THINGS THAT MATTER.
(Specially written for the "Auckland Star."). (By the HON J. T. PAUL, MX.C). 1.—01" DEMOCRACY AND CITIZENSHIP. The Cynic: Nothing matters. The Pessimist: Everything is wrong. The Optimist: Everything is right The Average Man: Nothing matters— much. The Wiser Man: Some things matter more than others. Such, are the types and the every day view as I see them. I agree with the Wiser Man, through, his wisdom in endorsing the very ordinary motto, may not be profound. But just how much profound wisdom is there in modern Democracy! Wisdom there is, of course; apathy, yes. And how.iar does the apathy, overshadow everything? The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Liberty means citizenship and nationhood of the highest and fullest order. I purpose writing a series of articles on Things that Matter. Present-day tendencies take too much for granted. Everything is left to Providence with neither request nor, thanks. It is not surprising that Providence decides that there are many things we must do for ourselves. The other day a man from far-back was travelling on one of our coastal steamers. He was not an ordinary type. He had individuality of a sort.. An officer struck up a conversation: "What, do you do on the out-back ranch outside working hours ?" " Well, at times I read a litle. Other times I sits and thinks. Sometimes I jest sits." "Sometimes I jest sits!" As with the individual so with the nation. Now, 1 am not a Jeremiah. I have ample faith in the Dominion and its people. \A country richly. endowed by Nature, peopled by a vigorous and intelligent population must command and hold a large place in the world. Quite so—unless it "jest sits." Has it ever occurred to the average man that though we have the most democratic franchise possible, our system of representation is unscientific and undemocratic? I purpose trying to prove that' contention in this series of articles. < We had better first understand that we are neither the first great nation nor the first Democracy. The history of Democracy has not yet been written; the spirit of Democracy, is breathed by millions of men and through a hundred thousand pages, but to trace society from its origin to the attainment of universal suffrage is impracticable here. Godkin, when discussing Aristotle's "Politics," says, "It is somewhat startling to see how small is the advance we have made on his ideas." All his man principles can' be approved. . Summarised by Godkin, they are mainly that the great end of men in society should be, not simply to live, but to live well; that a free State should be composed of freemen; that a State in which the good of the rulers is sought rather than that of the many, is not a free State;: that private property is essential; that no man is a citizen who does not share in the government; that a good citizen and a good man are syinonymou* terms; that no man should tw
judge in his own cause; that government should be adapted to the mental and moral condition of the governed; that every class in a State, if it gets possession of the government, is apt to seek its own advantage exclusively. Aristotle's time, it will be remembered, was about 400 B.C. It must not be imagined that early democracies ran wholly along our lines. Neither Greek nor Gothic schools resembled ours in some fundamentals. In. the former the labourers were slaves; universal suffrage was -unknown in all. Ctiizens of some of the dead nations, however, had high principles and responsibilities. "Our problem," writes the high-minded Dr. Felix Adler, "is not as it was in the Old World, to work liberty out of order, but order out of liberty." The citizen of ancient Greece had a high ideal of public service. Patriotic public spirit was shown by the city republics of the Middle Ages—" the glory and honour of Italy." "We regard a man who takes no interest in public affairs, not as a harmless, but as a useless character," wrote Thucydides. The old Romans penalised the man who did not use his vote by depriving him of his freemanship for a year. • This all means that.in many ages it has been recognised that only .he is valuable to the nation who, will accept and live up to the responsibilities of citizenship. "The greatest difficulty in England to-dry is not to get more power for the people, but to induce them to use the vast power they have," wrote Mr. Sidney Webb. To the thoughtful the same difficulty is apparent here. How much interest was* .taken in the late Parliamentary election as such? Eliminate the liquor issue and the. public interest displayed was unworthy of a municipal contest. And it is . pertinent to hazard an opinion on the interest in the coming municipal elections. On the last occasion the votes polled, displayed a lamentable lack of public spirit. And this in our municipalities where—the poet says:— The Devil has wrought with his broom or Greed, Sweeping the land this many a day; He has' heaped the people in cities and towns, Next he will shovel the heaps away— lies a field beyond dreams for affecting the everyday lives of the people. Many have lost faith in the Parliaments of older lands, and look to the municipalities as the fountain-head of Democracy and the hope of the future. The great strides made in municipal betterment give substance to their faith. And why have the older Parliaments especially failed? . I will attempt some answer in my next.'