After Kant and Fichte the opinion long prevailed in Germany that the true end of the State was merely the assurance of rights, and especially those of person and property.
Kant (Rechtslehre, §§ 47--49) expressly declared that `the safety (i.e. the end) of the State does not consist in the welfare or happiness of the citizens, but in the agreement of the constitution with the principles of law'. Fichte (Naturrecht, in his Works, iii. 152) maintains that `the assurance of the rights of all men is the only general will' (i. e. the will of the State). Starting from this view of Kant, Wilhelm von Humboldt assigns very narrow limits to the activity of the State, and defines its end as `the maintenance of security against both external enemies and internal dissensions'. Even in our own century, when the idea of nationality is so strong, Eötvös (Moderne Ideen, 191) maintains that `the end of the State is the security of the individual'.
This opinion arose in the latter half of the eighteenth century. In those days men sought to find some fundamental limitation to the over-government of that enlightened despotism which, benevolent as it was, proved oppressive and destructive of personal freedom, and which was accustomed to justify every interference with family life, with the free choice of a career, and with the administration of private revenues, by a professed regard for the general welfare. The definition of the end of the State as the maintenance of legal security seemed to offer a convenient weapon for opposing this overgovernment successfully, and the State thus limited was termed a Rechtstat (Legal State), in opposition to the detested Polizeistat (Police State).
This narrowing of public life by restricting the end of the State failed to satisfy either the instincts or the necessities of modern nations. No one doubted that the maintenance of legal security is one of the duties of the State, but no modern nation or government could allow its political activity to be limited to so narrow a domain. Even the champions of the opinion were compelled by their personal experience to break through these limits, and to direct their policy to higher ends. Fichte began by asserting that the `protection of property' was the chief end of the State, but in the great struggle against the universal despotism of Napoleon, which was willing enough to protect property, he rose to the conception of a national State, which should serve as the organ of the national spirit. As a Prussian minister, Wilhelm von Humboldt strove to effect the intellectual advancement of the Prussian nation by means of State-schools, though in his theory he had condemned them, and to extend the power of the Prussian State, though it was already amply sufficient to enforce civil and criminal law.
In fact this formula about legal security does not exhaust the end of the State, and especially of the civilised State of modern times: it would correspond much more to the views of the middle ages, which did not advance far beyond the conception of private law.
The sense of law (Rechtssinn) is not the only active force in a nation. It has also a number of economic necessities, which have nothing to do with legal security, such as roads, canals, railways, posts and telegraphs. The State alone can satisfy these needs, and it would not venture to do so if its sole end was the assurance of rights. Again, the nation has important intellectual interests, national schools, schools of science and art, technical schools. For these the care of the State is indispensable; it is impossible to leave them to the chance of private caprice or to the calculating authority of the Church, which is always seeking to bring the State under its own control. The middle ages neglected these interests because they adopted this narrow view of the State as an institution for maintaining legal security.
Moreover, the nation is a political being, which is concerned not only with the making and administration of laws for the security of private rights, but in a far higher degree with political government and the development of its liberties.
This insufficient definition of the end of the State, when practically applied, has the following results:---
Another equally prevalent view, that the general happiness is the true end of the State, is as much too wide as the former is too narrow. The happiness of men is for the most part Independent of the State. Even most of the material goods on which human welfare is dependent, e.g. dwelling, food, clothing and income, are acquired, not through the State, but by the labour and saving of individuals. Still more is this true of the spiritual goods, on which the ideal wealth and happiness of mankind are founded. It is not the State which endows men with their talents and capacities; these are the gift of nature, and they differ in individual cases instead of being common to all. The State can confer on no one the delights of friendship and love, the charm of scientific study or of poetical and artistic creation, the consolations of religion, or the purity and sanctification of the soul united with God.
Men are not citizens in their whole life and being; they have their own natural endowments and their special duties. The State rests upon the community of the nation, not upon the differences of individuals; its end therefore cannot embrace all the ends of private life.
This error, like the other, has serious and harmful results when practically applied:---
This error proved a source of serious evil to the political life of antiquity; but the party of enlightenment in the eighteenth century went astray in the same manner. The end of the State in modern politics must be more accurately defined and limited.[Back to:]