The Promise of American Life eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 523 pages of information about The Promise of American Life.

The conservative believer in the existing American political system will doubtless reply that the lawyer, in so far as he opposes radical reform or reorganization, is merely remaining true to his function as the High Priest of American constitutional democracy.  And no doubt it is begging the question at the present stage of this discussion, to assert that American lawyers as such are not so well qualified as they were to guide American political thought and action.  But it can at least be maintained that, assuming some radical reorganization to be necessary, the existing prejudices, interests, and mental outlook of the American lawyer disqualify him for the task.  The legal profession is risking its traditional position as the mouthpiece of the American political creed and faith upon the adequacy of the existing political system.  If there is any thorough-going reorganization needed, it will be brought about in spite of the opposition of the legal profession.  They occupy in relation to the modern economic and political problem a position similar to that of the Constitutional Unionists previous to the Civil War.  Those estimable gentlemen believed devoutly that the Constitution, which created the problem of slavery and provoked the anti-slavery agitation, was adequate to its solution.  In the same spirit learned lawyers now affirm that the existing problems can easily be solved, if only American public opinion remain faithful to the Constitution.  But it may be that the Constitution, as well as the system of local political government built up around the Federal Constitution, is itself partly responsible for some of the existing abuses, evils, and problems; and if so, the American lawyer may be useful, as he was before the Civil War, in evading our difficulties; but he will not be very useful in settling them.  He may try to settle them by decisions of the Supreme Court; but such decisions,—­assuming, of course, that the problem is as inexorable as was that of the legal existence of slavery in a democratic nation,—­such decisions would have precisely the same effect on public opinion as did the Dred Scott decision.  They would merely excite a crisis, which they were intended to allay, and strengthen the hands of the more radical critics of the existing political system.

VI

AMERICAN DEMOCRACY AND THE SOCIAL PROBLEM

The changes which have been taking place in industrial and political and social conditions have all tended to impair the consistency of feeling characteristic of the first phase of American national democracy.  Americans are divided from one another much more than they were during the Middle Period by differences of interest, of intellectual outlook, of moral and technical standards, and of manner of life.  Grave inequalities of power and deep-lying differences of purpose have developed in relation of the several primary American activities.  The millionaire,

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The Promise of American Life from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.