Graphic Rule


Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule


3.11. Political goods

Political goods are goods arising out of the existence of governments. Some of them are goods which governments are designed to obtain, as peace and security; but the phrase 'political goods' does not mean goods which governments are designed to obtain, for it covers also goods which governments lessen rather than increase, as freedom. Political goods are those goods which arise out of the existence of government, either as aims of government or as aims against government or in some other way. They include peace, security, freedom, equality, justice, democracy, tolerance, and the State.

There is a tendency to set up as one's great goods either personal goods or political goods but not both. Plato, though profoundly interested in politics, finds his ideal in philosophic contemplation of the eternal forms; his justice is more a personal virtue than a political good; and the only political goods which he strongly favours are order and peace. Aristotle, though he wrote a wise book on politics, also expresses his ideal in terms of contemplation and personal virtues. The New Testament recognizes no political good whatever, so that phrases like 'Christian justice' have no proper meaning. G. E. Moore in his Principia Ethica concluded that the only two great goods were personal affection and the enjoyment of beauty.

Those, on the other hand, who do proclaim political goods tend to proclaim only political goods. On the whole, the more leftwing a party is the more it seems to recognize no goods but the political. Conservatism, on the contrary, tends to recognize very few political goods, and to hold that the proper aim of politics is only to foster personal goods. Liberalism is a middle attitude which fairly explicitly recognizes both personal and political goods; this is my own position.

The assumption that all great goods are purely political appears to me to be part of the barbarism of Marx's followers, and to have nothing to recommend it. The opposite extreme, however, that no political good is in the first rank, has several plausible arguments.

In the first place, many people believe it because they believe that political goods are all means, not ends. Peace and justice and security, they think, are merely conditions necessary for us to pursue and enjoy the true ends of man. These ends themselves are all of another nature, such as contemplation and love.

Others omit the political goods because they judge them thoroughly empty or confused. Thus Croce, according to Professor Berlin, held 'that such concepts as liberty or equality, as they occur in the polemical writings of e.g. Marxists or anti-Marxists, are, as a rule, quite wooden and without application. Any attempt to hold up such uninterpreted notions as ideals, or to continue to speak of them in accordance with some dogmatic formula, necessarily springs from, and leads to, a distortion both of thought and of action' (Mind, 1952, p. 576).

A third reason for the view that no political good is in the first rank is the negative air of several of the political goods. Freedom appears to be merely the absence of compulsion, security merely the absence of disaster, peace merely the absence of violence, equality merely the absence of humiliation, and so on.

I do not find these considerations convincing. The distinction between means and end, when applied to the question what things are good, appears to me to lead to an absurd devaluation of nearly all values, as I have argued at length in an earlier lecture. The vagueness and negativity of most political goods, which I admit, appear to me powerless to disprove our conviction that these goods do very strongly engage our hearts and may rightly do so. Love is vague, and non-resistance is negative; but no one thinks that these are good reasons for excluding love and non-resistance from a list of great goods. I proceed to examine some things that are considered great goods in the political sphere, hoping that, where I adopt the common opinion that it is a great good, my discussion will show the reasonableness of doing so.

3.12. Is the State a great good?

In the sphere of politics one of the things that are greatly valued is the State. The State is often regarded as a kind of god on earth, demanding our worship and service, and worthy of them. It is thought to be the source of all that is noble and free and moral in human nature and society, the means of our control of ourselves in the interest of the good. According to Acton (Fasnacht, Acton's Political Philosophy, p. 139), the State was the ideal of Richelieu, of Peter the Great, of Frederick the Great, of Napoleon, and of Bismarck. Down to the 1950's or later, members of the British Labour Party could be heard talking of 'the State' in tones of emotional and moralistic approval. On this view we are called upon to worship the State, and to make the good of the State our ultimate good, that is, to sacrifice our own good to the good of the State when there is a conflict.

In what consists this good of the State for which we are called upon to sacrifice ourselves. Strange to say, many of the State's admirers, while they call upon us to sacrifice ourselves to its good, leave us rather in the dark as to what they conceive that good to be. This is notably true of Plato and Aristotle, both of them admirers or worshippers of the City-State, but neither of them very explicit about its good. Plato vaguely gives the impression of thinking that the good of the city lies in a beautiful condition of harmonious order, like a handsome statue or painting. Aristotle seems to find it rather in the citizens' being virtuous.

