Men endowed with a very developed moral sense do not support the idea that the gulf between politics and morality is impassable, that the reign of morality stops where one attacks the rules of relations between peoples. They do not deny this conflict. They equally admit that it cannot be surmounted so soon. They accommodate this “imperfection.” But with perseverance, they insist that the obligatory force of ethical norms must be firstly recognized – at least in principle – for politics also. They are patient: politics should become “ethical” over time. Willingly, they accept the need to wait awhile. That is the attitude that Töltsch managed to show in his book Der Historismus und seine Ueberwindung.
“To moralize politics” is to say that behind politics there is a moral principle with its requirements and recommendations. To contribute to the victory of this principle is laudable. In an increasing measure, the direction of political affairs must be confided in personalities whose morality cannot be put in question. It should no longer be the activity of the state to exclusively affirm and develop its power. Politics should be called to realize the idea of morality equally in the life of the state. Men with the thirst for power and the passion for success which, when present, take the head of state, should be replaced by saints and ascetics. Nevertheless, all politics reposes on the existence and the activity of impulses of power and domination that nature has endowed creation with. It is only the ensemble of rules, the method helping to react to relations between states. “Moralist” politics asserts that the structure of man should change firstly, that the thirst for power must be firstly be extinguished, that man should become something other than what he is today. Those who feel an interior resistance against all of which is improbable, or, at least, unpredictable, cannot take into consideration this possibility. He deals with the existent state. But in this state, he discovers no precursor sign, no prior condition to an evolution towards the “moralization of politics” – which, objectively, would be a contradiction.
In the grand hardship of force, “moralist” politics of the state would have no example, it cannot excite and inflame. Faced with other states, it would be a phenomenon evaluated by its practical consequences. To paralyze the will to power, removing his good conscience is in the nature of “moralist” politics. If it wants to remain faithful to itself, this politics should renounce serving power. Historical experience teaches us this: power disintegrates itself when it exposes itself to general contempt, when its existence and its utility provoke disgust.
Thus, the weight of the state acting in a “moral” fashion diminishes in the context of political events. Its ethical politics has no fluidity; looked on from a certain distance, it should be considered as foolishness. It is interpreted and exploited as the symptom of interior weakness. That which seems and is felt as something courageous and grandiose, when it is the decision of a man braving the world, presents itself as the political test of the degradation of the living force of the people, as a perverse penchant for impotence, as the impulse of an annihilating suicidal. Objectively, there is no relation between politics and morality and this fact is especially most evident when a heroically moral politics presents itself, as it is ultimately, a weak criminal politics, foolishly contemptible or even demented. That as well is the point of view of the effect by which the aspect it offers, in reasonable measure, proves its moral character.
The result of an “ethical” politics has the same effect as the paralyzing internal degradation of the state or the loss of power due to a unilateral disarmament. The purity of intentions, the ideal character loses all its luminosity, all charm, which penetrates the domain of politics. It appears as the disarmed expression but it is all the same fatal to an infantile dilettantism, to a naive eccentricity. Though it is profitable and effective that politics seems to be moral faced with the innate moral sense of man, it is harmful to him to be such, only the greatest will and the possession of power gives it supremacy. Consequently, a false profession of faith in favor of the moral idea is a very effective political means. The spirit of the people is prideful, emotional, enthusiastic, and rendered docile. Foreign nations are duped to the real intentions or even brought, to their detriment, to declare confidence in this expression of will adorned with morality. Among political means, the moral idea is a ceremonial cloak, an ornament which impresses but doesn’t reveal the true nature of those who wear it. What Machiavelli said, in his famous 18th chapter of the Prince on the subject of sovereigns, is valuable regarding the relation between politics and morality in general: “A good sovereign should appear clement, honest, obliging, sincere, and pious, and he should be so. At the same time, he should be entirely able to do all on the contrary in this fashion, if so required.”
