The State – Bertrand Russell

The State

From Why Men Fight.

Published in ‘Selected Papers of Bertrand Russell’, 1927.


“The stamping out of malaria and yellow fever by destroying mosquitoes is perhaps the most striking example of the good which can be done in this way. But when the good is small or doubtful, and the interference with liberty is great, it becomes better to endure a certain amount of preventable disease rather than suffer a scientific tyranny.”


Under the influence of socialism, most liberal thought in recent years had been in favor of increasing the power of the State, but more or less hostile to the power of private property. On the other hand, syndicalism* has been hostile both to the State and to private property. I believe that syndicalism is more nearly right than socialism in this respect, that both private property and the State, which are the two most powerful institutions of the modern world, have become harmful to life through excess of power, and that both are hastening the loss of vitality from which the civilized world increasingly suffers. The two institutions are closely connected, but for the present I wish to consider only the State. I shall try to show how great, how unnecessary, how harmful, many of its powers are, and how enormously they might be diminished without loss of what is useful in its activity. But I shall admit that in certain directions its functions ought to be extended rather than curtailed.

  • a movement for transferring the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution to workers’ unions. Influenced by Proudhon and by the French social philosopher Georges Sorel (1847–1922), syndicalism developed in French labor unions during the late 19th century and was at its most vigorous between 1900 and 1914, particularly in France, Italy, Spain, and the US.


Some of the functions of the State, such as the Post Office and elementary education, might be performed by private agencies, and are only undertaken by the State from motives of convenience. But other matters, such as the law, the police, the Army, and the Navy, belong more essentially to the State: so long as there is a State at all it is difficult to imagine these matters in private hands. The distinction between socialism and individualism turns on the non-essential functions of the State, which the socialist wishes to extend and the individualist to restrict. It is the essential functions, which are admitted by individualists and socialists alike, that I wish to criticize, since the others do not appear to me in themselves objectionable.

The essence of the State is that it is the repository of the collective force of its citizens. This force takes two forms, one internal and one external. The internal form is the law and the police; the external form is the power of, waging war, as embodied in the Army and Navy. The. State is constituted by the combination of all the inhabitants in a certain area using their united force in accordance with the commands of a Government. In a civilized State force is only employed against its own citizens in accordance with rules previously laid down, which constitute the criminal law. But the employment of force against foreigners is not regulated by any code of rules, and proceeds, with few exceptions, according to some real or fancied national interest.
There can be no doubt that force employed according to law is less pernicious than force employed capriciously. If international law could acquire sufficient hold on men’s allegiance to regulate the relations of States, a very great advance on our present condition would have been made. The primitive anarchy which precedes law is worse than law. But I believe there is a possibility of a stage to some extent above law, where the advantages now secured by the law are secured without loss of freedom, and without the disadvantages which the law and the police render inevitable. Probably some repository of force in the background will remain necessary, but the actual employment of force may become very rare, and the degree of force required very small. The anarchy which precedes law gives freedom only to the strong; the condition to be aimed at will give freedom as nearly as possible to every one. It will do this, not by preventing altogether the existence of organized force, but by limiting the occasions for its employment to the greatest possible extent.

The power of the State is only limited internally by the fear of rebellion and externally by the fear of defeat in war. Subject to these restrictions, it is absolute. In practice, it can seize men’s property through taxation, determine the law of marriage arid inheritance, punish the expression of opinions which it dislikes, put men to death for wishing the region they inhabit to belong to a different State, and order all able-bodied males to risk their lives in battle whenever it considers war desirable. On many matters disagreement with the purposes and opinions of the State is criminal. Probably the freest States in the world, before the war, were America and England; yet in America no immigrant may land until he has professed disbelief in anarchism and polygamy, while in England men were sent to prison in recent years for expressing disagreement with the Christian religion1 or agreement with the teaching of Christ.2 In time of war, all criticism of the external policy of the State is criminal. Certain objects having appeared desirable to the majority or to the effective holders of power, those who do not consider these objects desirable are exposed to pains and penalties not unlike those suffered by heretics in the past. The extent of the tyranny thus exercised is concealed by its very success: few men consider it worth while to incur a persecution which is almost certain to be thorough and effective.

