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P. R. and Democracy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2009

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When, At a party in New York, the question was asked: “What does the abbreviation ‘P. R.’ stand for?” a lady — a college graduate, from just across the Hudson River in New Jersey—answered: “A new alphabetic agency.” Harold Phelps Stokes, writing for the New York Times Book Review, thought that the two letters came close to expressing “a term of endearment.” The Baltimore Sun wrote in the same vein by terming it “the darling of the pure idealists of democracy.” The New York Sun was more explicit: “It is the pari-mutuel of politics, a bingo of the ballots, manna for the minorities.” And, to turn to a more serious aspect of the matter, a prominent American political scientist, in a letter to the present writer, called P. R. a “substitute religion,” and just one of the manifestations of that “mechanized dogmatism” for which he—as any true scientist— cared but little.

Research Article
Copyright © University of Notre Dame 1942


1 “Speaking of P. R.,” September 28, 1941, p. 18.

2 “Worked in Reverse,” editorial, November 3, 1936.

3 Ritchie, George, “Book of the Day,” 10 28, 1941, p. 34Google Scholar.

4 They have been discussed in my article, “Exit the Boss,” Review of Politics, October 1940.

5 Quincy, J. P., The Protection of Majorities, Boston 1876, p. 6Google Scholar.

6 For some details see Hermens, F. A., “The 1938 Elections and the American Party System,” Review of Politics, 04 1939Google Scholar.

7 In No. X of the Federalist papers.

8 Commentaries on the Laws of England, I, 160–1.

9 See Jennings, W. J., Parliament, New York, 1940, pp. 9596Google Scholar, who discusses a case of the alleged application of “third degree” methods. Says Jennings: “… on such issues party divisions are forgotten, and members give chase at the mere scent of injustice like greyhounds after a hare.”

10 Tocqueville, A. de, Democracy in America, Vol. III, London 1838, pp. 84Google Scholar ff.

11 The American Commonwealth, Chap. LXXXIV.

12 Aristotle seems to have had the same thing in mind when he said that democracy is characterized by two features, namely, by the rule of the majority and by liberty, although he does not state the relation between the two. (Politics, Bk. 5, chap. IX.)

13 Hallett, George H. jr, “Letter to the Editor,” New York Times, 08 7, 1941Google Scholar.

14 Bagehot, Walter, The English Constitution, ed. The World's Classics, p. 132Google Scholar.

15 Wattles v. Upjohn, September 30, 1920.

16 Bagehot, , op. cit., p. 132Google Scholar.

17 The problems, of representation cannot be discussed here in detail. The author agrees with the thorough and comprehensive discussion which Professor C. J. Friedrich has given (Introduction to Democracy or Anarchy? pp. xxi–xxiv, and Constitutional Government and Democracy, Boston 1941, pp. 255 ffGoogle Scholar.

18 H. D. Gideonse in his preface to Hermens, F. A., Democracy and Proportional Representation, Public Policy Pamphlet No. 31, p. iiiGoogle Scholar.

19 Front page editorial entitled “Proportional Representation,” issue of June 4, 1939.

20 As J. Phillips Quincy put it: “The separation into classes is the danger from which we have most to fear. Mr. Hare's system, it seems to me, would tend to encourage this: an honest local representation reduces it to a minimum. Whenever we split into college cliques, foreigners' cliques, workingmen's cliques, and so on, we shall be apt to (fill our legislatures with narrow, headstrong men, who feel secure of their places. They will be class-representatives, not representatives of the people. They will carry out, if they can, any class-policy to which they may be pledged, despite the bitter speeches which equally extreme class-delegates will have the privilege of making at them. But it is difficult to see how any policy could be fairly tried under such an arrangement. It is surely desirable that opinions honestly held by a majority of the people should be tested by experiments made under favorable conditions. Such conditions, however, could scarcely be secured in the ‘happy family’ of legislative objectors which Mr. Hare would exhibit.” (The Protection of Majorities, pp. 18–19).

21 Hare, Thomas, The Election of Representatives, Parliamentary and Municipal, 4th ed., London 1873; pp. xv and 26–7.Google Scholar

What is written in the leading American exposition of P. R. (Hoag, C. G. and Hallett, G. H. jr., Proportional Representation, New York 1926, pp. 116–17)Google Scholar can hardly be explained in a sense much different from the one so frankly stated by Hare. However, like other latter-day proponents of P. R. these two writers endeavor to take some of the onus of the tendency against the two-party system which is inherent in P. R. by claiming that the two-party system is doomed anyway. As they put it: “Whether we like it or not, the two-party system does not seem to be a permanent institution: it is crumbling everywhere.” (op. cit., p. 114) When they continue that a number of modern developments “have made the two major parties in most places insufficient for the expression of the people's varied interests and wishes” they leave little doubt that they are themselves opposed to it. The prediction of an imminent crumbling of the two-party system does, of course, not square with actual developments. Minor parties were less in evidence in the Congressional elections of 1938 and the Presidential and Congressional elections of 1940 than they have been for generations.

