Richard Robinson, An Atheist's Values, 1964.
- 3.1. The State 158
- 3.2. Equality 173
- 3.3. Freedom 187
- 3.4. Tolerance 198
- 3.5. Peace and Justice 219
- 3.6. Democracy 228
3.1. THE STATE
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.
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.)
3.23. Equality in wealth
In England today the equality most commonly demanded is that of wealth, that is, possession or consumption of material goods or power to possess or consume them. This seems to be what the British Labour Party has always chiefly meant by 'equality', for example in R. H. Tawney's book of that name. It half seems to be what Matthew Arnold meant by it in his essay of that name; for, although he says he means 'social equality ... this Frenchified sense of the term', his slogan is Menander's 'choose equality and flee greed', and his only particular proposal is to change the law of bequest and abolish primogeniture.
The demand for equality in wealth appears to be killed by the following question: If you could double everyone's consumption by making and maintaining a few millionaires, would you do so? This is a question which the demanders of equality in wealth do not face. They imply without realizing it that they would rather have everyone undernourished and equally undernourished, than have everyone well nourished but some very rich; or that they would rather have a society in which everyone was miserable but equally so, than one in which everyone was happy but unequally so. Stale fish for all is better than fresh fish for coastdwellers only.
I see no reply to this except one that nobody would care to make, as follows: 'The imagined society, in which everyone is happy but unequally so, is impossible because men are made unhappy by the mere fact of seeing that others are more happy than they are.' No one would care to make this reply because it reveals something that lurks in the demand for the equalization of incomes, namely the vice of envy.
The sinister side of the demand for equality is that much of it is a new and imposing version of the ancient vice of envy. Those who demand equality of incomes in this country always intend that the richer inhabitants of this country shall be brought down to the level of the poorer inhabitants of this country. They are never thinking of the fact that all the inhabitants of this country are richer than most of the inhabitants of Jamaica. They are never demanding that their own standard of living shall be lowered to raise that of the Jamaicans. They are not pitying those millions of human beings who are worse off than themselves, but envying the thousands who are better off. While they demand the equalization of incomes, they act by their trade unions and members of parliament to prevent poor foreigners from coming here to share in our comparative wealth, and to ensure that skilled workers shall be paid more than unskilled workers and men more than women. From him that hath more than me shall be taken; but to him that hath less than me shall not be given.
He who envies riches values them too much, or works for them too little. It is regrettable that a member of Parliament should be heard complaining that some people can lunch at the Savoy every day. There is too much envious luxury in our hearts; and the trade unions and the Labour Party are powerful organs to give effect to it.
Inequality of incomes, as Dr. Popper has pointed out to me, gives certain people a relatively harmless outlet for ambition and push. Had Hitler had an opportunity to make much money in business he might have settled down innocuously. The wish to excel must be given many different opportunities.
Envy under the banner of equality works against talent as well as against wealth. It works to prevent unusual talent from being encouraged and trained. It works to degrade universities, and other places where unusual talent is trained, into places where only average talent is required. It declares that the President of the United States should be a person whose family and education have not been better than average. It tends to attribute all avoidable evils of society to the talented and successful few, and to turn pity for the common man's distress into mean denunciation of those who can help him.
One should face the fact that some goods would cease to be goods of that kind if they were available to all. If everyone could join Oxford University, Oxford University would not be worth joining, because you would not meet in it a higher average of scholarship than you meet without joining it. The value of a university is that it gives you the society of better than average scholars; and it is impossible that everyone should be a better than average scholar. People had better face this fact, however hard they find it.
One should face also the fact that equalizing wealth involves lessening freedom. It means that people are not left free to acquire and enjoy and give and spend extra wealth. It is not true in general that 'the passion for equality makes vain the hope of freedom', to generalize a phrase of Acton's; but it is true that wealth can be kept equal only by a steady and considerable denial of certain freedoms. It is true also that the prohibitions necessitated by the equalization of wealth tend appreciably to discourage some useful forms of enterprise and responsibility. It is true, further, that, if we maintain equality of wealth by removing excesses as they occur, we thereby favour the lazy and the spendthrift at the expense of their opposites. It may well be, however, that these thrifty and industrious opposites will go on making and saving wealth as before, like the bees that go on working though most of their honey is always removed.
If these sentiments seem unfair to you, that is probably because you are aware that in the demand for economic equality there is much pity for human distress. I fully agree that men are often in distress, and that this requires the pity of us all, and that this emotion has recently operated largely under the flag of economic equality. I urge only that this is a bad flag for it to operate under, partly because it lets in also the bad emotion of envy, which then has a free sail under false colours. It is plenty for all that is desirable, not equal plenty for all. That each may have plenty we should if necessary tax and transfer any luxuries enjoyed by some, and we should ration scarce necessities. But, if we turn this care for a decent plenty for all into a demand for an equal plenty for all, we begin an endless envious bickering, since there always must be some good enjoyed by you that is not equally enjoyed by me, and the attempt to divide it between us will often cause its total disappearance. If you live by the sea and I do not, it will not improve matters to compel you to change houses with me once a year. If your parents are kind and mine are not, it will not improve matters to abolish family life. If you are able to administer a great enterprise and I am not, it will not improve matters to compel you to administer it jointly with me; I must just repress my envy and be content with other joys.
I am suggesting that the demand for economic equalization is a muddled and dangerous form of the demand that he who possesses luxuries shall yield them to him who lacks necessities. The latter demand is good; and, although the boundary between luxuries and necessities is a matter of opinion and shifts from year to year, yet there are plenty of clear cases; and, although the attempt to transfer part of the rich man's riches to the poor man sometimes results in the total disappearance of the riches, yet there are plenty of cases where it succeeds. To think of this as a demand for the equalization of wealth is to lose sight of many impossibilities and to entertain envy unawares. It is to lose sight, for example, of the fact that many men will not undertake extra work and responsibility unless they are given extra rewards for doing so.
Let us beware of supposing that to deprecate the demand for economic equality is to make a demand for economic inequality. We might as well think that to deny that the governors should aim at the prestige of the State is the same as to demand that they should aim at lowering the prestige of the State. There is a difference between saying 'do not seek equality' and saying 'seek inequality'. I am not saying 'seek inequality', but 'seek happiness for all, and take no account whether it makes us economically equal or not'. In economic matters the right to equality is only that each has a right for his necessities and reasonable comforts to be supplied by the State at the expense of whatever luxuries will supply them without a net loss of necessities. We want not equality but a good life for each; and the demand for equality often puts us on the whole farther from the good life. Equality is something to give to the less fortunate than ourselves, not something to take from the more fortunate.
3.24. Equality in respect
I come lastly to equality of respect. The first article of the Declaration of Human Rights asserts that 'all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights'. The word 'dignity' here suggests another kind of demand for equality, and one which is more justified. To be a human being is to have a dignity which requires respect from all persons. In virtue of this there ought to be a certain being on equal terms between any two men whatever, no matter how much one is above the other in some special way. A child is not the equal of his father in wisdom or experience or power or importance or authority. Nevertheless, in all good families the father is on equal terms with the child in a certain way in which in England he is sometimes not on equal terms with the cook.
Respect is opposed to contempt and humiliation. The demand that everyone is to be respected therefore involves that no one is to be fundamentally or utterly contemned or despised. However cruel or disgusting his crimes or his intentions, he is as a man to be respected. If contempt has any place in the emotions of a good man, it can only be contempt for some particular actions or characteristics of a man, not for his essential manhood.
Class snobbery is a powerful enemy of the equalization of men and women in respect. It makes it hard for me to invite my servant for a walk, harder still for him to invite me. It tempts me 'to flatter a blown up fool above, or crush the wretch beneath me' (Otway's Venice Preserved, i. 1). It makes men actually desire inequality, and feel injured when those below them in any way rise to their level. Class snobbery is not confined to certain classes. It often happens that a member of a lower class inhumanly despises or repulses members of an upper class, and a famous example of this is Aneurin Bevan's calling the Tories vermin. Nor is there any class whose members are all class snobs; in every class are found some men and women who give respect to all men and women.
Equalization in respect is fundamentally and greatly good in itself. It is included in 'le sentiment de la vie idéale, qui n'est autre que la vie normale telle que nous sommes appelés à la connaître', as Matthew Arnold quoted from George Sand (Mixed Essays, p. 320). But it is also good in its consequences, and may be recommended by them. 'To live in a society of equals tends in general to make a man's spirit expand, and his faculties work easily and actively; while, to live in a society of superiors, although it may occasionally be a very good discipline, yet in general tends to tame the spirits and to make the play of the faculties less secure and active.... To be heavily overshadowed, to be profoundly insignificant, has, on the whole, a depressing and benumbing effect on the character' (Matthew Arnold, Mixed Essays, pp. 10-11). 'The great inequality of classes and property, which came to us (English) from the Middle Age and which we maintain because we have the religion of inequality ... has the ... effect ... of materialising our upper class, vulgarising our middle class, and brutalising our lower class' (ibid., p. 87).
Here then we find one sort of equality that really should be demanded. Yet this sort of equality is a moral rather than a political matter. It is not primarily a matter for governors or States, but a moral duty for each individual man. It is to be furthered not primarily by political devices but as all moral demands are furthered, by the training of our children and of our own wills. We are to preach and teach this demand, to think out its ramifications, to prepare ourselves by imagination to meet it in different forms. It is largely a matter of manners. As Matthew Arnold has written, 'it is by the humanity of their manners that men are made equal' (op. cit., p. 68). For the ideal of manners is not conformity to any taboo or convention as such, but precisely the achievement of universal dignity and happiness in so far as they depend on common communications.
Although the equalization of human dignity is not primarily a political matter, there are important possibilities of State action in the encouragement or discouragement of it. All passport and visa regulations are an indignity; and their increase in the twentieth century is one of several ways in which we have recently shown less respect for human dignity than our ancestors did. The segregation or subordination of races is another affront of the same kind and much greater degree. The most important part of equality before the law comes in here. Furthermore, the existence of government is by its nature a standing influence in the direction of humiliation. The governor's and administrator's power is a standing temptation to him to humiliate his subjects. We therefore demand whatever arrangements will so far as possible neutralize this bad tendency of all governments; and the outstanding device here is that the ruler holds power for a short period only, after which a new ruler is appointed by a general election. Thus democracy is a device for the equalization of human dignity as well as for the equalization of political power.
It is commonly held that the government can make a further great contribution to the equalization of human dignity by equalizing incomes. The moral basis of the demand for the equalization of wealth seems to be that it is an important means towards the equalization of dignity. But this is probably an error. Degrees of inequality in the respect of man for man do not correlate closely with degrees of inequality in income. For example, the equalization of human dignities is far more closely approached in the U.S.A. than in England; but the equalization of incomes is far less closely approached. It is not inequalities of income that maintain the terrible inhumanity of man to man in England. It is inequalities of class dignity that maintain themselves because they are a religion here, and strive to find inequalities of income in which to express themselves. There is a social disease in England, snobbery, which cannot be cured by levelling incomes.
3.25. The basis of equality
I have been speaking of the demand for equality, of the enterprise of making equal men who were unequal. A great deal of the discussion of political equality, however, has been expressed not as a demand but as a statement of fact. The Declaration of Human Rights declares that 'all human beings are born free and equal in dignity', and 'are equal before the law'. Many defenders of equality have given the impression that they are describing what is so, not proposing what might be so. Their language has justified their opponents in taking them to be anthropologists rather than legislators.
Yet to say that all men are in fact equal in every way would be a stupidly false assertion, and would leave no further possible equality to be demanded in politics. That all men are equally valuable in every way appears to be also stupidly false, though something like it is implied whenever someone says 'I am as good as any man', or talks about 'the infinite value of the human soul'. It is also a plain falsehood that all men could, by some practicable arrangements, be brought to be in the future equal in all ways. We never shall be, and never could be, all equal in height and health and strength and longevity and charm and intelligence.
How is it then that thinkers have appeared to be asserting absurd falsehoods about actual equalities among men? Apparently in two ways. Demands are often made in the form of assertions. What looked like the indefensible assertion that all men are born free has often been in reality the defensible demand that no man be held in slavery. The verb 'is' does duty for the verb 'ought to be'. 'Cannot' does duty for 'ought not'. And so on.
That is one cause why political discussions of equality sometimes seem to be anthropological descriptions of the nature of man. But there is another and a more important one. We feel a need to state some basis of fact for any demand we make. We feel a need to base any demand for the future equalization of men on an assertion of some way in which they already are equal. What we have in mind is the hybrid doctrine that men should be made equal in one way because they inevitably are equal in another way.
What then is the equality in fact, on which we may base a demand for further equalization? It could be a different equality in fact for each different equalization that we demand. But in each case the basis, to be valid, ought to be something in which I am identical with every other human being; and it ought also to be something in which I differ from everything that is not a human being, unless we are prepared to extend the proposed equalization to monkeys and whales.
It is plausible to say that the factual equality on which our demands are based is just that we are all equally human beings, homo sapiens. But we may properly ask for further explanation of this. We may ask why we appeal to the equality of all humans as humans and base thereon a demand for further equalization, when we do not appeal to the equality of all mammals as mammals and base thereon a demand for the further equalization of all mammals.
There is the Christian answer: because men have immortal souls and no other animal does. This is wholly unsatisfactory, because 'soul' is a meaningless word. There is no way of teaching a person the meaning of this word, so that to tell him that he has a soul is to tell him nothing. Suppose we omit this word and say: 'because men are immortal and all other animals are mortal.' We have now a statement which is very unlikely on the evidence; the evidence certainly is that man is as mortal as any other animal. His spiritual life depends on his material body, and his material body dies. But suppose the statement were probable. Then it would weaken the demand for further equalization of men, not strengthen it. If man had a non-political eternity ahead of him, this would provide no good reason for the present equalization of political or legal power or rights or wealth or status. On the contrary, it would be a good reason for regarding all such earthly equalizations as trivial.
Another answer is: Reason. The equalization of men has been demanded on the ground that all men are rational. Whales are excluded because they are not rational. To be rational here means to be able to think, and not merely to think about the present in the bare sense of being prepared for one's prey to flee or for one's predator to spring, but to think abstractly and in concepts, about the absent and the past and the general, the good and the bad, the right and the wrong, the law and the case. To which perhaps we should add the power to send and receive communications of such thoughts.
This conception of man as the rational animal is Aristotelian, and perhaps even Platonic. Neither of those thinkers based upon it any demand for the political or social equalization of all men; but Aristotle does base his conception of political activity as such upon it. According to him City-States exist among men, and not among bees, because men and only men are rational in this sense (Politics A 2, 1253a7-18). Furthermore, he thinks that 'probably every man has a duty towards everyone who can share in law and convention' dokei gar einai ti dikaion panti anqwpw proV panta ton dunamenon koinwnhsai nomou kai sonqrkhV, N.E. viii. 11. 1161b6). If we had asked him whether a being must have reason in order to share in law and convention, he would have understood the question and he would have answered 'Yes'.
Reason gives an extraordinary responsibility and power of action and control, which make those who possess it inevitable controllers of whatever does not possess it. Reason must and will direct the course of events; and it is right that this should be as far as possible the reason of all rational beings. Therefore, the equality in fact of all rational beings as rational justifies a demand for their equalization as controllers of what is done, so far as this is not harmful in other ways. Thus we find a basis in fact for demanding the equalization of the vote and other political and legal rights.
Is reason also the basis for the demand for the equalization of respect? At first it seems to be so, because the possession of reason is a great dignity and worthy of respect. It is, indeed, a much better ground for demanding respect than the supposed immortality of the soul would be. Yet it does not seem to be good enough if we imagine a being who could think but not feel. If he feels no pleasure or pain or emotion, if he has no desire or aversion, then, however much and however abstractly he thinks, the demand for equality seems to have no point in his case. We should no more demand equal treatment of him than of a mountain, because neither of them suffers. The fact that all men are sufferers seems at least as important as the fact that they are all rational, as a ground for treating them equally. That dignity in every man which demands our respect seems to be mainly his capacity to suffer.
But now the whale and the monkey suffer too, and so do many other sorts of animal. We therefore look like having to say that all vertebrates are equal in dignity, and should be given equal respect, because they are all sufferers. This result would greatly sharpen our previous conclusion that the demand for equal respect is not primarily political. It would not be incompatible with man's killing cattle, if war or capital punishment is compatible with proper respect for the dignity of man.
If we wish to avoid this conclusion, the best apparent way to do so is to combine the capacity to suffer with the capacity to think, and say that we demand equal respect for all who are both sufferers and rational. For my part I do not care to put it like that, because when I do so I feel convinced that the suffering matters far more than the rationality. I demand respect for the cat and the rat and the jackal and the sheep, because I know they suffer and suffering is eminently respectable. All vertebrates ought equally to be respected by all men as fellow sufferers.
This does not entail that no man should ever kill a vertebrate. The right use of the power to kill is not to disuse it entirely. The lives of the other vertebrates are to some extent in our hands, both to take and to make. Competition is inevitable. Food is limited, but we can increase or decrease it. To choose never to kill any vertebrate would be, I suppose, to exterminate ourselves. I see nothing hypocritical in respecting the ox that I have bred and intend to kill for beef, or in respecting the rat while I recognize him as an inevitable enemy and intend to kill him.
