by Severin Christensen (1909)
2. The social natural law
3. Experiences on the importance of the rightful remuneration for cohabitation
4. Are other social laws of nature given?
5. About guilt
6. The promise
8. Assault on property
9. Abuse in the spiritual realm
10. Liability for the infringement
11. Division of the moral actions. Moral clashes
12. What moves a person to act morally?
13. Natural law and legal law
14. State and individual
15. Justice and “humanity”
Morality—by some called ethics or morals—is the doctrine of the honest conduct of life. The state of mind on which it is based, and which it calculates to find, at least to some extent, in all people, is the sense of fairness and justice, which must therefore be regarded as the moral state of mind in the true sense.
The requirements that emerge from the legal sense are even and clear; they are addressed to all and can be fulfilled by all; it is not necessary to be an exceptional human being to understand or obey them. But one thing morality demands with determination: if the demands are even and simple—they must always come first! Nothing, not even the noblest promptings, the warmest, most high-hearted feelings, must dim them or displace them from this first place in a man’s mind. The moral judgment will never allow itself to be bribed to defend or cover up the misconduct of a man, even if it could be pointed out that this man possessed the most perfect qualities in every other direction. When Jacobi says: “It’s as if I get a punch in the face when I see people who don’t even show righteous feelings coming up with exalted feelings,” then this is just an apt expression of it mindset, these magazines aim to highlight and recommend.
We know very well that there are many other ideals of human conduct which it may be meritorious to adduce, many kinds of useful and unselfish actions; or wise actions aimed at one’s own true good. All these ideals have their right, and a significance for human life that must by no means be underestimated. But when we say with Jacobi: above all honesty! and even if we do not want to count the other ideals mentioned in the realm of morality, this has its valid reasons, as we will see from what follows.
When you hear a moral sentence uttered, when it reads: you should do this or that, what is in it?
Firstly, a demand made on us from outside, from our fellow human beings, our association, our connections, or whoever it may be with whom we have intercourse. If man were an isolated being, not a social one, there would be no moral requirements; it could then only be a matter of making a decision between things that were appropriate or not for this individual being.
But there is more to this should than a demand that is actually made from the outside world. Before admitting to this demand the character of a moral demand, it must come up with a justification. It is not the relentlessness with which the demand is made that makes it moral, it is not the policy nipple, it is not the law; nor is it “because so-and-so said it” that it becomes a moral requirement. The requirement must meet with an internal authority, not with an external one. If morality is to be a science, it must, like all other science, justify what it states. It must be explained why one should do this or that, what is the point of making the demand.
A reasonable being cannot consent to readily follow a command whose origin he does not understand. However, it is probably a fact that most people listen dully to the handed down moral commandments without giving them an independent consideration. This is what Nietzsche calls a lack of intellectual conscience. He says about this: “The vast majority of people do not find it contemptible to believe this or that and live according to it, without first becoming aware of the last and surest reasons for and against, and without simply bothering themselves with such reasons afterwards,—the most gifted men and the noblest women still belong to these “most”. But what is good-heartedness, refinement, and genius to me, when a man who possesses these virtues tolerates lax feelings in himself, in his beliefs and his judgments, when the craving for certainty does not mean to him the deepest desire and the deepest necessity—means that which separates the higher men from the lower! … “To stand in the middle of this world full of contradictions, all this wonderful uncertainty and ambiguity of existence and not ask, … this is what I feel as despicable.”
What should we ask then? Yes, if we hear a sentence like “one should not steal” or “one should pay one’s debts” or other similar admonitions that claim to be moral, we must ask: what authority does moral teaching have to make these demands,—how will it justify them?
If we ask, for example to this question in connection with the two sentences just mentioned, one would answer from the moral side: the requirements that are set out here are absolutely necessary if a safe coexistence between people is to develop. For this is the ethical purpose. It is a purpose that it is in everyone’s interest to promote, and it is also a purpose of such a nature that it necessarily forces the individual to take into account something else and more than his own dear self and to listen to demands from outside.
Before we take this justification closer to the blade, we will mention one more question that the person who tests the moral requirements has the right to ask: are all these individual actions that morality enumerates what one “should” do? us (paying debts, keeping promises, being truthful, etc.), are they now also the safe way to achieve the mentioned great purpose, to secure cohabitation?
These investigations must be undertaken—it is not easy to escape before the moral demands can gain recognition from independent thinking people.
But if one has become accustomed to using this touchstone, one will also easily find that numerous precepts that have long gone under the name of moral: about magnanimity, selflessness, nobility, about self-sacrifice, about wise and calculated actions, etc., absolutely cannot be justified in this way. It is not because many of these feelings and actions are inferior in value to human life, to the individual human life; on the contrary, they are justly the object of an admiration and esteem which does not accrue to the merely righteous. But by what authority can they be demanded of us?
The requirement of fairness is the only thing that passes the test in full. This points to a purpose—the reassurance of cohabitation, which is indisputably in the interest of all people; and—as we shall later demonstrate in more detail—precisely the upright character is the indispensable condition for the coexistence machinery to function as a whole, it is the crank in the machinery.
What is fair must be done to the fullest extent—if all social cooperation is not to be struck at its core—but it is also the only thing that is necessarily challenged. And because of this special position, the righteous way of life occupies, as the only thing that people can sensibly demand of each other, if they are to work together, is that we make it one with the moral way of life.
Making demands on fellow human beings that they must be generous, selfless, sacrificial and the like is easy enough and often enough, but how do you justify them? And it is quite obvious that exactly in these areas, where it is the feeling that must be discussed, you get nowhere with orders. There is no small danger in blurring the boundaries between what one must and what could be desirable, namely the danger that one ends up mistaking one’s private effervescence for something greater and more important than simple righteousness. In all this revelry of emotion one tends to forget what ought to be first, the few simple demands dictated by thoughtful observation of the conditions of life to which every man is subjected. The moral rules are therefore rules for living together. Rules for such matters which concern only one’s own person—whether they concern one’s health, future prospects or personal feelings and sympathies—have nothing to do with morality.
It will now be our task to prove that the moral rules are really what they above pretend to be, infallible and indispensable means to promote the purpose, the undisturbed well-being of cohabitation. Here it is not enough to stick to the fact that this or that authority already said it so and so long ago; private opinions are not enough here. A clear account of cause and effect must be made, and this can only be done on the basis of a thorough knowledge of the special nature of the conditions in question. It is the natural doctrine of the social machinery that must be studied.
2. The social natural law
When examining the laws of nature for human social life, we first encounter an expression of life that appears so general and without exception that we will be predisposed to regard it as a natural social law. It is the law of (rightful) retaliation or compensation.
The fair or rightful remuneration consists in balancing performance and counter-performance in such a way that everyone gets and keeps what they have. This can only be done according to the equal for equal rule, i.e. by giving a consideration equal in value to the service received. In relation to several, it applies that if everyone has provided the same, the remuneration will be the same; if they have performed differently, the remuneration is in proportion to the performance. That the person who has suffered a loss or a violation seeks to obtain compensation from the person who has added to the loss or violation is also an invariable rule for all forms of society. The roots of this law can be traced deep down in organic nature.
If an organic being suffers harm, the forces of nature immediately begin to repair the loss. Plantar ulcers often close very completely, entire limbs are replaced in lower animals. If small creatures such as the infusion animals are divided across into two parts, each part separately grows into a completely new animal; even much taller animal forms such as starfish and earthworms can perform the same. If you cut off an arm of a starfish, it quickly grows back, yes a severed arm can turn into a whole new starfish. Higher up in the animal kingdom, the ability to replace is less developed, in the salamander both limbs and tail are replaced, in fish only the tail, in humans smaller pieces of the skin (when you ignore individual internal organs that have great replacement ability).
The higher organisms, in return for the inferior ability to compensate, have by nature been given a nervous system which provides them with special and more perfect ways of responding to a hostile intervention. The sensitive nerve fibers signal the attack to the center, the brain, which perceives it as pain and now organizes itself to remove the source of pain. With the assistance of the brain, calculations can also be employed as to where the danger can be expected next, and since in many cases it comes from the side of other creatures, the intervention will require certain precautions against them. Decisions can be made about active attacks, even about setting up the attack for a later, more convenient time.
Conditions are now present for revenge to occur, revenge whose purpose is to seek compensation for a slight offense by weakening the opponent to a corresponding degree. From the outset it is probably such an unconscious drive that its exerciser, without too little calculation of the loss suffered, blindly rushes at his opponent in order to injure him as much as possible; later, under higher social conditions, the purpose of balancing the loss comes more consciously to the fore. In this form, the laws recognize revenge as justified in civil society.
The tendency, the seeds of which we have thus found deep down in organic nature, and which, in short, is that the organism does not want to suffer loss, is thus expressed in social life as a demand for remuneration, which is everywhere relentlessly forced upon the one who has added a loss to another.
But that is only one and the least significant of social life’s forms of retribution.
In addition to those mentioned, enforced by force, voluntary remuneration is also given for benefits received, and these have far greater significance for the development of the notion of what is rightful than these.
Agreements on voluntary remuneration will arise as soon as common tasks appear in a society that cannot be solved by the individual, e.g. common defence, bridge building and the like.
Or if a man simply has more to harvest than he can cope with himself, he will seek an agreement with another, who at the moment has free hands, for labour help for suitable remuneration, for example similar help another time. And the characteristic, which must be carefully maintained, is that both parties benefit from it.
Perhaps, however, it is the trade, the desire for exchange, the urge to exchange labour products that is closely connected with the division of labour, that has first hammered the idea of justice into humanity, by its ideal and ever more perfect measurements of the right measure and amount of remuneration.
The voluntary remuneration is only possible at a relatively high level of development, it presupposes quite advanced spiritual abilities. It comes from the first movement only possible through many obstacles. In particular, it is distrust that it has to contend with.
The first forms of trade are quite controlled by the mutual mistrust with which the two foreign tribes regard each other—a stage which trade with untouchable peoples cannot to this day surpass. The “dumb trade” is essentially the same among the Lapps today as among the Carthaginians in ancient times. With the latter, according to Herodotus, it took place in the following way: they brought the goods ashore (the gold lands around Niger), put them there, went back on board after letting a smoke rise. The inhabitants at this sign came ashore, laid gold beside the goods, and removed again. The Carthaginians now came out and saw if there was enough, in which case they took it. If they were not satisfied, they went back into the ships and waited; they now came forward again and added so much gold that the Carthaginians were satisfied. “But no one wronged the other,” adds Herodotus, “because neither party touched the gold before it equaled the value of the goods, nor the other goods before they had taken the gold.”
The trade was originally tusk trade, bartering of goods for goods, and still has this character among all native tribes. With the Germans, land and the most necessary things, weapons, cattle and women were bought by simple barter, money was unknown. Most older laws determine the value of things in cattle and sheep; in the Nordic countries the cow was the unit of value. The Andamanese have no value at all for their property, as they do nothing to sell it. They consider their merchandise as “gifts”; he who has arrested for a thing is given it as a present, indeed in the hope of retribution. Disputes therefore often arise between them, depending on the fact that the one who has received a gift does not return it as handsomely as the giver had expected.
The more multifaceted the division of labour is, the more difficult is the turnover of the various articles of use; one then agrees to evaluate them in relation to one specific object, which therefore becomes a measure of value, and with the help of which one can obtain all other goods in exchange; that’s what the money or “the public good” serves for. As “money” everything has served, fruits, pearls, clams, etc., as a rule the most marketable commodity; first the Phoenicians introduced the precious metals everywhere.
We have thus found two fundamentally different ways in which the law of compensation applies in social life, either as revenge (forced compensation) or as trade (voluntary exchange).
Now there are some authors who recognize only the first and consider it the only original root of the concept of justice. They claim that war of all against all has been the only “natural” state of society in the distant past, and that the expiation of war with penance and self-immolation has been the original form of recompense.
However, this is a misunderstanding. Man does not belong to those “animals” that have been so well equipped with natural combat weapons or physical powers that they could be thought to have led an isolated existence; consideration for the common defence alone made it necessary to seek communion with others. By joining together the first men could overcome even a giant like the mammoth, and what an inexhaustible wealth of aids a mammoth offered, its flesh, its teeth, its fur, everything could be used. They could still, by association, clear forests, build bridges, etc. While in the animal, says Ihering, need and power cover each other, this is not the case in man, and precisely this disproportion is the means by which nature forces him to seek other people to achieve the goal, he alone is not an adult.