In modern times two other conceptions of the State's good have come forward. One of these is that the State's good lies in its reputation or prestige. Actions and omissions are frequently recommended or deplored today on account of their effect on the State's prestige. Every aspect of life is liable to be drawn into the service of the State's prestige. People demand more support for whatever they are doing on the ground that the present level of support is inadequate to the State's prestige, and liable to put the State behind in the race against other States for top prestige. There have recently been astounding manifestations of this spirit in games and physical sports, so that the Olympic festivals have come to look like mock wars, less dangerous but more ill-tempered than the real ones. The prestige idea has also invaded what used to be called the international realm of science; and not merely journalists, but often also the scientists themselves, report their progress as being 'a satisfactory indication of Britain's determination to keep in the forefront' (Times Science Review, 1952, Winter, article on the radio telescope at Jodrell Bank, Cheshire). Every history of science or invention tells us that nearly all the great advances have been made by fellow citizens of the author.

Lastly, the good of the State is nowadays often thought to lie in its power. 'The State strives after power, just as a man strives after food', and 'an elemental power-impulse must already be present in the statesman himself, because without it he would not do his job properly' (Meineke, Machiavellism, tr. by Douglas Scott, pp. 6-7, 403). As a popular British song has it, 'God who made thee mighty make thee mightier yet'. Power over what, and to do what? This is not said, but the implication must be: power over individual men, whether foreigners or its own citizens, and power over other States. Only one State at most can fully achieve its good on this view, for the good of States is competitive.

The setting up of some particular State as one's own particular god is known as nationalism, and has been common since the eighteenth century. Some one 'country', as a State is usually called in this connexion, is then regarded by the individual man as his god; and he looks on other States as devils rather than gods, or at best as gods that have no concern with him, though he unquestioningly recognizes their existence. He is then inclined to think that every other good in the world should be sacrificed to the good of his State when it conflicts therewith. Thus Hitler gave the impression of thinking that the God-State Germany had the right to pursue its own good at the expense of all foreigners and all other States, and even at the expense of all individual Germans.

3.13. No State should be worshipped

In opposition to this view I propose to argue that States are not gods, and no State should be worshipped, and the good of the citizens should not be sacrificed to the good of the State.

(1) No decent end for the State has been proposed. Those who worship the State always find its good in ends which, the more they are faced, the less they can be adopted. How does prestige differ from reputation? Reputation is for decency or virtue or skill; but prestige is for power, and there is something pretentious about it. The word comes through French from the Latin praestigium, a juggler's trick. (It is not the only French word that takes on a nasty meaning when used in English politics.) The modern worshipper of a State conceives its good to lie in its power and prestige, and he devotes himself to the aggrandisement of these. His god is a juggernaut, whose glory lies in its cruel and crushing power.

(2) Many have been able to worship the State because they confused the good of the State with the good of its citizens, and were thus able to regard all those who were cool towards the State as being cool and selfish about their fellow citizens. But State-worship does not coincide with an altruistic attitude towards fellow citizens. On the contrary, it necessarily fails to coincide therewith, because the attitude of worship demands that the aim of the worshipped god shall be held to be something other and 'grander' than the good of his worshippers. State-worshippers usually conceive the aim of their god to be his own power and prestige; and the power and prestige of a State can perfectly well conflict with the good of its citizens. The surest way to try to secure the good of the individual citizens is to aim precisely at that, and not to aim at the good of the God-City on the assumption that this will always be identical with, or lead inevitably to, the good of the citizens. Dr. Popper has made this point in his discussion of Plato in The Open Society.

(3) States have acted more often like devils than like gods, to be execrated rather than worshipped. Do you know of a State of more than fifty years' standing that has not committed at least one crime? Is there a State to which historians give a clean record (excluding the historians who are citizens of that State)? If so, it must be a little State with little power to offend. All the great and powerful States have committed crimes, either by breaking a treaty, or by inventing an excuse for aggressive war, or by extorting unfair advantage with threats. Dr. Ewing has pointed out (The Individual, The State, and World Government, p. 224) that politicians never recommend a measure as good for the world though bad for this country. Such unselfish behaviour is as yet non-existent in States.

(4) Nationalism, the pursuit of power and prestige for a particular State, is a vicarious form taken by the sin of pride now that Christian teaching has largely suppressed its direct and original manifestation. Public opinion today requires us to talk humbly about ourselves; but it does not yet require us to talk humbly about our State, and into the latter our thwarted pride therefore tends to find its way.

Pride is a peculiarly destructive vice. As in the potlatch once practised on the north-west coast of North America, pride easily tends to find its good in the destruction of more obvious and simple goods. Hence it is that a man may think that the good of Germany might demand the misery of all Germans. Hence the anger and abusiveness, the touchiness about sovereignty, the uprooting and oppression of thousands of simple people, that are characteristic of nationalism today. Pride is the chief motive of many States in their dealings with other States.

