From The Righteous State
by Severin Christensen
8.—The Nature of Government
The origin of the state has been the subject of many researches and speculations. To save its ethical character for a long time the idea was clung to that it was founded by mutual agreement; but this viewpoint has been given up a long time ago. The state is an organisation, which as a historical product stands in a rather loose relation to society. The power of state has come into existence through crystallization within society with the aim of controlling it. This is simply an expression of the natural force of the smart and strong. The members of society, which represent the organised power, never became the rulers because of some kind of voluntary succession from the others. They took this power themselves. The weaker have more or less involuntarily submitted themselves to the older, the nobler, the richer, and the more able.
It would however be hasty to follow certain writers and understand the power of state as an organisation, which alone has egotistical ends, and which main purpose just has been to rob off the weaker. Had it not also fulfilled useful, yes, necessary tasks, it would have been impossible for it in the long run to have kept the essential authority. Therefore we see, how it also from the beginning took upon it the common defence in times of wars, and later also protected the fellow citizens against certain internal infringements. But behind all this the possessors of power never forgot to secure for themselves the economic control, and one can safely claim that unfair economic privilege towards the subjects have been a prominent and constant trait of the power of state, irrespective of which outer from it has taken through changing times.
This has, however, often been overlooked. The power of state has understood to mask it by referring to the useful functions, it really has accomplished; and since it also has taken care of a suitable religious and moral defence, it has succeeded in wrapping itself in such a halo of mystery, that the idea of state in itself has become the object of some sort of religious cult. While the very prosaic origin of the state has been hidden, it has been presented as some kind of higher organism with independent goals, for the better of which each single individual had to give up his own ideals assessment of the phenomenon of life.
This worship of the state as an almighty and moral being is not at all something, which is especially connected to absolutism. It is just too obvious, that our democratic age is undertaking an idolization of the state, which is at least just as pronounced. While it earlier on in the world was the king and the aristocracy, onto whom all glory and honour was bestowed, and who economically speaking took the lion’s share in society, it is in our democratic times the ruling classes and parties, which both economically and in all other matters suppress the classes, which are minorities. And just as ruthlessly they preach the old teaching: ‘The State, it is I!’ (i.e. the majority).
Also in the modern state the battles of the ruling classes have as their aim to convert to their own use as much of the common wealth of the citizens as possible. The historic state always shows us the same face; it has at all times been the signifying mark of the rulers to wrong the productive and working parts of society in favour of the parasites.
So we see how solidarity between individual and state at all times have been of such a loose and arbitrary sort, that all kinds of suggestive tricks to hide the true character of the power of state in front of the citizens have been used. Is it asked, if it would not be possible to imagine a power of state, which was the expression the interest of the whole society instead of a ruling clique, the problem of a possible state of justice is approached.
We mentioned that the ethical right is an element, which the power of state has never been able to completely put aside, but which upholding it in its own self-defined interest at least would have to care about. This is easy to understand, since what would there be for the rulers themselves, if the fellow citizens were given free rein to devour one another in all’s war against all? That the people in power introduce jurisprudence, which may also limit their own freedom of action, is not completely unfathomable. The self-restraint is profitable in many ways. At court the power gets an opportunity to prove its usefulness and to win sympathy and authority. Therefore the court is to a certain degree a useful political tool in the hand of the power.
Concerning the position of moral to legislation, it is given for once within the form, whereby they come into the world. It is quite possible that in a statute a rule of ethical dimension can be hidden, for instance ‘thou shall not steal!’ And if one just stay with the content, it will from an ethical point of view be said: this is but just an old, well-known truth, which Ethic has discovered several thousand years ago, which we recognise in the outset. But the thing is, that the power of state does not in the least have an interest in our recognition, since it adds: if you steal, you will be send to prison. The state does not in any way consider my deliberations, it does not demand any recognition on my part, no, it only demands that I submit myself. This is plainly put the core in the way of the historical power of state.
We owe obedience to the laws, when they utter something, which we according to our doctrines must recognise as ethical, but it is not as statutes, that we owe them this obedience. In the opposite situation we stand ethically uninhibited to them; if we submit ourselves, it is because we observe the urge.
Against this consideration a certain doubt has been raised. It has been stated both by Rousseau and other writers that the form of the power of state had an influence, so that the individual citizen in the country, where the power of state is in close accord with the will of society, must feel himself ethically obliged by its laws. When I become a member of an association, it is thought, the becoming a member does in itself imply a promise and an obligation to follow its laws, and this sanction in advance goes for them all, regardless of their content.
