THE PRINCIPLE OF PROGRESS
considered in connection with THE RELATION OF THEORY TO PRACTICE IN INTERNATIONAL LAW.
THE PRINCIPLE OF PROGRESS
Does the human race, viewed as a whole, appear worthy of being loved; or is it an object which we must look upon with repugnance, so that, while in order to avoid misanthropy, we continue to wish for it all that is good, we yet can never expect good from it, and would rather turn our eyes away from its ongoings? The reply to this question will depend on the answer that may be given to this other question: ‘Is human nature endowed with capacities from which we can infer that the species will always advance to a better condition, so that the Evil of the present and past times will be lost in the Good of the future?’ Under such a condition we may indeed love the race, at least when viewed as continually approaching to the Good, but otherwise we might well despise or even hate it, let the affectation of a universal philanthropy—which at most would then be only a benevolent wish, and not a satisfied love—express itself as it may. For, what is and remains bad, especially in the form of intentional and mutual violation of the holiest rights of man, cannot but be hated, whatever efforts may be made to constrain the feeling of love towards it. Not that this dislike of human evil would prompt us to inflict evil upon men, but it would at least lead us to have as little to do with them as possible.
Moses Mendelssohn was of this latter opinion; and he has opposed it to his friend Lessing’s hypothesis of a ‘Divine Education of the human Race.’ It is, in his view, a mere illusion to hold ‘that the whole of mankind here below, shall always move forwards in the course of time, and thus perfect itself.’ He says, ‘We see the human Race as a whole making oscillations backward and forward; but it has never taken a few steps forwards without soon sliding back with double rapidity to its former state.’—This is then the very movement of the stone of Sisyphus; and we might thus suppose, like the Hindoo, that the earth is a place for the expiation of old and forgotten sins. ‘The individual man’ he continues, ‘advances, but mankind, as a whole, moves up and down between fixed limits, and maintains through all periods of time about the same stage of morality, the same amount of religion and irreligion, of virtue and vice, of happiness (?) and misery.’ These assertions he introduces by saying: ‘You would fain find out what are the purposes of Providence with regard to mankind. But form no hypotheses,’—he had formerly said ‘Theory,’—‘only look around on what actually happens; and if you can survey the history of all times, upon what has happened from the beginning. This gives facts. Thus much must have belonged to the purpose of Providence, and must have been approved in the plan of Wisdom, or at least must have been adopted along with it.’
I am of a different opinion. If it is a spectacle worthy of a Divinity to see a virtuous man struggling with adversities and temptation, and yet holding his ground against them, it is a spectacle most unworthy—I will not say of a Divinity, but even of the commonest well-disposed man—to see the human race making a few steps upwards in virtue from one period to another, and soon thereafter falling down again as deep into vice and misery as before. To gaze for a short while upon this tragedy, may be moving and instructive; but the curtain must at last be let fall upon it. For when prolonged in this manner, it becomes a farce; and although the actors may not become weary, being fools, yet the spectator will become tired of it, having enough in one or two acts, where he has got grounds to infer that this play that comes never to an end is but an eternal repetition of the same thing. The punishment that follows at the close may, indeed, in the case of a mere drama, compensate for the unpleasant feelings by the issue of the whole. But to see numberless vices, even accompanied with occasional virtues, towered and heaped on each other in the world of reality in order that there may be some grand retribution in the end, is—at least according to our ideas—altogether opposed to the morality of a wise Creator and Governor of the world.
I will, therefore, venture to assume that as the human race is continually advancing in civilisation and culture as its natural purpose, so it is continually making progress for the better in relation to the moral end of its existence, and that this progress although it may be sometimes interrupted, will never be entirely broken off or stopped. It is not necessary for me to prove this assumption; the burden of proof lies on its opponents. For I take my stand upon my innate sense of duty in this connection. Every member in the series of generations to which I belong as a man—although mayhap not so well equipped with the requisite moral qualifications as I ought to be, and consequently might be—is, in fact, prompted by his sense of duty so to act in reference to posterity that they may always become better, and the possibility of this must be assumed. This duty can thus be rightfully transmitted from one member of the generations to another. Now whatever doubts may be drawn from history against my hopes, and were they even of such a kind as, in case of their being demonstrated, might move me to desist from efforts which according to all appearances would be vain, yet so long as this is not made out with complete certainty, I am not entitled to give up the guidance of duty which is clear, and to adopt the prudential rule of not working at the impracticable, since this is not clear but is mere hypothesis. And, however uncertain I may always be as to whether we may rightly hope that the human race will attain to a better condition, yet this individual uncertainty cannot detract from the general rule of conduct, or from the necessary assumption in the practical relation that such a condition is practicable.
