After reading this article you will learn about bio, life and political ideas of Thomas Hill Green.
Life of Thomas Hill Green:
Thomas Hill Green was born at Birkin in the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1836. His father was an Anglican parson and was a well-known personality in the Church of England.
Young Green was educated at home and in 1855, at the age of nineteen, he was sent to Balliol College, Oxford, and there he spent the rest of his life.
During his days at Balliol College, Green could not establish himself as a preeminent scholar. However, he could not confine himself only within the studies of subjects. He exhibited his varied interests.
He was elected a Fellow of the Balliol College in 1860 and continued in tutorial capacity until 1878. In that year he was appointed the Whyte Professor of Moral Philosophy. At Oxford he taught several subjects, such as ethics, history of philosophy, metaphysics, logic etc. In Balliol College he established himself as a successful teacher. His popularity spread wide.
Green was also interested in public affairs. He joined the Liberal Party and participated in its campaign. In fact, his participation in public and political affairs brought about dramatic changes in his academic and public life.
Fie was member of the Oxford Town Council and School Board. Green was stricken with blood poisoning and died in March 1882 at the age of forty six. His important works include Prolegomena to Ethics and Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligations.
His membership of the Oxford Town Council and participation in the public affairs of London created lot of interest in his mind on the growing problems of the day. He urged upon the state to regulate the liquor traffic.
His membership of the Town Council brought for him the opportunity to travel the narrow and dark lanes and by-lanes of London city and he observed the mode of life of the people living in the unhygienic conditions of slums. He also observed from a very close distance the impact of industrialisation upon land cultivation.
When T. H. Green was writing his books on philosophy and politics, the Industrial Revolution crossed the mark of century and its effects both good and bad upon all aspects of life became prominent.
Green, a piquant observer of social problems, began to think of them. As a close observer, Green saw the injustice, both moral and economic, which prevailed in his time. He also discovered a relationship between moral injustice and economic injustice.
Economic misery led people to be involved in immoral activities.
In Political Obligations he says:
“To an Athenian slave, who might be used to gratify a master’s lust, it would have been a mockery to speak of the state as a realization of freedom; and perhaps it would not be much less so to speak of it as such to an untaught and underfed denizen of a London yard”.
According to Green, abject poverty is the root cause of moral degradation. So, for the self-development of the poverty-stricken people, what is first of all required is the removal of poverty. He did not speak too much for economic equality. This term to him was vague. What he saw was poverty and what he felt was its removal.
He further believed that the end of the liberal society was an essential precondition for achieving such a goal. He did not prescribe three different chambers for economics, politics, and ethics or morality.
He believed that fight against poverty can make men moral and this fight can only be launched by the political authority of the state.
Green and other fellow idealists drew inspiration from the study of Greek classics .The idealist thoughts of Plato and Aristotle created a tremendous impact on the mind and ideas of the Oxford idealists.
The Republic of Plato and Ethics of Aristotle were parts of the main texts of Oxford University. Students, generation after generation, acquainted themselves with the ideas contained in these two classic books Man, by nature, is a political animal and he is also a member of the political community, state is a partnership of life in virtue, law is always the manifestation of reason—all these utterances instilled faith in the mind of students studying at Oxford Green and other members of his school were not exception.
Once Gilbert Murray said:
If you take English political thought and action from Pitt and Fox onwards, it seems to me that you will always find present….strands of feeling which are due of course among many other causes to this germination of Greek influence; an unquestioning respect for freedom of life and thought, a mistrust of passion…….. A sure consciousness that the poor are the fellow citizens of the rich and those statesmen must as matter of fact consider the welfare of the whole state to sum up, the political idealism of Plato and Aristotle dominated the English political thought for several centuries and the members of the Oxford idealist school could not avoid that influence.
Mention of the influence of Hegel on Green must also be made. The philosophical theory of state elaborated by Green and Bosanquet was first expounded by Hegel and other German idealists.
Thomas Hill Green said that Hegel’s account of freedom as realized in the state does not correspond to the actual facts of society. But in spite of this the state has certain amount of responsibility and it performs that in realizing the freedom.
The state does not always directly do it; its various agencies perform the duty on its behalf. Again, Green’s state, like Hegel’s, is a community of communities Like Hegel, he concludes that the state is supreme over all other communities.
Both Hegel and Green have held the view that individuals derive their rights only as members of state, and they have no right against it. The state of both Hegel and Green differs from all other associations within it.
Wayper has drawn our attention to other aspects of how Green was influenced by Hegel Like Hegel, Green believed in the existence of Divine Spirit or Reason or Idea He borrowed from Hegel the idea that the Divine Spirit was constantly pushing forward to its goal.
There is an interesting similarly between Hegel and Green so far as the concept of freedom is concerned. Both viewed it from the standpoint of idealism and morality. Good, moral and ethical persons have the right to claim freedom. But in general sense a member of body politic can claim freedom. Hegel and Green thought if an individual performs moral and ethical duties he can claim freedom. Both of them had a belief that state has a duty to protect freedom.
Thomas Hill Green was profoundly influenced by Rousseau. In his Political Obligation he has said, “It does not follow…that there is no truth in the conception of the state or sovereign as representing a general will, and as authorized or entitled to obedience on that account. It is this conception, as the permanently valuable thing in Rousseau.”
Thomas Hill Green further points out that Rousseau’s conception of the sovereignty of general will holds good only in small cantons of Switzerland.
Even where it works the private interests work in the name of general will. But this loophole can be removed by dividing the sovereignty into de jure and de facto. Green also agrees with Rousseau that pure disinterestedness prevails in the society. Every citizen acts with the intention of safeguarding common interests or objects. Always he gives priority to common good.
Political Ideas of Thomas Hill Green:
1. Theory of Freedom:
What T. H. Green really thought about freedom can best be explained in his own words and for that reason we quote a lengthy passage from his book:
“We shall probably all agree that freedom, rightly understood, is the greatest of all blessings, that its attainment is the true and of all our efforts as citizens But when we thus speak of freedom, we should carefully consider what we mean by it. We do not mean merely freedom from restraint or compulsion. We do not mean merely freedom to do as we like irrespectively of what it is that we like. We do not mean a freedom that can be enjoyed by one man or one set of men at the cost of a loss of freedom to others. When we speak of freedom as something to be so highly prized, we mean a positive power or capacity of doing or enjoying something with doing or enjoying and that too; something that we do or enjoy in common with others. We mean by it a power which man exercises through the help or security given him by his fellow- men and which he in turn helps to secure for them.”
A close scrutiny of the above passage reveals certain characteristics of freedom and these are stated below. In the first place, Green’s concept of freedom is not negative. He says freedom does not consist in the absence of restraint or compulsion.
It is not the unlimited freedom of one and no freedom or very little or another. Green does not accept the situation where the freedom of one depends upon the activities or enjoyment of freedom of others.
