The Rebirth of Democracy



Delivered at Federal Union Dinner, New York City, January 22, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 313-314.

IT is just by chance that I am the first speaker tonight, and perhaps I should apologize, being still something like a newcomer in this country, a so-called alien. But I think, and you, probably, will agree, that under the present circumstances the word "alien" has lost an extraordinary amount of its importance. What will it mean in the world in which we all live? This world has become small and the universal scene of one and the same battle—of a battle, which is a battle of faith and conviction, a religious battle in which the problem is the same everywhere. A World Civil War is raging which has no longer anything in common with the national wars of the past. National frontiers are in the process of fully breaking down, and by no means are present emotions conditioned any longer by nationalism and patriotism, but by the world perspective, by faith, by the most universal and basic problems of men. One says no longer: I am a German, an Italian, a Britisher, an American; one says: I believe in the higher ideals in man, in his relationship to the world of the spirit, in right, in freedom. Or: I believe in force, in high explosive bombs and bestiality. That which was formerly called high treason is an everyday occurence, it has become simply the accepted. No follower of the faith in force, no hater of democracy shrinks from betraying the interests of his country if it is necessary for the victory of his Filth-Faith, and the digging of the grave of freedom, democracy, humanitarianism. We have seen that in Norway, in Holland, in France, and if we haven't seen it in America yet, it is due perhaps to the fact only that here the situation has not come to such a point that party allegiance clearly and obviously takes precedence over national allegiance in this World Civil War. What is, however, to be wished for, is that the friends of freedom and humanitarianism everywhere in the world show a determination for standing together, for unification, for forming a super-national united front, equal to that of their devilishly disciplined enemies who are determined to do anything; particularly as this standing together would mean no betrayal of national interests, but on the contrary a defense of the homeland and of its freedom. It is this conception which was very early expressed by a clear-sighted political thinker in the appeal "Union Now."

There is hardly any doubt that if, in 1939, such a union, the union of all real democracies, under the leadership of the greatest and most powerful one on earth, could have been brought about. Hitler never would have dared his pernicious adventure. After the successes which a disunited and leaderless world has made possible for him there is no hope to realize the idea in its original shape in a near future, but it is alive nevertheless. May I be allowed to mention on this occasion a little book which appeared only a few weeks ago under the title "The City of Man", as the product of the collaboration of a number of American and European scholars and writers? It is the first vision of a future better world, an outline which is based on this fundamental idea of Union and World Democracy. And it may be regarded as symbolic that this document is the collective work of Americans and Europeans deeply concerned about the destiny of our occidental civilization.

I repeat: the idea of Union is alive, it became a matter of the human conscience and can never get lost again. For my feeling, the spiritually greatest moment in this war was when Winston Churchill offered to unhappy France the complete governmental and economic union with a common citizenship for both empires. The greatest thing that is going on today and of which the beginnings are shaping themselves, is the growing unification of the entire English-speaking world—a development on which all the hopes for a peace of freedom and common sense are pinned.

For with this great process is combined another—one that may be called the most important and the most urgent of our times, the real revolution which must remain victorious over the false revolution, over the back-door heroism of the anachronistic conquerors of the world. It is the renewal and rejuvenation of democracy, the transmutation of the principles of freedom from the principle of licentiousness, deterioration and anarchy to one of social ties, and democratic discipline. Social self-discipline under the ideal of freedom in the inward as well as the outward life of the nations, is the only means of preserving freedom.

Foreign and domestic political truths and requirements parallel each other and one is a check on the other. The absolute sovereignty of the individual which cannot be interfered with, corresponds, in the lives of nations, with the absolute, socially irresponsible sovereignty of the great individuals, the national states. Where this leads us, we all know. Hitler-Germany is the example. Without interfering—for "non-interference" with the rights of a sovereign state was considered a democratic principle—the world looked on while the leaders of a great nation in the center of Europe erected an inner-political system of terror, which allowed them to harness the entire life of the nation, education, economy, right and morality, solely for war and without any democratic control, without budget, without any parliamentary restriction, to build up a war machine, with which one day they were able to confront the civilized world with the choice of either submitting to their dictatorship or being torn to pieces by high explosive bombs. Wasn't it insanity and blindness to believe that the rape of right and human dignity which took place within Germany from 1933 to 1939 was no affair of other nations and that they need not concern themselves with it? The European continent in ruins, enslaved, plundered and menaced by starvation and disease; France's soul murdered; England fighting for her very life; America's independence gravely endangered, and America forced to make tremendous efforts for rearmament—these are the effects of the laissez-faire, of non-interference, of the superstitious submission to an antiquated concept of freedom and individualism which, as a principle of internal as well as foreign politics, has become untenable and dangerous to freedom itself.

Democracy, ladies and gentlemen, is the human adjustment between a logical contrast, the reconciliation of freedom and equality, of individual values and the demands of society. This adjustment, however, is never completely and finally attained; it remains a problem that humanity mustsolve again and again. And we feel that today, in the relationship of freedom and equality, the center of gravity has moved toward the side of equality and economic justice, away from the individual and toward the social. Social Democracy is now the order of the day. If Democracy is to hold its own, it must be done through socially established freedom, which rescues individual values by friendly and willing concessions to equality; through an economic justice which ties all of democracy's children closely to it Only then can democracy resist the assault of a dehumanized spirit of violence, and fulfill its great conservative task, to preserve the Christian foundations of occidental life and to protect civilization against barbarism.

And it must remain our hope that in some not too distant day even the European nations and states will be ruled by this concept of freedom as a socially integrated and limited individualism. Only by the triumph of this idea of freedom, of the idea of international democracy are happiness, peace and order to be won for Europe—in the place of that anarchy which is the downfall of civilization. The insistence on the unrestrained sovereignty of national states that is the anarchy; that is the unbridled individualism which has become impossible and is Europe's ruin. The egotism of the nationalistic states must make sacrifices, social sacrifices, which mean a limitation of the idea of national sovereignty, yes, of the national idea itself. That is the goal of this war. Its fruit must be a community of free peoples responsible to one another, a democracy of states, in which Freedom and Equality have reached a new creative balance.