Flurscheim – Democracy

from Michael Flürscheim
Clue to the Economic Labyrinth

Chapter X – Democracy

The Plea against Democracy

Democracy is violently attacked by those whose comfortable seats on the back of the people are in danger of being lost through any unruliness on the part of the poor beast of burden. This is only natural, though not reasonable; for any clearheaded observer must become aware that the penetration of education into the lowest strata of the population can only end in one inevitable result: the demand for equal rights. Also, that not much time will elapse between the moment when this demand is made by the long-suffering, and the occurrence of one of those terrible upheavals of the comfortable resting-places whereon the upper classes are so complacently philosophising—of which history gives innumerable accounts. Now, all riders know very well that it is much pleasanter to get down from an unruly horse while it is quietly standing still than to wait until it is most disagreeably rearing and plunging.

Foolish as the stolid passivity of the governing classes may be, we can understand it. The riding business has been going on for so many thousand years, the habit of beholding the world from the backs of the oppressed masses has become so inveterate, that the idea of getting down is entirely superseded by schemes of better bridles and spurs. If such people declaim against universal suffrage and other conquests of democracy, we need not be surprised; but the case is slightly different when some of the highest intelligences are found in the same camp: when a Carlyle, with his Niaraga, and After, or a Huxley, are among the enemies of democratic rule.

I quote from an article contributed to the Nineteenth Century April, 1890, in which I defend the theories of Henry George against an attack of Professor Huxley which had appeared in a previous number of the magazine[1]. Only the introduction refers to the subject in hand.

“In the January number of this review, Professor T. H. Huxley contributes an article, ‘On the Natural Inequality of Men,’ in which he attacks J. J. Rousseau, and the declaration of the rights of man, in so far as they declare man to be born free and equal. As long as Professor Huxley confines himself to the special department of knowledge, to the domain of biology, in which he is of a world-known celebrity, he remains master of the field. His proofs that man is born neither free nor equal are irrefutable.

“It is true that a child is a helpless slave when it begins its career in this world, and it cannot be denied that even the children of the same family are by no means equal in their capacities and characters. ‘Some are more powerful and honoured than the rest, and make themselves easily obeyed.’

“So far all right; but the moment Mr. Huxley begins to draw political conclusions from these facts I am no more with him. He brings nothing new when he launches his arrows against universal suffrage, pointed with the argument that only the capable ought to govern. Even the simile he employs is borrowed from that of Carlyle, in which that great writer declares his opinion of the infeasibility of a ship getting round Cape Horn by calling the crew together and taking a majority vote as to the direction to take, instead of having the competent officers decide it by means of their instruments. If a real ship cannot be kept off the rocks by such means, how is the ship of State, with its much more complicated course, to be protected from the dangers besetting it from all sides, if numbers and not competency are to decide its direction?

“Alas! it is an old, old question, as old as the world, this question of government given to strength and capacity, instead of being the outcome of majority votes. Hero-worship v. popular rights— all the world’s history is nothing but an infinite series of variations upon this theme.

” ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating,’ says an English proverb. If we apply this old and simple method to the working of the principles in question, we come to a result quite the reverse of the one anticipated by Mr. Huxley. The tyranny and bad government of ages stands arrayed against the system of governing the masses by the classes, for this is what hero-worship will come to in the end. Even heroes are poor human beings, full of human failings, among which vulnerability to the effects of flattery and adulation stands foremost. The foul emanation of these swamps will finally create a mist around the most pure and upright, through which the sun of truth will find it harder and harder to penetrate. The uneducated commonsense of the poor clown finally will see in a clearer light the real purport of the most momentous questions touching the public weal than our poor despot in the midst of the haze by which he is surrounded.

“But this is not the worst by any means. As long as the real hero lives, things may work tolerably well; but he is subject to another incurable failing, that of being mortal. Who is to be his successor? We cannot get him elected by the popular vote, for that would be having the crew take a part in the guidance of the ship, which is just the thing to be avoided. The hero himself, or the wise ones appointed by him, will attend to it. They did so since untold ages. What was the result? Have they always picked out the wisest? Have they, has he, governed for the welfare of the people? Emphatically, history answers ‘No’ in the overwhelming majority of cases. The frailty of our poor human nature brings it about that irresponsible governors and legislators will first think of their own interest before they give way to any other consideration. The final result of aristocratic rule always has been, always must be, that the governing minority will enslave the powerless majority, will make it give up to them the land and the best of its fruits; will make them do all the work for their superiors, who finally believe themselves of a higher blood, born with special privileges, entitled to the right of spending their lives in laziness, and having the masses support them by their labour. Labour becomes a taint; graceful loafing the badge of gentility. Most of the governing done, by them is to conserve and, if possible, increase the privileges they enjoy. Commons are enclosed without any regard to the rights of commoners; wars are waged in the interest of the governing classes, whereas its charges are borne by the people. No, no, Messrs. Carlyle and Huxley, that kind of governing the ship of State has not proved a success! It may be that the crew will not always pick out the best man to take the rudder, but certain it is that the monopoly of steering given to a privileged minority has mostly failed to bring out the best man. And who would blame the poor slaves in the hold of a slave-dhow that they think it better for them if they can get the mastery of the vessel, even though they know that they have not got the captain’s science and experience of steering? It is true that he would be much more likely to bring the ship safely into port than they in their inexperience; but what kind of port is it he brings them to? The slave-market, the place where they are to be sold like cattle to hard and inhuman masters. Do we blame them if they do not care much for the arrival in such a port, and that they rather run their chances of getting into any other place, be it even a desert island or of meeting death in the waves of the ocean?

“There is only one clear course marked out for a man loving his brethren and mindful of their real good: that is for him to give them the full power over their own destinies, and to work with all his might that they may get sufficient instruction to use this power. Nobody ever learnt how to swim without going into the water, and if we want a crew to know how to steer a ship we must give them a chance to learn it; not by jealously keeping them away from the rudder, but by letting them steer and standing by showing them how to do it. Instruct the people, and cease to be afraid of their ignorance if you succeed. Success is impossible, however, unless you look to something else first, and that is their being sufficiently fed, clothed, and housed, for there is no way of getting knowledge into starved brains. And this brings me to the main question, to which Mr. Huxley gets in the course of his article, that of land ownership; for there is no possible chance of ever really improving the people’s social position without first righting this fundamental question.”


