Front Page Titles (by Subject) POLITICS, Nature and Character of - Cyclopaedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States, vol. 3 Oath - Zollverein
Return to Title Page for Cyclopaedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States, vol. 3 Oath - Zollverein
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
POLITICS, Nature and Character of - John Joseph Lalor, Cyclopaedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States, vol. 3 Oath - Zollverein 
Cyclopaedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States by the best American and European Authors, ed. John J. Lalor (New York: Maynard, Merrill, & Co., 1899). Vol 3 Oath - Zollverein
Part of: Cyclopaedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States, 3 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
POLITICS, Nature and Character of. I. Politics as the Art of the State and as a Science of the State. The conscious life of the state, the guidance of the state and the influencing of the affairs of the state, that is, conscious, political practice, is what we call politics. Men who by their office or their calling take a prominent part in this practice and in the influencing of the affairs of the state, as for instance, government officials, representatives in legislative assemblies, journalists, etc., we may designate as political men. The honorable and dignified name of statesman is given only to those rare men who distinguish themselves as guides and leaders among politicians. The science of this political practice we also characterize as politics. The representatives of politics as a science, may be called political scientists and political philosophers.
—Politics as political practice, and politics as the doctrine or science of the state, stand in a natural reciprocal relation to each other. In the beginning, and in the lower stages of the development of nations, the former precedes the latter; and the latter follows in the wake of the former timidly and late. But, in proportion as the political spirit awakens in a nation, and becomes self-conscious, the importance of politics as the science of the state increases also; it begins to keep pace with the progress of the practical art of the state or political practice. At times it outruns its more powerful companion, and guides the tendencies and movements of the latter, by illuminating with its torch some new, untrodden road.
—Aristotle came only after the life of the great Hellenic republics was closed; but, as a teacher, he preceded Alexander. Cicero wrote his scientific political works at the close of the Roman republic, but before Cæsar and Augustus had appeared upon the scene. Machiavelli had the pattern of the Italian princes of the renaissance before his eyes; he wrote after the time of Louis XI. of France, but became the teacher of Louis XIV. and of Napoleon III. Rousseau was the prophet of the French revolution. Frederick the Great of Prussia and Alexander Hamilton were contemporaneously the founders of a new doctrine of the state, and of a new political practice. Montesquieu appeared after the English revolution, and after the full development of constitutional monarchy in England, which he recommended to the rest of continental Europe, and became the teacher of the people of the United States and of the French restoration.— The two things which we designate by one and the same term, politics, are radically different.
—1. Politics, as the art of the state, has certain definite external aims, which differ according to the wants of the moment. It seeks to reach a certain external result, for instance, to establish better institutions for the people or for society, to overcome an enemy, to secure or extend the power of the state, etc. Political practice manifests itself in deeds, and success is the aim and the test of the art of the state. A successful policy constitutes the fame of the statesman; and an unsuccessful policy is the sign of a defective and frequently of a bad and unfit policy. On the other hand, politics, as the science of the state, does not pursue any external aim, and is not estimated by external success. It has no aim but the knowledge of truth. Its glory consists in the destruction of an error, in the discovery of a permanent and fruitful law, in the clear exposition of a correct and opportune rule for guidance.
—2. As the aims of the art of the state and of the science of the state are different, so also are the means they employ. It is not enough for the statesman that he thinks correctly. He wishes, also, to realize his thoughts in deeds, and to this end he requires power. He must overcome or evade the obstacles that oppose him, and he requires the actual transformation of the stubborn matter which he has to give shape to. He must strain the authority of the state, which, in case of need, can enforce a following; or he must invoke the support of public opinion. According to circumstances, he must have money, or even troops, at his disposal.
—Politics as a science can dispense with all these external means of power. It does not trust in violence, but in logic. When it observes carefully and thinks correctly, it is certain of its progress, and does not need the authority of the law, nor the applause of the multitude. With all the treasures of the land at one's command, it would be as impossible to lift an error into a truth, as, with the aid of all the armed power of the state, to lower a truth into an error.
—3. Politics, as political practice, can not dispense with external struggles if it will accomplish anything. The statesman must take into account both the hostile and friendly passions. He is very frequently compelled to take some side. He can not avoid the excitement which accompanies the struggle with frequently bitter fees. He must preserve his courage in the midst of danger, his presence of mind in the hour of battle, and his will power in action. Without a manly character, there can be no genuine statesman. The political scientist, on the contrary, examines the object of his investigation in peace. He can consider that object from different points of view, without prejudice or partiality, undisturbed by the noises of war of opponents. He enjoys that perfect peace of mind which belongs to scientific thought, and draws his conclusions dispassionately.
—4. Even the statesman's way of thinking is different from that of the political scientist. The statesman is excited to action by the wants of the particular case, and when he weighs principles he does so on the supposition of their serviceableness and applicability in the case he has to deal with. Very frequently, if he wishes to attain his purpose, he is compelled to bend the straight lines of principles out of shape, and, at the sacrifice of strictness of principle, to effect compromises even with opposing principles and party tendencies. The result of his thoughts is conditioned by the success which he is striving to achieve.
—The political scientist who only labors for the acquisition of knowledge, seeks to develop principles in their pure form, and may proceed logically and undisturbed. He is not compelled to make any compromises.
—The psychology of the statesman is mainly penetration in judging and making use of actual men; that of the political philosopher is chiefly insight into the general laws of human nature.
—The men who are at the same time renowned as statesmen and political philosophers are rather few. The two greatest political philosophers of Hellenic antiquity, Aristotle and Plato, were but poorly qualified for political practice, or practical statesmanship. There are many notable diplomates, generals and ministers, who have distinguished themselves as statesmen, but who have achieved nothing for the science of the state. Nevertheless, the greatest statesmen of history were, if not political philosophers or political savants, at least political thinkers of a high order; for instance, Pericles, Alexander the Great, Julius Cæsar, Charlemagne, Frederick the Great, Washington, Hamilton, and Napoleon I.
