In that sage and veracious chronicle,
“Alice Through the Looking-Glass,” it
is recounted how, on a noteworthy occasion, the little
heroine is seized by the Red Chess Queen, who races
her off at a terrific pace. They run until both
of them are out of breath; then they stop, and Alice
looks around her and says, “Why, we are just
where we were when we started!” “Oh, yes,”
says the Red Queen; “you have to run twice as
fast as that to get anywhere else.”
That is a parable of progress.
The laws of this country have not kept up with the
change of economic circumstances in this country; they
have not kept up with the change of political circumstances;
and therefore we are not even where we were when we
started. We shall have to run, not until we are
out of breath, but until we have caught up with our
own conditions, before we shall be where we were when
we started; when we started this great experiment
which has been the hope and the beacon of the world.
And we should have to run twice as fast as any rational
program I have seen in order to get anywhere else.
I am, therefore, forced to be a progressive,
if for no other reason, because we have not kept up
with our changes of conditions, either in the economic
field or in the political field. We have not kept
up as well as other nations have. We have not
kept our practices adjusted to the facts of the case,
and until we do, and unless we do, the facts of the
case will always have the better of the argument;
because if you do not adjust your laws to the facts,
so much the worse for the laws, not for the facts,
because law trails along after the facts. Only
that law is unsafe which runs ahead of the facts and
beckons to it and makes it follow the will-o’-the-wisps
of imaginative projects.
Business is in a situation in America
which it was never in before; it is in a situation
to which we have not adjusted our laws. Our laws
are still meant for business done by individuals;
they have not been satisfactorily adjusted to business
done by great combinations, and we have got to adjust
them. I do not say we may or may not; I say we
must; there is no choice. If your laws do not
fit your facts, the facts are not injured, the law
is damaged; because the law, unless I have studied
it amiss, is the expression of the facts in legal
relationships. Laws have never altered the facts;
laws have always necessarily expressed the facts; adjusted
interests as they have arisen and have changed toward
Politics in America is in a case which
sadly requires attention. The system set up by
our law and our usage doesn’t work, or
at least it can’t be depended on; it is made
to work only by a most unreasonable expenditure of
labor and pains. The government, which was designed
for the people, has got into the hands of bosses and
their employers, the special interests. An invisible
empire has been set up above the forms of democracy.
There are serious things to do.
Does any man doubt the great discontent in this country?
Does any man doubt that there are grounds and justifications
for discontent? Do we dare stand still? Within
the past few months we have witnessed (along with
other strange political phenomena, eloquently significant
of popular uneasiness) on one side a doubling of the
Socialist vote and on the other the posting on dead
walls and hoardings all over the country of certain
very attractive and diverting bills warning citizens
that it was “better to be safe than sorry”
and advising them to “let well enough alone.”
Apparently a good many citizens doubted whether the
situation they were advised to let alone was really
well enough, and concluded that they would take a chance
of being sorry. To me, these counsels of do-nothingism,
these counsels of sitting still for fear something
would happen, these counsels addressed to the hopeful,
energetic people of the United States, telling them
that they are not wise enough to touch their own affairs
without marring them, constitute the most extraordinary
argument of fatuous ignorance I ever heard. Americans
are not yet cowards. True, their self-reliance
has been sapped by years of submission to the doctrine
that prosperity is something that benevolent magnates
provide for them with the aid of the government; their
self-reliance has been weakened, but not so utterly
destroyed that you can twit them about it. The
American people are not naturally stand-patters.
Progress is the word that charms their ears and stirs
There are, of course, Americans who
have not yet heard that anything is going on.
The circus might come to town, have the big parade
and go, without their catching a sight of the camels
or a note of the calliope. There are people,
even Americans, who never move themselves or know that
anything else is moving.
A friend of mine who had heard of
the Florida “cracker,” as they call a
certain ne’er-do-weel portion of the population
down there, when passing through the State in a train,
asked some one to point out a “cracker”
to him. The man asked replied, “Well, if
you see something off in the woods that looks brown,
like a stump, you will know it is either a stump or
a cracker; if it moves, it is a stump.”
Now, movement has no virtue in itself.
Change is not worth while for its own sake. I
am not one of those who love variety for its own sake.
If a thing is good to-day, I should like to have it
stay that way to-morrow. Most of our calculations
in life are dependent upon things staying the way
they are. For example, if, when you got up this
morning, you had forgotten how to dress, if you had
forgotten all about those ordinary things which you
do almost automatically, which you can almost do half
awake, you would have to find out what you did yesterday.
