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Meditation XIII: Man in Community: The State

Man in Community: The State.1

Introduction: A. General Propositions as to the foundation of a Community—Man carries himself into Society as: (a) a Being of Sympathetic Feeling which is source of Altruism as the basis of a Common Life; (b) as a Free Will; (c) as a searcher for Law—B. The prescription of Law with Penalty converts a Community into a State; Source of Law—C. Postulates of a Community Life—D. Justice is Negative and Positive: State Limitations—E. The Person and the Social Organism.



It is obvious that the State is prior to the individual (logically). For a man cannot be an individual in any rational sense, that is to say as a personality, save in and through a community of men. Thus the individual exists as a “person” through the Whole; but none the less the “Whole” of a polity has no meaning except in so far as it realises itself in the individual parts.

It is the “positive relations” in the nature of man that alone explain the congregating of men together; and these involve sympathy with his kind—a fellow feeling, much stronger than prevails among a herd of cattle or a flock of seagulls. Out of this emerges, and must emerge, Altruism; as it does, in a weaker form, even in animals. Altruism is not a sacrifice of one to another, but a “give and take” among individual egos in so far as is consistent with the inherent claim of each ego. It rests on instinctive Sympathy, and is a feeling of Goodwill to others (however rudimentary this may be) and a love of the Goodwill of others. Were it not for this sympathetic altruism men would not congregate for a common life. It is the foundation of life in community, and renders it possible. Sympathy and Altruism are the “positive relations” which counteract the negating individualism of men.

Men do not enter into community of set purpose and with a self-consciousness of individual rights: to begin with, they, doubtless, find themselves herding with their kind almost unawares, like buffaloes or sheep. Sympathy and Altruism (as I have defined it) keep them together. And yet, it is as a free self-functioning Ego that a man enters a community, and his “rights” as an individual are inalienable. Through the “other” of his positive relations can the bare Ego alone fulfil itself and attain to the concrete fulness which we call personality; but, after all, it is an individual Ego (as containing the will-dialectic) that has to be filled and fulfilled. A community, accordingly, fails as an organised Whole which has not immanent in it, as its purpose or end, the fulfilment of each free individual Ego composing it. The free activity of each personality in and through the Whole is the ideal of a State. On the soundness of the parts depends the health of the Whole.

At all periods of its history, a Society (like all existents) contains two antagonistic forces which may be called individualism and universalism—the negative and the positive; and it is only by the individual Ego subsuming the human universal into himself that the Society can fulfil itself as a harmonious organisation. So long as the individual puts himself into antagonism to the universal—the Law, he is an anarchic force.

I have used the expression “inherent right”; and by this I mean that inasmuch as a man is a free self-conscious Ego, his “natural right” as a member of a Community is a right to the free development of his activities, industrial and moral. I know of no other “right”. But as each has this right, each must exercise it so as to respect the freedom of his fellows, or all must return to savagery—bellum omnium contra omnes.

Individualism with its appetites and passions and egoistic self-seeking is always in evidence, especially in the earlier stages of society; but reason is working, underground so to speak, and ultimately asserting itself, in individuals and communities alike, as regulator and controller of conduct. Man, we saw, by dint of the dialectic in him and taught by his environment, gradually finds the law of himself as a person, and that law, as the formulation of will-reason, is the free affirmation of the truth of himself, at the point which he may have reached in his historical development. So in his Community relations: he is ever seeking the law of life in Community; and he cannot help doing so, because he is a Will-Dialectic. The final law of society is immanent from the first.

Let me then venture to lay down certain general propositions:—

(a) Feeling is the basis of Society.—Feeling as Sympathy is at the basis of Society, and Sympathy generates Altruism which, again, is Goodwill towards others and a love of the Goodwill of others. Without this sympathy, prehistoric man would not form even rude and temporary external combinations for defence or acquisition. It is the sympathy of man with man, a consciousness of a human universal, which makes possible a community of life and purpose. Feeling, then, is at the basis of aggregations of human beings.

