It is a very queer feeling one has about the People in the House of Commons.
I mean the feeling of their being under glass; they all seem so manageable, so quiet and so remote, a kind of glazed-over picture in still life, of themselves. Every now and then, of course one takes a member seriously when he steps up to the huge showcase of specimen crowds, which members are always referring to in their speeches. But nothing comes of it.
The crowds seem very remote there under the glass. One feels like smashing something—getting down to closer terms with them—one longs for a Department Store or a bridge or a 'bus—something that rattles and bangs and is.
All the while outside the mighty street—that huge megaphone of the crowd, goes shouting past. One wishes the House would notice it. But no one does. There is always just the House Itself and that hush or ring of silence around it, all England listening, all the little country papers far away with their hands up to their ears and the great serious-minded Dailies, and the witty Weeklies, the stately Monthlies, and Quarterlies all acting as if it mattered....
Even during the coal strike nothing really happened in the House of Commons. There was a sense of the great serious people, of the crowds on Westminster Bridge surging softly through glass outside, but nothing got in. Big Ben boomed down the river, across the pavements, over the hurrying crowds and over all the men and the women, the real business men and women. The only thing about the House that seemed to have anything to do with anybody was Big Ben.
Finally one goes up to Harrod's to get relief, or one takes a 'bus, or one tries Trafalgar Square, or one sees if one can really get across the Strand or one does something—almost anything to recall one's self to real life.
And then, of course, there is Oxford Street.
Almost always after watching the English people express themselves or straining to express themselves in the House of Commons, I try Oxford Street.
I know, of course, that as an art-form for expressing a great people, Oxford Street is not all that it should be, but there is certainly something, after all the mooniness and the dim droniness, and lawyer-mindedness in the way the English people express themselves or think that they ought to express themselves in their house of Commons—there is certainly something that makes Oxford Street seem suddenly a fine, free, candid way for a great people to talk! And there is all the gusto, too, the 'busses, the taxies, the hundreds of thousands of men and women saying things and buying things they believe.
Taking in the shops on both sides or the street, and taking in the things the people are doing behind the counters, and in the aisles, and up in the office windows three blocks of Oxford Street really express what the English people really want and what they really think and what they believe and put up money on, more than three years of the house of Commons.
If I were an Englishman I would rather be elected to walk up and down Oxford Street and read what I saw there than to be elected to a seat in the House of Commons, and I could accomplish more and learn more for a nation, with three blocks of Oxford Street, with what I could gather up and read there, and with what I could resent and believe there, than I could with three years of the House of Commons.
I know that anybody, of course, could be elected to walk up and down Oxford Street. But it is enough for me.
So I almost always try it after the house of Commons.
And when I have taken a little swing down Oxford Street and got the House of Commons out of my system a little, perhaps I go down to the Embankment, and drop into my club.
Then I sit in the window and mull.
If the English people express themselves and express what they want and what they are bound to have, on Oxford Street and put their money down for it, so much better than they do in the House of Commons, why should they not do it there?
Why should elaborate, roundabout, mysterious things like governments, that have to be spoken of in whispers (and that express themselves usually in a kind of lawyer-minded way, in picked and dried words like wills), be looked upon so seriously, and be taken on the whole, as the main reliance the people have, in a great nation, for expressing themselves?
Why should not a great people be allowed to say what they are like and to say what they want and what they are bound to get, in the way Oxford Street says things, in a few straight, clean-cut, ordinary words, in long quiet rows of deeds, of buying and selling and acting?
Pounds, shillings, and silence.
Then on to the next thing.
If the House of Commons were more like Oxford Street or even if it had suddenly something of the tone of Oxford Street, if suddenly it were to begin some fine morning to express England the way Oxford Street does, would not one see, in less than three months, new kinds and new sizes of men all over England, wanting to belong to it?
Big, powerful, uncompromising, creative men who have no time for twiddling, who never would have dreamed of being tucked away in the house of Commons before, would want to belong to it.
In the meantime, of course, the men of England who have empires to express, are not unnaturally expressing them in more simple language like foundries, soap factories around a world, tungsten mines, department stores, banks, subways, railroads for seventy nations, and ships on seven seas, Winnipeg trolleys and little New York skyscrapers.
Business men of the more usual or humdrum kind could not do it, but certainly, the first day that business men like these, of the first or world-size class, once find the House of Commons a place they like to be in, once begin expressing the genius of the English people in government as they are already expressing the genius of the English people in owning the earth, in buying and selling, in inventing things and in inventing corporations, the House of Commons will cease to be a bog of words, an abyss of committees, and legislation will begin to be run like a railroad—on a block signal system, rows of things taken up, gone over, and finished. The click of the signal. Then the next thing.
I sit in my club and look out of the window and think. Just outside thousands of taxies shooting all these little mighty wills of men across my window, across London, across England, across the world ... the huge, imperious street ... all these men hurling themselves about in it, joining their wills on to telephone wires, to mighty trains and little quiet country roads, hitching up cables to their wills, and ships—hitching up the very clouds over the sea to their wills and running a world—why are not men like these—men who have the street-spirit in them, this motor genius of driving through to what they want, taking seats in the House of Commons?
Perhaps Oxford Street is more efficient and more characteristic in expressing the genius and the will of the English people than the House of Commons is because of the way in which the people select the men they want to express them in Oxford Street.
It may be that the men the people have selected to be at the top of the nation's law-making are not selected by as skillful, painstaking, or thorough a process as the men who have been selected to be placed at the top of the nation's buying and selling.
Possibly the reason the House of Commons does not express the will of the people is, that its members are merely selected in a loose, vague way and by merely counting noses.
Possibly, too, the men who are selected by a true, honest, direct, natural selection to be the leaders and to free the energies and steer the work of the people, the men who are selected to lead by being seen and lived with and worked with all day, every day, are better selected men than men who having been voted on on slips of paper, and having been seen in newspaper paragraphs, travel up to London and begin thoughtlessly running a world.
The business man drops into the House of Commons after the meeting of his firm in Bond Street, Lombard Street, or Oxford Street and takes a look at it. He sees before him a huge tool or piece of machinery—a body of men intended to work together and to get certain grave, particular, and important things done, that the people want done, and he does not see how a great good-hearted chaos or welter, a kind of chance national Weather of Human Nature like the House of Commons, can get the things done.
So he confines himself more and more to business where he loses less time in wondering what other people think or if they think at all, cuts out the work he sees, and does it.
He thinks how it would be if things were turned around and if people tried to get expressed in business in the loose way, the thoughtless reverie of voting that they use in trying to get themselves expressed in politics.
He thinks the stockholders of the Sunlight Soap Company, Limited, would be considerably alarmed to have the president and superintendent and treasurer and the buyers and salesmen of the company elected at the polls by the people in the county or by popular suffrage. He thinks that thousands of the hands as well as the stockholders would be alarmed too. It does not seem to him that anybody, poor or rich, employer or employee, in matters of grave personal concern, would be willing to trust his interest or would really expect the people, all the people as a whole, to be represented or to get what they wanted, to act definitely and efficiently through the vague generalizations of the polls. Perhaps a natural selection, a dead-earnest rigorous, selection that men work on nine hours a day, an implacable, unremitting process during working hours, of sorting men out (which we call business), is the crowd's most reliable way of registering what it definitely thinks about the men it wants to represent it. Business is the crowd's, big, serious, daily voting in pounds, shillings, and pence—its hour to hour, unceasing, intimate, detailed labour in picking men out, in putting at the top the men it can work with best, the men who most express it, who have the most genius to serve crowds, to reveal to crowds their own minds, and supply to them what they want.
As full as it is—like all broad, honest expressions, of human shortcomings and of things that are soon to be stopped, it does remain to be said that business, in a huge, rough way, daily expressing the crowds as far as they have got—the best in them and the worst in them, is, after all, their most faithful and true record, their handwriting. Business is the crowds' autograph—its huge, slow, clumsy signature upon our world.
Buying and selling is the life blood of the crowds' thought, its big, brutal daily confiding to us of its view of human life. What do the crowds, poor and rich, really believe about life? Property is the last will and testament of Crowds.
The man-sorting that goes on in distributing and producing property is the Crowd's most unremitting, most normal, temperamental way of determining and selecting its most efficient and valuable leaders—its men who can express it, and who can act for it.
