cf. op. cit._, Ch. X. ] And
while obviously he cannot predict how much civil war there might be,
he is quite clear that there would have to be a period of direct
action by the trade unions.


But leaving aside the problems of transition, and any consideration of
what the effect is on their future action, when men have hacked their
way through to the promised land, let us imagine the Guild Society in
being. What keeps it running as a non-coercive society?

Mr. Cole has two answers to this question. One is the orthodox Marxian
answer that the abolition of capitalist property will remove the
motive to aggression. Yet he does not really believe that, because if
he did, he would care as little as does the average Marxian how the
working class is to run the government, once it is in control. If his
diagnosis were correct, the Marxian would be quite right: if the
disease were the capitalist class and only the capitalist class,
salvation would automatically follow its extinction. But Mr. Cole is
enormously concerned about whether the society which follows the
revolution is to be run by state collectivism, by guilds or
cooperative societies, by a democratic parliament or by functional
representation. In fact, it is as a new theory of representative
government that guild socialism challenges attention.

The guildsmen do not expect a miracle to result from the disappearance
of capitalist property rights. They do expect, and of course quite
rightly, that if equality of income were the rule, social relations
would be profoundly altered. But they differ, as far as I can make
out, from the orthodox Russian communist in this respect: The
communist proposes to establish equality by force of the dictatorship
of the proletariat, believing that if once people were equalized both
in income and in service, they would then lose the incentives to
aggression. The guildsmen also propose to establish equality by force,
but are shrewd enough to see that if an equilibrium is to be
maintained they have to provide institutions for maintaining it.
Guildsmen, therefore, put their faith in what they believe to be a new
theory of democracy.

Their object, says Mr. Cole, is “to get the mechanism right, and to
adjust it as far as possible to the expression of men’s social wills.”
[Reference: _Op. cit._, p. 16.] These wills need to be given
opportunity for self-expression in self-government “in any and every
form of social action.” Behind these words is the true democratic
impulse, the desire to enhance human dignity, as well as the
traditional assumption that this human dignity is impugned, unless
each person’s will enters into the management of everything that
affects him. The guildsman, like the earlier democrat therefore, looks
about him for an environment in which this ideal of self-government
can be realized. A hundred years and more have passed since Rousseau
and Jefferson, and the center of interest has shifted from the country
to the city. The new democrat can no longer turn to the idealized
rural township for the image of democracy. He turns now to the
workshop. “The spirit of association must be given free play in the
sphere in which it is best able to find expression. This is manifestly
the factory, in which men have the habit and tradition of working
together. The factory is the natural and fundamental unit of
industrial democracy. This involves, not only that the factory must be
free, as far as possible, to manage its own affairs, but also that the
democratic unit of the factory must be made the basis of the larger
democracy of the Guild, and that the larger organs of Guild
administration and government must be based largely on the principle
of factory representation.” [Footnote: _Op. cit._, p. 40.]

Factory is, of course, a very loose word, and Mr. Cole asks us to take
it as meaning mines, shipyards, docks, stations, and every place which
is “a natural center of production.” [Footnote: _Op. cit._, p.
41] But a factory in this sense is quite a different thing from an
industry. The factory, as Mr. Cole conceives it, is a work place where
men are really in personal contact, an environment small enough to be
known directly to all the workers. “This democracy if it is to be
real, must come home to, and be exercisable directly by, every
individual member of the Guild.” [Footnote: _Op. cit._, p. 40.] This is important, because Mr. Cole, like Jefferson, is seeking a
natural unit of government. The only natural unit is a perfectly
familiar environment. Now a large plant, a railway system, a great
coal field, is not a natural unit in this sense. Unless it is a very
small factory indeed, what Mr. Cole is really thinking about is the
shop. That is where men can be supposed to have “the habit and
tradition of working together.” The rest of the plant, the rest of the
industry, is an inferred environment.


