Chapter 3: The Quest for Absolute Values
1. The Issue
IN DEALING with judgments of value we refer to facts, that is, to the way in which people really choose ultimate ends. While the value judgments of many people are identical, while it is permissible to speak of certain almost universally accepted valuations, it would be manifestly contrary to fact to deny that there is diversity in passing judgments of value.
From time immemorial an immense majority of men have agreed in preferring the effects produced by peaceful cooperation-at least among a limited number of people-to the effects of a hypothetical isolation of each individual and a hypothetical war of all against all. To the state of nature they have preferred the state of civilization, for they sought the closest possible attainment of certain ends-the preservation of life and health-which, as they rightly thought, require social cooperation. But it is a fact that there have been and are also men who have rejected these values and consequently preferred the solitary life of an anchorite to life within society.
It is thus obvious that any scientific treatment of the problems of value judgments must take into full account the fact that these judgments are subjective and changing. Science seeks to know what is, and to formulate existential propositions describing the universe as it is. With regard to judgments of value it cannot assert more than that they are uttered by some people, and inquire what the effects of action guided by them must be. Any step beyond these limits is tantamount to substituting a personal judgment of value for knowledge of reality. Science and our organized body of knowledge teach only what is, not what ought to be.
This distinction between a field of science dealing exclusively with existential propositions and a field of judgments of value has been rejected by the doctrines that maintain there are eternal absolute values which it is just as much the task of scientific or philosophical inquiry to discover as to discover the laws of physics. The supporters of these doctrines contend that there is an absolute hierarchy of values. They tried to define the supreme good. They said it is permissible and necessary to distinguish in the same way between true and false, correct and incorrect judgments of value as between true and false, correct and incorrect existential propositions. Science is not restricted to the description of what is. There is, in their opinion, another fully legitimate branch of science, the normative science of ethics, whose task it is to show the true absolute values and to set up norms for the correct conduct of men.
The plight of our age, according to the supporters of this philosophy, is that people no longer acknowledge these eternal values and do not let their actions be guided by them. Conditions were much better in the past, when the peoples of Western civilization were unanimous in endorsing the values of Christian ethics.
In what follows, we will deal with the issues raised by this philosophy.-----
. Franz Brentano, Vom Ursprung sittlicher Erkenntnis, 2d ed. Leipzig, 1921.
2. Conflicts within Society
Having discussed the fact that men disagree with regard to their judgments of value and their choice of ultimate ends, we must stress that many conflicts which are commonly considered valuational are actually caused by disagreement concerning the choice of the best means to attain ends about which the conflicting parties agree. The problem of the suitability or unsuitability of definite means is to be solved by existential propositions, not by judgments of value. Its treatment is the main topic of applied science.
It is thus necessary to be aware in dealing with controversies concerning human conduct whether the disagreement refers to the choice of ends or to that of means. This is often a difficult task. For the same things are ends to some people, means to others.
With the exception of the small, almost negligible number of consistent anchorites, all people agree in considering some kind of social cooperation between men the foremost means to attain any ends they may aim at. This undeniable fact provides a common ground on which political discussions between men become possible. The spiritual and intellectual unity of all specimens of homo sapiens manifests itself in the fact that the immense majority of men consider the same thing -social cooperation-the best means of satisfying the biological urge, present in every living being, to preserve the life and health of the individual and to propagate the species.
It is permissible to call this almost universal acceptance of social cooperation a natural phenomenon. In resorting to this mode of expression and asserting that conscious association is in conformity with human nature, one implies that man is characterized as man by reason, is thus enabled to become aware of the great principle of cosmic becoming and evolution, viz., differentiation and integration, and to make intentional use of this principle to improve his condition. But one must not consider cooperation among the individuals of a biological species a universal natural phenomenon. The means of sustenance are scarce for every species of living beings. Hence biological competition prevails among the members of all species, an irreconcilable conflict of vital "interests." Only a part of those who come into existence can survive. Some perish because others of their own species have snatched away from them the means of sustenance. An implacable struggle for existence goes on among the members of each species precisely because they are of the same species and compete with other members of it for the same scarce opportunities of survival and reproduction. Man alone by dint of his reason substituted social cooperation for biological competition. What made social cooperation possible is, of course, a natural phenomenon, the higher productivity of labor accomplished under the principle of the division of labor and specialization of tasks. But it was necessary to discover this principle, to comprehend its bearing upon human affairs, and to employ it consciously as a means in the struggle for existence.
The fundamental facts about social cooperation have been misinterpreted by the school of social Darwinism as well as by many of its critics. The former maintained that war among men is an inevitable phenomenon and that all attempts to bring about lasting peace among nations are contrary to nature. The latter retorted that the struggle for existence is not among members of the same animal species but among the members of various species. As a rule tigers do not attack other tigers but, taking the line of least resistance, weaker animals. Hence, they concluded, war among men, who are specimens of the same species, is unnatural.
