by C. Lambek 1952
(This was originally published in English)
Chapter 1—The Moral Problem
A comparison of the various opinions prevailing among moral philosophers to-day makes it clear that the moral problem is not only unsolved, but even undefined, there is no definition on which to base a treatment of the matter. Radical differences of opinion are met with as to which general presuppositions should serve as a basis for the investigations. Although moral philosophy is an ancient discipline, its framework is set only at a few points, its notions are vague, its plan of working is often ill-defined and obscure or arbitrarily chosen. Even at the present day it is by no means the same notion of morals we find in the works of the various philosophers, but a number of attempts diverging in their aim and intentions. I shall begin by indicating the presuppositions underlying the present essay.
We may regard it as indisputable that morality is concerned with the side of our existence called practical life. Moral philosophy has always aimed at a regulation of the individual’s mode of life. Further, we may regard it as undeniable that the moral idea aims at establishing a control bringing us certain definite advantages; without such a criterion of its value, it would not be able to gain a foothold in the minds of men or exercise an influence of any significance. In other words, the moral idea must aim at attaining something of value in practical life, either a positive benefit or the avoidance of certain evils. It does not follow from this, however, that morality undertakes the enormous task of supervising the general welfare of the individual. It is evident that morality cannot adopt a definite form unless it is aiming at some particular value or group of values; otherwise the problem would be unlimited and indefinable, The desired solution can in advance be defined only as a realisation of the special aim of the moral idea.
The next question must be by what means a moral control of men’s existence can be realised? Coercion and threats lead only to a superficial and temporary regulation, the individual will shake off such influences as soon as he has the chance. If every person were permitted to employ such measures at will, it would lead to a social rule full of disorder and practical contradictions—a guidance of a very dubious value. It is generally acknowledged that the use of coercion and threats demands a moral justification and must be confined to special cases under public legislation and administration of justice. It seems a warrantable assumption that moral law should rest on motives which the individual is ready to uphold for his own sake. If this is recognised, morality must grow out of the individual’s self-determining deliberation and in the last instance build on his self-control as a means to realisation.
But we shall need a closer definition of the notion of self-determination. In my opinion, the principle of autonomy may be described as follows: every moral dictate made to an adult person should rest on (1) motives adopted by the person himself at the time, and upheld in combination with (2) the circumstances (physical and organic laws of nature) to which the individual’s existence is inevitably submitted, and the conditions to which every imaginable form of social intercourse must conform. In no other sense can a person be self-determining or act freely. Both our own nature and the laws governing the surrounding world impose upon us directives for our actions, and if we wish to live among our fellows, we must respect certain conditions without which social intercourse would be unbearable. Autonomous volition is always on the part of the individual a combination of desire and compulsion, the final decision is the result of something he wills and something the will must necessarily comply with in order to reach its goal. This definition of autonomy does not preclude that compulsory measures are in some cases morally justified in order to assure the individual’s obedience. What is demanded by the principle of autonomy is merely that the use of such measures shall be founded in the individual’s own volition. If the compulsion is limited to an assurance of future benefits desired by the individual, the compulsion cannot be said to be exercised by his fellow-men. What is required by the moral dictate in this case is not the self-abnegation of the individual, but only foresight and a personal inner coherence to be confirmed by his own deliberation, in virtue of the natural order of things.
Another line of procedure can be indicated to which the investigation of morality is unquestionably bound. It must be tacitly understood that no moral theory can be acknowledged unless it satisfies the general demands for scientific reliability. The moral codes must therefore be based upon features universally valid in human mentality, i.e. upon tendencies and valuations evolving in every normal mind and ordinarily to be found in adult persons. No one will assert that scientific validity can be influenced by the fact that some undeveloped or incoherent individuals cannot be made to acknowledge such thought constructions. Where children, imbeciles or lunatics are concerned, the guardianship of competent individuals may be considered morally warrantable. It is worth noting that the requirement mentioned is in itself a fully adequate motivation for the principle of autonomy: if the moral precepts are to build on universally valid features in human mentality, morality cannot be based on compulsion or threats from without, but must rest on motives entertained by the individual for his own sake. Otherwise the moral control will fail wherever the pressure from outside is lacking, i.e. it will not be a universal but a sporadic phenomenon.
On the background of these introductory remarks, it should be possible to appreciate the standpoints from which the various philosophers proceed in order to arrive at a solution of the moral problem. The most straightforward way would seem to be the drawing of a line of demarcation between the so-called good and evil motives or purposes, or between positive and negative values. It is not possible, however, in this simple way to distinguish between morality and immorality. The notion of value always in the last instance refers to events whereby certain vital processes are either furthered or hindered. The latter kinds of events represent negative values. Sometimes values are characterised as relations; but only dynamic relations, partly between the individual and his surroundings, partly between various processes within the individual organism, can be called values. Things of a static nature are useful or harmful only in so far as they affect vital processes. In accordance with this account of the notion of value, the following statements regarding good and evil may be said to be universally valid: No person will accept with approval a counteraction of his inclinations, wishes or needs; such events are in themselves evil for the person concerned. Every person will primarily wish for all his motives to be advanced and accomplished; such experiences are in themselves good. The idea of a discrimination between good and evil tendencies is inapplicable where morality is concerned, because all motives are good in the sense that the individual who entertains them will feel satisfaction when they are successfully carried out. If any purpose can be called evil, it must be because it is encumbered with certain costs or certain unpleasant after-effects, that is to say, because it Counteracts other motives either in the individual himself or in other persons. Similarly, it is impossible to draw a boundary line between what is worthwhile and what is not. The weight of the motives as balanced against the costs is dependent on subjective considerations, and these vary endlessly in different individuals and at different times in the same individual. My neighbour probably entertains interests that I do not share. The gardener may want rain, while the football-player next door wishes for fine weather. A moral code favouring certain persons by protecting or supporting their special interests, but neglecting to support others in similar circumstances, cannot be recognised. Morality and partiality are incompatible. On account of the demand for universal validity, any moral theory which in advance is seen to favour a certain group at the cost of others must at once be declared unacceptable on a scientific basis.
Some students seem to think that moral philosophy should aim at nothing less than a general cognition of practical life, just as physical science aims at a comprehension of all events in inanimate nature in order to bring them under our control. Is it probable that we can evolve a science to prescribe what we are to strive after and how we are to co-ordinate our numerous purposes in order to arrive at a satisfactory result? So far, it is only an unfounded assertion that moral law should have this extensive scope. It is rather fantastic to imagine that it should be possible to find reliable rules for how to choose what is “right or “best” among the alternatives presenting themselves in the ever changing situations we are faced with day by day in the course of our lives. Whether in any instance we have made the right choice can be ascertained only later, when we see whether we have cause to regret our choice or not. But who would dare to guarantee a foresight deep and wide enough to assure this? At any rate, no one but the individual himself can accept responsibility for the reliability of his schemes. Not his moralising fellow-beings, but the person who performs the acts, takes the risks and the consequences of his actions. Life is so complicated and the values so fluctuating that even the wisest can foresee his future experiences only to very limited extent. No theory as to “what is best” can be recognised as universally valid. Every person is continually undergoing change, even interests which we think to-day will endure far into the future may to-morrow be “gone with the wind”. Often experiences we have been expecting are, when they arrive, utterly different from what we had imagined. It may safely be stated that the idea of universally valid rules for the guidance of life as a whole is a chimera. The knowledge we have so far culled undoubtedly points in the direction that the art of living must be a task which every man has to solve for himself and at his own risk.
In the popular apprehension of morality the distinction between egoism and altruism plays an important part. Many people are under the impression that the intention to benefit others is generally moral, whereas egoism is often the root of immoral actions. A few remarks will show that this view is somewhat dubious. It is by no means certain that assistance, presents, praise, encouragement, forgiveness or other forms of support are for the benefit of the recipient. Far from it. The habit of relying on the help of others may lead to parasitism and demoralisation. The pity of others it not always a comfort, but is often felt as an uncalled for or even an offensive intrusion in our private life. Besides, we must distinguish between voluntary sacrifices and compulsory support of others. In the latter instance it is not a question whether the help will be beneficial, but whether it is morally justifiable to compel innocent fellow citizens to assist others at the cost of their own needs and requirements. Rules of this kind obviously betray their partial character. Does a person obtain the right to be helped by indulging in recklessness, extravagance or laziness? Can the unoffending fellow-citizen rightly be punished for refusing to comply with such demands? As far as I can ascertain, all attempts to justify such compulsion have failed. For one thing, these claims cannot be universally valid, because both altruistic and egoistic acts are partial in character. An altruism extending only to one’s own family or friends, class or nation is not essentially different from egoism—it is to a greater or smaller extent an attempt to obtain security for oneself. The demand for universal sympathy advanced by some moralists cannot be fulfilled, no human being is able to perform even a thousandth part of such a task: At least this duty ought to rest on rules of reciprocity—but such compensation on the part of others will always fail.
Further, the plain man ought to be made to understand that egoism is a necessary feature in human nature, without which his existence would soon break down. Our constitution is built up on the fundamental rule that we are to make use of our own ability and power as means to build up our life. In innumerable instances self-support is not only the natural course but the only possible one. We are bound to be egoists for the reason that we are unable to experience anything but the processes in our own organism. All motives working in the individual’s mind arise from an interaction between his personal experiences. It is even undeniable that altruistic feelings and wishes are products of egoistical tendencies in the same mind, and that they presuppose and approve of egoistical wishes in our fellows. Sympathy is born when the individual imagines himself in the place of others and apprehends their fate as an analogy to his own experiences in similar circumstances. It is not possible to set up universal rules for the extent to which one person ought to make sacrifices for others. As a consequence, such sacrifices ought to be voluntary and should be regarded as gifts.
The well-known principle of “the greatest possible happiness for the greatest number of people” may be considered as an artificial device making it possible to avoid some of these difficulties. This scheme of throwing all ideas of value into a sort of pool, and then adding and subtracting the happiness or unhappiness of various individuals, is nothing but a delusion. In view of quantity (influence on the mind) all valuations arc subjective; in view of quality (the nature of the experiences) only a few kinds of valuation are to a certain extent similar for everybody. I shall mention one or two typical examples. We are all tending creatures who meet with good and evil, prosperity and adversity, and we all prefer the former to the latter, good luck and gains rather than disappointment and losses. We all wish to obtain as many and as great advantages as possible and to reach our goals with the smallest possible amount of effort and expenditure. For each enterprise we weigh the pros and cons, and if the latter weigh too heavily in the balance, it is contrary to the nature of volition to undertake the enterprise. Only on such human traits of universal validity, to which we are bound by our constitution, can a useful moral theory be built up. To adopt as the leading principle “the greatest sum of happiness” or “the benefit of all” will only result in confusion. No one can judge of the significance a certain experience may have for a fellow-creature, often it will even be doubtful whether the experience is of a positive or negative quality. Besides, it is a mistake to think that the well-being and success of one man may compensate or justify the suffering and losses of other people: the two sides in the balance are unconnected. Such a moral idea is from a psychological viewpoint sheer nonsense. Its tendency can be designated by the one word parasitic. Many other precarious questions arise in this problem. Which tasks are to be considered public and which private and personal? Can we demand that each person must at least swallow his own food? How are we to determine whether a certain matter is to be taken up to-day or to be postponed? Innumerable differences of opinion would arise as to the relative urgency of the tasks. Who is to receive support, and who is to make sacrifices? What and how much is to be yielded and received? The result would be endless disputes and untold attempts at imposition. This somewhat frivolous moral idea is responsible for the organised feuds between political parties which are to-day ravaging the communities and contributing to the international conflicts. Many curious things have in the course of time been proclaimed as being moral, but this manner of proceeding by which social fractions take turns to plunder and repress one another can hardly be said to conform to the idea of morality.
If no justifiable moral theory can be built up, either on a comparison of existing motives, or on a summing up of the relative weights of competitive aims, there seems only one possibility left: to turn the attention to the co-operation between the innumerable motives active in the mind of the individual. It is sufficiently well known that these wishes and needs with their various working directions partly co-operate and partly counteract one another, and it is a general rule that conflicts between motives in the same mind are unwelcome; nobody likes to meet with obstacles, everybody seeks to avoid disturbing controversies. We shall now investigate the question whether a reliable foundation can be found by studying the relations between the individual’s various pursuits.
The best known attempt in this direction is the following:
All static links and all processes in every organism involuntarily interact with one another; the result is that in the course of time the various pursuits and values in the individual life are directly or indirectly interwoven to form a whole. Against this background of combinations it sometimes appears reason able to us to sacrifice certain values to-day in order to obtain other values to-morrow. From the comprehension that all things in our personal existence co-operate, whether we wish it or not, the idea has arisen that it might be possible to find a certain basic value, summum bonum or a highest aim, which in the order of nature would represent a directive for the entire activity of every human being. From this would follow, it was thought, that all other aims should be subordinated to this load-star and should each be allotted a certain rank and scope in accordance with its importance as a means to attaining the highest good. This would mean that a method had been found to determine what is “right” or “best” in any situation.
This speculation has not been successful, however. It presupposes that the entire construction of human existence were known in its main features—which is far from being the case,—and that the individual’s personal situation, which actually changes from day to day, could at any given moment be sufficiently clearly surveyed to enable us to determine upon the right action to take before it is too late. This requirement it is impossible to fulfil. Nor has it been possible to point out one highest aim after which all are bound to strive. Not one, but many different values exist upon which life and happiness are dependent. It is not feasible to set up universally valid rules of choice, as it depends on the individual’s shifting inclinations and varying circumstances what will in any given situation be of the greatest importance to him.
I shall now turn to the phenomenon of conscience. Probably the feeling of an involuntary imperative command or prompting from within may be the original source of the moral idea. But it can be asserted at once that many forms of this mental reaction exist, they spring from various sources, and their meaning or intent is not always unequivocal. It will suffice to mention two instances.
The habitual demands imposed upon us by our fellow-beings—during childhood the exhortations of our parents, supported by praise and blame; later on public opinion, also combined with reward and punishment—may in the course of time give rise to an involuntary urge to comply with these rules and to trust in their reliability. No one will maintain that this is true autonomy. Pliancy to the will of others may arise from many different causes and has at most only personal validity. In the same individuals we often find impulses of conscience of another kind, i.e. those deriving from personal experiences and reflection. Once again observation shows, however, that these autonomous dictates from the mind vary in persons of different mould and different degrees of development. Which personal convictions are bred and expand in each individual depends not only on his bents and circumstances, but also on the degree of foresight he is endowed with. It is evident that morals can be based only on a form of conscience that speaks alike in all and speaks so clearly that there can be no discussion as to its meaning. The moral code dictated by duty or conscience has many adherents; but, unfortunately, they are not agreed on what the inner voice really says, or what its guiding principle is.
What are the phenomena called commands of conscience, sense of duty or manifestation of an evident law of values? As far as my psychological knowledge goes, they must be either approving or disapproving reactions of the mind, that is to say, we prefer one thing to another. There can be no doubt that these answers of “yes” or “no”—the foundation of all volitional life—act as the ultima ratio in practical life. But it must be added that the majority of these reactive impulses possess only subjective validity, perhaps they are even conditional on momentary circumstances, they vary with the individual’s abilities and development, his state of health, the degree of attention he gives to the matter, etc., so that no reliable rules can be educed from them. Only in a few special cases are the feelings of approval and disapproval alike in all persons and invariable at different periods. Instances of this shall be given later. It is evident that only cases of this rare kind, representing universally valid traits in human nature, can serve as a basis for a scientific moral theory. Moralists cannot simply declare that the sense of duty is self-evident in the same way as our experiences regarding identity. This evidence can mean only that our approval and disapproval, our yes and no, cannot be mistaken one for the other, the volitional quality of each is unmistakable in the same way that the notions of identity and difference cannot be confused, but form the ultimate basis for logical coherence. This evidence is quite insufficient as a basis for the solution of the moral problem, as only a few of our volitional reactions are generally valid.
