IS DEMOCRACY OUTWORN
AN ADDRESS BY ARTHUR EUSTACE MORGAN, M.A. PRINCIPAL AND VICE-CHANCELLOR, MCGILL UNIVERSITY, MONTREAL, QUEBEC
Thursday, 29th April, 1937
MAJOR BALFOUR: Gentlemen, I have now the great pleasure of calling on our guest-speaker to address us today. We have had at the Empire Club during the current year or the year just past, many addresses, I might say some of our most interesting addresses on the subject of "democracy," a subject which is of very great import to us today. We have in the person of Principal Morgan an expert, I might say a specialist in. considering that subject. Educated in England, serving in the Great War, he came to Canada and has already acquired here a great reputation as as educationist, as an author, as a student and as an administrator. He needs very little 'introduction by reason of certain publicity which he has had in the last few days. We shall hear from him on the subject: "Is Democracy Outworn?" and we trust we will get the answer that suits us the best.
MR. ARTHUR MORGAN: Mr. President and Gentlemen, I should like to thank you for this opportunity which your Club has given me of making an appearnce before so distinguished an audience of this your great City of Toronto and at the same time of having an opportunity to address an audience beyond these walls. I seize this opportunity with particular gladness because it gives me the chance of placing on record my very sincere gratitude to Toronto for the kindness and the courtesy and the hospitality which I have enjoyed here on many occasions during the past two years.
The subject of my discussion this afternoon is, as you say, Mr. President, one which has been very much debated during recent years but I think not too much debated because I believe that there is no subject of more importance to the future of mankind today than this very one which it is my privilege to discuss for a few moments.
The essence of democracy is the belief that men can do things together by a process of labouring with one another, kindly and; intelligently, as against that other doctrine which holds that it is best for mankind to be told what to do. It has been said that the degree of co-operation developed in society is a measure of its civilization. There are those on the other hand who say that man is essentially a competitive, pugnacious animal, that those qualities are resident in his very nature and that co-operation is fine but unnatural. I am not much disturbed by these appeals to human nature which are made from time to time, as if when we have said that we have said all. If there is one thing which is plastic and malleable to circumstance and to will power, to time and to place, it is this very thing which we call' human nature.
But let that alone. Let us see whether this other great principle of working together for a common good is so foreign to nature. I am going to read a message from one of our great modern philosophers, Professor Whitehead, formerly of Cambridge, now of Harvard. I have often read this, but I think it cannot be read too often: because it seems to me to have profound importance.
"The trees in a Brazilian forest depend upon the association of various species of organism each of which is mutually dependent on the other species. A single tree by itself is dependent upon all the adverse chances of shifting circumstances. The wind stunts it: the variations in temperature checks its foliage: the rains denude its soil: its leaves are blown away and are lost for the purpose of fertilisation. You may obtain, individual specimens of fine trees either in exceptional circumstances, or where human cultivation has intervened. But in nature the normal way in which trees flourish is by their association in a forest. Each tree may lose something of its individual perfection of growth, but they mutually assist each other in preserving the conditions for survival. The soil is preserved and shaded; and the microbes necessary for its fertility are neither scorched, nor frozen, nor washed away. A forest is the triumph of the organization of mutually dependent species. Further a species of microbes which kills the forests, also exterminates itself. Again the two sexes exhibit the same advantage of differentiation. In the history of the world, the prize has not gone to those species which specialised in methods of violence, or even in defensive armour. In fact, nature began with producing animals encased in hard shells for defence against the ills of life. It also experimented in size. But smaller animals, without external armour, warm-blooded, sensitive, and alert, have cleared these monsters off the face of the earth. Also, the lions and tigers are not the successful species. There is something in the ready use of force which defeats its own object. Its main defect is that it bars co-operation. Every organism requires an environment of friends, partly to shield it from violent changes, and partly to supply its wants. The Gospel of Force is incompatible with a social life." (Applause.)
That, Gentlemen, to my mind is a magnificent expression of a great truth, of immense importance to our modem considerations of this problem of the fitness of democracy and the possibility of its continuance. In fact, if I were to sit down now I should probably have said as much as I shall say when I sit down in half an hour's time, because it is all there in Professor Whitehead's fine paragraph.
