There are two distinct ways of treating ethical questions, the difference between which, in respect of method, is fundamental; though it does not necessarily lead to controversy or diversity of systems. We may begin by establishing fundamental principles of abstract or ideal morality, and then proceed to work out deductively the particular rules of duty or practical conceptions of human good or well-being, through the adoption of which these principles may be as far as possible realized, under the actual conditions of human life. Or, we may contemplate morality as a social fact---``positive morality'' as it has been called---i.e., the body of opinions and sentiments as to right and wrong, good and evil, which we find actually prevalent in the society of which we are members; and endeavour, by reflective analysis, removing vagueness and ambiguity, solving apparent contradictions, correcting lapses and supplying omissions, to reduce this body, of current opinions, so far as possible, to a rational and coherent system. The two methods are in no way antagonistic: indeed, it may reasonably be contended that if pursued with complete success, they must lead to the same goal---a perfectly satisfactory and practical ideal of conduct. But in the actual condition of our intellectual and social development, the respective results of the two methods are apt to exhibit a certain divergence, which, for practical purposes, we have to obliterate---more or less consciously---by a rough compromise.
In the present discourse, I shall adopt primarily the second method. I shall accordingly mean by it ``public morality'' prevalent opinions as to right and wrong in public conduct; that is, primarily in the conduct of governments---whether in relation to the members of the states governed, or in dealings with other states. We must, however, extend the notion, especially in states under popular government, to include opinions as to the conduct of private individuals and associations, so far as they influence or control government; or we might put it otherwise, by saying that in such states every man who possesses the franchise has a share in the functions and responsibilities of government. Thus, in such states the morality of party strife is a department of public morality. The limits of my discourse will compel me to concentrate attention mainly on government in the ordinary sense---the persons primarily responsible for governmental action, and to whose conduct the judgment of right and wrong applies in the first instance. But it seemed desirable to notice at the outset the wider extension of governmental responsibilities that belongs to democracy; because on this largely depends, in my view, not the theoretical interest, but the practical urgency of the question that I am about to raise.
For the most important inquiry which my subject at the present time suggests is whether there is any deep and fundamental distinction between public and private morality; any more difference, that is, than between the moralities belonging respectively to different professions and callings. We all, of course, recognize that in a certain sense the application of moral rules varies for different professions: certain kinds of duty become specially important for each profession, and accordingly come to be defined for it with special precision and certain minor problems of conduct are presented to members of one profession which are not presented to another. In this way some variations are thus caused in the practical casuistry belonging to different callings; so that we might speak of clerical morality, legal morality, and medical morality; but in so speaking we should be commonly understood to refer to variations in detail of comparatively minor importance. It would be a violent paradox to maintain that the ordinary rules of veracity, justice, good faith, etc., were suspended wholly or partially in the case of any of these professions. But the case is different with the department of morality which deals with the conduct of states or governments. In this region paradoxes of the kind just mentioned have been deliberately maintained by so many grave persons that we can hardly refuse them serious attention. Indeed, if anyone will study the remarkable catena of authorities quoted by Lord Acton in his introduction to Burd's edition of Machiavelli's Prince, he will, I think, be left in some doubt how far the proposition, that statesmen are not subject in their public conduct even to the most fundamental rules of private morality, can properly be called paradoxical any longer, for persons duly instructed in modern history, and modern political thought. It is still, no doubt, a paradox to the vulgar. It is not a proposition that a candidate for Parliament would affirm on a public platform; but the extent to which it is adopted, explicitly or implicitly, by educated persons is already sufficient to introduce into popular morality an element of perplexity and disturbance, which it would be desirable, if possible, to remove; and this perplexity and disturbance must be expected to increase, in proportion as democracy increases the responsibility---and the sense of responsibility---of the ordinary citizen.