Both schools misunderstood the Darwinian concept of the struggle for survival. It does
not refer merely to combat and blows. It means metaphorically the tenacious impulse of beings
to keep alive in spite of all factors detrimental to them. As the means of sustenance are
scarce, biological competition prevails among all individuals-whether of the same or different
species which feed on the same stuff. It is immaterial whether or not tigers fight one
another. What makes every specimen of an animal species a deadly foe of every other specimen
is the mere fact of their life-and-death rivalry in their endeavors to snatch a sufficient
amount of food. This inexorable rivalry is present also among animals gregariously roaming in
droves and flocks, among ants of the same hill and bees of the same swarm, among the brood hatched by common parents and among the seeds ripened by the same plant. Only man has the power to escape to some extent from the rule of this law by intentional cooperation. So long as there is social cooperation and population has not increased beyond the optimum size, biological competition is suspended. It is therefore inappropriate to refer to animals and plants in dealing with the social problems of man.
. On this controversy see Paul Barth, Die Philosophie der Geschichte als Soziologie (4th ed. Leipzig, 1922), pp. 289-92.-------
Yet man's almost universal acknowledgment of the principle of social cooperation did not result in agreement regarding all interhuman relations. While almost all men agree in looking upon social cooperation as the foremost means for realizing all human ends, whatever they may be, they disagree as to the extent to which peaceful social cooperation is a suitable means for attaining their ends and how far it should be resorted to.
Those whom we may call the harmonists base their argument on Ricardo's law of association and on Malthus' principle of population. They do not, as some of their critics believe, assume that all men are biologically equal. They take fully into account the fact that there are innate biological differences among various groups of men as well as among individuals belonging to the same group. Ricardo's law has shown that cooperation under the principle of the division of labor is favorable to all participants. It is an advantage for every man to cooperate with other men, even if these others are in every respect-mental and bodily capacities and skills, diligence and moral worth-inferior. From Malthus' principle one can deduce that there is,
in any given state of the supply of capital goods and knowledge of how to make the best use of natural resources, an optimum size of population. So long as population has not increased beyond this size, the addition of newcomers improves rather than impairs the conditions of those already cooperating.
In the philosophy of the antiharmonists, the various schools of nationalism and racism, two different lines of reasoning must be distinguished. One is the doctrine of the irreconcilable antagonism prevailing among various groups, such as nations or races. As the antiharmonists see it, community of interests exists only within the group among its members. The interests of each group and of each of its members are implacably opposed to those of all other groups and of each of their members. So it is "natural" there should be perpetual war among various groups. This natural state of war of each group against every other group may sometimes be interrupted by periods of armistice, falsely labeled periods of peace. It may also happen that sometimes in warfare a group cooperates in alliances with other groups. Such alliances are temporary makeshifts of politics. They do not in the long run affect the inexorable natural conflict of interests. Having, in cooperation with some allied groups, defeated several of the hostile groups, the leading group in the coalition turns against its previous allies in order to annihilate them too and to establish its own world supremacy.
The second dogma of the nationalist and racist philosophies is considered by its supporters a logical conclusion derived from their first dogma. As they see it,
human conditions involve forever irreconcilable conflicts, first among the various groups fighting one another, later, after the final victory of the master group, between the latter and the enslaved rest of mankind. Hence this supreme elite group must always be ready to fight, first to crush the rival groups, then to quell rebellions of the slaves. The state of perpetual preparedness for war enjoins upon it the necessity of organizing society after the pattern of an army. The army is not an instrument destined to serve a body politic; it is rather the very essence of social cooperation, to which all other social institutions are subservient. The individuals are not citizens of a commonwealth; they are soldiers of a fighting force and as such bound to obey unconditionally the orders issued by the supreme commander. They have no civil rights, merely military duties.
Thus even the fact that the immense majority of men look upon social cooperation as the foremost means to attain all desired ends does not provide a basis for a wide-reaching agreement concerning either ends or means.
3. A Remark on the Alleged Medieval Unanimity
In examining the doctrines of eternal absolute values we must also ask whether it is true or not that there was a period of history in which all peoples of the West were united in their acceptance of a uniform system of ethical norms.
Until the beginning of the fourth century the Christian
creed was spread by voluntary conversions. There were also later voluntary conversions of individuals and of whole peoples. But from the days of Theodosius I on, the sword began to play a prominent role in the dissemination of Christianity. Pagans and heretics were compelled by force of arms to submit to the Christian teachings. For many centuries religious problems were decided by the outcome of battles and wars. Military campaigns determined the religious allegiance of nations. Christians of the East were forced to accept the creed of Mohammed, and pagans in Europe and America were forced to accept the Christian faith. Secular power was instrumental in the struggle between the Reformation and the Counter Reformation.