Though economic liberty is unattainable without political liberty, political liberty is a mockery without economic liberty. This has been fully recognised by a Conference at Buffalo, State of New York, in July, 1899, attended by nearly 900 delegates. The following is an extract from an address to the people drawn up mainly by Professor Herron, and which was adopted by the Conference:

“We would urgently emphasise our belief that the militarism which menaces us as a people is but the offspring and incident of the greater menace of plutocracy, which has established monopoly government in the place of government by the people.

Monopoly rule is intrenched in every branch of national, state, and municipal government. By economic force based upon special privileges in law and natural resources, upon indirect taxation and consequent limited competition, monopoly is centralising the wealth of the nation in the hands of enormous trusts which are becoming irresponsible economic despotisms; which are using legislation, the judiciary and all the functions of government, as the mere instruments of private property; and which are reducing the entire people to economic serfdom or enforced wage-slavery.

Political liberty is a mockery without economic liberty. No man is in any sense free, either in practice, or religion, or science, so long as he is in enforced dependence upon some other man for the opportunity to earn his livelihood. No individual or political rights are secure without security and equality of economic opportunity. Equality before law and institutions must be based upon equality of opportunity and access to the resources which the common Father gave to all people in common. If the State permits a few men to own the earth, then these few own the rights, liberties, and moral well-being of the people who must live upon the earth. Even the further extension of the suffrage, so as to grant political citizenship to women, which extension we urge and advocate, will avail little or nothing without economic freedom to all.

We therefore make urgent appeal to the people to co-operate with us in the institution of such movements, and the support of such men as shall propose a social political programme.”

The important relationship existing between political and economic liberty is my justification for devoting one chapter to politics in a book exclusively concerned with economic questions.

I begin with the foundation:

The Suffrage.

After what I said in my reply to Professor Huxley, I need not add that I am for the widest extension of the suffrage. I cannot even advocate an education test, except perhaps for immigrants, for whom also a certain probation time may be demanded, perhaps of five years, as in the United States; or less, if an examination proves that the immigrant possesses a certain education, and that he understands the language of the country. Anyhow, I am against any test for the native citizen, because it would supply a motive to the governing classes to keep education back, and so to limit the vote; while the very dangers connected with the grant of political power to the ignorant must form a strong inducement for those who have most to lose to supply a good education to the masses. I am also for an extension of the active and passive vote to woman. That in most cases the married or betrothed man thus obtains a double vote cannot be looked at as an inconvenience; for after social reform has been attained every man can marry, and ought to do so. Accordingly, the relative disfranchisement of bachelors can scarcely be looked at as a just grievance. I should not even object against the proposal to grant an extra vote for every two children who have not yet obtained the franchise, and whose interests in the State father and mother represent, at least until the time of


may some day have come, a time which the triumph of a fundamental social reform will relate to the distant future. Wherever this reform is attained, the State has every interest to promote an increase of population. Those who have read so far need not be told that a real over-population exists in no part of the world. What we call so is nothing but the effect of conditions which prevent production from keeping abreast of productive power. There is no need of referring to regions like that drained by the Amazon, where enough food could be grown to sustain the whole human race; for by the application of an intensive system of agriculture even the most thickly peopled countries could maintain much larger populations, even if they had to grow their own food. But this will be unnecessary as long as the exchange of the products of industry against those of the soil can go on un-trammelled between the different countries. Our New Zealand could certainly maintain fifty persons where one lives at the present time, and thus would not only become richer in the totality of her wealth, but also per head of population, as the productive power of man grows through improved division of labour—anyhow, until certain limits are reached which we need not expect to attain for centuries to come. It will then be time enough to discuss Neo-Malthusianism.

Property Qualification

Increased voting power given to fathers of families would certainly be more justifiable than that given to property, as in Great Britain and Belgium. The property vote is a last remnant of those old times when the conqueror took the land and made the former owners slaves, or at least denied them the right to participate in the government of the State, on the ground that landless men are not free men. The premise is correct—as Chapter II. has shown—but the conclusion is a little misplaced in the mouth of those who themselves, or whose predecessors, helped to make the people landless. We can hardly sympathise with the robber who first takes a man’s property and then disfranchises him, on the ground that a man who has no property has no stake in the country. If we substitute “town” for “country” we can hear such arguments even in our democratic New Zealand when the municipal franchise question is discussed. The honourable gentlemen who, on similar grounds, persist in refusing this franchise to those who pay no rates, are not aware how they heap insult upon injury. Not satisfied with first monopolising the people’s land, they then want to disfranchise the landless man, because he has been deprived of his rights in the common land. Land restoration will for ever silence such impudence. Nobody will then dream of withholding the franchise from the landlord, the people, while giving it only to the tenants, to those who leased the land from the people. Giving to property, or to knowledge, the exclusive franchise, is simply the perpetuation of the old device of the monopolist desirous of keeping the people under his dominion. He claims the government for the learned, and uses his power to perpetuate the ignorance of the masses. He demands the exclusive power for the man of property, to enable him to keep the others out of their property. It is like enslaving free men, and then proclaiming their slavery as a ground for the refusal of all means towards regaining their freedom.

That a property qualification is not only unjustifiable but absolutely grotesque has been shown by Benjamin Franklin’s well-known query: “You attach the franchise to the possession of $100, and as I own an ass worth that amount, I am a voter; but to-morrow my ass dies, and I am disfranchised. Now who has been a voter: the ass or I?”

Voting: Systems

It is not enough to allow every citizen a vote; it is also essential that this vote should be made effective. Every voter ought to be represented in the Government of the nation as fully as every other. I need not say that this is not the case in most countries—in our New Zealand less than in monarchic Germany—for we even have not got the

Second Ballot.