Observe that in speaking of ``morality'' I have in view the standard by which men are judged, not the standard of their practice. It is not merely that the statesman frequently violates the rules of duty, for that we all do. Nor is it merely that, in view of the greatness of his temptations or the nobleness of his patriotic motives, more indulgence is shown to his breaches of justice, veracity, or good faith, than would be shown to similar transgressions in private life; that the historian is ``a little blind'' to the faults of a man who has rendered valuable services to his country. For this kind of indulgence is also sometimes shown to persons in other vocations, when subject to special temptations or moved by fine impulses; but it does not commonly amount to a modification of the rule by which men are judged, but only to an alteration in the weight of the censure attached to a breach of the rule. Thus public opinion is indulgent to the amorous escapades of gallant soldiers and sailors, though it would condemn similar conduct severely in schoolmasters; but no one would gravely argue that the Seventh Commandment is not binding on military men. So again, we all sympathize with the Jacobite servant who ``would rather trust his soul in God's hands than his master in the hands of the Whigs'', and therefore committed perjury to avoid the worse alternative; but our sympathy does not lead us to contend that domestic loyalty has a licence to swear falsely on suitable occasions.
Nor, further, is the fact I am considering merely that there is, or has been, an esoteric professional morality current among politicians, in which considerable relaxations are allowed of the ordinary rules of veracity, justice, and good faith. This is doubtless a part of the fact; but if this were all, it would be easy to find analogies for it in several other professions and callings, which are all liable to similar esoteric relaxations of ordinary morality. For instance, I suppose that there is now an esoteric morality widely spread among retail traders which allows of secret payments to cooks and butlers in order to secure their custom; but we do not hear the bribery approved or defended outside the circles of retail tradesmen and domestic servants. So, again, it would seem that in certain ages and countries the current morality among priests has regarded ``pious fraud'' as legitimate; but the success of this method of promoting the cause of religion would seem to depend upon its being kept strictly esoteric; and I am not aware that it was ever openly defended in works published for the edification of the laity. The peculiarity of the divergence of political from ordinary morality is that it has been repeatedly thus defended, not only by the statesmen themselves, but by literary persons contemplating the statesman's work in the disengaged attitude of students of life and society.
Nor, finally, is it merely that the statesman's breaches of morality, if successful, are liable to be approved by the popular sentiment of the nation which profits by them, so that the writers of this nation are inadvertently led into fallacies and sophistries in order to justify the immoralities in question. This doubtless occurs, and cannot much surprise us. Adam Smith has explained how conscience---the imaginary impartial spectator within the breast of each of us--``requires often to be awakened and put in mind of his duty by the presence of the real spectator''; and how, when the real spectator at hand is interested and partial, while the impartial ones are at a distance, the propriety of moral sentiments is apt to be corrupted. No doubt this partly explains the low state of international morality, and of the morality of party warfare, as compared with ordinary private morality; but this explanation will not suffice to account for the divergence that I am now considering. It is not merely that particular cases in which leading statesmen have employed immoral means for patriotic ends are sophistically defended by patriotic contemporaries belonging to the same nation. The point is that the approval of such breaches is formulated in explicit general maxims, raised into a system, and deliberately applied by eminent students of history and political science to the acts of statesmen in remote ages and countries. This seems to be especially the case in Germany, where men of letters have in recent times taken the lead in advocating the emancipation of the statesman from the restraints of ordinary morality. It is not merely that the German defends his Frederic or his Bismarck to the best of his ability; his historical and philosophical soul is not content with that. To do him justice, he is equally earnest in defending the repudiation by Rome of the treaty with the Samnites after the incident of the Caudine Forks,---or any similar act of bad faith or aggression perpetrated by that remarkably successful commonwealth.
Let us contemplate more closely the principles of this charter of liberation from the ordinary rules of morality, issued to statesmen and states by respectable thinkers of our century. And, first, I may begin by distinguishing the explicitly anti-moral propositions that I have in view from other propositions in some measure cognate, which yet do not definitely imply them. For instance, when a writer speaks of the ``irresistible logic of facts'', or tells us that history furnishes the only touchstone for political ideals, that great designs and great enterprises can only prove themselves such by succeeding, that achievement is the only criterion of the true statesman, etc., etc.---this does not necessarily imply the emancipation of the statesman from ordinary moral restraints. It may merely mean that the construction of the finest possible Utopia is not statesmanship, and that the true statesman's ideas must be adapted for realization with the means at his disposal and under given conditions; it need not be taken to deny that the restraints of common morality are among these conditions. No doubt this kind of language strongly suggests the
Si possis rectè si non quocunque modoof Horace; but though it suggests this meaning, it does not strictly justify us in attributing it to the writer. For one might similarly say that the possession of the art of medicine can only be proved by success, and that the one business of the physician is to cure his patient, without intending to imply that it does not matter what commandments the physician may break, provided only the cure is effected.