—In our own times, every practical politician is compelled more deeply to reflect on the ideas that at present enlighten and move the nations, and to render to himself a full account of the principles which determine his own action. In his practical calling, therefore, he can not dispense with scientific labor. On the other hand, the science of the state, in order to be applicable in actual life, must understand the conditions of the real life of the state, and correctly appreciate its interests. In this manner practical statesmanship and the science of the state reach each other a helping hand, and each may look to the other for support.
—There certainly is in some men a natural talent for politics, that may be developed through practice alone, without the aid of science, as there have at all times been great captains and leaders in war who never frequented a military school, but developed their talent on the field of battle. Yet, with equal natural talents, and under equal circumstances in all else, the scientifically trained politician will be greatly superior to the rude practitioner. In our times the combination of practical statesmanship and political science has become indispensable to politicians, and if not absolutely necessary, it is at least highly useful to the political scientist. The science of the state not only enlightens political practice or practical politics, but purifies and ennobles it. (Compare de Parieu, Principes de la science politique, Paris, 1870, p. 9.) But then, political practice quickens the glance of the political scientist, and protects him from a childish trifling with the imaginings of empty speculation.
—In the search after truth each of the different sciences has its own method, and frequently calls into activity different mental powers, and some one mental power more than it does the others. Thus, natural scientific thought depends chiefly on the exact observation of facts perceptible by the senses, and usually from visible effects infers the invisible cause. Its method is induction, and its proofs are mostly borrowed from analogy. The speculative philosopher denies the sensually perceptible phenomenon, and endeavors to discover or reach the infinite idea, the absolute, through the self-conscious human mind. Beginning here, he then draws his conclusions by the way of logical deduction. Legal thought is generally the subordination of a concrete fact under a general legal principle. Its method is, in the first place, judgment by means of subsumption, and the inference from the general legal principle to the consequence of its violation: restitution or compensation or punishment. Political thought is directed particularly to organic distinction, to the estimation of forces, the calculation of means, the psychological study and influencing of men, and, lastly, to the development and improvement of human affairs in conformity to nature.
—II. The Relation of Politics to Morals. Machiavelli was the first to separate politics from morals, and to proclaim political practice independent of moral prescriptions. The adaptability of the means to the ends of the state was, with Machiavelli, the only allowable measure or criterion in politics. To him it was a matter of indifference whether the statesman acted morally or immorally. Machiavelli only demanded of him that his action should be useful to the state. When a crime is of advantage to the state, he recommends crime; when noble-mindedness becomes injurious to the state, he condemns it. He expressly remarks, that the appearance of virtue is frequently more useful to the prince than real virtue, and, when it is so, he gives the former the preference over the latter. Since his time the name of Machiavellism in politics has been given to that kind of immoral, conscienceless, though certainly bold, politics, which is profitable to the state, or only to the head of the state. Frederick the Great, in his "Anti-Machiavel," when a young man, gave vent, in eloquent language, to his indignation at this doctrine. When king, however, be too distinguished between politics and morals, and made the good of the state the supreme law in all political action. But he was still full of the conviction that politics was intrinsically and indissolubly connected with the moral government of the world, and that it was exceedingly injurious to separate the one from the other.
—In the scientific distinction between politics and morals, we recognize a great and lasting progress, a distinction which alone has rendered possible an independent science of politics. To think, in a political sense, is to think from the point of view of the state; to judge morally is to consider human actions from the point of view of the moral order of the universe, conformably to the category, "good and bad." But Machiavelli, who certainly can not be denied the credit of this distinction, by his reckless exaggeration of it even to the point of complete separation of politics from morals, weakened the power of the good among men, greatly stimulated the ambition of princes, and thoroughly corrupted political practice. We accordingly hold firmly to the relative independence of political science, but we at the same time recognize that political practice must not place itself in contradiction with the laws of the moral order of the world.
—We do not speak here of the moral law, which religious revelation proclaims as the command of the Deity. Such a moral law is religion, which influences only believers in it. We here allude rather to the moral law derived from human nature, and understood by human reason, as the intrinsically well-grounded ordering of all human life. It is unthinkable that politics, as the rule of external life in common of man in the state, can be absolutely separated from, and completely independent of, the moral law, considered as the rule of proper human conduct in general. It is just as unthinkable, as in the economy of the state it is impossible, to ignore the laws of physics or mathematics. As politics, moreover, should advance the prosperity of society, and endeavor to promote the improvement of the community, the determination of these tasks can not safely be undertaken without, at the same time, paying due regard to the moral duties of human life in general, and to the destinies of humanity, pointed out by the moral law. Thus, not the complete separation of politics and morals, still less the hostile opposition of the two, but the preservation of the intimate relationship between them, is the correct view in this matter. Both in the determination of political ends and aims, and in the choice of political means, moral considerations must not be lost sight of.
—1. Ends and Aims. The ends and aims of politics may, indeed, be morally indifferent, but they should not be immoral. Many political reforms are effected from juridico-technical, or from military or politico-economical motives; thus, public monuments owe their form to the enthusiasm of the artist for the beautiful. When a new mode of procedure is introduced, or when the army is organized and exercised; when a new system of duties is adopted, or a new style of architecture employed: in all cases of this kind, moral considerations have no share, or only a very subordinate one. But, since statesmen are human beings, they should not exempt themselves from the general duties of men, and in their political calling they should not act contrary to the moral destiny of mankind; that is, they should not pursue political ends which morality condemns.
—This truth was by no means hidden from the nations of antiquity. It was emphatically proclaimed in the sacred books of the Hindoos, Jews and Chinese, and greatly strengthened by their religious reverence for the authority of God or of the gods. But ancient practice was, notwithstanding, exceedingly lax in this respect. The ambition of nations, and the selfishness of rulers helped them, for the most part, to an easy settlement with conscience. The extension of power and the exploitation of subjects were but seldom moderated or limited by moral considerations.
