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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 50.djvu/570

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Editor's Table.

 

POLITICS AND MORALS.

IN many States of the Union the school laws provide for compulsory education in what is called "temperance." How far the education supplied under this head sometimes is from being based on strict scientific principles was well shown some time ago by an able contributor to this magazine. It is a question, however, whether if even the instruction in "temperance" was all it ought to be from a scientific point of view, it is as much needed as other instruction for which no legal provision is made; we mean especially instruction in the everyday duties of citizenship.

According to prevalent ideas in this country, a people is free when it has adopted a popular form of government, and done away with everything having the appearance or savor of monarchy or aristocracy. Thus the Venezuelans are to be considered a free people because their government is, in form, republican; and the inhabitants of British Guiana not free, or at least not so free, because they are connected with the monarchy of Great Britain. In the early stages of the Venezuelan difficulty we heard not a little about the American system of government and American political ideas as opposed to the European system and European ideas. In the imagination of many, Venezuela stood for freedom and England for tyranny; and the interests of civilization were held to demand that the free power should be strengthened and the power representative of tyranny checked. To be sure, there was a country to the north of us, also connected with the British Empire, in which a reasonable degree of freedom seemed to exist. Still, that was not the right way of being free; the right way was to have your government republican in name as well as in essence, and above all to enjoy the vicissitudes of periodical elections for the chief magistracy. This Venezuela had done, and therefore Venezuela was a true home of orthodox freedom.

Happily, the Venezuelan difficulty is a difficulty no more as between the United States and England; but the underlying political ideas which tended to embitter feeling, and did so dangerously embitter it, on this side are deserving of study. Why has the overthrow of autocratic government provoked so much popular enthusiasm from the days of Harmodius and Aristogeiton down to our own times? Because the autocrat has been conceived of—and often rightly—as a man who used his power for his own selfish ends. The tyrant of popular imagination is a man who takes the taxes of the poor to spend upon his luxuries and vices; and the tyrant in history has not infrequently filled precisely this unworthy rôle. The advantage, then, to be gained from dethroning tyrants is that the power and resources of government then become available for the uses of the state. A virtuous tyrant would be one who used all his power in an unselfish manner for the benefit of his subjects; but when in the course of events even the virtuous tyrant becomes an impossibility, what is to be done with the power he formerly exercised? It passes over to the people; now what is going to be done with it? Here we come to the