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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/654

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

widest acceptation, the feeling of the community is the sole source of political power; in those communities, at least, which are not under foreign domination. It was so at the outset of social life, and it still continues substantially so.

 

It has come to be a maxim of science that in the causes still at work are to be identified the causes which, similarly at work during past times, have produced the state of things now existing. Acceptance of this maxim and pursuit of the inquiries suggested by it lead to verifications of the foregoing conclusions.

For day after day, every public meeting illustrates afresh this same differentiation characterizing the primitive political agency, and illustrates afresh the actions of its respective parts. There is habitually the great body of the less distinguished, forming the audience, whose share in the proceedings consists in expressing approval or disapproval, and saying ay or no to the resolutions proposed. There is the smaller part, occupying the platform—the men whose wealth, position, or capacity gives them influence—the local chiefs by whom the discussions are carried on. And there is the chosen head, commonly the man of greatest mark to be obtained, who exercises a recognized power over speakers and audience—the temporary king. Even an informally summoned assemblage soon resolves itself into these divisions more or less distinctly; and when the assemblage becomes a permanent body, as of the men composing a commercial company, or a philanthropic society, or a club, definiteness is quickly given to the three divisions—president or chairman, board or committee, proprietors or members. To which add that, though at first, like the meeting of the primitive horde or the modern public meeting, one of these permanent associations, voluntarily formed, exhibits a distribution of powers such that the select few and their head are subordinate to the mass; yet, as circumstances determine, the proportions of the respective powers usually change more or less decidedly. Where the members of the mass are not only much interested in the transactions, but are so placed that they can easily coöperate, they hold in check the select few and their head; but, where wide distribution, as of railway shareholders, hinders joint action, the select few become, in large measure, an oligarchy, and out of the oligarchy there not unfrequently grows an autocrat: the constitution becomes a despotism tempered by revolution.

In saying that from hour to hour proofs occur that the force possessed by a political agency is derived from aggregate feeling, partly embodied in the consolidated system which has come down from the past, and partly excited by immediate circumstances, I do not refer only to the proofs that among ourselves governmental actions are habitually thus determined, and that the actions of all minor bodies, temporarily or permanently incorporated, are thus determined. I refer, rather, to the illustrations of the irresistible control exercised by