I am told by the psychologists that if I did not remember
who I was yesterday, I should not know who I am to-day,
and that, therefore, my very identity depends upon
my being able to tally to-day with yesterday.
If they do not tally, then I am confused; I do not
know who I am, and I have to go around and ask somebody
to tell me my name and where I came from.
I am not one of those who wish to
break connection with the past; I am not one of those
who wish to change for the mere sake of variety.
The only men who do that are the men who want to forget
something, the men who filled yesterday with something
they would rather not recollect to-day, and so go
about seeking diversion, seeking abstraction in something
that will blot out recollection, or seeking to put
something into them which will blot out all recollection.
Change is not worth while unless it is improvement.
If I move out of my present house because I do not
like it, then I have got to choose a better house,
or build a better house, to justify the change.
It would seem a waste of time to point
out that ancient distinction, between mere
change and improvement. Yet there is a class of
mind that is prone to confuse them. We have had
political leaders whose conception of greatness was
to be forever frantically doing something, it
mattered little what; restless, vociferous men, without
sense of the energy of concentration, knowing only
the energy of succession. Now, life does not
consist of eternally running to a fire. There
is no virtue in going anywhere unless you will gain
something by being there. The direction is just
as important as the impetus of motion.
All progress depends on how fast you
are going, and where you are going, and I fear there
has been too much of this thing of knowing neither
how fast we were going or where we were going.
I have my private belief that we have been doing most
of our progressiveness after the fashion of those
things that in my boyhood days we called “treadmills,” a
treadmill being a moving platform, with cleats on
it, on which some poor devil of a mule was forced
to walk forever without getting anywhere. Elephants
and even other animals have been known to turn treadmills,
making a good deal of noise, and causing certain wheels
to go round, and I daresay grinding out some sort
of product for somebody, but without achieving much
progress. Lately, in an effort to persuade the
elephant to move, really, his friends tried dynamite.
It moved, in separate and scattered parts,
but it moved.
A cynical but witty Englishman said,
in a book, not long ago, that it was a mistake to
say of a conspicuously successful man, eminent in his
line of business, that you could not bribe a man like
that, because, he said, the point about such men is
that they have been bribed not in the ordinary
meaning of that word, not in any gross, corrupt sense,
but they have achieved their great success by means
of the existing order of things and therefore they
have been put under bonds to see that that existing
order of things is not changed; they are bribed to
maintain the status quo.
It was for that reason that I used
to say, when I had to do with the administration of
an educational institution, that I should like to make
the young gentlemen of the rising generation as unlike
their fathers as possible. Not because their
fathers lacked character or intelligence or knowledge
or patriotism, but because their fathers, by reason
of their advancing years and their established position
in society, had lost touch with the processes of life;
they had forgotten what it was to begin; they had
forgotten what it was to rise; they had forgotten what
it was to be dominated by the circumstances of their
life on their way up from the bottom to the top, and,
therefore, they were out of sympathy with the creative,
formative and progressive forces of society.
Progress! Did you ever reflect
that that word is almost a new one? No word comes
more often or more naturally to the lips of modern
man, as if the thing it stands for were almost synonymous
with life itself, and yet men through many thousand
years never talked or thought of progress. They
thought in the other direction. Their stories
of heroisms and glory were tales of the past.
The ancestor wore the heavier armor and carried the
larger spear. “There were giants in those
days.” Now all that has altered. We
think of the future, not the past, as the more glorious
time in comparison with which the present is nothing.
Progress, development, those are modern
words. The modern idea is to leave the past and
press onward to something new.
But what is progress going to do with
the past, and with the present? How is it going
to treat them? With ignominy, or respect?
Should it break with them altogether, or rise out
of them, with its roots still deep in the older time?
What attitude shall progressives take toward the existing
order, toward those institutions of conservatism, the
Constitution, the laws, and the courts?
Are those thoughtful men who fear
that we are now about to disturb the ancient foundations
of our institutions justified in their fear? If
they are, we ought to go very slowly about the processes
of change. If it is indeed true that we have
grown tired of the institutions which we have so carefully
and sedulously built up, then we ought to go very slowly
and very carefully about the very dangerous task of
altering them. We ought, therefore, to ask ourselves,
first of all, whether thought in this country is tending
to do anything by which we shall retrace our steps,
or by which we shall change the whole direction of
I believe, for one, that you cannot
tear up ancient rootages and safely plant the tree
of liberty in soil which is not native to it.