(5) Nationalism tends to involve myth. It usually involves the anthropological myth that the citizens of the State are all of the same race and culture and comprise everybody who is of that race and culture. It usually involves also some historical and half-religious myth about the past wrongs suffered by the State. George Orwell brought out this point.

(6) The worshippers of the State usually talk about it in the singular number, as if there were only one in the world. They thus get the advantage of monotheism. But they are not entitled to it because there are at present more than a hundred States. You will find that if, in their worshipping and solemn pronouncements, you replace their singular 'the State' with the correct plural 'States', the whole becomes much less plausible. Will you try this experiment on the following passage from Lord (The Principles of Politics, pp. 283-4)?

We must insist on the reality of the State and of its absolute right. It is impossible justly to understand human political experience if we reduce the State to a mere convention, an artificial device of individuals to secure their own rights or the objects of their desires, or if we fail to appreciate the sense in which the State is a necessary and natural being, and even prior to the individuals themselves. It does not merely follow from the good pleasure of its citizens; neither do its rights depend solely upon their permissive agreement.

If you mentally substituted the plural 'States' for each occurrence of 'the State' in this, you probably found that the atmosphere of worship evaporated and the sentences lost conviction. It is indeed hard to believe that those imperfect politicians at Versailles, carving the Austrian Empire into a plurality of States on Woodrow Wilson's principle of selfdetermination, were thereby procreating several 'necessary and natural beings, even prior to the individuals themselves'.

(7) The power and action of the State manifest themselves through governors, members of parliament, civil servants, city councillors, and city clerks. To worship the State is to worship what comes through these persons. To increase the power of the State is to increase the power of these men.

(8) The State gains worshippers and reputation through being confused with other things. We have already seen that the State's good is sometimes confused with the good of its individual citizens, so that to refuse to aim at the State's good looks like being selfish towards fellow citizens. Let us now see that the State itself often gets undeserved credit by being confused with other entities.

The State is often referred to as 'the country' or 'my country' or 'the fatherland'. It is not, however, a part of the earth's surface, but a political organization in control of a part of the earth's surface. It often loses or obtains or tries to obtain control over a particular piece of land. By the expression 'my country' one can refer to Epping Forest as well as to a State. The beauty of mountains is not the beauty of a State.

A State is not a people, for 'the people of the plains' and 'the people who like opera' are not States. A State is a certain political organization of certain people.

A State is not a government, but it has a government. Just so a man is not a heart, but he has a heart. A State is a set of human beings politically organized so that a government is distinguished among them. But the State and its government are often confused, for example when it is said that 'the State is a committee for the management of the affairs of the bourgeoisie'. The State is that corporate body which through its government claims sovereign power in the land, and if there is no such body in a land there is no State there.

The people who are organized into some one State are not necessarily all of the same race and culture. To see this we must see the difference between race and culture. Race is something you are born with and cannot do anything about, such as the colour of your skin and the type of your blood. It is those inherited features of your physical makeup in which you differ from many men and are identical with many other men. No man can change any man's race, except that he can choose whether or not to have a child and whom to have it by. Your race depends wholly on who your parents were, and which selection of their genes they transmitted to you in your conception.

Culture, on the other hand, is something you are not born with but receive after your birth from those you live with. You get it from your parents only if you live with your parents after your birth. You get it from all whom you live with and to the extent to which you live with them. It is a vast complex of habits and traditions of speech and thought and song and action and love and hate.

The concepts of race and culture are widely misunderstood at the present time, and often confused with each other. Here is a passage in which the author speaks of race but means culture. 'All of this Arctic country, from the tree-line north, is inhabited by a single race -- the Eskimoes. They are a race, in spite of their dispersion and lack of social organization. They speak fundamentally the same language and their customs are basically the same' (p. 6 of Inuk, by Roger P. Buliard, London, Macmillan, 1956). Very likely the Eskimo are all of one race; but the reasons that Mr. Buliard gives here have nothing to do with race. They are reasons for believing the Eskimo to be all of one culture. Language and custom are matters of culture, not race. Dispersion and lack of social organization are liable to produce differences of culture not of race.

Most States admit to their citizenship persons of various race and various culture. These 'naturalized' persons are then part of the whole people whose political organization under a particular government constitutes that State. This shows that a State is different both from a race and from a culture, and that the members of a given State need not be all of the same race or culture, and need not include all the members of some race or culture.