Therefore, as far as the human race can be traced back, signs of peaceful social cooperation are also found. That the cave dwellers have known the division of labour for millennia is certain enough. “The rivers of the Dordogne run in deep chalk valleys, often with vertical sides; small caves and grottoes are frequent in these rock walls, which have been inhabited in very ancient times by people who have left behind numerous testimonies of their existence. As civilization increased, man no longer allowed himself to be satisfied with the inconvenient haunts formed by nature, which he thus found; he himself hollowed out chambers, and in places the whole cliff-side looks like a cake of wax, being full of doors and windows leading into rows of chambers, often in tiers one above the other.” Lubbock.
Not even in the plant and animal world are war and discord preeminent. Hardy plants can, by breaking the sharp wind, form a lip belt behind which others can thrive; birch or larch, planted between beech trees, helps these in their growth. The undergrowth benefits the high forest by providing shelter for the fallen leaves, it also preserves the soil’s moisture and fertilizes the soil on which the high forest stands. Indeed, even such a highly developed social concept as “property” of a certain area is regularly found in the birds; neighbouring families in many cases respect each other’s hunting and fishing territories.
It seems, judging by everything, as if we are really justified in considering the law on remuneration (equal to equal) to be a universally valid social law of nature.
3. Experiences on the importance of the rightful remuneration for cohabitation
However, we do not have to go back that far into the past to realize that there is a fixed causal relationship between our willingness to provide remuneration and a good, trusting coexistence. This is already shown by the most everyday experiences.
If, for example, a promise is broken, it will inevitably cause the person who made it to be distrusted in the future by the person who received the promise. A new promise will not be so easily built on personal insurance alone, but will require other, real guarantees. He who is disappointed once will also easily mistrust others, his trust is once and for all shaken, which damages coexistence in further circles.
If a work performed is paid for above its value, the payer will suffer a corresponding loss, which will create a looseness in the cooperation between employer and worker, because the latter will seek as soon as possible where he is offered full remuneration. If the price is kept down by unity between a clique of employers, it will lead to a continued state of war between the two parties, i.e. precisely away from social community.
If good and bad work are paid the same, it will sooner or later result in the good work no longer being performed at all.
But because we regard this general sentence as proved, that any, even the smallest deviation from the just remuneration will shake the cohabitation ever so slightly in its joints, therefore we do not believe that we can demonstrate certain harmful consequences in each individual case. We also do not think that it will be possible to demand it, because you don’t demand that from other scientific statements of experience. Experience can prove that it is healthy to move around in the open air every day—therefore, however, it is not required that the doctors be able to point out what damage Peter has taken from staying inside for a single day. Experience shows that shooting a lot with it wears out a cannon—therefore it is not required, however, to be able to demonstrate the effect of each individual shot.
It is therefore quite possible that the occasional dishonesty may go unnoticed; therefore the sentence in its generality becomes equally true; the harmful effect on the relationship of trust does not disappear, although it may be hidden for a time.
We must also guard against another, more serious misunderstanding. When our principle states that cheating and dishonesty always have such and such specific effects on cohabitation, it says absolutely nothing about what other consequences can accompany dishonest conduct. If one or the other thinks that by cheating he gets the farthest in the world and thinks he can prove it, then our principle does not contradict this at all. We are talking about two completely different things.
Let’s stick to the example of the cannon. If I assert that every shot with a cannon wears it out, it is of no use to point out that the projectile has had such and such excellent effects at the target; what the question is asked to come clean about is the recoil, the recoil of the explosion, and the like. It is to this particular relationship that the inquiry must apply, not to the alternating effects of the shot in other directions.
In the same way, when we consider the principle of legal remuneration and its consequences for cohabitation, we must stick to this matter itself. We will not entice people to become moral by imagining that it can be proved that moral conduct leads to the greatest material progress in the world; for we do not believe that, nor have we claimed it. We have so far only had an eye on what its role is for cohabitation; what it means for the individual, we must talk about in its place.
Nowhere does one get a more vivid impression of how intimately connected there is between lawfulness and the safe running and well-being of the community, than by considering the life of associations.
Look, for example, at a cooperative. Here we have an association of people who need each other’s participation to achieve a common goal. Just as in barter, the mutual agreement is based on an exchange according to the principle of equal for equal, but in the business of association it is more evident than elsewhere that the foreign interest does not suffer without my own interest suffering; therefore, the association is particularly suited to turn attention away from the narrow egoistic consideration and to perceive every act of solidarity as an enrichment for oneself. Any loss that weakens the association weakens the individual, the breach of promise by a single member brings uncertainty over the entire life of the association and paralyzes its external appearance; every promise kept, every secret kept, benefits the strength of the whole.
Whether remuneration is offered voluntarily or it is coerced; whether the first or the last of these two forms plays the greatest role in society—both rest on the basic tendency highlighted above: the organism will not suffer loss, it will assert its harmlessness. In social life, this tendency can never have any other expression than remuneration according to the principle of equal for equal; for when I am assured full value for what I have laid out or given out or provided by personal work, or for what has been robbed from me, my room for manoeuvre will be exactly what it was before, I have personally suffered no loss. And the same applies to the other party; the fair exchange is the only one that excludes loss on either side. Since the individual within an association is faithful to its prerequisites, fulfils promises, provides what he has to without short cuts or tricks, he at the same time works with all his might on the maintenance of his own personal area. Otherwise, the association’s power as a whole, and thus its ability to secure for him what is his, will be weakened.
Association life is therefore, like nothing else, suitable for cementing the conviction that the security that is achieved by the mutual respect of rights, the excess of freedom and power that one gains by not being forced to be on guard at all times, is not too expensively bought with the sacrifices the association demands in the direction of fidelity to obligations,—in short, the resignation that is occasionally challenged.
As far as the social effects, the remuneration principle is proven to have from experience.
4. Are other social laws of nature given?
But can not a single one of the many other commandments, laws or regulations that have been drawn up over the centuries and given the name of moral, claim a similar general validity? Doesn’t the same apply to them, that they unfailingly lead to a purpose which is, always has been and always will be in everyone’s interest?
When it says: You must honour your father and your mother, you must not commit adultery, you must speak the truth unconditionally, you must love your neighbour, etc., then all these “moral commandments” cannot be justified as well as natural laws, which that sentence about legal remuneration?
No, none of them point towards a purpose as universally important as maintaining human cooperation. The writers who attach to these sentences the same moral weight as the principles which are and always will be necessary for cohabitation, have allowed themselves to be deceived by their comparative immutability. Thus Buckle assumes that they are eternal laws related to the laws of nature: “There is nothing in the world that has undergone so little change as the great dogmas of which the moral systems are composed. To do good to others, to love one’s neighbour as oneself, to forgive one’s enemies, to tame one’s lusts and desires, etc., these and a few others are the only main commandments of morality; but they have been known for thousands of years, and not one iota or iota has been added to them.”
If Buckle had gone back any further than the few thousand years, which in such matters are of no importance, or if he had thought of other than the civilized nations, he would have found that not one of the dogmas mentioned is given, which did not at any given time have exactly the opposite content. To do harm to others, to hate one’s neighbour, to take revenge on one’s enemies, to obey one’s smallest desires and desires—all these have in their time been at least as durable dogmas as those that Buckle calls “the only commandment of morality”, and who guarantees us for the future? In the past it was not immoral to send children out, now it is considered immoral not to cherish and nurture them, indeed to neglect their spiritual development. It is hardly too much to say that every human relationship runs through the entire scale of what is even possible, and everything is at a given time “moral”.
That it is considered unworthy among the Norsemen to suffer any insult without avenging it in blood, dare be considered as common knowledge. In the Viking Age, however, it is not just battle that the Vikings seek, but booty; they are inflamed by a quite unbridled rapacity, which entails cruelty to the helpless, abuse of women and children, something which the morality of earlier times did not condone.
Astonishingly, Hesiod and the Edda advocate repaying evil—not with good, but with evil. The basic principle of the Edda is ruthless self-assertion; nothing for others, all for my own sake. And Hávamál is (as C. Rosenberg says) not a collection of random sayings, but a coherent development of thought: “When you feel bad, take it for bad, and don’t give your enemy peace!”
The Chinese philosopher Confucius says: “What shall be said of him who repays insults with benefactions?” one asks. Confucius replies: “If you do that, with what should you pay for the benefactions themselves?”
You have to dig deeper if you want to find principles that unconditionally defy the test of time. Not a single one of the so-called moral commandments mentioned is without the strictest dependence on time and place conditions characterizing it. Instead, take a rule like this: You must keep your word, you must answer to everyone! However far back in time and civilization one goes, one will not find a society within which the violation of this principle counts as a virtue.
To give due remuneration is a rule that enjoys a reputation raised above place and time, even if the manner varies. It may seem as if the rule which advises bloody vengeance on a murderer is exactly the opposite of that which advises peaceful reconciliation for ransom—but this only betrays different opinions as to what is to be considered a suitable reward; at an earlier stage superiority in strength and personal reputation was valued particularly highly; later, more sense of financial gain was gained. In both cases, it is assumed that remuneration must be provided. We are obviously standing here at a relationship that conditions human cooperation as such; no matter what the particular circumstances are, no matter what stage civilization is at, the community will not be able to survive in disregard of this.
No such thing can be demonstrated in the case of the so-called moral commandments, for we know exceptions to all of them, even in societies which are in the highest prosperity and where joint ventures are strongly developed.
A moral system widely used nowadays (the so-called morality of happiness or utility) sets as the purpose of morality what spreads as much utility in the world as possible. But what is useful? In any case, one cannot so agree on this that one, based on his opinions about useful actions, has the right to demand them from others. Ruskin rightly says: “It was not the creator’s intention that human actions should be guided by considerations of utility, but by considerations of justice. He has therefore made all efforts to determine the utility fruitless forever. But anyone can know, and most of us know, what is just and unjust action.”
Had Buckle caught sight of this principle, he would have had reason to wonder at the immutability of morality, and he might safely have gone back as many thousands of years in history as he had been able; how far back he had gone, and how far to the sides—everywhere he would have put this principle into operation. But since he has only had an eye for the individual detached moral commandments, it is rather surprising that it was not exactly their great changeability that struck him.
Others, on the other hand, have clung so strongly to changeability that they deny that any absolute character is given to moral truths at all, independent of the course of historical development. What is right action, they say, depends on the ends, and the ends are constantly changing. They overlook the fact that purposes are given which, from nature’s side, are tightly interwoven with the family’s livelihood.
Neither Buckle nor the others are therefore right; both parties fail by a kind of short-sightedness, in that they only attach themselves to a few random bits of morality and overlook that just as immutable objectives are given, so immutable rules of action can be given, which empirically lead to these objectives. We have such an immutable rule of action in the principle of the rightful remuneration.
5. About guilt
At every step I take in social life, I will therefore face demands that are made to me in a legal way, that is, based on benefits I have won or acquired at the expense of others.
In other words, cohabitation entails countless culpability relationships.
My debt to N.N. is the value that N.N. has a rightful claim that I give him (as consideration for a benefit I have received from him or taken at his expense).
Debt appears in two quite different forms: either the consideration due is expressly promised, or it is not promised.
We have an example of the first kind in the commercial agreement; the last kind, which arises as a result of abuse, we postpone mentioning until later.
The more civilized societies become, the greater the role of guilt relations comes to play, and the longer they can last. In the case of the tussle trade and the silent trade, the relationship of guilt did not come out so clearly, because the compensation was settled almost at the same moment as the goods were received. At a later stage, when the mutual mistrust has set in, you run the risk of granting a grace period (credit).
How does an agreement arise in business life? When A. buys a horse from B. for DKK 700, it must be because the horse is worth more to him than the DKK 700, and when B. agrees to the transaction, the reverse must be the case for his party. If there is no prospect of both parties feeling enriched after the trade, nothing will happen.
But isn’t this a failure of the equal for equal principle, when everyone goes home with the conviction of having gained an advantage?
No, because the rightful remuneration cannot be measured by the urge that the barterers feel at the moment, but by the market price, the price determined by everyone’s urge, which is common in trade and commerce, and which is not dependent on the immediate needs of individual individuals. It is this price—which competition helps to regulate to a large extent, provided it is allowed to operate freely without artificial interventions or obstacles (monopolies)—that is used on both sides as the basis for the assessment. If the exchange takes place taking into account the market price, the consideration given must be considered legitimate; on the other hand, it is not disputed that each party for himself, due to personal chance or momentary urge, may feel that he has made an advantageous exchange.
