THE STRENGTH OF DEMOCRACY
By Walter Lippmann
THE STRENGTH Of DEMOCRACY, by Walter Lippmann, in To-day and To-morrow, March 30,1933, as reprinted in Lippmann and Nevins’s A Modern Reader, Boston, D. C. Heath and Company, 1936, pp. 73, 74.
Walter Lippmann, formerly associate editor of the New Republic and editor of the New York World, was then on the staff of the New York Herald Tribune, writing articles (“To-day and To-morrow”) which are syndicated nationally in America. He has written a number of books, of which A Preface to Morals is perhaps the most widely read.
The triumph of Hitler has reduced still further the domain of popular government in the world, and it is but natural that men should wonder whether it can hope to survive anywhere. Yet this impression that autocracy is sweeping the world is something of an optical illusion. The fact is that thus far at least the old democracies have withstood the impact of war and revolution and deep financial disorder. Wide as is the extension of autocracy to-day, except in one important country, it is no more widely extended than it was before the war. The exception is Italy, and Italy happens to be the one Great Power which had most recently achieved its national unity and had had the shortest experience in the conduct of representative government. For the rest it may be said that the Fascist and Communistic victories of the last fifteen years have been won only where democracy had not yet been established.
Thus in Russia the dictatorship of Lenin and Stalin was founded on the collapse of czarism. Japan, of course, has never had more than a faint imitation of popular government. The dictatorships of Central Europe and of the Balkan peoples had never known even one generation of political liberty and political responsibility. Hitler has overthrown a republic which was half strangled from the hour of its birth. But the old democracies of Scandinavia, of Switzerland, and of France, of Britain and of the Dominions, and of the United States, are still in being: the peoples which knew democracy in the nineteenth century, the peoples who have lived under the heritage of liberalism, have not fallen into disorder and have not surrendered to dictators.
A wise man once remarked that revolutions do not overthrow governments; governments collapse and revolutions ensue. The history of the last fifteen years offers impressive proof of this generalization. Kerensky did not overthrow the Czar. Kerensky attempted to organize a government on the ruins of the czarist regime. He failed and Lenin organized a government.
The German republicans did not overthrow the Hohenzollerns. The Kaiser had fled and his government was demoralized. The Weimar system failed to provide a government. In a half-dozen inconclusive elections the German people proved to themselves that they had not yet learned to make representative government effective. Only then did Hitler come into power.
The crises of the last few years have revealed the essential differences between the democracies which have a capacity to endure and the democracies which have not had it. The ineffective democracies disintegrate in a storm. Solid democracies are capable of uniting their forces, of concentrating power in an emergency, and then of relaxing when the crisis has been surmounted. The first great democracy to demonstrate this capacity was France in 1926. Confronted with what appeared to be an uncontrollable inflation, political power was concentrated in the hands of Poincaré, and order was restored. The second democracy to prove its strength was the British. In 1931, confronted with what might easily have become a catastrophe, the British people concentrated authority and mastered the danger. The third democracy to vindicate itself is our own during the last few weeks.
It is entirely misleading to look upon the concentration of national authority which took place in France in 1926, in Great Britain in 1931, and in the United States in 1933, as part of the tide of autocracy which has been sweeping over Asia and over Europe. What has happened in these three nations is the exact opposite of what has happened where there has been a collapse in dictatorship. The French, the British, and ourselves have been able to fortify democracy because popular government was inherently strong. Fascism has been overthrowing democracy where it is inherently weak.
Thus we are entitled to believe that democracy, once it is solidly founded in the traditions of a people, may be the toughest and most enduring of all forms of government. The generation through which we have lived seems to have given substantial proof that while popular government is difficult to establish, and must be learned by living with it, once established it will stand through very foul weather indeed.
Hitler, Adolf, head of the Nazi party and dictator of Germany.
domain, realm; sphere of influence; dominion; territory.
autocracy, absolute government.
an optical illusion, produced by too implicit confidence in the evidence of sight. Such illusions, such false beliefs, are not to be trusted.
Fascist, principles and organization of the patriotic and anti-Communistic movement in Italy started during the Great War, culminating in the virtual dictatorship of Signor Mussolini, and imitated by Fascist or blackshirt organizations in other countries. The word comes from the Italian fascio, bundle, group.
Communistic, the vesting of property in the community, each member working according to his capacity and receiving according to his wants. Russia has been trying out the Communistic form of government for the past two decades.
dictatorship, absolute, rulership, especially where the ruler suppresses or succeeds a republican government. Such rule is usually temporary or irregular.
Lenin, Nikolay. Real name Vladimir Ilich Ulanov, Russian Bolshevist leader （1870-1924）. After the collapse of the Czarist régime in Russia, Lenin took control of Russia.
Stalin （1879-1953）, real name Yosif Visarionovitch Dzhugashvili; The name Stalin, Russian for “steel” as attribute to his iron durability, was an “underground” name. Dictator of Russia.
czarism, government headed by the Czar, the emperor of Russia.
the Dominions, the title given to Canada, New Zealand and other British colonies.
liberalism, form of government favorably disposed to democratic reforms and abolition of privilege.
ensue, happen afterwards; result; follow.
Kerensky, Aleksandr Foodorovich （1881-1970）, Russian revolutionary leader, premier 1917.
régime, method of government.
Hohenzollerns, the Prussian family that ruled Germany before its collapse after the Great War. The Kaiser or emperor of Germany, Kaiser William II （1859-1941）, was king of Prussia and emperor of Germany from 1888 to 1918, when he abdicated his throne.
the Weimar system. After the abdication of William II, the National Assembly at Weimar was held to draft a Constitution and to build up a German Republic. This Republic was doomed to failure from the very start, because it was weak and it was open to intrigues.
inconclusive, not decisive or conclusive.
disintegrate in a storm, separate into many parts whenever a commotion arises.
crisis, time of acute danger or suspense; turning point or decisive moment.
surmounted, overcome; conquered.
inflation, abnormal increase of the currency, especially by the issue of inconvertible legal-tender notes.
Poincaré, Raymond （1860-1934）, French statesman and president 1913-1920.
catastrophe, disastrous end or ruin.
our own. Lippmann, an American, is here speaking of his own country the United States of America.
inherently, in itself; fundamentally; existing or abiding in.
very foul weather, very bad disturbance; very critical moment.
- Why is the impression that autocracy is sweeping the world something of an optical illusion?
- Of what generalization does the history of the last fifteen years offer impressive proof?
- How have the last few years revealed the essential differences between the democracies which have a capacity to endure and those which have not had it.
- Why is it entirely misleading to look upon the concentration of national authority in France, England, and America as part of the tide o30autocracy which has been sweeping over Asia and Europe?
- What are we finally entitled to believe of democracy?