Tuesday, 26 November 2013

DR. CLIFFORD ON DEMOCRACY.

DR. CLIFFORD'S colonial experience has strengthened his democratic faith and intensified his convictions as an advanced Liberal. Brought into contact with the younger life of the colonies, he has gained, he said in a recent address at Westbourne Park, some imperishable advantages. It is natural that as a Nonconformist he should have been struck with the religious freedom and equality established in these lands. When in Sydney he learned with pain and shame that the House of Commons had passed the so called Voluntary Schools Bill, but it was some solace to reflect that there is not a colony under the Southern Cross where such a measure could even have been proposed, so far have we advanced beyond England in justly ordering the relations of religious bodies to the State. He found the colonies devotedly loyal, and proud of their share in the greatness and glory of an Imperial nation, but none the less rejoicing in the autonomy they have used so well. And the development of their free institutions has enabled them to set valuable lessons to the mother country. England is a laggard. "She hugs injustices which the colonies have destroyed, and fosters intolerances they have thrown off." They breathe a freer air, and it inspires them with hope and resolution to march forward. Democratic as they are in form and in spirit, in motive and ideal, everywhere in these States the individual man, and to an increasing degree the individual woman, is rising in the scale of citizenship. No fear is entertained that democracy will fail us. It is accepted as the surest guarantee of liberty and order—the only road to justice, equality, and brother hood. Dr. Clifford says that the colonies have settled some things for England irrevocably; and amongst these he mentions the facts that no discrimination among sects is necessary in the interests of religion ; that it is the first duty of the State to secure for its younger members as full an equipment as possible for industrial, agricultural, and civic life; that sex-disability in politics may be removed without impairing the grace and charm of woman; that a humanising policy in the treatment of waifs and strays saves far more for society than "barracks" discipline; and, best of all, that the nearer a community approaches to justice in its legislative measures, and to love in its governing spirit, the greater its security, its progress, and its happiness. We are, it is true, democracies only "in the making." A perfect democracy is altruistic ; but still we move towards the ideal. The colonial defects which Dr. Clifford recognises are just such as might have been expected to impress him. He reproves the South Australian law which authorises public gambling ; he condemns the Queensland method of dealing with impurity, and the action of Cape Colony in "indenturing the natives," and so reviving under a plausible mask the old and hated slavery. But these and the like do not disturb his conviction that, on the whole, democratic principles are receiving in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand a fuller and finer application than anywhere else in the world. He lays stress, too, on the important point that, whatever faults may be chargeable against democracy, it is always criticising itself, and contains the force that will in time cast out its imperfections and mistakes.
Whether democracy be the ideal system of government or not, there cannot be a doubt that it has come to stay, and   practical wisdom suggests that we make the very best of it. Dr. Clifford's enthusiasm is all on the side of cultivating its best and noblest possibilities. He was addressing young men at Westbourne Park, and to them he appealed in trumpet tones to remember their sacred trust, and train themselves to discharge it faithfully and well. They must understand their position : they must master the facts of civic, social, and political life ; they must think for themselves, and resist every attempt to hoodwink or overrule their independent and conscientious judgment. The broad principle for guidance is clear. The welfare of the people must be placed before any private interest. The well-being of the State, not the gain of individuals, is the aim of the true patriot. Government as a civilising power must be consecrated to the service of humanity, not to the buttressing of inequality and wrong. Dr. Clifford holds that this teaching, in the abstract unimpeachable, is especially necessary in England just now, "when the fog of 'interests' thickens day by day, and we can with difficulty find our way to principles and convictions." The Tory policy, both domestic and foreign, he fiercely attacks as hopelessly in conflict with the true democratic ideal, because it is bolstering up private and national despotisms. He protests against the "bossing" of Europe to suit the views of a ruthless despotism, of London for the benefit of landlords and soulless and heartless corporations, of industry to make millionaires still richer, and of education on behalf of the priestly rule which, as Gambetta said, has at all times and everywhere been the enemy of democracies. The "Concert of Europe," judged by its results, can scarcely be applauded as an alliance in the interests of justice and freedom. It suffered a hundred thousand Armenians to be slaughtered; it doctors the "Sick Man," and for a time rehabilitates an empire of incurable rottenness and hateful tyranny; it has allowed a Christian people to be humiliated ; it still leaves Crete in suspense ; worst of all, it has allied us with military Powers, and although the crying need of the hour is reduction of armaments and relief of taxation it makes us more and more approximate to the burdensome Continental system. Here Dr. Clifford is talking as the party politician. His Liberalism evidently loathes the jingo spirit, and his view of foreign policy is somewhat infected with the intolerance of the opposite temper of mind. He detests an alliance founded, as he says, on distrust and fear, and he cannot even admit that England has gained in influence by entering the European concert. But he could hardly deny that, whatever its shortcomings, the concert has hitherto accomplished its object in keeping the peace. At the same time he strikes an inspiring note when he declares that "our safety is not in the embrace of despots, but in fellowship with the fresh and vigorous colonies of Australia, the great Dominion of Canada, and our brethren of the United States; communities built up on the principles of universal justice, freedom of conscience, and brotherhood." If the isolation of England is splendid, how much more so would be that of an Anglo-Saxon federation, hating war, promoting peace, and unselfishly devoted to human good!
Unhappily even in democracies there are despotisms, and in industrial communities cruel wars are fought though not a shot be fired. Dr. Clifford heard in Canada that she had no need to trouble about the United States; they have enough on their hands for the next 20 or 30 years with the Labor War. He regards as a fearful portent, a tragic problem, the industrial despotisms of America, so perfectly entrenched that neither Trade Union, nor Press, nor Government can touch them. The Americans solved the slavery question, though at the cost of civil war; they are solving the race problem, chiefly through the public schools. Doubtless in time they will unravel the tangle of trusts and combines, and find a way to arrange the conditions of labor and the distribution of its results with fairness to all parties. But Dr. Clifford perceives that this labor problem, acute as it is in the United States, has not merely a local bearing. He pleads that the labor movement be sympathetically viewed. For after all it is only a continuation of the long struggle upward to comfort and wellbeing for the people at large. It is the effort of the wage earning classes to their fair share of the leisure, treasure, and pleasure of life. Every upward movement is of necessity insurrectionary, and has in it the elements of war. This, as Dr. Clifford says, does not justify any particular strike, but it may at least moderate anger and vexation, and dispose us to anticipate a beneficial issue. The most cordial approval is given by him to New Zealand legislation enforcing conciliation and arbitration ; its principle is the necessary one in all war, international or industrial. And he is strongly for moralising the conditions of industry and trade. Gigantic efforts are made to control the world of business solely by what Carlyle called the "cash nexus" without humanity. The policy of treating men as machines is immoral; and it is not even economical, for you can not lower the worker and take his heart from his work, without deteriorating its quality. The present civilisation unhappily displays a lopsided development. Material progress has been disproportionate to moral and spiritual advance. The need of the time is the culture of the ethical spirit, the quickening of spiritual impulses, the regeneration of social life; and it is along this line that Dr. Clifford foresees that the Liberalism of the twentieth century must move if its mission is to be fulfilled.

 The Advertiser 15 February 1898,

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