Characteristics of the Present Age/Lecture 12


As a preparative to the solution of the problem with which we are more immediately occupied,—What point of its development has the State attained in our own Age?—we have shown, in our last two lectures, though only in the abstract and by speculative reasoning, what the State, both in its Form and its Material, really is; and through what stages and elements of progress it gradually advances towards its perfection. This delineation, which must have been somewhat tedious in itself, acquired an interest from the purpose we had in view;—this, namely, to render what is to follow thoroughly intelligible to you. We have now to give life to this general picture, by summoning to your recollection the actual events of History;—with the view of enabling you to discover for yourselves what is new, original, and peculiar in the constitution and government of existing States; and thus, wherein the political character of our Age, as distinguished from all other Ages, consists. We have already sufficiently explained the nature of our view and treatment of History in a special lecture; out of which lecture we find it necessary here to remind you of only one thing,—namely, that our remarks upon History do not lay claim to the character of historical principles themselves, but are merely designed to open up questions and problems for proper historical investigation. And we add, as a new and farther limitation, that we shall confine ourselves to the simple and obvious traces of civilization which have come down to us; employing only our own History,—that of civilized Europe, as the existing domain of Culture; passing by other adjoining civilizations, which may indeed have had a common origin with our own, but which cannot now be referred back to such an origin and have no direct influence upon ourselves;—for example, the civilizations of China and of India.

We have already set forth as the beginning of all social combination, the occurrence of this fact;—namely, that Freemen became subject, to a certain extent and in a certain respect, to the will of other Freemen. How and in what way has this subjugation been brought about?—this is the first question which here forces itself upon our notice. This question is intimately connected with that respecting the origin of inequality among men, which has become so famous in our own day, and which we shall by no means solve in the way in which it has been solved by a writer who has gained great celebrity on this account.* [* Rousseau.]

According to our system,—which we have already set forth, and which may be fully proved in the strict domain of Philosophy,—we find an original inequality among men, and indeed the greatest possible inequality; namely, between the Normal People existing as a pure manifestation of Reason on the one hand;—and the wild and savage Races of Barbarism on the other. In what way these primitive ingredients of our Human Race were first mingled together, no History can inform us; for the very existence of a History presupposes such an intermixture as having already taken place. In this condition of intermixture, even the descendant of the Normal People—the partaker of their primitive Culture—first became aware of the demand upon him for an entirely new Cultivation, not necessarily included in that primitive Culture;—namely, the cultivation of the power of imparting his Culture to others, and thus creating for himself an extensive field of influence and activity. It does not follow that all such descendants of the Normal People made equal progress in this new art, or were even capable of so doing; but each individual would develop this art in himself as his own character might permit: as little does it follow that those who remained behind in this progress, and could not so easily lay aside their innocence and simplicity, were on that account worse than those who found it easy to enter into the crooked byways of corrupt and depraved Races, or to employ force against them;—but it does follow that the latter, and not the former, would be the Counsellors, Leaders, and Governors, and that with the free consent and good-will of the former, who in such a state of things would not grudge them this privilege, but would willingly retire into silence and obscurity.

An outward circumstance should be mentioned here, which, in our opinion, is of the greatest importance in History—the possession of metals, and the art of their most suitable application:—of metals, I say, and I beg that you will not suppose that I mean gold alone. How the knowledge of these metals first arose, and how they were first brought forth from the bowels of the earth and changed into the new and unexpected forms imposed upon them by art;—with this inquiry, in our opinion, no History need trouble itself; such knowledge undoubtedly existed anterior to all History, and from the very beginning of the world, as a possession of the Normal People; which possession, after the intermixture with Barbarism, the skilful knew how to employ wholly otherwise than the simple. The value which these metals would acquire by their durability, by their usefulness in strengthening the feeble powers of man, and by the difficulty of discovering them; and in particular, the dreadful importance which they would acquire in the hands of those who first converted them into destructive weapons, is sufficiently apparent in itself. Indeed these metals are found to be, from the very commencement of History, the most universally coveted commodities; they are even to the present day the most highly prized things which the civilized man can bring to the savage; and the perfecting of arms, and the fabrication of newer and more efficient instruments of murder out of these metals, is an actual phase of development in our whole History!

