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PART IV SOCIALISM AS A MORAL IMPERATIVE
1 The Socialist Attitude to Ethics
Socialism and Ethics
For pure Marxism Socialism is not a political programme. It does not demand that
society shall be transformed into the socialist order, nor does it condemn the liberal
order of society. It presents itself as a scientific theory which claims to have
discovered in the dynamic laws of historical development a movement towards the
socialization of the means of production. To say that pure Marxism pronounces itself
in favour of Socialism or that it desires Socialism or wishes to bring it about
would be just as absurd as to say that Astronomy wishes or thought it desirable
to bring about a solar eclipse which it had predicted. We know that Marx's life
and even many of his writings and sayings sharply contradict his theoretic outlook
and that the Socialism of resentment is always showing its cloven hoof. In practical
politics at least, his supporters have long since forgotten what they owe strictly
to his doctrine. Their words and deeds go far beyond what the "midwife theory" permits.
This, however, is of secondary importance for our study, which here deals only with
the doctrine pure and undefiled.
Besides the pure Marxist view that Socialism must come of inexorable Necessity,
there are two other motives which guide the advocates of Communism. They are socialists
either because they expect socialist society to increase productivity, or because
they believe that a socialist society would be more just. Marxism is unable to reconcile
itself to ethical Socialism. But its attitude to economic-rationalist Socialism
is quite different: it is possible to interpret the materialistic conception of
history as meaning that the trend of economic development naturally leads to the
most productive type of economy, that is to say Socialism. Of course, this view
is very different from that held by the majority of Marxists. They are for Socialism,
firstly because it is bound to come in any case, secondly because it is morally
preferable, and finally because it involves more rational economic organization.
The two motives of non-Marxian Socialism are mutually exclusive. If a man advocates
Socialism because he expects it to increase the productivity of social labour he
need not try to bolster up his demands with a higher moral valuation of the socialist
order. If he elects to do so, he is open to the question whether he would be prepared
to advocate Socialism if he discovered that it was after all not the morally perfect
order. On the other hand it is clear that one who advocates the socialistic order
for moral reasons would have to go on doing so even if he were convinced that the
order based on private ownership in the means of production yielded greater productivity
2 Eudemonistic Ethics and Socialism
To eudemonism, which looks at social phenomena rationalistically, the very way
in which ethical Socialism states its problems seems unsatisfactory. Unless Ethics
and "Economy" are regarded as two systems of objectivization which have nothing
to do with each other, then ethical and economic valuation and judgment cannot appear
as mutually independent factors. All ethical ends are merely a part of human aims.
This implies that on the one hand the ethical aim is a means, in so far as it assists
in the human struggle for happiness, but that on the other hand it is comprised
in the process of valuation which unites all intermediate aims into a unitary scale
of values and grades them according to their importance. The conception of absolute
ethical values, which might be opposed to economic values, cannot therefore be maintained.
Of course one cannot discuss this point with the ethical apriorist or the intuitionist.
Those who uphold the Moral as ultimate fact, and who rule out scientific examination
of its elements by referring to a transcendental origin, will never be able to agree
with those who are dragging down the concept of Right into the dust of scientific
analysis. Ethical ideas of duty and conscience demand nothing less than the blindest
submission. A priori ethics, claiming unconditional validity for its norms, approaches
all earthly relations from the outside and aims at transmuting them into its own
form with no concern whatever for the consequences. Fiat iustitia, pereat mundus
(let justice be done even though the world be destroyed) is its motto, and it is
when it becomes honestly indignant about the eternally misunderstood plea, "the
end justifies the means," that it is most sincere.
