JMC : The State and the Church / by Ryan and Millar

8. The End of the State

by Rev. John A. Ryan, D.D.

IN the foregoing chapters we have presented the Catholic teaching on the relations that should subsist between the State and the Church, on the derivation of political authority by the ruler, or rulers, on democracy and representative government, and on the moral process by which the ruler obtains his authority. We have also traced the historical development of the doctrine which underlines this process, with particular reference to our own political history. In the course of the discussion a good deal has been said concerning not only the end of the State, but also its functions. Nevertheless, these observations have been for the most part incidental to the main subjects under consideration. Neither the end nor the functions of the State have been dealt with adequately and systematically. As we have already seen, the State, or civil society, is not a voluntary or optional association, such as, a trade union or a social club. It is a necessary society, a society which men are morally bound to establish and to maintain. This obligation arises from the fact that without a political organization and government, men cannot adequately develop their faculties, or live right and reasonable lives. God has so made human beings that the State is necessary for their welfare. "Man's natural instinct," says Pope Leo XIII, "moves him to live in civil society, for he cannot, if dwelling apart, provide himself with the necessary requirements of life, nor procure the means of developing his mental and moral faculties."{1} This, then, is the general end or purpose of the State, the promotion of human welfare. "The Almighty, therefore, has appointed the charge of the human race between two powers, the ecclesiastical and the civil, the one being set over divine and the other over human things."{2} Nor is the jurisdiction of the State over "human things" exclusive and complete. There is another association, another institution, for the promotion of temporal welfare which, in its own sphere, is superior to the State in authority, and prior to it in point of time. That is the family. In the primitive age of most peoples, the family provided for many of the needs and performed many of the functions that in later stages of development have come under the care of the State. Moreover, men have a natural right to form a great variety of voluntary associations for their common temporal advantage, as, in the fields of industry, fraternal insurance, and purely "social" activities. Therefore, the end of the State is to promote the common good only to the extent that this object cannot be attained by the family or by voluntary associations. This, in a sense residuary, province always exists, and is always very extensive and very flexible. Concerning it there still exists a theory which is older than the Christian era, appearing among the Orientals, as well as in Greece and Rome. In brief, it regarded the State itself as the end of all individual effort. Hence, the State had for its province the whole field of human action, religious, moral, domestic, economic, and social. The State could legitimately intervene and interfere in every department of life; and to it every person and every interest was completely subject and completely subordinate. According to this theory the province of the State comprised not merely man's temporal interests, but every detail of his existence; and the welfare of the individual, or any particular group of individuals, was conceived to have no value except in so far as it served the interests and aggrandizement of the State. "The individual was always under the eye of the State; his conduct was regulated and his life determined for him with such minuteness that he was regarded as existing for the State rather than the State for him."{3} In the words of Lord Acton, the ancients "concentrated so many prerogatives in the State as to leave no footing from which a man could deny its jurisdiction or assign bounds to its activity. If I may employ an expressive anachronism, the vice of the classic State was that it was both Church and State in one. Morality was indistinguished from religion, and politics from morals; and in religion, morality, and politics, there was only one legislator and one authority. The State, while it did deplorably little for education, for practical science, for the indigent and helpless, or for the spiritual needs of man, nevertheless claimed the use of all his faculties and the determination of all his duties. Individuals and families, associations and dependencies, were so much material that the sovereign power consumed for its own purposes. What the slave was in the hands of his master, the citizen was in the hands of the community. The most sacred obligations vanished before the public advantage. The passengers existed for the sake of the ship."{4}

In this ancient theory, the reader will have perceived two distinct elements, apparently independent of each other. Nevertheless they are closely related. If the State is conceived as an end in itself, to which individuals and citizens are mere means, its province will necessarily be regarded as comprising the whole field of the individual's relations and actions. Since every one of these affects the prosperity of the State, they must all be under the absolute control of the State. Therefore, the theory of the State as a final end implies the theory of the State as embracing every end which the individual may conceivably seek. And there is a strong tendency for the rule to work both ways. If the end of the State be coextensive with man's whole life and interest, if it may regard as its proper and exclusive field, not merely the maintenance of peace, security, order, and justice, but all the details of man's welfare in his religious, moral, domestic, economic, and purely "social" relationship, the State will sooner or later come to regard its own prosperity and aggrandizement as the final end of all its policies and actions. The narrow sphere assigned to individual initiative and individual liberty, and the immense concentration of power in the hands of political functionaries, will be mutually helpful forces impelling men to look upon the prosperity of the State as superseding and absorbing the welfare of human beings.

