Thus far we have outlined for further elaboration an analysis of the present and a view of the future which to many will seem most unpleasant. Perhaps the first point to make clear about this analysis and view is that the bases are facts and logical deductions from such facts rather than ethics or preferences. An ethical analysis of the world situation today can only serve to rouse righteous indignation for a holy war. It cannot throw light on practical ways to peaceful solutions. The easiest way to attack a social interpretation is to invoke morality against it. Showing that it is repugnant to prevailing ethical prepossessions is naively thought somehow to make it untrue. As right always prevails in the end, because whatever prevails thereby becomes right, the general reasoning which underlies the ethical attack on realism is that if it is contrary to current ethics it must be contrary to fact. The fallacy consists of not recognizing that ethics change like every other social institution. One simply cannot discuss the changing facts of a dynamic society in terms of the dogmas of a static morality. Saying that a revolution is immoral amounts to saying that it is immoral to change old for new morals. If George Washington had lost, he would have been hanged as a traitor and ever afterwards so spoken of in British history. As he won, his treason has become, even in British history, a great Anglo-Saxon tradition. British ambassador to Washington, Lord Lothian, correctly, though cleverly, called George Washington the founder of the modern British Empire.
Taking an ethical view of social facts makes it possible to eliminate from the frame of reference of one’s social thinking anything that displeases. Such elimination may take the intellectually dishonest form of calling the unwelcome fact or future probability temporary or abnormal. Social change, of course, is one long story of so-called abnormal behavior. Pointing out these facts about the use of ethics as an adjunct to wishful thinking is not an attack on morality or a demand for an unmoral social philosophy. A social philosophy has to be ethical. Its first concern is with what ought to be. But the implications and consequences of a given ethic can and should be periodically tested by the criteria of reality. That examination is one of the major tasks of this book. Value choices, as such, cannot be validated or invalidated by scientific observation and logical inference. But their practical effects and probable consequences can be so determined, and should be.
In short, ethics cannot be proved good or bad but they can be proved workable or unworkable and they can be changed. Some facts, however, cannot be changed. When an ethic runs up against a fact that cannot be changed, the ethic has to be changed. If we cannot bring back the frontier, the industrial revolution or the average family of seven children of Puritan days, we must change the political, ethical and economic norms of those days for norms appropriate to the changed facts of today. Ethics are good or bad according to given criteria. The criteria should include current realities. The big point to keep in mind is that an ethic does not have to be possible, whereas an action does. We can try disastrously and often suicidally to live by no longer possible moral rules or we can make our ethics ht the facts of our changed situation. A nation can make an ethic of a war to make the world safe for democracy or a war to conquer a piece of territory, like Texas and California, the Boer Republic or Poland. An individual can make an ethic of getting rich quick. The realization or nonrealization of any one of these ethics is a matter of fact and not of ethics. The difference between making the world safe for democracy in 1917 or 1940 and making Texas safe in 1849 for Jacksonian Democrats and slavery is not ethical but practical.
This book, far from lacking moral premises, is written on the basis of certain definite ethical assumptions. Its purposes are highly ethical. Its method aims to be scientific and logical, not ethical. The governing assumptions in this respect are the following:
First, facts are normative, that is to say, facts should determine rules, being paramount to rules. A rule which contradicts a fact is nonsense.
Second, ethics should be made consistent with realities which cannot be reconciled to given ethics. Ethics, of course, do not have to be realizable, but they should be. Impractical social ethics should be discarded.
Third, ideals should be attainable. Frequently they are not, but they ought to be, where national policies are concerned. Which is to say, nations should not pursue, especially with arms, unattainable ideals.
Fourth, laws should be enforceable, which is to say, unenforceable laws ought to be repealed or not enacted.
Fifth, social institutions should be workable; institutions should be scrapped when found unworkable.
Sixth, suicide is morally wrong. Therefore, any ethic which imposes upon a nation self-mutilation or self-destruction is to be rejected out of hand as unethical. If a nation is asked to destroy itself for right, justice, truth, democracy, liberty or something else whether abstractly or concretely described, the answer is not that these abstractions are wrong but that suicide is wrong. Sometimes, it may be added, also, that a given national suicide will not advance any of the ideals which are invoked to justify it.