(b) Man enters Society as a Free Will.—The function of Man is, as a free Will-dialectic, to fulfil himself; and this fulfilment is the subsumption of what he has ascertained to be the supreme good, and of the process or conditions whereby that supreme good is to be mediated. Man cannot part with this, his distinction from all else, without sinking to a lower plane of Being. And he carries himself into the community which he forms. He is not the product of Society; it is the other way about. Through Society he seeks the fulfilment of himself, materially and morally. He is so constituted (we have said) that he cannot fulfil himself except through his positive relations. He subsumes the “other” into his individuality as the condition of its true life. But, unless he does so “freely,” he forgoes his manhood.

Man's true fulfilment as a member of society is, consequently, impossible, except in so far as his personal freedom as self-regulating is conserved.

(c) Man enters Society as a Law-seeking being.—Man as a reason, taking his lessons from experience, finds that the supreme Good—the ideal of Harmony, that is to say, Justice—is attainable only through Law, which involves the suppression of recalcitrant elements in his nature. He is always as a Will-dialectic in search of the law of his being—the universal which is to control the particular. This also he carries with him into community, just as he carries Freedom.

As one of many men held together in a common life, each sees that his freedom of action is possible only when it is protected from the encroachments of other men; just as he is aware that the true freedom of his own personal impulses and desires is possible only under an inner law that restrains and limits. He, accordingly, recognises the necessity of Law which shall restrain each within such limitations of free activity as shall protect the free activity of every other. This may be called the Harmony of individuals in community; in other words, Justice. At first, it may be mere custom-law, to which men feel their way, that operates; but the self-seeking or weakness of individuals necessitates the formulation of Rule. No individual has “rights” which are not common rights. This is inherent in the mere fact of a community. But any individual may have privileges and rights assigned to him for the common good.


The formulation of Rule among men is Civil Law and the formula is “Thou shalt not”; and the right to utter this (it is presumed to be a common utterance), carries with it the right of enforcement and penalty. A community can be called an organisation or “State” only when law and the power of enforcing law enters into its life.

Law is a Rule with sanctions.—Law, then, is a formulated Rule with sanctions, whereby the freedom of each is protected; and this means that the purpose of Law is Justice, as guarantee of individual freedom.

Freedom, then, that there may be self-fulfilment, and Justice that there may be freedom, lie (theoretically and immanently, I am not speaking of historical origins) at the foundation of an organised community of men.

The promulgation of a Law presumes a lawgiver or “sovereign”.

Source of Law.—The focussing of concurrent wills in a law has, I say, for its end the freedom of each citizen in and through law. The origin of the law is in the Sovereign; but he is not the source of the law. That is to be found in the general consensus as interpreted and formulated by the Sovereign. The methods by which this general consensus is to be ascertained is a separate question. By the wisdom of a single recognised Ruler, or by the deliberation of an oligarchic Council, or by a representative body set apart to collect the wills of individuals and deliberate on their true import and so counteract the element of personal idiosyncrasies and private ends—in any of these ways the general will may be ascertained. Such arrangements do not affect the theory of the State, i.e., the causes of its formation and the purpose of its existence.

Freedom, the essential note of the man-being, can be conserved in communities only by law. As custom-law and positive law grow up, and legislative, judicial and executive authority are, for convenience, concentrated in a few—it may be in one—with power of enforcement, the members of the community (now only to be first called “citizens”) do not, by acquiescence in the law and in the action of judicial and executive authority, part with their freedom except in this sense, that they are no longer free to do “what each likes”. But that is the abstract bare will of the negating individual, not the will of a being of reason who can be free only through law which is a universal. Men, even in primitive times, are not fools, and they are well aware that the freedom of each individual, as subject to common law, is thereby, as a matter of fact, guaranteed and extended. And just as in the personal moral sphere will is free only in so far as it is identified with recognised inner law, so in the infant State the freedom of each citizen is identified with the operation of outer and coercive law. A is no longer “free” to injure B; and a community of buffaloes might almost recognise in this an extension and guarantee of the free play of the powers of each member of the herd—freedom through objective law—a universal which each particular must make his own, or suffer penalty.

The Sovereign does not confer “rights” save in a formal sense: he recognises them; and his problem must always be how to conciliate the supremacy of Law with subjective freedom. The so-called conferring of a right to vote, for example, is merely the formal recognition of a right already existing, and can be withheld only by the common Will for the common Weal.