Thus the only kind of equalization that I can unreservedly favour is so unpolitical that it starts from the individual person, not the State, and extends beyond humanity to all vertebrates. I think it is better called, not 'equality', but 'respect' or 'fraternity' or 'love'. Every being who suffers is my brother or sister. Equality is a political perversion of that fundamentally unpolitical thing, love.
3.31. Freedom is a good
The word 'freedom', like the word 'equality', is a vague, abstract, and relative term which is offered to us as the name of a great political good. A stranger 'approaches you and says: "I am free." You are baffled. Has he just escaped from prison, from his debts, the opening paragraph of Maurice Cranston's book on Freedom. His first chapter will teach you the meaning of the word better than I can do; and I wish it were proper for me to recite it instead of giving my own account.
'X is free' is an incomplete statement, like 'X is equal' or 'X is prepared'. X is prepared for what? X is equal to what and in what respect? X is free from what, and to do what? A piston can move about in any direction, so far as the laws of space and gravity go. But, when it is confined in a vertical cylinder, it is only free to move up and down, and not free to move sideways. This is an example of a very general type of situation which gives the word 'free' its use. The piston stands here for any thing or animal which in general can do some sort of action or suffer some sort of passion, so long as it is not prevented from that sort of action or passion by some particular cause. In any such case we say that the thing or animal is free to do the action or suffer the passion for which it has the capacity, when nothing prevents it; but when something does prevent it it is not free in that way. Thus for anything to be free or not free it must have the capacity, in the widest sense of the word 'capacity', to do or suffer something or other; and there must be some cause which does or might hinder it from realizing this capacity. Thus the idea of freedom is enormously general. Pistons can be freed as well as slaves. In fact, the idea finds applications in every field there is. Almost anything can be free or not free from an immense number of things. Some tomatoes are free from scale-insects. Some men are free from moral scruples.
Whenever we use the word 'free' or 'freedom' without mentioning any specific thing that is free, or any specific hindrance that it is free from, we leave open a vast area of undetermined possibilities. What, for instance, is a 'free school'? It might be a school free from control by the Church of England, or a school free from all religious control, or a school free from State control so that it is able to teach Roman Catholicism, or a school which children may attend without paying a fee, or many other things. To be 'absolutely free' would be to be capable of doing anything whatever, and free of every hindrance to the exercise of this unlimited capacity, that is, to be omnipotent, omniscient, omnicompetent, and totally unscrupulous, in a universe in which there was no other such being to hinder one's acts.
If, therefore, there is sense in the promulgation of freedom as a political ideal, certain specifications must be understood. The freedom meant must be freedom for certain specific entities from certain specific restraints. Down to the present, four specific political freedoms appear to have engaged our emotions more than any other. The earliest of these was the freedom of the individual man from arbitrary and unchallengeable control by his State and its officers, a freedom thought to be attained by democracy or by the rule of law, especially by subjecting the officers to law, and making them liable to prosecution in courts of law for illegal government. This is political freedom proper, by right of seniority, because it was already explicitly demanded in ancient Athens, and has been frequently demanded since. The other three kinds are much later, and were not effectively demanded until the nineteenth or twentieth centuries. The first to arrive of these was freedom as opposed to slavery, that is, freedom for every individual man from the restraints by another man involved in his being a legal chattel of that other. Later in the nineteenth century came the demand for freedom of States or would-be States from the restraints imposed by other States. Italy was thought of as a person already existing, although there was no State or government of Italy, but held in slavery by the various governments administering different parts of the peninsula. More obviously, Ireland was a State that required to be freed from England, and Poland a State that required to be freed from Russia. To hold this kind of freedom as an ideal is part of nationalism.
The latest of the great demands for political freedom is the demand for the welfare of all individuals to be achieved by the action of the State. This has been expressed by the phrase 'economic freedom', and by Roosevelt's 'freedom from want'. It is the least properly called 'freedom', and would be better called 'welfare' or 'State-maintained welfare. However, it certainly involves the individual's being free from the experiences and sufferings of poverty and want. These four political freedoms seem to be the greatest yet demanded. Freedom of speech and freedom of worship, however, are also often demanded, and very important.
One man's freedom may conflict with another's. If the first man is free to flood a certain valley, the other man is not free to farm it. Freedom by its generality is full of conflicts. The four main political freedoms involve millions of conflicts great and small. If every man is free from slavery, no man is free to own a man. Above all, freedom as general welfare, the newest of the four, conflicts very much with the oldest, political freedom proper, because the maintenance of universal welfare by the State involves a lot of arbitrary decisions by the State's officers in taking away people's land and restricting their use of it and other matters.
Freedom is often harmful. Any kind of act will be harmful in some cases. Therefore freedom to do a certain kind of act will be harmful in some cases, no matter what kind of act you mention. Freedom of the press, for example, includes the freedoms to ignore important events, to keep silent about evil deeds committed by newspapers or journalists, and to pester suffering persons who are news. Freedom of religion includes freedom to sacrifice human beings, and to prevent them from amusing themselves on Sundays. Freedom is always conflicting with order and uniformity, which some people find a great good. Plato objected to the motley disorder which the principle of freedom produced in Athens. You can often hear a German justifying harsh or tyrannous government on the ground that there must be order, or at least you could before Hitler was put down. You can limit any given kind of freedom by specifying cases to which it shall not apply, but there will always be some harmful cases which you have not yet thought of. That is why governors find it much safer to abolish the freedom altogether.
Someone will object that this overlooks the difference between liberty and licence. Licence is harmful, he will say, but liberty never is. I believe this to be a mistake. I believe that liberty and licence are both equally freedom in the same sense of 'freedom'. The difference is only that we call a freedom licence when we think it ought to be taken away, and liberty when we think it ought to be allowed. Many people suppose that there is some further difference, but they cannot say what it is. They tend to assume that the consequences of liberty are always beneficial, and the consequences of licence always harmful; but any given freedom, whether liberty or licence, will be harmful in some cases and beneficial in some cases.
It follows that a freedom must not be condemned as a 'licence' merely because it is harmful in some cases, for it may do more good than harm. We have to judge of the effects and values on the whole. It follows also that a freedom must not be approved as a 'liberty' merely because it is beneficial in some ways, for it may do more harm than good. It follows also that, although freedom is good in itself, this by itself is not decisive in favour of any particular freedom. For example, the mere fact that freedom is good is inadequate ground for demanding a freedom for the motorist to go forty miles an hour on a public road; and the Automobile Association's argument, that a speed limit would be a 'serious interference with personal liberty', is an argument against all legal restraints whatever.
What are the values of the four main political freedoms, and are they liberties or licences?
In judging the latest one, freedom from want, we are not just asking ourselves the obvious question whether it is better for people to be happy or miserable, but whether it is better for the State to undertake the task of keeping all its subjects happy and free from want. Freedom in this fourth sense is not just the welfare of all the people, which is good by definition. It is the State taking measures to maintain the welfare of all the people. That is a very different matter, because it could be that State action to increase welfare succeeds only in diminishing welfare.
This question is hard to distinguish from the question of the value of States and governments in general. Why have them at all? Only because in some way or other they increase welfare. Thus it seems that every State is necessarily a welfare State; and yet we think of the welfare State as something new. It is no doubt a matter of degree. It is a great difference of degree whether the State is or is not a universal provider of education, of houses, of medical attendance. It cannot be right to say that the State should try to provide all the elements of welfare. It is certainly right to say that it should try to provide some of them. So we may say that State action towards general freedom from want is certainly desirable to some extent, but the question just what State action is always to be answered anew. I add that I think it is better to classify this matter under the head of freedom as little as possible.
What of nationalism, or freedom for States from States? Are we to adopt Woodrow Wilson's principle of selfdetermination, which seems to be that any area where most of the inhabitants declare themselves an independent State is an independent State? Wales is an independent State if the Welsh say so? And after that Pembrokeshire is a State that must be freed from the oppression of Wales if the men of Pembrokeshire say so? And after that the village of Newport is a State that must be freed from the oppression of Pembrokeshire if the Newporters say so? Wilson's principle seems to be the very one on which the Southern States relied in the War between the States, the very one that Abraham Lincoln rejected. An opposite principle, which is also active in this century, is that all States should lose their freedom in subordination to a World-State.
If we give up worshipping States, and cease to regard them as ends in themselves, and come to regard them only as means to the good life of individuals, we shall settle the question of freedom for States purely by reference to its effects on the good of individuals. Every new State is a new governmental machine interfering with the liberty of individuals. Every additional State further restricts our freedom at frontiers and customs barriers. On the other hand, a State may be necessary to preserve and encourage a desirable culture, and that culture may be important to many individuals. We shall reach our decision in each case by balancing effects like these, all of them concerning individuals. We shall not demand freedom for a State without counting the cost to individuals, as has often been done. We shall not insist either on the principle of selfdetermination or on the principle that all States are subordinate to a World-State.
I need not linger on freedom from slavery. We are nearly all agreed now that slavery is bad and incompatible with human dignity, and that the ownership of slaves is a very corrupting form of power. It does not follow that we should do well to invade and control any parts of the world where slavery still lingers; and it does not follow that the abrupt abolition of slavery is always the best thing to do.
There remains the earliest and most properly so called form of political freedom, the freedom of the individual subject from his governors. Not his complete freedom therefrom, which could only be achieved at the price of anarchy, but the partial freedom consisting in the governors being themselves subjected to laws, being convictable before courts for breaking those laws, and being dismissible by popular vote. This freedom is a very good thing, although it is a negation. It consists in the negation or absence of State restrictions on our powers. At its base lies the positive good of life and power. It is the enhancement of this good by the consciousness that it might have been hindered by the action of officers but is not being so hindered, and this is a huge enhancement. Although we often like to be told what to do, yet all of us like to be free and dislike being restrained or compelled. All of us have experienced compulsion, at least the compulsion that grown-ups exercise on children; and that is no doubt part of what makes us all positively enjoy and approve this negative thing, freedom. Men must act freely if they are to develop energy and enterprise and judgement and originality. Coercion is bad, and permissible only when good consequences outweigh the badness of the thing itself.
Freedom is always in danger. There are very many of us who love to interfere, to boss, to get and exercise power over men. More dangerous, perhaps, than instinctive bossiness is the moralizing temper which believes that people must be made to behave in certain ways for purely moral reasons, which legislates, for example, that you may not do on Sundays anything that I think it morally wrong to do on Sundays. Most insidious is the fact that we often must sacrifice some freedom to some other good, and all legislation does so. Thus gradually arise, in unexpected ways, and for good reasons, many very serious gaps in our freedom.
There is no escaping the fact that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. We must all be politicians all the time, restraining what Whitman called 'the never ending audacity of elected persons', and still more the never ending audacity of civil servants. We must be constantly reminding civil servants and representatives of their incompetence and our low opinion of them. But vigilance is not enough. We must also always be willing to suffer, that is at least to lose our jobs, and on rare occasions to lose our lives. The greatest safeguard against tyranny is the general knowledge that most people will rather kill or be killed than endure it.
The paradox of freedom is that freedom must be limited in order to be preserved, or that complete freedom is equivalent to no freedom. Complete freedom includes freedom for the bully to bully, for the bossy to interfere, for the unjust to steal or strike or kill. These freedoms must be removed in order to preserve the decent man's freedom to live decently.
The paradox of freedom is the essence of government. The first business of government is to promulgate and enforce laws. This is a restriction on freedom. But government is justifiable if the laws are so chosen that their reign increases the freedoms that all can have without damage to others, and decreases only those freedoms whose exercise destroys the freedoms of others. Freedom from arbitrary force and unjust interference can be obtained by submitting to just force and legal interference, and this can be far better. Laws and governments are like arsenic; they are poisons, but a little of them acts as a tonic.
In the village of my childhood there was a pub called 'The Live and Let Live'. 'Live and let live' is one of the best of all maxims, and suggests most of the right attitude towards freedom and tolerance. That village was in the county where of all counties freedom is most prized, the county of Nelson and Tom Paine, the county of Norfolk.
3.32. Muddles about freedom
The concept of freedom is very liable to muddles, because of its complicated and negative nature and its emotional importance. Let us now notice some of these.
First, freedom has often been confused with power, for example by John Locke (Essay, 2.21. 8). It is easy to fall into the mistake of seeing in freedom only the less complicated and more positive idea of power which it presupposes. Freedom is in truth the absence of other men's interference with my exercise of the powers which I have by my nature. I can by my nature walk all over the land, but by the laws of property I am free to walk only over small parts of it. I cannot by my nature walk over the sea, and so the question of being free to walk over the sea does not arise if we use the word 'free' correctly. It does arise, however, if we simplify the word 'freedom' and make it mean merely natural power, as some people do. Then it makes sense to say that I am not free to walk on the sea but I am free to walk on all parts of the land. In this new sense of 'freedom' man is becoming freer and freer in that his powers are increasing. Though he still cannot walk on the sea, he can proceed across it in a vessel at more than twenty knots, and over it in a plane at more than 200 knots. This simplified sense of the word 'freedom', equivalent to the word 'power', could be in itself perfectly useful and good, since we really have powers to talk about. As things are, however, it is bad and to be rejected, for three reasons. First, we already have the word 'power' doing this job and doing it perfectly well; there is no need of a new word. Second, the word 'free' is needed, and very much needed, to do the job it has been doing for centuries (and indeed, for millenniums, if we include its ancestors along with itself), namely to mean the absence of interference by other men or States with my exercise of my natural powers. Third, the new use is bound to be confused from time to time with the old use, and that brings the muddle of people talking about the extension of man's powers as if it were the prevention of one man from interfering with another. This is part of the origin of the sad spectacle, very common in this century, of men making proposals for the increase of our power and wealth in the form of mean invectives against other men, as if it were due to deliberate interference by other men that we are not infinitely wealthy and powerful. In this way freedom from interference comes to be confused with welfare, and welfare comes to be regarded as something we could all command if we were not being interfered with by wicked persons.
A certain fact has inflated this muddle to enormous size, namely the ambiguous status of the laws of economics. Are they laws of nature or laws of man? If they are laws of man they can be abrogated, and that would give us back a freedom in the enduring and proper sense of 'freedom'. But if they are laws of nature they cannot be abrogated, but at best circumvented or used to our advantage; and using them to our advantage would give us more freedom only in the new and improper sense of more power.
The laws of economics are not precisely either laws of nature or laws of man. They are not very like Newton's laws of motion; nor are they very like Napoleon's civil code. They are a middle thing. What sort of thing they are becomes most apparent when we immerse ourselves in social anthropology, the study of human culture. They have that partly intended but mainly unintended, that partly alterable but mainly unalterable, character which belongs to the enduring elements of any culture. Our powers over them are much the same as our powers over language. In any given culture a man must use pretty much the language that reigns in that culture at that time, or else lose greatly in effectiveness. He can be an eccentric speaker or writer; but he pays a price for being so, and even then he buys only a very slight divergence from the norm. As to those who can intentionally alter the reigning language, either by legislation or by example or by some other means, they are extremely rare. Alterations are all the time taking place; but how any given alteration occurs is nearly always unknown, and scarcely ever because someone intended it to occur. That is how the laws of economics are. They are like laws of man in that they arise out of man's activities, and that they do not reign for ever but only at certain times and in certain societies. On the other hand, they are like laws of nature in that they are not deliberately legislated by man, nor enforced by the judges and the police, and cannot be abolished by direct legislation. Sociology is a study to which the opposition between man and nature applies very badly. All the phenomena of society, including the laws of economics, are neither artificial nor natural in the ordinary sense of those words.
So much for the mistake of confusing freedom with power. Another mistake concerning freedom is that, from demanding the removal of all interference with our actions, we sometimes go on to demand the removal of all influence on our actions, and say that a man is not 'really free' if he has been influenced at all by another man's arguments or suggestions or wishes. Thus Queen Wilhelmina in abdicating the throne of the Netherlands declared that she was 'uninfluenced by anyone', presumably for fear that, if she admitted having listened to anybody's advice, it would be said that she had not abdicated of her own free will (The Times, 6 September 1949).
This extension of the meaning of the word 'free' is a mistake. It could never become the accepted meaning of the word, for the simple reason that if it did there would hardly ever be any occasion to use the word, since our actions hardly ever are uninfluenced by what others have done and said. To act 'of one's own free will' is not to act without being in any way influenced by others, but rather to act without being interfered with, that is forced or threatened or commanded. To say that you are not 'really free' unless you are totally uninfluenced is a muddle or a dishonesty, as is usual with the adverb 'really'.
Most muddles about freedom arise from being against certain freedoms and being afraid to say so. People who wish to recommend some large new legal restraint on our exercise of our powers, for perhaps a very good reason, often do not dare to admit that they are recommending a large diminution of freedom for the sake of some other good which they believe to be greater. Because of the strong and often thoughtless approval attached to the notion of freedom, they prefer to muddle our conceptions by declaring that 'true freedom' is not the absence of restraint at all but something quite different. But to muddle our conceptions is always a great pity; and it is needless in this case as in all, because every man can be brought to see, if he is reasonably approached, that there is sometimes good ground for abolishing some particular kind of freedom.