It is precisely this duality—that there are both different urges on the part of the buyer and seller, and a market price, independent of these two—that causes the trade to start in general. If the personal assessment and the market price fall too far apart, this could hinder the trade; an heirloom or a dear gift can therefore become the subject of sale more difficult, because the seller’s personal assessment estimates it to be of such a disproportionately high value, in relation to the market price, that there is no prospect that the buyer will make a corresponding offer.
The understanding of such agreements, which involve immediate execution by both parties, is hereby given. The prerequisite is a consonance of the wills, which is made possible by both parties feeling enriched by the turnover, something that at first glance seems incomprehensible from the standpoint of the impartial spectator.
The difficulty first begins when it comes to the explanation of the second type of agreement, that which rests on promises of future services. Here are two nuts to crack. First: how dare you even take this risk? Second: what causes a promise to have that peculiar binding power over the will?
It is certain that this last type of agreement requires more prerequisites, a higher level of culture than the first. The immediate transaction may take place between man and man without personal acquaintance on either side; it has taken place among the uncivilized peoples of ancient times (and the English use it to this day against native tribes in Africa). The last form, on the other hand, requires close knowledge of the character of the other party; for where else would the confidence in his promises come from? And without trust no respite.
A distinction can be made between mortgage credit and personal credit; the first is based on material security, which often has a state guarantee behind it, the last on personal trust. In business life, the first plays a predominant role; in the moral world we are only concerned with personal credit.
In order for a collective agreement, which involves later repayment, to be able to come about, the interest is firstly challenged. The fact that both parties see their advantage in the turnover in question is the driving force in any collective agreement. Next, the personal trust, the personal credit.
What does this trust entail in more detail? That the co-contractor’s character is of such a nature that from the moment he has entered into the agreement, he no longer feels his will free in relation to this relationship, but bound by the decision taken, so that the fulfilment of the promise stands for him as the only possibility. This feeling that the will is bound by a promise is called the feeling of obligation.
How this feeling of obligation and the feeling of guilt as a whole must be assumed to arise and develop, we shall later state our views.
Here we would rather talk about the importance of becoming aware of existing obligations and their scope.
Guilt and obligation have migrated from the area of commerce, from the area of material transactions, to all other areas of life, including the spiritual. As a result of the fact that the turnovers here—because turnovers also take place in the spiritual area—take place between values that are often extremely difficult to assess accurately, there is greater ambiguity and uncertainty in the spiritual business area than in the material one. In general, you tend to be sloppy with your public obligations, you do not make it clear what you are guilty of, you are not fussy about small things, you can, for example, imagine that you are acting high-minded, where you simply paying off a debt.
To a large extent, this lies in the fact that many moral teachers have tended to tighten the requirements for mutual consideration far too strongly, they have made everything, even the utmost sacrifice a human being can perform, a duty. It has been said that it could be demanded that one always, under all circumstances, set aside one’s own for that of others; and even if you had done your utmost—you could never do more than your duty! The difference between what is duty and what is meritorious action has been quite blurred.
It is one thing, however, what one can feel impelled to do, what a strong feeling for a person or a cause can command a person to give—another thing, what one can demand from each other in life together. The perfect is probably never reached, here no upper limit can be set, but the demands that daily cohabitation necessarily entails, it is obviously not useful to portray them as too prohibitive. It will only lead to making people dull. It will then go on in ordinary social life as it does in economic life; the man who is hopelessly burdened to the ground by debt does not take so much care of small things. If mountains of moral guilt are heaped upon a man, without him seeing any prospect of shaking them off, he will feel insolvent, and the insolvent will stand by.
And that will not only go beyond the actual duties, but also—and not least—over the noble, unselfish expressions of emotional life, because people are robbed of the belief that they can “do something of themselves”, without a demands hang over their heads, if you do not make the sacrificial ideal actions something completely voluntary, you will not avoid paralyzing the feelings from which they spring.
There is no doubt that the conditions of human coexistence will gain both in freedom and security if one familiarizes himself with the view that moral guilt is indeed a quantity that can be measured and weighed, even if mathematical certainty cannot be reached.
6. The promise
The first condition for determining how big the obligation is is then to manage what you have promised.
There has been debate about whether the binding force of the promise is linked to the literal content of the declaration or to the expectation that is raised in the promisee about what the declarant really means.
If a shopkeeper promises me that I will be able to see the church tower in Malmö with the binoculars I am about to buy, does this promise apply to foggy weather?
No, I obviously can’t stick to the wording, I have to stick to what the language uses in these words; on the whole, as a rule, I must adhere to what was the promiser’s opinion, as far as I can join it according to all that is actually available. A detached phrase is only one of the many signs of the direction his will has taken; it must be supplemented by all the other signs which can accompany it and give it a special colour, for example a definite emphasis, clear irony and the like.
This perception of what is promised will better satisfy the security of cohabitation than the sport of hanging on to the wording.
A promise is built on a statement that becomes true to another. To promise oneself something is therefore (like “duty to oneself”) incorrect language; after all, it means nothing more than to grasp an intention. A malignant use of language can be when, as happens regularly, people want to push aside duties towards others for things “they have promised themselves”, and imagine to themselves and others that these promises come first. That they should be more important or taken more solemnly than the promises to others can by no means be admitted. In any case, it is two quite disparate things to put together. By “The promise to myself” I bind myself and can untie myself; by the promise to another I surrender the noose in the other’s hand and can only be freed by his complicity or by severing the hand. The latter not without infringing the other’s rights.
What was said above about the wording leads to the fact that tacit promises must also be recognized. For although it is most common for the promise to be expressed in words or sentences, as I said, other actions can be full-fledged expressions of a promise. Ordering goods from a merchant has the same moral significance as a promise to pay for them.
There are a number of agreements which are indeterminate insofar as they relate to matters so extensive that they cannot be exhaustively enumerated. This includes, for example, service contracts. If a servant promises to serve me so and so long for such and such a payment, it is impossible for me to know in every detail what has been promised and what he therefore owes me. It is therefore necessary to start from what the common perception of a service relationship is. This the master has the right to lay down and to at least demand what it contains. This must be assumed as tacitly promised, if the client has not expressly made a reservation at the time. And the debtor, for his part, has the right to regard the usual as the maximum for what he owes to provide, when he has not in word or deed raised hopes for more.
Vows made under duress are void; one cannot basically call forced declarations promises at all, the forced has only been a passive means of someone else’s will. For something to be morally binding, it must have resulted from an act of will on the part of the person concerned.
However, it is only such coercion, which excludes all possibilities of choice, that relieves the promisor of all responsibility. Because a man has been under some pressure, either by persuasion or by threats, he cannot abdicate responsibility; to the same degree that he is left with the opportunity to choose, to the same degree the promise acquires the character of a truly willed act.
In the event of fraud, i.e. intentional misrepresentation, promises made on the basis of these assumptions become morally binding in all cases. The customer who, for a stated price, buys an item that, according to the merchant’s statement, is “unwearable”, is not bound to pay the price if the statement is not true. Because then it is actually a different item for which he has promised to pay the agreed price. On the other hand, the fact that the product does not correspond to the customer’s expectation does not invalidate the promise, insofar as the seller has not been the cause of this erroneous expectation.
Can a promise be revoked? Yes, if the recall has stopped the promise on the way to the addressee. If the conditions that are the prerequisite for the promise, and which the promisee must also have approved as a prerequisite, change, the promise can also be withdrawn. If I promise to meet in Malmö on a certain day, and all postal service ceases for some reason, I can hardly be blamed for not trying to swim over there.
On the other hand, you cannot revoke a promise because you see afterwards that there were certain circumstances that you had not taken into account when you made it. One must pay for one’s own mistakes, a contrary rule would destroy all security in cooperation. Less, of course, must a promise be broken, because the person concerned may, however, have had a different conviction about the matter in question. This seems obvious, but our politicians seem to have no idea about this simple rule when it comes to promises to their voters.
These inquiries into what is really promised cannot be carried on zealously enough. Because if you know what you have promised, you also know what you owe to those concerned.
in cases where there are written agreements, promises, promissory notes, etc., the debt is relatively simple to settle. But in the vast majority of cases of moral responsibility, the relationship is much more complicated. However, this must not move us to give up on the matter. In most cases, there are firm points of reference for what one owes one another in ordinary human relationships, so that the assessment never has to be completely up in the air. The fact that it can be extremely difficult is no excuse for putting your hands in your lap and taking the moral showdown less seriously. The more difficult the task, the more persistent you have to be in solving it, otherwise one day you will find yourself in so much debt that it would lead to bankruptcy if it were settled.
Improper accounting is probably not punishable in areas other than where money is concerned; in moral terms it is the vice that is the root of all others, and morality also reckons with values other than money.
What about gifts? Does receiving gifts entail guilt and obligation?
No, if a gift were to be allowed to be something for itself, as the common, natural view goes, it cannot entail any kind of guilt. The genuine gift springs from a feeling which is essentially different from that which leads to the promise. It is based on sympathy for a particular person, it expresses itself as a willingness to sacrifice without conditions or ulterior motives. It is precisely in this unconditionality that it has its peculiar value, and it loses its character if the idea of retribution is mixed in.
For the recipient, the situation is similar. If he feels that the gift is given with the more or less clear intention that retribution is to be made, then he is in debt when he receives it, because then it has already lost its character as a gift. If, on the other hand, he feels that it was given precisely as a gift, without reservation, then he detracts from it, if he receives it under the expression of wanting to reciprocate or by showing himself dependent or pressured by the gift; and he thereby adds an unjustified injury to the giver.
Pure gifts are much rarer in the world than the word is used. Wouldn’t a large number of birthday presents, Christmas presents, etc., be lost if the idea of reciprocation did not arise at all?
Even where the gift is received with the purest of minds, it cannot be prevented that the omnipresent retaliatory tendency in cohabitation manifests itself as an urge in return; there is nothing worrisome in this, as long as it does not appear hurtful. We only wanted to emphasize that the donor has no claim whatsoever in return.
He who has stated that it is more blessed to give than to receive, has well and correctly perceived the character of the pure gift. The real giver will see in the mind of the receiver only joy, unmixed joy, any hint of guilt offends him. Is gratitude no longer a noble character trait? Does not all the world rightly agree to blame ingratitude? Yes, but it seems that this feeling has sometimes been taken too hard. Children are eagerly trained to promptly show up with fixed phrases of gratitude. It is possibly correct for pedagogical reasons, but it is less understandable that adults expect something similar from each other and can be happy about it. Gratitude is an involuntary outpouring of joy at the benevolence shown to us. Worse for those who do not have organs fine enough to perceive it in this form, but require additional tangibility. It is like the flower’s answer to the sunshine; it wants nothing, but cannot help opening its petals, happy and welcoming. And the sun demands nothing more than to see the flower open fully to its generous rays.
8. Assault on property
A. Circumstances where one cannot speak of legitimate separate ownership
What we have discussed so far is the guilt that is based on a promise made. Its magnitude is easily found when one merely makes oneself sufficiently clear as to what it is one has promised.
If one confesses to the principle of justice, which consists in balancing performance and retribution, so that everyone still gets and keeps what is theirs, one will soon realize, however, that one can also come into debt to people through behavior other than through promises. If you use violence against them, or if you add to them losses in various ways, these are actions which, just like promises, could lead to claims for compensation of equivalent values.
But here we immediately encounter a difficulty when we have to decide which losses should be compensated and to what extent, or, as we can also express it, what we should understand by abuse.
According to the rule we have recognized, not all losses we are liable to make good. Remuneration must only take place in such a way that the injured party regains the stolen things that were his. Or we can put it this way that assault is assault on property.
We therefore do not move a step from the place until we have determined what is a man’s property.
Most people would be inclined to think that this could not possibly cause serious trouble. What is one’s property and what is not, however, must be one of the easiest things in the world to decide, after all, the laws determine and ensure according to completely fixed guidelines, what belongs to everyone in particular.
But now, unfortunately, quite unjust laws are being given, and morality does not bow in advance to the provisions of the laws, but rather claims to stand above the laws and judge them from its position.
To cite an example. What do the laws say about claims? That the person who has been in possession of an object for 20 years and left without prosecution immediately becomes the owner of it. But such a provision can of course have nothing to do with morality. What is right in the years 1900 and 1919 cannot suddenly become wrong in 1920, if nothing else has happened than that a year has passed. If, therefore, the right owner appeared after the 20 years had passed and immediately seized his property, he would have the laws against him, without it therefore being a given that he had morals against him.
