State Against Commonwealth

AT the end of the first year of the Peloponnesian War, — that long-foreseen, much-dreaded disaster to Greek civilization, — Pericles made a funeral speech over the bodies Of Athenians who had fallen in the war. According to Thucydides he spoke of the glory of the spirit for which they had died, and of the principles of common life and action which were embodied in the contending powers. He drew a contrast between the freedom of Athens and the irksome discipline of Sparta, and insist ed that the freedom-loving Athenian was as brave and efficient as the rigidly drilled Spartan.

‘We rely not on management or trickery, but on our own hearts and hands. In the matter of education, whereas they from early youth are always undergoing laborious exercises which are to make them brave, we live at ease, and yet are equally ready to face the perils which they face. ... If then we prefer to meet danger with a light heart but without laborious training, and with a courage that is gained by habit and not enforced by law, are we not greatly the gainers since we do not anticipate the pain? — although when the hour comes, we can be as brave as those who never allow themselves to rest. And thus too our city is equally admirable in peace and in war. For we are lovers of the beautiful, yet simple in our tastes, and we cultivate the mind without loss of manliness.’

Eighteen years later, before the last desperate battle in the harbor of Syracuse, whose issue decided the downfall of Athens, Nicias, the Athenian general, made a final appeal to his men; he reminded them ’that they were the inhabitants of the freest country in the world, where all were let alone and not interfered with in their daily life.'

The Athenians were beaten by the Spartans, who boasted that they were not too clever to obey the laws. As a matter of fact, it was not inefficiency in war which caused the defeat of the Athenians. They had in fighting justified Pericles’s proud confidence, but their statesmanship failed them. Yet to many contemporaries the defeat of Athensddiscredited, not Athenian statesmanship, but democracy. Plato holds up to scorn the principle of leaving people alone, of which Athens had been so proud, and sets up for admiration the rigid subordination of all private interests to the good of the state, which was the mark of Sparta. No doubt, Plato thought, the Spartans had made a bad use of their discipline; war and conquest are not the true end of the state. That, however, was a fault which could be corrected, once the essential, the subordination of private interests, was secured. He proposed to drill and discipline his citizens in goodness for the purposes of peace, as the Spartans had drilled them for war. That city is the best, he says, in which the private and the individual are altogether banished from life.

The Englishman of to-day looks at his German enemy very much as the Athenians looked at the Spartans; the Germans, so far as we can judge, find in us the very faults which Plato found in the Athenians.

There is a story of a German resident in London who said he would never go back to a country where he was not allowed to jump off a moving bus. That

is a story we English really appreciate, for we think of Germany as a country where daily life is plagued by rules and prohibitions. Our recruiting sergeants who threaten us, not with the German soldier, but with the German policeman, unconsciously echo that strange but wonderful appeal of Nicias to the Athenians, and find, as he did, that men are prepared to fight for a country that leaves them alone. We submit in this present hour of need to discipline and elaborate organization and to a more or less despotic government; but we do not pretend that we like these things or that they are to us anything but a deplorable necessity. To the German, complete subordination of all private interests to the organization of the state for war is not a painful necessity but the glory of the nation. When the German philosophers tell us that freedom consists in obedience to the state, they are not being willfully paradoxical, but are saying what they really think. They are prepared to explain the superiority of this German freedom to the anarchical misconception of liberty which prevails in other countries. They look with scorn at a country which lets the queerest people alone, which tolerates militant suffragettes and syndicalists and Ulster conspirators, and in India and Egypt answers sedition by offering reforms. No selfrespecting government would show such weakness if it could help it; as England does show it, it follows that she is thoroughly decadent and negligible.