Among the more absurd of the current redefinitions of 'freedom', by people who are afraid to say that they are against certain freedoms, is the Marxist account of it, for which I quote from Professor J. D. Bernal in The Social Function of Science, 1939, pp. 381-2:The freedom of the nineteenth century was a seeming thing. It was an absence of a knowledge of necessity. Its basis lay in social relations through a market. In liberal theory every man should be free to do what he liked with his own, buy or sell, work or idle. In fact he was tied by the iron laws of economics: laws socially produced but taken as laws of nature because they were not understood. In an integrated and conscious society this conception of freedom is bound to be replaced by another -- freedom as the understanding of necessity. Each man will be free in so far as he realizes that he is taking a conscious and determinate part in a common enterprise. This kind of freedom is most difficult for us to understand and appreciate; indeed, it can only be appreciated to the full by living it.
There is nothing essentially difficult about understanding a necessity. For example, each of us understands easily enough that he must necessarily die. But it is difficult to appreciate the Marxist proposal that understanding a necessity shall in future be called 'freedom'. There is no good reason for this complete change in the use of the word. The Marxist makes the word 'free' mean something absolutely new, while pretending that he is explaining what it has meant all along and still means. I am afraid there is no doubt why he does this; it is because he is against freedom in the proper sense of the word but does not want to say so. To be free is in proper language to be not interfered with by other men or the State; but the Communist Party wishes to interfere with us all in a great many ways all the time.
The Marxist account of freedom gains plausibility in the following way. Getting to know about a law of nature or of society sometimes gives us more power than we had before. Thus not until the law of gravity was precisely known, perhaps, could we have built flying machines; and when you learn about anxiety-neuroses perhaps you are better able to avoid having one. In this way, then, the understanding of a necessity may give us more power; and the word 'freedom' is sometimes misused to mean power.
It is worth noting that one correct and important application of this is as follows. The better we understand the necessity which the Communists mean to impose on us, the more power we shall have to prevent them from doing it. Freedom from the Communist tyranny depends on understanding the necessity which the Communists wish to impose on us.
So much for muddles about freedom. The fulfilment of our political needs and ideals does not require any abuse of language. We can and should continue to use the word 'freedom' in politics to mean only the absence of other men's and the State's interference with our exercise of our natural powers.
3.41. The principle of tolerance
Since the State is necessary but diminishes freedom, the question arises whether any good principles can be found to guide us in deciding how far the State should go in infringing individual liberty. John Stuart Mill's great essay On Liberty is an attempt to answer this question, a search for 'a principle by which the propriety or impropriety of government interference' may be tested (p. 72, Everyman).
Government interference may be divided into two great departments, interference with our freedom to do wrong and interference with the rest of our freedom. By 'wrong' here is meant something wrong independently of the State's laws, not just legally wrong in that it has in fact been forbidden by the State. A law against murder is an interference with our freedom to do the moral wrong of murder; but a law establishing income tax is an interference with our freedom to spend our own income in morally innocent ways. Only the last twentieth of Mill's Essay deals with the latter kind of government activity, where he takes an excessively individualistic view, while at the same time wrongly regarding socialism as not involving infringement of liberty (p.164, Everyman). The bulk of the Essay deals with State interference with acts supposed to be wrong in some extralegal way. This is the sphere of tolerance, though Mill does not call it so. Tolerance is non-interference with wrong or harmful activities. It is not mere non-interference. Or, at any rate, the only kind of tolerance that needs to be defended and upheld is non-interference with the harmful. There is no need to argue that we ought not to interfere with the good and the harmless.
To demand toleration for someone is thus not merely to assert that we should leave him free. It is to reassert this, or very nearly this, after someone has interjected 'except to do evil'. To demand toleration is to demand that people shall be left free even to do evil in many cases. When Pravda countered Herbert Morrison's article by saying that 'there is free speech in Russia for everyone except enemies of the people', it betrayed that it does not understand what freedom and tolerance are. To demand toleration is nothing so obvious and selfevident as to demand free speech for friends of the people. It is precisely to demand free speech for enemies of the people.
Part of Mill's principle of toleration is that ' own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant
. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right' (op. cit., p. 73, Everyman). I think Mill meant more than he wrote here. I think he meant that a man's own good is not merely not a sufficient warrant for interfering with him, but no warrant whatever, and does nothing to strengthen any case for interference, so that it ought never to be mentioned in any argument for interference. This, at any rate, is the form in which I myself hold this principle. A State, in other words, should not behave like a school, which compels each child for his own good much more than for the goods of the other children. In a school the child is compelled to learn mathematics for his own sake, and compelled to be peaceable for the sake of the other children. In the State the citizen should be compelled only for the sake of the other citizens, and not at all for his own sake. He may be compelled to avoid tuberculosis, because tuberculous persons are a danger to others; but he may not be compelled to avoid cancer, because this disease is no danger to others. It is wrong to say that 'no man has a right to anything save to that which is really good for him', and that 'the individual is often a very bad judge of his own happiness', if from this you are going to infer that the State is a good judge of the citizen's happiness and has a right to compel him for the sake of it (F. C. Montague, The Limits of Individual Liberty, pp. 183, 189).
It has been thought that Mill's principle fails because it depends on a distinction that cannot be made in practice, the distinction between harmful actions that harm only the agent and those that harm others too. But, even if this distinction never can be rightly made, many authorities do in fact appeal to it, for they claim to be restraining a person 'for his own good'; and Mill's principle says that this is an improper claim in any case. Mill's principle involves that, whether or not it is possible to find actions that harm the agent without harming anyone else, the claim that the action harms the agent is never a good reason for the State to forbid it.
Those who adopt the principle that the State may compel the individual for his own good probably feel it to be selfevident; but no practical principle is selfevident. The great reasons against it are, first, that compulsion is an evil which it takes much good to outweigh, and, second, that it is usually improbable that the State is a better judge of the man's good than he is himself. When you fill out a form of application for a passport, on which you are asked to say what is the purpose or good of your journey, you realize vividly how restricted and blind is the State's conception of possible individual goods. The State is not a god who knows my good better than I do; it is a tyrannical fool who cannot see most of the goods there are.
Another negative principle may be added: the State may not interfere with the individual merely on the ground that his action is morally wrong. That an act is contrary to the moral law is no good reason for suppressing it. Neither the government nor any other body or person has a right to enforce all moral rules all the time. Neither the State nor any church has a right to prevent men from doing what they ought not to do as such. The view that 'the State has a right to punish all moral delinquency' (Montague, op. cit., p. 192) is false; and is probably held only by confusion with the view that the State has a right to compel a man to be moral when by so doing it can prevent great harm to others. What gives the State a right here is the possible harm to others, not the immorality of the act. If all morally wrong acts were legally forbidden by the State, there would be no difference between morality and legality, and the duty to obey the government would be man's only duty, and no one could ever do the right thing in spite of there being no compulsion to do it. That is, no one could ever do right 'of his own free will' as we say.
A third true negative principle is that the State may not forbid acts on the ground that they are contrary to the will of a god. No one has ever produced, or ever will produce, good and reasonable evidence for any statement that the will of some god is so and so. But even if we did know what the will of some god was, we ought not to follow it unless we found that following it lessened human misery; and we ought to determine, whether following it did lessen human misery, by empirical investigation without reference to its being ordained by a god. We ought not to say: 'It is commanded by a god, and therefore it must make people less miserable, no matter what the appearances are.'
Mill intended to offer also a positive principle, embracing all cases where the State may rightly abridge the freedom of an individual to do wrong. He said that all cases where the State may interfere are cases of the 'selfprotection' of mankind, cases of 'preventing harm' to persons other than the agent interfered with, cases of conduct 'calculated to produce evil to someone else' (op. cit., p. 73, Everyman).
Did Mill intend to say the converse also, namely that whenever the individual does harm to others he should be restrained by the State? No, he said that, while 'damage, or probability of damage, to the interests of others, can alone justify the interference of society', it does not always do so (op. cit., p. 150, Everyman). Therefore his principle is not a complete positive guide to State action in this matter. However much we accepted it, we should still have to use other considerations also in deciding when the State should intervene. This incompleteness on the positive side is no doubt correct. Any true principle for the direction of State interference must be incomplete and leave a great deal to be decided by other principles or by judgement. No principle can relieve us from the need for continuous judgement here, because human circumstances alter and because different peoples may properly make different choices.
The best expression of the principle of tolerance seems to be this: we must not suppress the evil behaviour of other men until reasonable examination has made it very probable that trying to suppress the evil would greatly lessen human misery upon the whole. I will enlarge on each phrase of this principle in turn.
'Reasonable examination.' There must be careful and thorough examination, according to the best methods of inquiry and canons of evidence that reason recommends, of the question whether efforts to suppress the evil would in fact greatly lessen human misery. That is practically to say, whether it really is an evil or only seems so to its would-be suppressors. This is a question of natural science, of the prediction of future events; and it is to be determined as reason indicates that questions of predicting the future are to be determined. No person or government has a right to suppress any activity, if it has not taken reasonable care to ascertain that both the activity does cause much human misery, and efforts to suppress it would be successful and greatly lessen human misery on the whole.
'Very probable.' The great goodness of freedom, and the great fallibility of man, demand that the government shall not suppress any freedom until it has ascertained by the methods of reason that it is very probable that the attempt at suppression will greatly lessen human misery.
'Trying to suppress the evil.' For it is essential to take into account the possibility that one's activities of suppression may be ineffective, in which case one would merely have added a second evil to the existing one. It is no good predicting the consequences of the total disappearance of the evil without at the same time predicting to what extent one's proposed measures of suppression are going to succeed. That the suppression of the evil would enormously increase human happiness is perfectly irrelevant, and no ground at all for action, if also the measures proposed will not in fact suppress it.
'On the whole.' What has to be found is the net gain or loss, which depends on all the gains and all the losses; and therefore we must look for every significant result. For example, the act of suppression is itself an evil, since all loss of freedom is an evil; and this evil must be reckoned in the accounts on the debit side, instead of being omitted as it often is by the censorious and the tyrannous. 'On the whole' is a fundamental principle of all practical wisdom, all good judgement about what to do.
'Lessen human misery.' This is the only criterion by which men's freedom to do wrong may be taken away. All suppressions and interferences not justifiable by this criterion are wrong. I have earlier noticed and rejected the two other criteria which are often held to justify intolerance, namely the will of a god and the moral law. They are both wrong and to be abandoned.
The principle is, then, that we must not suppress the evil behaviour of other men unless reasonable examination has made it very probable that our attempts to suppress it will greatly lessen human misery upon the whole. Lawmakers should be tolerant in making laws. Officers should be tolerant in exercising their powers under the laws. Electors should be tolerant in electing. Citizens should be tolerant in talking.
3.42. Free speech
The application of the principle of tolerance to speech and publication is as follows. Many publications are blasphemous; but this gives no one any right to suppress them, for the will of a god is not a proper criterion of what may be suppressed. Many publications are false; but falsehood also is not a proper criterion of what may be suppressed. Many publications are immoral; for example, lying is usually immoral, and many publications are lies. But this by itself gives no one any right to suppress or punish them, for the moral law is not a proper criterion of what may be suppressed. It is a true moral principle that no man has a moral right to publish what he himself believes to be false, and no man has a moral right to publish statements without taking reasonable care to ascertain that they are true. But these true moral principles do not by themselves give any right of suppression or punishment, for nobody has a right to enforce moral laws as such. A government may suppress a publication only if it has ascertained by reasonable methods that its attempt to suppress the publication would probably greatly decrease human misery or prevent its greatly increasing.
Above all, of course, it is essential for a government to tolerate criticism of itself. That criticisms of the government should freely circulate, including those which the government itself thinks to be mere abuse or grossly false or otherwise grossly unfair, is a very great safeguard indeed against those diminutions of human happiness which governments are liable to cause. In democracies the government is usually more tolerant of criticisms of itself than in autocracies; but it is by no means always tolerant enough. If, for example, you read Erskine May's account of the British Parliament's privilege rules, I think you will judge, as I have, that they amount to not tolerating reasonable criticism of the Parliament by the citizens who have to suffer from Parliament's doings. Fortunately, they are rarely applied. But there is nothing in the constitution to prevent their being applied; and the Parliament of 1945-50 contained a number of unusually selfrighteous and touchy politicians who invoked these rules against reasonable criticisms of their doings.
The greatest enemy of free speech in Britain is our laws about libel and slander, or rather the way in which our lawyers interpret whatever laws our Parliament makes about libel and slander. We have a great tenderness for people's reputation; and our lawyers make it very hard for us to publish the errors and shortcomings of living persons here. For this reason some important news about the United Kingdom is to be found only in foreign newspapers, and it is therefore wise to get the habit of reading some foreign newspaper regularly.
This doctrine about free speech is inconsistent with the doctrine expressed in Pope Leo XIII's encyclical letter of 20 June 1888, as translated by John A. Ryan and Francis J. Boland in Catholic Principles of Politics (New York, 1948, p. 174). Leo XIII there declared that public authorities ought diligently to repress the publication of 'lying opinions'. I propose to give reasons for free speech and against the doctrine of Leo XIII.
It is not a good reason for free speech to remark that 'people cannot help what they believe'. They can help publishing what they believe, for they can keep their thoughts to themselves. But, further, they can help what they believe to a large extent; for they can choose whether or not to seek and listen to evidence and argument on both sides of the question, whether or not to try to judge equably on the basis of all available evidence and argument, whether to be reasonable, in short. And their choice in this matter will largely determine what they believe.
There are two great and good reasons for free speech. One of them is simply that freedom is a great good, and any suppression of freedom is consequently an evil. And this is a very great and strong reason though it is short to say.
The other strong reason for free speech is that the toleration of free speech is far more likely to produce a general spread of true opinion than is the suppression of it; and truth and the general spread of truth are very great goods.
One of the premisses of this second argument, however, is disbelieved by many people. They hold that, if all views are allowed to be expressed, false views will be generally adopted and their true contradictories generally rejected. They hold that the false is more easily believed than the true, so that, if a man hears both a proposition and its contradictory freely asserted, he will usually adopt as true that one of the pair which is in fact false. Pope Leo XIII expressed this view in his encyclical already referred to, when he wrote:If unbridled licence of speech and writing be granted to all, nothing will remain sacred and inviolate; even the highest and truest mandates of nature, justly held to be the common and noblest heritage of the human race, will not be spared. Thus, truth being gradually obscured by darkness, pernicious and manifold error, as too often happens, will easily prevail.
In these words the phrase 'mandates of nature' was probably intended to include moral rules; and it is probably a consideration of moral rules that chiefly leads people to adopt this view. They think that, if the contradictory of a moral rule is allowed to be preached as freely as the rule (e.g. 'you may have sexual intercourse with whomever you wish'), most people will adopt the contradictory and not the rule.
To me this proposition seems ridiculous on its face. Leo seems to be saying that a great truth has only to be contradicted by somebody in public to be generally disbelieved, and that seems absurdly improbable. But I shall not leave it at that. I shall develop an argument in favour of my premiss that the toleration of free speech is far more likely to produce a general spread of true opinion than is the suppression of it. My argument is that all men are fallible in their opinions and reasonings as in everything else, and therefore they need to take all available means of lessening the chance of their believing falsehoods, and the strongest means available to this end is to be and remain exposed to free criticism and argument and contradiction from all sides. To paraphrase and slightly weaken a statement by John Stuart Mill, the complete liberty of all men to contradict and disprove my opinion is a necessary condition of my being justified in assuming its truth. People go mad if they live in a world of their own; and governments and popes go mad if they hear no independent voices criticizing them. The habit of rational discussion, of listening to argument and searching for evidence, is of enormous value in increasing the spread of true instead of false opinions; and this habit is starved and discouraged by all intolerance of free speech. If you suppress the contradictions and arguments of others against you, you are not doing all you could to lessen the risk of your being wrong. If you are a governor this is immensely serious to those you govern, and a grave breach of your duty towards them.
This is true even of moral rules, the case where the intolerant have the strongest argument. Moral rules go against the flesh, and the reason for going against strong desires of the flesh is sometimes obscure. The reason for a moral rule is more obvious to the experienced than to the inexperienced. Hence there is a case for saying that moral rules may not be discussed, because the reasons for them cannot yet be properly appreciated by those who need them most.
Yet here, too, the case for intolerance is bad. Every moral rule either has a good reason, or ought to be abandoned as a useless restriction on liberty. A moral rule, like all laws, is a restriction on liberty; and a restriction on liberty is always improper unless it can reasonably be shown to be very probably the cause of a great diminution of human misery. While we should emphatically and solemnly preach to the young such moral rules as we believe to be important, we should also right from the beginning offer them the reason which in our eyes justifies these rules; and there is no good reason except the appeal against man's misery. When moral rules are not allowed to be criticized, bad ones creep in, and good ones are held in a stupid and immoral way. The man who suppresses the contradictors of his moral rules implies that either there is no good reason for his rules or at least he is incapable of giving it. It is unreasonable for a grown person to hold a moral rule for which he can give no good reason. To do so is to be still in the prison of taboo.