Another significant consideration may lead us a step forward. It is clear that it must be the consequences of our decisions and actions that form the core in morality. Practical life is in its nature forward-looking; the fruits of deliberation, choice and actions only ripen afterwards. All self-control is necessarily directed towards the future consequences of our volitional acts, not towards the past which cannot be undone. In other words, morality must be a function of man’s foresight. This explains the otherwise confusing fact that two persons judging according to the same moral principle may sometimes arrive at varying opinions on matters of conscience; this is due to the fact that the understanding and foresight of the two persons are not the same. But the more narrow-minded may as a rule be convinced by the other person who possesses more knowledge and insight, -this is an important point in morality.
Finally, it might be worthwhile to consider the nature of volitional life. The motive powers in practical life do not, as has often been asserted, originate from the feeling-tones. It is far more probable that the observable changes constituting the volitional phenomena arise from the so-called striving or active vital functions, from their spontaneous development towards what is called their fulfilment or accomplishment. These changes from dissatisfaction to satisfaction are observable, every volitional phenomenon shows a tendency to further certain vital functions or to remove certain obstacles and disturbances.
This spontaneity is to a large extent comprehensible. Our existence is built up on an extremely complicated interaction between various processes, each of them contributing to the maintenance, defence and growth of life; it is no wonder that these contributions are occasionally more or less inadequate, and it is comprehensible that the organism reacts spontaneously on such lack of adequacy or strives to remove obstructions. The requirements of the vital processes vary in accordance with both outer circumstances and inner conditions in the organism. There are two main classes of volitional phenomena, the involuntary and the voluntary. The former—reflexive movements and spontaneous mental reactions—grow directly out of the organic conditions and circumstances forming the background of the experiences in question. It is evident that no moral regulation can be founded immediately upon these reactions, they vary from time to time in the same individual. All moral theory must build on the voluntary volitional phenomena, arising from deliberation and choice between alternatives, in other words: the part of volitional life that originates in conflicts between the individual’s motives—motives which strive in different directions and therefore have a tendency to thwart one another. Only previously experienced or expected conflicts between motives evoke reflection as regards planning and action. It would therefore seem to be a reliable supposition that the moral idea in its first indefinite form aims at finding ways to guide and bring into harmony the individual’s many contradictory tendencies and wishes, in order that conflicts may be prevented and disappointments avoided. However, a universal solution of this problem is attainable only within certain narrow limits, because human beings differ widely both in their equipment from the hand of nature and in their development. The task must be limited on account of the demand for universal validity of the moral code.
The inquiry into our subject should now have advanced so far that two crucial questions present themselves. Their background is the following: The moral regulation, the conscience reaction, arises from the expected consequences which in the natural course of events will follow upon an intended action, and these consequences must be changes influencing the future existence of the acting person, otherwise the self-control involved is not autonomous. The two questions are: Firstly, which actions will for any individual invariably be worth while in virtue of universal laws of nature? Secondly, which decisions and actions will according to the same laws bring their own punishment on anybody undertaking them?
The answer to the first question must be that only one generally valid rule can be found. Decisions and actions whereby one or more personal motives are furthered or accomplished will in themselves entail satisfaction for the individual. But, though this rule is reliable in itself, it does not lead to a solution of the problem. The realisation of a purpose always demands sacrifices, and it will depend on individual conditions whether the satisfaction gained outweighs the sacrifices or not.
The second question must in the first line be answered in similar manner. Only one universal rule can be found. Decisions and actions, serving the realisation of the individual’s aims, will -if they inevitably mean that one or more of the same person’s other aims are obstructed or interrupted in themselves cause the individual loss or disappointment. Such decisions and actions will be sufficiently well-founded only if the individual foresees the sacrifices involved and prefers to bear them rather than give up the enterprise. Thus it seems that the moral problem has been surrounded and driven into a corner. Only one possibility for a universally valid solution is left, that is, if it can be demonstrated that within the last mentioned class of actions (where various purposes thwart one another) there exists a certain group or category which for universal reasons may be declared disappointing and which should therefore always be rejected.
It is actually possible to point to such a category of actions which invariably bring their own punishment, without at the same time bringing the individual any kind of advantage (except unfounded delusions) to counterweigh the costs involved. The results are in these case always the same: useless sacrifices, a mere waste of values. The background of such schemes, in advance doomed to failure, always consists of conflicting motives, whose confused relations lead the individual’s thoughts astray. Conflicting motives are phenomena that we meet with constantly, from morning till night, a multitude of thoughts being awakened in Our mind only to thwart one another.
Disorder, confusion and self-contradiction in the individual’s practical life are in themselves—like doubt and dissent in intellectual thinking—an evil. Because of their influence, one pursuit interrupts another, plans are deranged and hopes dashed. It is undoubtedly a universal rule that normal persons, as far as lies in their power, seek to avoid wasted efforts, vain sacrifices and hopeless attempts. All activity of this kind is contrary to the nature of volition. It will suffice to mention practical self-contradiction. I commit such a fault when I simultaneously pursue two aims or plans, if the realisation of the one will cause changes preventing the accomplishment of the other. Both schemes cannot succeed; if the former is realised, the latter will break down. Working on the basis of irreconcilable aims will always give a set-back. Nevertheless, instances of this kind are often met with. A person needs to have extensive foresight and great perseverance in his pursuits in order to avoid contradiction between the many purposes running simultaneously in his mind. It is safe to say that every personality shows an organisation of intentions, opinions, rules of life and ideals whose practical consequences will collide at many points.
With regard to the above-mentioned moral principle, that practical self-contradiction must in all cases be rejected and replaced by a reliable arrangement of the motives in question, three things should be noted: (I) The precept does not condemn any of the colliding purposes in themselves, but leaves it to the individual choice whether the one or the other is to be rejected or altered. (II) Nobody suffers any loss or runs any risk by obeying this law. (III) Nobody incurs any responsibility by enjoining his fellows to follow this rule. Without these qualities the moral principle would not be justifiable. A fourth indispensable quality in moral precepts shall be mentioned later, i.e. that coercion and punishment may in certain circumstances be justified as means of upholding social laws.
This moral rule represents a form of conscience in the first line acting merely as a prohibition. Only in the second line, if the individual has already incurred a certain obligation to other persons, can the moral law dictate positive precepts to compensate any damage done. This form of conscience may be characterised as a personal sense of cleanliness, in the sense that it watches over the consistency of the various links in the personality and the coherence and solidity of the individual’s inner life. It is a confirmation of life’s organisation as a unity of co-operating functions.
At first sight, it might appear that this moral principle demands only a very limited regulation of man’s practical life. The following chapters will show that the principle lays the foundation for a moral programme of greater scope and significance than any person or community has hitherto been able to live up to. But even if this were not so, the objection would be unfounded. The extent of moral regulation is of course’ not dependent on preconceived ideas, but is determined only by what precepts can be declared universally valid.
In order to understand the motive power in the admonitions of conscience it would be useful to consider for a moment the practical self, which has to be kept clear of inner disorder and contradiction. In the continuing Me all personal tendencies—bodily characteristics as well as mental dispositions—are implanted and are working as interacting factors. The practical self is therefore the source from which the whole of the individual’s purposeful activity springs. To the same extent that my trust in the reliability of my own intentions and enterprises is assailed, my hopes of the future will be undermined, and I can no longer believe in my own personality as a fully trustworthy basis for my existence. Thereby a more or less serious paralysis of the self is brought about. We do not live mainly by material things, we only really experience the occurrences in our own minds; and the greater part of our mental contents, i.e. our active thought movements, are bred and nourished by our pleasant and unpleasant expectations, by hope and fear as to the future. For this reason, the strength and inner harmony of the personality is one of the most indispensable benefits in human existence. Disorganisation of the practical self, bringing uncertainty, inconstancy, fumbling and stumbling, is probably the most irremediable misfortune that may befall a person. Thereby the individual’s personal foothold in existence is shaken and slackened. This explains the deteriorating influence exercised on the character by humiliations and other feelings of personal shame. The moral principle aims at affirming and consolidating the most intimate and indispensable values in life. Man’s dignity, determination and courage rest on the maintenance of a feeling of solidarity between the various parts of the personality.
Everybody is guilty of practical self-contradictions from heedlessness, from inadvertency, from lack of forethought. A single instance of such negligence may not weigh heavily on the conscience. But, just as the telling of one lie will generally lead to others, so an incipient dissolution, if it is not repaired, will often spread. The serious moral mistakes are made when the individual, after his attention has been called to the danger, makes no effort to repair the breach in his character, but either refuses to admit his error or recklessly continues in the road of deception and self-delusion. Thus inconstancy, confusion and chaos invade the mind. By following this course a person not only sacrifices his self-confidence, his sincerity and his personal honour, he will also lose the esteem of his fellows. And not many have the courage to face this consequence.
It would be illuminating here to compare the described moral control with another equally ancient side of practical life: the care of bodily health. As a matter of fact, the recognised task of medical science forms a parallel to the reactions of the conscience, aiming in the first line at avoiding inner discrepancies in the individual’s pursuit of his goals, and, in the second line at repairing disturbances in the harmonious cooperation between the various motives incorporated in the personality. Sound health means the same in the physiological domain as harmonious coherence in the individual’s mental activity, viz. a stabilisation and regulation of the manifold processes underlying life, in order that the co-operation between them may be as effective as possible. Both these tasks—contained in the phrase “a sound mind in a sound body” are to the same degree fundamental for all men.
A moral system based on the proposed principle will have two departments, a personal and a social. Valid for both is the precept that practical self-contradiction must be rejected. The personal or private morality includes everything in the individual’s mode of life regarding only the inner organisation of the personality. Social morality is concerned with the interaction between individuals, including international intercourse. The precepts for these relations, which indiscriminately influence the existence of other individuals, must be based on universal traits in human nature. Social justice presupposes and builds on personal morality. If this is lacking, the individual’s social behaviour will be only precariously regulated from without, through fear of public punishment or the disapproval of fellow-citizens. The relations between the two moral spheres presuppose that every person living in a community will inevitably base his activity on a multiplicity of expectations, whose’ reliability is a necessary condition for the value and continuance of social intercourse. The advantages of such things as a division of labour and co-operation with others in work or pleasure are entirely dependent upon certain rules being upheld. The values gained through social intercourse form the main tie uniting the members of the community. At all points where the citizens are not directly bound by the moral principle to respect the conditions necessary for the maintenance of social life, the fear of losing these values will regulate the individual’s social behaviour. As soon as definite rules are laid down, these will undoubtedly appear as mutually binding and will thus be regarded as a matter of conscience. The following chapters will deal with the main part of the social order to which the lines indicated lead. As to personal morality, it is not my intention to touch upon this question in the present book, I shall only here set down a few remarks. The inner order and coherence in the personality, from which the private judgments of conscience spring, grow out of the individual’s personal wishes, deliberations and decisions. Everyday experience gives abundant proof that every normally equipped person, even the most featherbrained, exercises a very extensive self-control. The continuance of existence in an undamaged state is dependent on innumerable conditions, and this compels the individual involuntarily to foresee coming needs and to organise his volitional life, so that one purpose does not cut across and sabotage another. No one can wish to be reduced to an existence of poverty and uncertainty. It is practical nonsense “to saw off the branch upon which you are sitting”. It is unreasonable to start upon the realisation of a purpose and later drop it, so that the sacrifices already made are wasted.
Self-control, though unpleasant in itself, is a much lesser evil than the opposite alternative: having to bear the consequences of a thoughtless vagabond manner of life. Both inner and outer laws of nature often make it necessary for us to sacrifice one wish for another. However, if everybody decides for himself which purposes are to be given up and which are to be carried out, it cannot be said that the self-control is imposed upon the Me from without; the compulsion to establish a certain ‘order of life and to live in accordance with it grows out of the individual’s Own constitution, and from this no man can liberate himself. Personal morality serves solely to confirm the self by endowing it with greater harmony and effectivity.
Moral law leaves it to each person to decide what private interests he wishes to entertain and to what extent he will pursue them. So far as the individual is in agreement with himself, he can choose fr eely which convictions he will hold, which pleasures he will enjoy and which risks he will run. The only limitation to personal autonomy is implied in the moral precept that already accepted moral obligations to others must be fulfilled. Moral law permits the individual as far as he personally is concerned to choose some highest good or ideal and submit all his other wishes to this dominating purpose, but this organisation of the personality cannot be binding for anyone else.
More than any other living being man is a changeable creature. Whether we wish it or not, our personality is continually being renewed, both bodily and mentally. This stream of changes is a mixture of evil and good; now the dispensations obstruct our wishes, interrupt our endeavours or make them pine away,—now the experiences bring about processes of growth, renewing our thoughts and awakening fresh energy. A thorough sterilisation of the personality would lead to dull routine, atrophy and decay. All values in existence are subject to the law of growth and decline, increase and decrease, development and dissolution; life cannot be fixed, but it may be guided wisely or unwisely, in a lucky or unlucky manner. Moral law does not point to any definite directives for the control of man’s continued development, it leaves the person free, on his own responsibility, to develop his tendencies, gifts and talents. No one is morally justified in preventing another person from committing an error or running a risk, in so far as he does not thereby fail in his responsibility or obligation to others. Similarly, anyone is free to change his opinions and his mode of life, interrupt his intercourse with this or that person and try new social relations. To what extent he will be faithful must be a personal matter. The principle of autonomy forbids any tying down of the individual to his own past. Altogether, it would be a complete misconception of the idea of morality to make of it a strait-jacket to strangle life or distort its development in various respects. Only, it must be kept in mind that no re-organisation of the personality liberates the individual from previously accepted moral obligations. These cannot by any means be annulled because the feelings and interests of the past have changed.
Particularly in two respects does personal morality give the individual an important form of protection. Firstly, it serves to ward off the kind of dissension in the mind known as a bad conscience, a constant gnawing of accusing memories. No one can discard his own mind, and a harmonious self is more advantageous than a disharmonious one. Secondly, the personal conscience plays an important role as controlling factor in the development and self-education of the individual. As a matter of facts, there is no better protection against a future deterioration or the personality than the moral precept, that the mind must at every decision show foresight and be at one with itself.
Though this demand is fully compatible with the individual’s autonomous and free development, it serves to protect and complete the inner co-operation between the various tendencies united in the personality. It acts as a drag, serving to prevent the exaggeration of any particular bent or interest or the neglect of an indispensable duty. Whether any step in the development leading the individual into new ways is “right” or “wrong” can only be tested by ascertaining how far the new form of life proves compatible with the other values imbedded in the personality. Any growth and renewal that interacts harmoniously with the individual’s other aims and interests thus proves its soundness and should be maintained. No other verification of the development is possible. Deterioration and decay reveal themselves by disturbing the inner coherence and balance in the self. The unity, freshness and strength of the personality are the central conditions of life for man. And morality is the guardian of these values.
As culture and morality are often confused, I particularly wish to emphasise that the apprehension of morality here described rejects any thought of guiding in a coercive manner the cultural pursuits of mankind. Such decisions must, like all attempts to realise religious ideals, be a personal matter. Profound deviations between individuals preclude any setting up of common rules for all. What is possible and desirable in regard to cultural problems will vary according to the different stages of culture and can never be the same for all persons or all groups of a community. Moral law has no right whatever to impose upon adults prescripts for their future development.