But unfortunately we do not know of any state, which has been formed as an association. Right from my birth I have been a compulsory subject to this organisation of the state, and thus I remain. There are no conditions to enter, just as it is not possible to avoid it or resign. It is pure self-delusion, if one believes, that one by coming of age can join society by a proper or virtual contract (as when joining is the same thing as s formal consent). It is certainly misleading when Rousseau would claim that this act of consent is the most voluntary of all acts, that everyone is born free and his own master, and that it is free for all, whether he wants to join the social contract or become a foreigner among the citizens. No, neither the one, nor the other is free to do for me, who one can be convinced of daily; I am just as little entitled to sign any consent of ‘joining’, as I am allowed to be excluded.
Such a thing does not lead to moral guilt, and this condition would not be changed, even though the state overwhelmed me with good deeds, not even if it could be demonstrated, as it in no way can, that the advantages of the good deeds in the end were larger than its disadvantages. Nor in the private life is it thought, that if a benefactor overwhelms us with good deeds, we are obliged to adhere to any of his biddings, even though it might justify a return of some kind. Nothing but a free recognition can oblige us to obedience in the outset to the rules of any single person or of a society, and the obligation only counts within these limits, which we expressly have condoned.
With one’s best of will one cannot enter any moral relation with a dictate, when it comes forth as a dictate. It is futile to talk about sanction and promises, when such are arrogantly declined; where the will has only one direction, the one predestined by force, consent is a pure luxury. A true promise assumes an appeal to my consideration; it really has to involve a choice, even though if this is not limitless. But precisely the state mercilessly closes all gates except one. When time and again the democratic ‘self-governance state’ is equalled with an association, where the decisions by majority are ethically binding, the difference between them, upon which everything depends, is not acknowledged. Since by becoming a member in an association one agrees to on the outset to accept everything, which the legal organ of the association (the general assembly, for instance) should decide, as long as the membership is upheld; but it is also already known in which direction and how far one as a part of the association limits ones freedom to act, one calculates this limitation with respect to the gains and conforms to it. Just as one is his own master of joining, one can also freely exit, if something is passed, which lies outside these conditions.
But one does not join and leave the state as in an association, the practice of making decisions is not proposed for one to agree on, and no reservations can be taken into account concerning the extent of which the personal, individual interests are given up for the almighty intervention from the power of state. Therefore the decisions made by a majority in the democratic state are no less coercion and tyranny than the moods of the despot.
It follows from these principles, which have been introduced above, that an unethical injustice has been committed, whenever the will of a single person or more acts through forceful measures against me or my property, under the condition that neither have I agreed to this constraint, nor have my previous behaviour given any reason for it to be performed. It is well-known that far from all inventions from the state or legislation acknowledge these ethical pretexts. The consideration that it should mean a great deal of difference, whether the laws are given by a ruling few or a ruling majority has no saying in this context. The over-democratic understanding that a majority always is ‘right’ has really nothing to do with the ethical justice; constraint can be exercised by a majority as well as a minority. A philanthropic association, which is open for all without any difference, asking for donations for a neutral purpose, would be guilty of an injustice, if it decided simply to use the money on individuals from a given political party, no matter if such a decision would be taken by a majority or a minority. Against such a modus operandi a person would be entitled to protest. Why? Because the conditions for voluntarily uniting with others are that one is not forced to accept things, which are without any connection to the purpose, because of which one joined them.
The universal principle, which the proper governing of any association is based on, is that its members make a constitution amongst each other about accepting the will of the majority in all matters, which adhere to the purpose, because of which one has taken a membership in it, but not because of others.
But no one will voluntarily submit to a majority for it to make decisions in all one’s affairs. If the matters of the association should be transferred to the state, it would have to be constructed to further some few, very specific purposes, which all citizens from the outset should agree to try to solve together; and only in such a state, constructed like an association and as such never defining any other objectives or incentives than those which the members from the outset had sanctioned, would it be possible not to commit injustices towards the individual citizen.
So by looking at the conditions of the associations it is apparently possible to reach a quick and easy solution to the problem of state injustices or The Individual vs. The State. But by closer examination such a solution would prove itself to be just too theoretical. Since if one asks further: what are these purposes and incentives, which everyone possibly could agree on unanimously, it should be obvious that experience not immediately can answer that. It has never yet appeared that a state should come to existence as an association, as a voluntary connection of all citizens concerned with certain incentives, and it is not very likely that it should ever happen. Therefore, experience most likely will never teach us, which incentives a state, trying to unite all its citizens by voluntary consent, should take upon itself and which not. And posing this question as a mental experiment: could it not be tried to assess which incentives would be such that they would possess the natural condition to win common approval? An answer could only be reached at trough the stages described above: by asking the natural laws of society. At state power as well as a private citizen can only count on approval of one single task: that of acting justly and not ask for more than one is entitled to; everything else they might do they cannot fully rely on to meet general approval. Only from that exact premise of adopting the principle of justice would it be possible to achieve commendation in advance from all parties.