Anybody can see, and almost everybody will admit, that self-government
in the purely internal affairs of the shop is government of affairs
that “can be taken in at a single view.” [Footnote: Aristotle,
_Politics_, Bk. VII, Ch. IV.] But dispute would arise as to what
constitute the internal affairs of a shop. Obviously the biggest
interests, like wages, standards of production, the purchase of
supplies, the marketing of the product, the larger planning of work,
are by no means purely internal. The shop democracy has freedom,
subject to enormous limiting conditions from the outside. It can deal
to a certain extent with the arrangement of work laid out for the
shop, it can deal with the temper and temperament of individuals, it
can administer petty industrial justice, and act as a court of first
instance in somewhat larger individual disputes. Above all it can act
as a unit in dealing with other shops, and perhaps with the plant as a
whole. But isolation is impossible. The unit of industrial democracy
is thoroughly entangled in foreign affairs. And it is the management
of these external relations that constitutes the test of the guild
socialist theory.

They have to be managed by representative government arranged in a
federal order from the shop to the plant, the plant to the industry,
the industry to the nation, with intervening regional grouping of
representatives. But all this structure derives from the shop, and all
its peculiar virtues are ascribed to this source. The representatives
who choose the representatives who choose the representatives who
finally “coordinate” and “regulate” the shops are elected, Mr. Cole
asserts, by a true democracy. Because they come originally from a
self-governing unit, the whole federal organism will be inspired by
the spirit and the reality of self-government. Representatives will
aim to carry out the workers’ “actual will as understood by themselves,”
[Footnote: _Op. cit._, p. 42.] that is, as understood by the
individual in the shops.

A government run literally on this principle would, if history is any
guide, be either a perpetual logroll, or a chaos of warring shops. For
while the worker in the shop can have a real opinion about matters
entirely within the shop, his “will” about the relation of that shop
to the plant, the industry, and the nation is subject to all the
limitations of access, stereotype, and self-interest that surround any
other self-centered opinion. His experience in the shop at best brings
only aspects of the whole to his attention. His opinion of what is
right within the shop he can reach by direct knowledge of the
essential facts. His opinion of what is right in the great complicated
environment out of sight is more likely to be wrong than right if it
is a generalization from the experience of the individual shop. As a
matter of experience, the representatives of a guild society would
find, just as the higher trade union officials find today, that on a
great number of questions which they have to decide there is no
“actual will as understood” by the shops.


The guildsmen insist, however, that such criticism is blind because it
ignores a great political discovery. You may be quite right, they
would say, in thinking that the representatives of the shops would
have to make up their own minds on many questions about which the
shops have no opinion. But you are simply entangled in an ancient
fallacy: you are looking for somebody to represent a group of people.
He cannot be found. The only representative possible is one who acts
for “some particular function,” [Footnote: _Op. cit._, pp. 23-24.] and therefore each person must help choose as many representatives “as
there are distinct essential groups of functions to be performed.”

Assume then that the representatives speak, not for the men in the
shops, but for certain functions in which the men are interested. They
are, mind you, disloyal if they do not carry out the will of the group
about the function, as understood by the group. [Footnote: _Cf._
Part V, “The Making of a Common Will.”] These functional
representatives meet. Their business is to coordinate and regulate. By
what standard does each judge the proposals of the other, assuming, as
we must, that there is conflict of opinion between the shops, since if
there were not, there would be no need to coordinate and regulate?

Now the peculiar virtue of functional democracy is supposed to be that
men vote candidly according to their own interests, which it is
assumed they know by daily experience. They can do that within the
self-contained group. But in its external relations the group as a
whole, or its representative, is dealing with matters that transcend
immediate experience. The shop does not arrive spontaneously at a view
of the whole situation. Therefore, the public opinions of a shop about
its rights and duties in the industry and in society, are matters of
education or propaganda, not the automatic product of shop-consciousness.
Whether the guildsmen elect a delegate, or a representative, they do
not escape the problem of the orthodox democrat. Either the group
as a whole, or the elected spokesman, must stretch his mind beyond
the limits of direct experience. He must vote on questions coming up
from other shops, and on matters coming from beyond the frontiers of
the whole industry. The primary interest of the shop does not even
cover the function of a whole industrial vocation. The function of a
vocation, a great industry, a district, a nation is a concept, not an
experience, and has to be imagined, invented, taught and believed.
And even though you define function as carefully as possible, once
you admit that the view of each shop on that function will not
necessarily coincide with the view of other shops, you are saying
that the representative of one interest is concerned in the proposals
made by other interests. You are saying that he must conceive a
common interest. And in voting for him you are choosing a man who
will not simply represent your view of your function, which is all that
you know at first hand, but a man who will represent your views
about other people’s views of that function. You are voting as
indefinitely as the orthodox democrat.