Effective cultural progress can only be attained by means of the individual’s own comprehension and goodwill, and—special obligations always except—no person should be compelled to pay the cost of other people’s cultural proceedings.
Students who deny that moral prescripts can be erected on a scientific basis generally point out that the rules and regulations which have from time to time been laid down as moral demands, have again and again in the course of history undergone change, and that even to-day they are of different character in the various countries. This objection does not hold good, however. There is no inevitable relation between these historical precepts and the scientific moral problem. As long as no tenable definition of the notion of morality has been formulated and recognised as valid, so that it is possible to distinguish between true morality and arbitrary demands, historical comparisons cannot be conclusive as regards the solvability of the problem. Infringements of the here suggested moral principle, e.g. lying, fraud, violence and suppression, have always been regarded as immoral.
Summarised in its shortest form, the meaning of personal morality should be this: In our character as living beings we have been cast upon the deep waters at seventy fathoms and left to set our own course by means of our self-control; therefore, watch over your inner coherence, which is at once your honesty, your courage, your reflection and your way to solidity. As regards social morals, we shall find that their meaning can be expressed in the old exhortation: “Do to others as you would be done by”
Chapter 2.—Principles and Main Rules for Social Justice
The system of social morality described in the following has been worked out in Denmark, mainly through the co-operation of three men, the doctor and philosopher Severin Christensen, dr. phil, Axel Dam and C. Lambek. The two first-mentioned are now dead. How much each of the three has contributed to the theory would be difficult to say, and the question shall be passed over, none of the three authors has shown any interest in such a discrimination. The first essay on the subject was published in 1906; the work has been continued up to the present day and is not yet completed. An exhaustive treatment has to consider so many problems that the task is almost endless. Confidence in the tenability of the ideas has not been shaken by the numerous tests and analyses undertaken in the course of the years. As regards the scope of the system and the code of rules for social intercourse, there has been complete unanimity between the collaborators. Only with regard to the underlying motives have two views been put forward. I shall here attempt to set forth the matter as I understand it.
(A) Some Common Human Tendencies.
In so far as a social order of sufficient scope cannot be built up on a basis of the suggested moral law alone, a further motivation must be given. In order to be morally justified this additional foundation should derive from the same motives, which in the above served as directives for our inquiry into the moral problem.
(1) The necessity of a social order. Communities established by force or upheld year after year by coercive measures cannot be recognised as moral. Moral law demands that compulsion be employed only as an ultimate means to secure the fulfilment of undeniable social obligations. Every kind of social (and international) intercourse should in its inception and development be based on advantages to be gained (or hoped for) by the participants, advantages which would be forfeited without such ordered intercourse. Besides such benefits, communal life will inevitably entail restrictions and burdens for every participator, but the question as to whether the benefits outweigh the burdens can be disregarded when the citizens’ participation in communal life rests on their own choice.
On these presuppositions, our primary question will be whether the citizens in any community will demand unanimously that some system of social rules be set up and maintained. As men are not angels, it seems obvious that some social order, emphatically enforced, will be an essential condition for establishing and maintaining a social intercourse of positive value. The expectations upon which all public and private social relations tacitly build must be so far assured that they are not too apt to be disappointed, otherwise communal life cannot maintain its character as advantageous but will become a burden. A social union which functions unsatisfactorily, so that the results of undertakings cannot be foreseen, will be unbearable for all concerned and ruinous for the production of values. In civilised countries, where the necessity for settled and ordered conditions is obvious, it will hardly be possible to find a normal adult person who would prefer a lawless community to a lawfully regulated. Even thieves, robbers and swindlers would protest if their fellow-citizens made use of lawless methods.
(2) On an equal footing. The next question may be formulated as follows: Can it be considered morally justifiable to base a code of social rules on differences of rank among the citizens, so that one or more groups at the outset are placed in a more favourable position than the others? Or should all adult citizens from their first independent participation in social intercourse be placed on an equal footing, i.e. enjoy the same rights and perform the same duties in the community as their fellows, so that the regulations will be the same for all? As the demand for equality has often been misunderstood misinterpreted and distorted, a few remarks shall be added.
Firstly, I am here referring only to the basic rights and obligations, not to the social circumstances to which the individual citizen attains by his own demeanour and activity; these latter do not evolve from social rules but are due to the individual’s good or bad behaviour, his endeavours and his omissions. Of course everybody ought to be responsible for his personal mode of life, gather the fruits of his diligence, ability and wisdom and pay for his laziness and his mistakes. Social equality also means that every citizen has a right to enjoy all kinds of special benefits bestowed upon him or her by other persons. Such benefits arise from an individual choice.
Secondly, human beings are very differently equipped from the hand of nature, and through breeding and education their capabilities and skill are differently developed, so that they start with unequal chances for making good in society and obtaining the advantages of life. Such differences cannot be avoided, and no human effort can obliterate them. It would obviously be unreasonable that innocent citizens should have to suffer for them. They must be considered as part of a person’s private life. The social order can only aim at regulating the intercourse between members of the community. The notion of social equality does not claim that all are to have equally valuable benefits at their disposal. Such a demand would, if an attempt were made to realise it, lead to endless disorder and make it vain to hope for a state of personal responsibility and personal security.
There can be no doubt of the answer to our question. That the fundamental rules of a community must be the same for all simply means that the laws are to be impartial, and it is obvious that partial rules cannot be universally valid, ‘morality excludes partiality. No citizen will in advance agree to an arrangement by which some persons are to enjoy special prerogatives at the cost of himself and others. On the other hand, no one can feel wronged because the fundamental rules of the society are made equal for all. A constitution based on this rule does not prevent unusual personal qualities and performances being recompensed according to their merit, only this should happen in virtue of the free personal choice of the fellow-citizens, not as a dictate from the social order. Exceptional privileges can in some instances be conferred upon certain persons, but only in virtue of a motivation resting on the presupposition that all citizens have a right to participate in the life of the community on an equal footing.
(3) Independence, ownership. Man’s wish for independence is just as natural and involuntary as the healthy plant’s tendency to grow and its striving after light and nourishment. This human bent is a simple consequence of our constitution as individuals, which demands a constant co-operation between the innumerable functions in the organism; this again leads in every person to a manifold intertwining of the various tasks of practical life. Only through independent decisions and actions is the individual’s volitional life able to advance in development and coherence. A person who is subject to coercion and the guidance of others is prevented from giving margin to his own wishes; his will is subdued and loses its natural spirit of enterprise. Suppression entails in the long run a deterioration of the personal activity, it is either starved and undermined or it is distorted by having recourse to such means as cunning, duplicity and hypocrisy. An independent mode of life is simply man’s only way to full development. Volition is in its nature self-determination; the interference of others in the individual’s independence is an abnormity. Events in the mind cannot be governed from without. Weak persons of indolent or timid character may for the sake of convenience let themselves be lured to submit to the guidance and support of others; they may perhaps thereby gain an easy and peaceable existence but such a person will only be a poor fraction of a human being paralysed by superficiality and helplessness, stunted by property of mind. It is a rule that man’s wish for independence grows with his free development. Deviations from this tendency are generally due to negative motives, such as helplessness doubt or diffidence. It would seem warrantable to regard the wish for independence as a universally valid directive for social regulation.
Man’s desire to arrange his life and activity in accordance with his own discretion leads, in the second line to the wish to acquire personal rights of ownership, by which we here understand the right to dispose of all sorts of means leading to fulfilment of personal motives. A necessary condition for an independent existence is that the individual is able to a large extent to help himself, and to this must be added a certain measure of protection against attack and interference on the part of others. The notion of right of ownership is in the following used as a designation for the whole circle of conditions, so that private right of ownership includes personal liberty, i.e. the individual’s right, on his own responsibility, to dispose of his organism with all its spiritual values. The more means to the furtherance of his aims a person directly and indirectly has at his disposal, the better he is equipped. This rule may be considered to have universal validity.
(B) The Principles of Social Justice.
The central point in the system of just social rules is the principle of the fundamental equality of the citizens. This basic rule has already been -mentioned above. Here we shall regard the demand especially from the point of view of social reciprocity whereby its motivation is completed and its practical scope defined. Equality and social reciprocity are at bottom one and the same thing seen from two different sides, and this indissoluble connection between the rights and the duties of every adult citizen means that the binding character of the social rules appears to be a dictate of moral law, as any infringement of the rule of equality presents itself as a practical self-contradiction on the part of the citizens concerned: by infringing the rights of others, he cuts down the branch upon which his own rights sit. Social moral is thus in conformity with the old commandment, “do to others as you would be done by.”
Social reciprocity means from the individual’s viewpoint that with every privilege follows an obligation to respect the claim of all citizens to enjoy the same rights in similar circumstances. The obligations are the price to be paid for the rights. This general connection between the individual’s social claims and his social restrictions is irrefutable, if the code of rules is impartial; in that case it is undeniable that the obligations for every citizen are counterbalanced (as a rule more than counterbalanced) by the privileges, as only those rules will be morally acceptable which every citizen, for his own sake, would wish to uphold. This means much more than the old cliché that the law of a country must be the same for all. Certain passages in an imposed law may easily be so worded that they favour some group of citizens at the cost of others, e.g. taxation, social relief, legislation that recognises and is based on monopolies, customs duties -which burden some consumers more heavily than others. Often it is through partial laws of this category that equality is violated. It will be clear that the principle of social reciprocity does not permit of a legislation that takes from some people and gives to others. In order to prevent this, the whole code of laws must be set up in a lucid and intelligible manner, on the principles here shown, so that the necessary comparisons between the individual’s social conditions and those of other classes can easily be made by the plain man. We shall in the following see how this may be brought about.
An objection of a formal nature has been raised against the principle of equality: that this notion is meaningless or indefinite, unless the contents of the rights and duties are exhaustively defined, so that distinct limits may be set to their scope. In the above it has already been pointed out that the reciprocity of the rules involves a definition. It is not difficult for the plain man to understand what and how much he owes to others, if he considers and sums up what social behaviour he expects from his fellow-citizens in this or that circumstance; any normally intelligent person is as a rule able to compare and weigh things in this manner. A further definition of the contents and scope of the rules can be deduced from the other two principles, which in combination with equality act as directives for the social order. The second principle, which may be called the law of production or the principle of natural coherence between the producer and the product, is as well-known and as generally approved as the principle of equality. This axiom declares that every process of production due to human activity and creating positive or negative values shows a close inner coherence, wherefore the process from first to last ought to be considered as a unity. The consequence of this in social life must be, on the one hand, that the producer ought to have the right to keep and enjoy the values which are the fruit of his work and his expenditures, and, on the other hand, that he in his character of originator of the enterprise is to bear the responsibility for any losses directly or indirectly inflicted upon other persons through the process of production, whether such losses are intentional or not. A few remarks will serve to motivate the principle.
In the case of any scheme for bringing about changes aiming at a certain purpose, it is a universally valid rule that the costs are undertaken for the sake of the expected profits. It is practical nonsense to make sacrifices if no benefits are expected as a result. In the nature of things it is also necessary in every process of production that the work and the expenditure are yielded in advance,—on credit, so to speak,—before the fruits come into being, and the producer will inevitably feel deceived if his fellows do not allow him to keep the values he has created and to dispose of them at will, in any manner that does not infringe upon their rights. Furthermore, it is evident that the production of values would, generally speaking, drop to a minimum, so that existence would become much poorer for everybody, if the old rule were disregarded “that he who sows shall also reap.” Every citizen in a community will undoubtedly for his own sake demand the right to own the fruits of his productive enterprises, even as, in virtue of the principle of equality, he pledges himself to respect a similar right for others to own the fruits of their productive activity. The law of production thus serves as a valid motivation for the establishment of the individual’s right to possess the fruits of his own production.
As a rule, however, the process of production cannot be limited to bring about only the desired changes, it will have also a number of secondary affects. Many of these direct or indirect changes are insignificant, socially seen. Nor is there need of any social regulation in cases where the secondary effects of the process of production are limited to the private sphere of the promoter of the scheme, such effects must be a personal matter; unoffending fellow-citizens cannot be made responsible for losses inflicted on the acting individual by himself. Rules of responsibility are required only for the category of enterprises where the active promoter’s undertakings are the main cause of losses or set-backs inflicted on other persons. The claim that losses thus originated must be compensated by the originator is an undeniable consequence of the inner coherence in the process of production: He who starts the enterprise and demands to enjoy its fruits should also bear the losses involved when they affect other people’s sphere of possession. The moral motivation of this precept of responsibility rests on the rule that every citizen will for his own sake demand this social regulation in order to assure himself against detrimental encroachments upon his existence on the part of others; otherwise life would for an unacceptable reason be made even more difficult and burdensome. The right to possess the fruits of one’s personal undertakings and the obligation to compensate the detrimental effects of such activity are in a social sense inextricably bound up, and there can be no doubt that the advantages of this intertwining of right and duty far surpass the burdens for everybody concerned, all will agree to this. Even a criminal would not wish for a lawless social intercourse without rights of possession for himself or rules of obligations for others, -a state of everybody’s war against everybody.
The third principle, without which the social order would be incomplete, is less known and is used only in cases where a conflict of rights is involved, where no solution is possible without the annulment of one or other group of justifiable demands. The principle declares that if the choice between alternatives is compulsory, because a postponement of the matter would mean a further violation of some right, the preferable procedure will be to choose the group of rights having the greatest weight and annul the opposing less weighty group. Only in special instances and to the smallest possible extent can it -be warrantable to annul a group of rights. In the case of conflicts between groups of rights, the person who pronounces judgment in the matter is responsible only for the choice between the alternatives, if the compulsory situation has arisen without his co-operation. I have called this precept the principle of preponderance.
A few examples shall be given. In a street accident a person is injured and is driven, unconscious, to hospital. The doctor’s examination shows that an operation ought to be performed at once in order to save the patient’s life. Now, it is, generally speaking, a crime to take a knife and cut into a living fellowbeing. The consent of the unconscious patient cannot be obtained, nor that of his family, as they are not present and are unknown to the doctor. On the other hand, the doctors in charge are in duty bound to do what they think necessary, and the risk of omitting to undertake the operation at once is considered greater than the danger of performing it, thus postponement appears to be an unjustifiable alternative. In this compulsory situation the doctors cannot be made responsible for any unfortunate result of the operation, if they have taken the action that was in their opinion for the best.
If the members of a club, who all have equal rights to vote where the affairs of the club are concerned, cannot agree on a certain question, they will be compelled to choose between the two alternatives: whether the wish of the majority or of the minority shall become law. In principle, it is evidently wrong to annul the right of the minority to have their say; but, It would be a still greater wrong if the demands of the majority were to be disregarded. The third possibility, that the matter might be postponed or put off indefinitely is often excluded, because with the passing of time the conflict would probably be sharpened.
If an unjust law, which has been in force for a long time, cannot be repealed without the reform causing an infringement of other statutes, with which the unjust law has in the course of time become involved—then it would be warrantable to undertake the reform if and in so far as the wrong thus caused would be of a lesser extent than the injustice entailed by the retention of the unjust law for year after year into the future. In such cases we are, in accordance with the principle of preponderance, morally obliged to commit injustice. But, of course, we must always choose the most lenient way of carrying through reform.
Even in states where order generally rules, many instances will occur where undoubted rights must be disregarded because they cannot be fulfilled. We all run the risk that our debtors may become bankrupt, that thieves will steal our values or that impostors may deceive us. It would not be fair that such losses should be borne equally by all citizens, the advantages and disadvantages of this would be very unequally distributed, for instance in regard to careful and careless persons; such a rule of joint responsibility would lead to parasitism. It must be left to each person either to insure his life and his possessions through private agreements, or to bear occasional losses of this kind himself.