Universal military service is perhaps the extreme example of the power of the State, and the supreme illustration of the difference between its attitude to its own citizens and its attitude to the citizens of other States. The State punishes, with impartial rigor, both those who kill their compatriots and those who refuse to kill foreigners.

1 The Blasphemy prosecutions.
2 The Syndicalist prosecutions. [The punishment of conscientious objectors must now be added, 1916.]

On the whole, the latter is considered the graver crime. The phenomenon of war is familiar, and men fail to realize its strangeness; to those who stand inside the cycle of instincts which lead to war it all seems natural and reasonable. But to those who stand outside the strangeness of it grows with familiarity. It is amazing that the vast majority of men should tolerate a system which compels them to submit to all the horrors of the battlefield at any moment when their Government commands them to do so. A French artist, indifferent to politics, attentive only to his painting, suddenly finds himself called upon to shoot Germans, who, his friends assure him, are a disgrace to the human race. A German musician, equally unknowing, is called upon to shoot the perfidious Frenchman. Why cannot the two men declare a mutual neutrality? Why not leave war to those who like it and bring it on? Yet if the two men declared a mutual neutrality they would be shot by their compatriots. To avoid this fate they try to shoot each other. If the world loses the artist, not the musician, Germany rejoices; if the world loses the musician, not the artist, France rejoices. No one remembers the loss to civilization, which is equal whichever is killed.

This is the politics of Bedlam. If the artist and the musician had been allowed to stand aside from the war, nothing but unmitigated good, to mankind would have resulted. The power of the State, which makes this impossible, is a wholly evil thing, quite as evil as the power of the Church which in former days put men to death for unorthodox thought. Yet if, even in time of peace, an international league were founded to consist of Frenchmen and Germans in equal numbers, all pledged not to take part in war, the French State and the German State would persecute it with equal ferocity. Blind obedience, unlimited willingness to kill and die are exacted of the modern citizens of a democracy as much of the Janizaries of medieval sultans or the secret agents of Oriental despots.1

The power of the State may be brought to bear, as it often is in England, through public opinion rather than through the laws. By oratory and the influence of the Press, public opinion is largely created by the State, and a tyrannous public opinion is as great an enemy to liberty as tyrannous laws. If the young man who will not fight finds that he is dismissed from his employment, insulted in the streets, cold-shouldered by his friends, and thrown over with scorn by any woman who may formerly have liked him, he will feel the penalty quite as hard to bear as a death sentence.2 A free community requires not only legal freedom, but a tolerant public opinion, an absence of that instinctive inquisition into our neighbors’ affairs which, under the guise of upholding a high moral standard, enables good people to indulge unconsciously a disposition to cruelty and persecution. Thinking ill of others is not in itself a good reason for thinking well of ourselves. But so long as this is not recognized, and so long as the State can manufacture public opinion, except in the rare cases where it is revolutionary, public opinion must be reckoned as a definite part of the power of the State.

1 In a democratic country it is the majority who must afte:.’ all rule, and the minority will be obliged to submit with the best grace possible {Westminster Gazette on Conscription, December 29, 1925).

2 Some very strong remarks on the conduct of the “white feather” women were made by Mr. Reginald Kemp, the Deputy Coroner for West Middlesex, at an inquest at Ealing on Saturday on Richard Charles Roberts, aged thirty-four, a taxicab driver, of Shepherd’s Bush, who committed suicide in consequence of worry caused by his rejection from the Army and the taunts, of women and other amateur recruiters.

It was stated that he tried to join the Army in October, but was rejected on account of a weak heart. That alone, said his widow, had depressed him, and he had been worried because he thought he would lose his license owing to the state of his heart. He had also been troubled by the dangerous illness of a child.
A soldier relative said that the deceased’s life had been made “a perfect misery” by women who taunted him and called him a coward because he did not join the Army. A few days ago two women in Maida Vale insulted him “something shocking.”

