Catherine Helen Spence 1896

The Democratic Ideal

Source: Source: "Reason in Revolt", Source documents of Australian Radicalism;
First Published: in Henry Hyde Champion’s The Champion, Saturday May 23, 1896, p. 207, “Woman’s World”: Miss C H Spence (of S.A.) on “The Democratic Ideal.”
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden;
Proofed: and corrected by Nicole McKenzie.

The democratic movement is often charged with being irreligious. Though this charge is false, it is true that the religious side of it is too often lost sight of; this, chiefly, because the loud-voiced demagogues, who speak in the name of democracy, are merely interested in pressing forward its material advantages. As a democratic paper we have therefore much pleasure in giving our readers a resumé of an able and impressive sermon, “What is the Democratic Ideal?” preached by Miss Spence in the Unitarian Church last Sunday morning.

Miss Spence emphatically denounced the modern competitive system, which makes money become more and more the power of the world. The economic struggle leads, inevitably, to the magnifying of material prosperity, so that in countries calling themselves Christian and professing themselves democratic, there is quite as little effort to realise the true Christian ideal, the true democratic ideal, as in old established monarchic and oligarchic countries. This is clearly seen in America, notwithstanding her democratic constitution, America is really the land of plutocracy, and the plutocrat is a greater enemy to democracy than the aristocrat. Miss Spence quoted Walt. Whitman’s magnificent idea of democracy: –

“By God, I will accept nothing that all cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms.”

Here is the vital distinction: the plutocrat and the aristocrat love to monopolise what us pleasant and beautiful and luxurious; the true democrat wishes for nothing which his fellows cannot share with him. In the United States there are 900 men who possess more than one million sterling. In that country with such marvellous wealth, with its wonderful natural advantages, are the conditions of the workers so much better than those of their fellows in England! On all hands one hears “no.” The keen competitive struggle produces only plutocrats and the proletaires. The plutocrat with his wealth, which is a burden to him, the proletaire with his shortened life and nothing to show for it.

What the plutocrat calls progress – palatial residences, liveried servants, luxurious dresses, profusion of jewellery – sickens the soul of the true democrat; such vulgar display is really retrogression. All efforts towards the progress of the race should take the direction of increased simplicity of living. Combination and co-operation can do much, but the beginning of a truly democratic society must find its promoters willing to strip themselves of superfluities which others cannot attain to – will accept of nothing which others cannot have on the same terms.

Miss Spence concluded with an appeal to the churches to take hold of all social questions; they can only live by so doing. Christianity rightly understood, is a social bond as well as a religious influence, and the true Democratic Ideal is the true Christian Ideal. The spirit of Christ is not in those who would perpetuate the class distinctions of our time; there is not need to wait for a future existence before these are abolished, before all God’s children are gathered together into oneness of spirit.

There is at least one church in Melbourne which would satisfy Miss Spence’s ideal of what a church should be – the Australian Church. Dr. Strong is the one scholarly clergyman in Victoria, who has got a grip of the great social problems of the day. On Sunday evening, he, too, delivered a sermon on Democracy, notice of which want of space compels me to hold over till next week.