Co-operation then is not the unnatural process which some have imagined, but in human affairs undoubtedly it is more difficult than that simpler process found in early social relationships where an individual or a comparatively small group of individuals imposed certain systems and organizations on the many. Cooperation has been the object of mankind for millennia. The great quality of democracy is that it represents an attempt to achieve this co-operation from within, from below upward. It proceeds from the individual to society. Your autocracies, your oligarchies, are not anarchistic. They want government, which bespeaks co-operation of all members of society; but the difference is that the co-operation which they seek is imposed from above. It is the action of the will of the one or the few, and not the healthy flourishing of an individual desire from below to achieve that cooperation for a common social purpose. Historically it is the superimposed system of organization which is earlier. An autocracy or a tyranny is a far simpler form of social and political organization than a democracy. Given sufficient force concentrated with the governor, he can impose his will on society. Democracy challenges us in two ways: first because it implies quality, widespread throughout the individuals of society, and secondly for the very difficulty of its achievement.
Today the whole attitude of the world toward democracy has changed. Thirty years ago it was a matter of unquestioned faith. Whether or not it could be achieved, democracy was 'ideally anal in many cases practically the best form of government which mankind had developed. Now the attitude is completely changed. Countries which believed in and practised democracy have thrown it to the winds and even those countries where it still holds sway exhibit many doubts. The fact that there are so many talks on this subject, that there is so much discussion, as you have said, Mr. President, betokens that doubt. Some of us doubt negatively, some of us doubt positively, but those of us who believe most strongly in democracy feel, because of this doubt, that it is necessary to edify ourselves and others. I believe that democracy is the highest political and social organization which mankind has so far devised. Far be it from me to suggest that there has been any perfect practice of this idea. We are only groping toward the effective expression oaf democratic doctrine, and today what do we see? We see in the world around us a crashing of belief in this ideal under the stress of circumstances and political difficulties which thirty years ago we should never have expected.
As we look round the world we find that where democracy has toppled, the fall is to be accounted for by circumstances which were pre-existent. One of the greatest dangers to democracy is its premature adoption. Unlike autocracy it cannot be imposed from above: it means nothing if it is not a natural growth from below. In other words, it springs from the individual and it is only when you have the quality of political consciousness of the requisite degree that there is that citizenship, that skill in citizenship, which is necessary for the flourishing of democracy.
There are three countries mainly in the world today where the democratic system is especially impugned. The first one is Russia. But that was not the result of the destruction of a preexistent democracy. It was the replacement of one tyranny by another. In Italy, however, there had been a very strong democratic idealism ins the nineteenth century and if one examines the history of modern Italy aver the last forty or fifty years, one is bound to come to the conclusion that the reason why democracy has been toppled in the dust in that country is because Italy did not succeed for one reason or another in developing a democracy which was dependent on a citizenship able to operate the system. The other great example of the destruction of democracy is Germany. There the cause is a little different. One found immediately after the Great War the sudden development into full flower of a great democratic system. I believe that German citizenship was not ready for it. It developed too quickly, like the flower which flourishes in a day and wilts in a night. Still beneath all that there is a quality of liberalism and good citizenship within the German frontiers today, the Germany of the great culture of the early part of the nineteenth century which, I believe, is not dead, although it may be dormant.
Your tyrannical, authoritarian government realizes the necessity of co-operation. It needs to bring together the citizenship of a country, scores of millions of people maybe, in a close system of interlocked work which is co-operation. And it is interesting to see what great stress is laid, perhaps particularly in Italy, on the necessity of this unitary idea of citizenship. It is a totalitarian state. The whole thing is knit together as one, and it is worth noting that the name given to the German system, is the Nationalist Socialist Party. It 'is a party which recognizes in name those doctrines of socialism which imply that very idea of co-operation among all grades and members of citizenship. Whether that is more than a name is a matter .of discussion and examination, but in any case this idea is imposed from above and it is interesting to notice that this nominally socialist system, based on a doctrine of co-operation, is backed by the strong forces of massed German finance; and the same thing is true in Italy. Big business is behind these governments. The middle class group has been scared into support of these governments by the very careful exploitation of certain bogies. The simplest lever with these people is the bogey of communism, a godsend to Nazi and Fascist. There is a good deal of pandering to the middle class by the encouragement of small business and at any rate a nominal attack on combined business, particularly in the distributive trades. In this way in Germany and in Italy is shown the very real intention of knitting society together in a unitary system with the State as the composing force. The point I am trying to make to you, Gentlemen, is this: that the idea of cooperation which we regard as being essential to democracy is essential to all governments, and the tyrannies have not forgotten that. The difference, as I have said, is how it is produced and whence it springs.
