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Chapter XIII: Polity and Political Science

Of all institutions that which throughout human history has received the greatest homage is the state. It is that “ship of state” in which the members of a society are conceived as having embarked together, and to which they are conceived as having committed their fortunes. However they may be divided otherwise, the ship's company must unite to keep the ship afloat. Whatever their ultimate destinations, during the voyage their several journeys must fall within its charted course. The officers of the ship are invested with dignity, and the obedience which they command takes precedence of other loyalties. The prestige of the state is enhanced by tradition and by every potent symbol: the flying of the country's flag, the chanting of its song, the pomp of public ceremony.

This primacy of the political institution is reflected in the primacy of the corresponding cultural science. To describe the general need or propensity for social organization it has been said that “man is a political animal.” Economics has until recently been called “political economy.” As the lawmaker is identified with the ruler, so jurisprudence in its emphasis on command has been considered as a branch of political science.

While there is a reason for this primacy of the state, its spell must be exorcised, lest in claiming everything for the state one lose sight of its peculiar claims. There is a specific function of polity, which distinguishes it from the other institutions, even from those other institutions such as conscience, law, and economy, with which it is united by the same ulterior moral purpose. Political science begins, then, with a general description in which this peculiar function is brought to light, proceeds with its explanation, and culminates in its critique and the technique of its creation.

A polity is an over-all plan, adopted by all for all, and imposed by all on all: a plan by which the members of a group live together for their joint advantage; to escape mutual conflict, to pool their resources, and to enjoy the benefits of coöperation. If such a comprehensive plan is to be effective, it must be not only contrived and formulated, but obeyed, and obeyed by all. The members must be able to count on one another. So essential is this assurance of reciprocity and so great is human unreliability, that it is humanly necessary to enforce obedience. Hence men unite to create an irresistible instrument of enforcement, and reserve its use to the political authority. They create inducements so strong that they will exceed any probable temptation to disobey: inducements of the same order as the temptations; inducements which appeal to those primitive interests such as pain, life, property, freedom of bodily movement, which can be assumed to actuate all men and particularly those men who would be disposed to disobedience.

These extraordinary and artificial instruments are introduced to supplement prior inducements. The first inducement, commonly called the inducement of reason, is the desire for that end of harmonious happiness of which obedience is seen to be a necessary condition. The second inducement is the collective approval or disapproval; that is, conscience. When these do not suffice men resort to more tangible and palpable rewards and punishments. The importance which any given social philosopher attaches to such enforcement will reflect his view of the generality of mankind; that is, his view of the extent to which men will probably remain incorrigible despite the first and second inducements. If he has an extremely low view of human reason and conscience he may go so far as to identify polity with enforcement. This view, however, is clearly untenable. Polity implies policy-making and administration, and it implies obedience; but voluntary obedience is no less obedient, and is in the long run more trustworthy, than compulsory obedience.

If it be the purpose of polity to create harmonious happiness by the adoption of a common plan, then when such a plan is adopted and its fruits enjoyed, polity exists: it exists when and insofar as it serves its purpose. The mythical “state of nature,” when human affairs were ruled by reason and conscience, was not pre-political, but ideally political. The “fall” symbolizes not the beginning of polity but its failure. To deny this is in effect to say that a ship which steers easily has no helm, or that lungs do not begin to be lungs until they require the assistance of an artificial pump. To say that polity is measured by the imposition of rewards and penalties is as though one were to say that the ship's discipline is measured by the suppression of mutiny, or that conscience is measured by remorse, or that piety is measured by repentance, or that law is measured by the prison or concentration camp, or, in short, that government is a reign of terror.

Enforcement is not of the essence of government, but is an insurance against its failure. It is the mopping up which takes care of remnants of resistance which mark the partial failure of government to be what it ought to be, namely, policy made and policy obeyed, for the common good. So conceived, enforcement may be recognized as a proper and humanly indispensable adjunct of government. For if men are to enjoy a guarantee of reciprocity, and not a mere hope or probability, there must be provision against the contingency of disobedience, however infrequent or sporadic its occurrence.

If organized society is to serve its purpose, there must be an over-all public policy, that is, a policy for all; which requires a central command obeyed throughout the entire body politic. Decisions must be made by a recognized authority, and these decisions must be followed and carried into effect. There must be a head who lays the course, steers the ship, gives orders, permits and forbids, and quells insubordination. These conditions are never completely met, but in proportion as they are, a society is a polity or state.


Because the function of ruling is assigned to certain specialized functionaries, constituting the government, there is a tendency to divide a political society into two groups, the rulers and the ruled. In principle this division does not hold, inasmuch as rulers are also ruled and the ruled are also rulers. But the fact that there is a duality of command and obedience, if not a dual classification of persons, has created a fundamental problem of political theory.

What person or persons are properly entitled to exercise the function of political direction and control, and under what conditions? This is the so-called problem of sovereignty, notable for its importance, and notorious for its misunderstandings. The literature and discussion of the subject persistently confuse two quite different questions: sovereignty de facto, and sovereignty de jure — “where lies the control?” and “where ought it to lie?” The actual center of political control may be located anywhere, in a person of superior strength or cunning, in a crowned head, in a leader of the armed forces, in the rich or in the poor, in the privileged or in the unprivileged, class. But he who exercises the control, and his associates who share it, justify their control; arguing that they not only exercise it but have a right to exercise it.

