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Ideals Of Government

( Originally Published 1915 )

An Attempt to realize a Perfect Social State through Government. Many attempts have been made, through the machinery of practical government, to realize ideal social states. Most familiar to us, of those of antiquity, is the Jewish ideal commonwealth, in which lawgivers and priests sought to secure justice and equal rights for all members of the community, not only by establishing social control in public affairs, but by developing a code of laws which should severely regulate the moral life and the social life, to the very minutest details. It was, indeed, a theocratic commonwealth, with religion, politics, and social usage all combined in one system. While this ideal commonwealth, as set forth with special fullness in the later Jewish codes, was far in advance of what was actually realized by the Jews, because the Jewish people were dispersed and the dream of an ideal commonwealth was not realized, yet many of the principles set forth in these writings have had great influence upon legislation among all peoples where the Bible has been taken seriously. Especially good examples of this influence are Calvin's government of Geneva, Switzerland, and some of the legislation of the English Commonwealth of Cromwell.

The Athenian democracy represents another great attempt to institute justice through practical government. It sought to regulate all the political affairs of the community by laws instituted in the interests of the people. It is true that it was, to a certain extent, a government of classes; for the government did not include all the people. Nevertheless, the development of the civic state, with the power of the senate and with the privilege of the people to take part in the government, even if those privileges were comparatively small, brought forth a new era in the development of politics. To establish the principle that every free man had a right to be heard was a long way from the Oriental monarchy, where such rights were denied, except as it suited the whim of the Oriental prince. This declaration of human rights has since found its way into nearly all forms of government.

Again, the Roman Republic, based upon a control almost imperial in its nature, sought to work out the problem of harmony betweeen the different grades of people, giving to all a fair representation in the government. The whole system failed, however, because of the ruling power of the senate, which, through its aristocratic influence, sought to domineer over the so-called lower classes. Thus, while the Republic developed law, and familiarized men with the rights of government, it remained for the Empire to universalize this system of recognition of the individual wherever he was under the dominion of the imperial power. But just as the democracy had to give way before imperialism, so was imperialism finally overthrown ; and the effort to establish the political and social rights of man came to naught.

So, too, the Swiss Federation, the United Netherlands, and the United States have attempted to work out ideal systems of government founded on freedom and equal rights. And the French nation, struggling for a century under the blighting influences of imperialism, injustice, and anarchy, finally, under the " third republic," managed, in a measure, to establish the rights of men.

Ideals of Philosophers. Besides these practical attempts to build up government through the influence of lawgivers, politicians, and wise statesmen, there have been attempts of philosophers, who, evincing a lack of faith in the power of the existing government to reform social evils, have set forth ideal systems of government. The first great monument of this kind was Plato's Republic. It varied widely from the actual condition of the republic of Athens of his time ; as in the case of all other utopias, it was written in a period of social unrest. In the Re-public of Plato the community system of society is the one recommended. The government goes into details in the regulation of all social and family relationships, and defines minutely the duties and privileges of all individuals who, in the scheme, are made subservient to the state. But while Plato, apparently, thoroughly believed in the ideas set forth in his Republic, he probably had no hope that such a government would be instituted in his own time perhaps none that it ever would. It is, in fact, this very idealism of Plato which is severely criticized by Aristotle, who, in his Politics, advances a theory of government founded upon the practices of the best governments that history had up to that time known.

Then there are certain of the Old Testament Prophets who set forth, in considerable detail, their dreams of the ideal social state. All through the denunciations of Amos runs an ideal which involves social justice to the poor and helpless classes; and Isaiah, in his statesmanlike duties of counseling the King of Judah and his task of upbraiding the rulers of his time, finds opportunity to set forth changes which, in his opinion, would make Judah and Jerusalem an ideal community under the special favor of God . Yet while many others of these Hebrew counselors of the nation suggested changes which would secure the favor of Jehovah, the condition sine qua non of national life, it remained for Ezekiel and the Post-Exilic prophets and writers, who were no longer embarrassed by an actually existing Hebrew state, to set forth in detail their ideals of a state to be based upon theocratic principles. Scattered all through Ezekiel's prophecy are many passages outlining his ideas of the nature of the restored Hebrew state ; and in chapters thirty-seven to forty-eight he presents a unified picture of the whole. More-over, from the book of Daniel to the Revelation, the apocalyptists simply reveled in pictures of the Kingdom of God to be realized here on earth.

But besides Plato and the reformers of both the Old and the New Testament, there are writers from the last years of the Roman Empire, from the Middle Ages, and from the early modern period, who have advanced theories and plans of government. Among these are St. Augustine, with his City of God; Campanella, with his City of the Sun; Thomas More, with his Utopia; Bacon, with his Atlantis; and in more modern times Cabet, with his Icaria, and Bellamy, with his Looking Backward. The utopias of Plato, More, Campanella, and Bacon are, perhaps, the most important ; but since to describe each one would require too much space, we must content our-selves with the observation that each one pictured a perfect government where human wants ceased to be troublesome, and where harmony, happiness, justice, and love prevailed. If these utopias accomplished nothing more, they at least pointed out, by way of contrast, the evils of existing governments.