In his theory, everybody will have the opportunity to enjoy freedom. Green was in favour of state intervention in the realization of freedom and he stated it clearly. Barker maintains, “The one thing the state must not do is to check its self-determination, either by repressive interference or by paternal government; the one thing the state must do is to liberate its energies by removing the obstacles to their action.”
Green’s theory of liberty, secondly, is a positive thing. It is a positive power of doing or enjoying something north doing or enjoying. Individuals will enjoy freedom in cooperation with other fellow-citizens. Whenever a man demands freedom and after getting it proceeds to enjoy it, he must consider that other people can claim the same thing. So freedom is something which is to be enjoyed in common with others.
This public spirit or altruism is vital to freedom. But this spirit or feeling comes when consciousness arises in the mind of people. There is a famous and beautiful observation of Barker; “Human consciousness postulates liberty, liberty involves rights, rights demand the state.” This famous and oft quoted observation of Barker clearly states that right, liberty and state are all related and interdependent concepts. Without state people cannot have any scope to enjoy liberty and exercise rights?
Man must be conscious of what he should not do. He must also be conscious of the idea of common good or interest. He will enjoy his freedom only in a way that will help the progress of common good.
Pursuance of interest at the cost of others’ interest is no freedom, Green’s theory of freedom is, therefore, determinate. Man is permitted to do only those things that will come to the benefit of the whole society, not any part of it. This determinate character makes freedom more idealistic and moral.
Thomas Hill Green had a deep feeling for the masses that were untaught and underfed. He was not a socialist, but he was a great humanitarian. The freedom of one influential person or economically dominant class does not indicate the freedom of the whole society.
He said; “But we rightly refuse to recognize the highest development of an exceptional individual or exceptional class, as an advance of the true freedom towards man. If the ideal of true freedom is the maximum of power for all members of human society alike to make the best of themselves, we are right in refusing to ascribe the glory of freedom to a state in which the apparent elevation of the few is founded on the degradation of many.” Green never recognized the freedom of a particular person or a class means the freedom of all.
All the people must have the opportunity to enjoy freedom and from this condition there can arise morality. Again though Green did not talk about the equitable distribution of wealth he was the believer of the idea that proper distribution of wealth among people can ensure freedom. In his book Green has indirectly discussed it.
Thomas Hill Green then proceeds to discuss the freedom of contract as a part of his whole concept He says that the freedom of contract, freedom in all forms of doing what one will with one’s own is valuable only as a means to an end.
That end constitutes the positive end of freedom. This is the liberation of powers of all men equally for contribution to a common good. No one has a right to do what he will with his own in such a way as to contravene this common good.
According to Green, the concept of common good is the supreme guide for all persons. It may also be called the supreme authority. Every individual must conform to the idea of common good. Freedom lies in the obedience to it.
Thomas Hill Green does not, like Rousseau, say that any recalcitrant individual will be forced to obey the dictum of general will which represents the common good. Green’s men are rational and possess public spirit. So the application of coercion under normal circumstances does not arise.
Green does not view freedom in legal perspective. The state has a role no doubt, but this is not legal. This is due to the fact that his freedom is viewed in a positive sense.
Pointing out to these aspect Sabine remarks:
“Freedom must therefore imply not merely a legal but an actual possibility, in view of existing circumstances, of developing human capacities, a genuinely increased power on the part of individual to share in the goods which a society has produced and an enlarged ability to contribute to the common good”.
2. Theory of Right:
Thomas Hill Green was concerned not only with freedom of individuals but also with their rights. He understood the close relationship between the two. For the proper development of human personality both freedom and right are essential. Again, he has viewed these two in the light of idealism.
When the consciousness of man develops fully, then—and then only—the question of liberty arises. When liberty comes, rights will not remain far away. Then we can roughly conclude following Green that the development of human consciousness is the foundation of both liberty and rights. But the self must be interpreted in a broader and idealistic perspective.
The self must know itself. It is the first phase of achieving consciousness. Again, the will of the self must conform to the common interests of society. That is, the will of one will not be at variance with the general will of the society.
When these two conditions are fulfilled then it will be assumed that self-consciousness has been achieved. Green’s self-consciousness, therefore, means the consciousness of others.
The consciousness implies that individual is not alone in the society and, therefore, he has no right to pursue his own good. He has every right to seek his own good. But it is his duty to remember that his goodness depends upon the goodness of others. In this situation every individual claims that other persons in the society must recognize him.
What others will recognize? Green wants to emphasize that no individual, whoever he may be, can unilaterally pursue his own interests. Pursuance of self-interests, according to Green, is the forerunner of anarchical situation.
The society is always to be treated as a whole. The implication is that the right and liberty of one individual are dependent upon the right and liberty of another person.
The society is a complete whole and the pursuance of exclusive self interest has no place. While a person makes claims he must remember that these claims must not stand on the way of raising and realizing claims by other fellow citizens.
“Claims thus recognized are translated into rights, and it is such recognition that constitutes them rights.”
We have now reached a very important phase of our analysis. Rights have two aspects. One is it is claim and the claim is made by individual guided by self- consciousness. Another aspect is claim must be recognized by the society or state as the case may be.
A man can claim certain things and the claims have no conflict with the common good. But if the society does not recognize the claims it will never be translated into reality.
So the intervention of the state is important. A man may claim right to work and it is a right. But if the state does not recognize the right, the claim remains unfulfilled or useless. There are many states where right to work is not yet recognized. It’s another implication is men can claim rights only as members of society.
The word recognition requires clarification. When Green speaks of recognition he does not mean legal recognition. His rights are not legal but ideal rights. If the citizen does not fulfills moral conditions, if he does not identify his interests with the general interests, then he cannot claim rights. Hence the validity of rights comes from the self-consciousness of the individuals.
The duty of the state is to provide safeguards, that is, men will not face any hindrances in enjoying rights. Common moral consciousness recognizes rights. Green, by recognition, does not mean legislature or executive.
Moral rights need not be legal rights. Barker points out. “The rights are relative to morality in the sense that they are the conditions of the attainment of the moral end; and the recognition is given by the moral consciousness because it is known that they are the necessary conditions of its own satisfaction”. An interpretation of Green’s theory of rights asserts that he did not treat this concept in the background of legality. According to Green rights, liberties etc. are to be viewed in the light of morality and idealism. Recognition of state also falls in this category.
Thomas Hill Green was the professor of Moral Philosophy and he viewed rights from the standpoint of morality, but he never ignored the question of rights in relation to law. He was fully conscious of the relationship between rights and law. Rights, according to Green, are embodied in law .That is, they are expressed in the form of law.
This does not imply that rights are exclusively legal. In Green’s view rights are more moral than legal. But when the question of the enforcement of rights arises the issue of law becomes inevitable. Only the sovereign authority enforces the rights.
Barker’s cogent remark in this connection is to be remembered:
“Rights are enforceable and indeed have to be enforced” Jethro Brown distinguishes three types of rights. Let us put the matter in his own words, “Law defines existing legal rights; ethics defines moral rights; politics defines those moral rights which would be legally enforceable if law was what it ought to be.” Political rights are, therefore, different from ethical and legal rights.