With us a relative majority still elects a candidate, though the absolute majority may have voted against him. If the Conservative candidate has 2,000 votes, the Liberal one 1,900, while the Prohibitionist polled 1,500, the Conservative is declared elected, though the 3,400 voters on the other side may be violently opposed to him. In Germany, in such a case, where none of the candidates has an absolute majority, a second ballot would be called between the two candidates who polled most heavily—in the above case, between the Conservative and Liberal candidates. As the Prohibitionists’ would, in all likelihood, have more confidence in the Liberal than in the defender of vested rights to which licenses belong, their votes would swell those given for the Liberal candidate to 3,400, so that he would beat the 2,000 Conservative votes.[2] Thus a totally different result would follow through a more rational system. That even such a simple reform has not yet been carried in this country is easily explained by the greater chances which the crude old method gives to the domination of party leaders. Their machine is the strongest, and holds the votes best together, while the antagonists are much more likely to split into fractions. Thus a well-united minority vote ensures a continuance of power, though the great majority of the country may be irreconcilably opposed to the governing party. In a similar manner a few individuals, or one man, may obtain the lead in the party caucus where the nominations of the candidates are made, which often intensifies the dominion of one party into that of one man. Under such circumstances, we can hardly expect that one man to be very eager for a more democratic ballot system.

Direct and Indirect Election

The power of the caucus was recognised long since, and the indirect vote was tried to overcome it. It was seen that, as a rule, only the regular party candidates have a chance of success, and that splitting of votes—especially where there is no second ballot—usually results in the election of an antagonist. Choosing between two evils, the people prefer the lesser: the man of their own party whom they do not like, to the candidate of the other whom they detest. Thus, gradually, a little set of self-appointed men, called party bosses, have become the electors of the people’s representatives. I purposely say “electors,” for the man whom they nominate is practically elected if their party is in the ascendant. The idea naturally arose that, if there is to be a caucus, it is better to have the whole people participate in its composition than to give this power to the bosses, to the professional politicians—which resulted in the indirect election system. It is this system on which the election of the President of the United States issupposed to take place, The people elect a committee, which has the power to elect the President. This would have been a perfect method if the direct and indirect systems had been united; if the appointed electors, called primary electors, had merely to nominate a candidate, or better yet, candidates—a majority and a minority candidate. This was omitted, probably on the consideration that it would only prove a useless complication, as the candidate who receives the majority of the delegates’ votes is most likely to also possess the confidence of the majority of the people who elected the delegates. The result of this intended economy of power was simply to effect what the system tried to avoid—the delegation of the nomination to another committee, the caucus, consisting of the appointees of political clubs, mostly composed of politicians, or, anyhow, of self-appointed men, not emanating from universal suffrage, nor in any other way holding a mandate of the people at large. Furthermore, the entire effacement of the official delegates, who are mere puppets ordered to register the mandates of the electors who sent them, not even knowing the names of the delegates before they went to the poll, and were told that Jones is a M’Kinley delegate, while Hobson has to vote for Bryan. Up to that moment they only knew that they were going to vote for M’Kinley or Bryan. The self-elected caucus has in this way taken the place of the delegates of the people, leaving to the people only the choice between parties, but not between men, which enables the politicians to put in their ready tools. The remedy would be to make the official delegates the caucus, and to let|the people vote on the candidates these delegates have selected; but it is questionable whether it is not too late in the day to make such a change, as probably the power of precedent and habit would continue to make the delegates the mere mandatories of the caucus, just as the candidates for Congress, or for the Legislatures of the States have become. There is a far better way out of the hands of politicians and bosses, a way which offers other important advantages, and that is the introduction of

The Proportional or Effective Vote.

Before entering into the description of the system, we have to cast a look at the un-proportionality of the present method of voting, at its ineffectiveness, to bring out the will of the people.

Let us suppose the case of 80 constituencies of 6,000 voters each, of whom in each electoral division 3,001 vote for the A party, while 2,999 vote for the B party. In this case, the parliament will merely consist of members of the A party, and the B party is not represented at all, though half of the voters have plumped for it. Under the proportional vote this result would be impossible; each party would elect one-half of the members.

The best system of proportional voting is indubitably the Hare System advocated in the Southern hemisphere by my indefatigable old friend. Miss Catherine Helen Spence, so that it is often called here the Hare-Spence System. I think the clearest description of it can be obtained from the articles of association of the New Zealand Commercial Exchange Company, which elects its directors on this system. I have especially to thank Mr. C. B. Morison, of Wellington, the solicitor of the Company, for the help he gave me in working out these paragraphs, which owe their conciseness and clearness to his untiring efforts:

  1. All elections of Directors shall be conducted in accordance with the system known as the Hare-Spence System, hereunder described.

In this clause the expression, “full quota,” shall mean the amount of the quotient resulting from the division of the total number of votes polled by the number of vacancies to be filled (leaving any fraction out of account).

(a) After the nominations of candidates for election have been closed, each voter shall number in the order of his preference on the voting paper, commencing with the number “1” the names of as many candidates as there are vacancies (or if he so desires, the names of more or fewer candidates).

(b) The vote of each voter shall be used for one candidate only, according to the order of the voter’s preference.

(c) The result of the voting shall be ascertained as follows:—Each voting paper shall at first be filed under the name numbered “1” thereon, and when all the voting papers are so filed, the votes on each file shall be counted; and if any candidate shall have received more votes than the full quota, the votes last filed in his favour shall be taken from the file, until the votes remaining thereon are reduced to the full quota.

(d) Every candidate who shall have received the full quota shall be deemed to be duly elected and his file shall be closed, and no further votes added thereto.

(e) Any voting papers taken from the files of any candidates who shall have received more votes than the full quota shall be distributed over the remaining files, or over new files if necessary, as votes for the candidates whose names are numbered “2” on the voting papers so distributed, or according to the name of the candidate numbered next highest not already elected, in case the candidate whose name is numbered “2” on any such voting paper shall have been already elected.

(f) After such distribution the votes for each of the candidates shall again be counted, and where any candidate shall have received more than the full quota, his votes shall be reduced to the full quota as hereinbefore provided, and the surplus votes distributed over the other files, or over new files if necessary, according to the names numbered “3” on the surplus voting papers, or according to the name of the candidate numbered next highest not already elected, in case the candidate whose name is numbered “3” on any such voting paper shall have been already elected; and so on, whenever any file shall have a surplus of votes over the full quota.

