If politics is to ensure success, the human factors must be taken into account uniquely as they are, without allowing diversion. If it should become the prey of ideals that man professes with enthusiasm, bravado, and nostalgia, politics would see it as it would or should be. It would venture on firm ground and slip into blurriness. It can envision that man is seized and moved by moral principles. In this fact, it would only become the victim of the illusion that man is, by the same experience, a being showing some moral capacity. A mysterious force of attraction exercises itself on the nature of politics and facts, reality, and beliefs.
They mutually attract as if they were under the hold of a mysterious force emanating from the heart of things. They agree to correspond with each other. Thus in the political world, man is only his vanity, his egoism, his weakness, and his half controlled impulses. The man as that “freely developed personality” has the air of a will–o’-the-wisp which would lure it into the temptation of following the wrong path.
Consequently, an old wisdom incites incites good legislators to always envision the worst and to suppose that man is too easily inclined to do evil in a measure without fixed limits. They see man with the eyes of La Rochefoucauld. They no longer believe, as Rousseau, that man is naturally good and do not doubt that he can be fundamentally evil. They approve Saint Paul, who complained of wanting good but not achieving it. Schopenhauer said: “Learn to know man in all his weakness, as the doctor does it, in all his wickedness, as the jurist does it , in all his foolishness, as the theologian does it.” Thus politics sees him simultaneously in his weakness, wickedness, and foolishness. All political rulers of real grandeur are profoundly misanthropic. Machiavelli, the greatest political thinker, was equally a misanthrope. Misanthropy is a true element brought to bear by his system. In the third chapter of his work treating the state, he said: “History proves it by many examples and all the writers agree to say that the society that wishes to give a constitution and laws to a republic, must presume that all men are bad and believe that they will show the wickedness of their spirit whenever they will have the occasion.”
Machiavelli reaffirms this conviction when he wrote: “The preceding is proved by the fact that men will never do good without constraints, that all is disorder and confusion when he is arbitrarily free or allowed to be so.”
There is nothing else to do than to note that the matter of politics is “that which is”, while the matter of morals is “that which should be,” besides that, the scale of values in politics is success, in the domain of morals, good will, pure intention, the current moral sentiments, it is in noting this, that the real difference between the two concepts is revealed. Only he who is conscious of the essence of these two domains can comprehend their relation, which as always, has occupied the thought of people. Max Weber also thought about this problem in his important essay, Politik als Beruf. He noted an opposition between the ethic of conviction and the ethic of responsibility. According to Weber, there is one difference, “If it is according to the maxim of the ethic of conviction – to say religion ‘Christ does good and it’s God who decides success’ – according to the ethic of responsibility: one must respond to the predictable consequences of his actions.” This distinction is pertinent. Yet one demands, if in the representation of the ethic responsibility, one doesn’t abuse the term and the concept of ethics. It is all the same solely that is is agreed to call it evaluation according to success.
But there is no longer anything to be seen in ethics that is beyond compromise. For it, the doubting middle cannot even justify if they served moral ends. From the point of view of success, this middle is useful or effective, or absurd and useless, but never moral or immoral. Morality is always based on conviction, on the intention of will. Thus good will is given to actions even lacking a moral aspect. But only in the measure where the motive of the action is moral, it partakes in morality. Certainly, in the sense of responsibility, politics courageously assumed touches of the moral sphere, but that does not suffice for an action to be moral. The statesman who uses lies and duplicity to augment the prestige and the power of his country, starts from a feeling of responsibility towards the grandeur of his people, cannot justify himself from the moral point of view. Even his sense of responsibility does not make his lies and duplicity moral acts. It is undeniable that the points of view of political responsibility and of morality have no objective relation. Sometimes they can coincide, sometimes they cross, sometimes they contradict each other. When they are in opposition, the politician doesn’t have a choice. He must decide from the point of view of the feeling of responsibility. His sense of responsibility will even prevent him from accomplishing a moral action if it is bad for his people.
Those who feel truly engaged by morality, of the sort who do not want to save their people at the price of abandoning their moral principles, are certainly capable of many things, but in no case could they have the vocation of statesman. As Treitschke said in his Politik: “The statesman does not have the right of warming his hands over the smoldering ruins of his country with the comfortable satisfaction of never having lied. It is a virtue reserved to monks.”