So, again, when it is said that morality varies from age to age, and from country to country, that the code shifts with the longitude and alters with the development of society, and that in judging any statesman we must apply the standard of his age and country,---all this seems directed rather to the emancipation of the historian from moral narrowness in his judgments than to the emancipation of the statesman from moral restraint in his conduct. For this language assumes that the statesman is bound by the established moral code of his society; it only points out that that court for the award of praise and blame, in which the historian from time to time appoints himself to sit as judge and jury, is subject to the difficulties arising from the diversity and conflict of laws, and that the judicious historian must take care to select and apply the right code. Whether this view is sound or not, it has no logical connection with the doctrine that sets a statesman free from the fundamental rules of morality, recognized as binding in his own age and country.
One more distinction, and then I come to the point. I suppose that if there is any one historic name with which this anti-moral doctrine is to be specially connected, it is the name of Machiavelli; I might indeed have referred to it briefly as ``Machiavellianism'', only that I am anxious to examine it rather in its nineteenth century than its sixteenth century form. Now, competent historians of thought have regarded it as the essential principle of Machiavelli that ``the end justifies the means''; and certainly this principle is expressly laid down by the great Florentine, not only in the paradoxical and variously interpreted Prince, but in the more moderate and straightforward Discourses on Livy,---which have largely escaped the reprobation piled on the more famous treatise. He lays this principle down in treating of a case so remote from modern interest as the slaying of Remus by Romulus; he admits that this fratricide was objectionable in itself, but holds it justified when we take Romulus' ends into account. ``A good result excuses any violence''. And probably for ordinary readers this statement sufficiently characterizes Machiavelli's doctrine as anti-moral; but it must be obvious that it cannot so characterize it for those who, like myself, hold that the only true basis for morality is a utilitarian basis. I desire here to digress as little as may be into this controversy of the schools: but I must refer to it to avoid confusion and misunderstanding. For in the view of utilitarians the proposition that ``the end justifies the means'' cannot possibly be taken to characterize the anti-moral position of Machiavelli or his nineteenth century followers. In our view the end must always ultimately justify the means---there is no other way in which the use of any means whatever could possibly be justified. Only it must be a universal end; not the preservation of any particular state, still less its aggrandisement or the maintenance of its existing form of government; but the happiness or well-being of humanity at large---or, rather, of the whole universe of living things, so far as any practical issue can be raised between these two conceptions of the universal end. According to us, then, the immorality of Machiavellianism does not lie in its affirmation that the bindingness of all moral rules is relative, or that the moral value of actions is to be estimated by their consequences---if only a sufficiently wide view is taken of these consequences. It only begins when the end in view and the regard for consequences is narrowed and restricted; when the interest of a particular state is taken as the ultimate and paramount end, justifying the employment of any means whatever to attain it, whatever the consequences of such action may be to the rest of the human race.
And this ``national egoism'' is, I think, the essence of the Neo-Machiavellianism, which,---though views somewhat similar have frequently found expression from the sixteenth century onward,---has been especially prominent in the political thought of the last forty years, and, as I have said, has found the most unreserved and meditated expression in the writings of Germans. I may give as an example the statements of an able and moderate writer, who is by no means an admirer of Machiavelli. ``The state'', says Rümelin, ``is self-sufficient.'' ``Self-regard is its appointed duty; the maintenance and development of its own power and well-being,---egoism, if you like to call this egoism,---is the supreme principle of all politics.'' ``The state can only have regard to the interest of any other state so far as this can be identified with its own interest.'' ``Self-devotion is the principle for the individual, self-assertion for the state.'' ``The maintenance of the state justifies every sacrifice, and is superior to every moral rule.''