The act of entering, or the fact of belonging to, a community-life contains implicit an oath of loyalty to its dictates. Just as through inner “law” alone an individual man is a free person, as distinguished from an animal, so individuals living in community can be free relatively to each other, only in so far as they live under a universal or law. If a minority reject the law and prefer to indulge their own arbitrary caprice, they are rightfully coerced by the Sovereign, and, if necessary, they may be expelled. They are crushed out by a Power which they never formally acquiesced in, it is true; but they have to be taught that the postulate of a possible community is that all shall pull together, and that the common law is a law for each. There is a tacit pact to this effect from the beginning, and the non-social man has broken it. He himself is contradicting himself; for on entering into a community, or by remaining in it, he virtually said, “I hereby will to respect the wills of others, and to accept the interpreted sum of those wills as expressed in law”. Strictly speaking, a minority has no “rights” save freedom to alter the law on the ground that it is not just. If there be no machinery for altering what is held to be an unjust Law, then rebellion is justified in the name of Society itself.

But there is another postulate of Society-life, viz., a tacit pact that the act of the Sovereign, i.e., all laws, shall aim at the good of the whole, not of a part of the community alone; least of all at the good of the Sovereign. A few, by getting possession of material resources, may legislate in their own interests as individuals or as a class. A democratic majority may also do so. In either case, we have social disorder which may end in disruption. These postulates constitute, it seems to me, a “Social Contract”—implicit, of course, not formulated.

Accordingly, there would seem to be nothing mysterious, nothing even new, in the foundations and aims of a State. Fulfilment of the individual personality is now merely writ large; the aim of a State is the ethical fulfilment of a community of free personalities in traffic with each other. And Justice is that which makes this freedom and fulfilment possible.

Thus we find that a community of men resting on Sympathy or the Human Universal is, like the individual man and the universe in which he finds himself, a teleological organisation. It has from the first an implicit ideal, and that ideal, like the ideal for the individual man, is Harmony or Justice—an ethical ideal. The State is an ethical organisation. Its purpose is to enable men to fulfil their function as men in the sight of God.

Man, accordingly, does not cancel himself in entering a community life. He seeks a fuller self. It is the positive relations of man with man that mediate his fulfilment as a person. The man who looks to the interests of his own negating individuality only and evades the positive altruistic relations as determined by custom or law is anti-social, and must be suppressed, if a civilised Society is to continue. Man enters into community, aware that only so can his self-fulfilment in material matters be promoted, and dimly conscious also that his ethical self-fulfilment—the growth of a narrow and barren individuality into a full concrete personality—is only so possible. Like every other monad, he can fulfil himself only through the “other”—his positive relations. It is the positive relations of the monad that connect it with the universe, and return to it and make its fulfilment possible. So with individuals in an organised Society.


As Reason seeks Harmony or Justice for the individual within the personal sphere of feeling-motives, so the Sovereign seeks Justice in the objective sphere of persons in their mutual relations. It is customary to speak of social justice as “negative” and “positive,” the former being the prohibitive laws which protect the freedom of each individual from the encroachments of other individuals, the latter being laws which are promotive of the general interest as a whole with a view to a more civilised and rational life. It is, however, impossible to draw a hard and fast line between negative and positive Justice, if we take into consideration the indirect, as well as direct, effect of laws on the freedom of the citizen. In these days, for example, sanitation may be held to include all that promotes the physical vigour of a people and, if so, we are under obligation to bring it within the field of legislation and penalty. Then a State is bound to remedy obvious injustice as between citizens or classes of citizens wherever it finds it. The laws which aim at this may even rightly be included under Negative Justice (e.g., Factory Acts, etc.).

If the further purpose of the State be to make it possible for the individual to fulfil adequately his specific function as a man—that is to say, as a spiritual being, it is bound to remove obstructions in the way of progress, and generally to facilitate the higher life of the citizen by its laws. This becomes an object for the consideration of the State in proportion as an ideal of man is diffused which regards the necessary and useful activities that serve the bodily organism to be merely the starting point of man's true life. The one word that symbolises these loftier purposes is Education. Religion, Knowledge, Art and even Recreation in all their forms are thus among the legitimate aims of a State. These things fall under the head of Positive Justice.