The rights envisaged by Green may be called natural rights. But the term natural rights has a different connotation in the context of Green’s theory. By natural rights we ordinarily mean rights enjoyed by the people in the state of nature and those people were isolated individuals and their self-consciousness did not develop.
So rights had no moral meaning to them. Green’s rights are the products of self- consciousness. His rights are innate and inherent rights. All people are endowed with moral sense.
Hallowell observes, “We can speak of such rights as natural only in a sense that they are claims that the state should recognize because there is a common consciousness that the individual ought to have such rights; they are not natural facts but ideals.” From the above analysis we come to the conclusion that in Green’s philosophy rights are moral, ethical, and, at the same time, legal.
If rights are not enforced they are practically useless and, again, if they are not enforced by legal authority they have hardly any value. He did not recognize natural rights in ordinary sense.
There is another feature of his theory of right—simply stated this is rights are not to be treated as permanent because nothing is perennial. Common consciousness is central to the conception of rights. Now, in a dynamic society, this common consciousness changes. And, therefore, rights are subject to change.
People claim more and more new rights and if these new rights are backed by common moral consciousness, the state is bound to embody them into laws and these laws are ultimately enforced. In this process of evolution the old rights take leave from society and new rights fill up the vacuum.
We now come to a very important aspect of Green’s theory of rights. What is the exact position of state in respect of rights? Position of Green is quite clear. In every society there is a supreme coercive power and this is the characteristic feature of the society.
The function of the sovereign as an institution is to protect the rights from invasion either from within or from without.
The state is made a state by the functions which it fulfills in maintaining the rights of its members as a whole, in such a way that none gains at the expense of another. Thus the state, or the sovereign as a characteristic institution of state, does not create rights, but gives fuller reality to rights already existing. Green further observes that the exercise of supreme coercive power is not arbitrary.
The sovereignty strictly follows the laws and customs and also unwritten conventions. It is now obvious that Green has not lowered the importance or role of the state in the field of maintaining rights.
When Green admits that the state has a positive role in the field of recognition of rights he was not thinking of any arbitrary power of the state. Nor did he think that a state will exercise its powers whimsically.
The picture of a responsible state was active in his mind. Simultaneously the citizens are supposed to be moral and conscious. Thus Green’s theory of rights in really a multifaceted one.
3. Theory of State:
In our analysis of the theory of rights we have seen that the state does not create rights, but gives fuller reality to rights already existing.
The implication is the chief function of state is to remove the hindrances which stand on the way of implementation or enjoyment of rights. Green felt that any other association could perform the job. But he had doubt about the capacity or eligibility of those associations.
Only a society having supreme coercive power can resist the aggression or disturbance from within or without which may intensify the assault upon the rights. The state has the supreme coercive power and it exercises that power whenever necessary. Green says – “It is not a state unless it does so”.
The word “state” is the one naturally used for the purpose controlling disturbance and preserving rights. The exact degree to which the process must have been carried before the term “state” can be applied to the people in which it has gone on, cannot be precisely determined, but as a matter of fact we never apply it except in cases where it has gone some way and we are justified in speaking of the state according to its idea as the society in which it is completed. So the state is a definite association with definite purposes.
The concept of state in Green’s philosophy has a special and meaningful connotation. He did not treat state in general sense. In Section 134 he says, “A state presupposes other forms of community, with the rights that arise with them, and exists as sustaining securing and completing them. In order to make a state there must have been families of which the members recognized rights in each other.”
The members of the family recognized rights of each and all those rights aimed at the common good of the family. But the relationships were not confined to small families. They grew bigger and out of them more and more families were created. Communities or tribes were formed.
Relationship between the tribes was established and this was a natural development. Different tribes or communities recognized rights for them. But the definition, reconciliation and also recognition required a general law.
Only the general law can regulate their conduct of all communities. Particularity was removed by generality, and some sort of enforcement appeared. Green emphatically uses the term general law.
He believed that the law of the state must be general in the sense that it is to be applied for all categories of persons. The state must free itself from all types of sectarian behaviour.
“When such a general law has been arrived at, regulating the position of members of a family towards each other and the dealings of families or tribes with each other; when it is voluntarily recognized by a community of families or tribes and maintained by a power strong enough at one to enforce it within the community and to defend the integrity of the community against attack from without, then the elementary state has been formed.”
This is the origin of the state. What factors according to Green contributed to the origin of state? Rights, law and enforcement of law by a common authority having supreme power. It means that people must ardently desire to have liberty and for this they must be prepared to make all sorts of sacrifice.
Again, the real source of rights is liberty. It means that only free people (free in all senses) can demand rights. Rights cannot be automatically implemented. For the enjoyment of rights intervention of the state is indispensable.
What is the position of the state vis-a-vis the individuals? This question we shall discuss later on. For the sake of convenience it may be noted that Green does not fully authorize the individuals to disobey the state.
He draws a distinction between natural rights acknowledged by common social consciousness and the rights not acquired in this status. The natural right is the necessary condition of full general welfare of the society.
Now if a state makes and enforces any law towards the implementation or preservation of natural right, it is the duty of every citizen to obey that law simply on the ground that interest of the whole cannot be sacrificed for the part only. From the above it now appears that if a right is not based on common consciousness people have the right to disobey a right. So behind every right there shall exist common consciousness.
We now come to another aspect of Green’s theory of state. It maintains a good relation with all the groups and associations which exist within its boundary. There may be small and insignificant groups like families or bigger groups aiming at universal brotherhood. The state makes no discrimination.
It makes adjustment with them all and creates an atmosphere for their proper development. In the words of Green the state is a society of societies. Although the state represents the highest good, the realization of this passes through all the groups and tribes. Green’s state is not Leviathan. It aims at the general welfare and seeks the help of all.
The state has not grown in vacuum and does not develop in solitude. It always seeks cooperation of all other associations. He acknowledges the importance of the associations in forming the rudimentary step of social intercourse.
Thomas Hill Green had an idea of universal brotherhood in his mind and this leads us to discuss his conception of the relationship among the states. Barker calls Green’s concept of universal brotherhood the “most distinctive”. It makes clear what he thought about war and the relationship between the states.
Every individual of the national society has a right to live. Bitterness or conflict ultimately leads to destruction and in that situation the right to live is violated. All the peoples of all countries of the world have the right to live.
This universal right needs universal recognition and without universal brotherhood it is not possible. That is why we find Green emphasizing upon universal brotherhood.
While analysing Green’s views about state Herbert Marcuse makes the following observation:
“The material arena in which the common good has to be realized is not the state as such, but this or that particular state which might perhaps not fulfill the purpose of a true state and therefore have to be swept away and superseded by another. Hence there is no ground for holding that a state is justified in doing whatever its interests seem to require. In contrast to Hegel, Green holds war, even just war, to be a wrong against the individuals’ right to life and liberty. In opposition to Hegel’s fundamental concept of supreme sovereignty of national state, Green envisages an over-arching organization of mankind”.