The question of the “legitimacy” of the ruler may be argued on merely constitutional grounds, as when the monarch's title is proved by his parentage, or the elected official's title is proved by counting the votes. But then there remains the ulterior question of the right of the recognized heir or of the duly elected official. Why should a person or person, however accredited, exercise unique and irresistible power over the other members of society? There is no answer to this question save in terms of moral priority; and there is no morally justified control except the control of the included part by the more inclusive whole. The control by a part is justified only when delegated to that part by the whole; or only insofar as the governing part expresses the agreement of all parts. This is the meaning of the doctrine of natural (inborn or divinely created) political equality: as affirmed by John Locke and embodied in the American Declaration of Independence. Prior to the organization of a polity of agreement, the rights of men to rule over other men are equal; that is to say, there is no such right.

The acceptance of the principle that the right of sovereignty consists in the priority of the whole over the part has led social philosophers hastily to conclude that where there is a whole of wills there is a will of the whole. As has already been argued, however, there is no will except a personal will, and there is no will of a whole composed of persons except insofar as there is an agreement of personal wills. The claim of government is disproved by the dissent of any person whose agreement is claimed. The failure to recognize this very simple fact has led to the assumption of a popular will as a postulate or fiction which is contrary to the facts of psychology; or to such purely theoretical inventions as a “vicarious,” “imputed,”“ex-officio,” or “virtual” agreement.

The so-called “compact theory” of government, despite its shortcomings, is to be credited with recognizing that the right of government to govern rests on the real agreement of the governed. A compact in its simplest form is a voluntary agreement entered into by two or more parties for their joint benefit. Each party is at one and the same time a maker of the agreement and a beneficiary. Its authority over each consists in the consent of both to a plan which is for the benefit of both. All parties create a joint power from their several powers, and bind themselves to obey it for the sake of the security and coöperation which its obedience will enable them severally to enjoy. Compact, in this sense, does occur in human history between man and man, or within small uprooted groups, such as the voyagers of the Mayflower, or the settlers on a new frontier. But as a principle of political theory it is a model, invoked when a polity is called upon to justify itself. This doctrine is personalistic in its conception of will, inter-personalistic in its conception of the social will, and moralistic in its conception of the right of sovereignty.

These same considerations serve to correct the widespread but erroneous supposition that the right of popular sovereignty is the right of a majority to govern a minority. As there is no right of one person to rule over another, so there is no right of 51% of the members of society to rule over 49%, or of any fraction to rule over any other fraction. The right of government is the right of all members of society over any fraction, large or small. The decision by a majority vote is a device by which to reach a decision of policy at any given time. There are many such devices — a two-thirds vote, a plurality, a majority of those present, or of a quorum, a majority of two or more successive votes — all of which are compromises between the principle of unanimity and the exigencies of action.

All of these devices are, theoretically, assented to by all. The collective will which authorizes government is the will which supports the general system or constitution and not the will which supports particular decisions made under the constitution. The will of the defeated candidate for office and of his adherents, or the will of a member of a defeated legislative minority, has in an immediate and limited sense been denied. But he has also willed the system within which he has been outvoted, and with this will even his defeat is in agreement. Constitutional changes affecting the terms of the fundamental agreement must approximate unanimity more closely than changes of official personnel or of legislative and administrative policy. On this account they are made more conservatively either through the prolonged operations of constitutional amendment or judicial review, or through profound alterations of public opinion and sentiment. Or when the system is too inflexible to permit of orderly and continuous change the system itself breaks down and polity is suspended during a period of revolution and civil war.

Polity as a morally justifiable institution rests on the thoughtful agreement of those who live under it: a coöperative organization entered into by persons in whom the interests of all overrule the interests of each. This overruling occurs only within the several persons, who by virtue of this prerogative become “citizens.” A man who obeys government from fear of the penalties of disobedience, is not ruled by the whole, but by his own fear. All government is thus personal self-government distributed among a number of persons who have come to agreement.

As we have seen, the rule of one interest over another within a person is essentially permissive. This is reflected in the fact that the minimum condition of political leadership is that it should define limits to which the interests over which it rules must accommodate themselves. To the prohibitive authority it may add more or less of “enabling” authority: it may, in other words, assist members of the group in the fulfillment of their interests. It is this difference between the minimum of permissive authority and the maximum of enabling authority which defines the range of possibilities between little government and much government. Within this range the choice rests not on the general principle of polity, but on expediency. How much shall be prescribed by public policy and how much shall be left to private initiative and enterprise is determined by what in the light of experience, proves best for all.


Such being the nature of polity in general, political science will explain its forms and origins. Morphology will compare and classify the different species of polity which appear in human history, varying among themselves in size, in structure and mechanism, in their organs of policymaking and control, and in their procedures — patriarchal monarchies, constitutional monarchies, absolute monarchies, aristocracies, oligarchies, dictatorships, direct democracies, representative democracies — with countless other forms and blends, and innumerable minor differences of detail. In its genetic and evolutionary branch political science will examine the genesis of polity, and the causes by which it is modified. How does polity come into existence? On what conditions does its existence depend? What are the forces by which it is changed? No attempt will here be made to enter into these complexities, except insofar as may be necessary to demonstrate the method.

The limits of the explanatory method are illustrated by the widespread and persistent misunderstanding of the doctrine of the political “compact.” This doctrine, as has been pointed out, is primarily a justification of polity and not an account of its origin. Government has a right to the control which it exercises only so far as the governed see such control to be good and on that ground consent to its exercise. When, as at Dumbarton Oaks and San Francisco, an attempt was made to inaugurate a limited world polity, or when as at present, certain persons advocate a “world government,” this principle is recognized as the proper ground on which to persuade nations to adopt it. Ordinarily, however, men find themselves under such a control without their leave, and accept it, if at all, after the fact. The earlier proponents of the compact theory, reflecting an excessively rationalistic view of human behavior, played into the hands of their opponents by asserting that all government has, at some time in the past, been consciously contrived and has come into existence as a consequence of having been agreed upon. In other words, they shifted the question from justification to causality, and suffered defeat at the hands of the historians and psychologists who recognized the extent to which human institutions arise from irrational causes.