Is a State a nation? The question is too vague to answer because the idea of a nation is too vague. I think it is mostly used by people who have not yet distinguished race from culture, and are unconsciously assuming that race and culture always go together. By a 'nation' they mean, then, a set of people who constitute all the examples of a certain race and also all the examples of a certain culture, and they believe that there are such sets. In this sense of the word, however, there no longer are any nations. Every culture now has among its bearers people of more than one race, and every race has among its members people of more than one culture.

Is a State a society? I do not understand how people use the words 'society' and 'social' nowadays. For example, I do not understand what they mean by 'social justice', because I do not see how there could be a 'non-social justice' or a 'personal justice'. I am mystified by Tawney's talk of 'social emphasis' and 'social compunction' and social anything and everything. But in the plain dictionary sense of an 'aggregate of persons living together in a more or less ordered community' (S.O.E.D.), it is clear that all States are societies but most societies are not States. So much as clarification of the conception of a State, for I shall not go into the hard question of sovereignty and whether a federated State is really a State.

When the State is distinguished from all these other things, from land and people and government and race and culture and nation and society, and seen to be a political organization, which may or may not cherish certain people and preserve some valuable land or culture or race, the impulse to worship it evaporates. It is an organization like other human organization, more powerful than most of them, hence more capable of evil, but capable also of helping things that may be much better than itself, namely human beings and their cultures.

Those are my reasons for the policy of not worshipping States, and of not putting the good of the State above everything else. They are not mathematical demonstrations, for no argument for an action or policy or evaluation can be a mathematical demonstration. They will not change a fanatic who cares for nothing but the power and prestige of his own country. But most men do care deeply for many other things, including the sorrows of individual men, and therefore can be influenced against nationalism by arguments which distinguish the good of the State from other goods and show that it may conflict therewith. I mention this point, the possibility of reasonable argument against taking the State as the supreme good, because it seems to be denied by T. D. Weldon in the gloomy last chapter of his book States and Morals (especially pp. 292-3).

These are not reasons for abolishing the State or declaring it useless. They are reasons for not worshipping the State or setting it up as a god whose will is paramount. They are reasons for holding that 'reason of State' or raison d'état ought not to be an ultimate reason, and that the appeal to national pride and prejudice ought not to be the easiest way for a politician to get followers.

They are reasons against nationalism rather than against patriotism. 'Patriotism' is an approving name, and is usually applied to something that is indeed approvable, to wit, love and service towards the culture in which one shares and towards those who share it with one. It is often described as love of one's country; but one's country here is more one's culture than one's State. One of the main uses of a State is to preserve a culture, and so one of the main good reasons for going to war in defence of a State is to preserve a culture which that State protects; and the patriot who does this deserves and receives honour. The culture is good in itself (if it is so; not all cultures that have existed have been good on the whole); but the State is not. Thus patriotism as I understand it may be good though nationalism is not. And if a Welshman says that he is in favour of cultural nationalism but not of political nationalism for Wales, he means by 'cultural nationalism' what I am here calling patriotism. I admit, however, that culture too can be made a fetish and often has been made one, especially in Germany. Some Germans have implied that German culture is the only good culture, and that, if German culture is being adulterated by degenerate influences from a foreign country, this justifies making war on that country.

The State, then, is to be treated with reserve and suspicion, as a necessary evil rather than as a great good. We should not listen to the politicians who magnify its power and prestige, but rather study the anthropologists who disclose to us the nature of culture, so grossly misunderstood by most of us, and so much worthier of our love. Let us never prefer the good of a State to the goods of human beings. Do not worship your State or even love it. Love instead your land, your fellow citizens, and the culture you share with your fellow citizens. Do not sing Rule, Britannia or Land of Hope and Glory. Sing instead something like this:

This is Raroia,
The land of the cool winds.
The song of joy mingles
With the noise of the breakers.
Here is our country.

    (From The Happy Island, by Bengt Danielson, London, Allen & Unwin, 1952.)

On the other hand, States, like all erring moral beings, are to be treated on occasion with charity and forgiveness. We should avoid the common error of letting our attitude towards a State be fixed for ever by certain crimes it has committed in the past. States should confess their crimes, and those that genuinely repent should be forgiven. England should confess her past crimes towards Ireland, and the Irish should forgive them. Voters should vote for politicians who confess the country's crimes rather than for those who do not.

There is a fine statement of this point in Laurens van der Post's Venture to the Interior, pp. 16-17:

The suffering which is most difficult, if not impossible, to forgive is unreal, imagined suffering. There is no power on earth like imagination, and the worst, most obstinate grievances are imagined ones. Let us recognize that there are people and nations who create, with a submerged deliberation, a sense of suffering and of grievance, which enable them to evade those aspects of reality that do not minister to their self-importance, personal pride or convenience. These imagined ills enable them to avoid the proper burden that life lays on all of us.