It may perhaps be said that this adoption of national interest as a paramount end does not necessarily involve a collision with established morality: that it may be held along with a belief that veracity, good faith, and justice are always the best policy for states and for individuals. But the common sense of Christendom does not affirm this of individuals, if mundane consequences alone are taken into account: and though Bentham and an important section of his earlier followers were prepared to base private morality on pure self-interest empirically ascertained and measured, this doctrine has few defenders now. And the corresponding doctrine as regards national interest is certainly not to be attributed to the German writers to whom I refer: their practical aim in affirming national egoism is almost always expressly to emancipate the public action of statesmen from the restraints of private morality.
The origin of this Neo-Machiavellianism may be traced to various causes. It is partly due to a reaction from the political idealism of the later eighteenth century---a reaction in which moral rules have been thrown overboard along with constitutional principles; partly to a reaction from the cosmopolitanism of the same period, tending to an exaggerated affirmation of the self-sufficiency and absolute moral independence of the nation-state; partly, perhaps, to a kind of Neo-paganism, striving to make patriotism take the place of Christianity. Partly it seems to be connected with the triumph of the historical method, influenced in its earlier stage by the Hegelian change of Idealism through Optimism into its opposite, summed up in the famous declaration that the Real is Rational; from which it seems an obvious inference that the man who succeeds is always in the right, whatever his path to success, the man who fails always in the wrong. In any case, I think the nineteenth century study of history has tended to enlarge and systematize the demand for the moral emancipation of the statesman. Doubtless from the time of Machiavelli downwards it has been a common view of practical politicians that ``good men'' are unsuited for political crises, because they will not, as Walpole puts it, ``go the necessary lengths''. But so long as Traditional and Ideal Legitimacy were carrying on their constitutional struggle with confident conviction on both sides, the required relaxation from moral restraints was commonly limited to crises sincerely believed to be exceptional. ``Revolutions and wars are not made with rose water'', said the political idealist; ``but when once we have emancipated nations, and established in them free and equal democratic governments, revolutions and wars will be things of the past.'' ``We have to violate rules of right to defend the right'', said the party of order, ``in the present tempest of revolutionary madness; but, once the madness is over, the powers ordained of God will, of course, conform to the moral order which they are essentially required to maintain.'' But the convictions of both parties belong to a stage which the movement of nineteenth century thought has now left behind it. The study of history has caused the view to prevail that ``the great world'' is to
``Spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change'';and, consequently, at every turn of this rotatory movement forward, there would seem likely to be an ever recurrent need for the morally emancipated statesman---the statesman who, when circumstances drive him to cruelty, rapacity, breach of faith, falsehood, will not waver and whine about the ``painful necessity''; but, with simple decision, unhampered by scruples, take the course that leads straightest to the next stage of the everlasting progress.
In the extreme form which this doctrine not unfrequently assumes, and in which I have, for clearness, presented it, it neither invites nor requires a formal refutation; since it neither appeals to the common moral consciousness of mankind, which, indeed, it frankly claims to override, nor to any principles which have ever been accepted by philosophers. For egoism pure and simple, the doctrine that each individual's interest must be for him ultimately paramount to all other considerations, there is, in abstract ethical discussion, much to be said; but I have never seen, nor can I conceive, any ethical reasoning that will provide even a plausible basis for the compound proposition that a man is bound to sacrifice his private interest to that of the group of human beings constituting his state, but that neither he nor they are under any similar obligation to the rest of mankind. And to do them justice, the advocates of this doctrine do not commonly resort to ethical deductions to justify their position. They prefer to appeal to facts; and certainly it is not difficult to find examples of statesmen who have attained their ends by such breaches of current morality as this doctrine defends: but obviously no appeal to facts can settle the question of right without a palpable petitio principii.
