Courtesy Reuters

British Experiments in State Intervention

THOUGH the British and American forms of government descend from a common ancestry, British democracy is younger than our own. Those who devised the American republic after the Revolutionary War gave a great deal of thought to establishing a democratic form of government which should avoid the danger -- then feared -- of pure majority rule. The result, the system of checks and balances, marks the main difference between the American system and the modern democratic government which began in Great Britain in 1841, and which has developed and expanded ever since. That was the year when the Tory Government took office, accepting fully the principles of the Reform Act. The British were not as conscious as had been our own Founding Fathers that they were creating a new kind of state. After 1841 the power of Parliament expanded without any explicit, ceremonious assertion that the power of the Crown was being reduced. The Crown waned, it was not extinguished. And steps by which authority was transferred to Parliament could become fixed because the British had discovered the "unwritten constitution," one of the most useful ideas born of the abstract Anglo-Saxon mind. Since the British did not, at a given moment, by a formal and fully aware decision, launch out upon a system of unmitigated parliamentary rule, a birthday cannot be assigned to it. It unfolded. And its unfolding continued until the Lords were shorn of their veto rights in this century.

Thus democratic government in Great Britain not only is younger than our own, it renews its youth more easily. Those who complain about America being a quarter of a century behind the British in social policy state the matter unfairly. The British are ahead because they turned to actual democracy later than we did, and because they have a simpler formula for keeping abreast of changing needs. We are not behind because we are backward, but because our democracy is older, and is embedded in the less elastic and considerably more

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