A Preface to Politics
Chapter 1: Routineer and Inventor
Politics does not exist for the sake of demonstrating the superior righteousness of anybody. It is not a competition in deportment. In fact, before you can begin to think about politics at all you have to abandon the notion that there is a war between good men and bad men. That is one of the great American superstitions. More than any other fetish it has ruined our sense of political values by glorifying the pharisee with his vain cruelty to individuals and his unfounded approval of himself. You have only to look at the Senate of the United States, to see how that body is capable of turning itself into a court of preliminary hearings for the Last Judgment, wasting its time and our time and absorbing public enthusiasm and newspaper scareheads. For a hundred needs of the nation it has no thought, but about the precise morality of an historical transaction eight years old there is a meticulous
(2) interest. Whether in the Presidential Campaign of 1904 Roosevelt was aware that the ancient tradition of corporate subscriptions had or had not been followed, and the exact and ultimate measure of the guilt that knowledge would have implied—this in the year 1912 is enough to start the Senate on a protracted man-hunt.
Now if one half of the people is bent upon proving how wicked a man is and the other half is determined to show how good he is, neither half will think very much about the nation. An innocent paragraph in the New York Evening Post for August 27, 1912, gives the whole performance away. It shows as clearly as words could how disastrous the good-and-bad-man theory is to political thinking:
"Provided the first hearing takes place on September 30, it is expected that the developments will be made with a view to keeping the Colonel on the defensive. After the beginning of October, it is pointed out, the evidence before the Committee should keep him so busy explaining and denying that the country will not hear much Bull Moose doctrine."
Whether you like the Roosevelt doctrines or not, there can be no two opinions about such an abuse of morality. It is a flat public loss, an-
(3) -other attempt to befuddle our thinking. For if politics is merely a guerilla war between the bribed and the unbribed, then statecraft is not a human service but a moral testing ground. It is a public amusement, a melodrama of real life, in which a few conspicuous characters are tried, and it resembles nothing so much as schoolboy hazing which we are told exists for the high purpose of detecting a "yellow streak." But even though we desired it there would be no way of establishing any clear-cut difference in politics between the angels and the imps. The angels are largely self-appointed, being somewhat more sensitive to other people's tar than their own.
But if the issue is not between honesty and dishonesty, where is it?
If you stare at a checkerboard you can see it as black on red, or red on black, as series of horizontal, vertical or diagonal steps which recede or protrude. The longer you look the more patterns you can trace, and the more certain it becomes that there is no single way of looking at the board. So with political issues. There is no obvious cleavage which everyone recognizes. Many patterns appear in the national life. The "progressives" say the issue is between "Privilege" and the "People"; the Socialists, that it is between
(4) the "working class" and the "master class." An apologist for dynamite told me once that society was divided into the weak and the strong, and there are people who draw a line between Philistia and Bohemia.
When you rise up and announce that the conflict is between this and that, you mean that this particular conflict interests you. The issue of good-and-bad-men interests this nation to the exclusion of almost all others. But experience shows, I believe, that it is a fruitless conflict and a wasting enthusiasm. Yet some distinction must be drawn if we are to act at all in politics. With nothing we are for and nothing to oppose, we are merely neutral. This cleavage in public affairs is the most important choice we are called upon to make. In large measure it determines the rest of our thinking. Now some issues are fertile; some are not. Some lead to spacious results; others are blind alleys. With this in mind I wish to suggest that the distinction most worth emphasizing to-day is between those who regard government as a routine to be administered and those who regard it as a problem to be solved.
The class of routineers is larger than the conservatives. The man who will follow precedent,
(5) but never create one, is merely an obvious example of the routineer. You find him desperately numerous in the civil service, in the official bureaus. To him government is something given as unconditionally, as absolutely as ocean or hill. He goes on winding the tape that he finds. His imagination has rarely extricated itself from under the administrative machine to gain any sense of what a human, temporary contraption the whole affair is. What he thinks is the heavens above him is nothing but the roof.
