A new political philosophy is necessary to a new world. The perspective of social thought has shifted in a direction different from the horizon set for it by Bentham and Hegel in the last century. If the large aims we have in view are not dissimilar to theirs, the materials at our command and the scale upon which we live are both, for good or ill, vaster than at any previous time. We have, above all, lost confidence in the simplicity of the earlier thinkers.
We are even coming to recognize that any theory of society which avoids complexity will be untrue to the facts it seeks to summaries. Bentham was a philosopher living in retirement from the world it was easy for him to lay down a universal code of conduct so long as he drew his assumptions from observation of the handful of eager rationalists Who regarded him as their master.
It was easy, even, for Hegel to universalize the Prussian monarchy into the ultimate expression of the time spirit when we remember how relatively small was the number of wills regarded in his age as significant. So, too, with Rousseau and Karl Marx. The one had grasped the importance of making the State find place for the personalities of ordinary men but when he was confronted with the problem of an institutional expression for that insight, his solution was, in fact, an evasion of it.
Marx in his turn showed with indomitable energy the weakness of a State built upon the sandy foundation of a division into rich and poor. But the reconstruction he suggested was largely a prophecy of inevitable conflict, and the prospect he envisaged was less a remedy than an unexplored formula.
Our task is at once more various and less straightforward. We deal with a world in which many of the assumptions which the nineteenth century fought for seem so obvious that men can scarcely realize either the novelty they represent or the anger to which they gave rise. For Western Europe, at least, democratic government has become a commonplace beyond discussion. Political power is, as a matter of theory, built, not upon birth or property, but upon the personality of men.
That does not mean that birth has ceased to count or that property is not still certain of a predominant influence in the State. It means only that we have no longer to battle for the assumption that the ordinary man is instinct with civic quality. That is, doubtless, gain of an unquestionable kind. No statesman of our own day would dare, whatever his thought, to speak of the swinish multitude.
In the theory of politics the swinish multitude is enthroned in the seat of power. But the problem still remains of making the possession of power a fruitful thing by determining the ends to which it should be devoted and the question of ends is simple compared to the further problem of the methods by which those ends may be attained.
Clearly, we must abandon the optimism with which the Benthamites approached the issue. They did not doubt that the possession of the franchise would, in combination with the natural reason of mankind, build a State in which effort, would secure the reward of liberty and equality. We have no such assurance now. We have been taught by long experience that the part played by reason in politics is smaller than we have been content to suppose.
Nor is the facile equation by Hegel between social status and governmental capacity likely to carry conviction even to his avowed disciples the political art is unrelated to the social structure of the time. Our task, assuredly, is to give to reason the largest possible place in the conduct of affairs either we must plan our civilization or we must perish.
But the result of refection, even on the largest scale, is not to bring within the ambit of political activity the mass of men and women who, at the electoral period, give the ultimate direction to the event.They are scarcely articulate about their wants and even when they are articulate, they are not trained to judge whether the solutions suggested are in fact an adequate response to their desires.
Democratic government is doubtless a final form of political organization in the sense that men who have once tasted power will not, without conflict, surrender it. But not the less certainly democratic government is less a matter for eulogy than for exploration. We still need to know what working hypothesis it involves and what institutions can effectively embody their purpose.
We need to know these things in the perspective of a realization that the administration of the modern State is a technical matter, and that those who can penetrate its secrets are relatively few in number. The problem of democratic government is not less a problem of finding men apt to the use of its machinery than the problem of a monarchy is to find a race of kings fitted by their endowments to benefit the State.
Any system of government, upon the modern scale, involves a body of experts working to satisfy vast populations who judge by the result and are careless of even uninterested in, the processes by which those results are attained. If, therefore, we want a plan of political organization to meet the basic condition that ultimate power must be confided to those who have neither time nor desire to grasp the details of its working, it is clear that we are driven back to the foundations of the State.
The Necessity Of Government:
Man finds himself, in the modern world, living under the authority of governments and the obligation to obey their orders arises from the facts of his nature. For he is a community building animal, driven by inherited instinct to live with his fellows. Crusoe on his desert island, or St. Simon Stylites upon his pillar, may defy the normal impulses which make them men but, for the vast majority, to live with others is the condition of a rational existence.
