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London: Headley Brothers, 1917. Pp. 278. 1

The New Statesman, 9 (12 May 1917) 140

Mr. Harris’s book is a book of the moment, and it has the kind of merits which a book of the moment ought to have. Written for the British reader, it will provide him in the space of an hour or two with the sediment of information which would be likely to remain in the mind of an average American after a dozen years of newspaper scanning. Very wisely, Mr. Harris has not attempted any character-study or portrait of the President, but has contented himself with a rapid cinematograph view of those public events in which Woodrow Wilson is “featured.” 2 Except that the Tariff receives a lesser place than that which it holds in the mind of the American newspaper reader, the proportions preserved are about the same–as is shown by the length at which the Presidential Election is described. 3 As a digest of newspaper information, the book is compact, well-planned and agreeable; if it does not really enable the English reader to understand American politics, it at least enables him to understand them as well as most Americans do, and a more analytic or profounder explanation is not within the book’s province.

The easiest part of Mr. Harris’s task must have been the preparation of the chapter on President Wilson’s activities as President of Princeton University. Here is an episode in the President’s career which ought to interest all of his admirers, as in this period took place a struggle in which Mr. Wilson was certainly right and was certainly defeated. 4 If in dealing with the Mexican situation Mr. Harris leaves an impression of complete bewilderment as to whether the President was right or wrong, that is not Mr. Harris’s fault, for it is precisely the impression left upon the majority of Americans by the events themselves. 5 There are other passages in the book where we should have been grateful for a little more light, and where the truth is more nearly accessible; when we hear that the strike at the Rockefeller mines in Colorado in 1914 was settled by Mr. Wilson, we should like to know how, and, more precisely, what the issues were; 6 and we should have liked some conjecture as to the effect of Tariff Reform upon industry and the cost of living. On the other hand, the American party system–that system most difficult for a European to grasp–has received most adequate treatment at Mr. Harris’s hands; he has summarised its history very neatly in a couple of pages; and yet, from the complexity of the subject, and its impossibility of comprehension in such a book, the system remains unexplained.

There are several peculiarities of American politics which the European reader must keep constantly in mind. The first is that American parties are very far from presenting a gentle gradation from Right to Left. In each of the two parties there is a Conservative and a Radical element. Mr. Harris mentions this fact, but without advancing the explanation, which is to a great extent one of space and of time. The space element means that men carry their politics, or their father’s politics, to remote parts of the country, where widely different circumstances and interests develop a different political outlook under the same name; the time element means that the growth of the country has been so rapid that tradition and actual issues often fail to form an organic whole. This element is responsible for both odd archaisms and crude novelties, and for the absence of any clear political philosophies. Furthermore, the issue of one party to-day may be the issue of another party to-morrow. In the large industrial city of St. Louis, the chief Republican organ is...

Published By:   Johns Hopkins University Press