The theory of State omnipotence and omnicompetence has been revived in modern times. One of its most notable later forms is that expounded by the German philosopher, F. W. Hegel.{5} In his view, the State is the highest expression, manifestation, evolution of the Universal Reason, or World Spirit. Since perfection of life consists in the continuous expansion of the Universal Reason, and since the Universal Reason obtains its highest development in the State, all persons and institutions should serve and magnify the State, The individual exists for the State, and bears the same relation to the State as the branch does to the tree. Hence the State is the final and supreme end of human action, is an end in itself.

The number of political writers who have fully adopted the Hegelian theory of the State is negligible. Its philosophical basis is a pantheistic view of the universe which has not found wide acceptance. Nevertheless the central idea, that the individual exists for the State, and not the State for the individual, has been approved in some degree by a large number of political writers and by not a few political rulers. While Professor James W. Garner declares that "modern political thought and practice reject the view that the State is an end rather than a means,"{6} the Rev. Theodore Meyer, S.J., asserts that this view is held "not merely by one or two but probably by a majority of the teachers of public law."{7} According to Meyer, the prevailing form of the theory is this: The end of the State is the indefinite furtherance of human culture or civilization. While this end may, indeed, be identified with individual welfare, it is formulated by the advocates of the theory in such general and abstract terms that little consideration is given to the individual's concrete interests. The latter are always remote, always lost in some future condition of humanity at large. Existing individuals become secondary and subordinate to the general interests of the future. Since the evolution of humanity and the indefinite progress of civilization necessarily tend to be identified with the welfare of the State, the latter comes to be regarded as the supreme end.

A theory of State purpose which can easily be, and sometimes has been, perverted into the doctrine that the State is an end in itself, is that which holds that its primary object is the development of national power ("der nationale Machtzweck"). If national power be confined within the limits fixed by natural law and human welfare, and if it be conceived as an intermediate and instrumental end, -- as a means to the welfare of the people -- it is unobjectionable. Occasionally, however, it has been accepted, especially in practice by political rulers, as not only the primary but also the ultimate end of State activity. Wherever this acceptation and policy prevail, the individual is unduly subordinate to the State, The glorification of the State as a detached entity is sought to the detriment of its citizens.

A more general and fundamental influence in favor of the doctrine that the State is an end in itself, is produced by the almost universal rejection of the doctrine of natural rights. If the individual has no rights that are independent of the State, then the State is the supreme determinant of rights. Theoretically, indeed, men may hold that the end of the State is the welfare of individuals, and that in the promotion of this end, the State may disregard the natural rights of particular individuals, or particular groups of individuals. This course may be represented as promoting the welfare of the great majority of individuals, rather than the interest of the State as an abstraction. "Nevertheless the disregard of natural rights in the case of any group of individuals and the assumption that the State is the source of all individual rights, necessarily tend to diminish the importance of the individual as such, and to exaggerate the importance of the State. Therefore, this view gives strength to the theory that at any given time, and in relation to its existing subjects or citizens, the State is an end in itself.

Another source of the doctrine that the State rather than the individual is the supreme end of human action, is found in the modern theory of sovereignty. This is the theory associated with the name of the English jurist, John Austin.{8} It maintains that political sovereignty is legally unlimited. Two postulates are implied in this theory: First, the State recognizes no other society as its superior or as its equal; second, the State has the physical power to coerce all individuals and societies into obedience to its mandates. The first of these contradicts the Catholic doctrine that, in its own sphere, the Church is an independent, perfect and supreme social organization, and that, in society as a whole it is co-ordinate with, not subordinate to, the State. This is a question of moral right, of the requirements of reason; it is not a question of physical power. Whether the State does or does not recognize this moral right and rational authority of the Church in the field of the spirit, whether the State does or does not hinder by force the Church's exercise of this right, -- the right itself exists and endures. The second postulate of the Austinian theory involves a question of positive fact. Is the State always sufficiently strong to coerce at will the actions of all individuals and associations within its territory? History supplies a rather large list of examples in the negative. However, it is correct to say that the State usually has sufficient physical power to overcome any opposing force within its borders.