Differences of national temper of this kind have, of course, their historical explanation. Sparta had once been the seat of culture and art; but the Spartans were a small minority holding down a large subject population, and threatened by hostile neighbors. They survived a momentous crisis in their history by adopting the rigid discipline which distinguished them from all other Greeks. But though they achieved unity among themselves, they sought, not to reconcile their subjects, but to terrorize them. Their unbending policy perpetuated the dangers which their discipline had enabled them to meet, and fear, the fear of their subjects, was the mainspring of their policy. The history of Prussia, though more complex, has been in some ways similar. The founders of Prussia were a conquering minority,and hardness and discipline alone enabled them to do their work. When the conflict between the ideals of Athens and of Sparta was being fought out in Germany, the unity of Germany had to be achieved in the face of hostile neighbors. There was no lack of liberal thought in Germany. The earlier German political theorists, such as Kant and Von Humboldt, were sturdy individualists. Germany might have been united on a liberal and democratic basis, but the process would have been a long one. Whhat liberalism might have done, Prussianism did. Prussian ideals were triumphant over external difficulties, and in consequence equally triumphant at home. By their treatment of France in and after 1871, the Germans elected to be feared rather than to be loved by their neighbors and thus to perpetuate their own need of Prussianism. It is curious how persistently modern Germans accuse themselves of a fault which other nations would never dream of imputing to them, — excessive individualism. This complaint expresses their sense of the inadequacy of liberalism to the German situation. Prussia united Germany, and the Germans can but be conscious of what Prussia has done for them. Whether the same end could have been achieved in other ways, they can hardly be expected to consider. Their Prussianism has produced the greatest, event in nineteenth-century history,— the rise of the German Empire and the marvelous development of German industry. That is enough for them.

For Athens and England the lines fell in pleasanter places. Athens was neither conqueror nor conquered, and had leisure and room for individuality and the arts of peace. England, like America, has been preserved by the sea from the close pressure of outside enemies.

Historical conditions can largely account for these differences in national temper, but they do not enable us to decide between the ideals to which they give rise. For men and nations are seldom content to accept passively the influence of circumstances, to be imposed upon by necessity. They seek, like Wordsworth’s Happy Warrior, to turn their necessity to glorious gain. If they can do nothing else with it, they will make it into their ideal. Plato proposed to admit into his commonwealth two modes of music, one for the actions born of compulsion, and one for the actions of peace, where a man’s choice has scope. For from both, he knew, man could achieve nobility, as in both he can fail. But if necessity can inspire men, it may also blind them, and their idealization of it can be the greatest of tragedies if it turns all their energies and their powers of sacrifice to the service of an ideal begotten of fear. Men may for the sake of life lose all that makes life worth living; nations may, to preserve the state, lose all that makes the state worth having.

The English system of government and the English theory of the place and value of the state have traveled widely round the world. They are now challenged by a system of a very different temper. The Germans have got much gain from their necessity, — unexampled loyalty and devotion and self-sacrifice. So much all men must admit. The Germans claim much more. They have idealized the end to which their sacrifices have been devoted, the existence and strength of the state. The centralized state which made Germany strong in war has also made her strong in industry. It will now, the Germans believe, give strength and stability to the arts of peace. It will be the great instrument of culture. Germany will impose peace on the world, and German organization and thoroughness will maintain civilization throughout the world. For in German eyes the organized German state is the ideal state; the English or the American, which too easy circumstances have shrouded from the realities of the world, is the real victim of circumstances. Thus the two ideals challenge each the other.

It may be well, then, to compare the German and the English conceptions of the state, — the two ideals which have arisen from the passion for liberty and from the reverence for discipline and order.

There can be no real liberty without order; and again, discipline cannot be forced on a whole nation, but must be freely submitted to. The difference between German and English government is not that one is discipline without liberty, the other liberty without discipline. It is a difference of degree or emphasis; it is the difference between saying that we must have discipline, and if to that we can add liberty, well and good, and saying that we must have liberty and if that can be combined with discipline, so much the better. Nevertheless, since in this world men ordinarily get what they are prepared to insist upon and not what they would be quite pleased to have if it came to them, the degree of emphasis determines practical results and in this case had led to a most striking difference in ideals. If a German victory discredited English ideals of government, as it undoubtedly would, the change which would come over the political life of Western Europe and America would not consist merely in an alteration of the proportions of discipline and liberty in their governments. The change would spread through all the detail of domestic affairs and international policy. For the exaltation of the sacrifice and subordination of individual interests and rights carries with it the assumption that man exists for the state, not the state for man.