(g) After all surpluses of votes (if any) have been redistributed as aforesaid, the contents of the file containing the smallest number of voting papers shall be distributed over the remaining files, or new files if necessary, as votes for the candidates whose names are numbered with the next highest number on such voting papers not already elected. This process shall be repeated with the voting papers on the file for the time being containing the smallest number of voting papers; and so on, according to the numerical order of the remaining names not already elected on each voting paper taken from such small files, until the voting papers are, as far as possible, redistributed over the files containing fewer votes than the full quota.

(h) Any surplus of votes arising from the redistribution of the votes from the files containing the smallest number of votes, for the time being, shall be dealt with as hereinbefore provided.

(i) After the voting papers have been redistributed as above, as far as possible, the candidate or candidates (to the number necessary to fill the vacancies), who have received the greatest number of votes shall be declared duly elected, whether or not they shall have received the full quota of votes.

(j) In the event of the necessity to decide between two or more candidates who have received an equal number of votes, the Chairman or Presiding Officer shall decide the election by his casting vote.

The Proportional Vote in Tasmania

An article from a periodical may serve to show how the system works in practical operation:

“On March 19, 1901, Tasmania held an election for representatives in the Federal Parliament, using the proportional representation system. The island elected six senators and five representatives. For the senators, 18,403 ballots were cast, besides 419 invalid at the start from improper marking, and 1,112 became inoperative in the course of the count, because when those ballots were reached all the candidates on them had either been elected or ‘eliminated’ in the course of the count, leaving 17,291 voters who aided in the election of the candidates to represent. Thus nearly 92% of the voters were represented, while in ordinary elections sometimes a little over half the voters, and sometimes a deal less, are represented, and very inadequately at that, being compelled to vote for the nominees of the machine.

“Similarly as to the House, 18,039 voted, of which 1,014 were ‘exhausted’ in the count, besides 533 mismarked, leaving 17,025 electors represented, instead of half of them being practically, disfranchised.

“All were elected who received the highest vote on first choice, so that the transfers from second, third, and subsequent marks of preference made no difference in the result; but the voters knew that, as a rule, they ran no risk of ‘ throwing away their votes’ in voting for the men they deemed most competent for first choice, because, if not utilised for these, they would be for less popular candidates marked ‘2,’ ‘3,’ ‘4,’ or ‘5.’

“The man who received most votes on first choice was Premier Braddon, a strong advocate of proportional representation. Out of the 18,039 votes cast for representatives, he received 4,723—over one-fourth. Next to him came O’Malley—a Canadian of Irish parentage, a strong advocate of the rights of labour—with 3,940 votes.”

So far as we can judge from the Tasmanian press, there are no objections to the proportional method from any party, all realising that they get exactly what they are entitled to. Some have thought that under this system local interests would not receive due consideration, and that the centres of population would get more than their share of members. But such has not proved to be the case, all parts of the island being fairly represented.

No difficulties or complications whatever were experienced in the count, although the ballots were brought from all parts of the island to be counted in Hobart, located in the south-central portion.

It destroys the Power of the Caucus

President Garfield said men in his State had gone to the poll for thirty years, with no more chance of seeing a candidate of their own way of thinking in Congress than if they had lived under the Czar of Russia.

The proportional vote not only elects according to the preference of the voters, but also nominates as the people desire. Anybody can propose nominees for the party, and if he finds a certain support, can have his man on the list. It does not matter if by that means many more candidates are on the list than there are places to fill, because not a single vote will be wasted. Each elector adds numbers of preference to the names on his list, and according to these numbers will his votes be counted. If he has given his number one to a man who has not the shadow of a chance, his vote will count for the man to whom he gave number two on his list; and so forth, until it is counted for someone on this list who receives enough support from other votes to obtain the necessary quota. In this way every voter has a chance of nominating his own candidates, and of testing the popularity of these candidates. If he succeeds in obtaining a sufficient number of votes for his nominee, he will carry him through; if he does not, his vote is not lost for all that, as it finally counts for somebody of his party whom he likes next best to the other nominees preferred by him. The business of the caucus thus will have been given over to the whole people, as it ought to be.

Of course, the most important effect of the system is that it would gradually break up parties altogether, or anyhow, parties in the present sense of the word. In a general sense, there always will be parties, for two men who agree to vote only for men advocating a certain policy already form a party. What I mean by party here is the erection of a few big pens, sometimes two only, into which the electors are forced according to their preference, if they, do not want to waste their votes. Whether certain principles or only the names of certain leaders are affixed to the pens’ doors is immaterial. The proportional vote would leave it to the electors how many different pens they want to erect, and in which special pen they feel more comfortable,

A Parliament elected on these lines will not see itself reduced to the position of being a mere recording machine of the decisions made by the caucus, with a certain permission to talk as much as the members like, under the silent agreement that the talk is absolutely useless, as the result will not in the least be affected by it.

A Parliament elected on the proportional vote system will not possess caucuses sufficiently strong to thus arrogate the people’s privileges. The discussion will become again what it once has been, the pleading of a lawyer before an impartial judge, who, though he has already formed his decision on the special principle for which he has been sent, is open yet on all other questions, and certainly will not blindly follow the behests of a powerful party leader.

Faddists and the Proportional Vote

Mr. Seddon stood up against a proportional voting system on the ground that it would bring a number of faddists into the House. So it would, no doubt, but where is the harm? Faddists are men with one idea, of whom Prince Bismarck once said that he liked them, for they had one idea more than most men. The leader of the Liberal Party must not forget that all of the reform measures carried by him and his party in this country were considered fads not such a long time ago. But why should not every citizen have the right to send somebody to the House who represents his favourite idea, even if it were a fad? Is it less correct to vote on such ground than to vote for bridges and country roads? Who is the better citizen of the two—the one who forgets the interests of his pocket and votes for the men fighting for a great social reform, or he who has no other ideal than to save rates, and who gives his vote to the man who is likely to procure the greatest amount of Government patronage for his section of the country?

It may be inconvenient for the chief of a party to keep the reins of government if the loaves and fishes of which he is the distributor lose their charm for electors and elected, but it would only be so where the party chief lacks a noble enthusiasm which makes him forget everything else but the desire to obtain the greatest good for the greatest number. A party chief of this nature will rejoice in the nobler task set before him and the possibility of accomplishing it. Instead of employing his political arithmetic in the direction of figuring where his patronage of local bodies will tell most on the support he can obtain, he will investigate what great reform begins to command most votes, and he will work in this direction. Is it not worthy of his best efforts to fight for that reform of the electoral system which promises the possibility of such a change in electoral tactics?

