Edward Gibbon (1737 – 94):
The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered
- by the people, as equally true;
- by the philosopher, as equally false; and
- by the magistrate, as equally useful.
Walter Bagehot (1826 – 77):
The best reason why Monarchy is a strong government is, that it is an intelligible government.
The mass of mankind understand it …
It is often said that men are ruled by their imaginations …
[But] it would be truer to say that they are governed by the weakness of their imaginations.
(The English Constitution, 1867)
To the unphilosophical propagandist, there is his own propaganda, which is that of truth, and the opposite propaganda, which is that of falsehood.
If he believes in permitting both, it is only because he fears that his might be the one to suffer prohibition. …
[However, for the philosopher,] any useful purpose which is to be served by propaganda must be not that of causing an almost certainly erroneous opinion to be dogmatically believed, but, on the contrary, that of promoting judgement, rational doubt, and the power of weighing opposing considerations …
[This purpose can only be served] if there is competition among propagandas. …
[The philosopher] will advocate that, as far as possible, everybody should hear all sides of every question.
Instead of different newspapers, each devoted to the interests of one party and encouraging the dogmatism of its readers, he will advocate a single newspaper, in which all parties are represented.
Morality … has had two divergent aspects.
- [Positive morality] has been a social institution analogous to law …
- [Personal morality] has been a matter for the individual conscience.
[No] nation of antiquity recognised any legal or moral limits to what might be done with defeated populations.
It was customary to exterminate some and sell the rest into slavery. …
The vanquished, having no power, had no claim to mercy.
This view was not abandoned, even in theory, until the coming of Christianity.
Duty to enemies [remains] a difficult conception.
Clemency was recognised as a virtue in antiquity, but only when it was successful, that is to say, when it turned enemies into friends; otherwise, it was condemned as a weakness.
When fear had been aroused, no one expected magnanimity: the Romans showed none towards Hannibal or the followers of Spartacus.
In our day, almost equal ferocity has been shown towards the victims of the white terrors in Finland, Hungary, Germany, and Spain, and hardly any protests have been aroused except among political opponents. …
The terror in Russia, likewise, has been condoned by most of the Left.
Now, as in the days of the Old Testament, no duty to enemies is acknowledged in practice when they are sufficiently formidable to arouse fear.
Positive morality [is] only operative within the social group concerned, and is therefore … in effect, a department of government.
Nothing short of a world government will cause people of pugnacious disposition to admit, except as a counsel of perfection, that moral obligations are not confined to a section of the human race.
Broadly speaking [positive morality …]
- is on the side of the powers that be …
- does not allow a place for revolution, …
- does nothing to mitigate the fierceness of strife, and …
- can find no place for the prophet who proclaims some new moral insight. …
The world owes something to the Gospels [—] though not [as] much as it would if they had had more influence.
It owes something to those who denounced slavery and the subjection of women.
We may hope that in time it will owe something to those who denounce war and economic injustice.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it owed much to the apostles of tolerance [and,] perhaps it will again in some happier age than ours.
Revolutions against the mediaeval Church, the Renaissance monarchies, and the present power of plutocracy, are necessary for the avoidance of stagnation.
Admitting, as we must, that mankind needs revolution and individual morality, the problem is to find a place for these things without plunging the world into anarchy.
Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970)
Nobel Prize for Literature (1950).
- Power: A New Social Analysis, George Allen & Unwin, 1938.
[In the nineteenth century, the] evils of monopoly were still familiar from tradition.
The Stuarts, and even Elizabeth, granted profitable monopolies to courtiers, the objection to which was one of the causes of the Civil War. …
Continental monarchies, before 1848, abounded in semi-feudal restrictions on freedom of competition [made] for the benefit of monarchs and landowners.
In eighteenth-century England, on the contrary, many restrictions survived which were inconvenient [to both] landowners and to capitalists — for example, laws as to minimum wages, and prohibition of the enclosure of common lands.
In England, therefore, until the Corn Law question, landowners and capitalists, on the whole, agreed in advocating laissez-faire. …
From 1815 to 1848, Church and State, over the whole of the Continent, were united in opposing the ideas of the French Revolution. …
In France and Italy, the Napoleonic legend, as well as admiration of the Revolution, was the object of governmental suppression.
In Spain and the States of the Church, all liberal thought, even the mildest, was forbidden; the Pope’s government still officially believed in sorcery.
The principle of nationality was not allowed to be advocated in Italy, Germany, or Austria-Hungary.
And everywhere reaction was associated with opposition to the interests of commerce, with maintenance of feudal rights as against the rural population, and with the support of foolish kings and an idle nobility.
In these circumstances, laissez faire was the natural expression of energies that were hampered in their legitimate activities.