It is true that a powerful preacher will sometimes sway people to the side of bad action. But this is done by religious or moralizing persons more often than by others. It is true that sometimes, of a pair of contradictory statements, the false one obtains belief more easily than the true one. But the best precaution we can take against that happening is always to let both sides argue, never to suppress one side. For there is no good reason to believe that, if we suppress one side, we the suppressors are exempt from the human tendency to believe the false, or from the need of contradictors to keep us straight. Every man, however wise, needs all the criticism and argument and opposition he can get to keep him nearer truth than falsehood. As Mill put it in his great chapter on liberty of thought and discussion:Silencing the expression of an opinion is ... robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error (op. cit., p. 79, Everyman).
3.43. All men are fallible
I have based the demand for freedom of speech in part on the reason that freedom of speech is far more likely to produce a general spread of true opinion than is the suppression of any form of speech. And I have based this reason on the further reason that all men are fallible. I propose now to take the matter still another step further back, because many people deny or tend to deny the doctrine that all men are fallible. It is official Papist doctrine that the Pope, when speaking ex cathedra on faith or morals, is infallible; and many who are not Papists also feel that there is something wrong with the doctrine that all men are fallible.
First it is necessary to be clear what the word 'fallible' means. To say that anyone is fallible is simply to say that he sometimes makes a mistake. And to say that he is infallible is to say that, on the contradictory, he never makes a mistake. The notion is applicable not merely to persons, but to anything whatever that can in any sense habitually succeed or fail. For example, one could perfectly well call a cigarette-lighter infallible if it flamed every time one pressed the button, and never failed to flame. And this would be exactly the same sense of the word as when a Papist says that the Pope speaking ex cathedra on faith or morals is infallible.
Thus the notion of infallibility contains the notion of all or always or every time, and that of fallibility contains the notion of not all or not always or only sometimes. This involves that it makes nonsense to talk of infallibility or its contradictory in a context where no question of always arises. It is sense to say that the Pope speaking ex cathedra is infallible, but nonsense to say that when the Pope spoke at a certain moment he was infallible. It is sense to say that your lighter flames infallibly, but nonsense to say that it flamed infallibly when you used it just now. The words 'fallible' and 'infallible' have no application to particular cases and events. They apply only to a general class of cases or events. The Pope's utterances ex cathedra can in general be fallible or infallible; but one of them in particular cannot be either fallible or infallible; it can only be true or false. Anyone who calls some particular statement infallible is either talking nonsense or saying in an improper way that it is true.
Given that this statement made by this speaker is false, it follows that this speaker is fallible. But, given that this statement made by this speaker is true, nothing follows about whether this speaker is fallible or infallible. Given that a speaker is fallible, nothing follows about the truth or falsehood of any particular statement he makes. But, given that a speaker is infallible, it follows that any statement he makes is true. An infallible person would therefore never be required to give any reason or evidence for his statements. Or, rather, he would be able to give one and the same final reply to every challenge, no matter which of his statements he was challenged about. To the question How do you know that?, no matter which of his statements it referred to, he could always reply with truth and finality: 'It must be true because I say it and I am infallible.'
Thus to say that all men are fallible is to say that every man without exception makes at least one mistake in his life, and no man ever has gone or will go through his whole life without making a single mistake. And this is the proposition I wish to recommend now.
To say, or to deny, that all men are fallible, is to make an assertion about the course of events. The only justification for assertions about the course of events is experience. Direct or indirect experience, and experience extended or not extended by generalization and deduction; but in any case experience. Therefore this question whether all men are fallible is to be settled by nothing else but our experience of men.
I believe that all men are fallible on the ground of my experience. It seems to me an overwhelmingly probable induction from every day of my life. Every man with whom I have conversed for an hour or more has in my opinion evinced at least one error in that period. Every statement that I have read amounting to ten or more pages has appeared to me to contain at least one falsehood, if I was capable of judging it. My own past life, when I look back on it, appears to me full of mistaken opinions. Are you acquainted with any man who has in your opinion never made a mistake?
Ought I to go from the premiss, that all men I have met are fallible, to the conclusion that all men whatever are fallible? It seems to me that I ought, again on the ground of experience. The experience I have gathered of the general nature of man makes it immensely probable that all men will frequently entertain false opinions and utter false statements. That is, the fallibility which I have observed in all of my acquaintances and in myself seems clearly to depend on universal features of human nature. It depends in particular on the capacity of human language to make assertions about any matters whatever, whether we know anything about those matters or not, together with our frequent desire and need to know or believe propositions about all kinds of things, while at the same time our opportunities for really experiencing most things are extremely limited. Descartes was feeling for this when he explained human error as due to man's combining an infinite capacity to will with a finite capacity to judge. What he took for an infinite capacity to will is the capacity to construct a huge number of statements, which is inherent in human language owing to its huge and always extending vocabulary. The beasts, though also fallible, make far fewer mistakes than we do because they say far less.
Some persons tend to believe that the question whether all men are fallible is to be answered, not by experience and generalization, but by arguments from the Bible or some other book. A learned Papist once suggested to me that the infallibility of the Pope can perhaps be inferred from Matt. xxviii. 20 and Luke x. 16. But the question whether any man is infallible is not to be answered by pointing out that some book says that some man is infallible. For all books, including the Bible, are utterances by men; and our experience of men teaches us that their books, like their spoken words, are fallible. And therefore, if any book contains a sentence asserting that a certain man is infallible, it is extremely probable that the book shows its own fallibility by being false in this instance. The only respect in which the Bible is good evidence on the question whether all men are fallible is that, by the falsehoods which it contains, it enforces the generalization that all men are fallible. It would be just as unreasonable to believe that the Pope was infallible ex cathedra because the Bible said so (if it did) as it would be to believe that all men had blue eyes because the Bible said so (if it did). The statement that all men have blue eyes is disproved by looking at men until you see one whose eyes are not blue; and that is the end of that, no matter what any book may say. Similarly, the statement that the Pope's utterances ex cathedra are infallible is disproved by reading them until you come to one that is false; and that is the end of that, no matter what any book may say. In each case it is a question only of looking to see what happens.
'But', it is sometimes argued, 'the Bible and the Pope ex cathedra are not human utterances; they are utterances by God, and therefore infallible.' This is an assertion about what happens. Therefore the proper way to decide whether to accept or reject it is to appeal to experience. Experience overwhelmingly indicates that it is false and is to be rejected. We find the Bible and the Pope's pronouncements written or printed on ordinary human paper in ordinary human ways. We can observe a new papal pronouncement ex cathedra being composed with pen and paper by men in the Vatican. That they are fallible documents is abundantly shown by the falsehoods and horrors which they contain. Example of falsehood: Joshua made the sun stand still. Example of horror: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. It is grossly bad judgement to claim for any document that it is true in every sentence because it is inspired by someone infallible.
The most serious and respectable objection to the doctrine that all men are fallible is the uneasy feeling that somehow or other this statement refutes itself. But it does not refute itself; and I will now try to remove the feeling that it does from the minds of any of you in which it may exist.
The most obvious kind of selfrefutation is selfcontradiction. To contradict oneself is to say and deny the same thing, or to entail one's own denial. Now 'all men are fallible' does not do this. It is not a selfcontradictory statement like 'all men have blue eyes but some do not', or like 'a father is not a parent'. It is a selfconsistent statement. It presents a possibility which, as far as logic tells us, could actually be realized in the world. Thus it is not selfrefuting in the obvious sense of selfcontradictory.
But there is another kind of selfrefutation besides selfcontradiction. If a man opens his mouth and says 'I am not speaking now', he makes a selfconsistent but false statement. The peculiarity of it is that the fact, to which one appeals to show that the statement is false, is the utterance of the statement itself. Precisely by uttering the statement he produces the state of affairs in virtue of which the statement is false. (Similarly, if a man says 'I am speaking now', he makes his statement true by uttering it.)
The statement that 'all men are fallible' is not selfrefuting in this way either, for you do not by uttering it produce an infallible man. (It would be remarkably convenient if you could make yourself infallible by declaring that 'all men are fallible'.)
These are the only two ways in which a statement can refute itself, so far as I can see. Either it contradicts itself, or by its utterance it provides a negative instance which disproves itself. Since 'all men are fallible' does neither of these, it is not selfrefuting.
In addition to selfrefutation there is perhaps such a thing as selfstultification. The statement that 'what I say is never worth saying' neither contradicts nor otherwise refutes itself; but it appears to stultify itself. A statement stultifies itself, we may define, if it entails that to assert it would be silly.
The statement that 'all men are fallible' does not stultify itself. On the contrary, if it is true it is very important, and a wise man will assert it from time to time.
I fear that, in spite of these explanations, the uneasy feeling may remain with some of you that the statement that 'all men are fallible' does after all somehow do away with itself. If that is so, I ask you to write down at your leisure exactly how it does this, and then to look for a flaw in what you have written. I think you will probably find a flaw; but, if you do not, bring it to me and I will try to find a flaw in it.
I will give now two examples of finding a flaw in such attempts. People sometimes say that 'those who argue against infallible authority claim infallibility for themselves'. The flaw here is that this is simply false. We do not claim infallibility for ourselves. Every man who utters a statement thereby implicitly claims that that statement is true. But he does not thereby claim that all the statements he ever utters are true. That is, he does not claim that he is infallible. Whenever a man makes a sincere statement he thinks it true; but no sensible man has ever thought that all the statements he had ever uttered or would ever utter were true. The statement that 'all men are fallible' is the same in this respect as the statement that 'all men are mortal'. The speaker of either of them claims to be telling a truth but does not claim to be infallible. Every statement equally claims truth for itself, and every statement equally refrains from claiming that its utterer is infallible.
This is a mistake that has been made by the assailants of infallibility as well as by its defenders. Mill wrote that 'all silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility' (op. cit., p. 79, Everyman). This, I regret to have to admit, is false. To silence a discussion is not to assume that one is infallible. The editor who declares that 'this correspondence must now cease', the chairman who forbids the raising of a certain topic, the headmaster who forbids the boys to debate birthcontrol, are none of them assuming themselves infallible. They are merely assuming themselves to be right in thinking that they ought to silence this particular discussion now. Silencing a discussion is an act of government. Are we to say that all acts of government assume the infallibility of the governor, or that only this special kind of act of government assumes the infallibility of the governor? Both are obviously false, but Mill's sentence implies that one of them is true. However, it is only Mill's expression that is wrong here. What he had in mind was the truth that only a belief in his own infallibility could morally justify a governor in permanently forbidding adult persons to express a certain view (cf. p. 85). But he failed to say clearly that it is a matter of moral justification, not of logical assumption.
Here is a second example of finding a flaw in an attempt to show that the doctrine that all men are fallible disposes of itself. People sometimes think that the proposition that 'we are fallible' entails its own contradictory in the following way: 'Assume that we are fallible; it follows that we may be wrong in saying that we are fallible; and from this in turn it follows that we are infallible.'
The flaw here is that it is false that the second consequence follows. From 'we may be wrong in saying that we are fallible' it does not follow that 'we are infallible'. 'Are' never follows from 'may be'. From possibilities alone one cannot rightly conclude to facts. We may call this fallacy the illicit process from possibility to actuality.
These two examples must suffice to illustrate the endless task of pointing out the flaw in fallacious arguments against the doctrine that all men are fallible. With them I conclude my recommendation of this doctrine, which is one of the premisses for one of my arguments for free speech. But I want before leaving the topic to warn you against a certain misuse of this doctrine, a misuse which was perhaps committed by Oliver Cromwell on a famous occasion. In his letter of 3 August 1650 to the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland, Cromwell wrote: 'I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.' What was his purpose in thus reminding his opponents of the fallibility of man? One good reason for doing this is to persuade your adversary not to suppress the publication of views opposed to his own; and that Cromwell had this purpose in mind is suggested by his mentioning, elsewhere in the letter, that the Kirk had been suppressing his papers whereas he had been publishing the Kirk's letters to him. On the other hand, the letter never unequivocally says that this is the purpose of the famous reminder; and some parts of it suggest that he was using it in another way, namely to insinuate that 'since you may be wrong, you are wrong and I am right'. One part of it implies that he knows he is right because he feels the grace of God upon him, and that way of thinking seems more typical of the man. Anyhow, the argument that 'since you may be wrong, you are wrong and I am right', whether or not Cromwell was guilty of it, is utterly fallacious and a damnable misuse of the doctrine of human fallibility. It is another case of the illicit process from the 'may be' to the 'are'. The undoubted fact that you may be wrong is an excellent reason for your allowing free speech to your opponents. But it is no reason for them to claim that you are wrong; for, from the truth that all men are fallible, nothing follows about who is in the right in any particular controversy. It would be better to say: 'I beseech Christ to make me think it possible that I am mistaken.' The fallibility principle should make us not merely patient of criticism, but eager for it.
This fallacy is often committed by lawyers crossexamining witnesses. 'But you could be mistaken, could you not?', they ask. Of course he could be mistaken, because he is fallible; but it does not follow that he is mistaken. It is a hard question to reply to. If you say 'No, I could not be mistaken', you appear to claim infallibility. But if you say 'Yes, I could be', you appear to withdraw your statement, or at least some of the force of it. Perhaps the best reply is 'One always can be mistaken, but one sometimes is not', or simply 'I could be, but I'm not'.
This completes my defence of my principle for the toleration of publication, against Leo XIII's position that authorities ought diligently to repress the publication of 'lying opinions'. Now that I have given the positive arguments for my principle, which are independent of any errors Leo XIII may have made in the statement of his view, I may remark that his letter makes his position more attractive by means of three confusions which are not detected by most of its readers. It confuses what is false with what the public authority thinks false, tacitly assuming that the public authority is infallibly right about what is false. It also confuses falsehood with lying, tacitly assuming that whoever utters a falsehood knows that it is a falsehood and so is guilty of the moral wrong of lying. And thirdly it confuses the true moral law, that men ought not to lie, with the false moral law, that public authorities ought to prevent men from lying.
3.44. The limits of tolerance
There are limits to tolerance; and this is implied by the principle of tolerance as I have formulated it. We may interfere with an evil where we have good reason to believe that our interference will greatly lessen human misery on the whole. I wish to point out certain departments in which the limits of tolerance come sooner than liberals have been inclined to think.
In the first place, a man's official position may diminish his right to free publication. For example, a teacher in a public institution has less right to publish his thoughts than a man who lives by mining. For it may be the case that the utterance of a certain opinion by a miner does not greatly increase human misery, but the utterance of the same opinion by a teacher does so. Perhaps it can be shown that a teacher who preaches suicide, or one who preaches communism, is probably greatly increasing human misery. If so, we are justified in depriving him of that job. But it is unlikely that it can be shown that a miner who preaches either of these things is doing much harm.
In the second place, the tolerance that should be extended to bad religions is a good deal less than is often claimed nowadays. While every religion should have freedom to publish and to preach, religion gives no right to disobey the ordinary civil laws made for the good of the people in this life. It gives no right to avoid military service, though a government is often wise to grant exemption from military service as a grace. A pastor's need to conduct a religious ceremony gives him no right to break a law that rations petrol or limits speed on the highway. Murder is still murder if someone holds a religion of human sacrifice. No civil crime becomes legal by being done out of religious beliefs or sentiments. Whatsoever is illegal in the commonwealth must be forbidden in the church. All religious practice must yield to, and be overruled by, the need to lessen the misery of man on earth, wherever there can reasonably be shown to be a conflict between the two. It is therefore too strong to say, as Locke did in his letter on toleration, that 'no man whatever ought ... to be deprived of his terrestrial enjoyments upon account of his religion'. A man's religion has led him to kill prostitutes before now; and a man who kills prostitutes ought to be deprived of some or all of his terrestrial enjoyments.
Still less does religion confer any right to make and enforce special laws incumbent on the whole population regardless of its religion. Locke wrote truly that 'whatsoever is lawful in the commonwealth cannot be prohibited by the magistrate in the church'. The religion of the English Nonconformists gives them no right to force the Sunday Observance Law upon the people; and the existence of this law is a gross tyranny. Of the freedoms which religion should not have, the most fundamental is that it should not have the freedom to control those who do not wish to obey it. That is, it should have no legal force; and no law should be made or unmade for the sake of any religion. In practice, unfortunately, it is often easy for a religious group to take away other persons' freedom merely by saying that this freedom is 'offensive to their religious feelings'. As Max Beerbohm has put it, 'the Nonconformist conscience makes cowards of us all'. Nothing ought to be made illegal because it is a sin (sin being a religious notion), but only because it is injurious to the earthly life of man. Nothing ought to be punished because it is a sin, but only because it is illegal, that is, a contravention of the existing law of the land. For example, the following ought not to be a law in any State: 'He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed' (Exod. xxii. 20).
The most important limit to toleration is the limit to be placed on the freedom of those who wish to take away freedom. A government may interfere when reasonable examination of the evidence has made it very probable that the interference would greatly diminish human misery; and one kind of harm which may justify such an interference with someone's liberty is that harm which tends to overthrow the general reign of liberty. We may interfere with the liberty of persons who are likely to interfere with everyone's liberty. As Dr. Popper has well said, we have the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should tolerate even them whenever we can do so without running a great risk; but the risk may become so great that we cannot allow ourselves the luxury.
The most essential thing not to tolerate is any move that is very likely to give power to uncriticizable and irremovable governors. At the present time this means mainly the Communists, a body of thoroughly intolerant and very active persons, whose fellows are already in tyrannical control of about a third of the human race. Since they are thoroughly intolerant, we have a good right not to tolerate them. For the sake of freedom we do tolerate them a great deal; but we should watch them always, and suppress them whenever reasonable examination makes it very probable that their activities threaten to end the reign of tolerance altogether, and that our suppression would stop this threat. Fortunately, we are well aware of this threat.