This is the first reason I would give against letting the people rely on having a House of Commons compel business men to be good.
Men who meet now and again during the year, afternoons or evenings, who have been picked out to be at the top of the nation's talking, by a loose absent-minded and illogical paper-process, cannot expect to control men who have been picked out to be at the top of a nation's buying and selling, by a hard-working, closely fitting, logical process—the men that all the people by everything they do, every day, all day, have picked out to represent them.
Any chance three blocks of Oxford Street could be relied on to do better.
Keeping the polls open once in so often, a few hours, and using hearsay and little slips of paper—anybody dropping in—seems a rather fluttery and uncertain way to pick out the representatives of the people, after one has considered three blocks of Oxford Street.
The next thing the crowd is going to do in getting what it wants from business men is to deal directly with the business men themselves and stop feeling, what many people feel partly from habit, perhaps, that the only way the crowd can get to what it wants is to go way over or way back or way around by Robin Hood's barn or the House of Commons.
But there is a second reason:
The trouble is not merely in the way men who sit in the House of Commons are selected. The real deep-seated trouble with the men who sit in the House of Commons is that they like it. The difficulty (as in the American Congress too) seems to be something in the men themselves. It lies in what might be called, for lack of a better name, perhaps, the Hem and Haw or Parliament Temperament.
The dominating type of man in all the world's legislative bodies, for the time being, seems to be the considerer or reconsiderer, the man who dotes on the little and tiddly sides of great problems. The greatness of the problem furnishes, of course, the pleasant, pale glow, the happy sense of importance to a man, and then there is all the jolly littleness of the little things besides—the little things that a little man can make look big by getting them in the way of big ones—a great nation looking on and waiting.... For such a man there always seems to be a certain coziness and hominess in a Legislative Body....
As a seat in the House of Commons not unnaturally—every year it is hemmed or hawed in, gets farther and farther away from the people, it is becoming more and more apparent to the people every year that the Members of their House of Commons as a class are unlikely to do anything of a very striking or important or lasting value in the way of getting business men to be good.
The more efficient and practical business men are coming to suspect that the members of the House of Commons, speaking broadly, do not know the will of the people, and that they could not express it in creative, straightforward and affirmative laws if they did.
OXFORD STREET HUMS. THE HOUSE HEMS
But it is not only because the members of the House of Commons are selected in a vague way or because they are a vague kind of men, that they fail to represent the people.
The third reason against having a House of Commons try to compel business men to be good, by law, is its out-of-the-way position.
The out-of-the-way position that a Parliament occupies in getting business men to be good, can be best considered, perhaps, by admitting at the outset that a government really is one very real and genuine way a great people may have of expressing themselves, of expressing what they are like and what they want, and that business is another way.
Then the question narrows down. Which way of expressing the people is the one that expresses them the most to the point, and which expresses them where their being expressed counts the most?
The people have a Government. And the people have Business.
What is a Government for?
What is Business for?
Business is the occupation of finding out and anticipating what the wants of the English people really are and of finding out ways of supplying them.
The business men on Oxford Street hire twenty or thirty thousand men and women, keep them at work eight or nine hours a day, five or six days in a week, finding out what the things are that the English people want and reporting on them and supplying them.
They are naturally in a strategic position to find out, not only what kinds of things the people want, but to find out, too, just how they want the things placed before them, what kind of storekeepers and manufacturers, salesmen and saleswomen they tolerate, like to deal with and prefer to have prosper.
And the business men are not only in the most strategic and competent position to find out what the people who buy want, but to find out too, what the people who sell want. They are in the best position to know, and to know intimately, what the salesmen and saleswomen want and what they want to be and what they want to do or not do.
They are in a close and watchful position, too, with regard to the conditions in the factories from which their goods come and with regard to what the employers, stockholders, foremen and workmen in those factories want.
What is more to the point, these same business men, when they have once found out just what it is the people want, are the only men who are in a position, all in the same breath, without asking anybody and without arguing with anybody, without meddling or convincing anybody—to get it for them.
Finding out what people want and getting it for them is what may be called, controlling business.
The question not unnaturally arises with all these business men and their twenty or thirty thousand people working with them, eight or nine hours a day, five or six days a week, in controlling business, why should the members of the House of Commons expect, by taking a few afternoons or evenings off for it, to control business for them?
If I were an employee and if what I wanted to do was to improve the conditions of labour in my own calling, I do not think I would want to take the time to wait several months, probably, to convince my member of Parliament, and then wait a few months more for him to convince the other members of Parliament, and then vote his one vote. I would rather deal directly with my employer.
If my employer is on my back and if I can once get the attention of my employer himself, as to where he is and as to how he is interrupting what I am doing for him—if I once get his attention and once get him to notice my back, he can get down. No one else can get down for him and no one else, except by turning a whole nation all around, can make him get down. Why should a man bother with T.P.'s Weekly or with Horatio Bottomley or with the Daily Mail or the Times, with a score of other people's by-elections all over England to lift his own employer off his back?
There is a very simple rule for it.
The way to lift one's employer off one's back is to make one's back so efficient that he cannot afford to be on it.
The first thing I would do would be to see if I could not persuade my employer to take steps to train me and to make me efficient, himself. And perhaps the second thing I would try to do would be to wake my trades union up, to get my trades union to consent to let me want to try to be efficient and work as hard as I can, or to consent to my employer's hiring engineers to make me efficient. I would try to get my trades union to be interested in hiring itself some special expert like Frederick Taylor, some specialist in making a man do three times as much work with the same strength, making him three times as valuable for his employer and three times as fit and strong for himself.
This is what I would do if I wanted to make my employer good. I would be so good that he could not afford not being good too.
If I were an employer, on the other hand, and understood human nature, and knew enough about psychology to found a great business house and wanted to make my employee good, or make him work three times as hard for me, with three times the normal strength, day by day, and have a normal old age to look forward to, I do not think I would wait for the House of Commons to butt in and pension him. It seems to me that I would be in a position to do it more adequately, more rapidly, and do it with more intimate knowledge of economy than the House of Commons could. And I would not have to convince several hundred men, men from rural counties, how I could improve my factory and get them to let me improve it. I could do it quietly by myself.
In any given industrial difficulty, there is and must be a vision for every man, a vision either borrowed for him or made for him by some one else, or a vision he has made for himself, that fits in just where he is. In the last analysis our industrial success is going to lie in the sense of Here, and Me, and Now, raised to the n-th power, in what might be called a kind of larger syndicalism.
The typical syndicalist, instead of saying, as he does to-day, "We will take the factories out of our employers hands and run them ourselves," is going to say, "We will make ourselves fit to run the factories ourselves."
What would please the employers more, give them a general, or national confidence in trying to run business and improve the conditions of work to-day, than to have their employees, suddenly, all over the nation, begin doing their work so well that they would be fit to run the factories?
What is true of employers and employees in factories is still more true of the employers and employees in the great retail stores. If there is one thing rather than another the business men and women on Oxford Street, the managers, floor walkers and clerks all up and down the street are really engaged in all day all their lives, it is what might be called a daily nine-hour drill in understanding people. Why should employers and employees like these—experts in human nature—men who make their profession a success by studying human nature, and by working in it daily, call in a few drifting gentlemen from the House of Commons and expect them to work out their human problems better than they can do it?
Employers and clerks in retail stores are the two sets of people in all the world most competent to study together the working details of human nature, to act for themselves in self-respecting man-fashion and without whining at a nation.
Who that they could hope to deal with and get what they want from, could know more about human nature than they do? Are they not the men of all others, all up and down that little strip of Oxford Street, who devote their entire time to human nature? They are in the daily profession of knowing the soonest and knowing the most about what people are like, and about what people will probably think. They are intimate with their peccadillos in what they want to wear and in what they want to eat; they have learned their likes and dislikes in human nature; they know what they will support and what they will defy in human nature, in clerks, and in stores, and in storekeepers.
And these things that they have learned about human nature (in themselves and other people) they have learned not by talking about human nature but by a grim daily doing things with it.
These things being so, it would almost seem that these people and people like them were qualified to act, and as they happen to be in the one strategic position, both employers and employees alike, to act and to act for themselves and act directly and act together, it will not be very long, probably, before the nation will be very glad to have them do it.
