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.
to make them inevitable, and the responsibility for them must be distributed over the whole business and social fabric.  But in spite of the fact that they have originated as the inevitable result of American business methods and political ideas and institutions, they constitute a serious problem for a democracy to face; and this problem has many different aspects.  Its most serious aspect is constituted by the sheer size of the resulting inequalities.  The rich men and the big corporations have become too wealthy and powerful for their official standing in American life.  They have not obeyed the laws.  They have attempted to control the official makers, administrators, and expounders of the law.  They have done little to allay and much to excite the resentment and suspicion.  In short, while their work has been constructive from an economic and industrial standpoint, it has made for political corruption and social disintegration.  Children, as they are, of the traditional American individualistic institutions, ideas, and practices, they have turned on their parents and dealt them an ugly wound.  Either these economic monsters will destroy the system of ideas, institutions, and practices out of which they have issued or else be destroyed by them.

III

THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE POLITICAL SPECIALIST

The corporations were able to secure and to exercise an excessive and corrupt influence on legislation, because their aggrandizement coincided with a process of deterioration in our local political institutions.  We have seen that the stress of economic competition had specialized the American business man and made him almost exclusively preoccupied with the advancement of his own private interests; and one of the first results of this specialization was an alteration in his attitude towards the political welfare of his country.  Not only did he no longer give as much time to politics as he formerly did, but as his business increased in size and scope, he found his own interests by way of conflicting at many points with the laws of his country and with its well-being.  He did not take this conflict very seriously.  He was still reflected in the mirror of his own mind as a patriotic and a public-spirited citizen; but at the same time his ambition was to conquer, and he did not scruple to sacrifice both the law and the public weal to his own prosperity.  All unknowingly he began to testify to a growing and a decisive division between the two primary interests of American life,—­between the interest of the individual business man and the interest of the body politic; and he became a living refutation of the amiable theories of the Jacksonian Democrat that the two must substantially coincide.  The business man had become merely a business man, and the conditions which had made him less of a politician had also had its effect upon the men whose business was that of politics.  Just as business had become specialized and organized, so politics also became subject to specialization and organization.  The appearance of the “Captain of Industry” was almost coincident with the appearance of the “Boss.”

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