The omission to pay debts on the excuse that you have to use your ready money for other and more necessary expenditure cannot be accepted on the principle of overweight. The debtor must try other possibilities, for instance to obtain money by the sale of some of his possessions, by taking up a loan, to save the money by doing without certain commodities, or to make some arrangement to obtain credit.
Where children are concerned, parents and educators often find themselves in compulsory situations. Children may be ignorant or heedless, so that it would be unjustifiable to let them follow their own way. In cases where the children’s own Initiative threatens to bring them into dangerous situations both a passive attitude and an actively directive interference will involve responsibility on the part of the parents or educators. In order to ward off perilous situations or fatal negligence, the, overweight principle will often make compulsory steps justified; such measures will be morally valid in so far as the choice between the alternatives is seriously motivated.
From the principle of preponderance we can educe an important prescript regarding the assignment of the rights of possession, i.e. that private ownership is preferable to communal possession.
Numerous social rules are educed from a combination of the three principles here described. One or two examples shall be given. Equality in relation to the law of production prescribes that I must obey the same regulations which I demand that my fellow-citizens shall comply with in regard to me or any other person in the community. Similarly, if I demand an interdiction against other people’s lying or breaking their promises to me, it will undeniably be my duty to avoid such actions towards any fellow-citizen. I particularly wish to emphasise the following:
From olden times the problem of punishment has been the most serious stumbling-block for any idealistic moral theory. On the one hand, it seems unthinkable that a social regulation forbidding many short cuts to profit can be effectively upheld without the use of some method of punishment. On the other hand, no penal sentences can be executed without contradiction or disregard of one or more of the fundamental rights ascribed to every citizen in a civilized state, such as the inviolability of the individual’s organism, personal liberty of movement, right of ownership to lawfully acquired possessions. How can it be motivated that a social legislation, claiming to be recognised as just and fair, in this manner seems to take away with one hand what it gives with the other? No moral theory leaving this question unanswered deserves to be taken seriously, the problem ought to be emphasised as the touch-stone of all moral teaching. It should be possible to find a satisfactory answer. The principle of equality in combination with moral law declares that all social rights rest on reciprocity, i.e. that the privileges are to be compensated with corresponding obligations, and the consequence must be that the rights are forfeited by any person who fail~ to perform his obligations. A crime means that the criminal has broken down the basis upon which his rights are founded and thus placed himself outside the law, he has revealed a personal unreliability which dissolves the relations of trust established between him and his fellow-citizens. This justifies the legislative and judicial authorities; in depriving him of his privileges in so far as it is found necessary in order to secure public security. It is worth noting that this solution of the problem does not entail a weakening of the individual’s social conscience, but on the contrary a strengthening, because the risk of losing the social privileges becomes a strong point in his deliberations preceding his actions. There is yet another consideration. In virtue of the overweight principle it is in certain cases justifiable to annul privileges. If dutiful citizens cannot to a reasonable extent be protected against crimes without the use of punishment, the threat against these citizens is undeniably of greater weight than the annulling of the privileges of convicted criminals to the extent required.
The three principles mentioned should be the corner-stones of democracy. Unfortunately, in the consciousness of the general public they are to-day overgrown with the moss of many untenable assertions. I shall return to this matter in a later chapter, but here I shall only mention one or two of these assertion. It has often been pretended that every citizen is indebted to the community as a whole, because here a number of advantages are placed at his disposal free of cost, such as a highly developed system of production where he may choose some sphere of labour, untold opportunities for co-operation with others, rich possibilities to make acquaintances and to refresh his mind with discussions. It is true that these advantages exist and that they are of incalculable value. But it is not true that anyone should for this reason feel obliged to make sacrifices “for the common good of all”. This alleged debt to the community as a whole is fully paid by the fact that the advantages are mutual. If the individual in his intercourse with others always “gives as good as he receives” in accordance with the principles mentioned, there is no question of debt. Only as a link in the chain of generations has the individual a certain responsibility for the upkeep of the common social benefits, but these duties are fulfilled by any citizen who produces a sum of values equivalent to his consumption, and who votes conscientiously in any questions of national importance. The inhabitants of a country have a right—in so far as honourable means are used—to leave the nation greater, richer, more influential and esteemed than heretofore, but no one has any special obligation to co-operate in these aims.—Furthermore, it has been asserted that the personal wishes of the individual and the demands of the social authorities must always be in opposition to one another, so that social justice should consist in a suitable compromise between the two sets of motives. If such an antagonism really exists in any country, it can be due only to unjust laws. Where no tyranny is practised, no compromise between private persons and the public administration will be required, because the advantages of the latter will carry more weight than the burden of restrictions and costs.
F every (C) The Institution of Ownership.
If the individual’s right to dispose of his own organism and guide its movements—generally called personal liberty—is considered as a form of ownership, it may be asserted that all conflicts in social intercourse are concerned with the right to utilize existing means to the accomplishment of purposes. The fact that the persons A and B have not the same interests and requirements, but entertain deviating desires and opinions, does not in itself lead to antagonism between them. A conflict arises only when both of them simultaneously wish to utilize one and the same means and therefore strive to prevent each other from making use of it. If pure differences of opinion develop into strife, it is because one competitor is trying to acquire adherents at the cost of his opponent.
In two respects it is of importance to note that social conflicts always bear the character of strife regarding the utilization of means. Firstly: although the motives of the opponents are subjective, the means to their accomplishment can as a rule be determined objectively, as they are dependent upon physical and organic laws of nature common to all men. This means that the question whether the individual’s activity is self-contradictory or not can generally be determined on universally valid grounds. Secondly: all social problems pertain to one and the same category, all the individual’s rights are rights of possession, and his obligations consist in respecting the rights of possession of his fellows. Thus the social rules are united into a coherent system, so that the necessary comparisons are facilitated, both between the individual’s rights and duties and between the conditions of the various social classes. As all problems in the last instance concern notions of “mine” and “yours”, on a background of discrimination between public and private matters, any normally intelligent citizen will be able to judge of the equity of the social order as a whole. This is the only safe guarantee against misleading political fallacies.
The institution of ownership may from an abstract point of view be described as follows: The law declares that I (any citizen) have the right to dispose of everything that in accordance with recognised rules of possession belongs to me, while I in return promise to respect your (every other citizen’s) right to dispose of everything belonging to you as your property according to the same rules. From this description it is clear that the institution of ownership is not upheld with any intention of wronging anyone, it aims only at preventing social conflicts and creating order, peace, mutual trust and security. This is to the advantage of all and must undoubtedly be the wish of all. No other means has ever been found to create a social order resting on reciprocal advantages, not on threats and compulsion. It is pure nonsense to call ownership theft. If the right of ownership wrongs anybody, the reason must be that the rules are drawn up in a partial manner, but in that case equity demands that the rules be amended.
We should, in the first line, distinguish between private and public property. Under the category of private property come not only material values, but also social benefits (e.g. name and reputation) belonging to a single person, and values belonging to a number of persons jointly. Public property may be defined as values or benefits either belonging equally to all the citizens in the country, or belonging equally to all inhabitants within a certain administrative district.
From the products of nature we obtain all such values as food, dwellings, clothes, tools and machinery, means of transport etc., so that part ownership of raw materials means easier access to a livelihood. If the right to utilize the products of nature is vested in a minority of the citizens, the remainder will have no sure basis for their existence, their rights of ownership can in roundabout ways be made illusory, their wages can be reduced to a minimum, while the prices of the necessaries of life are raised; in order to retain their jobs they may be compelled to accept a humiliating dependence on others. The owners of the raw materials will have it in their power to pocket the profits on any economical improvements due to new inventions, an increase of production or growth of the population. Everywhere where the soil is privately owned, the landowners have in the long run, simply through the pressure of circumstances and apparently voluntary agreements, been able to impose private taxes upon their fellow-citizens. This monopoly is certainly an immeasurable violation of the principle of equality.
Chapter 3.—The Rules for Individual Ownership
If we are to make the attempt from the fundamental principles of Moral Justice to deduce precepts for the conduct of the different sections of social life, we must for several reasons take the notion of “ownership” as a kind of mathematical unit. On the whole, the social order must contain definite rules as to who is to have the control over and the right to dispose of the available advantages and benefits. All conflicts between the members of the community are in the last instance caused by the attempt to gain the mastery of the available benefits; it is only to obtain these that men compete. Right of possession and right of disposal are one and the same thing. And I therefore propose to show that the practical consequences of equality can only be drawn, if we take the right of individual ownership as our general denominator.
The demand for equality means more than this: that the same rules of existence shall be applicable to all without respect of person. Even if each separate law or act of parliament has general validity and equal application to all, legislation may easily become extremely partial. This is so because every statute finally refers to a single case; therefore, it is possible so to formulate any statute—either secretly, on purpose, or for want of foresight—that some part of the population will be favoured at the cost of the rest. It is evident that the result of this must be a fundamentally faulty and unsatisfactory state of the relations of reciprocity between the members of the community, unless other statutes happen so set right the difference by working equally partially in the opposite direction. Otherwise, the sum of rights and the sum of liabilities will not balance, the rights and the obligations of each citizen will not be equal, as is demanded by the principle of equality.
It is inevitable that in every society there must exist a great number of differences in individuals and their outer circumstances. Each man has his own aims, and the personal characteristics are many and varied. But, if the citizens are so diverse as regards both outer circumstances and inner qualifications, how is it possible to conceive of a code of laws which will not on the whole favour some section of the population? It is not possible. But neither is this what equality claims; it only demands that the advantages of one man shall not be given him at the cost of another, his good must not be the harm of someone else. The claim of the principle of equality is this: that each man’s rights and liabilities must balance, so that the former equal or, if possible, exceed the latter; the overweight of advantages gained must not be obtained at the cost of others but must be won by personal ability or by voluntary gifts.
A code of laws which balance perfectly where social equality is concerned can only be formulated if each statute is founded on, and all legislation rests upon, a basis of rights which are alike for all and universally valid. Only thus will it be feasible to balance all rights and all liabilities against each other in the case of each person, and to judge whether the rights correspond exactly to the liabilities—or exceed the latter without in any way injuring others. The system which allows us to undertake this far-embracing comparison is the code of rules for the possession of ownership.
In order that the notion of legal ownership may be extended to include all social relations, and thus act as the basis of legislation, it will have to be enlarged beyond its usual meaning. The self-determination or personal liberty of the individual will have to be included; or, if preferred, we may consider it as a separate category under the rights of ownership. This disposition will cause no difficulties. The right of self-determination is in reality, like all other rights of possession, the authority to dispose of certain objects or advantages, in this case the authority to dispose at will of one’s own person. As a matter of fact, it is an artificial restriction of the right of possession to let it include only outer and material advantages, means of existence in the surrounding world. The reader will see from the following pages that a natural and systematic connection exists between the principles of Moral Justice and the rules for individual ownership.
All the social rights which are morally justified—and also the corresponding liabilities—can be arranged under 4 rules of ownership. These fundamental rules all express the same idea; in fact, the only difference between them is that they refer to different circles of social phenomena. The 4 rules are as follows:
- Every man or woman has the absolute right to dispose over his or her own person, inner life and outer movements, his manner of existence, his activity in trade or industry, the pursuit of his interests or hobbies, his friendships, his co-operation with others, and so forth. The only restriction being the one entailed by the principle of equality—other people’s rights must not in any way be infringed.
- Every man or woman has the absolute right to keep and enjoy all values which he or she has produced, by personal effort, by means of his or her lawful property, or by means of other resources used with the permission of the lawful owner. The use made of the values produced must not in any way infringe the rights of other people.
- Every man or woman has the absolute right to dispose of his or her property; any lawful possessions may be made over to another person in exchange for whatever is agreed upon by both parties, or as a gift, by inheritance, etc. Whatever the person receives in exchange for the property made over, becomes his rightful property, if the agreement was morally unimpeachable, that is to say, if it does not in any way infringe the rights of others.
- Every man or woman has the right to an equal share in the possession of, and disposal over, the profits accruing from lawfully owned joint property; in the first instance, the pre-existent values, the gifts of nature to mankind, such as air, earth, water; secondly, those values which gradually accrue through the increase of the population and its joint activities, in which everybody shares, either directly or as consumer. To these privileges corresponds the liability to fulfil any obligations arising from the ownership of the joint property.
These 4 rules taken together form the basis of a clear and definite understanding of what is meant by the infringement of the rights of others. What is meant by moral rights and liabilities may be clearly seen on the background of these simple rules, so that practical reasoning may supersede the more vague and indefinite feeling of indebtedness. The man in the street will thus be enabled, in almost all cases, to form reliable judgments by the help of his own conscience—to formulate definite questions and receive clear answers as to what is fair and just behaviour towards others.
It can be demonstrated that these rules for possession do not involve any encroachment of the corresponding rights of fellow-citizens. They are not impartial in the sense that they are of equal value to all; that would be impossible, on account of the innumerable differences existing in the individuals. But the rules are impartial from a social point of view—socially seen, they give equal rights to all. What abilities the individual shows in making use of his privileges and possibilities must be his own affair, it is no concern of social morality. That is his private affair for which others can take no responsibility; for, according to the principle of self-determination, it is forbidden to interfere with the personal affairs of others. Personal liberty and personal responsibility must in all cases correspond exactly. As a further elucidation of the rules, I shall add the following paragraphs:
(1) Nobody will in his own case do without the right of self-determination; lacking that, all other rights of ownership will be more or less worthless. Every person will undoubtedly resent the interference of others in his private life and consider it an injury for which damages will be due. But those rights which a man demands for himself, he must also be willing to allow to others, the principle of equality must be respected. It would be unreasonable to disown the social reciprocity upon which our own rights are based.
It is true that there exists a number of very domineering and interfering people, but a little thought will show the absurdity of the suggestion that one person should control or manage the organism of another person. In the first place, this simply cannot be done; and, in the second place, no person can really take the responsibility for such interference. Any man who by compulsion or persuasion leads another person to undertake a certain action is undoubtedly liable to make good any injurious consequences that may ensue from such action; but nobody can take upon himself the worries or humiliations of others. Conversely, nobody will ever suffer any loss by acknowledging the right to self-determination of others. The great majority of personal values cannot be transferred to others. Having the right to order his own way of living and his own actions, the individual also undertakes the responsibility for the consequences of his actions; he has no right to throw this upon the community, which must be considered is a great advantage for all his fellow-citizens. It would be a heavy yoke for us to carry if we were compelled to take part in a general solidarity, so that we should have to make up for all sorts of blunders committed by other people. We can only avoid the responsibilities of such a general solidarity by granting to every fellow-citizen the right of personal self-determination. Only in so far as a man’s right to self-determination is respected, can we expect him to manage his own affairs. Full personal responsibility and self-support can only be demanded of persons who enjoy all their rights of possession uncurtailed.
In principle, nobody can give up his right of self-determination. A contract to that effect would involve a contradiction, because a person who no longer had any authority over his own actions would at the same time be exempt from responsibility as to the keeping of the contract.
(2) The fact that every person keeps and enjoys the values which he or she has produced, causes no detriment to the rights of possession of other people. According to the principle of self-determination, any person is free to avoid producing any values, which to his fellow-citizens will give the same result as when the producer keeps the created values for his own use. To all other people the result is the same: they get nothing. Everybody will demand to keep the fruits of his own activity, and no one will admit that others have any right to claim a share of what he has produced. Even the most charitable or philanthropic person wants to decide for himself upon whom to bestow the fruits of his labour, ability and energy. We all demand in principle to have the free disposal of that which we have created or produced. Unless this is so, production will soon be very perceptibly diminished.