There is another great threat to freedom of which we are not well aware. The second most intolerant and active body in the world today is the Papist Church. It is the policy of this Church, long fixed and declared, that 'no State is justified in supporting error or in according to error the same recognition as to truth' (p. 314), and that 'the fact that the individual may in good faith think that his false religion is true gives
no right to propagate it' (p. 318), and that a Papist State 'could not permit to carry on general propaganda' (p. 320). Those are quotations from an official Papist book on politics, namely Catholic Principles of Politics, by John A. Ryan and Francis J. Boland, New York, 1948.
The danger of the Papist Church is not generally realized in England today. This is partly because the Communist Party is a greater danger, and the Papists are against the Communists. Partly also it is because most Papists do not know the political doctrines of their own Church. But mainly it is due to a third cause. It often happens that a body, which is fundamentally intolerant, turns tolerant while it is a minority among a tolerant majority. That is notably the case with the Papists in England now. They are tolerant men. But the doctrine of their Church is fundamentally and irretrievably intolerant; and whenever it comes into power in a particular place it turns intolerant in fact. The more liberal members, who often hold the higher places while the Church is a minority among a liberal majority, are now gradually replaced by illiberal leaders in greater harmony with the essential philosophy of the body. Hence the need to restrict the influence of Papists in England now is greater than it appears from the tolerant nature of the Papists with whom we are acquainted. Those are not the men who would be in power if the Church were in power. Englishmen have in the last 150 years gradually abolished their former safeguards against Papist control until there are almost none left, and no evil results have yet appeared, and so we are confident that all is well. But meanwhile the power, size, and prestige, of this body in the country have been steadily increasing, and its ancient principles of intolerance have been affirmed more explicitly than before. There are rocks ahead that must be seen to be avoided.
We have the right to see that neither of these intolerant bodies gets much influence in the government, or in any other powerful body, such as a trade union; and we ought to do so. We ought sometimes to see that individual members of these intolerant bodies are kept out of influential professions like the foreign service, the civil service, and the service of the elementary public schools. I do not say that you should never recommend a Papist for a post in the civil service; but I do say that you are to consider carefully that he is a member of a body which is always thoroughly intolerant when it has the power to be so, that he probably does not know himself how intolerant his church is, and that his presence in the civil service must tend to increase the influence of his church. I do say that you are to disregard all accusations that you are intolerant, or that you are persecuting religious minorities, or that you are unjust to an innocent man, in considering his religion; for your intolerance is only being intolerant of intolerant bodies; but the intolerance of his church is unlimited; and it is far more important that men in general should be shielded from that, than that this individual should be shielded from all disabilities arising out of his unfortunate allegiance.
Third on the list of dangerous intolerant bodies in England today come the trade unions. Their intentions are much less bad than those of either the Communist Party or the Papist Church; but their legal powers are much greater and much too great. The policy, to which they tend, that a man may not practice a trade without belonging to a union, is a great interference with freedom, and is protected by extraordinary legal exemption from accountability to the courts. Trade unions can break promises with impunity; and they can force a man to change his way of living with near impunity.
The principle of intolerance does not, however, indicate any denial of free publication to the intolerant. They should be allowed to publish their views as much as they please; and our defence against that should only be to publish our replies, never to suppress their publications. If we did otherwise we should offend against the principle that the free publication of all opinions is far more conducive to the general reign of truth than any suppression of any opinion whatever. If we judge that the voice of the intolerant is being heard too much and the voice of the tolerant too little, the right way to redress the balance is always to increase the voice of the tolerant. Government force and money may not be used to stifle the voice of the intolerant, but they may be used to increase the voice of the tolerant; and it is a pity that such use is sometimes condemned as 'propaganda'. It is not propaganda in the sense of lying libel, such as telling unproved stories of rape and murder about the enemy. It is propaganda only in the neutral sense in which all practical speech is propaganda, including these lectures of mine.
Censorship is not one of the legitimate forms of intolerance. That is, the government should not require proposed publications to be submitted beforehand to a censor for approval. By so doing it would prevent that clash of opinions from which truth is most likely to emerge. Freedom of expression should be absolute both in politics and in religion. Everyone should be allowed to express every opinion about gods and morality and ritual and man, whether blasphemous or pious, immoral or moral. Free speech in religion includes the freedom to preach and proselytize and try to make converts, which is denied to Protestants at the present time in Spain. It is a sad thing that one of our great defenders of toleration, John Locke, believed that atheism was not to be tolerated. It is a sad thing that atheists in U.S.A. and U.K. are still under serious disabilities in fact, though not I think by law. That is, the frank atheists are. But, in view of this intolerant attitude, there are probably many who conceal their atheism. As Disraeli made his characters say, 'Sensible men are all of the same religion'. 'And, pray, what is that?' 'Sensible men never tell.' There ought to be complete liberty of conscience, in the sense that anyone may say what he thinks true about gods and the moral law, as opposed to what any authority thinks true about them; and Leo XIII was grossly distorting this when he wrote that the only true liberty of conscience is liberty to follow the will of God. 'The moral decisions of others should be treated with respect, as long as such decisions do not conflict with the principle of tolerance' (K. R. Popper, The Open Society, U.S. ed., p. 508).
Some people give the name 'censorship' to all action whatever in restraint or punishment of publication. But that is a misuse of the word. A censor is an officer who examines each proposed publication because no publication may be made without his permission. In England now there are censors for the performance of plays and the showing of films, but not for the publication of books or periodicals or newspapers. It is not censorship if a publication is prosecuted after it has been made; and it can be prosecuted for other crimes besides not having obtained permission from an official censor. Nor is it censorship if some unofficial body declines to handle a publication because of its contents. It is not censorship if W. H. Smith & Son refuse to distribute the New York Times in this country. To condemn censorship is not to condemn all prosecutions for libel, nor is it to say that a newsagent is obliged to handle all publications however much he thereby exposes himself to prosecution for libel. Some libel law is certainly desirable. It is not good that an honest man should have no redress if a newspaper publicly calls him a 'hired liar'.
If any further restraint on newspapers were required, beyond the existing law of libel, it would not be to prevent them from publishing certain things, but to compel them to publish certain things. For instance, their constant refusal to publish the bad acts of newspapers is a serious harm to the community. I do not see, however, that any law could remedy it. A government office to decide what newspapers must publish would inevitably be staffed by men of bad judgement, and would do much more harm than good. All that a government can do in this respect is, apparently, to allow and encourage private enterprise in the publication of newspapers, in the hope that sometimes one newspaper will make known the wickednesses of another.
3.5 PEACE AND JUSTICE3.51. The uses of government
So far in this survey of political goods the State and its government have not appeared advantageously. I have found that the State is not to be taken as itself a great good, that the good kind of equality is a personal rather than a political matter, and that freedom is to be obtained in spite of the government rather than through it.
Are there then no acceptable political goods that are secured primarily through the government? There must be; or else the right political philosophy is anarchism, the view that government is undesirable and should be abolished. This brings us to the questions: What are governments for? What is the use of them? Why have them at all, in view of their manifold disadvantages and unpleasantnesses? Why is anarchism wrong?
A great many ends have been put forward as being what States are for. I have said earlier in these lectures that one of the purposes of a State may be to preserve a culture. Here is a list taken from a sentence by Acton: liberty, happiness, prosperity, power, the preservation of an historic inheritance, the adaptation of national law to national character, the progress of enlightenment, the promotion of virtue (Fasnacht, Acton's Political Philosophy, p. 89). This covers most of the obvious candidates; but it omits the God-State, for the State has often been regarded as its own end. And here are a few answers that have been given to the question what governments are for. Locke wrote that 'the great and chief end of men's uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property', and in property he included 'their lives, liberties, and estates' (Second Treatise of Civil Government, c. ix, §§ 123-4). Hume wrote that 'the principal object of government is to constrain men to observe the laws of nature' (Treatise, 3.2.8). Mill wrote that 'the most important point of excellence which any form of government can possess is to promote the virtue and intelligence of the people themselves' (Representative Government, c. ii). The constitution of Alabama states, or stated, that 'the sole and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citizen in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property, and when the Government assumes other functions it is usurpation and oppression' (according to Lecky, Democracy and Liberty, i. 118). Lecky himself wrote that 'a Government can have no higher object than to raise the standard of national health' (i. 324). The word 'protection' covers two very different things; for the protection of a man against other men is very different from the protection of him against all the natural dangers to which he is subject. But even without this distinction there is plenty of variety in these statements.
This question what States and governments are for -- is it a question of fact or a question of choice? It is not merely a question of fact, to be discussed like what is at the bottom of the sea. For governments are to some extent under our control, for us to do with them what we want. Our choice enters in, as in all questions of purpose and practice and goodness. On the other hand, it is partly a question of fact; for we need to know what things government can do and what things it cannot do, and what are the side consequences of the things it can do, in order to choose wisely what we will make it do. So our question can be put more precisely thus: What things can the government do, and, among all the things it can do, which do we wish it to do?
There is more than one right answer to each part of the question. As to the question of fact, What can a government do?, the powers of government differ in different times and places. Where telephones exist, for example, the government can do more than where they do not exist. And as to the question of choice, there is no reason why every wise nation must always make the same choice of what its government is to do, on pain of ceasing to be wise and becoming foolish. Many different choices might be equally wise, just as there are many different ways of earning his living that a person may choose without being a fool. It follows that no doctrine is acceptable which declares that 'the purpose of government is so and so', assigning one and only one right purpose to all governments at all times.
Should the State promote virtue and intelligence? Certainly if it can. We cannot believe that the successful promotion of virtue and intelligence would be accompanied by side consequences that cancelled all the advantage. But can it? Not directly, because virtue and intelligence are essentially qualities of the independent man. The attempt to produce them directly produces instead at best a good breed of sheep; and this fact condemns much of the schoolmasterish politics of Plato and Aristotle. In the sentence I have quoted from Mill he writes of virtue and intelligence being promoted, not precisely by the State as such, but by the form of the State's constitution. He means that some constitutions by themselves have a much stronger tendency than others to promote these qualities in the citizens; and he is right. We have had recently, in Nazi and Communist governments, good opportunities to see how grossly those constitutions degrade the virtue of the citizens.
Besides the form of its constitution, the State has at least one other means of seeing to the virtue and intelligence of its citizens. That is to require all to be educated, and to provide education for those who cannot or will not buy it. I should say that the richer States have this means at their disposal; universal education is, however, so expensive that probably only industrial countries can afford it.
Attempts to increase the virtue and intelligence of the citizens by censorship, or by legal penalties for moral crimes as such, or by religious laws, have the opposite result. Religious faith being not a virtue but a vice, the State should not try to encourage it.
No doubt a State should do something to preserve and promote a good culture among its citizens. But it is hard to feel confidence in saying what in particular it should do. Questions of more than one language among the citizens of a single State are usually very difficult. Canada allowed French as well as English, but the United States insisted on English. You will not care to say that one is definitely the better thing to do. Every disappearance of a language is at least a sentimental loss; but every barrier to communication is a very great utilitarian loss. We sometimes find that those who insist on the preservation of a language are not supported by the majority of those who speak it. In Ireland, for example, the English-speaking teachers and politicians of Dublin insist on the preservation of Erse, and this makes the Erse-speakers in the west complain that they are being deprived of the opportunity to learn the English which they need.
If there are useful and desired enterprises which cannot be performed except by concerted action of the whole town or people, and can be carried through by concerted action without the benefits being obliterated by the drawbacks, government should undertake them. Government should undertake such large enterprises as most members want done but cannot do individually or in private groups. Nearly everybody agrees that there are such enterprises. The most obvious of them are defence against attacking States, and the provision of roads.
There are also enterprises which can be done either by the government or by private groups. Thus at the present time the telephone service is provided by private groups in the U.S. but by the government in the U.K. Which of these enterprises the government should take over is an endless question of detail. The form of the question is always the same, namely, which will run it more conveniently, the government or private enterprise; but there is certainly not the same right answer for all enterprises at all times and places. For different governments at different times the right answer must vary, according to the varying wishes of the people, state of engineering, state of foreign politics, and many other factors. The extreme negative view, that the government should attempt no common enterprise at all, is certainly wrong almost everywhere if not everywhere. It is possible to obtain very great material advantages by concerted action under the government, and that without serious risk of increasing the evil side of government. The extreme positive view, according to which nearly everything is better achieved by government and nothing should be left to private enterprise, is also certainly wrong. For example, the concentration of all literature and journalism in the hands of the State, as practised in Russia now, is very harmful to truth and freedom and beauty and political sagacity. Government planning is not the complete and only way to the good life; a certain kind of independence and self help in the citizens is always necessary. Indeed, as Dr. Popper has well put it, the attempt to produce heaven on earth by government action invariably produces hell.
In Britain in the mid twentieth century there is much harmful ignorance of the side consequences of socialism, to use the word 'socialism' as a name for the situation where an enterprise that could be managed privately is being managed by the State. A dangerously large proportion of the people are quite unaware how helpless the individual is when the State is the only purveyor of a commodity, and do not see that to give the State a new function is usually to give more power over yourself to civil servants and city councillors and tax-gatherers and town-planners and other suspect persons. Many a man's thought on the matter is limited to the reflection that he can probably get higher wages out of the State than out of a private employer. In the present situation we can say that there must be very good reasons indeed to allow government action in any sphere in which it is new. Government activity in Britain now should be reduced, not increased.
What about the view that it is a function of the State to preserve a man's property? We find today both the old Lockean view that this is, indeed, the main or even sole function of the State, and the opposite view that property is theft. Tawney's book, The Acquisitive Society, in its indignation against landlords and shareholders, tends to suggest that all ownership requires a special justification, that thrift is not respectable and theft not condemnable, that you ought to be forbidden to make provision for your own old age or your children's helpless youth, and that as soon as you cannot work you may not eat except by grace of the State. To own no property is to be completely dependent on the State or some employer for living another month. That is a very bad position to be in. It is highly desirable that we should all be owners, enjoying the responsibilities and satisfactions and independences that ownership gives. What most Englishmen need now is not more doles from the State, such as cheaper rents in council houses, but more encouragement to be thrifty and save instead of buying television. About a third of the employees of the John Lewis Partnership immediately spend any shares they receive in the company. I believe, with regret, that that is typical of us British today. It is certainly not to be changed by Tawney's description of interest on savings as 'income unaccompanied by personal service'. Such language discourages all persons who, starting with no property, work hard and think of saving some of their income as they get it.
The State should encourage the citizen to own property. This makes it desirable to put as few difficulties and restrictions on to the small owner as possible, and to encourage saving. The greatest present discouragements of saving and ownership are inflation and the threat of confiscation. The former takes savings away gradually; the latter threatens to take them in a moment. The State can do much to lessen inflation and remove the threat of confiscation. That means that each of us should be prepared to forgo some present enjoyments for those ends, and instruct our politicians accordingly.
3.53. The prime ends of government
We cannot truly mention any end as being the one right purpose of government, but we can mention an end which is the primary and fundamental purpose of governments, both in fact and in right, namely peace. That peace is and ought to be the fundamental purpose of all governments is often forgotten, but never, I think, denied or disbelieved. It is often forgotten, nowadays, because it is nearly always achieved. There is an enormous preponderance of peace within the area controlled by each contemporary occidental government. Laws regulating and controlling the intercourse and transactions of all persons within the territory are made and known and nearly universally obeyed. Stealing and killing and private wars are reduced to very small proportions. So great is the measure of success achieved that many people do not realize that there was anything to achieve. They never contrast our peace and order and security with the conditions of disorder and banditry and feudalism and perpetual private war that still exist in some parts of the world, that have existed here at some former times, and that may exist here again if enough of us fail to realize what keeps them away. So little are the goodness and the precariousness of peace realized today that most people when they hear the word think not of peace in the primary sense, peace within the territory controlled by the State, 'the Queen's Peace', but of peace between one State and another, of the international area in which peace properly speaking has never yet existed, because there has never yet been an authority successfully enforcing a law. Yet all men are agreed, if they think of it, that the primary purpose of the State is the Queen's Peace, that is, that men do not assault or kill or force or bully each other, that it is possible to save and own goods without having them stolen. The primary purpose of the State's government over men is peace between men; and the primary purpose of a world-State over States, if there were one, would be peace between States. States secure peace by promulgating detailed laws (for example, what precisely constitutes assault), by providing officers for catching and trying apparent offenders against these laws, and by providing officers to punish convicted offenders; in other words, by providing legislators, policemen, judges, and jailers.
It is quite superfluous to give arguments that peace is a great good. But it is not quite superfluous today to remind ourselves that a State is doing a great deal if it only secures peace, and that it is easy for internal peace to disappear from an area, and that a revolution usually involves the disappearance of peace from the country for a time, giving freedom to most impulses towards theft or cruelty or murder or rape, as well as often causing famine by breaking down the means of production or distribution.
If there is an end of the State that comes directly after peace, and takes the second place, I think it is justice. But I am not confident what justice is, or how it is related to peace, to law, to rights, and to equality. I think that probably the word is used in several senses, closely related but different, and that most of these senses are closely connected with the notions of law or of rights or both.
