After reading this article you will learn about the value of personality in political thought.
The idea of justice, which is the impersonal source of law, is an idea which itself has its source in ethics and ethical principles. But the foundation of ethics, and the source of all ethical principles, is the value and the worth of individual personality.
The moral world is a world of individual persons, each intrinsically valuable, but all existing in time, and all accordingly subject to the conditions of a time-process. The intrinsic value of each personality is the basis of political thought, just as (and just because) it is the basis of moral thought; and worth of persons—individual persons; all individual persons—is the supreme worth in the State.
Existing under, and subject to, the conditions of a time- process, these persons—not fixed substances, but so many growing nuclei—are engaged in a motion of development, which is the turning of capacity into energy or (as we may also say) of ‘potency’ into ‘act’.
The end of any national society is to foster and encourage, in and through partnership, the highest possible development of all the capacities of personality in all of its members; and this end is the justice, or ‘right ordering’, of such a society, and may accordingly be called by the name of social justice.
Similarly the end of any legal association or State, which is based and superimposed on a national society, is to assemble and establish the external conditions required by every citizen for the development of his capacities; and this end is the justice, or right ordering, of such a legal association, and may accordingly be called legal justice.
The formula here suggested—the highest possible development of all the capacities of personality in all the members of society—was foreshadowed in a formula of the eighteenth century. That formula, which would appear to have been invented by Francis Hutcheson, sometime professor of moral philosophy in the University of Glasgow, but which was afterwards adopted and popularized by Bentham and his disciples, was ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’.
It is a shadow of the truth; but it is also a dangerous shadow. If happiness, as it readily may be, is identified with pleasure, and thus made to consist in a surplus of sensations of pleasure over sensations of pain, it becomes the end of Society and the State to secure for as many persons as possible, and in as great a degree as possible, the presence of a static condition of pleasurable sensation. This is the filling of a sieve with water.
Owing to the law of satiety, which means that a continuing pleasure is a. continually less pleasure, there will always be a leakage of pleasurable sensation; and the static condition will not even be static. In any case, and even if it were possible to prevent it from deteriorating and running backward,
In pejus ruere ac retro sublapsa referri, a static condition is not in harmony with the conditions of the time-process to which man is subject; nor does the human faculty of judgement, which recognizes values and applies them in foro conscientiae, assign most value to the person most steadily enjoying most pleasure with the minimum of leakage.
A personality dynamically developing all its capacities in a constant progression is a better answer to the process of time and a greater satisfaction to our sense of values; and our formula of social and legal justice, or the right ordering of Society and the State, will accordingly be the highest possible development of capacity in the greatest possible number of persons.
There is a sense of the word ‘happiness’—a chameleon-like word, which can change its colour to match different environments—in which it may be, and has been, applied to such development. Happiness need not be identified with pleasure. It may be defined, as it was by Aristotle (though the Greek word which he uses is perhaps better rendered by our word ‘felicity’), as consisting in the unhindered energy of the higher—because more rational—capacities of man’s soul.
Proceeding upon this basis Aristotle is even willing to allow that happiness of this order—the happiness of the soul of man freely exercising its energy in the full play of its higher capacities, both by contemplation and action—is attended by a ‘supervening’ pleasure, or added bloom of joy, which comes from the conscious sense of itself and its own existence and motion.
We may therefore argue, if we follow Aristotle, that there is a form of happiness—a form of happiness attended by pleasure—which is, after all, the end of Societies and of States, and which supplies the formula for their right ordering. But that argument has its dangers, and it may lead us into quicksand’s.
For one thing, the happiness of Aristotle’s theory, even if we understand it in his own high sense, is a happiness which he reserves for the few, who have ‘opportunity of leisure’. It may mean the highest possible development of capacity; but it does not mean such development in the greatest number of persons.