(3) The right of every person freely to dispose of his lawful possessions does not in any way involve a loss of property to other people. Whether I keep my possessions or pass them on to another that must to a third person be one and the same thing. All other people will in both cases have the same amount of authority over the values in question, that is: none at all.
Everybody will in his own case claim this right of free disposal, and he is therefore bound to respect the same claim when put forward by others.
(4) The values existing in nature can neither be produced by the members of a community, nor can they be rightfully acquired by anybody as his private possession, because the values had no former owner from whom he could acquire them. If ground is acquired by the right of having been cleared and cultivated, the person may be entitled to guard his right, so long as no other party makes a claim upon it or feels that his rights are being infringed. As soon as’ the claim is made, the values must be given back to joint possession against compensation for values created by means of work or other efforts, in so far as indemnification has not already been obtained through the profits gained during possession of the values in question. All natural values are pre-existent—not produced by any human being—and, therefore, they must be the joint property of the community. Where the animals are concerned, it is a question whether man is justified in possessing himself of this natural source of riches, but it is a question which lies outside of our present theme regarding the social order between man and man.
Each man’s share in the possession of the pre-existent values and in the floating values created by the general growth and development of the community cannot in principle be passed on to others, any more than one’s right of self-determination can be passed on to others. Anybody who is excluded from this joint property is without a foundation for his other rights of possession. His existence is not rooted in the earth, he may be forbidden access to trade or industry, in order to uphold life or health he may be forced into unpleasant positions of dependence, where his condition will be no better than that of a slave. No matter whether it is a minority or a majority who appropriate to themselves these joint values and keep others out of them, social equality will by this fact be annulled and thereby made invalid for all sections. As those who are excluded become outlaws, the result is that for them there exists no such thing as crime; they were freed from all social ties when illegal power took the lead.
We often hear the man in the street talking about a right which he calls “the right to live”. I have never been able anywhere to obtain a definition of this notion, but probably the meaning is that he claims, not only the 4 rights to the possession of property, but also besides these the right to demand “the dole”, assistance from the community as a whole, if he has no means of livelihood. In that case, it means that above and beyond all rights of possession, there must exist a certain relation of solidarity between all the members of a community. We must clearly realise, however, that if that is so, the bottom drops out of all right of possession. We cannot consistently have both the right of possession and the right to demand gifts from others in case of need. Real distress may be met with in some instances, but it is particularly difficult to draw the boundary line between the deserving and the undeserving poor; it will not be possible to avoid abuse. In accordance with Moral Justice, able-bodied persons who are capable of earning a livelihood have no right, whatever their age, to demand support from others; charity, philanthropy and other means of assistance must remain a matter of private initiative. If the 4 principles of right of possession are upheld, no able-bodied person can be said to be in distress, or in such need that it cannot be relieved through loans from benevolent fellow-citizens, if the borrower is known to be an honest man.
It is a different matter when the problem concerns indigent persons who are invalids of body or mind, or orphan children who have no means of support. Here the need for help from the community is real, and a certain measure of solidarity cannot under these circumstances undermine the right of possession to any alarming extent. But I do not think that the problem can be solved by these arguments, If we have to place this problem of the support of children and invalids on a firm basis, I can see no other standpoint than this: the right of possession of such helpless individuals is in advance so far reduced in value, that a certain arbitrariness cannot be avoided when the whole life of the community is based on the right of possession; it will involve a lack of equality socially for persons who are unable by their own efforts to create a basis of existence for themselves. This argument is justifiable if we can maintain that the helplessness of these persons cannot be considered as a private affair, but that it must be the duty of all to help them, in return for the full utilization of the rules for private possession as enjoyed by all able-bodied persons. If the matter is considered under the principle of preponderance, succour will not be refused; a great majority will in every community vote for public support of the needy to this extent, and thus the unwilling will be obliged to follow suit.
Chapter 4—The Limitation of State Control
The main point in a form of government building on the above mentioned principles and rules must be the boundary line between public and private affairs, in other words, the demarcation of the domain of public affairs over which the state has control.
The state is not, as many people thoughtlessly maintain, the same as the community, “all of us”; but it is a legally establis
hed and specially constituted and adapted organisation. The activities of the state in regard to the citizens are based upon its power to carry out its commands. In accordance with existing laws, the state need not make use of compromise, as the citizens have to do in their dealings with one another; it issues commands, and its power rests on its ability to see them effectuated. This cannot be otherwise so long as the raison d’être of the state is to act as the maintainer of law and order. But, even while the state is acknowledged as a powerful factor in society, it is evidently necessary to keep careful watch that the commands of the state do not deviate from the paths of justice. As the official maintainer of the lawfully established order of society, the state can only demand that which the citizens are justified in demanding of one another reciprocally and of the government which is upheld by them all together. The use of power is only morally defensible when it is done in the service of right and justice, in order to enforce obedience to the laws. If the domains submitted to the control of the state are not clearly demarcated and limited to include only such affairs as are undoubtedly of public and general interest, there will be no means of preventing arbitrary legislation.
Everywhere the idea of government by the people, of selfgovernment by the citizens of the community, has been misunderstood. If we make “government by the majority” or the “general Franchise” the chief principle and justification of the system, what really happens is that we introduce a communistic form of government, which jeopardises all fundamental civic rights by making it possible for any chance combination of people, who happen to be in the majority, to rob and tyrannize over the rest of the population. The right to vote and to obtain a majority is only a secondary right, which must be based upon clearly defined and well-founded personal rights. The right to vote is nothing but an empty notion, unless the voter is in advance the possessor of definite rights upon which the voting is based. If there exists such a thing as “private affairs”, it is obvious that the voting of other members of the community can have no influence upon such affairs. The general franchise and the consequent right to obtain a majority can only exist, if the voting concerns affairs of common ownership and common responsibility. Here only can the will of the majority prevail in accordance with the principle of preponderance; here only can the influence of the minority be annulled. Without this limitation, the government by majority is nothing but an absurdity.
Both W. v. Humboldt, Taine and Herbert Spencer have, in their time, contended against dictatorship by the majority; but their contentions had not the firm foundation of the principles of Moral Justice, and therefore they were unable to set forth with sufficient explicitness the positive basis of personal rights upon which the constitution should rest. Earlier publications on “the rights of humanity” give no suggestions for positive rules of legislation. Severin Cbristensen’s notion of what comprises the public affairs of a society was so clear and definite, that he could without hesitation point out those affairs over which the state, as the upholder of law and order, is entitled and even bound to exercise its authority. He drew up the main lines of demarcation which separates public affairs from the private concerns of the citizens. Compared to this, it is of small importance that his definition of the term “common concern” was probably too wide. Every citizen is, for instance, more or less interested in general education, temperance, the prosperity of trade or the progress of industry, and so forth. But it is unwarrantable to levy taxes for the furtherance of these matters and to use compulsion in controlling them. Nobody can claim the assistance of his fellow-citizens for the creation of future advantages; other people are not obliged to take part in his speculations on the future. It is against all rights of possession to let the wishes of the majority to produce future advantages act as a compulsion of other people. All tasks of this kind must be carried out by means of voluntary associations; this should cause no difficulty if their uses are sufficiently evident and greater than the expenditure involved. The idea that everybody is in duty bound to look after the general welfare has no reasonable foundation, it is nothing but a vague communistic assertion.
According to Moral Justice, all public or common affairs should derive from the social principles which have found expression in the rules for the possession of property. The most important matters, where the rights and liabilities of all citizens are involved, shall be set forth in the following.
(I) The judicial system. As all the legal institutions have the sole aim to effectuate the just claims, private or public, of every member of the community, and as this task, according to the principle of equality, should be carried out in an impartial and uniform manner in every part of the country, there can be no doubt that the administration of justice must be a public affair, and that the expenses incurred should be shared equally by all. It is impossible to determine whether the judicial system has greater value for one person than for another or for certain sections of the community. The man who finds no occasion to make use of the courts of justice still enjoys the same protection as the man who happens to suffer injury and therefore seeks the assistance of the law. Each man only gets what is due to him.
Many good reasons can be advanced for introducing free administration of justice in all cases where it is not a question of vexatious litigation. It is not a special prerogative to obtain what is rightfully due to one; and if a man equally with all others pays his share of the expenditure involved in the administration of justice, it may seem unreasonable to him that he should have to pay extra in order to have his case heard and judgment pronounced. Unless the courts of justice are freely accessible to all, there is no doubt that the poorer sections of the people and those who are unacquainted with the intricacies of legal procedure will not enjoy the same advantages as the rich and the more knowing.
Amongst the social problems which Severin Cbristensen has treated most thoroughly may be mentioned criminal law. In general, the interest of the authorities is centred around the criminal, while the innocent man against whom the offence has been committed is left out of consideration. The chief aim of the criminal proceedings ought on the contrary to be this: to see that the injured party obtained full reparation from the offender. The penalty should, therefore, as far as possible consist in the offender being compelled to compensate, by his labour or by other means, for loss and injury suffered by the offended party, and to pay the expenses incurred by the authorities in dealing with his case. Such a penalty will not only have a deterrent effect, but it will be an excellent lesson in fairness and integrity to the offender. The attempts of modern criminologists to improve persons with criminal tendencies seem to be as unwise as they could be. By being locked up in prisons and cut off from all the normal social relationships, by being placed under supervision and deprived of many rights, the criminal does not learn to develop a social disposition; on the contrary, he is pushed farther into isolation and narrowmindedness. Criminals receive, apparently as a kind of reward, their maintenance at the expense of the public, and thus they do not learn to understand that an inevitable and unbreakable connection exists between liberty and responsibility, between the right of possession and the duty of self-support. Such methods are much more likely to induce persons of weak intellect and ineffective training to become lawless and fraudulent.
During payment of the debt involved by the crime, it will probably be most practical to leave persons, who are not dangerous to the public security, a certain measure of freedom, but with the prospect of imprisonment if the prescribed conditions are not fulfilled.
(2) The management of common possessions. The importance of the pre-existent natural values in social economics especially finds expression in the valuation of the ground. The utilisation of these values will probably be most profitable if the areas are given into private possession against an annual rent, the groundrent, which should be fixed periodically by a public and uniform valuation on the basis of demand and supply. In this way the owner possesses his property as securely as by private ownership, it being agreed that the state cannot give him notice as long as the groundrent is duly paid. Appropriation of private ground for public uses can only take place in cases where it is indisputably required for the management of common affairs. The right of all to equal possession of the natural values is fulfilled by the whole sum of the groundrent being assigned to the people with an equal share to all, without regard to age, sex or occupation—which means in other words, that this revenue can be used to defray the expenses of the various public and municipal institutions.
(3) The system of ways and communications. Unless there exists a satisfactory system of public roads and other means of communication allowing of the free intercourse of traffic and trade, the possession of property cannot be made equally profitable to all. At the present day we are inextricably involved in a widely ramified division of labour within trade and industry, and in a utilisation of property which demands access to a well-ordered and convenient system of communications and transport of goods. The division of the expenses entailed, and the limitation of public control in this respect involve a number of problems which are too intricate to be treated in detail here.
(4) The financial system. Under the present system, we are all obliged to use money as a general means of exchange in selling the products of our labour or our services; and, in order to work satisfactorily, this means of exchange must rest on a firm and stable basis. Free competition cannot be a safeguard of sound economics, if the financial system is not regulated in such a way that it avoids causing fluctuations in the prices of the goods under negotiation. Therefore, the financial system must be controlled by the state, and the revenue from the financial monopoly shall devolve on all in equal shares. The result of this will to a certain extent be the socialization of the interest on capital.
(5) The sanitary system. The public security, which is needful to all in order that they may enjoy the rights of possession, includes also sanitation; we must be able to move about freely without running the risk of infection or other unhealthy influences. This security cannot be obtained without the aid of a public sanitary board, whose work should, however, mainly be of a preventive nature. The expenditure on a general system of sanitation may rightly be shared equally by all, and everybody must submit to the demands of hygiene which the sanitary board finds it necessary to issue. The same considerations hold good where danger of fire is concerned, especially in the towns.
(6) The care of persons who are unable to support themselves. Children who have no parents and no means of support, and persons who are unable to work and who have not had occasion by means of an insurance to secure for themselves a sufficient subsistence, would run the risk of having no rights at all, which is contrary to the fundamental idea, that the administration of justice shall be available to all, and they must therefore be looked after by the community. Also, the citizens must be secured against danger from persons who are not responsible for their actions, such as lunatics and imbeciles. But, in accordance with the coherence between liberty and responsibility, it would be unjustifiable on the part of the community to put anybody under guardianship without at the same time providing for his support.
(7) Supervision of monopolies. As the fixing of prices according to demand and supply under free competition is the only way that agrees with the principle of equality, it will be unwarrantable for the authorities to grant monopolies, unless they at the same time assure the consumers against exploitation by the owners of the monopoly.
(8) Supervision of natural values (such as shores, forests, etc.) and of public property (parks, museums, objects or buildings of historical interest, etc.). It would be an infringement of the rights of those persons—part-owners of the property—who wish such values to be preserved, to let them fall into decay. The acquisition of such values should at certain intervals be ratified by renewed voting as to whether they shall continue to be preserved. New acquisitions (also in the form of gifts) whose preservation will entail the expenditure of money or labour, can only be accepted by the community after the matter has been put to the vote.
(9) Defence against invasion. The defence of the individual against the infringement of his rights, and the defence of the community against invasion from outside are alike in this respect, that they both aim at upholding the existing rules for the possession of property. In principle there can be no doubt, therefore, that the citizen can demand of the government to take up this question and have it put to the vote like other questions of common interest. And it is equally certain that the measures to be undertaken for defence against invasion cannot be left to private associations. Such associations may have the air of a challenge to other nations and thus become a source of danger to their own country; further, the equipment of private corps with weapons and ammunition etc. may have the effect of a threat to the security of their fellow-countrymen. For this and other reasons, the defence of the country against invasion from outside should be controlled by the government in accordance with the votes of the majority.
The compulsory conscription of troops can never be justified; that kind of encroachment upon the personal liberty of men cannot possibly be based on the consent of the majority. In all questions of public interest the measures adopted must be equal for all, the burdens should not be thrown on to certain sections of the people, while the rest go free. Equality and the right of voting corresponds with the obligation to take part in discarding the measures adopted.
It may be taken for granted in advance, without asking the opinion of the majority, that all the inhabitants of the country will have to unite against any violation of their rights by outside powers. The devastation caused by an invasion will have to be borne by all, as the act of violence must be regarded as an attack on the territory, the rightful possession of the whole community. The individuals who happen to suffer the heaviest loss cannot be condemned to bear alone the depreciation caused to their property.
(10) Tribunal for the administration of justice. A tribunal, consisting partly of experts and partly of laymen, shall be established to settle questions of doubt which may arise when carrying out in practice the principles of Moral Justice, and to see that the authority of the state is not extended beyond the limits set by the laws of the constitution. I shall not here deal with the different systems which have been considered for controlling the election of members for this tribunal in a satisfactory manner. It should not be impossible to formulate such a system.
(11) Joint government by the members of the community. As every citizen can assert his rights of possession or of authority where any common interest is concerned, all citizens must have equal access to take part in the government of the state when they are of age and in so far as they are not indebted to the community by infringements of the law. No one can be compelled to take part in the administration; anybody is allowed to leave part of his possessions untended.
