The Theory of the State

Johann Kaspar Bluntschli

Book 5

The End of the State

Chapter 4

The True End of the State

There is only one conception of the State, although it is realised in very various ways among different nations and in different lands and periods. Logic, therefore, compels us to accept also one general view of the end of the State, in spite of the fact that in history the different nations who form States strive after very various objects. The unity of the common end admits of these special differences, but it combines and harmonises them. Robert von Mohl (Encyclopädie, p. 73) was right in asserting that each nation has to pursue various objects according to its special character and needs; but his theory wanted that unity of conception which is necessary to prevent hopeless diversity and deviations in the conduct of the State. On the other hand, von Holtzendorff (Politik, B. iii), who has treated this subject with special attention, gives the name of `harmony of the ends of the State' to what we call the unity of the end.

The question now arises, how is this single and supreme end of the State to be formulated? Many say that it is justice, the realisation of law. This definition seems to us too narrow, and it is erroneous if law is held to include both public and international law, and is not limited to the legal security of individuals (comp. Chapter III.). Law is rather a condition of politics than its end: justitia fundamentum regni. And the life of nations is not only a judicial life; there is also the economical and intellectual life, and the life of the national power. Even the legal-minded Romans did not consider jus to be the supreme end of the State.

Hegel, as Plato long before him, says that the end of the State is morality (Sittlichkeit) and the realisation of the moral law. But the two powers which determine and condition the moral life, viz. the spirit of God and the spirit of the individual man, are both outside the control of the State. The domain of morality is far more comprehensive than the domain of politics; and if the State attempts its control it oversteps its proper limits, and exerts a harmful influence upon morality.

The Romans saw the real function of the State in the public welfare. Their two expressions, res publica and salus publica, are logically as well is verbally connected; they are, in fact, as substance and quality, as potentiality and realisation.

This formula of the end of the State has been frequently misunderstood, mainly because attention has been given, not to the community (the res publica), but to the crowd of individuals, or to the wiles of rulers. It has been used too often to excuse the arbitrary despotism either of princes or of majorities, and it has been completely discredited by the horrors of the Parisian Committee of Public Safety (1793--5).

But the expression is really above criticism, if one regards the natural limits of the State, and especially the judicial order and administration, and if one avoids trespassing upon matters outside those limits, such as the free life of the individual and of religious communities. To every statesman the welfare of his nation has been the first object to strive for, and every patriotic citizen is enthusiastic for the safety of his fatherland. The public welfare is therefore in indispensable object of policy, and its promotion is undoubtedly the chief duty of the State. This definition of the end of the State includes also the development and perfecting of law, and generally the improvement of all common relations and conditions of life. It includes also the administration of law, which is necessary to secure the peaceful course of the common life, and which prevents or punishes wrongs by which the community is harmed. This political principle of the Romans, salus populi suprema lex esto, does not err in being too narrow, but rather in straining the power of the State, and extending it to alien matters.

Still, from one point of view, the expression is insufficient. Although in ordinary times policy aims at securing the national welfare, yet there are moments in a nation's life when it has to face extraordinary duties. There are circumstances in which the State, like an individual, must risk its existence, and with it the national welfare. At such a time it may be a patriotic duty to resign a life which cannot be prolonged with honour. Suppose that an enemy of overwhelming power offers to a small nation many external advantages, such as decreased taxation, the security of peace, or a better administration. A simple regard for the public welfare would dictate the acceptance of the offer, while its rejection might bring disaster or even ruin upon the State. Nevertheless it might be a fatal duty to prefer death with honour rather than voluntary submission to the foreigner; and it is possible that a heroic and desperate struggle may secure a subsequent revival of the State. A splendid example of this was given by the Athenians in the time of Themistocles. Sometimes ruin is the necessary and worthy termination of an existence that is no longer possible. The tragic fate of Carthage or of Jerusalem may be deplored, but in both cases it was inevitable. Sometimes, too, a small State must perish because its people are no longer capable of maintaining their independence, and because it is called upon to enter into the higher collective life of a nation. No unprejudiced German or Italian would deplore the destruction of those petty States which had become useless and impotent, but would rather glory in their fusion into a larger and more important whole. In such cases our formula about the public welfare is insufficient, unless it is applied to the new community.