I believe that the ancient traditions of a people
are its ballast; you cannot make a tabula rasa
upon which to write a political program. You cannot
take a new sheet of paper and determine what your
life shall be to-morrow. You must knit the new
into the old. You cannot put a new patch on an
old garment without ruining it; it must be not a patch,
but something woven into the old fabric, of practically
the same pattern, of the same texture and intention.
If I did not believe that to be progressive was to
preserve the essentials of our institutions, I for
one could not be a progressive.
One of the chief benefits I used to
derive from being president of a university was that
I had the pleasure of entertaining thoughtful men from
all over the world. I cannot tell you how much
has dropped into my granary by their presence.
I had been casting around in my mind for something
by which to draw several parts of my political thought
together when it was my good fortune to entertain
a very interesting Scotsman who had been devoting
himself to the philosophical thought of the seventeenth
century. His talk was so engaging that it was
delightful to hear him speak of anything, and presently
there came out of the unexpected region of his thought
the thing I had been waiting for. He called my
attention to the fact that in every generation all
sorts of speculation and thinking tend to fall under
the formula of the dominant thought of the age.
For example, after the Newtonian Theory of the universe
had been developed, almost all thinking tended to
express itself in the analogies of the Newtonian Theory,
and since the Darwinian Theory has reigned amongst
us, everybody is likely to express whatever he wishes
to expound in terms of development and accommodation
Now, it came to me, as this interesting
man talked, that the Constitution of the United States
had been made under the dominion of the Newtonian
Theory. You have only to read the papers of The
Federalist to see that fact written on every page.
They speak of the “checks and balances”
of the Constitution, and use to express their idea
the simile of the organization of the universe, and
particularly of the solar system, how by
the attraction of gravitation the various parts are
held in their orbits; and then they proceed to represent
Congress, the Judiciary, and the President as a sort
of imitation of the solar system.
They were only following the English
Whigs, who gave Great Britain its modern constitution.
Not that those Englishmen analyzed the matter, or had
any theory about it; Englishmen care little for theories.
It was a Frenchman, Montesquieu, who pointed out to
them how faithfully they had copied Newton’s
description of the mechanism of the heavens.
The makers of our Federal Constitution
read Montesquieu with true scientific enthusiasm.
They were scientists in their way, the best
way of their age, those fathers of the
nation. Jefferson wrote of “the laws of
Nature,” and then by way of afterthought, “and
of Nature’s God.” And they constructed
a government as they would have constructed an orrery, to
display the laws of nature. Politics in their
thought was a variety of mechanics. The Constitution
was founded on the law of gravitation. The government
was to exist and move by virtue of the efficacy of
“checks and balances.”
The trouble with the theory is that
government is not a machine, but a living thing.
It falls, not under the theory of the universe, but
under the theory of organic life. It is accountable
to Darwin, not to Newton. It is modified by its
environment, necessitated by its tasks, shaped to its
functions by the sheer pressure of life. No living
thing can have its organs offset against each other,
as checks, and live. On the contrary, its life
is dependent upon their quick co-operation, their ready
response to the commands of instinct or intelligence,
their amicable community of purpose. Government
is not a body of blind forces; it is a body of men,
with highly differentiated functions, no doubt, in
our modern day, of specialization, with a common task
and purpose. Their co-operation is indispensable,
their warfare fatal. There can be no successful
government without the intimate, instinctive co-ordination
of the organs of life and action. This is not
theory, but fact, and displays its force as fact,
whatever theories may be thrown across its track.
Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in
structure and in practice. Society is a living
organism and must obey the laws of life, not of mechanics;
it must develop.
All that progressives ask or desire
is permission in an era when “development,”
“evolution,” is the scientific word to
interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian
principle; all they ask is recognition of the fact
that a nation is a living thing and not a machine.
Some citizens of this country have
never got beyond the Declaration of Independence,
signed in Philadelphia, July 4th, 1776. Their
bosoms swell against George III, but they have no
consciousness of the war for freedom that is going
The Declaration of Independence did
not mention the questions of our day. It is of
no consequence to us unless we can translate its general
terms into examples of the present day and substitute
them in some vital way for the examples it itself
gives, so concrete, so intimately involved in the
circumstances of the day in which it was conceived
and written. It is an eminently practical document,
meant for the use of practical men; not a thesis for
philosophers, but a whip for tyrants; not a theory
of government, but a program of action. Unless
we can translate it into the questions of our own
day, we are not worthy of it, we are not the sons of
the sires who acted in response to its challenge.