The conception of sovereignty, the supreme politico-physical power of the State, as legally unlimited easily passes into the assumption that it is unlimited morally. If sovereignty were defined as the supreme legal, political and physical power of the State to do everything that the State has a moral right to do, this assumption could never be drawn from the definition. When the moral qualification is omitted from the definition it readily comes to be ignored in thought and practice. Legal omnipotence insensibly passes into complete and unqualified omnipotence. Defenders of the Austinian doctrine may protest that the latter conception "is characteristic only of some exponents of the doctrine," that the doctrine "in no way necessarily denies that the State ought to obey the moral law," yet their emphasis upon the absolute character of sovereignty, and their failure to make explicit reference to its moral limitations, promotes the assumption, conscious or unconscious, that no such limitations exist.{9} After all, the definition of sovereignty merely in terms of physical and legal power has little or no practical value, imparts little or no practical information; for the idea of the State necessarily and immediately implies this measure of power over its territory and people. What is required, is a statement of the reasonable power possessed by the State. And the average man naturally assumes that any formal authoritative definition is intended to be of this character, is designed to tell him not only what the State has the physical power to do, but what it may do in harmony with the moral law and the principles of reason.

The influence of the current theory of sovereignty in promoting the view that the State is not bound by the moral law, is reinforced by two particular assumptions. The first is the assumption which denies that individuals or social groups "are possessed of any natural rights which in effect limit the power of the State."{10} If the State may properly disregard natural rights, treat them as non-existent, it may logically take the same attitude toward all other elements of the moral law. Indeed, the great majority of conflicts between the State and the moral law have to do precisely with the question of natural rights. The second assumption which lends support to the doctrine of State independence of the moral law, is that in case of conflict the State itself is the only authority competent to decide whether or not its proposed action constitutes a violation of morality. In the view of Burgess, "the State is the best interpreter of the laws of God and of reason, and is the human organ least likely to do wrong; hence one must hold to the principle that the State can do no wrong."{11}

To the extent that men regard the State as the supreme moral authority, as above the moral law which governs the actions of individuals and private societies, to that extent they must logically regard its judgments, its actions and its welfare as the supreme consideration. They come to look upon the State as an end in itself.

At first sight, it would seem ridiculously incorrect to enumerate among those who hold the State to be an end in itself the advocates of Socialism. For they profess to desire above all else the welfare of the masses; they insist that the Socialist State and administration is to be supremely democratic; and many of the older Socialists went so far as to predict that upon the establishment of the Socialist organization the State would die out as "a government of persons" and become supplanted by "an administration of things." Nevertheless their program of State ownership and management of all the industries that produce for a national or an international market, involves both State omnipotence and State omnicompetence. A State that controlled both the political and the industrial life of the people, would completely subordinate the individual to a centralized bureaucracy. This would be under the more or less immediate direction of a majority, and not infrequently of a powerfully organized minority, of the citizens. Consequently, the welfare of the majority, or of the dominant minority, rather than the welfare of the individual as such, or the welfare of all individuals, would come to be regarded as the supreme consideration. It would also come to be conceived as simply the welfare of the State. From this stage it is only a step to the position of regarding the State as an end in itself. At least, this would be the tendency if, as most Socialists expect and assume, the constitution of the commonwealth contained no guarantees of individual rights against the autocratic and oppressive action of the State.

In brief, the acceptance of the theory of the State as a final end would be a practical consequence rather than a formal postulate, an implicit rather than an explicit element, in the Socialist system. Given the invincible combination of political and industrial power, given the absence of a bill of rights for the individual, the inevitable result would be the absorption of the individual into the State and the conscious or unconscious general acquiescence in the theory that the welfare of the State is the supreme end of the social and political endeavors and policies. Indeed, the great majority of persons who to-day exaggerate the dignity and the rights of the State are led to his position, not by a metaphysical theory of its nature and end, but through a denial or a disregard of the natural rights of the individual.