It has been urged against this system—the proportional or effective vote—that

It favours the Rich,

who can get up an agitation in the large district which would be substituted for the present small constituency, to the exclusion of the poorer man, who is only canvassing in his own township, and cannot afford to work the larger district. The very opposite is true. For the best men m the country, who have nothing to recommend them but their devotion to the people’s highest interests, without financial means to back their candidature, it will be easier to obtain a seat under the new system than under the present one. A valid proof of this is supplied by the electoral statistics of Germany. The poor men’s party, the Social Democratic party, polled over 2,100,000 votes at the last election, representing over one-quarter of the total vote cast, though they obtained only one-seventh of the representatives elected. If Germany had the proportional vote, there would be over one hundred social democrats in parliament. The increase might even exceed this estimate by a good number, because in some constituencies many voters of this party do not go to the poll at all, as they have not the least chance of obtaining a majority in the district. These men would vote if every single vote given in the whole country were effective, i.e., obtained its proportional representation.

If it were merely a question of money, social democracy would be nowhere, and plutocracy would govern without hindrance; but fortunately not only money is power. After all, the appeal to the higher motives in man is a far greater force in the direction of human affairs if it can come out of its latency, if it meets the conditions that render it effective. These conditions are supplied by the proportional vote and the system of large constituencies.

Here is a man whose life is devoted to a great principle. He fights for it day and night; his powerful voice is heard all over the land, and his adherents are counted by the thousand. This is the very man whom you will never see in one of our present parliaments on the single constituency system. The men who can grasp his ideas are not so thickly scattered over the country that, though combined, they would be able to elect their leader, if the total of their votes were counted—they would have the shadow of a chance in any single constituency. Talk of wealth profiting, of poverty losing by the proportional vote! This man and his adherents are too poor, perhaps, to contest a single constituency against the wealthy land-owner who dominates in that section; they have so little influence in each separate constituency that even if they could collect money enough to pay for election expenses, they would be at the bottom of the poll. The master-mind would succumb to a stupid local politician, whereas under the P. V., without any expensive canvass, all his friends in the country would put his name foremost on their list and thus elect him.

Henry George would not have had the smallest prospect of being elected if he had been running for congress, in ninety-nine constituencies out of a hundred; but under the proportional vote, he would have had “1” on all the ballots of his partisans in the country, and of many thousands besides, who, though not in everything of his opinion, were at least convinced that they voted for an honest, incorruptible man with wide views and an urgent desire for the public welfare. I am confident that in such a case no other Congress man would have polled so many votes as the first preference of the voters.

If I understand the matter rightly, the only change which Miss Spence has brought into the Hare System is a departure from Hare’s plan to make the country one constituency, whereas she prefers smaller constituencies of half-a-dozen members or so. I decidedly believe that the change thus proposed is for the worse, and that the original and unadulterated Hare System is in every way preferable. The larger the constituency, the greater are the chances for minorities of being represented; the more constituencies, the less hope there is for struggling progressive thought to find a representation in the council of the nation. Take the case of our New Zealand, for instance, with its 74 constituencies, and let us suppose that 148,000 were the total of votes cast at an election, which makes 2,000 votes the number electing a member. Now, let us suppose there were 80 socialists in each constituency. Under the present system they would not even dream of putting up candidates, as the 80 partisans in each district would not have the slightest hope of success. But even if the country were divided into 6 voting districts of 12 members each, they could not elect a single member, as their vote would nowhere exceed 1,000. If, on the other hand, the whole country formed one single constituency, they would send 3 members to the house. With constituencies of 6 members, even 250 votes in each district might not give them a single member; while on the centralised plan they would obtain as many as 9 representatives, and by joining withother progressives, might largely infuse legislation with socialistic principles.

I think what induced my old friend to thus improve backward an excellent plan, was the fear that the work of counting the ballots might be a little more complicated. I am not so sure of this, but there certainly need not be any more work for each voter than in the other case. He would simply pick the list he specially favours from the rest, and would vote for it by affixing the numbers according to his preference. Of course, each party would put more names on its list than it can hope to elect, to give a larger choice to the voters; but there will be so many different parties that no single list will be so voluminous as to entail too much work. Nor will it be necessary to number all names on the special list. It suffices to mark those specially preferred, while the others will be taken in the sequence in which they are printed if they should be needed. The case where men of other parties and lists will be added to a special list by the voter will be exceptional, and even then the additional work is almost nil.

Anyhow, the advantages of the larger constituency are so great that minor considerations must be relegated into the background. The larger the constituency, the more effective will be the vote of the people. The smaller the constituency, the more of the evils inherent in the present system are preserved.

The more effective we make the vote, the better do we obtain a true expression of the people’s will. The new system will make elections tell a different tale from that of to-day; not money will profit then, but intellect and character. Principles, not men, will be elected, which means a back seat to that class of men called politicians who treat politics as a business—a lot of nobodies who all over the world bring parliamentarism into contempt. Only a party leader who himself belongs to this stamp will feel an instinctive horror of the new system. A leader capable of great thoughts, preferring to be the first among equals to being the master of servants, will welcome with all his heart the Effective Vote.

The bitterness of party strife will lose its venom, and the participation of the people in elections will be more general. Many who now abstain altogether from voting, because the proposed candidates constitute to them a mere choice between evils, will interest themselves in the political contest when they have a chance to vote for men of their own choice. The power of the caucus will be greatly reduced where any number of men can club together and have their own list sent round; though^ of course, a certain minimum of supporters might be demanded by the authorities before they undertake the distribution of the list at public expense.

Representation of Trades

Opinions and principles may not be the only rallying-points of the future voters. It is very likely that different trades unions will send their own delegates—practical men who know better what the people want than the lawyers and journalists who constitute such an undue proportion of our existing parliaments. Doubtless a certain danger might still exist in this case that the interest of the community could be neglected for that of the trade; but even this would be preferable to bridge and road representation. Quite a different tone would govern the discussion of such parliaments, as every one can see who studies the business-like and concise addresses and discussions at the co-operative congresses of Great Britain, for instance. A cooperative congress does more business in one day than many a parliament does in a week, or month even.


when a member resigns his seat, or dies, are unnecessary under the proportional vote, as the next unelected candidate on the same list would simply take the vacated place.