There was religious uniformity in Europe of the Middle Ages as both paganism and heresies were eradicated with fire and sword. All of Western and Central Europe recognized the Pope as the Vicar of Christ. But this did not mean that all people agreed in their judgments of value and in the principles directing their conduct. There were few people in medieval Europe who lived according to the precepts of the Gospels. Much has been said and written about the truly Christian Spirit of the code of chivalry and about the religious idealism that guided the conduct of the knights. Yet anything less compatible with Luke 6:27-9 than the rules of chivalry can hardly be conceived. The gallant knights certainly did not love their enemies, they did not bless those who cursed them, and they did not offer the left cheek to him who smote them on the right cheek. The Catholic Church had the power to prevent
scholars and writers from challenging the dogmas as defined by the Pope and the Councils and to force the secular rulers to yield to some of its political claims. But it could preserve its position only by condoning conduct on the part of the laity which defied most, if not all, of the principles of the Gospels. The values that determined the actions of the ruling classes were entirely different from those that the Church preached. Neither did the peasants comply with Matthew 6:25-8. And there were courts and judges in defiance of Matthew 7:1: "Judge not, that you be not judged."
4. The Idea of Natural Law
The most momentous attempt to find an absolute and eternal standard of value is presented by the doctrine of natural law.
The term "natural law" has been claimed by various schools of philosophy and jurisprudence. Many doctrines have appealed to nature in order to provide a justification for their postulates. Many manifestly spurious theses have been advanced under the label of natural law. It was not difficult to explode the fallacies common to most of these lines of thought. And it is no wonder that many thinkers become suspicious as soon as natural law is referred to.
Yet it would be a serious blunder to ignore the fact that all the varieties of the doctrine contained a sound idea which could neither be compromised by connection with untenable vagaries nor discredited by any criticism. Long before the Classical economists discovered
that a regularity in the sequence of phenomena prevails in the field of human action, the champions of natural law were dimly aware of this inescapable fact. From the bewildering diversity of doctrines presented under the rubric of natural law there finally emerged a set of theorems which no caviling can ever invalidate. There is first the idea that a nature-given order of things exists to which man must adjust his actions if he wants to succeed. Second: the only means available to man for the cognizance of this order is thinking and reasoning, and no existing social institution is exempt from being examined and appraised by discursive reasoning. Third: there is no standard available for apraising any mode of acting either of individuals or of groups of individuals but that of the effects produced by such action. Carried to its ultimate logical consequences, the idea of natural law led eventually to rationalism and utilitarianism.
The march of social philosophy toward this inescapable conclusion was slowed down by many obstacles which could not be removed easily. There were numerous pitfalls on the way, and many inhibitions hampered the philosophers. To deal with the vicissitudes of the evolution of these doctrines is a task of the history of philosophy. In the context of our investigation it is enough to mention only two of these problems.
There was the antagonism between the teachings of reason and the dogmas of the Church. Some philosophers were prepared to ascribe unconditional supremacy to the latter. Truth and certainty, they declared, are to be found only in revelation. Man's reason can
and man can never be sure that his speculations were not led astray by Satan. Other thinkers did not accept this solution of the antagonism. To reject reason beforehand was in their opinion preposterous. Reason too stems from God, who endowed man with it, so there can be no genuine contradiction between dogma and the correct teachings of reason. It is the task of philosophy to show that ultimately both agree. The central problem of Scholastic philosophy was to demonstrate that human reason, unaided by revelation and Holy Writ, taking recourse only to its proper methods of ratiocination, is capable of proving the apodictic truth of the revealed dogmas. A genuine conflict of faith and reason does not exist. Natural law and divine law do not disagree.
However, this way of dealing with the matter does not remove the antagonism; it merely
shifts it to another field. The conflict is no longer a conflict between faith and reason but
between Thomist philosophy and other modes of philosophizing. We may leave aside the genuine
dogmas such as Creation, Incarnation, the Trinity, as they have no direct bearing on the problems of interhuman relations. But many issues remain with regard to which most, if not all, Christian churches and denominations are not prepared to yield to secular reasoning and an evaluation from the point of view of social utility. Thus the recognition of natural law on the part of Christian theology was only conditional. It referred to a definite type of natural law, not opposed
. Louis Rougier, La Scholastique et le Thomisme (Paris, 1925), pp. 102-5, 116-17, 460-562.
to the teachings of Christ as each of these churches and denominations interpreted them. It did not acknowledge the supremacy of reason. It was incompatible with the principles of utilitarian philosophy.
A second factor that obstructed the evolution of natural law toward a consistent and comprehensive system of human action was the erroneous theory of the biological equality of all men. In repudiating arguments advanced in favor of legal discrimination among men and of a status society, many advocates of equality before the law overstepped the mark. To hold that ?at birth human infants, regardless of their heredity, are as equal as Fords? is to deny facts so obvious that it brought the whole philosophy of natural law into disrepute. In insisting on biological equality the natural law doctrine pushed aside all the sound arguments advanced in favor of the principle of equality before the law. It thus opened the way for the spread of theories advocating all sorts of legal discrimination against individuals and groups of individuals. It supplanted the teachings of liberal social philosophy. Stirring up hatred and violence, foreign wars and domestic revolutions, it prepared mankind for the acceptance of aggressive nationalism and racism.