The centralized control of human affairs may actually come about through any of the causes which give one man or class of men ascendancy over their fellows. Under primitive conditions the ascendancy may result from sheer bodily strength, or from superior cunning. As society evolves the control will fall to an increasing extent into the hands of those who excel in the personal aptitudes, such as a capacity for leadership, which enable their possessor to exert influence. And in either case polity may spring from a love of power. Control implies not only the giving of commands, but also their obedience. Why do men submit to government?

This also has its natural explanation in terms of fear, submissiveness, and the sense of inferiority; both command and obedience being confirmed and crystallized by habit.

From the beginning of human history political control has arisen from cultural as well as from natural causes. The superior man is measured no longer by his muscles, or merely by his inborn traits, but by his skills, social status, wealth, and other acquired advantages. And for every such superiority there is a corresponding inferiority, which impels to obedience.

Polity consists not merely in command and obedience, but in some measure of agreement on a common end. How do men come to agreement of opinion and sentiment? To answer this question it is necessary to traverse the whole field of man's sociability, natural and acquired, embracing his communicativeness, gregariousness, racial blood-stream, fellow-feeling, sympathy, imitativeness, and whatever like causes there be, and called by whatever names.

The making of public opinion and sentiment involves a vast set of acquired instrumentalities. It is possible to treat public opinion and sentiment as a gross emergent phenomenon, tested by a Gallup poll, or described like a cloud in its broad contours and distributed densities. But as a cloud consists of drops of moisture, atoms and molecules, wind currents and relative temperatures, so public opinion and sentiment consist of related and interacting individuals, together with the entire social equipment for the making of minds. Its adequate explanation must take account of language and of public speech, and, in these modern days, of the vast ramifications of press and radio and television, and of the operations of subordinate organizations such as public parties and private “movements” contrived for the express purpose of disseminating political opinion and sentiment. It must take account of the psychology of give and take, of discussion, bargaining, and compromise.

Polity, like every social institution, is conditioned by its sister-institutions. In certain periods of human development it was profoundly affected by the institution of the family and tribe; and even in later times to call the ruler the “father” of his country, or to call the country the “mother” country, is not a verbal accident. Those who affirm the economic foundations of polity err, if at all, only in the degree of their emphasis. Polity is influenced not only by those institutions most closely allied through their common moral purpose — conscience, law, and economy — but by art and science, by tradition and education, by religion and the church, and by all the elements, and by the composite whole, of culture.

In polity, as in conscience, internal normative judgments act as causes. Political institutions rise and fall according as they are deemed good or bad by those who live under them. They are put to the test, and are acquired or abandoned by trial and error; that is, according as they succeed or fail in realizing their end. Because of the extravagant claims once made for the role of reason in human affairs, it was necessary to bring to light and stress the operation of other causes — unreason, selfish and unserupulous ambition, the primitive human instincts, the struggle for existence, the physical conditions of soil and climate. This needful corrective has led to the rejection of facts which are no less actual because they are less unsavory. It does sometimes happen that the wise man is chosen for office because of his wisdom. It does sometimes happen that changes occur, whether of constitution or of policy, because of judgments in which they are compared with political norms, and praised or condemned accordingly.

Thus the explanation of polity provides the starting point for its critique. The self-critcism which operates as a cause becomes, when elaborated and systematized, the normative branch of political science.


Polity has its own distinctive instrumentalities for policy-making and control. When these fail, a government collapses; when these are efficient, a government “works.” Such judgments constitute the instrumental part of normative political science.

It is said that the minimum requirement of a government is that it shall govern. A government which is not obeyed is therefore rightly condemned as non-government. A weak government is subject to a like indictment in lesser degree; it requires to be strengthened. The weakness of a government may be due to a variety of causes; for example, to the lack of coördination between the several branches. It is then like a defective or broken machine. Its parts, instead of working smoothly together, annul one another, as may be said of the American government when its executive and legislative branches are in stalemate.

The weakness of government may be due to functional disputes within the government itself, to the multiplication of small parties, to sectionalism, or to deep social cleavages, such as that between clericals and anti-clericals, or between labor and employers. It may be due to a lack of forcefulness and leadership in its official personnel. It may be due to a temper or habit of insubordination on the part of the people. The failure of many South American nations to create firm and durable governments is a familiar fact, which has never been satisfactorily analyzed. It is commonly said that Anglo-Saxon peoples, whether owing to tradition, social traits, political experience, or a code of sportsmanship, accept party defeat in good temper and resort to constitutional methods to retrieve it; whereas Latin Americans, despite a similarity of institutional forms, resort to revolutionary violence and military dictatorship.

A government represents the wills of the governed. Unless there is some degree of representativeness, there is no polity at all, but a mere exploitation of the weak by the strong. This form of failure in government is commonly due to the unique advantage which the government enjoys in influencing the popular mind. If government derives its right of sovereignty from public opinion and sentiment, it must not itself create them; for this would be to say that it derives the right from itself; which is equivalent to no right. A self-perpetuating government is not a government. A government can perpetuate itself by controlled indoctrination, by intimidation, or by hysteria.