The proportional vote must not be confounded with

The “Scrutin de Liste,”

which also collects a number of single member constituencies into a large one of many members, a very objectionable method of doing away with the defect of the small constituency—that of inducing the subordination of the common to the local interest. It is a device of party politicians, because nothing strengthens more the autocratic power of the caucus of nominating candidates. Cases happen under this system that a candidate is strongly opposed—even by the majority of his own party—in his own local district where he is known; but is elected by an overwhelming majority because the other districts that vote the straight party ticket, not knowing the man, give him their votes. In fact, it could happen under this system that each single candidate on the list is rejected by the people among whom he lives, and yet the whole list passes with a large majority, because each district of the constituency, not knowing the candidates from the other districts, gives them an undivided vote, as the party leaders have nominated them. The defects of this system have been used with the ignorant to throw disfavour on the proportional vote, with which it has nothing in common but the throwing together of electoral districts; whereas the fact that under the P.V. each elector votes for only one candidate enables him to select whomsoever he prefers, and to leave out altogether those he does not know, thus preserving the advantages of the many-member electorate, without its drawbacks.

Plumping, or the Multiple Vote,

is an improvement on the scrutin de liste, through the faculty given to the voters to concentrate their votes on one or more candidates whom they prefer. It is the most primitive of proportional systems, as it wastes all those plumped votes which a candidate does not need. If Jones needs only 2,000 votes, while 5,000 are concentrated on him through plumping, 3,000 votes are absolutely lost; while under the Hare system they are used for the man second on the list, and so forth, so that all the votes are in any case given for some party friend.

The Ballot

The secrecy of the ballot ought to be combined with the greatest convenience of the voter. I understand that in Queensland the vote can now be given by postal card. I do not know how they secure the secrecy, but can see no difficulty in this direction. Each voter might be supplied with a parcel of cards of different colours, each colour for a different election or referendum vote. The cards may be numbered; but as no record is kept where each number was sent, a control of the vote by the officials would not be possible. The influencing of the voter cannot be avoided by the most ingenious systems of secrecy; but social reform would put an end to economic dependence, and at the same time would greatly raise the financial value of the vote for each shareholder in the State. No briber could afford to pay as much as the vote would transfer to him from the common pocket, for this would leave him no profit; and no voter could afford to take less, or his loss on one side would otherwise exceed his profit on the other. You can afford to bribe one shareholder of a limited company to vote for something which is against his interest by paying him more than he loses; but you cannot bribe all, for their loss as shareholders would either exceed their gain by the bribe or your profit would not reach the outlay. A well-known saying is: “You can fool some people all the time, and all the people some time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” The greatest danger of the present system is the indifference of the voters, the majority of whom often do not go to the poll; just as small shareholders in limited companies mostly do not attend at the general meetings, or do not even send proxies, unless somebody specially asks for them.

The administration of the people’s land under land nationalisation, State banking, and organisation of distribution, perhaps also of production, are measures so deeply touching the self-interest of the voter that he will be as eager to be represented as the large shareholder is certain to look after his interests in the limited company.

With the best systems of voting, and the most general participation of the people at the elections, it is not possible to ensure an absolute certainty that the views of the voters are really faithfully represented. Leaving even the question of honesty apart, it is not to be supposed that one man will exactly hold the same views in every point as another, and generally the elector must be satisfied if his representative is at one with him on some important points, though he may diverge in others. An

Imperative Mandate

might obviate this inconvenience. Each representative could be made to deliver the votes of his mandators where he has not been given full liberty to vote as he pleases. The principal objections against this system—which caused its abandonment after it was tried in the beginning of the French Revolution, when each representative arrived with his cahier, which directed his votes—no more exists. The general ignorance then was so great that no hope of reform could be entertained except by sending the most intelligent men to mutually enlighten each other. Binding the delegate beforehand meant simply renouncing every hope of arriving at any useful solution. This has entirely changed in our times. The free school system., the public meeting, the press, and the accessibility of literature have disseminated general enlightenment, and the representative is sent not so much to form his own opinions as to give vent to those already held by his electors. The cases where speeches in Parliament influence the votes have become more and more the exception. The party meeting decides beforehand how each member is to vote, and the speeches are usually made for the constituency, or for the people at large, without any hope of thereby effecting much in the house itself. A reader of recent parliamentary debates in New Zealand is often struck by the strange fact that bills are passed by a large majority after almost every speaker opposed them most strongly. The majority, certain of the result and not wishing to waste time, keeps silent, and lets the opposition do all the talking. Many members sit in the library, or chat in the lobbies, and just come in when a division takes place. The only change which an imperative mandate would bring into the system would be the substitution of the elector’s mandate for that of the party meeting. It is therefore mere nonsense to consider such a mandate as derogatory to the dignity of the member, who feels no such scruple where he votes as the party dictates. There is still plenty of work to be done which requires the exercise of his personal intelligence, such as the wording of laws (the principles of which only have been decided for him), the perusal of the public accounts, the investigation of abuses, the control of the executive, etc. A lot of useless talk could be done away with if each elector’s imperative mandate were registered at the beginning of every session, and debates avoided where a decision has already been arrived at by the majority of electors, or as soon as a majority is reached through additional votes sent to the chairman during the debate. Such votes may come through their representatives from electors who have reserved their mandates, or from the representatives as far as they possess free mandates, i.e., full power to vote as they please. In such a case, the debate would at once be closed. There are plenty of other possibilities to get rid of suppressed speeches without spending the people’s time and money thereby!

However, there are great inconveniences connected with such a system, and another remedy against the despotism of the representative has been obtaining more popularity.

