DEMOCRACY BEGINS AT HOME
AN ADDRESS BY
M. GRATTAN O'LEARY ASSOCIATE EDITOR, OTTAWA JOURNAL
Chairman: First Vice-President, Mr. SYDNEY HERMANT
Thursday, March 16th, 1950
Members and Guests of the Empire Club of Canada We are to have a special treat today. We are to hear an Address by Mr. M. Grattan O'Leary, Vice-Pres. and Associate Editor of the Ottawa Journal.
Born on the Gaspe Coast, Mr. O'Leary spent two years at Sea before entering the field of journalism with the St. John Standard. He has been a Member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery for more than 20 years, and is one of 10 Canadian journalists whose name is carved in stone in the Hall of Fame in the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.
He has been the Ottawa correspondent of The Times of London, has contributed to British, United States and Canadian Magazines, and was Canadian Editor of Collier's. He has attended Imperial and International Conferences in London, Washington, and Canberra, and was at the Potsdam Conference at the close of the War. He has taken an active interest in public affairs having contested the Federal Riding of Gaspe in the General Election of 1925.
In 1948, as Convening Chairman of the Progressive-Conservative National Convention in Ottawa, he delivered the keynote speech which, may I say without departing from the traditional impartiality of this Club, was a magnificent one.
Mr. O'Leary is a full-time citizen who practises what he preaches, and it is a particular pleasure to welcome him to this meeting and to ask him to speak to us now on the subject "Democracy Begins at Home".
Distinguished Guests and Gentlemen: I think it is thirteen years since you last invited me to speak to you, and I take it that the fact of your having asked me back again shows how time can heal most anything.
This is St. Patrick's--the Eve of St. Patrick's Day--as I am reminded by this snake here on the table before me. There were times in days gone by when the eve of St. Patrick's Day brought speeches from people like myself which I fear very greatly would not be acceptable to the members of the Empire Club. So I shall skirt St. Patrick's Day by merely remarking that the world in which we find ourselves is not unlike the world of St. Patrick. In his day, as in our own, the world was threatened by a barbarian horde from almost precisely the same direction, and it is for us to determine in our threatened world whether we can devise ways of meeting the threat, as the schools and the churches and the missionaries and the educationists met the crisis of his time.
Mathew Arnold, in one of his most memorable lines, spoke of standing "between two worlds, one dead, and the other struggling to be born", and what we seem to be witnessing at this time is a world, a new world struggling to be born, a new world taking on such fearful shapes and aspects that men truly are afraid, and whereever you go in this land at this time, wherever you go on this continent, or in Europe, you will meet people, ordinary folk, who will ask what it is they can do--"What is it we can do", they are asking, "to avert the tragedy, the moral nihilism which seem to be hemming us in?"
In all humility--because only in humility could one approach questions of that character--in all humility I am going to try to suggest one or two things which I do believe all of us can do usefully at this time.
There is a word which is on our lips almost eternally, the word "DEMOCRACY". I would be the last person in the world to believe, or to hold that we in Canada should give up to a narrow nationalism, but I do believe the time has come in this country when all of us should try to realize that Democracy begins at home. We may join the Atlantic Pact, we may become members of the United Nations, we may subscribe to all sorts and manners of international agreements and alliances, but the measure of our achievement in bringing help to Europe, or bringing help to the world, will and must be the level of our achievement at home. We shall make a precious small contribution towards setting Europe's house in order unless we first show a capacity to set in order our own.
Democracy in our day, democracy is not the thing that men and money and machines built up in the eighteenth century and called Democracy, and democracy today is challenged and imperilled as never before in its history. And, gentlemen, the peril to democracy, the challenge to our so-called "free way of life" does not come from Communism alone. I sometimes am inclined to believe, certainly am inclined to fear, that what has become known as "big government"--big government and the welfare state, that these things and democracy can not exist side by side. I shall hope to develop that idea in a more general way later on; but, in the meantime, it is not enough in our time-it is not enough in our time for a man to say, "I am not a Communist", it is not enough for him to say, "I am a democrat": he must be able to say, "I am a practitioner of democracy", "I am a practicing democrat", and he must be able to say that while knowing that democracy is a thing never done, that it is something one must keep doing all through his life.
And I sometimes wonder myself, watching the Parliamentary scene, and listening to the deputations and delegations which come to Parliament asking this, that and the other thing, I sometimes wonder whether all of our people, all of us who call ourselves democrats, all of us who say that we believe in the Parliamentary, the Representative system of Government, whether we truly understand what these things are about.
When you speak of "big government" in this country, when you speak of the difficulty of Socialism, of State Socialism of the Welfare State, of Big Government with its $2 and $3 billion budgets, when you speak of the difficulty of reconciling free democracy as our fathers knew it, with things like that, you invariably are told, "So long as we have the right to vote, everything must be well." Gentlemen, the right to vote about which we hear so much, in itself and by itself, may mean absolutely nothing at all. Unless we be able to compel Parliaments and Legislatures and government to do the things for which we vote, then our vote means no more than the vote they had last Sunday in Russia. It is the consequence of voting that counts, not the vote itself. And I often am saddened by the fact that those who in our .elections are loudest in demanding that people get out and vote, those Service Clubs, those organizations, those Community Groups that go about shouting to people to get out and vote, and then forget all about what was voted for, and lose all interest in Parliaments and Legislatures themselves.
And one other thing that astonishes anybody watching government in this country is the fact that so many people seem to forget what our system is about. Our system is the Parliamentary system. We may meet in conventions, we may meet in gatherings such as this, we may pass resolutions, we may hear exhortations, we may hold the highest aspirations and ideals, but before these things can be translated into fact, become realities, somebody, under our system, must pass a law. That Jaw will be passed by a Parliament or a Legislature, or a Council. And that law will be no better and no wiser than the men who write it. And hence the meaning, if our system is to mean anything at all, is that all of us see to it that we send to our Parliaments and our Legislatures the best hearts, and the best minds, and the best consciences which our country can provide.
