ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED | AUGUST 5, 1920 | FARMER'S ADVOCATE & HOME MAGAZINE | LONDON
The following article is focused on the concept of Canadian citizenship and whether our current system of democracy serves the needs of the public. This author reminds all Canadian citizens that it is their responsibility to ensure our government systems are not corrupted by human selfishness and hubris. With the celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial, it is important to reflect on how Canadians should continue to strive for a true democracy.
Canadian Citizenship: True and False Democracy
by E.K. Marshall, M.A.
Was Lord Byron right when he cried: “What is democracy? –an artistocracy of blackguards!” or was not the truth expressed by Mazzini when he defined democracy as “the progress of all, through all, under the leadership of the best and wisest?” Much depends upon how we answer this question.
The first duty of a true democracy is to search for those who are wisest and best and to elevate them to posts of leadership and command. Under the operation of the party conventions with which we have been familiar we were not always provided with real leaders nor was it the place where we were likely to get the men of the Mazzini type proposed: there was and is too much of the machine-made nomination of candidates. Quite possible we cannot get rid of all this: conventions are a necessity, I suppose. What we do want are conventions which will be less of “party” affairs and more of the “people’s”. At any rate there should be an earnest and open-hearted effort made to secure men for municipal and provincial office who possess to the fullest degree talents for service and achievement such as create confidence and trust. I believe that we are going to have in the near future more of this true democracy. There is in formation in Canada a public opinion which is going to insist on real representatives men who are not unreflecting mouthpieces nor truckling servants; who are rather spokesmen for their conscience, their insights and their judgments.
The surest antidote to violence in public opinion, which is certain to come in Canada if there is not a halt to exploitation, is to secure in orderly form after due consideration the prompt and effective execution of the people’s will and to give voice to the people’s judgments and aspirations. In many of our political conventions those things have not been considered definitely, but were let go for the consideration of ways and means of winning the election- as if that was the supreme end in view.
Unless true democracy keeps control of our public organizations they will fall into the hands of syndicates and interests- at the imminent peril of the people themselves. Most of the political conventions of the past have had but one end in view, namely, how to win the struggle for their own particular party and associated interests. It had the appearance of a democracy but, owing to the unseen but very effective control exercised, it was a false democracy.
If what is properly called “exploitation of the people” is to be prevented it can only be accomplished by developing with clearness and precision a concept of public rights and public responsibility which shall have an ethical foundation and a social as well as legal sanction. The ethical foundation of the idea of private property and the legal and social sanctions for it are perfectly clear, well-known and operate with but little questioning. But the concept of public property and public rights is not in so fortunate a condition. It needs elaboration and definition, it requires a long period of education, of enlightenment of iteration and re-iteration from a platform that is free and a press hat is faithful to a public trust as well as to its legitimate commercial and industrial interests. There have been periods in our public life of which we should be ashamed; times where we practically gave our leaders a free hand to exploit us. But we hope that time is past. With the awakening of dormant instincts to a truer form of democracy, with the breaking of old party ties and affiliations, and with the coming of leaders possessing newer ideas of Government and citizenship will come a happier time for Canadian public life. There is a radicalism of true democracy for which we must strive- the end of a perfected citizenship not in selfishness but in service, not in isolation but in brotherhood. It is no idle dream but is a daring prophecy of what we may hope to see in this Canada, the vision of Macaulay when he wrote:
“Then none was for a party;
Then all were for the state;
Then the great man helped the poor
And the poor man loved the great;
Then lands were fairly portioned;
And Romans were like brothers
In the brave days of old.”