For another thing, it is unlikely that happiness, if once we begin to use that term, will ever be understood (except by a few) in Aristotle’s sense. It goes against the general grain, and the general use of language, to use the term in any other sense than that of a surplus of sensations of pleasure over sensations of pain.
A few may rise to the height of Aristotle’s conception of happiness; and those few may even transcend him in refusing to reserve for the few the high happiness which he conceived and described, but reserved as a prize for the few. That is not enough. We need a formula which is equally understood by all, without doubt or equivocation— just as it equally embraces all, without difference or respect of persons.
No formula of ‘happiness’—always an equivocal and shifting word—can satisfy that condition. The Benthamite formula has the merit of extension (the best words in it are ‘the greatest number’); but it has also the grave defect of a low conception of the happiness thus to be extended and spread ‘in widest commonalty’ among the greatest number.
A formula based on the philosophy of Aristotle may remedy the defect of quality in the Benthamite formula; but it is also likely, in the process, to lose the merit of extension which that formula possesses, and to encourage the thin satisfaction of a limited elite. But if we abandon any formula of happiness, and content ourselves with the notion of the highest possible development of capacity in the greatest possible number of persons, we are not yet out of the wood.
The objection may be raised that a notion which makes the end of Societies and States consist in the maximum development of so many individual persons is a notion which is anti-social, or at any rate a-social, even if the number of such personalities is itself a maximum number and is thus conterminous (or nearly conterminous) with the whole range of national society and the national State.
Such an objection, if it be raised, can be pressed in a number of searching questions. Do we not speak of the commune bonum, of the general welfare, and of social well-being? When we use such terms, do we not imply, by the fact of their use, the existence of a social whole, which experiences or enjoys, with some sort of sentient existence, this welfare or well-being?
Must we not therefore take into account the presence not only of individual personalities, but also of a social ‘personality’, or at any rate (if we reject that term, and refuse to ascribe personality to any form of being which is not individual) of a social ‘organism’?
In the course of the discussion a distinction was drawn between ‘moral’ personality and ‘legal’ personality; and the argument was advanced that while legal personality could be predicated of groups, moral personality could be predicated only of individuals, and was an attribute peculiar to individuals.
If that argument be true we are precluded from ascribing personality to the social whole. The only form of personality which can here be in question is moral personality (that follows from the moral terms commune bonum, general welfare, and social well-being which have been used); and this is exactly the form of personality which the social whole, by its very nature, cannot possess.
But if we are thus precluded from regarding this whole—this Society to which we belong; this national Society which is also a national State—as a social personality, may we not, at the least, regard it as a social organism? We may begin by noting that the term ‘social organism’ is a metaphor, and only a metaphor: it is not a description or a definition.
The question before us, therefore, is not a question whether the term ‘social organism’ is an accurate definition: it is a question whether the term is a useful metaphor—whether, in other words, it is a term of comparison which’ can profitably be used to throw light on the nature of the thing to which the comparison is applied.
Defining a metaphor as a term ‘carried over’, by a process of ‘transference’, from the thing which it immediately signifies to a thing supposed to be analogous, for the purpose of illustrating the nature of that thing, we may begin by asking what the term ‘organism’ immediately signifies, and then proceed to ask how far that term, with the addition of the adjective ‘social’, illustrates the nature of Society.
In its own immediate significance the word ‘organism’ comes from an original Greek word meaning ‘that with which one works’, or, in other words, a tool or instrument; and even in our modern usage, which connects it with the science of biology and accordingly applies it to living structures (apparently remote from the notion of instruments or tools), the word still bears the impress of the original Greek.
An organism is something animate which is a compound of parts serving one another, and serving thereby the whole which they collectively constitute, as instruments for the attainment of a common purpose; it is a composite living structure, in which the parts are ‘organs’ or tools, mutually instrumental to one another and collectively instrumental to the life-purpose of the whole. We may accordingly say that the essence of the animate organism, in the realm of biology, is the instrumentality of each part in relation to the life-purpose of the whole.