Isolated man settles all his ends according to his own law. He sees and knows nothing
but himself and arranges his actions accordingly. In society, however, he must temper
his actions to the fact that he lives in society and that his actions must affirm
the existence and progress of society. From the basic law of social life it follows
that he does not do this to achieve aims lying outside his own personal system of
ends. In making the social ends his own he does not thereby subordinate his personality
and his wishes to those of a higher personality or renounce the fulfilment of any
of his own desires in favour of those of a mystical universe. For, from the standpoint
of his own valuation, social ends are not ultimate but intermediate in his own scale
of values. He must accept society because social life helps him to fulfil his own
wishes more completely. If he denied it he would be able to create only transitory
advantages for himself; by destroying the social body he would in the long run injure
The idea of a dualism of motivation assumed by most ethical theorists, when they
distinguish between egoistic and altruistic motives of action, cannot therefore
be maintained. This attempt to contrast egoistic and altruistic action springs from
a misconception of the social interdependence of individuals. The power to choose
whether my actions and conduct shall serve myself or my fellow beings is not given
to me—which perhaps may be regarded as fortunate. If it were, human society would
not be possible. In the society based on division of labour and co-operation, the
interests of all members are in harmony, and it follows from this basic fact of
social life that ultimately action in the interests of myself and action in the
interest of others do not conflict, since the interests of individuals come together
in the end. Thus the famous scientific dispute as to the possibility of deriving
the altruistic from the egoistic motives of action may be regarded as definitely
There is no contrast between moral duty and selfish interests. What the individual
gives to society to preserve it as society, he gives, not for the sake of aims alien
to himself, but in his own interest. The individual, who is a product of society
not only as a thinking, willing, sentient man, but also simply as a living creature,
cannot deny society without denying himself.
This position of social ends in the system of individual ends is perceived by the
individual's reason, which enables him to recognize aright his own interests. But
society cannot always trust the individual to see which are his true interests.
If it left everyone to judge of his own it would expose itself to the caprice of
every foolish, sick, and weak-willed person, leaving him free to put its very existence
into question, thus imperilling the continuity of development. This is what led
to the creation of powers of social coercion which, vis-à-vis the individual, appear
as external constraints because they demand imperative obedience. And here we see
the social significance of the State and the Law. They are not something outside
the individual, demanding from him actions which run counter to his own interests,
forcing him to serve alien purposes. They merely prevent the misguided, asocial
individual, blind to his own interests, from injuring his fellow men by a revolt
against the social order.
It is therefore absurd to maintain that Liberalism, Utilitarianism and Eudemonism
are "inimical to the State." They reject the idea of Etatism, which under the name
State adores as God a mysterious being not comprehensible to human understanding;
they dissent from Hegel, to whom the State is "divine will"; they reject the Hegelian
Marx and his school who have replaced the cult of "State" with the cult of "Society";
they combat all those who want the State or "Society" to perform tasks other than
those corresponding to that social order which they themselves believe the most
proper to the end in view. Because they favour private ownership in the means of
production they demand that the State coercive apparatus shall be directed to maintain
this, and they reject all proposals intended to restrict or abolish private property.
But never for a moment do they think of "abolishing the State." The liberal conception
of society by no means omits the apparatus of the State; it assigns to this the
task of safeguarding life and property. Anybody who calls opposition to State railways,
State theatres, or State dairies "enmity to the State" must be deeply enmeshed indeed
in the realistic (in the scholastic sense) conception of the State.
Occasionally society can prevail against the individual even without coercion. Not
every social norm requires that the most extreme coercive measures shall at once
be put into force. In many things, morals and custom can wring from the individual
a recognition of social aims without assistance from the sword of justice. Morals
and customs go further than State law in so far as they protect more extensive social
aims. In this respect, there may be a difference in extent between them, but no
incompatibility of principle. Essential contrasts between the legal order and moral
laws occur only where the two derive from different conceptions of the social order,
that is, where they appertain to different social systems. The contrast is then
dynamic, not static.
The ethical valuation "good" or "evil" can be applied only in respect of ends towards
which action strives. As Epicurus said: "Αδιχια
ου χαθ εαυτην χαχον" ("Vice
without injurious consequences would not be vice.") Since action is never its
own end, but rather the means to an end, we call an action good or evil only in
respect of the consequences of the action. It is judged according to its place in
the system of cause and effect. It is valued as a means. And for the value of the
means the valuation of the end is decisive. Ethical, like all other, valuation proceeds
from valuation of ends, of the ultimate good. The value of an action is the value
of the end it serves. Intention, too, has value in so far as it leads to action.
Unity of action can exist only when all ultimate values can be brought into a unitary
scale of values. If this were not possible, man would always be finding himself
in a position where he could not act, that is, work as a creature conscious of his
striving towards a goal; he would have to abandon the issue to forces beyond his
control. Conscious scaling of values precedes every human action. The man who chooses
to attain A while renouncing B, C, D, etc., has decided that in the given circumstances
the attainment of A is more valuable to him than the attainment of the others.