He is the slave of routine. He can boast of somewhat more spiritual cousins in the men who reverence their ancestors' independence, who feel, as it were, that a disreputable great-grandfather is necessary to a family's respectability. These are the routineers gifted with historical sense. They take their forefathers with enormous solemnity. But one mistake is rarely avoided: they imitate the old-fashioned thing their grandfather did, and ignore the originality which enabled him to do it.
If tradition were a reverent record of those crucial moments when men burst through their habits, a love of the past would not be the butt on which every sophomoric radical can practice his wit. But almost always tradition is nothing
(6) but a record and a machine-made imitation of the habits that our ancestors created. The average conservative is a slave to the most incidental and trivial part of his forefathers' glory—to the archaic formula which happened to express their genius or the eighteenth century contrivance by which for a time it was served. To reverence Washington they wear a powdered wig; they do honor to Lincoln by cultivating awkward hands and ungainly feet.
It is fascinating to watch this kind of conservative in action. From Senator Lodge, for example, we do not expect any new perception of popular need. We know that probably his deepest sincerity is an attempt to reproduce the atmosphere of the Senate a hundred years ago. The manners of Mr. Lodge have that immobility which comes from too much gazing at bad statues of dead statesmen.
Yet just because a man is in opposition to Senator Lodge there is no guarantee that he has freed himself from the routineer's habit of mind. A prejudice against some mannerism or a dislike of pretensions may merely cloak some other kind of routine. Take the "good government" attitude. No fresh insight is behind that. It does not promise anything; it does not offer to
(7) contribute new values to human life. The machine which exists is accepted in all its essentials: the "goo-goo" yearns for a somewhat smoother rotation.
Often as not the very effort to make the existing machine run more perfectly merely makes matters worse. For the tinkering reformer is frequently one of the worst of the routineers. Even machines are not altogether inflexible, and sometimes what the reformer regards as a sad deviation from the original plans is a poor rickety attempt to adapt the machine to changing conditions. Think what would have happened had we actually remained stolidly faithful to every intention of the Fathers. Think what would happen if every statute were enforced. By the sheer force of circumstances we have twisted constitutions and laws to some approximation of our needs. A changing country has managed to live in spite of a static government machine. Perhaps Bernard Shaw was right when he said that "the famous Constitution survives only because whenever any corner of it gets into the way of the accumulating dollar it is pettishly knocked off and thrown away. Every social development, however beneficial and inevitable from the public point of view, is met, not by an intelligent adapta-
(8) -tion of the social structure to its novelties but by a panic and a cry of Go Back."
I am tempted to go further and put into the same class all those radicals who wish simply to substitute some other kind of machine for the one we have. Though not all of them would accept the name, these reformers are simply utopia-makers in action. Their perceptions are more critical than the ordinary conservatives'. They do see that humanity is badly squeezed in the existing mould. They have enough imagination to conceive a different one. But they have an infinite faith in moulds. This routine they don't believe in, but they believe in their own: if you could put the country under a new "system," then human affairs would run automatically for the welfare of all. Some improvement there might be, but as almost all men are held in an iron devotion to their own creations, the routine reformers are simply working for another conservatism, and not for any continuing liberation.
The type of statesman we must oppose to the routineer is one who regards all social organization as an instrument. Systems, institutions and mechanical contrivances have for him no virtue of their own: they are valuable only when they
(9) serve the purposes of men. He uses them, of course, but with a constant sense that men have made them, that new ones can be devised, that only an effort of the will can keep machinery in its place. He has no faith whatever in automatic governments. While the routineers see machinery and precedents revolving with mankind as puppets, he puts the deliberate, conscious, willing individual at the center of his philosophy. This reversal is pregnant with a new outlook for statecraft. I hope to show that it alone can keep step with life; it alone is humanly relevant; and it alone achieves valuable results.