By means of these two principles, there could now ensue the subjugation, under one or more leaders, of the inhabitants of those countries throughout which the Normal People were in the first instance dispersed, unmixed with the Barbarians at the outset although surrounded by them. Whether they were at first united for the purposes of active warfare only against the wild animals, or against the Savages not as yet subjected to the purposes of Culture; still this union could occur only on the supposition of the need of such a warfare. The Ruler would not be under the necessity of expending any peculiar care on the maintenance or preservation of his subjects, who being themselves descended from the cultivated race could provide for their own support had they only external peace: as little would he be called upon to make large demands upon their energies and labour, since their union had only a temporary and easily attainable purpose in view. Soon, however, this simple relation became more complex. The power of governing others, possessed by the Ruler,—of legislating for them, particularly of legislating for them through the agency of others, became an object of ambition, and in proportion as the capacities of those who were at first willing and obedient subjects were developed, they must have begun to regard with envious eyes the power of government exercised over them by other men. Thus communities united by common descent, and inhabiting a common country, separated themselves from the general mass, and, when fortune favoured them, sometimes even attained a dominion over the whole.

In this manner had the State, in our opinion, its beginning in Central Asia, as the cradle of the historical existence of the Human Race. He who first subjected the will of other Freemen to his own in this quarter of the World, may indeed have been, according to a well-known tradition, a mighty hunter; but the troops of men once assembled, were afterwards employed for other purposes than the chase. At a later time, Assyrians, Medes, Persians, and other nations whose names are unknown to us, made their appearance upon this stage, and one after another assumed the sovereignty over their former Rulers, as well as over their former companions in servitude. It is only of these governing nations and of their chief leaders that History makes mention: of the subdued, and those who never attained to sovereignty,—of their knowledge, their domestic relations, their manners, their Culture,—she is silent; their existence passed away in obscurity, unnoticed by Political History. That these nations, however, may have been essentially not worse, but probably far superior to their conquerors, is proved,—by the history of civilization among the Jews who for the first time during their dispersion among these people were emancipated from their former rude superstition and elevated to better conceptions of God and of the Spiritual World;—by that of the Greeks who acknowledge that they have received the sublimest elements of their philosophy from these countries;—and finally, by the history of Christianity which, according to a previous remark, ascribes to itself not a Jewish but an Asiatic origin. The greatest share in the public undertakings, as well as the honour arising from them, fell to the lot of the governing people; the members of the subdued nations being generally excluded from all participation in the government; but the ruling power was still far from being even thoroughly acquainted with all the powers of the governed, and still farther from being able to lay claim to their services without limitation or forbearance. That the so-called great King of the Persians, the ruler of this immense territory and of these countless nations, was yet almost wholly unaided by them is evident from the long series of years which were requisite to complete the armament against Greece; and still more from the disgraceful result of that expedition.

This condition of things was, in our opinion, the first form of the State:—The subjugation of free nations for certain purposes of a governing nation;—not as yet a complete subjugation proceeding upon any regular and fixed rule; but only as suggested by the pressure of necessity, the facility of enforcing it, or the accidental presence of a satrap or a pacha; in other respects combined with perfect freedom or at all events with anarchy in their other relations on the part of the governed people:—or in one word, Despotism; the essential nature of which does not consist in mere barbarity of conduct, but only in the existence of a governing race, and of subdued nations excluded from participation in the government and, with reference to the means of their subsistence, left wholly to themselves; whose participation in the burdens of this relation is determined only by caprice and not by rule, as is also the case with the direction of civil policy and legislation; there being consequently no established law whatsoever:—Despotism, as this relation still exists in Europe, under the eye of the observer, in the Turkish Empire which, amid the general progress of surrounding nations, remains to this moment in the very earliest Epoch of the development of the State.

In Europe, originally the seat of Barbarism, the State had its commencement in efforts for the accomplishment of another object. Here it was not whole masses of the descendants of the Normal People who became intermixed with the savage Races, but only a few individuals banished from the realm of Culture already existing in Asia, perhaps with few followers and without hope of return; among whom I shall call to mind only Cecrops, Cadmus, Pelops,—many other names being now lost to History. Well skilled in all the Arts and Sciences of the ancient oriental world, provided with unwrought metals, with arms and implements of husbandry, perhaps with useful seeds, plants, and domestic animals,—they landed first on the coasts which at a later period bore the name of Greece, amid imbecile Savages who with difficulty maintained their existence, who perhaps had not yet abandoned cannibalism, and who, according to historical narrative, had certainly not yet abandoned human sacrifices;—in exactly the same way as an English Colony at the present day might, with better intentions, make a permanent settlement in New Zealand. By gifts; by the communication of many advantages, and instruments whereby the means of subsistence might be more easily acquired; by the storing up of food for all from one harvest to another;—these colonists attracted the Savages and gathered them around themselves; by their means erected towns, and in these held them together; introduced more humane manners, and established customs which gradually assumed the character of laws; and thus imperceptibly became their rulers. As these strangers came accompanied only by their own families, or at all events by few attendants, they could neither superintend nor unite around them large masses. Moreover there came, from time to time, other emigrants like themselves, who in the same manner founded states in other localities; and thus it happened that in this, the first cultivated region of Europe, there arose, not a great and widely extended empire as in Asia, hut a number of small neighbouring states. It was impossible for them to avoid engaging in war with those Savages who made inroads upon their borders and disturbed their undertakings; those who could not be expelled would be forced into servitude, and thus Slavery in this region may have arisen.