Can we carry that notion over from the realm of biology and transfer it to the realm of social and political theory? Is there enough analogy between the composite living structure which we describe as an organism, and the organized form of Society which we describe as a State, to justify us in speaking of the latter in terms borrowed from the former, and in seeking to illustrate the nature of the State by the use of the metaphor of organism?
The State is certainly an organized society: in other words, it is an association constructed and articulated, by the action of its members, for the permanent purpose of declaring and enforcing a system of law directed to the attainment of justice.
But to define the nature of the State in those terms (even if we use the word ‘organized’ in the process) is at once to see the differences between the State and an organism, rather than to detect an analogy. (This is not to say that we may not eventually discover some sort of analogy: it is only to say that it is difference which immediately leaps to the eye.)
In the first place the State is a structure which is made by the action of its parts, and created by the volition of its members. We cannot say that the parts make the structure of the physical organism: if either makes the other, it is the organism which makes the parts. In the second place, the essence of the State may from one point of view be said to be the opposite of that of the physical organism.
If the essence of the physical organism is the instrumentality of each part in relation to the life-purpose of the whole, the essence of the State is the instrumentality of the whole in relation to the life-purpose of each part. The State is a whole which is instrumental to its parts, in the sense that it exists to secure the conditions of the development of its members; it is a whole in which every part is final and independent, in the sense that each is a personality which as such is an end in itself and responsible for itself.
Lastly, the purpose of the State is different in kind from that of the physical organism. The purpose of the physical organism is purely physical; it is that of maintaining in the present, and reproducing in the future, the physical life-force of the whole structure.
The purpose of the State is indeed partly physical: it is, in part (though even here there is a difference between its purpose and that of the organism), a purpose of maintaining physical life—the physical life of its individual members— under healthy physical conditions and encouraging its reproduction under similar conditions. But the main and essential purpose of the State is something more than physical.
Existing in the moral world, and resting on a moral basis, it has the primary purpose of maintaining—and not only maintaining, but also extending—the conditions under which each of its members, as a conscious moral agent, can freely and consciously develop the highest capacities of his nature.
In a word, the life-force of the organism is that of the whole, and it is entirely physical in character: the life-force of the State (if we may speak of it as having a life-force) is that of its individual members, and it is predominantly moral in character.
The metaphor of the organism is thus a metaphor which cannot be easily, or without reservation, applied to the State, or used to illustrate its nature. It is the difference rather than the analogy between an organism and an organized society which leaps immediately to the eye.
Yet there must be some analogy which later reflection is able to detect: otherwise the metaphor would not have been used, as it has been, for so many centuries. .It is true that it acquired a fresh vogue with the progress of the study of biology in the nineteenth century; but the comparison of the ‘body politic’ to the physical body of man is as old as the Roman Republic, and was already being elaborated by the writers of the Middle Ages.
These elaborations are often fanciful; but sober reflection can still suggest reasons for a comparison between organized human society and the physical organism, and the progress of material civilization would seem to be adding more and more cogency to those reasons. It may well be argued today that the development of organized human society on its economic side produces an increasing analogy with the physical organism.
For the purpose of subsistence, self-sufficiency has long ceased to be the attribute of the family, or of the village, or even of the region: it is now possible only for a whole national society (if even for that), managing and maintaining itself as if it were a single body. In a highly differentiated system of the production of material necessities, all individuals become, in regard to that system and in so far as they are parts of its being, mutually instrumental to one another and collectively instrumental to the life-purpose of the whole.
Whether or no ‘we are all socialists now’, we are all now socially interdependent—and thereby dependent upon the social whole which contains us—in respect of the satisfaction of our physical needs.
That, so far as it goes, is a matter purely on the physical plane (though what we do, and are led to feel, on the physical plane may affect by a natural contagion of sympathy our acts and our feelings on other planes); it is, in itself, just a fact of economic life and livelihood. But this is the plane and these are the facts on which we are apt to fix our attention.
