Efficient Democracy


By W. J. CAMERON, of the Ford Motor Company

A Series broadcast over the Nation-Wide Network of the Columbia Broadcasting System from Detroit, January 26, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 275-276

MOST of us probably have discovered that we instinctively dislike the word "defeatism." We dislike the appearance, the sound and the spirit of it. All of which should be sufficient evidence that it is not our word. And indeed, it is not our word. The nation that coined this word succumbed to it last June. But the spirit the word represents is by no means a stranger to us—it pops up every little while in the most unexpected places.

We had a bad attack of economic defeatism several years ago, when it was the fashion to say that economically we were finished and done. The defeatists diagnosed ours as a dying economy." Well, that had a long and rather fashionable run, until common sense protested that our economy was not

dying. And so the diagnosis, "our dying economy," was dying economy." Well, that had a long and rather fashionable streamlined overnight into "our mature economy" which meant precisely the same thing, namely, that our American economy had passed its prime and now declined toward old age and death. But in good time all that defeatist phraseology passed away and now is rarely heard.

Those were the days when to many of a certain type among us, almost anything in the world looked better than things American. We were regaled with choruses of admiration for every new political or social experiment east of the English Channel. But when the highly lauded alien systems began to divulge their real nature, their American admirerscame straggling home to Uncle Sam—things American were not so contemptible after all.

Thus, as you will observe, "defeatism" with us usually takes the form of admiring the alien thing and depreciating the American. That tendency is not altogether abated. Its latest phase was the disparaging comparison of the democracies with the dictatorships on the score of efficiency. It was grudgingly agreed that democracies may be civilized but they are not efficient; if you want to get things done, we were told, you must throw the democratic method overboard. We heard that or read that and then repeated that without analyzing it, thereby becoming phrasemongers, and mongers of foolish phrases at that.

Now, it is not true that compared with totalitarian systems, democracy has proved itself delinquent or slow or inefficient, and it is a very simple matter to produce facts to support that statement. The comparison, of course, is not made on the high ground of human freedom, or efficient economic supply, or general progress toward general happiness, for in these high matters everyone admits that the democracies lead; the comparison is made on the lower level of military enterprise. We are asked to behold and be astounded by the dictators' efficiency in the production and use of military equipment, and we are asked to believe that in this field the democracies are helpless children.

Well, if you take time to look and to think you will find that everything attributed to totalitarian efficiency was actually created by democracy. Air force? That is an invention of democracy; the man who gave the world the airplane is living tonight in Dayton, Ohio. The tank? The tank is an invention of democracy; a "secret weapon" in the last war; called a "tank" because people were innocently led to suppose that its purpose was to carry water to the troops in the field. Parachute troops? In the year 1784, a man of the American democracy—Benjamin Franklin by name—wrote down the whole rationale of parachute troops. You may find it all in his published letters. And Mass Production by which the militarists got these things in such large quantities, is the gift of the American democracy to the whole world. In view of these facts, and they are only a few out of many, where would you say the credit for efficiency rests? The dictators borrowed from us all we had, except our decent regard for human rights.

We shall have to admit that we are incompetent in some things. We could no more train ourselves to utilize a time of peace and the instruments of peace to prepare war for our neighbors than we could persecute human beings because of race or religion—if doing that is what you call efficiency. We shall have to admit that others can descend to the abyss of violence with much greater facility and with much less reason than we, because we are so constituted that we must take our principles along with us—if that's inferiority and inefficiency, then we are inferior and inefficient. And we certainly must confess that in the matter of surreptitious boring into the vitals of our neighbor nations to demoralize them, we should probably be the most inefficient people in all the world. But we have observed that efficiency in these black arts has brought to the people who are most expert in them nothing but privation, collapse, and world isolation.

There is an efficiency so-called that is the essence of blundering, and there is that the thoughtless call inefficiency that is the height of skill and power. This latter, which thus far is the type of efficiency toward which our people lean, always has had the last word.