The direct Vote or the Referendum and the Initiative

This system was first adopted in Switzerland, where it takes the place of the old Germanic and also old Roman custom—as yet existing as the Landsgemeinde in some Swiss cantons, and in the New England town meetings—of having the people decide by their direct vote, in public meetings, what laws they want and what expenditures they authorise. The old system would not be applicable for the administration of a modern state, and after an adaptation of the old Roman plebiscite had been tried by the two Napoleons, the referendum—the referring of decisions to the approval or negation of the people’s vote—has taken the place of thefolkmote. The Swiss have two kinds of referendum, the optional (facultative) and the obligatory. The one is taken whenever a certain number of voters demand it; the other has to be taken before certain laws become valid, or before expenditure, beyond certain limits, is allowed. The right of the initiative enables a certain number of voters to propose a law to be decided by the referendum. It would be useless to deny that the referendum has not always given the best of results, if the results are judged by the most intelligent section of the community. A river cannot mount higher than its source, and a people will not dictate better laws than their understanding permits. The intellectual aristocracy, who think themselves fitted to educate the masses, believe they can best do, so by passing progressive laws, even if these laws go beyond the people’s wishes for the time. They feel sure that the masses will soon be educated up to the laws. It is the system of benevolent (despotism, and it may have produced good results in its time. The safest plan, however, and the only possible one under a real democracy, is to wait until the people are ripe for progress, instead of presuming to force on them the progressive measures in the expectation that these will accelerate the ripening process.

The Swiss progressives have long since learnt this, and they humbly bow to the will of the people, even where the best laws are rejected by them. So, for instance, the law for workers’ insurance against disease and accident—the result of ten years’ hard work—was passed by the two houses of the legislature; but when it was submitted to the popular verdict. May 20, 1900, the Swiss people refused it with 341,254 against 146,954 votes. The progressives certainly regretted the result; but, after all, is not such a state of things better than the spectacle offered to us in New Zealand—while I am writing these lines—of some new labour laws proposed by a section of the people, which may pass, in spite of strong protests from many sides; without any immediate remedy, even if it should turn out that the vast majority of the people are tired of this kind of legislation? A referendum vote would at once set the matter right, and would prove whether the majority really want such a law, or whether the will of an influential minority alone stood up for it.

I remember a law which had been passed by a three-quarter majority of the lower house of the Swiss Legislature, and almost unanimously by the other house, and which was rejected by a popular vote of over 90,000, which certainly proves that the representative does not always represent. The referendum is an urgently demanded reform which no really democratic country ought to be without.

Special Treatment of Land Laws

For constitutional changes, a vote of two-thirds of the people—of all entitled to vote; not only of those actually voting—ought to be demanded; and among such constitutional laws, not alterable without the consent of such an overwhelming majority, that which restores the land to the people ought to be placed. Perhaps in this case a three-quarter majority might be more advisable yet. In fact, from an ethical point of view, the people have no jurisdiction here; they have no authority to give away the heirloom of unborn generations; they have no right to re-create private land monopoly. Every new child born into the world could claim the right to nullify any enactment that deprives him of his full share in God’s free gift to all. Under the same constitutional provision, any

Rebates of Rent

ought to be made impossible, except by the same referendum majority. To give away the rental of the people’s land, or part of it, is equivalent to giving away the land itself. The scandalous event of the 1900 session of our New Zealand Parliament—the Premier coolly demanding authority to give rebates on the rent due to the State j that is, to make presents to individuals from the community’s property—shows the necessity of such a course. Under land nationalisation there will be no rack rent; there is land enough for everyone, and no one will offer more rent than the land is worth, than others would be willing to pay in his stead. Giving any person a rebate on a contract entered into under such conditions is not only a robbery of the public at large, but also of those who were willing to pay the same rent, and who ought to be allowed to make a new bid in case the tenant sees fit to ask for a rebate. If they are still willing to pay the old rent in full, besides compensating the present tenant for his improvements, with what right can the Government let another have the land at lower prices? Such favouritism ought not to be shown in a democracy whose first principle is equality for all its citizens; and the power of granting such favours would corrupt the best Government in the world. I may use too strong language; there may have been circumstances which attenuate what I consider an attempted crime; but I am not the only one who looks at this proposal as one of the greatest outrages committed by any New Zealand Government. Anyhow, the Government rendered a great service to the country in forewarning it in time against the only danger of land nationalisation: the temptation put in the way of a large State tenantry to agitate for a change of their tenures into freeholds, or for other privileges, at the expense of the people at large. The precautions against such a possibility cannot be too stringent. (See also p. 82-3.)

Second Chambers

Second chambers are in very bad repute with democrats. My old friend, J. Morrison Davidson, than whom no better and sincerer democrat ever drew breath, makes out their bill in his Politics for the People (London, Reeves), especially that of the mother of second chambers, the British House of Lords, an anomaly and a dangerous one at that. Mr.. Davidson, has drawn up an ominous list of its sins against the people, in proof that it has opposed any kind of progress, and usually has only yielded out of craven fear. But its very origin must condemn it, for its authority is based on the foulest wrong ever committed against the people of England: the robbery of their land. Its only title is that of usurpation based upon usurpation. The lords first stole the people’s land, and then founded their hereditary privilege of governing the country upon the possession of its soil. As the same author points out, the American senate was nothing but a servile copy of a bad precedent, and with its own goodish quota of sins in addition, especially in the matter of slavery. “Suffice it to say that, but for the existence of the American Second Chamber, the Republic would have been spared all the horrors of the Civil War, with its holocaust of 900,000 lives and its loss of £1,400,000,000 of treasure,” is the summing up of the history of the Secession War by our friend. “Wherever two chambers exist, one must be master; and, unfortunately for the Western republic, the master is the plutocratic upper chamber. Hence Lord Salisbury’s admiration for the American Senate in which the little State of Delaware is put on a footing of equality with that of New York, with more than thirty times its population.”

It seems to me, however, my worthy friend goes too far when he concludes, from cases where the so-called upper chambers did not represent the people’s will, through an unjust composition, that second chambers by themselves are a bad institution. Or if he adds to this conclusion that even if the second chamber represents the people as much as the other chamber, it simply supplies a needless repetition of the same vote. The latter argument is not quite unassailable, however, because two bodies, though of the same origin, may have different ideas on some points. We have seen, when we discussed the referendum, that the representative does not always correctly represent the people’s wishes, and two representatives elected by the same vote often differ on some points. The history of the French Convention, on the other side, ought to be a warning how beneficial some kind of control often would be; that the pendulum which forces the wheels of the clock to run steadily has its good uses. It is true that to a certain extent the referendum can undertake this control; but the referendum can only adopt or reject a law. Even where a number of voters make use of the initiative they cannot prepare the wording, but must leave this task to some committee; in which case it is better to have the committee elected by the whole people, and not by those who initiate the law. A second committee appointed to supervise the wording is also eminently useful, as experience has repeatedly shown. This second committee, the second chamber, may also in many cases save the trouble of recurring to the referendum.