But all these objections are avoided if we formulate the proper and direct end of the State as the development of the national capacities, the perfecting of the national 1ife, and, finally, its completion; provided, of course, that the process of moral and political development shall not be opposed to the destiny of humanity. This formula includes everything that can be regarded as a proper function of the State, and excludes everything that lies outside the State's range. It regards the idiosyncracies and the special needs of different nations, and thus, while it firmly maintains the unity of the end of the State, it secures the variety of its development. The life-task of every individual is to develop his capacities and to manifest his essence. So, too, the duty of the State-person is to develop the latent powers of the nation, and to manifest its capacities. Thus the State has a double function. Firstly, the maintenance of the national powers; and, secondly, their development. It must secure the conquests of the past, and it must extend them in the future.

Within this common end are included certain special tendencies. Very often these are pursued singly, and justification is sought in the peculiar character of some given nation, but this conduct is fraught with danger to the State as a whole. As illustrations may be mentioned:---

(1) The development of the national power (Macht). The State must have power in order to maintain its independence and to enforce its decrees. It is only as possessing power that a State can exist and live. But States vary very much according to the kind and degree of this power.

  1. World-powers (Weltmächte) are States whose importance and activity extend far beyond their own domain: they play a decisive part in the politics of two continents or of the whole world, and therefore they are specially bound to care for the peace and order of the world (i. e. international law).
  2. Great Powers (Grossmächte) are not necessarily world-powers, though every world-power is of course a great power. The world-power must be a maritime power, because it cannot exert its influence on the destinies of the world without the connexion given by the sea. But a great power may be simply a land-power, e. g. Prussia before the formation of the German Empire. So, too, both then and now, Austro-Hungary is rather a great than a world-power. A great power also exerts an extensive influence far beyond the limits of its own country: it cannot be overlooked, nor can its voice be disregarded without danger when the relations of its own continent undergo important alterations. If at any time either of these powers abuses its strength to oppress other rightful States, the other powers are justified in resisting. Even a man of great genius, like Napoleon I, was unable to raise the great power of the French nation into a European supremacy, and the failure of this attempt led to his overthrow. So, too, Russia was not strong enough to subdue Turkey. Austria could not maintain its rule over Italy. The maritime supremacy of England has been at last compelled to admit the rivalry of other nations.
  3. Intermediate and peaceful powers (neutral States) are not strong enough to play a great part in foreign politics, and are mostly absorbed in domestic affairs. The policy of these States, modest as it is, has very great importance, not only for their own inhabitants, but also because it limits and moderates the dangerous currents of the great politics.
  4. Real petty States have only a very dubious and insecure existence in our epoch, which prefers the formation of greater and stronger States. They can only secure themselves by seeking the protection of the great powers, or by attaching themselves to some stronger State. But in the middle ages the opposite tendency prevailed, and the peoples of Europe, especially the Germans and Italians, were inclined to favour the very smallest political units.

A State has two chief means for increasing its power in relation to foreign States, (1) diplomacy, and (2) the army and navy. A State which regards as its chief function the maintenance of its military strength, of the warlike courage of its members, and its armament, is called a military State. Examples of such a State are Sparta among the Greeks, and the kingdom of Prussia before the foundation of the German Empire. When a State is threatened from without, or is growing to its necessary limits, this extraordinary strain of its military forces is inevitable. But in a normal State which has reached its full development, it must never be forgotten that military power is only a means, and not an end of policy, and that undue straining of this power will be harmful to the true ends of the State.

(2) Sometimes also it is economic interests which are specially prominent. Thus we speak of pastoral, agricultural, industrial, and mercantile States.

It is true that these interests are mainly those of private individuals, and only in a lesser degree interests of the whole nation. But on this very account, an exclusive or undue devotion to them leads to the neglect of the other functions of the State, and damages all other interests. Moreover, the public spirit of such nations is never fully developed, but is corrupted by the selfish and narrow devotion to private interests. In a pastoral State the nation will remain poor and ignorant; in an agricultural State men look with mistrust and disfavour upon the higher culture, because rude manners are the natural accompaniment of their primitive pursuits. To an industrial State the chief dangers lie in disturbances among the artisans and the exclusion of foreign commodities, while a mercantile State may be easily led astray by a shop-keeping spirit.