In practice, the great majority of the electors will be unable to take part personally in the administration; and, therefore, they must be given the opportunity to vote through a representative who is willing to undertake the responsibility. Social equality entails that the elector is allowed to vote for any fellow-citizen who is entitled to take part in the administration, and that the influence of the representatives upon the various questions shall correspond with the number of electors he represents. If the assembly of representatives becomes so numerous, that the number of speeches, bills and amendments brought forward become a hindrance to the effective administration of the constitution, a reduction of the number, in accordance with the principle of preponderance, will be required, in order that the care of the public affairs shall not to an unreasonable extent be delayed or made burdensome to the members. If this necessitates the exclusion of some of the representatives, the number of their electors being under a certain minimum, it must be seen to, by means of a transfer of votes, that no elector is excluded from representation.
Members of the political party, the League of Moral Justice of Denmark, have discussed the problem as to whether the governing representatives have the right to vote for a larger annual amount of expenditure than the amount of the joint revenue (the groundrent and the financial monopoly). According to the principle of Moral Justice, there cannot, in my opinion, exist any relation between the joint expenditure of the community and the revenue. The latter shall in principle be shared equally by all, the former shall be raised by means of a uniform tax per head, a poll-tax. That the joint revenue may be used to defray any public expenditure voted for by the governing representatives is admitted by all. But the question is: can any expenditure in excess of this sum be levied by compulsory taxation? To deny this would mean setting an arbitrary and irrelevant limit to the governing majority’s right of deciding over the affairs of the community. When the majority vote for an expenditure for the benefit of all, the minority are obliged to pay their share, otherwise the institution of joint government would be overthrown, and the foundation on which the rule by Moral Justice is built would be jeopardised. And why should such a limitation be fixed? There is no danger that the governing majority will vote for excessive grants because, when the public benefits are paid equally by all, it will be just as in private life: nobody pays for more than he or she receives, and nobody is compelled to pay for others. All that the majority can compel the minority to do is to make a purchase, which most of the voters wish to make for themselves, considering it an advantageous undertaking. This compulsion follows automatically on the fact that all concerns are joint. Nothing is taken from one person and given to another, all receive the same benefits and pay the same price.
By this demarcation of the domain of public affairs and of the extent of the control exercised by the majority and by the state, Severin Christensen has added a much required supplement to the teachings of the physiocrats, Henry George and other writers on social economics and the rights of the people to the utilisation of the earth. All is not done by seeing that the annual ground-rent is paid into the exchequer; it is also necessary to arrange for the proper use of the revenue, so that it is employed for the benefit of all.
As a commentary to the common affairs of the community it may be useful to call attention to the great difference which exists, in a moral sense, between the utilisation of possessions and the defence of rights or possessions. The latter is of the greatest social importance, while the former is in principle a private matter which can only concern others in so far as their rights are infringed or their possessions made use of. If a man pays to the state and to his creditors what is due to them, nobody has any right to interfere with him or to ask what use he makes of his time, his abilities or his capital. The utilisation of his possessions tends only to procure future values, over which the producer has sole right of disposal. On the other hand, the defence of rights or possessions is turned towards the past, in the sense that they evolve from existing facts and rest on presuppositions. Questions of right are not concerned with that which does not yet exist but has only been planned—unless the plans are of a criminal character.
It follows from this that no member of the community can fairly be compelled to contribute to measures to be taken for the progress of culture or civilization (except the repeal of unjust social laws). Where steps in the direction of the furtherance of civilization are concerned, the risk is always involved that they may bring in their train many other changes besides those anticipated. There is always an element of hazard involved. Of course, a governing majority, however large, has no right whatever to force fellow-citizens who are not of their opinion to take part in such ventures. It is no use pointing to the necessity of all standing together. If it is not a matter of common concern such as hygiene, the progress of civilization must be left to the voluntary efforts of the individuals and to education; and if it has a sufficient basis in the requirements of the population, it will come in time. Guardianship on the part of the authorities or the majority is not only an unwarranted infringement of personal liberty, but it is directly harmful; it “damps all real interest and destroys private initiative by taking upon itself the advancement of cultural life. The demand that all efforts in the service of civilization shall be freed from interference on the part of the state is based on the conviction that civilization will be best served in this way. To cram people with culture and education is no use at all; such values can only be acquired and rendered fertile by the person who voluntarily seeks them, otherwise the attempt will only be a failure. If the state is to be the leader of culture, the risk is very grave that the people will receive only that kind of food for the mind which happens to accord with the interests of those who are for the moment in authority—a truly terrible prospect for the progress of culture!
For the same reasons the church should be separated from the state. Religious teaching can only attain its true spiritual authority if it builds solely on the spontaneous support of men and women. By seeking the assistance of the state, the church disowns its true character, which should be purely spiritual.
All parents must—whether they are married or not—have full authority over and full responsibility for, the upbringing and education of their children. In this case also, the guardianship of the state has a disturbing and unfavourable effect. By placing the schools and education generally under the control of the ruling majority, we get the rather absurd state of affairs that all electors, even those who have no children, are given authority over other people’s children, while no father or mother will have any influence worth mentioning on the public education of their own children. The sole duty of the state is to see that parents do not by palpable neglect of their children fail in their responsibility towards them; and from social considerations the state can demand that all children shall receive some measure of knowledge: the necessary skill in reading, writing and arithmetic, which every member of a civilized community must posses in order to be able to read and sign contracts, play the part of buyer or seller, in short take up his position in social life as an independent and responsible person.
It is equally evident that the state has no right to demand contributions from any citizen for the advancement of trade or industry. The members of each particular industry know best themselves what is to their advantage, and they have no right to claim help in this direction from other branches of industry. The only duty of the state in this respect is to see that the different industries do not harm each other by underhand methods tending to destroy free competition.
Chapter 5.—Moral Justice and the Individual
The differentiation between private and public affairs can’t be made by ascertaining whether a matter is of general interest or concerns a larger or smaller section of the community, but only by ascertaining under whose authority the control of the affair rests. All matters coming under a person’s right of self-determination are of private character. From the point of view of Moral Justice the two main points are (1) that the person’s consent is freely given, that all promises and agreements are voluntarily entered upon; and (2) that the agreements and contracts are kept as promised. The making of agreements, the giving of promises, and in some cases of information, partake of the nature of a transfer of property. Everybody has a right to be defended as far as possible against compulsion and dishonesty on the part of his fellows; that must be included in the general acknowledgment of the rules for the possession of property. I shall by way of example sketch out a few of the most important matters which must be regarded as private affairs.
(1). Liberty of thought and of opinion. According to the right of self-determination, no man need be accountable to others for his thoughts, he need not tell anybody else what he thinks, no one can make such a demand upon him. Similarly, opinions and beliefs, including religious beliefs, are personal property, which a man can expect and demand shall be left in peace. Such convictions may be just as indispensable for the conscious life of the individual, as his muscles are indispensable for his bodily activities. I cannot demand of others that they should take an interest in my opinions and views, they have every right to dismiss them as being of no consequence or of no interest to them; but it is a violation of my right of possession if anybody attacks them with scorn or abuse. It is quite another matter if I am aggressive and start proselytising and trying to make others see my point of view. By so doing I have brought my opinions to the market-place, where anybody is allowed to contend against them in fair fight. Here they must be considered as belonging to social life, and not as a part of the individual organism.
(2). Liberty to form unions and associations. Full liberty to form unions and associations is only a further application of the right of the individual to make over property and establish co-operation with others. But, of course, all unions and organisations must confine their activities within the framework laid down by the statutes of the country. As in the case of individuals, unions should never enter upon activities that aim at gaining advantages by encroaching upon the rights of others. Co-operation between private persons should grow out of the free individual choice of the participants, and each person has the right to discontinue the relations when he pleases, unless promises or concessions of a binding nature have been given. In such relations, be it conversation, social intercourse or friendship, the individual’s liberty is limited only by the mutual agreement of the parties. On the other hand, the individual’s sense of responsibility should be especially alive, because the protection of common law has naturally but little influence in the case of such complicated personal relationships, with their indefinable precedents and previous history. It will therefore be a matter of personal honour to be tactful rather than aggressive, and loyally to keep promises even if these have not been exactly formulated. Social principles and rights of ownership ‘indicate clearly the lines of demarcation not to be transgressed. In the following I shall mention some of the relationships met with in private life.
(3). Liberty of speech and of propaganda. Applications and appeals from other persons are often troublesome. Propaganda is generally aggressive. Questions may be so formed that they take the shape of an extortion. Every unprovoked application from others makes a demand on the time of the person concerned, and often it proves to be an attempt to burden him with affairs that he does not wish to be troubled with. Such acts must certainly be considered as encroachments on personal liberty. However, this is a sphere of social life where there may be some reason to grant dispensations from the rules of ownership. We are all in need of such dispensations. Otherwise the intercourse between people would suffer under too narrow restrictions. The interchange of goods, in which we are all interested, necessitates the permission to make applications; nobody should be barred access to a livelihood. Such freedom of speech is permissible when we regard it as a bargain, a mutual concession to the advantage of all concerned. On the grounds of general necessity it may be assumed that the advantages will outweigh the burdens. On this motivation follows that every man must see to it that he does not exceed the limits of what is customary and required in each instance. The propagandist abuses his licence if he trespasses too widely on the time of his audience, or attempts to impose upon them a wholly one-sided view, thus provoking them to come to a too hasty conclusion. The idea of freedom of speech does not mean that people should lose the habit of thinking for themselves. Problems should be regarded from every significant viewpoint, conscious concealment or suppression of facts is an attempt at imposture. If we discourage our neighbour, destroy his self-confidence or his belief in others, we impair values belonging to him. Even if we believe or feel convinced that he is building on unreliable tenets, we have no right to attack his convictions. Where spiritual values are concerned, we are not justified in judging others by ourselves. To undermine the feelings or religious beliefs of others may be just as harmful to them as to impair their physical health or destroy their material possessions.
(4). Abuse of alcoholic drinks. It is not always easy, where many of the domains of personal liberty are concerned, to draw definite limits as to how far such liberty can be extended without entailing misuse. That is so where the use of alcohol is concerned. This cannot be regarded as a private matter altogether. People who are under the influence of alcohol often cause molestation and annoyance to others, they may even be dangerous to their surroundings, and they will be more likely to fail in their obligations to the state and to their felIowcitizens than more sober and reliable persons. I shall not further pursue these possibilities but only point to two facts. Firstly, as it is very difficult to fix the boundary line between liberty and abuse, legislation should apply only to cases of definite transgressions. And, secondly, these should be prevented, not by direct prohibition, but by making the perpetrator responsible for his acts. Both the offenders and the unoffending will suffer under prohibition; but laws which make only the perpetrator responsible will punish the guilty for their offences without restricting the personal liberty of other citizens.
(5). Intellectual and spiritual intercourse. Our intercourse with other people, the exchange of thoughts and ideas, friendship, and so on, must be considered as a voluntary exchange of gifts. The participators both give and receive; but one person may very well give less than another, everything should be freely offered. Undoubtedly, such intercourse is most valuable when a certain equality prevails between the members, but it must be left to each person to assert himself. The principle of equality has no application here, where there is only question of a free exchange of gifts. The only means of defending oneself against subjugation and disdain in society is to break off the connection and seek other and more congenial companions. I have no right to complain if I do not meet with the understanding, sympathy or active kindness which I might expect in return for the friendliness I have shown.
Artists and authors have no right to complain of the scant understanding which their works receive from the public. The receptiveness and the susceptibility of a person must be a private matter, where others have no right to interfere, and he must be allowed to form his own estimation of what the artist has to offer him. A man can only claim the esteem and recognition of his fellow when he has produced something which is of value to them. Exceptions to these rules are officially appointed critics distributors of legacies and prizes or professional authorities ho are paid by the state. These are not in the same position as the great public. They have taken on a task of a special character and, therefore, they are not free to judge or to act according to their own narrow personal opinion or their own pleasure.
(6). Unveracity, unreliability. The illegality of falsehood or hypocrisy arises from the circumstance that we lead others to act on wrong or faulty suppositions and thus they may become subject to loss or ridicule. In giving another person information, which I have reason to believe that he will use in his conduct of life, I have a similar responsibility for the correctness and reliability of the information as the merchant has for the quality of the goods which he sells to trusting customers. To be led astray by unreliable information may cause more serious harm to a man than having his pockets picked. It cannot be condoned as a practical joke. If I have reason to believe that the person receiving the information will make practical use of it, I have no excuse and cannot avoid my responsibility.
(7). Obligation to children. As children are not responsible for their own genesis and as they are unable to support themselves or guide their own education, the parents are in duty bound to care for them during childhood, This obligation ceases when the children reach adult age, when they should normally be able to carry on their existence by means of their own activity and on their own responsibility. Until this time the children have the right, if the parents die, to inherit such part of the property left as will enable the children to finish their training or education in preparation to leading an independent existence. Beyond this, parents should be allowed by testament to dispose freely of what they leave.
Apart from the costs involved in the transfer of property left by deceased persons, the state has no morally justified claim to death duties. If it is recognised that the property rightly belonged to deceased, there can from a moral point of view be no reason why the state (i.e. fellow-citizens) should at his death suddenly acquire a partial right of ownership that did not previously exist. If the laws of the state in other cases permit a free transfer of values—by trade, exchange, as gifts etc.—the same permission must be granted in the special case where the values are transferred from a deceased to a living person.
(8). Free competition. It is an oft debated question whether the prices of goods and services shall be considered as a matter of social interest,—coming under the control of the legislative and governing authorities, or whether all prices and wages should be fixed by private agreement according to the fluctuations in the market and the conditions of supply and demand. In accordance with Moral Justice, the question must be settled on the basis of the principle that every citizen shall enjoy economic equality and, as far as equality permits, economic liberty with full responsibility for his own actions. The answer will, therefore, depend upon whether economical equality can be attained through unrestricted competition.
Before considering this point, it will be useful to look at the most frequent transgressions of the rule of free competition and the principle of economic equality. As a rule, their aim is to tide over temporary difficulties, or to make the most of some suddenly appearing chance or opportunity. When the governing authorities fix certain prices for goods or certain wages for labour and bid private businessmen follow their dictates, such prices will always to some degree be arbitrary and partial. The intention is simply to bring pressure to bear upon one of the parties, either the buyer or the seller —and this is undeniably a violation of the principle of equality. The same will be true when the state influences the prices by indirect means, such as customs duties or other restrictions; such measures invariably favour one party and lay arbitrary burdens on another, and contracts based on them do not offer equal conditions for all concerned. The same applies to the formation of trusts, the spreading of false or alarming rumours, and so forth. Only in one instance can interference in the fixing of prices be justifiable, that is when some economical disturbance has abolished equality and disturbed free competition. (We may mention such causes of disturbance as a strike or lock-out in a neighbouring country, or an acute lack of certain goods). In such cases it will be warrantable for the authorities to take measures for the reestablishment of economic equality and the re-enforcement of free competition.
Opponents of the principle of free competition (i.e. the demand that all prices shall be fixed solely on the basis of the activities of free and responsible citizens) maintain that this economic system does not uphold equality but leads to unfair conditions similar to those mentioned above. They assert that giving free play to the economic forces will particularly favour the capitalists as against the poorer sections of the people, and that a door is opened to speculators, who may gain huge profits at the cost of producers and consumers. We must, therefore, look further into this matter and see what means each citizen has, under free competition, of holding his own in the economic struggle.