It is likely to be seen very soon (at least by all skilled Labour and all skilled Capital) that running out into the street and crying "Help!" and calling in some third person to settle family difficulties that can be better settled by being faced and thought out in private, is an inefficient and incompetent thing to do.
And for the most part it is going to be only in the more superficial, inefficient, thoughtless industry that men, either employers or employed, will be inclined to leave their daily work, run out wildly and drag in a House of Commons to help them to do right.
I am only speaking for myself but certainly if I were an employer or an employee, I would not want to wait for an election a year away or to wait for the great engineering problem of compelling my member of Parliament by my one vote to act for me.
Perhaps workingmen in England and America are deceived about the value of voting as a means of improving conditions of workingmen. Possibly women are deceived about the value of voting as a means of improving the conditions of working women.
Possibly a woman could do more behind a counter or by buying a store than by voting to have some man she has read about in a paper, improve business by talking about it in the House of Commons.
* * * * *
There is also a kind of program or vision of action one can use as a customer as well as an employer or employee.
I might speak for myself.
I have about so much money I spend every year in buying things. I have proposed to study with my money every firm on which I spend it. I propose to take away my trade from the firm that does the least as it should and give it to the firm that does the most as it should. I will vote with my entire income and with every penny I save for the kind of employers I believe in and that I want, for the kind of employers who can earn and deserve and enjoy and keep the kind of salesmen and saleswomen I choose to do business with.
All the year round, every firm with which I deal, I am going to study not only with my mind but with my money. I will proceed to take my trade away from the big employers who think that I want shoddy goods or who think that I want or am willing to trade with saleswomen who would let an employer impose on them, saleswomen that he thinks he can afford to impose upon. I will proceed to vote with my money, with every penny I have in the world, and I will earn more that I may vote more, for the kind of employer with whom I like to trade. And there shall not be a man, woman, or child of my acquaintance, if I can help it, or of my family's acquaintance who shall not know who these employers are by name and by address, the employers that I will trade with and the employers that I will not.
This is my idea as a customer, as a member of the public, of the way for a people to express itself and to get what it wants.
What I want may be said to be a kind of news, news about me so far as I go, as one member of the public. As I am only one person every item of the news about me must be put where it works. I will deal directly with the news of what I want and I will convey that news, not to the House of Commons but to the men who have what I want and who can give it to me when they know it.
News is the real government now and always of this world.
When one has made up one's mind to tell this news, obviously the best art-form for telling news to employers and business men—the news of what we want and what we do not want and of what we want in them as well as in the things they sell, is to tell them the news in the language they have studied most, tell it to them in pounds, shillings, dollars, and cents, and by trading somewhere else.
The gospel-bearing value, the news that one can get into a man's mind with one dollar, the news that he can be made to see and act on for one dollar—well, thinking of this some days, makes for me, at least, going up and down the Main Street of the World feeling my purse snuggling in my pocket, and all the people I can step up to with my purse and tell so many dollars' worth of news to, tell that dollar's worth of gospel to about the world—makes going up and down with a dollar on a big business street, and spending it or not spending it, feel like a kind of chronic, easy, happy, going to Church. One always has a little money in one's pocket that one spends or that one won't spend, and sometimes even not spending a dollar, practised by some people, at just the right moment and in just the right way, can be made to mean as much and do as much with a world as spending a thousand dollars would without any meaning put into it.
Sometimes I even go into a store on purpose, a certain kind of store I know will try to cheat me in a certain way, let them look a minute at the dollar they cannot have. Then I walk out with it quietly.
I have said that the life-blood of my convictions shall circulate in my money and if I cannot express my soul, my religion, my gospel or news for this world, news about what I want and about what I will have in a world, if I cannot make every dollar, every shilling I earn, go through the world and sing my own little world-song in it, may I never have another shilling or earn another dollar as long as I live!
The very sight of a dollar now whenever I see one once more, fills me with deep, hopeful working joy, thinking of what a bargain it is and how I can use it twice over, thinking of the dollar's worth of news, to say nothing of the dollar's worth of things that belong with a dollar!
* * * * *
For some generations, now, we have tried to make people good in a vague, general way, by using priests, sacraments and confessional boxes. For some centuries we have been trying to make people good with lawyers and juries and ballot boxes. We are now to try, at last, religion or gospel or news or ideals—practical, shrewd aimed ideals, that is, news to a man about himself or news about the man from the man himself to us. In everything a man does he is expressing to us this news about himself, and about his world, and about his God. We are all telling news about the world and about ourselves all the time and we are all in a position for news all the time.
What is it from hour to hour and day to day that we will do and we will not do?
This news about us is the religion in us.
The average man is coming to have very accurate ideas of late as to just where his religion is located. He has come to see that real religion in a man, very conveniently located (immediately at hand in him and personally directed), is his own action, his own divine "I will" or "I won't."
He has come to be deeply attracted by this idea of a religion for every man just where he is, fitted on patiently, cheerfully, to just where he is, every day all day, his glorious, still, practical, good-natured, godlike "I will" and "I won't "—or News about himself.
PRESIDENT WILSON AND MOSES
We are deeply interested in the United States just now, in seeing what will be the fate of President Wilson's government in getting men to be good. The fate of a government in 1913 may be said to stand on the government's psychology or knowledge of human nature or of what might be called human engineering, its mastery of the principles of lifting over in great masses heavy spiritual bodies, like people, swinging great masses of people's minds over as on some huge national derrick up on The White House, from one lookout on life to another.
There are certain aspects of human nature when power is being applied to it in this way, and when it is being got to be good, that may not be beside the point.
If one could drop in on a government and have a little neighbourly chat with it, as one was going by, I think I would rather talk with it (especially our government, just now), about Human Nature than about anything.
I would have to do it, of course, in what might seem to a government to be a plain and homely way.
I would ask the government what it thought of two or three observations I have come to lately about the way that human nature works, when people are getting it to be good. What a government thinks about them might possibly prove before many months to be quite important to It.
The first observation is this:
The reason that the average bachelor is a bachelor is that he spends the first forty-five years of his life in picking out women he will not marry.
Possibly it is because many people are following the same principle in trying to be good and in getting other people to be good that they make such poor work of it.
Possibly the main reason why there are so many wicked people or seem to be, in proportion, among the Hebrews in the Old Testament, is that Moses was a lawyer and that he tried to start off a great people with the Ten Commandments, that is, a list of nine things they must never do any more, and of one that they must.
Some of us who have tried being good, have noticed that when we have hit it off, being good (at least with us) consists in being focused, in getting concentrated, in getting one's attention to what one really wants to do.
Moses' idea when he started his government, the idea of getting people concentrated on not getting concentrated on nine things, was not conducive to goodness. The fundamental principle Moses tried to make the people good with was a contradiction in terms. It is a principle that would make wicked people out of almost anybody. It is not a practicable principle for a government to rely on in getting people to be good. It did not work with the people in the Old Testament and it has never worked with people since.
It does not call people out, in getting them to take up goodness, to point out to them nine places not to take hold of and one where they will be allowed to take hold, if they know how.
All that one has to do to see how true this is, is to observe the groups or classes of people who are especially not what they should be. The people who never get on morally (as different as they may be in most things and in the fields of their activity) all have one illusion in common. There is one thing they always keep saying when any new hopeful person tries once more to get them to be good.
They say (almost as if they had a phonograph) that they try to be good and cannot do it.
And this is not true.
When a man says he tries to be good and cannot do it, if he sits down and thinks it over he finds, generally, he is not trying to be good at all. He is trying to be not bad.
A man cannot get himself reformed, by a negative process, by being not bad, and it is still harder for him and for everybody, when other people try to do it—those who are near him, and it is still, still harder for a President down in Washington to do it.
An intelligent, live man or business corporation cannot be got to keep up an interest very long in being not bad. Being not bad is a glittering generality. It is like being not extravagant or economical.
Most people who have ever tried to attain in a respectable degree to a pale little neuter virtue like economy, and who have reflected upon their experiences, have come to conclusions that may not be very far from the point in a fine art like getting one's self to be good or getting other people to be good.