It is an ironical and revealing fact that the very polities which pride themselves most on unanimity and organic unity are those which find it necessary to cast out their own members. In antiquity the dissenter was sent into exile; in more recent days he is forced to exile himself. The states which claim to be organic unities are known by the inorganic ingredients of which they continually purge themselves and with which they enrich less organic societies in various parts of the world. In these days they are called “refugees” and they prove themselves remarkably assimilable by societies based on voluntary agreement. It is evident that if two parties disagree, disagreement can always be removed by the elimination of one of the parties. But this does not bring about agreement; it only accentusies its failure. The logical outcome of agreement pursued by the method of ex-clusion, ex-pulsion, or ex-communication is the isolation of a small surviving remnant, weakened not only by its own isolation but by the strength which it supplies to its rivals.

When a government perpetuates itself by intimidation, the consent of the people is dictated by a narrowing of the range of choice. They consent “or else” — as the victim of a holdup consents to hand over his purse when he given no alternative but “his money or his life.” While it may be said that the people obey of their own volition, their choice is reduced to a choice of evils: they choose to obey rather than to suffer torture, fines imprisonment, or death. They choose to avoid the penalties which imposes the political system imposes, but they do not choose the system which imposes the penalties. They are revolutionaries at heart if not in deed. A government can perpetuate itself by terror through its monopoly of weapons and the disorganization of its opponents. It can deal with revolutionaries one by one, and nip revolution in the bud. But even with the improved technique of terror which such a government now has at its disposal, its situation is precarious, and it commonly resorts to the technique of hysteria — as old as the technique of terror, and, like the technique of terror, now much improved.

The term ‘hysteria’ is here used not in any precise psychiatric sense, but to signify that form of consent which is obtained by the incitement of sheer emotionality. It takes many forms, well-known to the demagogues of all time, but now refined by the modern arts of mass appeal — rhetorical eloquence, reiteration, the use of slogans and symbols, public meetings held in vast amphitheaters and subjected to the carefully calculated effects of lighting and music, the dramatization of public issues, the arousal of primitive instincts and passions, the personal magnetism of leaders, the use of radio, television and newspaper headlines. Whatever the means employed, and they are many in kind and number, they have this in common, that they inhibit reflection. Their intent is to secure agreement without thought — second thought, and even first thought. To prevent that disagreement which arises when men stop to think, they prevent men from stopping to think. They hypnotize, intoxicate, carry men away, sweep them off their feet.

In proportion as consent is secured by hysteria men do not really agree. A government which rests on such superficial agreement does not represent the wills of the governed but only their passions. Their assent is a reflex rather than a choice. Insofar as this is the case, a government forfeits claim to be so named.

All of these instrumental defects of government reflect political incapacity on the part of its personnel. It is a recognized fact that the eminent “statesman” may be lacking in political shrewdness or wisdom, and may require the services of a “professional politician” to supply the lack.

Such are some of the normative judgments which can properly be pronounced on a polity when measured by its own instrumental standards. They indicate some of the ways in which the instrumentalities of polity can, through their disuse, misuse, or abuse, fail to be effective political instruments.

Polity can be judged by norms drawn from non-political institutions. The application to polity of the norms of law and economy is familiar. The history of political thought abounds in the interchange of normative judgments between polity and religion, or state and church. The most conspicuous example of such inter-institutional criticism at the present time is the dispute over control of education. The scientist or artist may praise democracy because it permits him to pursue science for science's sake, or art for art's sake, condemning totalitarian government on the same grounds. He may praise aristocracy because it accords special privileges to a cultured elite, or praise a paternalistic government because it subsidizes scientific research, patronizes music and drama, builds monuments, and rewards the creative genius; and condemn democracy on the ground that through its emphasis on equality it destroys standards of scientific or artistic excellence.

Of such cross-judgments, deriving their standards from non-polity and applying them to polity, there is no end. They are meaningful normative judgments and each may be true or false in its own limited terms; provided the judge makes clear the norm by which he is judging. The danger lies in the fact that in such external judgments the norm employed is commonly concealed.


The final normative judgments of political science invoke the moral purpose of polity. Lord Acton quotes Burke as saying: “The principles of true politics are those of morality enlarged.”1 This is well said, provided morality is rightly conceived. If morality be conceived as the effort to achieve harmony of interests then the polity provides its most conspicuous and unmistakable example. Failure to recognize this is due not to a lack of moralizing but to misconceptions of morality which divorce it from public affairs.

The interest which is served by the state is sometimes called “the public interest.” The state is not owned by, nor is it designed to serve, any particular interest. No person can properly call it his, nor can any limited group of persons properly call it theirs. It belongs to everybody and is designed to profit everybody. The public interest is composed and compounded of private interests. If government is dedicated to public service, no private individual can ask it to serve him, but only him together with the rest.

The expression “welfare state” has recently come into vogue as referring to certain services which the state renders over and above providing a frame within which private interests can coexist and coöperate — certain added services, such as social security, favorable working conditions, rural development, housing, health, and education.2 The question of the extent to which government shall undertake such services is not a question of principle, but only a question of method. Whether welfare shall be promoted by government directly, or only indirectly, through allowing and safeguarding private efforts, is to be determined by the results, experienced or predicted. In principle all polities are devoted to the wellare, well-being, or happiness of their members.

This moral purpose of polity has been recognized from the beginning of political thought.3 It appears in every act of policy-making, when the proponents of a new measure are obliged not only to prove its workability and its profit to those special interests on which it immediately impinges and who perhaps instigated it, but also to reconcile it with all other interests. The heavy burden which is carried by the ruler, and which proverbially interferes with his sleep, consists in precisely this necessity of taking every interest into account — the interests of all persons, localities, and sections, and interests of every variety.

