The question is often raised whether the State is an end or a means? i.e. whether the State has an end in itself (Selbstzweck), or simply serves as a means to enable individuals to attain their ends?
The ancient theory of the State, especially that of the Greeks, regarded the State as the highest aim of human life, as perfect humanity, and was therefore inclined to regard the State as an end in itself. As compared with the State, individual men appeared only as parts, not as beings with separate personal rights. The State did not serve the individual, but the individual the State, as the member serves the body. The welfare of private men was therefore unhesitatingly sacrificed to that of the State, and in fact the former was only so far justified and valuable as it was serviceable to the welfare of the State. In the same way individual freedom was only regarded as a part of national freedom, and met with neither encouragement nor protection when it sought to go its own way in opposition to the general welfare of the nation and the State.
In complete opposition to this fundamental theory of the ancients is the opinion, which has been often maintained by English and American writers, that the State is not an end in itself, but is simply a means to secure the welfare of individuals. Macaulay repeatedly throughout his works maintains that the chief defect of ancient politicians and of Machiavelli lies in the fact that they do not, like the moderns, recognise the great principle that `societies and laws exist only for the object of increasing the sum of private happiness'. This modern school regards the State simply as in institution or machine which gives to individuals security for their life, their property, and their personal freedom, or at most as an artificial creation designed to raise and promote the welfare and happiness of all individuals, or at any rate of the greater number. Since the time of Bacon this opinion has been zealously defended by many politicians, and even by theorists. No one can really deny it who sees in the State only a collection of individuals. Macaulay believes that the improvement in the conduct of public affairs in recent times is chiefly due to the influence of this theory. Robert von Mohl considers it preposterous to attribute equal importance to men and to a mere institution for their welfare.
It seems to me that both the ancient and the modern view contain a germ of truth; but both commit the error of regarding only one side of the matter and of overlooking or denying the other side.
The form of the question itself, whether the State is a means or an end, leads to this one-sidedness and therefore to error. From one point of view a thing may be regarded as a means for obtaining other ends, from another as containing its end in itself. A picture is often a means of obtaining a livelihood for the artist or a profit for the picture-dealer. Yet a true work of art is to the artist the aim of his highest effort; he sees in it the expression of his most vivid feelings, the embodiment of his ideal. In this way it has its end in itself. So, too, marriage serves undoubtedly as a means for husband and wife to satisfy their individual needs, and to open to both a more happy existence. But marriage is also the union of two sexes separated by nature, and on this union is founded the family, i.e. a higher collective unit, to which the individual existence of all its members is subordinate. Each member of the family is willing to sacrifice a part of his personal interests and will to the higher end which is involved in marriage and the family.
The same is true of the State. On the one hand it is a means for the advantage of the individuals who compose it. From another point of view it has an end in itself and for its sake the individuals are subordinate, and bound to serve it.
The one-sided view of the ancients, which overlooked the individual in the nation, seriously endangered his liberty and his welfare, and led up directly to the conception of the omnipotence, which easily degenerated into the tyranny, of the State.
The equally one-sided view of the moderns, which is unable to see the wood for the trees, fails to recognise the majesty of the State, and thus tends to dissolve it into a confused mob of individuals and to encourage anarchy.
The ancients failed to give sufficient attention to an important task of the State, viz. the protection of personal freedom and the promotion of the personal welfare of the majority. Modern politics can claim the merit of having recognised this function of the State, and of having brought it into more general practice than the ancients did. In the present day a policy is justly regarded as contemptible and hateful which treats the welfare of individuals as a ball to be tossed about at the caprice of rulers, or dropped altogether at the dictation of circumstances. It is acknowledged now that law and its administrators do not merely exercise rule over individuals, but render very essential and important services to them. A large number of useful and beneficent public institutions in the present day owe their origin to this view. It is to it that we must trace the modern development of personal freedom, and especially of freedom of opinion. It has been applied by Christianity to the religious life, and by the Teutonic sense of law to the whole legal existence of the individual.
But in spite of this it is a logical and political error to maintain that the State exists only for the sake of private individuals, and that the administration has no object but to care for their welfare. Such a contention would destroy the Very essence of the State, and would reduce public Law (Statsrecht) into a mere preliminary condition of private Law (Privatrecht). In all nations of a manly spirit there are thousands of men who, when the State is in danger or need, will undertake heavy burdens, and will endanger both the peace of their families and their own lives. This spirit of self-sacrifice can only be explained on the supposition that these men prefer the safety and welfare of their State and nation to their own. The deeds of ancient heroes would be the folly of idle fanaticism if the State were only a means of serving individual interests, if the collective life of the nation had not a higher value than the life of many individuals. In the great dangers and crises of the national life it becomes clear to men that the State is something better and higher than a mutual assurance society. When the love of fatherland is kindled, it melts the selfish ambition of the individual, and when once the sense of duty towards the State is awakened in the masses it inspires and elevates them.
Just as the nation is something more than the sum of persons belonging to it, so the national welfare is not the same as the sum of individual welfare. It is true that a close relationship exists between the two, and that they usually rise and fall together. If the individual welfare of the majority is diminished, that of the State is usually suffering from serious evils. But the lines and direction of the two are not always parallel. Sometimes they cross each other, and sometimes they are altogether separate. Every now and then the State is compelled, either for its own preservation, or in the interest of future generations, to make heavy demands from its present members, and to impose weighty burdens upon them. It sometimes happens, also, that the needs of individual welfare call for extraordinary aid and support from the State, which thus incurs serious obligations.
It follows from this that we must examine more closely under what conditions the State is a means for individual interests, and under what conditions and within what limit the State, as an end in itself, is justified in demanding the subordination of its individual members.[Forward to:]