It is therefore of no use for us to go to the laws to determine what is to be understood by trespass to property. There is no other way out than to try to clarify by independent investigation what is morally property or what is morally owned.
In order to realize just how important this consideration, which is still quite overlooked by the preachers of morality, is and to emphasize that here lies in reality the whole center of gravity of morality, we will take another simple example.
All moral teachers say: it is forbidden to steal! We demand to know what stealing is. For to rob another person of something which is said to be his (even if it is the law that says so) but possibly is mine, is obviously not something that can be branded with the abusive word of stealing. What is the difference between taking away and stealing? Yes, until we decide to whom the object in question has rightfully belonged, and why a thing in general can soon be said to belong to a person rightly, soon wrongly, until then we do not know what it is to steal. We don’t know the difference between that and rightfully depriving someone of something.
And so with all kinds of interventions that cause man suffering, whether material or spiritual, concern his purse or his position in society, take his time or his peace of mind – whether it is immoral abuse can only be determined when we know what is rightfully his, and is aware of the principles by which it is decided.
In order to get to the bottom of this, we must resume the investigation of where the legal principles in general originate from and what purposes they serve.
As we have all seen, the urge for remuneration according to the equal for equal rule is an urge that is deeply rooted both in the individual’s life, taken in isolation, and in the social interplay. It arises both in the individual and in social life as an urge, involuntary from the outset, to assert a certain territory. If the organism suffers a loss, it strives for restoration; all transactions in society rest on the basis of defending what one has and what one has acquired. If you get equal, you secure exactly what you already had. This guarding of the borders serves the interests of coexistence and the interests of the individual at the same time.
But how do you find out what is legally acquired territory? According to the very same principle according to which the rightful exchange is determined – namely as what can be demonstrated to have been acquired as equal consideration for equal performance.
Everything that a man claims to reserve as separate property for his own mouth, he must be able to demonstrate that he acquired it in this way, otherwise morality does not respect it as rightful property.
We must now see that there are circumstances in which separate ownership is excluded at all.
First, we must state that one man can never claim ownership over another man’s person and what belongs to it, his limbs, etc. Every man is independent master of his person.
This is already evident from the fact that distribution of property according to principles of justice is done for social reasons; happens precisely in order to secure each individual in society the position as an independent base member in the sentence: I own this or that. It would be quite contrary to this idea if the basic element (the subject) or parts of it could suddenly go and become an object (object). The first purpose of the property scheme is precisely to exclude others from having access to personal independence. It is an agreement between free and independent beings who regard each other as suitable for social intercourse. Strictly speaking, it is therefore contrary to its essence to justify the independent right of disposal over one’s own person; this right is the natural prerequisite for the collective agreement.
One could object here: but this is not how the relationship has always been perceived; both in ancient times and in modern times, people have had slaves, and the greatest philosopher of antiquity, Aristotle, like many later, approved of it.
This, however, lies in the fact that the said philosophers expressly deny the slaves social abilities; they are not suited, they believe, to be independent partners in common life; they therefore cannot own anything, but are regarded as things that can be owned by others. The slave who ran away was punished like a thief: after all, he stole himself; and whoever helped him to escape was punished as heels. Based on our knowledge of human nature, they would not be able to maintain this legal opinion.
But don’t you rightfully own your own body parts, your arms, legs, eyes, etc.? one would ask. If you maintain the above conditions, it almost looks as if you have to give up claiming these things as your rightful separate property.
This question reveals a confusion between what a man is (i.e. what he consists of) and what he can acquire. In every sentence about property relations, there must be a basic clause and an object. “A owns this or that thing!” Consequently, it must be possible to determine what A is, or what he consists of.
That a person does not need to prove his unrestricted dominion over his person or parts of it can also be realized in this way: Whoever claims separate ownership of some object, it is incumbent on him to prove this right. But how, by what compensation should a human being be able to compensate another human being for the loss of his right to self-determination or of his body parts?
It is quite unthinkable; for they cannot be compared with other values.
If we disregard this special relationship, where one has mixed up the owner, the one for whom property is determined, with the things that are determined to be owned, one will also find among these some that are excluded from legitimate separate ownership. Namely the things that are given to humans from the hand of nature, the air, the water and the earth.
Here, too, morality will come into apparent conflict with the laws.
The laws state that appropriating stray items without further ado entails the right of ownership. In this way, all land originally came into private hands. As long as there was enough land to take, that is, no competition, there was no disadvantage in considering everything within range or sight as property. The land then, like the water and the air, practically belonged to the unlimited natural goods, and as far as such are concerned, it is unnecessary to take measures for their proper distribution. “My”, was not yet opposed to “your”. It is only when you move so close together that you can disturb each other that, in order to avoid endless strife, the idea arises to demarcate the bebets with fixed boundaries.
Mutual agreements are made on these boundaries, which can be extremely beneficial for the immediate “owners”; but it is overlooked that these agreements on the distribution of land, the purchase and sale of it, etc., are unfair to the latter and the unborn, the later generations. People of later times are born largely disinherited; nor have they any desolate land to take possession of, for when once all the land is seized in this way, the laws suddenly shut off, and give the first comers the privilege of that which they have been fortunate enough to occupy.
Such a way of doing business cannot of course be morally defended. Everything that a person claims to reserve for himself as separate property, he must be able to demonstrate that he has acquired it by a personal benefit that is equal in value to what was acquired. But what personal labor is there in the bare and simple seizure of a piece of land, and—on the other hand, what value produced by human hands or human spirit can even be compared with or outweighed by the advantage of becoming monopolized over a portion of the indispensable, by no means unlimited natural resources?
The fact that the last arrivals can buy the land from those who have occupied it is no annulment of this right, because they must then acquire the access to use the land, which originally did not cost the least, in expensive judgments.
You will clearly see from this example that the fair principle is not fulfilled simply because two parties mutually balance performance and remuneration as they see fit. It must also take place in such a way that everyone gets and keeps theirs, and no outsider is left behind. We have to know if it is really their own things that the two are talking about, in other words we have to include the concept of property. A transfer is not justified unless what is transferred or what is paid for was really the rightful separate property of the parties.
We have already indicated above what must be understood by rightful separate ownership. It only includes such items which have been acquired through a corresponding active performance on the part of the acquirer. If a man hands me a piece of land for a sum of money, and the law then affirms me in my “Right” to freely dispose of the land for me and my descendants, then this acquisition has not taken place according to the principle of legal compensation, because the value of the land is irreplaceable , as it forms the necessary foundation for all life and as it is not found in unlimited quantities.
This was to be shown in a striking manner on the day when a ring or trust was formed to buy up all the land—a not entirely improbable thought in an age when rings are able to buy up everything on earth from one or more certain natural products necessary for mankind (petroleum, coal etc.). Such a ring would be able to prescribe any condition imaginable to all non-standing humans in order to allow them to exist at all. Whoever owns the land holds all the power, all other values pale in comparison.
Rightful remuneration means compensation with equal values, but here one fantasizes about being able to provide remuneration for the possession of a piece of land – the condition for all existence – and the seizure of it for eternal times with perishable values such as those that man can produce through his work!
When you talk about the value of the land as something that the individual can never claim to acquire as separate property, you must include the added value produced by the community, which the natural thing itself, the land, gets as a result of people concentrating in certain places, building cities etc., and which is expressed in the basic value.
If one is aware that natural things, by their very nature, cannot be personal property, but can only be owned by humans in common, under equal conditions for use, it is a given that this must be equally the case with the increased value that demonstrably has its origin in the unfolding of social life.
B. Circumstances in which legal separate property can be acquired
Justice is achieved only by substituting equal things for each other. If one wants to know which things it is that one can acquire a special right to own, one must stick to the produced things, the things that man himself prepares with his brain or hand; they can be compared, evaluated among themselves; they are not irreplaceable, because they will always be able to be produced in sufficient quantity provided that one simply has one’s share of nature’s gifts to work with and work from. They arise from the work that the individual has personally done, and their value can be estimated accordingly. They rightfully belong to their creator because they really have always been his. Moreover, the skill that characterizes them and gives them a positive value corresponds quite exactly to what the individual has spent, has “sacrificed” thereon, just as the negative photographic plate corresponds to the positive. The energy and artistry that I put into a work product is basically as organic and personal a part of me as the energy and work possibilities that still sit in my brain and in my arms. Since their initial acquisition as separate property is legal, it follows directly that they can also be transferred in a completely legal manner, without anyone being shortchanged.
We can therefore now define equitable property rights as: the special right to a product that can prove itself as remuneration for a personal service of the same value as the product.
It follows from this: to the same extent that a product can be innovated, reshaped, shaped by the human will, to the same extent it can become property. Products are given that are, so to speak, completely newly created, spiritual products, e.g. Although Beethoven has used a certain amount of ink and paper for one of his sonatas, this value is vanishingly small compared to that laid down in the material as a spiritual product. Such an object is highly suitable for ownership. The same applies to a good book, a good painting.
Even in sculptural work, the unproduced material comes into consideration somewhat more, in goldsmith and jeweller’s work even more, and if you think of a piece of soil with sperm on it, the relationship becomes completely distorted, because here you cannot claim with the slightest justification that the material is transformed, that the product is an innovation of the work; the most essential thing is concerned by the forces of nature, and the earth is about the same as before, often even deteriorated. The work done on this land certainly justifies a right to the part of the proceeds which was due to the work itself, but by no means a privilege on the special advantage which the possession of the land in and of itself entails.
The earth therefore belongs to no one in particular; that is to say: it is everyone’s; it belongs to all those who are on its surface at any given time.
Henry George says: “If a man catches fish in the sea, he acquires a right of ownership to those fish, but he cannot acquire a similar right to the sea. Or if he cultivates grain, he acquires ownership of the grain, but he cannot claim a similar ownership of the heat of the sun that warmed the grain, or of the soil on which it grew, for these things belong to the human race; everyone is allowed to use them, but no one can claim them as separate property. Since the right of ownership, which is rightfully attached to what is produced by work, cannot apply to the land, it can only be a type of land right that secures the right of ownership to the proceeds of work. Thus Cain and Abel – if they were the only two people on earth – could, by agreement, divide it between them; and after such an agreement they could claim against each other the exclusive right of possession of their respective parts. But none of them could rightly claim such an exclusive right against the second-born man. If the first two then denied this right to use the land which they had shared, they committed murder, and if they denied him the right to use land unless he worked for them or bought land from them, they committed theft.”
As much as a mental product must belong to its originator, so little can an acre of land belong to its appropriator, inheritor, or purchaser. For the only way in which such a right of ownership could be justified was by pointing to a personal effort, a performance of work that corresponded to the value claimed; you must then either prove that you have converted your personal energy into this product, or that you have paid another person for his efforts. But no one can claim to have produced the earth or anything comparable in value to it.
That land cannot be “owned” (in the same sense of this word as applies to things created by labour), is therefore a statement which immediately follows from the principle of equal remuneration; it stands and falls on the assumption of this ethical principle—further justification than that which can be procured for this cannot be obtained.
The earth is no one’s special property; it is everyone’s property. The right to land will hinder the just state, which consists in everyone receiving the full reward for what he provides. If there are 3 inhabitants on an island, and the two occupy the entire surface of the island, then in order to live, the third must settle for incomplete remuneration for his work, because the other two will withhold a certain amount of profit for the permission to work at all. Privilege to land will everywhere and unfailingly mean the possibility of obtaining profit without personal effort by means of the labor of others, a profit wrongfully wrested from others. Values are withheld that are not consideration for anything.
It is now possible to get a clear definition of what an assault is. It is robbery of the rightful property of others.
Before we had been informed of what legal property was, our notions of abuse floated completely in the blue. However, we knew or believed that theft, lying, and many other related things were evil and condemned by all good people. But if you asked the same people what theft is, or what you are allowed to take and what not, or when you have told a lie and when you have not, they answered completely guilty.
On the other hand, we are now able to indicate in a few words where the line should be drawn. Deprivation of property and falsehood are morally impermissible when they are assaults. And abuse is suffering, one must repay. But one is obliged to compensate the losses that are caused to mental, physical or economic values that rightfully belong to someone else. You have no right to damage or confiscate what you have not acquired yourself in a lawful manner.
Trespassing on personal property can also occur not only by another person robbing the owner of what is rightfully his, but also by the state (or the municipality) by virtue of immoral laws appropriating the citizens’ purely personal property, such as eg when it robs more or less of their rightful earnings through income or other taxes.
9. Abuse in the spiritual realm
It will be of particular interest to apply what has been said here to the spiritual abuses. Regarding these, the prevailing views are very little clarified, as a result of the fact that the principle of rightful property has not yet penetrated this spiritual area.