This moral purpose of polity creates a dilemma for its members: they must either impose its rule on themselves privately through reason and conscience, or submit to its being imposed on them by the public authority alone. Any person or group of persons who conduct themselves irresponsibly, that is, without regard to the effect of their conduct on interests other than their own, have to be restrained by government, as the child is restrained. Insofar as all members of society claim for themselves the privilege of doing as they like, they invite the paternalistic role of the state as the only agency in the community whose business it is to see that they do not become a nuisance to others and so forfeit the benefits of collective action.

There is a profound paradox in the fact that democratic communities tend through excessive emphasis on individual self-interest to create the necessity for that very overlordship against which they protest. Those who would reduce the control of the state to a minimum are often those whose conduct requires that it be increased to a maximum. The most vigorous proponents of free enterprise, those who most resent the interference of government, are often those who need most to be interfered with. Similarly, the most radical advocates of a free press, or a free art, or a free science, or a free religion, are often those who create the necessity of censorship. In short, public responsibility is the sequel to private irresponsibility.


Polity, like conscience, is rationalized by fidelity and enlightenment. Most of the notorious evils of government arise from the fact that in polity the role of policy-making and control is set apart, and vested in certain individuals in whom there is a mixture of motives. Hence it may defeat its moral purpose through the infidelity of the official to the ultimate purpose of the office. There is no such thing as a ruler who is only a ruler, any more than there is such a thing as a scientist or poet who is only a scientist or poet. To describe a person as a scientist or poet is to describe only a part of him which interacts with his other parts. Similarly, a ruler is “human.”

Political disinterestedness is a specific attitude which may sometimes be found in certain persons, but it is inevitably related to other attitudes found in the same persons. When it does occur in a ruler, it may be reconciled with his other motives; but there is always a likelihood of contamination. When the ruler's official duty is compromised by his desire for personal gain or for the gain of his friends, the government is said to be “corrupt”; when it is subordinated to his personal ambition, he is said to be a “tyrant.”4 The experience and perpetual fear of this infidelity has created a distrust of rulers, and has led to the creation of checks and safeguards; such as the definition of civil rights to freedom of speech, press, and assembly, and of other rights which protect individuals and minorities; the control of military by civil authority, and of the executive by the legislature; and the opposition party which is peculiarly alert to the corruption and tyranny of the party in office.

A government may lose sight of its ulterior good through habit and inertia. It is easier to repeat than to innovate, and the traditional and familiar acquires a factitious value. Ruling officials become captives of their own past declarations of policy, or to party commitments. The multiplication of instrumentalities blocks the view — which is the common charge against “bureaucracy” and “red tape.”

The infidelity of government is due not only to the contamination of the public purpose by the private interests of the officials and to the rigidity and decay of the political instruments, but to mistaken ideas of the meaning of the moral end. When these mistaken ideas prevail in a community at large, a public servant who violates his trust is often deemed morally blameless provided he obeys sex taboos, exhibits the domestic virtues, accepts the edicts of an authority such as the church, or pays lip-service to ideals. But when morality is understood as the organization of interests for their joint and total benefit, there is no longer any difference of principle between public and private morals. The public official differs from the private individual only in the scope of his responsibility, and in the instrumentalities employed. His conduct cannot be right or dutiful in any of the proper senses of these terms, except insofar as it is conducive to the good of the community over which, on a higher or lower level, he rules.

If government is to be faithful to its moral purpose it must possess a clear conception of that purpose, and an understanding of the means by which it can be realized. In other words, it must be not only purposive, but also enlightened. The political evil known as “statism” consists in a false idea of the public purpose. It substitutes the greatness and glory of a fictitious corporate entity for the interests of individual persons; the real purpose of polity is superseded by a pseudo-purpose. This displacement may occur only in the minds of the ruled, and be used as a means of exploitation by the ruler. Or it may occur in the minds of both ruler and ruled: both being victims of the same idolatry, and equally eager to offer themselves as human sacrifice to Moloch. To be an “enlightened” ruler is not the same as to be a merely “intelligent” ruler, who “knows the game,” or is skilled in the art of political organization; it implies a states-manlike grasp of the remoter moral goal. Statesmanship, in other words, requires moral knowledge. The statesman is the ruler who is both farseeing and wise. He sees the good of the whole and not merely of the part, and the good of the total community in the long run, rather than merely in the short run; and he keeps this object firmly in view. But he is also wise: he understands in what this greater good consists, and he knows the means by which it can be achieved. This was Plato's idea, when he said that the “philosopher” should rule — the philosopher being conceived not as the professor or writer, but as the man who knew the way to the true good.

When the role of ruler is distributed among the people in their capacity of citizenship, the same norm of enlightenment is applicable. Political democracy in the justifiable sense, is not the rule of the mass, but the rule of the wise. No increase of numbers compensates for lack of enlightenment. Imbecility multiplied is still imbecility; wisdom multiplied yields a product which arithmetic cannot measure.


The moral purpose of polity is to serve men's interests by enabling them to live peacefully and fruitfully together. It may be excessively repressive, as judged by the norm of liberality; or excessively exclusive, as judged by the norm of universality. These are the norms which are invoked by political reform.

Polity promotes harmony not for harmony's sake, but in order that the elements harmonized may live as abundantly as possible. In fulfillment of this task it is therefore the first duty of government to acquaint itself with the interests of the governed, and to take account of their claims. If a first person, the ruler, is to discover the interest of a second person, the ruled, he must in the last analysis accept the second person's testimony. This does not mean that the second person may not be reminded of his interest, or taught his interest, but that if in the end he does not recognize and acknowledge it as his, it is not his. His testimony need not be verbal. Other forms of testimony are often more trustworthy; Caesar may deny that he desires the crown, and yet if he reaches for it his action may be said to speak louder than his words. But he must him-self reach for it. It is not his ambition if his friends grasp it for him — it is their interest in him.

