SPEAKING of the right of people to self-government, The Outlook says that “In fact, self-government is not a right at all; it is a capacity.” “Self-government is a capacity, and the right to exercise a capacity depends upon the possession of it.”
No one, then, has a right to exercise a capacity when he has the capacity itself. Is this so?
Walking is a capacity; and so is swimming. But no one has a right to walk until he is able to walk, or even until he is able to swim. Therefore, no person has of right to go in the water to swim until he is able to swim, and no child should be allowed to stand on its feet until it is able to walk!
Such is some of the logic of imperialism.
A capacity cannot be conferred; it must be developed in the individual who is to gain it.
One person cannot confer self-government upon another; one nation cannot give self-government to another. History contains no record of such a thing.
To acquire a capacity for anything, the individual must be allowed to attempt that thing. He cannot acquire the capacity by watching some other person perform it, any more than a person can learn to swim by watching some other person swim.
A people must develop the faculty of self-government out of themselves, and as long as they are denied the right to attempt this, they are denied self-government. The conquerors may set up their own self-government over the subject people, but this will confer no new capacity upon the latter. It would benefit them about as it would benefit an ordinary person to have bequeathed to him the instrument of a great violinist. The instrument would do him no good because he had no ability to play on it.
No nation or people wants to have bequeathed to him the government of another people. Circumstances and needs vary among different peoples, and the governments are adapted to suit these varying requirements in the different countries of the earth. The United States does not want the government of Great Britain, and  Great Britain does not want the government of this Republic. Norway and Sweden do not want American or British government, and neither Britain nor America wants their government. And so of all the nations, each has developed its own government, and each can exercise its own government far better than it can any other.
The United States would do well to give the principle of republican government to all countries of the earth. These principles are the best principles of government everywhere, and can be adapted to suit the conditions in all lands. But when this nation goes to another and strange land and there sets up its own government over a strange people, it is going too far either for the benefit of that people, or for its own good people.