This contrast shows itself in the political philosophies of England and Germany. Although there is of course abundant variety of opinion among the individual philosophers in either country as to what the state should be and do, there is nevertheless a broad contrast between the schools of the two nations. English writers think of the state as consisting of and existing for individuals. Their fault is to exaggerate the independence and self-sufficiency of the individual citizen; to be unduly optimistic as to the results of free unlimited competition between individuals, and unduly distrustful of state action. Yet English political theory is of immense value in that it clings to the fact that state action, like all other action, has to be done by individual people who will not escape the failings of ordinary humanity by being in office; and that it insists that the results of state action are to be measured in the lives of individual citizens and nowhere else. It conceives of the state as men working in common for the common good; existing as a commonwealth, for the sake of the commonwealth and for nothing else.

German political theories, on the other hand, agree remarkably in their insistence on the doctrine that the state is a person, having an existence of its own over and above the individuals who may happen to be its citizens at any one moment. Having an existence of its own, the state has ideals and values of its own, and to these the interests and ideals of the individuals must be freely subordinated. While, then, to the English thinker the state is a means of doing something for individuals, to be tested by its results on individual lives, to the German the individual is an instrument for carrying out the purposes of the state; it is by serving and working for these purposes that the individual finds his highest freedom. Hence arises the German scorn of Mancheuterthum, and of the English ideals of free commerce; hence too their glorification of war, in which the subordination of the individual finds its most complete expression.

The doctrine that the state is a person has important philosophical and juridical aspects with which I am not now concerned. It is of growing importance in these days of trusts and corporations, and it has met with much acceptance in England lately, mainly because, like many other philosophical doctrines, it is a useful form of protest against the errors of the opposite school. It is no doubt true that the state, like any other association, is something more than a mere collection of individuals; that it is not merely a means by which these individuals carry out what as individuals they desire and will. Every association of men creates for its members aims and interests which would not have existed without it. Hence the state, like other associations, has a value in that it is a vehicle of ideas and traditions with which it inspires one generation after another of its members. The doctrine that the state is a person, however, has been made to mean something very much more than this; it has been made to mean, not that the state is a vehicle of ideals by which men live, but that it has a life and value of its own. As a man’s thoughts, desires, and actions should be the expression of his personality, as their satisfaction should be subordinated to the satisfaction of the whole, so, it may be held, men’s lives should be the expression of the state’s purpose, and their satisfaction subordinated to the satisfaction of the state. But if men are to express the purpose of the state, and not the state men’s purposes, what can that purpose be? And what is its satisfaction which is not the satisfaction of individuals? There can, I think, be only two answers: one, that it is the continued existence and strength of the state, wide-spreading organization and order being regarded as having in themselves supreme value; the other, that it is a particular kind of organization or culture, whose value is independent of the number of people who participate in its advantages and of their willingness to accept it.

Now it is just here that the doctrine that the state is a person is most misleading. It is true of a human being that, if he does what is right, he need not concern himself as to whether he has been fair or just to all his different desires or capacities. If a man seeks long life or happiness, he seeks it for himself, the whole man, not for any of the various elements in him. If he seeks to do his duty, it is his duty, not the duty of his talents and capacities. The whole person is obviously more real and important than the parts. With the state it is surely the other way. The parts have obviously a more real and primary existence than the whole. We may claim that all men have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It would be nonsense to claim the same for the individual’s desires or faculties. If we think of the state as a whole, to whose purpose the lives of its members are to be subordinated, we can find no room for justice or political liberty or mutual rights. If we set too high a value on discipline and order, we shall not have much partience with rights; they are always a nuisance to discipline; we shall think of men as existing only to be disciplined; and the end and purpose of the discipline will not be found in individuals but somewhere else. Hence the state or organization is thought to have a life and value of its own. It is not only a person; it becomes the supreme person. ‘The state is the march of God in the world,’ says Hegel; ‘its binding cord is nothing else than the deep-seated feeling of order which is possessed by all.' ‘The concrete existence of the state, and not one of the many general thoughts held to be moral commands, must be the principle of its conduct.’