What form does the contest between
tyranny and freedom take to-day? What is the
special form of tyranny we now fight? How does
it endanger the rights of the people, and what do
we mean to do in order to make our contest against
it effectual? What are to be the items of our
new declaration of independence?
By tyranny, as we now fight it, we
mean control of the law, of legislation and adjudication,
by organizations which do not represent the people,
by means which are private and selfish. We mean,
specifically, the conduct of our affairs and the shaping
of our legislation in the interest of special bodies
of capital and those who organize their use. We
mean the alliance, for this purpose, of political
machines with selfish business. We mean the exploitation
of the people by legal and political means. We
have seen many of our governments under these influences
cease to be representative governments, cease to be
governments representative of the people, and become
governments representative of special interests, controlled
by machines, which in their turn are not controlled
by the people.
Sometimes, when I think of the growth
of our economic system, it seems to me as if, leaving
our law just about where it was before any of the modern
inventions or developments took place, we had simply
at haphazard extended the family residence, added
an office here and a workroom there, and a new set
of sleeping rooms there, built up higher on our foundations,
and put out little lean-tos on the side, until
we have a structure that has no character whatever.
Now, the problem is to continue to live in the house
and yet change it.
Well, we are architects in our time,
and our architects are also engineers. We don’t
have to stop using a railroad terminal because a new
station is being built. We don’t have to
stop any of the processes of our lives because we
are rearranging the structures in which we conduct
those processes. What we have to undertake is
to systematize the foundations of the house, then
to thread all the old parts of the structure with the
steel which will be laced together in modern fashion,
accommodated to all the modern knowledge of structural
strength and elasticity, and then slowly change the
partitions, relay the walls, let in the light through
new apertures, improve the ventilation; until finally,
a generation or two from now, the scaffolding will
be taken away, and there will be the family in a great
building whose noble architecture will at last be disclosed,
where men can live as a single community, co-operative
as in a perfected, co-ordinated beehive, not afraid
of any storm of nature, not afraid of any artificial
storm, any imitation of thunder and lightning, knowing
that the foundations go down to the bedrock of principle,
and knowing that whenever they please they can change
that plan again and accommodate it as they please
to the altering necessities of their lives.
But there are a great many men who
don’t like the idea. Some wit recently
said, in view of the fact that most of our American
architects are trained in a certain Ecole in
Paris, that all American architecture in recent years
was either bizarre or “Beaux Arts.”
I think that our economic architecture is decidedly
bizarre; and I am afraid that there is a good deal
to learn about matters other than architecture from
the same source from which our architects have learned
a great many things. I don’t mean the School
of Fine Arts at Paris, but the experience of France;
for from the other side of the water men can now hold
up against us the reproach that we have not adjusted
our lives to modern conditions to the same extent
that they have adjusted theirs. I was very much
interested in some of the reasons given by our friends
across the Canadian border for being very shy about
the reciprocity arrangements. They said:
“We are not sure whither these arrangements
will lead, and we don’t care to associate too
closely with the economic conditions of the United
States until those conditions are as modern as ours.”
And when I resented it, and asked for particulars,
I had, in regard to many matters, to retire from the
debate. Because I found that they had adjusted
their regulations of economic development to conditions
we had not yet found a way to meet in the United States.
Well, we have started now at all events.
The procession is under way. The stand-patter
doesn’t know there is a procession. He is
asleep in the back part of his house. He doesn’t
know that the road is resounding with the tramp of
men going to the front. And when he wakes up,
the country will be empty. He will be deserted,
and he will wonder what has happened. Nothing
has happened. The world has been going on.
The world has a habit of going on. The world
has a habit of leaving those behind who won’t
go with it. The world has always neglected stand-patters.
And, therefore, the stand-patter does not excite my
indignation; he excites my sympathy. He is going
to be so lonely before it is all over. And we
are good fellows, we are good company; why doesn’t
he come along? We are not going to do him any
harm. We are going to show him a good time.
We are going to climb the slow road until it reaches
some upland where the air is fresher, where the whole
talk of mere politicians is stilled, where men can
look in each other’s faces and see that there
is nothing to conceal, that all they have to talk
about they are willing to talk about in the open and
talk about with each other; and whence, looking back
over the road, we shall see at last that we have fulfilled
our promise to mankind. We had said to all the
world, “America was created to break every kind
of monopoly, and to set men free, upon a footing of
equality, upon a footing of opportunity, to match
their brains and their energies,” and now we
have proved that we meant it.