—In the politics of the last centuries, likewise, the moral criterion was but seldom applied. The law of morals forbids man to exploit his fellow-man, as the mere object of his pleasure and his rule, and requires every one to honor his fellow-man as a being of the same species endowed with reason. Yet how frequently has the capricious authority of rulers and their favorites been immoderately extended, and improperly used, contrary to this moral law, to indulge the evil inclinations of the human heart. But by degrees public opinion develops into a public conscience, and more clearly enunciates its admonitions and warnings, and bestows praise or blame according as it perceives a contradiction or harmony between political ends and the moral duties of life.
—The liberation of an oppressed nation from a foreign yoke, the insurance of peace, the spread and improvement of civilization, the education of citizens to freedom, the ennobling of culture, and the encouragement of humane institutions, are all, at the same time, moral and political duties of life, and honored as such. Yet sophists here find a convenient field. Only too easily do they succeed in cloaking selfish passions in the mantle of moral endeavor, by representing tyranny as order, conquest as the spread of civilization, and revolt against political authority as freedom.
—2. Means. It is much more difficult to determine the relation of moral demands to the means of politics. Moralists are inclined to apply the same rule to political means that we have here recognized as applicable to political ends. They grant that means morally indifferent may be employed in political practice, but they do not allow that morally impure means should at any time be used. Moral feeling and logical consistency seem to declare this to be wholly incontestable.
—And yet a glance at history, or into the practical political life of the present time, shows that there are great difficulties in the way of the strict application of this rule, and that, as a matter of fact, such application is scarcely possible. We can not ignore this: that it is better for the state that it should be saved from some great danger by an energetic man, led by an inordinate love of power, than weakened by a timid but personally virtuous ruler. Nor can we ignore that it is of greater advantage to national well-being when aroused vanity helps build works of common utility, than when pious humility does nothing. Many politicians have, therefore, entirely denied the applicability of the above-mentioned rule to political means, and maintained that the principle, "The end sanctifies the means," may be wrong in private morals, but can not be dispensed with as a political maxim. But a closer examination at once reveals how very dangerous this opinion is to the whole moral condition of things. When the state excuses the immorality of the political means employed, by the morality of the end to be attained, what prevents individuals from imitating the example of the state? There is a natural inclination in men, when they commit a wrong, to excuse it to themselves and to others, by the allegation that it was a means to a good end. If the maxim that "the end justifies the means" thus became general, the authority of the moral law would be completely paralyzed, and the wild chase of sinful desires after satisfaction would not be stopped by any cunning allusion to laudable aims, but continued with increased ardor. The harmony of the moral order of the world would be destroyed if the open rupture between moral ends and immoral means was recognized, and if the moral law only retained a certain authority in respect of the ends, but was entirely powerless as to the choice of the means to be employed in politics.
—It is not easy to find an exit from this labyrinth. The inconsiderate demands of moralists seem altogether impracticable, while the opinion of political sophists is ruinous to the moral order. We can gain safe ground only after we shall have more closely examined the nature of the state, and more deeply investigated the relation of evil to the moral order of the world.
—1. The state, as a man-like, composite person, produced by the union of men, is not merely a civil person, but a moral civil person. As the moral law embraces all mankind, and is valid as to all, the state can neither release itself from its moral duties to humanity, to other nations, to its subjects, to those who live under its protection, but should heed those duties and fulfill them. The duties of the state bind the representatives of the power of the state and the organs of the authority of the state, as well as the ruled and parties. Patriotism, fidelity, justice, bravery, the diligent and careful fulfillment of official duty, are especially the virtues of political life. Civilization as it advances develops this sense of moral duty, and enhances its demands.
—The moral law does not limit itself to political aims. It is binding on the whole state, in all its doings, and in all its life.
—2. But the state is the ordering of the external life of men in common. The moral demands addressed to the politician lie in a direction and have a criterion different from the moral demands that religion makes on men. The latter are addressed to the inner life of the soul, the former to the external organization of the community, of the people, using the word people in its political sense. The saint may consider suffering as the highest perfection; but the statesman's duty is action. The preponderantly religious man may seclude himself from the world, and like the hermit withdraw into his innermost soul. The political man must remain in human society, and through men influence other men. The church may give the conscience of the individual the highest commands of ideal perfection, as the duty of his life; the state must moderate its requirements with a due regard for the actual capacity and deficiencies of the many. Religion lifts its expectations even to the height of divine perfection; the state can not strain its coercive laws beyond what the average nature of the majority can bear. The priest may tell the believer how and what he should be; the statesman must take men as they are.
—In judging political conduct, therefore, we must apply only the relative standard of moral demands which corresponds with the stage of moral culture that a nation or a society has, for the time being, attained, so far as that culture is represented in its better average constituent parts. This standard is the standard of the good citizen and of the dutiful official, as both are at the time understood by the people.
—When we consult history, it affords us some satisfaction to observe that humanity, in this respect, has incontestably made notable progress. From age to age moral demands have risen, and the moral standard or criterion has become more refined. The ancient Greeks and Romans considered almost everything permissible against an enemy with which the state was engaged in war. They felt no moral repugnance to kill defenseless foes, to sell the wives and children of the conquered, as well as the conquered themselves, as slaves; to sack towns and burn villages. If a general of the present day were to treat his conquered enemy in such a brutal and cruel manner as only too often was done by even the best warriors of antiquity, as was done by the amiable Alexander the Great, and the magnanimous Julius Cæsar, such a man would be shunned as a maniac, or outlawed as a human monster from the civilized world.
—In like manner the Christian nations of the middle ages looked upon every form of cruelty to unbelievers and heretics as perfectly just and permissible. The Roman popes, whom Christendom revered as the highest moral authority, repeatedly approved the horrible maxim, that no one was bound to keep faith with unbelievers. Even the sanctity of the oath, when it came in contact with the glowing religious fanaticism of the Roman priest, disappeared in smoke. (Instances by Laurent, Etudes sur l'histoire de l'humanité, ix, 142, x., 338.) The civilized world of the present day unanimously condemns such immorality. Our manly feelings revolt at the thought that formerly the ambassadors of European powers in Stambul were obliged to throw themselves on the ground before the Turkish sultan. We consider the incense of base flattery which, at the close of the seventeenth century and beginning of the eighteenth, was offered to Louis XIV. even by the most renowned writers of that time, both contemptible and unworthy of human beings. Even in the eighteenth century, in the English parliament, corruption was so much at home, and general to such a degree, that an English minister, to obtain a majority, could not avoid bribing individual members of parliament with money and other gifts. It did no injury to the honorable name of the renowned statesman, Pitt, that he effected the dissolution of the Irish parliament and the union of Ireland with Great Britain by bribery. A minister who should do the same thing today would be lost, in the opinion of the public.