A theory of the state must concern itself, not only with the relation of the state to the individual, but also with the relation of the state to other associations— churches, or trade-unions — within its borders, or to other states without. The doctrine that the state is a person has been used in England to limit, not to increase, the state’s power. For the arguments on which it rests carry the further consequences that churches and trade-unions are also persons. Once that is admitted, the state’s claim to the simple, unquestioning devotion of the individual is seriously challenged. It is not enough to call upon him to be loyal and self-sacrificing to the larger person of which he is a part. He has to decide which of the larger persons to which he belongs has the first claim on his allegiance. If the state as a person has an absolute worth, so has the church; if the one has an indefeasible right, so has the other. The decision between these different loyalties must rest on other grounds than mere collective personality. Hence, in England the doctrine of corporate personality is welcomed as a bulwark against state absolutism. German political theory seeks to avoid the dangerous consequences of its own doctrine by finding some other basis for the absolute right of the state. Dangerous its consequences certainly are. For loyalty to non-political associations, if they are of any strength, will compete with loyalty to the state. The vitality of such associations, which is a notable feature of the modern western state, is often troublesome enough. The conflicts of the state with corporations, trade-unions, and churches are not always edifying. When individuals are called upon to choose between different loyalties, we may be certain that some of them will sometimes choose wrong; that men will put the claims of their family or their class, their tradeunion or their corporation, before the claims of the state when they ought not to do so. When men put the claims of the state first, the reason will be, not that their instincts of loyalty have no other outlet, but that the claims of the state have approved themselves to their reason and conscience. That in its turn will limit the power of statesmen to commit their nation to far-reaching courses of action. They will have more and more to consider how far what they propose commends itself to the people. They will not be able to commit their country to war, and assume that, whatever the merits of the policy which led to the war, the people will fight with equal devotion for their country.

Such a state of affairs is not congenial to lovers of discipline. For discipline, it is sometimes forgotten, has two sides.

It means not only sacrifice of will and power on the part of the disciplined, but enormous increase of the will and power of those who are in authority. A nation whose members are prepared to entrust their lives and destinies unhesitatingly to their government, who will, as Bismarck boasted of the Prussian nation, ‘rise to fight the battles of their king before they know what is to be fought for in these battles,’ has in war certain great advantages over its rivals. German theory, therefore, has sought for the state’s claim to obedience in that which distinguishes the state from other associations. Only thus can it be insured that in all conflicts between the state and other associations, the state’s claim is always paramount.

The most obvious distinguishing mark of the state is its possession and use of force. Hence arises the curious doctrine, which is found in both Hegel and Treitschke, that the state is force, and that this fact somehow constitutes a claim to our absolute obedience. Such a doctrine clearly will not bear examination, and both Hegel and Treitschke propound an alternative view, that the state organizes and maintains civilization or culture. Other associations may promote culture, but it is the state which maintains them and makes them possible; they are embraced within it. The individual may then freely give himself to the state, for in so doing he is serving, not the personal ends of the government, but the great impersonal end of civilization. For that a man may well give his life.

The furtherance of culture, however, does not distinguish the state from other associations. Its authority must then be conceived to rest on its all-embracing character. This is the dominant view in Hegel. Unfortunately it is not borne out by the facts. In the modern world there are many associations which transcend the boundaries of states. No doubt the state may try by Falk Laws and in other ways to subordinate such associations to itself! It is possible to hold that the state ought to be the all-embracing community; that all associations between men of different states should be discouraged; but the mere fact of holding such a view makes it impossible to rest the state’s authority on the fact that it is all-embracing. Conflicts between the state and other associations, like conflicts between the state and individuals, cannot be resolved by any simple formula that would prove beforehand that the state is always right . Yet only thus would the demands of discipline be fully satisfied.