The Coroner, speaking with some warmth, said the conduct of such women was abominable. It was scandalous that women who knew nothing of individual circumstances should be allowed to go about making unbearable the lives of men who had tried to do their duty. It was a pity they had nothing better to do. Here was a. man who perhaps had been driven to death by a pack of silly women. He hoped something would soon be done to put a stop to such conduct (Daily News, July 26, 1915).


The power of the State outside its own borders is in the main derived from war or the threat of war. Some power is derived from the ability to persuade its citizens to lend money or not to lend it, but this is unimportant in comparison with the power derived from armies and navies. The external activity of the State—with exceptions so rare as to be negligible —is selfish. Sometimes selfishness is mitigated by the need of retaining the goodwill of other States, but this only modifies the methods employed, not the ends pursued. The ends pursued, apart from mere defense against other States, are, on the one hand, opportunities for successful exploitation of weak or uncivilized countries, on the other hand, power and prestige, which are considered more glorious and less material than money. In pursuit of these objects, no State hesitates to put to death innumerable foreigners whose happiness is not compatible with exploitation or subjection, or to devas’ tate territories into which it is thought necessary to strike terror. Apart from the present war, such acts have been performed within the last twenty years by many minor States and by all the Great Powers1 except Austria; and in the case of Austria, only the opportunity, not the will, was lacking.

1 By England in South Africa, America in the Philippines, France in Morocco, Italy in Tripoli, Germany in Southwest Africa, Russia in Persia and Manchuria, Japan in Manchuria.


Why do men acquiesce in the power of the State? There are many reasons, some traditional, some very present and pressing.

The traditional reason for obedience to the State is personal loyalty to the sovereign. European States grew up under the feudal system, and were originally the several territories owned by feudal chiefs. But this source of obedience has decayed, and probably now counts for little except in Japan, and to a lesser extent in Russia.

Tribal feeling, which always underlay loyalty to the sovereign, has remained as strong as it ever was, and is now the chief support for the power of the State. Almost every man finds it essential to his happiness to feel himself a member of a group, animated by common friendships and enmities and banded together for defense and attack. But such groups are of two kinds: there are those which are essentially enlargements of the family, and there are those which are based upon a conscious common purpose. Nations belong to the first kind, Churches to the second. At times when men are profoundly swayed by creeds national divisions tend to break down, as they did in the wars of religion after the Reformation. At such times a common creed is a stronger bond than a common nationality. To a much slighter extent, the same thing has occurred in the modern world with the rise of socialism. Men who disbelieve in private property, and feel the capitalist the real enemy, have a bond which transcends national divisions. It has not been found strong enough to resist the passions aroused by the present war, but it has made them less bitter among socialists than among others, and has kept alive the hope of a European community to be reconstructed when the war is over. In the main, however, the universal disbelief in creeds has left tribal feeling triumphant, and has made nationalism stronger than at any previous period of the world’s history. A few sincere Christians, a few sincere socialists, have found in their creed a force capable of resisting the assaults of national passion, but they have been too few to influence the course of events or even to cause serious anxiety to the Governments.

It is chiefly tribal feeling that generates the unity of a national State, but it is not only tribal feeling that generates its strength. Its strength results principally from two fears, neither of which is unreasonable: the fear of crime and anarchy within, and the fear of aggression from without.

The internal orderliness of a civilized community is a great achievement, chiefly brought about by the increased authority of the State. It would be inconvenient if peaceable citizens were constantly in imminent risk of being robbed and murdered. Civilized life would become almost impossible if adventurous people could organize private armies for purposes of plunder. These conditions existed in the Middle Ages, and have not passed away without a great struggle. It is thought by many—especially by the rich, who derive the greatest advantage from law and order—that any diminution in the power of the State might bring back a condition of universal anarchy. They regard strikes as portents of dissolution. They are terrified by such organizations as the Confederation Generate du Travail and the International Workers of the World. They remember the French Revolution, and feel a not unnatural desire to keep their heads on their shoulders. They dread particularly any political theory which seems to excuse private crimes, such as sabotage and political assassination. Against these dangers they see no protection except the maintenance of the authority of the State, and the belief that all resistance to the State is wicked.