The confusion between the interest which a person himself has or takes, and the interest which a second person has or takes in him, is one of the pitfalls of parentage, teaching, religion, and all the varied forms of professed benevolence. In order to discover whether professed benevolence is really independent benevolence, ask the beneficiary rather than the benefactor. The parent's mistaking his own interest for the child's interest, is notorious, and is one of the chief causes of domestic revolution.

The teacher tends to confuse the interests of his pupils with his own ambition. The priest may be concerned to spread his own gospel. This is the root of the religious proselytism and inquisition which ends by burning heretics “for their own good.”

Government is afflicted with the same error. The ruler may claim to serve the interests of his people when he is in fact ignoring their interests altogether. To slip into this egoistic dependent benevolence he need not be governed by base motives, such as avarice or lust for personal power. He may be, and often is, animated by high ideals; and yet identify the interests of others with his own. Insofar as this is the case the government is said to be “paternalistic.” In order that this insidious error may be avoided, government provides for channels by which the governed may voice their own interests, each person his own, each class or group or vocation, their own. They are given a hearing; and in order to assure their being heard they are given the power to challenge, remove, and replace their representatives — when these prove to be hard of hearing.

This obligation to serve the interests of the people as they define and assert their own interests, rounds out the full meaning of representative government. A polity which realizes its moral purpose will not only derive its control from the collective decision of the members but, returning again to the source, will facilitate the fullest expression of members’ interests in order that it may serve them. Hence polity is committed to two freedoms — the freedom of each member to think and judge, and contribute the making up of his own mind to the making up of the collective mind; and the freedom to pursue his own interests, so far as this is consistent with the similar freedom of others. The first of these is the freedom which is a condition of government; the second is the freedom or liberty which government bestows. Government creates this second freedom either by protecting it from invasion by other freedoms, or by assisting it to help itself.

The priority of all to cach is the only moral ground on which any freedom can rightly be abridged or denied. The negation of interest is justified only by its wider affirmation; the “no” has to be translated into “yes.”

It follows that whenever the restraint upon interests severally exceeds the requirement of their totality, these interests have a justifiable grievance. If any reorganizaion of interests is possible which diminishes the cost to each, then polity is bound to adopt that reorganization. If, consistently with its purpose of housing all, society can provide more spacious mansions for its members — its component persons and their interests, — then it is bound to rebuild. There is thus an expanding pressure from within each included interest against the restraints of organization, and it is this pressure which creates the perpetual social revolution. A wise polity will anticipate and relieve this pressure before it becomes an explosive force. It will not defend the status quo; it will be continuous but not unchanging, firm but not rigid. It will perpetually contrive new measures by which order and stability can be reconciled with the enlargement of freedom. In short, it will be liberal and progressive.


There are many polities, and each government is under obligation to promote harmonious happiness by removing conflict and facilitating coöperation among its own people. It is also bound to enable its people to defend themselves against attack from without, and to represent its people in their relations to other governments and peoples. But through its preoccupation with these tasks it may create a form of selfishness which, even though it be on a higher level, is identical in principle with any selfishness. It may properly be judged by the norm of universality.

Morality is a bond between man and man. It does not stop at any frontier provided there are human persons on the other side. Conflict and non-coöperation between polities create the same problem as that created by conflict and non-coöperation within polities. The dividing line between one singular society and another may be geographical, racial, ethical, political, legal, economic, or cultural, but it is not moral. Two or more men whose interests interact, whatever otherwise they may be, compose one moral field. Their aggregate life together is morally good or bad; their conduct relatively to one another is subject to judgments of right or wrong; they have moral duties to one another and to their greater totality. If this is not conceded and if human life is not organized accordingly, it is not the fault of morality but of man's failure to understand and achieve it. For the idea that international relations or “foreign policy” are in principle non-moral, there is no justification whatever.

International or universal polity is the theme of a vast literature, reflecting both the urgency of the problem and its bewildering complexity. The idea of such a polity is ancient and persistent.5 The evident fact that mankind at large constitutes an aggregation of interrelated persons, I whose diverse interests bring them into disastrous conflict, begets the ideal of a universal harmony. The greatness of the success hoped for is proportional to the gravity of the failure suffered. Until the moral problem is solved on the world-wide scale all lesser solutions are provisional. Narrower resolutions of conflict may only aggravate the destructiveness of wider conflict; while the wider conflict may undo the good of the narrower.

The very fact that there is no world polity at the time that the need for it is recognized brings to light its purpose. In this case there is no historic institution which can obscure the norms by which polity is justified; there is no confusion between what is and what ought to be. The existing situation defines both the problem and its solution. It clearly reveals the difference between the inferior rightness, defined in terms of a lesser good of the nation, and the superior rightness defined in terms of the greater good of mankind. It focuses attention on the difference between the final or ideal rightness which would be appropriate for a universal moral organization once achieved and the interim or transitional rightness which is required in order to bring such organization into being.

How long it will be before the problem is solved, whether, in fact, it will be solved before its non-solution will have destroyed the means of its solution, is the question which is now uppermost in the minds of morally responsible men. Advancing technology not only has created more devastating weapons, but through extending and multiplying human contacts it has created more occasions of conflict — more situations in which men are faced with the alternatives of working against one another or working together with one another. The greater the causal unity of the world, the greater the necessity of its moral unity. The first is an accomplished fact, whereas the second is a dubious project.

