Characteristics of the Present Age/Lecture 11


To determine at what stage of its development the State has arrived in the Present Age, is the problem with which we are now occupied, and to solve which we have undertaken the immediately preceding inquiries and investigations. We had first of all to declare the mere Form of the State; that is, what is implied in the mere general assertion of the existence of the State;—and this we have done in our last lecture. Should this investigation have appeared to some to be too speculative,—so that, on this account, it has either never been entirely clear to them, or is not now any longer wholly present to their memory,—this can only arise, in my opinion, from this,—that in their attempt to comprehend the form of the State their attention has been distributed over too large a number of Individuals, wholly different from each other in respect of their outward qualities; while at the same time it is requisite that this multitude of Individuals should be regarded as an indivisible organic Whole. For the Understanding, this business of comprehension is not rendered more difficult by the multitude and variety of these elements; but the Imagination, and still more the common power of observation which is accustomed to take cognizance only of the peculiarities of Individuals and of Classes, is easily tired, unless it has had a certain amount of practice beforehand. Thus, in order to make our ideas perfectly clear to those who perchance have not altogether understood our former lecture; and to bring the whole once more at one view before those to whom it may no longer be thoroughly present in memory; let us to-day illustrate our views by the example of a smaller Community, to which, although not itself a State, we may give the form of the State,—that being all with which we are concerned at present.

Let us suppose a union, perhaps by mutual agreement, of several natural families into one, which would thenceforward be an artificial family. The purpose of such a union could be nothing more than to acquire and preserve, as far as possible, by their common labour, the means of physical existence; and hence this union would not constitute a State,—the State not being an economical society, and having a purpose very different from the mere physical maintenance of individual life. But let us give to this family-union the general form of the State. This is only possible in the three following ways:—Either all the members of the community are bound to apply their whole time and ability to labour for the whole number of families composing it, so that they cannot occupy themselves with aught else; while, on the other hand, all without exception have an equal interest in the property and enjoyments of the whole;—there being nothing whatever belonging to the household which is not the property of all, and which would not, were the occasion to arise, actually be expended for any one. That each should apply his whole ability for all the families, I said;—meaning thereby, in so far as he possesses such ability. It is not allowable that any one should say,—‘I am stronger than all the others; I do more for the common good, and therefore I must have something more than others in the division of enjoyments;’—for the union and combination of all into one Society is altogether unconditional;—that this one is the strongest is quite accidental; were he the weakest he would not be less cared for on that account; and were he accidentally to become weak or sick, so that he could no longer do anything for the common good, he would still be cared for in the same way. Were our supposed family-union organized in this way, it would then bear the Absolute form of the State, as it ought to be according to Reason,—consisting in Equal Rights for All.

Or:—the constitution of our supposed society might be thus arranged:—that perhaps,—for we may leave this point undetermined,—that perhaps all, without exception, are bound to apply all their powers for the purposes of the community; and also that there is no one to whom the participation in some portion of what has been acquired by the common labour is not secured; but that, nevertheless, only a few are admitted to partake of whatever is most precious and valuable in the produce of the common power, while the others are excluded from this enjoyment. In this case it would follow, that those who are thus excluded have laboured only in part for the whole community, and in part not for the whole (to which nevertheless they themselves belong), but only for the few favoured individuals; and hence that they have been, not indeed wholly, but yet in this latter respect, only means for the attainment of the purpose of these others. This arrangement would represent the second possible form of the State: Equality of Right for all, but not Equal Rights. Finally, we may conceive of this union of families in the following way:—that the greater number of its members labour with all their powers to acquire a permanent and fixed estate, while some neither put their own hand to the work, nor direct the labour of others, nor trouble themselves in any way whatever about the matter; but only come from time to time, and snatch from the property accumulated by the labour of the others, whatever is most accessible and pleasing to themselves; at most taking care that the working part of the community be not wholly ruined;—but even this only by their own arbitrary choice, since no one can bind them to this foresight. This condition of the society would bear the first form of the State:—the absolute subjugation of the many to the selfish purposes of the few, and absolute extinction of Rights among all.—This would be a picture of the three possible fundamental forms of the State which we have already enumerated.

