Hindrances to Good Citizenship
Historian, jurist, diplomat, and member of Parliament, James Bryce (1838-1922) lived one of those remarkably full and fruitful nineteenth-century public lives that remain a wonder today. He served as ambassador to the United States from 1907 to 1913 and was one of the most knowledgeable, perceptive, and sympathetic interpreters of American civilization since Tocqueville. Bryce's writings reveal a constant and deep concern with the nature and maintenance of democracy. Hindrances to Good Citizenship, first presented as a series of lectures at Yale in 1908, addresses the special problems of civic duty in a democracy. It is an outstanding example of classic liberal thought.A society's standard of civic duty, according to Bryce, depends on a reasonable balance between the principles of obedience and independence, the submission of the individual will to other wills and the assertion of that will against other wills. He defines three essential elements in public life that may potentially upset that balance and foster bad citizenship: indolence, selfish personal interest, and party spirit. Of these he deems indolence to be the most widespread, selfish personal interest to the most pernicious, and party spirit to be the most excusable, but also the most subtle and most likely to affect those classes from which most leaders are drawn.After exploring a wide range of specific political and social contexts and expressions of these obstacles to good citizenship, Bryce conclude by offering his thoughts on what can be done to remove them by improving the practical functioning of government and increasing civic spirit of the people. Although he was writing at the turn of the century, Bryce speaks to us as if a contemporary and has much to offer as we approach the century's end. Hindrances to Good Citizenship will interest those concerned with normative theory–whether attached to political science, sociology, or American studies.