Persons who have really suffered at the hands of others do not find it difficult to forgive, nor even to understand the people who caused their suffering. They do not find it difficult to forgive because out of suffering and sorrow truly endured comes an instinctive sense of privilege. Recognition of the creative truth comes in a flash: forgiveness for others, as for ourselves, for we too know not what we do.

This perpetuation of so-called 'historic' and class grievances is an evil, dishonest and unreal thing. It is something which cannot be described adequately in the customary economic, political and historical clichés. The language that seems far more appropriate is the language of a pathologist describing cancer, the language of a psychologist describing a deep-seated complex and obsessional neurosis. For what is Nazism, or present-day Malanism in this Southern Africa of my youth, but the destruction of the whole by an unnatural proliferation of the cells of a part, or a wilful autonomous system that would twist the whole being to a partial need?

3.14. States are moral agents

You observe that I have not taken the positivist line that States do not exist. I have said that they do exist but are not worshipful. States exist, and they cannot be analysed away. That is, there are true propositions containing the word 'State' which are not equivalent to any proposition lacking that word and all its equivalents. For example, the true proposition that 'States ought to keep their treaties' is not equivalent to the proposition that 'Governments ought to keep treaties made by themselves or their predecessors'. And the latter proposition cannot even seem equivalent to the former except by a tacit reference to the State at two points. For 'treaties' in it means agreements to which the government commits the State; it does not include agreements which the government may make with an hotel to buy a dinner. And 'predecessors' means predecessors as the governors of the same State; it does not include the men who preceded them as occupiers of a given room or as contractors with a given photographer. That 'States ought to keep their treaties', and that 'Governments ought to keep treaties made by themselves or their predecessors', are two distinct propositions. Both of them are true, and the latter follows from the former plus some other true propositions about governments and their relation to States. The latter would, however, be more accurately expressed by saying: 'Governments ought to see that their State keeps the treaties to which it is committed.'

I believe that all other reductions of a sentence about a State to one about a government also fail, except when the word 'State' was wrong in the first place because the sentence was really about a government. Analysts also try sometimes to reduce sentences about States to sentences about people; but this is still less plausible. Mr. Urmson in his Philosophical Analysis, pp. 151-2, shows the non-equivalence of 'England declared war' to any statement about English people.

'But surely', we are inclined to say at this point, 'England is not an entity over and above the English people.' I think that England is an entity over and above the English people; and our reluctance to believe so arises partly from reading too much into the word 'entity', or never having known what this technical term was invented to mean. An entity is a thing in the widest possible sense of 'a thing', that is, anything that can be referred to, anything except the non-entities. Since there is a word for referring to England, England is an entity. In calling England an entity, we do not decide what kind of entity it is. We do not decide whether it is a piece of matter or a colour or a relation or a group of people or none of these. We decide only that England is talkable about and referable to.

'But is this entity over and above the English people?' Well, it is not identical with the English people, since sentences about the one cannot be converted into sentences about the other. We should hardly care to say it is 'among' the English people, or 'beside' them, or 'round' them. If we want a spatial metaphor, the best one seems to be 'over and above'. Non-metaphorically, England and the English people are distinct and related. England presupposes but is not presupposed by the English people.

Reference can be definite or indefinite. 'Some enemy hath done this' is an indefinite reference. The word 'England', being a proper name, looks as if its use would be to make definite references only, and all of them to one and the same particular. But some thinkers have held that this appearance is deceptive. In reality, they believe, the word 'England' is used to make indefinite references. Just as 'one of the children has done this' means 'either John or Joan or Jane did this' if we have just those three children, so, it is thought, 'England declared war' means 'Either the Cabinet voted unanimously for war, or all of them but Mr. A voted for war, or all of them but Mr. B voted for war, or all of them but Mr. A and Mr. B voted for war, and so on'. 'The point of such a statement as "England declared war",' wrote Mr. Urmson, op. cit., p. 182, 'is precisely to let us know the sort of thing that Englishmen did without saying precisely how'. I do not think so. I think that 'England declared war' is a definite reference to a particular thing, the State of England.

