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The Shadow On The Dial
by [?]

It may be, and a million times has been, urged that abstention from activity in public affairs by men of brains and character leaves the business of government in the hands of the incapable and the vicious. In whose hands, pray, in a republic does it logically belong? What does the theory of “representative government” affirm? What is the lesson of every netherward extension of the suffrage? What do we mean by permitting it to “broaden slowly down” to lower and lower intelligences and moralities?–what but that stupidity and vice, equally with virtue and wisdom, are entitled to a voice in political affairs, a finger in the public pie?

A person that is fit to vote is fit to be voted for. He who is competent for the high and difficult function of choosing an officer of the State is competent to serve the State as an officer. To deny him the right is illogical and unjust. Participation in Government can not be at the same time a privilege and a duty, and he who claims it as a privilege must not speak of another’s renunciation (whereby himself is more highly privileged) as “shirking.” With every retirement from politics increased power passes to those who remain. Shall they protest? Shall they, also, who have retired? Who else is to protest? The complaint of “incivism” would be more rational if there were some one by whom it could reasonably be made.

My advice to slandered officials has ever been: “Resign.” The public officials of this favored country, Heaven be thanked, are infrequently slandered: they are, as a rule, so bad that calumniation is a compliment. Our best men, with here and there an exception, have been driven out of public life, or made afraid to enter it. Even our spasmodic efforts at reform fail ludicrously for lack of leaders unaffiliated with “the thing to be reformed.” Unless attracted by the salary, why should a gentleman “aspire” to the Presidency of the United States? During his canvass (and he is expected to “run,” not merely to “stand”) he will have from his own party a support that should make him blush, and from all the others an opposition that will stick at nothing to accomplish his satisfactory defamation. After his election his partition and allotment of the loaves and fishes will estrange an important and thenceforth implacable faction of his following without appeasing the animosity of any one else; and during his entire service his sky will be dark with a flight of dead cats. At the finish of his term the utmost that he can expect in the way of reward not expressible in terms of the national currency is that not much more than one-half of his countrymen will believe him a scoundrel to the end of their days.


The kind of government that we have seems to me one of the worst kinds extant A government that does not protect life is a flat failure, no matter what else it may do. Life being almost universally regarded as the most precious possession, its security is the first and highest essential–not the life of him who takes life, but the life which is exposed defenceless to his hateful hand. In no country in the world, civilized or savage, is life so insecure as in this. In no country in the world is murder held in so light reprobation. In no battle of modern times have so many lives been taken as are lost annually in the United States through public indifference to the crime of homicide–through disregard of law, through bad government. If American self-government, with its ten thousand homicides a year, is good government, there is no such thing as bad. Self-government! What monstrous nonsense! Who governs himself needs no government, has no governor, is not governed. If government has any meaning it means the restraint of the many by the few–the subordination of numbers to brains. It means the determined denial to the masses of the right to cut their own throats. It means the grasp and control of all the social forces and material enginery–a vigilant censorship of the press, a firm hand upon the church, keen supervision of public meetings and public amusements, command of the railroads, telegraph and all means of communication. It means, in short, the ability to make use of all the beneficent influences of enlightenment for the good of the people, and to array all the powers of civilization against civilization’s natural enemies–the people. Government like this has a thousand defects, but it has one merit: it is government.