To concentrate on being economical by going grimly down the street, looking at the shop windows, looking hard at miles of things one will not buy, cannot be said to be a practicable method of attaining economy.
The real artist, in getting himself to be good, proceeds to upon the opposite principle. Even if the good thing he tries for is merely a negative good thing like economy, he instinctively seeks out some positive way of getting it.
A man who is cultivating the art of getting himself to be economical, or of getting his wife to be economical, does not make a start by sitting down with a pencil and making out a list, by concentrating his mind on rows of things that he and his family must get along without. He knows a better way. He goes downtown with his entire family, takes them into a big shop and sits down with them and listens to a Steinway Grand he cannot get. As he listens to it long enough, he thinks he will get it.
Then a subtle, spiritual change passes over him and over his family while they listen. He would not have said before he started that sitting down and thinking of things he could get along without—making lists in his mind of things that he must not have—could ever be in this world a happy, even an almost thrilling experience. But as a matter of fact, as he sits by the piano and listens, he finds himself counting off economies like strings of pearls, and he greets each new self-sacrifice he can think of with a cheer. While the Steinway Grand fills the room with melody all around him, there he actually is sitting, and having the time of his life dreaming of the things he can get along without!
When he goes home, he goes home thinking. And the family all go home thinking.
Then economy sets in. The reason most people make a failure of their economy is that they are not artistic with it, they do not enjoy it. They do not pick out anything to enjoy their economy with.
With some people an automobile would work better than a Steinway Grand and there are as many ways, of course, of practising the Steinway Grand principle in not being bad as there are people, but they all consist apparently in selecting some big, positive thing that one wants to do, which logically includes and bundles all together where they are attended to in a lump, all the things that one ought not to do.
Most sins (every one who has ever tried them knows this) most sins are not really worth bothering with, each in detail, even the not-doing them and the most practical, firm method of getting them out of the way (thousands of them at once, sometimes, with one hand) is to have something so big to live for that all the things that would like to get in the way, and would like to look important, look, when one thinks of it, suddenly small.
The distinctive, preeminent, official business for the next four years, of making small things in this country look small and of gently, quietly making small men feel small, has been assigned by our people recently, to Mr. Woodrow Wilson.
Now it naturally seems to some of us, the best way for Mr. Wilson's government to do in getting the Trusts to give up lying and stealing, is going to be to place before them quietly a few really big, interesting, equally exciting things that Trusts can do, and then dare them, as in some great game or tournament of skill—all the people looking on—dare them, challenge them like great men, to do them.
There are three ideas President Wilson may have of the government's getting people to be good.
First, not letting people be bad. (Moses.)
Second, being good for them. (Karl Marx.)
Third, letting them be good themselves. (Any Democrat.)
The first of these ideas means government by Prison. The second, means government by Usurpation, that is, the moment a man amounts to enough to choose to do right or do wrong of his own free will, the moment he is a man, in other words, being so afraid of him and of his being a man, that we all, in a kind of panic, shove into his life and live it for him—this is Socialism, a scared machine that scared people have invented for not letting people choose to do right because they may choose to do wrong.
The third, letting people be good themselves, letting them be self-controlling, self-respecting, self-expressing or voluntarily good people, is democracy, a machine for letting men be men by trying it.
Moses was the inventor of a kind of national moral-brake system, a machine for stopping people nine times out of ten. The question that faces President Wilson just now, while the world looks on is, "Is a government or is it not a moral-brake system—a machine for stopping people nine times out of ten?"
There is a considerable resemblance between Moses' position and the new President's in the United States. When Moses looked around on the things he saw the men around him doing, and took the ground that at least nine out of ten of the things should be stopped, he was academically correct. And so, also, President Wilson, gazing at the business of this country to-day, at nine out of ten of the humdrum thoughtless things that trusts and corporations have been doing, will be academically correct in telling them to stop, in having his little, new, helpless, unproved, adolescent government stand up before all the people and speak in loud, beautiful, clear accents and (with its left fist full of prisons, fines, lawyers, of forty-eight legislatures all talking at once) bring down its right fist as a kind of gavel on the world and say to these men, before all the nations, that nine of the things they are doing must be stopped and that one of the things, if they happen to able be to think out some way of keeping on doing it—nobody will hurt them.
But the question before President Wilson, to-day, with all our world looking on, is not whether he would be right in entering upon a career of stopping people. The real and serious question is, does stopping people stop them? And if stopping people does not stop them, what will?
Perhaps the way for a government to stop people from doing things they are doing, is to tell them the things it wants done. A government that does not express what it wants, that has not given a masterful, clear, inspired statement of what it wants—a government that has only tried to say what it does not want, is not a government.
The next business of a government is a statement of what it wants.
The problem of a government is essentially a problem of statement.
How shall this statement be made?
THE PRESIDENT SAYS YES AND NO
It was not merely because the seventh commandment was negative, but because it was abstract that David found it so hard to keep. If the seventh commandment (like Uriah's wife) could have had deep blue eyes or could have been beautiful to look upon, and, on a particular day in a particular place, could have been bathing in a garden, David would have found keeping it a very different matter. The tendency to make a statue of purity as a lovely female figure carries us a little further in moral evolution, than the moral statement that Moses had managed to get, and it was further toward the concrete, but it was not far enough for a real artist or man who does things.
One of the things about the real artist that makes him an artist, is that he is always and always has been and always will be profoundly dissatisfied with a statue of a female figure as an emblem of purity. He challenges the world, he challenges God, he challenges himself, he challenges the men and women about him when he is being put off with a Statue as an emblem of purity. He demands, searches out, interprets, creates something concrete and living to express his idea of purity.
How can President Wilson, in getting the Trusts not to be corrupt, in trying to win them—how can President Wilson make the law alluring? How can he make the People have a Low Voice?
A great deal if not nearly everything depends in tempting business men to be good, upon the tone in which they are addressed. Every government, like every man, soon comes to have its own characteristic tone in addressing the people. And, as a matter of fact, it is almost always the tone in a government, like the voice in a man, which tells us the most definitely what it is like, and is the most intimate and effective expression of what it wants and is the most practical way of getting what it wants. Everybody has noticed that a man's voice works harder for him, works more to the point for him in getting what he wants than his words do. It is his voice that makes people know him, that makes them know he means what he says. It is his voice that tells them whether he is in the habit of meaning what he says, and it is his voice that tells them whether he is in habit of getting what he wants, and of knowing what to do with what he wants when he gets it.
A government does not need to say very much if it has the right tone.
The tone of a government is the government.
If President Wilson is going to succeed in tempting business men to be good, he is going to do it, some of us think, by depending on three principles.
These three principles, like all live, active principles, may be stated as three principles or as three personal traits.
First, by being affirmative. (Isaiah, in distinction from Moses.)
Second, by being concrete. (Bathsheba.)
Third, by being specific, by seeing the universal in the particular. (Like any artist or man who does things.)
The value of being affirmative and the value of being concrete have already been touched upon. There remains the value of being specific.
Possibly, in this present happy hour, when our country has grown suddenly sensible and has become practical enough to pick out at last, once more, a President with a real serious working sense of humour, even a sense of humour about himself, it may not be considered disrespectful if I continue a little longer dropping in on the Government, and saying what I have to say in a few plain and homely words.
The trouble with most people in being economical with their money is, that when they spend it, they spend it on something in particular, and when they save it, they try to save it in a kind of general way. The same principle applies to doing right. It is because when people do right, they do it in a kind of general pleasant, abstract way, and when they do wrong they always do something in particular, that they are so Wicked.
A man will do almost anything to save his life at a particular place and at a particular time, say at ten o'clock to-morrow morning, if he is drowning, but if he has a year to save it in, a year of controlling his appetites, of daily, detailed mastering of his spirit, of not taking a piece of mince pie, of stopping his work in time and of going to bed early, he will die.
