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 ideal of a constructive relation between American nationality and American democracy is in truth equivalent to a new Declaration of Independence.  It affirms that the American people are free to organize their political, economic, and social life in the service of a comprehensive, a lofty, and far-reaching democratic purpose.  At the present time there is a strong, almost a dominant tendency to regard the existing Constitution with superstitious awe, and to shrink with horror from modifying it even in the smallest detail; and it is this superstitious fear of changing the most trivial parts of the fundamental legal fabric which brings to pass the great bondage of the American spirit.  If such an abject worship of legal precedent for its own sake should continue, the American idea will have to be fitted to the rigid and narrow lines of a few legal formulas; and the ruler of the American spirit, like the ruler of the Jewish spirit of old, will become the lawyer.  But it will not continue, in case Americans can be brought to understand and believe that the American national political organization should be constructively related to their democratic purpose.  Such an ideal reveals at once the real opportunity and the real responsibility of the American democracy.  It declares that the democracy has a machinery in a nationalized organization, and a practical guide in the national interest, which are adequate to the realization of the democratic ideal; and it declares also that in the long run just in so far as Americans timidly or superstitiously refuse to accept their national opportunity and responsibility, they will not deserve the names either of freemen or of loyal democrats.  There comes a time in the history of every nation, when its independence of spirit vanishes, unless it emancipates itself in some measure from its traditional illusions; and that time is fast approaching for the American people.  They must either seize the chance of a better future, or else become a nation which is satisfied in spirit merely to repeat indefinitely the monotonous measures of its own past.

III

THE PEOPLE AND THE NATION

At the beginning of this discussion popular Sovereignty was declared to be the essential condition of democracy; and a general account of the nature of a constructive democratic ideal can best be brought to a close by a definition of the meaning of the phrase, popular Sovereignty, consistent with a nationalist interpretation of democracy.  The people are Sovereign; but who and what are the people? and how can a many-headed Sovereignty be made to work?  Are we to answer, like Bismarck, that the “true people is an invisible multitude of spirits—­the nation of yesterday and of to-morrow”?  Such an answer seems scarcely fair to living people of to-day.  On the other hand, can we reply that the Sovereign people is constituted by any chance majority which happens

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