The free subjects of these new States were, even from the commencement, treated with kindness, and afterwards carefully instructed and trained; not, as in Asia, under the government of a dominant race, but for the most part under that of a single foreign family, whose lives were at all times open to the inspection of their subjects:—these subjects would doubtless not be blindly satisfied with all the demands and arrangements of their Rulers, but would examine for themselves how these tended to the general welfare; and therefore the Ruler would be under the necessity of maintaining towards them a circumspect and upright course of conduct. And out of these circumstances there arose, for the first time, that keen sense of Right, which in our opinion is the true characteristic of the European nations, in contrast with the religious submissiveness to authority which is peculiar to the Asiatics.

These governing families at length lost their authority over the remoter public undertakings, or they died out, or were banished; and thus, since the ideas of Right were already pretty generally diffused, Republics naturally arose in place of the previous petty Monarchies. We have nothing here to do with the form of Government, or the Political Freedom of these States. In the popular political belief of the Greeks, the essential was confounded with the accidental, and the end with the means; King and Tyrant were synonymous words, and the memory of their ancient ruling families was only regarded with terror:—a confusion which has even come down to us, their latest political descendants, and against which we have here guarded ourselves by the preceding distinctions. This, I say, does not concern us at present:—what the Greeks sought, and what they obtained, was Equality of Right for all Citizens. In a certain sense, we might even say Equality of Rights, for there was no race favoured by the constitution more than another;—but there existed a great inequality of power, which indeed arose only by accident and not by the constitution of the State, but which nevertheless the State could not remedy;—and in so far there did not exist Equality of Rights.

In this way, that which we have set forth as the second stage in the development of the State,—Equality of Right for all,—has arisen in Europe; not by a previous passage through the first stage, that of Despotism, but only because the State began its existence in Greece under other conditions than those amid which it first appeared in Central Asia.

In a still wider circle and under the most interesting circumstances, was this condition of Equality of Right developed in the second country of Europe which became civilized,—namely, in Italy. Here, in our opinion, the first founders of civilization were not individual families, as in the early history of Greece, but actual Colonies;—that is, assemblages of many families from Ancient Greece. Where these Colonies remained by themselves, as occurred in Southern Italy, forming exclusive States out of elements furnished by their own people, they were but a mere continuation of Grecian existence, and had nothing new about them; and on that account have no place in our inquiry. But where these Colonies mingled with the savage native tribes and joined with them in the formation of States, as occurred in Central Italy, wholly new phenomena necessarily ensued. By exactly the same means which were employed by the individual emigrants in Greece, and which enabled them gradually to assume the government in that country, did the whole race of the Colonists here acquire authority and power among the Savages with whom they associated themselves;—and whatever political arrangements these Colonists might have introduced among themselves, there arose nevertheless, so far as the natives were concerned, an Aristocratic Government. The ancient manners and even the original language of the country were changed by the new comers. The Colonists became the ruling Tribe just as we found ruling Nations in Central Asia. Here also, as in Asia, an extensive empire might have arisen, had not new Colonies arrived while yet the first Colonists had scarcely been able to cultivate sufficiently for their purposes the natives who had been already subdued, and these new Colonies again subjugated other sections of the original inhabitants. So long as the Aristocracy were not forced to dwell too closely under the eye of their subjects; so long as they were not urged by necessity to lay upon the latter burdens which were beyond their strength, and these latter were not compelled by the same necessity to resist them,—matters might remain in this position. As soon as these conditions were at an end, a strife between the two parties was inevitable. In one of the States composed of these two ingredients in the population of Central Italy—in Rome, namely—the conditions under which alone this state of things was tolerable first disappeared. We here lay aside the consideration that at first Rome was governed by Kings: these Kings always belonged to the Aristocratic races who were scattered over the whole of Central Italy; they were in fact the heads of the Aristocracy, and fell as soon as they attempted aught against it. Thus much however is clear, that in Rome there were from the first two leading classes of Citizens:—the Patricians, or descendants of the Aristocratic colonist-races, and the Plebeians, or descendants of the aboriginal inhabitants of Italy. These two most dissimilar ingredients we see crowded together within the narrow limits of a city, constantly exposed to the observation of each other, and shut up from the possibility of extension on any side by the universal and well-deserved hatred of the neighbouring States;—in this emergency, the Aristocracy firmly combining amongst themselves, and desirous of living at the expense of the People whom they treated like slaves;—this People, on the other hand, rising against them, but yet, with the true European national sense of Right, not desiring the subjugation of the oppressors, but only Equal Rights and Equal Laws;—the Aristocracy, again, in need of the strength of these People for the defence of the State against outward enemies, and hence conceding, under the pressure of necessity, what, when the necessity was past, they would willingly have recalled:—and thus arising a struggle of several centuries duration between these two parties; which began with the Aristocracy declaring all affinity with the families of the People to be a degrading contamination, and refusing to the People, by denial of the privileges of the Auspices, all portion in the sympathy of the Gods; and ended by this same Aristocracy sharing the possession of the highest dignites of the State with men from the ranks of the People, and being compelled to admit that these offices were as beneficially and ably filled by the latter as by themselves. Nevertheless the Aristocracy could not for many centuries forget their former Privileges, and neglected no opportunity of again overreaching the People; who, on the other hand, scarcely ever failed to find the means of protection:—and this endured until all power fell into the hands of a single individual, and both combatants were at once and in like manner subdued. In this contest, prolonged for many centuries, between the effort for Equal Rights maintained with the greatest ability, and the claims of Privilege sustained with no less ability, there arose a proficiency in civil legislation and in the internal and external administration of the State, and an almost perfect comprehension of all the possible expedients by which the laws might be evaded, such as were possessed by no nation before the Romans; so that we ourselves have still much to learn from them in this department.