The guildsmen in their own minds have solved the question of how to
conceive a common interest by playing with the word function. They
imagine a society in which all the main work of the world has been
analysed into functions, and these functions in turn synthesized
harmoniously. [Footnote: _Cf. op. cit._, Ch. XIX.] They suppose
essential agreement about the purposes of society as a whole, and
essential agreement about the role of every organized group in
carrying out those purposes. It was a nice sentiment, therefore, which
led them to take the name of their theory from an institution that
arose in a Catholic feudal society. But they should remember that the
scheme of function which the wise men of that age assumed was not
worked out by mortal man. It is unclear how the guildsmen think the
scheme is going to be worked out and made acceptable in the modern
world. Sometimes they seem to argue that the scheme will develop from
trade union organization, at other times that the communes will define
the constitutional function of the groups. But it makes a considerable
practical difference whether they believe that the groups define their
own functions or not.

In either case, Mr. Cole assumes that society can be carried on by a
social contract based on an accepted idea of “distinct essential
groups of functions.” How does one recognize these distinct essential
groups? So far as I can make out, Mr. Cole thinks that a function is
what a group of people are interested in. “The essence of functional
democracy is that a man should count as many times over as there are
functions in which he is interested.” [Footnote: _Social Theory,_
p. 102 _et seq._] Now there are at least two meanings to the word
interested. You can use it to mean that a man is involved, or that his
mind is occupied. John Smith, for example, may have been tremendously
interested in the Stillman divorce case. He may have read every word
of the news in every lobster edition. On the other hand, young Guy
Stillman, whose legitimacy was at stake, probably did not trouble
himself at all. John Smith was interested in a suit that did not
affect his “interests,” and Guy was uninterested in one that would
determine the whole course of his life. Mr. Cole, I am afraid, leans
towards John Smith. He is answering the “very foolish objection” that
to vote by functions is to be voting very often: “If a man is not
interested enough to vote, and cannot be aroused to interest enough to
make him vote, on, say, a dozen distinct subjects, he waives his right
to vote and the result is no less democratic than if he voted blindly
and without interest.”

Mr. Cole thinks that the uninstructed voter “waives his right to
vote.” From this it follows that the votes of the instructed reveal
their interest, and their interest defines the function. [Footnote:
_Cf._ Ch. XVIII of this book. “Since everybody was assumed to be
interested enough in important affairs, only those affairs came to
seem important in which everybody was interested.”] “Brown, Jones, and
Robinson must therefore have, not one vote each, but as many different
functional votes as there are different questions calling for
associative action in which they are interested.” [Footnote: _Guild
Socialism,_ p. 24. ] I am considerably in doubt whether Mr. Cole
thinks that Brown, Jones and Robinson should qualify in any election
where they assert that they are interested, or that somebody else, not
named, picks the functions in which they are entitled to be
interested. If I were asked to say what I believe Mr. Cole thinks, it
would be that he has smoothed over the difficulty by the enormously
strange assumption that it is the uninstructed voter who waives his
right to vote; and has concluded that whether functional voting is
arranged by a higher power, or “from below” on the principle that a
man may vote when it interests him to vote, only the instructed will
be voting anyway, and therefore the institution will work.

But there are two kinds of uninstructed voter. There is the man who
does not know and knows that he does not know. He is generally an
enlightened person. He is the man who waives his right to vote. But
there is also the man who is uninstructed and does not know that he
is, or care. He can always be gotten to the polls, if the party
machinery is working. His vote is the basis of the machine. And since
the communes of the guild society have large powers over taxation,
wages, prices, credit, and natural resources, it would be preposterous
to assume that elections will not be fought at least as passionately
as our own.

