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THE PRUSSIAN THEORY OF THE STATE
SINCE the outbreak of the Great War in the summer of 1914 the conviction has deepened that whatever may have been the conflict of interests between the nations of Europe due to their efforts to maintain or increase their political influence and territorial extent, this calamitous struggle would not have been precipitated, and certainly England and the United States would not have felt forced to become parties to it, had there not existed in Germany a controlling political philosophy which marked her off from other States and made her a menace to the rest of humanity. It is true that the proximate cause that brought Great Britain into the war was the invasion of Belgium by the German army, which jeopardized her own security from invasion; and it is equally true that it was the disregard by Germany of our own commercial rights as a neutral nation that was the immediate cause of our own declaration of war. But back of these proximate or immediate causes was a real efficient cause which impelled both Great Britain and the United States to enter the contest and to pledge to its successful prosecution their entire manhood and material resources.
This real and efficient cause was this conviction of which I have spoken, - a conviction which has strengthened as Germany has continued to reveal herself in her methods of warfare, and to demonstrate that her political ideals and standards of conduct are such as, if unrestrained in their application, would render impossible a comity of life and a reciprocal friendliness and coöperation among the nations of the world.
The present great struggle is, therefore, properly termed a world war, not merely because a large number of nations are parties to it, but because, in their essential character, its issues are of vital importance to all the civilized peoples of the world. In other words, these
aims transcend special national interests and concern the spiritual as well as the material interests of all humanity.
This interpretation of the significance of the war is one with which we are all familiar, and I would perhaps not be justified in again explaining its implications, except for the fact that it is my hope that I can show in a somewhat more systematic manner than is ordinarily shown the premises upon which the maleficent German political philosophy rests, and exhibit the manner in which its several parts and conclusions are knit together into a logical whole.
In carrying out this purpose it is not my intention to review the acts of which Germany has been guilty, - acts which cry aloud the infamy of those who have authorized them, and, I may add, of those in other countries, including our own, who have attempted to excuse them. But it will be my effort to show that the reasons which have been brought forth to justify them have been drawn from a political philosophy whose premises support, as, by the Germans, they have been made to support, acts which the rest of the civilized world has deemed inconsistent with national honor and the demands of justice and humanity.
I shall first set out the postulates of this false political philosophy and then attempt to show how it has been possible to obtain for them the acceptance and support of an educated, and, outside of political life, a moralized people. It is further necessary to say that in this paper I shall be concerned only with the Prussian conception of the State. With the Teutonic doctrines of government, which will include a consideration of German theories of constitutional law and political liberty, I shall deal in my second paper. 1
Considering first, then, the postulates of the ruling German political philosophy, we find placed in the forefront the conception of the State as an entity of such an exalted superpersonal and mystical character as to warrant the attribution to it of divine qualities.
At all times since first men began to speculate regarding the nature of the institutions to whose controlling authority they have found themselves subjected, the idea of divinity has played an important part. Among primitive and uncivilized peoples all rules of conduct, whether
1 Printed infra, p. 266.
of law or custom, obedience to which was socially demanded, were regarded as divinely decreed. Among many Oriental nations to this day a view substantially similar prevails. And among not only these peoples but those of Europe and of England the doctrine was for long asserted and widely held until comparatively recent times that the persons who hold the reins of supreme political power were, if not themselves Gods, at least the vicegerents of God. And in the political philosophy of Democracy, also, the divine element has not been wholly absent, the doctrine being frequently declared that the voice of God is to be heard speaking in the voice of the people when authentically expressed - vox populi, vox Dei.
That, however, which distinguishes this State doctrine of German political philosophy from these other divine-right theories is that it is supported by abstract and metaphysical, rather than by theological or dogmatic, principles, and that the divine or superpersonal characteristics which are dealt with are ascribed not to the government, nor, primarily at least, to its rulers, but to that abstract and mystical entity which is termed the State, and which is conceived of as employing the government and its rulers as but instrumentalities for carrying out its ends.