I think that 'justice' means sometimes the maintenance of the Queen's peace, the going concern of judges examining accusations and the rest of it, the machinery, or the personnel, by which the peace is preserved; and that this is why certain judges are called 'justices of the peace'. Or else it means this machinery in so far as it works correctly, that is, punishes the true offenders and does not punish any innocents. And in this sense justice is obviously good. It is true that we often find the whole judicial system condemned. We find it said that the judges are the only criminals, that truth does not look like truth in a court of law, and so on. But such statements can be accepted only as complaints against the actual administration of justice. We cannot believe that all possible judicial systems are worse than having no machinery at all to enforce peace. Jesus was wrong if by his 'Judge not!' he meant 'Have no courts of law!'
There is probably a second sense, in which we detach the notion of justice from that of peace in particular and attach it to the rule of law in general. Justice is that there should be law, and that it should be impartially and universally applied to all who fall under it; or it is the business of so applying the law which in fact rules. In this sense also justice is a great good. The rule of law is far better than the rule of a man or the absence of all rule.
Yet we can say that the law is unjust. That is because beyond the legal law there is the moral law or the natural law, and we sometimes appeal against the former to the latter. Justice now becomes the rule of the ideal law instead of the actual law. In demanding justice in this sense we are demanding morality and the right in politics and social relations, the opposite of Machiavellism. To demand justice in politics, in this sense, is to demand that men shall not forget their moral principles when they go into politics, that politicians and governments and States shall act within the moral law, that men shall not say that morality is for private matters only and has no application to affairs of State, just as they are not to say that in business we may break rules that we should keep among our friends. It is to demand that everyone's natural rights shall be recognized and preserved.
This use of the word 'justice' indicates the moralist's attitude towards politics. People apply it to political matters if they are moralists in politics. Godwin's Enquiry concerning Political Justice is so called because he believes in 'the propriety of applying moral justice as a criterion in the investigation of political truth' (II ii). Plato makes justice the greatest virtue of the city for the same reason; and in so doing he is demanding the disappearance of the brutal, non-moral sort of political activity described by Thucydides.
It is evident that justice is a great good in this sense too. That there is sometimes a moral right and a wrong in politics, as well as in personal matters, is a statement that very few of us doubt; and nearly all of us demand that this right shall be pursued and this wrong avoided; and the few who deny this are definitely our enemies and to be overcome by force if necessary. We shall often leave the Machiavellian alone, because we decide that he is not very harmful or he is only play-acting; but we shall always consider that we have the right to use force against him.
On the other hand, it is also evident, unfortunately, that we are by no means clear or agreed as to which things are right and wrong in politics. Plato thought aristocracy to be just and democracy unjust; others think the reverse. Some think it just that business enterprises should pay interest to shareholders, and others think it unjust. Some think that when food is scarce it should be equally distributed among the population; but others think that a larger share should be given to the old, or to the young, or to the soldiers, or to the miners. And throughout a thousand spheres such disagreements constantly arise. We are nearly all agreed that justice should be done; but usually we are seriously divided as to what is just in the particular case. 'Wages in any occupation are fair when...' Any descriptive completion of this phrase will arouse objection from some quarter. (I have taken the phrase from Pigou's Economics of Welfare, 2nd ed., p. 520, where you can find a completion of it.)
For this reason justice, or morality in politics, which at first seems a grand thing, is liable later to appear empty and useless. In demanding justice we seem only to be demanding that political arrangements shall be what they should be, and that people shall get what they should get. The conception of justice seems even more unfinished than most ideals. Apart from keeping the peace, it seems hardly more than that each person should have his rights, whatever they are. And this reflection is liable to lead us to the cynical view that people are merely calling 'fair' or 'just' whatever they happen to want. Or, if we do not go so far as that, we may still come to think that justice is something inherently impossible, the mirage of a perfect distribution which should give everybody everything he wants and hurt nobody. The French may seem wise not to have included it in their famous triad.
The conception of justice is fragmentary and for ever unfinishable; and yet it is of very great value and importance. Disputes about whether so and so is fair or unfair are going to exist as long as man exists; but this is far better than that there should be no question of fair play in politics at all, and Machiavellism should be accepted. The idea of moral politics is part of our hope of dragging ourselves out of our predicament of conflicting interests; and, though we can never realize it perfectly, we can always be getting nearer to it.
3.61 The word 'democracy'
The word 'democracy' is often used or defined in thoroughly muddling and harmful ways, even by persons of great education and responsibility and importance. For example, the word 'democracy' is definitely not the proper name for freedom of speech, and yet it was so defined by no less a person than Sir Stafford Cripps, when, in his book called Democracy Up-to-Date, he wrote: 'By democracy we mean a system of government in which every adult citizen is equally free to express his views and desires upon all subjects in whatever way he wishes and to influence the majority of his fellow citizens to decide according to those views and to implement those desires. To this there is a necessary corollary, that he must not use his own freedom of thought, speech or action so as to deprive others of a like freedom.' It is a great pity that a man of influence and good will should so muddle and confuse the public. The proper name for freedom of speech is 'freedom of speech', and 'democracy' is definitely not a proper name for it. Freedom of speech can exist in a non-democracy as well as in a democracy, while, on the other hand, it often fails to exist in a democracy.
Nor is the word 'democracy' a proper name for general good will, or benevolence, or the desire to lessen men's miseries, or the desire that men shall be able to realize themselves more than they now can. It was improper of Mr. R. H. S. Crossman to write, in his book called Plato Today (U.S. ed., 1939, p. 303), that 'the democratic faith is not tied to any political or social system. It regards all systems (including "democracy") as instruments for the self-realization of human nature; and if representative institutions are shown to be no longer useful for that purpose, then the democrat must look elsewhere for other instruments and better institutions.'
Nor is the word 'democracy' a proper name for good will on the part of rulers towards their subjects. A benevolent despotism is still a despotism, not a democracy. Communists are using the word in this way when they say that Russia is a democracy, and when they give the name 'people's democracies' to the nations which Russia is now oppressing.
The cause of most of these aberrations and muddles is that people know the word 'democracy' only as a term of strong political approval. It is a fact that nowadays the word suggests approval to most of those who know it, though there have been times when it usually suggested disapproval. The constitution which the word was invented to refer to has come to be widely approved of. Consequently, the word itself has come to suggest approval of that constitution as well as to refer to it. In many people's minds a further shift has occurred; the word to them now does nothing but suggest political approval, and no longer refers to anything specific. This is a very easy shift because, when we hear others using a strange word, we pick up their emotional intention much easier than their reference. These people, therefore, regarding the word as a mere instrument of political approval apply it to anything whatever that they do approve of in me political or social sphere. In this way they come to talk about democratic handshakes and to call a club democratic not on account of its government but because it is a club for both sexes, and other absurdities. I have even heard the ideal autocracy in Plato's Republic described as 'more democratic than anything we know'.
That is a plain degradation of language. It is unmitigated loss to take a word that once referred to a specific political constitution and make it a mere expression of political approval. To talk properly, and to keep in touch with the tradition of reason and classification which our intellectual ancestors have built up for us, we must use the word 'democracy' to refer to something. To what?
In the first place, the word should certainly be used to refer to a constitution, or at least to some specific constitutional arrangement. For it is clear that that is what it was invented to do, and what it is needed to do, and what it always has done except when it has been a mere expression of approval.
Secondly, the formation and history of the word both suggest that the constitution it shall refer to shall be that which consists in the people or demos being the government.
But here at least two difficulties arise. First it seems that the government cannot be the people, and hence we have made the word 'democracy' a name for something that cannot happen, hence a name useless in practical politics. The government and the people physically cannot be identical unless the people are few enough to meet in one place where they can all hear each other. If they are too many to meet and hear each other, there inevitably arises a distinction between the people as a whole and one small part of it which for the time being is the government. Thus 'government by the people' strictly speaking never happens; and none of the States of the world can possibly be a democracy in this sense.
The nearest possible approach to strict government by the people is the referendum. A referendum occurs when the parliament or government, instead of itself deciding whether a Bill shall become law, refers the Bill to a vote of the whole people. Such a procedure makes a kind of momentary identity between the government and the whole people. For that moment, and on that one question, the people literally is the government.
A referendum is, however, an inefficient and usually harmful step, in my opinion; and in any case it can only be applied to a small part of the business of government. For practical purposes, therefore, it is necessary to alter our definition of 'democracy' a little. The phrase 'government by the people' can remain only as a very rough approximation to the meaning of the word. And we must find a definition which will stay close to our original intention but yet refer to something that can actually happen all the time.
The definition must continue to mention both the people and the government; but it must indicate some relation between them other than identity. John Stuart Mill chose the relation of representation. He wrote that 'it is essential to representative government that the practical supremacy in the State should reside in the representatives of the people' (Representative Government, p. 229, Everyman); and he generally made no difference between 'representative government', 'representative democracy', and 'democracy'.
I suggest that representation is not the essence, but only an inevitable means to the essence, of what we wish to indicate by the word 'democracy'; and that what we wish to indicate is the constitution in which the people can at regular intervals constitutionally dismiss the governors if they so choose. This is the sense in which I use the word; and I offer the following three considerations in favour of it. First, it is evidently close to, if not identical with, the sense in which the word has been employed by most good writers. Second, it refers to a very important question. When we examine the constitution of a State, we can hardly think of a more important question to ask about it than this: Can the governors be peaceably dismissed by the people, without revolution, or not? And this question becomes, on my definition, the question: Is it a democracy? Thirdly, this definition divides existing States into two groups. There are today States in which the people do in fact regularly choose between two or more possible governments, and the one which they choose becomes in fact the government, and, if they reject the one that was governing before, it in fact ceases to be the government. Thus the United Kingdom is today a democracy in this sense, because every five years or oftener the people have a choice between at least two possible governments, and, if the people reject the men who have been governing, these men do in fact leave the government offices and hand over the power to the new men. They do not stay in 10 Downing Street and order the police to arrest the leaders of the party that has received the popular vote; and if they did the police would disobey them. There are other States in which this does not occur, though in some of them it is pretended to occur. Russia, for example, is and always has been a non-democracy in this sense, because the people are never offered a choice of rulers, and no Russian government ever withdraws because the people have voted another government into power. In the last four decades a pretence of democracy in this sense has been made in Russia; but it has been only a pretence, because the people have had only one party to vote for.
The word 'people' gives rise to further difficulties in the definition of 'democracy'. Who are the people? What is the demos?
When Aristotle undertakes to distinguish the kinds of constitution, he writes: 'The sovereign must be either one or few or the many' (Politics iii. 7. 1279a27). He does not write: 'The sovereign must be either one or few or all.' By his phrase 'the many, hoi polloi' does he mean all the citizens or not? If the many are not all the citizens, how are they distinguished from all the citizens? Are they the poor, or the largest social class?
When we raise these questions, our first thought may be that by 'the many' he must have intended all the citizens, because otherwise he would have had to add all the citizens as a fourth kind of sovereignty. Since he did not write 'the sovereign must be either one or few or many or all', he surely meant all the citizens by his phrase 'the many'. But no. He goes on explicitly to define 'democracy' as the sovereignty of the poor (1279b19, 40). Thus we are confronted with the unpleasant idea that Aristotle defined 'democracy' in a Communist rather than a Liberal sense, as being the dictatorship of the proletariat rather than the sovereignty of all the citizens. And this is largely true, including the notion that the proletariat rules exclusively for its own benefit and is merciless towards the smaller classes; for, if the many rule with an eye to the common advantage, Aristotle calls the constitution by another name, to wit 'polity'. 'Democracy' is an essentially bad constitution in Aristotle's language, because its sovereign power is essentially selfish.
The only mitigations of this disappointing discovery are, first, that Aristotle in his great political charity is willing to make the best of all constitutions including democracy, and, second, that he is not as clear as he should be about the distinction between the rule of the largest class and the rule of all, so that some of his remarks may, in spite of his definition, be about the rule of all.
You may think that this distinction has no importance, on the ground that, if the constitution gives the power to all the citizens, then in practice the largest class will be the ruler. But the largest class may be divided against itself on some questions, leaving the matter to be determined by the votes of a smaller class. Or the constitution may provide proportional representation in order to give more influence to the smaller classes. And however much the largest class may have the power in fact I cannot recommend that it should have all the power in theory. In my view the distinction between the rule of all the citizens, and the rule of the largest class of them, is vital to good politics; and democratic theory has suffered much from its being overlooked. I therefore choose the definition that makes it easiest to express this value-judgement, and mean by 'the people' not the largest class but all of the citizens.
There is still one awkward question of definition left: Who are the citizens? Who is to have the vote? No State has ever yet given a vote to every human being on the ground. So far they have all excluded minors and foreigners. Many have excluded the whole female population and still been called democracies. How large a proportion of the population must, in our opinion, have the vote, for us to call it a democracy?
On this question our definition had better be framed so as to allow the suffrage law to vary greatly within the democratic constitution. It would not be expedient to say, for example, that no State is a democracy if its women have no vote. I think the idea of democracy is that the suffrage belongs at any time to everyone who at that time is generally recognized as being a fully responsible person. So long as it is the general opinion, shared by women as well as men, that women are not fully responsible, a State can be a democracy without giving votes to women. But it must give them votes, or cease to be classified as a democracy, as soon as its subjects mostly believe that women are as responsible as men. The United Kingdom now is a democracy although we do not give the vote to schoolboys, because we genuinely believe that schoolboys are not fully responsible. If we came to believe that schoolboys are just as responsible as men of fifty, we should have to give them the vote or cease to call ourselves a democracy. Thus it is essential to democracy, I suggest, that the State contains no member who is considered to be fully rational, and reasonably educated, and yet is forbidden to vote.
The inconvenience of this definition is that it makes it possible for a State to change from democracy to non-democracy in virtue of nothing but a shift in the citizens' opinions about the responsibility of schoolboys. Yet this seems better than including some specific franchise law in the definition of 'democracy'.
There is no word that is clearly recognized as meaning the precise contradictory of democracy. The words 'absolutism', 'dictatorship', 'authoritarianism', 'totalitarianism', 'tyranny', 'despotism', 'monarchy', and 'oligarchy', all refer to some species of the contradictory of democracy rather than to the contradictory itself. We might coin the words 'demoduly' or 'ademocracy' or 'non-democracy', of which the first two are more purely constructed but the last is more generally understandable.
I see no use for the phrase 'democratic principles'. There is only one democratic principle, and that is that the State should be a democracy, that is, that by the constitution there shall be, every few years, a vote of all responsible members to determine whether the present governors are to continue or be replaced. To talk of further democratic principles is to import too much into the meaning of the word 'democracy', to begin the mistake of using the word 'democracy' as a portmanteau for everything you approve of in politics.
People are particularly fond of introducing freedom and equality into the definition or the principles of democracy. But it is better to call each of those by its own name, because then you can see more clearly what in fact are the relations between freedom and equality and democracy in the proper sense. Democracy entails that every responsible citizen is equal with every other in that each has at least one vote. It does not entail any other equality. Whether democratic States have a tendency to produce or aim at other equalities among their members is a question for empirical investigation, not a part of the definition of the word. Democracy also entails that every responsible citizen is free to cast a vote for or against the governors every few years. It does not entail any further freedom; and whether actual democracies have in fact displayed, on the average, more tendencies to produce further freedoms than have non-democracies is a question for empirical investigation, not part of the definition of the word.
Still less does democracy entail anything about socialism or capitalism. A democracy may or may not have the great enterprises in public hands; and a State where they are all publicly owned may perfectly well be a despotism.
The phrase 'economic democracy' is employed mostly by people who are confusing two different things. For an economic enterprise, such as a factory, to be in itself a democracy, would mean that the managers or governors of the factory were dismissed and rechosen at short intervals by the whole body of persons engaged in the factory in any capacity; and for this to be a reality and not a sham there would have to be an alternative body of managers, an opposition party, willing to take over the management of the factory. That is one of the two things people are confusing when they talk of 'economic democracy'. The other is legislation by the State to control the management and activities of the factory for the benefit of the workers in the factory, or perhaps for the benefit of the whole country. The two things are quite distinct and do not necessarily go together. On the contrary, State control of the factory must necessarily limit and interfere with the democratic control of the factory by its own members. The factory cannot at one and the same time be completely controlled both by its own members and by the State. A part of the bewilderment and disappointment of the Labour Party in Britain in the 1950's was that their own nationalization laws in the previous decade had caused them to realize this distinction for the first time. They were bewildered and upset to discover that governmental control of an industry is not the same thing as the control of an industry by the whole body of its workers.
Another muddle about the word 'democracy' was introduced by Sidney and Beatrice Webb. In 1902 the Webbs published a book called Industrial Democracy, which was read for decades thereafter. They did not define the title; but the book is about trade unions, and until the last chapter the impression given is that the British trade unions are democracies and this is the fact referred to by the title. In the last chapter, however, they often use the phrase 'in the democratic State (so-and-so) will be (the case)', thus giving the impression that they think that no democratic State as yet exists, and therefore that the United Kingdom is not a democracy. Thus the trade unions are democracies in the body of the book; but in the last chapter the United Kingdom is not a democracy. This is not because they saw a significant difference between the constitution of the United Kingdom and the constitutions of the British trade unions. It is because they use a new meaning of the word 'democracy' in the last chapter. Without saying so, they now use the phrase 'democratic State' to mean a State where not merely the State itself but also every body within the State is democratically constituted. At least this is the tendency of their language, though no doubt they would have been disconcerted if asked whether the army should be democratically organized. They imply that it is desirable that no organization whatever should be non-democratically constituted, and the absurdity escapes them because they have their eyes on industry only.
