Alarm, despair and defiance had been expressed in response to the extensions of public power, and the growth of the state had been the central and overshadowing fact for a vast body of political argument throughout the latter part of the nineteenth and the early part of the twentieth century. But there were other reasons why many people were alarmed at the course of affairs in the half century which fell on either side of 1900. Both the growing action of the state on the one hand, and the extension of the franchise, the growth of popular parties, and the proposals of social reformers, socialists and social radicals on the other, implied a redistribution of power, wealth and status. In response to this, criticism of the state was joined by criticism of democracy or as it was frequently called, popular government. The two attacks, though normally associated, were distinct.
There was nothing new in much of this criticism. The unfitness of the masses for the exercise of power had been a theme running throughout nineteenth-century discussion and Carlyle and Arnold, Bagehot and James Stephen had all in their different ways contributed to this tradition. Others too who did not reject democracy as a political form looked to more select underlying arrangements to make the form work. Mallock argued that ‘in any great country pure democracy is impossible’ and that ‘democracy is impossible unless the principle of oligarchy is its concomitant’ (Mallock 1918:378). Despite Shaw’s long arguments with Mallock, this was not so different a principle from that assumed by many of the early Fabians, and particularly by Shaw himself. But these socialist elitists differed from elitists who attacked democracy, both in their approval of the forms of popular government and in their enthusiasm for the extension of state function which they believed went with it. The tradition of democratic oligarchy