This hope of better times, without which an earnest desire to do something conducive to the common well-being, would never have warmed the human heart, has always exercised an influence upon the practical conduct of the well-disposed of mankind; and the good Mendelssohn must also have recognised its power in his own zealous efforts for the enlightenment and prosperity of the nation to which he belonged. For he could not have reasonably hoped by himself alone to have accomplished those objects, unless others after him were to advance further on the same path. In presence of the saddening spectacle, not merely of the evils which oppress the human race from natural causes, but still more of those which men inflict on each other, the heart is still gladdened by the prospect that it may become better in the future, and that this will be accomplished in part by our unselfish benevolence, even after we have been long in the grave and have ceased to be able to reap the fruits which we ourselves have sown. Arguments from experience against the success of such endeavours resolved and carried out in hope, are of no avail. For the fact that something has not yet succeeded, is no proof that it will never succeed; nor would such an argument even justify the abandonment of any practical or technical efforts, such as, for example, the attempts to make pleasure excursions in aerostatic balloons. And still less would such conditions justify the abandonment of a moral purpose which, as such, becomes a duty if its realisation is not demonstrated to be impossible. Besides all this, many proofs can be given that the human race as a whole, is actually farther advanced in our age towards what is morally better than it ever was before, and is even considerably so when its present condition is compared with what it has been in all former ages, notwithstanding temporary impediments, which being transitory, can prove nothing against the general position. And hence the cry about the continually increasing degeneracy of the race, just arises from the fact, that as it stands on a higher stage of morality it sees so much the further before it; and thus its judgment on what men are in comparison with what they ought to be, becomes—as in our own self-examination—the more secure the more the stages of morality which mankind have already surmounted in the whole course of the world’s history as it is now known to us.
The question next arises as to the means by which this continuous progress to the better may be maintained and even hastened. When carefully considered, we soon see that as this process must go on to an incalculable distance of time, it cannot depend so much on what we may do of ourselves, for instance, on the education we give to the younger generation, or on the method by which we may proceed in order to realise it, as on what human Nature as such will do in and with us, to compel us to move in a track into which we would not readily have betaken ourselves. For, it is from human Nature in general, or rather—since supreme wisdom is requisite for the accomplishment of this End—it is from Providence alone that we can expect a result which proceeds by relation to the whole and reacts through the whole upon the parts. Men with their plans start, on the contrary, only from the parts, and even continue to regard the parts alone, while the whole as such is viewed as too great for them to influence and as attainable by them only in idea. And this holds all the more seeing that, being adverse to each other in their plans, they would hardly be able to unite together in order to influence the whole out of any particular free purpose of their own.
Nevertheless universal violence and the evils arising from it, at last force a people of necessity to resolve to subject themselves to the constraint of public Law, which is the very means that reason itself prescribes; and thus to form and enter into a civil or political Constitution. And, in like manner, the evils arising from constant wars by which the States seek to reduce or subdue each other, bring them at last, even against their will, also to enter into a universal or cosmo-political Constitution. Or, should such a condition of universal peace—as has often been the case with overgrown States—be even more dangerous to liberty on another side than war, by introducing the most terrible despotism, then the evils from which deliverance is sought will compel the introduction of a condition among the nations which does not assume the form of a universal Commonwealth or Empire under one Sovereign but of a Federation regulated by law, according to the Right of Nations as concerted in common.