Therein, at the outset, is implied the necessity of government. If the habits of peaceful fellowship are to be maintained, there are certain uniformities of conduct which must be observed. The activities of a civilized community are too complex and too manifold to be left to the blind regulation of impulse and even if each man could be relied upon to act consistently in terms of intelligence there would be need for a customary standard by which the society in its organized form agreed to differentiate right from wrong.
The theory of philosophic anarchy is impossible, in fact, so long as men move differently to the attainment of opposed desires. The effort involved in the peaceful maintenance of a common life does not permit the making of private decisions upon what the society deems essential to its existence. At some point, that is, spontaneity ceases to be practical and the enforced acceptance of a common Way of action becomes the necessary condition of a corporate civilization.
Nor is the absence of such spontaneity a limitation upon freedom it is rather its primary safeguard. For once it is admitted that no man is sufficient unto himself, there must be rules to govern the habits of his intercourse. His freedom is largely born from the maintenance of those rules. They define the conditions of his personal security.
They maintain , his health and the standards, spiritual, not less than material, of his life. Without them he is the prey of uncertainties far more terrible than the unifdrmities by which the,sea of his experience is charted. No society is known in which the individual can, in any final way, mould the tradition to his desires. Everywhere the historic environment shapes its substance and limits its possibilities. It is only on the moon that men can cry for the moon.
Man is not, in fact, born free and it is the price he pays for his past that he should be everywhere in chains. The illusion of an assured release from captivity Will deceive few Who have the patience to examine his situation. He comes into a society the institutions of which are in large part beyond his individual control. He learns that they Will inevitably shape at least the general outlines of what fortune he may encounter.
The organized effort of a determined group of men may, with patience, change the character of those institutions‘ but the individual who stands apart from his fellows is unlikely to be their master. The capacity, indeed, of most men will be exhausted by the mere effort to live and the search to understand life will lead them into complexities they have rarely the energy, and seldom the leisure, to penetrate. For it is a grave error to assume that men in general are, at least actively and continuously, political creatures.
The context of their lives which is, for the majority, the most important is a private context. They are conscious of their neighbors, they rarely grasp the essential fact that their neighbors are, in truth, the whole world. They set their wills by the wills of institutions they rarely explore. They do not examine those wills to give their own a rational relationship to them. They obey the orders of government from inertia and even their resistance is too often a blind resentment rather than a reasoned desire to secure an alternative.
No faculty, indeed, is more rare than that sense of the State which enables a few thinkers Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Marx, to move their fellows to the measure of their thought. With most, even the interest to grasp the expression is uncommon. The characteristic of social life is the unthinking obedience of the many to the will of the few. It is the sudden invasion of our haves by unwonted experience that drives most of us to realize the vast discipline in which we are involved.
In a sense, that unawareness will appear human enough to anyone who recognizes the complexity of civilization. A civil war in America may cause starvation in the cotton towns of Lancashire. The labours of a physicist who investigates the nature of the ether may span the distance between London and New York. An injury to the credit structure of Germany may involve a panic on the Bourse of Paris. Not less Significant is the pace at which change proceeds. Feudal Japan may become, as it were overnight, the modem State. Men are still living to whom the railway was an incredible innovation nor are they yet dead to whom compulsory education seems a grave attack upon personal responsibility.
Science, in brief, has changed the whole scale upon which we live. In less than a Century we have entered upon a world different in final texture from that upon which our ancestors gazed after Waterloo. We no longer live in those placid villages where the visitor from London seemed a stranger from another planet. Where prayer and incantation were the weapons of the last age against disease, we may, if we are wise, use the microscope and the sanitary engineer. Nor can we depend any longer for the necessaries of life upon our own productive system.
The inhabitant of the great society is accustomed to have at his call commodities fashioned by every nation of the earth. He thinking less of a voyage from London to Peru than, a century ago, his ancestor thought of a visit to Paris or Rome. The whole has been reduced at least to the unity of interdependence and the politicians of Tokio make social decisions not less momentous for New York than those of Chicago or Washington. And this physical mutuality is supported by an economic system the mere description of which is so intricate that specialists hardly either upon its character or the results of its working.
It is a big world, about which, at our peril, we have to find our way. For the theory upon which the government to which we give our obedience acts is that its will somehow embodies the wills of us all. It professes, if not in detail, then at least in large outline, to embody within its general purpose the individual purpose we believe ourselves to embody at moments of clearest consciousness.
The faith of civilization is built upon the assumption that by reason of its mechanisms an increasing number of human beings realize at their best their highest faculties. To the extent that those mechanisms fail, so do our faculties, at their best, remain unrealized.