It is now absolutely clear that Green differs from Hegel regarding his stand on state and war. This difference of opinion makes Green an idealist philosopher of a quite different category. Green is an idealist of liberal tradition and Hegel of absolutism.
Thomas Hill Green felt that war is not the solution of any problem, rather, it has exceptional ability to aggravate situation. The war situation can be avoided by increasing intercourse between the individuals of different nation-states and by opening new avenues of trade and commerce and, finally, by creating new organisations.
As it has been maintained by Green “The more completely the organization becomes, the more the motives and occasions of international conflict tend to disappear, while the bonds of unity become stronger”.
The best way to get rid of war is to enhance the scope and possibilities of brotherhood on international level. Green has also viewed the war from a quite different angle. War cannot be regarded as a right of every state, nor is it an absolute right.
Again, it is an attribute of an imperfect state. Some states may resort to war in self-defence, and Green admits that right. That is why he has said that a war may be the relative right of any particular state and to what extent that right is to be exercised depends upon the particular situation.
If the states are well organized and brotherhood is established and fully cultivated all the imperfections and misunderstandings will evaporate. From this it appears that Green had consciously propagated a particular type of liberal philosophy in which there was practically no place of war or animosity among nations or even groups of people. Fie was always speaking about universal brotherhood or brotherhood at smaller level or range.
Better organisation of state means free scope to the individual. This again means free intercourse between members of one state and those of another and, in particular, more freedom of trade.
All restrictions on freedom of wholesale trade are really on special class interests and must disappear with the realization of that idea of individual right, founded on the capacity of everyman for free contribution to social good which is the true idea of the state.
Though Green viewed the state from an idealistic point of view, his state was never absolute or all-embracing. His state is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end and the end is moral upliftment of all citizens and attainment of common good. The primary duty of the state is to hinder the hindrances to moral development. So the power of the state is limited, but it is not an emaciated state.
The utilitarians advocated for a limited state action and by this they meant the state would ensure the attainment of pleasure and avoidance of pain. J. S. Mill advanced a step. The state had nothing to do with the self-regarding activities.
Thomas Hill Green correlated the development of the nation-state and the development of individuality. He never believed in the sacrifice of the individual at the altar of the state.
To Green, to ignore the individual and to give prominence to the state is equivalent to putting the cart before the horse.
He said, “To speak of any progress or improvement or development of nation or society or mankind except as relative to some greater worth of person is to use words without meaning.” Green did not ignore the cause or interest of the individual.
Hegel thought that through the development of nation state the individuals would find the fullest development of freedom and everything related to the cause of individuals. But it is Green who travelled along a different path. Without the proper progress of individuals the progress of state is never possible and the opposite is true. What Green has said is correct in all respects.
There is another salient feature of Green’s theory of state. It is both negative and positive. It is negative because the state cannot make man moral. Morality consists in the “disinterested performance of self-imposed duties.” The duty of the state is to remove the obstacles. This, according to Wayper is the negative function of the state. But it has also certain positive function.
The state must do something for the untaught and underfed denizen of a London yard with gin-shops on the right hand and on the left. It was the duty of the state to see that mental and physical malnutrition were removed.
The state must ensure that no man is used for the private gain. Any and every sort of tragic event must be controlled. The state shall create an atmosphere in which everyone will have enough opportunity to contribute to the common good.
In the light of what Green has said about state and its functions he may rightly be called the progenitor of a welfare state. The welfare concept primarily emphasizes the material development of all individuals along with the full realization of liberty. Green adds morality and idealism to the concept of progress.
A worshipper of idealism and an advocate of individualism, he believed in the material progress of man. Material progress followed by Industrial Revolution could not solve the basic problems of English society alleviation of poverty and removal of illiteracy and disease. Green’s primary concern was with these.
He thought that to spread education among the masses, to check adulteration in foods, to solve land and revenue problems, to enact new law for workers, state intervention was badly needed. He had unending interest in social problems. He delivered lectures on Liberal Legislation and Freedom of Contract.
So long there is illiteracy, poverty, alcoholic habit; ignorance and indiscipline there cannot be morality. But all these evils emanate from the indifferent attitude of the state towards these problems.
The state interference, Green believed, did not depend upon any ideology, but upon the practical situation. State’s supreme objective is liberation of human capacity for self-determination.
It may have certain amount of connection with ideology, but is not the sole determiner of state activity.
The implication of this view is that Green, as much as sober realist a soaring idealist, addressed himself to eliciting and explaining the presuppositions implicit in the contemporary life of the English state.
Although Green supported the intervention of state to augment the welfare of people, he cannot be called a collectivist thinker. He was a liberal and he revised liberalism by idealism. He was all along an individualist.
Any encroachment upon the freedom of people was beyond Green’s imagination. The central theme of Green’s philosophy is proper and full development of individuality. Hence the question of neglecting the individual does not arise at all.
Like the utilitarians, Green thought of the limitations upon state action and indeed he strictly defined them.
4. Right against State:
The theory of political or simply obligation is a very old issue and it has stimulated thoughts and ideas of thinkers in various ages. Green’s book Principles of Political Obligations deals with the issue from several standpoints, but the chief of these standpoints are morality and idealism. The people have the right against the state or they can resist a move of law of state if it is found that the state or its law or any approach stands on the way of realization of idealism or morality and, above all, attainment of common good.
He has allotted a special chapter consisting of eleven sections (from 137 to 147) and the title of the chapter has the Citizens Right against the State? At the very outset he has raised a question. Since all rights are derived from the sovereign no one can have any right against the sovereign or state. But Green has raised a question.
If the consciousness of the individual demands that he should resist the function of the state or its law then what will be the course of action of the individual? Here Green does not confine himself within the legality of the issue. He has discussed the matter from the idealistic and moral point of view. Here is the novelty of Green’s theory of Right against State.
In the opinion of T. H. Green the rights enjoyed by people—although to some extent natural rights—are not so completely, because they are entitled to rights only as members of civil society or state. That is, in Green’s conception, people not living in society cannot enjoy rights. The rights are also recognized by human consciousness. When does this occur? His view is that people enjoy rights in conformity with others.
They cannot act un-socially. In Green’s own words “A right, then, to act un-socially, to act otherwise than as belonging to a society for which such member keeps the exercise of the powers within limits necessary to the like exercise by all other members is a contradiction. To sum up, if the basis of rights is the mutual recognition and if all other persons show obligation to the society, a particular individual’s right against the society cannot be granted.” Green says, “Right against society as such is impossibility”.
State does not create rights. But that should not be a ground for disobeying the order of state. Rights are derived from social relation and protected by the general law. The state is the complex of those social relations to be regulated and harmonized according to a general law.