For, the advancing civilisation of the several States is accompanied with a growing propensity to enlarge themselves at the cost of others, by fraud or force. And thus wars are multiplied; and greater expenditure is always caused by the necessary maintenance of increased standing armies, kept in a state of readiness and discipline, and provided ever and again with more numerous instruments of war. At the same time the prices of all the necessaries of life must go on continually increasing while there can be no hope of a proportionately progressive growth of the metals that represent them. Nor does peace ever last so long that the savings during it would equal the expenditure required for the next war. Against this evil the introduction of national debts is indeed an ingenious resource, but it is one which must annihilate itself in the long run. Under pressure of all these evils, what good-will ought to have done but did not do, is at last brought about by sheer weakness, so that every State becomes so organised within that it is no longer the Sovereign—to whom war properly costs nothing since he carries it on at the cost of the people—but it is the People on whom the cost falls, who have the deciding voice as to whether there shall be war or no. This is necessarily implied in the realisation of the idea of the original Contract. But when the decision of the question of War falls to the people, neither will the desire of aggrandisement nor mere verbal injuries be likely to induce them to put themselves in danger of personal privation and want, by inflicting upon themselves the calamities of war, which the Sovereign in his own person escapes. And thus posterity, no longer oppressed by undeserved burdens, and owing it not to the direct love of others for them, but only to the rational self-love of each age for itself, will be able to make progress even in moral relations. For each Commonwealth, now become unable to injure any other by violence, must maintain itself by Right alone; and it may hope on real grounds that the others being constituted like itself will then come, on occasions of need, to its aid.
This, however, it may be said, is only opinion and mere hypothesis, and it is uncertain, like all theories which aim at stating the only suitable natural cause for a proposed effect that is not wholly in our own power. Further, even regarded as such, the cause suggested, when it is taken in relation to an already existing State, does not contain a principle that is applicable to the Subject so as to compel the production of the effect, but is only available through Sovereigns who are free from compulsion. But although it does not lie in the nature of men, according to common experience, to make a voluntary renouncement of their power, yet in pressing circumstances this is not at all impossible. And so it may be regarded as an expression not unsuitable to the moral wishes and hopes of men conscious of their own incapability, when it is said that the circumstances requisite for the end in question are to be expected from Providence. For it is to Providence we must look for the realisation of the End of Humanity in the whole of the species, as furnishing the means for the attainment of the final destination of man, through the free exercise of his powers so far as they can go. For to this End, the purposes of individual men, regarded separately, are directly opposed. Yet even the oppositions of the inclinations from which evil arises, in their mutual antagonism, give free play to Reason and opportunity to subject them all; and so, instead of the Evil which destroys itself, it makes the Good predominant, which when it is once established, will continue thereafter to maintain itself.
Human Nature appears nowhere less amiable than in the relation of whole nations to each other. No State is for a moment secure against another in its independence or its possessions. The will to subdue each other or to reduce their power, is always rampant; and the equipment for defence, which often makes peace even more oppressive and more destructive of internal prosperity than war, can never be relaxed. Against such evils there is no possible remedy but a system of International Right founded upon public laws conjoined with power, to which every State must submit,—according to the analogy of the civil or political Right of individuals in any one State. For, a lasting universal Peace on the basis of the so-called Balance of Power in Europe, is a mere chimera. It is like the house described by Swift, which was built by an architect so perfectly in accordance with all the laws of equilibrium, that when a sparrow lighted upon it, it immediately fell. ‘But’—it may be said—‘the States will never submit to such compulsory laws; and the proposal to institute a universal International State or Union of Nations—a Union under whose power all the separate States shall voluntarily arrange themselves in order to obey its laws—may sound ever so pretty in the theory of an Abbé de St Pierre or a Rousseau, but it is of no value for practical purposes; and as such it has always been laughed at by great Statesmen, and still more by Sovereigns and Rulers, as a childish and pedantic idea fit only for the schools from which it takes its rise.’
For my part, on the contrary, I trust to a theory which is based upon the principle of Right as determining what the relations between men and States, ought to be; and which lays down to these earthly gods the maxim that they ought so to proceed in their disputes that such a universal International State may be introduced thereby, and to assume it therefore as not only possible in practice but such as may yet be presented in reality.—Nay more, this theory is further to be regarded as founded upon the nature of things, which compels movement in a direction even against the will of man. ‘Fata volentem ducunt, nolentem trahunt.’ Under the Nature of things, Human Nature is also to be taken into account; and as in human nature there is always a living respect for Right and Duty, I neither can nor will regard it as so sunk in evil that the practical moral Reason could ultimately fail to triumph over this evil, even after many of its attempts have failed. And so it is that I would represent Human Nature as worthy to be loved. In the widest cosmo-political relation the position therefore holds good, that what is valid on rational grounds as a Theory, is also valid and good for Practice.