The chief accomplishment of the natural law idea was its rejection of the doctrine (sometimes called legal positivism) according to which the ultimate source of statute law is to be seen in the superior military power of the legislator who is in a position to beat into
. Horace M. Kallen, "Behaviorism," Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences (Macmillan, 1930-35), 3, 498.
submission all those defying his ordinances. Natural law taught that statutory laws can be bad laws, and it contrasted with the bad laws the good laws to which it ascribed divine or natural origin. But it was an illusion to deny that the best system of laws cannot be put into practice unless supported and enforced by military supremacy. The philosophers shut their eyes to manifest historical facts. They refused to admit that the causes they considered just made progress only because their partisans defeated the defenders of the bad causes. The Christian faith owes it success to a long series of victorious battles and campaigns, from various battles between rival Roman imperators and caesars down to the campaigns that opened the Orient to the activities of missionaries. The cause of American independence triumphed because the British forces were defeated by the insurgents and the French. It is a sad truth that Mars is for the big battalions, not for the good causes. To maintain the opposite opinion implies the belief that the outcome of an armed conflict is an ordeal by combat in which God always grants victory to the champions of the just cause. But such an assumption would annul all the essentials of the doctrine of natural law, whose basic idea was to contrast to the positive laws, promulgated and enforced by those in power, a "higher" law grounded in the innermost nature of man.
Yet all these deficiencies and contradictions of the doctrine of natural law must not prevent us from
recognizing its sound nucleus. Hidden in a heap of illusions and quite arbitrary prepossessions was the idea that
every valid law of a country was open to critical examination by reason. About the standard to be applied in such an examination the older representatives of the school had only vague notions. They referred to nature and Were reluctant to admit that the ultimate standard of good and bad must be found in the effects produced by a law. Utilitarianism finally completed the intellectual evolution inaugurated by the Greek Sophists.
But neither utilitarianism nor any of the varieties of the doctrine of natural law could or did find a way to eliminate the conflict of antagonistic judgments of value. It is useless to emphasize that nature is the ultimate arbiter of what is right and what is wrong. Nature does not clearly reveal its plans and intentions to man. Thus the appeal to natural law does not settle the dispute. It merely substitutes dissent concerning the interpretation of natural law for dissenting judgments of value. Utilitarianism, on the other hand, does not deal at all with ultimate ends and judgments of value. It invariably refers only to means.
Revealed religion derives its authority and authenticity from the communication to man of the Supreme Being's will. It gives the faithful indisputable certainty.
However, people disagree widely about the content of revealed truth as well as about its correct- orthodox-interpretation. For all the grandeur, majesty, and sublimity of religious feeling, irreconcilable conflict exists among various faiths and creeds. Even if unanimity
could be attained in matters of the historical authenticity and reliability of revelation, the problem of the veracity of various exegetic interpretations would still remain.
Every faith claims to possess absolute certainty. But no religious faction knows of any peaceful means that will invariably induce dissenters to divest themselves voluntarily of their error and to adopt the true creed.
If people of different faiths meet for peaceful discussion of their differences, they can find no common basis for their colloquy but the statement: by their fruits ye shall know them. Yet this utilitarian device is of no use so long as men disagree about the standard to be applied in judging the effects.
The religious appeal to absolute eternal values did not do away with conflicting judgments of value. It merely resulted in religious wars.
6. Atheistic Intuition
Other attempts to discover an absolute standard of values were made without reference to a divine reality. Emphatically rejecting all traditional religions and claiming for their teachings the epithet "scientific," various writers tried to substitute a new faith for the old ones. They claimed to know precisely what the mysterious power that directs all cosmic becoming has in store for mankind. They proclaimed an absolute standard of values. Good is what works along the lines that this power wants mankind to follow; everything else is bad. In their vocabulary "progressive" is a
synonym of good and "reactionary" a synonym of bad. Inevitably progress will triumph over reaction because it is impossible for men to divert the course of history from the direction prescribed by the plan of the mysterious prime mover. Such is the metaphysics of Karl Marx, the faith of contemporary self-styled progressivism.
Marxism is a revolutionary doctrine. It expressly declares that the design of the prime mover will be accomplished by civil war. It implies that ultimately in the battles of these campaigns the just cause, that is, the cause of progress, must conquer. Then all conflicts concerning judgments of value will disappear. The liquidation of all dissenters will establish the undisputed supremacy of the absolute eternal values.
This formula for the solution of conflicts of value judgments is certainly not new. It is a device known and practiced from time immemorial. Kill the infidels! Burn the heretics! What is new is merely the fact that today it is sold to the public under the label of "science."
7. The Idea of Justice
One of the motives that impel men to search for an absolute and immutable standard of value is the presumption that peaceful cooperation is possible only among people guided by the same judgments of value.
It is obvious that social cooperation would not have evolved and could not be preserved if the immense majority were not to consider it as the means for the attainment of all their ends. Striving after the preservation
of his own life and health and after the best possible removal of felt uneasiness, the individual looks upon society as a means, not as an end. There is no perfect unanimity even with regard to this point. But we may neglect the dissent of the ascetics and the anchorites, not because they are few, but because their plans are not affected if other people, in the pursuit of their plans, cooperate in society.