First, we must see what is meant by economic equality and political equality. The task of providing uniform economical conditions for all cannot, by the very nature of the case, be the same as giving all an equal influence in politics. Political questions must be settled by voting—each citizen being considered as part-owner or shareholder—that is the only possible way. The demands of equality are satisfied when all citizens have obtained an equal right to vote. Thereafter, it is the private concern of each citizen to make use of his rights and of the influence that has been given him by availing himself of his right to vote and his liberty of speech. If he does not succeed in having things arranged according to his wishes, he will have to submit to the decisions of the majority. Where economic affairs are concerned, the matter is somewhat different. Here it is a question of values possessed by private persons. The buyer and the seller are the owners of the values exchanged; the transaction must be carried out by the voluntary agreement of both, and no one else can have any say in the matter, if the right of private possession is to be respected. To put the matter to the vote and let the majority decide would in such a case be ridiculous. If prices—including wages and salaries and the purchasing power of money—were to be fixed by general voting, the majority would be in a position to exercise an oppressive influence on those sections which were in a minority. Economic equality can only be obtained by creating uniform conditions for all, so that buyer and seller have equal chances. To obtain uniform conditions for all, the fixing of prices must, in the case of both parties, rest on the same basis.—
How can we obtain such uniform conditions, a way of fixing prices which favours equally all the parties in the economic exchange?
The main point in the question of economic equality is that it takes two parties to make a bargain, and that each one of them is interested, not only in the price to be paid, but also in the purchasing power of the money, which latter is entirely dependent upon all other prices in the market at a given moment. How can the demand be fulfilled that both parties are to negotiate on an equal footing? The answer is that the proper price, satisfying the demand for equal economic rights, is the one arrived at through the free negotiation s and agreement of the parties, on a background of the free demand and supply valid for all citizens at the time. The values are thus weighed in the same balance. Free competition implies these conditions and should lead to an equal scale of payment for all products and all services, because all prices are based on a mutual valuation in which all citizens take part. What any person is to obtain for his economical contributions, and what he is to pay for those of others, is thus determined by the choice of all citizens acting freely and responsibly. This reciprocity is in fact a relation of solidarity. Every person obtains through his offers and his demands the opportunity to make use of his economic franchise, every day brings a new opportunity to vote, and all values are weighed on the same balance. No one obtains higher wages or cheaper prices than his fellows are agreed to, considering all the other offers in the market.
The idea of this form of determining prices is that the citizens are to vote egoistically. Under free competition there is no need to remind people that “we are all in the same boat.” The economical adjustment of the various trades to one another will take place automatically, and after disturbances that may occur, the balance is best readjusted if everybody “minds his own business” and looks after his own advantages. No one can acquire an exceptionally large income except by offering his fellow-citizens exceptionally advantageous conditions, either better goods or cheaper prices—and this is for the benefit of all.
In economic transactions, just an in political elections, it must be left to each participator to assert his right of equality. The community is not under any liability to look after the fools, or to take over the responsibility for the uneconomical dispositions of certain groups or sections of the people. This would lead to a mixing up of political and economic rights, the result of which can never be economic equality. Each part and section of the finances of a country is dependent upon and tied up with every other part; in the last instance, all the tiny threads of the economical and financial life of a community are involved in one intricate system; each price is dependent upon a larger or smaller number of other prices and various conditions on the market. If a man demands economic liberty, he must also take the full responsibility for his decisions. For instance, if a man is free to choose the kind of work he will do and to manage his career as he pleases, he cannot expect the state to help him bear the consequences of his actions.
The poorer sections of the community will have to find means to assert themselves against the capitalists. This may be done by forming organisations. Producers and consumers will have to defend their interests against speculators. Against all kinds of financial abuse there is no better weapon than absolutely free competition, combined with education and a sensible use of the right to vote on financial matters. Prices will in this manner be controlled much more effectively and sanely than by means of political votes and state control of trade and industry. Such control will always be partial and lead to a lack of responsibility in financial affairs.
If everybody has his social and economic conditions to a certain extent mapped out for him by the votings of his fellowcitizens, the result of this will be a relation of solidarity, entailing that no single person can acquire exceptionally large fortunes by means of production or trade, without at the same time adding to the profits of his customers by giving them economical advantages, i.e. better offers than they receive from anybody else. Whether the choice of the consumer is always the wisest must be his own affair; as no one has any right to interfere, no one can be made responsible. The system of free competition cannot bear the responsibility for consequences which are brought about by people’s lack of insight or forethought. Either we must introduce state control, or the public must be left free to run after humbugs and fraudulently advertised goods. The right to blunder is, in so far as the person himself takes the consequences, in principle just as sacrosanct as the right to be, for instance, hard-working or thrifty.
The opponents of the system of free competition point out that it has not hitherto in any democratic state led to the wealth of the country being fairly equally divided according to thrift, industry or efficiency. The result of giving free play’ to the economic forces has everywhere been the same: that a few gain large fortunes, which bear no relation at all to the work yielded, while the great majority of the people, who do the hard work and carry on the many small concerns and trades, only earn very meagre incomes. But this argument does not hold good, for the simple reason that absolutely free competition has never been tested in any country—only fragments of economic liberty and equality, with a correspondingly fragmentary responsibility, have been tried. In the democratic countries of the present day, free competition exists only in mutilated form, restricted and cut down out of all recognition. It is no wonder, therefore, that the results are far from coming up to the theoretical expectations. The political vote has in all countries destroyed the economical vote by preventing it from asserting its rightful influence. State control and monopolies in favour of certain classes have exerted an arbitrary influence on the prices and acted as a drain through which the earnings of the great majority of the people have been sucked into the pockets of a few profiteers. In the case of Denmark, which has a population of c. 4,000,000, social economists have computed this drainage at 500 million Kroner or £25,000,000 per annum at the lowest reckoning. As long as there exists such excessive incomes, to which corresponds no effort or work rendered, it is no wonder that heavy taxes have to be levied in order to alleviate the keenest distress among the lower classes. Such an ‘economic system is a hindrance to any true economic equality; special prerogatives granted to the upper classes necessitate special concessions to the indigent in the form of “the dole”, The result is a twofold artificial pressure on the industrial life of the country; the prices are arbitrarily fixed, and on the background of this the monopolies of the tradeunions thrive, acting as a further disturber of the economic conditions. In other countries we see the same thing—everywhere economic equality and liberty have been mutilated.
(9). Strikes and lockouts. In all countries, public opinion is taking up a rather vague and vacillating attitude to the continually smouldering civil wars between organised labour and employers. Generally, the judgments on these controversies are utterly partial, either to one side or the other. And it must be admitted that the relations are so complicated that only in very few cases is it possible to determine what is warrantable, and what is arbitrary use of power.
In accordance with Moral Justice, all contracts regarding the buying and selling of labour must be voluntarily entered upon. Any man should be permitted to say “no” and leave his job. Similarly, the right to form organisations is part of the personal liberty which every man can claim as his right. It would apparently follow from this that a strike including the whole of one or more branches of industry would be warrantable. But when it is a question of ceasing work altogether in a whole branch of industry, involving a large section of the work of the community, another principle is brought into play, which has not hitherto been mentioned. It is based on the division of labour in which we are all, by the force of circumstances, compelled to take part. The division of labour rests on an unwritten law, a tacit understanding amongst all citizens: that each specialised branch of production is bound to play its part in the collective production. All taken together, they form a whole, a system of mutual demand and supply.
If one or more of these sections cease work, it is evident that the other sections in the system of supply and demand will be placed at a disadvantage; suddenly they are unable to obtain the goods they need, their activity is paralysed and their very existence is jeopardised. It is a breach of the universal rule upon which all sections of industry rely. The letting-down of the other branches in the co-operation is so much more serious, because no strike or lock-out would be possible, if the labourers in other branches did not continue their work and thus served as a base of supplies for the warring armies. Those branches of industry who continue work not only have to bear the disturbances caused by the strike, but they also have to help in keeping up the struggle to their own detriment; officially they are expected to keep “neutral”. And, further, as a rule the costs of war are levied from all classes in the form of higher prices when the strike is over. Altogether, the laying down of work results in three abuses against the rest of society.
However, in order to judge strikes and lock-outs fairly, we must look at them from a more comprehensive point of view. The social background must be included in our considerations. In communities where economic equality is denied and violated by existing prerogatives of certain classes, we cannot hope to find respect for the unwritten laws among those classes who have to bear the burden of the injustice of the written laws. That would be contrary to the principle of social reciprocity. The fault lies with the political parties who maintain those injustices in the social order which are the true cause of the labour conflicts. If these injustices are abolished, strikes and lockouts will automatically cease, they will no longer pay, but will be considered as an absurd waste of values. There is surely no other way of ridding the countries of these scourges.
(10). Interest on capital. In accordance with rule 3. for the possession of property, every person has the right to make over his property to others and by mutual agreement effectuate an exchange of values. To prohibit interest on capital must be considered a violation of the right of ownership. It would mean imposing punishment in the shape of restrictions upon hardworking and thrifty citizens. And, as a device for the furtherance of the general welfare, such prohibition would be a failure. It would be much easier to evade this rule than it has been to evade the prohibition of alcoholic drinks; and the result would probably be that the interest payable by borrowers would be much heavier than it is now. Even if it were possible to enforce the prohibition, the development of economics would by this means receive a check, and the expected advantages would be missed.
If the “yoke of capitalism” is to be avoided, other ways must be found. Social justice—the abolition of private monopolies, state-control of prices and the cutting-down of the purchasing power of wages—is, in connection with free organisations, quite sufficient to put the two warring factors of worker and capitalist on an equal footing.
All true capital consists of saved-up profits on work performed. Under private monopoly of the land a kind of false capital is formed, which does not represent any effort; it is nothing but capital drawn on the expectations of future income, i.e. the ground-rent which is paid to the owner of the land, simply on the strength of a document. The consequence is that, when the land changes owner, it is bought and paid for with capital, which is afterwards offered as loans and confounded with true capital. Thereby the annual percentage of interest is raised, which productive work has to yield before the labourers’ wages can be paid. If the payment for the mere access to the use of the land did not fall to the individual seller, but was paid into the exchequer, taxes (the poll-tax) could be reduced to a corresponding extent. Interest on false capital would then return to the rightful owners of the land (i.e. all members of the community) in the shape of public benefits. Thus, the chances of saving capital would be increased, and the interest on capital would be reduced; also, the security offered by borrowers would be greater, and associations on an economical basis could more easily be formed.
(11). The problem of unemployment. If the individual is allowed to choose his own work, and he himself is responsible for the efficiency, diligence and care with which it is carried out, it seems unwarrantable to demand that the community shall help him, if it happens now and again that there is not sufficient employment to give to all who wish to work at this particular trade or profession.
But it is necessary to mention again that this rule is only morally valid in communities where free competition is fully realised. If the social order is warped by unfair conditions, with the result that the national industry is partly paralysed, the unemployed are perfectly right in pointing out that the responsibility has been taken out of their hands. In countries with a democratic constitution, it must be the duty of the ruling majority to procure an altogether just and fair social order and to prevent any kind of class-rule. Only when social equality has been introduced does the individual’s full responsibility for his private decisions on economical matters come into function. All citizens who, by their political votes, contribute to the maintenance of monopolies, arbitrary control of prices and other restraints on industry, must take the consequence of such action by helping to support those who, through no fault of their own, suffer from unemployment for any length of time. It is simply a fine, which such citizens have incurred by using their political vote for unjust purposes.
The payment of political debts can be demanded with the same right as the payment of private debts. Social morality must be the same in public life as in private life, in the relations between individuals. To acknowledge two kinds of morality, one in politics and another in all other transactions, is an absurdity.
Chapter 6—Remarks on So-Called Practical Politics
For two decades the adherents of the ideas set forth in the present book have participated in political life in Denmark by sending representatives to the Danish parliament. During these years, our ideas have met with very little direct contradiction from the other political parties, no one has been able to deny the justice of our aims. The reason is probably that a direct frontal attack would have meant an open repudiation of the generally recognised democratic tenets—which in Denmark would be a very risky undertaking. The objections raised are chiefly that the introduction of the proposed form of constitution would meet with serious difficulties, and that such a constitution, under the stress of the extremely variable international relations, would probably expose even the most peaceful nation to heavy losses and dangers. The warp and woof of life, it is said, are entangled in a so complicated and uncertain pattern, that it cannot be made to accord with a system of rules based on a few principles. The social structure must always be thoroughly plastic, so that it may be reformed, now at one point, now at another, according to the requirements of the moment, otherwise no nation will be able to cope with its inner difficulties and meet the storms from outside. Our opponents have also pointed out that the legislative authorities in all democratic countries are year in year out busily employed in introducing fragmentary amendments, whereby existing laws are repealed and others substituted. Such a procedure would be unreasonable if the rules for the citizens’ social rights and duties could be laid down once and for all.
By these assertions democracy has disavowed and set aside the former idea of the rights of humanity—an inviolable foundation for the individual’s existence—and has instead adopted a regime of coercion, namely the tyranny of the majority over the minorities, in reality a kind of communism.
The hackneyed phrases about the general good employed by the professional politicians when speaking to their electors have not been able to check this development. It soon became apparent that the political parties in order to gain the desired influence had to catch the attention of the electors by appealing to their class egoism. Soon the methods of buying votes and of making political bargains came into use, and these methods have constantly been in force behind the scenes. This automatically leads to a state of affairs where the dominating influence is concentrated in the hands of a few persons.
This form of “practical politics”, which is always extolled as true democracy, is not only demoralising, but it has destroyed one of the fundamental principles of democracy: the independent understanding, insight and opinions of the electors. The game of politics has been made more complicated than a game of chess-a continuous interaction between a number of variable factors, which it is impossible for the plain man to follow and the ultimate consequences of which he cannot foresee. The electors are as a rule forced to go to the polls blindfold and to rely on what is dinned into their ears. The way has been prepared for demagogic enterprises, for the increasing power of the vulgar instincts, for despotism of the masses.
The leading politicians themselves are not able to see their way clear or foresee the consequences of their acts. Like the electors, they are in many respects ignorant and powerless to control the forces they have undertaken to guide. Blind themselves, they contend to lead other blind. That anyone man should be able to plan and act on behalf of a whole nation is a utopian idea. This is the opinion of the most experienced men. For instance, Winston Churchill has said: “Even now the Parliaments of every country have shown themselves quite inadequate to deal with the economic problems which dominate the affairs of every nation and of the world … Democracy as a guide or motive to progress has long been known to be incompetent … Democratic governments drift along the line of least resistance, taking short views, paying their way with sops and doles and smoothing their path with pleasant sounding platitudes … We have the spectacle of the powers and weapons of man far outstripping the march of his intelligence; we have the march of his intelligence proceeding far more rapidly than the development of his nobility. We may well find ourselves in the presence of “the strength of civilization without its mercy” (“Thoughts and adventures”, 1933, pag. 278-279).
No democratic politician would deny the validity of the principle of equality, but parliamentary rule violates this principle time after time. Taxes are levied chiefly on certain sections of the population, while the rest go free. Income-tax and property-tax are special burdens laid on the diligent and the thrifty—as if the production of values and a conscientious mode of life were activities that ought to be punished. The revenue of the state, which should be regarded as the joint possession of all citizens and, therefore, should be used equally for the good of all, is employed on the furtherance of special concerns and for the giving of alms to special groups of the people. No democratic politician would deny anyone the right to the free disposal of his property, that is to say: an agreement between A and B for the exchange of property can in no way be injurious to any of their fellow-citizens, and, therefore, it cannot rightly be regarded as an affair over which the state should have any control. However, this principle is violated by customs duties and other duties on certain goods: the consumer has to pay a fine when buying these goods, as if it were a crime for a man to use his own income in any way he wishes. A succession, duty is levied by taking a certain percentage of what parents leave to their children, as though the whole community, at the death of the parents, suddenly became part-owner of the values in question—in direct opposition to all the rules of possession which are so zealously upheld by the police and the courts of justice. In private life such confiscation would be called theft.