And then in alertness, in understanding, what democracy means, their realizations, not in itself but the consequences of the vote, in that realization, giving those people an opportunity of carrying on the government of the country in a reasonably good way. I know how difficult it is, I know the arguments that are made about the well-nigh impossibility of the average citizen knowing what is going on in the government everywhere, all the time. It is not possible for the average Canadian to know what is going on in Ottawa and Washington and Moscow, and here and there and everywhere.
But this is possible and this is absolutely necessary if our democracy is to survive: it is that we do try to create in our country a pattern of public thought, a framework of morality, and that within that pattern of public thought, within that framework of morality, we do try to secure the best men in our country for our Parliaments and Legislatures--see to it afterwards as best we may, that they do carry out the things, at least the general principles for which we voted. Only in that way, in my judgment, can democracy in this country function, or in fact survive.
Now I agree with you, because I know you must be thinking this, that what I have outlined in a very loose and general way, what I have outlined presupposes a higher degree of public education than what we now possess: and that is absolutely true. Gentlemen, we keep telling ourselves that we have the greatest educational system in the world, and I am of raid that that is not quite true and that there is a danger of it becoming less true under existing trends. I am speaking, I suppose, to a number of gentlemen who are engaged in business, and one criticism I would make of business men, as I observe and meet them, is their present tendency to extol above all else what they call "technical" education. Actually there is no such thing as technical education; and certainly there is a vast difference between technical instruction and education. God pity the country where everybody would be trained and nobody educated; and one has only to recall a scene that took place in a Court in London ten days ago to see what can happen with people who are trained, who are highly trained, who are highly trained as specialists, and who lack true education, and therefore are branded by a failure to understand moral principles. Technical education, technical instruction, and real education have nothing whatever to do with each other.
I would be the last person in the world to say that we should not train our young people, train them to enable them to achieve to a higher standard; but that, my friends, is not education in its true sense, and I think we are making a profound mistake in turning our universities into production lines for all sorts of occasions. And the danger of that trend is that we shall come to the position of some of the states of the Union--and in one of the greatest states of the Union today, the State University actually grants a degree on a paper written on the technique of dating. That has come to pass in some of the universities in the country to the south.
True education has nothing to do with technical training; in fact, it has very little to do with the highest instruction. I recently have been reading a book, "The God That Failed"-in which six so-called intellectuals tell of their trek to Moscow and the return--by Arthur Koestler,--Andre Gide, Spengler, and so on. Not one of these men show that they possess the least bit of education, that they are intellectuals. What, I wonder, is an "intellectual?" Is an intellectual a man who becomes a Communist first by becoming a spy, by betraying his employer, by going into Russia and spending a year and taking money for which he did not work, for a book which he did not write, and then pretending to tell his readers that he had left the European way of life and gone to Russia because he said, he had lost faith in Western values and was seeking the kingdom of God, is seeking the kingdom of God by becoming a spy and taking money which he did not earn, and lost faith in Western values, when there was not a bit of evidence that he had ever lifted a hand to make Western values work. He is represented as a great intellectual! Actually he was a man without the least moral perception, without wisdom, without understanding.
And too much of our education is turned that way. Education in its true sense is TOLERANCE, it is UNDERSTANDING, it is SYMPATHY, it is SPORTSMANSHIP--and Henry James said without SPORTSMANSHIP THERE COULD BE NO DEMOCRACY. It is MERCY, it is PITY, and it is COMPASSION, and unless a man have these things, he is not truly educated. One of the disasters of our world is that it has become all sign posts and no destination, all specialization and no wisdom, all facts and no knowledge. We have forgotten the truth that there is no sense in pasting wings on a man unless you can give him a winged nature. We have forgotten that all of the good things which we say we should have from democracy and freedom can exist only, can endure only in a vitally Christian social state, and we have forgotten that there is no sense at all in trying to make men good by making them free when the real task is to make them good in order to fit them to be free.
That brings me to my final word, the word that no healing will come to our earth, no final good for mankind unless men make up their minds to get back to the eternal truths of religion. No one who goes to Europe today, no one who looks out over Europe's welter of hate and infidelity and unbelief, can conclude other than this, that the chief source of Europe's wrath is in Europe's forgetfulness of God. Four years ago I had the privilege, a rather sad privilege, of motoring some 1500 miles through Germany. I saw the horror and the devastation of Germany's cities, I saw the horror and the chaos of the German people, I met those wanderers on the highway, going God only knows where. But one thing in Germany I did not see, and that was any spirit of atonement, any understanding of the cause or the reasons which had brought such calamity upon them; and that forgetfulness of God, that infidelity, that spirit of atheism and defiance is, after all, not beyond understanding. For more than two centuries all the so-called great intellectuals of Europe told the people over there that Christianity did not matter, that faith was outmoded, that Christianity was in fact the babble of contemptible slaves,--we shall make our own articles and tripods and gods. And they did. They asked the people of Europe to desert and betray all that their fathers had taught them--they throned their gold deities on their empty altars, and at the end sowed the seeds which came to their flowering in pagan Germany and now has come to our forefront in the godlessness of Communist Russia.
This was written a few years ago by one of our greatest living philosophers, Jacques Maritain, who, looking into our world with all its tragedies, fears and plans, said that "any plan which falls below the heart of Christ is doomed to disappointment."
That, Gentlemen, is the challenge of our day. If that challenge be not met, if our world be unable to get a moral equivalent for the atomic bomb, then despair must have a last word.