Fear of the danger within is enhanced by fear of the danger without. Every State is exposed at all times to the risk of foreign invasion. No means has hitherto been devised for minimizing this risk except the increase of armaments. But the armaments which are nominally intended to repel invasion may also be used to invade. And so the means adopted to diminish the external fear have the effect of increasing it, and of enormously enhancing the destructiveness of war when it does break out. In this way a reign of terror becomes universal, and the State acquires everywhere something of the character of the Comite du Salut Public.
The tribal feeling out of which the State develops is natural, and the fear by which the State is strengthened is reasonable under present circumstances. And in addition to these two, there is a third source of strength in a national State, namely, patriotism in its religious aspect.

Patriotism is a very complex feeling, built up out of primitive instincts and highly intellectual convictions. There is love of home and family and friends, making us peculiarly anxious to preserve our own country from invasion. There is the mild instinctive liking for compatriots as against foreigners. There is pride, which is bound up with the success of the community to which we feel that we belong. There is a belief, suggested by pride but reinforced by history, that one’s own nation represents a great tradition and stands for ideals that are important to the human race. But besides all these, there is another element, at once nobler and more open to attack, an element of worship, of willing sacrifice, of joyful merging of the individual life in’ the life of the nation. This religious element in patriotism is essential to the strength of the State, since it enlists the best that is in most men on the side of national sacrifice.

The religious element in patriotism is reinforced by education, especially by a knowledge of the history and literature of one’s own country, provided it is not accompanied by much knowledge of the history and literature of other countries. In every civilized country all instruction of the young emphasizes the merits of their own nation and the faults of other nations. It comes to be universally believed that one’s own nation, because of its superiority, deserves support in a quarrel, however the quarrel may have originated. This belief is so genuine and deep that it makes men endure patiently, almost gladly, the losses and hardships and sufferings entailed by war. Like all sincerely believed religions, it gives an outlook on life, based upon instinct but sublimating it, causing a devotion to an end greater than any personal end, but containing many personal ends as it were in solution.

Patriotism as a religion is unsatisfactory because of its lack of universality. The good at which it aims is a good for one’s own nation only, not for all mankind. The desires which it inspires in an Englishman are not the same as the desires which it inspires in a German. A world full of patriots may be a world full of strife. The more intensely a nation believes in its patriotism, the more fanatically indifferent it will become to the damage suffered by other nations. When once men have learnt to subordinate their own good to the good of a larger whole, there can be no valid reason for stopping short of the human race. It is the admixture of national pride that makes it so easy in practice for men’s impulses towards sacrifice to stop short at the frontiers of their own country. It is this admixture that poisons patriotism, and makes it inferior, as a religion, to beliefs which aim at the salvation of all mankind. We cannot avoid having more love for our own country than for other countries, and there is no reason why we should wish to avoid it, any more than we should wish to love all individual men and women equally. But any ade-quate religion will lead us to temper inequality of affection by love of justice, and to universalize our aims by realizing the common needs of man. This change was effected by Christianity in Judaism, and must be effected in any merely national religion before it can be purged of evil.

In practice, patriotism has many other enemies to contend with. Cosmopolitanism cannot fail to grow as men acquire more knowledge of foreign countries by education and travel. There is also a kind of individualism which is continually increasing, a realization that every man ought to be as nearly free as possible to choose his own ends, not compelled by a geographical accident to pursue ends forced upon him by the community. Socialism, syndicalism, and anti-capitalist movements generally are against patriotism in their tendency, since they make men aware that the present State is largely concerned in defending the privileges of the rich, and that many of the conflicts between States have their origin in the financial interests of a few plutocrats. This kind of opposition is perhaps temporary, a mere incident in the struggle of labor to acquire power. Australia, where labor feels its triumph secure, is full of patriotism and militarism, based upon determination to prevent foreign labor from sharing the benefits of a privileged position. It is not unlikely that England might develop a similar nationalism if it became a socialist State. But it is probable that such nationalism would be purely defensive. Schemes of foreign aggression, entailing great loss of life and wealth in the nation which adopts them, would hardly be initiated except by those whose instincts of dominion have been sharpened through the power derived from private property and the institutions of the capitalist State.