In this discussion of dictatorships and democracies, there are those who will say that a dictatorship in difficult times has been shown historically to be safer, that you cannot trust the multitude in an emergency. That could be treated at some length, but all I am going to say to you, Gentlemen, in that respect is this: Safety today, as I see it, in its widest sense means the preservation of world peace so that mankind can co-operate; and without debating the matter theoretically I put it to you practically, is the peaceful co-operation of mankind today threatened more by the 'democracies or by the tyrannies? I think that question needs no answer.
Those of us who believe in democracy feel that it represents a great spiritual truth, the brotherhood of mankind which is based on the greatest of all qualities in life, namely love. That, after all, is the rock bottom of life. The dictatorships have made a claim to idealism. They have made their appeal, particularly to that part of humanity which is prone to idealism, which is prone to unselfishness, namely youth. As we become old we become case-hardened, we become chary of our actions in proportion to the hostages we have given to fortune. We compromise our ideals because we dare do no otherwise. Youth still takes the chance and it seems to me that it shows the extraordinary astuteness, perhaps the malign astuteness of those who are exploiting millions today to the destruction of their own liberty in appealing to this magnificent quality of the idealism of youth which refuses to put safety first. It is alas the youthful element of certain great people which is the very instrument of the destruction of its own freedom. That is the appalling thing, Gentlemen. I am not sure that this appeal to idealism is quite as genuine as it seems. The ideal which is placed before youth is "Not yourself but the state-this all-embracing, totalitarian state. Sacrifice yourself, you the individual, to the whole." And round that doctrine there is a flutter of flags, there are waves of emotion, there is noise, there is glamour to the eye. There are all the physical trappings to arouse the emotions which play around this idea which admitted has much of greatness in it. But if one looks a little more carefully beneath the surface, the picture is not quite so savoury. If you examine a little closer you may find that perhaps after all the state may be an individual, it may be Herr So-and-So, or Signor-Somebody else; and it may be that while youth is sacrificing itself, others are enjoying the loaves and fishes. The materialistic idea of reward is not absent from these new autocracies. It is rather unpleasantly evident, if one examines carefully.
But after all, Gentlemen, is there anything wrong in making a materialistic appeal? They say democracy appeals only to man's utilitarian ideas of comfort and material well-being. Why should we scorn these so long as they are justly combined and justly distributed? Remember this, that a great deal of the sanity of the political demands of the people, to which we belong, the British peoples, throughout the last century has been, based on the fact that what is asked for and wanted has been something practical and practicable and measurable. It is an extremely ,dangerous thing to ask people to labour for things which appeal only to their emotions, which evoke merely excitement. But it is a very good test of government--I don't say it is the only test but it is a very good test of government--to ask, does it assist in organizing society? It only assists, it can't do it. Society must do that for itself. It is right that citizens should get a reasonably decent condition of life. I am not much impressed by the governments who say, "Look what you have done for us. Hurrah!" The British people are not much impressed by that kind of thing. Adventures in foreign lands and the waiving of flags and the shouting of national anthems have their place in our sociology; but no system of organization, no government, is going ho get away with that only.
Therefore I thing the materialistic element as a measure of government is a very sane and valuable criterion. There are certain people today who seem willing to starve so long as they can be told of the glorious way in which their brothers .are shooting down black men. Whether that indicates high idealism or abated intelligence, I am not sure.
But perhaps the worst of all elements in certain of these autocracies is the fact that there is an exploitation such as has never been known in modern times of hate and cruelty. Hate and cruelty, its terrible child, are the offspring of all that negates the quality of love, which is the positive element of life. Love for my fatherland, loge for an ideal state is a poor thing if I can be conscious of that love-only by cruelty to those who are weaker than I. (Applause.) It is a poor patriotism, it is a poor idealism, it is a poor nationalism which can flourish only on shooting Ethiopians and massacring Jews. (Applause.)