But surely 'the history of States is not another branch of history with a different subject-matter alongside the history of individuals' (Urmson, op. cit., p. 181). Histories of States are distinct from histories of individuals, and the two can stand alongside on a shelf. Their subject-matters, the States and the individuals, are not exactly alongside, but rather above and below, like a history of birds and a history of the great auk. But they are much more different from each other than a history of birds would be different from a history of the great auk, because the race of birds is not a political organization. What J. R. Green gave us under the title of 'A History of the English People' was in fact mainly a history of the English State. Something like a real history of the English people was attempted by Trevelyan; but he called it 'English Social History', perhaps because Green had pre-empted his proper title. Historians mostly write about States, and about men only so far as men are officers of States or otherwise specially important to States. To put it another way, the word 'history' is never used now in its original wide sense of inquiry', and hardly ever used even so widely as to mean 'inquiry into the course of past events'. It is usually restricted to 'inquiry into the course of past events concerning States', so that an inquiry into how people fastened their boots in the Middle Ages is not history. Similarly, the 'prehistoric' period is the period before there were States rather than the period before there were writings.

We must go much farther than merely to say that England is an entity over and above the English people. We must say that England is a moral agent distinct from any or all of the English. That States are moral agents is implied by saying that they ought to keep their treaties; and it seems perfectly clear that States ought to keep their treaties, and that this is not equivalent to any proposition about governors. Since States ought to keep their treaties, the governor of a State ought to see that his State keeps its treaties; but this conclusion is not equivalent to the premiss from which it is deduced. States can do right and wrong. They can have virtues and vices. They are morally responsible. The 'perfidy of Albion' may or may not be a fact; but the phrase is significant, and it does not signify the same as any phrase about English people. 'My country right or wrong' is a wicked slogan but not an absurd one; it is not like saying 'My country odd or even'. We all use such language frequently, and it is not an abbreviation of something about individuals.

'You will be saying next that States are persons.' Well, what does the word 'person' mean? Do you use it as a synonym for 'human being'? A State, of course, is not a human being. A State is unlike a human being in that you cannot converse with it; it has no sex and no imagination; and we are entitled to bring it to an end on many more occasions than we are entitled to bring a human being to his end. Though it has a beginning and an end, and exists continuously from one to the other, it does not have the seven ages of a human being, but is equally likely to behave in a mature or an immature way at any period of its existence. The fact that the U.S.A. came into existence later than some other States is no ground for calling it an 'adolescent' country; for swelling breasts and sprouting beards cannot be observed in States.

Thus States are not persons if you use the word 'person' as a synonym for 'human being'. But that is not the only meaning of the word. Theologians use it otherwise when they say that God is three persons. Lawyers use it otherwise when they say that a corporation may be a legal person. One existing and important use of the word 'person' is precisely to indicate that the entity referred to is morally or legally responsible, a moral or legal agent. The word 'person' appears to be in fact the only single-word name that we have for a moral or legal agent, for what Maitland well called 'a right-and-duty-bearing unit' All States are moral persons, and in so far as they can sue or be sued in some court they are also legal persons.

Some thinkers have said that this is refuted by the consideration that a State has no existence apart from those who compose it. They might as well say that a man is not a moral person because he has no existence apart from the cells that compose him. They might as well say that all statements about a man can be analysed into statements about cells. The question whether X is a moral person has nothing to do with the question what X depends on for its existence. To say that a State did so and so is no more and no less analysable than to say that a man walked. You can analyse the contractions of his muscles and the impulses of his nerves; but that is not his walking. You can analyse the arguments and voting in the Cabinet; but that is not the State acting. To borrow an example from Dr. Ewing (op. cit., 176), you might as well try to reduce 'this house is comfortable and convenient for a small family' to a statement about its materials.

Some thinkers have believed that if a State were a moral person it could do no wrong or would be 'above morality'. This must be false because it is selfcontradictory. That X is a moral person entails that X can do wrong, for X's being capable of doing wrong is part of what is meant by saying that X is a moral person.

Some thinkers have believed that if States were moral persons they would be bound by the same moral principles as individuals are, whereas they cannot be. But neither of these premisses is probable. That States are moral persons entails only that they are bound by some moral principles, not also that they are bound by precisely those moral principles that govern individuals. On the other hand, States probably are bound by the same moral principles as bind individuals. This would not make their particular duties always the same as those of individuals, because one's particular duty depends not merely on one's general obligations but also on one's particular circumstances.

We should beware of making bad arguments to urge that a State is not a moral person, when all we really want is to get people to give up worshipping States. It is easy to confuse the two, because the phrase 'belief in the State' may mean either the belief that there are such things as States or the belief that they ought to be worshipped. We want people to abandon the belief that the State ought to be worshipped, but we do not want them to abandon the belief that the State exists and is something to be praised or blamed. States exist, and we shall not counteract their dangers by trying to persuade people that they do not exist. You cannot counteract the dangers of physical disease by trying to persuade people that it does not exist; and positivism about States is as misguided as 'Christian Science' about disease.