Philosophers had been arguing about this ultimate Good for a long time before it
was settled by modern investigation. At the present day Eudemonism is no longer
open to attack. In the long run all the arguments which philosophers from Kant to
Hegel brought against it were unable to dissociate the concept Morality from that
of Happiness. Never in history has more intellect and ingenuity been expended in
defending an untenable position. We are lost in admiration of the magnificent performance
of these philosophers. We might almost say that what they have done to prove the
impossible elicits more admiration than the achievements of the great thinkers and
sociologists who have made Eudemonism and Utilitarianism a permanent possession
of the human mind. Certainly their efforts were not in vain. Their gigantic struggle
for anti-eudemonistic ethics were necessary to expose the problem in all its wide
ramifications and so enable a conclusive solution to be reached.
Since the tenets of intuitionist ethics, which are irreconcilable with scientific
method, have been deprived of their very foundations, anyone who recognizes the
eudemonistic character of all ethical valuation is exempt from further discussion
of ethical Socialism. For such a one the Moral does not stand outside the scale
of values which comprises all values of life. For him no moral ethic is valid per
se. He must first be allowed to inquire why it is so rated. He can never reject
that which has been recognized as beneficial and reasonable simply because a norm,
based on some mysterious intuition, declares it to be immoral—a norm the sense and
purpose of which he is not entitled even to investigate. His principle is not
fiat iustitia, pereat mundus, (let justice be done, though the world perish), but
fiat iustitia, ne pereat mundus (let justice be done, lest the world perish).
If nevertheless it appears not entirely superfluous to discuss separately the arguments
of ethical Socialism, this is not merely because it counts many adherents, but,
what is more important, because it provides an opportunity of showing how eudemonistic
ideas lie concealed in every train of priori-stic-intuitive ethical thought, and
how this system can be traced back, in every one of its utterances, to untenable
notions of economic conduct and of social co-operation. Every ethical system built
up on the idea of duty, even though it exhibits itself as strictly as Kant's, is
finally obliged to yield so much to Eudemonism that its principles can no longer
be maintained. In the same way every single requirement of aprioristic-intuitive
ethics displays ultimately an eudemonistic character.
3 A Contribution to the Understanding of Eudemonism
Formalist ethics takes its differences with Eudemonism altogether too lightly when
it interprets the happiness of which the latter speaks as satisfaction of sensual
desires. More or less consciously, formalistic ethics foists upon Eudemonism the
assertion that all human striving is directed solely towards filling the belly and
the basest forms of sensual enjoyment. It is of course not to be denied that the
thoughts and endeavors of many, very many people are concentrated on these things.
This, however, is no fault of social science, which merely points it out as a fact.
Eudemonism does not advise men to strive after happiness; it merely shows that
human striving necessarily tends in this direction. And after all, happiness is
not to be found only in sexual enjoyment and a good digestion.
The energistic conception of the Moral sees the highest good in fulfilling oneself,
in the full exercise of one's own powers, and this is perhaps only another way of
saying what eudemonists have in mind when they speak of happiness. The happiness
of the strong and the healthy certainly does not lie in idle dreaming. But when
this conception is contrasted with Eudemonism it becomes untenable. What are we
to make of Guyau when he says: "Life is not calculation, but action. In every living
being there is a store of strength, a surplus of energy, which strives to spend
itself, not for the sake of the accompanying pleasurable sensations but because
it must spend itself ... Duty derives from strength, which necessarily urges towards
action." Action means working with a conscious end, that is, on a basis of reflection
and calculation. Guyau is guilty of a lapse into intuitionism, which he otherwise
rejects, when he represents a mysterious urge as the guide of moral action. In the
idées-forces of Fouillée the intuitionist element is still more clearly revealed.
What was thought is supposed to urge towards realization. But presumably this is
only when the end, which the action serves, seems desirable. To the question why
an end appears good or evil, however, Fouillée offers no reply.
Nothing is gained when the teacher of morals constructs an absolute ethic without
reference to the nature of man and his life. The declamations of philosophers cannot
alter the fact that life strives to live itself out, that the living being seeks
pleasure and avoids pain. All one's scruples against acknowledging this as the basic
law of human actions fall away as soon as the fundamental principle of social co-operation
is recognized. That everyone lives and wishes to live primarily for himself does
not disturb social life but promotes it, for the higher fulfilment of the individual's
life is possible only in and through society. This is the true meaning of the doctrine
that egoism is the basic law of society.
