Politics And Popular Delusions -- By: G. Frederick Wright
BSac 63:252 (Oct 1906) p. 735
Politics And Popular Delusions
It is not wise to be oblivious to the dangers of democracy. The voice of the people is not always the voice of God. No oppression is so hopeless as that which has its origin, in the selfish interests of the majority. Nothing is so blind as a deluded populace, and nothing is more dangerous. We are happy, however, to be able, with Lincoln, to believe that “while some of the people may be deluded all the time, and all of the people some of the time, all of the people cannot be deluded all of the time.”
It was the fear of the sweeping delusions of a fickle public which led the framers of the Constitution of the United States to insert into that document so many checks upon the popular will. The House of Representatives, except at the special call of the President, is not permitted to make any laws until more than a year has elapsed since the excitement of the election; and then the hasty action of the House is checked by the Senate, which responds more slowly to the changes in public sentiment; while over both houses the President holds the restraint of his veto power. More impressive than all is the power given to
BSac 63:252 (Oct 1906) p. 736
the Supreme Court, a body appointed for life, whose decisions can render nugatory the action of all the legislative departments.
In many quarters much discontent is expressed in view of these restrictions of the popular will. But in fact there is probably nothing else which gives more hope for the permanence of our institutions than the readiness with which the people accept the restrictions of the Constitution. In more than a century only fifteen amendments to the’ Constitution have been made, while the enactment of future amendments grows less and less likely.
The most prevalent form of popular delusion is a belief in the omnipotence of statute law and in the omniscience and integrity of the legislature elected by the people. Slight reflection will show, however, that nothing is more disappointing than this public confidence in the elective representatives of the people. The great majority of the members of our successive legislatures are new and untried men, who have but an imperfect knowledge of the laws already in existence, or of the great principles through which justice between man and man has been preserved amid the complicated social forces in continuous operation about them. As a result, crude legislation is enacted without restraint. It is estimated that fifteen thousand new laws are annually enacted in the United States. The safety of the people lies in the fact that the most of these are practically dead letters. In the efforts of the legislators of Ohio...
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