DEMOCRACY IS SELF-GOVERNMENT
Harold W. Percival
AMERICA FOR DEMOCRACY
Man and woman do not live apart; necessity draws them together, and they have a family. Families do not live apart; necessity causes them to get together for their common interests, and there is a community.
The human is constituted to be a reasoning and thinking and creative power in an animal body. From necessity this reasoning and thinking and creative power is caused to care for the body, to create the tools for producing food, and to invent the means for acquiring possessions and comforts and other sense-satisfactions of life; and, further, to provide the ways and means for intellectual occupations. And so the introduction to civilization.
Before the development of a civilization the human problem is to have the food, clothing, shelter, and conditions necessary to life. Throughout a civilization the human problem is: Shall reason rule the body, or shall the body control reason?
Human reason cannot deny the fact of the body, nor can the body deny the fact of reason. Human reason cannot do things without the body; and the body cannot satisfy its bodily appetites and craving and needs without reason. If human reason rules the body at the expense of the body, the result is the breakdown of the body and the failure of reason. If the body rules reason there is the breakdown of reason and the body becomes a brute-beast.
As with a human, so with a democracy and a civilization. When the body is the master and reason accordingly is made to serve greed and the base impulses and passions of the body, then the people become brute-beasts. Individuals war among themselves, and the people war against other peoples in a world of war. Morals and laws are ignored and are forgotten. Then the fall of civilization begins. Terror and madness and slaughter continue until the remnants of what were civilized human beings are reduced to savages seeking to rule or to destroy one another. Eventually the forces of nature are loosed: storms devastate; the earth shakes; onrushing waters cover sinking continents; fair and fertile lands that were once the pride of prosperous nations suddenly or gradually disappear and become ocean-beds; and in the same cataclysms other ocean-beds are raised above the waters to be prepared for the beginnings of the next civilization. In the distant past, floors of the ocean rose above the waters and connected separated lands. There were sinkings and risings and rollings until the land settled to be what is the continent called America.
The peoples of Europe and Asia have been torn and distracted and harassed by greed and enmities and wars. The atmospheres are charged with traditions. The ancient gods and ghosts are kept alive by the thoughts of the peoples. The gods and ghosts seethe and throng, and trouble the atmospheres in which the people breathe. The ghosts will not let the people forget their petty quarrels, which they will not settle. The dynastic and racial ghosts urge the people to fight, over and over and over, their battles in the lust for power. In such lands Democracy could not be given a fair trial.
Of all the surface of the earth the new land of America offered the fairest opportunity for a new home for new families, and for the birth of a new people in an atmosphere of freedom, and under a new government.
Through long suffering and many hardships; after some inglorious acts, repeated mistakes, through carnage and sore travail, a new people, under a new form of government, was born—the new democracy, the United States of America.
The spirit of the land is freedom. Freedom is in the air, and the people breathe in the atmosphere of freedom: freedom from the conflicting traditions of the older countries; freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and freedom of opportunity to do and to be. The first step of the infant democracy was freedom. But the freedom of the air which the people breathed and felt was freedom of the air and of the land; it was a freedom from the restraints that had been put upon them in the old countries from which they came. But the new freedom which they felt was not a freedom from their own greed and brutalities. Rather, it gave them opportunities to do and to be the best or the worst that was in them. And that is just what they did and what they were.
Then came growth and expansion, followed by the years of struggle to determine whether the states should remain united, or whether the people and the states would be divided. Civilization trembled in the balance as the people were then determining their destiny. The majority willed not to divide; and the second step in the growth of democracy was taken through blood and anguish by the preservation of the people and the states in union.
Now the time is coming, in fact it is here, when the people must determine whether they will have a democracy in name only, or whether they will take the third step by becoming a real and actual democracy.
A comparatively small number will stand willing and ready for the taking of the third step toward having a democracy. But the step cannot be taken for the people by only a few of the people; it must be taken by a majority of the people as a people. And the greater number of the people have not shown that they understand or have thought about what a real Democracy is.
Humanity is the name of the one large family composed of the immortal Doers in human bodies. It is divided into branches which spread over all parts of the earth. But a human is everywhere recognized and distinguished from other beings, by the human form, by the power of thought and speech, and by similar characteristics.
Though they are of one family, human beings have hunted each other with more ferocity and cruelty than has been shown by the beasts of the jungle. Predacious animals hunt other animals, though only as food. But men hunt other men to rob them of their possessions and to enslave them. The slaves did not become slaves because of virtue, but because they were weaker than those who enslaved them. If, by whatever means, the slaves became strong enough, they would enslave their masters. Those who had felt the lash in their turn wielded it upon their former rulers.
So it has been. It was the custom for the strong to consider the weak to be slaves: chattels. Human law has been made by might, and the law of might; and the law of might has as a matter of course been accepted as right.
But slowly, very slowly, through the centuries, conscience in the individual has been given voice by individuals. Gradually, very gradually and by degrees, there has been developed through communities and through a people a public conscience. Weak at first, but gaining in strength and sounding with increasing clearness, conscience speaks.
Before the public conscience had voice there were prisons, but there were no hospitals or asylums or schools for the people. With the growth of the public conscience there has been a steady increase in foundations for research and institutions of all kinds devoted to the advancement of the public welfare. Furthermore, amid the strife and bickerings of party and class, a national conscience with justice is heard. And though most of the nations of the world are now at war and preparing for war, there is clearly heard the voice of an international conscience with justice. While the voice of conscience with justice can be heard there is hope and promise for the world. And the hope, the real hope for the freedom of the people of the world, is in true democracy, Self-government.
Copyright 1980 by The Word Foundation, Inc.