Call this man a political creator or a political inventor. The essential quality of him is that he makes that part of existence which has experience the master of it. He serves the ideals of human feelings, not the tendencies of mechanical things.
The difference between a phonograph and the human voice is that the phonograph must sing the song which is stamped upon it. Now there are days—I suspect the vast majority of them in most of our lives—when we grind out the thing that is stamped upon us. It may be the governing of a city, or teaching school, or running a business. We do not get out of bed in the morning because we are eager for the day; something
(10) external—we often call it our duty—throws off the bed-clothes, complains that the shaving water isn't hot, puts us into the subway and lands us at our office in season for punching the time-check. We revolve with the business for three or four hours, signing letters, answering telephones, checking up lists, and perhaps towards twelve o'clock the prospect of lunch puts a touch of romance upon life. Then because our days are so unutterably the same, we turn to the newspapers, we go to the magazines and read only the "stuff with punch," we seek out a "show" and drive serious playwrights into the poorhouse. "You can go through contemporary life," writes Wells, "fudging and evading, indulging and slacking, never really hungry nor frightened nor passionately stirred, your highest moment a mere sentimental orgasm, and your first real contact with primary and elementary necessities the sweat of your death-bed."
The world grinds on: we are a fly on the wheel. That sense of an impersonal machine going on with endless reiteration is an experience that imaginative politicians face. Often as not they disguise it under heroic phrases and still louder affirmation, just as most of us hide our cowardly submission to monotony under some word like
(11) duty, loyalty, conscience. If you have ever been an office-holder or been close to officials, you must surely have been appalled by the grim way in which committee-meetings, verbose reports, flamboyant speeches, requests, and delegations hold the statesman in a mind-destroying grasp. Perhaps this is the reason why it has been necessary to retire Theodore Roosevelt from public life every now and then in order to give him a chance to learn something new. Every statesman like every professor should have his sabbatical year.
The revolt against the service of our own mechanical habits is well known to anyone who has followed modern thought. As a sharp example one might point to Thomas Davidson, whom William James called "individualist à outrance".... "Reprehending (mildly) a certain chapter of my own on 'Habit,' he said that it was a fixed rule with him to form no regular habits. When he found himself in danger of settling into even a good one, he made a point of interrupting it."
Such men are the sparkling streams that flow through the dusty stretches of a nation. They invigorate and emphasize those times in your own life when each day is new. Then you are alive, then you drive the world before
(12) you. The business, however difficult, shapes itself to your effort; you seem to manage detail with an inferior part of yourself, while the real soul of you is active, planning, light. "I wanted thought like an edge of steel and desire like a flame." Eager with sympathy, you and your work are reflected from many angles. You have become luminous.
Some people are predominantly eager and wilful. The world does not huddle and bend them to a task. They are not, as we say, creatures of environment, but creators of it. Of other people's environment they become the most active part—the part which sets the fashion. What they initiate, others imitate. Theirs is a kind of intrinsic prestige. These are the natural leaders of men, whether it be as head of the gang or as founder of a religion.
It is, I believe, this power of being aggressively active towards the world which gives man a miraculous assurance that the world is something he can make. In creative moments men always draw upon "some secret spring of certainty, some fundamental well into which no disturbing glimmers penetrate." But this is no slack philosophy, for the chance is denied by which we can lie back upon the perfection of some mechanical con-
(13) -trivance. Yet in the light of it government becomes alert to a process of continual creation, an unceasing invention of forms to meet constantly changing needs.
This philosophy is not only difficult to practice: it is elusive when you come to state it. For our political language was made to express a routine conception of government. It comes to us from the Eighteenth Century. And no matter how much we talk about the infusion of the "evolutionary" point of view into all of modern thought, when the test is made political practice shows itself almost virgin to the idea. Our theories assume, and our language is fitted to thinking of government as a frame—Massachusetts, I believe, actually calls her fundamental law the Frame of Government. We picture political institutions as mechanically constructed contrivances within which the nation's life is contained and compelled to approximate some abstract idea of justice or liberty. These frames have very little elasticity, and we take it as an historical commonplace that sooner or later a revolution must come to burst the frame apart. Then a new one is constructed.