The above propositions are not unmoral since they are statements of what, in the opinion of the author, ought to be believed or done. But they apply scientific or nonmoral tests to the implications and probable consequences of morals.
Bismarck once said that politics is the science of the possible. Ethics is clearly the science of the desirable which, literally, can mean anything, possible or impossible. In determining what is possible and what may prove suicidal for a nation, ethical criteria are of no use whatever. The issue is one of fact. Scientific observation and logical inference can demonstrate fairly well what is actual, possible and probable. They cannot prove what is morally right or wrong. They can show what is but not what ought to be. Attempting the impossible or committing suicide may be deemed morally right or morally wrong in given circumstances for an individual or a nation, according to the ethical standards used. Japanese ethics sometimes impose suicide on the individual.
Turning for the moment from the abstract to the concrete we may remark that if a man says that America should join Britain and France in their crusade to make the world safe and good, or however the crusade may be described in moral terms, he expresses a purely ethical opinion. Ask him why and he will probably give a reply something like this: “Because democracy and the American way are worth fighting and dying for.” Now it is wholly irrelevant to this moral judgment to show that Americans cannot preserve these ethical values by fighting and dying in Europe. The facts are that the world is not safe and good and cannot be made so by an American expeditionary force in Europe. But the people who want to fight against dictatorship and for democracy are not usually concerned with what is possible or probable. They are concerned with what they call right and wrong, and they want to do something about their feeling of concern, and the thing
they feel like doing is fighting. These people were wholly uninterested in practical ways and means of preventing dictatorship and preserving democracy such as were constantly advanced and discussed during the twenties. The only propaganda the democracies are successful with is that creating a will to fight. The only times the idealists and moralists of twentieth century democracy are potent and creative are when they are advocating a war for democracy, as in 1917 and 1940. Then what they create is destruction. When the destruction is over they are unable to create their ideal social order.
In another age and with a different conditioning the people now eager to fight for democracy would have been as ready to fight for the Prophet of Allah or for Saint Iago and the Holy Cross, the dying cry of thousands of Spanish adventurers who fell in the Spanish conquest of the Americas. These adventurers in search of gold and glory, in the name of the gospel, of course, were as little interested in the fulfillment of the ethics of Jesus as most people who are today ready to die for democracy are interested in the realization of the spiritual values of democracy, whatever these may be. More recently in certain lands the masses have been conditioned to want to fight and die for the dictatorship of the proletariat.
What moves the people who talk passionately about fighting and dying for a symbol or an abstraction is simply an inner compulsion to suffer, to fight and to die. These sadistic and masochistic drives are important social forces which should be wisely controlled by political leadership. Their symbols and rationalizations are interesting, necessary, but relatively unimportant because they are easily changed. Giving vent to these impulses is a great human experience, an end in itself, an ethic or an ultimate spiritual value. As Nietzsche so profoundly remarked “A good war justifies any cause.” Anything a people say they are fighting for is their ethic, and so is fighting for it. The ethic of fighting is usually more real than the ethical value supposedly being fought for. Thus, what most people want who desire to fight for democracy is not democracy but war. They stand to get the war and lose democracy, all of which will matter little to most of them.
The stock market and business indexes, rising on war hopes and falling on peace fears, give a fairly conclusive and objective measure of what the people really want. The Gallup polls and current statements indicating the desire of the majority to keep America out of war merely reflect the ethic that it is wrong to want war. The shy young virgin who goes to her first rendezvous with a notorious Casanova affords a perfect example of the ambivalence of human desires. Nature cries out in her for one experience while conventional ethics make her deny that she is moved by her suppressed desire. So, in respect to war, the American people, conditioned with certain ethical attitudes toward war, profess a strong aversion to it, while moving unerringly in that direction under the irresistible impulse of their mass desire for war. As these lines were being written the arms embargo was repealed. The American people were then hastening to their rendezvous with Mars, strong in the moral conviction that they were proof against his seductive wiles.