The state is the harmonizer and regulator of all social interests. Without this harmony and regulation the citizens cannot enjoy rights. He further observes that the citizen cannot have any right against the state in the sense of a right to act otherwise than as a member of some society, the state being for its members the society of societies, society in which all their claims are mutually adjusted.
What does the assertion that he can have no right to act otherwise than as a member of his state amount to? Does it mean that he has no right to disobey the law of the state to which he belongs whatever the law may be? These and several other questions Green has raised in Section 142. The discussion of Section 100 draws our attention to the concept of common good.
It any law of the state conforms to the common good the citizens has no right to disobey that law. The common good must suffer more from resistance to a law or to the ordinance of legal authority, than from the individual’s conformity to particular law or ordinance that is bad, until its repeal can be obtained.
Here Thomas Hill Green wants to point out that the citizens must obey the law even if it is bad or harmful, because by disobeying the law they will do more harm to the common good. Common good is social, rights are social, and so obedience to law is also social.
Hence obeying or disobeying a law depends upon to what extent the law serves the purpose of common good. Green has said that it is the “social duty” of man to conform to the law and by doing this he can fulfils the common good. But the individual must observe that the common good is not really common or defective and in that case he should raise his voice against the common good and, at the same time, against law.
In Sections 100 and 101 he discusses the legal aspects and related issues -regarding right against state or the issue of political obligation. The conscious citizen may feel that the prevailing law is defective and the common good has certain loopholes or it may be that the sovereignty is disputed. All these are valid reasons of resisting the authority. But he reminds his readers that the citizens are moral and ideal.
At the same time, law-abiding. So he advises his readers that the citizens will obey and protest. It clearly indicates that Green was not in favour of anarchy or revolution. His theory of resistance or withdrawing obligation depends upon the judgments of citizens and their affinity to morality, idealism, assessment of functions and nature of common good. This implies that Green’s individuals are reasonable and rational.
The common good or public interest is the supreme motivating force in the society. It guides both the state authority and public in general. Legislature of state cannot enact any law or introduce any policy violating the common good. “A right against the society as such, a right to act without reference to the needs or good of society is impossibility, since every right depends on some social relations.”
So we find that in Green’s theory of obligation there is hardly anything such as illegal law. Green thinks that law may be illegal, but even then, if that law is helpful for the furtherance of social well-being or common good, it is the duty of individuals to obey that law.
He will do more good and justice by obeying the harmful law, than by disobeying it. Of course, he can start a movement for abrogation of that law.
If we analyse Green’s view on individual’s right against the state we shall find that he has emphasized only two or three points:
(a) The state is the harmonizer of public interests; hence he must obey the law.
(b) The state’s purpose is to protect the common good and so we must obey the order of what it says.
Anything against common good is practically impossibility and finally the right against the state is permitted when its law is contrary to general public interest and, in that case, the individuals must build up a strong public opinion against that policy or law of the state. The individual alone is not entitled to disobey the law. He must gather other fellow citizens in his favour.
We should say Green wants to discourage the public to disobey law. He permits the individual to judge the common good and to start a movement. But here is a big lacuna. If the person concerned acts as a representative of a particular economic class and he happens to be an influential man, he, in collaboration with his class, will force the government to abrogate the law. It may be that the repealed law really aims at the common good.
It is unfortunate to note that Green has failed to see the whole idea of resistance to state in its proper perspective. Green feels proud to announce that, in his own country, with representative set-up, an agitation is easy to start. But the actual situation of the British society offers us a quite different picture.
It is a class society having an economically dominant class which controls the superstructure as well as the whole system of government. In such a society, the idea of common good is really a misnomer, or, if it is a real concept, the common good means the good of the powerful class. We do not think that Green was not in the know of this but he was helpless.
5. Theory of Sovereignty:
In his analysis of Green’s theory of rights Barker says – “Rights are enforceable, and indeed have to be enforced”. This short comment opens the gate of state intervention. Rights are to be recognized by the common moral consciousness, but simultaneously it needs the recognition of the state.
State recognition does not indicate legal recognition. State authority must come forward to preserve the rights when they will be in peril. This notion leads the conception of rights from the domain of common moral consciousness to the domain of state authority. In ultimate analysis the state will have to put forward its supreme coercive authority, if necessary, for safeguarding the rights.
But Green’s theory of sovereignty differs from the Austinian theory of sovereignty. Austin viewed sovereignty completely from legal point, but Green views it from idealistic point. “If the consciousness” writes Barker “creates rights it creates the sovereignty which is the condition of their maintenance”. It is not the absolute power of sovereignty or its legal status that guides the political action.
The moving force is spiritual force. Behind the action of sovereign power acts the common moral consciousness. It is to be stated differently. The sovereign power of the state acts or discharges its full power on behalf of the common conviction.
Sovereignty simply implements the law. But the laws and rules of the state are the manifestations of the common conviction or conscience. Hence there is hardly any scope on the part of the sovereign power to act arbitrarily. Needless to say, Green leaves no opportunity for that.
Green devotes maximum space to the analysis of the theory of sovereignty. In all, thirty three sections deal with the idea of sovereignty. According to Green, only Austin provides us with a clear definition of sovereignty.
Austin conceived of sovereignty in a determinate person or persons and the essence of sovereignty lies in the political power. On the contrary, the essence of Rousseau’s theory of sovereignty is the general will or ‘volonte generate’.
This cannot be identified with the will of any determinate person or body of persons. It has no legal implication or, if any, that is minor. In the opinion of Green, Austin’s doctrine seems diametrically opposite to one which finds the sovereign in a volonte generate.
Neither the opinion of Austin nor that of Rousseau is fully acceptable to Green. He comes to this conclusion.
The central idea of Austin’s theory of sovereignty is supreme coercive power. On the other hand, general will, in Rousseau’s view, is sovereign. There is no place of coercion.
Both are partly true. Green admits that coercion is an essential element of sovereignty, but it is not all. In Green’s own words “It is not this coercive force that is the important thing about it or that determines the habitual obedience. By raising the bayonet the sovereign cannot always claim obedience from men. To show or not to show obedience is to some extent a psychological matter and emanates from the core of heart. Its course is not always and unilaterally determined by coercion.”
Thomas Hill Green concludes that the two views view of Austin and that of Rousseau—are required to be combined if we want to build up a complete picture of the doctrine. “The two views thus seem mutually exclusive, but perhaps it may be by taking each as complementary to the other that we shall gain the truest view of sovereignty as it actually exists…. The sovereign power should be regarded, not in abstraction as the wielder of coercive force, but in connection with the whole complex of institutions or political society. It is as their sustainer, and thus as the agent of general will, that the sovereign power must be presented to the minds of the people if it is to command the habitual obedience, and obedience will scarcely be habitual unless it is loyal, not forced.”
Thomas Hill Green thus successfully combines the two theories—theory of Austin and theory of Rousseau. The sovereign power must be endowed with coercion. People shall demonstrate habitual obedience. But its foundation shall be the will or consent of the people.