Here, too, we have Equality of Right secured in the most skilful manner; but as yet no Equal Rights; partly on account of the restless struggles of the Aristocracy, and partly on account of accidental circumstances, which the constitution was unable to remove.

We remarked in a former lecture that the State regards itself as the exclusive realm of Culture, and in this character stands in natural warfare with Barbarism. So long as Humanity received but a one-sided Culture in different States, it was to be expected that each particular State should deem its own Culture the true and only civilization, and regard that of other States as mere Barbarism, and their inhabitants as Savages;—and thus feel itself called upon to subdue them. In this way a war might easily arise between the three great States of the ancient world which we have mentioned; and indeed a real and typical war,—a war of subjugation. In the first place, with respect to the Grecian States;—they at an early period constituted themselves as Greeks,—that is, as a nation united together by definite views of Civic and Political Rights, by a common language, feasts and oracles, and by means of a national confederacy and national Rights universally recognised among themselves,—constituted themselves as Greeks, I say, into a peculiar realm of Culture from which they excluded all other nations under the name of Barbarians. If, notwithstanding this confederacy, they allowed themselves to engage in war with each other, still these wars were conducted in a manner different from those against the Barbarians;—they were prosecuted with moderation and forbearance, and never to the extinction of either State. If, at a later period, the two Republics who occupied the first rank in Greece were divided even in their policy towards foreign nations, and made war on each other on that account; still the Greeks were again united in one purpose by the Macedonian Hero, so as to play out their own peculiar part in the drama of World-History. Their Culture was wholly for the State and its purposes,—Legislation, Government, War by land and sea,—and in this they unquestionably far excelled their natural opponents in Asia. Among the latter, however, the true Religion lay concealed, unknown perhaps to the ruling nation themselves; and to this the Greeks were never able to attain. What it was in particular which entitled the predominant nation of the East,—the Persians,—to arrogate for themselves a superiority over the Greeks at the time when this antagonism broke forth into open rupture, is not quite clear; but it is certain that they did regard the latter as Barbarians, i.e. as a people far inferior to themselves in the arts of political existence and the science of their application; and indeed it would not otherwise have occurred to them to attempt the subjugation of Greece.

Invasion followed on the part of the Greeks, and the Asiatic dominion was destroyed;—a conquest which must have been easily accomplished by the first nation of actual Citizens, over an empire wherein there was properly but one race possessed of true freedom and enjoying real citizenship; while the rest were mere subjects, to whom, after the fall of their leaders who fought only for their own dominion, it might be a matter of indifference into whose hands the supreme authority fell, which they in their own person were wholly unaccustomed to exercise.