Whatsoever may be its sources, and however widely it may be held, the theory of State omnipotence and omnicompetence, is fundamentally false. The State is not, as Hegel thought, the highest expression of the World-Spirit; it is merely an organization of human beings. The main purpose of the State is not to promote the general evolution of humanity, culture or civilization: This aim is secondary and surbordinate. While the State is under reasonable obligation to give some attention to the generations yet unborn, the welfare of the men and women now living is paramount. Individuals are not mere means or instruments to the glorification of the State, but are persons having intrinsic worth and sacredness. They are endowed with rights which may not be violated for the sake of the State. Considered apart from the individuals composing it, the State is a mere abstraction. Considered as a majority or as a select minority of its component individuals, the State has no right, nor any reason, to disregard the claims of any section of its members, since all are of equal worth and importance. National power is a means to State efficiency, not the end for which the State exists. As regards the sovereignty of the State, it is strictly limited by the moral law, and its true end is in harmony with the moral law. Finally, any organization of the State which involves the practical disregard of individual rights and individual freedom, is quite as unreasonable as a system which formally assumes the State to be an end in itself.

To all these theories which either frankly make the State an end in itself, or tend to do so by exaggerating its authority and scope, we oppose the Catholic doctrine as expressed by Pope Leo XIII, toward the close of his encyclical "On the Condition of Labor": "Civil society exists for the common good, and hence is concerned with the interests of all in general, albeit with individual interests in their due place and degree." In this statement are two significant declarations: First, that the end of the State is not itself, either as an abstraction, or as a metaphysical entity, or as a political organization, but the welfare of the people; second, that the welfare of the people, "the common good," is not to be conceived in such a collective, or general, or organic way as to ignore the welfare of concrete human beings, individually considered. A brief analysis of the phrase, "common good," as interpreted by Catholic authorities, will enable us to see specifically and precisely what is the true end of the State.

Taking, then, the two words, "common good," as the most concise expression of the purpose for which the State exists and functions, let us ask ourselves, first, what are the beneficial objects denoted by the term "good"? They are all the great classes of temporal goods; that is, all the things that man needs for existence and development in this life. They comprise all these orders of goods, spiritual, intellectual, moral, physical and economic. More briefly, they are all the external goods of soul and body. Hence it is the right and duty of the State to protect and further the religious interests of the citizens, as we have already seen in the first two chapters of this volume; to promote within due limits their education; to protect their morals against external dangers, and to facilitate moral education; to safeguard the liberty and the bodily integrity of the citizens from undue restraint, malicious attack, and preventable accident; and to protect private property and provide the citizens with a reasonable opportunity of obtaining a livelihood and advancing their material welfare. That all these objects are conducive to human welfare, is self-evident; that none of them can be adequately attained without the assistance of the State, is fully demonstrated by experience; that they all come within the proper scope and end of the State is the obvious conclusion.

Now these objects, spiritual, intellectual, moral, physical, and economic, are the end of the State, not under every aspect but only in so far as they are or can be made "common." While the State exists for the individual, rather than the individual for the State, it is not the business of the State to take cognizance of every individual, as such, and to provide him directly with all these goods, after the manner of the provision made by a good father for his helpless children. Were the State to attempt this it would injure instead of promoting the welfare of the vast majority of individuals. This is the verdict of experience. All that the State can do therefore, is to make these goods available. It can bring them within reach of the individual only through general acts which aim to produce a common effect) It can provide common opportunities; the individual must take advantage of the opportunities and make them fruitful for his peculiar needs. As a rule, therefore, the State promotes the common good by general laws and institutions, not by particular benefits. On the other hand, the common, or general, or public good must not receive a rigid or an exclusive interpretation. The endd of the State must, indeed, be conceived as common and universal, in the sense that no class nor any individual is to be positively excluded; but not every act of the State need affect all citizens in the same way, nor be directly beneficial to the whole community. As a matter of fact, few if any laws or other civil acts have precisely the same effect upon all individuals. Conspicuous examples of this fact are tariff laws, tax laws, industrial legislation of all sorts, and, indeed, substantially all the enactments of any legislative body. Even such elementary public institutions as the police force, the fire department and the public school affect different classes of citizens differently and unequally. In the second place, acts of the State need not always benefit the community as a whole. While the State is obliged to pursue the common good of all, it is not required to make every one of its acts serve that end immediately and directly. While it must confer general rather than particular benefits, it often fulfills this obligation through enactments whose immediate effect is to promote the welfare of only a single class. Indeed, it is required to do this very thing if it is to attain its final end. For its final end is the welfare of all its individual members. Since its competent individuals are grouped in different classes, economic and other, they necessarily have different interests. Unless these varying interests are recognized and adequately cared for by appropriate State action, some of the classes of the community will not be justly treated by the State. In respect to these, the State will have failed to promote the good of all.