But the same changes which have made a universal polity a desperate necessity have contributed to its attainment. The idea of the totality of mankind once rested on the fragmentary evidence of the stranger beyond the borders — the recognition of Gentiles by Jews, of Mediterraneans by Greeks and Romans, of barbarians by Mediterraneans, of healthen by Christians, of aborigines by invaders, of East by West. Now the experience and imagination of men have traveled around the earth and returned to the starting point, enveloping the whole earth's surface and all its peoples. The increased facilities of communication and movement provide instruments of agreement as well as of disagreement — possibilities of friendship as well as of hostility.

From the least aggregation of interests to the greatest the principle of moral authority is the same; the principle, namely, that the requirements of a totality of interests take precedence of the requirements of any part. In accordance with this principle the totality of the interests of mankind should govern the interests of any constituent society. If the whole is to govern the part there must be a plan or a policy of the whole, and that policy must be adopted by the parts. There must be a global agency of policy-making and control. On the level of world polity, as on other levels, the necessity of enforcement would argue the imperfection of polity. Obedience of the world polity would be essential, but if it were obeyed without artificial penalties and rewards, so much the better. The “international police force” would be accidental; arising from the fact that the several societies of mankind were reluctant to obey, so that it would be their fear or greed rather than their moral will which consented.

As the universal policy rests on the same ground as other policies so it would be subject to similar normative judgments. Its instrumentalities could be judged by their strength or weakness; and the degree to which they reflected a freely formed opinion. It would be praiseworthy or blameworthy according as it was or was not faithful to its moral purpose of achieving non-conflict and coöperation; and according as it did or did not serve this purpose with enlightenment.

The justifiable authority of a world government would lie in the superiority of the whole to the part, and not in the superiority of one part over another part. The self-interest of a nation-state is not a moral finality; but neither is it rightly overruled by the self-interest of any other nation-state, but only by benevolent agreement among all nation-states. In this consists the equal sovereignty of all self-governing societies, large or small; which is the international analogue of that “natural equality” which underlies all polity.


Having, by definition, satisfied the canon of universality, the world polity would still be subject to the canon of liberality. This canon argue for the preservation of as much national freedom as is consisted with international order and coöperation. It justifies not only the aspiration to independent nationality on the part of colonies and “dependent areas,” but the reluctance of nation-states to yield their present sovereignty to super-state.

Nationalism, whatever the excesses to which it gives rise, and of which mankind are painfully aware —agression, isolationism, egoism on the grand scale —signifies a like-mindedness and intimacy, growing out of common territory, language, race, tradition, and a hundred other causes all of which increase the likelihood that a national government will express the wills, and understand the interests, of its people. It is improbable that internationalism would have reached even its presents imperfect stage of development had it not been for nationalism. The next forward step in political organization is not to destroy or thwart nationalism, even if that were possible, but to support it while at the same time adapting itself to the requirements of internationalism.

If universal polity is to work with and not against nationalism it must assume a federal rather than a monolithic form. The requirements of international polity will take precedence of the requirements of national polity, but will affect only a small fraction of national polity. There will be loyalties within loyalties, and the wider will be less pervasive than the narrower. The general maxim that government should be permissive rather than enabling will apply in an increasing degree as its sphered enlarge. There will be a world polity which frames world policy and imposes it, if needs be enforces it, upon any fraction of the world; but this policy and control will be so devised as to leave the greatest possible latitude to to self-direction of the national members. It will concern itself with facilities by which nations and private interests may coöperate, above all it will provide a broad frame of security within which nations and private interests can fearlessly conduct their own affairs. International polity, like all liberal polity, will be an organization in which men unite in order to create the opportunity to differ amicably.

A liberal world polity will promote and not annul the liberality of its constituent nation states. It will not through attention to national government encourage these to be deaf to the protests of the persons and groups which they in turn are bound to serve. In short, a world polity if it is to serve its moral purpose, must be liberal, both directly and indirectly. From the top to the bottom of the political hierarchy it is the individual and his interests that finally count. So as polity arises from self-rule to national rule, and from national rule to super-national rule, it must perpetually look back to its personal members both for the refreshment of its rightful sovereignty and for the distribution of its benefits.


The origin of war is no mystery. There is no need of tracing it to any peculiar instinct, or of imputing it to a law of history, or a fall from grace. A war is merely a big quarrel, and it is not difficult to account for quartels. There is no human interest which may not bring men into conflict, and no conflict that may not break into violence. War is on the broader view unreasonable; and the greater its costs the more unreasonable. But this does not make it inexplicable since it is characteristic of men that they do not take the broader view and count the ultimate costs. Over and above the tendency of any interest to assert itself regardless of the cost, and the tendency of two interests to assert themselves regardless of the cost to both, there is the tendency of each interest to anticipate the other's ruthlessness and to initiate violence as a measure of protection. The difficult thing is not to explain the occurrence of war, but to justify it. It is a direct violation of the moral principle of harmony —in short, war is moral evil, and peace is moral good.6

The moral evil of war does not consist merely in the injury inflicted on the external enemy. It is an internal evil. Of all the collective passions which inhibit reflection and blind men to their several interests the fever of war is the most blinding. For the manifold economic and cultural values of individuals and groups it may substitute the unsubstantial and transitory value of “glory,” and even this is enjoyed by a small fraction of those who pay the cost. It sharply abridges the domestic liberties. By forcing the entire population to the single occupation of war it narrows or destroys every personal choice, and thus arrests or reverses the growth of liberality.

