Wednesday, 28 May 2014


Prof. L. T. Hobhouse, of London University, has an article on " The Prospects of Anglo-Saxon Democracy" in the "Atlantic Monthly."
"Both in America and England the immediate problem confronting an awakened democracy is economic in character," he says, "but it presents very different aspects in America it is essentially a problem of the control of colossal wealth which, through the political machine, and acting on the plastic material of the immigrant and the coloured vote, constantly threatens to strangle public life. "In England the freetrade system has arrested the economic tendency to monopoly, but has not sufficed to solve the problem of poverty. In fact, while America has to deal with her rich, England has to deal with her poor.
"In one sense the problem is the same, for it is that of diverting from anti-social purposes and turning to social account the immense augmentation of wealth that modern industry places in the hands of those who exercise financial control. But in England the trouble is that, from whatever cause, the mass of the working chases are unable to secure that share of the constantly increasing wealth of the nation which would enable them to respond to the fuller requirements of civilised life.
"In point of form the United Kingdom is, after a long period of stagnation, and even of reaction, again making rapid strides towards pure democracy. The attempt of the House of Lords to regain its power ended in its complete downfall. The limitation of its veto to a period of two years was a revolution which for the first time made the Commons of England really master in their own House. Yet such was the absorption of the country in industrial questions, and so generally diffused was the opinion that the veto was an anachronism, that the change went through in the end without a serious struggle and with scarcely a flutter of public opinion.
" Yet the effects of the change are being felt at once through the whole arena of political controversy. Home Rule for Ireland immediately became practical politics. "But alongside of Home Rule other democratic measures are pressing. The payment of members of the House of Commons, once held as a dream of extreme Radicalism, has become an accomplished fact, and now, in place of further tinkering with the qualifications for the ballot, the Prime Minister has announced a bill establishing what is virtually manhood suffrage for the next session. This is a measure which the House of Lords may be relied on to throw out, but under the new Constitution it will be passed into law, unless unforeseen circumstances cut short the life of the Ministry before the present Parliament is dissolved.
"It may seem to Americans that at most this is only to bring English democracy is the point at which American democracy has long stood. But there is a material difference. No American institution has powers which, either by law or custom, approach those which the British House of Commons has long enjoyed, and which are now completed by the assertion of its formal supremacy, over the House of Lords.
" A House of Commons that means to have its way can get its way, and if the democracy can control the House of Commons it will have an organ of high efficiency. It is thus, in fact, possible that within a few years the United Kingdom may become a more effective democracy than any great state, with the exception of Australia.
"This is possible. But let us glance for a moment at the forces operating on the other side. Politically more and more democratic, England remains socially a very conservative country. Class distinctions remain a very real force, which makes its mark on elections and on government. It is still difficult for new men without connections to win their way to the front. It is thought some thing of a triumph for one of the very ablest brains on the Liberal side to have gained, after three years in Parliament, the most insignificant office on the fringe of the Ministry.
"What is more serious is that the great bulk of the press is in the hands of the Conservative interests, and but for the handful of wealthy men of great public spirit, whom one may count on the fingers of one hand, there would in fact be no effective presentation in journalism of Liberal and democratic opinions. There is not in London a single penny morning paper which support either the Liberal or the Labour party. If a Liberal leader shows any weakness in the cause of his party, far from becoming an object of criticism, he at once figures as a statesman and a patriot in the mass of the papers that are read by his fellow-countrymen next day. If he is strong and determined in democratic measures, he becomes the centre of a whirlwind of newspaper denunciation. Behind the press are the more subtle influences of Society, and the Civil Service, while equally capable and honest, is in the main to be reckoned with as a permanent influence on tho Conservative side.
"Under such influences as these the political machine moves slowly, and of late there have been symptoms that a portion of the working classes, on the very eve of changes that may give them the victory, have lost faith in its efficacy.
"The two evils which press on from 30 to 50 per cent. of tho population are low wages and irregular employment. What Parliament has done, and is doing, is to mitigate certain of the consequences of these evils, as by providing for old age, by assisting in provision for sickness, and so forth. But it is not directly combating the evils themselves of we except the three or four extremely 'sweated' industries in which the minimum wage is now established by legal authority. We may fairly say that the problem of the future of democracy in England depends the possibilities of operating with success on these fundamental conditions of industry. This is what is meant by saying that the problem of England is one of poverty, whereas in the United States it is rather a problem of wealth.
"In each country this standing economic problem is crossed by certain others which in the two cases are widely different. In the United States there is the colour problem and that of the white immigrant. From the first of these we in England are free. The second, though at times figuring largely in the press, it is not in reality serious.
"On the other hand, all our domestic development goes forward under a shadow which Americans are happily unconscious. Our revenues are exhausted in military and naval preparations. The proceeds of expanding revenue flow into War Office and the Admiralty, and it is with difficulty that social reformers snatch something on the way for the purposes of old age pensions or national insurance.
"The mere machinery of democracy is nothing. It is of value only as it as it avails to express the spirit of a people; and if that spirit is set on vain things, on amassing wealth which it has not the taste or judgment to spend, on the acquisition of territory which it does not need, or on the unreal shows of military glory, then neither the ballot-box nor the party machine will help it.
"But if it cares for things of more humdrum sound but more vital meaning to combat disease at its source, to make of a city a home of beauty and comfort for the people instead of a home of dirt and din, to secure for every willing worker a fair share of the fruits of his work, and to provide out of the surplus for those who have fallen by the way, then it has a will that is worth expressing, and the forms of political democracy give it the means of realisation."

 Examiner (Launceston) 17 May 1912,

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