From this constitution of the State and the Personal and Civil Freedom which are its necessary elements, we carefully distinguished the form of Government and the Political Freedom which belongs to it. That which we have adduced on this latter subject may likewise be illustrated by our imaginary community. In the supposed family-union, all the powers therein united ought to be directed to the attainment of the common purpose. This can be secured only by one single Will assuming the guidance of the whole application of power,—determining at all times what ought to be done immediately for the purpose of the community, and what may be deferred; what must be infallibly accomplished, and what may be relinquished should sufficient time and ability be wanting for its attainment;—a Will which appoints each one his place, so that his exertions may not interrupt, but assist and cooperate with, the labours of others;—a Will, in fine, to which each individual unconditionally submits his own will in respect to the employment of his powers for the purposes of the community. Whence shall proceed this one Will which is to guide all other wills?—Either all the members of the community who have attained mature age assemble together so often as a new resolution is needed upon the common interests; all, without exception, express their opinion on the question proposed, so far as they understand it; and, after sufficient general deliberation, the majority of voices decides the point,—to which decision all must thenceforward be subject in their outward actions, whatever they may think in their own minds of its justice. If the community be constituted in this way, then each has by Right an equal share in the direction of the common purpose,—which direction in the State is called Government; and this freedom, which with reference to the State we call Political Freedom, is thus by Right equally divided among all. By Right, I have said, both in the former lecture with reference to the State, and in this with reference to the supposed family-union; for should there be any one who is not possessed of any opinions upon the common good, or who, if he do possess such opinions, yet cannot express them; then he would actually possess little or no influence in the ultimate determination of the community; but he would not be excluded from this influence by defect of Right, but only by his own incapacity.

Or, in the second case,—the community may have made over to a committee composed of a few Individuals, or even to one Individual, the superintendence and direction of the whole;—and in this case they resign their own right of direction and judgment in the administration of Government,—but only so far as outward action is concerned, for in thought and speech they are still at liberty to do what they will,—and unconditionally subject their own practically active will to the will of their authorised committee or individual manager. In this method of prosecuting the common purpose, there is no place for what the State calls Political Freedom, but only the condition of subjection. Nevertheless, if all without exception have an equal share in all the advantages of the community, and if all the individual powers are directed by the best possible insight towards the common good, and not towards any private advantage, then the management of the community is perfectly legitimate; and it has lost nothing by making over the direction to a few or even to one; but, on the contrary, has gained thereby, since many Individuals who could have contributed nothing available for the common good in the assembly, are no longer compelled to sacrifice their time in attending there, but may instead continue peaceably to practise that which they understand.

All that has been now illustrated by means of our supposed community, we had already adduced in our former lecture upon the form of the State, or upon the question,—What is implied in the mere existence of a State? But we added at that time, that the position of a particular State, or of the State at a particular Epoch of Time, is also to be determined by this inquiry,—whether, and in how far, the true purpose of all States,—or whether, and in how far, the Material of the State as distinguished from its Form,—has been attained therein? We must further discuss this Material of the State before we can begin the historical inquiry,—how the State has gradually attained that point of its development upon which, in our opinion, it now stands.

The purpose of the State is, as we have already shown in our last lecture, no other than that of the Human Race itself:—to order all its relations according to the Laws of Reason. It is only after the Age of Reason as Knowledge shall have been traversed, and we shall have arrived at the Age of Reason as Art, that the State can reflect upon this purpose with clear consciousness. Till then it constantly promotes this purpose, but without its own knowledge or free premeditated design; prompted thereto by the natural law of the development of our Race, even while it has a totally different purpose in view;—with which purpose of its own Nature has indissolubly bound up the purpose of the whole Race. This special and natural purpose of the State in the earlier Epochs which precede the Epoch of Reason as Knowledge, is like that of individual men,—mere self-preservation; and, as the State exists only in the Race, the mere preservation of the Race; and, as the Race develops itself progressively, its preservation in each particular stage of that development;—in both the two last-mentioned cases without the State entertaining any clear conception of its purpose. In one word, the purpose of the State, i.e. to maintain itself,—and the purpose of Nature, i.e. to place the Human Race under such external conditions as may enable it to form itself, by its own free activity, into an express image of Reason,—wholly coincide; and while the attainment of the former is pursued, the latter is at the same time being accomplished.

