Baltimore Evening Sun (20 July 1911): 6.


If perchance your taste is for a serious and thoughtful book, excellently written, then let me suggest that you send the sum of $1.10 to Charles M. Hollingsworth, of 1425 New York avenue, Washington, for a copy of his “From Freedom to Despotism.” The book is badly printed and badly bound and no publisher’s name appears upon the title page, but what it lacks in dignity of appearance it makes up in dignity of content. It is not often, indeed, that a more astute discussion of the great problems of government and progress is printed in the United States.

Mr. Hollingsworth, let it be said at the start, is not one who points with alarm, and neither is he a prophet with a panacea. He uses the words “freedom” and “despotism” not as synonyms for “good” and “evil,” but merely as symbols for two antagonistic forms of government, and he ventures no opinion as to which of these forms of government is, at bottom, the more moral. All he tries to do is to show that they are different and that whenever they come into conflict one of them always swallows the other, and to search out the causes which make one of them prevail at one time and the other at some other time.

Following Karl Marx (whom he follows, by the way, in no other respect) Mr. Hollingsworth argues that the form of government under which men live is always determined by the manner in which they make their living. In other words, it is the economic status of a people that determines its political status. This is the central doctrine of theoretical Socialism, but the practical Socialists, like most of the parties that oppose them, usually forget it when they come to discuss the actual ways and means of reform. Their effort then is to make the tail wag the dog. That is to say, they propose to change the economic condition of the common people by changing their political condition--to remedy economic ills by acts of Congress. It is Mr. Hollingsworth’s belief that the thing can’t be done--that acts of Congress and amendments to the Constitution are not the causes of economic conditions, but the effects of those conditions.

Why is it that the people of some countries have freedom and make their own laws, while the people of other countries are content to submit to the flats of some all-powerful monarch or oligarchy? Why is it, going further, that the same people, at different periods of their national life, live contentedly, first under one form of government and then under another? The ancient Romans, once free citizens of a free state, became, after awhile, the helpless subjects of an autocracy. And the crushed and oppressed common fo!k of mediæval England became, after a few centuries, ardent democrats and the fathers not only of a constitutional state at home, but also of great and free republics overseas. How are we to account for these changes?

Mr. Hollingsworth accounts for them by showing that the political temper and ideals of a people are conditioned and determined not so much by inborn traits of character as by external necessities. When a country is in process of economic development--when opportunities for individual enterprise are numerous and changes are constantly taking place in the distribution of wealth; when new laws are constantly needed to meet those changes and old laws are constantly growing obsolete and useless–then the spirit of democracy appears and a free state arises. But when, after a period of such development, a time of economic fixity ensues--when organization begins to take the place of individual enterprise and the available resources of the country are all distributed; when the laws on the statute books have come to meet, with fair accuracy, the actual conditions of life and those conditions cease to change, except very gradually--then the spirit of democracy dies and some form of despotism, benevolent or otherwise, arises.

In brief, a fluent economic environment demands that frequent changes be made in the laws, and the only way such changes can be made, to the satisfaction of an enterprising people, is by legislation, which is always best managed by a democracy. But a fixed environment demands not frequent changes in the laws but an efficient enforcement of the laws which already exist and have been found wise, and such laws are best enforced not by a changing legislature but by a permanent executive--in other words, by some sort of despot. That is why the Romans, when their Republic came to its full growth, changed it for a monarchy. And that is why the English when the Renaissance, with its inventions and discoveries, opened a way for new growth, abandoned their belief in the divine right of kings and set up a constitutional government, with the Legislature as its paramount arm.

Mr. Hollingsworth shows how both natural selection and artificial selection play a part in the process–the first by opposing and putting down those men who are out of sympathy with the existing tendency, and the latter by inviting the participation of those men, however distant, who are. When the United States was still half a wilderness and vast opportunities awaited every man who was willing to work thousands of alert and efficient men came into the country from Europe, and these men, finding self-reliance a virtue in commercial enterprise, made it a virtue, too, in politics, and so a great and genuine democracy arose. But now that the opportunities open to the individual decrease in the United States, and it becomes more difficult for him to wrest property from those who already possess it, the country ceases to be attractive to the more ambitious sort of men, and the immigrants who come from Europe tend to be leas energetic and successful, and so democracy loses something of its old vigor and various forms of executive usurpation appear.

In all this, unluckily, I hit only the high places of Mr. Hollingsworth’s ingenious and interesting discussion. Looking back over what I have written, it seems bald enough--but read the book itself, and you will certainly find it anything but that. No doubt you will dissent, in more than one place, from its argument. No doubt you will come to the conclusion, as I have in more than one place, that Mr. Hollingsworth confuses cause and effect. But however little you are convinced, you will find the book one of unusual merit, with plenty of clear thinking in it and a lot of very clear writing.

Contributions to the new thesaurus of American synonyms for intoxicated:

Battered, Homesick, Superheated, Lubricated, Tanked, Flooded, Juiced, Pie-eyed, Grey-eyed, Ptomained.