Fixing his attention in that way, and paying an exclusive regard to the ‘economic organism’, Duguit arrives at the conclusion that the fact of the economic organism suggests a principle of solidarity (or, as we may also say, a value of ‘mutuality’) which is the final determinant of the whole State and all of its law.
But this, is simply to make the economic organism all in all: to make it not only a fact, but also a source of principle and value—and indeed to make it the source, the one and only source, of principle and value.
We may indeed admit that there is some analogy to an organism in the economic structure and operation of an organized national society. But to make that admission is not to allow that this ‘economic organism’, or, to speak more exactly, ‘quasi-organ- ism’, is the whole of organized national society (there are other sides which have to be considered), and still less to allow that it supplies a principle or value which should inform and control the whole.
None the less we may, and must, admit that the economic side of organized national society does, after all, provide some sort of analogy to an organism. We may even carry our admission farther, and allow that on its spiritual, as well as its physical, side an organized national society has something of the character of an organism.
It is true that individual personality is the final end, or the supreme value, in such a society: it is true that the final and supreme aim of such a society is to encourage the growth (by providing the conditions for its effort) of that nisus towards the development of capacity which is present in each individual. But we cannot stop there if we wish to get to the conclusion of the matter.
We are all, in the course of our own personal development, and by the very nature of that development, profoundly interested in, as we are profoundly affected by, the development of others.
There is no necessary clash between our separate and several developments. On the contrary, we are all, if in different ways and different degrees, mutually serviceable to one another and collectively serviceable to the common purpose of our whole society.
I can only be at my highest by belonging to—by living, moving, and having my being in—the most richly and most generally developed society; by sharpening my mind on good minds wherever I turn (an argument, and not the least argument, for a rich and generous provision by the State of educational opportunities); by nerving my moral purpose in contact and co-operation with all others of a similar purpose wherever we gather together.
In this spiritual sphere there is no clash of individual with individual, or of individuals with Society: we can say to one another:
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep: the more I give to thee
The more I have, for both are infinite.
The analogy of the organism may thus be applied, after all, to the moral side of man’s social existence, as well as to the physical or economic side. And if it can be applied to Society on its moral side, it can also be applied to the State. For the State, is simply Society, on its moral side, ‘writ legal’: it is Society turned into a legal association for the purpose of providing, in a legal form, the conditions needed by its members for the full development of all their capacities.
As such an association it recognizes and guarantees, on the one hand, the legal right of each individual member to life, liberty, and the pursuit of personal development; but equally, and on the other hand, it also recognizes and enforces—in the very same act, and as the necessary complement to legal rights—the legal duties of all the members to do mutual service to one another and to render common and collective service to the whole body which they constitute.
From this point of view we may not only speak of a social organism, but also of a political organism: a political organism which is the consequence and issue of the social.
But though we may thus, when we reflect on the matter, discover a number of grounds for the use of the metaphor of organism—and that not only in the field of economics, but also in the social and in the political field—the fact remains that in all these fields, but especially in the social and political, the use of the metaphor is none the less dangerous.
Words are good servants, but they can also, be rebels; they can twist in our hands and turn round upon us. Just as the word ‘happiness’ can be a rebel against man’s moral sense, so, too, the word ‘organism’ can be a rebel against his moral independence.
There is no common good, or general welfare, or social well-being, which is anything other than the good, or welfare, or well-being, of actual and individual persons. To promote the common good is to promote the development, and increase the worth, of such persons; and there is nothing in our human world, other than actual and individual persons, which can experience and enjoy development or achieve an increase of worth.
That is why the metaphor of the organism, if it be applied in the social and political field, may turn into a rebel or at any rate a false guide. The word ‘organism’ so easily suggests a super-existence beyond individual existence, with a life beyond individual lives, pursuing its own development and zealous for its own worth.