Now, Gentlemen, I am not standing here pleading that democracy is the representation of all that is perfect and that what I disagree with represents all that is evil. There is one thing that we lack in our democratic system. It is faith. Democracy has done fine things practically, and we are a practical people; and we have been the spearhead of democratic doctrine and practice throughout the centuries. But we are perhaps apt to forget that there is and must be a core of faith, an idealism in democracy if it is to survive, especially when it is threatened and thwarted by what I believe to be false doctrines, inspired as they are by what I believe to be false idealism. The faith we need to develop today, and there never was a greater need, is the faith which our fathers held and died for, faith in individual liberty as the only foundation for the liberty of society. (Applause.) And to that end we must be prepared for self-sacrifice. It must be no mere cold-lblooded argument, Gentlemen, it must be an enthusiasm. In these days enthusiasms have become unpopular with us. We have a man who knows modern youth, perhaps as well as any, Mr. Noel Coward, putting these words in the mouth of one of his characters, representing the spirit of disillusioned youth--one of the most appalling negations of faith, one of the most terrible expressions of atheism that I know. This character in one of his plays, "Post Mortem," speaks of "a sort of hopelessness which isn't quite despair, not localized enough for that. A formless, deserted boredom, everything eliminated, whittled right down to the essentials, essentials which aren't here." The nadir of cynicism. The denial of all the positive values of life. That is one of the most terrible aftermaths, perhaps the most terrible, of the Great War. We--I mean those who are the British stockhave a high responsibility in this regard. In the face of this denial of faith and on the other hand of the false enthusiasms which today are leading millions of young men down what I believe anal think many of my same breed believe to be a false path, we have a high responsibility.
We have to recognize that our forefathers believed in truth as the basis of government. Democracy is the system which allows for the disentangling of truth from all that knot of affairs that surrounds every political social problem and it is only so far as their exist a spirit of passionate love of truth and a desire to do what is' just that we shall be able to disentangle those knotted threads and find the solution of that problem. (Applause.) I am alarmed when I see in this country and the other countries of the Empire a too ready compliance with the processes of government. The basis of democracy is criticism--honest, constructive criticism--by every citizen, and attention to all,' those details which we too readily leave in cynical mood to the politicians. We must say, "This is our affair. We want to know the reason why." Then there would not be so much government by Order-in-Council and by bills run through in a few hours. We want a system with that flexibility of machinery which a democracy alone has. We do not want a rigid form of government, foreign to our whole psychological attitude and to our political tradition, which is the very nature of a tyranny. We are law-.abiding peoples because we make and believe in the laws. The best way to make a rebel out of a Briton is to treat him to government by tyrants.
So I say to you, Gentlemen, there lies on us a great responsibility. We have titles manifold, as the poet said. We who speak the tongue that Shakespeare spoke, we who hold those morals which Milton held; we have titles manifold. One of the greatest of them is the fact that we have done so much to build up democracy to the pitch at which it has arrived.
Probably this is the last time that I shall have the opportunity of meeting the majority of you here. Probably it is the last time I shall speak in this city. I would say to you this, from the bottom of my heart, that as a Briton, as a member of this great family of peoples to which we all belong, I' believe that today the world depends on us arid those others who speak the tongue which Shakespeare spoke and also that other great democracy, our fellow citizens in this country and our friends in France. The French and the British people and the United States of America, I believe, face the task of saving democracy, if it is to be saved. I believe that it must be saved in the end, because it is in, the nature of things that man shall move toward greater liberty, toward greater co-operation, if not at this stage of his civilization, then after retrogression at the next. Come it must; it is in the courses of the stars. And, if I may use the words of that great man whose tongue we speak, Shakespeare, remembering that when he says England, he means something which today in spirit includes the whole of the Empire and the United States of America and all the democracies of the world, "Naught shall us rue, if England to herself do rest but true."
(Prolonged applause.) MAJOR BALFOUR: Principal Morgan may I express on behalf of ado who have heard you today our thanks for your wonderful address. You have 'indeed given us an an opportunity of hearing many things to assist us in reaching a conclusion which will give an answer to the rhetorical question which was made the subject of your remarks, "Is Democracy Outworn?" and I think we shall answer that in the negative.
May I also take this opportunity on the last occasion on which I preside at this the Empire Club of Canada of thanking all for the support and encouragement they have given me during my year, not forgetting the larger audience on the radio whose encouraging remarks are of great assistance in any President's work of carrying on this or any other organization. Thank you very much. (Applause.)