The evil wrought in the modern world by the excessive power of the State is very great, and very little recognized.

The chief harm wrought by the State is promotion of efficiency in war. If all States increase their strength, the balance of power is unchanged, and no one State has a better chance of victory than before. And when the means of offense exist, even though their original purpose may have been defensive, the temptation to use them is likely, sooner or later, to prove overwhelming. In this way the very measures which promoted security within the borders of the State promote insecurity elsewhere. It is of the essence of the State to suppress violence within and to facilitate it without. The State makes an entirely artificial division of mankind and of our duties toward them: towards one group we are bound by the law, towards the other only by the prudence of high way men. The State is rendered evil by its exclusions, and by the fact that, whenever it embarks upon aggressive war, it becomes a combination of men for murder and robbery. The present system is irrational, since external and internal anarchy must be both right or both wrong. It is supported because, so long as others adopt it, it is thought the only road to safety, and because it secures the pleasures of triumph and dominion, which cannot be obtained in a good community. If these pleasures were no longer sought, or no longer possible to obtain, the problem of securing safety from invasion would not be difficult.

Apart from war, the modern great State is harmful from its vastness and the resulting sense of individual helplessness. The citizen who is out of sympathy with the aims of the State, unless he is a man of very rare gifts, cannot hope to persuade the State to adopt purposes which seem to him better. Even in a democracy, all questions except a very few are decided by a small number of officials and eminent men; and even the few questions which are left to the popular vote are decided by a diffused mass-psychology, not by individual initiative. This is especially noticeable in a country like the United States, where, in spite of democracy, most men have a sense of almost complete impotence in regard to all large issues. In so vast a country the popular will is like one of the forces of Nature, and seems nearly as much outside the control of any one man. This state of things leads, not only in America but in all large States, to something of the weariness and discouragement that we associate with the Roman Empire. Modern States, as opposed to the small city States of ancient Greece or medieval Italy, leave little room for initiative, and fail to develop in most men any sense of ability to control their political destinies. The few men who achieve power in such States are men of abnormal ambition and thirst for dominion, combined with skill in cajolery and subtlety in negotiation. All the rest are dwarfed by knowledge of their own impotence.

A curious survival from the old monarchical idea of the State is the belief that there is some peculiar wickedness in a wish to secede on the part of any section of the population. If Ireland or Poland desires independence, it is thought obvious that this desire must be strenuously resisted, and any attempt to secure it is condemned as “high treason.” The only instance to the contrary that I can remember is the separation of Norway and Sweden, which was commended but not imitated. In other cases, nothing but defeat in war has induced States to part with territory: although this attitude is taken for granted, it is not one which would be adopted if the State had Better ends in view. The reason for its adoption is that the chief end of almost all great States is power, especially power in war. And power in war is often increased by the inclusion of unwilling citizens. If the well-being of the citizens were the end in view, the question whether a certain area should be included, or should form a separate State, would be left freely to the decision of that area. If this principle were adopted, one of the main reasons for war would be obviated, and one of the most tyrannical elements in the State would be removed.

The principal source of the harm done by the State is the fact that power is its chief end. This is not the case in America, because America is safe against aggression; 1 but in all other great nations the chief aim of the State is to possess the greatest possible amount of external force. To this end, the liberty of the citizens is curtailed, and anti-militarist propaganda is severely punished. This attitude is rooted in pride and fear: pride, which refuses to be conciliatory, and fear, which dreads the results of foreign pride conflicting with our own pride. It seems something of a historical accident that these two passions, which by no means exhaust the political passions of the ordinary man, should so completely determine the external policy of the State. 