It is easier when one is going under water for the third time and sees a rope, to stretch just one inch more and grasp the rope, reach up to forty more years of one's life, all concentrated for one on the tip of a rope, than it is to spread out saving one's life over a whole year, 365 breakfasts, 365 luncheons, 365 dinners, 33,365 moments of anger, of reckless worry, of remorse, of self-pity, 40,000 of despair and round up with a swing at the end of one's year at the tiptop of one's being, as if it had only taken five minutes. And yet it is only an act of the creative imagination of seeing the whole, of having a happy, daily, detailed spectacle of the end in view, that is, of the part in its setting of the whole—going without a piece of mince pie. If one could only make one's self see the piece of mince pie as it is, it would not be difficult. If one could see it on the plate there and see the not taking it as a little wedge-shaped rivet, a little triangular link of coupling in the chain that keeps one holding on forty years longer to this planet, a piece of mince pie left on a plate would become a Vision.
This seems to be the principle that works best in getting other people to be good.
Perhaps the President will succeed in getting Trusts to be good, by taking hold of specific Trusts, one by one, and setting them—all mankind looking on—in the nation's vision, setting them even in their own vision—taking the Trusts that thought they had got what they wanted, making them stand up and look (in some great public lighted place) at what pathetic, tragical failures they are, letting them see that what their Trust had wanted all along, if it had only thought about it, was not success one went to jail for—success by getting the best out of the most people, but success by serving the most people the best.
A great many of us in America have been exercising our minds for a long time now about the eagerness of the Trusts, and the trouble we were going to have in curbing the eagerness of the Trusts.
Sometimes I have wondered if, after all, it was our minds we were exercising, for when one sits down seriously to think of it, it is the eagerness of the Trusts that is the most hopeful thing about them.
What is the matter with our American Trusts, perhaps, is not and never has been, their eagerness, but their eagerness for things that they did not want, and for things that almost everybody is coming to see that they did not want.
The moment that the eagerness of our American Trusts is an eagerness for things that they really want, the Trusts will be seen piling over each other's heels, asking the government to please investigate them. The more they can get the people to know about them and about their eagerness, the more the people will trust them and deal with them.
All that we have been waiting for is a government that sees the part from the point of view of the whole, which will take up a few specific Trusts and be specific enough with them to make them think, think hard what they really want, and what their real eagerness is about, and the entire face of modern business will change. First the expression will change and then the face itself.
The moment it is found that the government is a specific government, all the trusts that know what they really want and know what they really are doing, will want to be investigated, because they will want everybody to know that they know. In case of the trusts that do not know what they want and that do not know what they are doing, the government will just step in, of course, and investigate them until they find out.
A specific government will not need to be specific many times.
It takes up a particular Trust in its hand, turns it over quietly, empties its contents out before the people and says to everybody, "This particular Trust you see here has tried to be a kind of Trust, which it found out afterward, it did not want to be. It is the kind of Trust whose officers hide their faces when they think of what it was that they thought that they thought that they wanted....
"These men you see here, forty silent nations looking on, hundreds and thousands of self-respecting, self-supporting, public-serving, creative, successful business men, whom all the world envies looking on, do hereby beg to declare to all business men who know them and to the people, that they did not ever really want these things for themselves that their business says or seems to say they wanted.
"They wish to ask the public to put themselves in their places and to refuse to believe that they deliberately sat down, seriously thought it all out, that they had planned to express to everybody what their natures really were in a blind, brutal, foolish business like this which we have just been showing you. They beg to have it believed that their business misrepresents them, that it misrepresents what they want, and they ask to be again admitted to the good-will, the hope and forgiveness, the companionship of a great people.
"They declare" (the government will go on) "that they are not the men they seem. They are merely men in a hurry. They want it understood that they have merely hurried so fast and hurried so long that they now wake up at last only to see, see with this terrific plainness what it really is that has been happening to them all their lives, viz.: for forty, fifty, or sixty years they have merely forgot who they were and overlooked what they were like.
"In hurrying, too, it is only fair to say they have had to use machines to hurry with and unconsciously, year by year, associating almost exclusively with machines, their machines (pump handles, trip-hammers, hydraulic drills, steam shovels and cranes and cash registers) have grown into them.
"This is the way it has happened. 'Let the nation be merciful to them,' the government will then say, and dismiss the subject."
* * * * *
What our President seems to be for in America, is to do up a nation in one specific, particular man who expresses everybody.
This man deals with each other specific man, his aggressions and services, as a nation would if a nation could be one specific man.
The President of the United States is the Comptroller of the people's vision, by seeing a part and dealing with a part as a part of a whole, he governs the people.
He is the Chancellor of the People's Attention.
The business of being a President is the business of focusing the vision, of flooding the whole desire or will of a people around a man and letting him have the light of it, to see what he is doing by, and to be seen by, while he is doing it.
The corporations have expressed or focused the employers of labour. The Labour Unions have focused or expressed the will of the labourers, and the government focuses and expresses the will of the consumers, of the people as a whole, rich and poor, so that Labour and Capital, both listen to It, understand It and act on It.
The way to deal with a specific sin is to flood it around with the general vision. Then it does not need to be dealt with. Then strangely, softly, and almost before we know—out there in the Light, it automatically deals with itself.
When the Government takes hold quietly of the National Cash Register Company, turns it up, empties its contents out,—all its methods and its motives—and all the things It thought It wanted, and then proceeds to put its president and twenty-nine of its officers into jail, my readers will perhaps point out to me that this action of the government as a method of tempting people to be good, while it may have the virtue of being concrete and the virtue of being specific, certainly does not have the other virtue that I have laid down, the virtue of being affirmative. "Certainly" they will say "there is not anything affirmative about putting twenty-nine big business men in jail." Many people would call it the most magnificently negative thing a President could have done. Moses himself would have done it.
It does not seem to me that Moses would have done it, or that it was essentially negative. It could not unfairly be claimed that in spite of its negative look on the surface, it was the most massive, significant, crushing affirmation that a great people has made for years.
By putting the twenty-nine officers of the National Cash Register Company in jail, the American people affirmed around the world the nation's championship of the men that had been defeated in the competition with the National Cash Register Company. They affirmed that these men who were not afraid of the National Cash Register Company because they were bigger, and who stood up to them and fought them, were the kind of men Americans wanted to be like, and that the officers of the National Cash Register Company were the kind of men Americans did not want to be like, would not do business with, would not tolerate, would not envy, would not live on the same continent with, unless they were kept in jail.
The President of the United States, sitting in Washington, at the head of this vast affirmative and assertive continent, indicted the Cash Register Company, that is, by a slight pointed negative action, by pushing back a button he turned on the great chandelier of a nation and flooded a nation with light. We, the American people, suddenly, all in a flash, looked into each other's faces and knew what we were like.
We had hoped we believed in human nature, and in brave men and in men against machines but we could not prove it.
Suddenly, we stood in a blaze of truth about ourselves. Suddenly, we could again look with our old stir of joy at our national Flag. If we liked, we could swing our hats.
Perhaps I should speak for myself, but I had been trying to get this news for years. It is news I have wanted to live with and do business with. I have been trying to get my question answered. What are the American people really like?
The President points at the National Cash Register Company and I find out. All the people find out.
In the last analysis, the masterful, shrewd, practical, and constructive part of being a President of the United States—the thing in the business of being a President that keeps the position from being a position which only the second rate or No type of man would have time to take, is the fact that the President is the Head Advertising Manager of the United States, conducting a huge advertising campaign of what Americans really want.
He takes up the National Cash Register Company, picks out its twenty-nine officers, makes it a bill board sky-high across the country. "Here are the kind of business men that the people of the United States do not want, and here are the kind of men that we do!"
The thing that makes indicting a trust a positive and affirmative act is the advertising in it.
Gladstone once wrote a postcard about a little book of Marie Bashkirtseff's.
Twenty nations read the little book.
Every now and then one watches a man or sees a truth that would make a nation. One wishes one had some way of being the sort of person or being in the kind of place where one could make a nation out of it.
One thinks it would be passing wonderful to be President of the United States. It would be like having a great bell up over the world that one could reach up to and ring! But it is better than that. One touches a button at one's desk if one is President of the United States, a nation looks up. He whispers to twenty thousand newspapers, "Take your eyes away a minute," he says, "from Jack Johnson and Miss Elkin's engagement, and look, oh, look, ye People, here is a man in this world like this! He has been in the world all this while without our suspecting it. Did you know there was or could be anywhere a man like THIS? And here is a man like this! Which do you prefer? Which are you really like?"