The Advocates of Socialistic Theories. Of a slightly different character were the ideals of certain French communists and socialists of the latter part of the eighteenth and early part of the nineteenth centuries. Baboeuf and his followers desired to abolish private property and to establish equality and fraternity by organizing a state of pure communism ; and for this purpose they organized, in 1796, a band of equals, who attempted to overthrow the state. Maintaining that the aim of society was the happiness of all, and that happiness depended on equality, they emphasized governmental ideals chiefly as a means for securing absolute economic equality.

Cabet, while he believed in pure communism, thought that the transition should be gradual, that people, by organizing communistic societies at will, could thus slowly transform the whole community into a fraternity. He was perhaps the first and greatest communist of France and Icaria the most ideal community ever proposed. Saint-Simon, on the other hand, was a socialist who held that the natural inequality between men should be the basis of association. Rejecting the idea of the community of goods, he advocated that all should be re-warded according to their capacity and that this capacity should be estimated according to works. And Fourier, though holding doctrines similar to those of Saint-Simon, considered the benefit of humanity the highest aim of each individual. Among other things there were, according to his theory, certain natural rights belonging to each individual, which entitled him to the protection and care of the whole community.

Modern Socialism. The foregoing are a few of the principal exponents of early socialistic theories. If space would permit, many others might be named who have expounded complex ideas of social, political, and economic readjustment! As compared with the earlier theories, modern scientific socialism has more particular reference to economic production and distribution. Karl Marx, a social democrat and one of the earlier advocates of socialistic production, insisted on the political organization of industry. He emphasized the great service of labor in production and maintained that because of the excessive demands of capital, labor did not receive a fair share of the product. Social democracy, of which Marx may be called the founder, includes, among other theories, the collective ownership of land and capital, the abolition of competitive industry, and, consequently, the social production of wealth. And while Karl Marx was advocating social democracy in Germany, Louis Blanc was founding state socialism in France. Opposing equality, he set forth a system of distributive justice, by which, after each had labored according to his abilities, he was to receive a reward in proportion, not to capacity or product, but to his need.

Modern so-called scientific socialism, while in its results at least it may involve many of the early doctrines, centers on collective ownership of the agents of production, and associate management of industry. It is opposed to the competitive system and private ownership of the means of production ; and although different exponents of the theory vary as to the extent to which it should be carried and the manner of its application, its objective point is distribution of income. Dr. Ely's excellent definition expresses the general spirit of " scientific " socialism : " Socialism is that contemplated system of industrial society which proposes the abolition of private property, in the great material instruments of production, and the substitution therefor of collective property ; and advocates the collective management of production, together with the distribution of social income by society, and private property in the larger proportion of this social income." 1

Modem Socialistic Experiments. Various groups of people have attempted to carry out experiments in government for the benefit of human society ; and there have been many individuals who have organized themselves into societies for the propagation of socialistic doctrines. These societies have been of three different kinds : anarchistic, socialistic, and communistic. The theoretical anarchist, believing that modern government is a burden, maintains that, if it could be dissolved, men and women would form themselves into small groups which would conserve their interests by spontaneous social order. So far as discontent with present systems of government is concerned and with modern forms of social order, the anarchist's point of view is really the same as that of the socialist ; but anarchism and socialism are widely different in their plans for the reorganization of society. While the anarchists hold that there is too much government and that it should be reduced to a minimum, the socialists insist that government could and should be greatly extended so as to cover all of the modern industrial operations. Thus, while the one party lays special stress on political ideals, the other has for its principal ideal a system of artificial economic distribution by which each receives according to his ability or, as in some instances, according to his need.

Then there are the communistic societies, all representing a species of socialism. They hold all property in common and advocate the absolute equality of all members of the community, so far as the rights of property and social life are concerned. Many of these societies have attempted practical experiments in government, such as the " Oneida Communists " of New York, the " Amana Society " and the " New Icaria " of Iowa, and the several Bellamy societies of California. These experiments have been of such a varied nature, extending from pure communism to pure industrial cooperation, that it is quite impossible to classify them, no two of them being exactly alike. The nearest that we can approach to a classification would be a division into these three : first, those whose chief principle was reward according to ability or service rendered ; second, those which required service according to ability and gave rewards according to need ; and finally, those that had industrial cooperation for their chief aim. But because, in part, of the impracticability of their plans, and, in part, because the people who have gone into them have been lacking in cooperative qualities, nearly all of these experiments have failed.

There is still another group and one that belongs in a class by itself. The people of this group have always advocated what is known as Christian socialism, by which they meant the making over of the whole political and industrial systems and the general social system into a unified society, based upon the teachings of Christ. No particular experiments have been tried on this ground, though the propaganda has existed since the time of F. D. Maurice and Charles Kingsley.