For example: Which untruths are permissible and which are not? This can only be determined reliably when we know which spiritual values rightfully belong to a person. Because from this point on, we declare as ethically unjustified the lie which aims to degrade the spiritual property of the neighbour if it does not provide him with sufficient remuneration.
A person’s spiritual property is his entire circle of ideas, his knowledge, his feelings, but also his fantasies and illusions. Under certain conditions, the lie is a spiritual theft that impairs this property, as it brings disorder into the circle of ideas of others.
On the other hand, the truth, i.e. knowledge of the facts, a constituent of my person as fully as my senses, my limbs; I do not owe it to a single person. Only if I have directly committed myself to it do I have such an obligation; am I e.g. employed as a teacher of astronomy, it is my duty to supply my pupils with the astronomical truths they need; but I do not owe it to the first best man I meet in the street to inform him that yesterday a new moon was found for Jupiter. If a person on the street asks me what time it is, I have every right not to answer, but giving an incorrect time is an ethically impermissible lie, as it gratuitously detracts from the questioner’s spiritual ownership.
On the other hand, if the inviter to a party asks me how I amused myself yesterday, it cannot be unacceptable to answer: well, even if I mean the opposite; for perhaps the answer gives him a false impression, but I will spare him a generally senseless offence. Besides, the question is ceremonial. Unfettered untruthfulness is neither assumed nor desired. The ceremonial lie is sometimes the only option to avoid hurting each other unnecessarily, and since both parties will perceive the matter as such, there is no tortious assault.
Truths are given which, by all human calculation, will result in predominantly spiritual loss. Assaulting people with such truths is impermissible violence, is assault. In the cases where you are directly asked, the matter is not at all that simple. Should the doctor at the deathbed tell the patient that he is going to die? Much depends on the way the question is asked. Does the sick person want to know the truth, or does he just want to be comforted? If it is obvious that the truth is required with clear awareness, the doctor has no right to play guardian and hide it for the sake of consequences. If the question is simply asked out of hand, one must surely have the right to arrange the answer according to the meaning and spirit of the question, and avoid it if one can.
Educative, critical truths, which may seem discouraging at the moment, but in the long run can be predicted to enrich a person’s spiritual content, it is an unconditional duty to come forward with, if one’s true opinion is boxed, and one wants to answer at all.
If, on the other hand, a person wants to extract from me a truth that I have an interest in preserving, and which belongs to me and no one else, I have every right to guard it. If I cannot be directly dismissive (because that would perhaps be enough to reveal it), ethically there is nothing in the way of covering it with an untruth; it is simply a matter of necessity. In the same way, I am allowed to lie to a person who is otherwise aggressive when, for example, I predict that he will use my truth as a means to an unethical end; I then deceive him with good advice – also out of necessity – because I do not want to hand myself over as a means.
It can also be unethical to attack people’s illusions. Here as everywhere, the ethical way of acting must take due account of the special circumstances. If a person lives his life in illusions that seem to bring him happiness and peace, then these are values for him, and I estimate that a disturbance of them – even if it would mean more order in his thought life and to that extent enrich this side of his being—would cause him irreparable loss, disappointment, and pain without my being able to offer him recompense, then it would be an abuse if I broke them down. Weakly gifted people, people with poor mental flexibility and development opportunities, elderly people etc. is it often precarious to move spiritually; the truth may be too dry and sandy soil for them to grow on.
It is another matter in conditions where the inner possibilities for development are so young and vigorous that the purified content of imagination is enough sustenance; because the young vigorous plant can get used to new conditions. Here, the truth will rarely be a depreciation, but as a rule only lead to more entrenched opinions; and the fancies which in these youths blossom from the stem of facts will not be so exposed as those which rest on self-deception.
Facts entrusted to us by others are therefore not always our property, over which we have free disposal; even if no express promise of silence has been made, one must ask oneself whether it is not assumed.
“There are cases where one acts in good faith, in that one only initiates a completely reliable friend into one’s knowledge. It doesn’t go any further, and there is no harm done to him. That’s how you judge, and maybe you’re right. But the question is not whether you are right in your judgement, but whether you have the right to be the judge here, whether you have control over the secret. When it comes to material assets, most people manage to distinguish between property and loans and understand why advances are unjustified. The same is less easily realized in the spiritual realm. I only confide my secrets to those I trust. Because only then do I feel safe. And my friend’s secrets, I treat them at best with the same tenderness as if they were my own. Only I forget that this is not mine at all, but his sense of security, it is important to protect.”
When the state demands that in certain cases one must hand over one’s knowledge in criminal cases, this is very understandable on the part of the state; another matter is how the individual will approach it; ethically speaking, the situation may well be such that one refuses to hand over the truth. The state may have the power to compel, but not always the right to compel.
You thus see that by utilizing the ethical concept of property as a starting point, you not only get rid of the “unconditional duty of truth”, the duty to always, under all conditions, called or uncalled, to unfold the knowledge you have acquired, and which is one’s rightful property; but one also gains a foothold for absolutely definite decisions about which truths and untruths are ethically permissible and impermissible. This principle can be briefly stated; Remember in your dealings with truths and untruths to always observe considerations of guilt and never to encroach on people’s spiritual property.
All in all, such considerations will contribute to a greater respect than before for all kinds of spiritual values that a person has fought for and which are therefore rightfully his. For example, his good name and reputation; we will understand that this may be more valuable to him than house and land and other material treasures. Remember that nothing is more delicate than a good name. A shrug of the shoulders, a curl of the lips is harassment just as much as mocking or derogatory words. Often you don’t take into account reducing almost to get the opportunity to shine with a joke or make yourself interesting in some other way.
While in private life and in legal life, people have always been willing to recognize that people who were the object of assaults on their material property should enjoy full compensation, they have been far from being so fussy about the spiritual harm.
This is probably partly due to the fact that this one is so much more difficult to assess than the other. The Danish legislation is far behind in this regard; it only provides remuneration for: “disadvantage, noise and disfigurement”. By contrast, the ancient Roman law provided compensation in many cases where no pecuniary injury was suffered, just as the English law does to this day.
Any of us in the Scandinavian countries will be able to enumerate hundreds of violations that are not affected by the criminal law (just think of the press’s daily probing of very private matters), and even if some are occasionally affected, the offended party has no positive benefit from , that the guilty person suffers punishment; the law is also structured in such a way that it not only does not provide sufficient reparation, but it also removes the weapon of private retaliation, which it could use itself, but which will now most often be classified under the punishable “self-arrest”.
It has been objected that spiritual values are often of such a nature that they cannot be repaid with money at all. But if one will at all be so unsentimental as to admit that money is almost always and for all of some value, one will surely come to confess that a striving for equalization with the means at one’s disposal comes the ideal of justice closer than omitting everything in advance because one doubts about full coverage.
But there are people with “overexcited emotions”, it has been objected; if you are talking about remuneration, every time you go too close to them, you will easily end up playing bankrupt. “There are ladies who love their mops, and if the person who kills the mop were to pay compensation in proportion to the pain he causes, you would end up with very high sums.”
Well, but people have an undoubted right to possess overexcited feelings; it is their own, and you must respect them. If these are linked to a particular animal, in any case no remuneration has been given for the damage caused by finding out the market price for any other specimen.
It must be admitted that an exact measurement of the mental loss and calculation of an adequate compensation meet with great difficulties; there will always be a great deal of scope for personal discretion, because only the wronged person knows fully what he has suffered, and can hardly make it clear to others. But this difficulty must not – if we maintain the principle of justice – lead us to set up an artificial opposition between economic and non-economic damage, as if only the former could be compensated with money, the latter not even partially, and to draw the dubious consequence, that precisely the damage to the most precious interests must be completely overlooked for the sake of the more difficult calculation.
On the contrary, precisely here one must look very meticulously for everything that can guide us to correctly understand the full scope and significance of the infringement for the person concerned.
10. Liability for the infringement
In the previous chapters, we have endeavored to show which different property infringements can take place and who it is who, under these different conditions, must be considered to be the aggrieved party. The question remains who is the culprit, who is responsible?
The word responsibility is often used in very different meanings. As most people know, there has been a never-ending, never-ending dispute between scholars who believe in so-called free will and others who do not believe that the will can operate without a cause. And the former have made the claim that the moment you don’t believe in free will, you also have to give up talking about responsibility and guilt, because then these expressions become meaningless.
In addition, however, we must note that this claim does not apply to ethics’ use of the word responsibility in any case. When ethics ascribes responsibility to a person for an unlawful act, it simply means that since this person has been the author of the act, it is in its proper order that the obligation to pay falls on him and no one else. The unethical act is the one that aims at something that can be predicted to lead to unlawful consequences. What matters for ethics is to ascertain whether there is a real action, i.e. whether the will has been involved. (And the action must include the foreseeable consequences; the consequences you could not have calculated, you did not want). It is the social law of nature that requires that where the will to the offending act manifests itself, there lies the responsibility; it is the only place where it is useful to put it, experience shows that only by making the willing person responsible, i.e. subject to remuneration, social cooperation and social characters become possible.
In ethics, responsibility is therefore a purely practical expression of the right placement of the obligation to pay. The above-mentioned speculations and disputes regarding the nature of the will therefore need not be interfered with by ethics at all, since no one nowadays denies that a will is given and that it is at least to some extent influenced by the impressions of the outside world; and this is all that ethics needs to make use of the word responsibility. A few examples are given to show this application: If I send a messenger off with a glass vase, and he trips and cuts himself on the broken glass, am I morally guilty of him?
Apparently not; for this event could not be foreseen as a normal consequence of my action; the thought of it, therefore, could have no influence on the consideration which preceded the action; I didn’t want it, I couldn’t even count on it, and therefore take no responsibility for it either.
Nor, when I turn away a trespasser, and a tile of the roof of the house in which I live, at once falls down and kills him, do I owe recompense for this. Because it is a crossing of two events, of which I have only had to do with one. This one, the banishment, I could follow in my mind a little way; but the conditions under which it came into existence could not be fully known to me. Another matter if I had previously loosened the roof tile a little.
If, on the other hand, I sit in a company and attack a man with flat insults, I am guilty not only to this man, but to the whole assembly. Because the discomfort I inflict on them is – even if it is a secondary issue in relation to the effect on the directly offended – nevertheless such an obvious consequence of my course of action that I cannot avoid anticipating and therefore wanting it. In this case, I have the conditions under which my action will work right before my eyes.
11. Division of the moral actions. Moral clashes
We have now become acquainted with the two different ways in which one can act immorally: 1) Failure to fulfill a debt and 2) Encroachment on other people’s rightful material or spiritual property.
In the first case, there already exists a legal claim against me, that is, I have in some way, directly or indirectly, by word or deed made a promise and thereby expressly placed the right to place the claim in the hands of the person concerned.
In the latter case, only my action creates such a claim.
In either case, the moral action will be the one that fulfills what the right of property requires.
If a loan is repaid, or a promise is kept, the rightful owner simply gets back his own property, temporarily entrusted to me; by the promise I have given him a kind of priority in me, in my time, my fortune, my labour, etc. By the fulfillment it comes back into the right hands.
If a theft is compensated voluntarily, we have an example of the second type of moral action, a violation of property rights that is compensated.
Moral clashes or collisions of duty can only be properly spoken of when a person finds himself in the situation that he cannot fulfill one obligation without committing abuse or neglecting another obligation (without, in other words, acting immorally).
Suppose that the only way to save an innocent person whom I have harmed from being condemned to death is to bear false witness, then the first case exists. Put, on the other hand, that the only way to save him is bribery by means of money, which I can only perform by failing to pay a debt in due time, then the last case is present.
The prerequisite for a real moral conflict is that the fulfillment of one duty, as far as the individual can see, is absolutely impossible without the aid of another duty neglect or abuse. If a man cheats his creditors for the benefit of his starving family, he must prove that all honest avenues of livelihood are closed to him before he is allowed to speak of moral conflict.
How must the moral assessment of these cases be? In the first place, it must be established that an offense or a dereliction of duty towards one human being is not in the least deprived of its immorality because it serves as a means (even if it is absolutely the only means) of fulfilling a duty towards another human being . He who, under these conditions, is obliged to act, has no alternative but to make his choice between two immoral actions; he must weigh by which of the two actions his debt will be the least, and then make this the means to the end which stands to him as the greatest. But he must not imagine that he will thereby be freed from guilt. The injustice I commit in the first-mentioned case by deceiving the judge has not been washed away, even if I have used the perjury to save a human life, yes it can reasonably not be washed away at all.