There prevails among the members of society disagreement with regard to the best method for its organization. But this is a dissent concerning means, not ultimate ends. The problems involved can be discussed without any reference to judgments of value.
Of course, almost all people, guided by the traditional manner of dealing with ethical precepts, peremptorily repudiate such an explanation of the issue. Social institutions, they assert, must be just. It is base to judge them merely according to their fitness to attain definite ends, however desirable these ends may be from any other point of view. What matters first is justice. The extreme formulation of this idea is to be found in the famous phrase: fiat justitia, pereat mundus. Let justice be done, even if it destroys the world. Most supporters of the postulate of justice will reject this maxim as extravagant, absurd, and paradoxical. But it is not more absurd, merely more shocking, than any other reference to an arbitrary notion of absolute justice. It clearly shows the fallacies of the methods applied in the discipline of intuitive ethics.
The procedure of this normative quasi science is to derive certain precepts from intuition and to deal with
them as if their adoption as a guide to action would not affect the attainment of any other ends considered desirable. The moralists do not bother about the necessary consequences of the realization of their postulates. We need not discuss the attitudes of people for whom the appeal to justice is manifestly a pretext, consciously or subconsciously chosen, to disguise their short-run interests, nor expose the hypocrisy of such makeshift notions of justice as those involved in the popular concepts of just prices and fair wages. The philosophers who in their treatises of ethics assigned supreme value to justice and applied the yardstick of justice to all social institutions were not guilty of such deceit. They did not support selfish group concerns by declaring them alone just, fair, and good, and smear all dissenters by depicting them as the apologists of unfair causes. They were Platonists who believed that a perennial idea of absolute justice exists and that it is the duty of man to organize all human institutions in conformity with this ideal. Cognition of justice is imparted to man by an inner voice, i.e., by intuition. The champions of this doctrine did not ask what the consequences of realizing the schemes they called just would be. They silently assumed either that these consequences will be beneficial or that mankind is bound to put up even with very painful consequences of justice. Still less did these teachers of morality pay attention to the fact that people can and really do disagree with regard to the interpretation of the inner voice and that no method of peacefully settling such disagreements can be found.
. See Mises, Human Action, pp. 719-25.
All these ethical doctrines have failed to comprehend that there is, outside of social bonds and preceding, temporally or logically, the existence of society, nothing to which the epithet "just" can be given. A hypothetical isolated individual must under the pressure of biological competition look upon all other people as deadly foes. His only concern is to preserve his own life and health; he does not need to heed the consequences which his own survival has for other men; he has no use for justice. His only solicitudes are hygiene and defense. But in social cooperation with other men the individual is forced to abstain from conduct incompatible with life in society. Only then does the distinction between what is just and what is unjust emerge. It invariably refers to interhuman social relations. What is beneficial to the individual without affecting his fellows, such as the observance of certain rules in the use of some drugs, remains hygiene.
The ultimate yardstick of justice is conduciveness to the preservation of social cooperation. Conduct suited to preserve social cooperation is just, conduct detrimental to the preservation of society is unjust. There cannot be any question of organizing society according to the postulates of an arbitrary preconceived idea of justice. The problem is to organize society for the best possible realization of those ends which men want to attain by social cooperation. Social utility is the only standard of justice. It is the sole guide of legislation.
Thus there are no irreconcilable conflicts between selfishness and altruism, between economics and ethics, between the concerns of the individual and those of society.
Utilitarian philosophy and its finest product, economics, reduced these apparent antagonisms to the opposition of short-run and long-run interests. Society could not have come into existence or been preserved without a harmony of the rightly understood interests of all its members.
There is only one way of dealing with all problems of social organization and the conduct of the members of society, viz., the method applied by praxeology and economics. No other method can contribute anything to the elucidation of these matters.
The concept of justice as employed by jurisprudence refers to legality, that is, to legitimacy from the point of view of the valid statutes of a country. It means justice de lege lata. The science of law has nothing to say de lege ferenda, i.e., about the laws as they ought to be. To enact new laws and to repeal old laws is the task of the legislature, whose sole criterion is social utility. The assistance the legislator can expect from lawyers refers only to matters of legal technique, not to the gist of the statutes and decrees.
There is no such thing as a normative science, a science of what ought to be.
8. The Utilitarian Doctrine Restated
The essential teachings of utilitarian philosophy as applied to the problems of society can be restated as follows:
Human effort exerted under the principle of the division of labor in social cooperation achieves, other things
remaining equal, a greater output per unit of input than the isolated efforts of solitary individuals. Man's reason is capable of recognizing this fact and of adapting his conduct accordingly. Thus social cooperation becomes for almost every man the great means for the attainment of all ends. An eminently human common interest, the preservation and intensification of social bonds, is substituted for pitiless biological competition, the significant mark of animal and plant life. Man becomes a social being. He is no longer forced by the inevitable laws of nature to look upon all other specimens of his animal species as deadly foes. Other people become his fellows. For animals the generation of every new member of the species means the appearance of a new rival in the struggle for life. For man, until the optimum size of population is reached, it means rather an improvement than a deterioration in his quest for material well-being.