To define 'democracy' as the constitution in which both the State itself, and also every body within the State, is democratically organized, is to make the logical mistake of defining a word through itself. Apart from that, and even if we understand what is meant because we use our knowledge of the ordinary meaning in order to construct this new meaning, the definition is useless and impractical, because it gives us a concept that will never apply to anything actual, and deprives us of a concept we need.
So much on the definition of the word.
3.62. Democracy is a great good
I come now to appraise democracy. That is, to attempt the apparently rash enterprise of doing better than Mill did in the third chapter of his essay on Representative Government. I shall consider in order the material, the moral, and the political, values of democracy. First, then what is the material value of democracy?
It used to be said that democracy is inefficient compared with non-democracy. To call a constitution efficient or inefficient is much vaguer than calling a vacuum-cleaner efficient, because we know perfectly well what a vacuum-cleaner is supposed to be efficient at, whereas it is by no means clear or agreed what a constitution is supposed to be efficient at. The most obvious candidates are war and prosperity. It is no longer plausible to say that democracies are inefficient at war. The twentieth century has seen two wars greater than any previous war; and each of them has been won by a combination of mainly democratic States, and lost by a combination of nothing but undemocratic States. Autocracies are more apt to start wars, but democracies are more apt to win them.
Is democracy more efficient than non-democracy at producing prosperity, that is, a satisfactory average level of health, happiness, comfort, and security? It is not wise to answer this question by examining merely the correlations of democracy and prosperity in the past. The United States is now the most prosperous State in the world. It would certainly have been much less prosperous if it had had a very bad constitution; but that does not tell us how much of its prosperity is due to its democracy. Evidently much of it is due to factors that have nothing to do with democracy, notably its having possessed a vast virgin territory in the temperate zone, its having been able to avoid the handicap of frontiers and customs barriers throughout this great space, and its having been colonized by Protestants. I hesitate to follow Mill's opinion that we can see clearly in history that people are more prosperous when they are under democratic constitutions (op. cit., p. 210, Everyman). If there is such a correlation, I think democracy may be the effect and prosperity the cause. The Germans seem to be a people who can achieve prosperity without democracy.
Mill thought that a democratic constitution makes the citizens more selfdependent, and their selfdependence in turn makes them more prosperous. I think this is a mistake, due to confusing democracy with individualism, as Mill tended to do. Individualism involves selfdependence; but democracy may produce socialism as easily as individualism.
There are more likely paths than this from democracy to prosperity. One of them is indicated by the following argument in favour of democracy. Changes of governor will come to every State from time to time. In a non-democracy they involve the brutalities and miseries of revolution; but in a democracy they do not. Democracy is, from this point of view, a device for allowing revolutions to occur without misery. It is, in fact, the only truly 'revolutionary' constitution; and the claim of the Communist tyrants to represent 'the revolution' is, as usual, muddled logic and bad science. There is no such thing as the revolution. But there is a revolution every time one set of governors is replaced by another. And a revolution occurs much more frequently where there is a democracy than where there is a Communist tyranny. In this way I think I do see a distract connexion between democracy and prosperity. Democracy is much less liable to devastating forms of revolution.
It is not in the least true that democracy is less stable than other constitutions. The stability meant here is stability of law and order, namely that violence and theft are steadily repressed, and one always knows who is the governor. Or at least this is the only kind of stability that is desirable and can properly be put forward as an advantage in a constitution. But this kind of stability is much commoner in democracies than in non-democracies, precisely because in non-democracies every change of governors is a lawless revolution.
There is one other well known path by which democracy tends towards prosperity. In a non-democracy it is bound to occur from time to time that the rulers are ignorant of or apathetic about some grave and remediable misery that some of the people are suffering. The miseries of the English factories in the early decades of the nineteenth century continued as long as they did because the rulers were assured by their economists that these miseries were inevitable, while the sufferers had no vote by which to dismiss a set of rulers who believed them inevitable. The sufferer knows that the shoe pinches more often than the ruler or expert knows it. As Dr. Popper has well put it, 'democracy, the right of the people to judge and to dismiss their government, is the only known device by which we can try to protect ourselves against the misuse of political power' (The Open Society, U.S. ed., p. 316).
On the other side there is a character of democracy which makes against prosperity, namely its tendency to improvidence. People often vote according to their wealth. Hence in democracies the poorer 70 per cent. of the electors tend to vote together. And when they do so they tend to vote improvidently and not to face unpleasant facts, partly because the poor are more improvident than the rich, and partly because the expenditures which they vote will not fall directly on themselves. An outstanding example of this was the United Kingdom in the 1920'S and 30's. Disgusted and disheartened by the horrors of the recent war, the British shut their eyes to the realities of power and practically refused to have an army. If they had been provident and realistic they could have prevented Hitler and the horrors of the Second World War. All democratic States tend to be wholly occupied in progress and the construction of a better world, whereas the real political problem, unfortunately, is very often how to prevent regress and the destruction of what we have now. In the two great wars all the democracies somehow managed to overlook the obvious fact that they were fighting to defend the prosperities of the nineteenth century, not to improve on them. In a democracy statesmen are confronted by the anxious topic of 'honesty with the electorate'. In other words, how can one tell one's electors the unpleasant truth and yet get elected?
When I try to judge these various considerations, I incline to think that democracy does on the whole tend to prosperity more than non-democracy does, but that this tendency is in general by no means great enough to form a very strong reason in favour of democracy.
At the present time, however, the situation is unusual. There is now only one alternative to democracy, namely rule by the Communist Party. And it is quite obvious that wherever the Communist Party rules it spreads a degree of misery, poverty, fear, and degradation, by contrast to which every democracy is very prosperous. In our present special situation, therefore, democracy does very definitely make for prosperity.
What are the moral advantages and disadvantages of democracy? That is, how does it improve or disimprove character?
Let me take separately the character of the governors and the character of the whole people. As to the character of the governors, a strong argument for democracy is contained in Acton's famous phrase that 'power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely'. Government requires, or is, a use of force. When men possess force they are tempted to misuse it. No person or group or office is likely to resist for long the temptation to misuse absolute power, whether executive, military, judicial, or police. Acton wrote that 'the possession of unlimited power corrodes the conscience, hardens the heart, and confounds the understanding'; and he quoted Leibniz's statement that 'those who have more power are liable to sin more; no theorem in geometry is more certain than this' (G. E. Fasnacht, Acton's Political Philosophy, p. 134). The possession by a man of power over others tends to make him morally worse, and tends to make suffering for those over whom he has power. We can hardly be saved from moral corruption without the moral judgements and penalties imposed on us by our fellows. The democratic constitution checks this dangerous tendency of the ruler's power, by making him responsible to the people, because he can always be dismissed by them.
That power corrupts, and that without the control of our fellows we tend to become immoral beasts, is a fundamental hard fact of human nature which it is immensely important to realize. The chief fault of the inventors of Callipolis and Utopia, and their lesser competitors, is that they insist on imagining a human nature which should be good although free from control by other men. Such imaginings are vain and dangerous.
This important argument was belittled by T. D. Weldon in his book, States and Morals, p. 252. But his belittlement rested upon a quibble, on giving to the word 'power' an arbitrary sense which Acton did not intend. 'Power', Weldon wrote (p. 203), 'is quite a different thing from strength or force. It is not even legalised force, though legality is an element in it. Power is more accurately the control of force authorised by consent.' In Weldon's language, then, power does not corrupt because power is by definition force kept straight by resting on the people's consent. But we may add, and he should have added, that force corrupts, and this is what people meant when they said that power corrupts. Here then is a way in which the democratic constitution strongly tends to improve the character of the rulers. It is not without its drawback, however. Since the ruler depends for his place on the choice of the people, he is tempted to flatter the people, to appeal to their passion rather than their judgement, or, worse still, to appeal to the sectional passion of some small part of the people on whom his election depends. Democracy is liable to bring the demagogue; and the art of oratory is liable to command the art of government. The rulers will be as bad as the people's passions demand and their consciences allow. When the majority of the voters are base, as they sometimes are, the rulers will be base.
The drawback is less than the advantage. Upon the whole, democracy distinctly tends to produce better rulers than does non-democracy. The best ruler is not the cleverest ruler, nor is he the most aggressive for his State or the most successful in war.
As to the character of the whole people, Mill's chapter in favour of democracy is mainly a claim that democracy greatly improves the character of a people, making them much more intelligent, large-minded, active, selfdependent, and practical, and much less envious.
Democracy tends, as non-democracy does not, to raise the political maturity and responsibility of every voter, to encourage his public spirit, and to make him contribute his deliberations to the common good. It becomes every man's opportunity and duty to take part in discussions concerning the public good, and to form his judgement thereon. By thus involving discussion, democracy moralizes politics, both internal and external, because in public discussion it is necessary to take the moral point of view to persuade others. Acton remarked that 'Machiavelli's teaching would hardly have stood the test of Parliamentary government, for public discussion demands at least the profession of good faith' (Fasnacht, Acton's Political Philosophy, p. 138).
There is, however, much to be said on the other side. Mill expects selfdependence because he confuses democracy with individualism. Tocqueville contradicts Mill's view about envy when he writes (Democracy in America, I. xiii): 'Democratic institutions have a very strong tendency to promote the feeling of envy in the human heart; not so much because they afford to everyone the means of rising to the level of any of his fellow-citizens, as because those means perpetually disappoint the persons who employ them. Democratic institutions awaken and foster a passion for equality which they can never entirely satisfy.' And he remarks that this is why the most notable men in a democratic nation are usually not placed at the head of affairs. This is still, 130 years later, a salient defect of the country about which Tocqueville was writing. One of the dominant themes in the propaganda for a candidate for the presidency of the U.S. is usually the assertion that he is no better than the average citizen, that his home and education were mediocre, that his present tastes and companions are very ordinary, that he is, in one of their favourite phrases, 'as common as an old shoe'. Democracy has a definite tendency to discourage recognition and reverence for all the better kinds of superiority, as Mill himself recognizes later (op. cit., pp. 319-20). As E. M. Forster wrote in his Two Cheers for Democracy, democracy encourages the cult of mediocrity, and fosters vulgarity by making mass approval the supreme arbiter.
Democracy has a tendency to encourage an improvident or selfish attitude to public affairs in the electorate. Politicians, in trying to get themselves elected by a group of electors, are permanently tempted to appeal to the interests peculiar to that group; and thus each group of electors is permanently tempted to consider its own interests as the aim of its political activity. Thus the general spread of public spirit, which is very necessary to the good working of a democracy, is opposed by a mechanism inherent in the nature of democracy. One can sometimes see, in the faces of a crowd listening to an election speech, a disgusting and terrifying illustration of this evil tendency.
Furthermore, the law that power corrupts acts on the people as well as on the rulers. Democracy by limiting the powers of the rulers saves them from corruption; but at the same time it has a tendency to corrupt the largest class among the people by giving it unlimited power. A democratic State is liable to become a corrupt tyranny of the largest class over the other classes, disguised by referring to the largest class as 'the people' or 'the workers', as if physicians were not people and did not work. The Labour Party in the United Kingdom has a strong tendency to be a tyrannical class party of this kind. Such a tyranny of the majority is often unconscious, because the majority believe they have a right to the goods of the minority, or believe that it is not they but the august State who is getting the benefit. It makes for unconscious selfishness in the majority, conscious hatred in the minority, and improvidence in the finances of the State. It makes, as Mill said, for 'government intended for ... the immediate benefit of the dominant class, to the lasting detriment of the whole' (op. cit., p. 254, Everyman).
What is the resultant of these forces? Does democracy on the whole improve or disimprove the character of the people? I do not know. Very probably it does the one in some situations and the other in others. Sometimes it seems to me that, as we grow more democratic, so we all grow more demanding for ourselves and more indignant or contemptuous of others. James Fitzjames Stephen, an enemy of democracy, wrote that 'the fact is that we all more or less condemn and blame each other, and this truth is so unpleasant that oceans of sophistry have been poured out for the purpose of evading or concealing it' (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, London, 1874, p. 86). On the whole, however, I hesitantly judge that democracy does improve the nation's character; and I hope that democratic selfishness and hate are only a short stage of transition from the abject respect of the peasant for his king to the equal respect of all men for all men. So much for the moral effects of democracy.
I come lastly to the political value of democracy. The greatest value of democracy is that it is a fundamental part of the great good of freedom. It gives to every individual, managed by the State as he is, the greatest possible share in being himself the managing State. It mitigates to the greatest possible degree the inevitable subjection of us all to the State. It is thus a good in itself, not merely a device for obtaining other goods.
It is also a powerful device for safeguarding other forms of freedom. To be free to dismiss one's rulers is a powerful means of securing that one's rulers do not without very good reason take away other freedoms. Only a people that can dismiss its governors can compel its governors either to withdraw a law, or to make a law to curb the activity of some other body that is interfering with the life of the people. It was thus a grave mistake in the 1930's when men said that political freedom did not matter, and only economic freedom was important. Whether by 'economic freedom' they meant more opportunity to consume, or laws to control business enterprises for the benefit of their employees, in either case the power to dismiss one's governors is by far the most likely tool to produce economic freedom. Political freedom is the key to economic freedom, as Dr. Popper has well pointed out (The Open Society, c. xvii).
I do not attach much value, however, to the power of democracy as a tool for non-political freedom, because it can also be used against non-political freedoms, and often is. Democracies have in practice a strong tendency towards the unjustifiable restriction of various liberties, when we contrast them with aristocracies. This is because the largest class tends to be more censorious than the nobles, more given to moral indignation, more likely to regard as wicked or dangerous anything unfamiliar. There is always in a democracy the danger of the insane frenzy or terror or lust of the mob. Demos tends to be in social matters indiscriminately tyrannous, and Mill's essay On Liberty is largely about this danger. It is the cause of the curious fact that some democracies resemble dictatorships far more than they resemble aristocracies. Democracies and dictatorships equally involve the suppression of the nobles, and often the destruction of them; for in dictatorships only those succeed who adopt the popular vulgarities. This is beautifully realized and described in the eighth book of Plato's Republic; and in our own days it has been well illustrated by the dictatorship in Germany in the 1930's and that in Argentina in the 1940's.
The sure political good of democracy is therefore not the consequential freedoms that it may produce, but the essential freedom that it is. Political freedom is very good in itself. 'Ne me demandez pas d'analyser ce goût sublime, il faut l'éprouver' (Tocqueville, Ancien Régime, III. iii). You need not value it yourself if you do not wish to; but you ought to allow it to us who do value it.
It is another facet of the same thing that democracy is the political embodiment of the good kind of equality, which consists in the equal dignity and consideration of man. It removes the humiliation of the subject's permanent and absolute subordination to the rulers in a non-democracy. Democracy is political freedom and political equality, however much it may an practice interfere with various other freedoms and equalities; and that is its essential goodness.
There is one great political good with which democracy appears to have no connexion, and that is the maintenance of law and justice and rights. The rule of all may be conducted with or without law and justice. There must, indeed, be the minimum of constitutional law that enables us to say the State is a democracy; but beyond that the democratic State may respect law or contemn it, and may be slow or fast to destroy the legal and the customary rights of inconvenient persons, and may be patient or impatient of an independent judiciary that stands up for individual rights and the reign of law.
3.63 Plato's argument against democracy
I can bring out further what I take to be the essential goodness of democracy by considering Plato's famous argument against it in his Republic (488). He there compares the democratic State to a ship whose captain, though goodhearted, is stupid and imperceptive, and whose crew spend their time besieging the captain with requests to be allowed to navigate the ship, each urging his own suitability for the work. We are to suppose that neither the captain nor any of his crew knows anything about the stars or the winds, or admits that there is such a thing as an art of navigation dependent on knowledge of these; and there is no competent navigator on the ship at all. And we are to imagine what kind of voyage this ship will make. Now, says Plato, the captain in this image represents the people of a democratic city, in control of affairs in that city. They are goodhearted enough; but they are stupid and ignorant, and they have no conception of the art of government, or of the science of the good on which this art should be based. They are all the time being harangued and advised by demagogues, the crew of the image, telling them how to navigate the ship of State and asking to be put in charge; but none of these demagogues has learnt the true art of government or even admits that there is such a thing. True government, however, is a serious and difficult art based on obscure but certain knowledge of the essence of the good and the bad and the just and the unjust and so on.
Thus Plato by this image of the ship clearly means to say that government is a high art based on a high science, and the people as a whole can never be in possession of this science, and therefore the people as a whole ought not to be in charge of affairs; that is, democracy is bad. As he goes on, he adds many less important points to his judgements. Thus he finds that democracy corrupts the science and character of any potentially good statesman, because it compels him to truckle to the mob. He finds also that democracy tends to produce an improper disorderliness and amateurishness and variety among the citizens, and an improper equality among unequals. Slaves act as if they were free, and dogs decline to get out of the way of men.