There is, however, one objection that may be taken to this doctrine on the purely historical ground on which its advocates usually argue. I do not think that the history of polity and of political ideas gives us any reason for believing that this emancipation from morality, if once admitted, will stop where the Neo-Machiavellians desire it to stop---at national egoism. The moral emancipation allowed to governments for the promotion of the interests of the nation will be used by governments for the maintenance of their power, even against the interests of the nation; the distinction between what may be done to hold power and what may be done to acquire it will come to be recognized as arbitrary; and so by an easy inclined plane we shall pass from the Machiavellianism of the Discourses on Livy to the Machiavellianism of the Prince. Or, again, granting that some kind of corporate sentiment is maintained, there is still no ground for confidence that it will always attach itself to the particular corporation called the state. If everything is permitted in national struggles for the sake of the nation, it will be easy to think that everything is permitted in party-struggles or class-struggles for the sake of the party or class. The tendencies of modern democracy are running strongly towards the increase of corporate sentiments and the habits of corporate action in industrial groups and classes, and so towards dividing civilized humanity by lines that cut across the lines separating nations; and history certainly does not justify us in confidently expecting that when the rules of private morality are no longer held to apply to public action, patriotism will still keep class feeling and party feeling within the bounds required by national peace and well-being. It is in the later period of free Greece---the civilized fourth century---that the class conflict is most disintegrative, which makes, as Plato says, ``two cities in one, the city of the rich and the city of the poor'': and similarly in mediaeval Italy, whereas in the twelfth century the chronicle ran simply, ``Parma fights Piacenza'', before the end of the thirteenth it ran, ``Parma, with the exiles from Piacenza, fights Piacenza''.
I conclude, then, that this Neo-Machiavellian doctrine is really condemned by history---the Caesar to which it appeals---no less than by the old-fashioned moral philosophy that it despises. But I am far from wishing to dismiss it with a bare negation. The extent to which it has found favour with thoughtful persons affords a prima facie presumption that there are elements of sound reason in it, which have been exaggerated into dangerous paradox; and, if so, it seems very desirable to get these clear. The most important of these elements---especially as regards international conduct---is, I think, more easily discernible in the work of Hobbes than in that of Machiavelli; the Englishman being a more systematic and philosophical thinker than his Florentine master, though a less acute and penetrating analyst of political experience. Hobbes, as is well known, accepted fully the Machiavellian view of human relations---outside the pale of a political society compacted through unquestioning obedience into peace and order. Outside this pale he certainly held any aggression or breach of compact conducive to self-preservation to be lawful to the human individual or group, struggling to maintain its existence in the anarchy called a state of nature; but he justified this licence on the ground that a member of such a ``natural society'' who may observe moral rules can have no reasonable expectation of reciprocal observance on the part of others, and must therefore merely ``make himself a prey to others''. In Hobbes' view, morality---the sum of the conditions of harmonious human living in society---is a system that man is always bound to keep before his mind as an ideal; but his obligation to realize it in act is conditional on a reasonable expectation of reciprocity. This condition is, I think, with careful limitations and qualifications, sound; and the error of Hobbes does not lie so much in making this demand for reciprocity---though he makes it too unguardedly---as in his palpable exaggeration of the difference between human relations in a so-called ``natural'' society and in the state of political order. The exaggeration is palpable---since (e.g.) the mere fact that the habit of making compacts prevails among states is evidence of a prevalent confidence that they will be more or less observed---but the exaggeration should not blind us to the real divergence that exists between the rules of public and of private duty, or to its connection with the cause that Hobbes assigns for it.
This divergence, observe, does not arise in the main from any fundamental difference in the general principles of ideal morality for states and individuals respectively, but from the actual difference of their relations. A similar, if not an equal, divergence would exist for a virtuous individual who found himself in a society where, whether from anarchy or from other causes, the moral standard maintained in ordinary conduct was as low as the moral standard of international conduct actually is.
As Mr. Spencer forcibly says---
``Ideal conduct is not possible for the ideal man in the midst of men otherwise constituted. An absolutely just or perfectly sympathetic person, could not live and act according to his nature in a tribe of cannibals. Among people who are treacherous and utterly without scruple, entire truthfulness and openness must bring ruin. If all around recognize only the law of the strongest, one whose nature will not allow him to inflict pain on others, must go to the wall. There requires a certain congruity between the conduct of each member of a society and others' conduct. A mode of action entirely alien to the prevailing modes of action, cannot be successfully persisted in---must eventuate in death to itself, or posterity, or both.''