The fact is, contrary to a current ethical doctrine of this, though not of every past and current, culture, people normally love suffering, war and danger. Momentarily, this normal desire is heightened by the subconscious awareness that war offers the only escape from the stagnation of the past decade. If people did not love to fight they would not do it so often, now twice in one generation. Savages fight most of the time. In industrialized society the orgies and rituals of suffering and death have to be limited to periodical large wars. The more privileged, of course, are able at any time to seek danger and death in mountain climbing, hunting wild game or the more democratic sport of reckless automobile driving which yearly kills more Americans than the late world war. What sold the Wars of the Roses, i.e., the wars between the House of Lancaster and York, was not a love of roses or a love of those two dynasties. It was a love of war. The same love will sell a war for democracy and capitalism, not a love of either of these abstractions or the systems which they denote. The war’s the thing, not the symbol for which it happens to be fought.
The foregoing is neither a disparagement of war nor of the usually meaningless symbols for which people fight. In the ethical philosophy of this book war is not wrong in the abstract or in the absolute. War is right or wrong relatively to the ideals and interests of a given nation in a given instance. Some people, of course, take the view that war is wrong relatively to the ideals and interests of mankind or humanity. For religious or transcendental purposes, this is a perfectly good ethic. For practical purposes it is not, because for practical purposes mankind has to be considered and dealt with as divided into nations and classes. There are many communities in the world, but there is no one all embracing community of mankind, except as an abstract concept. According to the ethics of this book, a war in which we might be engaged would be immoral and wrong only if and because it did not seem likely to serve the interests of the American people as a whole.
A nation, according to this book, does wrong relatively to its interests if it lights a war for the impossible. For that nation, such a war constitutes fighting for fighting’s sake which is on the lowest level of the animal kingdom and not a good national ethic. War for food, territory or war of the kinds the democracies used to fight makes sense. Our fighting the Indians and the Mexicans to take their lands was a good kind of war, that is good for us as a people since we got rid of the Indians and got their lands. A war for utopia is a bad war for anybody simply because there is no such place as utopia.
It is interesting that the American people almost unanimously approve the war of the Allies for the impossible and with equal unanimity disapprove the German war to conquer Poland which was not only possible but extremely easy and logical for the Germans, just as was our war for the conquest of Mexico. Before 1914 the democracies fought for the attainable. Since 1914 they have been fighting for the unattainable. Can a system survive that has become synonymous with the quest for the impossible and resistance to the inevitable?
It is nowhere said in this book that democracy or the American way of the nineteenth century are not good ethical values. It is merely pointed out that these values are no longer realizable and that a war between the democracies and the dictatorships will hasten their total disappearance rather than assure the perpetuation of democracy and its values. As memories, of course, they will live on. Saying all this is no assault on democracy or American ways of the nineteenth century. All honor to their memory, but let us have the facts about their present feasibility. Telling an old man that he is no longer young and to be his age is in no sense an insult either to his age or his youth. Americans as a people are not senile; it is their nineteenth century polity and economy which are in late maturity. Civilizations come and go but the peoples who live through them go on through the ages. As Jacques Maritain poetically phrases it “Worlds which have risen in heroism lie down in fatigue for new heroisms and new suffering come in their turn and bring the dawn of another day.”
Present confusion of thought about these vital problems is largely due to the influence of three important factors in American culture: The first is wishful thinking, a national habit encouraged largely by our amazing luck as a young nation growing up rapidly in one of the richest territories ever given a great people to develop. The second is our Puritan tradition, which, among other things, makes us always tend to equate morality with self-interest and desire. The third is our extreme legal-mindedness, which is partly the result of the preponderance of lawyers in the ranks of our cultural leaders, 70 per cent of our legislators being attorneys, and partly a direct heritage of eighteenth century rationalism. The latter is really the parent of present-day American legalism. Our legal priesthood, which we owe to the Protestant Reformation and the eighteenth century French rationalists, has taken over the functions and the technique of exploiting myths for the purposes of social control formerly monopolized by the priests of the Roman church and other great cults of the past.
