Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/281

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

nection with his official acts: so far as he does, he helps to make the action of the state ethical; so far as he does not, he deprives it of an ethical character. To lay down the principle that "the state," abstractly considered, "has an ethical nature," is vain for any practical purpose, seeing that the question at once arises, How is that ethical nature to find expression except in the action of individuals, and if these do not carry a sense of duty, or their own "ethical nature," into their public acts, what are you going to do about it?

We suspect, however, that Prof. Ely, in asking this question, really means to ask whether the state has a warrant for undertaking various policies for the simple purpose of "doing good," as the phrase is. If we grant that the state has an ethical nature, he will doubtless infer and ask us to infer that the state should be a knight-errant for the correction of all evils and abuses. From that point of view our answer is: The state is no more and no less ethical than the persons who guide its action, and any ethical nature which it possesses simply represents on a very small scale the ethical nature of the community at large. All this talk about the state and what it could or should do diverts attention from the much more important question of calling into activity the ethical nature of individual citizens. If each citizen can only be persuaded to make himself an ethical element in the fullest sense, the task of government will become much lighter, and many of our social difficulties will completely disappear. On the other hand, if the Government is going to do the ethical business for the people, the outlook is not at all satisfactory: Government will be overburdened, and the ethical nature of the community will not be developed as it otherwise might be; in fact, it will run great risk of suffering partial atrophy.

Finally, we are told that if the state is a divine institution, and its authority comes from God, then we have a good answer to the anarchist; if not, not. The latter is not distinctly stated, but it is distinctly implied. Our answer to this is that "the state" is a divine institution, and derives its authority from God just as much as and no more than the New York Central Railway or any other corporation down to a village baseball club. It may be under righteous or unrighteous control, so may the railway, so may the baseball club. When it enacts dishonest and oppressive tariff laws, it is just as well not to lay too much stress on its divine mandate. On the other hand, when it enacts an honest law for the good of all; when it faithfully carries out its obligations, national or international; when it upholds justice between man and man, we set the seal of our moral approval on its action, but we do not ascribe any special authority to that action on the ground that "the state is a divine institution." We feel instinctively that nothing can be more divine than justice, and when the state succeeds in being just, we simply rejoice that it has been able to approximate to our conception of the divine. The state, in fact, does not, so far as this goes, differ in any respect from the humblest individual citizen who has it in his power to do right or wrong, to place himself in harmony with or in opposition to what he feels to be the will of God.

As to our answer to the anarchist, we need not be so particularly anxious about that. Unless we honestly believe we are in the right in wishing to preserve the existing frame of society, we had better give in to the anarchist and take counsel with him as to how we may remold things "nearer to the heart's desire." If we think we are in the right, we have simply to maintain our position and use what dissuasives we can on the anarchist fraternity. We should certainly be prepared to listen to any arguments they may bring forward that are not of the dynamite order.