1 This was written in 1915.

Without pride, there would be no occasion for fear: fear on the part of one nation is due to the supposed pride of another nation. Pride of dominion, unwillingness to decide disputes otherwise than by force or the threat of force, is a habit of mind greatly encouraged by the possession of power. Those who have long been in the habit of exercising power become autocratic and quarrelsome, incapable of regarding an equal otherwise than as a rival. It is notorious that head masters’ conferences are more liable to violent disagreements than most similar bodies: each head master tries to treat the others as he treats his own boys; they resent such treatment, and he resents their resentment. Men who have the habit of authority are peculiarly unfit for friendly negotiation; but the official relations of States are mainly in the hands of men with a great deal of authority in their own country. This is, of course, more particularly the case where there is a monarch who actually governs. It is less true where there is a governing oligarchy, and still less true where there is some approach to real democracy. But it is true to a considerable extent in all countries, because Prime Ministers and Foreign Secretaries are necessarily men in authority. The first, step towards remedying this state of things is a genuine interest in foreign affairs on the part of the ordinary citizen, and an insistence that national pride shall not be allowed to jeopardize his other interests. During war, when he is roused, he is willing to sacrifice everything to pride; but in quiet times he will be far more ready than men in authority to realize that foreign affairs, like private concerns, ought to be settled amicably according to principles, not brutally by force or the threat of force.

The effect of personal bias in the men who actually compose the Government may be seen very clearly in labor disputes. French syndicalists affirm that the State is simply a product of capitalism, a part of the weapons which1 capital employs in its conflict with labor. Even in democratic States there is much to bear, out this view. In strikes it is common to order out the soldiers to coerce the strikers; although the employers are much fewer, and much easier to coerce, the soldiers are never employed against them. When labor troubles paralyze the industry of a country, it is the men who are thought to be unpatriotic, not the masters, though clearly the responsibility belongs to both sides. The chief reason for this attitude on the part of Governments is that the men composing them belong, by their success if not by their origin, to the same class as the great employers of labor. Their bias and their associates combine to make them view strikes and lockouts from the standpoint of the rich. In a democracy public opinion and the need of conciliating political supporters partially correct these plutocratic influences, but the correction is always only partial. And the same influences which warp the views of Governments on labor questions also warp their views on foreign affairs, with the added disadvantage that the ordinary citizen has much fewer means of arriving at an independent judgment.

The excessive power of the State, partly through internal oppression, but principally through war and the fear of war, is one of the chief causes of misery in the modern world, and one of the main reasons for the discouragement which prevents men from growing to their full mental stature. Some means of curing this excessive power must be found if men are not to be organized into despair, as they were in the Roman Empire.

The State has one purpose which is on the whole good, namely, the substitution of law for force in the relations of men. But this purpose can only be fully achieved by a world-State, without which international relations cannot be made subject to law. And although law is better than force, law is still not the best way of settling disputes. Law is too static, too much on the side of what is decaying, too little on the side of what is growing. So long as law is in theory supreme, it will have to be tempered, from time to time, by internal revolution and external war. These can only be prevented by perpetual readiness to alter the law in accordance with the present balance of forces. If this is not done, the motives for appealing to force will sooner or later become irresistible. A world-State or federation of States, if it is to be successful, will have to decide questions, not by the legal maxims which would be applied by the Hague tribunal, but as far as possible in the same sense in which they would be decided by war. The function of authority should be to render the appeal to force unnecessary, not to give decisions contrary to those which would be reached by force.

This view may be thought by some to be immoral. It may be said that the object of civilization should be to secure justice, not to give the victory to the strong. But when this antithesis is allowed to pass, it is forgotten that love of justice may itself set force in motion. A Legislature which wishes to decide an issue in the same way as it would be decided if there were an appeal to force will necessarily take account of justice, provided justice is so flagrantly on one side that disinterested parties are willing to take to the quarrel. If a strong man assaults a weak man in the streets of London, the balance of force is on the side of the weak man, because, even if the police did not appear, casual passers-by would step in to defend him. It is sheer cant to speak of a contest of might against right, and at the same time to hope for a victory of the right. If the contest is really between might and right, that means that right will be beaten. What is obscurely intended, when this phrase is used, is that the stronger side is only rendered stronger by men’s sense of right. But men’s sense of right is very subjective, and is only one factor in deciding the preponderance of force. What is desirable in a Legislature is, not that it should decide by its personal sense of right, but that it should decide in a way which is felt to make an appeal to force unnecessary.

Having considered what the State ought not to do, I come now to what it ought to do.

Apart from war and the preservation of internal order, there are certain more positive functions which the State performs, and certain others which it ought to perform.