—In the diplomatic intercourse of the eighteenth century, equivocation and intentional deception were still so much in vogue that even a sincere and truthful man was occasionally compelled to wear a mask, just as a merchant, obliged to do business with rogues, can scarcely avoid dissimulation. And even now falsehood and deception are not unheard of in international intercourse. But sincerity and truthfulness dare, at least, openly engage in war against this kind of immorality.
—3. If we can not require political leaders to pursue a course above the understanding, pliancy and tractableness of the average man with whom they have to deal, we may at least require that they should not remain below the moral height of the average culture of their time and nation; but that here also they should remain the guides and leaders of the many. Precisely because they are leaders, and shine forth as models to those who stand lower than they, or follow behind them, the moral demands that are made on them are greater. A virtuous prince produces an elevating and ennobling effect on the society which looks up to him, while a vicious ruler lowers even the moral condition of his subjects.
—Humanity's moral duty is the fulfillment of its destiny. When men harmoniously develop their faculties, they advance morally. Nations and their leaders are responsible to humanity if they do not take part in this progress. They owe it to humanity to take such a part.
—4. The mere turning to account of immoral acts committed by others, by the statesman for the good of the state, is permissible to the statesman, in so far as such acts appear a happy accident for his purposes. But when the statesman himself causes or favors such acts he becomes a party to them, and, as such, a participant in the responsibility and guilt of their immorality.
—When King Philip II. of Spain delegated murderers to kill Queen Elizabeth of England, he became guilty of a crime, which can be excused neither by the plea of the good of Spain nor mitigated by the approval of Pope Pius V., given it on religious grounds. (Laurent, supra, ix., 190, x., 171.) It bears witness to the still uncertain feeling of the public opinion of that time, that it extolled the chevalier Bayard as a hero of rare virtue, because he decidedly rejected the proposal of the duke of Ferrara, to kill the pope, although the latter had conspired against his own life and that of the duke. (Laurent, supra, x., 390.) The connivance at crime, allowing it to be committed, by one in power, whose duty it is to prevent and prosecute it, should be regarded as a moral offense, even when not punishable. The mere expression of the wish to get rid of a dangerous adversary, is frequently the only thing needed to put a dagger into the hand of an assassin to kill the obnoxious person. But, as the general can not be blamed who takes advantage of the reports of a traitor concerning the weakness of the enemy's position, so neither can we blame a prince who avails himself of the murder of a pretender to the throne, which he neither provoked nor favored, for the purpose of strengthening his own authority.
—5. Private morals and state morals rest on the same basis of the moral order of the world; and are pervaded by the same spirit of man's destiny and duty in life. They therefore belong together as twin buds of the same parent tree, and of the same species. Nevertheless, the instinct of nations has, from time out of mind, ever felt that there existed a subtle difference between them. There are, indeed, cases in which the same action appears in a different light, and is differently judged, according as it is performed by a statesman with patriotic intention, or by a private individual from selfish interest. The reprobate principle of Machiavellian policy, "The advantage of the state excuses all the crimes of the statesman,"41 is only the caricatured, and therefore blameworthy, expression of a correct idea. There is in fact such a thing as a reason of state, a raison d'état, the effect of which on the public conscience and on the moral judgment is sanctioned by the history of the world. What is the reason of this difference? and how is it to be understood?
—It seems to me that this question can be answered only by first investigating the meaning of evil in the moral order of the world. Evil appears in an entirely different light, according as it is considered as the act of an individual who despises and violates the moral order of the world, or as it is examined from a higher point of view, from a point of view over-looking the aggregate life of humanity. What in the individually guilty man appears as evil, as blameworthy and reprobate, in its connection with the all, shows itself a necessary condition precedent of the good, and, to that extent, it is good. What Mephistopheles said of himself, that he was—
"Ein Theil von jener Kraft,
applies in an eminent degree to the case we are discussing. The highest virtue is attained only in the struggle with evil inclinations, whether one's own or those of others. All progress in good is conditioned by the overcoming of evil. As human error is necessary to the knowledge of the truth, so is evil in the world of men the necessary stage preliminary to moral perfection.
—Evil has no permanency in the world. It is always combated and overcome, and finally conquered. It ceases to be evil as soon as it has really been conquered. Then it becomes clear that it has served the development of good. But so far as the aggregate is concerned, everything depends on this: that evil should be made subservient to good; that evil should be conquered by good, and that it should be, as it were, the mere background of good. To this extent we may distinguish between good aims and evil means, but this distinction is allowable only when the latter stands in a subordinate relation to the former, or has been completely conquered by it, and rendered good.
—What is thus true of the moral order of the world in general, may by analogy be applied to the state. The state also is a great whole, a world in itself. In the state also it is possible that what seems evil in a particular case may become good in its relation to the whole. The guilt of the individual, which considered apart is evil, may, when brought into connection with the progressive life of the whole people, reveal itself as an advancement of the good, and hence become good, yet only in as far as the evil in the individual has really been overcome by the improvement of the whole, only when the evil has really been made subservient to the good.
—The state, as an aggregate being, can as little dispense with human passions, to promote its progress, as can the Deity in his government of the world. If it were possible to extirpate selfishness, ambition, vanity, love of glory and love of strife from the hearts of the citizens of a state, the community would lose immensely in elastic force, and a great deal less of good and of what is useful to the common weal would be performed in the world. The manly virtue of patriotism is never entirely free from admixture with passions of this kind; and as the noble metals can become a current coin only by being alloyed with a baser one, so is the admixture of patriotism with the passions necessary in practical politics.