The freedoms desired by Liberals were achieved
- in America in the moment of winning independence;
- in England, in the period from 1824 to 1846;
- in France in 1871;
- in Germany by stages from 1848 to 1918;
- in Italy in the Risorgimento; and …
- in Russia, for a moment, in the February Revolution.
It was discovered that competition, unless artificially maintained, brings about its own extinction by leading to the complete victory of someone among the competitors.
The question of competition … been much debated in the economic sphere, but its importance is at least as great in regard to armed force and propaganda.
[The] Liberal view was that there should be free competition in business and propaganda, but not in armed force …
Italian Fascists and German Nazis have proclaimed the diametrically opposite opinion, that competition is always bad except where it takes the form of national war, in which case it is the noblest of human activities.
Marxists decry competition except in the form of the struggle for power between antagonistic classes.
Plato [admired] only one kind of competition, namely emulation for honour among comrades in arms, which, he says, is promoted by homosexual love.
In the sphere of production, competition between a multitude of small firms … has given [way] to competition between trusts each coextensive with at least one State.
[The] armament industry … is exceptional in that orders to one firm are a cause of orders to another [—] if one country arms, so do others [—] and therefore the usual motives for competition do not exist.
Apart from this peculiar case, competition in business [has] now merged [with] competition between nations [—] in which war is the ultimate arbiter of success.
The most important form of competition, at the present day, is between [the] Great Powers.
This has become a totalitarian competition, for power, for wealth, for control over men’s beliefs, but above all for life itself [—] since the infliction of the death penalty is the principal means to victory.
[The] only way of ending this competition is the abolition of national sovereignty and national armed forces, and the substitution of a single international government with a monopoly of armed force.
The alternative to this measure is the death of a large percentage of the population of civilised countries, and the reduction of the remainder to destitution and semi-barbarism.
At present, a vast majority prefer this alternative.
Governments … are threatened by two dangers: revolution, and defeat in war. …
If the government is itself recent and revolutionary, and the population has strong reasons for discontent, freedom is almost sure to bring further revolution. …
But when the government is traditional, and the economic circumstances of the population are not too desperate, freedom acts as a safety valve and tends to diminish discontent.
There can be no good reason, even from a governmental point of view, for interference with opinions which do not involve danger to the existence of the State.
The ardent innovator is, as a rule, a millenarian …
[He] holds that the millennium will have arrived when all men embrace his creed.
Though in the present he is revolutionary, in the future he is a conservative …
[A] perfect State is to be reached, and when reached is only to be preserved unchanged.
Holding these views, he naturally shrinks from no degree of violence either in seeking the perfect State or in preventing its overthrow …
[In] opposition he is a terrorist; in government, a persecutor.
His belief in violence naturally provokes the same belief in his opponents …
[While] they are in power they will persecute him, and when they are in opposition they will plot his assassination.
His millennium is not, therefore, altogether pleasant for everybody …
[There] will be spies, arrests by administrative orders, and concentration camps. …
[On the other hand, there] are … millenarians of a gentler type:
- those who consider that what is best in a man must come from within, and cannot be imposed by any external authority …
[This] view is exemplified by the Society of Friends.
- [And] those who hold that external influences may be important and beneficial when they take the form of benevolence and wise persuasion, but not when they take the form of prison or execution.
[There are also those who] hold that human life should be a continual progress, not towards a definable goal … but of such a sort that each step, when achieved, is seen to have been an advance. …
All innovations, therefore — so it is argued — must be encouraged, since one among them, though we cannot know which, will prove to embody the spirit of evolution.
No doubt there is an element of truth in this view, but it is one that easily develops into a shallow mysticism of progress, and owing to its vagueness … cannot be made a basis for practical politics.
The historically important innovators have believed in taking the kingdom of heaven by storm …
[They] have often achieved their kingdom, but it has proved to be not the kingdom of heaven.
When a community is in fundamental agreement as to its form of government, free discussion is possible, but where such agreement does not exist, propaganda is felt to be a prelude to the use of force, and those who possess force will naturally aim at a monopoly of propaganda.
Freedom of propaganda is [thus only] possible when the differences are not such as to make peaceable cooperation under one government impossible. …
A stable governmental framework is essential to intellectual freedom; but unfortunately it may also be the chief engine of tyranny.
Power and Moral Codes
Paul [Saul of Tarsus]:The great advantage of morality over the police appears very clearly in this case, for women, until quite recently, genuinely believed the moral precepts which embodied male domination, and therefore required much less compulsion than would otherwise have been necessary.
[Man] is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.
For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.
Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.
(I Corinthians, 11:7–9)
In England, government profits much by the tradition of royalty. …
The duty of obedience to authority is still felt by many as a duty towards the sovereign.
This is a decaying sentiment, but as it decays government becomes less stable, and dictatorships of the Right or the Left become more possible. …
Monarchy makes social cohesion easy,
- first, because it is not so difficult to feel loyalty to an individual as to an abstraction, and
- secondly, because kingship … has accumulated sentiments of veneration which no new institution can inspire.