Graphic Rule


3.21. Equality in political power

Equality is often put forward as a great political good. Of all the ideals offered us in politics it is probably the most puzzling both to understand and to evaluate. Equality is an abstraction, a generality. To put it forward as a political good is very different from putting forward a particular thing like France or some other State. There is only one France. There are only about a hundred States. But there are indefinitely many ways in which men can be equal or unequal. They can be unequally tall, heavy, healthy, wealthy, witty, strong, charming, clever, instructed, good, beloved, and so on for every adjective that involves the possibility of different degrees. These examples are not political; but within the sphere of politics there is also an indefinitely large number of ways in which men can be equal or unequal, even on the narrowest reasonable interpretation of the word 'politics'. They can be equal or unequal in voting power, and this for each sort of vote, as municipal or national, and on each matter of voting, as financial or not financial. They can be equal or unequal in office, in function, in right of bringing cases to a court, in right of being represented in a court. They can be equal or unequal in liability to tax, and this for each kind of tax, in liability to military service or any other compulsory public service. And so on indefinitely.

Do I wish all men to be exactly equal in all respects? Anybody who explicitly asks himself that question answers no. I do not wish everyone to have a headache when anybody has a headache. I do not wish all men to be produced by division of the same egg, so that they all have the same genes, appearance, character, and behaviour. I do not wish all girls to be equally black-haired, or all boys equally good a t running a mile.

There are, however, many people who have never asked themselves this question and are demanding whatever equalities have engaged their emotions, without considering how far equalization should go or what is the good of it. That is a great pity, and we ought to bring the question to people's attention as widely as we can. A reasonable ideal of equality must be, in fact, a demand for the creation of certain specific equalities. And, since equalities demanded by one person may be distinct from those demanded by another the discussion of this ideal must divide into the discussion of various possible equalities; and must break off unfinished because it is impossible to run through all conceivable equalities, and impossible to foresee which of them may be considered important in the future. I shall discuss the possibility or desirability of equality in political power, in legal rights and privileges, in wealth, and in respect.

Do I wish all men to be exactly equal in political power? To answer yes is to be an anarchist. The anarchists are the only complete egalitarians in politics; for as soon as you have political organization you have at least one governor or administrator, and he inevitably has more power than other people so long as he governs. There is a fundamental and inevitable inequality in politics, namely that what constitutes a political society is precisely a distinction between the governor and the rest. There is further the paradox that every time you pass a law to maintain a new kind of equality in the future you have to provide administrators to execute the law, and you thereby create some more persons with unequal power. Hence it is impossible for all persons to be equal in political power except in a mere crowd that has no organization and so no politics. Equal political power can only be zero political power.

This being the situation, it is better to abandon the ideal of equality in political power and retain or institute some government. I shall not argue for this here; but my discussion of the uses of government will provide reason for it.

On the other hand, the powers of officers can vary enormously in degree; and therefore equality in political power can be more or less approached although it can never be reached. And it ought to be approached to a considerable extent, because inequality of power is a dangerous state. In Acton's never-to-be-forgotten phrase, 'power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely'. Men are not to be trusted with power over their fellows. Hence the power of the governors should be controlled by whatever suitable devices can be thought of. The greatest of these is no doubt democracy -- the election and dismissal of the rulers by the whole people at frequent intervals. I shall discuss whether this device is desirable in a separate lecture on democracy. But it is important to note that the question of democracy is by no means the whole of the question about equality of political power. We have to ask also how many officers there are, and how much power they have while they are in office; for this is independent of whether the constitution is democratic or not. A dictatorship can have very few laws and consequently very few officers to administer those laws. A democracy can have a great many laws involving great control of the citizens' lives, and then it will require many officers to administer these laws, and these officers will have much power. Every socialist law that gives more power to administrators increases the inequalities of political power in the country. There is furthermore the very important question how many and which of the officers are removable by popular vote. In the United States some judges are removable by popular vote, but in the United Kingdom none are. In neither country are civil servants removable by popular vote, nor is there anything like the ancient Athenian public examination of officers at the expiration of a term of office. The American Congress does sometimes succeed in examining and controlling civil servants through its committees. But in the United Kingdom and its dependencies the power of civil servants is at present secret, irresponsible, and largely irresistible. According to Lord Hemingford in The Times (21 January 1954), a British governor or civil servant in the Gold Coast in 1948 promulgated a regulation under which he could intern anyone without the possibility of a writ of habeas corpus or any other appeal to the courts, and in Buganda shortly afterwards a British governor or civil servant promulgated a regulation under which he could deport anyone without the possibility of his action being questioned in court in any way. On 5 May 1953 the Chancellor of the Exchequer told Parliament that 'he had the greatest difficulty in controlling government departments' in the next year a scandalous piece of administration by a civil servant resulted only in his transfer to another senior post, while his unfortunate minister resigned. There is certainly room in the United Kingdom now for a closer approach to equality in political power.