Our own Federal Constitution is a striking example of this machine conception of government.
(14) It is probably the most important instance we have of the deliberate application of a mechanical philosophy to human affairs. Leaving out all question of the Fathers' ideals, looking simply at the bias which directed their thinking, is there in all the world a more plain-spoken attempt to contrive an automatic governor—a machine which would preserve its balance without the need of taking human nature into account? What other explanation is there for the naïve faith of the Fathers in the "symmetry" of executive, legislature, and judiciary; in the fantastic attempts to circumvent human folly by balancing it with vetoes and checks? No insight into the evident fact that power upsets all mechanical foresight and gravitates toward the natural leaders seems to have illuminated those historic deliberations. The Fathers had a rather pale god, they had only a speaking acquaintance with humanity, so they put their faith in a scaffold, and it has been part of our national piety to pretend that they succeeded.
They worked with the philosophy of their age. Living in the Eighteenth Century, they thought in the images of Newton and Montesquieu. "The Government of the United States," writes Woodrow Wilson, "was constructed upon the
(15) Whig theory of political dynamics, which was a sort of unconscious copy of the Newtonian theory of the universe.... As Montesquieu pointed out to them (the English Whigs) in his lucid way, they had sought to balance executive, legislative and judiciary off against one another by a series of checks and counterpoises, which Newton might readily have recognized as suggestive of the mechanism of the heavens." No doubt this automatic and balanced theory of government suited admirably that distrust of the people which seems to have been a dominant feeling among the Fathers. For they were the conservatives of their day: between '76 and '89 they had gone the usual way of opportunist radicals. But had they written the Constitution in the fire of their youth, they might have made it more democratic,—I doubt whether they would have made it less mechanical. The rebellious spirit of Tom Paine expressed itself in logical formulæ as inflexible to the pace of life as did the more contented Hamilton's. This is a determinant which burrows beneath our ordinary classification of progressive and reactionary to the spiritual habits of a period.
If you look into the early utopias of Fourier and Saint-Simon, or better still into the early
(16) trade unions, this same faith that a government can be made to work mechanically is predominant everywhere. All the devices of rotation in office, short terms, undelegated authority are simply attempts to defeat the half-perceived fact that power will not long stay diffused. It is characteristic of these primitive democracies that they worship Man and distrust men. They cling to some arrangement, hoping against experience that a government freed from human nature will automatically produce human benefits. To-day within the Socialist Party there is perhaps the greatest surviving example of the desire to offset natural leadership by artificial contrivance. It is an article of faith among orthodox socialists that personalities do not count, and I sincerely believe I am not exaggerating the case when I say that their ideal of government is like Gordon Craig's ideal of the theater—the acting is to be done by a row of supermarionettes. There is a myth among socialists to which all are expected to subscribe, that initiative springs anonymously out of the mass of the people,—that there are no "leaders," that the conspicuous figures are no more influential than the figurehead on the prow of a ship.
This is one of the paradoxes of the demo-
(17) -cratic movement—that it loves a crowd and fears the individuals who compose it—that the religion of humanity should have had no faith in human beings. Jealous of all individuals, democracies have turned to machines. They have tried to blot out human prestige, to minimize the influence of personality. That there is historical justification for this fear is plain enough. To put it briefly, democracy is afraid of the tyrant. That explains, but does not justify. Governments have to be carried on by men, however much we distrust them. Nobody has yet invented a mechanically beneficent sovereign.
