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.
If there is any truth in the idea of a constructive relation between democracy and nationality this disagreement must be healed.  They must accept both principles loyally and unreservedly; and by such acceptance their “noble national theory” will obtain a wholly unaccustomed energy and integrity.  The alliance between the two principles will not leave either of them intact; but it will necessarily do more harm to the Jeffersonian group of political ideas than it will to the Hamiltonian.  The latter’s nationalism can be adapted to democracy without an essential injury to itself, but the former’s democracy cannot be nationalized without being transformed.  The manner of its transformation has already been discussed in detail.  It must cease to be a democracy of indiscriminate individualism; and become one of selected individuals who are obliged constantly to justify their selection; and its members must be united not by a sense of joint irresponsibility, but by a sense of joint responsibility for the success of their political and social ideal.  They must become, that is, a democracy devoted to the welfare of the whole people by means of a conscious labor of individual and social improvement; and that is precisely the sort of democracy which demands for its realization the aid of the Hamiltonian nationalistic organization and principle.




Whatever the contemporary or the logical relation between nationality and democracy as ideas and as political forces, they were in their origin wholly independent one of the other.  The Greek city states supplied the first examples of democracy; but their democracy brought with it no specifically national characteristics.  In fact, the political condition and ideal implied by the word nation did not exist in the ancient world.  The actual historical process, which culminated in the formation of the modern national state, began some time in the Middle Ages—­a period in which democracy was almost an incredible form of political association.  Some of the mediaeval communes were not without traces of democracy; but modern nations do not derive from those turbulent little states.  They derive from the larger political divisions into which Europe drifted during the Dark Ages; and they have grown with the gradually prospering attempt to bestow on the government of these European countries the qualities of efficiency and responsibility.

A complete justification of the foregoing statements would require a critical account of the political development of Western Europe since 400 B.C.; but within the necessary limits of the present discussion, we shall have to be satisfied with the barest summary of the way in which the modern national states originated, and of the relation to democracy which has gradually resulted from their own proper development.  A

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