3.22. Equality before the law

I pass now to equality before the law. According to Article 7 of a 'Universal Declaration of Human Rights Approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations, Paris, 10th December, 1948 ... all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law'. Equality before the law is often demanded; but its air of being selfevidently correct is deceptive. The phrase can mean two quite independent states of affairs. First, it can mean that the law makes no distinctions among human persons, but prescribes exactly the same voting rights for foreigners as for citizens, exactly the same penalty for child murderers as for adult murderers, exactly the same military service for women as for men, and so on. In this sense, equality before the law is a character of the kind of law that is on the statute book; and a student can tell in what respects a State has this kind of equality by reading its laws. But the phrase often carries another meaning, in which you cannot tell whether a State has equality before the laws by reading its statutes, but only by observing how its policemen and judges and jailers carry these statutes out. Do they carry them out impartially on all sorts and conditions of persons, or do they prosecute lawbreakers of class A while forgetting to prosecute lawbreakers of class B? Do they, for instance, prosecute poor young men who steal bread for food and omit to prosecute rich young men who steal street-signs for fun? Do they prosecute pedestrians who occupy a square yard of the road for an hour, and omit to prosecute parking motorists who occupy eight square yards of it for eight hours? And do they extend to all men equally such protection as the law indicates, or do they turn a blind eye to the injuries suffered by some while prosecuting the injuries suffered by others?

Each of these two kinds of equality before the law can exist without the other. Hence we need to ask of each separately whether it is desirable. Should the law, whatever it is, be equally applied to all sorts of persons by its executioners? That is to say, when the law does not itself direct its officers to make discriminations or use their discretion, should they nevertheless do so?

A certain amount of discrimination is inevitable. No law can save the public prosecutor from all need of deciding for himself whether to prosecute a particular person. There are bound to be doubtful cases. There will often be more cases than he has men and money to deal with. He must pick and choose. He may, therefore, do this choosing rightly or wrongly. Is it any use telling him that the principle of right choice is that all are equal before the law? I think it is sometimes of some use. It may remind him of certain specific inequalities which he is tempted to regard but ought to disregard, though he will have to know by some other means what these inequalities are. It may remind him that the inequalities he ought to regard, although they are not mentioned in the law, are only such as are consistent with impartiality and fairness, for example, the inequality between first offenders and habitual offenders, or between young and old offenders. On the whole, it is significant and right to demand equality in the administration of the law, although the administrator will always have to make choices and notice inequalities.

And what about equality in the intention of the law? Most of us are now certain that the law should refuse to notice certain inequalities which it formerly did notice, for example the inequality of freeman to slave, and of nobleman to commoner. Whether it should notice differences of colour is still largely in dispute. But it seems perfectly clear that we shall always want the law to notice some inequalities in some respects, for example the inequality between citizen and foreigner when it comes to electing officers, and that between rich man and poor man when it comes to paying tax. Hence in writing laws we cannot follow blindly the principle of equality before the law. Or, to speak more accurately, equality before the law cannot be our principle or starting point. It can only be a reminder of certain specific equalities which we have decided to adopt. Nor is it by any means the case that legislation tends constantly to notice fewer inequalities. Legislation in the twentieth century probably makes more difference than before between citizen and foreigner.

What I have salvaged in the ideals of equality in power and equality before the law is only a distorted version of a much greater political good, namely the rule of law. That law should rule, and that it should rule the governors as well as the subjects, is a far more important thing than that it should rule equally. Half the use of governors is to maintain laws. All of their use is likely to change to harm if they do not act in accordance with known laws, and cannot be summoned to give account of their acts in a court of law.

Every law is by its nature a kind of equality, however many inequalities it institutes. Suppose a law to say that white subjects may vote and black subjects may not. Then, while it makes blacks unequal to whites, it leaves every black equal to every other black and every white equal to every other white, and it makes every black and every white equally subject to itself. This measure of equality is inherent in every law that really is a law and not a mere decree about some particular named person. But it is better to call it the rule of law than to call it any kind of equality. (I owe this point to Professor Berlin's excellent article on equality in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 1955-6.)