It is obvious enough that the first of these two doctrines, that which holds that force is the essence of the state, encourages war. The second, though more indirectly, does the same. Both Hegel and Treitschke reject the notion of a world-state as incompatible with the essence of the state. Any organization or permanent alliance, which would embrace states as the state embraces the communities within it, would clearly, on this view, destroy the state’s authority. Hegel seeks to rebut Kant’s ideal of universal peace with the remark: ‘The state is individual, and in individuality negation is essentially implied.’ That men can unite together in a state would seem to imply that they are not perfect individuals. The state demands their allegiance on the ground that it is a perfect individual, inasmuch as it is fundamentally incapable of living at peace with its neighbors! It is of greater practical importance that the attempt to make the state all-embracing destroys some of the forces that make most for peace. Peace among nations is possible only when the men of different nations meet in a human way and respect one another. That can come about only with the growth of associations and connections between them. If they are organized in watertight communities which absorb all their interests and activities, the men of one nation will think of the men of others as mere foreigners to be despised or combatted. ‘In contrast with the absolute right of a nation to be the bearer of the current phase of the world-spirit,’ says Hegel, ‘the spirits of other nations are devoid of right, and they, like those whose epochs are gone, count no more in the history of the world.’

Such is the theory of the state that discipline has inspired. We, now that we are confronted by war, ‘the hard taskmaster that takes away the margin in daily life,’ are faced by the temptation to which Germany succumbed, and are inclined to think, either that in a world of rival nations the rigidly organized state is a necessity, though a hard one, or, if we must be idealists, to think of it as the ideal for peace as for war. In face of such a temptation, we must understand the strength of our own ideal. Let us try then to state the ideal of democracy, for it is with democracy that the German theory of the state is at fundamental odds.

Democracy, like Christianity, stands or falls by a faith in the actual imperfection and the infinite worth of individual men. Democrats are often reproached with their belief in the obvious untruth that men are equal. The democratic belief in equality has two sides; it is firstly a belief that no man, however superior he may be, is good enough or wise enough to possess irresponsible rule over other men; and secondly, a belief that, however men may differ in character or ability, every man has an absolute worth, and should not be used as a mere means for any purpose, no matter how exalted. A man may sacrifice himself for others or for a cause; but others have no right to sacrifice him.

The democratic answer to the personal theory of the state is, then, twofold : it is both practical and ideal. The ideal that would subordinate the individual entirely to the state is a false one; and if it were not false, it is impracticable. It is impracticable because the state has no will or mind of its own. Its thinking and willing have to be done for it by individual men. The subordination of individuals to the state means in practice, and must mean, their subordination to the will of other people. there have been, and still are, forms of society which rest on the acceptance of authority, where the large mass of the people look up with unquestioning loyalty to a ruling class or dynasty. The western nations since the French Revolution have passed beyond that stage and could not return to it, even if they wished. For it is the result, not so much of a high level of intelligence in the rulers, as of a low level in the people. There being no class of heavenborn rulers, governments have to be elected, and when elected, controlled. The German system is possible because Germans still largely accept the authority of a ruling class. The steady rise of the Social-Democratic vote showed that the system was breaking down as Germans grew restless under that authority. It could maintain itself only by the perpetual manufacture of crises. In a crisis you have got to put yourself in the hands of the government, because the use made of its powers is dictated, not by the will of the rulers, but by the immediate needs of the crisis. But a nation that persists in maintaining permanently the form of government that is suitable for a crisis will simply submit itself to the will of its government, and a government in that position is bound to go to the bad. Democracy may have defects, but they are as nothing to the defects of alternative forms of government.

