Illinois Staats-Zeitung -- January 20, 1875American Radicalism (Editorial)
In Germany to be radical meant, and still means, to apply all one's strength and resources in opposing and trying to overthrow the existing form of government [(Monarchy)]. Most of the so-called "Forty-eighters" were radicals in this sense of the word. [Translator's note: The author refers to the leaders of the German Revolution of 1848. Among them were Hecker, Sigel, Schurz, Rosenthal, Resencranz, Annecke, Ostermann, Solomon, and others who served the North during the Civil War.] In America they did not find the object against which their radicalism was directed. However, slavery offered itself as a substitute, and they opposed it with remarkable success. Since slavery has been abolished, German radicalism has been idle, but has been seeking new fields of endeavor. Recently, it seems, German liberals wanted to import the fight which is being waged in Europe, between Germany and the Vatican, to America, in order to have opportunity for following their 2mad inclinations to destroy.
However, there are also American radicals who are opposed to our form of government, and are bent on establishing a system that is the direct opposite of the one we are now maintaining, when the opportunity to do so presents itself. In Germany the radicals demanded that the monarchy be abolished; American radicals are demanding that universal suffrage be abolished. The two movements are similar, inasmuch as they seek to destroy historical institutions, and that certainly requires moral courage. To revile kings and emperors while one is in America, requires no more courage than it does to revile republics when one is in Germany; but when an American tells our tyrannical dictators, "the people," that they are incompetent, that they cannot rule themselves,--well, no honest person can call him a coward.
In this sense the Chicago Times is a very radical publication. For some time it has made revolutionary attacks on the prevailing majority rule, which is based upon universal suffrage. The substitute for our present 3American form of government which it recommends is nothing less than German imperialism. The Chicago Times would like to have the rights of the people limited exclusively to the election of a representative body [Reichstag], and advocates that the election of all executive, administrative, and judicial officers be abolished. All these "servants of the people" ought to be appointed; but, for the present, the Chicago Times does not state who should appoint them. However it would not be inconsistent of the Times, if it demanded that the respective officers not even be elected indirectly-- in other words, if it demanded that some of the government offices not be filled by popular election.
While declaring its reasons for its radical demands, the Times makes several malicious sidethrusts at the Germans, which is nothing unusual. We shall make a reply at some more suitable time. At present it is our object to present only the fundamental ideas of the Times as a noteworthy sign of our age, and anyone who has intercourse with educated Americans knows that they often express the very same ideas.4
"To elect someone" says Parton, "does not mean merely to cast a ballot into a box, but to express an opinion". Ignorance, however, is unable to express an opinion. The Times has this to say on this point: "Self-government means self-support, self-control, and self-guidance. The individual who has not the self-supporting, self-guiding, and self-controlling faculty, is not fit for, nor capable of self-government. He is not a fit or safe person to be entrusted with the elective franchise in any political society."
Ignorance is not mere illiteracy. Some of the most illiterate people are among those most capable of self-support, self-control, and self-guidance; are among those most capable of forming intelligent and reliable opinions upon all matters of public or private concern. Many who are popularly called "educated" are among the least capable in these respects.
As a rule women are incapable of forming trustworthy decisions on political or public issues, although they are qualified by "education" to devour 5"society literature" by the shipload. There are exceptions, of course, but, in general, "educated" women possess less true voting faculty than the most illiterate men.
In this respect they compare with those "educated" male bipeds whom Parton calls "the snobs of society, who turn up their noses at 'this voting, you know'; 'deuced nuisance, you know'; 'never voted in my life, you know'; 'and never shall, you know'". Like the lower class of Germans, called educated because they have acquired by machinery the arts of reading and writing, they are incapable of self-government; they need somebody to take care of and provide for them. This criticism is not meant to disparage the high social function of women; it is simply a statement of the fact, that, in general, women, irrespective of their literary attainments, lack the faculty of voting; and, lacking the faculty, they should not be permitted to do so in any representative state.6
It is said that on the Sandwich Islands there is not a man, woman, or child who cannot read and write, most of them in two languages. According to our theorists who advocate compulsory schooling, the Kanakas should be a people eminently qualified to save our political institutions from ruin. They are, probably, no less qualified for that purpose than the "snobs of society" described by Mr. Parton, or the hordes of lower-class Germans and Scandinavians, who, though given an elementary education by state machinery, are less capable of self-guidance than the most "ignorant white trash" in the South, and not much more so than that class which, having just emerged from centuries of slavery, has been deemed by our "educated" politicians qualified to assume at once the highest political functions; or who, if not so qualified, can, it is thought, be made so by a few turns of a governmental schooling machine.
No prophetic instinct or power is necessary to predict that political institutions resting on such a foundation of ignorance, which prevails not only among the most illiterate, but also among the most "educated" schoolmasters 7and legislators, are predestined to "ruin". No state schooling machinery can possibly raise the stream higher than its source.
This writer advocates the only rational remedy. It is to diminish the source by "disfranchising ignorance". Illiteracy should be included in this ignorance disfranchised; but to disfranchise illiteracy alone is not sufficient. The ignorance that consists in lack of the faculty of honest self-support, self-control, and self-guidance is that which constitutes the unsafe, the impossible foundation of free representative institutions. This is the ignorance that must be disfranchised in order to avert the "ruin".
Some will say it is impractical and inexpedient. Practicability and expediency are not the issues. The question is the alternative: political downfall or disfranchisement of ignorance. No doubt, political destruction is both more practical and more expedient than the disfranchisement of ignorance. Our "educated" politicians prefer the former. But the disfranchisement of ignorance is not so impractical as many people think. There are many ways 8of establishing a suffrage qualification that would exclude not only the ignorance of illiteracy, but also the greater and more dangerous ignorance of incapacity.
One of the best and surest ways of excluding the evil consequences of ignorant balloting is to abolish it. The basis of representative government is the constitution of a representative body by free, popular election. At that point, in any really good form of representative government, the popular election business stops. The selection of executive, administrative, or judicial functionaries by popular ballot is no part of a truly republican or representative form of government. It is a poisonous outgrowth, borrowed by "educated" demagogues and jobhunters from the semibarbarous system called "democracy," of which history furnishes not a single example that has not proven to be a failure. It is literally and truly a relic of barbarism and, supplemented by the universal enfranchisement of ignorance and incapacity, will surely lead any nation to either barbarism or despotism. There are no good reasons to think that America will prove to be an exception to a rule 9that heretofore has been without a single exception.
This is the viewpoint of the Chicago Times on American radicalism. If a newspaper printed in Germany had published the article quoted from the Times, it would have evoked angry retorts from our people, about the "ignorance" of the "foreigners" and their "inability to understand American conditions". And yet, one cannot blame the people across the ocean for relying upon the judgment of a newspaper, which cannot be classed as a party organ, but speaks its mind, irrespective of parties or persons, though it may be guilty of unspeakable offenses against morality and decency. The views which it expressed concerning the effect of electing officers sound rather harsh; yet, in substance, they are not different from what hundreds of American newspapers have written for many years, although in somewhat more careful language, and with certain reservations. The same veiwpoint is expressed by the frequently heard complaint: "We have too many elections". However, it is questionable whether or not the general dissatisfaction with the present system of election will lead to a fundamental change.
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