The term “all parties” therefore say too little, if one does not add a closer definition of the way, which the character or the way of acting or the incentives should have, which alone have natural social conditions to win general commendation by.
If one recognizes the legitimacy of the ethical principles at all, it must be acknowledged that breach of duty and other crimes against the ethical right of possession rightfully could lead to forceful measures from the outside. And if a state power takes upon itself as the sole duty to uphold certain rightful interventions, this cause of action cannot be deemed unrightfully, even though it should lack the actual approval of some. That means that the Righteous State gains its moral stamp from the principles, which it adheres to, from the degree to which it uses them; or in other words: the purposes considered to be right state purposes are determined principally (just in the same way as it is determined which are state injustices), and not by the approval they get or could expect to get from an arbitrarily concocted majority.
From associations one does not accept other force than the one, which one put on one self by joining it. The state power, ideally considered, is on the other hand by nature a necessary and nature-given organisation to defend the interest, which everybody shares in equal measure. That it upholds by force the principles of justice against the unwilling is exactly in the obvious interest of all citizens; it performs in this function in the service of justice exactly, what the individual would not be able to. Should this element of force take away from such a state the right to be called a state of justice? Cannot the individual rightfully be forced to accept, what is right? If we adopted another point of view we could at the same time give up having justice realized here on earth; that would assume a condition, in which it no longer would be a matter to fight over.
The inquiry must therefore consider, 1) which rightful principles is the proper scope for the state power (the rightful scope of state power), and 2) how, by which institutions, these principles in a proper manner can be carried out (the rightful organisation of state power).
So, characteristic of a state power, which does not commit injustice against the individual citizen, is it that it recognizes and performs just principles. From this each of its objectives must be analysed.
What defines a just administration of a state? Exactly the same as a just way of acting in the private life, which is a close inspection, so that anyone gets and keeps his own. The state on the one side should protect the private citizens in possession of their rightful separate estate, and on the other side manage the common estate in the interest of all. It most important duty is to survey that the common belongings, which go into the Treasure, first and foremost are used for the necessary common purposes and then possibly benefits all citizens equally. The state itself owns nothing; it only works on borrowed goods, and this it cannot manage at will, but only in accordance with the normal conditions for loans between decent people, so that each gets his back. Since the loan is common belongings, it follows that it can only be used for expenses, which in the most rigid sense of the word may be called common. Each measure from the state, which over-passes this, will either be unlawful or futile.
The current politicians cannot praise themselves as setting a good example to private people. In three glaring ways they offend against the general civil decency. First of all they incur hazardous debts, which they commit the coming generations to pay, as the second they reduce the citizens’ rightful profits of work through that monopoly of looting, which they call direct taxes, and as the third they find it suitable that the ruling class parties control the use of these belongings, so that they mostly are used for the promotion of special interests, instead of being used only for the true common purposes.
If the equally measured possessions of A, B, and C are collected in a common purse, three completely different ways of usage of these possessions can take place: 1) A, B, and C can have their share back untouched. From the point of view of the state power this would be futile, since the role of the state certainly not is to serve as a depot or a savings bank. 2) To use the means mostly to some instead of others (which would be evidently unfair). 3) To use the means for such common purposes, whose existence A, B, and C are equally interested in.
It is obvious that only this last usage at once is the rational and just approach from a state power. Nonetheless, one finds the most bewildered views about what the means of the state can be used for. The most naïve is probably, that the state should be able to help us all; the state power is allowed to collect a certain amount of money, much more than is necessary to further the common interests, and then distributes them time after time to this or that class and rank; first comes the agricultural sector, then the fisheries, the industry etc. etc., and one does not discover that this is a true optical illusion; apart from it never being possible to achieve in any rightful way. Or one believes freely to be allowed to manage the state funds for some half-private purpose, most often probably using the argument that it happens for the advance of the public utility. But what is public utility there will always invite very differing opinions; it is a monstrous presumption from a state power to decide such on behalf of everybody; and to use common possessions to realise one’s favourite ideas, is unlawful.
 H. Spencer: Man versus the state.