Notwithstanding all his social achievements man remains in biological structure a mammal. His most urgent needs are nourishment, warmth, and shelter. Only when these wants are satisfied can he concern himself with other needs, peculiar to the human species and therefore called specifically human or higher needs. Also the satisfaction of these depends as a rule, at least to some extent, on the availability of various material tangible things.
As social cooperation is for acting man a means and not an end, no unanimity with regard to value judgments is required to make it work. It is a fact that almost all men agree in aiming at certain ends, at those pleasures
which ivory-tower moralists disdain as base and shabby. But it is no less a fact that even the most sublime ends cannot be sought by people who have not first satisfied the wants of their animal body. The loftiest exploits of philosophy, art, and literature would never have been performed by men living outside of society.
Moralists praise the nobility of people who seek a thing for its own sake. "Deutsch sein heisst eine Sache um ihrer selbst willen tun," declared Richard Wagner, and the Nazis, of all people, adopted the dictum as a fundamental principle of their creed. Now what is sought as an ultimate end is valued according to the immediate satisfaction to be derived from its attainment. There is no harm in declaring elliptically that it is sought for its own sake. Then Wagner's phrase is reduced to the truism: Ultimate ends are ends and not means for the attainment of other ends.
Moralists furthermore level against utilitarianism the charge of (ethical) materialism. Here too they misconstrue the utilitarian doctrine. Its gist is the cognition that action pursues definite chosen ends and that consequently there can be no other standard for appraising conduct but the desirability or undesirability of its effects. The precepts of ethics are designed to preserve, not to destroy, the "world." They may call upon people to put up with undesirable short-run effects in order to avoid producing still more undesirable long-run effects. But they must never recommend actions whose effects they themselves deem undesirable for the sole
. In Deutsche Kunst und Deutsche Politik, Samtliche Werke (6th ed. Leipzig, Breitkopf and Hartel), 8, 96.
purpose of not defying an arbitrary rule derived from intuition. The formula fiat justitia, pereat mundus is exploded as sheer nonsense. An ethical doctrine that does not take into full account the effects of action is mere fancy.
Utilitarianism does not teach that people should strive only after sensuous pleasure (though it recognizes that most or at least many people behave in this way). Neither does it indulge in judgments of value. By its recognition that social cooperation is for the immense majority a means for attaining all their ends, it dispels the notion that society, the state, the nation, or any other social entity is an ultimate end and that individual men are the slaves of that entity. It rejects the philosophies of universalism, collectivism, and totalitarianism. In this sense it is meaningful to call utilitarianism a philosophy of individualism.
The collectivist doctrine fails to recognize that social cooperation is for man a means for the attainment of all his ends. It assumes that irreconcilable conflict prevails between the interests of the collective and those of individuals, and in this conflict it sides unconditionally with the collective entity. The collective alone has real existence; the individuals' existence is conditioned by that of the collective. The collective is perfect and can do no wrong. Individuals are wretched and refractory; their obstinacy must be curbed by the authority to which God or nature has entrusted the conduct of society's affairs. The powers that be, says the Apostle Paul, are ordained of God. They are ordained by nature
. Epistle to the Romans 13:1.
or by the superhuman factor that directs the course of all cosmic events, says the atheist collectivist.
Two questions immediately arise. First: If it were true that the interests of the collective and those of individuals are implacably opposed to one another, how could society function? One may assume that the individuals would be prevented by force of arms from resorting to open rebellion. But it cannot be assumed that their active cooperation could be secured by mere compulsion. A system of production in which the only incentive to work is the fear of punishment cannot last. It was this fact that made slavery disappear as a system of managing production.
Second: If the collective is not a means by which individuals may achieve their ends, if the collective's flowering requires sacrifices by the individuals which are not outweighed by advantages derived from social cooperation, what prompts the advocate of collectivism to assign to the concerns of the collective precedence over the personal wishes of the individuals? Can any argument be advanced for such exaltation of the collective but personal judgments of value?
Of course, everybody's judgments of value are personal. If a man assigns a higher value to the concerns of a collective than to his other concerns, and acts accordingly, that is his affair. So long as the collectivist philosophers proceed in this way, no objection can be raised. But they argue differently. They elevate their personal judgments of value to the dignity of an absolute standard of value. They urge other people to stop valuing according to their own will and to adopt unconditionally
the precepts to which collectivism has assigned absolute eternal validity.
The futility and arbitrariness of the collectivist point of view become still more evident when one recalls that various collectivist parties compete for the exclusive allegiance of the individuals. Even if they employ the same word for their collectivist ideal, various writers and leaders disagree on the essential features of the thing they have in mind. The state which Ferdinand Lassalle called god and to which he assigned paramountcy was not precisely the collectivist idol of Hegel and Stahl, the state of the Hohenzollern. Is mankind as a whole the sole legitimate collective or is each of the various nations? Is the collective to which the German-speaking Swiss owe exclusive allegiance the Swiss Confederacy or the Volksgemeinschaft comprising all German-speaking men? All major social entities such as nations, linguistic groups, religious communities, party organizations have been elevated to the dignity of the supreme collective that overshadows all other collectives and claims the submission of the whole personality of all right-thinking men. But an individual can renounce autonomous action and unconditionally surrender his self only in favor of one collective. Which collective this ought to be can be determined Only by a quite arbitrary decision. The collective creed is by necessity exclusive and totalitarian. It craves the whole man and does not want to share him with any other collective. It seeks to establish the exclusive supreme validity of only one system of values.