In juristic philosophy it has been found convenient in all countries, in order to give formal and logical consistency to their systems of public law, to envisage or picture the State as a political person or corporation possessing and uttering a legally supreme will, and thus, in a formal and purely juristic sense, as the ultimate source of all commands that may, in technical strictness, be termed laws. But this conception, which is nothing more than a convenience of thought, and which serves only as a peg upon which to hang other juristic concepts, or as a starting point from which to attempt a logical arrangement of public-law principles, is an idea wholly different from the German doctrine which postulates the real, albeit mystical and insubstantial, existence of a State-being to the commands of which, as a moral proposition, implicit obedience is due, and with ends of its own for the realization of which any and every sacrifice of individual well-being may rightfully be required.
Professor John Dewey, in his work, German Philosophy and
Politics, has shown in a convincing manner that the formalistic and purely abstract character of Kant's doctrine of the categorical imperative makes easily possible, if it does not actually encourage, the filling in of its contents by the apodictic commands of a superpersonal State, and the justifying of any acts which are deemed to advance the interests or ends of this mystical being.
That Kant went even further than this and himself argued the existence and mystical character of the State as a being raised above the plane of ordinary human existence and above the realm of the practical, if not of the pure, reason, is shown by his statement that "the origin of the supreme [political] power, from the practical point of view is inscrutable by the people who are under its authority.” In other words, he continues, "the subject should not reason too curiously as to its origin, as if the right of obedience due to it were to be doubted.”? Again, of the will of this State he says:
A law which is so holy and inviolable that it is practically a crime even to cast doubt upon it, or to suspend its operation even for a moment, is represented of itself as necessarily derived from some supreme, unblamable lawgiver. And this is the meaning of the maxim "All authority is from God"; which proposition does not express the historical foundation of the civil constitution, but an ideal of the practical reason. It may be otherwise rendered thus: “It is a duty to obey the law of the existing legislative power, be its origin what it may." Hence it follows that the supreme power in the State has only rights and no (compulsory) duties towards the subject.*
Elsewhere Kant goes so far as to see in the State a unity resulting from a trinity of powers which is obviously patterned after the triune character of the Christian God."
In the philosophy of Hegel, also, we find the State appearing as a transcendental being, essentially divine in character. “The State is the march of God in the world; its ground or cause is the power of reason realizing itself as will. When thinking of the idea of the State, we must not have in our mind any particular State, or par
2 Philosophy of Law, 174, Hastie translation.
ticular institution, but must rather contemplate the idea, this actual God, by itself."5
As thus conceived, it is what we would expect when we find the State declared by Hegel to be morally supreme and able to transmute into duties to itself whatever rights might seem to belong to its subjects as individual human beings. “This substantive unity [of the State],” he says, “is its own motive and absolute end. This end has the highest right over the individual, whose highest duty in turn is to be a member of the State."6 The State is indeed the reality of the moral idea “Der Staat ist die Wirklichkeit der sittlichen Idee."
The extent to which German thought, social and political as well as metaphysical, has been guided by the doctrines of Kant and Hegel is a fact which is commonplace in the history of thought. It would, therefore, be unnecessary, even could space be spared, to show how, throughout German literature of the nineteenth century, the doctrines which have been here indicated were constantly restated and reaffirmed. Especially, however, since the outbreak of the present war have they been put forth with renewed emphasis and ardor.
We may, then, take it as a proposition regarding which there can be no dispute that German political philosophy, as academically taught and as popularly believed, asserts that every independent politically organized group can, and should, be viewed as constituting the material and phenomenal body of a mystical and inherently divine being whose will, when authentically expressed, may not be morally or legally questioned by those over whom it claims authority. In short, the old doctrine of the divine right of the ruler is replaced by the divine right of the State.
The next step in the German political philosophy is to draw the conclusions which logically follow from the premise of the Godhead of the State. Two corollaries immediately follow. The first of these is the one already indicated that, as transcendentally supreme, no limits may be set to its authority-no resistance to its commands in reason, justified. This it is to be again emphasized is not the ascription to the State of a legal supremacy and absoluteness such as is predicated
Philosophy of Right, Dyde translation, 247. • Op. cit., 240.