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A Closer Union: A Letter on the South African Union and the Principles of Government. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
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II. What form of Closer Union do you favour—Federation or Unification; and for what reasons?


Firstly: Because all history teaches that in small States there tends, other things equal, to be more personal freedom, more individuality, and a higher social vitality than in large. I believe a body of small, highly organised social units self-governing, but uniting together for the furtherance of certain great common aims, to be the highest form of social organisation yet evolved by page: 9 humanity, and that which, probably, will ultimately prevail throughout the world, at least for a time.

Secondly: Because a vast territory, highly diversified in its physical features, in the nature of its populations, and the history and traditions of their past, does not lend itself healthily to centralised government.

Thirdly: Because a huge territory like South Africa, divided into a number of strongly organised and individualised though confederate States, will present a far greater obstacle to the undue dominance of any interest, class, or individual than the same territory under a unified and centralised government. The special danger of centralised democratic States is always the tendency to fall a prey to the tyranny of sections, of large interests, or of strong individuals. The walls of each self-governing State are so many barricades, each one of which must be broken down before any oppressive over-domination can absolutely succeed; and, behind any one of which a successful resistance may take place when others have fallen. In short, it makes for freedom. I think even the short history of South Africa in the past throws light on this.

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Fourthly: Because I hold that our continued division into States will tend to produce a finer type of citizen. I believe that were there two large territories, both situated exactly as South Africa is to-day, and that one adopted a completely unified form of government, while the other formed a confederacy of largely autonomous States, that at the end of fifty, and, yet more, of one hundred years, the last would be found not merely to possess a more self-governing people imbued with a more strongly civic spirit, but that the general intellectual vigour and initiative would be found higher; that it would be found to have produced a larger number of remarkable men and women, even in the non-political realms of art, literature, and science. If in the fifteenth century it had been possible to break down permanently the walls of the European States and weld them into one State, with one form of laws, one Government, and one set of institutions, I believe the progress of the human race would have been stayed. The wonderful rate of evolution among the peoples of Europe during the last six hundred years has largely depended on their being divided into a num- number page: 11 ber of comparatively small States; enabled to enrich each other with the results of their always-varying experiments in government, in education and in arts, and to stimulate each other by the impinging of unlike upon unlike. Had it been possible to unify and govern from one centre the entire body of Europe, I believe her peoples would to-day be almost as moribund as those of China. We, at the extremity of a continent, alone in these Southern Seas, far removed from other nations, will be particularly liable, with a centralised and uniform form of government, to sink into a torpid and retrogressive State; it is essential our component parts should retain enough individuality and distinctness to impinge upon and stimulate each other, if our life is to be adequately fertilised.

Men, like sheep, soon lose their individuality when congregated in too large masses under uniform conditions. It is hard to catch six sheep scattered about on a large plain; but three thousand massed in one uniform flock can be driven by one boy to the shambles.

Fifthly: I am in favour of Federation in opposition to Unification because it is in the page: 12 order of growth. The nation, if it desires, can at any time easily pass from a moderate form of confederacy to a closer, or on to absolute unification: but it will be impossible for it, without dislocation of the entire social structure, to pass back from Unification to Federation.

A great Frenchman, perhaps the most noted genius who in modern times has given his thought to the study of State growths, expressed the view in the early days of the North American Republic, that the centrifugal forces would probably ultimately prove too strong, and the several States sever themselves from the centre. Time has proved that even he was wrong; and it would seem likely that wherever confederate States are geographically united, once the federation formed, the danger to be feared is rather the continual growth of the central power. Switzerland and other countries illustrate this.

It is quite possible that in one hundred or even fifty years we shall form one centralised State; but that is a wholly different matter from starting with one.

Finally: I am in favour of Federation, page: 13 because I believe a moderate form of Federation is healthily possible in South Africa to-day; and Unification is not. Even if it be possible for any body of persons hurriedly to force it through, the revolution which would be caused in our entire social structure, the rights, possessions, privileges which would be interfered with, must ultimately, as the people fully grasped its meaning, cause social disaster, and a confusion which would be inextricable.