22 For example, Mr. Maurice Blumlein, Chairman of the American Labor Party of Yonkers in a Letter to the Editor of the Yonfyers Herald Siaiesman.

23 For some details see Democracy or Anarchy)?, pp. 422–36.

24 The decisive point is the size of the P. R. constituencies. If a hundred members of a legislative body are to be elected, a vote of one per cent of the total should, according to the logic of P. R., elect a member. However, if the country is divided into ten constituencies which elect ten deputies each, approximately ten per cent of the vote will be required—ten times as much as in the first instance. Ireland has, at the present time, fifteen constituencies which elect only three deputies each. A party must poll approximately one-third of the total number of votes cast in order to be sure of a seat. Since under a plurality system one vote more than one-half of the total is always sufficient, and less may do if more than two candidates are in the running, a system of three-member constituencies is more similar to the plurality system than to P. R. However, if it is necessary to curtail the most characteristic feature of P. R. — the proportionality between votes cast and seats obtained—so severely, why not go all the way and return to the majority system?

In this connection a point of a more general nature is to be made. Advocates of P. R. are welcome to any objection which they may have to make to the arguments of their opponents. It is, however, one of the elementary rules of scientific controversy that if ever the refutation of an objection has been undertaken upon the basis of concrete evidence, this objection should be repeated only if a concrete reply is made to the concrete points advanced. If this is not possible the point should be conceded! Time and again the proponents of P. R. have disregarded this vital part of the rules of the game. This applies in particular to Ireland (dealt with in Democracy or Anarchy?, pp. 311–25), to the party system in pre–1918 Germany (pp. 214–17), to the results of P. R. in .Switzerland (pp. 333–9), and the Scandinavian countries (pp. 348–55). Constant hammering on the facts of the matter has at last succeeded in convincing some of the supporters of P. R. that they stand little to gain if they advertise as a proof of the beneficial results of P. JR. the conditions in Belgium (pp. 301–11) and the Netherlands (pp. 339–48) where democratic institutions were repeatedly on the verge of a complete collapse. When will they take cognizance of the facts in the other cases mentioned above?

25 They seem to be aware of its nature. See Hallett, Hoag and, op. cit., pp. 116–17Google Scholar.

26 On the “pre-political” requirements of democracy which are additional to those here mentioned, see Democracy or Anarchy? pp. 207–8.

27 Modern Eloquence, vol. xi. New York 1928, p. 49Google Scholar.

28 See Paul Mallon's comment on “Minorities,” in his column of Sept. 3, 1942.

29 On the meaning of the term “radical” see Democracy or Anarchy?, pp. 21–2.

30 For some details see Democracy or Anarchy?, pp. 19–30

31 As mentioned previously; see Social Research, May 1937, p. 246.

32 Salvemini, G.. The Fascist Dictatorship in Italy, New York 1927, pp. 111–13Google Scholar.

33 English Constitution op. cit., pp. 30 ff.

34 Democracy or Anarchy?, pp. 285–7.

35 This is clearly proven by the calculations made by DrSchauff, and the present writer. (Democracy or Anarchy?, pp. 223 ff.Google Scholar; 257 ff.) The total territory of the Reich was divided into 400 constituencies of equal sire, this being the number of members which the Reichstag would probably have counted had a majority system been used. There was no “gerrymandering” in this arrangement, which was earned out by a neutral expert, When the Socialist writer, Decker, who was in favor of P. R., made similar calculations, he arrived at a result which confirmed the conclusions drawn by Dr. Schauff and the author.

36 One critic has objected that whereas the present writer charges that P. R. encourages radical parties and discourages moderate parties, there were large moderate parties in Germany throughout the period of the Republic. There were indeed, but in the end they were reduced to about one-third of the strength of the Reichstag and totally unable to take any political initiative. This is quite different from the two-thirds majority which they could have expected under the majority system.

37 Germany, Puls ihe Clock Back, New York: William Morrow & Co., 1933, p. 185Google Scholar.

38 The importance of these conspirators must not be over-rated. Such pocket-size Talleyrands and Machiavellis as Papen, Ribbentrop, and Hindenburg's son, Oskar, exist in all countries. Only when the political institutions to which they are opposed are about to collapse under their own weight can they have real influence.

38a. P. R. was not the only institutional factor which played a part in the breakdown of German democracy. As Professor Brecht put it: “Its (P.R.'s) atomizing influence on the democratic legislature was made doubly dangerous by the popular election of the president, incompatible with it because, with none of the small parties able to carry partisans to victory, such an election will almost necessarily lead to the choosing of a political outsider.” (Social Research, September 1942, p. 411.)

