CELDF

Excerpt from “The Confessions of a Reformer,” written in 1925 by Richard C. Howe

“My text-book government had to be discarded; my worship of the Constitution scrapped. The state that I had believed in with religious fervor was gone. Like the anthropomorphic God of my childhood, it had never existed. But crashing beliefs cleared the air. I saw that democracy had not failed; it had never been tried. We had created confusion and called it democracy. Professors at the university and text-book writers had talked and written about something that did not exist. It could not exist. In politics we lived a continuous lie.

I set down for myself principles that would constitute democracy. I applied biological processes to it. From some source or other I had come to believe that Nature was very wise, and that her rules, by which billions and billions of creatures were able to live, must be a reasonably good guide for the organized state. I took the private corporation as a guide. Business had succeeded in America and it worked with very simple machinery. It was not bothered by the constitution; it was not balked by checks and balances; it was not compelled to wait for years to achieve what it wanted. Its acts were not supervised by a distant supreme court. The freedom of a private corporation was close to license; what its officials wanted done was done. Mayors, governors, legislatures, city councils had no such power. In many ways the corporation that disposed of the city’s garbage had more freedom of action than had the municipality that employed it. Here was a suggestion of machinery that worked well, even if it did not work in the interest of the public.

Business men had been given one instrument, the people another. The one was simple, direct, and powerful; the other confused, indirect, and helpless. We had freed the individual but imprisoned the community. We had given power to the corporation but not to the state. The text-books talked of political sovereignty, but what we really had was business sovereignty. And because the business corporation had power while the political corporation had not, the business corporation had become the state.

Nor had we followed what nature had to teach. We violated the instincts of man. Politics offered no returns for the man of talent, who wanted to see the fruit of his efforts. If business had been organized like the state, it would have been palsied. Business would have gone bankrupt under the confusion, the complexity, the endless delays which were demanded by the political state.

Taking the private corporation as a model, I evolved three basic principles; they were: Government should be easily understood and easily worked; it should respond immediately to the decision of the majority; the people should always rule.”

Howe proposed a number of municipal reforms, including:
“Complete home rule for cities. The city should be a state by itself, with power to do anything of a local nature that the people wanted done. A free city would be like the cities of ancient Greece, like the medieval Italian republics, like the cities of Germany to-day. It would inspire patriotism. Able men would be attracted to the task of administering it.”

From: Chapter XVIII, Recasting My Beliefs, pp 176-178

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