NONTHEMATIC / Vol. 4, No. 2 (Summer 1937)
It is beyond dispute that farmland property in the hands of tillers of the soil creates in the American citizenry a certain responsibility and balanced conservative attitude which cannot be replaced and which has always contributed a most valuable stabilizing element in public opinion and politics. Thus a process of increasing separation of the tillers of the soil from the vital right of property in the land must be taken as a serious phenomenon of national importance. It lies somewhere in the neighborhood of the growth of trusts and big corporations in industries and trades. After Lincoln’s homestead act, which was the last decisive step toward the distribution of rural wealth, the country developed so rapidly that not much time was left to ponder about the basic constitution of land tenure. Today it is not only a natural reaction but a most promising signal that the American nation is finally alarmed by the decided trend toward an increasing number of farmers being excluded from farm property. This trend is rightly considered as a portent of a critical and most undesirable change in the country’s agricultural set-up.
Whether or not it is set up as a disguise for dubious intentions, the Soviet Constitution broaches the problem of connecting democracy with socialism. In this respect it stands out as a unique experiment, at least on paper, and should stimulate the lagging examination of the relation between democracy and collectivism. This general theoretic aspect of the Constitution approaches one of the most practical political issues: the problem of whether and how the retrogression from a dictatorship to democratic forms may be possible after a new economic basis has been established or political conditions have changed. The following examination will treat the Constitution as a whole, as it stands now. Many elements have been taken over from the old Constitution, particularly those dealt with in the latter part of the paper, but the changes are so manifold that it is desirable in a consideration such as this one to treat the new document as a unit in itself.
The economist is not merely an observer, detached from the stream of economic events. The great economic systems, such as mercantilism, liberalism, Marxism, or even that most recent development of economics -- interventionism -- are all systems of economic theory, yet they are not the abstract creation of scholars floating on air above the struggle waged in the field of actual social life. These systems developed out of historical situations and in turn had an influence on historical development. It is a situation similar to one that is familiar in the physical sciences: the object of study is modified by the fact that it is under observation and by the type of observation. It may be objected that this is confusing economic theory and economic policy. Certainly mercantilism, liberalism, and Marxism are systems of economic and social policy, but each involves a certain special theoretical approach to reality. I am concerned with them here only in so far as they represent these different approaches.
If the real subject of Dr. Colm’s article were merely 'economics today' I would have no quarrel with it. But here, if I am not mistaken, we are dealing with social science today, or rather with social science and history. I do not know whether Dr. Colm intended to go so far as I think he has, and whether he is willing to read with me in the broader pattern of the social sciences what I consider the unavoidable result of his conception of economics. Possibly not. Possibly I am misunderstanding him. This makes me feel even more urgently the need to attempt a rephrasing of his theory and to propose it to him as an enlargement of his own conception, even though with some unavoidable deformations.
The argument is frequently produced that because of the very nature of the financial structure of modern capitalism, a deficiency of purchasing power will appear which is said to be the cause of economic disturbances. Naturally these theories appear primarily in times of depression when unused capacities and unsatisfied wants lend strong support to such ideas. It is not the intention of this paper to expound the numerous theories of this kind while trying to separate the theoretically valid part of their content from misconceptions and exaggerations. Rather, a special case of such discrepancy will be demonstrated which, even though it has not been altogether overlooked in the literature, has not yet found a sufficient interpretation and evaluation.
Dr. Hermens, in the November issue of Social Research, compares majority and proportional methods of election and concludes his article by affirming that the form of proportional representation adopted by Germany was 'an essential condition' of the breakdown of democracy in that country. I propose to examine the majority system as it works within Great Britain, to direct attention to its defects, to outline the reform proposed to meet these defects, to compare this reform with 'proportional representation of the German kind,' and finally to indicate what, in my view, were some of the causes that led to the breakdown of German democracy.
My disagreement with Mr. Humphreys is of a fundamental nature. He starts from the assumption that 'the object of a representative body is to represent.' But as I have previously attempted to demonstrate, the object of a representative body is no longer to represent, but to govern. The term 'representation' presupposes three factors: the person or persons represented, the representative, and a third factor, independent of the first and second, before whom the representation takes place. As long as a dualism existed between parliament and the (royal) government the third factor was present: the members of parliament represented their constituents before the government. It is the essence of parliamentary government in the modern sense of the word that this third factor no longer exists.