Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
AGE, Political Aspects of. The attainment of a certain age is one of the conditions attached to the exercise of civil and political rights. A man must have reached a certain age before he can be held responsible for his acts, or be entrusted with his own fate or that of others. This age is fixed by law and generally in accordance with the usages and customs of the country.
—But age plays a part in the political life of a people altogether independent of the rights conferred by law on those who have reached their legal majority. Youth, ripe manhood and old age do not always look on questions from the same point of view. In fact they rarely do so. Youth lacks experience. It has not gone through the process of deception. It seizes questions with a generous spirit and looks at their bright side. It does not recoil before danger, and seems disposed, at times, to seek it. Manhood is less dazzled by appearances. It has been deceived only too often, and is not so easily caught with words. Old age is often skeptical, or makes it a point of honor to remain faithful to the opinions of a lifetime. Hence youth most frequently ranges itself on the side of democracy; middle age on that of the liberals; old age with conservatives. This of course refers only to the first impulse. On reflection the young man casts aside his utopian ideas, and, later on, takes the position which reason points out as the best or toward which his temperament inclines him. The mature man hesitates in the presence of new ideas, and takes no position without first obtaining ample information. The old man is naturally hostile to change. In a greater or less degree it is necessary to convince him of the reality of the advance before he will approve the step; not unfrequently he feels it a point of honor to stand aloof; he does not wish to give the lie to the beliefs, acts and feelings of his whole life.
—There is, however, a force which frequently neutralizes or weakens the influence of age on political opinion. It is the fact of having been reared in a family with strong and well defined political convictions. In such families the sons generally take the opinions of their fathers as they do their names, and remain faithful to these opinions through life. The exceptions to this are more rare than is supposed, for here education has produced fixed ideas in the minds of the sons and caused them to take a fixed position. The child has often heard the arguments opposed to the views of his parent brought up and refuted in a manner convincing to his prejudiced mind. They have been ridiculed, perhaps treated with contempt. These impressions have sunk deeply into the mind of the young man. They dictate his modes of thought, so that opposing ideas have slight influence on him. He does not listen to them willingly, and if his temperament, not to mention his interest, come to the aid of education it is nearly impossible to change his mind.
—It may now be understood why democracies fix the accession to the right of suffrage at as early an age as possible, and why liberals, and still more conservatives, wish it fixed at a later age. In hereditary aristocracies political majority is often fixed at an early age because education there curbs the spirit of innovation, while in very small democratic states it is fixed at a more advanced age, each citizen looking on himself as invested with a position of trust, on which the welfare of his country depends.
Return to top