And so it happens, in an essentially technological and economic age, we have most of our social thinking done by men with the minds of priests; not by men with the mentality of engineers and executives who live by getting things done, but by lawyers and teachers who live by talking and writing about how things should be done—and devising ways of keeping things from being done, or excusing their not having been done. Having spent the past century mechanizing society, we refuse to treat it as a mechanism which has to have dynamism and scientific adjustments.
Few people ever stop to think how useful ethics can be to wishful thinking. To make an ethic of a wish or an interest is to make it override the obstacles of physical reality. One would not use that ethical approach on a broken-down machine. When one’s automobile breaks down, one does not send for a faith healer or pray over it. But when our industrial machine starts hitting on only four or five of its eight cylinders, businessmen and politicians begin praying over it and telling us that the remedy is a revival of confidence or faith in America. What the machine needs is gas—the fuel and not the talking kind. The ethical approach to a conflict of interests may also serve to bamboozle a great many simple-minded people into giving you your way against their best interests. During the late world war our farmers did not say, “Let’s have a war to raise wages.” Our bankers and investors did not say, “Let’s have a war to raise interest rates, security prices and land values.” Our industrialists did not say, “Let’s have a war to raise sales and profits.” Puritan influences made such frankness impossible just as it inhibits a security owner from saying that he hopes a peace rumor which puts stock prices down is unfounded.
Selfish interests alone could never have got us into the late war, nor can they, unaided by ethics, get us into a war today or tomorrow. Had the issues of the late world war been debated in purely nonethical terms, America would not have entered the war. The resulting peace would never have been one of negotiation, like the peace of Vienna in 1815, rather than one of dictation. And it might have lasted as long as the unmorally made peace of Vienna. The peace of Versailles was history’s greatest diplomatic failure because it was also history’s greatest triumph of the ethical approach to the solution of international problems. At Vienna it was honestly and unmorally recognized that Europe’s peace must always depend on the right kind of balance of power. At Versailles it was assumed that Europe’s peace could be made secure by platitudes and promises on pieces of paper. This assumption was rendered mandatory by the moral and contrary to fact propaganda which the victorious Allies had had to use to win the war, one of the fruits of the spread of democracy. The victors at Vienna in 1815 could be realists and act more intelligently in making peace than the victors at Versailles in 1919 because they had been able to fight the war with the aid of fewer lies and of less morality and hypocrisy.
Then, after the war and its culminating follies of the peace, we entered upon a decade of financial and economic follies for the successful perpetration of which certain highly ethical assumptions were indispensable. We lent some seven billion dollars to foreigners while raising higher and higher tariff and immigration barriers which made repayment practically impossible. This absurdity could have been obscured as well as it was only by a fog of pietistic internationalism. According to the moral “line” the borrowers were honorable, the contracts valid and the process of capital exports sanctified by centuries of British precedent. Like most of our recent and current ethical prepossessions, these moral arguments in favor of foreign loans were based on irrelevant facts and oblivious of relevant facts. In this case the only relevant fact, that of the impossibility of making the necessary transfer of loan repayments from foreign currencies to dollars was either ignored or flatly denied by our economists who, as usual, talked morality and refused to face unpleasant facts. Our social scientists and cultural leaders were practically unanimous in glorifying and rationalizing the follies of postwar international finance, almost wholly on moral grounds, since the processes did not bear scrutiny on scientific grounds. During this same hectic period, speculative greed was inflating American security prices to preposterous heights. But any realist who, on purely accounting principles, dared to question the soundness of such values was most effectively crushed by the only argument that was unanswerable—except in terms of the rather difficult analysis of this book—the appeal to morality: To question the soundness of market values was to show a lack of faith in America and its constructive political and business leaders, its Hardings, Coolidges, Hoovers, Mellons, Mitchells, Wiggins and Youngs. Leveling this charge at a critic of the American way of the twenties was like the good old Puritan custom of charging a person with witchcraft. Saying “Don’t sell America short” was the never failing ethical technique.