Where hereditary monarchy has been abolished it has usually been succeeded, [sooner or later, by some other form of autocracy.]
Such men inherit a part of the feelings formerly attached to royalty. …
But a new dictator, unless he is a very extraordinary man, can hardly inspire quite the same religious veneration as hereditary monarchs enjoyed in the past.
In the case of kingship, the religious element … has often been carried so far as to interfere with power.
Even then, however, it has helped to give stability to the social system of which the king is a symbol. …
In England, the doctrine that the king can do no wrong has been used as a weapon for depriving him of power, but it has enabled his Ministers to have more power than they would have if he did not exist.
Wherever there is a traditional monarchy, rebellion against the government is an offence against the king, and is regarded by the orthodox as a sin and an impiety. …
[Thus, the] most useful function [of Kingship,] historically, has been the creation of a widely diffused sentiment favourable to social cohesion.
Men are so little gregarious by nature that anarchy is a constant danger, which kingship has done much to prevent.
Against this merit, however, must be set the demerit of perpetuating ancient evils and increasing the forces opposed to desirable change.
[In] modern times, [it is these disadvantages that have] caused monarchy to disappear over the greater part of the earth’s surface. …
In Christian countries [and theocracies], virtue consists in obedience to the will of God, and it is priests who know what the will of God commands.
The precept that we ought to obey God rather than man is … capable of being revolutionary … in two sets of circumstances,
- one, when the State is in opposition to the Church,
- the other, when it is held that God speaks directly to each individual conscience. …
So long as this acceptance continues, its power is very great [since] rebellion against the Church is thought more wicked than any other kind.
[But if the Church] uses its power too flagrantly men begin to doubt whether it is interpreting the will of God correctly; and when this doubt becomes common, the whole ecclesiastical edifice crumbles, as it did in Teutonic countries at the Reformation.
[In some instances] the moral code is an expression of economic power …
[In] the Middle Ages [—]
- when the most powerful of the laity were landowners,
- when bishoprics and monastic orders derived their income from land, and
- when the only investors of money were Jews,
This was a debtor’s morality.
With the rise of the rich merchant class, it became impossible to maintain the old prohibition: it was relaxed
- first by Calvin, whose clientèle was mainly urban and prosperous,
- then by the other Protestants, and
- last of all by the Catholic Church.
[Morality] appears to have a number of independent sources — Chinese sages, Indian Buddhists, Hebrew prophets, and Greek philosophers.
These men, whose importance in history it is difficult to overestimate, all lived within a few centuries of each other, and all shared certain characteristics which marked them out from their predecessors.
Lao-Tse and Chung-Tse deliver the doctrine of the Tao as what they know of their own knowledge, not through tradition or the wisdom of others; and the doctrine consists not of specific duties, but of a way of life, a manner of thinking and feeling, from which it will become plain, without the need for rules, what must be done on each occasion.
The same may be said of the early Buddhists.
[A] judgement of intrinsic value is to be interpreted, not as an assertion, but as an expression of desire concerning the desires of mankind.
When I say ‘hatred is bad’, I am really saying:
Would that no one felt hatred.I make no assertion; I merely express a certain type of wish.
The bearer can gather that I feel this wish but that is the only fact that he can gather, and that is a fact of psychology.
There are no facts of ethics.
The great ethical innovators have not been men who knew more than others; they have been men who desired more, or, to be more accurate, men whose desires were more impersonal and of larger scope than those of average men.
- Most men desire their own happiness;
- a considerable percentage desire the happiness of their children;
- not a few desire the happiness of their nation;
- some, genuinely and strongly, desire the happiness of all mankind. …
All great moralists, from Buddha and the Stoics down to recent times, treated the good as something to be, if possible, enjoyed by all men equally.
They did not think of themselves as princes or Jews or Greeks; they thought of themselves merely as human beings. …
Sympathy is the universalising force in ethics …
[The] principle of universal sympathy conquered first one province, then another.
It is the analogue, in the realm of feeling, of impersonal curiosity in the realm of intellect; both alike are essential elements in mental growth.
I do not think that the return to a tribal or aristocratic ethic can be of long duration; the whole history of man since the time of Buddha points in the opposite direction.
However passionately power may be desired, it is not power that is thought good in moments of reflective meditation.
This is proved by the characters of the men whom mankind have thought most nearly divine. …
Prophets and sages, with few exceptions, have valued things other than power — wisdom, justice, or universal love, for example — and have persuaded large sections of mankind that these are aims more worthy to be pursued than personal success.
Those who suffer by some part of the social system which the prophet or sage wishes to alter have personal reasons for supporting his opinion …
[It] is the union of their self-seeking with his impersonal ethic that makes the resulting revolutionary movement irresistible.