Popular Science Monthly/Volume 55/July 1899/Scientific Literature

Scientific Literature.


The Lesson of Popular Government[1] is a fruit of thirty years' study, by Mr. Bradford, of certain peculiarities in the political workings of our institutions. The book is not for those who consider it patriotic to shut their eyes to whatever is going wrong, but for those whose regard for the Federal Constitution and the organization of our governments is only increased by the consciousness of the strain to which they are exposed, and who feel strongly that while the principles of the Government and the character of the people "are still sound and reliable, some modifications and readjustments of the machinery must take place, unless we are to drift through practical anarchy and increasing corruption to military despotism." For the sake of putting the subject in a clearer light, the three more prominent approaches to democratic government in modern times—those of England, France, and the United States—are studied comparatively in the former part of the work. The carrying on of governments in accordance with the expressed wish of the people is spoken of in the beginning as the appearance of a new force which has changed the whole face of society, and points to still greater changes in the future. How it has worked in the three countries in which it has been in operation for a little more than a century, and what it has done, are the questions which the author undertakes to answer. In England, popular government has taken the form, with a powerless hereditary sovereign commanding universal loyalty, of a ministry responsible to a Parliament, which is directly responsible to the people. In France, the executive is controlled by a legislative body chosen by universal suffrage, the majority of which is held together by party discipline. The virtue of this government is undergoing a supreme test in the Dreyfus case, the right issue of which would show a greater proportional advance in true liberty and the justification of popular government than has taken place in any other nation. In the United States, power is passing more and more into Congress, a body chosen separately from the President, whose members are actuated by personal, local, and partisan motives, and rarely rise to the conception of broad national views or look further than to the immediate present, while the nation at large and the Executive are without representation such as insures the co-operation of the ministry and Parliament in England. In all other respects than appointments to office, which must be made "in strict subordination to the demands of members of his party in both Houses of Congress," the recognized power of the Executive is confined within very narrow limits. In matters of legislation he has no voice whatever beyond general recommendations, such as are open to any citizen, and to which Congress pays little or no attention. In fact, that body resents anything like an expression of opinion from the President. The system is not encouraging to the filling of the office by men of the first rank, and men of that rank seldom reach it. The House of Representatives, meeting every two years a new body, suffers from its entire want of coherency and the absence of a qualified leader, and falls an easy prey to the lobbyist and the boss. So, while "there are still many, perhaps the majority, of men of good character in public life, the tendency is steadily downward." It has been customary in some quarters to charge the evils we suffer upon universal suffrage, but Mr. Bradford maintains that it is this which to-day is keeping up the character of the Government, and that but for the restraints imposed by it our political condition would be a great deal worse than it is. Further light is sought upon the situation, and further pictures are given of the conditions existing in comprehensive reviews of the State and municipal governments of the country. In considering proposed remedies the referendum is dismissed as tending to destroy personality and diffuse responsibility even more than is done now—the reverse of the concentration of executive power as the only really indispensable part of the Government, which should be sought. The enforcement of this principle of executive supremacy with immediate responsibility is the purpose of the book. Mr. Bradford would obtain this by giving the representatives of the administrative departments seats in the House, with power to suggest legislation, make explanations, and participate in debate. His final argument is that it can not be charged that democracy is a failure; but, "with a wholly new force introduced into the world, the proper machinery for its application has not yet been employed. In its nature it is reasonable, sound, and, on the whole, beneficent." Using the words of an English writer, "the failures of government in the United States are not the result of democracy, but of the craftiest combination of schemes to defeat the will of democracy ever devised in the world."

We have already published a fairly comprehensive review of Richard Semon's In the Australian Bush,[2] based upon the German original, by Prof. E. P. Evans, in the fifty-second volume of the Monthly (November, 1897). But little needs to be added to what Professor Evans has said of the book besides announcing the appearance of the English edition, the translation for which was written under the author's own superintendence, and the contents of which do not differ in any important particular from the German impression. Professor Semon went to Australia on a special zoölogical mission, and spent two years there. His purpose was the study of the wonderful Australian fauna, the oviparous mammals, marsupials, and ceratodus (lungfish). These animals represent forms which, with a few notable exceptions, have long since become extinct in other countries, where they have to be studied in such parts of their bony forms as happen to have been preserved in the rocks, while here they can be examined alive and in the flesh—"living fossils," as the author fittingly calls them, links between the present age and one of the geological periods of the past. His observations on these subjects are in course of publication in a special scientific work, not quite half of which has appeared. The present volume consists in the notes of travel and adventure, the dealing with men, the anthropological studies, and what we might call the obiter observations of the expedition. Almost simultaneously with Professor Semon's narrative we have from the same publishers another book, on The Native Tribes of Central Australia,[3] which deals more fully, exclusively, and perhaps more expertly with the anthropology of a part of the Australian continent. Of the authors, Mr. Gillen has spent the greater part of the past twenty years in the center of the continent, and as sub-protector of the aborigines has had exceptional opportunities of coming in contact with the Arunta tribe; and both of them have been made fully initiated members of that tribe. Though both about Australia, the two books do not cover the same ground. Australia is very large, and its physical conditions are such that the groups of tribes inhabiting the various regions have for a long period of time been isolated from one another and have followed different lines in development. Professor Semon's observations were made in the Burnett district of northeastern Queensland, while those recorded in the work of Spencer and Gillen were made in the very center of South Australia and of the continent. Consequently, in reading them we read really about different things. In addition to the investigation of various customs, such as those connected with initiation and magic, special attention has been paid by Messrs. Spencer and Gillen to the totemic system and to matters connected with the social organization of the tribes; and here again the authors insist upon the differences between the groups of tribes, and that the customs of no one tribe or group can be taken as typical of Australia generally in in any other sense than as broad outline. Both works deal with considerable fullness with the institution of marriage among the Australians, and the customs by which too close intermarriage is prevented. Among other subjects treated with especial fullness by Messrs. Spencer and Gillen are the totems, the bull-roarers, the Intichuma ceremonies (associated with the totems), the initiation ceremonies, customs relative to the knockng out of teeth, traditions, burial and mourning, spirit individuals, medicine men and magic, methods of obtaining wives, myths, clothing, weapons, implements, decorative art, and names. Professor Semon formed a moderate opinion of the capacity of the Australians. Though coarse and heavy, their faces are not bad looking and have expression. They are "no link between monkeys and men, but human creatures through and through," though of one of the lowest types. They have no pottery, no agriculture, no abstract ideas of any kind, can not count very far, but are clever in learning to write, read, and draw, are experts in signaling, and have their intellect and senses "brilliantly developed in all directions bearing on the hunt," with great dexterity in the use of weapons.

  1. The Lesson of Popular Government. By Gamaliel Bradford. New York: The Macmillan Company. Two volumes. Pp. 530 and 590. Price, $4.
  2. In the Australian Bush, and on the Coast of the Coral Sea. Being the Experiences and Observations of a Naturalist in Australia, New Guinea, and the Moluccas. New York: The Macmillan Company. Pp. 552. Price, $6.50.
  3. The Native Tribes of Central Australia. By Baldwin Spencer and F. J. Gillen. New York: The Macmillan Company. Pp. 671, with maps and plates. Price, $6.50.