Naturally, he doesn’t have the right, it is the situation that forbids him. His errors and omissions influence the destiny of millions of men. All error, foolishness, or haste, but equally the wisdom and the fitness to know when to seize an opportunity has a beneficent or baneful effect, but it has little import to the good conscience of the statesman. His particular task resides in the fact that the fate of millions of men is more important to him than the peace of his soul. It is possible that he prefers this peace to present itself before moral judges, but it would be condemned by the judges of politics.
He must accept the fact that man is inevitably seen under two different and opposing angles whether he is seen as a human being or a political subject. Morality is a personal affair. The man as that individual who received the task of being a citizen of the moral world. To rise above the empire of feeling constitutes the greatest value, the highest dignity, as Kant said it, “Character is freedom and independence in respect to the mechanisms of nature.” It is only according to the laws of morality, that man is truly autonomous and self determined. Under the plan of morality, one gives an immense weight to the individual who is placed in direct relation with the universe. He has an experience without limits. His personality is more important than the world and its riches. “The greatest affair of man is to know what he must be to be a man.” It is in the nature of morality to consider character as an objective. He does not permit himself to lower himself to the rank of the middle. The sentiment, exacerbated by the right to particularity, to individuality, is normal in this domain. The cultivated pride in character, which makes constant effort towards perfection, is opposed to an existence that would be purely physical. In the sphere of morality, character is considered as the summit attaining infinity. To be known for “character” is the “supreme happiness.”
On the plane of political activities, man seems rather more self-effacing, pale, monotonous. The importance which, on the moral level, resides in the man himself, is suddenly elsewhere, it is beyond him. For a creative force, which grabs all, he is only matter, he is only a little speck. Suddenly, the extent of his culture, his spirituality, and the stage of his moral evolution become secondary. Like a spinning wheel, he is integrated into a system, regardless of that which he could be besides. One should recall the role of a man in the organization of the army. Individual particularity is completely effaced and even considered as a disruptive element. The sentiment of individual importance is reduced to nearly zero. His value no longer resides in that which he is, but in the function attributed to him. Uniform, grade, decoration determine his position. One doesn’t attempt to count the stage of his moral evolution. No man is an end in himself. All are means. All the personal and subtle emotions freeze, putting himself “on guard.” All is done as part of a mass, which must take on ranks, which must integrate itself and submit. Man is only a physical being, an animal. His personal character is hidden under his uniform, and sometimes he even denies it.
Given this state of things, one understands the discomfort of the intellectual before the state. The importance accorded to personal particularity, to individuality, to self-assured personality is constrained by the spirit of the state. Before its laws, everyone is equal. The state is incapable of understanding the profundity and finesse of men, and it cannot see them. Those do not exist for it. It only wants one to obey its laws. Moral law, that the being bears in himself, is not valuable before it. It is when moral laws oppose themselves to laws proper that it occupies itself with them. It requires that it is repealed and if it faces a refusal to obey, it does not hesitate to punish. These last years, the conscientious objectors have had that experience.
The evaluation of what is human digs a gulf between the moral and the political. On one side, man, as character, is the supreme good, on the other, he is only a tiny particle, with no proper value, tossed about in all senses. In morality, one accords to him the greatest importance, in politics – none. Only the things done by the state can give him importance.
It is true that ethical norms claim a universal validity. Its interior assurance, its untouchable authority can only triumph on the condition that is can be applied, in principle, everywhere man is. It would lose its unswerving force of obligation, if it would accept, willingly, limits on its field of application. Man, feeling bound by moral law, requires that it reigns in an unlimited fashion without exception. He would immediately claim an exception for himself, if he had the precedent.
For this reason, no attempt to delimit the moral and the political can lead. Human sentiment, which fears the clouds of morality, will immediately protest against such limitation. When under a logical plan, it seems acceptable, the heart will refuse itself to be convinced all the same.
From this fact, such reflections give the impression that the litigious question stays unresolved. It is the lot of the active statesman to be exposed to this uncertain light which results. Without a doubt, his private life submits to moral law. It is equally true that the “political action” of the little politicians of our democracy, our mediocre parliamentarians, and party leaders should submit to moral requirements. It doesn’t have much of a political breadth to have the right to be moral. But even if he is all the same, the little politician cannot wrap himself in the tragedy of the statesman. It only shows that he is a repugnant scoundrel.