—We therefore must not claim that the statesman should refuse the support of morally impure means. We can not reproach the ruler who, under certain circumstances, employs in the public service persons whose moral worth he may despise, but from whom he expects great results for the state. We must not blame the minister who understands how to use the moral weaknesses of a prince, or the blind zeal of a party, to carry out a measure of common utility.
—But we must at all times take heed lest the evil, which must be overcome while it is used, should grow too powerful. It should never be allowed to rule, but always be made to serve. Only when this subordination has been insured, may evil be admitted as a spur to exertion in the way of good. Yet even in this sense the principle remains a dangerous one, and may easily be misused by the sophist. Its danger, however, is greatly lessened when this subservient relation of evil in the individual to the moral progress of the whole is correctly estimated and honestly taken into consideration.
—Disproportionate means, that is, means the moral injury of which is greater than the progress of the whole, which they should serve, are always to be reprobated. For this reason the public conscience unqualifiedly condemns every open and direct breach of faith, as for instance, the breach of the conditions of capitulation by a victor, because faith in one's word of honor forms the moral cement which holds together the ordering of the world of men. The destruction of such faith would so dangerously shake the general security of the law, that the injury caused by an open breach of faith would by far outweigh the profit which the state might possibly derive from it. On the contrary, public opinion is but little shocked when it sees that a treaty injurious to the state has not been executed. Public opinion distinguishes decidedly between an illicit breach of faith, and the unsatisfactory or the hindered fulfillment of a treaty. It is likewise strongly inclined, even too much so, to excuse the deceiving of a political adversary as permissible when profitable to the state, and it expresses its indignant reproach only when the general danger of malicious deception assumes the form of fraud and imposture. Frederick the Great said of himself, that as a private individual he would keep his word under all circumstances, but that as a prince he would sacrifice even his personal honor to the state, if the existence of the state required that sacrifice.
—No crime excites both the moral and the legal sense of a people to greater horror than murder. Public opinion reprobates the excuse, often attempted, of political murder, by the plea that it was committed for the good of the state. In vain has the authority of Pope Gregory XIV., who ordered that the horrible Saint Bartholomew massacre should be commemorated by a Te Deum, been appealed to; and in vain has it been attempted to defend the September massacres of the French revolution in 1793, by showing that they secured the liberation of France from a foreign yoke, and the protection of republican freedom. The unbiased moral judgment of the modern world revolts at the recital of those horrors. The malevolent, premeditated attack on a human life seems to us such a dangerous and serious evil and injustice, that murder should never be employed as a means to a political end.
—But even this rule is not without exception. There are undoubtedly political murders in history concerning which public opinion, even in the case of sensible, thinking and moral men, begins to waver and be divided; and there are even a few murders which have been unconditionally approved by good men. It is not merely morally frivolous men who think like Brutus about the murder of Cæsar, and who excuse the murder of the Russian emperor, Paul I., as a political necessity. The act of Judith, who killed Holofernes, and that of Charlotte Corday, who killed Marat, are universally extolled. The Athenians celebrated the murder of Hipparchus in songs of praise; and the humane and noble-minded Schiller has celebrated the murder of Gessler by William Tell in a drama admired not only by the German nation, but by the whole civilized world. The very same men who, spite of the political motives which dictated them, condemn the assassination of Henry IV. of France and that of President Lincoln, defend the deeds above referred to.
—History manifestly makes a distinction here. It by no means approves the principle that the end justifies the means; for history does not palliate or excuse murder because committed from religious or political motives. History absolves the murderer only when his act has served to free his people from an intolerable tyranny, to combat which there existed no other sufficient means, when the tyranny, with its pernicious effects, is a far greater evil than the murder of an individual, and when the expression of Spinoza has become applicable, that "the tyrant should be killed like a mad dog."
—It is impossible, indeed, to deny the danger of even this limited excuse of a naturally unjust and immoral act, by its manifest subordination to a higher good which it serves. A fanatic may foolishly believe that he is doing an act agreeable to God, one necessary to humanity, and even to the state, while sound reason accuses him as an immoral criminal. The assassination of Cæsar did not save the Roman republic, and did not avert the empire; on the contrary, it shook the Roman state to its foundation, and threw the Roman people into confusion.
—The public conscience absolves the political murderer, not when the perpetrator himself is simply exempt from selfish motives or low passions, and has engaged in the struggle for the permanent security and well-being of the family, of the state, or of humanity, but when, besides, his deed must be objectively considered as necessary, in the light of all related circumstances; in other words, only when it is manifest that the evil done has, really served the furtherance of the good.
—To our modern development corresponds the strong sense of duty that pervades the entire population, and the clear consciousness of duty that teaches each of us to devote his life to the service of the whole, to the extent to which the whole, that is, the state, may need his powers. To this modern development corresponds particularly the fundamental idea which considers public right as public duty, and purifies and ennobles politics by the idea of duty to humanity to nations and to individuals.
—The duty of princes and rulers consists in serving the state and the people, and the duty of subjects and citizens consists in remaining loyal and obedient to the authority of the state, and, in case of need, in spending their blood and treasure for the fatherland.
—Duty goes beyond legal forms, and beyond the sphere of possible compulsion by the state, and its effects are felt beyond their limits. It strains all powers, strengthens the character, elevates the mind; and in this way, while suppressing selfishness, duty, by the much which it accomplishes, powerfully contributes to the general well-being,—III. The Relation of Politics to the Legal Order of Things. Public law is the sum total of the principles, admitted as necessary and enforcible, which regulate the public life of the state. It creates and shapes the organs through which the will of the state is expressed, and the forms in which social life moves. Its highest, most general and permanent expression is the constitution and the laws. Hence, necessarily, the fundamental political principle: All politics (political practice) must be constitutional, and conformable to the laws. Politics should never be unconstitutional, nor otherwise than conformable to the laws. Any disregard of this rule, on principle, would be a manifest contradiction of the life of the state with the order of the state, that is, a contradiction of the state with itself. An unconstitutional policy would attack the state at a point in which it ought to be safest, that is, in the very basis of its existence. An illegal policy would shake men's faith in the law and in the authority of the will of the state. It would weaken and paralyze the power and blessings of the law. But, thus, the progress of civilization, which consists in this, through the law to curb and control brute force and unbridled passion, would be rendered of no effect.