We may lay down two principles as regards these positive functions.

First: there are matters in which the welfare of the whole community depends upon the practically universal attainment of a certain minimum; in such cases the State has the right to insist upon this minimum being attained.

Secondly: there are ways in which, by insisting upon the maintenance of law, the State, if it does nothing further, renders possible various forms of injustice which would otherwise be prevented by the anger of their victims. Such injustices ought, as far as possible, to be prevented by the State.

The most obvious example of a matter where the general welfare depends upon a universal minimum is sanitation and the prevention of infectious diseases. A single case of plague, if it is neglected, may cause disaster to a whole community. No one can reasonably maintain, on general grounds of liberty, that a man suffering from plague ought to be left free to spread infection far and wide. Exactly similar considerations apply to drainage, notification of fevers, and kindred matters. The interference with liberty remains an evil, but in some cases it is clearly a smaller evil than the spread of disease which liberty would produce. The stamping out of malaria and yellow fever by destroying mosquitoes is perhaps the most striking example of the good which can be done in this way. But when the good is small or doubtful, and the interference with liberty is great, it becomes better to endure a certain amount of preventable disease rather than suffer a scientific tyranny.

Compulsory education comes under the same head as sanitation. The existence of ignorant masses in a population is a danger to the community; when a considerable percentage are illiterate, the whole machinery of government has to take account of the fact. Democracy in its modern form would be quite impossible in a nation where many men cannot read. But in this case there is not the same need of absolute universality as in the case of sanitary measures. The gypsies, whose mode of life has been rendered almost impossible by the education authorities, might well have been allowed to remain a picturesque exception. But apart from such rather unimportant exceptions, the argument for compulsory education is irresistible.

What the State does for the care of children at present is less than what ought to be done, not more. Children are not capable of looking after their own interests, and parental responsibility is in many ways inadequate. It is clear that the State alone can insist upon the children being provided with the minimum of knowledge and health which, for the time being, satisfies the conscience of the community.

The encouragement of scientific research is another matter which comes rightly within the powers of the State, because the benefits of discoveries accrue to the community, while1 the investigations are expensive and never individually certain of achieving any result. In this matter, Great Britain lags behind all other civilized countries.

The second kind of powers which the State ought to possess are those that aim at diminishing economic injustice. It is this kind that has been emphasized by socialists. The law creates or facilitates monopolies, and monopolies are able to exact a toll from the community. The most glaring example is the private ownership of land. Railways are at present controlled by the State, since rates are fixed by law; and it is clear that if they were uncontrolled, they would acquire a dangerous degree of power? Such considerations, if they stood alone, would justify complete socialism. But I think justice, by itself, is, like law, too static to be made a supreme political principle: it does not, when it has been achieved, contain any seeds of new life or any impetus to development. For this reason, when we wish to remedy an injustice, it is important to consider whether, in so doing, we shall be destroying the incentive to some form of vigorous action which is on the whole useful to the community. No such form of action, so far as I can see, is associated with private ownership of land or of any other source of economic rent; if this is the case, it follows that the State ought to be the primary recipient of rent.
If all these powers are allowed to the State, what becomes of the attempt to rescue individual liberty from its tyranny?

This is part of the general problem which confronts all those who still care for the ideals which inspired liberalism, namely, the problem of combining liberty and personal initiative with organization. Politics and economics are more and more dominated by vast organizations, in face of which the individual is in danger of becoming powerless.

1. This would be as true under a syndicalist regime as it is at present.


The State is the greatest of these organizations, and the most serious menace to liberty. And yet it seems that many of its functions must be extended rather than curtailed.

There is one way by which organization and liberty can be combined, and that is, by securing power for voluntary organizations, consisting of men who have chosen to belong to them because they embody some purpose which all their members consider important, not a purpose imposed by accident or outside force. The State, being geographical, cannot be a wholly voluntary association, but for that very reason there is need of a strong public opinion to restrain it from a tyrannical use of its powers. This public opinion, in most matters, can only be secured by combinations of those who have certain interests or desires in common.