I do not mean that the customary conduct of nations to each other is accurately represented by Spencer's description; but it is liable to resemble this description much more closely than the customary conduct of individuals in a civilized society. Nor, again, do I mean that a state, any more than an individual, can justify conduct which ideal morality condemns by simply alleging the similar conduct of other states---even the majority of other states: if this were so, moral progress would be almost impossible in international relations. From the fact that unprovoked aggression, committed with impunity and successful in its immediate aims, is a phenomenon that continually recurs throughout modern European history, I do not infer that it is right for a modern European state to commit an act of unprovoked aggression; what I contend is that this fact materially alters the moral relations between states by extending the rights and duties of self-protection.
The difference thus introduced is unmistakably, though vaguely, recognized in ordinary moral thought; all we have to do---according to the plan of the present essay---is to bring it clearly before our minds, and assign its limits as precisely as we can. Thus it has long been tacitly recognized that in international relations the conditions are wanting under which the morality of passive submission and resignation, specially distinctive of Christianity, is conducive to the general well-being. It has been comprehended by the common sense of the Christian world that the precept to turn the other cheek, and repay coercion and encroachment with spontaneous further concessions, was not given to nations; and that the meek who are to inherit the earth must be understood to be meek individuals, protected by a vigorous government from the disastrous consequences to themselves that meekness in a state of anarchy would entail.
The case is different with the rules of veracity, good faith, abstinence from aggression on person or property, which are not specially Christian: it would be absurd to interpret popular morality as allowing governments a general licence to dispense themselves from the obligation of these rules when they find it convenient, in view of the general tendency to transgress them. But to an important extent, in special cases, such a licence is commonly conceded. Take the case of veracity. We should not condemn a general in war for disseminating false statements to mislead the enemy, or for sending spies to obtain information as to the enemy's movements by processes involving an indefinite amount of falsehood. A similar licence is commonly conceded to governments---or at least to their subordinates---in performing the task of maintaining order within the community governed. We recognize that in the ceaseless contest with secret crime, the business of the detective police---which involves continual deception---is practically indispensable; and must therefore be regarded as a legitimate, if not highly honourable, calling. There is at present no such general toleration of the use of falsehood and spies and stratagems in diplomacy; times are changed, I am told, since the definition of a diplomatist as a person ``sent to lie abroad for the benefit of his country'', was from a scientific point of view admissible. But here again, I think, a reasonable expectation of reciprocity is practically accepted as a condition of the stringency of the rule prohibiting such artifices---a plot would be held to justify a counterplot, at any rate if there were no other effective means of defeating it.
In the case of breach of engagements, the extension of the scope of self-protection is of a somewhat different character. Our common morality does not justify treacherous promises, made without intention of fulfilling them, even in dealing with states that have been guilty of such treachery. Speaking broadly, the right mode of dealing with such a state is clearly to treat its promises as idle words, unless there is some adequate ground, other than the promise itself, for expecting its fulfilment. But when modern states have failed to carry out their compacts---and history abounds in, instances of such failure---they have usually made excuses, alleging ambiguity of terms, material change of circumstances, or the non-fulfilment of promises on the other side. Now, in dealing with a government which---in order to free itself from inconvenient treaty-obligations---is in the habit of using pleas of this kind in a strained and unreasonable manner, I conceive that any other government would not be liable to censure for claiming a similar freedom---at any rate, in case of urgent need.
It will be observed that, according to the moral view that I am endeavouring to express, urgent need is held to be required---as well as the antecedence of similar acts on the other side---in order completely to justify a breach of veracity or good faith. Without urgent need, the fact that any particular act of unveracity or bad faith is merely imitative and retaliatory affords an excuse, but not an adequate justification; since even a retaliatory act of this kind has the mischievous effect of a bad precedent, and tends to depress the customary standard of morality between nations.