Democracy has put an unfounded faith in automatic contrivances. Because it left personality out of its speculation, it rested in the empty faith that it had excluded it from reality. But in the actual stress of life these frictions do not survive ten minutes. Public officials do not become political marionettes, though people pretend that they are. When theory runs against the grain of living forces, the result is a deceptive theory of politics. If the real government of the United States "had, in fact," as Woodrow Wilson says, "been a machine governed by mechanically automatic balances, it would have had no history; but it was not, and its history has been rich with the
(18) influence and personalities of the men who have conducted it and made it a living reality." Only by violating the very spirit of the constitution have we been able to preserve the letter of it. For behind that balanced plan there grew up what Senator Beveridge has called so brilliantly the "invisible government," an empire of natural groups about natural leaders. Parties are such groups: they have had a power out of all proportion to the intentions of the Fathers. Behind the parties has grown up the "political machine"—falsely called a machine, the very opposite of one in fact, a natural sovereignty, I believe. The really rigid and mechanical thing is the charter behind which Tammany works. For Tammany is the real government that has defeated a mechanical foresight. Tammany is not a freak, a strange and monstrous excrescence. Its structure and the laws of its life are, I believe, typical of all real sovereignties. You can find Tammany duplicated wherever there is a social group to be governed—in trade unions, in clubs, in boys' gangs, in the Four Hundred, in the Socialist Party. It is an accretion of power around a center of influence, cemented by patronage, graft, favors, friendship, loyalties, habits,—a human grouping, a natural pyramid.
Only recently have we begun to see that the "political ring" is not something confined to public life. It was Lincoln Steffens, I believe, who first perceived that fact. For a time it was my privilege to work under him on an investigation of the "Money Power." The leading idea was different from customary "muckraking." We were looking not for the evils of Big Business, but for its anatomy. Mr. Steffens came to the subject with a first-hand knowledge of politics. He knew the "invisible government" of cities, states, and the nation. He knew how the boss worked, how he organized his power. When Mr. Steffens approached the vast confusion and complication of big business, he needed some hypothesis to guide him through that maze of facts. He made a bold and brilliant guess, an hypothesis. To govern a life insurance company, Mr. Steffens argued, was just as much "government" as to run a city. What if political methods existed in the realm of business? The investigation was never carried through completely, but we did study the methods by which several life and fire insurance companies, banks, two or three railroads, and several industrials are controlled. We found that the anatomy of Big Business was strikingly like that of Tammany
(20) Hall: the same pyramiding of influence, the same tendency of power to center on individuals who did not necessarily sit in the official seats, the same effort of human organization to grow independently of legal arrangements. Thus in the life insurance companies, and the Hughes investigation supports this, the real power was held not by the president, not by the voters or policy-holders, but by men who were not even directors. After a while we took it as a matter of course that the head of a company was an administrative dummy, with a dependence on unofficial power similar to that of Governor Dix on Boss Murphy. That seems to be typical of the whole economic life of this country. It is controlled by groups of men whose influence extends like a web to smaller, tributary groups, cutting across all official boundaries and designations, making short work of all legal formulæ, and exercising sovereignty regardless of the little fences we erect to keep it in bounds.
A glimpse into the labor world revealed very much the same condition. The boss, and the bosslet, the heeler—the men who are "it"—all are there exercising the real power, the power that independently of charters and elections decides what shall happen. I don't wish to have
(21) this regarded as necessarily malign. It seems so now because we put our faith in the ideal arrangements which it disturbs. But if we could come to face it squarely—to see that that is what sovereignty is—that if we are to use human power for human purposes we must turn to the realities of it, then we shall have gone far towards leaving behind us the futile hopes of mechanical perfection so constantly blasted by natural facts.
The invisible government is malign. But the evil doesn't come from the fact that it plays horse with the Newtonian theory of the constitution. What is dangerous about it is that we do not see it, cannot use it, and are compelled to submit to it. The nature of political power we shall not change. If that is the way human societies organize sovereignty, the sooner we face that fact the better. For the object of democracy is not to imitate the rhythm of the stars but to harness political power to the nation's need. If corporations and governments have indeed gone on a joy ride the business of reform is not to set up fences, Sherman Acts and injunctions into which they can bump, but to take the wheel and to steer.