By reason of the mysterious force of its words, the profession of faith in favor of moral ideas, even if it is not sincere, produces an effect on men. To recall the words of Luther: they follow the mouth more than the fists. The word is the matter of significance. On hearing it, the man takes it to live in his conscience. With him who pronounces the word, he feels himself called to penetrates into the communal sphere of feeling, of discovery, and of truth. He feels entirely fulfilled by the objective significance of the word, he supposes that others are equally, that he is “the word” and that he sincerely desired and honestly gave life to the word by reason of his feeling. When he uses a word, the moral man directly aims to feel it. For him, he is the exclusive means of expressing its significance. He thinks what he said. His word is a confession, it bares itself, a revelation. His sincerity resides in the fact that he feels engaged by the feeling of the word when he pronounces it. Such sincerity is the virtue he seeks to attain.
For the politician – we repeat: it is only a question of those who feel a vocation and not of the little politicians, such as those deputies in the Reichstag and the heads of parties – which, for all politicians – their words included – is a means of obtaining to success.
The meaning of the word has little importance to him. He examines the effect that he can produce by reason of this intrinsic meaning and of the receptivity of men who hear the word. He pronounces it not because he endorsed its meaning or because he would want to testify in its favor. He pronounces it to incite men to adopt a certain comportment, which as we know from experience, appears when the word in question arrives in his ears. Thus he celebrates justice – not because he decided to act in a just fashion – but because men have confidence in him and allow their director all the more latitude because they believe that he practices the virtue of justice. The cunning Talleyrand was conscious of this state of things, when he would affirm, as a true politician, in a malicious and cynical fashion, that the words serves to conceal the thought.
An ethical personality finds itself, without comprehending anything, disconcerted before a formulation designed and entirely felt from the point of view of politics. It experiences disgust, turning with anger: he misunderstands the lies and the perfidy which are only pure political wisdom.
Germany produced a person of a certain rank, of a European reputation who, in a strange fashion, bound by a moral passion pronounced a tendency that influenced political events: it was Friedrich Förster. It not necessary to say that it is a venal subject or that he is a villainous traitor to his people. He felt a “sublime” vocation of wanting to submit German politics to the morality of the Sermon on the Mountain. He would interpret the end of the war as evidence striking the German people to incite them to return. With a severe tenacity and an inflexible fierceness, he would address his exhortations to penitence to the politicians of the German nation. He tried to persuade the powers to “purify” German politics and transform it into a work of faith, holiness, and mercy. However, his personality and his intentions had a typical destiny he had to undergo. The fact that he enjoyed with such understanding the art of politics, which requires the capable men and not the moralists to make a profession of their faith, shortly made him slide into the role of Don Quixote, a role which fit him well quite a bit. The inevitable result: the deception of the disregarded prophet who overwhelmed his German people with wild and violent accusations which would furnish the enemies of Germany, France in particular, with easy pretexts and justifications for their politics of force, thirsting for vengeance towards Germany. Thus, Förster became the principle witness, voluntarily cited by voracious French politicians. With that blissful knowledge, Poincaré mentioned him in his memoirs as a “sincere German,” the distinguished professor! The true role of Förster was that of saluting German impotence with an overflowing satisfaction, to preach the necessity of this period of impotence with a pressing importunity and to stigmatize the spirit of the will to German liberation as a malign attack against morality. But in that, he supports the brutal supremacy of France. By dragging Germany before the tribunal of the Sermon on the Mountain, he became, despite himself, by virtue of the laws of politics which rule the world, a lamentable creature of French politics. Today, he seems repugnant and oblivious because he resembles one who has not made account of its contradictions. How could moral authority benefit a then overwhelmed Germany which received no favorable prejudice when France guarded its position by force with the aid of toxic gas, tanks, black or mixed soldiers, and other vexing measures directed towards the part of the German people who would be perfectly peaceful?