39 For a discussion of these objections see Democracy or Anarchy?, pp. 285–92.

40 Camera lei Deputati, Discussioni, Legislatura xxvi, p. 10670.

40a. Widespread illiteracy is one of the reasons why the functioning of democratic government was bound to encounter great difficulties in Poland anyway. Still P. R. greatly intensified those difficulties. Without it democracy might well have survived. (See Democracy or Anarchy?, pp. 355, 207–8.)

41 For some details on the electoral system in Poland see Braunias, K., Das Parlamentarische Wahlrechl. Vol. I, Berlin 1932, pp. 435Google Scholar ff. See also Graham, M. W. jr, New Governments of Eastern Europe, New York 1927, pp. 467–9Google Scholar .

42 Buell, R. J., Poland: Key to Europe, New York 1939, p. 89.Google Scholar

43 Machray, R., Poland 1914–31, New York, E. P. Dutton & Co., 1932, p. 280Google Scholar.

44 Ibid., pp. 301–02.

45 Ibid., p . 359.

46 The Tablet, August 23, 1941, pp. 122–3.

47 Op. cit., p. 95.

48 Buell op. cit., p. 237.

49 This was the case with the national minorities in pre-1918 Germany.

50 Gerrymandering is not at all impossible under P. R., and was openly practiced in Poland. For example, in purely Polish Cracow one deputy was elected to every 46,000 inhabitants; in Ukranian Krzemieniec one to every 98,000 (Braunias, op. cit., p. 437.

51 The same consideration applies to all other countries, including the United States. To quote again from a recent column of Paul Mallon, in which he drew some conclusions from the mail which he had received after discussing some of the current antagonisms in this country: “Those who really hate are minorities of the minorities on both sides.” (South Bend Tribune, September 3, 1942.)

52 “Christmas Message of Pope Pius XII,” International Conciliation, February, 1942. p. 89.

54 In a country with such a mixture of nationalities as Czechoslovakia, a new Switzerland has been advocated as the only ultimate solution. It presupposes, however, that no nationality is in a position to de-nationalize the other, and m Switzerland this is guaranteed by the fact that the various nationalities, in their respective “cantons,” are in full control of local administration, including the school system.

55 “As Dr. Benes put it: “I do not hesitate to say that in these matters (referring to economic problems) mistakes have been made which must not be repeated, such as, for instance, that contractors and workmen have been called from Czech or Czech-German districts into German districts where unemployment prevails.” (Benes, E., The Problems of Czechoslovakia, Prague 1936, pp. 18–19)Google Scholar. For a brief description of such problems see Freund, R., Walch Czechoslovakia, New York 1937, pp. 55–60Google Scholar. For the agreement of February 1927, by which a solution of the most urgent problems was attempted, see ibid., p. 65.

56 As Dr. Benes expressed it: “I am glad to state that in general the German officials and employees and the German soldiers fulfil their duties to the Republic very satisfactorily, that the greater part of the German population are loyal to it as their fatherland, and thus the German parties adhering to the Government fulfil their1 duties to the state in self-sacrificing fashion. It needs only a fraction of the population, however, to come forward with alluring if impractical watchwords to provoke distrust on the other side.” (Ibid., pp. 19–20.)

57 For some details see Braunias, , op. cit., pp. 567Google Scholar ff. For a remarkably frank analysis of Czech political parties as they developed under P. R. see Chmelar, J., Political Parlies in Czechoslovakia, Prague, 1936Google Scholar. See also Pergler, C. in Notre Dame Lawyer, 03 1942, pp. 282–3Google Scholar.

58 Between the systems of rigid lists and the Hare system of P. R. the differences would be minor if ever the attempt were made to apply the Hare system in large constituencies, as should be done if full proportionality is the aim. (See Democracy or Anarchy?, pp. 56–7.)

59 The various cabinets have been discussed by Graham, M. W., in: Czechoslovakia, Twenty Years of Independence, edited by Kerner, R. G., Berkeley 1940, pp. 148 ffGoogle Scholar. See also Chmelar, op. cit.

60 Löwenstein, K., “Militant Democracy and Fundamental Rights,” American Political Science Review, 08 1937, p. 641.Google Scholar

62 Ibid., p. 642.

63 “Modem Dictatorships—Will They Survive?” Reprinted from World A fairs, December 1936, p. 5.

64 It is, however, viewed favorably by Dr. Löwensein, op. ciy.

65 To quote a passage from DrBraunias, (op. cii., pp. 142–3Google Scholar), which concerns principally the conditions prevailing during the 1920s: “Thus all governments were governments by coalition which contained the germ of decomposition within themselves. At times also governments of civil servants were formed (for example, the one headed by M. Cajander) although minority governments were more frequent. No government existed for more than a year, and the average lifespan was 10 months.”—On measures of “militant democracy” see Löwenstein, , op cit., pp. 638–9Google Scholar.