The cooperative communities have established two forms of cooperation. The one, known as distributive cooperation, has reference to the exchange and distribution of goods; and the other, called productive cooperation, looks after their production. Many of these cooperative communities have failed ; but a few have succeeded. It took a long time to learn the cooperative art ; and until it was learned, and until a group of cooperative people could be brought together, all such experiments proved failures. In England, distributive cooperation has now become a strong movement. It was successfully inaugurated by the Rochdale Pioneers in the year 1844 ; and there are, at present, hundreds of societies which do a large cooperative business. Productive cooperation, by far the more difficult to establish of the two, was begun on a small scale in England in about 185o; it has now reached quite extensive proportions and has become one of the solid institutions of the nation. The numerous and successful cooperative marketing associations for farm and dairy products in Denmark are types of distributive co-operation, as are the Grange and Farmers' Alliance in America, the California Fruit Growers' Association, and in the Middle West of the United States the more recent organizations for cooperative marketing of such products as cheese and potatoes. On the other hand, the cooperative companies of Minneapolis and the cooperative creameries and cheese factories in some of the dairy sections of the United States are good examples of productive cooperation. Finally, the system of profit sharing, so well illustrated in the management of the Pillsbury Mills of Minneapolis, the Proctor and Gamble Company of Cincinnati, the N. O. Nelson Company of St. Louis, and the Cash Register Company of Dayton, Ohio, is an attempt to promote a community of interests between employer and employee and bring about new social conditions of the laboring class.

Individualism versus Socialism. Individualism in politics, borrowed, for the most part, from the English system, has been so very strong in America that any innovation looking toward state control of industries or, indeed, toward a community of interests in any special way, has not been received with great favor. Always jealous of their individual liberty, the people have frequently objected to having their industrial affairs con-trolled by laws which would have been to their real and lasting benefit. As a matter of fact, the radical theories advanced by socialists have so threatened the individualistic system that people have been overcautious about the regulation of industries. We have seen, nevertheless, the gradual enlargement of the powers of the state in, for example, the management of railways, through the state railway commissions and the Federal Inter-state Commerce Commission, and in the control of other great corporate industries by state industrial commissions. Thus, while the socialistic state is a long way off and probably will never be, in practice, what it is in theory, community of interests seems to be better understood and more desired by all classes of people than it ever was in the past ; and the state now does infinitely more for the individual than at any previous period. Yet while the state is continually establishing general laws to control industries and to improve the general welfare of the community, the individual seems to have as much liberty as ever. Never before have we seen such public activity on behalf of the individual citizen. The food he eats, the milk he buys, the clothing he wears, are all carefully inspected to see that he gets only those products which have not been exposed to contamination by disease. The factories in which he works, the houses where he dwells, even the condition of his garbage can, are looked after in the interest of his health and efficiency. And not only is the schooling of his children provided for by a special board, but at public expense opportunities for his recreation are offered to him. It is not, however, so much a function of the state to produce as it is to regulate.

Ideals of Equality. One of the important influences in modem social life has been the ideal of equality advanced by certain theorists. The practices of the Christian church have, to a certain extent, set forth this ideal ; but more especially has it been advocated by radical democrats and radical socialists. Taken all in all, that system should be considered an ideal government which advocates the utmost liberty of the individual and at the same time yields the greatest well-being to the community at large. Ideals of fraternity, liberty, and equality are valuable in pointing out many of the best elements of government ; but the sure foundation of an enlightened government is justice. And the sooner this becomes the aim of society, the greater the progress that will be made; for such an ideal, we are sure, can be approximated in government. Above all is the extension of a system of justice to industrial affairs one of the pressing problems of modern society.


ADDAMS, JANE. Democracy and Social Ethics.

BELLAMY, EDWARD. Looking Backward.

BLACKMAR, F. W. Economics, p. 239.

ELLWOOD. Sociology and Modern Social Problems, Chap. XV.

ELY, R. T. Socialism and Social Reform; French and German Socialism.

FREEMAN, E. A. Federal Government. MORE, THOMAS. Utopia.

PLATO'S Republic.

WARD, LESTER F. Dynamic Sociology, Vol. II, p. 158.


1. Read the reference to Ezekiel and then read More's Utopia. Write out your impressions of the difference between the two and the similarities.

2. As revealed in the Federal Constitution, what were the ideals which the fathers held for the government of the United States when the nation was founded?

3. How do these ideals differ from the ideals held by the English government at that time?

4. Show in what respects the ideals of government held by the framers of our Constitution have changed during the interval between 1786 and 1914.

5. How has the agitation for industrial democracy affected governmental ideals in this country?

6. What ideal is back of the demand for Old Age Pensions, for Industrial Insurance? What ideals prompt the demand for the curbing of trusts, the regulation of railroads, the care of children, and the democratization of education?

Outlines Of Sociology:
Psychical Activities

Social Control

Aims Of Society

Ideals Of Government

Control By Force

Educational Method

Social Inequalities

Ideal Of Justice

Estimation Of Progress

Nature Of Social Pathology

Read More Articles About: Outlines Of Sociology

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