If the government and its administration are based on the consent of the people that is, the general will they will spontaneously show their allegiance to the authority. So both coercion and consent of general will are required for a complete theory of sovereignty.
The basis of Green’s theory of sovereignty is the will not force is the basis of state. He has always propagated that nothing should be imposed upon the citizens against their will. The implication is behind every application of force there shall lay the consent of individuals.
In this way Green has made his theory of sovereignty democratic. But democratic aspect of sovereignty is not all. Once the sovereignty has received people’s consent it will exercise coercion. Green has further observed that it is undemocratic to use coercive power without the consent of general public.
Here we are of view that so far as the idealistic aspect of his theory is concerned he is perfectly right. But from the practical aspects we conclude that it is impractical.
At the time of emergency or during crisis the authority of state exercises sovereign power without considering how much the steps of the state will be acceptable. The national interest is of primary interest, democracy is of less importance. Because of this reason, in the field of theory of sovereignty Austin is still regarded as the final authority and not Rousseau or Green.
The above reformulation reveals that Green wanted to reform the concept of sovereignty in the background of idealism and morality. It may be called a realistic approach, but in the strictest sense it is not so.
Only the coercive power does not always succeed in demanding allegiance from the mass. He was both an idealist and a democrat. Behind the legal sovereignty there is the general will.
This is true irrespective of government the state may possess. Green thinks sufficiently highly of the general will. But this is no metaphysical or vague definition of it. He writes of that impalpable congeries of the hopes and fears of people bound together by common interests and sympathy which we call general will. He calls it common consciousness of the common good.
Thomas Hill Green keeps sufficient scope for the application of force since he knows that actual states do not always conform to ideal principles. If force is completely ruled out, the practical situation may be alarming.
6. Revision of Idealism:
Both J. S. Mill and Herbert Spencer are known to the students of Western political thought as staunchest advocates of individuals. But Spencer was an orthodox and extremist individualist. His extremist individualism proposed that the management of post, telegraph, health, education, security, welfare and even the mint should be left to the private management.
He believed that these services under private management could provide better or efficient services. But J. S. Mill was not an individualist of extreme type.
Sabine aptly observes:
“Indeed Spencer’s theory of the state was very largely a test of functions that the state should at once abandon, since they had been assumed in the first place by some of the innumerable ‘sins of legislators’ or of functions that will be made unnecessary by the progress of evolution”.
Clearly the private interest and the individual’s welfare were given the priority by Spencer and, to some extent, J. S. Mill. In their conception the well-being of individuals will lead to the general welfare of the society. But it was found that both Spencer and Mill and all other individualists were basically wrong.
They had very little idea about the exact position of human nature. Above all, they calculated common good mathematically. Sum total of all good does not lead to common good. Man is basically egoist and not altruist.
Leadership of the state, clear conception of common good and inculcation of public spirit through idealist thought must be the ingredients of political activity. The state cannot make people moral, but it hinders the hindrances.
“Clearly, in certain circumstances the appeal from a less to a more adequate conception of the common good and its requirements might take the form on insisting on greater measure of individual liberty. For human beings cannot develop themselves as persons unless they have scope for the exercise of such liberty. But Green is actually concerned with opposing laissez-faire dogmas. He does not advocate curtailment of individual liberty by the state for the sake of such curtailment. Indeed he looks on the social legislation which he approves as a removal of obstacles to liberty, that is, the liberty of all citizens to develop their potentialities as human beings. For example, a law determining the minimum age at which the children can be sent to work removes an obstacle to their receiving education. Private, sectional and class interests, however hard they may mask themselves under an appeal to private liberty, cannot be allowed to stand in the way of creation by state of conditions in which all citizens have the opportunity to develop themselves as human beings and live truly human lives.”
The above remark of Copplestone clearly states that Green was a liberal, an individualist and above all a great idealist and his idealism has roots to the real situation. Here lies the credit of Green. He had clear knowledge about the real situation and on its foundation he built up his castle of idealism.
This makes him a different idealist. According to Sabine Green accomplished two-fold objectives. One is, he converted liberalism into a movement which dominated Anglo-American philosophy for a full century.
On the other hand, after the Industrial Revolution, only the economically dominant class controlled both the base and superstructure (to use Marx’s phrase) and this jeopardized the stability and security.
Thomas Hill Green did these two things. This is the “operative ideal of the movement.” It started it journey towards the closing decades of the nineteenth century. Coppleston observes “His formulation of a theory may be open to some criticism. So it was certainly preferable not only to laissez-faire dogmatism but also to attempts to retain this dogmatism in principle while making concessions which were incompatible with it.”
The individual is an integral part of the mainstream of society and he enjoys rights and liberty only as its member. But he keeps his own identity although he is a part of it. Green’s idealism and even his individualism do not build up any wall between the state and individual.
He does not conceive that individual is completely merged in the state. Green has viewed individual from realistic point of view. He desires man’s moral development, but he does not think that morality is unrelated to material conditions of society. Abject poverty is largely responsible for moral degradation.
Analysing Green’s views Sabine remarks:
“Full moral participation in social life was for Green the highest form of self-development and to create the possibility of such participation was the end of liberal society.”
Sabine has beautifully summarized Green’s views on people’s participation in the political and other affairs by using the phrase “moral participation.”
Needless to say that Green has used the word moral in his analysis in broader perspective and not in orthodox sense. Green’s men are moral and ideal and they are highly conscious. The conscious and moral participation of such people will undoubtedly heighten the society in all respects.
Moral development is the supreme end of every individual and it is the first and foremost duty of the state to help the individual in this regard. Politics, according to Green, is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end. It shall create social conditions that will make moral upliftment a possibility. The state will see that a man is never used for the attainment of personal gain of another man.
We do not know whether Green was an orthodox Christian but he had great respect for the values and principles of Christianity. He argued for the rise and moral development of all. He had support for Aristotle’s idealism, but he did not accept the weakness of Aristotle for the privileged class. Opportunities, Green thought, should be made available to all classes of men.
Interpreters of Green’s political philosophy are of the opinion that his lecture on “Liberal Legislation and Freedom of Contract” is a great symbol of his revised idealism. He admits that employer and employee or tenant and landlord all have equal freedom to finalize a contract. But Green out of his practical experience has observed that this freedom is not positive.
Freedom is not simply legal, it is moral and positive. It must aim at the development of human capacities. The exercise of freedom must contribute to the common good. But the freedom of contract does not serve this purpose. Parties to the contract are in unequal position.
The terms of the contract place the powerful or dominant party in favourable position. The contract ultimately makes way for greater oppression. It makes no contribution to the general well- being of the society. Such contract can never be encouraged.
Thomas Hill Green was an idealist and he had great respect for ideology. But none can blame that he was an orthodox thinker. He had no sympathy for inflexibility. The society always changes and the authority must formulate policies to accommodate all the changes. This attitude makes him liberal. But simultaneously his love for idealism and morality remains unaffected. This is the most important aspect of Green’s philosophy.
