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   Chapter 1 THE OVERFLOW OF DEMOCRACY

The New Christianity; or, The Religion of the New Age By Salem Goldworth Bland Characters: 11872

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The history of the last nine hundred years in one, at least, of its most vital aspects is the history of the development of democracy. Perhaps in no other way can one so accurately discuss and estimate the progress achieved through this almost millennial period than in noting the successive conquests made by that great principle.

The first conquest was in the field of education. Modern democracy began with the rise of universities in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Education had been the monopoly of the clergy, not, indeed, through any such design on the part of the clergy, but through the ignorance of the Northern races which had overrun Southern Europe and almost extinguished its culture, and through the unsettled and harassed condition of Europe which had delayed the growth of a new culture. It was only the clergy who felt that education was necessary.

It is one of the many inestimable services that the monasteries have rendered the modern world, that they preserved from destruction some of the precious flotsam and jetsam of that Greco-Roman literature which had for the most part been submerged, and that in these quiet retreats there grew up the schools which were to lay the foundations of yet nobler literatures.

Eventually, when a measure of peace came at last to the lands so long in distress and turmoil, the irrepressible impulses of the human soul for knowledge asserted themselves. The youth of Europe, eager to know, flocked in increasing numbers to the teachers who began to be famous, and the university took its rise.

Education placed in the hands of the people the key to other doors. As a natural consequence, democracy found its way into the jealously guarded realm of religion. After innumerable abortive, but glorious and not wasted, struggles for the right of the individual to find his own religion and dispense with ecclesiastical guides and directors, Northern Europe established the principle of democracy in religion in the great revolt known as the Protestant Reformation. That uprising was a very complex movement. Many motives mingled in it, but of these the desire for a purer faith was, probably, on the whole not so influential as the democratic passion for intellectual and religious freedom.

Concurrent with the overflow of democracy into the realm of religion was its overflow into politics. The evolution of political democracy is the distinctive glory of England. It is her contribution to world civilization as that of the Hebrew was monotheism, that of the Greek culture, and that of the Roman organization and law.

The barons, primarily in their own interest, wrested the Great Charter from a King who more recklessly and oppressively than his predecessors played the despot. In the provision of Magna Charta that the King should levy no more taxes without consent of the taxed was found the necessity of the coming together, first of the barons and the spiritual lords, later of the knights of the shire, and finally of the burghers of the towns--separate assemblies which soon coalesced and by their unification formed the English Parliament. English constitutional history from the reign of Henry III. to the Revolution of 1688 is the history of the gradual supersession of the crown by Parliament, and of the ascendancy of the elective House of Commons over the hereditary House of Peers. The eighteenth century witnessed the development of Cabinet government; the nineteenth completed the great fabric of political democracy in those Franchise Acts which admitted to participation in the government--

In 1832, the propertied classes of the manufacturing towns;

In 1867, the artisan;

In 1884, the farm labourers;

In 1918, the women.

With these must be mentioned the Act of 1911 which constitutionally and decisively established the ascendancy of the popular House over the Peers.

England broke the trail which all other peoples that have accepted democracy have followed. The mobile and logical intelligence of France, slower through historical conditions to snap the feudal bonds, when it was at last aroused, at one bound outstripped England. Not content to limit, it swept away both monarchy and the House of Peers. A still more striking illustration of how the last may be first may yet be yielded by that great half-European, half-Asiatic people, so long, apparently, impenetrable to democracy, but now in the obscure throes of a revolution which despite its initial disorders and excesses, may, it is perhaps possible to hope, give to Russia the high honour of being the first nation to achieve the last conquest of democracy--its triumph in the economic realm. For it would seem impossible to doubt that that final triumph of democracy can be long delayed. Autocracy and aristocracy overthrown in politics cannot stand in economics.

He who will trace a river like the Mississippi from its source, and find it growing in hundreds of miles from a stream that may be waded to a great river a mile in width and a hundred feet in depth, does not need to actually follow the river to its mouth to be assured that it must reach the sea. Such a river cannot be diverted or dammed. Obstructions will only serve to make its current more violent.

This, then, would seem to be clear, that by an action as cosmic and irresistible as the movement of a great river, democracy is invading the industrial world. The time has passed for all temporary and makeshift expedients. A kindly spirit in the employer, improved hygienic conditions, rest rooms, better pay and shorter hours, will not secure equilibrium, though the spirit of good-will they tend to evoke may make further struggle less bitter. Profit-sharing furnishes no permanent resting place. It is merely a camping place on the journey. In the papers of Feb. 12, 1919, appeared a significant despatch from London of the same date, describing the acute labor situation.

