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No. 283, JANUARY 1916.
MORALITY, INDIVIDUAL AND
BY G. F. BARBOUR, D. PHIL. CAN a nation be rightly described as a moral person
If so, do its duties run strictly parallel to those of individual men and women ? Is the State or more narrowly the Government of a nation, to be taken as the full expression of the moral character of the whole people, or may that character express itself through other organs or channels ? Such are some of the questions which lie at the very basis of international morality Since the War began it is probable that many of us have realized for the first time how little prepared we are to give a clear and considered answer to these fundamental questions ; and this intellectual unpreparedness, as well as the immense practical perplexities of the time, is a cause of our hesitation in dealing with the greater issues whether of the immediate or of the more distant future. We have come to realize more than ever before how widely held, how clear and precise, and how desolating in its effects is the theory that the State is a moral absolute, bound by no duties other than its own interest and limited by no obligations outside itself. If this view of nations and their relation to one another is to be overcome, not only on the field of battle but in the minds of men, we must have some other theory to put in its place;
and this must be as clear-cut but infinitely broader and more humane. The Machiavellian view of the State
. cannot be countered by denying the unitary character of its ethical claims, but only by showing that national morality is more deeply rooted in the true corporate nature of nations than we have commonly supposed. Further, this clearing of our conceptions of national ethics is an essential preliminary if we are ever to attain to a state of society in which the profession of Christianity by whole peoples shall be more than an empty form. For we cannot indicate even in outline how the nations may practise the most exacting of all moralities unless we see that they can perform the more elementary duties and have the organs necessary for the formation and expression of moral purpose.
These questions are discussed in more than one of the lectures given last winter at Bedford College, London, by six distinguished English thinkers ; * and an admirable starting-point for their discussion is provided by Mr. A. C. Bradley's stimulating paper on “International Morality." ”
Mr. Bradley first discusses the moral nature of the State or the nation, and answers the question whether it has a moral character, and consequently has duties to itself and to other nations, unhesitatingly in the affirmative. This part of his argument, which follows the lines familiar to students of T. H. Green, ends with a persuasive and beautiful delineation of the ideal of international morality as “an all-embracing community of members—if not States, still corporate bodies of some kind-united in pursuit of a common end, the best life of man. This life would be different in each body, a harmony, not a monotone ; and the difference in each would be its special contribution to the whole." (P. 58.)
From this Mr. Bradley goes on, not to deduce that the moral duties of States are identical with those of individuals,
• Subsequently published in the volume entitled The International Crisis in its Ethical and Psychological Aspects. (Oxford.)
but rather to point out their essential differences. He is conscious, indeed, that this argument may disappoint or antagonize some who have followed him eagerly in his proof of the moral nature of the State ; for he says that
; openly or unconsciously seem to demand that States should behave to one another like good men, like friends, or
even like brothers. And the flagrant contradiction between such demands and the actual behaviour of States causes not only painful disappointment but an injurious dismay.” “Yet,” he adds, “what is in fault here is not only, or even mainly, the behaviour of States, but something unreasonable in the demand.” (P. 60.)
Now this may seem to many a hard, and even a dangerous saying. For, they argue, there is but one Moral End, for which nations as well as men are made by which they must be judged, and whose claim upon them is at all times and in every circumstance the ground of obligation and duty. From this point of view the whole cause of international morality seems to be bound up with the affirmation that bodies of men have the same duties as individuals, and that what would be wrong in an individual cannot be right in a nation or its government.
On such an issue one can only express an individual conviction ; but to me it seems that Mr. Bradley's position is here unassailable, and that his caveat is needed. For if we set out from the assumption that duties are identical for nations and individuals, and the assumption afterwards proves unfounded, we may do a definite disser
, vice to the very cause which we wish to promote. And it is not unnatural to make quite the opposite assumption. Convinced that nations have duties not less than individual men, we may yet expect to find that there are differences in the two cases. The duties may prove in the end to be similar and analogous, without being identical ; and to say at the outset that they are identical because we
only know of one order of duties, seems to indicate a precipitancy of mind which does not always lead to true progress. At least the question deserves full examination-far fuller than can be given here, where only a brief outline of certain lines of inquiry can be attempted ; and if we are led to conclude that there is indeed a large measure of identity between nations and their respective duties, this conclusion will have all the more force because it has been reached, not per saltum, but step by step.
To put the point somewhat differently, we may agree with Plato that the Good is One, and yet hold that there are various ways of reaching it, as there are most certainly many different stages on the journey. Its appeal cannot come in precisely the same form to great bodies of men as to individuals, nor can the nature of the response be identical. Complex as is the nature of every personality, the great compound personality which we call a nation is infinitely more complex still ; and moral duties and problems when they occur on the national scale must share this increased complexity. As Mr. Bradley says, “ All moralities, of course, are the same in the sense that they are morality, or a doing of duty : but what acts in particular are the duties of a moral agent must depend on the nature of the agent and the position he occupies." (P. 60.)
So he goes on to point out some of the differences between a State and individual, and lays stress on two in particular. Perhaps some who agree fully with his main position may feel that, even in view of what has just been said, he tends to overstress the element of diversity.
The first difference is that, for the individual, duty is in the main both determined and enforced by the custom, the laws, and the administrative or penal machinery of the State in which he lives. But when nations differ as to their rights or interests, there is no similar superior power to which they can appeal or before which they can be