In the meantime the acquired supremacy of the Greeks in Asia did not produce those farther revolutionary consequences which might have been anticipated;—the spirit of the conquerors, which alone might have been capable of holding together this immense empire and of moulding it according to the Grecian Ideal, forsook its ancient abode, and the victorious generals divided the conquered countries as a spoil among themselves. As each had an equal right, or want of right, to the whole, there arose endless wars between these new kingdoms, with alternate expulsions and restorations of the reigning families, leaving little time for the cultivation of the arts of peace, and producing universal enervation. The old common Fatherland was, at the same time, depopulated by the emigration of its young and warlike manhood to the military service of these Kings, and thus rendered powerless for its own undertakings;—so that after all, the commencement of the supremacy of the Greeks was also the beginning of their fall. Scarcely a single significant result of this event has found a place in World-History, excepting this: that thereby the Greek Language was spread over all Asia;—a circumstance which greatly helped the subsequent diffusion of Christianity throughout Asia, and from thence into other lands;—further, that in consequence of this squandering of strength and energy in internal wars, the conquest and peaceful occupation of all these countries was made an easy matter for the Romans.

It was these Romans who united in one State the Culture which had now been produced by the intermixture of different races, and who thereby completed the period of Ancient Time and closed the simple course of Ancient Civilization. With respect to its influence on Universal History, this nation, more than any other, was the blind and unconscious instrument for the furtherance of a higher World-Plan, since it had formed itself, as indicated above, into a most fit and proper instrument for that purpose. These Romans had no thought of diffusing Culture by means of the subjugation of other nations:—mindful of their own obscure beginning, they were scarcely conscious of their real superiority in the art of government, which indeed was of slow and gradual development; nay, with simple and true-hearted candour they styled themselves Barbarians, and were ever ready to adopt, so far as their own circumstances admitted, the arts and manners of foreign nations with whom they became acquainted. At first the pressure of the neighbouring Italian States and nations, and then the fear of the advancing power of the Carthaginians, had made them able warriors; while by their internal quarrels they had acquired in great perfection, even at an earlier period, that policy which enabled them to direct and order their military power. After victory had freed them from uneasiness on account of foreign enemies, their own leaders began to seek war for its own sake. In order that they might be enabled to distinguish themselves, and rise above the crowd; to replenish their treasuries exhausted by feasts given to the toiling people; to withdraw the attention of the Citizens from the constant internal machinations of the Aristocracy, by directing it towards foreign affairs, triumphal processions, and captive monarchs, war soon came to be prosecuted without intermission and as a matter of necessity; for only by external war could internal peace be secured. After the conquest of the realms of Ancient Culture by the Romans,—new conquests among the Barbarians being far more difficult to accomplish,—there remained no other means of preservation for the State than the subjugation of both the contending parties to the dominion of a single power. It could be no difficult task for the Romans to subdue the enfeebled nations of the former Macedonian monarchy who were united by no permanent tie to their Rulers; and Ancient Greece, no less enfeebled, would fall into the arms of the conquerors all the more readily that they spared its inhabitants everything which they valued,—even their vanity.

By means of this universal dominion of the Romans, there were spread abroad over the whole civilized world—Civil Freedom, participation in Civil Rights for all freeborn men, Justice according to a fixed law, Financial Administration upon settled principles, actual care for the existence of the people, milder and more humane manners, respect for the customs, the religion, and the ways of thinking of other nations:—all this in constitutional theory at least, although these principles might sometimes be repudiated in the actual administration of Government.

This was the fulness, the maturity of Ancient Civilization:—a state of Right, at least in form; to which Humanity must first be raised before a new development could begin. Scarcely, however, had Humanity attained this state, than this new development appeared. The True Religion of the Normal People, hitherto preserved in an obscurity which concealed it from the eye of History, now came forth to the open day, and spread itself almost unimpeded over the realm of Culture which was now fortunately embraced in one single State. It was among the first maxims of this State to take no note of the religious opinions of subject nations; and thus it was impossible that it should thoroughly understand this Religion, and foresee the consequent fate which awaited itself. Had not the new Religion been accidentally placed in antagonism to the worship offered to the statues of the Emperors, it might undoubtedly have long remained unnoticed by the State.

In the contest which arose upon this ground the new Religion finally attained even the outward victory, and became the predominant Religion of the State. But as the State did not produce the Religion, nor the Religion give birth to the State, it remained a foreign ingredient in the Constitution, which was never penetrated by its spirit. It was necessary that this Religion should itself become the creative principle of a new State; and hence the old Constitution, which was incapable of assuming a new form, must be destroyed; elements, which apparently for this very purpose had lain concealed in darkness far removed even from the eye of History, must now come into play; for thus only could the new Creation, of which we have hereafter to speak, enter on its appointed work.