The corruption of which we hear so much is certainly not accounted for when you have called
(22) it dishonesty. It is too widespread for any such glib explanation. When you see how business controls politics, it certainly is not very illuminating to call the successful business men of a nation criminals. Yet I suppose that all of them violate the law. May not this constant dodging or hurdling of statutes be a sign that there is something the matter with the statutes? Is it not possible that graft is the cracking and bursting of the receptacles in which we have tried to constrain the business of this country? It seems possible that business has had to control politics because its laws were so stupidly obstructive. In the trust agitation this is especially plausible. For there is every reason to believe that concentration is a world-wide tendency, made possible at first by mechanical inventions, fostered by the disastrous experiences of competition, and accepted by business men through contagion and imitation. Certainly the trusts increase. Wherever politics is rigid and hostile to that tendency, there is irritation and struggle, but the agglomeration goes on. Hindered by political conditions, the process becomes secretive and morbid. The trust is not checked, but it is perverted. In 1910 the "American Banker" estimated that there were 1,198 corporations with 8,110 subsidiaries liable to all
(23) the penalties of the Sherman Act. Now this concentration must represent a profound impetus in the business world—an impetus which certainly cannot be obliterated, even if anyone were foolish enough to wish it. I venture to suggest that much of what is called "corruption" is the odor of a decaying political system done to death by an economic growth.
It is our desperate adherence to an old method that has produced the confusion of political life. Because we have insisted upon looking at government as a frame and governing as a routine, because in short we have been static in our theories, politics has such an unreal relation to actual conditions. Feckless—that is what our politics is. It is literally eccentric: it has been centered mechanically instead of vitally. We have, it seems, been seduced by a fictitious analogy: we have hoped for machine regularity when we needed human initiative and leadership, when life was crying that its inventive abilities should be freed.
Roosevelt in his term did much to center government truly. For a time natural leadership and nominal position coincided, and the administration became in a measure a real sovereignty. The routine conception dwindled, and the Roosevelt appointees went at issues as problems to be
(24) solved. They may have been mistaken: Roosevelt may be uncritical in his judgments. But the fact remains that the Roosevelt régime gave a new prestige to the Presidency by effecting through it the greatest release of political invention in a generation. Contrast it with the Taft administration, and the quality is set in relief. Taft was the perfect routineer trying to run government as automatically as possible. His sincerity consisted in utter respect for form: he denied himself whatever leadership he was capable of, and outwardly at least he tried to "balance" the government. His greatest passions seem to be purely administrative and legal. The people did not like it. They said it was dead. They were right. They had grown accustomed to a humanly liberating atmosphere in which formality was an instrument instead of an idol. They had seen the Roosevelt influence adding to the resources of life—irrigation, and waterways, conservation, the Panama Canal, the "country life" movement. They knew these things were achieved through initiative that burst through formal restrictions, and they applauded wildly. It was only a taste, but it was a taste, a taste of what government might be like.
The opposition was instructive. Apart from
(25) those who feared Roosevelt for selfish reasons, his enemies were men who loved an orderly adherence to traditional methods. They shivered in the emotional gale; they obstructed and the gale became destructive. They felt that, along with obviously good things, this sudden national fertility might breed a monster—that a leadership like Roosevelt's might indeed prove dangerous, as giving birth may lead to death.
What the methodically-minded do not see is that the sterility of a routine is far more appalling. Not everyone may feel that to push out into the untried, and take risks for big prizes, is worth while. Men will tell you that government has no business to undertake an adventure, to make experiments. They think that safety lies in repetition, that if you do nothing, nothing will be done to you. It's a mistake due to poverty of imagination and inability to learn from experience. Even the timidest soul dare not "stand pat." The indictment against mere routine in government is a staggering one.