The positive purposes of the State, over and above the preservation of order, ought as far as possible to be carried out, not by the State itself, but by independent organizations, which should be left completely free so long as they satisfied the State that they were not falling below a necessary minimum. This occurs to a certain limited extent at present in regard to elementary education. The universities, also, may be regarded as acting for the State in the matter of higher education and research, except that in their case no minimum of achievement is exacted. In the economic sphere, the State ought to exercise control, but ought to leave initiative to others. There is every reason to multiply opportunities of initiative, and to give the greatest possible share of initiative to each individual, for if this is not done there will be a general sense of impotence and discouragement. There ought to be a constant endeavor to leave the more positive aspects of government in the hands of voluntary organizations, the purpose of the State being merely to exact efficiency and to secure an amicable settlement of disputes, whether within or without its own borders. And with this ought to be combined the greatest possible toleration of exceptions and the least possible insistence upon uniform system.

A good deal may be achieved through local government by trades as well as by areas. This is the most original idea in syndicalism, and it is valuable as a check upon the tyranny which the community may be tempted to exercise over certain classes of its members. All strong organizations which embody a sectional public opinion, such as trade unions, cooperative societies, professions, and universities, are to be welcomed as safeguards of liberty and opportunities for initiative. And there is need of a strong public opinion in favor of liberty itself. The old battles for freedom of thought and freedom of speech, which it was thought had been definitively won, will have to be fought all over again, since most men are only willing to accord freedom to opinions which happen to be popular. Institutions cannot preserve liberty unless men realize that liberty is precious and are willing to exert themselves to keep it alive.

There is a traditional objection to every imperium in imperio, but this is only the jealousy of the tyrant. In actual fact, the modern State contains many organizations which it cannot defeat, except perhaps an rare occasions when public opinion is roused against them. Mr. Lloyd George’s long fight with the medical profession over the Insurance Act was full of Homeric fluctuations of fortune. The Welsh miners recently routed the whole power of the State, backed by an excited nation. As for the financiers, no Government would dream of a conflict with them. When all other classes are exhorted to patriotism, they are allowed their 4% per cent, and an increase of interest on their consols. It is well understood on all sides that an appeal to their patriotism would show gross ignorance of the world. It is against the traditions of tire State to extort their money by threatening to withdraw police protection. This is not due to the difficulty of such a measure, but only to the fact that great wealth wins genuine admiration from us all, and we cannot bear to think of a very rich man being treated with disrespect.

The existence of strong organizations within the State, such as trade unions, is not undesirable except from the point of view of the official who wishes to wield unlimited power, or of the rival organizations, such as federations of employers, which would prefer a disorganized adversary. In view of the vastness of the State, most men can find little political outlet for initiative except in subordinate organizations formed for specific purposes. Without an outlet for political initiative, men lose their social vigor and their interest in public affairs: they become a prey to corrupt wire-pullers, or to sensation-mongers who have the art of capturing a tired and vagrant attention. The cure for this is to increase rather than diminish the powers of voluntary organizations, to give every man a sphere of political activity small enough for his interest and his capacity, and to confine the functions of the State, as far as possible, to the maintenance of peace among rival interests. The essential merit of the State is that it prevents the internal use of force by private persons. Its essential demerits are, that it promotes the external use of force, and that, by its great size, it makes each individual feel impotent even in a democracy. I shall return in a later lecture to the question of preventing war. The prevention of the sense of individual impotence cannot be achieved by a return to the small City State, which would be as reactionary as a return to the days before machinery. It must be achieved by a method which is in the direction of present tendencies. Such a method would be the increasing devolution of positive political initiative to bodies formed voluntarily for specific purposes, leaving the State rather in the position of a federal authority or a court of arbitration. The State will then confine itself to insisting upon some settlement of rival interests: its only principle in deciding what is the right settlement will be an attempt to find the measures most acceptable, on the whole, to all the parties concerned. This is the direction in which democratic States naturally tend, except in so far as they are turned aside by war or the fear of war. So long as war remains a daily imminent danger, the State will remain a Moloch, sacrificing sometimes the life of the individual, and always his unfettered development, to the barren struggle for mastery in the competition with other States. In internal as in external affairs, the worst enemy of freedom is war.