There is, of course, but one way to make one's own
judgments of value supreme. One must beat into submission all those dissenting. This is what all representatives of the various collectivist doctrines are striving for. They ultimately recommend the use of violence and pitiless annihilation of all those whom they condemn as heretics. Collectivism is a doctrine of war, intolerance, and persecution. If any of the collectivist creeds should succeed in its endeavors, all people but the great dictator would be deprived of their essential human quality. They would become mere soulless pawns in the hands of a monster.
The characteristic feature of a free society is that it can function in spite of the fact that its members disagree in many judgments of value. In the market economy business serves not only the majority but also various minorities, provided they are not too small in respect of the economic goods which satisfying their special wishes would require. Philosophical treatises are published-though few people read them, and the masses prefer other books or non-if enough readers are foreseen to recover the costs.
9. On Aesthetic Values
The quest for absolute standards of value was not limited to the field of ethics. It concerned aesthetic values as well.
In ethics a common ground for the choice of rules of conduct is given so far as people agree in considering the preservation of social cooperation the foremost means for attaining all their ends. Thus virtually any
controversy concerning the rules of conduct refers to means and not to ends. It is consequently possible to appraise these rules from the point of view of their adequacy for the peaceful functioning of society. Even rigid supporters of an intuitionist ethics could not help eventually resorting to an appraisal of conduct from the point of view of its effects upon human happiness.
It is different with aesthetic judgments of value. In this field there is no such agreement as prevails with regard to the insight that social cooperation is the fore-most means for the attainment of all ends. All disagreement here invariably concerns judgments of value, none the choice of means for the realization of an end agreed upon. There is no way to reconcile conflicting judgments. There is no standard by which a verdict of "it pleases me or it does not please me" can be rectified.
The unfortunate propensity to hypostatize various aspects of human thinking and acting has led to attempts to provide a definition of beauty and then to apply this arbitrary concept as a measure. However there is no acceptable definition of beauty but "that which pleases." There are no norms of beauty, and there is no such thing as a normative discipline of aesthetics. All that a professional critic of art and literature can say apart from historical and technical observations is that he likes or dislikes a work. The work may stir him to profound commentaries and disquisitions. But his judgments of value remain personal and subjective and do
. Even Kant. See Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, Pt. I, Bk. II, Sec. I (Insel-Ausgabe, 5, 240-1). Compare Freidrich Jodl, Geschichte der Ethik (2d ed. Stuttgart, 1912), 2, 35-8.
not necessarily affect the judgments of other people. A discerning person will note with interest what a thoughtful writer says about the impression a work of art made upon him. But it depends upon a man's own discretion whether or not he will let his own judgment be influenced by that of other men, however excellent they may be.
The enjoyment of art and literature presupposes a certain disposition and susceptibility on the part of the public. Taste is inborn to only a few. Others must cultivate their aptitude for enjoyment. There are many things a man must learn and experience in order to become a connoisseur. But however a man may shine as a well-informed expert, his judgments of value remain personal and subjective. The most eminent critics and, for that matter, also the most noted writers, poets and artists widely disagreed in their appreciation of the most famous masterpieces.
Only stilted pedants can conceive the idea that there are absolute norms to tell what is beautiful and what is not. They try to derive from the works of the past a code of rules with which, as they fancy, the writers and artists of the future should comply. But the genius does not cooperate with the pundit.
10. The Historical Significance of the Quest for Absolute Values
The value controversy is not a scholastic quarrel of interest only to hair-splitting dons. It touches upon the vital issues of human life.
The world view that was displaced by modem rationalism did not tolerate dissenting judgments of value. The mere fact of dissent was considered an insolent provocation, a mortal outrage to one's own feelings. Protracted religious wars resulted.
Although some intolerance, bigotry, and lust for persecution is still left in religious matters, it is unlikely that religious passion will kindle wars in the near future. The aggressive spirit of our age stems from another source, from endeavors to make the state totalitarian and to deprive the individual of autonomy.
It is true that the supporters of socialist and interventionist programs recommend them only as means to attain ends which they have in common with all other members of society. They hold that a society organized according to their principles will best supply people with those material goods they toil to acquire. What more desirable societal state of affairs can be thought of than that "higher phase of communist society m which, as Marx told us, society will give "to each according to his needs"?