But certainly it would be far better if a second chamber could be obtained which thoroughly represents popular opinion, without being a mere duplication of the other body. A different division of the electoral districts would not change the result under the proportional vote. Wealth should be as little a determining factor in the franchise for one chamber as for the other, especially in a country where common land ownership makes the whole people proprietors. Nor are nominations by the Government to be recommended; for the legislature ought to control the Government, and an administrator ought not to be allowed to appoint his own auditor.

Age Franchise for the Second Chamber

I think a good idea would be to limit the franchise of the second chamber to all citizens above a certain, age, say forty. Not the passive franchise, as in Sparta’s Gerontes (Council of the Aged), but the active franchise. Only the citizens beyond a certain age, have the right to vote for the second chamber, but, I see no objection to their choosing younger men if they wish to. Wherever younger men are elected by their elders, we may suppose that they possess a greater ripeness of judgment than the average men of their age. Most of us who have lived a certain number of years on this globe are astonished to see, when we look back on our state of mind as it was in our youth, in what different aspects men and things appeared to us, how much we owe to our progress in time. There is a great difference in the judgment of the average man above forty and the average man below forty. They have a joke against a certain country in Germany—Würtemberg[3]—that the people there only become reasonable at forty. A cooler reflection on the consequences of certain measures, the outcome of temperament and experience, gives the riper men a decided superiority as critics, and thus they are eminently fitted for the task here allotted to them.

The Executive

Much could be said here about monarchy and republic, but I abstain. I am a republican, as every real democrat is supposed to be; but the difference between a constitutional monarchy and a republic is too insignificant to lose any time about the discussion of the distinguishing features.

Monarchy and Titles

I look at the constitutional monarch as a fetish whose presence in the machinery of the State will be found desirable as long as a majority of the people continue to believe in such fetishes. If there are persons who cannot get up a feeling of reverence in a place of worship unless the minister appears in a surplice, it would be decidedly ungracious on the part of those to whom the dress of the preacher is absolutely indifferent to deny the others their dress fetish. Nor can I see any objection against the ridiculous wigs and gowns of our law courts, if these external appurtenances have the effect of impressing the parties with greater respect for the authority of the law.

I am sure I think as little of titles and decorations as the most radical man living; but this does not prevent me from laughing at the zeal of some friends who get quite excited when a democratic leader accepts a knighthood, talking as if he were a traitor to the cause of the people. It is true that the man would have done more good to the cause of democracy if, by his refusal, he had helped towards the final suppression of such worthless distinctions; but in general I look at such baubles as I do at high cylinder hats—which I do not wear myself, thinking them nearly the most ridiculous headgear that ever existed—yet if one of my friends chooses to make a guy of himself, I consider that is his business, not mine. I feel towards him as towards that lady who once boasted to me of being descended from a noble family, and who was very much surprised when I calmly assured her that this did not in the least subtract from the esteem I felt for her.

A monarchy like England is more republican, and certainly more democratic, than republican France, and the subjects of the kings of Norway are politically freer than the citizens of the South American republics. The question of expense does not count much either, for the expenses of the canvass for the last United States’ presidential election, including the corruption fund, would probably pay for all the European civil lists during M’Kinley’s term of office. A more important question is that of

The Cabinet.

In this field, constitutional monarchies have mostly followed the English precedent. We know that, nominally, the king still elects his councillors, as in the past, before the State was completely on what we call constitutional lines; but that, practically, a kind of party caucus, to which most of the party are not invited, puts the men forward whom the king chooses, though even here there have been exceptions. During the minority of Richard II., and at the commencement of the Commonwealth, the executive was elected by Parliament.

Elective Executives

The best system is the Swiss, where the Parliament appoints a committee which carries on the executive work of the Government, and which elects one of their number as their president for the year. The two chambers meet together, and elect the seven members of the Federal Council for three years. The president is only the chairman of a board, nothing else. The system works to perfection, and yet there is an agitation towards a change in the constitution, so as to place the election of the Council into the hands of the people—changing the indirect election into a direct one. I am not at all sure that this would be an improvement, “because it might put the self-appointed party caucus into the place of the caucus elected by the people, the Federal Assembly. It seems to me that, if the election is made on the proportional system by the same bodies who now elect it, nothing farther could be desired. In the canton of Tessin, where I spent a few years, the election of the local executive is thus made by the people at large. Formerly, when one party had exclusive hold of the Government, the most violent party strife empoisoned the public life of the canton, even amounting to rebellion and the murder of one member of the Council, so that the advent of the Federal troops was required; but now that both parties are represented in the Council according to their strength, everything goes on peacefully.

I know that Macaulay looked at party ministries as a great progress from the former mixed system, and attributes to it the comparatively regular course of public affairs. But the example of Switzerland, where all parties are represented in the Council, shows that the progress in England was due to other causes, which worked concurrently with the change mentioned. I am afraid the historian’s conclusions are on the same line with those of free traders in regard to England’s prosperity since the abolition of the Corn Laws, of which I spoke in a former chapter.

The Swiss system, with the addition of the Hare election method, would certainly work well in New Zealand. The best men of all parties would be found in the Cabinet, working together, each in the department he is best fitted for, with regular meetings where the general policy of the Government would be decided by a majority vote. The leaders of the different parties would become better acquainted with each other, and feelings of mutual esteem would take the place of present aversions. The president would only be a chairman, without any more power than the rest, except his casting vote. The boss system would be buried for ever. Let us hope that such a reform will come soon, and in our days!


[1] Henry George was in Australia when Huxley’s attack appeared, which made me take up the cudgels for him. On his way back he wrote me: “I congratulate you on your answer to Huxley. … I may write something on the abstract points you did not discuss.”

[2] And if the Conservative and the Liberals would have more confidence in the Prohibitionists than they would have in each other, the votes would look quite different and make the Prohibitionists the winner. /pma

[3] I was not born there.