A Congress Debates Democracy
[Reprinted from The Freeman, November, 1939]
"It has become urgent to stress the prosaic truth that supermen,
demi-gods and gods are not born of human parents. Only helpless and
very human babies are born in this world of ours. Moreover, their only
sporting chance of ever achieving greatness depends on their being
born and bred in a free community, where individual man is allowed
freely to develop his mind, his soul, and his talents; to discover his
vocation, to express his thoughts, to feel free, and to live in
freedom. . . . This is the greatest, the most important boon of
Thus spoke John M. Ciechanowski, former Minister to the United States
from Poland, in his address before the Congress on Education for
Democracy at Teachers College, Columbia University.
Why, then, do men lose their freedom?
A Statesman's Democracy
Stanley Baldwin, former Prime Minister of Great Britain has an
answer, delivered to the Congress at the Waldorf-Astoria. "The
success of a democracy," he said, "depends upon everyone
realizing his responsibility to it; thinking of his duties and
forgetting for a time his rights -- a democrat should work for and be
prepared to die for his democratic ideals, as the Nazis and Communists
are for theirs. And he will never work for it, much less die for it,
unless he is convinced that democracy is capable of making a country
worthy of his ideals. Courage and Faith, Love and Wisdom -- those are
what we all need. . . . May God give us right judgment in all things."
These are the words of status quo. This is the defeatist meat of the
ages, fed to the robbed of all nations. Such is the diet that is
slowly starving democracy throughout the world.
Business Men's Democracy
When we turn from statesmen to business leaders in the hope of
something substantial, what do we get? Listen to H. W. Prentis, Jr.,
tycoon of the National Association of Manufacturers: "Hope for
the future of our republic and for the correction of its shortcomings
does not lie in more and more democracy. It hinges on the resurgence
of individual patriotism and religious faith. The schools and churches
of America must get into action -- and that right early -- if we are
to keep the republic our fathers died to found and save."
Winthrop W. Aldrich, Board Chairman of the gigantic Chase National
Bank told the Congress: "One of the greatest weaknesses of our
democracy is that most of us are unwilling to accept our primary
responsibilities as citizens of exercising this individual
self-discipline. If we can implant in our people the Christian virtues
which we sum up in the word character, and, at the same time, give
them a knowledge of the line which should be drawn between voluntary
action and governmental compulsion in a democracy, and of what can be
accomplished within the stern laws of economics, we will enable them
to retain their freedom, and, at the same time, make them worthy to be
So, from our business men we still get the piffle we used to get from
high school graduation speakers. Democracy thrives on Christian
virtues and on patriotism!
The lesson of history was given to the Congress by Charles A. Beard,
noted historian: "In words that admit of no equivocation these
great of old who instruct us from their tombs declare that politics
and economics are forever united. Ringing through utterances like the
tones of a clear bell is the warning thesis: A wide diffusion of
property and a general equality of condition are the very foundation
stones of popular government; a high concentration of wealth is
incompatible with universal suffrage; a broad distribution of
opportunity and assurance to labor is necessary to the security of
republican institutions; the revolutions which have shaken other
societies to pieces have sprung from the antagonism of private
interests and popular power, fired by ambitious leaders.
"The crisis in national life forecast long ago has
arrived. This is the age in which the wisdom of the wisest patriots
is required for the resolution of the dilemma. Not curtailment but
expansion of production is now a primary need of American democracy.
Our output of wealth must be materially increased and there must be
a distribution of employments, goods, and services wide enough to
afford those opportunities and assurances upon which popular
government rests and must ever rest. If the wisdom is lacking, force
may be offered as a substitute."
With these words, Mr. Beard commences to clarify the issue. The
Congress is beginning to learn that democracy has something to do with
political economy, which "includes in its domain the greater part
of those vexed questions which lie at the bottom of our politics and
legislation, of our social and governmental theories."
The Problem of Democracy
This basic idea was extended still further by John W. Studebaker,
United States Commissioner of Education, during the last session of
the Congress at Carnegie Hall, thus:
"The boastful propaganda of the totalitarian regime
is not the basic menace to democracy. Fundamentally, self government
is being undermined by its failure to solve the crucial problems of
the technological age. Ten million unemployed, vast farm surpluses,
unused plant capacity, waste and destruction of surpluses,
widespread and utterly needless poverty in the presence of
scientific power for unprecedented productivity -- these are the
factors which threaten democratic life. . . . We are off on the
wrong foot, it seems to me, if we satisfy ourselves merely with
propagandizing people on the desirability of democracy. It isn't
democracy that is in question in the minds of many; what they're
worried about is the economic and social system which fails to give
them opportunity and reasonable security."
The problem of democracy has been discovered by the educators! Men
give up their freedom for the demagogic promises of* bread and Thirty
Dollars every Thursday, appeals which take root only when the great
enigma of poverty in the midst of plenty is not solved. Unless it is
solved democracy as a form of government cannot survive. But business
men and politicians are adamant. To make democracy work, they say, "let
us kindle a new fire of patriotism and religion in the mind and heart
of every true American."
Sine Die Adjournment
Thus the Congress on Education for Democracy defined the alignment.
Educators recognize the problem, but are harried in their efforts to
find the solution by their fear of disturbing the status quo and the
inexpediency of disturbing business men and politicians. The latter
maintain that the system doesn't work because the professors have
fallen down on their job of training the youth in fervent respect for
home, country and God.
Your reporter left the Congress with the firm conviction that
democracy and the world needs many more classes of the Henry George
School of Social Science.