However, the socialists failed entirely in attempts to prove their case. Marx was at a loss to refute the well-founded objections that were raised even in his time about the minor difficulties of the socialist schemes. It was his helplessness in this regard that prompted him to develop the three fundamental doctrines of his dogmatism.  When economics later demonstrated why a socialist order, necessarily lacking any method of
. Mises, Socialism (new ed., New Haven, Yale University Press, 1951), pp. 15-16.
economic calculation, could never function as an economic system, all arguments advanced in favor of the great reform collapsed. From that time on socialists no longer based their hopes upon the power of their arguments but upon the resentment, envy, and hatred of the masses. Today even the adepts of "scientific" socialism rely exclusively upon these emotional factors. The basis of contemporary socialism and interventionism is judgments of value. Socialism is praised as the only fair variety of society's economic organization. All socialists, Marxians as well as non-Marxians, advocate socialism as the only system consonant with a scale of arbitrarily established absolute values. These values, they claim, are the only values that are valid for all decent people, foremost among them the workers, the majority in a modern industrial society. They are considered absolute because they are supported by the majority-and the majority is always right.
A rather superficial and shallow view of the problems of government saw the distinction between freedom and despotism in an outward feature of the system of rule and administration, viz., in the number of people exercising direct control of the social apparatus of coercion and compulsion. Such a numerical standard is the basis of Aristotle's famous classification of the various forms of government. The concepts of monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy still preserve this way of dealing with the matter. Yet its inadequacy is so obvious that no philosopher could avoid referring to facts which did not agree with it and therefore were considered paradoxical. There was for instance the fact, already well
recognized by Greek authors, that tyranny was often, or even regularly, supported by the masses and was in this sense popular government. Modern writers have employed the term "Caesarism" for this type of government and have continued to look upon it as an exceptional case conditioned by peculiar circumstances; but they have been at a loss to explain satisfactorily what made the conditions exceptional. Yet, fascinated by the traditional classification, people acquiesced in this superficial interpretation as long as it seemed that it had to explain only one case in modern European history, that of the second French Empire. The final collapse of the Aristotelian doctrine came only when it had to face the "dictatorship of the proletariat" and the autocracy of Hitler, Mussolini, Peron, and other modern successors of the Greek tyrants.
The way toward a realistic distinction between freedom and bondage was opened, two hundred years ago, by David Hume's immortal essay, On the First Principles of Government. Government, taught Hume, is always government of the many by the few. Power is therefore always ultimately on the side of the governed, and the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. This cognition, logically followed to its conclusion, completely changed the discussion concerning liberty. The mechanical and arithmetical point of view was abandoned. If public opinion is ultimately responsible for the structure of government, it is also the agency that determines whether there is freedom or bondage. There is virtually only one factor that has the power to make people unfree-tyrannical public opinion. The struggle for freedom is ultimately not resistance
to autocrats or oligarchs but resistance to the despotism of public opinion. It is not the struggle of the many against the few but of minorities-sometimes of a minority of but one man-against the majority. The worst and most dangerous form of absolutist rule is that of an intolerant majority. Such is the conclusion arrived at by Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill.
In his essay on Bentham, Mill pointed out why this eminent philosopher failed to see the real issue and why his doctrine found acceptance with some of the noblest spirits. Bentham, he says, lived "in a time of reaction against the aristocratic governments of modern Europe." The reformers of his age "have been accustomed to see the numerical majority everywhere unjustly depressed, everywhere trampled upon, or at the best overlooked, by governments." In such an age one could easily forget that "all countries which have long continued progressive, or been durably great, have been so because there has been an organized opposition to the ruling power, of whatever kind that power was. . . . Almost all the greatest men who ever lived have formed part of such an opposition. Wherever some such quarrel has not been going on-wherever it has been terminated by the complete victory of one of the contending principles, and no new contest has taken the place of the old-society has either hardened into Chinese stationariness, or fallen into dissolution."
Much of what was sound in Bentham's political doctrines was slighted by his contemporaries, was denied by
. John Stuart Mill on Bentham, ed. by F. R. Leavis under the title Mill on Bentham and Coleridge (New York, Stewart, 1950), pp. 85-7.
later generations, and had little practical influence. But his failure to distinguish correctly between despotism and liberty was accepted without qualms by most nineteenth-century writers. In their eyes true liberty meant the unbridled despotism of the majority.
Lacking the power to think logically, and ignorant of history as well as of theory, the much admired ?progressive writers gave up the essential idea of the Enlightenment: freedom of thought, speech, and communication. Not all of them were so outspoken as Comte and Lenin; but they all, in declaring that freedom means only the right to say the correct things, not also the right to say the wrong things, virtually converted the ideas of freedom of thought and conscience into their opposite. It was not the Syllabus of Pope Pius IX that paved the way for the return of intolerance and the persecution of dissenters. It was the writings of the socialists. After a short-lived triumph of the idea of freedom, bondage made a comeback disguised as a consummation and completion of the philosophy of freedom, as the finishing of the unfinished revolution, as the final emancipation of the individual.
The concept of absolute and eternal values is an indispensable element in this totalitarian ideology. A new notion of truth was established. Truth is what those in power declare to be true. The dissenting minority is undemocratic because it refuses to accept as true the opinion of the majority. All means to "liquidate" such rebellious scoundrels are "democratic" and therefore morally good.