AN AMERICAN OLIGARCH.
The vaunted savoir faire of our young aristocrat supplied him with a timely caution. It rightly taught him that it was not the season to attack democracy at the time of the "heated discussion" of class elections, when the earnestness of the conflict had engraved the battle-cry on the minds of every one. This aristocratic quality would have done him a greater service, we think, had it shown him that the incapacity he confesses, to under stand a great principle in its larger working, is not the best evidence of his capacity to criticise it in a case of less importance. In spite of the assertion of our oligarch, it will appear, we hope, that the undeniable principles of our national democracy will answer for our class elections.
What does democracy in class elections mean? Its significance, we think, is that on an occasion representative of the class the offices are filled by men both nominated and elected by the class, and not by cliques in the name of the class.
In the old "Stuffed Club" system, and in a less degree, in the method of nomination pursued last year, many men found their representatives chosen for them without regard to their consent. By a curious contradiction in terms, however, the officers elected were called Class-Day officers, and assumed to represent the class. As long as Class Day is to be an occasion commemorative of class traditions and associations, no stretch of the imagination can make it other than a "snatch and have" proceeding for any section of a class - even "a limited body of men of fashion" to arrogate to itself the exclusive privilege of choosing certain class officers. If any such organization exists, as a "limited body of men of fashion," and they feel it their privilege to elect certain officers for any celebration, I think there will be no opposition, only let them call the occasion "The Young Fashionables' Levee," or designate it by some worthy title. Class Day belongs to the class in its corporate capacity, and the exclusion of a single individual who belongs to it from the privilege of voting directly or indirectly in the nomination and election of each Class-Day officer is a flagrant violation of his rights, and most probably a misrepresentation of his sentiments. It is to make Class Day a misnomer which we should blush to celebrate.
The arguments by which our young oligarch would betray the demos are not difficult to criticise. They clothe, however, a spirit in the mouth of which a sneer at democracy was most appropriate. It is no mild imputation on gentlemen who are Harvard students, to call them "outside barbarians," and speak of them as men "to whom society is but a name." It bespeaks a snobbish arrogance which should be an anomaly in this country. We thank it for taking on itself the name of oligarchy.
The naive little theory of government which is developed from Utilitarianism, and pushed forward to assail open elections, would undoubtedly possess much of the popularity imputed to it if there were about it an air of greater plausibility. As it stands, it cannot fail to interest the Junior Class in their preparation for the semiannuals as an example of ambiguity of the middle term. Such an interpretation as is given to "greatest happiness" is enough to cause Bentham to turn in his grave. The position which this fallacy about government is intended to support is an entirely unwarranted assumption. It asserts that the class at large is incapable of settling on suitable men for Class-Day officers. Merit, it holds, secluded in the societies is unrecognized by the class. We breathe not a word against societies. Admission to them, though not the final criterion of character our author would have us believe, is undoubtedly an honor. We do object, however, to his remarks, "A non-society man, as a rule, either chooses or deserves his position." If it is meant as an argument against open elections, it is beside the point.
Societies as organizations should have no more to do with class elections than free-masons with the election of public officers for the national government. What non-society men claim is the right of their position, not the privileges of societies.
To return to the assertion that the class at large is not capable of choosing suitable officers for Class Day. Though the glitter and tinsel of popularity will undoubtedly attract the "outside barbarians," the merit which is confined to "limited bodies of men of fashion" is not the stuff for class officers. The avenues open to ability, by which it may come before the whole class, are so numerous that any particular individuals who have failed to identify themselves with their class are not the men to fill its offices. Despite the formation of cliques, four years of association between cultivated men is sufficient to allow them to form definite estimates enough of one another's capacities. This might not be the case if the ability required for the Class-Day officers were of a technical nature. But the truth is, that the talent required is of the very kind we are all fitted to appreciate by our college course.
It is rather amusing to regard an oligarch's notion of equality. He puts it in the form of an Irish bull. "It should be remembered that the members of every class enter college, as infants enter the world, on perfectly equal terms, and that the subsequent differences in their position are due in a great degree to their antecedents, to their characters, and to their abilities." In this article we have demanded an equality to which our present position entitles us, not one which would require a retrospection to the days of our grand-fathers.
M. P. B.