When Prohibition, a recognized experiment in moral betterment, was being debated and adopted, the argument that it was unenforceable carried no weight. The reasons were the ethical approach and the Puritan tradition. The practical issues again were befogged in a cloud of righteousness, thanks to the Anti-Saloon League, an aggregation of fanatical pietists. Drunkenness was bad and sobriety was good. That was enough. To say that the law could not be enforced was to insult our good American law abiding tradition. Once the issue can be resolved into one of morals, any opposition on practical grounds can easily be shouted down. The only trick to the Puritan legalistic technique is that of getting your ethical major premise accepted. The rest has to follow like night the day. Use of this technique is hastening America into war.
The conflict or issue over what shall be our rules, our ethical norms, our laws and our taxes, our rights and our duties is essentially one of naked power. It can be settled with ballots or bullets, by compromise and give and take or by war, but not by law. A clear understanding of this obvious and inescapable fact will do more than anything else to avert civil war and international war. Our Civil War was the result primarily of both sides taking a stand on the Constitution, law and ethics, and, in so doing, refusing to recognize that the other side had an equally good case in ethics, law and theory, as the other side in every important class or international conflict always has. If the basic assumption of the legalists had been true, the Supreme Court would have resolved peacefully the issues over which the states fought in 1860-1865. The Supreme Court did decide in the Dred Scott decision that slaves were property everywhere but the North refused to accept a decision that did not harmonize with the exigencies of a growing industrialism. When classes within a nation or nations within the society of nations become deadlocked over what shall be the rules or the rule in a given question at issue, the alternatives are compromise or war. Those who try to force acceptance of their legal or moral theory are merely making civil or international war inevitable in cases in which men are willing on both sides to fight.
Few peoples are able to grasp the comparatively simple truth that class conflicts and international wars are contests not under rules but over rules. In domestic politics our industrialists have long taken tariff subsidies for granted. Now many of them regard subsidies for farmers, doles for the unemployed and large pensions for the aged as highly unethical examples of class legislation. Class legislation they are, but we have never been without class legislation. The theory of a government and scheme of social organization which favors no class and is impartial towards all classes is without basis in history or logic.
Whatever a majority has the power to cause to be enacted into law becomes legal and ethical under any practical theory of government. Why say in respect of any new proposal which the majority or any substantial minority may advocate that it would be illegal or unethical? Anything can be made legal and ethical by due process of law. Every government is, and can never be anything else but, a government of laws. Any feasible form of administration can be legalized. That of Russia or Germany is just as legal as that of the United States or Switzerland. Law is a manifestation of political power and is as valid as that power is effective. For a thing to be lawful in Bangkok or Berlin it does not have to accord with American ideas of what is lawful. The only sound argument against a piece of legislation is an appeal to the interests of the majority, not an appeal to the ethics of the minority. This, essentially, is why the current socialist and collectivist trend is inevitable and irresistible. It is based on appeal to majority interest. The majority, of course, must learn its interest by experience rather than inductive reasoning. The attitude of the majority towards its interests must be emotionally conditioned rather than rationally inculcated. The majority must get its idea of national interest through propaganda rather than an appeal to reason which can be made effectively only to the elite minority. The mass majority will always find eventually an elite minority to harmonize the interests of the majority with those of such a minority and to supply rational leadership to the majority. It may be rationally argued by the Haves or any other minority that a certain measure detrimental or destructive to their interests will also result harmfully to the interests of the Have-nots or the majority. But it is nonsense for the Haves to say that the Have-nots do not have the right to do whatever they please in constitutional and legal form. The strictly nonethical, nonlegal approach to these problems and conflicts will, in the long run, prove best under modern conditions for all minority interests, as well as for peace.
Thanks largely to the influence of the legal and ethical doctrinaries, most of the members of our privileged minorities today still think that the masses are sufficiently conditioned by some religious faith to make them obey indefinitely the ethical mandates of the ruling class. To a limited and ever decreasing extent this is true. But the extent to which it is now true does not make it a safe rule over an indefinite future for the Haves and the privileged minorities.