If, as the only means of getting my debt paid to A., I rob him of a secret, can the means be justified by the fact that the act entails a lesser injustice against the same man to whom the purpose applies? No, I have only redeemed the greater debt by establishing a new, smaller one. If it is objected to this that I am actually excluded from being blameless towards A, it is only necessary to say that life really entails numerous such situations in which a person has entered into a debt relationship of such a nature that he never quite can be settled. It is only through wasteful accounting that this can be covered.
When St. Crispinus stole leather to make shoes for the poor, we cannot approve this as the result of a conflict of duty, for he did not owe the poor those shoes.
Several moral clashes are in name only. It is also common and highly convenient to use the name as a cover when it comes to setting aside one requirement for another, where they both could very well have been met, one at a time.
A breach of duty is therefore in all circumstances an immoral act; absolutely no exceptions to this rule are given; it cannot even be erased from the moral calculation board by subsuming it under the concept of conflict of duty, by being made a means to fulfill a greater obligation. Ethical accounting is something of its own, because the items it fiddles with are often so disparate that they do not easily go up against each other or offset each other.
Therefore, there is also no reason to make even the smallest concession to the Jesuits’ sentence “The end justifies the means”, unless one is content to place the meaning in it that it is worse to commit a minor offense without further ado than to use it as means of discharging a greater debt, and that it is worse to stand with a great debt than with a small one; and this even only under the rare condition that these debt items can be compared at all.
12. What moves a person to act morally?
By moral action we have understood the action that intends to do what is our duty in accordance with the right of ownership.
Since the moral therefore mainly depends on what the action is about, what it aims for – we must immediately explain why – it is obvious that one can think, and that there are also many different motivations for moral actions.
You decide to keep a given promise and really do it. It is an undoubtedly moral act. But it is possibly sympathy, compassion for the person in question that drives us there. Or it is a desire to distinguish ourselves, for external recognition, hope of reward, honor, praise, fear of people’s judgment, of threats, of the punishment of the law, feeling of shame, consideration for people’s esteem, for religion; in short, it can be a hundred different motives that make a person keep his promise.
The question now is whether it is right to call an action that has sprung from such motivations moral, whether it is enough to ensure that the action aims to fulfill an external, more precisely determined purpose, whether it must not be demanded, that the motivation, the driving attitude is of a purely moral nature; by which one had to understand that nothing other than consideration for the social relationship of trust and the resulting sense of guilt was present in consciousness when the act was carried out.
This is, however, an impossible requirement if morality is to have significance as a practical cohabitation norm.
Because in that case it would be fatal for it to put the center of gravity for what is moral and what is not in the spiritual motivations that hide behind the action. In cohabitation it is necessary to judge the actions from the outside; here it is actions and actions that create trust. What goes on inside the person has of course the greatest importance for the individual person, but you cannot build rules for living together with others on that; it evades all outside control.
Therefore, one cannot sufficiently emphasize keeping action and attitude sharply apart in one’s moral assessment. We are rarely called upon to judge or condemn each other’s attitudes; it is another matter with the actions that intervene in our lives. We are forced – it is self-preservation that tells us to do so – to subject them to an assessment based on their value for coexistence, and it is then a matter of looking for the points of support where they can be found.
Therefore, we must reject both those who believe that self-interested calculation is the only possible drive for moral action, and those who claim that disinterested sacrifice and compassion are. We have seen that there are many other driving forces, and that none of them has any advantage when it comes to the evaluation of the action from the outside as moral or immoral.
This is not tantamount to denying that there are moral dispositions or motives which, to a greater degree than others, deserve the name moral, because they are more intimately connected with the moral purpose than the others we have mentioned.
Since the moral purpose is to create social trust through a just behavior in all situations of guilt, it cannot be denied that the state of mind that is fulfilled by this purpose alone must be able to claim, without ulterior motives, to be called moral to a special degree. If a pure recognition of guilt or awareness of guilt, dependent on interest in the relationship of trust, is given, a pure sense of justice, this must be called the central moral motive.
A defends a friend against slander. If he does it out of anger, vanity or the like, these motives are far removed from the ethical purpose; if, on the other hand, he does it because the action satisfies the requirements of his sense of justice, then there is such a connection between purpose and motive that this gets a special position over the other motives that could possibly have led him to defend his friend. He has therefore not only acted morally, but from moral motives or from a moral disposition.
The question posed above, what moves a person to act morally, must therefore be answered in such a way that there is not one, but countless driving forces for moral actions. However, it is of more interest than tracking down all of these to investigate where the particular moral drive, the sense of justice or the sense of guilt originates.
First: What is it that causes one, in the case of a promise, to feel bound by the bond that one has imposed on oneself, by one’s own will?
With every intention there are undoubtedly, it is immediately felt, inner soul forces pressing to get it done. The psychologists have provided the details of this. But this feeling of being impelled to carry out an intention is not the same state as feeling bound by a promise.
Nor does the peculiarity of guilt lie in the fact that I have given someone else power over my will; this would become a feeling of dependence on others, which is quite foreign to the feeling of guilt. I have not, when the promise is not legally binding, given its recipient any physical power over me; his claim can only be supported by the confidence I have awakened in him in my social qualities.
The peculiarity of guilt lies in the sense of the value it has to me that these expectations and this trust in my social reliability are not disappointed.
This feeling cannot have arisen from reasoning about what is most reasonable. One can probably show that the social relationship of trust is the necessary prerequisite for the well-being of each individual; but it is hardly possible to convince a selfish minded man of the reasonableness of his putting this very purpose above all else, and perhaps setting aside personal advantages for this general purpose.
One cannot measure or compare purely selfish considerations of utility with the value of that feeling which is the reward of fidelity to the social obligations, the feeling of meeting confidence on all sides.
If someone lacks this sense, it will be a waste to appeal to it. What seems reasonable to one may therefore seem the most unreasonable of all to another. And since moral teaching demands everything, demands that even considerations of life and death come second to the ethical demands, it can never seriously be claimed that its demands must always and in all circumstances be able to apply as the most sensible in themselves.
If morality is to be justified, it can therefore only be done on the basis of certain specific prerequisites, namely on the basis of peculiar personal experiences that cannot be explained or transferred to others by reason, but must precisely be experienced. In order for the moral purpose to be placed in the first place in a person’s life, one must have felt the value of the moral behavior through self-experience and thereby have won love for the moral principles.
It is indeed a very special feeling and interest, this to apply (in one’s own and others’ eyes) to a fully competent link in the community, to be woven into a chain of mutual trust.
But if you choose righteousness, you must choose seriously. An either-or applies here; you cannot settle for something half-hearted, because without making the ethical purpose a main purpose in life, it loses all value. It has value only by keeping other considerations in check everywhere. A reliable link in the relationship of trust is not the one who only flirts with one every now and then, in a festive mood, it is only the one who unbreakably maintains it.
We have now examined where the feeling of guilt towards a promise can be assumed to originate from. But the feeling of guilt towards a promise is not just a special form of the feeling of guilt in general, i.e. a special manifestation of the respect for the moral property right. What has been said above about its origin applies here as well. Respect for the right to property arises only where the value of the relationship of mutual trust is felt, and the sense of guilt arising from an offense therefore has quite the same origin as that arising from a promise.
We called a moral act the one which, regardless of the motivation, aims to fulfill what is required by ethical law. From the act of conscience we demand inner recognition of this right.
Outsiders can judge whether a person acts morally; whether his conscience has played a part in the game, whether in other words he has acted out of respect for the rightful principles, no one but himself can judge about that.
Guilt arises when one breaks these tenets, to which one has joined with one’s whole personality. Grief and regret over the consequences of the action are often mixed in there. The peculiarity of the pangs of conscience, however, lies in the embarrassment of the break with oneself in this area.
Moral character is the man who is so imbued with the principles of justice that applying this yardstick to all matters has become a part of his being. To achieve this result, moral education and self-education can contribute. However, it is probably too optimistic to believe that either the individual person or the family should ever manage to act morally, quite instinctively, without reflection and without internal struggles. As we perceive morality here, every moral decision is based on a weighing of opposing considerations, and since life always presents us with new conditions, there can never be a question of making the right decisions in our sleep or out of habit. Furthermore, there will always be so many other considerations, sympathies, narrow selfish considerations, etc., that will pull in other directions, that we will still need to stay alert and ready for battle.
Even a moral character can therefore be weak at times and fail. Here again, it must therefore be reinforced to be careful in concluding from the individual action to the person. One must be quite ignorant of how difficult the ethical decision can be, how much knowledge, tact and presence of mind it can presuppose, in order to conclude from a single mistake to the nature of the character. On the whole, let us not be too quick to deprive our fellow men of all social value and rob them of our trust, and let us not imagine that we have seen through their motives and way of thinking at first glance.
“Is it not so”, says Søren Kierkegaard in “The Deeds of Love”, “that one person never understands another; but if he does not understand him, then it is always possible that the most indubitable thing could have a completely different explanation, and which of course was the true one… therefore it is also that all calm and in a spiritual sense dispassionate observers, who however It should be well understood that researchers and discerners penetrate into the interior, that precisely these judge so infinitely cautiously, because they, enriched by observation, have a developed idea of the mysterious world of the hidden, and because as observers they have learned to rule over their Passions. Only superficial, pompous, passionate people, who do not know themselves, and who, of course, because of that, do not know that they do not know others, are quick to judge.”
From their actions we must in the long run judge them as fit to be trusted or not, and then we must arrange our social intercourse with them – of course; we have nothing else to go after. But from here there is another big step to pronounce a general damning judgment on their human worth. Better than mercilessly judging matters that we are not required or called to judge about, is to try to understand or admit that we do not understand.
13. Natural law and legal law
We have previously used the term “right” in the sense of ethical right, the right which justice authorizes.
But it is also used in a completely different sense, namely about the rules of civil law, i.e. the content of the laws. One talks, for example, about what Roman law decides and about having a legal right to something.
It is now important to fully understand how fundamentally different these two things really are, even if the closer examination should show us something that is common.
We have seen that the principles of justice have sprung up, freely and naturally, from the soil of free coexistence, simply because a society would infallibly languish if they were consistently failed. Furthermore, we have seen that the question why they should be heard could only be answered with reference to the fact that they now once have this position as social conditions of life, and that corresponding to this are social feelings in the interior of individual people that demand to be satisfied; that there is a peculiar happiness in giving and receiving trust and a peculiar unhappiness in being mistrusted.
Not so with the so-called “legal right” (the applicable laws). They do not shoot up by themselves in the open; they are implanted, often foreign growths, maintained only by artifice and compulsion.
If you look at the content, you will find that for a large part it has nothing to do with moral principles, for a large part it directly contradicts them.
But whatever the content – the common and essential characteristic of them is that they are asserted by force.
To realize the truth of this, one need only ask: Who gives the laws? Is it always the societies themselves; isn’t it rather a special factor that arose within societies, state power? But is state power one with society, even if it may have emerged from it? Even in the most democratic state, is the majority synonymous with the whole society? Do the interests of the rulers necessarily coincide with those of the ruled? It would be naive to assume any of this. Even if the rulers and the ruled have certain interests in common, these will never be the only ones to make a mark on the legislation. Even in a state with self-government, which must be assumed to have the greatest possibilities for legislation in favor of the common interests, these will not be able to avoid crossing over and compromising with the special interests.
Any legislation will bear distinct marks of its origin from these various purposes; it will be possible to distinguish between laws which aim at directly improving the ruling persons’ own conditions (increase in wages, per diems, distribution of free tickets and other special rights, etc.), other laws which aim at maintaining the relationship of trust between the ruling persons and that class or the region that has elected them (certain tax changes, customs changes, all kinds of class laws, railways through this and that region), finally, laws that will secure the vital interests of the whole community (epidemic laws, laws regarding creditor and debtor, etc.).
This simple instruction to ask: who makes the laws, and what interests are natural to the legislators? dare to be indicative of the purpose of the legal “right”; the most cursory examination will show that the content of each individual law does not necessarily aim to secure the common interests or need to contain any moral consideration (for just compensation).
That the moral consideration notwithstanding, although the legal system as a whole is to be regarded as a coercive apparatus in the hands of some rulers, has been able to gain acceptance in the content of the laws to a considerable extent, is due to its absolute indispensability for the life of the state, and it belongs to the most interesting studies of legal history to follow, how the ruling power, in order to assert itself at all, has had to begin by making concessions to it; as interesting as to see how the same ruling power, once fixed in the saddle, in vain attempts to escape in order to pursue its special purposes. However, it never succeeds in forcing away the principles of legal remuneration from the total legal area.