Democracy, however, is more than the most practical safeguard against the imperfections of rulers. It is also an ideal, and it is as an ideal that it is most at odds with the doctrine of the absolute value of the state. The democrat believes that all men are equal, because he holds that, compared with the infinite worth of each human personality, the differences between men, many though they are, do not count. This may seem a strange and mystical doctrine, but it is implied in any belief in rights or in social justice. If we take what is called an organic conception of the state, and think of it as having a purpose of its own, there is no reason why that purpose should be enjoyed by or expressed in all its members equally. If the state exists to maintain culture, is it not enough if there be a small minority in a high state of culture, even though that is made possible by the poverty and degradation of the rest of the population ? What, in other words, is the objection to slavery? If the degradation or misery of the slave is an instrument of culture, is not that sufficient justification? If a nation’s culture is fine and splendid, why should it not make other nations serve its purposes?

The answer to all these questions is simply that it is unjust to treat any human being as a means! The modern state rests on the foundation of mutual rights, on the assumption that we have no right to treat other human beings as we should not wish to be treated by them, or to demand from them services that we are not prepared to render to them. That the modern state falls far below this ideal is painfully true, but this is the ideal that is operative in all the social movements of our time. However efficient a state may be, however splendid its culture, or great its possessions, the true democrat cannot rest so long as one individual in it is treated unjustly. The rights of the individual are inalienable.

Theories of the rights of man have been discredited of late years. They went wrong in attempting to enumerate specific rights and in regarding these as unalterable. The specific rights that a state can insure for its members must vary with historical conditions. The method and extent of the ideal’s realization change, but the ideal remains the same. These theories have had to be made concrete; in their first statement they were intolerable abstract. Yet they were surely right in insisting that the state was to be considered as a community of individual men entitled to equal consideration. That means that individuals are not to be merged in the larger purpose of the state. For supreme worth lies, not in the organization but in the individuals, and the state has no real purpose except such as is reflected in the lives of all its citizens.

Democracy, moreover, conceives of the state’s relation to other associations in a way which contrasts with the German theory of the state. The state, for it, can be only one among other forms of human associations. The moral life of the individual is the reality, and that may and does express itself in associations and fellowships of different kinds. Their conflicting claims must be tested by their bearing on it. None of them has in itself an indefeasible right nor can claim an undivided allegiance. As the fundamental principle of the moral life is the respect for the mutual rights of human beings, or of men as men, democracy has a bearing on international relations. If we follow it, we must approach with respect the right of other men to have their own political organizations and their own culture. That one state or one culture must be predominant in the world, we shall refuse to believe. Above all we shall cease to think of the world as a collection of strange inhuman individual beings called states, whose inevitable and nightmarish rivalries make history. We shall remember that in all international relations men are dealing with men.

Surely this is the only decent way to think of men and politics. The other theory of the state has been here called German because it is in Germany that it has attained its most complete development, but it is of course not confined to Germany. It arises wherever men allow machinery, that excellent and indispensable servant, to be their master.

The greatest danger of the modern world is that the use of machinery has increased infinitely faster than men’s power of controlling that use wisely. In every department of life we are in danger of being hypnotized by the wonderful work of our own hands; and nowhere is that danger greater than in politics. Political machinery and organization are indispensable in modern life, and political machines have so much of flesh and blood about them, that they are easily thought of as though they were real personalities with a real life and value of their own. We can avoid the perilous idolatry of worshiping the state only if we keep our imaginations active and our minds in touch with reality.

A great city in that which has the greatest men and women,
If it be a few ragged huts it is still the greatest city in the whole world.
The place where a great city stands is not the place of stretched wharves, docks, manufactures, deposits of produce merely,
Nor the place of the most numerous population.
Where the city stands with the brawniest breed of orators and bards,
Where the city stands that is belov’d by these, and loves them in return and understands them,
Where no monuments exist to heroes but in the common words and deeds,
mere the populace rise at once against the never-ending audacity of elected persons,
Where outside authority enters always after the precedence of inside authority.
Where the citizen is always the head and ideal, . . .
Where children are taught to be laws to themselves, and to depend on themselves,
Where equanimity is illustrated in affairs,
Where speculations on the soul are encouraged. . . .
There the great city stands.