Courtesy Reuters

The Evolution of Democracy

The Future in Retrospect

MODERN DEMOCRACIES. BY JAMES VISCOUNT BRYCE. New York: Macmillan, 1921, 2 volumes.

READING "Modern Democracies" a score of years after it was written, one is impressed by how far from the direction then expected the political currents of the world have run. Lord Bryce thought that the new states formed by the disintegration of Austria, by the liberation of subject nationalities from Germany and Russia, and by the extension of self-government through the system of mandates to peoples hitherto ruled despotically or as dependencies of European countries, would greatly increase the number of democracies in the world. He saw clearly the defects of existing popular governments. But he thought that the new ones could learn much from the experience of the old.

To help in this direction he undertook to study the actual working of democracy, and especially the distortions produced by the excessive growth of political parties and by their interference in matters, like local administration, in which they have no proper function. Recognizing that a man who has taken an active part in a political system is disqualified for judging it, he said little about England; but -- with wide information gathered on the spot, and rare penetration -- he discussed political conditions in France, Switzerland, the United States and the British self-governing dominions. All this he did with singular detachment; for his book is by no means a propaganda for democracy. On the contrary, it is a scientific study of actual conditions in the different countries treated, and an examination of the causes of the imperfections revealed. Incidentally, he considered Switzerland the least defective, largely because the activity of parties there is least extended beyond its appropriate sphere.

Not less interesting, instructive and detached than his description of existing governments were his speculations on the general nature of democracy, its origins and probable future. Here he showed the same open-minded skepticism of generalizations as in his studies of actual systems. He observed that popular government has usually been sought, won

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