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3-152 (Text)

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author,male,The Age,un addressee
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Clark, 1957
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It is a very shallow wisdom and slender knowledge of the world, as well as mistaken expediency, for anybody to resist the realisation of genuine self-government here, or in any other community at all fit to receive it.  For the consolation of those then who deplore, while they feel they cannot prevent, this consummation in Victoria, let us recal the established fact, that self-government is by incomparable odds the most potent engine for developing and elevating the intellectual and moral condition of the people - surpassing all other machinery for the purpose by as long odds as the steam-engine surpasses all anterior methods of locomotion. This is no vague assertion, no rhetorical vaunt, but a distinct, accredited, established fact - incontrovertible as a problem in Euclid, and tangible to human experience as the steam-engine we have adduced for a comparison. Democracy, or self-government, is sought by the people as a means to an end - as a lever for them to improve their physical and mental condition. But immediately on being attained it becomes still more powerful and useful for this purpose - it becomes more than a lever in their own hands, for it ensures for this same end (viz., the popular development) the ardent cooperation of all the other classes, including the men who most obstinately resisted its original concession. That self-interest which always sways bodies of individuals is the occasion of this. When power is once placed in the hands of the masses, it forthwith becomes the interest, without exception, of every man in the country to help and press on all possible means for humanising and enlightening the humbler classes, and for giving them a solid, material interest in the country where they all dwell together. When every man has a voice in the State, it is an important matter with his neighbour that he shall possess intelligence how to exercise. it, and that his animus in exercising it shall be in accordance with the common welfare, not against it. Where all are shareholders in the Government, it is manifestly the universal interest that all shall be shareholders in social advantages also. As in mutual insurance companies, each member feels his own position involved in the prosperity or decadence of the other members and of the society at large, so also in a democracy. The rich man is then anxious, like the poor man himself, that the latter should have a stake in the country, to make him conservative of its interests; and he is as anxious as the philosopher that the schoolmaster should penetrate efficiently into every corner of the land, because he fears the mischief of ignorance in a man who has a hand as well as himself in the management of the community.  In a word, when by democracy, universal suffrage, real representation, self-government, the public interests at large are substituted in state affairs for class or individual interests, everybody is anxious that everybody else should have a zeal for the national welfare by having a share in it They are all embarked in the same ship, and each person feels his success and safety ensured by the universality of zeal and intelligence: in the ship's company. It is this valuable community of interest in a democracy which gave rise to the very appropriate appellation of 'Common wealth.' When a nation is at all fit for it, as ours confessedly is, the most genuine and thorough self-Government is therefore: the most potent and rapidly-working lever which can be applied to the moral, intellectual, and material elevation of a community.
Observant travellers in America speak of the operation there of this natural law of community of interest resulting from community of Government. There the man of property is anxious that all shall become men of property, that they may have reason to be equally conservative with himself; and the man of education is anxious that all shall become educated, that they may have the enlightenment and discretion which he has.
How different the case is in an absolute monarchy or an oligarchy! There the individual or the class monopolising power dreads the diffusion of property which would give the masses heart and strength to insist on a partnership in Government, and dreads that diffusion of education which would make them discontented with an abject lot, and which would teach them how to redress it. In a country thus governed, the interest of the despot or oligarchy is against the people; in a democracy the interest of everybody is with the people.
This is the cause why in every corner of the world, and in all ages, democracies (when people were developed enough for such form of government) have progressed so fast.  The happiest, most enlightened, and most thriving communities of the middle ages were the free cities of the Lombard League, of the Hanseatic League, and of Flanders. The democracies of old Greece produced the most magnificent race of human beings the world has yet contained - men to whom we owe the most glorious ideas which human nature has expressed, and the noblest examples ever exhibited in every path of greatness. It was democracy which in their narrow mountain land developed the sons of Hellas to the highest pitch of human perfection.
Let us then hear no more imbecile querulousness at our rapid advances in self-government We have no despot, no oligarchy, no ascendant race or class, and therefore there is not even the excuse of selfishness in opposing popular self-government. The question must be considered on its abstract merits; and we have just reminded our readers what these merits are. If we were unfit to be entrusted with honest self-government, as the degenerate Creoles and half-savage Indians and Negroes of South America are unfit, there would indeed be rational ground of objection. But in simple truth we are far better adapted for this prerogative of civilised man than any one of the most refined nations of the Old World. Our people are as a matter of fact the picked men of Europe; and, as a consequence, intelligence, enterprise, energy and spirit are immeasurably more universal here. And yet with all these elements of popular strength and the self-consciousness of it, where is there a community more orderly? Half-a-dozen policemen on any one of the gold-fields suffice to preserve tranquillity among forty or fifty thousand diggers congregated from every country of the globe! Could all the writers and orators in the world strike out among their conjoined wits, a single argument more eloquent than this simple fact?
How ridiculous then for some of our ancient friends to indulge in maudlin jeremiads over the dangers of Reform! The occasional grumbler among us cannot resist, and it only displays his folly and his ignorance to deplore. Does he wrestle with nature and the laws of God? Can he check the natural and harmonious transition of the sapling into the tree, of the brooklet into the river, of the child into the man?  Can he persuade us to dispense with printing, the telegraph, or the compass? When he succeeds in getting us to renounce those things, he will succeed in getting a vigorous, intelligent, self-reliant community to postpone or forego that other mighty lever of human development - Democracy.