—A policy that, on principle, does not concern itself about the right or wrong of its actions, by so doing considers the law as a barrier only against the weak, and not against the strong as well, and thereby ignores the highest task of legal order, which is called upon to protect the weak against the maltreatment and oppression of the strong.
—When, on the contrary, politics treads the firm ground of the law, it is in turn sustained by the sacred authority of the law. It is thus made safe against attacks of various kinds, and may more readily calculate on support and following, and more readily attain a given purpose, than can an illegal policy, which provokes contradiction and resistance.
—Hence the developed consciousness of right of modern times rejects decidedly the opinion which Machiavelli proclaimed, in conformity with the custom of the rulers of his time, that expediency is the only standard of political conduct, and that law and right should be taken into account only in as far as they seem useful for the attainment of the proposed end, but that wrong merited preference when useful to the state. At the same time, the above rule has only a relative value, and not, like the laws of nature, an absolute effect. The absolute application of that rule is prevented by the unavoidable faults and deficiencies of all human provisions of law.
—1. All actual constitutional and other law has had an historical origin, and hence is subject to the changes of history. Although law has a durable character, it has no claim to be eternal. It may answer the conditions of a given age, and become useless or obsolete when the times have changed. The immunities of the clergy, and the exemption from taxes of the knights, during the middle ages, had then some sense, and good sense, but are now devoid of meaning. Hence, to ask of politics that it should esteem obsolete law and the law suited to the times equally, and look upon the former as the rule of its conduct, just as much as it looks upon the latter as such rule, would be unnatural and irrational. For politics determines the progressive life of a people who have out-grown the obsolete rules of the past.
—2. A written constitution is always an imperfect representation of the real people and the real state. In the actual people and the actual state there are latent forces, which become manifest in course of time, and demand a consideration that can find no support in the letter of the constitution, but which, on the contrary, at times seem excluded by it. In this manner, side by side with the written law, there exists an unwritten law, which completes and corrects the former. Here the chief task of politics is, to obtain recognition for law in the becoming (nascent law), and to protect the hitherto latent, law. To this end, politics should not timidly hold to that which is written, nor allow itself to be bound by the letter. We need only call to mind the history of the estates, or the difference between the acts of the English parliament and the political practice of the English king and his ministers, to find sufficient proof of this.
—3. All law must be externally perceptible, and must accordingly have a form. But, for this very reason, human law is exposed to the risk that the form may not completely answer to the spirit, so that there may be a want of harmony between the form and the spirit of the law (jus and œquitas). In such case it becomes the chief task of politics to do away with this want of harmony, and to reconcile the form and spirit of the law. If politics considered that formal law should be invariably maintained, it would ruin the state. In doubtful cases, politics should allow itself to be guided rather by the spirit than by the form of the law; yet politics can not completely escape the reproach that it must sometimes act contrary to the formal authority of the law, in order to allow the spirit of the law freely to develop itself. Under certain circumstances this may even reach the point of an open breach of the law, and yet be necessary.
—The constitution of the German confederation of 1815 was, as to its form, the preponderance of the many small German states over the few large ones. But the essence of that constitution consisted in the guidance of all the German states by the two German great powers. When the medium states presumed to assume the leadership because they were in the majority, they succumbed to the preponderance of the great powers; and when the two great powers dissolved partnership, the whole confederation lost its support and went to pieces.
—It is impossible that constitutional monarchy should exist as a form of the state when the king pushes his formal war power to an extreme, or when the national representation pushes its formal right of voting the budget to a like extreme. Constitutional monarchy can thrive only under a policy that understands how to mediate between conflicts of rights, and which is ready and inclined to effect compromises.
—4. All public law, finally, has its foundation in the state, and is intended for the state. It subsists only through the state, and for the state. An institution repugnant to the nature of the state, or a law that stands in the way of the well-being of the state, is in contradiction with the nature of the state, and with the main purpose of all public and constitutional law. Hence we can not ask of the politician, that he should regard a law repugnant to the nature of the state with the same reverence that he does a law in harmony with the nature of the state, and with the national well-being that it ministers to. The politician is, therefore, frequently compelled to fight against an injurious institution, and to limit as far as possible the application of a law, perhaps entirely to abrogate it.
—When there occurs one of these possible contradictions between the obsolete law of the past and the germs of new law, or between written and latent law, or between the unsatisfactory form and the intellectual principle of the law, or between a law repugnant to, and another in harmony with, the nature of the state: in all such cases, there is some defect in the order of law itself, which requires to be cured. It is the duty of politics to effect that cure. In such cases the law itself ordinarily needs, either still further development, a transformation, or a formation anew, so that, instead of the obsolete law, a new law, adapted to the times, may come into existence, and latent forces obtain recognition and the protection of the law; so that harmony may be restored between law and equity; that useless or injurious law may be replaced by a better; and, lastly, so that in case of need exceptional law may be provided for.
—If the constitution itself has foreseen the need of such changes and improvements, and prepared the means to undertake and carry them out, the leading politicians are in the favorable position of being able to work, by the way of reform, both as to form and matter. The advantages of such reform over violent action are so great that the disadvantages of a slow, laborious road to the end aimed at, a road perhaps beset with many petty obstacles, do not weigh very heavily against the advantages. The Romans and the English have understood this, and they frequently struggled, during years and decades, for a reform, which they at last effected in a more constitutional way, and which became firmly established because it had struck such deep roots in the legal consciousness of the people.