The highest demand that Society makes of the individual is the sacrifice of his
life. Though all other restrictions of his action which the individual has to accept
from society may be considered ultimately in his own interests, this, says the anti-eudemonistic
ethic, can be explained by no method which smooths over the opposition between individual
and general interests. The hero's death may be useful to the community, but that
is no great consolation to him. Only an ethic based on duty could help one over
this difficulty. On closer considerations we see that this objection may be easily
disproved. When society's existence is threatened, each individual must risk his
best to avoid destruction. Even the prospect of perishing in the attempt can no
longer deter him. For there is then no choice between either living on as one formerly
lived or sacrificing oneself for one's country, for society, or for one's convictions.
Rather, must the certainty of death, servitude, or insufferable poverty be set against
the chance of returning victorious from the struggle. War carried on pro aris et
focis (for our altars and our hearths) demands no sacrifice from the individual.
One does not engage in it merely to reap benefits for others, but to preserve one's
own existence. This of course, is only true of wars in which individuals fight for
their very existence. It is not true of wars which are merely a means of enrichment,
such as the quarrels of feudal lords or the cabinet wars of princes. Thus Imperialism,
ever covetous of conquests, cannot do without an ethic which demands from the individual
"sacrifices" for the "good of the State."
The long fight carried on by moralists against the convenient eudemonistic explanation
of the Moral finds its counterpart in the efforts of economists to solve the problem
of economic value otherwise than through the utility of consumption goods. Economists
had nothing nearer to hand than the idea of value as reflecting in some way the
significance of a commodity to human welfare, nevertheless the attempt to explain
the phenomena of value with the help of this concept has been given up again and
again and other theories of value have been persistently sought. This is because
of the difficulties presented by the problem of the quantity of value. There was,
for instance, the apparent contradiction that precious stones, satisfying an obviously
minor want, have a higher value than bread, which satisfies one of the most important
needs, and that air and water, without which man simply cannot live, are generally
without value. The basis for erecting a theory of value on the utility of goods
was laid only when the idea of a scale of importance of classes of wants was separated
from that of the concrete wants themselves, and the fact recognized that the scale
according to which the importance of the wants depending on the power to dispose
of goods is judged, is that of the concrete wants themselves.
The difficulty which the utilitarian-eudemonistic explanation of the Moral had
to overcome was not less than that with which economic theory had to fight in the
effort to trace economic values back to utility. No one could discover how to bring
eudemonistic doctrine into harmony with the obvious fact that moral action consists
just in the individual's avoiding actions which seem directly useful to him and
doing that which seems directly harmful to him. Liberal social philosophy was the
first to find the solution. It showed that by maintaining and developing the social
bond each individual serves his highest interest, so that the sacrifices made in
the fulfilment of social life are only temporary ones. He exchanges a smaller direct
advantage for a considerably greater indirect advantage. Thus duty and interest
coincide. This is the meaning of the harmony of interests of which the liberal
theory of society speaks.
How little the Social-Democrats have made this
fundamental doctrine of Marxism their own, one sees from a glance at their literature.
A leader of German Social-Democracy, the former German Minister of National Economy Wissell,
confesses succinctly: "I am Socialist and shall remain Socialist, for I see in socialist
economy, with its subordination of the Individual to the Whole, the expression of a higher
moral principle than that which lies at the basis of individualistic economy." Praktische
Wirtschaftspolitik (Berlin, 1919), p. 53.
Jodl, Geschichte der Ethik als philosophischer
Wissenschaft, Vol. II, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart, 1921), p. 450.
Izoulet, La cité moderne, pp. 413 ff.
Guyau, Die englische Ethik der Gegenwart, trans.
Peusner (Leipzig, 1914), p. 20.
Bentham, Deontology or the Science of Morality,
ed. Bowring (London, 1834), Vol. I, pp. 8 ff.
Mill, Utilitarianism (London, 1863), pp. 5 ff.;
Jodl, Geschichte der Ethik als philosophischer Wissenschaft, Vol. II, p. 36.
Guyau, Sittlichkeit ohne "Pflicht," pp. 272 ff.
Fouillée, Humanitaires et libertaires au point de
vue sociologique et moral, pp. 157 ff.
Böhm-Bawerk, Kapital und Kapitalzins, 3rd ed.,
Part II (Innsbruck, 1909), pp. 233 ff.
Bentham, Deontology, Vol. I, p. 87 ff.
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