. Its discussion is worth while, for if older Parliaments have ceased to be able to cope with present day problems, and' no longer hold the confidence of the people, our younger colonial legislatures are endangered. An old policeman with long years of duty about the House of Commons, once put it this way to Mr. George Haw:—"lt's not what it used to be, sir. They fight now. likewise tell lies regular. Before they only used to do it occasionally, and it,used to be done in what' you'might call a delicate way. But now; bless us! they doit deliberately every, night. , Big uns, too!" A. policeman's standard in the matter .of a nation's Parliament should not be so high as impossible of 'achievement. ■ The policeman formed his judgment just prior to the advent of the Labour party. That may have worked' seme' improvement. ■ Democracy in action must' always lie conscious^'honest. Shallow thinkers ad-
vocate that the mistakes of Democracy should be remedied'at-the , expense of individuals. It is a rough and ready iLfcthod: immoral and disastrous.- If Democracy accepts the dictum that tills year's mistakes do not matter because they can be righte.d next year at the individual's expense, then it will, always bo a slovenly blunderer. Democracy! like the individual, must pay for its errors. It is a collection of individuals. An injury to one is the concern of all. An ever-piesent danger to a young Democracy is a forgetfulness of the past. Granted the past was 90 per cent wrong, even in the large percentage of wrong there are wholesome lessons. "Nothing i;i progression can rest on its original pian," said Burke. Live nations are in progression. The wisdom.of the past is a priceless treasure. The experiments and failures of the past have a very real value. The great men who are asleep leave us their debtors. Yet it is fashionable at the moment to ignore or to dismiss the past with.a lofty sneer. There are a few in my own school of politics who profess contempt ior. ( the early Labour .ieaders.. "Why, they only 'be-, lieved in -trade . (unionism!" ' Precisely. lnd : they blazed track when the large majority were .active opponents of trade unionism. Those of them who are alive to-day deserve honour rather than a patronising censure. In the great scheme of things they filled their allotted part. They were not because their surroundings and their en* vironment were not.revolutionary. We of the new dominions are fit for the universal suffrage we enjoy. It is at once a duty and a. trust. We will deserve a low place in the, history of peoples if we betray that trust. Many a etaunch Democrat has despaired of Democracy in bygone times. Joseph Mazzini, Democrat, to his finger tips and passionate lover of the people, had his dark days. "Give the suffrage to a ptople unfitted .for it, governed by hateful reactionary passions, they will sell it; they will introduce instability into every part of the State; they will render impossible those great combined views, those thoughts for the future, which make the life of a nation powerful and progressive." Mazzini declared that he had seen "the great and beautiful ensign of Democracy" torn, and his ideal—-"the progress of all under the leadership of the best and wisest"—shattered. . The great task to; develop and prove Democracy is the measure of our duty. By temperament, education, and environment, I believe we are fitted to- fulfil that duty. But to do so demands the best thought''arid activity of every man and woman. .If only half our'adult population realise' the responsibilities of citizenship, Democracy will probably fail, for it can only succeed and develop equitably . when its constituent parts take their, full responsibility. .To have complete self-government is not necessarily democratic rule. Without a full acceptance of the duties of "citizenship by all citizens, even the universal franchise may mean government by the most mischievous elements." Mazzini advocated' universal suffrage as "thfe starting point of political education."-. Moriey says' "Democracy w spendthrift": the reason, of .course, is that ihe units are apathetic.. If :the', electoral system, is such that' our representative institutions do. not reflect jjhe v views. of the ■ Democracy,'then again Democracy may easily.be 'almagni-i' ficent failure. And for the reason that.
Democracy does not rule.; I purpose a consideration of that question after. In a consideration, of Jthe Things That Matter I do not want our Democracy to "jest eit." ' • .-
This newspaper was digitised in partnership with Auckland Libraries.
Use these buttons to limit your searches to particular dates, titles, and more.
Print, save, zoom in and more.