The specious objection to class legislation is based entirely upon a priori assumptions. It derives no support from the facts of contemporary society. Its roots are to be found in the individualistic theories that pervaded political thought when the government of the United States was established. The political thinkers of that day assumed that all men were so nearly equal in capacities and opportunities that all would benefit equally by the few laws that were required to promote the common welfare. While even then the population of the country was divided into at least two important economic classes, the agrarian and the commercial, and while these interests clashed more than once in the legislation of the time and even in the making of the Constitution, the diversity of class interests was neither so pervasive nor so sharp as it has since become; and the leaders of political thought believed that class differences and disadvantages would tend to diminish rather than increase. Thus began a misleading tradition which has in all the succeeding years stood in the way of the correct doctrine concerning the end of the State, and prevented the enactment of necessary and humane social legislatiom.

If the State is to promote the common good in an equitable and adequate degree, it must consider both the good of the whole and the good of the various classes. The common interests of all the citizens can be cared for through uniform and general legislation; for example, laws for the protection of religion and morals. The varying interests of the different classes must be provided for by enactments which differ according to the different needs and deserts; for example, laws concerning industrial combinations, co-operative associations and labor organizations. To avoid all class legislation will mean discrimination in favor of certain classes, namely, those that are exceptionally powerful. These will be left free to exploit the weaker classes. Hence, in the sentence quoted above from Pope Leo XIII, the State is said to be concerned "with the individual interests in their due place and degree." Earlier in the encyclical the great Pontiff expresses the correct principle with more amplitude and precision. "Whenever the general interest, or any particular class, suffers or is threatened with injury which can in no other way be met or prevented, it is necessary for the State to intervene." The principle laid down in the italicized section of this sentence is still more specifically and emphatically stated in other passages of the same encyclical. For example: "The richer class have many ways of shielding themselves, and stand less in need of help from the State; whereas those who are badly off have no resources of their own to fall back upon, and must chiefly depend upon the assistance of the State."{12}

The common good means not only the good of all in general, or as a whole, but the good of every class and, so far as practicable, the good of every individual. To put the matter in summary terms, the State is under obligation to promote the welfare of its citizens, as a whole, as members of families, and as members of social classes.{13}

How far the State should go in the pursuit of these objects; whether it should directly provide the various kinds of goods required by the various classes, or merely create and guarantee the opportunity of acquiring them; by what principles and rules the State should be prevented from encroaching upon the proper sphere of the individual, the Church and private associations, -- are questions which concern the State's functions. They will be discussed in the next chapter.

{1} Encyclical, The Christian Constitution of States, page 2 of this volume.

{2} Idem, page 7 of this volume.

{3} Introduction to Political Science, p. 312, by James W. Garner.

{4} History of Freedom and Other Essays, pp. 16, 17.

{5} Philosophie des Rechts; English translation by S. W. Dyde, Hegel's Philosophy of Right.

{6} Introduction to Political Science, p. 312.

{7} Institutiones Juris Naturalis, II, 276, note.

{8} Lectures on Jurisprudence, 1832.

{9} Cf. "The Pluralistic State," in the "American Political Science view," vol. 14, p. 398, sq.

{10} Ibid., p. 404.

{11} Politcal Science and Constitutional Law, I, pp. 54-57. This view receives at least partial approval from Ernest Barker, in a footnote to H.G. Wells' Outline of History, II, 197: "I think better of Machiavelli than you do, and especially on two points. (1) He raises a real issue -whether, when a crisis besets the State, the ruler is not bound to abandon the rules of private morality, if by so doing he can preserve the State. If he abandons those rules, he does wrong and Machiavelli admits that -- but, at the same time, as the agent and organ of the State, he does right by preserving it, so far, at any rate as it is right that it should be preserved. This is a real issue which one cannot simply dismiss . . .'' The same action of the ruler is at once right and wrong! Or, if its wrongness from the viewpoint of private morality becomes cancelled by the fact of its benefit to the State, then the State must be regarded as an end in itself and the supreme determinant of right and wrong!

{12} The whole section of the encyclical on the part of the State in the reform of industrial conditions is fundamental.

{13} Cf. Costa-Rosetti, Synopsis Philosophiae Moralis, pp. 479-495.

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