Let us consider this matter in detail:—

In the intermixture of original Culture and original Barbarism,—from which intermixture alone a Human Race capable of development could arise,—the first and immediate purpose is the reclamation of the savage tribes. Again, when we arrive at the first traces of a State, and Freemen are permanently subjected to other Freemen according to a definite rule, there Culture already exists;—artificial Culture namely produced by civilization, not the original Culture of the Normal People of which we do not here speak;—and we may therefore regard the State, particularly in the most perfect form which it has assumed in any given Age, as at the same time the seat of the highest Culture of that Age. Barbarism stands directly opposed to the purposes of this Culture wherever it comes in contact with them, and constantly threatens the existence of the State; which thus finds itself, even by the necessity of its own preservation, placed in natural war with the surrounding Barbarism, and is compelled to use every effort for its overthrow,—which latter, indeed, can only be thoroughly accomplished by bringing the Barbarians themselves under the dominion of law and order, and, in so far, cultivating them. Thus, while thinking only of itself, the State promotes indirectly the great purpose of the Human Race. This natural war of all States against the surrounding Barbarism is of great significance for History: it is this, almost exclusively, which introduces a living and progressive principle into History. We shall revert to this principle at another time, and therefore I entreat you to note this. Even after the general dominion of Culture has become so powerful that it has nothing more to fear from outward Barbarism,—after it is perhaps divided from this Barbarism by broad oceans,—it will nevertheless, impelled by an inward necessity, seek out those Barbarians who can no longer approach it, in order to appropriate to itself those products of their lands which they themselves do not employ, or those lands themselves; or it may be, to subdue to itself the powers of those Barbarians;—in part directly, by means of slavery,—and in part indirectly, by means of unfair and overreaching commerce. However unjust these purposes may appear in themselves, yet, by means of them, the first characteristic of the World-Plan, i.e. the general diffusion of Culture, is gradually promoted;—and thus will it continually proceed, until the whole Race which inhabits our globe shall, according to the same plan, be amalgamated into one great republic of Culture.

A second necessary purpose of the Human Race is, that surrounding Nature, which exercises an influence upon its existence as well as upon its actions, shall be wholly and completely subdued to the jurisdiction of the Understanding. No power of Nature shall prejudice or disturb the purposes of Culture, nor be able to destroy the results of such purposes; every manifestation of such power shall be ascertainable beforehand, and there shall be known and accessible means of preventing any consequent danger. It shall be possible to compel every useful power of Nature to shape itself to the uses and purposes of men. The powers of Man, again, shall be multiplied by an appropriate distribution of the necessary branches of labour among many members, each of whom shall acquire only one branch, but acquire that one well;—these powers shall be armed with the knowledge of Nature and of Art, and with convenient implements and machinery, and thus be raised superior to every power of Nature; so that all the mere earthly purposes of man may be attained without superfluous expenditure of time or labour, and sufficient opportunity be left remaining for him to turn his attention upon inward and supersensual things. This is the purpose of the Human Race as such.

In the State, the greater the proportion of the time and power of its Citizens which it requires and must lay claim to for the purpose of its own support, and the more thoroughly it seeks to interpenetrate all its members and make them the instruments of this purpose,—the more must it endeavour to multiply and extend the means of physical life, by promoting that dominion of Man over Nature which we have already described, in order that it may thereby secure the existence of its Citizens;—it must therefore accept all the before-mentioned purposes of the Race, and assume them as its own, for the sake of its own purpose. It will consequently,—to adopt the common enumeration of these purposes,—strive to quicken Industry; to improve Agriculture; to carry to their highest perfection Manufactures, Commerce, and Machinery; and to encourage discoveries in the Mechanical Arts and in Natural Science. Let it be believed that it does all this only with the view of adding to its revenue, and of being enabled to maintain a larger army;—let even the Rulers themselves, at least for the most part, be unconscious of any higher design; it nevertheless promotes, though without its own knowledge, the purpose which we have indicated as that of the Human Race as such.

The outward purpose of this dominion of the Race over Nature is, as we have said in one of our first lectures, a double purpose:—Either that Nature may be subjected merely to the purpose of rendering our sensuous existence more easy and agreeable,—whence arise the Mechanical Arts; or that it may be subjected to the higher spiritual wants of man, and have stamped upon it the majestic image of the Idea,—whence arises Fine Art. A State which has yet much to fear for its external existence, and requires to make great efforts in order to place even that in safety, will indeed, so soon as it attains the first glimpse of its true interest, study to promote in every possible way the Mechanical Arts, in the extended sense which we have given to them above; but since it does this merely with the view of having at command a larger surplus of the national power which it may then employ for the maintenance of its own security, it will apply this surplus of power only to that purpose, and will have little remaining for the systematic and general promotion of Fine Art, or of still higher purposes of Humanity. It is only after the State, even for the sake of its own self-preservation, has subjected Nature to the mechanical uses of its Citizens, and made these Citizens themselves, and all of them equally, its instruments in the highest possible degree;—after the whole empire of Culture has entered into such relations with that of Barbarism, and the particular States into which the former may be divided have entered into such relations with each other, that no one need any longer be anxious about his external security;—it is only after this has taken place, that the question arises,—To what should the surplus of national power, rendered superfluous by the mechanical elaboration of Nature, which surplus of power has hitherto been devoted to the security of the State, and stands entirely under the authority of the State, as all the Citizens do;—to what shall this surplus of power be applied?—and there can be no other answer given to this question than that it should be devoted to Fine Art. During War, Art can scarcely exist, far less advance with sure step and according to a settled plan;—the time of War, however, is not limited to the period when War is actually carried on; but the general insecurity of all men with respect to each other, and the constant state of preparation for War resulting from this, is itself War; and has almost the same consequences for the Human Race as active War. Only real, that is permanent, Peace, can be the parent of Art as we understand that word.