I may here mention one special difference between public and private morality arising from the same absence of a common government which has hitherto rendered wars between nations inevitable,---the different view that is and must be taken of the bindingness of compacts imposed by force in the two cases. In an orderly state, a promise obtained from any person by unlawful force has, of course, no legal validity: and it is at least doubtful whether it has any moral validity. If in England a robber were to force me, under threat of death, to promise him a large sum of money, I conceive that no thoughtful person would censure me for breaking my promise, though he might feel a sentimental preference for the opposite course. But in the case of states, we cannot similarly treat wrongful force as invalidating obligations deliberately undertaken under its pressure: to do this---as I have elsewhere said---``would obviously tend to aggravate the evils of unjust victory'' in war: ``as the unjust victor, being unable to rely on the promises of the vanquished community, would be impelled by self-interest to crush it utterly''. At the same time, there is an opposite danger in treating oppressive conditions thus imposed as finally and permanently binding: as this would increase the temptation---already sufficiently strong---to skilfully-timed acts of violent aggression. In this dilemma, international morality has, I think, to adopt a somewhat vague compromise, and to regard such obligation as having a limited validity, but tending to lose their force through lapse of time, and the change of circumstances that lapse of time brings with it.
So far I have been speaking of international relations; but the general principles that I have applied to them must, I think, be admitted to some extent in respect of internal crises in the life of a political society. Here, however, I must guard against a misunderstanding. I do not think we should assume that the changes---even the greater changes---in internal polity, which the future has doubtless in store for European states, must necessarily involve violent breaches of political order, in respect of which the ordinary rules of morality are to be suspended. Revolutions and coups d'état are fraught with such wide and far-reached mischief that the efforts to avoid them should never be relaxed: if political meteorologists unite in affirming that one or other must come ``sooner or later'', the true patriot should answer, with Canning, that he ``prefers it later''. The same is, of course, true of wars: but there is at present more reason to hope for the ultimate success of such efforts in the case of internal strife owing to the greater strength of the bonds of interest and sympathy that unite members of the same state. But if ever such efforts seem doomed to fail, and the minds of men are turning to the violent courses that appear inevitable, an enlargement of the right of self-protection---somewhat similar to that which we have just recognized in international relations---must be conceded to any of the sections into which the state is suffering a transient moral disintegration; or rather to the statesmen acting on behalf of such a section.
The last sentence leads me to notice a reason sometimes given for divergence between public and private morality, which I have not yet considered. It is said that the actions of states have generally to be judged as actions of governments and that governments hold a position analogous to that of trustees in relation to the community governed, and therefore cannot legitimately incur risks which a high morality would require individuals to incur in similar cases. I think that there is some force in the argument, but that it is only applicable within a very narrow range. Trustees, whether for private or collective interests, are bound to be just; and the cases are at any rate very rare in which the highest morality applicable in the actual condition of international relations would really require states to be generous at the definite sacrifice of their interests. For a state to embark on a career of international knight-errantry would, generally speaking, be hardly more conducive to the interests of the civilized world than to those of the supposed Quixotic community. Still I admit that cases may occur in which intervention of this kind, at a cost or risk to the intervening community beyond what strict self-regard could justify, would be clearly advantageous to the world, and that in such cases the ``quasi-trusteeship'' attaching to the position of government might render its duty doubtful. It would seem that in a case of this kind the moral responsibility for public conduct is properly transferred in a large measure from the rulers to the ruled. The government may legitimately judge that it is right to run a risk with the support of public opinion which it would be wrong to run without it; so that it becomes the duty of private persons---in proportion as they contribute to the formation of public opinion---to the required support.To sum up briefly the main result of a long discussion. So far as the past conduct of any foreign state shows that reciprocal fulfilment of international duty---as commonly recognized---cannot reasonably be expected from it, I admit that any other state that may have to deal with it must be allowed a corresponding extension of the right of self-protection, in the interest of humanity at large no less than in its own interest. It must be allowed to anticipate attack which it has reasonable grounds for regarding as imminent, to meet wiles with wiles as well as force with force, and to be circumspect in the fulfilment of any compact it may make with such a state. But I do not regard this as constituting a fundamental difference between public and private morality; similar rights may have to be exceptionally claimed and exercised between man and man in the most orderly society that we have experience of; the difference is mainly in the degree of exceptionality of the claim. It remains true that in both cases equally it must be insisted that the interest of the part is to be pursued only in such manner and degree as is compatible with the interests of the larger community of which it is a part; and that any violation of the rules of mutual behaviour actually established in the common interests of this community, so far as it is merely justified by its conduciveness to the sectional interest of a particular group of human beings, must receive unhesitating and unsparing censure. [Back to:]