There is nothing really regal or imperial in a man, nothing that makes a man feel suddenly like a whole Roman Empire all by himself, in 1913, like saying "Look! Look!"
Sometimes I think about it. Of course I could take a great reel of paper and sit down with my fountain pen, say Look for a mile, "Look! look! look! look!!!—President Wilson says it once and without exclamation points. Skyscrapers listen to him! Great cities rise and lift themselves and smite the world. And the faint, sleepy little villages stir in their dreams."
Moses said, "Thou shalt not!" President Wilson says, "Look!"
Perhaps if Moses had had twenty thousand newspapers like twenty thousand field-glasses that he could hand out every morning and lend to people to look through—he would not have had to say, "Thou shalt not."
The precise measure of the governing power a man can get out of the position of being President of the United States to-day is the amount of advertising for the people, of the people, and by the people he can crowd every morning, every week, into the papers of the country.
A President becomes a great President in proportion as he acts authoritatively, tactfully, economically, and persistently as the Head Advertising Manager of the ideals of the people. He is the great central, official editor of what the people are trying to find out—of a nation's news about itself.
By his being the President of what people think, by his dictating the subjects the people shall take up, by his sorting out the men whom the people shall notice, this great ceaseless Meeting of ninety million men we call the United States—comes to order.
THE PRESIDENT SAYS "LOOK!"
Our American President, if one merely reads what the Constitution says about him, is a rather weak-looking character.
The founders of the country did not intend him to be anybody in particular—if it could be helped. They were discouraged about allowing governments to be efficient. Not very much that was constructive to do was handed over to him. And the most important power they thought it would do for him to have was the veto or power to say "No."
Possibly if our fathers had believed in liberty more they would have allowed more people to have some; or if they had believed in democracy more, or trusted the people more, they would have thought it would do to let them have leaders, but they had just got away. They felt timid about human nature and decided that the less constructive the government was and the less chance the government had to be concrete, to interpret a people, to make opportunities and turn out events, the better.
Looked at at first sight no more elaborate, impenetrable, water-tight arrangement for keeping a government from letting in an idea or ever having one of its own or ever doing anything for anybody, could have been conceived than the Constitution of the United States, as the average President interprets it.
Each branch of the government is arranged carefully to keep any other branch from doing anything, and then the people, every four years, look the whole country over for some new man they think will probably leave them alone more than anybody—and put him in for President.
Looking at it narrowly and by itself, all that a President selected like this could ever expect in America to put in his time on, would seem to be—being the country's most importantly helpless man—the man who has been given the honour of being a somewhat more prominent failure in America than any one else would be allowed to be.
He stops people for four years. Other people stop him for four years. Then with a long happy sigh, at the end of his term, he slips back into real life and begins to do things.
This has been the more or less sedately disguised career of the typical American President. Merely reading the Constitution or the lives of the Presidents, without looking at what has been happening to the habits of the people in the last few years, we might all be asking to-day, "What is there that is really constructive that President Wilson can do?" What is there that is going to prevent him, with all that moral earnestness dammed up in him, that sense of duty, that Presbyterian sense of other people's duties—what is there that is going to prevent him, with his school-book habits, his ideals, his volumes of American history, from being a teachery or preachery person—a kind of Schoolmaster or Official Clergyman to Business?
The one really important and imperative thing to the people of this country to-day is News. In spite of newspapers, authors, College presidents, Bank presidents, Socialist agitators, Bill Heywoods, and Trusts, the people are bound to get this news, and any man who is so placed by his prominence that he can scoop up the news of a country, hammer its news together into events the papers will report, express news in the laws, build news into men who can make laws and unmake laws, any man who is so placed that directly or indirectly he takes news, forces it in by hydraulic pressure where people see it doing things, who takes news and crowds it into courts, crowds news into lawyers and into legislatures, pries some of it even into newspapers, can have, the ordinary American says to-day, as much leeway in this government as he likes.
The ordinary American has never been able to understand the objection important people have—that nearly everybody has (except ordinary people) to news—especially editors and publishers.
It is an old story. Every one must have noticed it. One set of people in this world, always from the beginning, trying to climb up on the housetops to tell news, and another set of people hurrying up always and saying, "Hush, Hush!" Some days it seems, when I read the papers, that I hear half the world saying under its breath, a vast, stentorian, "Shoo! shoo! SHSH! SHSH!"
Then I realize I live in an editor's world. I am expected to be in the world that editors have decided on the whole to let me be in.
Of course I did not know what to do at first when this came over me.
I naturally began to try to think of some way of cutting across lots, of climbing up to News.
I looked at all the neat little park paths, with all those artistic curves of truth on them the editors have laid out for me and for all of us. Then I looked at the world and asked myself, "Who are the men in this world, if any, who are able to walk on the Grass, who cut across the little park paths when they like?"
And as fate would have it (it was during the Roosevelt administration), the first two men I came on who seemed to be stamping about in the newspapers quite a little as they liked were the Prime Minister of England and the President of the United States.
Just how much governing can a President do?
How many columns a day is he good for, how many acres of attention every morning in the papers of the country—all these white fields of attention, these acres of other people's thoughts, can he cover?
How many sticks a day can he make compositors set up of what he thinks?
How many square miles of the people's thoughts can he spread out at breakfast tables, lift up in a thousand thousand trolleys before their faces?
I have seen the white fields of attention filled with the footprints of his thoughts, of his will, of his desires!
I have seen that the President is the Editor of that vast, anonymous, silent newspaper, written all the night, written all the day, and softly published across a country—the newspaper of people's thoughts.
I have seen the vision of the forests he has cast down, ground into headlines, into editorials, into news. Mountains and hills are laid bare to say what he thinks. Thousands of presses throb softly and the white reels of wood pulp fly into speech. Thousands of miles of paper wet with the thoughts of a people roll dimly under ground in the night.
The President is saying Look! in the night!
The newsboys hasten out in the dawn. They cry in the streets!
THE PEOPLE SAY "WHO ARE YOU?"
If news is governing, how does the President do his governing?
By being News, himself.
By using his appointing power and putting other men who are News Themselves, news about American human nature—where all the people will see it.
By telling the people directly (when he feels especially asked) news about what is happening in his mind—news about what he believes.
By telling the people sometimes (as candidly as he can without giving the people's enemies a chance to stop him), what he is going to do next, sketching out in order of time, and in order of importance, his program of issues.
By telling the people news about their best business men, the business men and inventors who, in their daily business, free the energies, unshackle the minds and emancipate the genius of the people.
By telling these business men news about the people—and interpreting the people to them.
* * * * *
It is by being news to the people himself that all the other news a President can get into his government counts.
A man is a man according to the amount of news there is in him.
There are twenty personal traits in a President which of themselves would all be national news of the first importance if he had them. The bare fact that a President could have certain traits at all and still get to be a President in this country, would be news.
One of the most important facts about news is that while it can be distributed by machines, machines cannot make it, and as a rule they do not understand it. Important and critical news is almost always fresh and made by hand the first time. Most of the popular news as to what is practical in American polities for the last forty years has been produced by political machines, and of course men who were a good deal like machines were the best men to finish the ideas off and to carry them out.
As a result of course, all the really big leaders for the last forty years, our most powerful and interesting personalities have been shut out from being President of the United States. The White House was merely being run as machinery and did not interest them. They watched it grinding its ideas faithfully out from year to year of what America was like and what American politicians were like, and finally at last in the clatter of the machines there rings out suddenly across the land a shot that no machinery had allowed for. Before any one knows almost there slips suddenly by the side door into the White House a really interesting man, and suddenly, all in one minute, almost, this man makes being President of the United States the most interesting lively and athletic feat in the country. And now, apparently that the idea has been worked out in public before everybody, by hand, as it were, that a man can be alive and interesting all over, can have at least a little touch of news about him and still be a President in this country, another man with some news in him has been allowed to us and suddenly politics throughout all America has become a totally new revealing profession, and men, instead of being selected because they were blurred personalities, the ghosts of compromises, would-be everybodies—men who had not decided who they were, and who could not settle down and let people know which of their characters they had hit on at last to be really theirs, men who had no cutting edge to do things, screw-drivers trying to be chisels—were revealed to our people at last as vague, mean, other-worldly persons, not fitting into our real American world at all, and hopelessly visionary and impracticable in American politics.