It has been pointed out by Sabine “Liberal policies have to be flexible to meet changes of circumstances and if they are genuinely liberal they have always to follow the guidance of moral purposes.”
Green speaks of what should be the standard of legislation. He does not accept Bentham’s dictum that maximization of pleasure should be the leit-motif of every legislation. On the contrary, his view is that the moral development of general well-being shall be the standard of legislation.
Green has revised earlier liberalism with the help of his new concept of law. To an orthodox individualist every law was harmful. Bentham treated law as an instrument of maximizing pleasure and any contrariety to it was not acceptable to him. Green consents to neither of these views.
“A law is not good because it enforces natural rights, but because it contributes to the realisation of certain end” Again, there is no conflict between law and liberty. Law removes the obstacles to the realisation of liberty. The function of law is to promote the habits of true citizenship and law does it by removing the obstacles. A true citizen will participate in the promotion of general welfare.
Hence, law has a positive role to play here. Green admits that a conflict may arise between law and spontaneity. But the authority of the true state will have to consider the greater and better interest of the society.
The parents may be reluctant to send their children to school and in that case a law of compulsory education will force such parents to send their children to school since without education moral development is impossible.
Here, in this case, law is meant not to dwarf the spontaneous activity but to enlighten the mind essential for freedom and consciousness.
The essentiality of Green’s liberalism can be stated in the following words. It is to be noted here that his liberalism may be traced to Rousseau’s philosophy. He has stated that behind every policy or law of authority there shall be the consent of people.
Rousseau’s people met in an open place and decided policy and formed general will. Green says that a government cannot make any law or decide any policy against the opinion of general people.
A law must aim at the general welfare of the people and they will decide what really constitutes their welfare. Naturally people’s will is the determiner of everything. Through law and policy the authority will ensure justice, equity and humanity. This is the sum and substance of his liberalism.
The essence of Green’s liberalism is nothing shall be imposed on the people against their wishes. But this cannot be called laissez-faire. Government has a positive role to play. The state shall create an atmosphere in which people shall get full opportunity to develop their morality and idealism but the state cannot force them in this affair.
When Green speaks of people’s control over state activity and their consent to law he uses these terms or words in a different sense. He always emphasizes the social conscience. Mere numerical majority is not important. People, while giving consent, must be guided by social conscience. Sabine comments “The most characteristic element in Green’s liberalism was his belief of a social conscience which both regulates law and is supported by law… Every man must follow his intelligence and his conscience, and a liberal society is one which respects his right to judge and also enhances the probability that his judgments will be socially trustworthy.”
Thomas Hill Green touched two burning issues of his time the freedom of the individual and the exact role of the state in the midst of ever-increasing problems or evils created by industrialisation.
To what extent he had been able to provide a solution, that is a different issue. What is important to us is that through his revision of liberalism he made sincere efforts to tackle the problem.
Contrary to utilitarian thought he believed that individuals enjoy liberty only as a member of the society. Isolation from society does not enable him to have freedom or to develop morality.
To arrest the evils of society concerted efforts are required and in this regard the initiative must emanate from the state. J. S. Mill in his Autobiography gave a hint of state legislation for collective benefit, Green dealt with the matter directly.
Green was anxious to find out a compromise or equilibrium between individual freedom and collective state action. David Thompson in his Political Ideas says: “Green’s political thought was an unstable equilibrium between the appeals of the community and of the individual.”
Through the idealistic revision of liberalism Green initiated not only economic and social welfare, but also “moral welfare”. Without moral upliftment social and economic progress is bound to fail. A separate compartment cannot be earmarked for morality only. Common moral consciousness is a potent factor of social progress. Man must be conscious of self at first and then of others. Without this consciousness, progress cannot be expected.
7. Right to Property:
Green’s right to property is not different from other rights. That is, the basis of all rights is the moral development of individual and the purpose of property should be the common good of society.
Property, according to Green, is the sum of instruments necessary for the free play of self-realizing principle in man and contribution to the common good. Property is an instrument for the “emancipation of the individual from all restrictions upon the free moral life, and his provision with means for it”.
Thomas Hill Green was not satisfied with the property system that prevailed in various states of Europe. He, of course, knew that the European property system was the product of Industrial Revolution and behind this the capitalist class played the dominant role.
The property was primarily used for personal gain and the notion of common good was neglected. This system of property was strongly disliked by Green. Like every other right the right, to property must be associated with morality, idealism and common good.
The rationale of property, Green announces, is that everyone should be secured by society in the power of getting and keeping the means of realizing a will, which, in possibility, is a will directed to social good.
Whether anyone’s will is actually and positively so directed, does not affect his claim to the power. This power should be secured to the individual irrespectively of the use which he actually makes of it so long as he does not use it in a way that interferes with the exercise of like power by another.
So far as the concept of private property is concerned, there are two extreme views. One group of people holds the view that there is nothing wrong in private property and in all respects it is justifiable.
On the other hand, there are many people who hold the view that the system of private property is unjustified and on that ground this right to property should be abolished for the sake of justice.
Again, the system of private property violates the principles of common good and morality. Green adopts a middle way. Generally private property is a means of realizing a will potentially directed to social good. But this should not be strictly and in an orthodox manner be held.
The simple implication is the violation of the principle may be permitted. Private property may not always fulfills this condition, that is, may not aim at social good. To put it in other words, it is not anti-social. In that case, should not the provision of private property be allowed?
Thomas Hill Green says that the private property may not directly help social good, but indirectly helps. The capitalists invest money to manufacture commodities, employ workers for that purpose. In this way they facilitate distribution of wealth and performing yeoman’s service to the society. This is also contribution to social good.
Thomas Hill Green had practical knowledge about the political, social and economic structure of British society. He was well-acquainted with the unequal distribution of property. This plagued his mind and he believed that this unequal distribution of property was an important source of many evils.
He says, “Once admit as the ideas of property that nature should be progressively adapted to the service of man by a process ‘in which each, while working freely or for himself, i.e., as determined by a conception of his own good, at the same time contributes to the social good, and it will follow that property must be unequal. If we leave a man free to realize the conception of a possible well-being, it is impossible to limit the effect upon him of his desire to provide or his future well-being”. What Green wants to say here is that all the individuals cannot contribute to the social welfare in a uniform way. Varieties shall be allowed to persist.
Again, if each man is allowed in his own way to contribute to the social good then he should be permitted to own different means that is different amount of property.
Out of this notion comes the concept of inequality of property. Green further argues that only through the free play of individual wills the attainment of social good is possible. The right to private property, therefore, must be admitted and its inequality is an inevitable consequence.
Property is required for the realization of free will, but if this realization is at the cost of the interests of many and if the common good is adversely affected, then the concept of property shall be condemned.
“Thus any kind of property which realizes the will of one man at the expense of stopping the realization of will of many is instantly condemned”.