We have thus come to the main result that the laws come into the world and are maintained in a way that has nothing to do with morality, namely by a language of power. But does this also apply to laws adopted by the citizens of a democratic state?
There have been writers such as Rousseau who wanted to claim that laws that arose in such a state were moral and morally binding, because the democratic state has come about through an agreement, a contract between the individual citizens, and it is after all, a voluntary matter, whether you want to join a contract or not.
But this is fundamentally false, every historical study gives the result that agreement and voluntariness, where the origin of the state is concerned, exists only in the imagination. The state is an organic formation that arises in a similar way to language; it grows out of the human condition, which everywhere says the same thing, that some are strong, others weak, that children are weaker than parents, that woman is weaker than man and weaker to provide nourishment and provide protection, that birth is given leaders who can change relationships with their intelligence, or whose courage takes on the odds that the others cannot, even though they may be physically superior. About democratic equality, social contract, civil rights, let alone “human rights”, there is no idea created in the minds of natural people. “It has”, says Goos, “always been just a number of citizens who joined together and created the first elementary bodies for the exercise of power. No one asked the others if they would voluntarily give up murder, robbery and plunder, they were overwhelmed, forced and cowed. The community members who act as community bodies are not equipped to do so by any act of the governed. They give themselves the ability to function as social organs, that is, they take it.” One submits to the older, the distinguished, the rich, the skilled – the ruling power depends above all on the personality. Historically, state power unfolds slowly, bit by bit; at first it is merely in business in time of war; in peacetime it is completely abolished, and the private parties themselves take care of all security and settle all internal disputes.
But how does power become right? What moves a ruler to issue laws against murder, theft, etc., regulations that must also curtail his own freedom of action?
It is the holder of power’s own well-understood interest that is evident here. It is the idea that society simply would not survive if the citizens devoured each other – and what was he then? Several laws have more directly personal and petty motives, but the common feature is found everywhere that the power sets a rule which it considers a comparatively lesser evil itself to submit to. For the sake of its own survival, power is forced to limit itself on certain points. Self-restraint pays off in many ways. At court, power gets the opportunity to demonstrate its usefulness and win sympathy and support. “The law is the politics of power, power does not give up, but becomes the right power.” (Ihering).
As far as the position of morality in relation to the law is concerned, it is given once and for all by the form in which the law appears in the world. It is very possible that a rule of ethical content can be hidden in a legal regulation, for example: You must not steal! And if you stick to the content, you could say from an ethical standpoint: it is nothing more than an old-known truth that ethics has long since discovered; we acknowledge that in advance! But the fact is that the state power has not asked us for this recognition at all, because it adds: if you steal, I will simply apply such and such coercive measures. State power has not the remotest interest in my reasons, it does not demand recognition, but submission.
We owe obedience to the laws when they state something that we recognize as moral according to our principles, but it is not as legal regulations that we owe them obedience. Otherwise, we are ethically free to them; if we submit, it is only because we have the compulsion upon us.
As has been said, doubts have been raised against this consideration. It is claimed both by Rousseau and other authors that the form of state power played a role, so that the individual citizen, however, in a country where state power was in the closest possible accordance with the will of society, had to feel bound by its laws. When I enter an association, my very entry contains an obligation to abide by its laws; this advance sanction applies to all of them regardless of their content.
But now, unfortunately, we do not know of any state that was formed as an association. Right from birth, I am a forced member of the state organization, and there I will stay. There are no conditions for entry, much less the possibility of evasion or exit. It is pure self-delusion if you think that you, as an adult, join society by a real or implied contract (where the act of entering should be tantamount to formal joining). It is quite misleading when Rousseau wants to claim that this act of accession is the most voluntary of all acts, and that it is up to everyone to decide whether he wants to join the social contract or remain a stranger among the citizens. No, neither one nor the other is free for me; I am as little allowed to sign any agreement at the “registration” as I am allowed to be excluded.
This condition does not engender moral guilt; it would not even arise if it could be shown (which it by no means can) that the benefits of the state were altogether greater than its disadvantages. Even in private life, it is not believed that the fact that a benefactor showers us with benefactions obligates us to obey any injunction on his part. Nothing without free acknowledgment and consent can commit us to prior obedience to the rules of an individual or a community, and the obligation applies only within the limits we have expressly approved.
You cannot, with your best will, come into a moral relationship with a command of power when it presents itself as a command of power. It is meaningless to talk about recognition and promises, where such superior things are asked for. Where the will has only one direction, the one predetermined by compulsion, adherence is pure luxury. A real promise presupposes an appeal to my consideration; however, there must be choice, even if it is not unlimited. But it is the state that inexorably closes all roads except one. When you therefore time and again compare the democratic state with an association, where the majority decisions are, however, morally binding, you do not pay attention to the difference on which everything depends. Because when you join an association later, you bind yourself in advance to recognize everything that the association’s legal body (e.g. the majority of the general assembly) may decide – as long as you are a member; but you are aware in advance of the direction and extent to which you, as part of the organization, restrict your freedom of action, you yourself assess this restriction in relation to what you gain, and adjust accordingly. Just as you are the master of the registration, you can freely opt out if something is adopted that is outside of these prerequisites.
But one does not go in and out of the state as of an association, the manner of decision is not submitted to one’s sanction, and one can make no reservation as to the extent to which one’s personal interests are at the mercy of the omnipotent intervention of the state power. Therefore, the majority rules in the democratic state are in and of themselves no less coercion and tyranny than the whims of the despot. They are only more tolerable in so far as every citizen has the prospect of becoming the fraction of a despot who can now, in his turn, oppress the others quite a bit. The controlled (minority) are held down by physical forces that rest on as solid a basis as in despotism, nay, perhaps as broad; it is precisely the disadvantage that it does not tilt much better than a pyramid; after all, it is the general population that forms the foundation.
Not a few people live in the naive belief that as soon as the minority has been “protected” by improved electoral methods such as proportional representation etc., the holy grail is well preserved. They do not see that such reforms do not in the least shake the main issue: the extent to which the majority intrudes into purely private areas and to which it promotes special interests. Only when the legislature has penetrated back into its rightful domain, the common interests, does it matter to what extent the assembly reflects the population as a whole; only then can there be talk of fair or unfair election methods. These in and of themselves do not create any assurance for the rights of the minority; it must, as will now be shown, be sought at an entirely different point.
14. State and individual
The consideration that benefactions shown to me bring me into a relationship of moral obligation to the benefactor has, as has been said, led some authors to very extensively examine the credit and debit side of the state in general. They ask: What does the state offer, what does it require, and can the advantages outweigh the disadvantages? When they then found an excess of benefits, they thought they could conclude that we are all deeply indebted to the state.
In addition, the first thing to note is that everyone is far from equal in the present state, it favors some at the expense of others, arranges the law in favor of certain classes or individuals; therefore the calculation must be very different for the individual members of society, and they cannot possibly all come to feel in bottomless debt to the state. The speech is often heard that the state is the only creditor that has the right to act as a creditor – upon sober consideration it will appear that the state’s share in the benefactions that people can enjoy is in reality quite negligible. “It is not to the state that we owe the spade or the telephone, astronomical observations, etc., all such things are due to the individual; however, modern legislation rests on the premise that the individual has no rights.” (Spencer). It is undeniably time to intervene against the mindset that will drown the individual in debt to state power, and help him get his head above water again.
But however interesting such a calculation of the advantages and disadvantages of state life may be, the whole calculation rests from the outset on a wrong foundation if you think that it can reveal anything about real guilt. As shown above, one does not get into debt except by personal sanction; neither by gifts nor – still less – by charity imposed on one. After all, the state is not so kind as to offer its goods in exchange for a promise of compensation, it readily takes the compensation by force. Just as little as it offers the benefits, but imposes them (vaccination, schooling, etc.), just as little it relies on the gratitude of the citizens, it secures itself with the help of forced citizen “duties” (taxes, military service, etc.).
The position the citizen takes towards the state power is therefore one of vigilance and vigilance against its tendency to encroach on the personal sphere. This position the individual has every right to assume, and he has the right to allow it to pass into attack when danger brings him close to life. However, this does not mean that a state of open war should be the normal or sensible thing, because just as little as the state has arisen through voluntary association, just as little has it arisen as a conscious opposition to personal interests.
The development has resulted in the emergence of rulers and ruled. The rulers take their position by virtue of imagined or real ruling abilities, by no means according to a unanimously given mandate. They are therefore led partly to allow themselves to be determined by personal interests, whereby a part of the population must necessarily feel wronged, partly to commit abuses in the personal area at all. The first-mentioned abuses include a government favoring its acquaintances or like-minded people, or a ruling party exploiting the wallets of the governed. But what is to be understood by unjustified encroachment or abuse by the state in the personal area?
As shown above, an unethical assault exists wherever the will of a single person or several acts by means of coercive measures against me or mine, provided that I have neither authorized this coercion myself nor, by previous conduct, given it the right to act. But it has also been shown that the laws take these prerequisites into account only to a small extent. The consideration that it should make a significant difference whether the laws are given by a ruling minority or by a ruling majority has already been rejected previously. The democratic view that a majority is always “right” does not apply to ethical law, abuse can be committed by a majority as well as by a minority.
“Suppose that at a general meeting of benefactors,” says Spencer, “it was decided that, to remedy the accident, the Society should employ farm missionaries to preach down popery. Would the contributions of the Catholics, which had been put into the coffers for philanthropic reasons, be justly used in this way?” No, why not? Because everyone must understand that when he unites with others, he cannot justly be driven to actions quite foreign to the purpose for which he joined them. “The general principle underlying the proper governance of any association is that its members enter into an agreement among themselves to submit to the will of the majority in all matters relating to the purposes for which they have joined it, but not in others.”
But no one would voluntarily give himself a majority in violence, which should have the decision of all one’s affairs. A state formed in the same way as an association, by the voluntary consent of all, would naturally concern itself with very few things, namely, those which it would be in the interest of all to promote.
Even if such state formation is now and forever beyond the realm of possibility, it would not be without interest to examine which purposes in the existing states can be assumed to belong to those which concern the interests of all, and those which concern only some individuals. If you could specify what these purposes were, you would immediately have solved the question of what could be considered state aggression. And even if it were never to be achieved to have state power refounded on unanimous, voluntary authorization, it could nevertheless succeed within the existing forms of government to successfully wage the battle against all the special interests whose promotion is imposed on all citizens.
As said, one will look for objectives that are of such a nature that they would gain unanimous support in advance, if they were set up as state objectives, they would not turn out to be terribly wide-ranging.
W. v. Humboldt, who, with a free spirit which nowadays seems extinct, seeks to curb the omnipotence of the state, shows that what modern states are especially busy with is promoting the useful, the positive prosperity. But the useful is a bad purpose for the state’s business, for it is impossible to agree on what is useful. The rulers will tend to be most interested in what is useful to them. Against this, v. Humboldt posits the necessary as the state’s only purpose. Beneath the yoke of necessity every willing bows his head.
It cannot be intended that the state should take an active part in farming, trade and industry, that it should be a benefactor or giver gifts to this or that to the detriment of all others (old-age provision in its current form, customs protection, etc.), that some citizens must pay the living expenses of writers, etc., who do not interest them in the slightest, etc., etc. Because all these purposes are special purposes, and they can only be fulfilled by the state, in the most unjustified and arbitrary way, taking from one’s pocket and putting it into the other’s. Not a single one of these purposes would be able to gain general support. One could imagine voluntary associations formed for these different purposes, but it would be unthinkable that a single one of these associations would be able to attract all citizens to it.
What should and can the state do without exceeding its natural limits and its justification? We will rewrite and complete the Humboldt idea as follows: It must regulate and ensure the mutual demands, it must assure everyone of his (that is, what he has legally acquired), both against internal and external robbers. It is, in short, a protector and maintainer of the right of property in the sense and to the full extent in which we have taken this word above.
Here is the purpose, which is in the interest of all, and which all the citizens would be able to sanction, the only thing about which they could know in advance, that it can be fulfilled without a single one of them being disadvantaged, without being lynched from one’s pocket into the other’s. A purpose which, like the useful one, is vague and fluid, and which can be interpreted by the rulers in favor of individual persons or classes (“agriculture is our main occupation; when agriculture has good days, we all live high”), and which is a ever-rolling avalanche, – but which stands unwaveringly as what is necessary for society, and which cannot be easily interpreted at will. The common property used solely in the service of the common interest! It is the state’s solution.