—But the avenues of reform are not always open. It frequently happens that a constitution has not foreseen, or has not provided for, its general or partial revision. It is even more dangerous, when the existing constitution intentionally places artificial obstacles in the way of future reform, or when the existing legal order in principle is in conflict with a transformation of the law, a transformation which perhaps has become unavoidable. In the former case, new means for the revision of the law must first be discovered; in the latter case, it is impossible to make any advance without breach of the law. Instances of the latter kind are: the definitive rupture of the Stuart dynasty with the English nation since James II.'s time; the development of new state interests and state ideas in the North American colonies as opposed to the English constitution; the German confederation of 1815, which required the unanimous vote of all the states, where such unanimity was not possible, to wit, for a fundamental change in the constitution.
—Politics can not and should not hesitate at an innovation, as soon as it appears necessary to the existence or the natural development of the state, even if the change can not be made without breach of the law. Politics can not hesitate here, because the power of the new spirit which demands the change is stronger than the authority of any constitutional provision which attempts to suppress the manifestation of life by means of a magic formula; stronger even than the power of some particular institution, which for a time undertakes to stem the current of the age, but which is itself finally over-flooded and swept away. Politics should not hesitate at the change, because its duty to protect and promote the life of the people is greater and higher than its duty to protect a mere form of law. Religion may find the highest perfection in suffering, in the endurance of injustice, and in self-sacrifice. But politics must look to action, to success, and to the development of the external life of man. A doctrinarian politician, therefore, who for legal considerations neglects this essential duty, commits as great a fault as the violent politician, who, in his fondness for innovation, heedlessly and arbitrarily trespasses the limits of the constitution.
—The genuine statesman, accordingly, admits the second rule of exception, which completes and limits the first main rule above mentioned, viz.: The authority of existing constitutional law loses its binding power in proportion as it becomes manifest that that law endangers the existence of the state instead of protecting it, or prevents the natural development of the state instead of advancing it. But the statesman will apply this second rule with great caution, and only when, after conscientious investigation, he has become convinced that adherence to the first and chief rule would be pernicious, and that a case of real necessity for the application of the second has arisen. He will also return as soon as possible to the normal path governed by the first and chief rule.
—If the transformation politics proceeds from those in power in the state, it is extolled as a policy of redemption; or else, as the policy of coups d'état it is seen in an ambiguous light. If such transformation politics breaks forth violently from below, it is, when victorious, recognized as revolution; but when defeated, it is called rebellion and insurrection. Princes in such cases appeal to the right of self-defense of the government; and the people, to the right of self-defense of the governed. Both refer us to the law of nature and of reason, which serves as a basis and limit to the law given by history. The court of history decides, whether they appeal to it with or without reason, by granting lasting success to certain deeds, thus recognizing them as necessary, and smiting others with sterility, and allowing them to perish.
—The conflict of opinion is most violent when the question at issue is the authority in the state itself. In subordinate things the change may be more easily effected. But when the dispute is as to the right to the throne itself, forces appear in the arena which claim for themselves a sovereign position, and are not willing to admit a new law as binding, to which they have not given their assent. In this connection the unfortunate politics of the legitimists appears as the antipode of revolutionary politics. It does not reflect great honor on our age, that the leading statesmen of Europe, at the beginning of the third decade of this century, should have ventured to proclaim legitimist politics as the true politics of Europe.42 This policy has every where in the world proved incapable of being executed, and unfortunate wherever it has been carried out by force. It has everywhere been in conflict with the wants of national life, and with the progress of the age. It hampered, but did not develop, the powers of the people, while it vainly squandered its means and labor to attain a goal which ever receded from it.
—History, since the year 1830, has shed a flood of light on the impotency of this legitimist policy. It had neither the courage nor the energy to protect the elder line of the Bourbons on the French throne. Neither in Italy nor in Spain was it able permanently to guard the absolutism of the restored kings against the revolution. Its authority, artificially and violently restored, collapsed everywhere as soon as external pressure was removed, and the nations began again to breathe and move freely. It loaded the states under its guardianship with debts, without giving any compensation in return, and it uselessly consumed its own energies. It did not even gain a short respite from the blows of the revolution, which it had momentarily conquered, because it could not prevent hostile tendencies and inclinations from accumulating under cover until another explosion became inevitable.
—The revolutionary shocks of the year 1848, the European wars for the emancipation and unification of Italy, and for the national organization of the German states, deprived the legitimist policy of all credit. The legitimist powers always succumbed. If the divine guidance of the world be at all visible in the history of the world, the policy of the legitimists has been condemned in the most unambiguous manner by divine decree. The form of the law, no longer suited to the conditions of the time, fell into dust, and the forces of growing national life were in every instance victorious. Only the statesmen who had cleared their heads of the crotchets of legitimist politics had great and lasting successes, while the politicians who, like modern Don Quixotes, had striven for the cause of legitimacy, everywhere met with defeat.
—IV. Ideal and Realistic Politics. All politics should be realistic. All politics should be ideal. Both principles are true when they are combined together, and mutually complete each other. Both principles are false when they exclude each other.
—By realistic politics we understand the politics which proceeds from the real, and not from the imaginary, wants of the people, which correctly estimates the forces and means at hand, carefully calculates friendly and hostile power, and only strives after attainable ends. Only with politics of this kind is success possible. In this sense, able statesmen have always been realistic politicians.
—We call ideal politics that which is determined and guided by ideas, which strives to develop and perfect the existing situation, and to realize practicable ideals, adapted to the times. The great statesmen of all nations, and of all times, were in this sense ideal politicians also.
—When, on the contrary, realistic or ideal politics is understood in a one-sided sense, such politics should be rejected. One-sided, realistic politics is brutal, inasmuch as it relies on brute force, or on the power of money; it is spiritless, because devoid of higher ideas. For such politics only material interests have a value, and selfishness is the mainspring of all its action. Hence it becomes vulgar, immoral, low, inhuman. Machiavellian politics has often been understood and practiced in this sense. But Machiavelli himself, although he complacently recommended realistic means, kept in view an ideal aim, to-wit, the liberation of Italy from a foreign yoke.
—The earlier colonial policy of the European mother countries toward their colonies beyond the sea was of this character. It was calculated chiefly to exploit the latter to the advantage of the former. For this reason it finally forfeited the supremacy it had abused.