(3) The life of a nation may also be chiefly directly by intellectual interests, and thus arises what we may call an intellectual State (Culturstat). The military State of Sparta, was opposed, in the time of Pericles, by the intellectual State of Athens, which has bequeathed to posterity undying proofs of its love of art and of the capacity of the Athenians for acquiring knowledge. Florence, Venice, and Antwerp have had periods in which intellectual interests have surpassed all others. The Chinese State in the present day is another example, although its culture is stationary rather than progressive; and both Zürich and Geneva pride themselves on giving special attention to their public schools.

Noble as these objects are, their excessive promotion, to the detriment of the other powers of the nation, is the sign of an unhealthy policy.

(4) In some States the chief function is considered to be the development of the legal guarantees for national and individual freedom, and thus arise free legal States (freie Rechtstaten), as notably the Swiss Cantons and the States of North America. This formula of the end of the State lies, even more than those discussed above, at the heart of the general conception of that end.

(5) Finally, when the consciousness of nationality gives the chief impulse to public life, when the manifestation of national unity seems to be the chief end of the State, we have national States. Such was France in former times, and such are in our own day the kingdom of Italy and the German Empire.

Besides the proper and direct end of the State, which relates to the nation itself, we must consider all the indirect functions of the State, which relate merely to private life.

Here it is especially important to find some accurate definition of the limits of State action.

The duties of an individual may be formulated, like those of the State, as the development and manifestation of his individual character and capacity; but again, this must be in harmony with the ends of the family, of the nation, and of humanity. To fulfil these duties, private freedom is essential. It is, in the first place, the duty of the State to protect this private freedom against unjust attack, and especially to avoid any attempt on its own part to restrict or oppress it.

A preliminary necessity is to form a clear conception of the way in which the State is limited by its own nature.

(1) The State is an external organisation of the common life. It has organs, therefore, only for things which are externally perceptible, and not for the inner spiritual life which has never manifested itself in words or deeds. It is therefore impossible for the State to embrace all the ends of individual life, because many, and those the most, important, sides of that life are concealed from its view and inaccessible to its power. The natural gifts of individuals are wholly independent of the State, which can give neither intelligence to the fool, nor courage to the coward, nor sight to the blind. The State has no share in kindling love within the heart; it cannot follow the thought of the student, nor correct the errors of tradition. As soon as questions arise about the life, and especially the spiritual life, of individuals, the State finds both its insight and its power hemmed in by limits which it cannot pass.

(2) The State is wholly based upon the common nature of men, and especially of its own people. Therefore it cannot control private life in what is essentially individual, but only so far as that life is affected by the common nature of all men and by common necessities. For example, the State can secure to all men equally the possession of a corporeal thing, which we call property, but it must leave to the individual the disposal and management of this property. The property of Paganini in his violin, of Liszt in his pianoforte, or of Kaulbach in his crayons, is a wholly different thing from the property of in unskilled person in those instruments. With this more subtle form of ownership the State has nothing to do, because it is individual and not common. So, too, the State can regulate in a rough and general way the conditions of marriage and the rights of married persons: in fact, it is bound to do so, because upon these depends the security of the family and the moral health of the nation. But the manner in which any particular marriage is completed, and the more delicate forms of family life, lie outside the control of the State. Wilhelm von Humboldt saw this, and was led astray into a desire to withdraw the institution of marriage from legal regulation, and to leave it altogether to private freedom. The Canon Law fell into the opposite error, and endeavoured to impose legal regulations upon matters which pertained to private freedom. When the State punished heresy as a crime, it overstepped its natural limits and encroached unduly upon personal freedom.

(3) The rule of the State extends no further than that of law, because every rule which has the power of compulsion rests upon the foundation of law. But law in its turn is limited,

  1. By the necessity of the peaceful co-existence of individuals, or by the recognition of the necessary conditions of common life (private law, criminal law); and
  2. By the existence and development of the nation, to which the private life of individuals is subordinated so far as the security and welfare of the former demand (taxation, military obligations, constitutional and administrative law).

So far as law is in question, the State is the supreme authority, because the making and administering of law belong by their very essence to the State.

(4) The State can extend its administrative care, and therefore its influence, beyond the domain of judicial organisation, but it has no power of compulsion, and its functions are limited to the support and encouragement of important social objects for which State help is needed (economical and educational measures of the State). The care of the State for the national welfare is here expanded into a care for the welfare of society, but only because the latter is in need of assistance.

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