I said that only after the State has attained to perfect external security, the question arises, to what the surplus of national power, now no longer necessary for the purposes to which it was previously directed, should be applied. This question is also one which is obviously forced upon the State by the purposes of self-preservation; since, from such a considerable mass of power, undirected and uncomputed, and which nevertheless cannot by possibility remain wholly quiescent, nothing is to be expected but disturbances and hindrances to the State in the prosecution of its prescribed plans, and therefore the breaking up of its internal peace; and thus it is obvious that, in all those respects to which we have adverted, the State stands under a higher guidance, concealed it may be from itself; and that while, in its own belief, it is merely pursuing its special purpose of self-preservation, it is nevertheless, at the same time, promoting the higher purpose of the development of the Human Race.

For the rest:—It is only for the sake of completeness that we have introduced this latter point;—namely, how and under what external conditions the State is compelled, even in providing for its own preservation, to adopt the general and universally accessible form of Fine Art, as its own purpose: not by any means as indicating that this consideration belongs to the characteristics of the Present, or of any preceding Age. Should this latter assertion surprise any one who thinks of the loud talk about Art, and the promotion of Art, current in the present day even among our great men, we would entreat such an one to consider that this talk cannot have escaped us; that as little can it have escaped us that twice,—first, by a peculiar concourse of circumstances, among which one at least can never re-appear, and a second time, from the Christian Church, there has burst forth a morning-dawn of Art, the beams of which continue to illumine our present day though with a reflected splendour; but that nevertheless the expression Fine Art, and particularly a Fine Art pervading the whole nation and every branch of its activity, has with us a signification quite different from the common one; of which meaning we have here neither time nor opportunity to give such a full account as is requisite for its proper comprehension.

Thus far, and no farther, extends the legitimate promotion of the purposes of Reason by means of the State while the latter appears to be occupied solely with the pursuit of its own purpose. The higher branches of the Culture of Reason,—Religion, Science, Virtue,—can never become purposes of the State. Not Religion:—We do not here speak of the superstitious fear of God as a Being hostile to man, which ancient nations conjured up from their own thoughts in order that they might propitiate this dreadful Being in name of the nation and so establish National Religions:—with this we have nothing to do at present. The True Religion is as old as creation, and therefore older than any State. It was one of the arrangements of that Providence which watches over the development of our Race that this True Religion should, at the proper time, reappear from out the obscurity in which it had previously lain concealed, and spread itself over the realm of Culture; asserting even beforehand the claim that the State should have no power over it, and exacting from the Rulers, as the condition of their reception into the bosom of this Religion, the acknowledgment of their submission to God and the equality of all men in his sight; and devolving its preservation and extension upon a society in so far wholly independent of the State,—i.e. the Church. So it must necessarily remain,—for the Rulers can never shut themselves up from the need of Religion; and so will it remain to the end of Time. As little can Science ever become a purpose of the State. From this remark there is to be excluded, as an exception to the general rule, whatever Individuals, Rulers, or partakers in the Government may do on account of their own connexion with Science or Art, or their interest therein. But with respect to the regular and ordinary course of things, the more the State approaches the perfection of its Form, the more it makes its Citizens entirely the instruments of its purpose, so much the more must it be estranged from Science, strictly so called,—which is elevated far above common life and has no direct influence thereon,—and must even come to regard it as a useless expenditure of time and power, which might be more profitably devoted to the immediate service of the State; and thus the phrase ‘mere Speculation’ will become more and more a sure term of reprobation. It might indeed easily be proved that no one can be a thoroughly useful servant of the State, capable at all times of passing from established custom to new truth, who has not first been trained in the school of severe Science. But the insight into this truth presupposes either the possession of Science itself; or, should this be awanting, a self-denial which cannot reasonably be exacted. In this position of matters Science may consider itself fortunate enough if it be tolerated by the State; either through inconsequence, or from the hope that the barren Speculation may, at one time or other, lead to some useful discovery; or from receiving the protection of the Church; or even that of Medicine, since every man would willingly live as long and enjoy as good health as possible.