The true statesman, accomplishing his great political missions has submitted – we have already admitted this – his activities to a particular law. His acts, some of which clash with ethical norms, have something strangely enigmatic. Timidly, we note their illicit character, but at the same time we recognize their objective necessity. The disquiet of our moral feeling doesn’t prevent us from accepting the inevitable, all the same, and it finds reflection in the expression: “politics breaks down character.” In all cases, we will consider the statesman as a function of destiny, as the bearer of great impersonal vital forces, we are ready to renounce the scales of values concerning him. Given that he impresses us as an unchained force of nature, we find it much easier not to judge him from a moral point of view as, for evident reasons, we would not judge natural phenomena, such as waterfalls or storms.
Some personalities like Frederick II have their individuality absorbed by the service of the state. He retains nothing of his egoism to be point where he becomes exclusively the organ of the state. Also, we no longer attempt to judge their individual actions according to the scale of moral values. In the measure where moral conscience concerns itself with such persons, it does it in the fashion of considering, in full, the near complete effacement of himself as a moral quality, not in the current sense but as the greatest value.
Politics is exclusively subject to its intrinsic proper needs, to the particular norms resulting from the state of things that concern it. Without a doubt, it situates itself beyond morality. The difficulty in accepting this results from the fact that politics provokes instinctive protests, born from the sentiment that being human has its proper value. As a general rule, man is incapable of reducing the sentiment of his proper value when it is considered as a product of nature, such as with other natural phenomena. He is repulsed to be only the material of the creative political force. He does not want to be a mean, as the other things in nature are. His pride, his need to affirm himself revolt. But when man requires to be placed before nature, by reason of his interior value, he is already in the sphere of moral law. The man who fears being used, exploited, and even destroyed by political events, as if he were prime material, tries at all cost to divest himself from the dangerous possibilities of politics. That is why he always leaves suspended the fact of knowing if finally the political act must not justify itself before moral conscience. This conscience that man opposes to politics, is the weapon he uses to guard for his character a certain liberty, despite the order of submission and adaptation that politics gives him. This position of defense retrenched in the individual who wants to affirm, against the general requirements of politics, is the image of tension between the moral imperative and the political act. For objective reasons, this tension is permanent. The antagonism, pushed to the extreme, incites the individual, conscious of his value, serves a moral motivation to refuse, on principle, the right to existence of politics as the object of politics, that is to say, the state, as well. The anarchists shoot with this consequence. They aspire to a state to a state without authority, no order, only the sovereign personality pushing to accede to free and unconditional self determination.
To repeat it another time, it is in the nature of politics to evaluate the terrain of reality and not that of moral requirements. But the convictions of man, which incite him to support the universal truth of ethical norms, is equally a reality. Politics puts itself in an embarrassing situation, if it dares to enter into conflict with ethical norms or if it obeys, in a provocative and non-dissimulating fashion, its proper law, it is detained by ethical norms expressly and forever. It would immediately arouse an instinctive aversion. In losing the support of its own public, it would deprive itself of all the means to succeed. Thus, it would become “an evil and beastly politics,” which is to say, a politics against nature. For this reason, it submits to the law of “as if.” It must do “as if,” that is to say, do in a way resembling acceptance of ethical norms and does not hesitate to give proof of its good will. It is necessary that political actions keep up appearances. They are inopportune when one can suspect them of being immoral. They can be it, they will often be it, but never should they give that appearance. Frequently they have no importance to the moral plan. Then they have nothing inherent in their being to provoke a value judgment. Do not let it appear as a tendency to violate ethical norms since you spoke in their favor. The sole absence of such a tendency permits one to believe that political action and morals rules will not be in disagreement. In a certain measure, the fact that politics has the object of the public good assures it a favorable prejudice. But when politics gives proof of moderation, a favorable quality in this domain, it immediately has the impression that it is on the way to virtue. When there is moderation, there is always a reflection of moral radiance. Even moderation in bad actions throws a moral light on the depths of corruption. Certainly, moderation in politics is only the expression of a great lucidity: one is conscious that all exaggeration provokes destructive and adverse reactions – but this wisdom is interpreted as purity of intention. This opportunity, carefully calculated and weighed – is the most final, the most subtle, but also the most profitable product of such wisdom – it is considered as a happy sign of moral aspiration. In this sense, the peace of Nikolsburg that Bismarck would accord with Austria in 1866, was moderate, opportune, and “moral.”