Objectively it is impossible to give them a common denominator. The moral idea would be simply annihilated, if it recognized the validity and the scales of political values. Politics would become apolitical, “non-political” and would sincerely bow before the requirements of moral ideas. They are so truly incompatible that no compromise is possible between them. Only the fact that it bears the object of ethical norms is also that of political objects, that is man, establishing a forced relation between the two, one very embroiled and confused. Man, as such a moral being, is conscious of the absolute character of morality, which permits him no exception. He equally approves the inflexibility of moral requirement with respect to politics. However, politics is the “art of the possible” and the mature exercise of handling reality and the facts by recognizing their particularity and knowing how to use them according to their nature. As such it doesn’t always attempt to have a reason, it is not greedy for prestige. It accepts the state of things as they are. Publicly, it pays homage to morality and comports itself as if it submitted to its law, as if the moral idea was its line of conduct. But immediately, it avenges itself on morality, using it with the skill of a superior player, to its own ends. Man can be seized by an idea; one wants to seem omnipotent, very well! then the Bible says it, when one wants to pull the wool over someone’s eye, he says “work in the service of humanity,” when one wants to subjugate a foolish people, he says “peace be with you” when he only wants to deal with it as a conquest by force! There is no intention which cannot drape itself in in the clothing of moral requirement and, disguised as such, presents itself as an appeal to the moral conscience of man. The moral idea as instrument of politics: it is in effect the role that it must assume when it comes in contact with politics. From the political point of view, the relation between politics and morality is cold, sober, and objective; from the moral point of view it is frivolous and cynical.
Given that there is not an objective relation between ethics and political ideas, the realization of a veritable relation between the two becomes impossible. It can only be fictitious. However, this fiction is favorable to the two parties. The apparent homage that politics now pays to ethics, even according its authority to the moral ideas. The forces of penetration, determination, and spirit increase when the goals covered by politics address themselves to men in the form of moral requirements. Draped in ethics, they have the appearance of universal validity and the suggestive and persuasive force of that which must be done. Thus the political objective often finds effective, even peremptory corroboration in the moral sphere.
The strange specificity of legality is a typical and instructive case of reinforcement and influence resulting from the participation of these ideas. The system of judicial norms seizes instinctive or human actions and then gives emphasis to their value. Acts are not judged according to their motivations and their causes but uniquely by the relation with laws and interdicts, which constitute a positive right. The fact that they respect or infringe upon the laws in effect determines the judgment to which they will be submitted. The intentions that are behind the actions are of little import, only counting when they are before the law.
When they are contrary to the law, public opinion immediately opposes them and they become suspect in their fair eyes. But when they want to observe a norm, they are approved, even if after their motivations, of which they are doubtful, are seen as unsavory. To escape a critical test, it suffices that they respond, in appearance, to the requirements of the norm. This conformity gives them weight, force which is recognized, assurance, justification, and the feeling of being untouchable. When coups erupt, the party that has legality, is always advantaged. Even if it is faint, corrupted, or loose, it will find an appeal to the authority of the law. Thus when the adversary fights on the terrain of the constitution, or defends itself there, the instigating group of the coup must have a considerable numeric superiority or a real power for victory to fall from the sky. Never does the force of legality reveal itself in a more dazzling fashion than in these limit cases, in the cases where actions are themselves contrary to the sense and letter of the law but keep an appearance of legitimacy. If, in a civil war, a man is brutally put against the wall and shot, public opinion will have difficulty accepting it, resenting it as an act of violence, like an assassination. But when the summary procedure of a court martial proceeds putting him to death, it would appear as the execution of a judgment which, ultimately, was made by application of a norm, though to some it is questionable. Now this act should be far less provocative and outrageous. The fact that, in a certain measure, it made an appeal to a law, then places this act in a larger context, giving it a more general sense, and, at the same time, it ceases to be “absurd,” that is to say worrying arbitrariness. Arbitrariness is a thing that cannot justify itself in any sense, by no superior significance, no intrinsic or apparent necessity.