No democratic politician would dare deny that every person ought to own the values which he produces by his own activities. Unless this coherence between the producer and that which he produces is upheld, all social life will be dissolved and end in confusion. This fundamental and just demand is violated by the land being given into private possession. The value (the annual ground-rent) of the land rises automatically with the increase of the population, the growing demand and the development of the technique of production. The whole population takes part in this, every citizen contributes to the rise in value by means of his activity and his consumption; consequently, these values should be shared equally by all. The same holds good where the already existing ground-rent is concerned. Each citizen has his share in maintaining it from day to day, from year to year; it is a lasting value, which is, however, dependent upon existing conditions, and which would disappear altogether if the population became extinct. The ground-rent is but the capitalised expectation of future profits based upon the demand created by the whole population. That the private owners of the land should receive the payment of these amounts is undoubtedly a violation of the rule that the producer shall own that which he has produced.
In many other respects the parliamentary system has shown the arbitrariness of its rule. Never before has such a mass of laws and statutes been imposed upon the countries in an incessant stream. The social order is continually undergoing change, being altered and re-made and patched up. This is an open admission on the part of the legislators, not only that they do not recognise any law or justice which they can follow unfalteringly, but that democracy has turned its back on the idea of justice. There is in this restlessness, this un-stability, an element of fraud. When new laws are suddenly made, bringing alterations in the values and the rights of disposal, all kinds of enterprises, which were previously undertaken on the basis of the existing social order, will be left without a foundation. Expectations, which were wholly justified, will not be fulfilled, as the rules and regulations upon which the enterprises were based have again been changed. The object of existing laws should be to provide a firm basis for our activities, so that we may confidently lay our plans and make our dispositions.
This would mean that the governing authority should as far as possible comply with the rules of responsibility that hold good for private life. Nowadays, neither ministers of the government, leaders of the parties nor members of parliament are in the habit of shouldering the responsibility for their political actions, if they violate the rights of the citizens or go against the true interests of the nation. By making such mistakes the politician as a rule risks only that his influence is diminished, or at the most that he will have to leave the arena of political life. Compensation for his detrimental activity is not required of him. The politician probably throws the blame on his colleagues or on unfavourable circumstances. In private life we should call this shirking one’s responsibility. Nor has it ever been seen that an electoral majority has been willing to refund the sums they have during a shorter or longer period robbed from the minorities, even if they have had to admit the injustice committed. All this irresponsibility will automatically disappear if the tasks of the state are limited to such matters in which each citizen possesses an equal part in virtue of his fundamental rights of ownership. No one will then be able to snatch prerogatives at the cost of others, all will enjoy the same public benefits and have to pay the same price for them. There would under such a constitution be no other way to political authority than superior knowledge and impartiality.
When government by the people was introduced, it was certainly the intention that politics should no longer be piracy. Well-founded rights and liabilities were to be established, a clearly defined measure of liberty was to be given to all, and every man should be responsible for his own actions. None of this has come to pass. If we try to look at things as they are now, taking the feeling of responsibility as our criterion, it will be useless to deny the bankruptcy of parliamentarism. Political responsibility is a phenomenon which is almost unknown in the democratic states of to-day.
The central idea of democratic politics, which both the leaders and the people have regarded as their lodestar, has been “the general welfare principle”, the general progress of the culture and the prosperity of the nations. This is certainly a matter that calls for universal interest, and concerning which an orator may coin many fine phrases. But as the central motive for social legislation or for the regulation of international affairs it is hopelessly inadequate. For the reason, firstly, that it presupposes a feeling of solidarity which does not exist and never will exist, because human nature, the individual, refuses to accept “the general welfare” as his main object, and because the innumerable differences between individuals prevent its accomplishment. And for the reason, secondly, that this aim of “the general welfare”, whether it be taken as a whole or only in part, lacks the requisite definiteness. Whether we regard the question as a whole, or only some of its aspects, the order of precedence of the various interests involved may be discussed ad infinitum. Innumerable needs, desires and wishes are to be considered, joining in an intricate interplay of forces, the ultimate outcome of which cannot be foreseen. Nor is it possible to determine beforehand the value of ideas proposed for the progress of humanity in the various domains of life. In history we may find many instances of a reform, which had every appearance of being a great advantage to men, having proved to be useless, or even having been the germ that started corruption and finished by destroying part of the fabric of the sum-total of life, which it was meant to improve. The effects, direct and indirect, of any reform are manifold, and the aggregate result cannot in most cases be determined. The progress of civilization is one of the most intricate problems both where individuals, nations and humanity as a whole are concerned.
Even if the general welfare is an aim for which it is a duty to strive, it is useless as a regulating factor of social conditions, for it is impossible to state precisely how much any individual, any class or any nation owes as a tribute to this aim. And it is not possible to say, either in a general manner, or in each particular case, where the limits are to be set between legitimate self-interest and the self-sacrifice we owe to this distant and all-demanding goal. Legislation cannot be based on vague speculations as to the future. To adapt the social order to doubtful schemes to be carried out at some future time is, as experience has shown again and again, to build castles in the air, that are quite unable to withstand the pressure of reality. It may be noted also that in civil law and criminal law, which are much more stable and unchangeable than political legislation, it has always been the rule to treat the cases and judge them on the basis of actual fact.
The private life of individuals in civilized countries is not, in principle, in need of reform or improvement. The rules for integrity and honesty, which it is customary to follow in private life, agree with and corroborate the principles of Moral Justice. The mutual aid, which the principle of -general welfare-and present day democracy wish to make compulsory, is well known in private life; such aid is spontaneously and willingly given by a large number of people, and, in accordance with the universal idea of justice, it should remain voluntary. Assistance given to the poor, the weak and needy, to anybody in temporary difficulties is in private life considered as a gift freely given, not as a duty or obligation. All kinds of co-operation, achievements performed in the service of civilisation, contributions made to the cultural life of the nation, all such efforts thrive vigorously when they are voluntarily and spontaneously given; everything tends to show that such tasks are best carried out by means of private initiative and personal sacrifice. Compulsory provisions introduced by the state tend to act as a poison-gas suffocating personal feelings of pity and charity. A sure way of killing all compassion and fellow-feeling amongst men is for the state to take over all such matters and bid us make sacrifices for the sake of other people.
Government by the principle of Moral Justice does not at any point mean a breach with the idea of democracy, but its aim is to prevent any kind of despotism. In return for the demand that everybody must as far as possible look after himself, Moral Justice assures each person the possession of the values produced, i.e. full equality in the struggle for life, fair wages for work performed, security and protection of all lawful property by means of the legal system. Moral Justice is not anti-democratic but, on the contrary, it is a realisation of the original idea of democracy: self-government by the people, freedom from any kind of guardianship, excessive control or arbitrary rule on the part of the state.
It is highly probable that government by the principle of Moral Justice, if it is ever carried out in practice, will entail a quick and thorough clearing up of political life. Both where home affairs and foreign affairs are concerned, it fixes the boundary-line of political administration where it naturally belongs. The result is, on the one hand, that the joint affairs of the community will be satisfactorily administrated, while, on the other hand, the majority will be excluded from usurping privileges for themselves at the cost of their fellows or at the cost of other nations. All rule by sheer force of majority by means of political factors will be abolished, considerations of right and justice will alone prevail. Full political responsibility will be introduced, as no voter will, by joining forces with others, be able to obtain advantages at the cost of the public, without paying the same price for such advantages as everybody else is paying.
The result will undoubtedly be a complete social disarmament; the demoralising civil wars which devastate the countries to the detriment of all production will cease for lack of stimulus. Public expenditure will be reduced, administration will be simplified, the pressure of taxes on trade and industry will be lightened, duties will no more be laid on particular goods, thus disturbing the equilibrium of the economic equality. As only a few insignificant causes of social conflict will remain, stability, security and peace will prevail. Politics generally will be simplified, so that voters will really understand what they are voting for, and not just leave everything to their representatives. Both politicians and electors will with renewed vigour take up the various tasks before them.
The state will not be allowed to seize people’s money or to exercise control over their activities; the majority in power will not be allowed to undertake political or financial speculations with the nation’s means. The absolute power of the state, which democratic politicians have vindicated with so much zeal, will be abolished. We who contend against this absolute power on moral grounds may point also to the fact, that the general welfare will in all probability profit by its abolition. Values cannot be placed in better hands than with their owners; as a rule they will be least likely to misuse them or to waste them. The use to which the state has put the means of the people have not enjoyed any very high repute; there does not seem to be much sense in gathering large sums of money into the exchequer in order that the ruling majority may squander it again at its pleasure. This use of the values is with a grand expression called “the administration of the economical and financial resources of the country.” Politicians assert that such administration is absolutely necessary, that statesmen must have the means wherewith “to steer the ship of the nation safely through the storms and the rocks of difficult times.” But what proof have we of the truth of this assertion? Experience has shown that as a rule the administration has been very poor. It cannot be denied that now and again tasks of a national character arise which can only be carried out if the whole nation works together; but it is probable that a general and open discussion of the problem and voluntary co-operation would be the best way of facing the difficulty.
The character of the individual grows and is strengthened in proportion to his independence and the responsibility laid upon him. The parliamentary rule has, by putting the citizens under the guardianship of the state, restrained their growth, rather than helped them to progress along the road of strength and judgment. In the long run, it is not the amount of power exercised by the state, but the energy, experience and commonsense of the individual citizens which guarantee a safe economical status and the development of civilisation.
Will the principle of Moral Justice bring in its train not only social disarmament but also international peace and security? On this point it is difficult to prophecy, as national egoism is a most fickle and capricious factor whose effects cannot be foreseen. Only too often, an ebullition of national enthusiasm has very little to do with responsible action or clear reflection. But there can be no doubt that the principle of Moral Justice by its inner organisation will help to create another mentality and to remove many of those causes of dispute which at the present time make international relations so difficult. Citizens, who in their daily life and in all home affairs build on a clear notion of right and justice, will not behave like unruly children towards the people of other nations. The government of such a state cannot from another country demand anything, but what is dictated by principles of equality and the rules of possession. This cannot be interpreted as a challenge. The military equipment of a country governed by the principles of Moral Justice cannot be used for anything but to protect the possessions of the citizens against invasion. A system of absolutely free trade is offered to other countries; all foreigners enjoy the same privileges of rights and obligations as the people of the country, free admission and the protection of the laws. Such a state does not aim at anything but peace and equality. What reasons would other countries have to attack it? There is little possibility of any disputes arising except on matters of a purely legal character which could if necessary be settled by an international tribunal.
It is not true that the social morality described in the above chapters is merely an untested theory. In the first line, it is worth noting that these ideas of right and justice are limited to the demands of the generally recognised democratic tenets, if these are not mutilated, but realised fully and consistently. In the second line, it is undeniable that the same ideas of right and justice have long been prevalent in private life among honest people in all countries. This is strong evidence that the theory is not an unfounded construction, but that it corresponds closely to human nature. Otherwise the rules could not grow up involuntarily from the personal opinion of the man in the street. All the social demands set forth in the above can be summed up in the one word: impartiality.
However, no state is entitled to settle anything but its own inner order and its participation in international intercourse, and one can always point to the dangers and troubles which under the present international conditions will threaten any nation that might choose to build entirely on the idea of right and equity. The problem is: which standpoint will in the long run be the strongest and the least costly?
On account of the deep divergence between existing democratic systems and true democracy, the transition from the former to the latter will everywhere meet with considerable difficulties. In Denmark these questions have been the subject of much reflection and deliberation. However, problems such as the abolishing of monopolies, of unfair taxation and arbitrary distribution of the state income, are only transitory difficulties, and by adopting practical methods the problems may be solved without seriously deranging the national economy and production. The losses suffered by some groups of the nation will soon be relieved and will gradually be compensated by fresh advantages, partly following directly upon the reforms, partly arising because the creative forces will be liberated from many of the restraints formerly imposed upon them by the monopolies and the crushing taxes. The costly and unproductive tug-ofwar between the parties and between the classes will cease, and their efforts will instead be directed toward positive aims. Also, the swollen public administration, which costs enormous sums and makes innumerable private affairs much more circumstantial and tardy than they need be, will be greatly simplified at the repeal of the partial laws, which favour sometimes one class and sometimes another. The costly almsgivinglaws will gradually become superfluous. The dole will not be required. It is not possible at this point to sum up to what an extent the nation will gain in riches by the increase in production, the simplification of administration, the demobilisation of the extensive net of organisations mainly employed in fighting their fellow-citizens, but there can be no doubt that very great advantages will accrue.
As social justice is based on natural human interests, alive in every normal person, the reforms aiming at a fully developed social structure of true democratic nature will undoubtedly soon take root in the populace and form a safe protection against political infection of every kind. I cannot here mention all the happy consequences accruing in the life of the people as a result of a sound, clear and reliable social order. The improvement will be similar to the one felt by a sick organism when it is restored to health, a manifold invigoration, relief and assurance. For instance, the absurd mingling of a system of monopolies favouring many rich persons, and the almsgivinglaws distributing the dole to the poorer sections of the nation, has caused wastefulness and demoralisation in a wide degree both among rich and poor. The stopping of these sources of a depraved mode of life will be a blessing to all concerned. Also, it is evident that an equitable social order, allowing each man to keep what is his, and at all points combining freedom with responsibility, will lead to the best possible utilization of all values
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Books by C. Lambek:
- The structure of our apprehension of reality. Copenhagen and London, 1933.
- Government by the principle of Moral Justice. Copenhagen and London, 1934.
- Essay on the foundation of cognition. Copenhagen and London, 1935.
- Growth of the mind in relation to culture. Copenhagen and London, 1936.
- Studies in the dynamic coherence of mental life. Copenhagen and London, 1938.
- Four Essays: Time and Reality. Objectivity. Logical Coherence. Antagonisms in the Individual. Copenhagen and London, 1946.
- An analysis of volitional life. Copenhagen and London, 1947.
 For all living beings the maintenance of a certain standard of organisation is the fundamental trait in existence. A certain coherence between a number of interacting vital processes cannot be upheld without the basis of an organised substructure. Relations, not only between the physiological processes, but to an even greater extent between the psychical events, would be deficient and infirm without it; an intellectual and volitional life as we normally find it in human beings could not exist. All our knowledge, reflection and practical ability are products of organisation. On the other hand, our psychical processes are changeable and their order and succession are variable, so that their effectivity as links in our thoughts and actions is more or less uncertain. We must again and again renew the control of our mode of life and change our purposes as a result of new experiences.
Some students maintain that scientific research does not spring from and is not based upon valuations; it would, they declare, lead to unreliable results if the student in his research or experiments let himself be influenced by his sympathies or antipathies. And yet this assertion is untenable. It has already been mentioned that there exists a small group of valuations whose universal validity is undeniable. Everybody prefers certainty to uncertainty and vacillation, as the latter generally obstruct both thought and action. When we require information, we demand that it shall be reliable; we disapprove of guess-work or lies that only lead to disappointment. All students must acknowledge these valutations. Besides, science could not live and advance from year to year unless the knowledge it offers us were of some value, i.e. serves the furtherance of some human aim. Everybody wishes that his hopes and pursuits will succeed and not be wrecked. All science is for future use, and only with a view to the advancement of certain aims is it of value. The problem of valuation is a necessary presupposition for the problem of universal validity.
 The following chapters are mainly a reprint of my book Government by the principle of moral justice” published in 1934.