—It is not impossible that exclusively realistic politics may be successful. It may make conquests, accumulate treasure, procure enjoyments for rulers, and, under certain circumstances, a rich, luxurious life for the governed. But it extinguishes the nobler instincts of the nation, it prevents the development of the intellectual powers, it suppresses all true freedom. It looks to the animal side of human nature, and neglects the intellectual.
—Politics of interest must not be always classed with merely realistic politics, for all politics must take general national interests into account, and seek to satisfy them. But the out-and-out politics of interest, which subordinates everything to material and selfish interests, belongs to this kind, and partakes of the faults of one-sided realistic politics.
—Onesided ideal politics is equally false, and more foolish, because attended with less success; because it does not test the ground on which it stands and moves, and hence walks in the dark and falls; it incorrectly estimates actual forces and conditions of power, and is hence defeated; it runs after impracticable and unattainable idols; or, finally, it rushes to its ruin, the victim of obscure feelings.
—Of this kind is the politics of the phantasy, which imagines conditions that do not exist, and becomes enthusiastic over phantoms. Of this kind, too, is politics of the romanticists, who fell in love with the pictures of mediæval life, and who thought, that, by the wave of some magic wand, they might revive the class differences of the middle ages, their pious clergy and knights, and fill our modern industrial world with monasteries and castles. Germany had different kinds of such romanticists, longing for an imaginary middle age: romantic kings, longing for the revival of the theocratic feudal system, and romantic students, who reveled in visions of the national black, red and gold (the German tricolore before 1866). Both failed in actual politics. But even celebrated statesmen have occasionally fallen into this same error. Thus, imagination had a large share in the Egyptian campaign of Napoleon I.; and his nephew at Strasburg and Boulogne was carried away by very childish fancies.
—The statesman, however, may legitimately work on the imagination of peoples, and hold up to their mental vision pictures of greatness, power and freedom, in order to increase their energy of action. But the statesman should never rely on the imagination; he must beware lest the latter weaken entirely, when brought into contact with stern reality.
—The politics of feeling is another kind of false ideal politics. In politics, leadership belongs to reason, wisdom and masculinity. When politics allows itself to be guided by passion or excited feeling, by love or hatred, by fear or revenge, it goes dangerously and easily astray, and is certain to be worsted.
—It is doubtful whether the politics that in the middle ages produced the crusades should be ascribed to the imagination, or to over-excited religious feeling; at all events, it was one-sided and unfortunate politics. Religious wars, with all their ruinous effects, must be ascribed entirely to the politics of feeling. Senseless race hatred, a blot on humanity, a hatred which sometimes exists between kindred nations and tribes, is calculated to mislead the best feelings of a people, and to play a ruinous part in politics. The right course, therefore, is not the separation, but the union, of real and ideal politics. The realistic side forms the basis of rational politics; the ideal side is its guiding star. The former has to do chiefly with the means; the latter, with the ends.
—It is with politics as with art. The mere naturalist, who faithfully paints stone, wood, woolen or silken stuffs, is no true artist, unless he employs his talent in the service of the beautiful. But the man who draws beautiful lines, and is unfaithful to nature, satisfies us no better. Great artists, like Michael Angelo and Raphael, were both realists and idealists. Shakespeare is the greatest of poets because, in his works, truth to nature is united with the most abundant wealth of thought, in such perfect harmony that the two are bound indissolubly together. But only in the greatest statesmen do we see the personification, so to speak, of such a combination of realistic and ideal politics; as, for instance, in Pericles and Alexander the Great, in Julius Cæsar, in Charlemagne and King Henry I., in Frederick II. of Prussia and Washington, in Lord Chatham and Pitt, in Napoleon I., in Baron von Stein and Count Cavour. In individuals and nations the realistic or the ideal, for the most part, preponderates, yet neither the ideal nor the realistic should be absent from either the nation or the individual.
—English politics is predominantly realistic, and, first of all, the politics of interest; yet English politics is not wanting in the ideal, as is proved by the immense influence English ideas of popular rights and political freedom have exercised in the world. French politics prefers the ideal, and always advances an idea as its flaming beacon. Napoleon III. boasted that, "Only the French were ready to go to war for an idea!" But, by the side of this idealism, French politics manifests strong features of realism. The French never yet scorned to get in return for their ideal enthusiasm the highest material advantages. This Europe has always been made to feel, whether France happened to be governed by legitimist kings, by revolutionary directors or presidents, or by Napoleonic emperors.
—During the last centuries the German nation did not succeed in establishing a harmonious union between realistic and ideal politics. It unfortunately vacillated hither and thither, between the realistic pressure of absolute governments, and nebulous, idealistic dreams. Prussian politics was the first to understand how to collect and intensify the bodily reality of the forces of the people, by proposing higher tasks to the nation. The greatest of these, the unification of Germany and the rise of the German empire, are due chiefly to the efforts of Prince Bismarck, whom people, by way of preference, designate as a realistic politician; who, in fact, better than any other living statesman, knows how to estimate and reckon with actual forces, but who, at the same time, is uncommonly fertile in ideal thoughts, and, on the whole, allows himself to be determined by the ideas of a national and masculinely free state organization, adapted to the nature and destinies of the German people; and who, accordingly, is an ideal politician, as well as a realistic one.
J. C. BLUNTSCHLI.
[41.]An expression of the French president Jeannin, in Laurent. x., p. 344: "Les princes font bien quelque fois des choses honteuses, qu'on ne peut blâner, quand elles sont utilse à leurs états; car la honte étent couverte par le profit, on la nomme sagesse," i.e., "Princes, indeed, sometimes do shameful things, which we can not find fault with, when they are useful to their states; for shame, in the mantle of profit or advantage, is called wisdom."
[42.]Circular of Prince Metternich, May 12, 1821: "Conserver ce qui est légalement établi, tel a dû étre le principe invariable de leur politique (des souverins alliés) le point de départ ét l' objet final de tous leurs résolutions."