The above consideration at once forces on us the vexed question as to the limits of State Action—a highly complex question. If the State, that is to say, the “Sovereign,” truly embodies the will of the citizens, there would seem to be no limits to State action save those which negative justice, always supreme as conserving the personal freedom of each, imposes; and, further, those which a theory of the nature and function of man suggests. If our past interpretation of the meaning and cosmic function of Man be the truth, the State, while providing opportunities and guidance, will do nothing for its citizens which they can do for themselves. In his relation to both material things and spiritual things man is essentially a free self-regulating energy, and whatever represses or supersedes this must weaken his moral fibre, and, in the long run, enfeeble the whole State. The statesman should study the mind of man, says Aristotle. When, next, a State is not satisfied with passing laws and seeing that they are executed, but itself proceed to administer them, we have centralised bureaucracy and the insidious legislation of a bureau. This it is the party interest of political communists to promote, since it is a long step to the despotic social organisation which is their ideal. A bureaucracy will destroy the very nerve of the ethical life of a nation, if it does not decentralise. However these complicated questions may be from time to time settled, this I think is clear, that even in its crudest form the State is always ethical, always educational. It promotes not only freedom, but fulness of life for each; moralising each by teaching submission to law as containing freedom, if by nothing else. In the mere recognition of law man finds a rational need satisfied and (it may be only sub-selfconsciously) feels that the Sovereign is not merely a policeman, but an ethical centre and force.

Just as the end of Man, as a personal Will, is that self-achieved fulfilment which alone is the truth of his nature, so the aim of the State (or general Will) is the promoting of the fulfilment of each citizen, which fulfilment must yet be self-achieved through the organised Society.


It is a truism that it is impossible for man to realise the fulness of his personhood save in and through a society of men, just as it is only through society and co-operation that he can achieve his highest material well-being. Without communities, the capacities and ideals of each man's rich potentiality of nature must lie dormant, and he can be little more than the most cunning of animals. Fulness of being is otherwise unattainable. We are here in presence of a universal truth, as previous meditations have shown. No one thing in the universe is isolated; no one thing in the universe can fulfil itself, save by going out of itself, so that “the other” in all its variety and wealth becomes the thing itself, and constitutes the real, as opposed to the formal potency, of its essential nature. It is by subsuming his positive relations that each individual can alone fulfil himself as a concrete person. The individual citizen holds this attitude to the social community. To find himself, he must lose himself in the whole. He lives for the whole that he may truly live for himself. Even God finds Himself in His “Other,” or externalisation, and fills his Being with that which is Himself and yet not Himself. The Method of the Absolute is One. It is false, accordingly, to say that a State is a mere aggregation of individuals combined for the sole purpose of keeping the path clear for the accomplishment of the individualistic ends of each. This is the baldest “negative justice”. It is the individualism of the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation run to seed. Individual freedom as negative justice must, it is true, be first of all secured; but the State is much more than the police-machinery of individualism. It is an aggregation of men seeking, by the mutual help which organisation and consequent law give, the fulfilment of each “person”; but this through the whole and for the whole. This ethical function of the State is the sole justification of Positive justice, and its gradual realisation can alone give stability and permanence to a polity.

On the other hand, we must remember that the whole is made up of persons; and to speak of the State as an “organism,” in which social custom and law and tradition are everything and the person of little account, is to speak of an abstraction. A conception, such as this, leads logically to a despotism, open or veiled, secular or religious, which would crush that free and full personality of each for the very sake of which the State exists. In the social evolution the “person” is always in evidence: it is the consentient acquiescence of each “person,” taking his cue from some prophet, priest or king that, through a subtle and sympathetic responsiveness, makes custom and law to begin with. It is the ethical aims of the aristocracy of mind that are ever being organised into a progressive State as its motive force—organised into the universal of the State that they may be a support and a guide to the weakness of the individual citizen. An idea which, originating with the few, is finally acquiesced in by the whole community and becomes law, is reflected back as law into the persons constituting the political society, and finds its justification in the elevation of each to the standard of the best. In the beginning and in the end the State issues from the “person,” and its formulation of life must return to the “person”. There ought, accordingly, to be a free flow of the reason of each, and above all of the best, into the mind of the Sovereign; so that the general Will (by which I merely mean the will of the Sovereign in the form of a law) may find a ready response, and be a true moral force in the mind of each citizen. This is the only guarantee of assured progress. The ultimate aim is the ethical growth of each citizen through his universal relations: but, as in the cosmic method, the particular in its soleness is naught, and the universal in its universalness is naught. The universal has no existence save in the particular, and the particular has no fulfilment save in and through the universal.