When we use the word ‘organism’ freely, we begin to conjure with metaphor: we turn metaphor into myth, and myth into an idol, and we end by turning our human selves, which are ends in themselves, into means for the greater glory of the idol.
This was the easy descent which was followed in Italy during the period of Fascist ascendancy; and it reached its height, or rather its depth, in the opening declaration of the ‘Charter of Labour’ of 1927—’The Italian nation, by its power and its duration, is an organism, with a being, ends, and means of action superior to those of the individuals, separate or grouped, of whom it is composed … a moral, political, and economic unity, integrally realized in the Fascist State.’
When the idea of the organism can be put to such uses, we may well conclude that, even as a metaphor, it is a dangerous instrument of political thought. It twists in the hands too easily; and though ‘it may appear to be attractive and to argue benevolence’ (as Aristotle says of Plato’s advocacy of his organic republic), we have to remember that it may also serve the malevolent ends of tyranny.
There is indeed an attraction, and there is some suggestion of a genuine ‘benevolence’, in a term which carries the notions of mutual interdependence and -common service to a common purpose; but there is also the opposite in a term which may also carry the notion that human beings are tools and human persons the servants of an inhuman super-person.
It is better, after all, to think of organized Society not as an ‘organism,’ but rather as a ‘scheme of organization’: a scheme constructed by individual persons, and by nothing and nobody else: a scheme directed to the well-being of individual persons, and of nothing and nobody else.
There is indeed a danger, it must be admitted, in thinking of organized Society merely and solely in those terms. We may easily run into a false individualism: we may forget that there is something more than construction (at any rate conscious construction) in the process of social and economic development: we may forget that no scheme of social organization can be directed only to the well-being of so many individuals as such (but how could it be social if it were?), and that any scheme must necessarily be directed to the well- being of individuals as all members of one society, mutually connected with one another and mutually affected by one another.
But if we choose—and choose we must—it is less dangerous to think of a ‘scheme of organization’ constructed by individuals and intended for their benefit than it is to think of an ‘organism’. When we think and speak in such terms, we base ourselves on the firm foundation of individual responsibility: we start from the individual’s power and duty of building a scheme of organized life by individual effort and building it for the purpose of individual betterment.
When once that foundation is laid, we can safely add, as we are bound to add, that the effort must be concerted and the betterment must be shared. But even so we shall still remember that such a concerted effort, leading to such a shared betterment, is an effort of individual persons, leading to the betterment of individual persons.
This conception of a scheme of organization has its relevance in the economic field, as well as in the social and political. We may admit, as has already been admitted, that the development of Society on its economic side produces a growing analogy with the physical organism, by increasing the mutual interdependence of its members and their common dependence on the whole body. But if we accept the conception of a scheme of organization, based on the firm foundation of individual responsibility, we shall add a correction to that admission.
We shall say that the supreme value of individual personality, of individual responsibility, and of individual development of capacity, has to be brought into, set above, and made to correct, the organic character of interdependence and solidarity which economics tends, by itself, increasingly to assume.
Economic society tends to become an organism, and it must be rescued from that tendency. Economics cannot dictate to us what our scheme of organization should be and do: on the contrary our scheme of organization- should dictate to economics (if there is to be any dictation, and so far as dictation is possible) what economics should be and do.
It follows that the State, as the exponent and expression of a general scheme of organization, must be the controller of economics—not so much in the simple and superficial sense of nationalizing the means of production (that may indeed be part of the process of control, in this or that branch of production, but if it be made the whole it accentuates instead of correcting the organic tendency of economics), as in the deeper and broader sense of making the activity of production compatible with, and even serviceable to, individual personal development.
The free person freely determining himself, in the greatest possible measure, even in the area of work, because he shares in determining the conditions of his work—this is the essence and the foundation of the scheme of organization which has to be superimposed on the economic organism, or, to speak more exactly, on the growing trend of economic society towards the nature of an organism.