In such a background, it is clear that the prospects of civilization depend, in large degree, upon our ability to work its institutions. Our awareness of their nature will be, also, the degree in which we perceive their fragility. For we can have none of the comfortable assurance of a century ago that, whatever our errors, we may rest confident in the knowledge of progress,Our civilization is held together by fear rather than by good will. The rivalry of States, the war of classes, the dash of colour these haunt its margins as prospects instinct with disaster.
It is not uncommon for men to sacrifice the welfare of their fellows to a private end. It is not infrequently that from the analysis of their relationships, honorable and selfless men have judged that modern civilization is vicious at its foundations. Science may have its the weapons of a creative life but those weapons are, as we have become aware, the instruments of destruction. It does not seem likely that society in any coherent form, survive their devotion to ends of conflict.
In such an analysis, the study of modern politics can hardly avoid becoming an inquiry in to the dynamic of peace. We to know what will bind men’s allegiance, not inertly, but with passion, to its preservation and enlargement, We seek to find the ways in which their impulses as men may be satisfied at a level which secures the enrichment of the common life.
We begin with the State because the context of men’s lives is set most firmly in the background of its institutions. For there is no area of activity that is not, at least in theory, within the ambit of its control. The modern State is a territorial society divided into government and subjects claiming, within its allotted physical area, a supremacy over all other institutions. It is, in fact, the final legal depository of the social will. It sets the perspective of all other organizations.
It brings within its power all forms of human activity the control of which it deems desirable. It is, moreover, the implied logic of this supremacy that whatever remains free of its control does so by its permission. The State does not permit that men should marry their sisters, it is by its graciousness that they are allowed to marry their cousins. The State is the keystone of the social arch. It moulds the form and substance of the myriad human lives with whose destinies it is charged.
This does not mean that the State is an unchanging organization. It has been subject at every point to the laws of an unceasing evolution. New forms of property, an alteration in the character of religious belief, physical conditions at the moment of their coming beyond the control of men these and things like these have shaped its substance. Nor are its forms unmoving. It has been monarchic, aristocratic, democratic, it has been in the control of the rich and of the poor. Men have ruled it by reason of their birth or by their position in a religious fellowship.
What, as a matter of history, can alone be predicted of the State is that it has always presented the striking phenomenon of a vast multitude owing allegiance to a comparatively small number of men. Thinkers since the time of Socrates have sought to explain that curiosity. To some it has seemed that men obey their masters because, at least ultimately, the will of the few is sufficiently the will of the many to secure obedience.
Consent, it is said, is the basis of the state . But if by consist be meant anything more than an inter acceptance of order obeyed without scrutiny,it is clear that to not yet been an epoch in the history of the State in Which this is true. Nor can, we accept as obvious the view of Hobbes that men obey the State through fear. Something of this, indeed, may colour the attitude of men to particular laws. I may refrain from murder upon a nice balance of Consequences. But I send my children to school from motives far, mote complex than that of self interest built upon fear.
It is far nearer the truth to urge, as Sir Henry Maine World have us admit, that the State is built upon habit but this still leaves unexplored the dispositions which enter into habit, and the point at which their infraction, as in the France of the Revolution, becomes possible. And if, as with Bentham and the Utilitarians, we ground the whole upon utility, the difficulty arises of explaining to whom the particular State is useful, and why (as in pre Revolutionary Russia) the character of its utility should not provoke dissent instead of obedience.
The answer to the problem of obedience is, of course that all theories which strive to explain it in purely rational terms are beside the mark for no man is a purely rational animal. The State as it was and is finds the roots of allegiance in all the complex facts of human nature and a theory of obedience would have to weight them differently for each epoch in the history of the State if it were to approximate to the truth.
In a social situation which made thought itself a danger, it was natural for Hobbes to seek in fear the ultimate source of men’s acts just as the eighteenth century moralist tended to make of benevolence the basic spring of action. In fact, nothing is gained by the postulation of separate forces of this kind as socially predominant. Distinct impulses, of whatever sort, operating to lead men to obey the State are as unreal as an explanation of the facts they resume as a fire principle is worthless as an explanation of the character of fire.