The way people exhibit their interest will not then delimit the
functions of a functional society. There are two other ways that
function might be defined. One would be by the trade unions which
fought the battle that brought guild socialism into being. Such a
struggle would harden groups of men together in some sort of
functional relation, and these groups would then become the vested
interests of the guild socialist society. Some of them, like the
miners and railroad men, would be very strong, and probably deeply
attached to the view of their function which they learned from the
battle with capitalism. It is not at all unlikely that certain
favorably placed trade unions would under a socialist state become the
center of coherence and government. But a guild society would
inevitably find them a tough problem to deal with, for direct action
would have revealed their strategic power, and some of their leaders
at least would not offer up this power readily on the altar of
freedom. In order to “coordinate” them, guild society would have to
gather together its strength, and fairly soon one would find, I think,
that the radicals under guild socialism would be asking for communes
strong enough to define the functions of the guilds.

But if you are going to have the government (commune) define
functions, the premise of the theory disappears. It had to suppose
that a scheme of functions was obvious in order that the concave shops
would voluntarily relate themselves to society. If there is no settled
scheme of functions in every voter’s head, he has no better way under
guild socialism than under orthodox democracy of turning a
self-centered opinion into a social judgment. And, of course, there
can be no such settled scheme, because, even if Mr. Cole and his
friends devised a good one, the shop democracies from which all power
derives, would judge the scheme in operation by what they learn of it
and by what they can imagine. The guilds would see the same scheme
differently. And so instead of the scheme being the skeleton that
keeps guild society together, the attempt to define what the scheme
ought to be, would be under guild socialism as elsewhere, the main
business of politics. If we could allow Mr. Cole his scheme of
functions we could allow him almost everything. Unfortunately he has
inserted in his premise what he wishes a guild society to
deduce. [Footnote: I have dealt with Mr. Cole’s theory rather than with
the experience of Soviet Russia because, while the testimony is
fragmentary, all competent observers seem to agree that Russia in 1921
does not illustrate a communist state in working order. Russia is in
revolution, and what you can learn from Russia is what a revolution is
like. You can learn very little about what a communist society would
be like. It is, however, immensely significant that, first as
practical revolutionists and then as public officials, the Russian
communists have relied not upon the spontaneous democracy of the
Russian people, but on the discipline, special interest and the
noblesse oblige of a specialized class-the loyal and indoctrinated
members of the Communist party. In the “transition,” on which no time
limit has been set, I believe, the cure for class government and the
coercive state is strictly homeopathic.

There is also the question of why I selected Mr. Cole’s books rather
than the much more closely reasoned “Constitution for the Socialist
Commonwealth of Great Britain” by Sidney and Beatrice Webb. I admire
that book very much; but I have not been able to convince myself that
it is not an intellectual tour de force. Mr. Cole seems to me far more
authentically in the spirit of the socialist movement, and therefore,
a better witness.]




THE lesson is, I think, a fairly clear one. In the absence of
institutions and education by which the environment is so successfully
reported that the realities of public life stand out sharply against
self-centered opinion, the common interests very largely elude public
opinion entirely, and can be managed only by a specialized class whose
personal interests reach beyond the locality. This class is
irresponsible, for it acts upon information that is not common
property, in situations that the public at large does not conceive,
and it can be held to account only on the accomplished fact.

The democratic theory by failing to admit that self-centered opinions
are not sufficient to procure good government, is involved in
perpetual conflict between theory and practice. According to the
theory, the full dignity of man requires that his will should be, as
Mr. Cole says, expressed “in any and every form of social action.” It
is supposed that the expression of their will is the consuming passion
of men, for they are assumed to possess by instinct the art of
government. But as a matter of plain experience, self-determination is
only one of the many interests of a human personality. The desire to
be the master of one’s own destiny is a strong desire, but it has to
adjust itself to other equally strong desires, such as the desire for
a good life, for peace, for relief from burdens. In the original
assumptions of democracy it was held that the expression of each man’s
will would spontaneously satisfy not only his desire for
self-expression, but his desire for a good life, because the instinct
to express one’s self in a good life was innate.