For while statesmen are pottering along doing the same thing year in, year out, putting up the tariff one year and down the next, passing appropriation bills and recodifying laws, the real forces in the country do not stand still. Vast changes,
(26) economic and psychological, take place, and these changes demand new guidance. But the routineers are always unprepared. It has become one of the grim trade jokes of innovators that the one thing you can count upon is that the rulers will come to think that they are the apex of human development. For a queer effect of responsibility on men is that it makes them try to be as much like machines as possible. Tammany itself becomes rigid when it is too successful, and only defeat seems to give it new life. Success makes men rigid and they tend to exalt stability over all the other virtues; tired of the effort of willing they become fanatics about conservatism. But conditions change whether statesmen wish them to or not; society must have new institutions to fit new wants, and all that rigid conservatism can do is to make the transitions difficult. Violent revolutions may be charged up to the unreadiness of statesmen. It is because they will not see, or cannot see, that feudalism is dead, that chattel slavery is antiquated; it is because they have not the wisdom and the audacity to anticipate these great social changes; it is because they insist upon standing pat that we have French Revolutions and Civil Wars.
But statesmen who had decided that at last
(27) men were to be the masters of their own history, instead of its victims, would face politics in a truly revolutionary manner. It would give a new outlook to statesmanship, turning it from the mere preservation of order, the administration of political machinery and the guarding of ancient privilege to the invention of new political forms, the prevision of social wants, and the preparation for new economic growths.
Such a statesmanship would in the '80's have prepared for the trust movement. There would have been nothing miraculous in such foresight. Standard Oil was dominant by the beginning of the '80's, and concentration had begun in sugar, steel and other basic industries. Here was an economic tendency of revolutionary significance—the organization of business in a way that was bound to change the outlook of a whole nation. It had vast potentialities for good and evil—all it wanted was harnessing and directing. But the new thing did not fit into the little outlines and verbosities which served as a philosophy for our political hacks. So they gaped at it and let it run wild, called it names, and threw stones at it. And by that time the force was too big for them. An alert statesmanship would have facilitated the process of concentration; would have made pro-
(28) -vision for those who were cast aside; would have been an ally of trust building, and by that very fact it would have had an internal grip on the trust—it would have kept the trust's inner workings public; it could have bent the trust to social uses.
This is not mere wisdom after the event. In the '80's there were hundreds of thousands of people in the world who understood that the trust was a natural economic growth. Karl Marx had proclaimed it some thirty years before, and it was a widely circulated idea. Is it asking too much of a statesman if we expect him to know political theory and to balance it with the facts he sees? By the '90's surely, the egregious folly of a Sherman Anti-Trust Law should have been evident to any man who pretended to political leadership. Yet here it is the year 1912 and that monument of economic ignorance and superstition is still worshiped with the lips by two out of the three big national parties.
Another movement—like that of the trust—is gathering strength to-day. It is the unification of wage-workers. We stand in relation to it as the men of the '80's did to the trusts. It is the complement of that problem. It also has vast potentialities for good and evil. It, too, demands
(29) understanding and direction. It, too, will not be stopped by hard names or injunctions.
What we loosely call "syndicalism" is a tendency that no statesman can overlook to-day without earning the jeers of his children. This labor movement has a destructive and constructive energy within it. On its beneficent side it promises a new professional interest in work, self-education, and the co-operative management of industry. But this creative power is constantly choked off because the unions are compelled to fight for their lives—the more opposition they meet the more you are likely to see of sabotage, direct action, the grève perlée—the less chance there is for the educative forces to show themselves. Then, the more violent syndicalism proves itself to be, the more hysterically we bait it in the usual vicious circle of ignorance.