And now one more hand-made man has been allowed to us.
The machines run very still in the White House.
The people of this country no longer go by the White House on their way to their business and just hear it humdrumming and humdrumming behind the windows as of yore. The nation stands in crowds around the gates and would like to see in. The people wonder. They wonder a million columns a day what is inside.
What is inside?
An American who governs by being news, himself.
The first thing that the people demand from our President now is that he shall be news himself. The news that they have selected to know first during the next four years—have put into the White House to know first is Woodrow Wilson.
"Who are you, Woodrow Wilson, in God's name?" the steeples and smoking chimneys, the bells and whistles, the Yales and Harvards, and the little country schools, the crowds in the streets, and the corn in the fields all say, "Who Are You?"
Then the people listen. They listen to his "I wills" and "I won'ts" for news about him. They look for news about him in the headlines he steers into the papers every morning, in the events he makes happen, in the editorials he makes men think of, in the men he calls up and puts on the National Wire—in all these, slowly, daily, hourly they drink up their long, patient, hopeful answer to their question, "Who Are You, Woodrow Wilson?"
THE PEOPLE SAY "WHO ARE WE?"
But if the President governs first by being news himself, he governs second by his appointments, by gathering about him other men who are news to people, too.
One need not divide people into good and bad, because the true line of division between good and bad instead of being between one man and another, is apt to be as a matter of fact and experience cut down through the middle of each of us.
But for the purposes of public action and decision and getting good things done, this line does seem to be cut farther over in the middle of some of us, than it is in others. Taking a life-average in any moral or social engineering feat, in any correct calculation of structural strain, how far over this line cuts through in a man, has to be reckoned with.
The president by appointing certain men to office, saying "I will" and "I won't" to certain types of men, in saying who shall be studied by the people, who shall be read as documents of our national life, puts, if not the most important, at least the most lively and telling news about his administration into print.
We watch our President acting for us, telling us news about what we are like, sorting men out around him the way ninety million people would sort them out if they were there to do it.
The President's appointments may be said to be in a way the breath of the nation.
A nation has to breathe, and the plain fact seems to be that certain kinds of people have to be breathed out of a nation and other kinds of people have to be breathed in. The way a President appoints men to office is his way of letting a nation breathe.
With all his attractive qualities, perhaps it is because Mr. Taft did not quite let the nation breathe, and suffocated it a little that there came such an outbreak at the end. Perhaps it is because Mr. Taft looked at Mr. Ballinger and then looked at Mr. Pinchot, all the people of the country all the while looking on, and said, "Ballinger is the kind of man our people prefer, and Pinchot is not," that the people broke out so amazingly, so incredibly, and decided by such an enormous majority that a man who could pick out men for them like this would not do—as things are just now anyway—for a President of the United States.
NEWS ABOUT US TO THE PRESIDENT
A nation wakes up every morning and for one minute before it runs to its work it says to its President, "HERE WE ARE!"
The best a President can do in the way of a plain, everyday acknowledgment of the presence of the people is News.
The news that the people are demanding from the President to-day is intensely personal. It is a kind of rough, butting, good-natured familiarity a great people has with its President, a little heedless, relentless, like some splendid Child, ready to forgive and expecting to be forgiven, it jostles in upon him daily, "Here we are! What are you believing this morning? Did you believe in us yesterday? Did you act as if you believed in us? Did you get anybody to believe in us? Who are the men you say are like us? What are they like this morning?
"We have asked a hundred times; we can only ask it once more. How do you think you are turning out yourself, Mr. President? Are you what you thought you would be? Do you think it is a good time for us to decide this morning what you are really like? And, after all, Mr. President—if you please—who are you? And once more, Mr. President, in God's name, who are we?"
This is always the gist of what it says, "Who are we?"
It is the people's main point, after all, asking a President who they are, wondering if he can interpret them.
Then he shuts his door and thinks, or he calls his Cabinet and thinks.
Rows of little-great men file by all day. They stand each a few minutes with his little Speck or Dot of the People in his hands, and they say, "This is the People."
It is very hard to be always President of the People when one is listening and the little-great go by.
One has to go back a little, in the night perhaps, or when one is quite alone. He sees again the Child; it is what he is in the White House for, he remembers, to express this dumb giant, this mighty Child, half weary, half glad, standing there by day by night, saying, "Who are we?" One would think it would be hard to be glib with the Child.
Sometimes it is so deep and silent!
Once when It broke in on Lincoln in this way and said, "Who are we?" he prayed.
It seems very difficult to get news through as to who we really are to a President. When I look about me and see what the President's ways are of telling news about himself to us, I see that he is not without his advantages. But when I look about to see what conveniences we have as a people for telling our President news about us, I note some curious things. The fears of the American people, the fears and threats of labour and capital are organized and expressed, but their faiths, their wills, the things in them that make them go and that make them American, are not organized and are not expressed.
The labour unions are afraid and say, "We will not work," to their employers, "You cannot make us work." The President hears this. It is about all they say.
The capitalists and employers are afraid and they say, "We will not pay," "You cannot make us pay."
Shall the President act as if these men represent Labor and Capital?
We say, "No."
Neither of these groups of men express real live American labour or real live characteristic American money.
American money is free, bold, manful, generous and courageous to a fault. American money swings out in mighty enterprises, shrewdly believing things, imperiously singing things out of its way.
A singing people want a singing government. How is our President going to hear our labour and our money sing?
Pinchot expressed us, not Ballinger.
Mr. Pinchot is no mere uplifter or missionary. He is an artist in expressing America to a President. If we have a President who will not listen to a man like Pinchot, let us try a President that will.
Pinchot—an American millionaire with a fortune made out of forests, who is spending the fortune in protecting the forests for the nation, is the kind of American Americans like to set up before a President to say what Americans are like. Millions of men stand by Pinchot. We like the way he makes money sing.
Tom L. Johnson—an American millionaire who made his money in the ordinary humdrum way, by getting valuable street railway franchises out of a city for nothing—has the courage to turn around, spend his fortune and spend it all, in keeping other people from doing it.
America presents Tom L. Johnson to a President with its compliments and says, "This is what America is like."
It may not look always as if Tom L. Johnson were America—America in miniature. But millions of us say he is. He makes money sing.
We want a President—millions of us want him—and this is the most important news about us, who expects money in this country to sing.
We want our money and expect our money in this country to stop saying mean things about us, things that make us ashamed to look a true newspaper in the face, or one another in the face, and that humiliate us before the world.
* * * * *
And now I have come to an awkward place in this book where I hope the reader will help me all he can.
There is nothing to do but to let out the real truth and face the music. The fact is, Gentle Reader—perhaps you have suspected it all along—that if it had not been for fear of mixing my book all up with him and making it a kind of arena or tournament instead of a book, I would have mentioned ex-President Roosevelt before this. He has been getting in or nearly getting in to nearly every chapter so far, but of course I knew, as any one would, that he would spoil all the calm equipoise, the quiet onward flowing of the Stream of Thought, and with one chapter after the other, with each as the crisis came up, though I scarcely know how, I have managed to keep him out. And now, oh, Gentle Reader, here he is! I know very well that he is in everything, and right in the middle of everything, and that in a kind of splendid mixed happy uproarious way, there somehow has to be a great to-do the moment he appears. The beautiful clear water, the lucid depth of Thought—will all become (ah, I know it too well, Gentle Reader) all thunder and spray and underneath the mighty grinding of the wheels—the wheels of the Nation and the Mowing Machine of Time, and in the background—in the red background of the Dawn, there will be the face of Theodore—just the face of Theodore in this book shining at us—readers and writer and all—out of a huge rosy mist!
But I have been driven to it. The fact seems to be that I must find at just this point in the book, if I can, a word. And the word will have to be a word, too, that everybody knows, and that conveys a lively sense to everybody the moment it is used—of a certain tone or quality, or hum or murmur of being. No one regrets this more than I, because it is so unwieldy and inconvenient and always bulges out in a sentence or a book or a nation more than it was meant to, but the word ROOSEVELT, R O O S E V E L T, happens to be the word that people in this country, and very largely in other nations, and in all languages have chosen and are using every day to express to one another a certain American quality or tone now abroad in our world—a certain hum, as one might say, or whirr of goodness.