But now all the cultural tasks, poor service, hospitals, etc., which the individual is unable to carry out, are we supposed to let them fall into disrepair?
There is not a single one of these tasks that could not be solved and solved better by voluntary, private associations. Would everyone agree, so much the better, but it’s a peculiar thought to force people to charity or to realize other people’s favorite ideas (about acting, for example), or to get other people’s favorite poets travel, you yourself like would make. And, as v. Humboldt says, since it is only the same people who have an immediate need for and benefit from the purposes that form the associations, no others arise but those that are really necessary. “The state’s true efforts should therefore be directed towards, through freedom, leading people to the point where communities are more easily formed, whose activities can in many cases take the place of the state.”
The ethical solution to the problem of a just form of government is therefore neither to be sought in the theories of socialism nor anarchism. Socialism still has to show us the justification for granting the state agency unlimited power and giving it priority over the self-determination of the individual. Anarchism, which has still less formed itself into any clearly thought-out doctrine, dreams of a state which shall dispense with all central government, and yet justly exercise the most intrusive authority imaginable, to distribute the goods according to the personal needs of each individual!
No, any ethical system can as little be thought of as being instituted by the exclusion of a central power as by granting it unlimited power. The question can only be about where the boundary line should be set for its interference.
15. Justice and “humanity”
We therefore end our considerations as we began them by emphasizing that the so-called humane, the useful, the desirable, must not precede or displace the just. We admire those people who are animated by noble feelings, a warm heart and philanthropic ideas. But they must not demand that all that their feelings dictate to them should be made matters of state, or at all compulsory duties for others who do not share exactly the same feelings. You are probably allowed to be humane, but not with other people’s money. And this applies to the state as much as to the individual.
One must be quite particular in one’s post when these warm-blooded feelings sail under a false flag and mistake themselves for a sense of justice. A striking example of this is the use that is regularly made of “justice” to defend acts of violence, in which good sense is initiated by political idealists. Thus, Ihering believes that revolutions can be justified by their results: “They appeal to the irrevocable court of history.”
So what will this court decide? Whether the outcome has proved beneficial or detrimental to the people. But can it, and if so, when can such an infallible verdict be pronounced? Even if this could be determined unambiguously, it has nothing to do with real justification, a real justification would consist in demonstrating that the act of violence was caused by similar abuse in the past.
This conceptual confusion appears even more clearly in the spirit that has dominated liberal and radical politics throughout the 19th century, the modern rush for “humanity”.
Among its favourite ideas is the false idea of equality: that all men are born equal, and if this equality has been lost in the course of life, justice will command its restoration.
First, the premise is pure speculation. If you consider any group of children, you will see that there are ruling natures, which will become more influential than the others, and make themselves obeyed by no other means than their innate disposition; just as among the plants there are some which are born to rule over others of the same kind; the giant oaks, for example, are exceptions, which have an innate tendency to develop larger and more powerful than the others. It is then a colossal misunderstanding if one believes that from the principle of just compensation one can derive any authority to level such inequalities or unevennesses, produced by the unconscious nature. Providing equal treatment is not the same as erasing all existing inequalities.
In addition to this falsified idea of equality, modern, radical humanity also lives on poorly digested Christian ideas.
The Christian commandment of love focused primarily on mercy, forbearance with wrongdoings, indeed it even seems as if it did not simply deny the right to demand compensation for these (“from him who takes it from you, do not demand it again” ), but went on the exact opposite of retribution with equal for equal, namely on retribution with good for evil.
No one has more understanding than Søren Kierkegaard presented the Christian commandment of love in relation to the idea of justice. Love raises the difference between mine and yours, he says. “The true lover does not seek his own. He does not understand the demands of strict law or justice, nor of the demands of fairness in regard to what is “own”; nor does he know how to exchange, as love does, who also knows how to take care that it is not deceived (that is, knows how to take care of its own); nor does he understand community, as friendship does, who also knows how to take care of whether things are given equally, so that the friendship can be kept (in other words, knows how to take care of his own). No, the true lover understands only one thing: to be deceived, to be deceived, to give everything without getting the least in return – see, it is not to seek one’s own… Then the upheaval of mine and yours has reached its peak , therefore also love its highest bliss in itself. No ingratitude, no misunderstanding, no unappreciated sacrifice, no reproach for thanks, nothing, neither the present nor the future, can sooner or later make him understand that he has something mine.”
There is in these utterances several misunderstandings and slanders of love and friendship, which, while they really deserve these names, absolutely belong to the human relationships where the least calculation is made. But we shall not dwell on this. We just want to note, in relation to the Kierkegaardian consideration, that whoever can really rise to this height in his life among people – we believe that only very few can – morality does not reach him with any objection. Because whoever is inside the Christian way of thinking will know that it first and last requires everyone to pay what is owed to them. This is precisely the standpoint of morality; and if someone can afford – spiritually or materially for more, morality sets him free; morality does not demand that everyone should demand compensation for his losses, even if he is entitled to it. It only says to the debtors: Take care that you, enraptured by noble and philanthropic feelings, do not forget the first and the nearest, the simple little righteous demands that are made all around you!
The colossal misunderstanding of the “humane” politicians, however, lies in the fact that they want to transfer these rarer, ideal feelings, which have their place in the voluntary, private intercourse between people, to become the driving force in public life. State power cannot be merciful for the sole reason that it has nothing to be merciful to; it has nothing at all that it can call its own; it is only a distributing agency for entrusted commons; and its task can therefore only be to manage this in the common interest. Mercy and pity are also something personal, it seems inconceivable that classes or parties should harbor such feelings towards anyone other than themselves and their closest supporters. But those who do not become the object of these sentiments, or nurture them themselves, must feel any reform based on them as an intolerable and unmotivated coercion. Such reforms are directed to serve special interests and to have a shortened lifespan. It is different with those that are based on social laws of nature such as the Remuneration Act, which only have conditions to get into rapport in everyone’s interest; they won’t go too close.
Real social help can only be provided by the assistance of justice, says Ruskin. “Not love, not faith, not hope will do it; men will become foolishly loving, believing to no avail—unless they are first of all righteous; and the best men, generation after generation, have lived under the great misapprehension that they could help the poor by alms, and by preaching patience or hope, and by any other means, alleviating or consoling, except the one thing God has commanded them, justice .”
If you examine the systems of modern politicians, liberals as well as socialists, you will almost everywhere get the depressing view that what they call justice is nothing more than trivial, unused scraps of ideals, sometimes gleaned from revolutionaries, sometimes from the table of theology.
Gift legislation is mentioned; a legislation that takes from one and gives to another. We have laws (laws of old age) which deny the industrious and thrifty, who have accumulated a little, or the one who still feels like ordering something, the prescribed help, while the lazy and wasteful is self-written for the help. Our tax laws aim to plunder skill, ability, thrift, simply “to reduce the existing inequality”.
It must be admitted to socialism that it has brought out an important aspect of social life in the right light, in that it has seen that the problem of property must be solved on the basis of the principle of compensation; after all, it rejects all innate rights to property and only recognizes those that can be remunerated for work done, just as it demands that work must be paid in full.
Unfortunately, however, socialism is still far from reaching a clear elaboration of these thoughts, but still stands with one leg in the old “humane” ideas. One still hears from this camp far too much impatient and immature dissatisfaction with economic inequality and far too much unmanly whining and appeals to the benevolence of society, instead of bold demands for justice. And when it comes to the principles of distribution in the socialist state, the authors are still confused and quite at odds. Some believe that it is unfair that the one who is naturally the best gifted, and thus can do his work with the least effort, receives a greater share of life’s goods than the one for whom the work, due to his inferior giftedness, is more burdensome . It is time to pay, they say. They don’t see that if a fast and a slow worker are offered the same hourly rate, it will be the same as giving the bad work more compensation than the good, because all else being equal, it will be more advantageous to get your work done quickly performed than slowly. Others do not think that a scale of wages is necessary at all; everyone should have the same amount. Still others want everyone to have what they need and think they can measure this need. These examples must be enough to show how far socialism still has to fully grasp what is contained in the concept of just remuneration.
Justice! If one were to judge by the use of the word, one would have to believe that it was the principle that pervaded the world. Can a cause, be it political or economic, ever have the prospect of penetrating unless it is made the just cause. Read the speech of the Kerkyraeans in Thucydides, read the latest parliamentary proceedings and see if it is not this argument that you resort to when nothing else makes an impression: that you have justice on your side. And yet, how often it turned out not to be a dazzle! What was boasted of justice was well-calculated prudence, petty selfishness, or perhaps it was the heart overflowing with sympathy and pity! One dares to believe that the beautiful word is most often used in a naive and unconscious trust in its extensibility, because when you have not even found agreement among scientists about the meaning, how can you really demand that political agitators show self-restraint in their use? But occasionally it unfortunately also has to serve in deliberate, clumsy forgeries. It is surely a danger to public life that the meaning of words like right and wrong are not impressed so clearly and deeply into the consciousness of the youth from childhood and schooling that the common man will always be able to control their misuse.
 Frederik Henrik Jacobi, 1743-1818, German philosopher. Especially known for his teaching that God’s existence cannot be proven, but can only be grasped immediately through faith.
 Fr. Nietzsche: The Cheerful Science. A full selection of N.’s writings is available translated into Danish under the title: Aphorisms af Friederich Nietzsche. J. Gjellerup, Kbhvn. 1903.
 Even the most suggestive deceiver cannot fail to take an interest in it; for if mistrust reigned supreme in the world, how could he instil the confidence which he uses?
 Readers who would like a more detailed presentation are referred to the author’s writing: Naturlig Ret, (Natural Right) Kbhvn. 1907. Published with support from the Carlsberg Foundation.
 R. Ihering, born 1818, German legal scholar; was a professor in Göttingen. Best known to the general public for his small glowing, masterfully written work Kampen for Retten. (The Fight for Justice)
 Lubbock, born 1834. zoologist and archaeologist. Has i.a. scientific works written a book about the oldest cultural stage of the human race. In addition, some popular books with educational content, such as “The Joys of Life” and “The Uses of Life”.
 H. T. Buckle, 1822-1865, English cultural historian. Published in 1859 a very perceptive but incomplete work on the history of civilization in England, permeated by a strongly materialistic tendency.
 Evidence for these claims will be found at every step taken in the study of the cultural history of peoples. For example, it would be very difficult to argue that the original New Zealanders loved their enemies; they mistreated them in every imaginable way, but not only that ~ they had to do it, for the priests, who set the tone for the country’s morality, took the lead under the invocation of the country’s gods. It is not uncommon for some crude custom, which is otherwise being lost, to be maintained by public morality and religion (“The gods become a scandal for the age”. P. Rée). Thus, in the 15th century, cannibalism no longer existed in Mexico, but religion maintained it, for example at temple consecrations. Not only is unbridled brutality in battle quite common among the pre-Homeric Greeks and the ancient Norsemen, but it also causes no offense. Homer unblinkingly unleashes the murder of Diomedes among sleeping enemies, and neither Agamemnon nor Achilles know chivalry.
 John Ruskin, well-known English writer. Has written several books on art and national economy, among which the best known is Unto this last.
 Because it is recognized that the land is everyone’s “property”, there is no need to implement this concession to justice in such a way that you chase the current owners away and divide the land between all existing people. Since it is simply a matter of ensuring that no one enjoys advantage at the expense of others, Henry George’s social reform proposal is sufficient to satisfy the demands of justice. In brief, it boils down to the following: All existing taxes and charges are replaced by a single tax, which results from all landowners annually paying into society’s common fund a sum that exactly corresponds to the advantage they have over others by owning land. More precisely, this sum is the interest on the basic value; and since it therefore does not belong to anyone in particular, it may only be used for common purposes by all. “I propose neither buying nor confiscating private landed property. The former would be unfair, the latter unnecessary. Let the people who now possess land, if they wish, still sit in it. Let them continue to call it their land. Let them buy and sell, bequeath it and inherit it. We can safely leave the shell to them when we get the core. It is not necessary to seize the land, we only need to take the land rent.”. (Henry George: Progress and Poverty, Ch. 8).
 Journal of Spiritual Culture. 1903. Page 122.
 Thucydides, a famous Greek historian from the 5th century BC, begins his account of the Peloponnesian War with a negotiation between the Kerkyraeans and the Corinthians, during which the former very strongly invoke the “Principles of Justice”.