Despite the fact that war in itself is flagrantly contrary to the moral ideal, it may partake of morality. It illustrates the tragic irony that morality within limits may serve as a means to immorality beyond. Loyalty to the country's safety or even to its aggression may cause persons and groups to be less sordid, less egoistic, irresponsible, quarrelsome among themselves, than in time of peace. But when the narrower unselfishness strengthens the broader selfishness, the greater evil outweighs the lesser good.

The waging of war today, because it is apparently the only means to the enjoyment of peace tomorrow and thereafter, affords the most signal example of interim morality. But if war is to be justified as a regrettable necessity imposed by the ulterior purpose of peace the necessity must in fact be a necessity, every peaceful alternative having been considered and tried. And if the necessity is to be construed as regrettable it must be in fact regretted, that is, subordinated to the love of peace, that love being kept alive in the heart, ready to resume full control whenever circumstances permit. This puts a severe strain on human sincerity. Pious protestations of peace may mask imperialistic appetites. But that it is not impossible to combine war with a sincere desire for peace, is illustrated by those who, like Lincoln or Woodrow Wilson, wage war with firmness but without gladness, suffering within themselves the conflict between the ideal good and the means which they find themselves compelled to employ.

Threatening war in order to prevent war, or making war to end war, is psychologically treacherous, but it is not morally contradictory. Harmonious happiness as a goal to be achieved by the organization of nations and mankind, may at a given time be better served by present violence than by evasion or submission. When, and how far, this is the case is a material question, depending on the existing situation and on the available possibilities of effective action. Morality dictates the broad principle that evil when used shall be used for good ends; combining insistence that it shall never be used except for good ends with due regard to the danger that by using it the good end may be forgotten, the good will corrupted, or some better end defeated.

Diplomacy may be judged by the same standards as war, when it is, as it often is, a kind of war—a war of words or nerves, a war of intrigue, deception, and veiled threats. Diplomacy in this sense is, like war, at best a morally regrettable necessity. But there is another sense in which diplomacy is itself a moral process — of the very essence of the morality; namely, the sense of discussion with a view to agreement. Diplomacy is then, like collective bargaining, a process of reflective agreement — a meeting of minds, each of which is the trustee of interests; but at the same time sympathetic with rival interests and capable in some degree of both magnanimity and impartiality.


Political technology consists of judgments borrowed from any branch of knowledge and shaped to a political use. All human knowledge is available for political use, and because of the great complexity and range of political action, there is no branch of knowledge which may not serve some political use. The political arts are served by a knowledge of nature and of human nature, all the way from rules of thumb to nuclear physics and psychoanalysis. They are served by a knowledge of men's acquired interests and forms of social organization; not only political organization itself, but non-political organization — whether family, school, church, economy, law, fine art, or science. An all-wise and superlatively skillful maker, director, and enforcer of polity requires so vast an equipment that men have identified him with deity or with some human person or class of persons inspired by deity. In the long run, however, men have preferred their own imperfect mastery of the political arts to dogmatic or mystical abdication. For deity or its agents they have substituted the staff of experts.

The malodorous term ‘Machiavellian’ signifies that political expertness is relative to the use to which it is put. The original of this name gave advice to an Italian prince, actual and supposititious, who desired to achieve and maintain power. Like any consultant he adapted his advice to the interest of his client; and he suffered the reputation of any expert, whether military strategist, psychologist, lawyer, or professional politician, who is employed for a specific purpose, and who is worthy of his hire regardless of the worthiness of that for which he is hired.

The fact that political success may be achieved on the low level of the narrowest self-seeking and rankest demagoguery, must not be allowed to obscure the fact that politics on its highest level also requires mastery of its appropriate tools. Ideal polity, that is, polity whose instrumentalities of government are strong, durable, and representative, which is faithful to its moral purpose, enlightened, liberal, and universal, requires more and not less technique than the unsound and perverted polity which is unfortunately called “politics.”

The very difficulties with which political action is in the present age beset confirms the basic truth that polity is an organization contrived by men to realize their interests, and not a pre-existing organism or mere historical legacy. The almost insuperable obstacles with which men are confronted in its making and remaking prove that polity is man-made, and neither natural nor divine; and at the same time reveal the way in which it must be made if it is to be well made. If polity is to be well made it will strain all human capacities to their utmost, including, at the present time, the untried capacity of the human mind to extend itself beyond the accustomed limits of the nation-state.

But there is no third alternative: either despair and surrender; or patient effort, embracing larger and larger circles of men and extending over as many years, decades, and centuries as may be required to execute the task. The fact that government when instituted is liable to its own characteristic failures, abuses, and shortcomings, should not be allowed to obscure the fact that government is in principle the best friend of every man — his ultimate insurance, indispensable, even when it is his last, resort.

  • 1.

    Lectures on Modern History, 1906, p. 28.

  • 2.

    For an admirable summary of these extensions of government in the United States cf. H. S. Commager, “Appraisal of the Welfare State,” New York Times Megazine, May 15, 1949.

  • 3.

    Hobbes is no exception. For the “peace” which is the purpose of the state (“Leviathan”) is a blessing to everybody — not to the timid only; and still less only to the hold, who might enjoy greater advantages in a state of war.

  • 4.

    As distinguished from the “despot” or “dictator” whose fault lies in his ruling by personal flat, without representation. But the ruler who is guilty in one of these respects is likely to be guilty in the others.

  • 5.

    The great modern classic on this subject is Kant's Eternal Peace and Other International Essays, tr. by W. Hastie, 1914.

  • 6.

    It is evident that the view here presented resembles that of Hobbes without Hobbes's egoism (either psychological or moral), and without his political absolutism: the state of war is the essence of moral evil; the first maxim of morality is “seek peace”; the moral virtues are the dispositions or modes of behavior which are conducive to peace.

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