The democrat need not be worried by Plato's arguments that democracy tends to disorderliness and to equality; for the democrat likes equality, and dislikes the order that Plato thinks important. But it is otherwise with Plato's main argument, that government is a science, and no science is the possession of the whole people, and therefore democracy is fundamentally mistaken. This is a very serious objection, and it appears that the defenders of democracy have not yet faced it, although it has been before them for more than two millenniums.
To meet this objection we may begin by pointing out that no art is as sure as the science on which it is based. The calculator practising mental arithmetic makes mistakes more often than the mathematician stating the theorems of the science. The life-history of a medical practice contains more errors than the textbook of pathology on which it was based. Plato himself saw this, in another connexion, when he wrote that practice attains truth less than theory does (Rp. 473 A). Hence, even if there were a sure science of politics, it would not follow that the practitioners of the art of government always acted rightly. The art and practice of government must always be more imperfect than the science on which they are based.
But the fundamental answer to Plato's argument must be to deny the premiss that government is a science. I say that government neither is nor ever can be a science in the sense intended by Plato. That is to say, no man is or ever will be in possession of certain knowledge as to what it is best for the State to do in all matters at all times.
I urge that our experience of politics is massively in favour of this view. When we cast our minds over the recent history of politics as far back as we have experienced it, we see that it has been full of surprises and bewilderments. Unexpected events and situations have kept on occurring, and our measures to deal with them have often had unexpected and unwanted results. It is true that almost everything that happened had been predicted by someone; but it is also true that this was mainly because almost everything possible had been predicted by someone, and amid the wild welter of predictions one was bound to come true and the rest were bound to be falsified; and the man who predicted one event truly predicted others wrongly. In 1953, for example, practically no one foresaw the big French strike in August. In 1956 practically no one foresaw the Suez affair; and probably no one at all expected it to come out as it did, or the results of his State's acts to be what they were. Surely anyone who will consent to look at actual politics, whether in his own experience or in history, will admit that they are a welter of largely unforeseeable and uncontrollable events, and that to talk of controlling them by a sure and magisterial science is wide of the mark. New factors may arise at any time in politics. No one can guarantee to foresee them or to know how to deal with them. All that can be guaranteed is that those whom the new factor hurts will complain if speech is free, and will press their representatives to find a remedy in a democracy.
One of the so called 'sciences' that have much to do with government is economics. The history of the intervention of this science in politics, so far, is a history of gropings and errors and a few successes. The economists are evidently not agreed among themselves as the mathematicians are. It is clear that many of them have given bad advice to governments in the past. Surely it is very probable that they will do so in the future also. Surely it is very probable that the same is true of every other set of persons who offer us a so called 'science' to apply to government.
Predicting political events, and predicting the consequences of a given act by a given State, will never become like predicting eclipses of the sun and moon. There are two differences to make that impossible, the complexity and the alterability of human affairs.
Eclipses depend on the motions of only three bodies, and those motions are known. Political events depend on billions of factors, and most of them are necessarily unknown to any predictor. Neither have we the data, nor could we do the calculation if we had. Men's feelings do not admit of computation even if you know them. That is the complexity which prevents prediction in politics.
The other eternal barrier is that men can predict with certainty only events that no man can influence. If some man by his actions can influence the outcome, then no man can with certainty predict that outcome. To put it more pregnantly and yet without serious loss of accuracy, whatever one man can alter no man can predict, and whatever one man can predict no man can alter. What we predict is always at best what will happen if nothing which we have failed to take account of intervenes. Where persons are capable of intervening to change the result this is a very big IF.
One thing that never affects eclipses is our predictions of eclipses. In discovering when the sun will be eclipsed we do not have to think 'The astronomer royal has predicted that the sun will be eclipsed on such and such a day. Now how will the sun react to that? Will it be annoyed and decide to disappoint the astronomer?' Such questions do not arise because the sun is not a thinking being. If it were a thinking being we could not predict its movements with such completeness as we do. But men are thinking beings, and such questions do arise when we try to predict their acts; and this by itself makes it for ever impossible to turn politics into physics. For this reason the Platonic science of politics, and the Marxian science of politics, and any other science of politics, are impossible will-o'-the-wisps that will never be realized. Faith in them does much harm, turning men away from the fruitful effort to make judicious little adjustments here and there, and giving unconscious tyrants confidence in their wild schemes. The remark that 'the masses are not the wisest statesman', though true in what it primarily asserts, is profoundly false in insinuating that there is or ever could be such a man as a perfectly wise autocrat to whom the government of ourselves might wisely be abandoned, and in persuading us to forget that the masses are the statesman least likely to bully or neglect the masses.
If we look at the particular science on which Plato proposed to base government, namely his Dialectic or science of Essences, we find that it was not a genuine science, but a confusion of two genuine activities one of which is a science. There can be a real science of the meanings of words. It includes lexicography and semantics and philosophical analysis. Plato's science of Essences was in part the practice of this, for its key question was What is x?; and the question What is x? is the request for a definition; and definition rightly understood is about a word. Such a science is, indeed, very important for practical politics. Politics is largely talk, and those talk much better who thoroughly understand the nature of the words they are using. But such a science cannot provide, either alone or in combination with anything else, a basis for absolutely certain and expert government.
The other genuine activity, which Plato in his Dialectic of Essences was misapprehending and confusing with the science of words, is not a science but the choice of values. The Essences which he actually studied were nearly all values, as Justice, Goodness, Beauty; and his activity consisted largely, though unconsciously, in making and recommending his choices as to what things are beautiful and what things are good. In this aspect also his Dialectic was a genuine and important part of politics, for politics is in fact largely choosing. What do you value in the social sphere? Do you prefer the peasant culture of the Cévennes or the industrial culture of St. Étienne, and which do you wish France predominantly to be? Is national prestige all important to you, so that you will sacrifice to it your fellows' lives and your country's honesty, or is it not? These are pre-eminently political questions, and they are pre-eminently questions of choice; questions of what you will do, not questions of what the facts are.
But it is just because they are questions of choice, that they are not questions for experts, and no scientist has a right to decide them for us over our heads, however greater his knowledge is than ours. And this is the most important part of the answer to Plato's argument against democracy. Government is a choice, a choice of the social life we are to lead; and nobody else has the right to make that choice for us. Everyone of us, howsoever stupid and uninformed, has a right to his share in this grave choice that vitally concerns him. The public discussion, which is essential to good politics, is largely the formation and approximation of our choices.
This is implied in Plato's own analogy of the ship, though he did not realize it. In fact we do not let the expert navigator choose our destination for us. We tell him where to take us. The fact that he knows the art of navigation, while we do not, gives him no right to take us to Valparaiso when we wish to go to Buenos Aires. He is the servant in voyaging, not the master; and so must the expert be in politics.
The same is true of the physician, on whose analogy Plato relied for political arguments in his later work The Statesman. It is for your physician to tell you that if you live vigorously you will probably die within a year, while if you stay in bed you will probably live for ten years more. But it is not for him to decide which of the possibilities you are to realize; that is your choice. This fact is concealed from some of us by the unconscious assumption that it is of paramount importance to live is long is possible, no matter what sort of life it is. But this should neither be an unconscious assumption nor be decided for us by our physicians. It should be consciously decided by ourselves. It is in fact a common defect of physicians to try to dictate our ends to us. They usually insist on regarding the prolongation of life as more important than the avoidance of pain. The recent discovery of a connexion between cancer and tobacco has revealed a tendency in some of them to try to force our choice in this dilemma, by demanding legislation.
That is my rebuttal of Plato's argument against democracy. I think it constitutes the only possible rebuttal of it. You cannot defend democracy if you agree with Plato that government is or could be a science. In showing that government is not a science but a choice, we show why democracy is an essential feature of the best political society.
3.64. The maintenance of democracy
We sometimes hear it said that liberals and democrats have no faith to set against the Communist faith. Is this a proper complaint, and does it indicate any action?
We must make a distinction. In one sense it is true that the democrat has no faith to set against the Communist faith, but a matter for congratulation not complaint. For in one sense of the word 'faith', and the most common sense of it, faith is unreasonable devotion, belief or action contrary to the probabilities. In this sense the reasonable man never has a faith, either in democracy or in anything else; and the Communist has faith in the doctrines of Marx or Lenin precisely in that no evidence or argument could make him abandon them. To desiderate a democratic faith, in this sense, would be to long to enjoy the delights of fanaticism and cease being a reasonable person, to desire to be dispensed from the duty of weighing evidence and holding oneself always prepared to change one's view in case of new considerations altering the balance of probability. Communism is indeed a faith, a religion, in a very large part of the sense of those words. It shares the counter-rational character of what is usually called 'religion', though not its theism; and the threat of Communism against reason today is a little like the threat of primitive Christianity against the reasonableness of the Greeks and Romans. But it is not necessary for modern reason to succumb to faith as much as ancient reason did. The gloomy view that only another fanaticism can beat a fanaticism is false. It is not reason and love that need fear a Communist victory, for they are the most efficient instruments in the world when energetically applied. It is laziness and selfishness that need to fear it; for the Communists are neither selfish nor lazy.
This suggests another way of taking the complaint that we democrats have no faith to set against the Communist faith. Perhaps it means that we are lazy and selfish, and unwilling to fight for the preservation of democracy. In this sense it is a very different matter, and clearly to some extent justified. Certainly it would be wrong to be selfish and lazy in the defence of democracy, and certainly we are all of us sometimes less energetic and selfless in this cause than we ought to be. Let us therefore review what is required of us as upholders of the democracy in which we reasonably believe.
Part of this is the question what is required of us abroad. Evidently a democratic State should, other things being equal, be active in promoting and preserving and encouraging democracies elsewhere. In our present situation it is very bad to be in serious opposition to another democratic State and desirable to swallow a great many wrongs and griefs and humiliations rather than divide the democratic world. About the only thing that could justify grave opposition to another democratic State at the present time would be very good evidence that such opposition was necessary and sufficient to preserve democracy on the whole, because the policy of the other democracy was very dangerous to all the democracies. It is certainly essential for the democracies to be prepared for war for an indefinite time in the future. The dreary and impoverishing business of keeping the democracies militarily formidable must be kept up for farther ahead than we can foresee. Vague talk of 'law not war', or of 'outlawing the bomb', weakens resistance to the Communist tyranny and tends to destroy democracy.
The maintenance of democracy at home has both a personal and an institutional side. The question of the institutional means of maintaining democracy is one I shall not touch. It includes the questions: Is proportional representation likely to help or hinder the maintenance of a democracy? And what about the compulsory vote, as in Australia? And would it be useful to have an initiation ceremony, to be gone through by each citizen on coming of voting age? There is an enormous deal to be studied here, and it is a proper study for persons calling themselves political scientists, because it is a question of fact not choice, of whether this particular institution in this sort of circumstances does in fact help or hinder the maintenance of democracy. All that I leave aside, and conclude with some remarks on our personal duties as defenders of democracy.
First and foremost among our personal duties is that we shall be reasonably and not unreasonably convinced that democracy is a better constitution than non-democracy. That is, we must know and weigh the arguments for and against democracy, and remain prepared to abandon our advocacy should considerations ever point on the whole the other way. We must never let our reasonable adoption of democracy degenerate into faith and fanaticism. We must never succumb to the delights of absolute certainty and the refusal to reconsider.
Next, we must hand on and teach the tradition of these matters. We must explain them to our children, and to whomever else it is our duty to explain them. There is a tendency today to neglect to hand on traditions and at the same time complain that nobody is handing them on. We even find parents who expect their children to know right from wrong by some innate intuition, and blame the poor creatures for not knowing what they have never been taught. The modern emphasis on thinking things out for oneself, excellent though it is, has tended to have this bad result, that things that must just be taught have not been taught. Moral and political instruction have tended to go the same way as rote-learning, into oblivion. This omission we ought to make good. And that involves two things that come hard to many people. One is the utterance of platitudes. Many parents today find it difficult to utter platitudes to their children; we are in undue dread of being Poloniuses. The other thing that comes hard to many people is the art of teaching, the skill to give the lesson when the learner is ripe for it and so that he can use it. All parents at least ought to acquire this skill, in order to give their children the principles of politics and morality. They ought not to leave it to the schools, for the schools can never do it. It requires individual attention and the right moment, and the right moment is liable to come in the bath or on a walk, when the schoolteacher is not there.
Thirdly, we may perfectly well have to die for democracy, either as soldiers in war or as conspirators in revolution. The opposition between faith and reason is not that only the former ever tells a man to die for his cause. The difference between democracy and non-democracy today makes, it appears to me, so great a difference to human happiness and dignity that we ought sometimes to risk death for it. We should all be soldiers of democracy. That is, we should already have accepted the principle that we may have to die for it. And in death are here included all those sufferings which, while they are commonly reckoned less dreadful than death, feel more dreadful to many hearts namely outlawry, the disapproval of one's neighbours, the agonized incomprehension of one's wife, and torture. It seems clear that, if it were well known in a country that large numbers of the citizens would abandon their comfort and go underground to conspire for the restoration of democratic practice if they thought it had in fact been abrogated, this would be a great influence at all times against any such abrogation. I think, therefore, that it is probably the duty of all of us democrats living under a democratic constitution to make this decision and to let others know on suitable occasions that we have made it.
This trenches on the question of revolution. When, if ever, is there a moral duty or right to attempt the illegal overthrow of the governors? Certainly there could sometimes be such a moral duty. There could be a monstrously harmful governor who could not be legally removed but could by illegal means be replaced with someone much less harmful; and if this happened revolution would evidently be a moral duty. Can we then write any principle bearing on the matter? Dr. Popper has written that 'the use of violence is justified only under a tyranny which makes reforms without violence impossible, and should have only one aim, that is, to bring about a state of affairs which makes reforms without violence possible' (The Open Society, U.S. ed., p. 340). This implies both that violence may be right under a tyranny and that violence is never right under a democracy. I have found by writing to him that Dr Popper allows one case where violence may be right even under a democracy, namely where the country is about to cease to be a democracy and some illegal action might prevent this. The disappearance of the Czechoslovak democracy in the 1940's suggests this. By legal means the Communist Party gained control and ended democracy. It seems that this could not have been prevented by any legal means, but could have been prevented by some illegal action. So perhaps it is not a right liberalism always to abstain from violence in a democracy. The use of violence is justified even under a democracy if it is necessary and sufficient to prevent the democracy from turning into a non-democracy. But we must add, as before, that the aim of this violence must be only to uphold and preserve the democracy.
I seem to see a second situation in which violence may be right under a democracy, though I have not obtained Dr. Popper's agreement to this one. It was made clear by Mill that in a democracy a majority can tyrannize over a minority. It seems to me that if this minority is geographically separable from the majority, and if it is permanently thwarted by the majority, it may in some cases have the right to secede; and that, if the majority refuses to allow this right peaceably, the minority may have the right to secede by force if it can. I dare say that Abraham Lincoln was justified in refusing secession to the Old South. But he did not produce a good reason; he merely asserted that 'the union of these States is perpetual'.
There ends my digression on revolution; and I return for a last minute to our personal duties concerning the maintenance of democracy. I have only two more to urge. The first is that we ought to remember, and be on guard against, those defects to which, as we have seen, democracy is liable, such as public improvidence, majority tyranny, and private selfishness and envy and disrespect. A wise man will bear the defects and dangers of democracy in mind, and consider how they are to be avoided.
Only an unwise man, however, will say that in view of these defects democracy ought to be abolished. The idea that, since democracy is defective, it ought to be abolished, is an example of the commonest error in political philosophy, which I call 'utopianism'. By 'utopianism' I mean the idea that there is a perfect constitution, and politics could be perfect. The last of our democratic duties which I shall mention is to avoid utopianism. Politics are and always will be a creaking, groaning, lumbering, tottering wagon of wretched makeshifts and sad compromises and anxious guesses; and political maturity consists in knowing this in your bones.
Koestler tells of a Communist discussion in which, after the coming Communist Utopia had been dwelt on with enthusiasm by several speakers, André Malraux put the question: 'And what about the child who gets run over by a tramcar?' There was a painful silence. At last someone said: 'In the planned society there will be no accidents'; and this was gratefully accepted. Utopianism is so prevalent and so unrealistic that it can convince a roomful of people that one day there will be no more sudden deaths of children.
There is plenty of Utopianism in democratic countries too. It was well illustrated by an advertisement once written by the eminent publicist Dorothy Thompson and placed in the New York Times. She wrote in the person of the people, who addressed the politicians and complained of them for not having achieved perfect happiness and peace. 'We said [it ran] ... Soon there will be victory over the forces of evil.... All these families in all the nations ... have identical needs, hopes, and yearnings.'
Alas, yes! Each of those families yearns to have lots of beefsteak, though there is not enough beefsteak in the world to go round. And each of those families yearns for its own nation to be top dog, though only one nation can be.
Utopianism often leads to excessive moralizing and indignation in politics. He who believes that society could be perfect easily becomes indignant at politicians who effect compromises. Hence the New Statesman type of politics, consisting in moralistic abuse of everything that is done. Let our politics consist in specific proposals for the future, not in abuse of the past. Let us spread the convictions that evil is always with us, that politics is always a choice of evils, and that democracy, for the reasons I have recited, is the best of the very imperfect constitutions which alone are possible.