But who amongst us is optimistic enough to hope that the men who sit in the mighty positions are going to make a better show of themselves than their predecessors did over the trust problem? It strains hope a little too much. Those men in Washington, most of them lawyers, are so educated that they are practically incapable of meeting a new condition. All their training plus all their natural ossification of mind is hostile to
(30) invention. You cannot endow even the best machine with initiative; the jolliest steam-roller will not plant flowers.
The thought-processes in Washington are too lumbering for the needs of this nation. Against that evil muckraking ought to be directed. Those senators and representatives are largely irrelevant; they are not concerned with realities. Their dishonesties are comparatively insignificant. The scorn of the public should be turned upon the emptiness of political thought, upon the fact that those men seem without even a conception of the nation's needs. And while they maunder along they stifle the forces of life which are trying to break through. It was nothing but the insolence of the routineer that forced Gifford Pinchot out of the Forest Service. Pinchot in respect to his subject was a fine political inventor. But routine forced him out—into what?—into the moil and toil of fighting for offices, and there he has cut a poor figure indeed. You may say that he has had to spend his energy trying to find a chance to use his power. What a wanton waste of talent is that for a civilized nation! Wiley is another case of the creative mind harassed by the routineers. Judge Lindsey is another—a fine, constructive children's judge compelled to be a politician. And
(31) of our misuse of the Rockefellers and Carnegies—the retrospect is appalling. Here was industrial genius unquestionably beyond the ordinary. What did this nation do with it? It found no public use for talent. It left that to operate in darkness—then opinion rose in an empty fury, made an outlaw of one and a platitudinous philanthropist of the other. It could lynch one as a moral monster, when as a matter of fact his ideals were commonplace; it could proclaim one a great benefactor when in truth he was a rather dull old gentleman. Abused out of all reason or praised irrelevantly—the one thing this nation has not been able to do with these men is to use their genius. It is this life-sapping quality of our politics that should be fought—its wanton waste of the initiatives we have—its stupid indifference.
We need a new sense of political values. These times require a different order of thinking. We cannot expect to meet our problems with a few inherited ideas, uncriticised assumptions, a foggy vocabulary, and a machine philosophy. Our political thinking needs the infusion of contemporary insights. The enormous vitality that is regenerating other interests can be brought into the service of politics. Our primary care must be to keep the habits of the mind flexible and
(32) adapted to the movement of real life. The only way to control our destiny is to work with it. In politics, at least, we stoop to conquer. There is no use, no heroism, in butting against the inevitable, yet nothing is entirely inevitable. There is always some choice, some opportunity for human direction.
It is not easy. It is far easier to treat life as if it were dead, men as if they were dolls. It is everlastingly difficult to keep the mind flexible and alert. The rule of thumb is not here. To follow the pace of living requires enormous vigilance and sympathy. No one can write conclusively about it. Compared with this creative statesmanship, the administering of a routine or the battle for a platitude is a very simple affair. But genuine politics is not an inhuman task. Part of the genuineness is its unpretentious humanity. I am not creating the figure of an ideal statesman out of some inner fancy. That is just the deepest error of our political thinking—to talk of politics without reference to human beings. The creative men appear in public life in spite of the cold blanket the politicians throw over them. Really statesmanlike things are done, inventions are made. But this real achievement comes to us confused, mixed with much that is contradictory.
(33) Political inventors are to-day largely unconscious of their purpose, and, so, defenceless against the distraction of their routineer enemies.
Lacking a philosophy they are defenceless against their own inner tendency to sink into repetition. As a witty Frenchman remarked, many geniuses become their own disciples. This is true when the attention is slack, and effort has lost its direction. We have elaborate governmental mechanisms—like the tariff, for example, which we go on making more "scientific" year in, year out—having long since lost sight of their human purpose. They may be defeating the very ends they were meant to serve. We cling to constitutions out of "loyalty." We trudge in the treadmill and call it love of our ancient institutions. We emulate the mule, that greatest of all routineers.