The emphasis, therefore, has always been on the mechanism for
expressing the will. The democratic El Dorado has always been some
perfect environment, and some perfect system of voting and
representation, where the innate good will and instinctive
statesmanship of every man could be translated into action. In limited
areas and for brief periods the environment has been so favorable,
that is to say so isolated, and so rich in opportunity, that the
theory worked well enough to confirm men in thinking that it was sound
for all time and everywhere. Then when the isolation ended, and
society became complex, and men had to adjust themselves closely to
one another, the democrat spent his time trying to devise more perfect
units of voting, in the hope that somehow he would, as Mr. Cole says,
“get the mechanism right, and adjust it as far as possible to men’s
social wills.” But while the democratic theorist was busy at this, he
was far away from the actual interests of human nature. He was
absorbed by one interest: self-government. Mankind was interested in
all kinds of other things, in order, in its rights, in prosperity, in
sights and sounds and in not being bored. In so far as spontaneous
democracy does not satisfy their other interests, it seems to most men
most of the time to be an empty thing. Because the art of successful
self-government is not instinctive, men do not long desire
self-government for its own sake. They desire it for the sake of the
results. That is why the impulse to self-government is always
strongest as a protest against bad conditions.

The democratic fallacy has been its preoccupation with the origin of
government rather than with the processes and results. The democrat
has always assumed that if political power could be derived in the
right way, it would be beneficent. His whole attention has been on the
source of power, since he is hypnotized by the belief that the great
thing is to express the will of the people, first because expression
is the highest interest of man, and second because the will is
instinctively good. But no amount of regulation at the source of a
river will completely control its behavior, and while democrats have
been absorbed in trying to find a good mechanism for originating
social power, that is to say a good mechanism of voting and
representation, they neglected almost every other interest of men. For
no matter how power originates, the crucial interest is in how power
is exercised. What determines the quality of civilization is the use
made of power. And that use cannot be controlled at the source.

If you try to control government wholly at the source, you inevitably
make all the vital decisions invisible. For since there is no instinct
which automatically makes political decisions that produce a good
life, the men who actually exercise power not only fail to express the
will of the people, because on most questions no will exists, but they
exercise power according to opinions which are hidden from the

If, then, you root out of the democratic philosophy the whole
assumption in all its ramifications that government is instinctive,
and that therefore it can be managed by self-centered opinions, what
becomes of the democratic faith in the dignity of man? It takes a
fresh lease of life by associating itself with the whole personality
instead of with a meager aspect of it. For the traditional democrat
risked the dignity of man on one very precarious assumption, that he
would exhibit that dignity instinctively in wise laws and good
government. Voters did not do that, and so the democrat was forever
being made to look a little silly by tough-minded men. But if, instead
of hanging human dignity on the one assumption about self-government,
you insist that man’s dignity requires a standard of living, in which
his capacities are properly exercised, the whole problem changes. The
criteria which you then apply to government are whether it is
producing a certain minimum of health, of decent housing, of material
necessities, of education, of freedom, of pleasures, of beauty, not
simply whether at the sacrifice of all these things, it vibrates to
the self-centered opinions that happen to be floating around in men’s
minds. In the degree to which these criteria can be made exact and
objective, political decision, which is inevitably the concern of
comparatively few people, is actually brought into relation with the
interests of men.

There is no prospect, in any time which we can conceive, that the
whole invisible environment will be so clear to all men that they will
spontaneously arrive at sound public opinions on the whole business of
government. And even if there were a prospect, it is extremely
doubtful whether many of us would wish to be bothered, or would take
the time to form an opinion on “any and every form of social action”
which affects us. The only prospect which is not visionary is that
each of us in his own sphere will act more and more on a realistic
picture of the invisible world, and that we shall develop more and
more men who are expert in keeping these pictures realistic. Outside
the rather narrow range of our own possible attention, social control
depends upon devising standards of living and methods of audit by
which the acts of public officials and industrial directors are
measured. We cannot ourselves inspire or guide all these acts, as the
mystical democrat has always imagined. But we can steadily increase
our real control over these acts by insisting that all of them shall
be plainly recorded, and their results objectively measured. I should
say, perhaps, that we can progressively hope to insist. For the
working out of such standards and of such audits has only begun.