Finally, Virtue can be no object of the State. Virtue is the constant and all-directing Good-will which strives to promote with all its power the purposes of the Human Race; and in the State particularly to promote these purposes in the way prescribed by it;—the desire and love to do this, and an unconquerable aversion to any other course of action. But the State, in its essential character of a compulsive power, calculates upon the absence of Good-will, and therefore upon the absence of Virtue, and upon the presence of Evil-will;—it supplies the want of the former, and represses the out-break of the latter, by fear of punishment. Strictly confining itself to this sphere, it has no need to calculate upon Virtue, nor to take it into account for the accomplishment of its purposes. Were all its members virtuous it would lose its character of a compulsive power altogether, and become the mere Leader, Guide, and true Counsellor of the willing.

Nevertheless the State, by its mere existence, conduces to the possibility of a general development of Virtue throughout the Human Race,—although, strictly considered, it does not expressly make this its purpose except as concealed under another form,—by the production of external good manners and morality, which indeed are yet far off from Virtue. Under a Legislation which should strictly and systematically embrace every possible crime against the outward Rights of the Citizens, and under an Administration from which actual crime could seldom or never conceal itself or escape the punishment threatened by the Law, every thought of crime, as something wholly vain and leading to nothing but certain punishment, would at once be stifled in its birth. When the Nation had lived in peace and quietness for a series of Ages under this constitution, and new generations had been born and had grown to manhood beneath its sway, and from them again younger races had arisen; then the habit even of inward temptation to injustice would gradually disappear altogether; and men would live with each other peacefully and justly, without the outward appearance of the least Evil-will, exactly as if all were virtuous of heart;—while it might still perhaps be only Law which restrained them, although now with a silent and gentle authority; and in moments when its dominion should be cast off we might witness very different scenes.

Let us not be afraid like certain reasoners,—who also assume the name of Philosophers, and who recognise in Virtue nothing but a mere negation, and can only conceive of it as the opposite of crime,—let us not be afraid that in such a state of society Virtue should be no longer possible. If these reasoners speak of outward actions in society which shall even surpass the Law of the State, and which may perhaps spring from inward Virtue, perhaps from other motives;—then are they quite right; for, in the Perfect State the virtuous man finds everything relating to society which he himself loves and desires to do already outwardly commanded; and everything which he detests and would never consent to do already outwardly forbidden: in this State it is impossible to go beyond what is commanded, and thus it can never be determined, from the outward action itself, whether a man has done right from Love of Goodness or from Fear of Punishment,—with his own free consent or against his will. But Virtue does not need this outward recognition; it rests in its own Love of Goodness without reference to what is commanded, and in its own aversion to Evil without reference to what is forbidden; it is sufficient for itself, and is supremely blessed in its own consciousness of rectitude.

And so it must be at once admitted, that, through the perfection of all the relations of the Human Race, and in particular through the perfection of that relation which includes within itself all the others, i.e. the State,—all voluntary Sacrifice, all Heroism, all Self-denial, in short, all that we are wont to admire in man, becomes superfluous; and only the Love of Goodness, as the one imperishable Virtue, remains. To this Love man can only raise himself with Freedom; or rather its flame will kindle spontaneously in every soul which has first eradicated from itself the Desire of Evil. The State can, at furthest, facilitate the development of this Love, inasmuch as it scares back the nascent desire of Evil into the secret depths of the breast, accords it no point of vantage, but counts it as mere idle hindrance. He in whose soul this flame of Heavenly Love is kindled, however constrained he may seem to mere outward appearance, yet in inward Freedom and independence rises even superior to the State;—the State does not give a Law to his will, but its Law accidentally accords with his will because it is a perfect Law. This Love, as it is the only imperishable Virtue, and the only Blessedness, so is it also the only True Freedom; and only through it can man rise superior to the bondage of the State, as well as to all other bondage which oppresses and confines him here below. Happy is it for Mankind that they have not to wait for the slowly advancing perfection of the State in order to attain this Love; but that in all Ages, and under all circumstances, every Individual of our Race may freely raise himself to its possession!