The condition in which Europe finds itself today has an origin in the cynical abuse of the moral idea: it’s this abuse which characterizes it. Politics seized morality to give itself good conscience and to justify a work done from hate, the thirst for vengeance, and rapacity. The Diktat of Versailles is this terrible work which permits the deprivation of sixty million people of their liberty and honor. The Diktat of Versailles aims to annihilate. However, it must not appear as an act of violence. The conquerors serve themselves with the frivolous audacity of their supremacy to inscribe the events of this great war of four years in the ranks of moral consideration. As such these triumphalists, they think to profit in this way of envisioning things. They deformed and extended the maxim “might is right” to the point of giving it a new sense, to know: might makes moral. The defensive combat that the German people lead with unequaled courage, was labeled as an odious crime against humanity. The war was no longer recognized as an extension of politics by other means, but presented as an unpardonable violation of moral law. Evidently, Germany was the only victim of this new concept. The war was its fault and all responsibility was imputed to it. The victors were very strong in imposing upon public opinion their interpretation of events, that is to say: those who defended themselves against an odious attack, those who had acted in a state of legitimate defense, and which, at the end of the war, would be well confirmed by morality: “in this world, it should pay for its errors.”
The war as a moral lesson, that was the most wicked, most hateful blow that the victors had dealt to the defeated, who, in their impotence, should remain passive and endure and support it all. There, the victors, when they came to account with the vanquished, placed themselves under a moral plan. All that was done to the vanquished, would be represented as reparation, expiation, and punishment to satisfy the universal moral order. The conqueror, only abused his supremacy, to play the role of the justice who redresses wrongs. Up to the present, when states took up arms against each other, they then reunited, when the conflict was finished, around a round table. Certainly, the victor held the costs against the defeated, his positions in the negotiation was weaker – nevertheless they would negotiate. But now, after this perfidious moralization of war, the vanquished – because he is the vanquished – is held culpable. One does not negotiate with him, one judges him and pronounces a sentence of culpability. Thus Versailles was the moral condemnation of Germany. Now does one comprehend why in the peace treaty, it should impute all the responsibility for the war to Germany? This allegation it levied permitted it to transpose the war and its end, from the political terrain to the moral terrain. The imputation of the entire responsibility for the war to Germany isn’t a simple clause of the Diktat: it is its heart, its spiritual basis, even the principle. If one would abandon it, the Diktat would lose its obligatory character, its moral and judicial validity. It would only remain an accidental, arbitrary act without objective foundation. For this reason, the struggle against the lies concerning the responsibility for the war is not effectively a little naive game or caprice. It directly effects the vital nerve of the Diktat, the spiritual reason that justifies its existence.
That is the secret of those who have the supremacy of force, they have to seize even the conscience of those who, at the beginning, oppose them. The supremacy of the Western powers was so overwhelming and intimidating to Germany, even that faith in the right of resistance, the necessity of struggle was shaken. The people finished by seeing its righteous cause with the eyes of its most determined enemies. They would begin to say: never should this war have taken place. The fact that it erupted is entirely our fault. We must confess it and repent. The military collapse of 1918 was accompanied by a political collapse. During which the conquerors would prove their greatest mastery of politics, Germany would do penance. Eisner was only a typical representative. His heart beat for “noble France” which had started a crusade against “Prussian” and “obstinate” Germany. If, now, the German people were capable of renouncing their Prussian and militarist mentality and bowing, as morally refurbished, before Clemenceau, then they would be accorded the grace of a just peace.
Since “Prussianism” was not totally exterminated in Berlin, they would conclude the peace via Munich. If, for an hour, they would be left alone with Clemenceau, he could have arranged everything. The eminent Social Democrats, who during the war, had denied all fault of Germany, suddenly anguished, made a confession of culpability. However, the man who will express the most panicked politics and disorder of spirit which had seized the German people in the face of this sudden and unexpected catastrophe was Erzberger. As such “the active leader,” accomplished the flight of politics to morality in the most unconscionable and deplorable fashion. “We must all confess,” he said, “and then we will be pardoned.” He himself would confess everything. But since the conquerors were not moralists but politicians they weren’t going to pardon him and they used their confessions as a precious political means to permit the success of a trick consisting of making this terrifying peace seem just and merited.
In concluding these reflections, we can say that, on principle and by nature, there is no bridge that can link politics to morality, the political action to the ethical idea. Even in that, the deepest and hidden, even the most vague, affinity cannot be detected, no affinity could exist despite their innumerable divergences. The two spheres are so antithetical that they stayed closed on themselves, finding each other foreign, in an inaccessibility without possible comprehension. A vital interaction is unthinkable. They submitted to completely different laws.