"The l

abor situation reaches a crisis to-day in conferences between the government and three great unions, representing nearly 1,500,000 workers, the result of whose demands is awaited with keen interest by the entire labor world.

"The unions are the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, membership 800,000; National Union of Railway-men, membership 400,000; and the National Transport Workers' Federation, membership 250,000. The unions are acting together, and it is believed they have agreed on joint action if dissatisfied with the result of the conferences.

"The railwaymen's demands include a 48-hour week and control of railways by representatives of the managements and workers. This latter clause is considered a step toward nationalization, but an alternative has been prepared in the form of a commission of labor delegates and boards of directors.

"William Adamson, leader of the Labor party in the House of Commons, speaking on the industrial situation, said that it was almost as menacing and dangerous as the war itself. He said that the principal Labor amendment to the reply to the address from the throne would relate to the causes of industrial unrest.

"'I hope,' he continued, 'that no attempts will be made to disappoint the legitimate expectations of the working people. All sections of the people should understand that we have reached the stage when we have laid the cards upon the table and when the working classes will refuse longer to be treated as cogs in a machine or for mere profit-making purposes.'"

In short, nothing will now satisfy the workers but a share in the control. The most hopeful scheme of harmony would seem to be some such arrangement as the Whitley scheme which has been officially endorsed by the British Government. The essential features of the Whitley scheme are the organization of all the workers in any industrial area, the organization of all the employers, the creation of joint committees representative of both groups to fix wages and determine conditions of labor. And this is not the end but the beginning. The end, at least of this phase of industrial evolution, would appear to promise to be the disappearance of the capitalistic control of industry. So far as industries are not owned and managed by the community, they will be owned and managed by the workers that carry them on. The revolution will be accomplished when the men of inventive and organizing and directive ability recognize that their place is with the workers and not with the owners. Capitalistic control must pass away. It has, no doubt, played a necessary and useful part in the social evolution. It has shown courage and enterprise. But it has been, on the whole, rapacious and heartless, and its sense of moral responsibility has been often rudimentary. When the managers on whom it depends desert to the side of the workers, it will be patent how little capacity or service is in capitalism, and how little it deserved the immense gains it wrung from exploited labor and skill.

The process may be harder and slower than even the most sober-minded would estimate, or it may be much easier and quicker; but the process has begun, and there can be but one end. Feudalistic industry must follow feudalistic land holding. Feudalistic landlordism went because the feudal lords were enormously overpaid in proportion to their services. When organizing and directive ability breaks the artificial bond that has associated it with capital, it will be seen how slight is the service capital has rendered and how enormously it has been overpaid.

Management is, of course, entitled to its wages, and under present conditions those wages must be relatively high, for managing ability is not abundant. What might be called the wages of capital have been unjustly high and are destined to fall until no man can afford to be a mere capitalist. To gain a livelihood he will be obliged to develop some productive function.

So long as industry must be maintained on a capitalistic basis, those furnishing the capital are entitled to a fair return on their investment, but the fashion of this capitalistic age passeth away. The control of money and credit is destined to gradually become a function of government.

A check must be placed on the fatal fashion money has of breeding money. Wages of labor, wages of invention, wages of superintendence, are just; profits of capital must grow less and less to the vanishing point. The bitter conflict between capital and labor over the division of the profits will never be settled. It probably never can be settled. It will cease to be. Capital will cease to be a factor; only labor in the broadly inclusive sense of the term will remain.

The onward march of democracy, then, cannot be staid. It ought not. Democracy is nothing but the social expression of the fundamental Christian doctrine of the worth of the human soul. Democracies had found their way into human life before the revelation of the worth of the human soul in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, but at their best, as in ancient Greece, they were restricted. Even that most glorious of all non-Christian democracies and, in some respects, most glorious as yet of all democracies non-Christian and Christian, the democracy of Athens, rested on a slave basis and excluded the man not possessing Athenian citizenship. But it was at least a noble anticipation, a sublime, if inconsistent, partial, and evanescent reaching-out after the democracy which Christianity can never be content till it has achieved, a democracy of religion, of culture, of politics, and of industry. The inherent dignity of every human soul must be recognized in every sphere of life. Heirs of God, joint-heirs with Christ--how is it possible to reconcile such august titles with servitude or subjection? A share in the control of church, community, industry is the Divine right of every normal man and woman.

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