In the limit cases of this type, where the true nature of the act is not sufficiently in accord with the contents of the norm before it is justified, have the characteristics of this fictitious relation which exists, in an expanded framework, between politics and ethics in general.
Such a fictitious relation exists, a fortiori and after the nature of things, between politics and religion. The words: “What use is it for man to win the world, if he has lost his soul?” enlighten the depths of religiosity. The destiny of the individual soul, which is determined by his relation with God, is the principal object of religious preoccupations. Even God became human, suffered, and died, uniquely to deliver the soul from the consequences of its sins. Religion is the way towards salvation of the soul. After it, divine providence incites the individual to follow this way. Before God, all men are equal. Our Father who art in heaven even counts the hairs on each head. The feeling of significance for myself which, at the start, is one of the sources of living religion, is exalted by religion, but under a more “civilized” form. Me, I feel “close to God.”
As we have already tried to explain it, politics has no feeling for the particular values and psychology of the individual. All on the contrary, it accords very little value to the wealth of the individual, considering the human person as easily replaceable, as a negligible quantity of this matter that it shapes. It wants to “conquer the entire world.” It does not preoccupy itself with the traumatized that could result. It is devoid of an organ to perceive them. To declare religion is a “private affair”, corresponds very much to the way of political considerations.
Yet, in the measure where it doesn’t even treat religion as as private affair, but insists on the submission of a Church recognized by all, which is the State Church, it has not, by this fact, manifested its respect and high consideration for religion. It only proved that resolute realism is not remote from any means that could permit it to carry itself to victory. Man would be religious? That he is! He he will not only be satisfied but will become more manipulable. Certain reservations in respect to the constraints and pressures that are exerted on politics will cease when man will note that even politics doesn’t hesitate to bow before spiritual values. As Machiavelli said it, it should “appear respectable towards God.”
When the Church, administrator of the holy sacraments, does politics, aspiring to temporal power and its extension, the difference between to be and to appear probably manifests itself in the most acute fashion. Since, in such case, the Church wants at all cost to achieve its projects, it must accept the necessary means. In certain epochs, it even approved atrocities such as those committed by the Inquisition. Its will to power, which aspires to a domination without limits, crushed all opposition in terror and blood. The popes became strategists and thus arose Alexander VI. Of this pope, Machiavelli recounts: “During all his life, he only deceived. No one will posses as he did the art of deception. No one knew to confirm his promises by more convincing oaths, and no one kept them less than him.” The Church, as such the administrator of religious ideology, had at its disposal an inexhaustible treasure of brilliant pretexts and convincing arguments. The religious ideas that it evoked to satisfy its thirst for power deployed their suggestive force. That was greatly sufficient to prevent their believers from returning to reason even in the face of terrible bursts of furor towards ecclesiastical power. For the faithful, the actions committed by the Church stayed religious when the curate affirmed “God wills it.” Furthermore, the Church profited from the fact that religious sentiment easily transforms itself into an exacerbated fanaticism and inflames an extreme passion. When, thanks to religious ideas, it “heated the souls of the people,” the critic is silent. Even the most atrocious act, designed and accomplished according to the law of politics, receives a religious consecration and acquires a credibility as a religious action. One pardons him of being absurd and inconceivable as soon as he believes that he is founded on the decree of Providence that no mortal can judge.
Certainly, as always, the politics of the State has equally profited from religious excitation and the influence that religious ideas can exert on man. The “Iron Sides” of Cromwell became near invincible when making battle in the English Civil War “in the name of the Supreme Being.” When Luther fulminated against the Church, which had taken a profane character, the German princes voluntarily slipped into the role of thief of ecclesiastical blessings, then acting on the order of God. But in their innermost being, they had taken the decision long ago to commit this “larceny.” Machiavelli said on this subject: “Never has a man given exceptional laws to a people without recourse to Supreme Authority, because otherwise they would not accept them. A wise man can see the benefits and the positive consequences, but the reasons for being are not so evident by their power to convince the others. Intelligent men appeal to God to get around this difficulty.”