wiser today

A man should never be ashamed to own that he is wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

Elie Kedourie


The candidates in theology, as has been seen, claimed for the state more than any absolutists had ever claimed. But was it really in the power of the state to grant them their wish, to banish the alienation, to still the discord between the inner and the outer man, and institute that harmonious life which, they believed, had once obtained in ancient Greece or medieval Christendom? For this is what they really wanted; it is to such a conclusion that their criticism of the lifeless enginery of enlightened Absolutism ultimately led. The evil could not be remedied, Adam Muller declared, 'so long as state and citizen serve two masters...so long as hearts are internally rent by a double desire, the one to live as a citizen in a state...the other, to extract himself from the whole civil order, to cut himself off from that same state along with his domestic and private life and with his most sacred feelings, indeed even with religion'. A state, says Schelling, 'constituted with a view to an external end, perhaps only in order to ensure mutual assurance of rights' is one based on compulsion and need; whereas in the true state 'science, religion and art become one, in living fashion, interpenetrating and becoming objective in their unity.' And in his celebrated Addresses to the German Nation (1807-8) Fichte scornfully rejected a state which merely maintained 'internal peace and a condition of affairs in which everyone may by diligence earn his daily bread and satisfy the needs of his material existence so long as God permits him to live.' 'All this,' Fichte goes on to say, 'is only a means, a condition, and a framework for what love of fatherland really wants to bring about, namely, that the eternal and the divine may blossom in the world and never cease to become more and more pure, perfect and excellent.' This then is the full extent of the claim: that the state should be the creator of man's freedom not in an external and material sense, but in an internal and spiritual sense.

The phraseology of this theory of the state tends to disguise the element of violence that accompanies all government. Individuals, the theory says, merge their will in the will of the state, and in this merging they find freedom. They not only obey, but give their active assent to the laws and actions of the state. Force in such a case is irrelevant. But this is the case of the perfect state. If, however, such a phraseology were applied to the less perfect state, the effect would be to hide under soft euphemisms the hard issues of power which, by its very nature, is exercised by some over others. This phraseology would describe political matters in terms of development, fulfilment, self-determination, self-realization, and they would then be indistinguishable from aesthetic or religious questions where power is not in question. But if, as in actual states, government implies the existence of the hangman and the soldier, then to clothe issues of power in religious or aesthetic terminology can lead to a misleading and dangerous confusion. Reason of state begins to partake of sovereign Reason, and necessity of state to seem a necessity for eternal salvation.

This confusion between public and private, this intermixture between the spiritual and the temporal, has passed into current political rhetoric; and rulers have tried to persuade the ruled that relations between citizens are the same as those between lovers, husbands and wives, or parents and children, and that the bond uniting the individual to the state is religious, similar to that which unites the believer and his God, the prophet and his followers, or the mystic and his disciples.