This particular hum, or whirr of goodness, which is instantly associated with the word Roosevelt, expresses, except that of course it over-expresses, a part of the news to-day about America which we want our President to read.
One cannot help wondering why it is that if one wanted to express to the largest number of people in the world a certain quality of goodness, the word Roosevelt would do it best.
I am not dealing for the purpose of this book in what Mr. Roosevelt's goodness is or whether it is what he thinks it is. We might all disagree about that. I am dealing quite strictly in this connection with what even his enemies would say is his almost egregious success in advertising goodness. While we might all disagree as to his goodness being the kind that he or any one ought to love, we would not fail to agree that it is his love of his own goodness, such as it is, and his holding on to it, and his love of other people's and his love of getting his goodness and their goodness together, that has made him the most unconcealed person in modern life. These qualities have established him, with his ability raised to the n-th power of attracting attention to anything he likes, as the world's greatest News Man—the world's greatest living energy to-day in advertising what is good and what is had in our American temperament.
Even the people who disagree with him or dislike him—many of them would have to fall back on using the word roosevelt, or rather the verb to roosevelt.
It does not seem to be because his goodness in itself is extraordinary. It is even, for that matter, in the sense that anybody could have it, or some more just like it, a little common.
What seems to be uncommon and really distinguished about Mr. Roosevelt is the way he feels about his goodness, and the way he grips hold of it, and the way he makes it grip hold of other people—practically anybody almost, who is standing by. Even if they are merely going by in automobiles, sometimes they catch some. I do not imagine that his worst enemies, however seriously they may question the general desirability or safety of having so much goodness roosevelting around, would fail to admit his own real enthusiasm about goodness anywhere he finds it indiscriminately, whether it is his own or other people's. He grips hold of it, and grips like a cable car—instantly.
His enthusiasm is so great that many people are nonplussed by it. The enthusiasm must really be in spite of appearances about something else, something wicked in behind, they think, and not really about goodness. An entire stranger would not quite believe it. It would be too original in him, they would say, or in anybody, to care so about goodness.
If one could watch the expression in Mr. Roosevelt's face or his manner while he is in the act of having a virtue and if one could not see plainly from where one was, just what it was he was doing, one would at once conclude that it must be some vice he is having. He looks happy and as if it were some stolen secret. There is always that manner of his when he is caught doing right, as if one were to say "Now, at last, I have got it!" He does right like a boy with his mouth full of jam, and this seems to be true not only when, with a whole public following and two or three nations besides, and all the newspapers, he goes off on an orgy of righteousness, makes the grand tour of Europe, and has the time of his life. It is the steady-burning under enthusiasm with him all the while. The spectacle of a good man doing a tremendous good thing affects Theodore Roosevelt like one of the great forces of nature, like Niagara Falls, like the screws of the Mauritania, or any other huge, happy thing that is having its way against fear; against weakness, or against small terrified goodness.
Mr. Roosevelt in doing right conveys the sense of enjoying it so himself that he has made almost an art form of public righteousness. He has found his most complete, his most naive, instinctive self-expression in it, and while we have had goodness in public men before, we have had no man who has been such an international chromo for goodness, who has made such a big, comfortable "He-who-runs-may-read" bill-poster for doing right as Roosevelt. Other men have done things that were good to do, but the very inmost muscle and marrow of goodness itself, goodness with teeth, with a fist, goodness that smiled, that ha-ha'd, and that leaped and danced—perpetual motion of goodness, goodness that reeked—has been reserved for Theodore Roosevelt. We have had goodness that was bland or proper, and goodness that was pious or sentimental and sang, "Nearer My God to Thee," or goodness that was kind and mushy, but this goodness with a glad look and bounding heart, goodness with an iron hand, we have not had before. It is Mr. Roosevelt's goodness that has made him interesting in Cairo, Paris, Rome, and Berlin. He has been conducting a grand tour of goodness. He has been a colossal drummer of goodness, conducting an advertising campaign. He has proved himself a master salesman for moral values. And he has put the American character, its hope, its energy, on the markets and on the credits of the world.
With all his faults, those big, daring, yawning fissures in him, he is news about us, faults and all. Though I may be, as I certainly am much of the time, standing and looking across at him, across an abyss of temperament that God cut down between us thousands of years ago, and while he may have a score of traits I would not like and others that no one would like in any one else, there he is storming out at me with his goodness! It is his way—God help him!—God be praised for him! There he is!
I know an American when I see one. He is a man who is singing.
A man who is singing is a man who is so shrewd about people that he sees more in them than they see in themselves and who does things so shrewdly in behalf of God, that when God looks upon him he delights in him. Then God falls to of course and helps him do them.
When American men saw that there was a man among them who was taking a thing like the Presidency of the United States (that most people never run risks with) and putting it up before everybody, and using it grimly as a magnificent bet on the people, they looked up. Millions of men leaped in their hearts and as they saw him they knew that they were like him!
So did Theodore Roosevelt become news about Us.
AMERICAN TEMPERAMENT AND GOVERNMENT
I would like to say more specifically what I mean by an American or singing government.
The thing that counts the most in a government is its temperament. A German government succeeds by having the German temperament. An American government must have the American temperament.
If we are fortunate enough to have in America a government with an American temperament what would it be like? And how would it differ from the traditional or conventional temperament, governments are usually allowed to have?
If I were confined to one or two words I would put it like this:
If a government has the conventional temperament, it says "NO."
If it has the American Temperament it says, "YES, BUT ..."
The whole policy and temper of a true American government is summed up in its saying as it looks about it—now to this business man and now to that, just in time, "YES BUT."
Louis Brandeis, of Boston, when he was made attorney for the Gas Company of Boston to defend the company from the criticisms of the people, sent suddenly scores of men all about canvassing the city and looking up people to find fault with the gas.
He spent thousands of dollars a month of the Gas Company's money for a while in helping people to be disagreeable, until they had it attended to and got over it.
The Gas Company had the canvassers show the people how they could burn less gas for what they got for it, and tried to help them cut their bills in two. Incidentally, of course, they got to thinking about gas and about what they got for it, and about other ways they could afford to use it, and began to have the gas habit—used it for cooking and heating.
The people found they wanted to use four times as much gas.
The Boston Gas Company smiled sweetly.
Boston smiled sweetly.
Not many months had passed and two things had happened in Boston.
The Boston Gas Company, with precisely the same directors in it, had made over the directors into new men, and all the people in Boston (all who used gas) apparently had been made over into new people.
What had happened was Brandeis—a man with an American temperament.
Mr. Brandeis had defended his company from the people by going the people's way and helping them until they helped him.
Mr. Brandeis gave gas a soul in Boston.
Before a gas corporation has a soul, it would be American for a government to treat it in one way. After it has one it would be American to treat it in another. There are two complete sets of conduct, principles, and visions in dealing with a corporation before and after its having a soul.
Preserving the females of the species and killing males as a method of discrimination has been applied to all animals except human beings. This is suggestive of a method of discrimination in dealing with corporations. A corporation that has a soul and that is the most likely to keep reproducing souls in others should be treated in one way, and a corporation that has not should be treated in another.
There are two assumptions underneath everybody's thought, underneath every action of our government: Which is the American assumption?
People are going to be bad if they can.
People are going to be good if they can.
Men who want to arrange laws and adjust life on the assumption that business men will be bad if they can, it seems to some of us, are inefficient and unscientific. It seems to us that they are off on the main and controlling facts in American human nature. It is not true that American business men will be bad if they can. They will be good if they can.
This is my assertion. I cannot prove it.
What we seem to need next in this country in order to be clear-headed and to go ahead, is to prove it. We want a competent census of human nature.
Lacking a census of human nature, the next best thing we can do is to watch the men who seem to know the most about human nature.
We put ourselves in their hands.
These men seem to believe, judging from their actions, that there is really nothing that suits our temperament better in America than being good. If we can manage to have some way of being good that we have thought of ourselves, we like it still better. We dote on goodness when it is ours and when we are allowed to put some punch into it. We want to be good, to express our practical, our doing-idealism, but we will not be driven to being good and people who think they can drive us to being good in a government or out of it are incompetent people. They do not know who we are.