We meet man as a bundle of impulses which act together as a total personality.He will want to live with his fellows. He will build churches that he may worship with them, and clubs that he may enjoy the peace of silence. He will fall in love and marry and have children and he will fiercely protect What he deems their interests against the demands the World will make upon them.He will be curious in the face of nature, and that curiosity will lead in most to a constructiveness which, as William James said, is a genuine and irresistible instinct in man, as in the bee and the beaver.
He will seek to acquire things, and that collector’s zest will, for the majority, translate itself into whatever forms the society holds of greatest worth. A hatred of insecurity, a desire to build a home, a yearning to move into unknown regions from the place where he was born, a hunter’s impulse which may take him to the African desert, or, less romantically, satisfy him by saturation in detective stories all these are yearnings written into the fabric of our institutions. Man is a pugnacious animal and the task of finding an outlet for that fruitful source of destruction is omnipresent.
He desires to master his environment, to be the leader in his platoon yet, under fitting conditions, he finds pleasure also in submission which, as in military organization, can be turned to effective ends. He is a vain creature, seeking, as Veblen has shown, to waste his substance conspicuously, anxious, often enough, to be judged by the transient display rather than the Solid achievement, so the workman will buy the piano he cannot play as an index to respectability, and the society leader will offer to the Moloch of fashion the income which might educate her children to social usefulness.
Hunger, drink, sex, and the need of shelter and clothing seem the irreducible minimum of human wants. All else is capable of transmutation into forms as various as the history of society. All that we know with certainty is that the wants are there. Some, as hunger, we cannot deny in general measure if the society is to live others we can meet with response so complex as almost to conceal the true desire beneath. But what, above all, is urgent is that we should realize that bur institutions are the response to the totality of these impulses. They are inexplicable save in terms of their formidable complexity.
It is, of course, vital to the structure of political philosophy that man should be not merely a creature of impulse, but also the possessor of reason. He can reflect upon his conduct. He can observe disharmonies, correlate means and ends.
He can, that is to say, so observe the results of his activity as to rectify the ills from which he suffers by directing Into them a Principle creases his chance of self fulfillment. Where the tiger and the cuckoo hit upon that principle by accident, men can achieve its discovery by deliberate thought, It is here that there enters the concept of a social good. For good, it must be emphasized, is either Social, or it is not good at all.
If man is to live in community with his fellows it is a necessary condition of his life that What he attains should, at least in the long run, involve benefit also to others. Social good, therefore, seems to consist in the unity our nature attains when the working of our impulses results in a satisfied activity. It is a full response to the forces of human nature as these work in,the lives of the myriad men about us.
The substance of that good may vary a changing tradition implies a difference from age to age. As the body of our knowledge grows we become, at least as a matter of doctrine, the better able intelligently to organize the method and degree of response. The unification that ,is I achieved demands, of course, close scrutiny lest falsehood be mistaken for truth. In the long run, for example, other desire to acquire property is hardly satisfied by the consistent flotation of fraudulent companies.
What is rather wanted is a certain balance of forces within our nature that, when achieved, relieves the pressure of gnawing want and, more positively, makes possible the continuous satisfaction of initiative. It is not a question of attaining a static environment in which immobile habits may be satisfied. An situations that we confront are ultimately unique and experiment is the condition of survival. Since the same good never occurs twice, immobility in a changing world must spell disaster and the unification we must seek is one that intelligently anticipates the future as it reasonably interprets the past.
All this, it may be noted, is a special adaptation of the,Benthamite theory to the special needs of our time. It follows Bentham in its insistence that social good is the product of co ordinates intelligence that, though the difficulties be admittedly great, we must plan our way to the end in view. It follows Bentham, also, though from a different basis, in urging that social good means the avoidance of misery and the attainment of happiness.
It applies reason, that is, to the task of discovering ways in which wants can be satisfied and it evaluates the quality of wants according to the degree in which, when satisfied, they minister to the permanent happiness of the whole community. Where it differs from the Utilitarian outlook is in its rejection of the egoistic nature of impulse and the elaborate calculus of pains and pleasures which, though couched in the terminology of the Industrial Revolution, was in fact derived from evangelistic assumptions.
Our view is rather, first, that individual good cannot, over a long period, be usefully abstracted from the good of other men and, second, that the value of reason is to be found in the degree to which it makes possible the future, not less than the immediate, harmony of impulses. For, otherwise, these war within us to frustrate the realisation of what is best both for ourselves and others. Social good is thus such an ordering of our personality that we are driven to search for things it is worth while to obtain that thereby, we may enrich the great fellowship we serve.