It is only when the sympathetic response to the ideas of great personalities is such as to permeate the mass and alter their way of looking at life, that these ideas become permanent factors in the gradual evolution of an ethical polity. The action of personalities is effective and rapid as an evolutionary force in proportion to the diffusion of their ideas among the mass. The progress is illusory which is not from within, and slow. The Universe is a continuous One, and, neither in vegetal life nor conscious life is there any breach, but only an infinite gradation. The upward movement is always from within, not from without. “Function” precedes organic structure, it is said: in any case, a variant function carries structure along with it. The State, accordingly, must evolve from within, and it gradually grows out of the growing needs and ever-enlarging conceptions of the individual citizen. All must look to their prophets for guidance and for the creation of spiritual needs, and to the Sovereign to satisfy them. “Everything great and good,” says Fichte, “on which our present existence rests, and from which it has proceeded, exists only because noble and powerful men have resigned all the enjoyments of life for the sake of ideas.” “The animal in man,” says Amiel, “becomes human only late in the day and then only in the beautiful souls, the souls alive to justice, goodness, enthusiasm and devotion.”

Some talk of the State, which is an organisation of free persons, as if it were a mysterious organic entity to be called “Humanity” or the “social organism” in which individuals are moved by an unseen hand. This is, in fact, a confused form of political pantheism; or rather, I should say, it is atheistic pantheism. The god to be worshipped is “moral tissue”! This abstract conception is, I say, political pantheism and dangerous to liberty. It involves a mediaeval absolutism, with God and the Church left out. The State is not an abstraction, organic or other, but a concrete living community of “persons,” of which the organising principle is ethical purpose and law: and, when all is said, the end of the organisation as a whole is its return to the person so that each may through the whole realise himself. The State, doubtless, is greater than any individual citizen, but it is for the individual citizen that it exists. And is not this what Plato means when he maintains that “The Good” for the State is possible only by the virtues of the individual, while, on the other hand, the good State makes the complete virtue of the individual possible? And does not Aristotle follow the same line of thought when he deals in his Ethics with the subjective characteristics of virtue whereby a man is best fitted for life; and, in the Politics, when he is considering those forms of government and administration which best admit of the activity of personal virtue by themselves embodying an ethical conception? So with the religion of Christ: the Prophet of mankind cares nothing for States or Churches or for corporations of any kind; but only for individual souls. Spiritual associations are agencies for keeping alive among men the truth of the relation of God and Man. It is inevitable, unfortunately, that their tendency must be to despotism, because their very organisation rests on the assumption that they have exclusive access to the mind of God. Thus we have a Monism which is untrue to the nature of God Himself in relation to His creatures.

I would sum up these notes (dictated entirely by the philosophy of Man which I have endeavoured to expound) in these words: In the origination and final organisation of States the freedom of each person in his industrial and spiritual relations is always the implicit End and the mediating idea is Justice: a whole consists of parts, and there can be no “good” for the whole save through the parts.

We have, of course, been talking of an ideal State and assuming a free constitution; and it is a truism to say that the conditions of men have been, and still, in most places, are, such that the few must not only furnish ideas (as has always been the case even in inchoate barbarous communities), but also govern; just as it has been through the few, or rather a great personality here and there, that man has been raised from savagedom. We must not, on this account, forget that the immanent idea and aim in all government is always Justice, negative and positive, as mediating personal freedom and ethical fulfilment. That State-constitution is best which best promotes this. And there have been, and are, social conditions which make Justice unattainable save through an autocrat. None the less the ideal conception of society is the true conception, to which we may approximate, but to which doubtless we shall never attain.

  • 1.

    My object in the following remarks is merely to bring into view the bearing of our past argument on the theory of the State. The subject is much too large and complex for adequate treatment here.