Assessment of Political Ideas of Thomas Hill Green:
It has already been pointed out that the source of Green’s philosophy is Greek idealism, and Hegel’s idealist philosophy which passed through Rousseau’s general will and morality. But he interpreted idealism in the background of English political thought, social and economic conditions and institutions. He had great respect for and attachment to English representative institutions.
He had a deep sense of right and freedom which marked the tradition of English political thought. Here is the credit of Green. His main concern was individual’s freedom. But his men are not unrelated and isolated atoms.
The realization of freedom is possible only as a member of social order. Green built up a revision of liberalism on the foundation of English tradition which was more important to him than any other orthodox political ideology. In other words, his revision gave priority to practical situation.
From his writings we know that he had unbound feeling and sympathy for untaught and underfed denizens of London city and he thought about their upliftment. Green was an idealist, he was an individualist, but above all he was a great humanitarian. Abject poverty and unbound moral degradation pained his heart to a considerable extent.
He was against any domination and could not approve exploitation of one for the benefit of others. He was not a professed socialist. But the feeling of Green for the downtrodden mass was not less than that of a professed socialist.
Bentham founded his doctrine of utilitarianism on the basis of pleasure and pain calculation. Even the government action was to be measured by this criterion Spencer was the orthodox protagonist of laissez-faire doctrine.
He applied Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ theory of the social progress. Marx rejected Bentham’s pleasure-pain calculation and openly challenged the individualism of J. S. Mill. To him socialism was the only way which had the power to change radically the entire structure of society.
“It was the peculiar service of Thomas Hill Green to inject into this turbid conflux of ideologies a liberal political philosophy in which social expediency was the dominant principle, a philosophy in which the concept of social expediency was raised to an ideal by the insistence of its author that expediency be determined by moral obligation of the state to create an environment favourable to the full realisation of what is best in every individual”.
Thomas Hill Green has made a strong plea for the interference of state, but like Hegel and Plato he does not idealize the state, nor does he make it all-powerful. He does not say that the state is the march of God on earth.
There are innumerable social and political institutions within the state which mould the character and behaviour of the individuals. So there is no scope to establish the majesty of the state, it is limited from within. It is also limited from without. It does not enjoy absolute sovereignty in international sphere.
Green draws a distinction between the outward and inward activities of the individual and, according to Barker, this is the true distinction. The state will regulate the outward actions to secure the rights for the individuals and the state does it through its laws. On the other hand, there are certain actions which proceed from the inward will and the external force of the state has nothing to do with the inward will of man.
In Barker’s judgment this distinction between outward and inward action is far better than Mill’s self-regarding and other regarding actions of individuals. Green’s distinction between outward and inward aspects of life is still prevalent. Even today social scientists in general and political thinkers in particular emphasize this idea. They are of opinion that a state should refrain itself from interfering in the activities of man which are exclusively inward; of course to distinguish between outward and inward is very difficult. But this should be treated as a norm.
Green’s political philosophy was not confined within the four walls of classroom; it created a positive impact upon the policy of the government. We have already mentioned that Green was the founder of the idea of “moral welfare”.
His schemes and proposals laid the foundation of the welfare state. Fabian socialists were in various ways indebted to him. Pension for the old, insurance scheme for the unemployed persons and compensation for the workers in all these matters Green was the pioneer. In his assessment of Green, David Thompson has said – “In the quarter century before 1914, during which much social legislation was passed by the liberal governments, Green’s ideas permeated social thought in England….. They spread wide and sank deep because they were in the direct evangelical tradition of philanthropic humanism”.
It is necessary that our assessment about Green must be balanced and to that end the drawbacks from which he suffers are to be ventilated. The central theme of idealism in general and Oxford idealism in particular is the general will.
All the idealists assume that in every society there is some kind of general will in respect of policies and values. The general will is good will, it aims at the common good, and it is the practical guide to every policy.
All the good citizens always identify their own real will with the general will. But the question is, Whether all these attributes of general will correspond to the real situation? Is it easy to locate the general will in every kind of society? Can it be formed in a big state like ours? Even in a small state having few million people the existence of general will is difficult to ascertain. Hob-house once said, “In so far as it is will, it is not general, in so far as it is general it is not will.” If this is the nature of general will, how can it be guide to policy and action?
If we go through the views of Green we shall find that the concept of common good constitutes the central part of Green’s political philosophy.
As such, the concept is quite plausible. But as soon as we embark upon its detailed analysis we shall be quite disheartened. Some of the pertinent questions raised about the common good are—What are the elements of common good? Can it be defined? Who will decide that common good has been achieved or not? Who will decide the differences of opinion? All these are vital questions and a thorough study of Green’s political philosophy does not offer us convincing replies.
In our analysis of utilitarianism we have seen that it is basically an impractical concept. Green’s theory of common good and idealism fall in the same category. Each and every individual runs after pleasure and is anxious in avoiding pain.
This is not correct. Similarly, behind every action of man there is consciousness is not correct. People’s actions very often proceed from the subconscious. It is not also correct to hold that man’s actions aim at common good. Green has oversimplified human nature. They are not absolutely egoist, but not absolutely altruist. They are mixture of both.
Green’s concessions to people for the right against the state are, in fact, extremely limited and, in ultimate analysis, these come to nothing. Thomas Hill Green has advised that people must exhibit obedience to law and authority even when they are not satisfied with it.
Their right to resist is permitted only when this resistance will be advantageous for the common good. Another concession is that the dissenting citizen will build up a strong public opinion against the proposal of the government.
If he succeeds then he, along with other citizens, can disobey the state’s order or policy. Green assures us that the political set-up of his own country is favourable for such a move. But what about other countries?
Green was not free from bourgeois mentality. He has repeatedly emphasized upon self-consciousness. But our humble submission is – Can the untaught and underfed citizens of London slum area attain this stage of consciousness?
Only people having strong economic foothold can claim to have achieved consciousness. Green himself admits that spread of education is precondition of self-consciousness and morality.
In Green’s time education was neither compulsory nor universal. Green was quite aware that the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few persons was singularly responsible for the growing misery of the working class.
It is unfortunate that we do not find Green to utter a single word against that class. He might have enough sympathy for the wretched denizens of London city, but we want to know what concrete measures he has suggested. The evils of industrialisation were so deep-rooted that any piecemeal attempts might not prove fruitful.
In Green’s time, the British society was not free from the influence of pressure groups. If an influential pressure group prevails upon the government and forces to take decision in its favour and accept its interpretation of common good then what will happen? What is apparently common good in actual practice is the good of a particular class of group of people. Thomas Hill Green suggests no palliatives as to how a bourgeois and pressure group influenced society can get rid of it.
Green’s political philosophy suffers from a number of drawbacks. But it is true that perhaps he was the only idealist philosopher whose idealism was firmly rooted to the practical situation of the then British society.
He was the only idealist philosopher who strongly felt the necessity of the role of state in the field of the alleviation of poverty and misery of common people.